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by Kristin Harrison

You can follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark and experience the Pacific Northwest on an authentic sternwheeler -- American
West Steamboat Company's Queen of the West.

Queen of the West runs week-long cruises roundtrip from Portland, Oregon, traveling on the Columbia River through numerous
dams and locks, and with many shore excursions. If you are a natural history buff, geology lover, or Lewis and Clark fan, this cruise
is packed with activities for you. It is also a great cruise for museum lovers and those looking to relax on a slow-paced riverboat

Excursions are included in the cruise fare and include a long list of destinations and activities: Columbia River Gorge, Multnomah
Falls, the Pendleton Rodeo, Umatilla Indian dance performance, Mt. Ste. Helen’s, wine tasting at Pacific Northwest wineries,
Columbia River Maritime Museum, and a jet boat ride through Hell’s Canyon. Museums, cultural centers, and historical locations
are daily staples of this cruise. Most excursions are by bus.

The paddleboat has 72 cabins and can carry 160 passengers and entertain them in four main gathering rooms: Columbia River
Showroom, Paddlewheel Lounge, Calliope Bar and Grille, and the Lewis and Clark Dining Room. It is decorated to replicate the
luxury sternwheelers of the 19th century, and houses a gallery of historic posters and photographs. All cabins are outside and
have a picture window and private bath. Many have private verandahs. Most have twin beds, two bureaus, an armoire closet, desk,
TV, VCR. Two-room suites are also available.

Meals on the Queen are served as single seating in the dining room. Seating is not assigned, and, as most things on the Queen,
tend to be casual and informal. A meat, vegetarian, and seafood option are offered at each lunch and dinner. Half-portions are
offered and passengers seemed to greatly appreciate this option.

On the cruise that I took on the Queen with my grandmother, all of the excursions were included in the cruise fare. The Queen of the
West’s itinerary is packed with excursions, at least two every day by bus to different historical, geological, or natural attractions.  

There were 50 crewmembers and the all-American officers, wait staff, bartenders, chefs, housekeepers, and engineers worked hard
to ensure that every detail of our cruise was cared for. Most of the crew was from Pacific Northwest states; many had been living or
working on the Columbia River for years. Passengers were from all over the United States and abroad. Most were in their 50’s and
older; many were celebrating anniversaries. Only two families were aboard with teenagers.

The seven-night cruise that I took, called the Three Great Rivers Cruise, ranges in price from $1,195 in the off-season for a value
stateroom to $4,845 during the peak season of summer for an Owner’s Suite.

Day One -Portland, Oregon
Queen of the West docks at the Doubletree Hotel at Jantzen Beach, just north of Portland. Greeted by a mustached magician
shuffling a deck of cards in the style of an Old West card player, we checked at the lounge of the Doubletree where there was snack
food, a Dixieland band, and sing-alongs.

Queen of the West has four levels; the top deck has an enclosed patio area and numerous rocking and lounge chairs. We went up
to the top deck around 4:30and enjoyed our cruise down the Columbia River and into the Willamette River, leading us to the heart of
downtown Portland. The historian talked over the loudspeaker system about the area that we passed through on our way to
Portland and he was available for questions about the Columbia River’s history, biology, and river lore. 

Our cruise through the Portland area took us under bridges and past some beautiful waterfront mansions and houseboats. The
weather on the top deck was perfect: sunny, mid-70’s, and a slight breeze. It was a beautiful night to be on a riverboat.

Cocktail hour was at 6:00 pm. Dinner was served at 7:00. The dining room is on the first deck and has large windows just above the
water line, allowing a great view of the river as we eat.

Tonight, I had Pacific Coast clam chowder, Oregon coast salmon with rainbow orzo and a bittersweet chocolate torte for dessert. I
found my half-portion of salmon to be the ideal amount of food.

After dinner, we moved to the showroom to listen to Pat O’Neal’s Dixieland Jazz Band. The showroom has chandeliers,
velvet-covered chairs, and a hardwood dance floor. Every night a different band or performer is brought onboard the boat, and in
the tradition of old, the performers are dropped off down river after their performance.

After the show, we returned to our cabin to relax after a long day of traveling. Our cabin is located just in front of the large
paddlewheel on the stern of the boat. The whoosh-whoosh sound of the wheel lulled us to sleep.

Day Two -Hood River, Oregon
Mornings come early on the Queen, with breakfast served at 7:00 and excursions leaving by
7:45. I woke up to an announcement for breakfast followed by a talk over the loudspeaker by
our historian about the town we docked at during the night. Hood River is known as the
windsurfing capital of the world. I had breakfast up on the top deck at the Calliope Grille. The
Calliope has snacks and beverages available 24 hours a day. I sat in a rocking chair drinking
coffee and watched the sun rise high over the river. My grandmother went to the more formal
breakfast downstairs and enjoyed eggs, ham, toast, and country potatoes.

