AMERICAN DUCHESS RIVER CRUISE: CINCINNATI & THE GREAT RIVERBOAT RACE

The theme of our cruise was “The Great Riverboat Race,” but the race theme was carried out in a few of the other stops as well.  In Louisville, we toured Churchill Downs (horse racing), and that evening, a group went to the NASCAR races (car racing).  In Maysville (detailed in a future blog post), the American Duchess staff had arranged a 3K run/walk race for the passengers.

Cincinnati was the location for the Great Riverboat Race originally scheduled to be between the American Duchess and Belle of Cincinnati.  As it turned out, however, a third boat entered the race:  American Queen Steamboat Company’s American Queen, the boat Bruce and I cruised on in 2017 for the three-week “Mighty Mississippi” trip.  That wasn’t in the original plan, because the American Queen wasn’t supposed to be in Cincinnati.  Due to the very high water levels on the Mississippi River, however, the ‘Queen had to drastically alter their cruise route.  Not only would they be changing stops, but they also had to divert to an entirely new end destination.  What a mess!  I can only imagine the chaos of having over 400 passengers disappointed and/or angry.  But, what could the ‘Queen do?  Even with the smoke stacks down and the pilot house lowered, the boat couldn’t clear some of the bridges.  Besides, the passenger contract clearly states that the cruise line isn’t responsible for diversions due to situations like this.  Still, the company wanted to keep their passengers happy, so it did all they could to cheer them up.

For one thing, they tied the ‘Queen up alongside the American Duchess for the earlier part of their Cincinnati stay, and then they entered the race, among other perks.

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The company’s owner, John Waggoner, and his wife, Claudette, were on the ‘Duchess for the afternoon, so we got some of the scoop while watching the race together on the top deck.  When one of the passengers asked why the ‘Queen’s passengers all had matching t-shirts, Mr. Waggoner explained to her that he thought it would be a nice thing to do since their cruise itinerary was completely rerouted.  (Keep this in mind as I tell you about the race…)

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John Waggoner, CEO of American Queen Steamboat Company is interviewed by a local TV station about the upcoming race.

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We were supposed to have a pre-race champagne party up on that top deck; however, just as the corks popped and the band was about to play, a rain squall chased us back downstairs.  Fortunately, the canopies were quickly broken down and the band equipment was hauled back downstairs to spare any damage.

It was also fortunate that the skies cleared just in time for the race.  Along with the ‘Queen and Belle of Cincinnati, the crews untied the lines, and we all lined up at the bridge.  To the sound of (very loud!) horns, RACE ON!

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Now, keep in mind that after cruising on the ‘Duchess once before and having been traveling on her for several days already on this cruise, Bruce and I were familiar with just how fast the boat could travel—and, how fast the paddlewheel could turn.

These facts, together with the plight of the ‘Queen’s staff (dealing with disappointed and/or angry passengers), all come into play when I speculate on the reasons behind the outcome of the race.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that the Great Riverboat Race has a history of shenanigans?  Just read that linked article, and you will see what I mean!

According to the ‘Duchess crew, she is the fastest of the three boats and theoretically should win any race between those other two boats.  Having said that, you would think that to be especially true if the ‘Duchess cheated.  Which she did.  First, she got off to an uncharacteristically pokey start (on purpose; see previous photo), and then, before the designated turning point, she turned early, slowed, and then blocked the Belle’ from passing her.  At least, that’s how it looked to all of us on deck!

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We had already turned (early!) and were headed back to the bridge.

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This allowed the ‘Queen to pass both of us.  Then, when we lagged behind, Bruce and I headed aft to take a look at the paddlewheel.  It’s rate of revolutions had mysteriously slowed.  Considerably.  At least, that’s how it appeared to us…

The Belle’ is a smaller boat, and she didn’t stand a chance against the larger and more powerful ‘Queen.  Besides, she was loaded down with a bunch of tourists who had paid to experience the race from ground-zero.

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The Belle’ passes us.

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The Belle’ had been blocked by the ‘Duchess, so she was unable to catch up to the ‘Queen.

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American Queen wins!  (Gee, what a surprise…)

So, dear readers, these are my questions that will never get answered (unless the Waggoners decide to fess-up):

  1. Did all three captains get together and hatch this plan, pre-race?
  2. Did the ‘Duchess and ‘Queen captains devise the plan to cheat the Belle’?
  3. Did John Waggoner order the plan between the ‘Duchess and ‘Queen, because it strategically made more sense to please 400+ passengers over the 132 on the ‘Duchess? (After all, they needed some cheering up!)
  4. Was our captain just up to no good and cheated without telling anybody ahead of time?  (Check out this link.)
  5. Does any of this really matter anyway?

