American Queen SteamBoat Company has rescued Empress of the North
One of the largest river vessels - 5 decks
The American Queen Steamboat Company, operator of the American Queen steamboat on the Mississippi, has just rescued another classic American river boat, the former "Empress of the North" which had last been operated by Majestic American Lines in 2008.
The boat, already renamed "American Empress" came from MARAD; short for the federal "Maritime Administration" charged with overseeing all U.S.-flagged marine vessels. MARAD had quartered Empress of the North at Swan Island near Portland, Oregon. But after five years of careful stewardship, MARAD decided to make the American Queen Steamboat Company an offer to take her, based upon their experience with selling the American Queen to the company. Key in the agency's decision was its familiarity with John Waggoner, president of Great American Steamboat Company as well as CEO of HMS Global, owner and operator of over 100 American-flagged marine vessels.
"MARAD was a wonderful custodian of the river boat," said Sykes, "they completely sealed off the interior and kept it air conditioned and humidity controlled for nearly five years-" just like they kept American Queen in near perfect condition. Although American Empress is said to be in excellent condition on the inside, it will require some tender loving care from its new owners to return it to operating conditions after five years, especially on the exterior and its mechanical systems.
The reason Empress was in the possession of MARAD is that it belonged to the American taxpayers, lien-holders of the vessels that were once operated by the now bankrupt Majestic American Line, who also operated the Delta Queen steamboats and other small vessels.
American Empress will return to seven-day cruises along the Columbia and Snake Rivers in the Pacific Northwest next April, 2014. But the cruise brochure is already at the print shop and cruises are already on sale. The eight-night package includes a pre-cruise hotel stay on Saturday night with the seven-day cruise commencing on Sundays.
Empress of the North is a surprisingly large river boat. She is paddle-driven although she runs on diesel and is not a steamboat. She is surprisingly large at five decks tall, 380 feet long, 95 feet wide and a draft of 12 feet. She will have a passenger capacity for 223 guests in 112 staterooms.
There is a main dining room and a theater, although neither is as grand as the two-story versions on American Queen, but she is still a very impressive boat in the traditional American riverboat style. At five decks tall she is certainly one of the larger river boats in America. Her big sister American Queen is the largest river boat in the world.
American Queen Steamboat Company has once again given charge of culinary operations over to Regina Charbonneau, the chief gourmand for American Queen. Although she hails from Baton Rouge, Charbonneau has also opened very successful restaurants in San Francisco; Regina's at the Regis and Biscuits and Blues, a winner of the W.C. Handy award for best blues club in 1995.
Sykes says entertainment be less of a factor on American Empress than on American Queen due to the many destination-oriented attractions and activities in the Pacific Northwest itinerary. "The history in this area," said Sykes, "with Lewis and Clarke and Sacajawea, is the primary attraction." There will be a riverlorian and an historian onboard for enrichment lectures.
There will also be an 'included in the cruise fare" shore excursion offered for every passenger on six of the seven day cruises. Also like American Queen, Empress will have its own branded passenger busses that will ride along the river route ready to arrive and pick up passengers for local adventures whenever the boat makes a port of call.
There will also be "premium" shore adventures available for guests who choose to pay extra, such as rafting in "Hell's Canyon" on the Snake River.
Empress of the North has seen its share of adventures. It is actually certified as a "coastwise" vessel meaning it can leave the rivers and inland waterways and legally sail in deep ocean water. It sailed up to Alaska and served in the Inside Passage for Majestic American Line in 2007. While up there she struck ground on Rocky Island, about 50 miles from Juneau, forcing all 248 passengers to abandon ship, although once freed she was still able to sail to Juneau, with a list, under her own power with 33 crewmembers aboard.