A non-denominational church
service was held in the Paddlewheel
lounge for passengers wishing to go
to a service as today is Sunday.
After the service, we went by bus to
the Columbia Gorge Discovery
Center. The driver regaled us with
stories about the area and its history
as we drove along the river. The
landscape has changed significantly.
No longer in the lush tree-lined
mountains of the coastal area, this
region of the Dalles and Hood River is much less green and significantly
drier. We spent an hour at the museum and then stopped at Rowena Crest
for a scenic overlook of the Columbia River Gorge. We had lunch and watched windsurfers and kite-boarders whiz past the dining
room windows.

After lunch we docked in Stevenson, Washington and headed to
Bonneville Dam where we listened to a ranger give a talk about salmon
migration. We had a short time to explore the Dam facilities and salmon fish
ladders. I sat in a rose garden and watched the waters churn below
Bonneville Lock. From there, we headed to Multnomah Falls, one of he
largest waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest, and on this sunny warm day,
very crowded. We had an hour at the Falls which did not give me enough
time to hike up to the mouth of the Multnomah. My grandmother stayed at
the base of the falls, not interested in climbing the numerous steps to get to
the bridge overlook. Our return route to the boat took us past other
beautiful waterfalls and scenic views of the Columbia River and Gorge.
Unfortunately, there is not time to stop at any of these less crowded

My dinner tonight was pear salad, Dungeness crab cakes, strawberry
shortcake and a glass of Oregon Pinot Gris. The wine list aboard the Queen highlights Pacific Northwest wines. Tonight’s
entertainment was by a female trio performing 1940’s era songs. Immediately following the show, the Queen entered one of the
many locks that we will be passing through on the Columbia River. I watched from the top deck as the deckhands tied the boat up
to the side of the lock, the gates closed behind us, and slowly the water level rose. It only took about 15 minutes for the water level
in the lock to raise 90 feet and level us with the river above.

Day 3 -Pendleton, Oregon
This morning we woke up and found a river otter keeping us company. Then as We left a lock, we passed a large Osprey nest with
an Osprey in it and a boat designated to carry juvenile salmon downriver. The wildlife along and in the Columbia River is diverse
and abundant.

Our morning excursion was to the Pendleton Rodeo grounds where we watched a rodeo
performance and sheepdog herding demonstration. After that, we drove to the Tamasklist Cultural
Center on the Umatilla Indian reservation. At the Cultural Center, we had a buffet style lunch and
walked through the Native American museum with information about the history of the Umatilla,
Cayuse, and Walla Walla Indians and their relationship to American pioneers. After a dance
performance put by on members of the reservation, we again loaded the buses and drove an hour
back to the boat.

Dinner choices for the evening where between halibut, steak, or manicotti. Entertainment was a
guitar duo featuring classic country songs and cowboy tunes. After the main show ends, a pianist
plays piano in the Paddlewheel Lounge every evening, but most passengers head to their cabins
immediately following the evening’s main entertainment.

Day Four -Snake River, Idaho
Today we took a jet boat trip up Hells Canyon. We heard a talk from a Nez Perce Indian on the
traditions and stories of his people, then were met at the dock by two large, covered jet boats. Each
held 50 to 60 people and, being totally enclosed, was not the wet and wild ride that some had
expected and others feared. Our jet boat captain was informative about Hells Canyon and the
Snake River and answered all the questions thrown at him while driving 30 miles per hour through
shallow rapids. We spent three hours on the boat and went through interesting country, barren
and geologically diverse. We stopped briefly along the shore where Indian petroglyphs remain and then continued to our
destination, Heller Bar Lodge, and had snacks before loading the buses to head back to the boat.

It was our first afternoon to be underway on the river and I chose to spend my afternoon on the top deck, enjoying the landscape
and getting to know my fellow passengers. The scenery is beautiful, with basalt rock lining the river and wheat fields covering the

We ate dinner tonight with two couples from Pennsylvania and we laughed our way heartily through the meal. Tonight’s show was
a magic show with card tricks and slapstick magic.

