Cruise Review
Columbia Queen
Cruise Line:
Great American River Journeys
08/26/2005 – 09/03/2005
Cruise Length:
8 nights (including one pre-cruise night in Portland)
History Comes Alive
228 and 230 Category AA, Cabin Deck (outside with French windows)
Portland roundtrip (Vancouver, WA, - Astoria, OR, - Stevenson, WA, - Pendleton, OR, - Clarkston, WA, - Stevenson, WA, - Vancouver, WA)
Columbia River, Willamette River, Snake River
Review by:
Carmen Winkler
Overall Cruise Experience
On this cruise you explore the Columbia River – nearly – from the Pacific Ocean up to the Snake River with a short side trip into the Willamette River. The changes of scenery are quite dramatic. From the more flat area close to the ocean through the wooded Columbia River Gorge with its high waterfalls through desert like brown hills up to the breathtaking steep Hells Canyon. Throughout the cruise you lock through 8 locks.
river cruises: Columbia River Impressions
Forget all locks you´ve seen on the Mississippi River System these Columbia River locks are really huge. The lift ranges between 75 and 105 feet. If you have missed one, don´t worry you will pass through it again on the downriver cruise. An information sheet about the locks and the scheduled time to lock through is available at the Purser´s office. With a total of 161 passengers maximum the Columbia Queen offers a small ship cruising experience. You soon learn to know your fellow passengers and there´s a family like atmosphere amongst crew and passengers. The crew on the Columbia Queen is really special. You can feel that the crew loves working on the boat. There´s always someone there to assist you if you need some help. Although the Columbia Queen has no special kids´ program our 5 year old daughter didn´t get bored. The crew did their best to entertain her. Once we found her in the Purser´s Lobby sitting on the floor with the assistant cruise director playing cards. One of the main meeting areas with your fellow passengers was the Back Porch. On the outer deck rocking chairs invite you to take some rest. Even a kid size rocker was available.

The included shore tours cover the main places along the rivers. Three brand new motorcoaches accompanied the boat for the tours. The buses do have a restroom and are wheelchair accessible. Complementary bottled water was available on each tour. The bus driver narrated on the rides and video documentaries were shown to shorten some rides. Some shore tours do require longer bus rides (see details in the day-by-day review). We decided to choose the same driver every day. One bus was reserved for a Vantage travellers group. All buses were accompanied by at least one crew members who counted the passengers at each departure. The tours were all very well organised. Be aware that many of the tours leave quite early so this is no cruise for those who love to sleep long.

The Boat
The Columbia Queen is a riverboat reassembling the Mississippi River steamboats nicely decorated and with two fake smoke stacks. Only a big red paddlewheel is missing. The boat is propelled by two main engines (screws) and two additional Z-drives (mainly for an easy maneuvering). The boat was originally built for casino purposes but never finished. The former owner Delta Queen Steamboat Company converted the unfinished boat to a passenger vessel. The current owner Great American River Journeys did completely renovate the boat before it went back into service in April 2005. The four passenger decks have 81 staterooms (56 are outside ones). Public areas are the Astoria Room on the Main Deck which serves as dining room and showroom. In front of the Astoria Room there´s the Lewis & Clark Lounge featuring a full service bar and the grand staircase. The Purser´s Lobby on the Cabin Deck is a nice sitting area with comfy leather couches and chairs. The glass cases contain the boat´s library and board games. The Northwest Outpost gift shop and the Purer´s office are accessable through the Purser´s Lobby. The Explorer Bar on the Explorer Deck is featuring a full bar service and piano entertainment with hors d´ouevres in the afternoon. It´s a great place to sit and watch the scenery. Next to the entrance you will find a chess and checkers table. The Back Porch on the Observation Deck is a nice place to sit and relax throughout the day especially because of the food and drinks you get there all day round. One exercise bike is available on the Explorer Deck (starboard side outside, aft, next to the stairs).

