New cruise ship Empress of the North recaptures the romance of sternwheeler cruising in Alaska
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New cruise ship Empress of the North recaptures the romance of sternwheeler cruising in Alaska
Since 1862, when the Flying Dutchman began service on the Stikine River, over 350 paddle wheelers have operated along Alaska's coastline and scenic inland rivers. Although they were once a major source of transportation in the Gold Rush era, sternwheelers appeared to be a thing of the past. That is, until the launch of American West Steamboat Company's newest cruise ship, the Empress of the North. Beginning in June of 2003, the Empress of the North will recapture the romance of sternwheeler cruising and offer passengers a deluxe cruise experience aboard a luxury small cruise ship in one of the most popular cruising destinations in the world.

The first to ply Alaska's Inside Passage in over 100 years, this new authentic paddlewheel driven cruise ship will operate 11-night cruises between Seattle and Juneau, calling on ports and scenic attractions along the way. Departing from downtown Seattle, she will cruise through Lake Washington and the San Juan Island archipelago before stopping in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia, where passengers enjoy included shore excursions to Butchart Gardens and the Royal Museum in Victoria and a Vancouver city tour and visit to the Aquarium.

After two full days sailing north through Canada's Inside Passage and into Alaska, the Empress of the North will wind her way through narrow and scenic Misty Fjords, cruising into places the big ships can't. The sternwheeler will then call on the historic town of Ketchikan, where passengers are treated to the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show and a tour of Totem Heritage Park. The next day, the Empress of the North will visit Wrangell, with included shore excursions to Chief Shakes Tribal House and Petroglyph Beach before cruising Wrangell Narrows. The day also includes a port call in Petersburg, with its quaint Norwegian charm, and cruising scenic Le Conte Bay.

The next day, the Empress of the North again cruises where the big ships can't, navigating Peril Strait on her way to Sitka, once the capital of Russian America. Included in Sitka is a performance by the New Archangel Russian Folk Dancers and visits to the Raptor Rehabilitation Center, Saint Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral and a traditional Tlingit clan house, where guests are treated to Native songs and dance.

After a full day excursion into Glacier Bay National Park, passengers will stop in Skagway, where they will enjoy a scenic ride on the White Pass Yukon Railway. The next morning, the ship will cruise the narrow and winding Tracy Arm Fjord, with an afternoon port call in Juneau, Alaska's capital city. In Juneau, included shore excursions feature a tour to the Mendenhall Glacier and an authentic salmon bake.

Throughout the cruise, the ship's onboard entertainment will capture the excitement and atmosphere of the great showboat era. Two elegant showrooms will present unique music of early Americana, Golden Oldies, Best of Broadway, Country Western, Dixieland Jazz and the Big Band Era. The region's history will come alive as well in song and dance, from the Gold Rush Follies, to Russian American Cossack Dances, to the legends, crafts, songs and dances of the Native Americans. A historian/naturalist will deliver an ongoing interpretive program and be curator for the vessel's extensive gallery of paintings, sculptures, pictures and historic artifacts featuring the heritage, cultures and natural history of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

Currently under construction, the Empress of the North is being built by Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland, WA, where her sister ship, the sternwheeler Queen of the West, was built in 1995. Once complete, the Empress of the North will be 360 feet long and accommodate 235 passengers and 84 crew. Her authentic paddlewheel will be 35 feet in diameter, turning up to 15 times per minute for a top speed of 14 knots. The ship will feature 112 all-outside suites and staterooms, of which 105 will have private verandahs. 2003 cruise rates for Alaska range from $4,699 to $8,299, depending on cabin category and cruise date. Featured shore excursions, fine dining and live showboat-type entertainment are all included in the price of the cruise.

Following her season in Alaska, the Empress of the North will reposition to Portland, Oregon, where she will operate 7- and 11-night cruises between October and May on the Columbia, Snake and Willamette Rivers. On the Columbia River in 2003, 7-night cruise rates range from $1,599 to $4,929 and 11-night cruise rates range from $2,539 to $7,749, depending on cabin category and cruise date. All cruises include shore excursions, fine dining and live showboat-type entertainment in the price of the cruise.

Since 1995, American West Steamboat Company has operated the 163-passenger Queen of the West year round on the Columbia, Willamette and Snake Rivers, along the Lewis & Clark route, Oregon Trail, and Columbia River Gorge. 2003 7-night cruise rates range from $1,195 to $4,845, depending on cabin category and cruise date. Like the Empress of the North, cruises include all shore excursions, fine dining and live showboat-type entertainment.

(Source: American West Steamboat Company)


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