We had a great time on this trip, although there were a few, ahem, unexpected features.
We traveled on the American Queen Steamboat Company’s American Empress, from Clarkston, Washington to Vancouver (Portland), westbound per Lewis and Clark. This was the last week of April 2018, and almost none of the forecast rain materialized. A lovely time on the river and uncharacteristically green, even in the East, with sunny days and cool nights. This was our first river cruise ever so, with nothing to compare it to, I will venture to write a review.
We flew into Spokane and paid way too much for a taxi to the hotel. Should have taken the shuttle for $25 a couple. The Historic Davenport Hotel clings to its glorious past, and it is charming and elegant, with stunning public spaces. Our corner room was large and welcoming. The Spokane River passes through town just a couple blocks away, and it is definitely worth a visit to see the rushing rapids. The neighborhood is not the best, and even in broad daylight, I found myself looking over my shoulder and clutching my purse. The elegant hotel is an oasis from the surrounding streets, but it seems somehow out of place and time.
We had an excellent dinner at Wild Sage Bistro on 2nd Avenue in Spokane.
Bus ride to Clarkston the next day was long and unremarkable.
Our stateroom. We were on the Vista Deck, which means people could stroll by and chat. We found this charming and did not worry at all about lack of privacy. (That’s what window shades are for.) Our Category A suite was large and comfortable with a coffee maker, a loveseat and two chairs, and plenty of storage space. Housekeeping visited twice a day and did a great job.
A side note about Vista Deck. The Empress has no gym on board, but a number of regular walkers made their rounds past our veranda every day. We cheered them on and joined them from time to time. (8 1/2 laps = 1 mile.)
Dining. Overall: outstanding! Many choices, different every day, attentive service. We ate mostly in the dining room, with waited tables. Our Maître D “Baja” ensured that the wine was flowing freely at each evening meal. We always joined other diners, and these moments were some of the most memorable of the trip. The buffet in the Grill was also available for breakfast and lunch, with ice cream and snacks throughout the day. At night, the Grill becomes the premium restaurant, reservations required. Lobster is to die for. Room service is always available as well. On our “sea day” we enjoyed lunch on our veranda as we watched the scenery glide by.
Entertainment. There were two nights with guest entertainers, Will Keifer with Banjomania, and Kevin Neil, a very funny cowboy guitar player. Both were really excellent. The Empress Quartet, consisting of piano, sax, bass, and drums, was entertaining as well.
Excursions. Red Mountain Wine and Spirits tour was very enjoyable. Interesting presentations, nice scenery, and good wines.
Bonneville Dam was a pleasant surprise. We had a guided tour into the vast turbine room where the electricity is generated (walked across an actual spinning turbine), then to the viewing windows to watch fish climbing the fish ladders. Unique experience!
Jet Boat on Hell’s Canyon was a little disappointing. At 5 hours, it was too long and, although it was pretty country, it was really just a slow boat up and back the Snake River Canyon. Didn’t see any wildlife.
We’d heard the stateroom walls were thin. This was true. We never heard our neighbor on one side, but on the other side (as the sound came right through our pillows!) we heard their TV turned to cable news at all hours of the day and night, even in the pre-dawn hours. We could hear every word and even identify the guests being interviewed. AQSC needs to get a handle on this, either with soundproofing (unlikely) or cutting off the satellite feed in the wee small hours.
WiFi was “free,” but it was also pretty much non-existent for most of the cruise. Also, for much of the same time, we were out of cell phone range. (On reflection, maybe not such a bad thing.)
Mary, the “Riverlorian,” was like that annoying sixth grade teacher you still remember, but not fondly. She talked down to us like we were stupid. And please spare me the political jokes - we’re on vacation. We left ten minutes into the first session and never went back. This was a big disappointment for me, because I was really looking forward to following the history as we traveled the route of Lewis and Clark down the Columbia River. Sadly, a missed opportunity.
And where was Frank, the fabled piano player in the Paddlewheel Lounge? His substitute was uninspiring.
Veterans Meet & Greet in the Paddlewheel Lounge. Each veteran was invited to share a brief account about his or her service. There were probably forty veterans and their family members. The greatest percentage were veterans of the Korean War, which was a fair reflection of the average age of the passengers. A good experience and a nice idea.
Locks. As we traveled downstream, we went through a series of locks, four on the Snake and four more on the Columbia. It was fascinating to watch our Captain as she skillfully steered our big boat through those small locks, sometimes with inches to spare!
Now this was weird. Certain of the young, male dining staff habitually hugged the guests, male and female, with much squealing and clapping of hands. They would come around the desk and ambush you on arrival, and intercept you again on departure. Some of the other guests seemed to enjoy this. Not me - it creeped me out. In this day and age, you just have to wonder.
No vacation would be complete without a few surprises, and overall, we had a great time. The best part, of course, was all the interesting people we shared our cruise with. A different kind of trip for us and a lasting memory.
Spacious and welcoming with a coffee maker, a loveseat and two chairs, and plenty of storage space, three large windows and a door to the veranda. Veranda has two comfortable chairs and a small table. There is direct access to the Vista Deck, so it’s easy to pop outside and walk forward or aft for a special view or photo op. (We were advised before booking that some of the rooms have twin beds and some have king beds, but that the beds could not be moved. Check before booking to make sure you choose correctly.)