6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2017
On September 10th my wife and I and 34 neighbors from our Del Webb community took the American Empress riverboat from Clarkston Washington to Vancouver Washington (not Canada). The costs were $9189 not including flights, gratuities or ... Read More
On September 10th my wife and I and 34 neighbors from our Del Webb community took the American Empress riverboat from Clarkston Washington to Vancouver Washington (not Canada). The costs were $9189 not including flights, gratuities or transfers. Although everyone had a great time as we were all friends prior to this trip, we were very disappointed that we completely missed the major scenic portions of the river due to the Oregon fire and the Native American salmon fishing rights which prevented our docking at The Dalles. Due to the fire, we completely missed the Columbia gorge (passed thru after midnight), Mt. Hood, Multnomah Falls, The Old Scenic Highway, Bonneville Dam, and Timberline Lodge. We felt American Queen Steamship Company let us down, when they decided to compensate us with a day in Vancouver Washington with an included 15 minute hop on-hop off bus trip, and an additional day in Astoria Oregon with an included shopping trip to Cannon Beach and Seaside beach (local beaches). We asked them to provide a trip to Mt. St. Helens as they had done on the previous trip, but they refused. After returning home we requested our travel agent to ask them for compensation but AQSC did not respond. The bottom line is the fire and the blockage of The Dalles port were completely out of American Queens control, however their replacement options simply fell way short of the missed experiences to say nothing of the $1000+ a day cost. By the way they continue to advertise the same experiences we missed, even though the State of Oregon indicates those experiences may be closed for up to 2 years as a result of the fire. Although we all had fun on the river boat, we all felt that AQSC fell short in substituting for the missed experiences. We are aware that their contract says they can make any changes they want, including doing nothing. As a group we had a great time, but probably would not travel with AQSC in the future. Read Less
7 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2017
Not our favorite cruise, yet, this week's expedition offered rest and beautiful country in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. The staff bombarded us with picky details and scheduling, more than was necessary. The boat was noisy and the ... Read More
Not our favorite cruise, yet, this week's expedition offered rest and beautiful country in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. The staff bombarded us with picky details and scheduling, more than was necessary. The boat was noisy and the companionways too chilly. Not many places to retreat and read. Too small for lounge chairs. Food was well prepared—caesar salad, fruit compote, pork roast, burgers, cheesecake—except for the clam chowder, which was malodorous. The riverlorian, Laurence Cotton, gave excellent guidance to Lewis and Clark history and to the background of significant figures. He also answered difficult questions about major events and post-expedition influence. Library contained quality choices of biographical, native American, and pleasure reading. Bar service was friendly and prompt with afternoon snacks—cookies, popcorn, guacamole, chips and dip—but pianist was a self-important clown who drowned out conversation with his "improvisations." Nighttime shows destroyed the serenity. Bus tours offered some excellent commentary and some pointless chatter, occasionally inaccurate. The cruise line does not compare with Voyages to Antiquity. An appealing evening entertainment would take passengers to a casino. Read Less
9 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2016
We had a great trip. Loved the accommodations, the size of the boat, dining options and quality of the food, high quality entertainment, educational experiences, hop on/hop off option and beautiful scenery. The population skewed to the ... Read More
We had a great trip. Loved the accommodations, the size of the boat, dining options and quality of the food, high quality entertainment, educational experiences, hop on/hop off option and beautiful scenery. The population skewed to the older side, so we were considered younger, active seniors (ages 67 and 69). This was not a problem since the Hop on/hop off feature allowed us to do extra walking and independent touring. The ship had a few bicycles available, which we used several times without any problem getting them when we wanted. We can see how this kind of trip would be easily accessible for older people, but it also suited our more active style. The staff was very friendly and accommodating and made an extra effort to remember everyone's name, which was impressive. The staff was also exceptionally talented and the evening shows were high quality. We also liked the Riverlorian who presented her educational information in an interesting and entertaining style. This was the perfect trip combining beautiful scenery, education and history, excellent dining, the right amount of pampering. Read Less
28 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2016
Columbia River Clarkston to Portland We don't want to repeat other reviews so just some additional information some may find helpful. Cabin:- All cabins seem to be the same size. Some have a double bed; some have 2 single beds. ... Read More
Columbia River Clarkston to Portland We don't want to repeat other reviews so just some additional information some may find helpful. Cabin:- All cabins seem to be the same size. Some have a double bed; some have 2 single beds. Ample storage space. In-drawer small combination safe. Try to pick a cabin away from the public rooms. Third level was good. Cabin service excellent. Suggestion to management: some hooks on the wall near the door would be helpful for hats, cameras, etc. There are two elevators that go to the 4 passenger decks. Access and Security::- photo ID card given at the beginning of the trip that works as a cabin key and is scanned leaving and reboarding the ship. At the same time, a credit card imprint is taken for all on-board charges. When in port, a crew man always sits at the entrance door. Everyone is scanned before boarding. Free Shore excursions: try for the first in the morning hop-on; hop-off bus. Gives more time before lunch for the port stops. Paid excursions: These are clearly a profit center. Lots and lots of pressure to sign up. They are good trips but the cost his high and the value may not be there for many. Drinks: Expensive. $12.00 (including service charge) for cocktails. They have a a "cocktail of the day" at about half price. There is an "all you can drink" package at the start of the trip but you need to be a heavy drinker to make it pay. Good (included) wines at dinner. Food: Two seatings -- too early and too late! We rate the main dining room as 4* out of 5*. Good but not gourmet. Large portions. Reasonable choices and small steak/chicken always available at dinner. We rate the grill as 4* for dinner (limited menu - reservations required.) We give it 3* for breakfast and lunch. Food here suffers from pre preparation at the buffet. Hectic badly laid out environment. Always available 24/7 - coffee machine with cappuccino, etc. Juice machine. Cookies. Keurig machine in each cabin. Small fridge in each cabin. Ample bottled water - in cabin and on all busses. Logistics:- excellent! At the start, luggage goes from hotel to your cabin and at the end, from your cabin to the shore. Hop-on - hop off busses are on time; shore excursions are on time. Local guides are knowable and helpful. Staff:- remarkably friendly and helpful. They have been doing this for a long time and I suspect those with chips on their shoulders have been eliminated. Note: No laundry on board. No gym. Opportunities for walking on shore and at least one hike. We thought this was an excellent, well designed and well run trip. Recommended. Read Less
10 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2016
We took this Pacific Northwest river cruise for our 30th wedding anniversary. I really wanted a more intimate experience than a large ship/liner and this 220+ passenger boat was a perfect fit. From arrival to the hotel, to transportation ... Read More
We took this Pacific Northwest river cruise for our 30th wedding anniversary. I really wanted a more intimate experience than a large ship/liner and this 220+ passenger boat was a perfect fit. From arrival to the hotel, to transportation to the airport, to the daily newsletter delivered to our room, the cruise line had every detail covered. We are in our 50's and although we were definitely among the younger couples on board, that didn't stop others from joining us on some of the great premium excursions like zip-lining (which I highly recommend) or kayaking. Our room was spacious and the bed was remarkably comfortable. I do recommend bringing a small night light for the bathroom, as the room can be quite dark and the light switch was outside the bathroom. The halls are all covered in artwork and a self-guided brochure is provided. This was a nice way to get to 'know' the boat. Dining was wonderful, leave your diets at home and treat yourself. The more casual River Grill & Bar was noisier but worked well for breakfast and lunch when time was an issue. One of our favorite on-board experiences was listening to the Riverlorian presentations; Laurence was knowledgeable, friendly, and enthusiastic. We had a wonderful time and I still find myself saying, "I miss my boat." This cruise may have spoiled me for all other cruises and I would definitely go again. Read Less
22 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2016
