For buffs, this Lewis and Clark-themed voyage on the Columbia and Snake rivers is history come to life, with stops at famous forts, battle sites, waterfalls and some pretty decent museums.
We learn how Sacagawea, a 16-year-old Shoshone squaw, served as mediator with distrustful tribes. We learn that the expedition’s frequent courts-martial ended in lashings. That the men preferred the taste of dog over the succulent and plentiful salmon. That the soldiers and frontiersmen took mercury as medicine, and that their journey’s route could be deciphered by traces of the lethal liquid still found near former campsites 200 years later.
I’m no buff, but I soaked it all up. To enjoy this trip, you need only be a fan of glorious scenery – an amazing transition that takes you from Oregon’s temperate rain forests to the bone-dry vistas of western Idaho.
There were times, as fellow passenger Tracy Antonioli said, when we overdosed on some of the cultural stops.
“It’s just a few too many museums,” she said of the six such stops. “In so many naturally beautiful places, we could’ve spent more time in them.”
In particular, Multnomah Falls, where waters pour 620 feet down an amphitheater-shaped cliff face, making it one of Oregon’s most popular outdoor destinations.
And I, as well as several others, could have done without the wineries. The wineries were nondescript, and a winery tour is no longer a novelty, though I do appreciate the effort to mix up the itinerary.
The company that offers this adventure, a new entity called Un-Cruise, runs small-ship excursions from Mexico to Alaska. Travelers in their 20s or 30s might prefer the line’s so-called active adventures that feature kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and more of a social scene. But the all-inclusive “heritage adventures,” such as the Lewis and Clark journey, have broad appeal, especially for anyone who likes to walk and experience historic trails and sites firsthand.
“The cruise surpassed our expectations,” said Jim Kouracos, a Chicago dentist who took the trip with his 91-year-old dad, Nick. “What really put this over the top was how accessible the boat and shore tours were, as well as the efforts by the crew and staff to create a stimulating environment filled with good food and camaraderie.”
Indeed, our cruise, in early June, drew widespread thumbs-ups from passengers, many of whom had done river cruises in Europe and the United States (primarily Alaska and the Mississippi).
“Compared to the Mississippi trip, you don’t look at levees most of the time,” said passenger Doug Swanson. “This was changing scenery.”
As did most passengers, Swanson’s wife, Clare, gave high marks to the 30-person crew. Service was more than merely efficient, she noted; it was “warm and engaging.”