Santana’s Columbia River Cycling Cruise is a luxurious 8-day / 7-night cruise on the American Empress. Owned by the American Queen Steamboat Company, the American Empress is the Pacific Northwest’s largest and most luxurious paddle-wheeler.
A bit smaller than the steamboats we’ve used on the Mississippi, this newer floating resort travels the Columbia, Willamette, and Snake Rivers to allow a full week of rides in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. As Santana’s friends have come to expect, Jan and I thumbed our nose at the normal list of port-stops, and instead specified special landings to support a week of superior cycling for our Columbia River Cycling Cruise.
Every day has a range of options. Stronger riders will enjoy long climbs for great views. A selection of easier daily routes follow river valleys, and aren’t appreciably tougher than rides along the Mississippi. You will not need to be thin, fast, or young to enjoy this tour. Additionally, if you’ve been off the bike for a while, you have two seasons to prepare for this August 2023 adventure.
Day 1: Our first ride explores the trendy side of Portland, crosses into Washington, and visits historic sights in Vancouver before reaching the Empress.
Soon after cast-off, a welcoming wine-sampling reception on the open aft deck occurs as we cruise the Columbia and Willamette Rivers through the very center of downtown Portland—where our paddlewheeler’s impressive size is guaranteed to bring cars, trucks and trains to a complete stop when the city’s lift-, swing- and draw-bridges open to allow our passage. FUN.
Day 2: After an overnight cruise down the Columbia we’ll offload on the Washington side. From there our ride traces the final miles of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to reach America’s Pacific Shore.
You’ll cycle the wide Pacific Coast Highway to reach the colorful waterfront of Astoria, Oregon—the American West’s oldest settlement.
Day 3: As on all of Santana’s cycling cruises, the American Empress allows successive days of incomparable cycling by traveling 100 or more miles while we sleep. On Wednesday, we wake up at the foot of Mount St. Helens.
After breakfast we’ll use buses and trucks to reach an inland summit that’s nearly a mile higher than the day’s Columbia River finish line. All ride options cycle the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway to visit the Mount St Helens Interpretive Center.
Day 4: A highlight of this tour is a pair of days within the Columbia Gorge.
Both days we’ll cycle recently completed bike paths that link historic segments of the Columbia Gorge Scenic Parkway—a depression-era WPA project that was chopped apart and largely abandoned during the construction of Interstate I-84.
On Thursday, our closed-to-cars route starts from The Dalles and passes through the Parkway’s historic Moser Tunnels to reach Hood River, where energetic riders will experience the best parts of Oregon’s famed Fruit Loop cycling circuit.
This evening we’ll dine on the Empress’ rear view-deck while passing down through the Bonneville Locks to preview tomorrow’s ride past Multnomah Falls.
Day 5: Our second full day in the Columbia River Gorge includes the region’s remaining prime attractions.
Starting near Vista Point, we’ll cycle through dense forests of fir and a dozen waterfalls on our way to the Multnomah Falls Lodge.
Other mid-ride stops on this day include the Bonneville Dam and fish ladder, Cascade Locks, Bridge of the Gods, and the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center.
Day 6: Cowboys and Cactus? The Columbia is America’s only river that passes through the volcanically-formed Cascades, an otherwise impenetrable range of tall mountains that stretch from California to British Columbia.
On the west end of the Gorge prevailing winds condense against the tall Cascades to wring out moisture that feeds fern forests. On the opposite slope the suddenly dry wind creates a parched desert landscape. The scenery is a lot like Arizona, except cool enough for a day of August cycling.
Today’s ride options include an insightful exploration of Pendleton; a wild-west town famous for its cowboy heritage, subterranean chinatown, rodeo, and woolen mills. Soon after we re-board the Empress she’ll turn onto the narrower Snake River, and climb through four additional locks to reach Idaho.
Day 7: Our final ride of the Columbia River Cycling Cruise starts 25-miles short of Idaho. From here we’ll race the Empress upriver to the twin towns of Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington. After a week of conditioning, stronger riders will be ready to climb through the 64 curves of Idaho’s famously panoramic Old Spiral Highway.
After an onboard lunch there’s time for bike packing and a jet-boat excursion through Hell’s Canyon, which is 10 times narrower and 2,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon.
Day 8: On disembark morning, optional shuttles conveniently reach airports in Lewiston, Spokane, or Portland. If you fly to Portland, the cost of this tour includes empty bike case transport to the finish line. If you drive to Portland, the tour price includes blanket-wrapped bike transport back to the secure indoor parking facility adjacent to embark. If you’re concerned about flying with your bike (you shouldn’t be as Delta, UA, and AA recently decided to waive excess-baggage fees for the biggest bike cases), another option will be discounted single-bike and tandem shipping.
Columbia River Cycling Cruise 2024
America’s Pacific Northwest
The American Empress is a knockout. Slightly smaller than the American Countess (the paddlewheeler we chartered for our Mississippi River 2022 charter), the rooms are actually a bit larger. Better yet, all staterooms on this newer and more luxurious vessel have true picture windows. Most have PRIVATE BALCONIES furnished with a table and chairs.
A cruise on the American Empress includes never ending food: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and 24-hour treats and snacks. Also included are unlimited free soft drinks, tea, and coffee; plus beer and wine with dinners. The Empress has two dining venues, and complimentary room service.
During Santana’s earlier charters the American Queen Steamboat Company’s culinary staff appreciated our appetites as much as we appreciated their multi-course gourmet meals. The Executive Chef is happy to accomodate all dietary preferences and requirements.
The menu choices change daily, and will always include a surprising selection of local fruits and produce, the freshest-possible seafood, vegetarian options, and grilled-to-order meats. A changing assortment of desserts and pastries are produced aboard each day.
Before dawn, the chef is preparing another irresistible meal. Because the boat is ours, proper breakfast attire is cycling clothes. Ready to ride? Great, the Captain has found a parking spot along the river. Line up for a photo; 210 cyclists with the Empress as a backdrop.
As we begin our morning rides, the Empress unties, sounds her whistle, and uses her giant stern wheel to back into the channel. As we meander through forests and vineyards, the Empress takes the lead. On the horizon, we spot a huge bridge spanning the river. Who’ll get there first?
Frequently Asked Questions
Columbia River Cycling Cruise 2024
America’s Pacific Northwest
Q: What are the exact dates?
A: As in the past, we chartered the American Empress for August, the perfect summer month to cycle this prime portion of the American Pacific Northwest. August is in the middle of the dry season along the Columbia & Snake Rivers from Portland to Lewiston, where we’ll enjoy short-sleeve cycling in the high 70’s. Our 8-day Columbia River Cycling Cruise will take place from August 19 to 26, 2024.
Q: What’s the cost?
A: Our stateroom pricing for this 8-day cycling cruise starts at $4,999 per-person. Booking early is easy and RISK FREE due to our 14-day Cancellation Policy. Our reservations page shows pricing of available staterooms.
Q: What’s “Early-In” Pricing?
A: To manage the risk of chartering entire cruise ships, couples who commit early are rewarded with discounts of up to $1,000 per stateroom. Booking early is easy and RISK FREE.
Q: What about tipping?
A: Jan and I don’t accept tips. A comprehensive “cruise extras” fee of $600 per-person includes a long list of off-ship activities, admissions, interpretive guides, wine tasting and microbrewery visit, mid-ride lunches and snacks, and ride support (gps route files and a fleet of 9 support vehicles including: touring coaches, trucks, and SOS vans driven by pro mechanics). Additionally, government mandated port fees and taxes are $300 per-person, and mandated shipboard gratuities add a final $160 per-person.
Q: Are all the staterooms the same?
A: No, there is an assortment of room sizes across four passenger decks, but even the base level rooms are larger than the largest suites of our original Mississippi charters. While the ship chartered for those cruises had narrow beds, all rooms on this newer ship use the same beds as today’s newer ocean ships, where the luxurious queen bedding can be divided into two full-width twins. Those who wish to splurge can upgrade to a larger, brighter and airier Deluxe Veranda Stateroom with a door that opens up to its own private balcony with a table and chairs. The most romantic option? The larger Veranda Suites come with even more square footage and larger balconies. Don’t overlook the value of the upper deck staterooms and suites, on this incredibly scenic cruise there is plenty of wildlife and nature views during our late afternoon cruises, and when we’re docked you’ll have better views of the towns (such as Astoria). In any case, all American Empress staterooms have binoculars too!
Q: How are staterooms assigned?
A: In any sub-category all rooms are identical. Using the reservation timestamp, those who reserve earliest get the conveniently located staterooms closest to the front of the ship. If friends desire a pair of adjacent staterooms the timestamp of the first reservation determines the location of both rooms. In short, out of fairness to all our guests, we will not take requests for specific room numbers. Out of fairness to all of our guests, we will not take requests for specific room numbers. Those who book early obtain prime positioning.
Q: Are rental bikes available?
A: Yes. If you own a nice bike that fits, however, bringing it with you is relatively easy and inexpensive; all three of the major US airlines have recently abandoned the idea of charging oversize baggage fees for full-size bicycles and tandems! More info on this in Bill’s Travel Tips. If you don’t wish to fly with your bike, discount shipping arrangements will be available through BikeFlights.com, who now ships e-bikes too. Single bike rental rates are about $500, and includes delivery to Portland on embark day and retrieval in Lewiston after the last ride. Lightweight road bikes, upright hybrid bikes, and e-bikes (~$700) will all be available. We will update you on rental single bike pricing/reservations about 90 days prior to embark. A limited number of Santana rental tandems are available, and should be reserved as soon as possible.
Q: How do we get to and from the tour?
A: Detailed info on planes, trains, and long term parking by August 2023. Those who drive to Portland can complete their one-way cruise with secure long-term parking and an optional return shuttle from disembark (~$100/person). Other nonstop shuttle options reach airports in Lewiston, Spokane, and Portland.
Q: How many miles each day?