This is second trip on Empress. We were doing it to relive route of Lewis and Clark. Our previous trip on the boat had been very nice. So we did it from the opposite direction. Some of crew was the same and others we had met on American ... Read More
This is second trip on Empress. We were doing it to relive route of Lewis and Clark. Our previous trip on the boat had been very nice. So we did it from the opposite direction. Some of crew was the same and others we had met on American Queen. I cannot say enough good things about the Boat the Hop on Hop off tours but mostly the friendliness and professionalism of the crew. The young entertainers are great, the Dining room staff superb. The food variety and quality was wonderful. The Riverlorian who lectures on the boats theme does a great job. You cannot be bored on this Boat. Something to do from breakfast till late night. The Band four man combo is as professional as they get had a great evening jam session after normal show. Late night dancing in the Paddlewheel lounge great fun a great Pianist entertainer. On a scale of 10 this crew and boat are a fifteen. The Boat accommodations are wonderful. Rooms are quite generous in size. Appointments enhance it. On this Boat you always have interesting scenery in view as you cruise on the Columbia and Snake rivers so if you just want to relax on your porch you have something to enjoy. I can not emphasize enough though how many great activities are available. If you like Broadway shows the two young entertainers put on will surprise you how talented they are. It does not matter which of the two sets they have they are both great as we have had the opportunity to watch both.. Read Less
24 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2016
American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC) Best For: • Guests who enjoy a first-rate, relaxed river cruise experience. • Couples, family & friends traveling together, and parents traveling with adult children. • The ... Read More
American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC) Best For: • Guests who enjoy a first-rate, relaxed river cruise experience. • Couples, family & friends traveling together, and parents traveling with adult children. • The overall demographic is primarily 60-plus age range. As a FAM cruise, this lowered the overall age range. • Well-traveled history buffs looking for a luxury river cruise. • Domestic travelers, there are a very small percentage of international travelers. • Guests who have traveled on AQSC sister ship, the American Queen. • Cruisers who prefer to relax and enjoy the unfolding river views. • Guests who have motion sensitivity, as the river cruising is very calm. Itinerary/Port Experience: Saturday April 2nd: Pre-Hotel Stay – Portland Hotel Stay Guests of AQSC received a complimentary, one night deluxe hotel stay in Vancouver, Washington (Portland Airport-PDX-is the nearest airport). For this 2016 Launch season for the Columbia and Snake River Cruise, AQSC used the Hilton Vancouver Washington. This package included breakfast, taxes, porterage and transfers. The ship is close to the Vancouver Farmer’s market, the number one visitor attraction and home to over 200 vendors. Guest staying at this hotel received a morning overview of the American Empress, priority specialty dining reservations at the River Bar and Grill, and pre-cruise check-in. For FAM guests, the hotel is not complimentary. I opted to stay at Hotel Rose in Portland, Oregon. The hotel is pet friendly. This hotel lured me with it complimentary pineapple cupcakes, and coffee daily in the lobby. The hotel is approximately 25 minutes from PDX and equal distance to the dock in Vancouver, WA. Conveniently located walking distance to Portland’s famous Saturday Market, and the ooey gooey goodness of Voodoo Donuts. Hotel Rose provided complimentary bicycles, helmets and locks for guests to mix in with the local biking culture. I recommend including a few landmarks which are a short distance by bike: Powell’s Books (largest bookstore on the planet), St. Mary’s Cathedral, and Waterfront Park Trail along the Willamette River. Using transportation there are some great stops while in the city: International Rose Test Gardens, Portland Japanese Gardens, and The Grotto – National Sanctuary. Note: Portland is for foodies and has a very casual feel. “Keep Portland Weird” is the city’s motto. Save some time for people watching it is truly fascinating. There is a bounty of stellar food venues; many have got their start from the unending lines of food trucks adorning the city streets. I decided on cuisine from Kathmandu, Nepal, which was a solid choice. Portland is a utopia for vegans. I had my first, unbelievably good, burger made with beets and cashew cheese. The curry ketchup with home style fries was excellent. If you only have time to make one food stop, I highly recommend The Salt and Straw. Best fresh made ice cream (gelato included), I’ve ever experienced. The ice cream is made with all locally grown ingredients, and Zagat-rated. The 30 minute line was well worth it! I sampled the strawberry honey balsamic with black pepper; the honey lavender; and Arbequina olive oil. I landed on a scoop of the Arbequina olive oil. They do offer ice cream by mail. Sunday, April 3rd, Day 1: Vancouver, WA The ship departure at 6 p.m. allowed for some pre-cruise premium shore excursions (additional charge): Mount St. Helens Tour including Portland City Tour; and Portland City Tour – “The Rose City”. Both excursions included pick up at the Hilton in Vancouver and transfer to the ship. I arrived shortly before the 3 p.m. embarkation which allowed me to meet guests, which later turn out to be phenomenal new friends who I shared the journey with. Guests were greeted at embarkation with jazz music from the Empress Quartet and small treat from the dessert tray. My luggage was delivered within ten minutes of arriving in my stateroom. AQSC is touted as the largest, most elegant riverboat in the Pacific Northwest. AQSC has a dedicated fleet of motor coaches, which includes a fully narrated hop-on, hop-off (ho-ho) tours for each port town. The morning typically has three departure times from the boat (AQSC uses the term boat, not ship). Maps are provided every night in the staterooms outlining the various stops along the ho-ho route. Motor coaches pick up are every 15 minutes in the morning, and every hour in the afternoon for most days. The boat visits small towns so the ho-ho provides time to explore the local shops and museums. Some guests took the ho-ho tour for an overview of the town. Most full circuits requiring about 45 minutes. Most admission fees to museums and attractions are part of the tour, though you will still want to bring some spending monies as most have gift shops. AQSC started the journey with full-color, double-sided maps outlining our journey staterooms. Lewis and Clark’s expedition was the opposite direction of our itinerary. According to Laurence Cotton, our Riverlorian, traveling the same direction as the expedition, East to West, provides more daytime travel. The rivers passes through 7 ecosystems in 7 days! The West is close to a rainforest, receiving up to 80 or more inches of rainfall a year. The East is has desert conditions receiving less than 15 inches or less of rainfall a year. Monday, April 4th, Day 2: Astoria, OR This is the oldest American Settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. This area was inhabited by the Clatsop Indians for thousands of years. In 1805, Lewis and Clark’s expedition arrived here where they wintered at Fort Clatsop.   The battle of the premium shore excursions was shared by many guests. The tough decision between The Lewis & Clark Experience and Zip Lining Adventure ensued with much thought. The winner was the Zip Lining Adventure, which allowed me to face my fear of heights, head on. The day was a double victory as our small entourage of three guests zip lining was enhanced when our tour guide offered to take us through a fast-forward tour of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park at Fort Clatsop. High Life Adventures provided a progressive series of an 8-course zip line. What a tremendous pleasure to share in the bucket-list-item for an 82 year-old from our ship as part of our zipping team. The afternoon of adrenalin culminated with The Zwing Extreme Zip Swing (additional charge, highly recommend). A surprise visit from Yeti at the end of one of the zip courses, added to the fear factor as he jumped from behind the trees. Note: Guests on The Lewis & Clark Experience received a complimentary book, In the Wake of Lewis and Clark: From the Mountains to the Sea by C. Mark Smith. Though I did not purchase this excursion, I did order my copy on Amazon and enjoyed the easy read. Bonus, C. Mark Smith was one of the tour guides on the ho-ho. Tuesday, April 5th, Day 3: The Dalles, OR The terrane has changed significantly from the lushness of Oregon’s west coast to the desert-like conditions of The Dalles of Oregon. There were no premium shore excursions in this area, though interestingly enough, our Lounge Entertainer, Ted Horwitz, hails from this small town. He entertained us each afternoon and evening in the Paddlewheel Lounge. The Dalles has many high tech companies residing there due to tax breaks, enhanced with the Columbia River Gorge Technology Alliance. Google invested 1.2 billion dollars in its data center. Apple and Amazon are investing in communities in Oregon, as well. Quite a few guests participated in the on shore hike emulating the Corps of Discovery on an easy ½ mile hike lead by Laurence to Lewis and Clark’s Rock Fort Camp. The crew and Riverlorian offered numerous on shore hikes ranging from ½ miles to 2 miles most days. The American Empress left port at 3 a.m. on day Day 3. New friends from aboard the boat came together after a yummy dinner to walk to a local karaoke dive. What fun times