American Empress Marks 20th Anniversary of Maiden Voyage

This month, the American Empress of American Queen Voyages will have served for 20 years.

The coastal ship, first constructed for American West Steamship Co., welcomed passengers on its inaugural journey on August 10, 2003.

On that day, the 223-guest ship, then known as Empress of the North, sailed from Seattle to begin its first season in Alaska.

The itinerary included several 11-night Inside Passage voyages that sailed between Juneau and Seattle in one direction and included stops in a few of the area’s smaller communities, like Wrangell and Petersburg.

After completing her inaugural season in Alaska, the Empress of the North relocated to the Pacific Northwest, offering itineraries on the Columbia, Willamette, and Snake rivers.

In 2004, the ship made a second trip to Alaska and ran several trips out of Sitka.

A Story of Art, Culture, and Troubled Ownership

The American-flagged vessel was constructed at the Nichols Brothers Boat Builders shipyard in Washington and was intended to be a replica of a paddlewheeler from the 1800s.

The original idea included a Russian-inspired interior design and art collection, which included Faberge eggs and nesting dolls, paintings of nature and Western habitation, and totems and masks carved by Native Americans.

The Empress of the North was laid up in 2008 after only five years of service due to a troubled owner.

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Later, in 2013, American Queen Voyages purchased the vessel, making it the second traditional paddle wheeler operated by the firm after the American Queen.

Before beginning operation for its new owner on the Columbia and Snake rivers in April 2014 under the new name of American Empress, the ship had a significant restoration.

The 5,975-ton ship is scheduled to provide a comprehensive program on the West Coast waterways in 2024.

The program runs from March through December and includes roundtrip excursions from Portland and one-way cruises between Spokane and Portland.

The ship stops at places like Stevenson, Astoria, The Dalles, and Camas/Washougal.

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Neon Martin

Neon Martin is a talented content writer with a passion for crafting engaging, informative articles on a wide range of topics. With a keen eye for detail and a love of language, Neon has honed their writing skills over several years of experience in the field.Neon's work can be found on, where they contribute insightful articles that explore the many facets of life in Hillsboro and the surrounding areas. Whether delving into local events, highlighting community leaders, or sharing tips on living a healthy and fulfilling life, Neon's writing always captivates and informs.

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