Did you know you can have an amazing river cruise experience close to home? In just over three hours, you can fly from St. George to Portland, Oregon and begin an incredible river cruise on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Mary Curtis from The Travel Connection recently returned from her Pacific Northwest river cruise onboard the American Empress Paddleboat.
The cruise travels both directions beginning in Portland, Oregon or Clarkston, Washington and we traveled eastward. We saw two entirely different climates – the coastal coolness as well as the warmer desert climate once we passed The Dalles. It was amazing to me to see the enormous fruit and grape orchards on both sides of the river. It was absolutely beautiful…especially to someone used to our desert terrain. Our Riverlorian (historian of the river) spoke several times about the Lewis & Clark expedition. He showed us several campsites and we even had a Nez Perce Indian speak one evening about the influence the Nez Perce had on the success of the expedition.
There were eight dams along the river which meant we were able to travel through eight sets of locks. If you’ve never been through a lock, it is fascinating. On these rivers, there are fish ladders installed along the locks to assist the salmon and steelhead trout in their migration upstream to spawn. It was so exciting seeing the fish jump and swim from one level to the next. The cities we stopped in daily were refreshing as they weren’t “tourist traps”. We visited several local farmer’s markets and we were jealous of the fresh produce that was offered. We did buy a bit of fruit one of our traveling companions bought some fresh peas to snack on along the way.
I’ve sailed on several other river cruises in Europe and China and the service and food served on this ship was very comparable and sometimes better. If you ever thought that you couldn’t receive this level of service on our American rivers, you are mistaken. Every single person onboard greeted us with a smile and an offer to do something for us to make the experience better. The employees were from all over the United States and it was obvious they enjoyed what they were doing. That says a lot about American Queen Steamboat Company. The entertainment was very good and there was a show offered every evening. A lounge on one deck featured a very entertaining piano player. He was a hit with many passengers as he could play anything and everything.
This ship has four decks which could be a problem for passengers who are unable to climb that many stairs. This ship has two regular size elevators which solves that problem. The other ships I’ve been on in Europe had a small two person elevator so this makes it easy for those who cannot navigate all of the stairs. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this river cruise experience to anyone and the clients I traveled with felt the same way. In fact, they enjoyed it so much, some made reservations for their next sailing while they were onboard.