We had been wanting to try a river cruise, especially after watching the size of ocean-going cruise ships balloon until some can carry more than 6,000 passengers. The American Empress beautifully accommodates just over 221, with an attentive crew of 88. Our Category C cabin--212--was cozy, but well laid out so that we had plenty of closet space and storage, even in the bathroom. Yes, the shower is small, but it worked just fine for us.
Ours was a late-season round trip from and to Vancouver, Washington, rather than the more common one-way trip from Vancouver to Lewiston, Idaho, or vice versa. We knew that there was a high probability of rainy/cloudy/foggy weather in the Pacific Northwest in November, and we were proved correct. We did have two sunny days, and only two really rainy days, so we were content.
Our fellow cruisers were, in the main, like us--Baby Boomers and older. There were a few 40-50 somethings, but we were in the majority. I would not recommend this as a honeymoon cruise, unless your other passion is Lewis and Clark.
As for the Empress herself, she is a delightful home away. The food was very good, particularly the fish entrees, and of those, particularly the salmon. The lobster was also quite good, and more moist--less chewy--than on many past ocean cruises. The River Grille, on the top deck (#4), offered buffet-style cuisine at breakfast and lunch, and becomes a stylish alternative (no extra cost) dinner house at night. I was captivated by the masses of fresh berries and bacon available for breakfast, along with made-to-order omelets and other breakfast fare. Lunch was equally tasty, with hamburgers cooked to order. The Grille also offered 24/7 access to coffee, sodas, soft-serve ice cream, and cookies. The cuisine was a big two thumps-up on the Empress.
The ports consisted of Vancouver, WA, Astoria, OR, te Dalles, OR, Stevenson, WA, and Portland, OR. The Hop-on-Hop-off (HOHO) buses were a wonderful included extra in every port. We opted for two optional excursions--Fort Clatsop in Astoria and the Maryhill Art Museum outside of the Dalles. I recommend both.
Back to the boat . . . The entertainment was passable, but we didn't take this cruise to be entertained. The "Riverlorian" was well-intentioned and knowledgeable, but a bit dry. The lounge singer provided guitar and vocals in the Paddlewheel Lounge, and was especially effective with James Taylor covers.
The staff was unfailingly cordial, professional, and attentive.
Bottom line: This was a great experience, and I recommend this cruise.
The only negative was the lack of soundproofing between rooms. This was not a deal-breaker, but it could be improved. A definite plus was the binoculars, robe, and slippers provided (you get to keep the slippers!). It was such a positive experience that we are hoping to book a future cruise on the lower Mississippi with American Queen Steamship Company. Well done, AQSC!
Our veranda cabin on deck 2 was well appointed and comfortable.
We stayed an extra night at the Vancouver Hilton pre-cruise, and it was delightful. The hotel is a comfortable businessman-friendly accommodation. We felt welcomed by the friendly staff, and the food at the hotel restaurant was very good, if a bit pricey. Across the street were two excellent casual restaurants--Loowit Brewery and Pub and Smokin' Oak BBQ restaurant. Both were excellent and highly recommended, along with the Syrup Trap, just a 10-minute walk away in downtown Vancouver, and a most excellent breakfast spot that specializes in Belgian waffles. Our second day in Vancouver we walked to Fort Vancouver where we strolled along Officers' Row. If you have time, don't hesitate to visit.