The Wheel Deal
Modern-day exploration aboard American Empress
By Steve Leland
I’d had Tina Turner belting out “Proud Mary” in my head since first planning this cruise adventure through the Pacific Northwest. The closest I’d ever been to a paddlewheel steamboat was the less-than-epic 100-yard, five-minute journey to Tom Sawyer Island in Walt Disney World, so a cruise on the dramatic American Empress stamped the cruise dance card.
In the early 19th century, steamboat travel on America’s rivers was the modus operandi for passenger travel. Today, the American Queen Steamboat Company revives the spirit of that era by offering luxury cruises on the muddy Mississippi on the historic American Queen for a delightful nostalgia fix. However, true to my mission of exploring off-the-beaten-track itineraries, choosing to cruise in the Pacific Northwest on American Empress proved to be a prudent alternative.
And although the song suggested it, there was no need to leave “a good job in the city, working for the man every night and day!” A flight to Spokane, Washington, was all it took for a week of steamboatin’ on this classic vessel.
American Empress is a homegrown cruise product to take pride in: Built in the United States, she boasts an all-American crew and a 7-day itinerary that showcases the untamed and pristine beauty of the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Think less Mark Twain river nostalgia and more Lewis and Clark purple mountain majesty, less banjo pickin’ and more finger lickin’, a cruise experience melding well-traveled intellects and middle-of-the-road tourists into a comfortable blend of vacation styles.
The vessel is a domestic destination in itself and the first dramatic view of the ship is striking. Graced with elegant Victorian design and flanked astern by its colossal red paddlewheel, she validates the dozens of photos taken on first sight. Luxury suites with open balconies swathed in lace-like trim lend credible….
Photo: American Queen Steamboat Company