Things I learned on a recent river cruise: I now know a lot more about a lot of things I knew little about before the trip. Also, what I recall most vividly are experiences that were unplanned, unexpected or originally underestimated.
We had examples of all the above on a recent 12-day trip to the Pacific Northwest, a seven-night river cruise, bookended by a night in Spokane, Wash., and two nights in Portland, Ore.
The ship was the Queen of the West, a refurbished paddle wheeler from American Cruise Lines.
The trip is heavy with history, including the Lewis and Clark expedition, created by President Thomas Jefferson in 1804 to find a waterway to the Pacific suitable for commerce with Asia. Some highlights:
• Spokane is a lovely city, whose river running through the cliffs and broad panoramas has rapids and lovely hiker/biker trails. Great restaurants with stunning views include Clinkerdagger and Anthony’s.
• The ship is cozy and casual, with an unflappable staff, excellent food, generous happy hours, live music nightly and a route along the gorges and canyons of the Snake and Columbia Rivers.
One suggestion - make sure the staterooms are large enough for you. Other than several spacious suites, the cabins are snug.
• The visit to Mt. St. Helens is outstanding. The crater, created by the eruption in 1980, is more than a mile wide and you can stare directly into it.
• Fort Clatsop, near Astoria Ore., is where the Lewis & Clark expedition spent the brutal winter of 1805-06. One tourist asked the guide at the log-cabin fort whether it was the original or a replica. The guide politely said, “replica,” not mentioning that the real thing would be well over 200 years old by now.
• Astoria is a beautiful little city on the Pacific coast. A highlight is the Maritime Museum. Not listed on the tour but great fun to watch is the huge logging operation at the port of Astoria loading giant logs onto ocean-going cargo ships bound for Asia.
• The region’s burgeoning salmon industry is on display, showing how Native Americans subsisted on salmon in days of yore. We toured a major salmon hatchery, whose underwater windows show how the salmon go upstream to spawn.
• The town of Pendleton, Ore., hosts the annual Pendleton Roundup. Trucks and trailers arriving for the week-long event clogged the streets, carrying horses and cowboys and maybe a few clogger dance groups as well.
We also visited the Pendleton Woolen Mill, which has produced world-famous clothing and Native American blankets since 1909.
• Multnomah Falls and the Columbia River Gorge is a gorgeous stop along the cruise. This region is said to be the greatest concentration of waterfalls in America. Multnomah alone cascades more than 600 feet from its origin on Larch Mountain.
• Ending the cruise with leisure time in Portland is a good idea. This city’s downtown area is vibrant and busy. Walking is safe and easy, but efficient busses and light rail move through the area on a frequent basis.
Two of the many standout restaurants were Jake’s Famous Crawfish, a landmark, and Thai Peacock, a stylish Asian restaurant. The food is rated mild to spicy. I’d err on the mild side unless you are fireproof.
I recommend this river cruise. The other passengers were outgoing and friendly. So is the staff. That’s a good combo.
Our trip was enhanced by the meticulous, professional and hands-on work by HCI Travel in Buckhead. Contact: or phone 404-841-3100. We don’t go anywhere without guidance from Joanne, Marybeth, Shelly and the gang.