I have been reading and writing on the top deck each evening. Tonight, the moon was full and enormous over the river. There were
no city or town lights to compete with its glow, on either side of the river. This trip has certainly given me a new appreciation for the
vastness of the West and what the early settlers must have endured in crossing this country before finally arriving at the Pacific

Day Five -- The Dalles, Oregon and John Locks and Dams
Today we were scheduled to spend most of our day aboard cruising the river. Morning activity offerings included covered wagon
races, a movie, a talk by the historian on Lewis and Clark. tours of the pilot house and galley, talks with the Captain and head chef,
and a wine tasting of Northwest wine offerings. Our wine tasting became a complimentary cocktail hour when the ship experienced a
mechanical problem. A back-up hydraulic pump stopped working and our itinerary was changed for the day based on Coast Guard

We spent a few hours tied up alongside a dam and then got approval to dock near Maryhill Museum. By the time we arrived at
Maryhill, the museum should have been closed, but they stayed open so we could see their collection of artwork, including unique
chess sets, August Rodine sculpture, and Native American art.

Day Six -Mt. St. Helene’s
This morning we awoke to the boat moving downriver with a tugboat following in our wake
in case we had any further mechanical problems. The Captain is trying to make up for lost
time and hopes to maintain the rest of our itinerary. The morning’s activities included bingo
and a talk by our historian. We have been cruising back west since going to the Snake River,
and are now back in more stereotypical Northwest scenery. The river cuts through
mountains covered in pines.

After lunch, we boarded the buses to drive to Mt. Ste. Helene’s, an hour and a half bus trip
each way. The driver told tales about the volcano’s explosion, and the scenery that we
passed through was incredible. We stopped at one of Mt. Ste. Helene’s Visitor’s centers and
were left to explore the museum which was located on the edge of a ravine, with an incredible
view of Mt. Ste. Helene. A park ranger talked about the explosion, destruction, and
subsequent bloom of new wildlife and flora in the area. If given the time, I would have
eagerly hiked the trails surrounding the Visitor’s Center. Unfortunately, our time was too
short. On our bus ride back to the boat, we watched a video on the explosion and the impact
it made on the communities surrounding Mt. Ste. Helene’s. We’ve seen other videos on the
bus this week, but this one was by far the best, with lots of documentary footage and
firsthand accounts of survivors. I choose the vegetarian option for dinner this evening:
stuffed green peppers.

In the showroom it was Big Band Night, with music performed from the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s, and a passenger variety show. The
social atmosphere aboard the Queen has really allowed people to get to know each other and the passenger variety show was a
great crowd pleaser. The showstopper came in the form of John, a harmonica player in his mid-80’s, who has spent most of the trip
making fellow passengers laugh.

Day Seven - Astoria, Oregon
We were still docked when we got up, and because of continued repairs, our day’s itinerary was affected. The planned trip to the
coastal town of Cannon Beach was canceled, and instead, we spent the day traveling by bus to the river town of Astoria and then
to Fort Clapstop of Lewis and Clark fame. Astoria is located at the mouth of the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean and is known
as the graveyard of the sea. It is a beautiful town with lots of nautical influence.

Our first stop was the Columbia River Maritime Museum, located on the river, and with exhibits on fishing, Coast Guard, nautical
history, and the commercial industry of tug boats. I was particularly interested in the Coast Guard exhibit, having a background in
search and rescue, and was thrilled to see a real Coast Guard 44-foot rescue boat designed to roll 360 degrees through heavy seas. I
learned a great deal from this museum and really enjoyed visiting it. We left the museum and took a driving tour of some of the
historic homes in Astoria. Built onto the side of the hill leading down to the river, the homes are Victorian, many built in the early
19th century.

After lunch, we went to Fort Clapstop, Lewis and Clark’s camp after reaching the Pacific coast. We toured the small fort and had
enough time to walk down the trail to where Lewis and Clark landed their boats from the Columbia River. Fort Clapstop is beautiful
and buried deep in the Northwest forest. Back at the Queen, our final night was like the 4th of July. The staff wore red, white, and
blue vests and bowties and the dining room featured a blue dolphin ice-sculpture. The Captain hosted cocktail hour and dinner was
surf and turf ... lobster, steak, champagne, and a white chocolate mousse served in a delicate pastry shaped like a swan. At the
show for the night a singer sang a medley of military theme songs. Many of the passengers were military veterans and the singer
had them stand and be recognized. The evening was an appropriate conclusion to this riverboat cruise focused so greatly on the
development of the United States and the beauty and personality of the Western frontier. We went to bed humming patriotic tunes.

Day Eight- Debarkation
We had an early breakfast and the Queen was docked at the Doubletree by 7:45am. The staff lined up on the dock to say goodbye
to each passenger. We had our luggage and were ready to head back to the real world by 8:30am, an incredibly efficient debarking.

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