AMERICAN EMPRESS: PORTS ON THE SNAKE AND COLUMBIA RIVERS, PART 2

P1190378-add caption

Multnomah Falls measures 620 feet from top to bottom.  On September 4, 1995, a 400-ton rock slid from the face of the upper falls and dropped 225 feet into the upper falls pool.  It sent a 70-foot splash over the bridge and drenched a wedding party having their photographs taken!

The American Empress stayed overnight in Stevenson, so the following day, we took a tour to see the breathtaking Multnomah Falls and the panoramic views from Vista House.  Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day and not the best for photography; however, we couldn’t complain.  The weather was fabulous otherwise!

P1190374

During the afternoon, we took the hop on-hop off bus to the Bonneville Dam where we were fortunate to have an opportunity to tour the facility.  We arrived at the dam’s visitor center just in time for one of only three tours scheduled for the day.  It was fascinating to see how the dam and power plant operates.  Just as was done at McNary Dam, a fish ladder system was built for fish migration, and we were able to get a close look at it from above and below.  Viewing windows allowed us to see the fish pass through.

P1190430

When we returned to Stevenson, there wasn’t much to see in town, because it is very small.  We were quite entertained, though, just hanging out along the shoreline and back on the boat, where we watched wind surfers and kite surfers having a blast!  The dependable high winds on the riverfront is a huge draw for them, and they come from all around.  We had a perfect vantage point from our veranda—great for photography!

P1190337

P1190445

Our final port was Astoria, Oregon where we had a gorgeous day to cap off our cruise.  Situated near the mouth of the Columbia River, the deep-water port city of only 10,000 residents has a growing art scene, and a cool vibe.  The Riverwalk thrives with cafes, a brewery/restaurant, and shops served by an old-time trolley that stops alongside them.

P1190611

P1190619

P1190617

P1190540

P1190529

P1190534.JPG

P1190556

The highlight of the hop on-hop off route was enjoying the breathtaking views of the river from the Astoria Column.  When we disembarked the bus, we were given a souvenir balsa wood glider kit.  After hiking up the 164-step spiral staircase, we flew our gliders from the viewing platform and watched the long flight to the ground below.  If you were lucky, it didn’t end up in the trees!  I was lucky– twice.  I had written our names and date on the bottom of the wing, so I would know if I had found my own glider down below.  Somebody else found it and placed the glider on a bench in front of the gift shop.  Trying my luck again, I gave it to another American Empress passenger getting ready to climb up to the top.  Sure enough, I later found my glider on the ground, and it now sits atop my computer printer as a souvenir—at least for now.

P1190552

Meanwhile, the exterior of the 125-foot Astoria Column has a beautiful wrap-around mural depicting the history of the region from 1792 to the 1880’s.  If the mural was unwound, it would be over 500 feet in length!

Our next stop in Astoria was back downtown to see the Sunday street market, an excellent market considering the small size of the town.  In addition to the usual produce and foods, there were several high-quality artists and crafters.

P1190576

P1190564

Next, we toured the Flavel House.  Built for Captain George Flavel in 1885, the 11,600 square-foot Queen Anne style house was full of beautiful woodwork and antiques.

P1190586

The backyard of the Flavel House

P1190594

The woodwork was beautiful throughout the house.

P1190622

Rather than take the bus back to the boat, we walked down to the riverfront and enjoyed the views of the river along the Riverwalk.  As we passed by the brewery, restaurants, and shops, we could hear the seals barking just below.

P1190584

P1190582

 The American Empress was tied up at the same dock as the Coast Guard cutters and in front of the Columbia River Maritime Museum, so there was plenty to see around the boat as we made our way back on board for our final night aboard the beautiful paddlewheeler.

