The American Queen Steamboat Co., which launched steamboat cruises on the Mississippi River last spring, has bought a second riverboat that will sail the rivers of the Pacific Northwest starting in April 2014. The company, named for its Mississippi River paddle wheeler, announced last week that it had purchased the former Empress of the North and will rename it the American Empress.
The 360-foot boat has five decks and will hold 223 passengers; it is smaller than the 436-passenger American Queen. Built in 2002, Empress of the North sailed the Pacific Northwest and Alaska’s Inside Passage for Majestic America Line until 2008. American Quuen Steamboat Co. bought the boat from the U.S. Maritime Administration for an undisclosed price.
The boat will undergo rehabbing, then move to its homeport in Portland, Ore., where it will sail seven-day voyages on the Columbia River and Snake River, between Portland and Clarkston, Wash. Cruises are expected to be available for booking within a few weeks. Information: 888-749-5280, www.AQSC.com.
The American Empress won’t be the only boat on those rivers, although it will be the largest. American Cruise Line’s Queen of the West and Un-Cruise Adventures’ S.S. Legacy also sail on the Columbia and Snake.
VIKING GOES TO SEA
Viking Ocean Cruises, the first new cruise line in nearly a decade, has revealed some details and itineraries of its first ship, which will enter service in May of 2015. The new line will debut a second ship in 2016 and has options to build another four.
Among salient features of the Viking Star, the 928-passenger vessel entering service in 2015: All staterooms will have verandas. Reminiscent of a Nordic tradition, guests in the ship’s spa will cool down in a Snow Grotto, where flakes of the white stuff will fall from the ceiling. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the main restaurant will open in good weather to impart a sensation of outdoor dining. Most strikingly, the ship will have a glass-walled infinity pool cantilevered off the stern.
Pricing will include shore excursions in each port of call, Wi-Fi, beer or wine with lunch and dinner, 24-hour room service, and all port charges and government fees. It will not include gratuities or alcoholic beverages other than those specified above.
The ship will make Baltic and Mediterranean cruises in its first summer; no decision has been made for its winter itineraries.
Viking Cruises, the parent of Viking Ocean Cruises, operates 35 river cruise ships and will debut 12 more next year. Its founder and chairman, Torstein Hagen, has long experience in the cruise industry and was CEO of the former Royal Viking Line in the early 1980s.
Much has been written about precedent-setting features of the new Royal Princess, which enters service in June, and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Breakaway, which debuted in New York City earlier this month (see story, page 1J). But this year’s other three large new ships, which will not operate in the Western Hemisphere, also boast some interesting new elements:
• The 3,501-passenger MSC Preziosa, which debuted in March, is MSC Cruises’ new flagship. Among new features are Vertigo, a wild water slide longer than a football field, and Doremi Castle, an aquatic park for kids. It will operate in the Mediterranean.
• Aida Cruises, which serves the German market, put the 2,192-passenger AidaStella into service earlier this spring. Like its six sister ships, it features Nordic design elements, among which is a unique birch forest. It is presently cruising out of Hamburg, Germany, then will shift to the Canary Islands in September for fall/winter sailings.