A Pit Stop a Day (Day 1): Portland Spirit River Cruise

The Portland Spirit leaving downtown Portland.

Tom McCall Waterfront Park
Portland, OR

Our Day 1 route (see map) took us from our home in Southern Oregon four hours north on I-5 to beautiful Portland, where we were fortunate to embark upon the Portland Spirit for a cruise down the Willamette River.

The Portland Spirit is a 150′ yacht with three public decks, two of which are enclosed and climate controlled. We were met at the dock by the skipper (and a photographer), and shown aboard. The kids immediately made their way up the stairs to the top (outdoor) deck to take in the views (and try to climb the rails…we had to implement a safety talk at this point).

Toby and Calvin scope out downtown Portland.

Toby was fascinated by the many steel bridges along the Willamette.

There are several maps of the Spirit’s routes on-board.

The Spirit embarked at 7 pm and cruised south down the Willamette River to Lake Oswego (there are also cruises which will take you down the Columbia Gorge and a jet boat which takes you toward the coast by Astoria). You can eat a gourmet meal aboard the Spirit, or can buy a sightseeing-only ticket; we opted for the latter, and spent the bulk of our time taking in the views on the top deck (although you’re free to explore the entire yacht).

I cannot say enough about the views afforded on this cruise. The scenery was beautiful, and we had fun checking out all the mansions along the banks of the river by Lake Oswego. The many rowing and sailing clubs out on the water kept the kids’ attention, as did the many bridges we cruised under. The entire crew on-board was very friendly and helpful. On the top deck, the First Mate and Skipper were on-hand to let the kids know when the bridges would open up to let us pass and even gave them a turn at the wheel in the bridge.

Uh oh…it’s the Pit Stops crew at the helm!

Hmm…which delicate instrument should I touch first?

A few practical notes for parents: the cruise takes over 2.5 hours. Very young children might get squirmy (although there’s plenty of room to let them walk around and play). If you want to buy additional snacks or drinks aboard, plan accordingly. We spent an extra $20 on drinks for a family of five (a cocktail each for the adults, lemonade for the kids) and $10 for a souvenir photo. There is also a small gift shop on-board.

Extra Tip! Bring sweatshirts (even in summer) if you plan (or your kids plan) to stay outside on the deck. It gets windy, and weather in the Northwest is always unpredictable.

Date last visited: June 2010.

Distance off the interstate: Approximately 10 minutes from I-5. (Be aware of possible rush hour traffic from 5-6 pm!)

Hours: The evening (dinner and/or sightseeing) cruise boards at 6:30 pm and departs at 7 pm, returning to the dock at 9:30 pm.

Admission Prices:

$68 Adults
$63 Seniors and Children
Sightseeing only (no dinner): $28 per person

Food Services: If you’re interested in eating aboard the cruise, you’ll be booking the dinner cruise. If you opt for sightseeing only, the bar is still open to you. You can buy drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and snacks at any time.

Bathrooms: Located on-board.

Website: Portland Spirit

Directions: The cruise departs from the Salmon Street Springs Fountain in Tom McCall Waterfront Park. From I-5, take exit 299B on the left for I-405 W toward US-26 W/City Center/Beaverton, then take exit 1A on the left toward Naito Pkwy/Japanese-American Plaza. Merge onto SW Harbor Dr. Turn right at SW Naito Pkwy. The park is on the right-hand (river) side of the street, and you want to look for the cross-street of Salmon St. We found a parking garage for only $3 for the night (on a Thursday after 6 pm) in the World Trade Center building directly across from the Salmon Street fountain.

More parking in the area:

Smart Park Garage at SW First/SW Jefferson
Pay lot underneath the Hawthone Bridge, accessible to northbound traffic on Naito Parkway
Pay lot north of the Hawthone Bridge, accessible to southbound traffic on Naito Parkway

As I disclose whenever compensated while reviewing an activity or location, my family and I were hosted on the Portland Spirit at no cost. This compensation came with no expectations or agreements for a positive review.

Up next! We spend the night at Portland’s Hyatt Place!