Thursday, June 13, 2024

Embarkation Day Onboard Experience

After being scanned in during our first steps onboard American Harmony, we took the time to find our cabin and drop off our carry on bags. We then found our way to the single dining room onboard and seated ourselves at a shared table for lunch. Everyone on ACL seats themselves wherever there is room and all tables are designed to be shared. One strategy we found during the cruise that worked best service wise was to try and start an empty table. Many times joining a table already a course or two in to their meal meant the servers were too busy to notice we'd recently joined and needed to have our order taken. No worries, you won't be alone at a table for long. Plus it was a great way to routinely find new friends and new old friends because you'd either have a shared excursion to chat about or get to see someone from a previous excursion and hear about the other tour option you didn't choose.

At the dining room entrance, the day's menus will be posted so you can check each morning to see what's planned if you're considering dining in town instead. Also, at each place setting during the breakfast service, the current day's lunch and dinner (one sheet with lunch on one side and dinner on the other) menu will be placed along with a pen to encourage each breakfast diner to fill out their choices for lunch and dinner. This is not legally binding if you decide not to eat dinner onboard after all or you decide hours later that you're no longer feeling like having what you chose that morning. This is simply a guide for the chef and crew to get a feel for how many of each dish they should plan to prepare and serve. You'll find that many river cruise chefs will try and cater their menus to feature local cuisine for the area you're visiting. The dinner menus always offered the option to get a half portion of the entree if you didn't want to eat much. A few times we noticed couples ordering different entrees and sharing so for each person it was like half a portion. 

Since American Harmony also had a continental style breakfast in the Sky Lounge and hot items from the Back Porch Cafe each morning, these menus could also be found on tables in the Sky Lounge. We ended up stopping for a quick and light breakfast routinely in the Sky Lounge before a morning excursion.

Today's Lunch Menu options were as follows: 

Pacific Seafood Salad with shrimp, crab, scallops, lobster, mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumber strip, cheddar crisp and citrus vinaigrette. While I didn't order this, I did view other's plates and think it looked super familiar to the seafood salad presentation we had on the Inland Waterway cruise. I'm guessing it was probably called Atlantic Seafood Salad on that menu.

Chicken Avocado & Spinach Wrap with tomato, swiss cheese, lemon cilantro yogurt sauce, and slaw. The slaw ended up being a carrot and raisin slaw. The wrap was quite substantial and I could have easily been satisfied with only one half of the wrap per serving. I liked how there was not only spinach leaves inside the sandwich but it was all enclosed by a spinach flavored tortilla wrap. Everything was fresh tasting and the flavors worked well together.

Toasted B.L.T. with pita bread, bacon, lettuce, tomato, garlic mayo, broccoli salad, and pickle spear. A BLT sandwich is one of Dad's favorites so he loved this choice. I liked the use of pita bread versus toasted sandwich bread. It provided a nice contrast for the crunchy ingredients inside. Benefits of traveling with someone are not only just companionship and the sharing of experiences. Find you a travel partner that will happily trade the pickle spear and broccoli salad parts of their dish in exchange for the carrot and raisin slaw that came with your wrap. Bonus is that he's now tried raisins and decided they "aren't half bad." Don't think there will be any raisins encroaching into his favorite oatmeal cookies anytime soon though.

After lunch and the muster drill, we headed to the River Lounge for an introductory talk and meet the officers. Cruise Director Rhiannon shared a few welcoming words before introducing our Excursions Director Lindsay and our onboard historian and lecturer, Doug Crispin. Lindsay went over the list of tours spreadsheet included in our welcome folders and then asked everyone to either make or confirm their pre-cruise choices before turning in the papers to her. Later we had a printed copy showing our choices slipped under our cabin door so everyone had a new copy to refer back to for the rest of the cruise. Being the first day, Rhiannon took the time to go over today's daily schedule of activities and explained how they do a briefing about the next day's schedule each evening before the nightly entertainment. 

For those with dietary issues, there was a time set aside on the schedule after this talk to meet with Executive Chef Ricky, Restaurant Manager Dionte, and Chef's culinary team down in the restaurant to discuss any allergies, special diets, or food restrictions you may have. Each day's menu also features a blank space to write in any such concerns. It's also a space where the crew encourages you to write in any specific items you'd like to see offered on the menu. Dad's go to when nothing else seems appealing on the menu is to get a grilled cheese sandwich. The previous cruise we were able to write in a request for pizza as suggested by a crew member. A couple times in the past I've asked for a small plate of fruit or berries as a starter which turned out great.

