The Queen of the West is a new, 163 passenger, hydraulically driven stern-wheeler which is quite attractive both inside and out. Everything is clean and shining and newly painted. The exterior "looks like a riverboat should" with a lot of gingerbread and bright colors. The interior is well appointed with artwork and old photographs of the riverboat era on the rivers, and the Native Americans in and of the Northwest United States.
All staterooms and public areas are adequate, but not spacious. Except for two large suites on the top deck, and four slightly roomier staterooms with queen size beds, the rest of the staterooms are pretty much equal except for about half which have verandas. Unless traveling in the warm summertime, I would not pay extra for a veranda since the weather tends to be cool, rainy, and windy most of the time. We talked to most of the people with verandas, and they had seldom used them. Also, almost every day includes scheduled shore excursions, so you do not spend a lot of time sitting around watching the riverbanks go by. Most of the river traveling is done at night.
The dining room on the first deck was a good size and well laid out. The Showroom was small and NOT well laid out. If all (or most) of the passengers crowded in to see a show, it would not have been adequate. Fortunately, about half of the passengers skipped the nightly entertainment and went to bed early after "such a full day," so the room turned out to be sufficient. The Paddlewheel Lounge, a piano bar on the second deck was our favorite for before-dinner cocktails. It had a lot of atmosphere and was just the right size for conversation and listening. The bar on the top deck would be pleasant in warm weather, if there is any in that part of the world (warm weather, that is).
My wife and I have been on a dozen cruises, large and small, and the embarkation procedures for this trip were by far the best: outstanding, in fact. The cruise docks and departs from the Doubletree Hotel on the Columbia river, about 8 miles from downtown Portland, Oregon. It is easy to get to from the airport by complimentary shuttle, easy to drive to (right off Interstate 5) with plenty of free parking for the week, and an easy $20 taxi ride from downtown hotels. Starting at 10:00AM of departure day, cruise luggage can be dropped off at the hotel for delivery to your stateroom; check-in for the cruise begins about 2:00PM at a "get-aquainted reception" in a large function room in the hotel. The band is playing, the entertainers and ships officers are circulating around talking to all of the guests, and there are complimentary snacks and beverages available during the entire check-in process. The Queen of the West is visible through picture windows from the check-in area. Paperwork is taken care of with no long lines or other delays. Embarkation begins about 3:30PM with a short walk to the boat (by sections, "to speed the boarding process"). All luggage was in the staterooms before the passengers were. The boat left promptly at 4:00PM.
FOOD AND DRINK
The dining arrangements were fine, one sitting for all meals. The waitstaff was young and helpful, not as professional as on a large cruise ship, but very pleasant. Breakfast was usually 7:00AM to 8:00AM and dinner at 7:30PM. There was a large breakfast buffet every morning, but also a selection of four or five menu items should one want eggs cooked a certain way, freshly made pancakes, or lox and bagel, etc.
Lunch and dinner consisted of a soup course (excellent soups), a salad course, a main course with (usually) meat, fish, poultry, and vegitarian selections, and dessert. The food was uniformly good. All baking was done on board, and the breads and rolls were very good. Wines, many from Washington and Oregon and surprisingly agreeable, were available by the glass or bottle at reasonable prices.
In addition to the sit-down dining room service, light breakfast and lunch buffets were available daily on the top deck. Breakfast consisted generally of fruits, pastries, oatmeal, and cold cereal while lunch consisted of hamburgers, hot dogs, chili, salads and fruits. Also, coffee, tea, expresso, cappucino, soft drinks, fruit juices, and frozen yogurt were available 24 hours a day.
Alcoholic drinks were available in the Showroom bar beginning at about 10:00AM until the band quit for the evening (usually around midnight). The Paddlewheel Lounge served from about 6:30PM to 7:30PM (pre-dinnertime) and from about 9:30PM (after the entertainment) until the last person left. The top deck bar served at lunch and dinner. Drink prices were about $2.75 for beer and $4:00 for well drinks.
There were one or more shore excursions scheduled every day, all included in the cruise price, and all interesting and entertaining. Three modern and comfortable motor coaches follow the boat from stop to stop to take the passengers to local points of interest and museums, such as a scenic railroad ride through fruit orchards near Mt. Hood, a Bonneville Dam tour, a show at the site of the Pendleton Rodeo, the Columbia George Discovery Center, a jet boat ride up the Snake river between Washington and Idaho, and a trip to Mt. Saint Helens. The coach drivers are American West Steamship employees who grew up in the area and act as excellent tour guides, continuously providing local history, anecdotes and color. After the first couple of days, most passengers found their favorite driver and stuck with him or her for the rest of the trip. We sampled all three, and they were all excellent.
The theme of all of the excursions is generally to provide information and insights into the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Native Americans in the area, the Oregon Trail immigrants, and how the Columbia and Willamette river area developed over the years. There is a historian aboard who offers background comments each day and who is readily available to talk to or question almost any time.
The boat traverses eight locks in it's travels up the river, some of which have rises of 100 or more feet. Several of these were traveled during the daytime which was of high interest to passengers who had not been through locks before.
Compared to the large cruise ships, there is little in the way of on-board activities. There is also little time to do much else if you take all the daily excursions and eat all the meals. Also, the entertainment is not as elaborate or professional, but it certainly was entertaining.
The showroom band, five instruments, was quite good in providing listening and dancing music and entertainer support. The cruise director (singer, comedian, and MC) was quite good. Featured entertainers changed daily and were local talent, picked-up and dropped-off as we went along. Vocalists, a riverboat magician, other instrumentalists joined for special theme nights such as "Riverboat Jazz Fest", "Best of Broadway", "Theater on the River", etc.
Luggage was put outside the rooms and collected the night before. The boat docked back at the Doubletree Hotel about 8:00AM. All luggage (color tagged aphabetically) was unloaded by the boat personnel (everybody: cooks, waiters, bartenders, maintenance workers, officers) in about 20 minutes. Busses were waiting for complimentary transfers to the airport, arriving at the airport about 9:15AM. It all went very smoothly, without hassle.
I highly recommend this cruise, especially for those with an interest in Lewis and Clark and the history of the area. The cruise price may seem high at first, but the value is in the excellent excursions and extras.
The Captain said they were essentually booked up 18 months in advance, so obtaining a reservation may be a problem. We made reservations for our April cruise last September; our first choice week (May 8) was not available, and we got the last stateroom for the week of April 24. It is my understanding that American West is currently building a second riverboat due to begin operations late next year.
Bob and Jane Hattersley live in Hilton Head, South Carolina and have cruised on a wide variety of ships and itineraries. Their next cruise is on Orient Lines' Marco Polo to the Black Sea in late June. Bob can be reached at: R_Hattersley@compuserve.com.
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