Northwest Pioneers Columbia & Snake Rivers Cruise
October 9 – 21, 2019
Portland, OR – Wednesday - Monday, October 9 - 14
Just to catch up a little, today (Monday) we are back in Portland for the day, returning from our trip down the Columbia River on Friday to Astoria, spending the night and all-day Saturday.
This ship, American Song, is only one year old and is absolutely beautiful, carrying only 185 passengers. My single balcony stateroom 409 is quite large and comfortable; this is one of the main reasons for choosing this cruise line, their availability of single staterooms. The food is exceptionally good and the wine flows freely; every afternoon there is Happy Hour in the lounges where an open bar dispenses whatever your heart desires!
Saturday in Astoria I took two different shore excursions, one in the morning and a second in the afternoon. A three-hour tour out to Fort Clatsop started the day; this is the location where Lewis and Clark wintered in 1805/6 on their legendary excursion of discovery from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean. Having been rebuilt several times, the present structure is an authentic reproduction of their meager housing.
Then in the afternoon I took a tour across the Columbia River to Cape Disappointment which is located high above on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the 5-mile wide mouth of the Columbia River and the legendary Columbia Sandbar, the “Graveyard of the Pacific”. It was here that Lewis and Clark first gazed on the object of their trip across the West. Both locations visited were equipped with excellent visitors’ centers.
Then yesterday we journeyed back up the River to the town of Kalama where in the afternoon we traveled for an hour and a half to a visitors’ center near Mount St. Helens and the view of the absolute devastation that occurred when this volcano “blew its top“ on May 18, 1980. Of course in the 40 years since, the destruction has disappeared to a small extent with new growths of trees, but it is still clearly evident of the total destructive effects of the gigantic blast when the volcano blew, leveling forest for up to 19 miles away and loosing over 1300 feet of its elevation. Unfortunately, we could not view the snow-covered peak because of a cloud layer but from our observation point at the visitors’ center, the expanse of the destruction is still quite evident. A truly awesome view to behold!
Returning to our riverboat we then cruised the remaining distance up the River back to Portland where we again spent the night moored next to the Red Lion Hotel, where I spent two nights preceding the beginning of this cruise.
My flight from Orange County Airport on Wednesday afternoon was a quick 2-hours and, after a rather lengthy and expensive taxi trip from the Airport to the Red Lion Hotel, I was pampered in a huge room at this new hotel and convention center, just across the Columbia River from Vancouver, Washington. Breakfast was included but I also enjoyed dinner on the two nights before boarding our riverboat that was moored just adjacent to the Hotel.
So, the trip has started out quite good with good cool but clear weather so far; rain is forecast for later in the week, unfortunately. Tomorrow we are in Stevenson, Washington, where we will pass through our first set of locks on the Columbia River.
Portland, OR - Monday, October 14th
Our full day again in Portland for me was one of leisure since the previous two days had been so active. I decided NOT to take advantage of the boat’s free shuttles into downtown Portland where the main attractions seemed to be Powell’s Bookstore - the nation’s largest, and the International Rose Rest Garden.
On the first day of the cruise we had listened to a presentation of shore excursions available to us during our 10 days and were then asked to fill out a sheet listing our choices, some complimentary and others for a fee. Lists were checked at the departures of shore excursions and only those participating were actually charged for those at a fee. My two previous days’ shore excursions in Astoria were both for a fee.
One unusual feature of our docking on Sunday at Kalama, WA, for our 1 pm trip to Mount St. Helens was HOW we docked, face into the shore with the bow of this new ship, the American Song, raised up to reveal an entrance/exit into the ship! Most unusual! The first time I have seen such a feature on any riverboat. After departing the boat, we just walked up the slope to the waiting buses.
Stevenson, Washington - Tuesday, October 15th
Docking this morning in this rather small town, there was nothing much that interested me ashore, so I remained aboard until late afternoon when I walked off and up into their Main Street where I found a bar open and enjoyed one of the 28 different kinds beers. Then it was back aboard.
The big activity of the day was a presentation at 11 am of the “American Experience” where was discussed the variety of future cruises offered by American Cruise Lines and also their sister company, Pearl Seas Cruise Lines. By booking aboard during a cruise one would receive a 15% discount plus waived port charges and fees, anywhere from $300 to $500. A substantial savings from the usually rather expensive fares!
The one remaining cruise offered by ACL in which I was interested is the “Grand Puget Sound” cruise, 11-days, RT from Seattle, so I expressed my interest in such. Upon checking, the Cruise Director Courtnay discovered ONLY ONE available Single Stateroom 312 on this cruise for the ENTIRE YEAR of 2021! So, I grabbed it! God knows if I will still be around by then, however!
Also, of interest on this day was the second of our Guest Lecturer Ian’s “Lewis & Clark” lectures. These have been both enjoyable and informative. Ian is from Australia and is an excellent speaker. His talks always draw a full house audience.
Hood River, OR - Wednesday & Thursday, October 16th & 17th
Having spent the night docked in Stevenson, we departed at 5:30 am headed farther up the Columbia River to Hood River, OR. Again, I decided to skip the morning tour to the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum, which I learned later were really interesting. Oh well...
