Beginning in April 2014, American Empress -- formerly Empress of the North -- will sail itineraries along the Columbia and Snake rivers, joining American Queen as the second boat plying American rivers for the fledgling company.
The company purchased American Empress, a paddlewheel boat, from the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD), according to President and Chief Operating Officer Ted Sykes, who declined to say how much the company paid. American Empress will undergo a substantial refurbishment, Sykes said, to bring it in line with its fleetmate.
American Empress was launched in 2003 as Empress of the North, the second boat of the American West Steamboat Company. In 2006, the fleets of American West Steamboat Company and Delta Queen Steamboat Company combined to create Majestic America Line. Empress of the North sailed as part of the Majestic America Line until 2008, when the company went out of business and relinquished the boat to MARAD. While the vessel hasn't sailed since 2008, Sykes described its condition as "pristine."
"We're completely satisfied," Sykes said.
As Empress of the North, the boat sailed Alaskan itineraries. That's not in the plans, though, Sykes said, adding that the company, which began sailing in 2012, would prefer to perfect the two boats and existing itineraries before thinking about expansion.
To that end, the company completely replaced the paddlewheel onboard American Queen in January 2013, renovated the dining room and upgraded Internet capabilities throughout the boat. It also is striving to improve service onboard so it reflects a "five-star experience," Sykes said.
Accommodating 220 passengers, American Empress is smaller than American Queen (436 passengers) but still larger than other boats that sail similar itineraries.
Along with the announcement, American Queen Steamboat Company released details on its 2014 itineraries, which will be available to purchase Wednesday. American Empress will sail eight-day itineraries from Portland, Oregon, to Clarkston, Washington, or from Clarkston to Portland. American Queen will continue to sail a variety of upper and lower Mississippi River itineraries as well as trips on the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.
Also Tuesday, the company announced a partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a D.C.-based nonprofit that aims to preserve historic places. Though details of the partnership still are being hammered out, the National Trust will serve to bolster the line's enrichment offerings with lectures onboard and information on sites the nonprofit designates "National Treasures," said Kevin Blackerby, associate director of strategy and partnership engagement.
American Queen Steamboat Company's itineraries focus heavily on history, culture and enrichment. Sykes said vacations onboard his company's vessels, which combine modern technology with Victorian elegance, reflect the "gracious antebellum South."
--Colleen McDaniel, Managing Editor