Godmother Claudette Waggoner and former transportation secretary Ray LaHood to lead American Empress christening

Claudette Waggoner
American Empress Godmother, Claudette Waggoner
Photo courtesy of American Queen Steamboat Company

The  American Queen Steamboat Company announces christening ceremony details for the U.S riverboat owner and operator’s second vessel. The 223-guest American Empress, the largest riverboat west of the Mississippi, will officially join the fleet with the American Queen on April 5, 2014. Claudette Waggoner, wife of Chairman and CEO John Waggoner, will serve as godmother and officially name the vessel as part of the festivities in downtown Portland, Ore.

Former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, longtime leader for the U.S. maritime industry and champion of U.S. river cruising expansion, has been announced as the ceremony’s keynote speaker.  Highlights of the festivities will include performances by local musicians, a blessing of the boat by Chinook Tribal elders and a bottle of local wine crashing against the American Empress bow. Additional participating dignitaries include the 13th Coast Guard District Commander Rear Admiral Richard T. Gromlich and Acting Maritime Administrator Paul “Chip” Jaenichen.

“It will be a great honor for my wife Kathy and I to join John and Claudette Waggoner, sharing our mutual passion for America’s rivers with the world,” explains former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. “I look forward to meeting the inspiring American Empress crew and visiting with community leaders who will soon see the positive impact U.S. river cruising expansion will have on their cities and towns.” 

Former Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood
Former Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood
Photo courtesy of American Queen Steamboat Company

One of only two conservatives in President Obama’s cabinet during his first term, Secretary LaHood quickly became known throughout the federal government as a bipartisan leader and skilled arbiter. In his role as Secretary of Transportation, LaHood led an agency with more than 50,000 employees and a $70 billion budget overseeing air, maritime and surface transportation missions. With a passion for building new transportation infrastructure, Secretary LaHood became a strong advocate for U.S. river cruising, recognizing the impact its growth has on the economy, particularly river towns and cities in America’s heartland. Secretary LaHood will speak on the importance of U.S. river cruising before introducing American Empress Godmother Claudette Waggoner.

“It is a true honor serving as the American Empress godmother and I look forward to sharing this majestic vessel with the world for the first time on April 5, 2014,” shares Waggoner. “As I have listened to guests share their many discoveries aboard the American Queen sailing the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, I can’t help but be excited for them to now explore the Pacific Northwest in American Queen Steamboat Company style.”

The American Queen Steamboat Company entered into a purchase agreement of the 223-guest riverboat with the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) in May 2013 and has had a team onboard preparing for her April 2014 launch on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Formerly the Empress of the North, the American Empress will deliver opulence on a grand scale, following in the pedigree of the line’s namesake riverboat American Queen, and proudly serve as the largest overnight riverboat west of the Mississippi River.

A U.S.-flagged vessel, the American Empress measures 360 ft. with five towering decks and accommodates 223 guests in seven stateroom categories. She is currently undergoing final preparations for her inaugural season and sea trials with the U.S. Coast Guard are scheduled for later this month.

The American Empress will begin service April 5 after a christening ceremony in Portland, Ore.  Her maiden voyage will be a nine-day journey immersing guests in the splendor of the Columbia and Snake Rivers featuring stops at some of the region’s most celebrated ports including Astoria, Ore.; Stevenson, Wash.; The Dalles, Ore.; Sacajawea State Park, Wash. and finally Clarkston, Wash. Complimentary shore excursions will be available in every port and include the cultural and historical landmarks that signify the living legacy of the region’s first settlers.  Travelers with specific interests are encouraged to enjoy the variety of Premium Experience Excursions such as the Walla Walla Wine Trail or   the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum. