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American Empress Cruise Review
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating
83 Reviews

Glad We Went

American Empress Cruise Review by Alstromeria

8 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: Jun 2015
  • Destination: North America River

Corrections/rebuttals of other reviews: There is a toilet on board the busses. We did not have the female Riverlorian – ours was Lawrence and he was very interesting and informative. I attended all of his lectures. I didn’t think the Internet was that slow and always worked, but I only used it in the Paddle Wheel Lounge, which was down the hall from our room. Someone said that all the cabins have balconies. You will see from the ship’s layout before booking that there are cabins without balconies. There were not a lot of people using walkers on our cruise. The elevator was fast and large enough to hold everyone. However, there were only 105 passengers aboard that week.

We've done 17 non-river cruises (Holland American, etc.), but this was our first river cruise.

Dining: Dinners in the Astoria Dining Room were always very good, but service was slow (for us) and it took a minimum of two hours. This is a beautiful dining venue with sparkling crystal chandeliers and an attractive blue-lit ceiling, which added to the ambiance.

I don’t know why most people were having breakfast and lunch at the River Grille. I thought the buffets there were pretty mediocre. I had many breakfasts and lunches at the almost empty Astoria Dining Room and enjoyed some great entrees – eggs benedict or specialty French toast in the morning, and lunches including southern friend chicken with home made biscuits.

Be careful to watch the schedule for when the restaurants open for breakfast and lunch because they aren’t open very long. One day we went to the river Grille at 1:00 p.m. and they were putting the food away – we didn’t realize that they closed then. Another couple told us they arrived at the restaurant at 9:00 a.m. and couldn’t get any food for the same reason.

We ate at the River Grille for two nights and they let us order a combo of filet mignon and lobster. The lobster was really good and we ordered it the other night we dined there as well. Then the main dining room had lobster on Friday night and we had another tasty lobster.

I love sweets, but the desserts were a disappointment to me in both dining rooms. Therefore most eveneings we ordered ice cream. I don’t think they had a pastry chef on board. The cookies at the River Grille lunch buffet and Paddle Wheel Lounge were the same each day. It made me think that none of the desserts/cookies were home made – maybe just picked up from a mediocre vendor for the ship –like Costco. The dessert for lunch at the buffet at the River Grille seemed to be lemon bars every day.

I didn’t like the house wines in either dining venue, but our waiter found one they weren’t offering but was still free: Saint Chapelle Soft White Wine. It was very good and I was able to request it for each meal.

For the best coffee, order a cappuccino or latte from the Astoria Dining Room, because they have an espresso machine. There’s a self-serve one in the River Grille as well – a real one, which easily serves espresso and also steamed milk separately. It was very good.

Entertainment: A banjo player boarded our boat mid cruise. He flew in from the American Queen on the Mississippi. He was unbelievable; so we enjoyed a fantastic banjo/guitar evening, with a very good cruise band backing him up.

Art Gallery in Halls: Every floor has excellent artwork on the walls of the halls. Take time to tour each floor’s paintings. The 4th floor has old photos from the Gold Rush Days.

What to Wear: As one reviewer stated, the public rooms and halls can be “ice-box cold”. In the Paddle wheel Lounge, I was surprised that even the men were asking the staff why they couldn’t make the room any warmer. My husband ordinarily never gets chilled, but wished he had brought a long-sleeve shirt even though it was summer. I wish I had brought a cashmere sweater set. I was surprised at how many people were really casually dressed for dinner. I personally feel that if you bring what they suggest wearing for dinner in the brochure, you will be fine.

Excursions: Bring a warm sweater or wrap on the hop on/hop off bus. It’s usually very cold no matter what the temperature is outside. The busses are okay, but I didn’t find them that comfortable for an hour or longer ride. Also, be careful to look at each day’s program sheet for which time periods there are 15 minute pickups from drop off points and which are one hour. One day we decided to relax on the boat in the morning, and take the bus in the afternoon. We found out that we had to wait an hour at each drop off point for the bus to pick us up.

