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America Empress 8/16 - 8/23, 2021


bebtwice
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Just a few comments to those already made about other Empress cruises, as we took the trip 8/16-8/23 but in reverse(Vancouver to Clarkston):

 

We were originally scheduled to take this trip last year starting Labor Day weekend. We decided to reschedule it at a time frame that would fall between three other trips we had scheduled for this year, but all three other trips were canceled. With this being a US trip, we didn't have to jump thru all of the hoops that are now necessary to travel to so many international locations.

 

We arrived a night earlier at the Vancouver Hilton, which we found to be very nice. There is currently no full-service restaurant operating in the hotel for breakfast and lunch. You get items (limited menu) from a small area next to the restaurant and there are a few tables to eat at. Instead we found a coffee shop nearby where we sat outside and had a nice conversation with several of the locals. For lunch we ate at the farmer's market in the park near the hotel. There are several restaurants and wine bars on the riverfront, but with the heat, we decided to just grab something at the hotel bar. Breakfast the next day was a buffet provided by AQSC in one of the ballrooms.

 

The check-in procedure went quite quickly the next day, which was a relief after some reports of it being a bite chaotic for other cruises. We had 5 PM appointments for our Covid tests, but we were taken immediately after we finished having our pictures taken and our on-board account set up. The pictures are then matched up to your ID cards, which you need each time you board or exit the ship. Those were picked up the morning of departure in a room near breakfast, as were your boarding passes for the morning excursions or transfer to the ship. We received our negative Covid test results on Sunday night.

 

We were on the third deck, a forward cabin which we found nice. Much like we expected, as we have been on river cruises in Europe. We were surprised the hallways was so wide (except on the 4th deck forward where the larger cabins are), compared to the European ships. The rooms were attended to twice a day, with them each night leaving the schedule for the following day on the bed. The biggest complaint of the trip seemed to be the noise between cabins. We were lucky and had fairly quiet neighbors, but heard reports of others that weren't so lucky. Also if you are a light sleeper like I am, the noise from the fan that circulates the air cycles on and off and could be problematic.

 

We had the early seating (5:15 PM) ,which was preferable to not starting dinner till 7:45 PM. There are only 8 tables for 2, so if you want to sit by yourselves, you need to get there early as the tables are snatched up quickly. Otherwise they will seat you at larger tables with others, though they do ask first if this is OK . We actually preferred this as it gave us a chance to meet and talk with other passengers. On our cruise the River Grille was an option for all three meals. At dinner the menu was much the same as the MDR but some items (like lamb) may not be available in the Grille. We found the food generally good, but the portion controls were inconsistent. One night there was too much prime rib (too bad there was no dog around) and the next night the piece of mahi mahi was small and the side dishes were never that generous. Service in the MDR was also inconsistent, with some staff being better than others, but that can occur at any restaurant. All of the staff throughout the ship were friendly.

 

We thought they did a great job with the hop on, hop off buses. What was nice was that the entrance fees for any attraction that required them were paid by AQSC. For the earliest departures (usually the first 3-4) you need to get a ticket from the machine by the purser’s office. After that you can go ticket-less. There are usually at least two buses traveling each route, with the frequency varying from 15 minutes to 60 minutes, as the length of the routes varied. In the afternoon, when most of the half-day tours were scheduled, the frequency usually drops off. We had a number of excursions booked so we didn't always get to do the full route each day. We would have liked to have more time in The Dalles, but we had an excursion booked.

 

We found the excursions good but pricey. The most popular one on our trip was the Hell's Canyon trip, which was fun. We did find that in some locations we had too much time and in others not enough, but it's tough to get a time-line that fits everyone. On the two full-day tours (Mt. St. Helens and Mt Hood), lunch was provided.

 

The entertainment was good, especially the two nights the guest entertainer Greg Pendzick, performed. He and his wife were with our regional theater for 3 years, so it was a surprise to see him on board. There are two shows each night - one started at 6:30 and the other at 8:30. Both lasted about 45 minutes. Nothing runs very late on the ship.

 

The biggest surprise of the tour was the weather . After it being in the mid-90's, by the second day it was in the 70's. It didn't really warm up to the 80's until the last day or so of the trip. The gift shop made out well selling $70 zippered sweat-shirt like jackets, as most people didn't come prepared for it to be so cool. Also they do keep the ship cool, so a a light sweater or wrap is advisable.

 

We concluded our trip with a night at the Historic Davenport Hotel, after doing the Spokane city tour before being dropped off at the hotel. The hotel is quite something, Our room was huge and the bathroom almost as big as our cruise cabin. Of course it is not inexpensive, which is typical of large city hotels these days. Because it was a Monday, many nearby dining options were closed. We just grabbed something in the hotel bar, as did others from the cruise. We had breakfast in the portion of the Palm Court that was open before departing for the airport.

 

We enjoyed our trip but are undecided whether we will be doing another US cruise. Still have a list of European river cruises we want to do.

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

We were on the same cruise just a week later.  I'd echo all of the above comments.  I did turn the thermostat fan from "auto" to "on" which eliminated the cycling and provided a bit of white noise.  The main dining room service was much faster than on the American Queen in 2019.  Meals normally took about an hour as opposed to the Queen where they were often twice that long.  Perhaps it had something to do with being short staffed because everyone really hustled and didn't spend much time chatting.  The River Grill was open every night with no reservations required.  While it was nice to sit outside and watch the scenery go by, the food just wasn't as hot nor as well presented as in the dining room.  We elected to have breakfast and lunch there and dinner in the main dining room. 

 

Only two minor complaints.  We didn't notice much noise from our quiet neighbors but the plumbing was extremely noisy.  Every time a toilet flushed somewhere the noise carried up through the shower drain.  We also thought breakfast ended a bit too early.  It's tough to sleep in get two showers in and get to breakfast when it ends at 8:30.

 

Any questions, I'll try my best.  

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thank you for both reviews and comments! 

 

We are scheduled for a late dinner seating - what do you suggest if we get peckish beforehand? Do they have snacks, ice cream, or coffee for free?

 

Did you do room service? How is it?

 

We are ending in Portland on our trip and staying 2 days - do you have any recommendations? I am watching to see if they have the post cruise excusions (April 2022). 

 

Thank you!

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Concerning Portland post cruise. We stayed 3 days in Summer of 2021 and we regretted most of it. We did a Mt St Helen Post Cruise excursion with AQSC and that was good. Overall impression of Downtown Portland was poor. Dirtiest City I have ever seen. The homeless problem is out of control, what's not closed and fenced off is occupied by tents and vagrants.

I don't mean to be disrespectful of the problems but as a tourist destination I would take a pass

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1 hour ago, chowmi said:

 

 

We are scheduled for a late dinner seating - what do you suggest if we get peckish beforehand? Do they have snacks, ice cream, or coffee for free?

 

Did you do room service? How is it?

 

 

There is always popcorn in the Paddlewheel lounge.  In the River Grill there's cookies, soft serve, and a gizmo that spits out all those fancy coffee drinks.  For that matter, it opens at 5:30 so you can just graze off of the buffet.

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