A second sternwheeler will be sailing on the Columbia and Snake Rivers beginning this spring. The American Empress, a newly renovated 223-passenger paddlewheeler, will make seven-night cruises starting April 5.
Formerly the Empress of the North, the 223-passenger ship last sailed on the rivers in 2008. It was purchased earlier this year from the U.S. Maritime Administration by American Queen Steamboat Co., which operates the American Queen paddlewheeler on the Mississippi. www.aqsc.com.
Highlights of the cruises, which depart from Portland, Ore., or Clarkston, Idaho, include visits to Astoria, Ore., on the Pacific coast, the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, The Dalles, Ore., the Snake River and Hell’s Canyon in Idaho, the deepest in the United States. Fares start at $3,795 per person double occupancy and include a one-night hotel stay, shore excursions, and complimentary wine or beer with dinner. It will operate from April to late November.
The other sternwheeler on the rivers is the American Cruise Lines’ Queen of the West, which makes similar seven-night cruises on the Columbia and Snake Rivers with much the same inclusions and itineraries. Fares on the 120-passenger vessel start at $3,790. It operates from March to late November.
In addition, American Cruise Line, which is building four new river ships, said at least one of them will cruise on the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
Several smaller ships also cruise on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in spring and fall. They are Un-Cruises’ Legacy ( www.un-cruise.com), Lindblad’s Sea Lion and Sea Bird (www.expeditions.com), and Fantasy Cruises’ Island Spirit (www.fantasycruises.com).
For the first time, a cruise ship is making circumnavigations of the island of Cuba. Cuba Cruise, created earlier this year, has chartered Louis Cruises’ Louis Cristal for three months of seven-night cruises that call at several Cuban ports. The ship sails either from Havana or Montego Bay, Jamaica, until March 24.
Ports of call include Cienfuegos, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba on the island of Cuba, Punta Frances on the Isle of Youth, and Montego Bay. Cruise-only fares start at $586 Canadian (about $551 U.S.) www.yourcubacruise.com.
However, Americans who want to visit Cuba can only do so legally if they fall in certain categories, one of which is traveling with an organization that has an official license from the U.S. government. There are also restrictions on how much and on what they can spend in Cuba. For details, check with the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (http://1.usa.gov/1fzd8n1).
One such U.S.-licensed organization that has partnered with Cuba Cruise is Road Scholar, which has a 12-night educational program under which Americans spend five nights aboard the ship. Prices start at $4,795 and include flights from Miami, lodging, meals, field trips and five nights on board ship. www.roadscholar.org.
After a two-year charter to another cruise line, Oceania Cruises’ Insignia will return to service May 8 after extensive renovation. Insignia, one of Oceania’s three original ships, has been sailing for Hapag-Lloyd’s as Columbus 2. It will be re-christened the Insignia on June 11 by Virginia Watters, the ship’s original godmother.
All three of Oceania’s older vessels will undergo $50 million in renovations next spring. As part of the work, the three ships will get some features introduced on the line’s newer ships, among them the Baristas specialty coffee bar. After renovation, the Nautica returns to service May 16, the Regatta June 7.
IN BRIEF• New barge cruises: CroisiEurope, which operates 30 river cruise ships in Europe, will introduce a series of barge cruises on the French canal network next year. The line, which operated one barge this past year, will have four barges in 2014, each accommodating 22 to 24 guests. They will sail on canals in Alsace, Burgundy, Champagne and Provence. www.croisieuroperivercruises.com.
• New Viking ships: Viking Cruises has ordered two more ocean-going ships from the Fincantieri shipyard. The order, announced last week, brings to four the number of ships under order for Viking River Cruises’ new ocean-cruising branch. The first ship is to be delivered in May 2015 and the other three in 2016 and 2017.
• New riverboats: American Cruise Lines is building four new ships that will enter service between 2015 and 2017. The first two boats, each of which will carry 150 to 200 passengers, will cruise the Mississippi River system and the Columbia and Snake Rivers in the Pacific Northwest.
• Music cruise: A new festival at sea called LIVE LOUD is being put together by Norwegian Cruise Line and Sixthman. The first cruise will be a four-night sailing Feb. 26 from Miami on the Norwegian Pearl. Already in the lineup are Bronze Radio Return, Ken Block and Drew Copeland from Sister Hazel, Rock Revue, The Shadowboxers, Trailer Park Ninjas, Chuck Cannon and Key Moneal. www.liveloudfestival.com