P1190614

P1190628

P1190631

 

AMERICAN EMPRESS: PORTS ON THE SNAKE AND COLUMBIA RIVERS, PART 1

Since high water levels made it impossible for us to visit The Dalles in Oregon, the revised itinerary had the American Empress visiting just Richland, Stevenson, and Astoria, before ending up in Vancouver, Washington.  The following (in two parts) are the highlights of those cities as well as our river cruising in between.

P1190099

P1190100

P1190112

P1190110

 At the confluence of the Columbia and Yakima rivers, the American Empress stopped in Richland, one of the tri-cities in the southeastern part of Washington.  Richland is home of the Hanford nuclear site, the once-secret plant that was part of the Manhattan Project.  During World War II, the U.S. Army had bought up 640 miles of land along the river, evicted Richland’s 300 residents as well as residents from nearby White Bluffs and Hanford, and then built a community for the workers they had hired to build and run this top-secret plant.  It was so secret that the workers there didn’t even know what they were building.  The town swelled from 300 to over 25,000 between 1943 and the end of the war in 1945, when the workers finally learned they had built the nation’s first nuclear reactor.

In Richland, the highlight on the hop on-hop off bus route was The Reach Museum, where we saw a fascinating exhibit about the Manhattan Project and what life was like for the workers and families in this government-built town where it was forbidden to speculate with others about the nature of their work.

 After leaving Richland, we went through the locks of McNary Dam, which is 1.4 miles long and spans the Columbia River.  It was interesting to see the fish ladders that were built on each side of the dam for salmon and steelhead passage, allowing the fish to follow their natural migration as babies to the Pacific Ocean and back as adults.  The flow of water is regulated, so that the velocity flowing over the steps is fast enough to attract the fish to the ladder, but not too fast to exhaust the fish and wash them back downstream.

P1190148.JPG

Osprey

P1190151

P1190177

P1190181

P1190192.JPG

P1190196

P1190200.JPG

P1190197

P1190124

 As we headed west during our scheduled day of cruising the Columbia River Gorge, the topography became much more lush and green.  The gorge stretches for over 80 miles and is up to 4,000 feet deep with a wide range of elevation and precipitation.  In the westernmost region of the gorge, temperate rainforests get up to 100 inches of rainfall each year!  Compare that to the 6-7 inches of rain in the desert of Richland, and it’s understandable why it is so much prettier on the western parts of the Columbia River.

P1190234

 Upon our arrival to Stevenson, the hop on-hop off buses drove American Empress’s passengers out to the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum.  Originally, it was scheduled to be a premium tour out of The Dalles; however, the cancellation of that port meant having to get bused there an hour each way from Stevenson.  As a nice concession by American Queen Steamboat Company, they refunded the tour fee to the passengers booked for that tour and made it available to everybody for free.

Along the way, we could see evidence of the horrible Eagle Creek fire from last fall.  Taking three months to extinguish, the fire scorched 76 square miles of forest and destroyed eight buildings. The area was still beautiful, though, thanks to the tremendous amount of rain and regrowth since the fire.

P1190240

A view of Mt. Adams from the museum, which was behind me.

When we arrived at the museum, which has the largest collection (325) of still-flying antique planes, cars, motorcycles, and tractors in the country; we were treated to a beautiful view of Mt. Hood behind the exhibits.  There, visitors had the opportunity to catch a ride in a vintage auto,

P1190285

Inside the huge hangars, there were rows of beautiful antiques, everything from a 1909 Franklin Model D to a WWII glider.  Check out their website for details, and you will be amazed at what they have displayed in their huge museum!

P1190264

The first car is a 1917 Willy’s Overland

P1190265

P1190258

P1190311

1931 Chrysler Imperial

P1190314

P1190305

P1190303

P1190308

P1190306

P1190299

P1190254

In the afternoon, for a belated birthday celebration, we treated Adam (the bartender/cocktail waiter we had met on the American Duchess) to a beer at Walking Man Brewing, a nice place to hang out and relax.

P1190366

 Next up:  AMERICAN EMPRESS:  PORTS ON THE SNAKE AND COLUMBIA RIVERS, PART 2

 

 

LEWISTON (IDAHO) AND CLARKSTON (WASHINGTON): CAN YOU GUESS WHO THEY ARE NAMED AFTER?

After being bused from the Historic Davenport Hotel in Spokane, we boarded the American Empress in Clarkston, Washington on the afternoon of May 21.  Since the boat wasn’t scheduled to depart until the next afternoon, we had time the following morning to explore Clarkston and Lewiston via the hop-on, hop-off bus.  We had never been to Idaho before (one of eleven states we hadn’t visited), so I was excited to see at least a fraction of the state!

Clarkston was named after William Clark, of Lewis and Clark.  Across the river, Lewiston, Idaho was named after Meriwether Lewis.  Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson after the Louisiana Purchase, the two men joined up for the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the United States, from May, 1804 to September, 1806.  They were tasked with exploring and mapping the newly acquired territory, to find a practical route to the Pacific Ocean.  Along the way, they studied the area’s plants, animal life, and geography, in addition to establishing trade with the Native American tribes.  The “Corps of Discovery Expedition” began near St. Louis and passed through Lewiston, across the river from where the American Empress was set to begin our cruise west on the Snake and Columbia rivers.

Both Clarkston and Lewiston are small cities with a combined population of about 55,000.  Surprisingly, though, there was a Costco just down the road from the dock!  Once the reason was explained by the local guide on our hop on-hop off bus, it made good sense.

Located at the confluence of the Snake River and Clearwater River and thirty miles southeast of Lower Granite Dam, Lewiston is reachable by some ocean-going vessels because of the lock system on the Snake and Columbia River.  The Port of Lewiston is Idaho’s only seaport and has the distinction of being the farthest inland port east of the West Coast of the United States.

According to our guide, farmers and their families drive to Costco from hundreds of miles around to do their shopping.  (There are a lot of farmers in Idaho.  In addition to lentils, peas, garbanzo beans, and barley grown in the state, 49% of all wheat grown in the U.S.A. gets barged out of Lewiston.)   They will come in and spend a night, see a movie, and stock up before heading home.  One of the founders of Costco (based in Kirkland, Washington) was from Lewiston, so he convinced his partner to build a location in Clarkston.  Evidently, they do a very good business!

Clarkston is also the gateway to North America’s deepest gorge, Hells Canyon (8,000 feet!), a year-round recreation resort, thanks to its mild desert climate and only ten inches of average annual rainfall.  In addition, the area has a rich history of the Nez Perce Native American tribe who assisted Lewis and Clark with their expedition and still reside in the area today.

We were able to get a good look at the area on our way to the Nez Perce National Historical Park as well as the drive out to the First Territorial Capitol Interpretive Center where we hopped off for a visit.

P1190019

P1190032

P1190026

The next stop was the Bridablik/Schroeder House where we were hosted by the Schroeders for an exclusive tour (for American Empress passengers only) of their fully restored 1906 home full of gorgeous antiques, and then homemade refreshments on their back patio.  The panoramic view of the river below was spectacular!

P1190029

P1190030

Finally, we hopped off to visit the Nez Perce County Historical Society Museum before heading back to the riverboat for our departure.  (There were other stops on the route; however, we didn’t have time to see them all.)

 

Fortunately, it was a beautiful and warm day, so the afternoon cruise towards Richland, our next stop, was delightful!

P1190044

P1190050

P1190053

P1190054

Entering a lock

 

P1190066.jpg

P1190067

P1190071

Coming up next:  AMERICAN EMPRESS:  PORTS ON THE SNAKE AND COLUMBIA RIVERS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AMERICAN QUEEN STEAMBOAT COMPANY’S AMERICAN EMPRESS

P1190627

Welcome aboard American Queen Steamboat Company’s second paddlewheel riverboat, the 223-passenger (and 83 crew) American Empress.  She’s a beauty with her traditional black smoke stacks, red paddlewheel, ornate trim, and beautiful décor.

