Columbia River Cycling Cruise

The Pacific Shore to Idaho

The American Empress is a knockout. About half the size of the American Queen, the rooms are considerably larger than on that older Mississippi River steamboat. Better yet, all staterooms have true picture windows and most have PRIVATE BALCONIES with a table and chairs.

Is the Columbia better than the Mississippi? I love the Mississippi River for its antebellum mansions, civil war history, distinctive cuisine and great music. As much as I cherish the deep South, my wife and normal friends will prefer a week-long cycling and cruise vacation in the majestic American Northwest.

  • Better weather
  • A wide range scenic grandeur
  • Compelling history
  • We’ll cruise through 8 locks; taller than those on the Panama Canal
  • The Columbia Gorge is famous for magnificent vistas
  • Superior cycling that’s surprisingly gentle

Here are some details and highlights of our week-long offer.

Included is a luxurious 8-day / 7-night cruise on the American Empress. Owned by the American Queen Steamboat Company, the American Empress is the Northwest’s newest, largest and most luxurious paddlewheeler. As Santana’s friends have come to expect, Jan and I cast aside the normal list of port-stops, and instead specified special landings to support superior cycling. Our floating resort travels the Columbia, Willamette and Snake Rivers to allow a full week of rides in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Every day has a range of options. Stronger riders will enjoy long climbs for great views. The easiest daily routes follow river valleys, and aren’t any tougher than your 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 a full season to prepare for this August, 2017 adventure.

Photo Itinerary

Day 1: A low-traffic Sunday morning ride explores the trendy side of Portland, crosses into Washington and visits historic sights in Vancouver before boarding 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 over a half-dozen of the city’s lift-, swing- and draw-bridges open to salute our tour’s 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 over the tall Columbia River Bridge 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 Tuesday 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 today’s Columbia River finish line. All ride options cycle the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway (shown in photo below) to visit the Mount St Helens Interpretive Center.

Days 4 & 5: A highlight of this tour are a pair of days within the Columbia Gorge. Both days we’ll cycle recently completed bike paths that link traffic-free segments of the Columbia Gorge Scenic Parkway—a depression-era WPA project that was chopped apart and largely abandoned due to the construction of I-84. On Wednesday our closed-to-cars route passes through the Parkway’s historic Moser Tunnels. On Thursday our routes pass the Columbia Gorge’s prime attractions including the Multnomah Falls, Lookout Point, Bonneville Dam and fish ladder, Vista Point, Cascade Locks, Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, The Dalles, and Hood River Valley with its famous brewery and Fruit Loop cycling circuit. On the evening between these days we’ll dine on Empress’s rear viewdeck while passing through the Bonneville Locks to preview our following day’s ride past Multnomah Falls

Day 6: Cowboys and Cactus? The Columbia is the only river that passes through the volcanically-formed Cascades, an otherwise unbroken 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, 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: On Saturday morning our ride starts nearly 40-miles short of Idaho. From here we’ll race the Empress upriver to the twin towns of Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington. Because the Lock at Old Granite Dam will delay the appearance of the paddlewheeler, even the slowest cyclists will have time to loop through both towns before the Empress makes her grand entry. 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 the continues up the Snake River through Hell’s Canyon; which is 10 times narrower and 2,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon.

Day 8: Debark day offers shuttle options to three airports Lewiston-LWS, Spokane-GEG and Portland PDX. If you’ll fly to the Northwest the cost of this tour includes empty bike case transport. If you drove to this event we’ll blanket wrap your bike and get it back to parked car in Portland.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Will I get seasick?
A: Impossible. On this wide flat-bottomed riverboat there is zero chance of motion sickness.

Q: What are the exact dates?
A: August 20-28, 2017.

Q: What’s the cost?
A: Due to Santana’s long history with American Queen Steamboat Company, our per-person first-in pricing for this 8-day Event on the Columbia starts at $2999. Premium stateroom categories cost more. Lowest pricing in every category is limited to the first few rooms. Booking early is easy and RISK FREE. Our reservations page shows pricing of available staterooms.