A: In addition to our daily pair of zero-mile options (a scenic cruise on the river boat or grabbing a seat on our panoramic-window touring coach), every day has multiple cycling routes. Anyone who can ride 35 flat miles will be able to enjoy all seven days of cycling. If you prefer hills or want to ride 60 (or more) miles a day, we’ve got you covered. At each morning’s breakfast you’ll get a map charting the day’s cycling routes and recommended stops. During a brief route talk you’ll hear about each route’s grades and difficulty. For more info on the GPS units we recommend, take a look at our GPS Guide: SantanaAdventures.com/gps/
Q: What’s the next step?
A: A near-immediate sell-out of this event is anticipated. Early-in pricing is limited to the first few rooms in each category. Pricing listed on the Stateroom Reservations section is the current pricing. Refresh your browser to see any changes that may have occurred if you delay booking after loading this page. To lock-in availability and the lowest pricing on a RISK-FREE basis, reserve your space through our reservations portal. Santana’s secure website is open 24 hours per day, accepts all major credit cards, and automatically adjusts for remaining stateroom availability. Reserving your spot is RISK-FREE. In each category the prime location staterooms will be assigned in the same order as the time stamp of your booking.
Q: What do you mean by RISK-FREE?
A: When you use your credit card and book through our website, we’ll give you 14 risk-free days to think it over and clear your schedule. If you change your mind, send an email to Cancellations@SantanaAdventures.com within two weeks to cancel the reservation transaction and obtain a full refund. Here is a full listing of Santana Adventures’ Terms & Conditions.
Q: What if we change our minds after 14 days?
A: Because full-boat charters are binding, non-cancelable contracts, Santana will only enter into this group charter based on your confirmed-through-deposit commitment. In effect, we undertake a huge risk by guaranteeing full payment on your behalf. After entering into this obligation, we cannot afford for you to back out—for any reason. This is no different than the clear written policy that existed for all except one of Santana’s prior chartered-ship cruises. Here it is:
Santana’s acceptance of your registration and non-refundable deposit for this event is subsequent to your agreement to pay the remaining balance in full. While Santana allows limited refunds on rallies and tours, Santana’s cruises are non-cancelable and non-transferable. When the possibility of paying yet not attending is unacceptable, Santana recommends Travel Guard trip insurance. For the past 20 years hundreds of our clients have relied on Travel Guard coverage without complaint. An informative application will be mailed with your invoice; and further information is available online. Here is a full listing of Santana Adventures’ Terms & Conditions.
Q: Have you ever relaxed your refund policy?
A: Santana has willingly resold a number of fully prepaid staterooms for a fee of $1,000 per room—which was waived when a vacating couple found someone to take their place. When there has been more than one pending resell request, those who paid-in-full earliest had their space resold next. Using this non-guaranteed method (which is grossly inferior to trip insurance) Jan and I have cheerfully refunded over $500,000 in otherwise non-refundable and non-transferable cruise fares. Here is a full listing of Santana Adventures’ Terms & Conditions.
Q: What’s the difference between a SAG-wagon and Santana’s SOS/treasure vans?
A: Most tour companies use SAG-wagons that haul luggage and “sweep” the route between overnight stops. The drivers refill water-bottles, fix flat tires, and retrieve riders who can’t manage the easiest route between the widely spaced hotels. The problem, of course, is that the roving vans tend to be annoying until you actually need help. At that point it’s common to wait for two or more hours until one shows up. Although SAG drivers can fix a flat, they don’t have the tools or know-how to handle serious mechanical problems. Instead, they drive you to a bike shop (which explains why SAG-wagons disappear for hours at a time). This tour’s pair of SOS vans are driven by pro bike mechanics who bring tools and spares. When you phone him with the coordinates from your smartphone or GPS, he’ll arrive in a flash to get you back in the saddle. Because Santana expects participants to fill their own bottles, fix their own flats, and choose a ride they can finish, our SOS drivers are underworked, and have time to retrieve your shopping treasures.
Q: Are beverages included on the American Empress?
A: Beer & Wine are included at dinner. Other alcohol is not included but can be charged to your room. Soft Drinks, Coffee, Espresso Drinks, and Juice are all complimentary 24/7.
Q: Which meals are included?
A: Our charter includes never ending food: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and 24-hour treats and snacks. On two days when we won’t return to the ship in time for a late lunch, we’ll provide a festive mid-ride feast. The American Empress serves unlimited free soft drinks, tea, and coffee; plus beer and wine with dinners. The Empress has two dining venues, and room service is available.
During Santana’s earlier charters the American Queen Steamboat Company’s culinary staff appreciated our appetites as much as we appreciated their multi-course gourmet meals. The menu choices change daily, and will always include a surprising selection of local fruits and produce, the freshest-possible seafood, vegetarian options, grilled-to-order meats. A changing assortment of desserts and pastries are produced aboard each day.
Q: Does the American Empress have WiFi? Does the ship have an elevator? Will there be menu selections for vegetarians, vegans and picky eaters?
A: Yes to all of the above.
Q: Is Covid-19 Vaccination Required?
A: Santana Adventures does not require vaccination for our events. At this time, American Queen Voyages is requiring passengers to be vaccinated.
Q: What if we have more questions?
A: The quickest and easiest way to get help is to use Santana’s Contact Form. One of our team members will follow up with you as soon as possible.