We then chose to stick around and listen to Doug's first lecture titled Lewis and Clark Expedition - Getting Started. Doug previewed the sites of the Corps of Discovery that we would be visiting on this itinerary. Afterward, a meetup was held for Singles and Solo travelers in the Sky Lounge. I appreciated how much more proactive Rhiannon was versus my last ACL experience. Rhiannon included a lot of extra activities to keep passengers active and entertained as well as worked with Lindsay to make sure any issues were handled and things offered were delivered as promised. 

Two of the most popular times of the day on an ACL cruise is the twice daily (10AM & 3PM) fresh baked cookie deliveries and the pre-dinner cocktail hour. You thought trying to get the hottest toy of the year at Christmastime was a frenzy - get between cruisers during these two times of the day and you might lose more than a chocolate chip! To their credit, American Harmony's culinary team brought out a whole platter of multiple cookie flavors each time versus Independence's tray of 5-8 cookies total. Though I must say, offering a single individually wrapped cookie as the "provided snack" on excursions left me feeling cookie'd out. 

After taking some downtime in the cabin to relax and unpack, we headed to dinner. Unlike ocean cruise lines, there is no set dress code for dinners or any formal, evening chic, or dress to impress nights. No need to rush to change after an excursion unless you want to.

The dinner menu options each night feature an appetizer course, an entree course, and a dessert course. Usually the appetizers consist or a soup or salad option. We learned from another cruiser on Facebook that if you want more than a tea cup's worth of broth for your soup portion, you need to ask for the soup to be served in a bowl instead. I wish I could have gone back and gotten new servings of the previous soups before I learned that tip as some were soups I'd never tried before. We chatted with one of the servers about the bowl versus cup presentation and she explained that they stopped letting the servers do the ladling. Now instead of a thoughtful server stirring up the big pot's contents in order to serve a little of all the ingredients, we were getting small cups of the broth sitting on top of the pot.

My appetizer choice tonight was the Italian Wedding Soup. Don't think there's much to this marriage:

The other option was an Organic Spinach Salad with roasted grapes, feta cheese, candied pecans, and red wine vinaigrette. 

Tonight's entree choices:

Pan Seared Halibut with yukon potatoes, braised leeks, blistered baby heirloom tomatoes, and tomato tarragon butter.

Herbed Airline Chicken Breast with rice pilaf, french green beans, mushroom and tomato brown sauce.

Slow Roasted Pot Roast with yukon potato puree, roasted baby carrots, and bourbon demi-glace. Meat serving was plentiful and tender with plenty of sauce included. 

A slice of strawberry cheesecake for me to finish off the night:

After taking in views of the sunset from the River Lounge, we turned down the nightly offerings of popcorn and sundaes during the evening entertainment. The bar also is staffed where many take advantage of another cocktail, glass of wine, or soda to sip while enjoying the evening performance. 

We listened to the rundown of our next day's excursion instructions for our first port stop of Astoria, Oregon from Lindsay and a rundown of the offered activities for anyone wishing to stay onboard from Rhiannon. Doug next gave a brief explanation of what we were going to see in Astoria. 

While ocean cruises will feature full stage production shows as well as guest entertainers, river cruises will offer a more low key selection of nightly entertainment. Occasionally, this will be someone showcasing something unique to the area you're visiting like the woman who did a wonderful interactive presentation on Gullah culture during the last cruise. Most of the time it's single performers, couples, or family members performing a musical and/or variety act. Tonight's performance was "An Evening with Rock & Roll Piano Man Brady Goss." After catching some of the show, we opted to head back to the cabin and get ready for the next day's excursions.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Time for some falls on the way to the ship

After a crowded but included breakfast from Embassy Suites, we returned back to the room just in time to see our luggage collected for its journey to American Harmony. We soon donned our lanyards and embarkation group tags and joined everyone down in the lobby. We didn't have much chance to mingle as our multiple tour coach buses arrived right on time. 

Today's tour was called The Multnomah Falls Exploration. It was a complimentary (aka included) tour that was listed as lasting three hours. We chose to reserve this excursion pre-cruise believing that it was the only way to get a transfer to the ship. This decision was made before the change in embarkation dock so ACL provided a transfer for everyone. 

During our sailing, most every tour coach bus used was one branded and owned by ACL. It was a nice touch to see that ACL always had the first couple rows of seats marked for those with disabilities as well as anyone who suffers from motion sickness. The ACL buses were always locked when we got off so it was safe to leave any belongings onboard during the tour. We did have a few buses that had a few rows of seats on one side of the bus locked and unusable because they were where the wheelchair lift operates. We never saw it in use but that was the explanation the driver gave when asked why the seats weren't able to be used.

