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Accessible Cruising Onboard The Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler

Accessibility Onboard the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler

Author: Lilly Longshore Website

Few places in our nation exhibit more astounding natural beauty than the scenic Columbia Gorge, and one of the best ways to enjoy this beauty is from aboard the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler. The historic riverboat is nicely wheelchair accessible and provides excellent opportunities to view natural, cultural and historic sites that would otherwise be next to impossible to see for wheelchair users.

I rolled through the doors of the Waterfront Grill at Marine Park in Cascade Locks, Oregon in my powerchair, pleased to have easy access through the spacious restaurant and out the back doors to the level embarking dock. I noted the solid, open construction of the dock itself. Boarding the magnificent, historic Sternwheeler felt safe and comfortable, as the entry was plenty wide and level most of the way with only the last few feet narrowing a little and gently declining into the riverboat. Inside, tables were generously spaced and tastefully draped in white linen with matching napkins. Flickering candles placed on each table loaned a warm glow to the dining area’s atmosphere and cool jazz filled the air. My power-chair fit nicely at the table. Our servers, Mindy and Carlos, ensured we were pampered and well supplied with drinks and food. After mouth-watering buttered sour dough bread and a fruit and cheese plate appetizer, I chose an entree of parmesan crusted chicken, which was wonderful. A rich and creamy cheese cake followed for a delightful dessert.

As we dined, Captain Tom entertained and educated us, pointing out nesting osprey on navigational markers, so close I could almost touch them. He indicated landmarks from Lewis and Clark’s excursion down the mighty Columbia in 1805, and he identified Native American fishing platforms and gill nets along the way—and so much more! There was plenty of room to navigate from my table to the lower outer deck for an outdoor view of the stunning sights along the Columbia Gorge. A short, slightly steep ramp through a wide doorway provided wheelchair access to the lower outer deck. It was so worth it to go outside for the fresh smell of the river, invigorating wind and the thrill as we passed under the expansive Bridge of the Gods.

Since the Sternwheeler was built in 1983 and fashioned after historic riverboats, it took some doing to make the boat as nicely accessible as it is. I found everything wonderfully wheelchair-friendly except the restroom. It is narrow, the stall door can’t close once inside with a wheelchair, but it does have grab bars. I was grateful that I had used the fully ADA restroom inside the Waterfront Grill before boarding.

My wheelchair-friendly cruise of the Columbia Gorge aboard the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler was a wonderful experience. The accommodations were comfortable, the food and service remarkable, and the scenery excellent. The detail and quality of the narration by Captain Tom provided so many insights and so much information, it was hard to absorb it all. Which means, I’ll just have to come back!

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