were had singing “We are Family” with some friendly folks from The Dalles! Wednesday, April 6th, Day 4: Stevenson, WA I choose the popular Multnomah Falls and Vista House premium excursion. This tour began on the Old Scenic Highway offering breathtaking views along America’s most scenic landscape. There were many vantage points and photo opportunities along the way: The Columbia River Gorge, Crown Point, Vista House, Multnomah Falls (Oregon’s highest waterfall), and much more. When I arrived back in my stateroom, AQSC surprised me with a picture memento of our day’s journey on the premium shore excursion. What a stellar gesture! Thursday, April 7th, Day 5: Cruising The Columbia River & Tri-Cities (Richland), WA (overnight) It was a relaxing morning paddling down The Columbia River with many onboard activities to choose from: Zumba Gold, Read Our Mind Game Show, Trivia, Riverlorian Presentation, Bridge Players Meet, Future Cruise Talk, and Disembarkation Talk. We arrived in Richland at 2 p.m. and the Ho-Ho ran every 30 minutes. Friday, April 8th, Day 6: Tri-Cities (Richland), WA My journey down The Columbia River to The Snake River was highlighted with the premium shore excursion Hells Canyon Scenic Jet Boat Experience. Hells Canyon is North America’s deepest gorge. The jet boats were very comfortable and covered. The bench seat in the back was even more exciting as daring guests were drenched with a combination of mist and waves. The views along the banks offered tremendous view. Our tour guide mentioned sometimes there are sighting of bear, Big Horn sheep, deer, and other native wildlife can be spotted. I spotted cattle, horses, deer, bald eagle, and various birds. At the farthest East end of the river, we stopped at the Idaho Garden Creek Preserve and enjoyed beverages and cookies. The views were gorgeous from the of river, orchard, and nature’s landscape. Note: The Jet boats were enclosed and contain onboard bathroom facilities. This was a scenic jet boat experience; there were no white water rapids. A week after I arrived home, my latest issue of Backpacking magazine featured an article boasting best views in America’s National Parks, and featuring Hells Canyon. What a fun way to showcase the end of my journey aboard AQSC! I did see many hikers along the river enjoying the gorgeous 80-degree weather and views. Highlights: What made AQSC memorable is the outstanding crew and friendliest guests on any cruise line I have journeyed! The overall feel of the ship was jovial, fun, and lasting friendships were forged. • The maîtres’ in each dining room decorated the dining table for a friend’s birthday. In the Astoria Dining Room, Carmen, head maîtres, gave her a small gift. I have never witnessed such a remarkable experience on any premium or luxury cruise line. On the last night of the cruise, Carmen gave everyone at our table a beautiful picture of Mount Hood, signed “We will miss you”! • The Riverlorian, Laurence Cotton was the most knowledgeable, engaging, and enjoyable lecturer I have had the pleasure of listening to. He is a true gem for AQSC! He gave daily lectures with a broad range: The Columbia River, “Our Journey Through Time and Place” introduction to the region and its history; “The Lewis & Clark and the Corps of Discovery: Onwards to the Pacific and Homeward Bound”; Kennewick Man and the Hanford Nuclear Site, “Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing America (his film produced for public TV); “Oregon Trail: In Their Own Words”; and Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce War (his own film). • I thoroughly enjoyed the Broadway style nightly entertainment in The Show Lounge. Each evening featured a fresh vibe, engaging audience interactions: Music of the Silver Screen, greatest pop & rock from 50’s-70’s, love songs, and Broadway songs. • Locks and Lox were featured in the River Grill as American Empress traveled through the Bonneville Dam, the first of many locks on the river journey. This was coupled with the $5 Bloody Mary or Mimosa bar with all the fixings, offered most mornings. Laurence indicated the eastbound itinerary featured more daytime cruising through the locks than the westbound itinerary. • Enrichment Presentation featuring the gifted guest speaker, storyteller, and Native American Tribal Member, J. R. Spencer sharing tales about the Nez Perce Indians. • Maryhill Wine Tasting with special guest presenter Rich Washburn for a complimentary tasting of local favorites. • “Dare to Dream” featured the history of steamboating in an interesting video showcasing the origins of the American Queen. • The good and the sad…welcome aboard and the Farewell Champagne reception. Stateroom Experience: My floating home away from home was a category C deluxe verandah stateroom #226 on the Frontier Deck. This was an ideal location being one door away from the stairwell and elevators. I enjoyed the view from the port side of the boat across the river as the boat headed eastbound. The stateroom was just down the corridor from the Paddlewheel Lounge where most activities were held. I could hear the music from my stateroom at night which was welcomed. AQSC was completely refurbished in spring 2014. Staterooms were stunning in the Victorian era with ornate furniture and elegant wallpaper. Many of the staterooms are configured for two twins with limited queen configurations. The AE-C categories are 180 sq. ft. with one picture window, and one door with window. There was ample storage in the two armoires. The stateroom was well accommodated with a flat screen TV, alarm clock, mini refrigerator, safe, Keurig coffee brewer, and binoculars. The bathroom was small though had a good design. The bath shower stall was quite small. There was a hairdryer, bathrobes, and slippers in the stateroom. Other features were an antique writing desk with chair, which I rotated for views from the picture window. There were two antique style chairs and fine artwork from the regions American Empress travels. Every evening, the River Times was left in each stateroom and offered a map of the ho-ho destinations, and newsletter for the follow day’s adventures. Note: The staterooms and on the Vista View Deck have the walking track surrounding them. There is a small railing, see below.  Dining Experience: • The cuisine above represents some of the regional Pacific Northwest cuisine, using locally sourced, fresh ingredients with a contemporary vibe. I highly recommend the grilled lobster, and espresso-rubbed tenderloin. • An all-American staff provided gracious service and warm hospitality. This was the friendliest service I have ever experienced. The head chef visited our table most every night. He even surprised our table with a specially made dessert. • The ship had a country club casual ambiance, no formal wear was required. • The Astoria Dining Room had fine the same fine service breakfast, lunch, and dinner. • The catch of the day was featured each evening in the Astoria Dining Room. • The drinks were overflowing with regional wines and beer in both dining venues during dinner. • The River Grill and Bar offered morning made-to-order omelet station, alternative grill options for lunch; including hamburgers, roast beef sandwiches, fajitas, and much more. Both breakfast and lunch buffet had varied daily options offering many choices of cold, hot, and dessert options. Afternoons you could find fruit and cookies to snack on. The drinks were self-service. There was alfresco dining or you could take in the rays from the floor to ceiling windows indoors. • Complimentary cappuccino, espresso, bottled water and soft drinks were available in The River Grill & Bar anytime. • Late afternoon snacks were offered in the Paddlewheel Lounge with a wide daily range: huge shrimp & cocktail sauce, cheese & crackers, veggies & dips, and so much more. The antique popcorn popper allowed for a salty and buttery option at any time. For my sweet tooth, I frequented the platter of different types of homemade cookies. • Room service was available with a special menu and I am told you could have cuisine from the dining room’s menu in your stateroom or for a romantic dinner on your verandah. Activities/Entertainment: • Happy hour in the Paddlewheel Lounge allowed guests to try the featured drink of the day, while tapping their feet to the sweet beat of Ted Horwitz, entertainer and pianist. Ted covered many decades and music varieties from American Folk Music; tunes from the Rat Pack; smooth sounds; to hosting a Rock ‘n Roll Dance Party. His friendly and fun banter with guests, kept the crowd engaged. After dinner, the Paddlewheel Lounge was filled with guests taking in a night cap or dancing to their favorite requests. • The Empress Quartet featured jazz some evenings. They were a talented group on guys from different parts of Missouri (shout out to where I grew up). • The gift shop was open when the boat was in port, which was handy. • A self-guided art tour was offered by way of a brochure in each stateroom/suite. The American Empress showcased fine historical artifacts and artwork of the Native Alaska, Russian, and Gold Rush throughout the corridors. • Onboard activities offered something for everyone: line dancing lessons, trivia, Independent Travelers Meet & Greet, Bingo, Veterans Meet & Greet, Bridge Players & Game Players, movie matinee, Blackjack Tournament, Pilot House tour, Engine Room Tour, crafts, Read Our Minds classic TV gameshow and The Match Game, and Liar’s Club Game. Insider’s Tips: • Complimentary bicycles were offered to guests on a first come, first serve basis to explore destinations on their own. • Be first to attend select lectures by Laurence the Riverlorian as he handed out full-size maps. The maps reflected in detail Lewis & Clarks’ expeditions, featuring the Columbia River and points of interest. • Take time slow down and take in the view. The rocking chairs on the public deck outside the River Grill & Bar invited a laid-back vibe, whilst overlooking the wake views and paddlewheel. • I recommend waiting to sign up for the optional tour once onboard, instead of advance for some special travel agent rates. • Before the cruise, sign up for some Premium Experience Excursions for a more in-depth and active options while in port. The pricing is nominal and money well spent! Read Less
