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:

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Rollin' Down the River - it's time to trace the route of Lewis and Clark

For this next cruise blog series, we decided to try something on a much smaller scale and booked the Columbia and Snake River itinerary on the American Harmony riverboat. We've previously sailed on American Cruise Lines (ACL) as a back to back sailing on their American Independence coastal ship doing the Inland Waterway followed by the Golden Isles itinerary. That sailing was not well managed onboard but a few of the ports ended up being some of my favorite towns to visit. 

Like you'll find on many Alaska sailings on the big cruise ships, it seems that this Columbia and Snake River itinerary is the choice for a lot of passengers' first river cruise. Those of us who'd had previous ACL sailings could have fit between two to three shared tables in the dining room compared to the amount of new cruisers. Whether it was their first or their 21st, we have always found fellow river cruise passengers to be some of the friendliest and most willing to gather together with other passengers for chats, dining, and activities. Without all the bells and whistles that one needs to entertain 3,000+ passengers on an ocean cruise line, there's a lot more downtime and chance to interact with one another. 

Our itinerary route went from Portland, Oregon to Clarkston, Washington with a brief blink and you miss it interlude into Lewiston, Idaho. The entire cruise stayed in the USA and featured multiple trips through locks. The planned itinerary always included a one night hotel stay in Portland but shortly before the cruise, a text was sent out informing us that instead of the Holiday Inn Columbia Waterfront where the ship would be docking right by, our hotel instead would be the Embassy Suites by Hilton Portland Airport. Our ship was also going to be docked now at the Washougal Waterfront Park Dock in Washougal, Washington. Due to the change, we no longer had to make our own way from the Portland airport to the hotel as American Cruise Lines provided reps in the airport to corral and direct everyone to the Embassy Suites hotel shuttles. The rep stayed in contact with the shuttle driver by phone so it was nice not to have to wait for one to arrive. ACL also provided a hotel to ship transfer the next morning because of the dock change. 

The hotel itself was good for a typical one night pre-cruise stay, especially with the included breakfast. I had hoped ACL though would have planned something for the hotel stay like a welcome reception/happy hour or a dinner voucher. We ate in the hotel restaurant for dinner, a venue we had enjoyed at the Embassy Suites in Ft. Lauderdale, and it took asking six different employees before we finally got our food and the check. On the plus side, it was nice to see that ACL provided each of our assigned hotel rooms with a clear document sized envelope packet containing a letter breaking down the next day's embarkation schedule, lanyards with pre-printed nametags, a slip of paper showing which embarkation group number you were and luggage tags for you to fill out so the ship crew can know which cabin to deliver your luggage after it was picked up from your hotel room.

I got a good chuckle out of how the schedule reads "If you wish to not participate in The Multnomah Falls Experience, please meet in the hotel lobby at 12:00AM to be escorted to the ship." I can only imagine someone not realizing that was a typo and standing there at midnight wondering where everyone is. Before the cruise, we had signed up for the complimentary Multnomah Falls excursion and I'm pretty sure everyone else did too given that it took four buses to transport everyone.

These were simple pieces of cardstock that attached to your suitcase handle by looping the tied string. They held up for the journey to the ship but I don't see them holding up through airport baggage handling. I noticed several other passengers' suitcases that were using the sturdy Viking Cruises red luggage tags as their main tags, us included.

These cards fit sideways partially sticking up in our lanyards but were only needed that first morning to show that we were boarding the right numbered bus at the scheduled time. The meeting times were slightly staggered to help with lobby and sidewalk crowding. Otherwise we all ended up at the Falls at the same time and had the same amount of time there. I can't say whether we ended up in Embarkation Group #1 because of our cabin category or by chance since there didn't seem to be any priority benefit on boarding day for being in a suite.

One of the things I found interesting during our first ACL cruise was the lack of security checks as to whether I was really a passenger coming back onboard in ports. There also didn't seem to be any way to verify whether everyone was back onboard before we sailed onto the next port. I was impressed this time to find that our nametags had individualized QR codes that were scanned upon leaving and returning. Every person's nametag featured their full name, hometown, the QR code, and the stars representing how many past ACL cruises you've done. My nametag shows three stars here because it includes the one you're currently on. ACL has some nice loyalty (Eagle Society) perks in that after your third cruise, any excursions listed as Premium (mid level priced point) are also complimentary. If you sail 10 cruises, your 11th cruise is free. To read more about the program, visit here.

We did not receive our cruise cards that unlocked our cabin doors until arriving in our cabins onboard. They work by holding up against the sensor by the door lock. Pictured here is the front of the card as there is nothing printed on the back. They do not have your name, folio, or voyage information anywhere on the card like ocean cruises. I highly recommend taking the crew's suggestion of keeping your cruise card tucked inside the lanyard with your name tag. The door lock will be able to read the card through the plastic. Plus you're less likely to leave the lanyard in your cabin and need your cabinmate to come unlock the door for you, unless of course you're my Dad.