It did take a little bit of a drive to get to Multnomah Falls but our guide provided a good running commentary and took questions from passengers. The only downside of this excursion is the lack of time that was left for us to explore once we arrived. We were told to not walk further than the path up a hill and around the corner that leads to the middle bridge because we would not be able to make it back to the bus within the 45 minute time allotment we were given. The site has various levels with paved ground that can be accessed via steps or a ramp. There was also a small museum on site, a coffee counter, and a gift shop. 

After walking through a paved path under a bridge with views of the creek fed by the falls, you reach an open paved section with a slight incline. You can see the falls right from this level and the museum, coffee counter, and gift shop are just to the right.

If you continue up to a decent sized viewing platform (accessible via steps or a ramp), you can enjoy a closer view of Multnomah Falls without other people in your pictures. Several people chose to use the falls as a backdrop for their selfies. The bridge in the middle of the picture below is named Benson Bridge. Simon Benson bankrolled Lead Engineer for the Columbia River Highway Samuel Lancaster's idea to build a footbridge so visitors can stop in the middle to see both levels of the falls. When the bridge was nearly completed in 1914, subcontractor Robert Ringer asked to put his name in the concrete of the bridge. While most everyone seemed happy with his request, the bridge company engineer made him cement over the inscription. Left alone to cover up his work, Ringer purposely spread a layer of wet clay between the letters and the cement. This gave the appearance of a cemented over surface but the cement wore away after being exposed to nature's elements over the next two years. Ringer's signature work can now be seen by all who visit Multnomah Falls.

Looking back at both options for reaching the viewing platform - it had recently rained the night before so the surface was wet but not slippery.

Looking back at the paved path under the bridge:

Make sure when visiting to take a moment to look back at the sign posted on the bridge:

The gift shop was super crowded with people and displays but I managed to pick up another wooden magnet for my collection:

We spent our last few minutes on site cheering marathon runners whose route weaved through the walkway up to the falls. Everyone got back to the bus on time and we were soon arriving at our ship now docked at Washougal Waterfront Park Dock in Washougal, WA. With our first tour and first time crossing back and forth between state lines done, we arrived at the ship just as the crew was unloading everyone's luggage to load onto the ship. Several ports offered a golf cart ride if you needed assistance traversing the pier. Plenty of crew was on hand to help anyone needing extra support to make their way up the gangway. 

Tune in to the next post to find out what embarkation day is like on American Cruise Lines and of course plenty of menu and food photos to come!

Sunday, May 26, 2024

A Room With A View - American Harmony Riverboat Owner's Suite Cabin #340

What does the suite life mean when you're on a river cruise instead of an ocean cruise? Pretty much just extra cabin space and some extra seating options when it comes to American Cruise Lines (ACL). Though, when it comes to ACL, I don't think many of the extra perks we've experienced in the past would have mattered. Everyone onboard ACL gets free internet plus on our itinerary we were always in the USA so cellular worked as well. I found that the internet speed was fairly comparable to being on land for this ship. Helped partly by not being too far from land at any given moment. Our first ACL required hanging out in the lounge next to the router often to get any kind of decent signal. No need for a drink package when you can help yourself to soda and water bottles anytime with alcoholic drinks served at meals, evening entertainment, and happy hours. No specialty dining options on board but we did have the perk of a stocked mini fridge in our cabin. 

American Cruise Lines offers three of their "American Riverboat" cruise ships for this itinerary, the American Song, the American Jazz, and the American Harmony. Some versions and dates of this itinerary use the line's older Paddlewheelers, American Pride and American West. Side note: What is this tendency for various cruise lines to have similarly named ships? Lots of extra search effort to find answers related to American Harmony and not Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas. Our cabin on the American Harmony for this nine day/eight nights sailing of the Columbia and Snake Rivers cruise was cabin #340, the last cabin on the 3rd deck at the aft of the ship. There was some pre-cruise confusion when we realized that some cruise booking websites refer to this cabin as a Grand Suite (category GS) and ACL classifies it as an Owner's Suite (category OS). We asked management onboard and they basically said it was the same. Didn't matter much over the name classification since the price was the same and there was no difference in perks between the two like on some ocean cruise ships.

The Owner's Suites on American Harmony are all on deck 3. Two are located in the aft like ours, #340 and #339 after a stretch of Private Balcony cabins. The other three, cabins #304, #307, and #308 are located up front as the first few cabins after the Pilothouse (aka Bridge). We noticed a lot of vibration in our cabin while the ship was underway. It was comical at times to sit there trying to eat a bag of chips while your arm vibrated along with the ship. We learned to be wary of moving around the cabin since the vibration and the jerkiness of our time in each lock would literally feel like someone came up and pushed you trying to knock you off your feet. Most of our travel time was during the evening/bedtime or up until mid morning which is unfortunately also prime time that most people would be in their cabin. 