30 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
My wife and I sailed on the August 9 departure of the American Empress, a 7-night journey that began in Vancouver WA (across the river from Portland OR) and ended in Clarkston WA, about 2 hours south of Spokane. The cruise exceeded my ... Read More
My wife and I sailed on the August 9 departure of the American Empress, a 7-night journey that began in Vancouver WA (across the river from Portland OR) and ended in Clarkston WA, about 2 hours south of Spokane. The cruise exceeded my expectations and would be enjoyed by just about anyone above age 60 or perhaps younger people traveling with their family. For the record, we are a 65-year old retired couple from California. The ship carries about 200 passengers, most in cabins with a balcony. One quirk is that the more expensive cabins/suites are on deck 4, the promenade deck. These cabins have an outside seating area with a short "fence" cordoning it off from the promenade walkway so there is less privacy in these cabins. Those in window cabins can still enjoy the river views and there are several comfortable outdoor seating venues on different decks. Our category C balcony cabin on deck 2 was a bit small but completely adequate and comfortable. It included a refrigerator, flat screen TV and a safe. Wi-Fi generally worked well in our cabin. The speed was about what you would expect on an ocean cruise, faster than dial-up but far slower than on your home cable modem. The dining experience was very good to excellent. For breakfast and lunch there are two venues, a sit-down meal in the main dining room and a buffet on the top deck. In both cases the offerings were not as numerous as you would find on a sea cruise but there was enough variety to please me. We ate all of our breakfasts at the buffet; I was very impressed with the summertime fruit selection. A 'made to order' omelet station was also available. We ate most lunches in the sit-down venue. There were a few choices from a 2-course menu with optional dessert. Service was prompt. The buffet lunch also featured a grill offering hamburgers and hot dogs. For dinner the buffet area was converted to an alternative restaurant with tablecloths; advance reservations are required with a limit of 2 visits per voyage. The River Grill featured a fixed menu that included entrees like lamb chops, filet, and lobster. Service was attentive. Tables for 2 are very small so it is useful to share a table with others. Dinner in the main dining room offered open seating at two times, 5:30 and 7:45. The menu generally consisted of a choice of 2 appetizers, a soup, a salad and a choice of about 4 or 5 entrees, one being vegetarian. Wine is offered each evening with dinner, one white and one red. The reds were generally pretty good or better. However on two evenings the white wine offered was off-dry to sweet, not a good choice for dinner. Wine service was very attentive with generous pours. Many evenings I requested a final glass of wine to take to the show. I was pleasantly surprised by the on-board entertainment. Each evening there was a 45-minute show in the show lounge featuring a 4-piece band. The cruise directors, a husband and wife team, provided excellent singing and dancing most evenings. A guest banjo/guitarist, Will Kiefer, gave excellent performances on two evenings. The shows were augmented with a humorous piano-bar entertainer in the main bar. My only criticism of the entertainment was that the song selection was a bit stodgy, more "Lawrence Welk" than 'Woodstock". As I pointed out in my on-board ship review, those of us that are now 65 are part of the "Woodstock Generation" and we will begin to represent a greater portion of their passenger demographic. Another key aspect of the entertainment was a series of talks provided by the Riverlorian, Lawrence Cotton for this voyage. A highlight was his two-part depiction of the Lewis and Clark journey from the early 1800s. He managed to bring this adventure to life. He was also frequently on deck chatting with passengers. On occasion he would take to the PA system to narrate scenery or lock transits. Shore excursions were very well designed and executed. Each port featured a no-cost "Hop-on Hop-off" bus service that visited several attractions. A good map with the bus timetable was provided for each port. Generally you could also purchase a premium excursion for more in-depth exploration. The optional shore excursions were priced similar to sea cruise excursions. The full-day Columbia Gorge excursion was a highlight. We also very much enjoyed the half-day wine excursion. Of the Ho-Ho trips, we enjoyed Astoria the most. Suggestions: --Cruise direction of travel: I recommend the westbound itinerary for a few reasons. Eastern Washington is dry and dusty. I would have preferred to end the trip with the more lush scenery of the Columbia Gorge and western Oregon. Flights out of Spokane are more limited than from Portland; it is good to get the more difficult flight out of the way initially by flying into Spokane. --the no cost Ho-Ho bus tickets are required for the first few departures. This is to avoid crowding. The tickets and map are available the evening before; it is prudent to get them early so that you can secure your desired departure time. --Make reservations for the River Grill dinner shortly after embarking the boat. Try to pick evenings where the ship is traveling rather than docked; this provides better views while dining. And generally you can secure a third night if you also ask for dinner the night of boarding; this doesn't count against your two-night quota. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2015
We met the American Empress in Clarkston WA, so we flew into Spokane WA and stayed at the luxurious Davenport Hotel in Spokane. American Queen Steamboat Co pays for your stay at the Davenport, including a great breakfast buffet the next ... Read More
We met the American Empress in Clarkston WA, so we flew into Spokane WA and stayed at the luxurious Davenport Hotel in Spokane. American Queen Steamboat Co pays for your stay at the Davenport, including a great breakfast buffet the next morning. Cruise check in is at the hotel, and the following day you are placed on a two hour bus ride to Clarkston WA to meet the boat. No toilets on the bus, so make sure you use the bathroom at the Davenport. There is no WiFi on the bus, despite a sign that says there is. It would be nice if the driver had explained some of the sights we were seeing along the way. There is no charge for the bus ride to Clarkston, WA, but the company makes up for it by charging you $25/person for a ten minute ride to the Portland airport, when you disembark. Your luggage is waiting for you in your cabin, and embarkation was quick and easy. Do not take the Davenport van from the airport for $25. You can take a taxi for less than $18. I used Advanced Taxi, and the service was great. The fare from the Spokane airport to the Davenport was $17.86 and I let the driver keep the change from a $20 bill, which he appreciated. He loaded and unloaded our luggage for us. I requested early seating for dinner, when I made my cruise reservations. Seating is open, and there are two venues for dining, the Astoria dining room and the River Grill. River Grill requires reservations for the evening meal. The Astoria serves three meals a day, with waiter service. The River Grill is buffet style for breakfast and lunch but waiter service only for the evening meal. Food is always plentiful at the River Grill, and you can go there for light snacks between meals. I just wish the River Grill had provided sandwiches, particularly ingredients for sandwiches, but there was plenty of other choices. The morning omelettes are lacking and would better be described as scrambled eggs mixed with vegetables. No problem though, there were many other food choices for breakfast. There are no provisions for children or teenagers on the Empress. Do not bring young people or children with you. There is nothing for them to do, and they will be completely bored. This is a cruise intended for adults only. Moreover, the vast majority of cruisers are senior citizens. Nightly shows are 45 minutes long, put on by the husband-wife cruise directors, Greg and Lindy. The shows are pretty good and entertaining. More entertainment is available in the Paddle Wheel lounge, put on by Frank, who is very talented. Beware of the "seat savers" for the evening show. I wish the company would not allow people to do this, because there is precious little seating anyway in the show lounge. If you happen to be on a cruise that is full, with 240 passengers, seating in the show lounge will not be adequate. We had 160 on our cruise, and some facilities, such as the show lounge, were nearing capacity. I found the much touted riverlorian to be a complete bore. I listened to her for about five minutes and never returned again to one of her boring "lectures." This is a shame, because if the right person had this job, more passengers would be interested. Overall, the crew is very friendly and very customer oriented. I had only three minor problems with crew members. The grill man in the River Grill messed up my order one morning, not a big deal. One of the female food service staff members was somewhat rude and impatient with passengers. I mentioned this to her boss, and I noticed the server made a feeble attempt to clean up her act. Please note, the rest of the food service staff was