American Queen Voyages suspends cruise service on Columbia River


American Queen Voyages, the paddle-wheeler cruise company sailing ships on the Columbia River, has suspended service and canceled its cruises.

For nearly a decade, the company’s American Empress ship launched from the Port of Vancouver. As part of the cruise package, passengers spent a night at a Vancouver hotel before their journey.

“American Queen Voyages unfortunately has been unable to rebound from the effects of the pandemic,” according to the company’s website. “The overnight cruise industry was especially affected by changes in travel preferences and, as a result, [American Queen Voyages] has become financially unsustainable.”

The cruise line is owned by the Hornblower Group, a San Francisco-based experience and transportation company. Hornblower announced Wednesday it is set to be acquired by an investment firm, Strategic Value Partners.

As part of the sale, Hornblower will sell or wind down American Queen Voyages. Hornblower said in Wednesday’s statement the cruise line is being shut down because it has underperformed.

American Queen Voyages notified the Washington Employment Security Department of its closure, announcing 16 employees would be laid off between its Clarkston, Asotin County, and Vancouver locations. About 500 people are being laid off companywide.

The American Empress stopped over not just in Vancouver but at the Port of Camas-Washougal and the Port of Skamania County.

The region’s ports hadn’t been notified officially the cruise line was shutting down.

“It is very disappointing as they have been a great river partner of ours over the years,” said Pat Albaugh, executive director for the Port of Skamania County.

Albaugh and his counterpart at the Port of Camas-Washougal don’t expect the news to significantly impact their ports financially.

“We are saddened to see them shutting down their operations,” said David Ripp, CEO at the Port of Camas-Washougal.

Other cruise ships still operate on the Columbia River, but American Empress was the largest.

“I’m hopeful that this is an isolated incident,” said Cliff Myers at Visit Vancouver WA.

Last year, nine ships cruised the river, including the American Empress. Fares ranged from $2,500 per person to more than $11,000, according to the booking website USA River Cruises.

Myers said he hopes the region’s tourism industry will proceed with smart conversations about the kind of impact that cruise companies can have on the local economy.

“The Vancouver waterfront has been key for bringing [American Queen Voyages’] Columbia River cruise visitors into the city to shop, dine and experience the region,” said Mike Bomar, director of economic development at the Port of Vancouver.

The ports have invested money into infrastructure for cruise ships. The Port of Camas-Washougal completed a $1.4 million breakwater access ramp project in 2022.

Bomar said despite American Queen Voyages’ closure, the port believes interest in Columbia River cruises will continue to grow in the coming years.

“We envision the port and our Terminal 1 location will continue to play a role,” he added.


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