The above photo was taken from inside our cabin looking at the door of the other Owner's Suite. Carpeted hallways with plenty of room for walkers, wheelchairs, and small scooters. Only barriers were when the housekeeping carts were in the hallway but the crew was always quick to clear out of the way with apologies when they saw you approaching. To the left of this viewpoint is the door to a public outside deck that lines the entire aft of the ship (aka the width of our cabins combined). It allows anyone to stand outside the wall of our cabins that faces the wake and peek into our windows so we kept our curtains down on that side.

The below photo shows the no step threshold and our sensor for reading the key cards. 

Standing in our cabin doorway looking back at the door leading to the public outside deck. Note the handrail availability in the hallways that will come in handy even if you don't have mobility challenges. There is a little step to go in and out of this doorway pictured below and can be some effort to open if it's windy outside. One plus of our cabin location however was that the outdoor stairs leading to the Sky Lounge and Back Porch Cafe were right outside this door. We made lots of quick jaunts up to activities or stops for quick breakfasts and snacks.

Moving inside the cabin - the back of our cabin door holds the typical muster information and a turn deadbolt to lock your cabin from inside. 

Right above the main cabin light switch right by the door is where you'll find the reversible magnet that serves as your otherwise doorknob hanging "Do Not Disturb" or "Please Make Up Room." We'd stick it to the outside of the cabin door as we headed to bed and flip it over when we left for breakfast the next morning. Once the cabin was cleaned, it would be left back on the wall by this light switch.

It is now safe to move about the cabin. Standing by the main door - to your left is the minibar area. A large mirror flanks the wall behind a cabinet that houses your mini fridge and some storage drawers. On the wall is your adjustable thermostat and a volume control for in cabin announcements. 

Volume control and thermostat. Easy to operate with single buttons to move between options.

The rest of the cabin's main living space with my back to the door. The curtain covered windows are the ones that allow you to look out at the wake but also allow anyone else to view into your cabin from the outside public deck. 

There was venetian style blinds underneath the blue shades. This is a view standing from inside the cabin looking out at that public aft deck space.

A better perspective of the distance between the entryway and the living space furniture.

Just inside the main cabin door is your only hanging closet space. While it does go a little deeper inside to the left, we were surprised at how little hanging space was available for a suite cabin. Lifejackets are stored on the floor of your closet. The safe on the shelf above is keypad controlled with a code. It took a few crew members to reset our safe on the first day but it was repaired by the time we were done with dinner. While many passengers followed the typical muster drill instructions of reporting to your muster station to get checked off by cabin number, we were sitting in our lounge turned momentary muster drill meeting location when the announcement was made telling everyone to return to their cabins, don the life vests found there, and stand in your doorway until a crew member confirms that you have demonstrated knowing how to put on said life vest. Then you were to report to the lounge to get checked off. A few passengers got up to go back to the cabins but our Cruise Director Rhiannon told them it was okay to stay put and wait for everyone to join us. 

The bottles of wine were left as part of the suite but we left them unopened. We also never used the coffee machine or the provided distilled water. You can request the distilled water for your CPAP to be provided in your cabin by contacting customer service pre-cruise. The drawers on the left were empty so we took to stowing snacks we'd grab each time we pass through the lounge upstairs. There is a useable standard outlet by this corner that worked well for charging devices. 

Coffee machine appears to be a single serve Keurig with some tea and coffee provided pods. A small stack of disposable cups were provided. A nice addition if you wake up early and want to enjoy a quiet cup or you want to fill a travel mug before an excursion. One perk of a USA based itinerary is that there are no rules about taking food or drinks that aren't water off the ship. I once witnessed an officer tell a passenger on her way off the ship that she had to give him her coffee. He tried to crack a joke about it at first but when she got defensive he had to explain that it counts as an "agricultural" product the same as fruits and vegetables. 

Our fridge was mostly stocked with juices so we started bringing down sodas and water bottles after each visit to the lounge. There was a section on our booking pre-cruise information where you could choose from options to be included in your cabin fridge. I remember selecting the usual bottled water, sodas, and juices but all that ever seemed to get restocked was the juices. The plate pictured on the counter is one of our daily two piece "treats" that were left in our cabin each afternoon. And for those who have a preference, ACL uses Coke products. Disclaimer: Pictured Crunch bar is from a gift shop purchase on a tour. No candy or food snacks was provided in our cabin fridge. Single serve bags of chips, pretzels, fig newtons, trail mix, and granola bars were available for all in the lounge. Each lounge also had a self serve ice machine by the bar so if you want ice for that ice bucket in your cabin, you had to get it yourself or ask as it was never provided like on ocean cruises. 

