(5 p.m. EDT) -- John Waggoner, the enigmatic chairman and CEO of American Queen Steamboat Company, knows how to work an audience. Funny and charming, his is a tough act to follow.
Luckily, his wife, Claudette -- godmother of his company's newest ship, American Empress -- was up to the task at the christening ceremony Saturday in Portland, Oregon.
"When I was in high school, my big dream was to be prom queen," she joked. "When that didn't happen, my next big dream was to be the godmother of a big steamboat."
After a series of speakers and a blessing by Sam Robinson, vice chairman of the Chinook Indian Nation, Claudette Waggoner christened the vessel in front of a gathering of family, friends, stakeholders and media on an overcast day in the Pacific Northwest.
"May God bless this boat and all who sail on her," Claudette Waggoner said, wearing safety glasses and breaking the bottle on the first attempt.
Husband John opened the whole event with vigor: "Whew! What a ride," he said.
He wasn't kidding. Barely two years after the company launched its first ship, it's doing it again.
Empress of the North, built in 2003, sat in a shipyard for more than four years, held by the U.S. government after parent company Majestic America Line went bankrupt. AQSC purchased the vessel in 2013 and renamed it American Empress. The company substantially refurbished the ship, adding new carpet, paint, wallpaper and lighting, and generally updating the vessel. The result is a beautiful Victorian-style steamer (without steam) that accommodates 223 passengers. American Empress marks the line's first foray into the Pacific Northwest. The paddlewheel boat is now the largest sailing the rivers in the area.
Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation (2009-2013) Ray LaHood served as the keynote speaker. LaHood, long a proponent of U.S. river cruise expansion, praised Waggoner for his achievements, saying, "This is really a celebration of the American dream being lived out, right here in Portland. "
American Empress will embark on its maiden voyage Sunday out of Vancouver, Washington. Seven-night cruises on the vessel visit ports along the Columbia and Snake rivers, including Portland and Astoria, Oregon, and Clarkston and Stevenson, Washington. Cruises are inclusive of excursions, coffee, soft drinks and water, fine dining from local sources, and beer and wine at dinner. Itineraries focus on history -- specifically the route explorers Lewis and Clark took in the early 19th century -- as well as local wines. Cruisers will attend several wine tastings onboard.
Fleetmate American Queen, which entered service in 2012, sails itineraries along the Mississippi River in addition to the Cumberland, Tennessee and Ohio rivers.
--By Colleen McDaniel, Managing Editor