The American Empress, once a common sight along the Columbia River, won't be operating this season. In fact, there's a chance it may not sail the Columbia River ever again.

American Cruise Lines scraps half of American Queen's fleet

In late February 2024, American Queen Steamboat Company suddenly closed its doors, laying off over 500 employees (including those in Washington State). Its four ships - the American Queen, American Empress, American Countess, and American Duchess - were put up for auction.

When news that American Cruise Lines bid on, and won, the American Queen fleet in early April 2024, there was hope that the cruise ships might return to their waters. In Tri-Cities, this would have been significant as the American Empress regularly offered cruises along the Columbia River, which often docked at Howard Amon Park.

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However, American Cruise Lines recently confirmed to Seatrade that it has begun to scrap the American Countess and American Duchess, starting with removing furniture and other assets from the ships before recycling them.


The company has also indicated that American Queen, currently docked in New Orleans, may be donated to a local government or nonprofit for preservation. The American Queen is the largest paddleboat ever built, but would require extensive repairs to remain operational.

American Empress remains in Astoria, Oregon this season

American Cruise Lines also confirmed that the American Empress will not be returning to the Columbia and Snake Rivers this season. What they haven't confirmed is the fate of the Columbia River cruise ship, which is currently at a company facility in Astoria, Oregon.

But with two of the fleet being scrapped, and a third likely being donated, the American Empress may not have much of a chance. Seatrade, however, did say that there might be something in the Empress's favor: "the fact the company already operates another classic vessel there which is eight years older and comes from the same shipyard."

For now, we just don't know if the American Empress will bring tourists along the river communities again. Hopefully, its new owner will see the value in a unique Pacific Northwest cruise and keep the Empress paddling down the river in years to come.

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