P1190130

P1190013

Having been on the grand dame of the fleet, American Queen, and the newest addition, the upscale boutique hotel inspired American Duchess, we were curious to spend a week aboard the four-year-old American Empress and get a feel for their Washington-based riverboat.

What makes this boat different from the others is that all of the staterooms are outside with balconies/ verandas.  Although our stateroom was located on the walking deck, and the veranda wasn’t as private as the balconies on the other decks, I loved having easy accessibility to get quickly around the boat when I wanted to check out the view from all angles for photography.  It was also convenient for my deck walks (8-1/2 laps equaled a mile), since there wasn’t a gym available.

P1190126

As always when we cruise, we selected the least-expensive cabin, since we don’t need the extra space or spend much time inside our room.  At 150 square feet, it was the same size as most inside cruise ship cabins, and it was appointed with a mini refrigerator, coffemaker, flat-screen TV, desk, safe, and plenty of closet space.  A nice touch was the addition of a nice pair of binoculars.

P1190007

P1190008

Just a short walk down the hall from us was the River Grill, the casual dining option for breakfast and lunch buffets, or reservation-only dinners.  Although we didn’t dine there for dinner, we enjoyed all of our breakfasts and lunches either on the deck outside of the River Grill, or just inside with great views looking out.  When the weather was nice, they would open the doors, so you could enjoy the comfortable temperatures inside, but still feel like you were dining alfresco.

P1190011

P1190010

P1190016

What made the convenient location dangerous for our waistlines was the 24-hour soft serve ice cream machine (with several toppings) and cookies.  (Thankfully, I did so much walking during the week that I didn’t gain any weight!)

The other dining option, the Astoria Dining Room was fabulous for dinner.  Although we had second seating (7:45 PM), it wasn’t assigned seating, so you could choose to dine alone or share a table with other passengers.  The dining room was never full for the later seating, because first seating was more in demand.  The River Grill was also a popular option, so it took the pressure off the dining room.  As a result, dining was relaxed, the service was excellent, the food was delicious, and we weren’t rushed out of the dining room at the end of the evening.  Baja, the Maitre D’ also made sure the wine was always flowing.

P1190362

P1190497

The highlight of our dining experience was being invited to have dinner with Captain Andrea Mickelson.  As it turned out, my previous three cruises (two with Bruce and one I took my mother on) totaled more cruising days with the company than any other passenger, so that is why we were invited!

We were quite impressed with the captain’s eight-year rise in the ranks from housekeeper to earning her USCG Captains license in 2002.  She has been on the rivers ever since, and her passion is evident.  Thanks to Baja seating me next to Captain Andrea, I was able to ask her a lot of questions and get to know her a bit.

P1190123

Baja, along with Adam (bartender/ cocktail waiter), Evan (waiter), and Gail (Excursions Manager), were all working aboard the American Duchess when we were on in January, so it was fun seeing them again and getting to know them better.  Adam remembered the dates we would be on, because it was his birthday during our cruise, and Baja scheduled us in his phone; so, we had a very warm welcome from them both on the first day!

P1190231

Adam, Evan, and Baja with Bruce

In between the show and dinner, and then again after dinner each evening, we made our way to the Paddlewheel Lounge to hear Frank play piano and sing.  What a hoot!  His quirky sense of humor added even more enjoyment to his wonderful singing and phenomenal piano playing.  He had us thoroughly entertained!  And, when he wasn’t playing, we enjoyed the great views of the scenery out the side windows and the turning red paddlewheel out the back.  Off to the side, there was a small library with comfortable couches, and four computers to access the free WiFi.