By the reaction of some of the passengers (including one who rudely insulted Mr. Waggoner behind his back by complaining to the Shore Excursions Manager while I was talking with her), you would think this was the Kentucky Derby with money at stake!  Come on, folks, this was all in GOOD FUN!

And, fun it was!  Bruce and I had a blast watching the spectacle, especially at the race start when we were alongside the ‘Queen, and their cruise director was talking smack about us over his very loud microphone.  It was a hoot!

We also enjoyed meeting the Waggoners, the nicest couple you could ever meet!  I had previously written to John, letting him know how much we enjoyed our experience on the ‘Queen.  He wrote a wonderful personal message back, rather than a form letter.  Now, THAT’S how you do business!

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Claudette was very personable, and I enjoyed our conversations throughout the day.  I gave her my card, so she could read my blog posts, and she sent me the sweetest e-mail!  If you are reading this, Claudette, thanks!

The entire day was a blast, and definitely the highlight of the trip!

The following are scenes from earlier in the day in Cincinnati.  As you can see, the weather was all over the board!

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We couldn’t wait to go over to the American Queen and look for our favorite crew, Tyrone James (“TJ”).  We got to know him during our Mighty Mississippi cruise, and we became buddies!

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We walked into town and enjoyed what we discovered! What a clever way to disguise a parking garage!  The same with the one below.

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After walking around downtown, we hopped on American Duchess’s hop-on, hop-off bus for a tour around the city.  We hopped back off at Newport on the Levee, across the river from downtown.  It was a nice walk across this bridge back to the boat.

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Ha!  I loved the sense of humor of this artist!  This was playground eqt. that kids could climb on and make the pig fly!  This was located at the beautiful park along the river, in front of Cincinnati Reds’s stadium.

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This is the world’s largest foot organ, and Bruce played it.  It was built by Cincinnati’s Verdin Company, the maker of bronze bells, street clocks, tower clocks, and carillons.

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We got a kick out of this dog biting at the water, while his buddy looked on.  Meanwhile, The Reds’s mascot hangs out on the park bench.

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AMERICAN DUCHESS RIVER CRUISE: MADISON, INDIANA

Journalist Charles Kuralt once called Madison, Indiana, “the most beautiful rivertown in America.  Although we haven’t seen them all, Bruce and I have seen a lot of these little towns during out cruises along a few of the American rivers.

Mr. Kuralt was onto something.  Madison was so charming, it put a smile on my face as we roamed the quaint town on the Ohio River.

Back in the early 1800’s, Madison was a significant cultural and industrial town for the region.  Today, it’s just a cute little town that welcomes river tourists and road trip enthusiasts alike.

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This is a utility box for the street signal on the main street.  Quite a catch!

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Shrewsbury-Windle Home, built 1846-1849

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Lanier Mansion, built in 1844

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The mansion had quite a backyard and view of the Ohio River!  The community pool (below) is located next door to the backyard.

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It was a hot day in Madison, and this pool was very tempting!

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On Broadway, cars are permitted to park down the center of the street along the solid yellow line!

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There were so many wonderful houses, both big and small, in the historic district.   Laura, we thought of you the entire time!

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I love the Little Free Library system!  The first one I ever saw was on our road trip, and I fell in love with the concept of  “Take a book, return a book.”  I am proud to say that in our community of Spalding County (pop. 60,000) has 28 Little Free Library’s!  Check out the non-profit here.

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AMERICAN DUCHESS RIVER CRUISE: LOUISVILLE, HOME OF THE KENTUCKY DERBY

In 2015, during our seven-week road trip, we spent a wonderful day in downtown Louisville, touring the Louisville Slugger Museum and seeing other highlights of the city.  (See my blog post here.)

This time, we arrived in Louisville aboard the American Duchess, so we saw the city skyline from a different perspective.

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Instead of revisiting downtown, we did something we missed during our first visit:  took a behind the scenes tour of Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.  Having seen Churchill Downs on TV over all these years, it was fun to be able to actually be there.  On this day, however, it was very quiet; not a horse to be found on the track.  It was a very hot day, and the horses that were there had been exercised hours before our tour.  (We had been fortunate to get to see the horses close-up during our tour of Keeneland Race Course during that road trip, but the timing just wasn’t right for this tour.)

One of the highlights of touring Churchill Downs was getting to meet 1970 Kentucky Derby winning jockey, Mike Manganello, who rode Dust Commander to victory.  We heard some interesting stories during our Q&A session with him and learned what life is like to be a professional jockey.