Food and Beverages
The Astoria Room is the main place for eating on the Columbia Queen. A full American breakfast off the buffet or off the menue is offered each morning. The breakfast menue doesn´t change throughout the cruise. Featured entrées are Columbia Sunrise (two eggs any style with choice of bacon, sausage or grilled ham, served with has browns, toast or biscuit), Over the Mountain Top Omelettes (fluffy three-egg omelette with your choice of ingredients: ham, bacon, cheese, shrimp, crabmeat, tomatoes, onion, peppers, mushroom, served with hash browns, toast or biscuit), Lumber Jack Breakfast (two pancakes with 2 strips of bacon and 2 eggs any style, served with Marionberry maple syrup), Salmon Hash (smoked salmon with onions and potatoes sautéed to perfection, served with eggs any style) and Eggs Benedict (two poached eggs served with toasted English muffins, Canadian bacon and creamy Hollandaise sauce). Cereals, seasonal fresh fruit, prunes, oat meal, yoghurt, muffins, bisquits and gravy, eggs, bacon and more were available from the buffet. A daily changing specialty station featured e. g. Belgian waffles, ham and more. For lunch you are also able to choose off the buffet with salads, soup, cobbler, a hot entrée and a large variety of desserts and the menue. The non changing menue featured Explorer Soup, Soup, Smoked Salmon and Corn Chowder as starters, Chef Salad, Shrimp Louis Salad, Mount St. Helens Burger, Fish and Chips as entrées, sandwiches (Roasted Red Pepper, Watercress and Boursin Cheese Panini / Avocado, crab and pepper jack Panini) and wraps (grilled chicken wrap, BLT wrap, fresh veggie wrap). The 5 course dinner featured a choice of 2 appetizers, 2 soups, 2 salads (one is the house salad called Explorer Salad), 5 entrees (one vegetarian, steamed vegetable mix, grilled chicken breast and baked potatoes with toppings are available each night) and desserts (one dessert like Bananas Foster, Grashopper, Cherries Jubilee, one cake, one sugar free dessert and the signature dessert Chocolat Mousse). There are tow assigned seatings which overlapse (first seating at 5:45 pm and second seating at 7:15 pm). A variety of kids´ meals were available each night, too.

The second main eating place is the Back Porch. A continental breakfast and hot dogs and fixings for lunch are served there. Additionally this is the self service area for cookies, fresh seasonal fruit and soft serve ice cream (vanilla, chocolate and swirl, chocolate and colored sugar sprinkles available). Coffee, decaf and a variety of hot teas as cappuchino, caramel cappuchino, French vanilla and hot chocolate are available 24 hours. I especially loved the flavoured creamer. Ice water, lemonade and juices (apple, orange, cranberry) are also available all day long.

Hors d´oeuvres were served in the afternoon in the Explorer Bar at 4 pm and Starlight Snacks (cookies) in the Lewis & Clark Lounge at 10 pm.

Wines are available by bottle or glass. Prices range from $4.50 to 8 per glass and $18 to 55 per bottle. Most of the wines are local, a couple of Californian wines are available too. There´s a variety of Columbia Queen Private Label wines and Champagne (each bottle $18 and $4.50 per glass). Other Champagnes and Ports are available too.

The daily activity bulletin "The Columbia Journal" lists all daily activities including the departure times for the shore tours. Additional information about the days port of call with lots of historic details is featured on the cover of the bulletin. The onboard historian is giving several talks throughout the cruise. Judy Jordan played the piano and sung in the Explorer Bar each afternoon and night. The Purser´s Lobby features the library and board games. DVD´s for your in-room DVD player are available at the Purser´s office for free check out. The Astoria Room is featuring a four piece band for dance music and the nightly entertainment. The nightly show vary in quality and are mainly featuring guest entertainers. One night an old movie was shown.

