Absolutely had a fantastic cruise aboard the American Empress! We sailed from Clarkston, Washington to Vancouver, Washington. Flew into Spokane and spent the night at the grand Historic Davenport downtown. Beautiful hotel inside and out. The next day, we took a “pre-cruise” excursion that explored Spokane. We could have explored on our own, but I loved the convenience of having it already arranged for us. Our tour guide was excellent and very informative. After we got back from the tour, we took the transfer to the boat, which is docked 2 hours away in Clarkston. Although a long ride, the scenery was incredible that I never got bored of looking out the window.
The American Empress is a spectacular boat. It’s luxurious and modern inside yet has the appearance (and iconic red paddlewheel) like steamboats back in the day. The staff is wonderful, and with around 200 guests onboard, we had the chance to meet almost everyone and really enjoyed my fellow travelers. There were two options for dining- the Astoria Dining Room (you have assigned seating for dinner) or the River Grill, the casual dining option. The food was amazing no matter which dining venue we ate in. We enjoyed eating on the deck outside the River Grill if it wasn’t too windy. Although the people, the activities, and the entertainment on board were amazing, the highlight of our voyage were the shore excursions and seeing the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
The Pacific Northwest is stunning, and if you haven’t been, you must! The Empress is the perfect way to see all the region’s highlights. The cruise started in Clarkston where the scenery is drastically different than the ports to the west. Clarkston doesn’t get much rain and when we went in the summer, it was hot (but not humid). On the scenic jet boat excursion on the Snake River, the landscape was phenomenal. We did not get wet or anything like that on the jet boat. It was bigger than I thought it would be, as I think about 40 of us fit in. We went fast, but it wasn’t choppy. The wind felt good on the hot day and I enjoyed the captain’s commentary.
The next day in Richland, Washington, we took the excursion to the B Reactor. Fascinating history told by extremely knowledgeable guides. Very well done excursion from start to finish. You don’t need a science background to enjoy this tour. Hanford was a real eye opener!
The Dalles was a wonderful town where the locals love the riverboat guests. We felt welcomed as we took the buses around town (they call them River Coaches) on the Hop On Hop Off. All the bus drivers were pleasant and hardworking and tour guides were excellent! We went to every attraction on the Hop On Hop Off since all admissions were included for passengers of the Empress.
Stevenson, Washington was next. They called it the entrance to the Columbia Gorge. The landscape begins to change here and it’s even more breathtaking. You cannot visit the Columbia Gorge without seeing Multnomah Falls, the tallest waterfall in the state of Oregon. Nature enthusiasts and photographers alike will agree that Multnomah Falls captures the innate beauty of the region. We took the full day premium excursion that included the Falls as well as the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood. The day ran so smoothly and so well organized for all that we did. Our local guide was a wealth of information as well!
All of these ports are walkable, but especially so in Astoria, Oregon. We took a morning walk along the pretty River Walk. Due to Astoria’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean, there were plenty of sea lions lounging on the boardwalks, and this excited my inner animal-lover! We were then able to take the Hop On Hop Off tour around town. Loved climbing to the top of the Astoria Column. They say on a clear day you can see the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, the day we were there was cloudy, but it was still beautiful! In the afternoon, we went on the Lewis & Clark excursion. Excellent tour guides once again made the tour a worthwhile experience!
The last port of call was Vancouver for disembark. Our flight home wasn’t until much later (red-eye from Portland to Philadelphia), so we went on the post-cruise excursion to Mount St. Helens. An absolutely amazing way to end the voyage. The flowers were in full bloom and the magnificent views are forever etched in my mind. It was a long excursion, but 100% worth it. The tour ended at the post-hotel (Hilton Vancouver) rather than the airport. But it was no worry, we grabbed a taxi to PDX!
The American Empress was truly a phenomenal and enjoyable experience that I highly recommend. If you are pondering taking a river cruise to this region, this is the boat to go on. The American Empress is the BEST in the Pacific Northwest!
Our veranda cabin was cozy and comfortable with ample storage space. Room came with a mini-fridge and Keurig coffee maker. Also a set of binoculars, which was a nice touch.