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The other highlight was watching a film about the history of Churchill Downs that we viewed in a theater with a 360-degree screen.  We sat on stools in the center with the screen surrounding us.  As they showed footage from previous Kentucky Derby races, we spun around to watch as the horses raced a full 360 degrees around the screen.  Since the sound traveled with the scene, and the camera angles were very close-up, the experience was thrilling and quite unique!

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Here are scenes from the day at the track:

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Bill Shoemaker was one short guy! We toured the Churchill Downs Museum and learned about the great jockey.

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Standing next to Wilt Chamberlin proves just how short Shoemaker was– and, how tall Chamberlin was in comparison!

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AMERICAN DUCHESS RIVER CRUISE: NATIONAL QUILT MUSEUM IN PADUCAH

Without a doubt, the highlight of Paducah is the National Quilt Museum.  The massive wall murals along the river depicting Paducah’s history are quite a sight as well; however, the quilts are, in one word, amazing.  More on that in just a moment…

Back to the murals, I didn’t photograph them this time, because I had done so during a previous visit.  If you are curious to see them, check out my 2017 blog post about Paducah that includes photos of the beautiful wall murals.

In that post on Paducah, you will notice something missing:  Photos of the quilts at the National Quilt Museum.  At the time, no photography of any kind was permitted, even without flash.  I was so disappointed, because the artistry in the exhibited quilts was unbelievable.

I was happy to learn that photography (without flash) would be permitted this time.  I went crazy with my camera!  Although most of the photos can be viewed in the “American Duchess River Cruise, July 2019” album on my photo sharing site, I tried to limit my selection for this post.

As you can see below, these aren’t your grandmother’s old-fashioned Colonial-era quilts that keep you warm at night.  These are works of art.  They are so incredible, that even the men from the riverboat who were dragged to the museum by their wives were saying, “Wow!” over and over again, as they viewed one phenomenal quilt after another.  Seriously.  Bruce loves this museum as much as I do!

A warning as you view these pictures:  They don’t do these quilts justice.  At all.  There is so much detail that couldn’t possibly be picked up by any camera to match what we saw in person.  These are just small pictures on a computer screen.  You really have to see the real thing.  If you ever have an opportunity to visit Kentucky, you must go to Paducah and see all of the exhibits at this wonderful museum.  Send me a message after your visit, too.

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This “quilt” is actually carved from basswood! It is on display in the conference room at the National Quilt Museum. It was created by Fraser Smith, and measures 65″ x 42″ x 4″.

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One of my favorite exhibits at the museum was of miniature quilts, measuring no more than 24″ on one side. The quilts in this glass case were the smallest on exhibit, measuring just a few inches long.

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Look closely at the work that went into sewing each of the flowers. What patience!

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The artist’s statement of this piece: “I decided making a small quilt (14-3/4″ x 21-1/4″) would be a fun, relaxing respite from my current large quilt. How long could it possibly take? I figured a few hours work for a couple of weeks. Little did I know that this fun project would take two months of working seven days week for fourteen hours a day. It was a great accomplishment to complete this quilt, but believe me it was pure joy to get back to my usual large quilts.” ~ Shirley P. Kelly, 2006

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I first saw this quilt at the museum in 2017 during our “Mighty Mississippi” cruise. It was so disappointing at the time that photography was not permitted. This time, photos were allowed without flash, so I was thrilled to be able to photograph this amazing quilt.

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This is a close-up of the previous picture.  So much detail!

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This quilt was HUGE!

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“Corona II: Solar Eclipse,” by Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry, measures 76″ x 94″ and is made from hand-dyed fabrics. It is machine pieced and machine quilted. It was named one of the 100 Best Quilts of the 20th Century.

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“Breeze is the third quilt in my ‘Simply Sensational’ series using architectural settings to highlight each of the five senses. Touch is the only sense that involves the whole body. For this reason, I chose a rush of wind through and open window to completely surround the dog with the awareness of this sense.” ~ Rachel Wetzler

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This was one of my favorites! “Port of Cassis,” by Lenore Crawford, measures 52″ x 48″. It was created from a photo that she took in the south of France at dusk.

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This quilt as well as the following quilts (some are close-ups of the same quilt) were created by Danny Amazonas who started out as a professional floral designer in New York City in the 1970’s. I was mesmerized by how these quilts looked like photographs when viewed from a distance.

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This was a huge mural that was several feet long and stretched across a wall.

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A close-up of a fish from the previous photo.

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Another close-up shows the pretty fabrics Danny Amazonas used to create his fish.