We stayed in rooms No. 228 and 230 (Category AA, Cabin Deck, aft). Both very spacious rooms had two single beds which can be converted to a king size bed. The rooms featured a hanging space with hangers, 5 drawers and 2 shelves. An additional luggage rack was available but the suitcases can also be stored under your bed. Robes are provided in the room. A small TV set with built in DVD player featured up to 9 channels (depending on satellite availability). Channel 26 featured four movies each day. Channel 28 featured photos taken by several crew members aboard and on the shore tours with a small digital cameras (4*6 for $5, 5*7 for $8 and 8*10 for $12 each, a memory book CD for $20 is featuring all photos in a DVD format). Other amenities are an iron and iron board, an ice bucket with plastic cups, stationary, complimentary post cards including free postage within the US, a chest of drawers, comfortable rattan chairs, a writing desk with chair, a nightstand, a telephone including an automatic wake-up call function and facial tissue. The spacious bathroom featured a fully enclosed shower and a regular size sink and toilet. Storing place was scares, just a glass rack over the sink, a small two shelves glass rack and a hotel style towel rack. There is no medicine cabinet. A hair dryer is available. Conditioning shampoo, facial soap, body soap, body lotion, a shower cap and facial tissue are featured in the bathroom.

Day 1 Portland, OR
The cruise is starting with a pre-cruise hotel night at the Hilton Executive Tower Hotel ( in Portland ( which is conveniently located in the downtown area just a block away from Pioneer Square. We added a second pre-cruise night to have more time for the city. Our cruise package included transportation from the airport to the hotel. Portland has a very good public transportation system (Max Light Rail, Red Line, which is connecting the airport with downtown. The stop for the hotel is Pioneer Square. By the way the whole downtown area is part of the Fareless Square and all rides are free. We used our extra day to visit the Oregon Zoo (, the Oregon Maritime Museum on the sternwheeler Portland ( and the International Rose Test Garden ( All locations can be reached by Max Light Rail. The zoo and the garden are located in Washington Park which is outside the Fareless Square. We also went to Pittock Mansion ( Although we had no time to tour the mansion we enjoyed the wonderful overlook. The cruise experience started Friday afternoon. A table was set up in the hotel lobby for embarkation from 1 – 5 pm. Embarkation is quick and smoothe, just give your credit card for your onboard account, show your photo ID and let take a digital photo. Your boarding pass is serving for all onboard purchases, as boarding ID and as your room key. At 5:30 pm there was a welcome reception with hors d´oeuvres, cocktails, music and a magician presenting some card tricks. This is your first chance to meet your fellow passengers and crew. A slide show is getting you in the mood for the cruise. Dinner is on your own (a list with recommendations is handed out). Portland got a lot of nice restaurants within a walking distance to the hotel. There are even a lot of fast food restaurants close to the hotel.

Day 2 Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, WA / Vancouver, WA
Breakfast was served in the hotel (6:30 – 8 am). Luggage must be ready to be picked up until 8 am. The busses for Mt. St. Helens departed at 9 am from the hotel (boarding starts at 8:45 am). We arrived at 11:15 am after a nice and scenic ride narrated by our bus driver Lynn at the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center in Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument ( The rangers gave a very informative talk and the visitor center includes a museum about the eruption. There are walking trails around the area for a short walk. The bus left at 12:30 pm for lunch at Hoffstadt Bluffs ( which has a scenic view on Mt. St. Helens and is base for helicopter tours. Lunch was a picnic style buffet with ribs, barbeque chicken, baked beans, cole slaw, bread, blackberry cobbler and cookies. Ice water, iced tea and coffee were available. Hoffstadt Bluffs also features a large gift shop and a glass blower. On the bus ride back to Vancouver, WA, a documentary about the eruption was shown on the bus. By the way the busses are brand new deluxe motorcoaches with a restroom. Free bottled water is provided on the bus rides. We arrived in Vancouver, WA, at about 4 pm and were greeted by the whole crew partly dressed in historic costumes. The Columbia Queen departed shortly after the third bus has arrived cruising downriver the Columbia River and turning into the Willamette River up to Portland´s Union Station and then turning around again. At 4 pm a wine tasting was held in the Lewis and Clark Lounge and Judy Jordan played piano in the Explorer Bar where hors d´oeuvres were served. Early seating dinner started at 5:30 pm, main seating dinner at 7:15 pm. The short show of tonight in the Astoria Room introduced the Columbia Queen´s singer Judy Jordan as "Red Hot Mamm"”. After the show dance music was provided by the Columbia Quartet in the Astoria Room. At 9.35 pm a "Get Acquainted" party was held in the Explorer Bar.