My choice of today’s tour was back to the Bonneville Dam which we had earlier passed, traversing through the enormous locks. Built in the 1930s primarily for river navigation and electrical power generation, it is the largest water impoundment project of its time, and this tour was both extensive and tremendously interesting to me. We were permitted inside the giant chambers containing the power generators, original except for occasional upgrades and additions.
On Thursday in Hood River after remaining at dock overnight, the highlight tour of the cruise was to the Multnomah Falls at 9:15 am. This is Oregon’s tallest and most picturesque waterfall, all 620 feet of it, via a 45-minute motor coach ride. Fed by rainwater and snowmelt, the Falls’ steady stream runs year-round. It is the second highest year-round waterfall in the United States.
A short walk from our bus, beneath the highway and up a slight rise, we soon came in view of this magnificent scene. There are actually two separate falls, the taller one falling into a pond at the base of the high Benson Bridge across the canyon beneath which a second falls drops into a lower pond. It is a stunning sight to behold!
Returning to the American’s Song by noontime, it was time for lunch. Then later in the afternoon at 4 pm was the final session of Ian’s lectures, this one about the return trip of Lewis & Clark from their two-year long trip of discovery from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean in 1805-6. The room was packed as usual for his last most interesting talk, finishing to a thunderous applause.
Our riverboat departed Hood River, OR for The Dalles, OR, arriving there at 7:30 pm, remaining at dock overnight.
The Dalles, OR - Friday, October 18th
Again, I did NOT avail myself of the shuttles into town to the various museums but waited until after lunch at 2 pm for our tour to the Cascade Cliffs Winery, arriving there after a 30-minute motor coach ride.
Being a relatively small family-owned winery, it is set in the stunningly beautiful and scenic Columbia River Gorge, surrounded by extensive vineyards. Upon arrival we were each given a fine monogrammed glass of white wine, “Symphony”, the glass for us to use for additional samples and to keep afterwards. Then family members proceeded to give a very thorough explanation of their winery, established in 2011, as well as offering more samples of the wines - mostly red.
Also explained was the fact that they did NOT market widely, only selling their wines through a subscription method, although we were given the opportunity to purchase from them directly on this tour. I bought a bottle of the white wine “Symphony” at a discounted price of $24! NOT cheap! They also purchase grapes from neighboring vineyards.
We were then given a tour of the processing area as well as the bottling area, all very impressive for such a small winery. Overall, a very interesting and enjoyable tour!
Umatilla/Pendleton, OR & Richland, WA - Saturday, October 19th
On Saturday morning we docked briefly in Umatilla to disembark those of us taking the all-day tour to Pendleton, OR. The American Song would then proceed on to Richland, Washington, where we would again rejoin the riverboat about 5 pm.
After a 60-minute motor coach ride, we arrived in Pendleton accompanied by strong, cold winds and blustery rain. Our first stop was a tour of the Pendleton Underground, a below-the-ground transit through interconnected basements of downtown businesses, popular in the past as locations of speak-easies and other activities of questionable repute. A guided tour, it was quite interesting to see the various rooms and the many antiques housed therein, AND to be inside from the outdoor conditions.
Once this tour was completed, we were directed to walk down the street for a couple of blocks to the Hamley Steakhouse for our included lunch. As most of the passengers had opted for this tour, requiring three buses, the large Steakhouse was completely filled. Lunch consisted of a salad followed by a huge, delicious pulled-pork sandwich, served with potato chips.
For drinks, I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and then another, not realizing I would be charged. When a bill was presented and I reached into my empty pocket for my wallet - safely stowed in my room in the riverboat, I panicked! A nice lady at my table graciously loaned me $20 to pay my check! (I immediately repaid her on return to our riverboat!)
We then loaded back on our three buses for our next stop, the Pendleton Woolen Mill. Being on Saturday, the Mill’s operations were closed, and our “tour” consisted of being ushered through their extensive showroom where highly over-priced merchandise was on sale. Even with the “discount” we were to receive, the prices were still outrageous! Also, on the majority of clothing I checked were labels “Made in China” or in Mexico, Salvador, ... I bought NOTHING! Evidently the Mill produces only the cloth and then sends it elsewhere to be fabricated.
Then it was back on our nice warm bus for the trip to our last stop, the Tamastslikt Indian Visitor Center. Located out some distance from the town of Pendleton, on the top of a hill in a very impressive new structure, near a new Indian Casino, the “Wild Horse”, it was quite nice and informative about many of the local tribes with many exhibits and artifacts on display. All very well organized and presented.
Our hour and a half drive back to Richland, WA, and the American Song seemed endless! But we finally arrived and then our driver, Dwayne, had to hunt for where the riverboat was docked because another riverboat was occupying our spot.
By the way, my favorite bus driver was Dwayne who had followed our boat all along the Columbia, providing bus transfers as needed. He was EXCELLENT! Always giving interesting and information narration, he was always ready with a groaner of a joke. Several times his jokes brought down the entire bus load of us!
Finally, our boat was located, and after quite a walk, we were back aboard, exhausted! Just in time for Happy Hour, of course! I slept well that night!