P1190015

P1190499

In the show lounge, Lawrence gave informative lectures during the day (We particularly enjoyed his two-part talk on Lewis & Clark).  At night, there were excellent shows featuring various combinations of the four talented staff singers accompanied by a fabulous four-piece band.  Sammi and Daniel were so much fun and friendly, and they seemed to truly enjoy performing together.  Greg (Cruise Director), and his wife, Lindy (Hotel Manager) reminded us so much of husband and wife team, Max and Darcy, the cruise director and assistant cruise director/ entertainers aboard the American Duchess.  Not only did they all remember our names after the first time we met, but they were very personable, friendly, and amazingly talented.  “Lindy on a High Note” was Lindy’s fantastic cabaret, which highlighted her operatic training while singing selections from Broadway musicals.  Greg followed up with his own one-man show of Broadway musicals, complete with on-stage costume/character changes for each one.  From Fiddler on the Roof to Don Quixote to Phantom of the Opera, we were totally captivated by his versatility and talent!

P1190483

Lawrence, the Riverlorian

P1190209

P1190636

Daniel and Sammi

P1190509

Sammi and Daniel got Bruce up to join them as a “Pip” for a Glady’s Knight & The Pips tune!

P1190485

Lindy and Me with my prize for being the most-traveled Steamboat Society member on this cruise

The dining and entertainment on all three boats is truly top-notch quality, and the best we have experienced on the water, including the many ocean cruises we worked on as Arts & Crafts instructors with two major mid-level cruise lines.

What makes American Queen Steamboat Company’s cruises unique, though, is the included hop on-hop off buses that follow the boat throughout the itinerary.  They make frequent stops at several of each town’s highlight attractions, and admission to those attractions are included as well.  (Check out this blog post for more about the buses.)

P1090173-1.jpg

Premium excursions are also available, and we scheduled our first one for this cruise.  (More on that in a later post.)

The most enjoyable aspect of each cruise we have taken with American Queen Steamboat Company, however, has been the staff, from the captain all the way down to our stateroom attendant.  As personable and friendly as they are, it appears as if they wisely hire for personality and train the skills needed to perform the job.  The company also does a great job promoting from within.  Lindy was originally hired as an entertainer when the American Empress first started; however, she was asked by the owner of the company, John Waggoner, to become Hotel Manager.  After initial protest by Lindy (I’m not a hotel manager; I’m an entertainer!), she agreed under the condition that she would still be able to perform her cabaret.  Mr. Waggoner agreed, and she now pulls double duty and seems very happy.

P1190640

Bruce & Olivia, our stateroom attendant

P1190345

Sean had to sit out all day checking people in and off the boat, so he kept himself (and the passengers) entertained solving his collection of Rubik’s Cubes.  He was fast!

P1190346

P1190635

P1190525

The best part of the dance party was the crew getting to join us!

P1190132

Romano “Roro” was a hoot!  That’s him in the previous picture (white shirt) kickin’ up his heels at the dance party.  He wowed us with his splits and other fancy dance moves!

The staff also goes out of their way to make sure their guests are happy and having a good time.  I witnessed one man at the River Grill looking at the selection of ice cream toppings and asking where the nuts were.  Edward, the River Grill chef promised he would get some for him the next day.  Sure enough, the following morning, we watched Edward pour out a bag of mixed bar nuts on his workstation, so he could pick out the peanuts for this passenger’s ice cream.  Then, he spent his work break going into town to buy a can of peanuts to keep this passenger happy the remainder of the cruise!  That’s going above and beyond, don’t you think?

Knowing I liked the chocolate chip cookies, Evan surprised me one night at dinner with a wrapped plate of the treats to take back to our cabin.  I hadn’t asked for them, but he thought to do it anyway.

P1190367

In addition to seating me next to the captain, Baja brought us out lobster tails on the last night of the cruise, because he knew how much we had enjoyed them the night before.

It is all of these reasons that we will continue cruising with American Queen Steamboat Company.  We already have one booked for next summer!