outstanding and always went the extra mile to please us. One of the deck crew was clueless, when I asked him what time we were required to be back on board. He was also clueless, when I asked him what the boat's telephone number was, in case I needed it. This same crew member also lacked courtesy and tact, when he informed passengers they were not permitted in certain areas of the boat. Again, a brief private conversation with his boss seemed to rectify this particular crew member's attitude. Internet service is poor to never being available. The WiFi signal is strongest in the Paddle Wheel lounge. There are four desktops available in the Paddle Wheel lounge, but again, the internet connection is very slow to not being in service at all. They really need to upgrade their internet capability. Cell phone service was available at all times, except for one brief part of the cruise outside Richland WA. Also, the much touted American Queen app for you smartphone or iPhone does not work. I questioned this and was told the bus drivers were not trained on how to use the app. So, my question is, why do they even advertise the app being available for the Hop On Hop Off tours? Speaking of shore excursions, the Hop On Hop Off tours are mediocre, at best. The service works pretty good, and buses come by every 15 to 30 minutes or every hour in the afternoon. It is obvious that the company would rather you spend money on the expensive optional shore excursions. In all fairness, we enjoyed speaking with all the local people we met on the Hop On Hop Off tours. However, the places you visit are nothing to brag about. We took the optional Vista House Old National Highway tour for $49/person, and it was probably worth the money, even though we could not stop at all the falls, due to overcrowding with tourists. Disembarkation made for a very long day. Bags had to be out in the passageway by 11 PM the night before, and all passengers had to be off the boat by 7:45 AM the next morning. The $25/person bus ride to the airport took ten minutes. You are charged $16.50 per day per passenger for gratuities, and the charges will appear on your final bill. You are free to raise or lower this amount. Also, the purser will provide you with tip envelopes, if you want to give an individual crew member an additional tip. I did not see any need to give a special tip to any particular crew member. We had cabin 204, and it was very small but very adequate. Housekeeping did an outstanding job of cleaning and keeping the cabin stocked. The shower is so tiny that you can hardly turn around in it. It is impossible for two people to occupy the bathroom at the same time. The bed was very comfortable, and there were adequate drawers to store and hang our stuff. There is a tiny room safe for valuables. A small flat screen TV worked perfectly, and I loved the bow camera view on TV. A small refir keeps your bottled water cold, and housekeeping will supply you with all the free bottled water you want. There is a real nice coffee maker in the room too. The cabin was very clean. The HVAC worked perfectly. When in port, do take the pilot house and engine room tours. Overall, we enjoyed ourselves and felt as though we got our money's worth. A final note worth repeating, do not take children or teenagers on this cruise. There is absolutely nothing of interest for them, and to be honest, I was quite glad there were no kids, because they would have been totally bored, particularly because their electronic toys will not work. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2015
The American Empress is the 2nd ship for American Queen Steamship Co and plies the Snake and Columbia Rivers in Washington and Oregon. Like the American Queen (AQ), the American Empress (AE) is a paddlewheel ship but AE is diesel powered ... Read More
The American Empress is the 2nd ship for American Queen Steamship Co and plies the Snake and Columbia Rivers in Washington and Oregon. Like the American Queen (AQ), the American Empress (AE) is a paddlewheel ship but AE is diesel powered with two "Z" drives supplementing the paddlewheel. AE was originally built in 2003 for Majestic CL as their Empress of the North. After Majestic failed the ship was returned to its bond holder. the US Maritime Administration, until bought by AQSC and returned to service last year as American Empress. Although the Empress looks like a steamboat from the outside, inside it is much more modern with large cruise ship styled cabins, almost all with balconies. AQSC is a upscale American owned, operated, and crewed company and thus fairly expensive. I am a "single" and usually AQSC charges double for singles which was the case with this trip. As AE holds only 220 guests, whereas AQ holds over 400, public spaces on AE are very few except for a lovely dining room, River Grill for casual meals at breakfast/lunch and reservation for dinner, a Show Lounge, and one Lounge/Library/Internet Center/Bar combo. Food on AE, like on AQ is excellent however the menu is "shorter" on AE with an emphasis on Pacific NW foods, e.g lots of seafood, whereas on AQ the food is more Southern/Cajun style. CREW/STAFF - all American with great morale/attitude. Never without friendly "hello's" and a smile on their faces. Itinerary - AE does a 7 night river trip from either Clarkson WA (Lewiston ID) to Vancouver WA (Portland OR) or reverse. Each trip begins or ends with a stay at a delightful upscale hotel. In my case it was the wonderfully restored 1914 Davenport Historical Hotel in Spokane. Once you reach your first night hotel everything with AQSC is "seamless" and outstanding in every respect. You check in, have dinner (on your own), provided with luxury overnight accommodations, breakfast the next morning, and then either have the morning to explore or take an extra cost AQSC tour. Your luggage "disappears" from your hotel room and reappears in your cruise stateroom, in the afternoon you are transferred to the ship and your trip begins. We went west down the Snake and Columbia rivers traversing eight river locks over the next days. Each day the "boat" docks at another town and you either take a Hop On/Off tour on AQSC busses which accompany the ship along the journey (travelling along the shore), or a extra cost Premium Tour to destinations further away. On the rivers we traversed from a desert like environment in the east to a heavily forested landscape in western OR/WA. (The Columbia River is the boundary between WA and OR). Personally I found that the stops on AE, while interesting etc. did not provide the variety or number of places of interest as found on AQ on her Mississippi River trips. This was the route of Lewis and Clark when exploring the area and was the "theme" of this voyage. A wonderful lecturer (called the Riverlorian) provides lectures, river commentary etc. On the 8th day we arrived in Vancouver WA, across the river from Portland OR where AQSC transferred us to the airport, tours, or their post cruise hotel. Other Comments - on AE cabins are "cruise ship like" with small baths and very small showers. Cabin walls are very "thin" and easily transmit "conversation" from next door. On AQ cabins are smaller, furnished with period furniture, large baths with tubs, but very few "private balconies". On AQ cabins mostly open to open Promenade Decks whereas on AE all cabins but six have private balconies. This was my 3rd AQSC trip and I find them expensive yes, but excellent is all respects. Your fellow passengers at least on this trip made this 75 year old feel that he was a "youngster". It is not just the "retired", but the "long retired" here on AE. Summary - it is almost impossible to find anything to "niggle" about on the AE or the AQ. AQSC is a great company and is I understand, part of the Hornblower Maritime "empire" which offers various maritime services around the world. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2015
We just finished a cruise from Vancouver Wa. to Clarkson Wa. And we were impressed with the quality of the product. Everyone was super friendly, no matter the position or rank onboard.. The food was excellent, the entertainment was ... Read More
We just finished a cruise from Vancouver Wa. to Clarkson Wa. And we were impressed with the quality of the product. Everyone was super friendly, no matter the position or rank onboard.. The food was excellent, the entertainment was fun,on shore excursions were well chosen.This was my second cruise with this cruise ship company,and the consistency was apparent between boats. They hire local people, and make it interesting with guests speakers, entertainers,and riverlorian. The guides were well informed. Use local cuisine were possible.Their no. 1 asset is the staff. And Thanks for a lovely week. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2014
My husband and I recently enjoyed a hassle-free, drama-free truly enjoyable Columbia River cruise aboard the American Empress. I'll concede that some of the 'fabulousness' I attribute to this trip was to due to luck. The ... Read More
