We spent a week on this boat and I can safely say that as a veteran of many European and American River Cruise ships, this is by far the worst I have ever encountered. We had previously traveled with American Queen up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and both were excellent. We had heard though that their recently acquired Empress of the West, just did not compare to the American Queen. In looking at the ads for the Queen of the West it appeared from the pictures and the description of the largest cabins in the US that for the same price we get what looked to be something comparable to the American Queen. How wrong we were!
First of all the pictures of the cabins must have been taken on some other boat, and if this boat was renovated in 2011, it must have been a total dump to start out with! The cabins were nowhere near what was pictured in their ads. The twin beds were custom made and were 5 inches narrower than a standard twin bed, but that was necessary so they could get a night stand beside the bed and allow a bit of walking room between the beds. We waited 2 days to get a wash cloth. Three pieces of "gunk" were on our cabin floor the entire trip and three times the cabin attendant left our cabin not only unlocked, but wide open with no workers in sight in the halls.
The food was pretty bad. We did have a good batch of pancakes one morning and my Oso Bucco on the first night was delicious, but tasted suspiciously like the frozen ones I get at Costco. All seafood was dry. There were only two options each day for lunch and dinner. All salad dressings were Vinaigrette so I stuck to the soups. They were obviously ladled up way in advance and held in a warming oven as each and every time there was a thick "crust" on the top of the cup. Breakfast sausage was often lukewarm and portions of food were quite small. Duck Breast one night consisted of three pieces of duck about as big around as your thumb and forefinger. Strawberry shortcake was so hard it was almost impossible to break into it. I asked for some extra sauce thinking that would help. They brought me a whole cupful of berries and sauce and it was still so dry I could not cut it without a knife.
They employ college age kids and it appeared to me that it was on the job training, shadowing someone who had been there for a while. The maximum time they can work the boat is 12 weeks, so the turnover is high. They do try hard but lack of experience is obvious. There are about 30 on the staff and they suggest that tips for a week should be $160.00 per person. That comes out to over $600.00 per steward. From talking to the kids they usually clear about $1200 every 2 weeks, so their base pay must be pretty low.
One of their executives was on board for the last two days. I attempted to talk to him and outline problems as I saw them. He conveniently got a phone call that he "had to take" and despite the fact that he saw me at least 10 times after I attempted to talk to him, he never asked if we had finished the conversation or if I needed to talk some more. He simply ignored me.
We did have a marvelous Historian on board who gave talks about Lewis & Clark along the way. He was excellent. Probably the best part of the cruise. You will be lucky if you get Ian. Entertainment was 2 nights of a guy with a guitar, and two nights of a duo on piano and bass. They were all pretty good. The final night was a Nez Perce Indian who was geared more towards children than adults.
Don't be fooled by the pictures. No one on our cruise had a cabin that looked anything like those pictured.