Day 3 Astoria, OR
The day started with a history talk by onboard historian David Watness at 8 am. Busses departed at 8:45 am for Fort Clatsop ( On the approximately 15 min bus ride a documentary about the Lewis & Clark Expedition´s stay in Fort Clatsop was shown on the bus. A park ranger greeted the group which proceeded to the replica fort. The Visitor Center is showing two movies next to the exhibitions. Rangers dressed in historic costumes explained the fort buildings. A short walk down to the Canoe Landing with a nice overlook over the Lewis and Clark River ended our visit. The bus proceeded at 10:15 am for a city tour in Astoria ( narrated by our driver Lynn. The tour ended on Coxcomb Hill where the Astoria Column is located. Coxcomb Hill presents a nice overlook over Astoria and the Columbia River. We decided to pick up some gliders at the gift shop (5 for $3 or .70 for one) and climbed up the 164 steps to the observation platform. Our daughter had much fun letting the gliders go (and collect them after we came back down again). We returned to the boat for lunch. There were a couple of choices to spend the afternoon. A one hour bus trip to Cannon Beach ( ) was redirected to Long Beach ( because of a race which blocked all traffic. We decided to stay in Astoria to visit the Columbia River Maritime Museum ( which is directly located next to the boat landing (free tickets are available at the Pursers Desk). As it started to rain we took a ride on the Astoria Riverfront Trolley ( $ 1 each ride or $ 2 for an all day pass). Going east the trolley stops at a big supermarket and ends at a pier where you can watch sea lions. Going west from the museum stop you can reach the Astoria Sunday Market (, a street market with arts and crafts and farm products (from May til October). For those who decided to spend the afternoon aboard the massage therapist was available ($ 20 for 15 min / $ 40 for 30 min, massage on a massage chair). Historian David held his second talk at 3 pm. Musical entertainment started at 4 pm with Judy Jordan in the Explorer Bar with a music sing-along and a "Name-That-Tune! " The Columbia Queen departed upriver at 4:45 pm. Tonight was the Captain´s Champagne Reception (dress code is casual, you can bring your camera for a photo with the Captain). Judy Jordan continued with cocktail music in the Explorer Bar. Tonight´s show was a tribute to the Swingin´ Music of the 40´s, 50´s & 60´s starring guest entertainers "The Swizzle Chicks" ( Dance music was provided in the Astoria Room after the show while Judy Jordan invited to a "Hit Parade Party" in the Explorer Bar. Four movies were shown throughout the day on the movie channel of the in cabin TV set.

Day 4 Stevenson, WA
We passed Bonneville Lock at about 7 am and arrived in Stevenson ( shortly after. Stevenson is located in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (, for more area informations visit The sternwheeler Columbia Gorge ( is making tours out of Cascade Locks, OR, opposite Stevenson and passes by the Columbia Queen several times a day. For those needing some exercise cruise director Rebecca offered a "Morning Stretch" in the Explorer Bar. Busses departed at 8:45 am for Multnomah Falls (app. 30 min bus ride, and Multnomah Falls is one of 77 waterfalls in the Columbia Gorge and is impressive 620 ft high. We walked up to the little bridge in front of the waterfall. The busses departed about 40 min later for Bonneville Dam ( Ranger Susan first showed us the fish ladder and the fish viewing room. As the fall salmon run had just started we saw some really big salmons. Susan did a great job explaining the life circle of the salmons. We proceeded to the Second Powerhouse where Susan explained how electricity is made at the dam. Her talk was very informative and no one had a boring moment as nearly half of the group was needed to take part in her show. By the way Bonneville Dam is a National Historic Landmark. We returned to the boat for lunch. As navigational conditions didn´t allow the boat to dock in Hood River the afternoon tour was rescheduled. We left for the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center ( in The Dalles ( from Stevenson. The one hour bus ride was shortened by a documentary about the technology used by the Lewis & Clark Expedition. The complex consists of two museums, the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center featuring the history of the Columbia River and the Wasco County Historical Museum. Another part is featuring the Lewis & Clark Expedition. We returned to Stevenson instead of Hood River and departed a little earlier than originally scheduled. Historian David held two talks, one during breakfast and one in the afternoon (Formation of The Lower Columbia Gorge). Judy Jordan entertained those passengers who stayed aboard with a trivia in the afternoon. The in room TV showed four movies throughout the day. Tonight´s entertainment in the Astoria Room featured the movie “Indiscreet” starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman with movie treats provided. For those bringing their own laptop or PDA Stevenson is the most important shore stop. The Stevenson Wi-Fi Project is offering a free wireless internet connectivity (more informations on Instructions to configure your wireless network are provided next to the email station at the Pursers Desk.

Day 5 Pendleton, OR
The boat landed at McNary Dam to unload the passengers for the bus ride to Pendleton (about 1 hour, or We went to the Heritage Museum in a former train station. As the Underground Museum ( or can only cope with about 20-25 people we split up in several groups. Our group first went into the Heritage Station / The Umatilla County Historical Society ( ) to listen to a history talk about Pendleton. We proceeded to the Byrd Schoolhouse learning how school life was about a hundred years ago. The Underground Museum is just a block away so we walked over. Chinese workers were hired to dig out and build basements for the then built buildings. Those basements were to serve the merchants living and working in the houses. The basements were connected between the houses. You visit an old saloon, a Chinese laundry, the ice making devices of a butchery, a secret saloon during prohibition and more. We returned to the Heritage Station exploring the exhibitions there and the gift shop. The buses brought us to the Round-Up area for a Wild West Show. Walking through the Buggy Barn we reached the Convention Center ( for a picnic style buffet lunch (salad, potatoes, chicken, pork, baked beans, coffee and cakes). Wild birds were shown in the Convention Center and clothes made by the inmates of the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institute in Pendleton ( were sold. A half an hour bus ride took us out to the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute ( or The museum is telling the history of the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla people. A nice gift shop is selling a large variety of Pendleton Woolen Mills products ( and hand made native American products. The visit ended with an half an hour dance show by the Indian dance troupe "Generations" where even the youngest generation took part in the dances (two 2 and 4 year old boys and a 3 year old girl). All visitors were invited to join the last dance. The boat has proceeded to Sacajawea Park on the Snake River which we reached by bus (1.5 hours bus ride) and were welcomed with a Fruit Rum Punch. Historian David held a talk during breakfast about the historical highlights of this day. In the afternoon Judy Jordan entertained in the Explorer Bar finishing the evening with a Wild West Night. Tonight´s show in the Astoria Room was featuring guest entertainer Joe Stoddard ( with " The Joe Stoddard Show", music and humor with a cowboy feel. This is a show you don´t want to miss.

Day 6 Clarkston, WA
Historian David gave a brief chat about today´s highlights during breakfast. At 7:45 am the jet boats ( ) were ready for boarding. The jet boat trip brought us upriver for another 52 miles on the Snake River up to Hells Canyon. We stopped at Cache Creek Ranch in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area ( for some refreshments (coffee and orange juice). The tiny visitor center there is showing artefacts of the Hells Canyon´s history. We saw lots of deer, Canada geese, herons, wild turkeys, an osprey and finally some mountain sheep. Lunch was served by the boats crew at a shelter along the river with a stunning view. Lunch was picnic style with wraps (tuna, ham & cheese, turkey, pepper jack), fruit salad, potatoe salad, water melon, cookies, apple pie, ice tea and water. Some passengers decided to take a little walk, others went down to the sandy beach to try the cold river water. The scenery was really breathtaking. Our captain narrated the tour. We returned to the boat shortly prior 2 pm and left Clarkston ( or downriver cruising the rest of the day. Historian David held another talk in the afternoon (Chief Joseph and the opening of the Northwest). Captain Jay Wiek was available for an informal chat in the Explorer Bar. Judy Jordan provided cocktail music past 5 pm in the Explorer Bar. The show in the Astoria Room again featured guest entertainer Joe Stoddard with "Travel Through Time" which music from the 1930´s through the 1960´s.

Day 7 Cruising
This day is the only one for those who like to sleep long. We still were cruising downriver until lunchtime. Rebecca offered another Morning Stretch at 7:30 am. Historian David provided interesting facts about the journey of Lewis & Clark from the Snake River to the John Day River at 8:15 am. Rebecca held the Disembarkation Talk at 9:15 am in the Astoria Room followed by the Captain´s Navigational Talk at 9:30 am. At 10:30 am Rebecca and David invited to Bingo in the Explorer Bar ($5 a card). Historian David continued his talk at 1 pm with Lewis & Clarks journey from the John Day River to the Dalles. Due to heavy traffic on the river we were delayed on the locks and didn´t make it to our scheduled afternoon excursion to the Maryhill Museum of Art ( and the replica of England´s Stonehenge Monument. Instead the Explorer Bar opened early with special drinks for $3 and a special beer for $2. Historian David repeated a talk of Monday afternoon which many have missed at 3 pm. Judy Jordan entertained in the Explorer Bar starting at 4 pm, one hour earlier than originally scheduled. Just a short stop was made in Maryhill to pick up some supplies. Today´s show in the Astoria Room was called "Columbia Idol" starring talented members of the crew which joined Judy after the show in the Explorer Bar for some more entertainment. Dance music was available in the Astoria Room starting at 10 pm. Today tipping guidelines and envelopes, a disembarkation checklist and a questionnaire were brought to our staterooms.

Day 8 Stevenson, WA
The Columbia Queen arrived during the night in Stevenson and we were back on schedule again. Historian David gave his brief overlook over the historical highlights of this days excursions during breakfast. The buses departed at 8:15 am for Hood River ( and the Mt. Hood Railroad (, app. 30 min. bus ride). We had the whole train for our group with vintage cars nicely renovated. The scenic train ride took us up Parkdale where we arrived after 2 hours. During the train ride we saw lots of pear, apple and cherry orchards and had some breathtaking views on Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. Coffee, ice water and a hot apple pie were served on the train. Historian David narrated during the train ride and two magicians dressed as riverboat gamblers entertained with card tricks and some magic tricks. In Parkdale we had some time to browse through the gift shop or the local museum up there. The buses (1 hour) brought us back to Stevenson to Skamania Lodge ( for a salmon lunch (salad, salmon with rice and cheese cake / grilled chicken breast or a vegetarian meal were also available). We left at about 2:30 pm heading back for the boat just in time for the 3 pm pilot house tour (another one was scheduled at 9:30 am for those who stayed aboard). Some passengers preferred to walk back to the boat. Next to Skamania Lodge there is the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center ( featuring the history of the Columbia Gorge and also the transportation on the river. The Columbia Queen left for Vancouver at 5 pm. Judy Jordan started her entertainment in the Explorer Bar at 5 pm. Tonight was the Captain´s Dinner so all dressed up. Tonight´s show was called "America Sings" featuring guest entertainer Kacey Evans and our Cruise Manager Rebecca Kimball with a special appearance of Judy Jordan. Dance music was provied after the show.

Day 9 Vancouver, WA / Disembarkation
The boat docked at 10 pm the night before for taking on fuel. Unfortunately we stayed at this highly lighted dock until 5 am. Even the blinds didn´t help much (only port side cabins are affected). We cruised into Vancouver, WA, and arrived at about 7:30 am. Luggage had to be ready for pick-up prior to 6 am on the morning of departure. All passengers were asked to leave the boat no later than 9 am. For those who have chosen express check out with their credit card the final bill was delivered to the cabin prior to 7 am. The luggage was quickly brought outside and soon the busses for the airport were called. Bus transportion to the airport was provided for free.