Making Your Own Sea Day, On the River

American Empress, docked in Stevenson, Washington on a crisp November morning. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

American Empress, docked in Stevenson, Washington on a crisp November morning. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The Pacific Northwest unleashed its full wintery might on us this morning, with low-lying cloud and heavy rain. It’s an admittedly very pretty backdrop, and if you’re prepared for the rain in this part of the world, it’s not really an issue at all.

The trouble is that the American Queen Steamboat Company’s American Empress lulled me into a sense of coziness this morning. I looked out the windows at the cascading sheet of rain as I ate breakfast up in the River Grill and thought, “Not a chance.”

Things got off to a wet start this morning - and the warmth of the Paddlewheel Lounge was too much to resist. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Things got off to a wet start this morning – and the warmth of the Paddlewheel Lounge was too much to resist. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

However, my desire to read the local newspaper in the warm confines of the Paddlewheel Lounge over a cup of coffee gives me the opportunity to talk about something that often crops up on river cruises around the world: how to create your own sea day.

On ocean cruises, sea days break up the go-go-go pace of the overall voyage. River cruises, however, generally lack sea days. Today, for example, the American Empress Hop-on-Hop-Off (or HoHo) busses were running a loop between the ship, downtown Stevenson, Washington; the Bonneville Dam; and the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center. It’s a lot to see and do.

Fall colours on the Empress. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Fall colours on the Empress. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

But the loop would only run until 12:30pm, due to the number of guests taking the optional excursion this afternoon to Multnomah Falls. Which, if you’ve never been, is truly spectacular. I visited the falls last year on another voyage down the Columbia with a different line, and found it to be worth the journey.

Today, though, I wanted to get out and stretch my legs – and avoid the rain – so I planned my very own day of adventures. And that’s just fine with the good folks at the American Queen Steamboat Company. You’re welcome to stay onboard all day if you’d like, or go ashore on your own for some independent exploration. If the weather permits, you could even take one of the ship’s complimentary bicycles out for a spin.

Here’s a look at what’s happening onboard today:

  • 8:30 am: On-Shore Hike through Stevenson. Deck (1) fwd.
  • 8:30 am – 12:30 pm: Hop-on-Hop-off tours of Stevenson begin on-shore and run every 30 minutes. Maps and boarding passes are available at the Purser’s Office. Dockside.
  • 9:00 am: Engine Room Tour. Meet Chief Engineer Noah Sheppard at the Purser’s Office to get a guided tour of our engine room. A sign-up sheet is available at the Purser’s Office (limited availability). Deck (1) fwd.
  • 11:00 am: Pilot House Tour. Meet Riverlorian Laurence in the Paddlewheel Lounge. A sign-up sheet is available at the Purser’s Office (limited availability). Deck (2) aft.
  • 11:30 am – 1:00 pm: Lunch is served in the Astoria Dining Room. Deck (1) aft.
  • 1:00 pm – 4:30 pm: Movie Matinee – Bridge of Spies. Enjoy fresh popcorn in the Show Lounge as you watch this newly-released Academy Award-winner starring Tom Hanks. Deck (1) fwd.
  • 2:00 pm: Craft Corner. Make your own riverboat greeting card in the Paddlewheel Lounge with Lindy. Deck (2) aft.
  • 3:00 pm: Trivia. Meet Greg in the Paddlewheel Lounge and test your knowledge for fun and prizes! Deck (2) aft.
  • 4:30 pm: Wine Tasting. Join our special guest presenter from Mercer Estates in the Show Lounge to sample a selection of local favorites. Deck (1) fwd.
  • 5:00 pm – 6:15 pm. Hot Piano, Coll Drinks. Frank kicks off the evening’s entertainment in the Paddlewheel Lounge. Deck (2) aft.
  • 5:30 pm: Early Seating Dinner is served in the Astoria Dining Room. Deck (1) aft.
  • 6:30 pm: Showtime “Guitar Crazy” with local artist Will Kiefer. Deck (1) fwd.
  • 7:15 pm – 8:15 pm: Smooth Sounds. Join Frank in the Paddlewheel Lounge as he tickles the ivories. Deck (2) aft.
  • 7:45 pm: Main Seating Dinner is served in the Astoria Dining Room. Deck (1) aft.
  • 8:30 pm: Showtime “Guitar Crazy” with local artist Will Kiefer. Deck (1) fwd.
  • 9:30 pm: Comedy Night with Frank. “60’s Hits and Misses.” Join Frank for this hilarious evening of fun, laughs and memorable moments from the 1960’s in the Paddlewheel Lounge.

After lunch onboard the American Empress, I donned my waterproof pants and coat and set off into the rain to walk to the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, about 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometres) away.

