Small Oregon Port hosts giant cruise ships

Astoria, Oregon, is a port town of about 10,000 at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River. It’s rich in history, and calls itself “the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies”. Lewis and Clark wintered near here at a fort they built after reaching the Pacific in 1805; the town itself began as a fur-trading site for John Jacob Astor; it is the site of the Astoria Column, a 125-foot (38 m)-tall column with an observation deck at the top and a spiral frieze all the way up depicting events of Oregon history; fancy Victorian homes dot its hills, remnants of the fortunes that were made in lumber, shipping, and salmon fishing. But it’s a small port these days. Many big cargo ships bypass Astoria, going up the Columbia to off-load at Portland, and timber exports have declined. For years Astoria has been wooing cruise ship traffic, putting $10M into piers to accommodate the larger cruise ships. The Port has organized volunteer “cruise hosts” to lead tours and make visitors feel at home.

This year the preparations really paid off, as ships cancelling their planned stops at Mexican ports due to the H1N1 flu are looking for alternatives, and Astoria was ready. The scheduled 13 ships stopping in Astoria expanded to 21 for the season, and one of the biggest pulled in on May 12 for a few hours. Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas is 1,020 feet long and carries 2,700 passengers. The Port’s marketing director said that about 80% of cruise passengers generally disembark when the ships stop.

There were tours for all sorts of interests: history and bicycling at Fort Clatsop (the Lewis and Clark overwintering site which has been re-created in replica, with historic re-enactors); galleries, shops, and restaurants; the Columbia River Maritime Museum; Seaside and Cannon Beaches; “Shot in Astoria”, a tour of locations where movies have been recently filmed; a refurbished 1920’s vaudeville and movie theatre; the great view from the Astoria Column, high on its 600-foot hill, and more. And just walking around taking in the river, the ocean, the hills and the city, is worth a visit.


Top of the Astoria Column, photo by Terry Richard/The Oregonian.

And perhaps best of all was eleven-year old Tyler Delay selling messages in a bottle! Are they bottles for the visitors to toss in the ocean, having added their own notes inside, or mysterious ones that Tyler has scoured up himself in years of beachcombing? Guess we’ll have to go to Astoria to find out.


Photo by Ross William Hamilton for The Oregonian, accompanying The Oregonian’s article (from which most of this information is derived). Sorry this photo isn’t as good as it should be; it wasn’t part of the online article and was scanned from the newspaper.

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