Embarkation in Vancouver, Washington
Yesterday morning, my Delta Air Lines 737-800 touched down at Portland International Airport under sunny skies. The glistening tarmac, however, told me that we’d just miss the rain – and knowing the Pacific Northwest, it would be back.
It’s not my first time to this part of the world, but this will be my first-ever cruise with the American Queen Steamboat Company, and my first journey aboard the 360-foot long replica paddlewheeler, American Empress. Over the next week, she’ll take me on a wine-themed (some would call it ‘soaked’) journey along the Columbia River, sailing roundtrip from Vancouver, Washington.
Our full itinerary, both here and onboard:
American Empress – Cruising the Columbia River
|November 20, 2016||Vancouver, WA||Embark American Empress||18:00|
|November 21||The Dalles, OR||05:00||Overnight|
|November 22||Stevenson, WA||16:00||Overnight|
|November 23||Stevenson, WA||Overnight||Overnight|
|November 24||Astoria, OR||19:00||Overnight|
|November 25||Astoria, OR||Overnight||21:00|
|November 26||Portland, OR||08:00||20:00|
|November 27, 2016||Vancouver, WA||06:00||Disembark|
Some very cool particulars about my specific voyage: not only is it a wine-themed departure, it also happens to coincide with the American Thanksgiving celebration this week. And that, in turn, holds the promise of turkey, stuffing, and even more wine. Which is no doubt popular with Americans. As a Canadian, however, I’m interested in providing you with a foreigner’s look at the American Pacific Northwest and, of course, the American Empress.
The American Queen Steamboat Company – or AQSC, for short – typically includes a one-night pre-cruise stay on its Columbia and Snake River itineraries at the Hilton Vancouver Washington, centrally located in the heart of the quaint downtown district on West 6th.
A short but rather expensive ($41) cab ride took me from the airport to the Hilton, where I was checked into my room and provided with a handy embarkation timeline. It outlined the hours of the AQSC Hospitality Desk in the hotel lobby, and provided important information about voyage check-in, when bags have to be placed inside the door of your hotel room for pick-up, and when guests can expect embarkation to begin.
The Hospitality Desk was also open yesterday from 3:00pm until 7:00pm. Representatives were on-hand to answer questions about the voyage in general, today’s check-in procedures, and to pre-book both included and additional-cost tours ashore. Even though some tours are offered on a complimentary basis, they still have to be pre-booked.
That level of preparedness makes a great first impression on guests who, like myself, may be new to AQSC.
My Vancouver Can Take On Your Vancouver
To make the most of my pre-cruise hotel day, I set out to explore Vancouver, Washington yesterday. Or, as I call it, “The Other Vancouver.”
The Canadian city of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada – almost 500 kilometres to the North – is arguably the more famous Vancouver, having hosted Expo 86 and the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. It’s also the larger city, with a metro population of 2.4 million inhabitants, compared with Vancouver, Washington’s 161,000 as of the 2010 census. Both cities are, however, named after the same person: Captain George Vancouver, who became one of the first Europeans to explore nearly all of Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska before dying ignominiously in 1798.
I didn’t know what to expect from Vancouver, Washington, but I liked it. The city has plenty of old-world charm, and boutique dining venues, wine cellars, cocktail bars, and brewpubs on nearly every corner. It’s not touristy in the least: it’s local and authentic, with a sort of ‘take-it-or-leave it’ mentality. If you like it, great. If not – Portland’s across the river.
But this Vancouver has a problem: it’s relegated to the north bank of the Columbia River, forever in the shadow of the more-famous city of Portland, Oregon that lies just across the river. It’s also referred to – derogatorily – as “Vantucky” (a combination of ‘Vancouver’ and ‘Kentucky’) due to its far-right-leaning constituents. On the flip side, it’s also known as “Vansterdam”, thanks to Washington State’s legalization of marijuana in 2012.
Like the Rhine River in Europe which splits France and Germany, the Columbia River carves acts as a sort of pseudo-border between Washington and Oregon for much of its length. Emptying into the Pacific Ocean at Astoria, this is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest, originating 2,000 kilometres away in the Canadian province of British Columbia. It’s also home to some of the most significant historical events in the Pacific Northwest, from the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-06 to its role as part of the first plutonium reactor in the United States.
Best of all, you can river cruise it.
Embarking the Empress
This morning, check-in for our voyage was held at the Hilton Vancouver Washington. I made my way down to the conference room on the ground floor at 8:30 and, encountering no line, checked in for my voyage easily. All you need with you is a photo ID and a credit card.
Once checked-in, I received my ship keycard and a boarding pass for the coach transportation between the hotel and the pier. The earlier you check in, the earlier you’ll transfer to the ship. I secured a spot on the first transfer, departing from the hotel at 3:15pm.
At 10:30am, an orientation briefing was held in the hotel’s ballroom. This covered shipboard basics like the use of your keycard as an onboard purchase system, but was still useful, particularly for those who are new to cruising.
Shore excursions for the week were also discussed, but this was a bit disjointed: because this is a unique itinerary, the shore excursion brochures don’t have the correct itinerary or days of the week listed in them (we’re in Astoria, for example, on Friday instead of Monday). This led to much confusion as guests attempted to plan around the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday.