The American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC) resumed operations on the Columbia and Snake Rivers for the first time in nearly 20 months – for fully vaccinated travelers, reports CruiseCritic.com.
The line announced Monday that the classically-inspired American Empress would set out on her first voyage from Vancouver, Washington (across the river from Portland, Oregon) to Spokane (Clarkston), Washington, today.
AQSC successfully resumed operations on the Mississippi aboard the brand new American Countess in March, and Cruise Critic was on board for the occasion.
Today, the American Empress is the first ship to resume service on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, as well as the first ship in the region to set sail with a fully vaccinated mandate for all passengers and crew.
“Our last trip [on the Columbia and Snake Rivers] was in November 2019, “said Shawn Bierdz, president of the American Queen Steamboat Company, in an interview with Cruise Critic.” It’s been twenty months since we started … which is amazing when you think about it. “
Sailing aboard the American Empress’s 2021 season in the Pacific Northwest – which, according to the line, is almost entirely sold out – can be reserved for passengers of any nationality who have been fully vaccinated with all required doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine by the FDA or WHO.
All passengers on board the American Empress must present a valid vaccination card or a picture of their valid vaccination card upon check-in. Passengers who fail to provide proof of vaccination will be denied boarding and the applicable cancellation policy will apply.
According to AQSC, the entire crew on board the American Empress has also been vaccinated. A fleet-wide, 100 percent vaccination strategy will come into effect from July 1, 2021 (full vaccination against COVID-19 along with PCR tests was recommended for earlier departures).
Despite the mandate for vaccines, AQSC has no trouble selling the American Empress’s return to the rivers.
“Of all our ships, American Empress is probably the most sold out,” explains Bierdz. “About 13 out of 20 runs are sold out. So it’s a very popular product.”
The ship operates cruises along the historic waterways that call at some of the region’s most unique ports of call, including Astoria, Oregon; The dalles; and Stevenson, Washington.
American Empress is big enough to fall under the cruising restrictions set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By adhering to a full vaccination mandate, the company is able to resume cruises on the Columbia and Snake Rivers without test drives, but at the same time provides more space on board by introducing capacity constraints to ensure that trips are not 100 percent capacity go out.
“Capacity is limited,” said Bierdz. “We’re still subject to the CDC’s conditional sailing regulations, so we’re operating with 229 souls on board, including guests and crew … it’s probably about 70 percent of the ship’s capacity.”
American Queen founder and CEO John Wagoner told Cruise Critic earlier this year that he believed fully vaccinated cruises were the way to reboot the industry. Because American Empress has a full mandate to vaccinate, it does not require the ship to make the simulated voyages required by operators who do not require full vaccination of passengers and crew.
“We are calling for a 100 percent vaccination and not a 95 percent vaccination that the CDC allows,” concluded Bierdz. “We take safety very seriously. Our obligation that guests and crew are 100 percent vaccinated … that is our obligation to our guests: that they travel with 100 percent vaccinated fellow guests.”
American Empress operates nine-day trips through November.
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