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Columbia River Shore Excursions on AQSC


Cyberchomp
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Greetings -

 

The Missus and I are booked on a AQSC cruise from Clarkston to Vancouver WA this July.  Not entirely committed to it, but we like the AQSC mandate for complete COVID vaccinations prior to boarding.  We have had ours.

 

Which leads me to this question: if you have sailed the Columbia previously on AQSC (and there are a few of you on this board that have), what are the shore excursions like?  Is everyone crammed aboard chartered buses?  I read another posting that AQSC uses HO-HO buses, but I am not sure if those are related to the actual complimentary tours.  Although everyone will (hopefully) had their vaccine, we are a wee bit leery about sharing a crowded charter tour bus.  The tours listed on the Web site give no logistical details.

 

If you've previously done the excursions, please give me your thoughts about how they are conducted.  Also, were there any tours you liked (other than the Pendleton Pilgrimage)?  Thanks, in advance.

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We sailed the Empress in October 2016. "Hop on, hop off" buses were used for the complimentary tours in each port. Occupancy could vary from crowded to light. Passenger load varied; more crowded early less at later times. We enjoyed the HO-HO tours; didn't do any of the paid tours.

 

While reduced occupancy and social distancing is mentioned on their Health and Safety page, I don't see that in the section regarding Shore Excursions.

https://www.americanqueensteamboatcompany.com/health-and-safety/

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Cyberchomp, like Tincan, we did this trip several years ago.  He is accurate about the ho-ho buses in the various ports.  We like to walk a lot and in many cases walked between the in-port sights that are included.  Of course, the bus circles around the stops and you just pick up the next bus as it comes along.  The evening before you select which bus you would want to start your day around town.  I think I recall that the initial buses start at 15-20 minute intervals.  We went on the optional tour in Richland to the Hanford Reactor, it was extremely interesting.  Our touring buddies went to Multnomah Falls (we’d been there previously). 

 

I kind of did a day by day on cruise critic.  I will try to find it and post the link, it was embedded on another thread.  

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1 hour ago, njhoo said:

Cyberchomp, like Tincan, we did this trip several years ago.  He is accurate about the ho-ho buses in the various ports.  We like to walk a lot and in many cases walked between the in-port sights that are included.  Of course, the bus circles around the stops and you just pick up the next bus as it comes along.  The evening before you select which bus you would want to start your day around town.  I think I recall that the initial buses start at 15-20 minute intervals.  We went on the optional tour in Richland to the Hanford Reactor, it was extremely interesting.  Our touring buddies went to Multnomah Falls (we’d been there previously). 

 

I kind of did a day by day on cruise critic.  I will try to find it and post the link, it was embedded on another thread.  

Afterwords, I could have kicked myself for not doing the premium Hanford tour!

When I went through the museum on the HoHo tour I realized it might have been pretty interesting.

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tincan and njhoo, thanks very much for your responses!  After reading them (and perusing some other posts going back to 2015, it all gives me a pretty good idea of what to expect.

 

It is my understanding that AQSC has its own fleet of HOHO vehicles that follows the ship to each port of call.  Someone posted a photo/video account of their Columbia River voyage to their Flicker account which showed what the buses look like: standard enclosed tour buses, not the novelty HOHO double-deckers I've seen in other ports on ocean cruises.  Now that the Missus and I have had the vaccine, we are able to finally get out in public again and, perhaps, we will take a chance on sailing the Columbia this July.

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On 3/13/2021 at 2:44 PM, Cyberchomp said:

It is my understanding that AQSC has its own fleet of HOHO vehicles that follows the ship to each port of call.

As one of the bus captains (drivers) mentioned on a Mississippi River cruise, the buses do NOT follow the ship to each port of call - the ship follows the buses. The buses make much better time on the highways than the ships do on the river. The buses drive to the next port each evening after the ship sails. Then the bus captains drive their routes and put out their signs at each stop before the ship arrives, and they are waiting when the ship arrives.

