Sternwheelers on the Columbia River are back with a vengeance. The largest is the 223-passenger American Empress (below), formerly known as Empress of the North. It is returning to seven-night sailings along the river, something it last offered in 2008.
The American Empress riverboat, which docks in Vancouver, runs April through October, between Astoria and Clarkston, on the Idaho-Washington border. The new sternwheeler cruise beat expectations and some of the cruises even had waiting lists. The riverboat operator hired about 80 employees for this year’s cruises.
Meanwhile, American Cruise Lines of Guilford, Conn., operates the competing 120-passenger Queen of the West paddleboat, which docks in Oregon, next to the Red Lion. They introduced a second boat, American Pride with room for 150 passengers.
American Cruise Lines essentially doubled its capacity on the Columbia River in 2016 with their second paddle wheeler, American Pride, joining the Queen of the West on the Columbia. The boat will have larger staterooms than the 20-year-old Queen of the West.
The two competing stern-wheelers companies offer similar week-long cruises. They go from Astoria to Richland and the Snake River for prices beginning around $3,700 per person.
- The 360-foot, 223-passenger American Empress , formerly known as Empress of the North, docks in Vancouver, next to the I-5 bridge.
- The 230-foot Queen of the West was built in 1995 and docks in Oregon at the Red Lion. It can be identified by yellow “flames” at the top of her stack.
- The 145-foot M.V. Columbia Gorge operates out of Cascade Locks in the summer, and winters in Portland. She was built for the Port of Cascade Locks, in Hood River by Nichols Boat Works and launched on August 30, 1983. She was built at a cost of around $2.5 million, of which $1.1 million was funded by federal grants secured by U.S. Senators Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood.
- The 87-foot Willamette Queen is an sternwheeler built in 1990 in Newport, Oregon, which operates on the Willamette River, year-round from Salem’s Riverfront Park.
- The 65-foot sternwheeler Rose was built over a nearly four-year period from 1979 to 1983 in Astoria, Oregon, by John Hendrickson, and launched on April 24, 1983. Rose was sold to Willamette Sternwheel Navigation in early 2004 and continued to be based in Portland and operated on the Willamette. Her mooring location was moved from Portland to Oregon City in 2010.
Queen of the West was renovated in 2011 and runs April to November with eight-day trips on the Columbia/Snake starting at $3,750.