The bus drivers were really accommodating and helpful – I found them to be the best employees on our cruise. I think the towns we visited and site we were dropped off at were not very exciting. It would probably be better to book their premium excursion. We did not do this because with my husband’s bad back, his limit is 3 hours and the premium excursions were a minimum five hours long. I would recommend the one that goes to Mt. Hood’s Timberline Lodge, because we came in several days before the cruise and spent the night here. Also, I’ve heard that the Maryhill Museum of Art is outstanding. We met a couple that did the wine country tour and loved the scenery. Also, everyone enjoys the Hell’s Canyon Jet Boat.

However, we were content to relax, and enjoy being on the river on this fine ship. We had looked forward to it and it met our expectations.

Post-Voyage Travel Days:

We took the train from San Diego to L.A., and then the Coastal Starlight Amtrak train from L.A. to Portland (left Tues 10:10 a.m., arrived Wed. 3:32 p.m.). We had a deluxe sleeping room and the scenery was very good as well as the dining car meals. They have an old fashioned, restored parlor car for use by those passengers with sleeping rooms. Upon arriving in Portland, we had to wait an hour for a taxi ride a mile to our Hilton Hotel. We picked up a Hertz rental car and drove to the Timberline Lodge in Mt. Hood. We loved the lodge. The great food alone is worth the trip. Then we took the “fruit loop” and spent a night on the Columbia River Gorge at the Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, WA with beautiful views of the river.

The bus ride after our cruise, to Spokane, took three hours but was a beautiful drive. We stayed at the old Davenport Hotel for 2 nights. It is beautifully restored, but I didn’t like how high the bed was – you had to use a step to get into it. I usually love staying in historic hotels, but this time I think I would have liked their more modern hotel across the street. The price for a wash/blow dry in their spa was reasonable and gave me use of their relaxing “quiet room”, etc The Davenport’s food was just so-so. We rented a car from Enterprise and the hotel’s shuttle gave us a ride there and the rental car co. gave us a return ride back to the hotel. We drove to the Coeur d’Alene Resort in Idaho and had a 5-star lunch facing the lake. We didn’t stay over night here because of the $400 per night room rate. We had a nice breakfast down the street from our hotel at The Post Street Ale, and walked to dinner at the Europa Restaurant – dinner was mediocre but the desserts were incredible.

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Cabin Review

Cabin C 230

Room: The cabins were very nicely decorated compared to ocean cruise cabins. It just shows you how a cruise cabin can be made to look really nice. Rooms had wallpaper, attractive drapery treatments, and patterned carpet. The room photos in their brochure and on their website do not do them justice.

When we booked our room, the sales agent on the phone did a good job directing us to the best room for our price. There was special pricing, which was for either Category E or “C or better”, meaning they could put you anywhere. C did not have balconies. He recommended Category E was on the top deck, with the best river views and was down the hall from the River Lounge. He said room 417 was the one Category E left on that floor, that had a queen size bed, not two twins (which cannot be put together). The agent didn’t think the smaller size of this “E” room would be an issue. We were booking the lowest price we could get and when we got to our room, #417, we saw that he was right – being on the top deck was very nice, with a balcony facing the outside walk-around deck, and convenient to the River Grille for grabbing a cappuccino early in the morning. We didn’t mind that it was a smaller room.

Although we were very happy with Room 417, the bed was way too soft for my husband. He has a bad back and needs a firm bed, so we had inquired about the beds before booking the cruise and were assured that the beds were new and that firm mattresses would not be a problem. After one night in our room, my husband informed me he wouldn’t be able to handle another night in this soft bed. He said if they couldn’t find us a firmer mattress, we’d have to get off the ship and discontinue the rest of our cruise. Housekeeping told us that all the beds were the same, but the housekeeping manager finally figured out what to do: There was a room on another floor with a king size bed, which was two singles put together. This mattress had the “cushion top” which when flipped over became truly firm. This was adequate for my husband, so we switched to this room and were fine for the rest of the cruise. They did not charge us a supplement for this upgrade, but would have preferred Room 417 if it had a firm mattress. Our new room, #230, was larger and had a balcony, but we never used it because of the engine noise. Therefore, remember this when choosing a room – I’d say get one on the other side of the ship from Room 230. Other passengers asked to be switched to better rooms since so many were empty, but were told they would have to pay for an upgrade.

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