The largest, most luxurious overnight paddle-wheeler west of the Mississippi, 223-guest American Empress debuted in 2003 as Empress of the North for now-defunct American West Steamboat Co. Purchased by American Queen Steamboat Co. in 2013, the ship was freshened up with a refit that toned down some of its ornate 19th-century, Russian-influenced decor. Since 2014, American Empress has sailed weekly itineraries in the Pacific Northwest along the scenic Columbia and Snake rivers, offering a largely inclusive experience with Wi-Fi, soft drinks, bottled water, specialty coffees, and wine/beer with dinner.
What We Love
The Scenery: The scenic vistas along the Columbia and Snake rivers are varied and beautiful, from the Victorian-era waterfront of Astoria to the spectacular Columbia Gorge and the rugged desert terrain of eastern Washington state.
Hop-On/Hop-Off Bus: In addition to regular excursions (available for a nominal fee), there is a complimentary hop-on/hop-off bus that allows guests to explore each port at their leisure. Another plus: Admission to most local museums is included in your cruise fare.
River Grill & Bar: The traditional dining room serves excellent, locally sourced cuisine. But you can also dine at no extra charge in the reservations-required, 55-seat River Grill & Bar. Added during the shipʼs refit, this alfresco venue (which can be enclosed in inclement weather) serves up lobster, steak, lamb chops, and fresh fish.
Best Known For
Riverlorians: Onboard historians/enrichment lecturers cover a wide variety of topics, from Lewis and Clark to the Missoula Floods and local Native American culture.
Ornate Decor and Valuable Artwork: Although the decor on American Empress has been updated, it's still festooned with crystal chandeliers, wood paneling, and an impressive art collection that was curated by the shipʼs original owners.
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Who It's Best For
Those Seeking an Inclusive, Laid-Back Cruise Experience: Life aboard American Empress is all about comfort, excellent food, attentive service, and spectacular scenery.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Bells and Whistles Are Lacking: There is no pool, gym, spa, or childrenʼs facility, although six bikes (with helmets) are available at no charge on a first-come, first-served basis.
Peter Knego is a California-based contributor to ShermansCruise who also writes for USA Today.
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American Empress at a Glance
- Line: American Queen Steamboat Company
- Number of Passengers: 223
- Ship Size: Large
- Launch Date: 2003
- Refurbish Date: 2014