My husband and I recently enjoyed a hassle-free, drama-free truly enjoyable Columbia River cruise aboard the American Empress. I'll concede that some of the 'fabulousness' I attribute to this trip was to due to luck. The weather was lovely, the timing perfect, and I (nearly) fit into most of my favorite cocktail dresses. As far as the actual trip... Booking was easy and thanks to the discounts currently available for last minute guests, we were able to afford a nice suite. The agenda began with a night in a gorgeous hotel and the idealistic feeling of the whole experience was set right from the start by the presence of a welcoming & informed cruise company concierge who, stationed at the hotel, filled us in on necessary details and ensured our comfort. The following day we had a private cruise breakfast during which we were able to meet some of our fellow guests. We then spent time enjoying Spokane on our own before reuniting with our group to meet the ship. The boat was just what I expected...perfectly comfortable and casually elegant. Genuine art lined the walls and the room was tastefully furnished. There was plenty of storage, a comfortable bed, pod-style coffee maker and nice extras like a Bose CD player. With this cruise nearly everything is included thus adding to the easygoing nature of the experience. It was so nice to reach for a bottled water in the room or a glass of wine at dinner without feeling the need to take out a second mortgage. Meals on the ship were 'open seating' with 2 restaurants and/or room service from which to choose and the food was excellent. We preferred the main dining-room and appreciated the chef's creativity and attention to detail. The service was near perfect and the staff (all of whom are from the states) were fun and truly caring. Many of the dinner wines we enjoyed were local which I appreciated both for the variety as well as the boost to the local economy that the ship's company provided. Seeing the river from the water was wonderful. The contrast of the elegant ship and the rugged scenery was an ideal combination to please both my outdoorsy husband and his room-service loving wife. Because this trip had a Lewis and Clark expedition emphasis, there were subject matter lectures and a river guide on board to educated us on what we were seeing as we cruised. The scenery was amazing. Alert to nature folks, photographers, artists and romantics... It was stunning. Each town stop included a 'hop on-hop off' type tour of the area and plenty of time to explore. In addition there were very reasonably priced optional tours to outlying areas. We opted for 3 of them that included sights not easily accessed by other available means. The variety of stops and the options available eliminated any chance of "what should we do today"conflicts and I really appreciated the timing flexibility. After coffee and breakfast on our veranda (me, loving the comfy robe and slippers) we used the available (and complimentary) bikes to tour one area, the buses for 3 and walked through others. For the most part you can both see the local town and take an optional tour on the same day. As far as the optional tours...I'd like to see a few more adventurous and/or athletic exploration options. Vlad and I were late returning from one tour because we hiked to the top of a local waterfall when the option not to do so after coming from such a long way to see it, would be unthinkable. While I understand that the 'average' guest may not be up for rafting or para-sailing, I think the opportunity for enjoying more of what the river provided would be nice. (Just don't ask me to give up my wine tasting/distillery tour...which was excellent). Shipboard entertainment included a variety of shows, ship board games (more fun than it sounds) and a talented, albeit a bit unorthodox, fun, engaging and absolutely endearing pianist who seems to be as comfortable with Brahms as he was with Blues. The co-cruise directors/entertainers/all round good "guys" worked their tails off to be sure everyone was happily engaged and entertained and they, as well as the rest of staff genuinely worked as a true team to enrich our holiday. Both my husband and I are very grateful for their efforts. I'm not sure if it's 'policy', the Captain's mandate or just luck but the flexibility, ability and willingness of this ship's staff to create and maintain an amazing trip is in my opinion, the #1 reason to go. Mississippi River! You're next.   Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: October 2014
Last October 2014 I had the pleasure of taking the American Empress cruise on the Columbia River from Vancouver, WA to Spokane, WA. I have been on several cruises, on both larger and smaller boats and enjoyed them all, but this by far was ... Read More
Last October 2014 I had the pleasure of taking the American Empress cruise on the Columbia River from Vancouver, WA to Spokane, WA. I have been on several cruises, on both larger and smaller boats and enjoyed them all, but this by far was the best cruise I have ever been on. The newly refurbished Empress is in beautiful shape, extremely clean and comfortable. The food was very good, and the entertainment was GREAT! Loved the lounge pianist, who was one of the best I have ever heard. (I never missed a late evening listening to him.), and best of all were Lindy and Greg Pendzick, our entertainers and hosts. Besides being very talented dancers and singers, they made sure everyone had a good time! I can't wait to go on another American Empress cruise!!!   Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2014
Let's begin at the beginning. We stayed the first night at the Davenport Hotel in Spokane. This beautiful hotel, a gem in downtown Spokane, has been restored to its former glory. It was opulent in every respect, a fun way to begin the ... Read More
Let's begin at the beginning. We stayed the first night at the Davenport Hotel in Spokane. This beautiful hotel, a gem in downtown Spokane, has been restored to its former glory. It was opulent in every respect, a fun way to begin the cruise. Not only was the hotel beautiful, it was efficiently run with a very gracious staff. Check in for the boat was offered at the hotel with many time slots available. This meant that all that was necessary to do upon arrival at the boat was to present your ID and walk to your room where your luggage awaited you. The room, while small, provided more than adequate storage space and was decorated very nicely. The service onboard was excellent. Our room was always refreshed while we were at breakfast and turned down while we were at dinner. The Godiva chocolate on the pillow was a nice touch!. Dining was a pleasure. The wait staff was very accommodating. Austin and Anton, you were great! Now to the food...Excellent is the only way to describe our dinner each night. Dinner was gourmet dining at its best! I certainly hope that the chef remains with the boat because he was excellent.. Shore excursions were also well run. Each port offered as free hop on hop off option as well as a premium excursion. We took both and were pleased with each. Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our experience on the Columbia River on the American Empress. OUr port of embarkation was Clarkston, Washington. However, this was not a choice above. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: September 2014
So "Happy" we chose The American Empress Riverboat tour of the Columbia River this September 2014. It was a perfect weather, perfect staff & accommodations trip. From the very start, the Hilton Hotel in Vancouver was gracious ... Read More
So "Happy" we chose The American Empress Riverboat tour of the Columbia River this September 2014. It was a perfect weather, perfect staff & accommodations trip. From the very start, the Hilton Hotel in Vancouver was gracious and provided a great location for the pre-cruise night. On board the Empress, it was such a pleasure. The staff, like Bobby, Jennifer, Anton, Lisa, Frank, Lindy & Greg, and Diane, just to name a few, were all so personable and happy people without being hovering. We were pleased that American Steamboat Co. only hires American staff.... Wise choice and most appreciated. Everyday was a charm....Hop-On Hop-Off Bus excursions at every port were so well planned...We especially enjoyed the Pendleton Round Up Rodeo, (which was ONLY on the schedule the very week of our trip)...Wow, Let'er Buck!. The meals on board were just lovely, expertly prepared and delicious, just right portions, too. The entertainment delivered, piano, quartet, singing, banjo and storytelling. Frank and Lindy & Greg were outstanding! What could be better than a fine dinner, followed by a great show every night. The scenery, the locks, the Native Culture, Lewis & Clark History, the ports...."all" were so carefully planned for us. It was our First Riverboat trip...... but it won't be our last. It met our expectations and so much more! Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2014
The difficult aspect of this review is to be accurate and objective, without sounding like a company shill. My wife and I were on the Sept. 20, 2014 cruise from Portland (Vancouver) to Clarkston. Of course, no voyage is perfect, so I’ll ... Read More
The difficult aspect of this review is to be accurate and objective, without sounding like a company shill. My wife and I were on the Sept. 20, 2014 cruise from Portland (Vancouver) to Clarkston. Of course, no voyage is perfect, so I’ll begin with the “rough spots”. It’s not apparent without examining the cruise itinerary, but the Clarkston to Portland (Vancouver) cruise actually begins in Spokane, a major metropolitan area in eastern Washington State. Getting to/from Spokane is considerably easier than Clarkston, or Lewiston, its twin city in Idaho. For most folks, this itinerary is probably better, because there’s a $49 charge to ride AQSC’s bus from Clarkston to Spokane, while it’s included in the cost of a cruise ending in Vancouver. The cost for both cruises is the same. This is the first year of cruising for the American Empress, and some of the promotional and informational literature remains focused on her larger sister ship, the American Queen, which sails on the Mississippi and tributaries. For example, the American Queen Steamboat brochure states that the River Grill offers “a selection of sandwiches, fresh fruits, popcorn, and soft-serve ice cream around the clock….” In practice, ice cream was always available there, popcorn never was, sandwiches only around lunch, and fresh fruit for only part of the day. Light snacks and cookies were also available in the Paddlewheel Lounge from 3-5 daily. AQSC presumes that all passengers fly to and from the cruise. They offer zero assistance in arranging transportation that’s not related to airlines. That’s both disappointing and short-sighted on their part. With no help from AQSC, my wife found a very inexpensive one-way car rental. We paid $65 for a two-day rental, from the Lewiston Airport ($25 cab ride from the dock) to downtown Seattle, where we live. That allowed us to visit with relatives in the area before traveling home. The shower controls involve a flow control on the left and a temperature control on the right. The controls are identical, with no markings, and no explanation in the guest guide book. It’s a great idea, but not typical of most hotels, and could use some explanation. I didn’t care for the coffee on the Empress. It tastes pretty much like generic diner coffee. In an area with so many excellent choices for coffee, AQSC could do better. The River Grill does have a self-service espresso machine. I didn’t use it, so can’t comment. I spent 20 years in the Navy, so this isn’t the worst coffee that I’ve tasted. That “honor” actually goes to Norwegian Cruise lines. It would be nice to have an indication of the ship’s position, ideally presented as a channel on the stateroom television screen. Hopefully, this will be added for the ship’s second cruise season. A repeater in the Paddlewheel Lounge would be nice. The deck plan on AQSC’s website is horrible. It’s too small, and nearly impossible to read the stateroom numbers. I found a better one on a cruise site. This was important when it came to selecting a stateroom. The complimentary Internet access was so slow as to be unusable. In fact, my cell phone refused to recognize it as a valid Internet connection, though my laptop did. I brought a mobile hotspot, which had coverage for about 2/3 of the cruise, as did my cell phone. Of course, most cruise lines charge obscene rates for Internet connections. If you need to have an airline boarding pass printed, ask the Purser’s office, which has better Internet access. This cruise is aimed squarely at adult passengers, with no provisions for children’s activities. I would not recommend it for families. The main dining venue, the Astoria Room, offers sit-down service for all three meals. The River Grill offers buffet service for breakfast and lunch. For dinner, it is reservation only. Unlike the Astoria Room, the menu doesn’t change. The staff tries very hard to offer an excellent dining experience. However, the arrangement of the room works against them, and there is considerable noise associated with the service. My wife and I ate there one evening, then canceled our second reservation. I would be happier if the River Grill offered buffet service for all three meals. It’s a nice effort by AQSC, but the passengers’ interests would be best served by offering a dinner buffet service. The first night of the cruise is actually in a hotel room, in Spokane or Vancouver. Bus transportation is provided to the ship’s embarkation point, though the Vancouver hotel is an easy walk from the dock. This is actually a very clever way to handle the check-in process, as well as baggage. Nevertheless, it is uncommon in the industry. AQSC stated that they had paid gratuities to the hotel staff, so none was expected from us. A voucher was provided for the hotel breakfast buffet. We had a wonderful time in the hotel, which is located adjacent to a very nice park in downtown Vancouver. We walked to the Veteran’s Memorial mural and to the Fort Vancouver site after checking in to the hotel. It’s a very pleasant area. With check-in accomplished at the hotel, you can go directly to your stateroom after boarding the ship, with your luggage waiting in your room. I should add that we rode Amtrak to the Vancouver station, which was a 15-minute walk to the hotel. We had roll-aboard suitcases and a backpack. Now, the good stuff. Basically, this cruise is as close to all-inclusive as could be reasonably expected. Unlike some other cruise companies, there is no effort to nickel-and-dime customers with bogus fees and continual exhortations to spend more money with them. You pay the published fare, $109 in port taxes, and $16.50 per day of the actual cruise (7 days) for gratuities (you can adjust this figure at the Purser’s office). If you want to participate in the specialty tours, there is an extra, but reasonable charge. Drinks from the bar are charged an automatic 15% gratuity. That’s it, unless you purchase items from the small ship’s store. There is zero pressure to participate in the specialty tours or to purchase drinks from the bar. Dinner includes your choice of four local craft beers or two wines (red and white). All are from the Northwest or California, and the choices change daily. Servers will keep filling your glass until you say “no”. In the two lounges, the bartenders made it clear that they were there to provide your beverage choices, not to push alcoholic drinks. We often chose a glass of water. After a few evenings, one bartender (Dan) brought our water as soon as we sat down. Bottled water is freely available, both in the staterooms and while leaving the ship in port. There’s no reason to bring your own. If rain is expected, loaner umbrellas are provided when departing the ship. Drinks in the bar are reasonably priced. The most expensive was a martini, at $12. The most expensive cocktail was $9. Beer and wine were $4-6, as I recall. The daily Happy Hour features reduced prices and drink specials. A bartender told me that all cocktails are original recipes developed by AQSC. While AQSC reserves the right to “prohibit and retain” alcoholic beverages, our luggage was not inspected, and the topic was never addressed. Besides, wine and beer are free with dinner, and bar prices are very reasonable. Repeatedly, the ship’s staff looked for ways to exceed our expectations. Our room attendant (Carol) offered to provide a different mix of coffees for the Keurig machine in our room, according to our preferences. When my wife commented to a bartender (Ed) that she liked Earl Gray tea, he said that he would insure that it was available in the Paddlewheel Lounge for the afternoon snack time. It was. Very early in the cruise, several staff members, including entertainers, asked our names, then greeted us by name whenever we encountered them in the ship. AQSC offers “hop-on, hop-off” tours at each port, for no charge. A fleet of three large, Greyhound-type buses follows the ship to each port. They’re easy to identify, with large murals of the American Empress painted on the side. One is dedicated to the specialty tours, and the other two operate on a schedule of every 15 or 30 minutes, depending on the port. Drivers remain with the buses, but local tour guides are hired from each port. Stops are typically placed at several local museums, dams, or interpretive centers, marked by sandwich board signs. AQSC has pre-paid the admission fee or donation, so there is no charge for their passengers. Like its larger sister, the American Queen, the American Empress is a US-flagged vessel, so it meets higher safety and health standards than do foreign-flagged vessels that operate to US ports (e.g., Alaska cruises from Seattle). All crewmembers are legally entitled to work in the US. Very few appeared to not be US-born. All seem to enjoy their jobs. It is reflected in their work attitudes. Pilothouse tours were offered twice, and were scheduled during port visits, for obvious reasons. The Captain was very friendly and explained the technology used to operate and navigate the ship. I visited the pilothouse again, after the tour. I had a wonderful discussion with him about the technology in the vessel and the maritime counterpart to Crew Resource Management training, which is now mandatory for US airline pilots. Engineering tours are not offered, but are available on request – also while in port. While every effort was made to have the American Empress look like a classic riverboat, its systems are very contemporary. The paddle wheel actually provides some of the propulsion, though powered by an electric drive motor. It is used only while cruising. For steering and maneuvering, the ship is equipped with two “Z-drives” and a very innovative bow thruster – all powered by the ship’s four diesel-electric generators. Three GPS systems, including an interesting GPS compass, along with a magnetic compass and gyro compass, two electronic map displays, and a radar screen, aid navigation. I was pleased to learn that the Captain is very comfortable with the technology, but still refers to paper charts. I am very familiar with airliner flight deck technology, and understand its limitations. The ship’s navigation technology is state-of-the-art for maritime applications, but well behind airliner technology. Technology in the engineering spaces is equally contemporary, though hidden from the public. The Astoria Dining Room is a wonderful venue, with sit-down service. One early reviewer didn’t care for the blue ceiling lighting. I agree that it’s inconsistent with the overall décor theme, but not unpleasant. It’s just different. The food was wonderful, as was the very attentive and accommodating service. Dinners included an appetizer, soup/salad, entrée, and dessert, along with beer and wine. A comparable dinner in a downtown Seattle restaurant would cost around $50, plus tax and tip. Entertainment was surprisingly plentiful and good for a vessel of this size. There were five entertainers, a music quartet, and the Riverlorian. That’s 10 entertainers for a ship with a capacity of a little more than 200 passengers! Two additional entertainers joined the ship during port visits. Two husband-wife teams (Lindy/Greg and Laura/Bill) provided great singing and dancing entertainment, plus Bill’s magic act. The piano player, Frank, is someone who simply must be experienced. He didn’t just play the piano – it was part of him. His casual, off-hand comments and stories were