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  • 1 month later...
On 3/10/2021 at 7:42 PM, Cyberchomp said:

Greetings -

 

The Missus and I are booked on a AQSC cruise from Clarkston to Vancouver WA this July.  Not entirely committed to it, but we like the AQSC mandate for complete COVID vaccinations prior to boarding.  We have had ours.

 

Which leads me to this question: if you have sailed the Columbia previously on AQSC (and there are a few of you on this board that have), what are the shore excursions like?  Is everyone crammed aboard chartered buses?  I read another posting that AQSC uses HO-HO buses, but I am not sure if those are related to the actual complimentary tours.  Although everyone will (hopefully) had their vaccine, we are a wee bit leery about sharing a crowded charter tour bus.  The tours listed on the Web site give no logistical details.

 

If you've previously done the excursions, please give me your thoughts about how they are conducted.  Also, were there any tours you liked (other than the Pendleton Pilgrimage)?  Thanks, in advance.

 

The HOHO buses are not technically running at this time. Currently they're going to carry only half capacity on the buses at any one time for one thing meaning it will take longer to get everyone to the provided excursions.

 

Secondarily they don't want people "breaking the bubble". By bubble they mean everyone on the ship plus the HOHO drivers and anyone pax may come in contact with during the provided excursions is tested to ensure no spread of covid as much as possible. They could not offer that level of security if they let anyone just wander off wherever they like.

 

Additionally the owner said in his Interview on the first sailing of the American Countess staff isn't even allowed to get off much. They even have to arrange for one person to do all the shopping for everyone on the ship if anyone needs anything picked up.

 

I don't know how much any of this will change when everyone is vaccinated. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

 

According to the AQSC website, American Empress cruises starting with July 5, 2021, embarkation have Hop-On Hop-Off excursions scheduled as the included excursions in Astoria, Stevenson, The Dalles, Richland, and Clarkston.

 

The three June embarkations (June 14, 21, and 28, 2021) have the following included excursions instead of Hop-On Hop-Off:

  • Guided Astoria City Tour with Stops at the Flavel House and Astoria Column
  • Stevenson: Multnomah Falls & Columbia River Gorge Guided Scenic Tour
  • Guided Dalles City Tour with Stop at the National Neon Sign Museum
  • Guided Richland City Tour with Stop at the REACH Museum
  • Guided Clarkston City Tour with Stop at Nez Perce Historical Society Museum

 

The Astoria, Dalles, Richland, and Clarkston tours appear to be simplified versions of the Hop-On Hop-Off tours with only one or two stops and with everyone stopping together.

 

It is interesting that AQSC apparently think that the COVID situation in Washington and Oregon will allow them to resume the Hop-On Hop-Off excursions after the Independence Day weekend. Of course, we don't know for sure because they have the option to change the definition of an included excursion until the day of the excursion. The only way we will really know when they have switched back to Hop-On Hop-Off included excursions is to hear from people who have cruised after they have done so.

 

Since my cruise isn't scheduled until November, I suspect there is a fairly good chance that we will be having Hop-On Hop-Off excursions then. I wouldn't place any bets on the July 5th cruise though. I suspect AQSC don't rally know yet when they will switch back. It will probably partially be up to the local authorities, so the Oregon ports and the Washington ports may not switch at the same time.

 

I hope people cruising on the American Empress this summer post updates on the included shore excursions.

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The CDC just released an updated COVID-19 Operations Manual for Simulated and Restricted Voyages under the Framework for Conditional Sailing Order. Under the section for Shore Excursions & Transportation Services is the following statement for Fully Vaccinated Travelers:

  • Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that—if they are fully vaccinated—they may engage in self-guided or independent exploration during port stops, if they wear a mask while indoors. The cruise ship operator is additionally advised that foreign jurisdictions may have their own requirements.

This guidance appears to allow Hop-on Hop-off excursions with fully vaccinated passengers allowed to proceed independently between the Hop-on Hop-off stops, and everyone on an AQSC cruise will be fully vaccinated. Starting Hop-On Hop-Off excursions in July is now looking a lot more likely.

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