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MEMPHIS: HOME OF THE BLUES & THE BIRTHPLACE OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL

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When I took my mom on a Mississippi River paddlewheel cruise aboard the American Queen, in 2013, I thought it would be a one-and-done experience; a novelty that you do once in a lifetime and check off the bucket list.  I enjoyed the experience so much, however, that I convinced Bruce that he should give it a try.  Four years later, he went all in, choosing a “Mighty Mississippi” cruise (Red Wing, Minnesota to New Orleans, Louisiana) on the same boat.  And, as they say, the rest is history.  He was hooked, and the hook was set.

The following January, in 2018, he took me on the American Duchess (another American Queen Steamboat Company paddlewheeler) for my birthday, and even though it snowed in Memphis (!) and during the first two days on the boat, we had a blast.

Four months later, we cruised aboard the third boat of the fleet, the American Empress, on the Snake and Columbia rivers.

We thoroughly enjoyed them all, but there was one more itinerary with American Queen Steamboat Company that Bruce really wanted to do, and I was game:  Memphis to Pittsburgh aboard the American Duchess for the “Great River Race” cruise.

If you search “Memphis” on this blog, you will see that Bruce and I had been to Memphis together twice before; this would be our third.  (The cruise in 2013 also started out in Memphis, so this was my 4th time to the city.)

I have enjoyed Memphis during each visit, and even though I photographed the neon signs on Beale St. each time, I found myself drawn to them once again.  Here are the ones you won’t see in my previous blog posts:

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One of my new U.S. Master Swimming friends lives in Memphis, so she joined us for dinner at Blues City Café.  She told us about “Mighty Lights,” the light show that was installed on the bridge that we could view from the top of the Peabody Hotel where we were staying.  The summer nights show lasts about ten minutes and is repeated twice an hour until 10 PM.  It was quite a sight!  I had fun with my camera, playing with the light and capturing some of the images while purposely moving my camera.  Other times, the lights flashed “U.S.A.” and phrases across the bridge, so it was a beautiful display to watch (but impossible to photograph clearly with still shots).  Check out the videos on the Might Lights website; it’s amazing!

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This time while visiting Memphis, we toured Sun Studio, “The Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll” and where Elvis Presley recorded his first album.  B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and many other Blues, Gospel, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Country musicians got their start at this iconic recording studio.  Our entertaining tour guide shared interesting stories, and the studio was full of wonderful photos and memorabilia.

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Staying at the historic Peabody Hotel this time was a treat, because our past cruises out of Memphis had us at the Sheraton for our pre-cruise night that was included in the package.

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Can I buy a “T”?

During our departure from Memphis, we were treated to nice views of the city skyline, the “Dolly Parton Bridge,” and a rainbow off the paddlewheel.  We were on our way to Paducah…

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AMERICAN QUEEN STEAMBOAT COMPANY PHOTO CONTEST

Note:  My Adriatic Coast blog posts are still in the works.  It has been a slow process in between our busy craft show season; however, more posts will be on the way soon!

A few months ago, Bruce and I were sitting in our booth at the summer Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair, pouring over some photographs during the late afternoon,  and the crowd had left for the day.  American Queen Steamboat Company had announced their photography contest in the Steamboat Society of America’s monthly newsletter, The Paddlewheelerand I was trying to decide which photos to enter.  We each had ranked my final selections and agreed that this photo was our favorite:

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We were aboard the American Queen in 2017 during a 23-day “Mighty Mississippi” cruise when the American Duchess embarked on her maiden voyage.  We met up with her in Paducah, Kentucky when I shot this photo.  This past January, we cruised aboard the beautiful paddlewheeler.

After entering the contest, I forgot all about it.  Today, we are sitting here in our booth once again for the fall Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair, and I checked my e-mail in between customers.  Surprise!  The latest edition  of The Paddlewheeler was in my inbox.  I clicked on the link, scrolled down to see the winners– all much better than my entry.  Oh well; I lost.  I scrolled down further to read the remainder of the newsletter, and I saw the second place entries, and there it was!  I won second place!  We are going on another cruise aboard the American Duchess, so I will get to use my credit then.  Fun!

Well, the band ended their set, and the customers are cruising the aisles once again, so it’s back to work!

Stay tuned for another Adriatic Coast post soon!

 

 

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

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The backyard of the Flavel House

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The woodwork was beautiful throughout the house.

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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 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.

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 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.

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 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.

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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,

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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!

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The first car is a 1917 Willy’s Overland

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1931 Chrysler Imperial

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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.

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 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.

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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!

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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!

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Entering a lock

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AMERICAN QUEEN STEAMBOAT COMPANY’S AMERICAN EMPRESS

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Lawrence, the Riverlorian

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Daniel and Sammi

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

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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.)

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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.

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Bruce & Olivia, our stateroom attendant

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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!

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

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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.

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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!

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