exceptionally entertaining. The quartet provided accompaniment for singing, as well as some great music alone. Entertainment was typically scheduled for Happy Hour in the Paddlewheel Lounge, one 45-minute show in the Show Lounge, and a second 45-minute show in the Paddlewheel Lounge. Unlike some larger cruise ships, all entertainment was finished by 10:00. This was a good thing, as it appeared that all passengers were eligible for AARP membership, with most being eligible for Medicare. This was a late-September cruise, but I would expect similar demographics in the summer. Laurence Cotton, the Riverlorian, was outstanding. He takes his job very seriously, and is well-versed in Northwest history, culture, and geography. He offers a large lending library of relevant books, a book of nautical charts for our journey, and at-least-daily talks about the Columbia River, its history, and its inhabitants, including Native Americans. Two guest presenters were also worked into his schedule. He provides a variety of tourist-related information for each of the ports in advance of the visits, and a summary of what we’ve seen. He’s typically found in the River Grill for breakfast, available to chat with the passengers about river lore and history. I skipped some tours and activities, rather than miss his talks. AQSC’s brochure suggests “country club casual” for evening attire. Women tended to dress a bit nicer than the men. There may have even been a cocktail dress or two. I saw one man wearing a sport coat, but several were in jeans. I wore a pair of white cargo pants for the entire cruise, with different polo or collared shirts. I felt very comfortable. Our stateroom was in the lowest-cost category, located on the fourth (top) deck. I selected it because I wanted to be on the top deck, for several reasons. The only other choices on that deck were the expensive suites. On check-in, I asked the Purser about deals for upgrading to a suite. Unfortunately, all were booked, even though the ship was only 1/3 full. Bummer! She was very cooperative and helpful in suggesting upgrades to mid-range cabins, and offered a discounted price. However, we were very happy with our room, so remained there. Our stateroom was small, but very comfortable. We’d requested a double bed. It was impossible for us to tell that two singles had been joined. The bed was very comfortable. The room included a desk, two chairs and a nice piece of furniture that housed the television, Keurig coffee machine, refrigerator, and several shelves for storing small items. Two large wardrobes provided plenty of closet and drawer storage. Even our cheap stateroom included robes and slippers. Several electrical outlets were available, unlike our previous cruise on the Norwegian Jewel, which offered a single one-outlet location to plug in all of our electronic devices. To summarize, the American Empress (and presumably her sister, the American Queen) is a “class act”. There is no nickel-and-dime strategy to generate incremental income from the passengers. Everything seems to function smoothly, despite this being the AE’s first season with this company, and the employees are simply outstanding. I look forward to another cruise with AQSC, probably on the Mississippi next time. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2014
The cruise has you start in Spokane, WA where you spend one night at the Doubletree City Center. The hotel is comfortable and has a very good, though a bit expensive, Spencer's Steakhouse. The hotel is located so that you can walk to ... Read More
The cruise has you start in Spokane, WA where you spend one night at the Doubletree City Center. The hotel is comfortable and has a very good, though a bit expensive, Spencer's Steakhouse. The hotel is located so that you can walk to restaurants, the park, and the falls. In early afternoon the American Empress will take you by bus (2 1/2 hour ride) down to Clarkston, WA where you join the boat. The drive takes you past golden wheat and hazelnut fields. Our welcome on board made us feel quite welcome and valued. During dinner there is a short cruise before spending the night. In Clarkston a Hop On-Hop Off complimentary tour is offered though we chose the Premium Tour that took us on a jet boat through Hells Canyon that we thought well worth the extra cost. The next stop was in Richland, WA where we chose the Hop On-Hop Off tour. The visit to the Reach Museum was interesting. I'd bypass the stop at Sacajewa State Park as there really isn't anything there. You might enjoy the stop at the Country Mercantile as they have really good ice cream and fruits from the area that you can try as well as a shop where you can buy items that one doesn't find in the local supermarket. The next day was spent on the Columbia River and sailing through the Gorge and arrived at The Dalles around 8 pm where we spent the night. In the morning, we took the Hop On-Hop Off that took us to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center that shouldn't be missed. Other stops were The Original Courthouse Museum, Fort Dalles Museum and the Sunshine Mills Winery that we chose not to visit. In Stevenson, the next stop, the Hop On-Hop Off took us through Downtown Stevenson that you could visit easily with a walk from the boat, Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center (another not miss), and the Bonneville Dam. At the dam, do not miss the fish ladder viewing area. The end of the tour is drawing near in Astoria, OR named for John Jacob Astor. We chose the Hop On - Hop Off that included the Riverwalk that you access with just a short walk from the boat, Flavel House, a beautiful Queen Anne house that was built in 1886. The Carriage House has displays and this is where you pick up a ticket to enter the house for a self guided tour. The house has been lovingly renovated by the Clatsop County Historical Society and is a gem. The views from the Astoria Column was hidden by fog so we didn't get off nor did we visit the Heritage Museum. Astoria has a lot of restaurants and is quite nice. The American crew is welcoming, friendly and helpful. The onboard entertainment included a Riverlorian, a husband and wife team, Greg & Lindy Pendzick, who were quite good and were the Co-Cruise Directos. Frank Chase in the Paddlewheel Lounge was quite entertaining as was another couple, Laura Sable, singer, and her husband Bill Weimuth who is multi-talented - storyteller, singer, magician. Food generally was very good, but the complimentary wines definitely need improvement! On board activities include the Riverlorian, Bingo, Enrichment Lectures and a bit more. Overall, a very experience. The cruise ended in Vancouver, WA where you could take a ships tour to Mt. St. Helens, a bus to the airport ($25 each), or have the ship arrange a taxi the airport.with tip cost $35.   Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2014
We had the loveliest time sailing on the American Empress June 15-22, 2014. My mother and I had both enjoyed steamboat sailings on the Mississippi and we looked forward to this one, closer to home in Vancouver, Canada. We were not ... Read More
We had the loveliest time sailing on the American Empress June 15-22, 2014. My mother and I had both enjoyed steamboat sailings on the Mississippi and we looked forward to this one, closer to home in Vancouver, Canada. We were not disappointed. Everything was wonderful. - The crew were friendly, efficient and accommodating. - The dining room presented delicious, appealing and gluten-free options with sharp staff who remembered us and our preferences. We appreciated sampling local fare - huckleberry ice cream, local cheeses, wines, seafood. While we have in the past enjoyed our dining partners at assigned tables, we did prefer the open seating without a schedule or assigned tables this time. Sometimes it's just nice to have a bit of quiet, alone time after a busy day. Our maitre d' was astute and accommodating in these areas. - The land tours were informative and well organized. It was a nice balance between being on a schedule or having the option to wander on our own. I had not been to the area before, so found it easy to find something interesting in each port - whether it was a museum, heritage house, a winery tour, the quaint shops or - in Stevenson - the most adorable Newfoundlander puppies at Robbie's Coffee House! (I'm sure they're the size of a car by now). - Onboard, I appreciated the availability of the internet, casual games and the overall comfortable atmosphere. The organized murder mystery on a full sailing day was lots of fun - though there were several other activities people could choose for entertainment. - The evening entertainment in the concert hall was excellent. We loved Lindy and Greg Pendzick and their multiple artistic talents and musical genres. Their shows were never a letdown and, as individuals, were always charming and helpful throughout the journey. - People were down to earth, informal or formal when appropriate - and I preferred the "un-snooty" ambiance created by staff and fellow passengers. - We opted for the additional city stay in Spokane with winery and garden tours. The Davenport Hotel is exquisite and was a definite highlight. Once again, they had fabulous style and talents, but always with a comfortable, down to earth approach. - I can't recall any glitches that were terribly obvious or that ruined my day. Obviously unexpected things can happen in any business, but would be dealt with immediately and with minimal impact. Thank you, we look forward to the next time we cruise! Read Less
American Empress Ratings
Category Editor Member
Cabins 4.0 4.4
Dining 4.5 4.5
Entertainment 4.5 4.5
Public Rooms 4.5 4.4
Fitness Recreation 3.5 3.0
Family 1.0 3.0
Shore Excursion 4.5 4.4
Enrichment 5.0 4.5
Service 5.0 4.7
Value For Money 4.0 4.2
Rates 4.0 N/A

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