Every cabin has a view of the river and is appointed with period touches and comfortable beds. Life on board for me began with coffee in the lounge each morning, followed by yoga on the bow of the ship led by one of the two wellness team members certified in yoga and massage. There is nothing quite like waking each morning to guided, gentle stretching and a 360 degree view of a national scenic area that people from around the world travel thousands of miles to see.
Just when you think it cannot be improved upon, it’s time for breakfast. Seated on your own or with a table of equally-excited tourists, every passenger is served a made-to-order breakfast by a staff that sources in-season ingredients from up and down the Gorge. As one would imagine, most guests are well-traveled. I met a man from New Hampshire who used to own an upscale safari lodge in Zambia, a couple in their 40s who have been on approximately 50 cruises in the last 20 years and another couple who have scuba dived at some of the best dive sites in the world.
Passengers hailed from places similar to the 30 crew members including Virginia, Florida, Arkansas, Texas, Michigan, Illinois, Louisiana, Ohio and Southern California.
Every day was a balance of on-board time, attraction visits and winery stops. In total, 10 wineries were visited; all tastings, catered lunches and luxury coach transportation are included in the price of the cruise as well as premium spirits, wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages while on the ship.
UnCruise Adventures staffs each Rivers of Wine cruise with a certified sommelier and invite a different wine professional to bring his or her knowledge to the glass, as well.
I was fortunate to enjoy the down-to-earth perspective of Christine Havens, who is a sought-after wine and culinary writer as well as former vintner. Her personality paired well with Erica VanAusdal, whose favorite thing about being an on-board somm is uncovering the wine knowledge of each passenger to be able to deliver the most personalized service possible.
“To the person who doesn’t know anything about wine, I would say, ‘Perfect. By the end of the week, you should have some kind of dialogue to know what you like,’ and it’s fun,” Van Ausdal said.
At the nightly tastings held in the lounge before our scrumptious multi-course dinners, we learned that our fellow passengers ranged from casual wine imbibers to a couple with an 8,800-bottle cellar and everything in between. Our commonality was our love for wine and unsurpassed scenery.
One couple summed it up best.
“I love the small group. I think that’s my favorite thing and the itinerary. I knew where we were going but I didn’t expect the terrain.” Jennifer Barr of Virginia said.
Her traveling companion, Alan Vanzandt, added, “And the personal attention and the vast amount of wine.”
Day 1: Board in Portland and set sail up the Columbia River while enjoying champagne and hors d’oeuvres before dinner.
Day 2: Stop at Multnomah Falls. Then, a tasting at Springhouse Cellars in Hood River, Ore., followed by a tasting and catered lunch at Mt. Hood Winery in Hood River. Cruise upriver through evening.
Day 3: Dock at Port of Walla Walla (in Burbank). Shuttle to and taste at Dunham Cellars in Walla Walla, Basel Cellars in Walla Walla and time on own in downtown Walla Walla. Sail into the Snake River Canyon.
Day 4: Wake up at Lyons Ferry Marina in Starbuck. Shuttle to Palouse Falls State Park to view falls.
Day 5: Dock in Richland for shuttle to Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center in Prosser for tasting. Shuttle to Terra Blanca Estate Winery in Benton City for tasting, tour and catered lunch.
Day 6: Wake up in The Dalles, Ore., and enjoy a shuttle to and time on your own at Maryhill Stonehenge and Maryhill Museum in Goldendale, followed by a tasting at Maryhill Winery. Lunch aboard the S.S. Legacy followed by a tasting at the Sunshine Mill Winery and time on your own in The Dalles.
Day 7: Arrive back in Portland for shuttle to and tasting at Archer Vineyard in Newberg, Ore., followed by winery tour, catered lunch and tasting at Domaine Serene in Dayton, Ore. Back aboard ship, sail down the Willamette River for dinner, anchor out and return to Portland to overnight and disembark the next morning.
Columbia/Snake river cruise operators:
American Cruise Lines
2017 dates: Weekly from March through November with food and wine-themed cruise offered six times/year.
Ships: American Pride and Queen of the West.
Maximum occupancy: 120-150 passengers.
Rates: Beginning at $3,535 per person
American Queen Steamboat Co.
2017 dates: Weekly from March 18 through Nov. 27 with wine-themed cruise offered twice/year
Ship: American Empress.
Maximum occupancy: 223 passengers.
Rates: Beginning at $2,699 per person.
National Geographic Expeditions
2017 dates: Two departures weekly from Sept. 19 through Oct. 14.
Ships: Sea Lion and Sea Bird.
Maximum occupancy: 100 passengers.
Rates: Beginning at $4,890 per person.
2017 dates: April through November with Rivers of Wine cruise offered April 22, June 24, July 29, Aug. 5, Aug. 26, Oct. 14, Oct. 21.
Ship: S.S. Legacy.
Maximum occupancy: 88 passengers.
Rates: Beginning at $3,695 per person.