Aboard the American Empress: We begin our trip in Portland

Reporter Bone (see mirror) meets his stateroom on the American Empress.
Reporter Bone (see mirror) meets his stateroom on the American Empress.

ABOARD AMERICAN EMPRESS-Sunday night on the Columbia River – My wife and I flew into Portland, Oregon yesterday and taxied across the river ($40) to reach a hotel in Vancouver, Washington. Our first night of the American Empress experience was actually a recently refurbished Hilton, which served as a sort of land-based rallying point for cruisers and some crew members. The Empress herself was already resting at a nearby dock, her paddle wheels immobile for the time being.

Vancouver, or at least this part of it, was a charming beginning.  Across the street, the adjoining park seemed a festival of children and dogs plus their happy handlers. The nearby farmers market, held every Saturday and Sunday throughout the spring and summer months, also added to the agreeable atmosphere.

We boarded the Empress late this afternoon, and all were welcomed at the gangway by various crew members, including the captain himself. We found our stateroom, decorated as is the rest of the ship, in a charming Victorian motif. After the mandatory safety drill, the boat (not really a ship) cast off from shore while we attended a sail-away party in the Paddlewheel Lounge.

Out the rear window, the big red multilayered wheel itself began to turn, showing off the best of nineteenth-century maritime power. We knew from advance reading, however, that this mammoth rotating device could only provide about a 20th of the power needed to propel our boat.  Out of sight, under the water, massive propellers were doing the really important work.

Dinner in the dining room was quite satisfactory,  thank you, with good natured crew and cruisers alike beginning to get to know each other at least a little. Complimentary wine helped a lot. Following the meal, a modest production in the showroom was led by the husband and wife cruise directors, obviously veteran show folk themselves, and served to introduce more of the ship’s important cadre. A talented six-member band backed them up in good form.

Tomorrow morning we are scheduled to land in Astoria, where we will take our first of the tours offered daily throughout the rest of the cruise. Our own will be a “hop-on, hop-off” experience, one of the free ones offered daily throughout the rest of the week.

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