Clarkston, WA - Sunday, October 20th
On the last day of the cruise, our arrival at the dock in Clarkston, WA was at 11 am, just in time for the Hells Canyon Jetboat ride up the Snake River. Near Richland we had passed into the Snake River from the Columbia River, although I was not aware of just when we did. Across the Snake River from Clarkston, WA is the sister city of Lewiston, ID. CLARKston, LEWISton. Get it?
Again, with almost everyone aboard choosing to take the jetboat, there were actually three jet boats required. I was able to be seated in the first one, next to my new friend Mary from Philadelphia. On many of our bus rides I had also shared a seat with her, also traveling alone. Another single lady I often shared seats with was Carolyn, from Ohio.
There were two drivers, each taking turns at steering. They explained the propulsion system of the jetboats and were very good with their timely narration. Once past Lewiston, the Snake River became narrower and narrower, and more and more shallow with increasing turbulence and rapids. The hills alongside the River became steeper and steeper and it became clear why this Hells Canyon is renowned to be the deepest canyon in the United States, even deeper than Grand Canyon.
At one point on the River we pulled up to the bank and docked, next to a “Ranch” where we all enjoyed a buffet lunch of roast pork, barbecue beans, potato salad, and rolls with drinks. It tasted wonderful! Then back on the River, now becoming a real boating experience.
Finally, we reached a point where progress was becoming more and more of a challenge - at least for a jetboat full of tourists. So, we turned around and proceed DOWN the River, at first experiencing no less of the turbulence. It was one of the more exhilarating experiences I have ever had! Once in New Zealand I took one of their jetboat rides which was equally exciting.
Returning to our riverboat at dock in Clarkston, it was just in time for Happy Hour - of course! Also just in time to get ready for our final dinner aboard, “Surf & Turf“ with delicious steak and lobster. A perfect end to a fabulous cruise!
Then, the most unpleasant of any cruise - packing up to disembark. After dinner I got my carry-on size suitcase all packed up and placed in the hallway by 10 pm, and then tried to get some sleep before my early rise in the morning.
Clarkston/Spokane, WA - Monday, October 21st
Breakfast was served in the MDR starting at 5:30 am and I had packed up my Princess tote bag with my iPad, etc., so I was ready. My usual breakfast was a Western omelet, side of bacon, English muffin, with cranberry juice and coffee, of course.
Returning to my room for the last time to retrieve my Princess bag, I realized that my passport had been packed in my luggage. Fortunately, I found my luggage still in the foyer and was able to open it and retrieve my passport!
Just before 7 am we were instructed to disembark and claim our luggage ashore near the buses, and it was total confusion. With almost everyone aboard taking the ship’s shuttle to the Spokane Airport, the pile of luggage was substantial. Luckily, I found my one piece fairly quickly and was directed to the first (of three) buses where I indicated my airline as Alaska Airlines, got on board and took a second-row seat.
Slowly other passengers successfully located their luggage and it was placed aboard the same bus they were to ride on to Spokane. Shortly, Carolyn came aboard, and I asked her to sit with me. So, our LONG ride of two and a half hours to Spokane Airport began!
At first quite interesting, as we climbed up and up out of the Snake River Valley, once on top of the hills, the scenery became very boring with nothing but hill after hill of wheat fields - almost all the way to Spokane! Sleep came easily to me on several occasions and the time finally passed, and we were at the Spokane Airport.
Fortunately, Alaska Airlines was our first stop, and I was the first off, saying my goodbyes to Carolyn. Unfortunately, my luggage - being the first on, was the last off! Since my flight was not until 1:40 pm and it was only about 9:30 am, I did have plenty of time!
Quickly I passed through Security since I have TSA Check, and my self-printed baggage label put me through check-in also very quickly. I was soon at my departure gate.
Spokane Airport has free internet and I spent my wait time on my iPad, checking email, updating the iOS on my iPad, and playing Solitaire. Soon it was time for my flight to depart.
Although I had paid for Premium Economy Seat 7C, after families with small children had boarded along with others requiring extra time boarding, I immediately followed suit. After all, I AM 81!
Comfortable in my seat, I awaited the rest of this full flight to Seattle to board, and then we were off for the less than an hour flight.
Unfortunately, our arrival in Seattle was met with complications getting access to our gate, and what’s worse; our arrival gate was in the North Terminal, requiring their shuttle train to reach my C20 departure gate in Terminal C. I made it okay, but just barely! My flight on to Orange County was delayed about 10 minutes, which helped.
Again, I was seated in 7C and, as luck would have it, the middle seat remained empty. My flight on to Orange County lasted only a couple of hours and our arrival, after two glasses of Chardonnay wine, was right on time with very little air turbulence. Overall, a very satisfactory flight.
My luggage arrived right on schedule, and after a trip to the men’s room, I was out the door towards the SuperShuttle dispatcher. At first, he told me it would be awhile for a van to Corona del Mar, and I complained that this was the third time that I had arrived to the same story. Whatever, my van soon arrived, and I was off for home, arriving around 7:30 pm, tired but happy to be back home!