Exploring Stevenson this afternoon with a refreshing hike. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Exploring Stevenson this afternoon with a refreshing hike. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

I followed roughly the same route that this morning’s guided walk would have taken: from the ship, I walked up Russell Avenue to Second street, and then followed that right onto Rocky Creek Drive (by the Texaco).

Once there, you can hug the left hand sidewalk which takes you over a bridge across Rock Creek, past the fairgrounds and the Recreation Centre, and then hugs the bank of Rock Cove before ending at the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center. From the ship to the center, including photo-stops, my total walking time was 30 minutes (though your speed may vary).

I’m glad I went. Even though I arrived in the afternoon and on my own, a quick flash of my American Empress keycard still allowed me complimentary admission to the museum.

Strolling through picturesque Stevenson...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Strolling through picturesque Stevenson…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...on my way up to the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…on my way up to the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Besides being in an attractively-designed building overlooking the Columbia River, the Interpretive Center is one of the best museums I’ve seen so far on this voyage – and that’s saying a lot. The museum traces the history of the Columbia River Gorge and Skamania County, from the time it was inhabited solely by the Cascade Chinook Native Americans, up through the disastrous religious persecution perpetrated by missionaries on the Oregon Trail and the infectious diseases that wiped out a generation of native peoples.

The history of the logging industry is also highlighted, as well as the development of the region into what it is today. To that end, the museum houses a huge number of unique and interesting vehicles, including an immaculately-restored 1921 Mack logging truck; a heritage General Electric EMD F9-A diesel locomotive built in 1956 that used to run through the State on regular passenger service; and a massive, 37-foot replica of the McCord fish wheel built in 1882.

Some shots of the museum:

The Museum traces the history of the Pacific Northwest region from its native peoples...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The Museum traces the history of the Pacific Northwest region from its native peoples…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...to its early frontier past. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…to its early frontier past. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

A number of classic vehicles are on display here, including this Mack logging truck...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

A number of classic vehicles are on display here, including this Mack logging truck…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...and a locomotive that used to pull passenger cars through the Pacific Northwest. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…and a locomotive that used to pull passenger cars through the Pacific Northwest. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

There's also a replica (working) steam engine that would have been used in a turn-of-the-century mill. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

There’s also a replica (working) steam engine that would have been used in a turn-of-the-century mill. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

On my leisurely stroll back to the ship, I took the long way around Rock Cove, weaving around the pedestrian path that encircles the fair grounds. As I did so, the sun shone brightly and immediately off in the distance, back towards the museum. It was an incredible sight, as you could literally see the rain streaming down in the rays of sunlight that broke through the clouds like some ethereal being.

Of course, the downside to such a beautiful sight is that you know that there’s a ton of rain coming in behind that. So, I rattled off as many photos as I could and then took shelter underneath my hood for the long, damp stroll back to the ship – made better by the wonderful Chai Latte I got at Bigfoot Coffee, just a few blocks up from the American Empress.

Walking back to the American Empress...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Walking back to the American Empress…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...under an ethereal sky. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…under an ethereal sky. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Tonight, I write this from the warmth of the American Empress, where evenings are taking on a decidedly relaxed feel. Another excellent wine tasting served as the precursor to the first seating of dinner in the Astoria Dining Room, and I ensconced myself into one of the comfortable chairs in the Paddlewheel Lounge with a book and a cocktail – a reward, maybe, for burning off all those calories today.

Guests return to...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Guests return to…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

....the American Empress. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

….the American Empress. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The American Queen Steamboat Company is planning to do four of these wine-themed Roundtrip Portland voyages on the Columbia River next year, on March 5 and March 12, and November 12 and 19, 2017. After having been onboard now for four full days, I’d say this to anyone considering these off-season departures: they’re a fantastic choice. Sure, the weather is on the chilly side and yes, you’ll see rain, but I think that only adds to the mystique of this region.

Much like Alaska, the Columbia River is pretty in the middle of summer – but to really see its charms, you have to experience it in the rain. To be able to do that that while tasting some of the region’s great wines and enjoying special excursions and events is just the icing on the cake.

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report aboard the American Queen Steamboat Company’s American Empress continues tomorrow as we sail the Columbia River bound for Astoria, Oregon! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog.

American Empress - Cruising the Columbia River

DAYPORTARRIVEDEPART
November 20, 2016Vancouver, WAEmbark American Empress18:00
November 21The Dalles, OR05:00Overnight
November 22Stevenson, WA16:00Overnight
November 23Stevenson, WAOvernightOvernight
November 24Astoria, OR19:00Overnight
November 25Astoria, OROvernight21:00
November 26Portland, OR08:0020:00
November 27, 2016Vancouver, WA06:00Disembark
 

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