P1190630

Next up:  LEWISTON (IDAHO) AND CLARKSTON (WASHINGTON):  CAN YOU GUESS WHO THEY ARE NAMED AFTER?

 

 

 

 

 

AMERICAN EMPRESS PRE-CRUISE: SPECTACULAR SPOKANE

One year ago, before taking the American Queen on the three-week “Mighty Mississippi” cruise and American Queen Steamboat Company’s newest paddle wheeler, American Duchess (again, on the Mississippi), we had booked a cruise on the American Empress.  After having such great experiences last summer and in January on the other two paddlewheelers, we were looking forward with great anticipation to cruising the Snake and Columbia rivers aboard the company’s second boat in their three-boat fleet.

We chose an east to west itinerary rather than the reverse, which was a good call.  The eastern part of Washington is barren desert with an annual rainfall averaging about ten inches.  As you travel west, the scenery becomes much more lush and green, thanks to the 70+ inches of rain falling closer to the coast.  During our cruise, it got prettier each day as we made our way from Clarkston to Richland, and then to Stevenson and Astoria, before disembarkation.  (The Dalles, Oregon, was also on the itinerary; however, the water level was too high to stop there.)

Prior to boarding the river boat, we spent one night on our own in Spokane at the Ruby 2 and then stayed another night with the other American Empress passengers at the Historic Davenport Hotel, just a short walk away.

P1180947

The Ruby 2 was in a great location and quite a bit more budget-friendly than the Davenport.  We figured being totally spoiled for one night would be more than enough for us, since we were perfectly happy in our clean, comfortable, and quiet room at the Ruby 2.

P1180734

P1180828

The view from our room at night.  The old steam plant across the street has been renovated and now has a restaurant, shops, and offices.

As luck would have it, we arrived in town on the morning of Spokane’s annual Lilac Festival, and the evening parade was routed just a block away from our hotel.  This was such a big deal in this city of 208,000 residents that people started staking out their viewing spot the night before by leaving lawn chairs on the curb.  By the time we arrived, there were colorful rows of canvas-backed chairs covering the entire parade route in the downtown city center!

P1180738

P1180815

Lilac Festival Parade

It was a gorgeous day, so we took advantage of the beautiful weather by seeing the downtown area on foot.  Spokane Falls is the main attraction, and it borders one edge of the city center.  Pictures don’t do it justice, because it’s not just about seeing the falls; you need to hear and feel the power created by the tremendous rush of water.  According to www.visitspokane.com, “Flows can reach upwards of 31,000 cubic feet per second—that’s the equivalent of nearly 232,000 thousand gallons of water racing through a single square foot of the Spokane River in the blink of an eye.”

P1180739

P1180746

P1180764

P1180768

Between Spokane Falls and the downtown city center is Riverside Park, a nice place to walk through while checking out the various views of the falls.  Along the way, we saw plenty of geese enjoying the pond (and bread being tossed to them), and children enjoying the gigantic red Radio Flyer and beautiful carousel.

P1180806

P1180781

 The following day, we checked in to the Davenport, left our bags, and took the bus to Manito Park, because it was too hilly and non-pedestrian friendly to get to on foot.  What a beautiful place!  I was envious of the homeowners that bordered that wonderful park—until I remembered how cold it gets there in Winter!

P1180838

P1180857

P1180868

P1180936

P1180934

P1180923

P1180872

P1180926

P1180938

P1180905

P1180891

P1180882

After returning to the hotel, we took the hotel’s interesting self-guided tour.  What a beauty!  As for our room, we lucked out with a corner room, which was huge—and, the nicest hotel room we had ever stayed in.

P1180962

P1180971-1

P1180960

P1180982

The following day, American Queen Steamboat Company bused us to Clarkston, Washington to board the American Empress.  For a tour of the boat, check out my next blog post coming soon!

Coming up next:  AMERICAN QUEEN STEAMBOAT COMPANY’S AMERICAN EMPRESS