First a disclaimer, we are devoted to the Delta Queen and compare any river cruise to our wonderful experiences sailing on her. The Queen of the West resembles a paddlewheel steamer but it's an illusion. She is screw powered with a paddlewheel for looks. It's not the same.
American Cruise LInes (ACL) strives to provide the "best vacations experience ever." This is an ambitious objective and likely is not often achieved. Our week on board the Queen of the West was a great experience, from the accommodations, the entertainment and the itinerary to the jet boat to Hell's Canyon, (now the inevitable) but something was missing. I cannot put my finger on it but will try as this review continues.
Upon embarkation we received a wonderful surprise, an upgrade from a standard cabin to one marked "owner's suite." The cabin was spacious, with remarkable storage space and an extremely comfortable bed and a magnificent view to the side and forward. A brief detour here, ACL has a crew of stewards who double in the dining room and as cabin attendants. They rotate duties so there is no "cabin attendant" as on ocean cruises, or the old Delta Queen for that matter. The young crew of stewards are friendly, competent and helpful but they lack the polish of professional service personnel. One gets the impression of students on summer jobs and it detracts from the overalll experience of the cruise. Please, do not take this as criticism of the stewrds themselves; they were all great but the policy of ACL in rotating the tasks and even rotating the crews so that most are on a vessel only once does not lead to the kind of identification with the ship that makes for loyalty.
Cuisine was excellent but not outstanding. The line did a good job in utilizing local ingredients at lunch and dinner, and with one exception the meals were very good. The portions were appropriately sized down given the frequency with which food was made available. ACL provides local to the area wines and beers at meals and a nicely done cocktail hour, also comp soft drinks and expresso throughout the day. These touches contribute to an overall positive impression the the catering on the boat
Entertainment was exceptional. Todd Webber, a Lewis and Clark specialist and generally knowledgeable about the region, was a font of information and presented his information in a most entertaining manner. For this cruise, ACL had obtained the services of a professor of wine making from a local college to lead a wine appreciation component of the cruise. Reg was excellent and was a fine counterpoint to the history presented by Todd. Evening entertainment was high quality.
What was missing?? For us, despite all the excellent features, we didn't make an attachment to the boat, to the line or to the personnel. They were all friendly but did not seem to themselves have an attachment to the boat or the river. It was symptomatic, at least to our minds, that the captiain was never introduced to the passengers assembled, nor did she talk about the river and its navigational challenges. Dare I say, the overall feeling was a nice week on the river, worthwhile and pleasureable but not compelling or extraordinary.
The ports of call are not listed among Cruisecritic's so I will cover them here. Astoria OR is a worthwhile experience, visiting Ft Clatsop, the turnaround point of the L&C expedition and a realy find maritime museum. Ranier OR is only a jumping off place for Mr. St Helens, and seeing it on the shore excursion is hit or miss, we missed. Stevenson OR is a fine small town with some interesting vineyards in the vicinity and Bonneville dam close by. Richland is notable for CHREST museum about theHanford nuclear expeience. Clarkson WA is the jumping off place for the jet boat excursions to Hell's Canyon, a not to be missed excursion. Unlike the growing trend on the MIssissippi and on European rivers, shore excursions are not included in the cruise fare. Excursions run from $40 to $110 (for hell's canyon) per person.