AQV’s American Empress Celebrates 20th Year in Service

American Empress

American Queen Voyages’ American Empress is completing 20 years in service this month.

Originally built for American West Steamship Co., the coastal vessel welcomed guests for its maiden cruise on August 10, 2003.

Then named Empress of the North, the 223-guest ship sailed from Seattle on that day, kicking off its inaugural season in Alaska.

The program included a series of 11-night Inside Passage cruises that sailed one-way between Juneau and Seattle and featured visits to smaller towns in the region, including Wrangell and Petersburg.

After completing its maiden season in Alaska, the Empress of the North repositioned to the Pacific Northwest, offering itineraries on the Columbia, Willamette, and Snake rivers.

The ship returned to Alaska for a second season in 2004, offering a series of cruises departing from Sitka.

Built at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders shipyard in Washington, the U.S.-flagged ship was designed as a reproduction of an 1800s-era paddlewheeler.

The original project featured an interior design and artwork collection inspired by 19th-century Russia, that included Faberge eggs and nesting dolls; paintings of wildlife and western settlement; and Native American carved totems and masks.

After just five years in service, the Empress of the North was laid up in 2008 due with a struggling owner.

The ship was later acquired by American Queen Voyages in 2013, becoming the company’s second traditional paddlewheeler after the American Queen.

Renamed American Empress, the ship underwent a major refurbishment before entering service for its new operator at the Columbia and Snake rivers in April 2014.

For 2024, the 5,975-ton ship is set to offer a complete program on the West Coast waterways.

Stretching from March to December, the schedule features one-way cruises sailing between Spokane and Portland, in addition to roundtrip itineraries from Portland.

Among the destinations being visited by the ship are Stevenson, Astoria, The Dalles and Camas/Washougal.

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