River cruising continues to be very, very popular. Plenty of new ships are being launched, along with new itineraries, new ports of call, ships dedicated to younger travelers and excursions dedicated to wellness and being more active.
River cruising is truly amazing. And the good news is that one doesn't have to leave North America to take advantage of this exceptional experience. One region relatively under the radar is the Columbia River (and her tributaries).
The Columbia River stretches over 1240 miles, starting in British Columbia and ending her journey to the Pacific in Astoria, just west of Portland. The Columbia River Gorge is probably the most visited section of the river, with its beautiful and stunning scenery. The area offers lots of hiking, biking, dozens of waterfalls, beautiful mountain vistas and of course the infamous windsurfing. Springtime brings wildflowers and blooming fruit trees, the fall the beauty of changing foliage.
You can explore the Columbia gorge and beyond from a totally different perspective: ON the river. History buffs can go back in time by following the footsteps of Lewis and Clark (in a much easier and way more comfortable fashion!), explore historic forts, learn from on-board historians, geologists and naturalists. Photographers can test their skills on the many scenic wonders. Hiking, kayaking, biking and swimming await those wanting active days, and a jet boat experience in Hell's Canyon is sure to be a thrill.
Above: Palouse Falls; Below: Hell's Canyon
Oenophiles have not been left out either. The Columbia River is home to a number of wine regions and world class wineries, and winery tours and tastings are included, on special wine themed itineraries as well as regular departures.
The following cruise lines offer three uniquely different experiences - definitely something for everyone. The itineraries are similar, however the ships are quite different, each with their unique experiences both on and off the ship.
Go back in time aboard traditional steamboat paddlewheelers with American Cruise Line and American Queen Steamboat Company. These ships are perfectly suited for those seeking modern elegance (combined with country club casual), larger staterooms, balcony cabins and evening shows. Ships range between 100-220 passengers - still a small ship feel but larger than the next two.
Lindblad Expeditions' ship, The Sea Bird, carries only 62 passengers, and therefore can get into areas that bigger ships can't. Lindblad includes guided tours of museums, farms and wineries, but also include more active options. They'll have you exploring areas on hikes, kayaking and more. Lindblad has comfortable all outside view cabins. Instead of evening shows one can expect lectures and relaxation.
UnCruise has you journeying through history on the 86 passenger SS Legacy, a well-appointed replica of an 1898 gold rush coastal steamer. The comfortable cabins all have outside views. UnCruise itineraries include a good mix between active days with hiking, kayaking, jet boating and white water rafting and less active days focused on tours, lectures and wine tastings. Lot's of fun and laughs can be had in the Pesky Barnacle Saloon, where everyone can enjoy a friendly card game and premium whiskey on the rocks - sometime even with the captain (less the drinking part)!
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Laurie Marschall - Owner and Founder