Q: Is this a good deal?
A: This is a great deal—when you compare Queen Bed rooms our Columbia River pricing for 2017 pricing is over $2,000 per couple lower than Santana’s guests paid on the Mississippi back in 2006. The Mississippi cruise was a day shorter, none of the staterooms had balconies, and Mississippi pricing didn’t include beer or wine with meals.

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 $2,000 per stateroom. Lowest pricing in every category is limited to the first few rooms. Booking early is easy and RISK FREE.

Q: What about tipping?
A: Shipboard gratuities are $19 per person per day. Jan and I don’t accept tips. Santana’s comprehensive “cruise extras” fee of $700 per person includes a long list of off-ship activities and meals, including gps route files, admissions, park fees, guides, ride support, SOS van, Sergio’s coach for non-riders, shuttles to the top of Mount St. Helens, Hell’s Canyon jetboats and much much more. Note that this is less than the average American Empress passenger pays for week of “deluxe excursions.”

Q: Are some staterooms better than others?
A: Certainly. All American Empress feature deluxe bedding and spacious floor plans. The rooms have a private bath with shower, air-conditioning with adjustable thermostat, and are soundproofed. All American Empress staterooms are located on the exterior, and offer panoramic views through large windows. Most staterooms have a secluded private balcony with table and chairs. Socialites and extroverts will love a Top Deck Suite where the gated balcony faces the ship’s promenade.

Q: Suites?
A: The American Empress has eight suites, which sold out very quickly last year.

Q: Has anyone done this before?
A: Although tens of thousands of cyclists have toured the Columbia River Valley, prior to last August’s test event, not even one of them used a luxurious ship to cruise past stretches that are industrial, trafficky or boring.

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. To lock-in availability and the lowest pricing on a RISK-FREE basis, reserve your space through our PayPal portal. PayPal’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 PayPal, 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 Matt@SantanaAdventures.com within two weeks to cancel the PayPal transaction and obtain a full refund.

Q: What if we change our minds after 14 days?
A: Because full-boat charters are binding, non-cancelable contracts, Jan and I will only enter into this charter based on your confirmed-through-PayPal 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 (this Columbia River charter will be our 28th!). While preparing for our 2009 Danube event I neglected to include the following proviso. That’s the year a group of friends, after verbally agreeing to pay in full and then stringing Jan along for many months, decided to cancel their plans. Lesson learned! Here it is (again) in writing:

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, Jan and I recommend 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.

Q: Have you ever relaxed your refund policy?
A: Jan and I have willingly resold a number of fully prepaid staterooms for a fee of $500 per person—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 $250,000 in otherwise non-refundable and non-transferable cruise fares.

Q: How are staterooms assigned?
A: In any category all rooms are identical. Using the PayPal timestamp, those who reserve earliest get staterooms closest to the front of the ship, which Bill and Jan both prefer. If friends desire a pair of adjacent staterooms the timestamp of the first reservation determines the location of both rooms. In short, we will not take requests for specific room numbers. Those who book early obtain prime positioning.

Q: How do we get to and from the tour?
A: If you fly to and from the event, there’s a convenient airport shuttle to our hotel. Our Sunday morning pre-embark ride will start from a hotel near Portland’s PDX airport. Our hotel can also accept shipped bikes and provide secure and inexpensive parking for those who drive. At the other end of the tour optional shuttles can get you back to Portland-PDX, or to two closer airports (Lewiston-LWS or Spokane-GEG).

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. More info on this in Bill’s Travel Tips. Easier still is our discounted FedEx shipping. If you want to rent a tandem, info is HERE. Single bikes rentals will be through select local dealers that agree to provide free delivery and pick up — list to be supplied early next year.

Q: What is Sergio’s Coach?
A: Three years ago, while imagining a less-strenuous option for casual cyclists, Jan remembered an entertaining bus driver and asked me if someone like Sergio to show up at the gangplank each morning. It was a brilliant idea, and “Sergio’s Coach” has become a standard component of Santana’s newest itineraries. We originally imagined an accompanying picture-window touring coach would allow less-enthusiastic spouses to enjoy a non-pedaling day without missing the featured inland attraction. Instead, we’ve discovered the perfect shared vacation for serious cyclists with a non-cycling partner. On most days Sergio’s 50-seat coach is relatively empty. It takes a longer route, meets up with the cyclists at the day’s prime sight, and often finds time for shopping. Available for anyone who wants to skip a day of cycling, the reclining seats are comfortable option for cyclists who played too hard the previous day.

Q: How many miles each day?
A: In addition to our daily pair of zero-mile options (cruising on the ship or grabbing a seat on Sergio’s coach), every day has multiple cycling routes. Anyone who can ride 30 flat miles will be able to enjoy all seven days of cycling. If you prefer hills or want to ride up to 80 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. Santana’s vets have learned to love and rely on their handlebar-mounted gps unit. Now available for less than $200, these touch-screen marvels prevent the age-old problem of getting lost or riding unplanned miles. Santana supplies free electronic mapping and route files. Simply select the route and follow the highlighted map.

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 pro bike mechanics who bring tools and spares. When you phone them with the coordinates from your GPS, they 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: Does the American Empress have free WiFi?
Will there be menu selections for vegetarians, vegans and picky eaters?
Does the Empress have elevators?

A: Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Q: What if we have more questions?
A: The easiest way to get any further info is by phoning Jan McCready, who is happy to answer your questions.

Toll Free number (800) 334-6136 ext. 116
Overseas callers +1 (909) 451-3452
If you get the recording, please leave a phone number. Jan will return calls ASAP.

Stateroom Reservations

Full Cancellation policy appears below. Your deposit signifies an acceptance of those terms.

Stateroom Category
Santana’s 2017 Fares
Availability
LS – Luxury Veranda Suite (Queen)
$7749
Please Call
A – Veranda Suite (Queen)
$5899
Please Call
A – Veranda Suite (Twins)
$5749
Please Call
B – Superior Veranda (Queen)
$5299
Please Call
B – Superior Veranda (Twins)
$5149
Please Call
C – Deluxe Veranda (Queen)
$5049
Please Call
C – Deluxe Veranda (Twins)
$4649
Please Call
D – Deluxe Window (Queen)
$3699
Please Call
E – Veranda (Queen)
$3499
Please Call
E – Veranda (Twins)
$2999
Please Call
C Single – Single-Passenger Deluxe Veranda
$5499
Please Call
* Fares are set at time of purchase, and are otherwise subject to change based on availability.
* Please note that the number of rooms in each category is limited and unchangeable.

Please Note:
Stateroom Prices are per person, double occupancy
Deposits listed below are per stateroom, up to two participants

Which Stateroom Would You Prefer?
Contact Phone Number
Our comprehensive “cruise extras” fee of $700 per person covers a long list of off-ship activities, admissions, and guides.
Port Fees are $149 per person.
Crew Gratuities of $161 per person will be collected at the event.
Your initial deposit is refundable for 14 days. Unless you cancel in writing within that 14 day period, the following Scary Cancellation Policy applies to Santana’s chartered cruise events:
Because cruise ship charters are binding, non-cancelable contracts, Jan and I will only enter into this charter based on your confirmed-with-a-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 the same policy that existed on all but 1 of Santana’s 26 previous cruises. While preparing for our 2009 Danube event, I neglected to include the following provision (shown below). That’s the year a group of friends, after verbally agreeing to pay in full and then stringing Jan along for many months, decided to cancel their plans. Lesson learned!
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, non-transferable, and non-refundable. When the possibility of paying yet not attending is unacceptable, Jan and I recommend Travel Guard Trip Insurance. For the past 20 years hundreds of our clients have relied on Travel Guard coverage without a single complaint. An informative application is available upon request; and further information is available online.