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.
• Hapag-Lloyd’s Europa 2, christened earlier this month, is an all-suite ship, and every suite has a veranda. The 512-passenger luxury vessel is cruising in the Mediterranean until fall, when it will shift to fall/winter sailings out of the Arabian peninsula and Asia.
While this year’s fleet of five new large liners is the fewest in many years, smaller ships are being built in record numbers. At last count, more than 20 new vessels were scheduled to enter service this year. Most are river cruises ships destined for service in Europe. Viking Cruises alone is launching 10 new river cruisers this year, all of them of the line’s new longships design. Uniworld has four new ships coming on line, three of them destined for rivers in the Far East. AMAWaterways, Avalon and Vantage each are putting two new river ships into service, and Scenic Cruises and Orient Express each have one.
Lastly, Compagnie du Ponant debuts a small ocean-going vessel, the 264-passenger Le Soleal, in June. The French ship will sail in Arctic waters this summer.
• American Cruise Lines has added a Puget Sound/San Juan Islands to its fall sailings on the 100-passenger American Spirit. Dates are Oct. 12 and 19.
• Silversea Expeditions now offers three- and four-night Galapagos cruises as well as seven-nighters on its Silversea Galapagos that combine with pre- or post- South American land packages.
• Regent Seven Seas Cruises is adding 10 new itineraries to its 2014 lineup for two of its ships. Its Seven Seas Mariner now will include sailings to Tahiti, and the Seas Seas Voyager will make a 30-night voyage from Dubai to Cape Town, calling at many Indian Ocean ports.
• Among its 2014-15 sailings, Princess Cruises will offer several new itineraries: Regal Princess’ debut in the Caribbean, Royal Princess’ first cruises to Canada and New England, new roundtrips from Vancouver to Hawaii or to coastal California on the Grand Princess, and Crown Princess’ first full season out of Los Angeles.
HERE AND THERE
For the first time in four years, Princess Cruises will base a ship in summer in Fort Lauderdale. The Caribbean Princess will make a variety of Caribbean cruises from May to September of 2014.
• Royal Caribbean’s recently renovated Enchantment of the Seas has replaced Monarch of the Seas in year-around cruises at Port Canaveral. The line’s Freedom of the Seas also is based there.
• Crystal Cruises will eliminate smoking in all indoor areas starting in 2014 and allow smoking outside only in a limited number of designated spaces. Only exception: Smoking will continue to be permitted indoors in the Connoisseur Club.
• Beds are going high-tech aboard all Celebrity Cruises vessels. The line is installing customizable beds that allow passengers to “build” their beds, which have rearrangeable air cylinders. Five of the line’s 11 ships so far have the new beds.
• Windstar Cruises will take over the first of three ships it is purchasing from Seabourn Cruises next spring, renaming the former Seabourn Pride the Star Pride. The two other Seabourn vessels, the Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend, will go to Windstar in 2015.
• Costa Cruises now has two ships deployed in Asia. After a series of cruises from Singapore, new arrival Costa Atlantica will make two cruises from Taiwan, then home port in Shanghai for a series of short cruises. Next March, the ship will sail the line’s first-ever roundtrip world cruise from China, an 83-day voyage.
• Turner Classic Movies’s third TCM Classic Cruise will sail out of Miami aboard the Disney Magic Dec. 8-13. Hosts will be TCM’s Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz. Prices start at $1,085 per person, double occupancy; tickets go on sale June 3. Info: 877-223-7030, www.tcmcruise.com.