Standing with my back to the mini fridge counter, you can see the array of living room style furniture we had. I often sat at that table to sort through the growing pile of papers and use my tablet. Most stock photos on ACL's website show this floor to ceiling bookcase surrounding the TV to be completely open to walk around into the bedroom space. In our case, there was a wall around the left side leading to the bathroom door. 

We were surprised to find that the drawers in this bookcase were only fake facades limiting our storage to the drawers in the bedroom space. At least those are real books on the shelves. The card sitting next to my water bottle in this picture showed the live TV channel options.

Front view of the couch and chair - our two large suitcases fit nicely rolled into the back corner by the balcony doors. I slipped all of my dirty laundry each day into my suitcase while it stood in this corner so that by the time we were ready to pack, I only had to throw in my toiletries and the stuff I packed but didn't wear. 

Moving on to the bathroom - note the red button on the wall by the bookcase. It is a button to be pushed in case of an emergency and will send officers to your cabin in minutes. Cruise Director Rhiannon joked on day one that it was to only be used in an emergency, not for when you want room service.

Two differences about this cabin compared to ocean cruises is that there is no step up into the bathroom and that the light switch is inside the bathroom.

It was nice to see on this newer ship a suite bathroom with a sink area bigger than I have at home! Hand towels by each sink and larger ones hanging on the wall. Disposable drinking cups replenished daily right next to a yellow sign on the wall about ways to help the environment. That is a magnifying mirror positioned about halfway up on the wall mirror, my reflection is not normally headless.

Our cabin was provided and replenished with small bottles of Beekman 1802 shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion. Not so great on longer hair that tangles easily but Dad enjoyed them.

The toilet was positioned behind a small half wall that included a grab bar for safety.

The shower stall had two sliding glass doors and required a step up to get into. A small wide towel was left hanging on the door to use as a safe place on the floor to step when getting out. The door with the towel hanging had the handle on the outside of the door. The other door had the handle inside the shower. One shower I took before bed almost resulted in sending the bathroom through a car wash because the sliding door closest to the shower head came sliding open during my shower. That's how much our cabin vibrated! Years of working with kids has honed my skills to thwart disasters and I managed to grab the door before it opened all the way.

The right side of the shower featured a small bench seat but you could also request a true shower chair if you needed it. There were ledges all along the back wall to hold products within an arm's reach if you're standing. I personally would have liked some sort of traction on the floor inside the shower.

Unfortunately no detachable shower head and there didn't seem to be much give in positioning what was there. The water pressure left something to be desired and it's a good thing I prefer lukewarm showers. If you need a scalding hot steambath of a shower, then you'll be disappointed. For a picture reference, I'm 5'7" and that knob on the wall was at eye level for me.

Moving on to the bedroom space which was accessible via an opening on the other side of the bookcase. While there are separate curtains for each set of floor to ceiling glass doors to the balcony, there is no barrier between the living space and the bedroom space. 

We had specified pre-cruise that we wanted twin beds and it was nice to see that the cabin was set up that way when we arrived. If you chose to have the two beds pushed together, the nightstands would be on the outside edges of the bed rather than between the two. Dad slept in the bed with the bench at the end and we both shared some curse words during the week stubbing our toes against it in the dark. The branded ACL waffle style robes were left in our cabin as a suite perk. We were allowed to bring them home free of charge. Other cruise lines will happily let you take the cabin robes home or bring you one to pack but then also happily charge your account for it.

The other side of the 3/4 wall featured a similar looking bookcase and slightly smaller TV but thankfully these drawers opened. The open shelves in the middle were great for storing shoes and the provided tote bags. 

While each nightstand held a lamp controlled by a toggle switch so you can be in bed before turning out the light, only my nightstand had an alarm clock. We never tried to use it and relied on our phone alarms. The lamp bases included a USB charging outlet and a standard plug outlet. We always bring a USB cord and a plug adapter so we're covered either way.

Standing in front of my nightstand looking back at the bedroom space - That was our balcony view at the time, but what a gorgeous picture window that would make! 

The light switch in this picture of the perspective looking back at the living space is the overhead bedroom light switch.

The balcony does require a step over the sliding glass door track to go in and out.

Looking back at the living space from the balcony doorway:

Let's get some fresh air and vitamin D with some balcony life now:

Looking back toward the aft - there was a solid partition blocking anyone on the public deck to access your cabin's private balcony. 

A matching partition sat at the opposite end of our balcony:

Not too shabby for a room with a view: