Cruising aboard the American Empress feels like being transported to a different time: watching the largely untouched scenery along the Columbia River go by while listening to the on-board Riverlorian recount the expedition of Lewis and Clark and that of other frontiersmen, and visiting ports each with their own unique history and the part they play in this history of this country.
The American Empress evokes the “glory days” of the early 1900’s when steamboating was a “gracious, romantic way to travel through a growing nation,” reads a promotional brochure written by the American Queen Steamboat Company, which owns the American Empress, American Queen, and, making its debut in 2017, the American Duchess, an all-suite paddlewheeler.
The impressive red paddlewheel, which is 37 feet in diameter and features 80 boards made of Douglas fir, accounts for 25 percent of propulsion.
The majority of the suites and staterooms feature private and semi-private verandas for viewing the breathtaking scenery in the comfort of your room.
Each day aboard the American Empress is filled with exceptional meals made with locally-sourced ingredients, included hop on-hop off tours and premium excursions, on-board entertainment hosted by its cruise directors and nightly musical entertainment also presented by its cruise directors, local performers, and Frank, the on-board pianist who is truly one-of-a-kind. The itinerary for the following day is detailed in the River Times, a daily newsletter delivered to each room during evening turndown service, accompanied by a sweet treat.
The award-winning shore excursions by the American Queen Steamboat Company (best shore excursions 2012-2015 by The World Ocean Cruise Liner Society) feature its signature hop on-hop off tours and premium excursions. The hop on-hop off tours are a great way to explore each port at your own pace, as a dedicated fleet of motorcoaches arrive at each stop every 15 to 20 minutes. Between stops a local guide gives a narrated tour, sharing key historical information and pointing out landmarks along the way. Highlights include the Astoria Column, a monument dedicated to the early settlers of Astoria, Oregon; the Bonneville Dam, which offers visitor access to the Second Powerhouse; and a driving tour of Portland with a ride on the Portland aerial tram.
Premium shore excursions “provide comprehensive, in-depth and rare experiences at an amazing value.” The Lewis and Clark Experience in Astoria, Oregon gives a taste of what the explorers experienced and saw during their journey to the Pacific coast with a visit to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, which overlooks Cape Disappointment, and Fort Clatsop, where the Corps of Discovery spent a brutal winter before returning to St. Louis, Missouri.
The vessel boasts “gracious service and warm hospitality from a friendly, all-American staff.” Cruise directors Greg and Lindy Pendzick learned most, if not all, of the names of the 222 passengers on board before the end of the first day, and many servers were on a first-name basis with passengers by the end of the trip. Hotel manager Terry Lunder regularly checked in with guests throughout the trip, and Captain Ron Gray occasionally took time to dine with guests in the Astoria Dining Room and watch some of the evening musical performances.
Exploring the Pacific Northwest aboard the American Empress is a unique and educational experience. Watching the majestic landscape unfold as it did for Lewis and Clark in 1805, visiting some of their old campsites, and seeing the landmarks they described in their journals is a wonderful and humbling experience.