Making Your Own Sea Day, On the River
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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: