Lewis and Clark-themed cruises sail the Snake and Columbia rivers. // © 2015 iStock
Feature image (above): Un-Cruise Adventures has introduced a new wine-themed itinerary in 2016. // © 2015 Un-Cruise Adventures
Along with the spectacular scenery and wildlife of the region, river cruisers are choosing to sail the Pacific Northwest for its wine culture and rich history. Three river cruise lines give travelers entree with plenty of distinctive itineraries in the region.
American Cruise Lines’ 120-passenger Queen of the West cruises between Portland, Ore., and Clarkston, Wash., on its Lewis and Clark-themed sailings. The Queen of the West sails the Snake and Columbia rivers along the route pioneered by captain Meriwether Lewis and second lieutenant William Clark in the early 19th century.
In 2016, the eight-day itinerary offers June 27, Aug. 8, Oct. 17, Oct. 24, March 26 and April 23 departures. Cruises call at ports including Oregon’s Fort Clatsop, where the expeditionary team camped; The Dalles, an artists and foodie town in Oregon with a history that stretches back to Native American trading; and Richland, Wash., a regional center of produce and where the Yakima and Columbia rivers meet. Historian Todd Weber brings the early explorations to life, and regional cuisine and local wine varietals served onboard are a popular way to transform guests into temporary residents.
The Pacific Northwest is becoming more and more important in the wine world, and Un-Cruise Adventures is introducing a new wine cruise itinerary in 2016. The weeklong Ameritage! Four Rivers of Wine & History itinerary sails roundtrip from Portland, Ore., with wine tastings and food and wine pairings galore. The ship sails four rivers: Columbia, Snake, Willamette and Palouse. They focus on recognized wine districts in Washington and Oregon including Walla Walla.
Visits to nine wineries are included in the cruise fare. Guests will likely spend time at Springhouse Cellar Winery, Maryhill Winery, AniChe Cellars, Bergevin Lane Winery, Dunham Cellars, Terra Blanca Winery & Estate Vineyard and the Sunshine Mill Winery Winery.
Wine experts accompany travelers onboard the 88-guest Legacy, a replica coastal steamer reminiscent of the ships that sailed the rivers in the early 1900s. The Aug. 15 cruise features certified sommeliers Steven and MaryAnn Sinkler. The Sinklers are winemakers themselves and the owners of the Wine Shack in Cannon Beach, Ore.
On Aug. 22, Kevin Correll — a winemaker and owner of Barrage Cellars, a boutique winery in Washington State — will sail with guests. The Aug. 29 sailing brings onboard Jameson Fink, wine editor at MSN.com. The Sept. 5 cruise features Joel Butler, one of the first two American Masters of Wine. Butler is also the owner of World of Wine in Redmond, Wash.
Wine and spirits also star in special-interest cruises on American Queen Steamboat Company’s 223-guest American Empress, but the company takes a different approach. Rather than designating certain cruises as wine cruises, the line offers a set of included and premium shore excursions that can turn Pacific Northwest sailings into specialty cruises. Travel consultants can sell to FITs or groups and set up a full program.
The tours include a premium wine and spirits exploration of Red Mountain’s Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center — named for the Father of Washington Wine, who put the region on the wine-lover’s map. In addition to a history of the region’s wine production, there are tastings of some of the finest vintages from local vineyards. Visits to the Kiona Vineyards and the Hedges Family Estate also include specialty whisky and spirits at Black Heron Spirits, which distills a variety of small batches that are only available in Washington.
In The Dalles, Ore., the included Hop-on Hop-Off tour visits Sunshine Mill Winery. The winery is located in a 130-year-old building and features an amphitheater for wine tastings.
There’s also a premium tour of Washington’s Maryhill Museum of Art with wine tastings unique to the Pacific Northwest; a wine walk with tastings in Spokane, Wash; and an option to visit Oregon’s Mt. Hood Winery, where pinot gris, pinot noir and riesling thrive in Mount Hood’s rich volcanic soils.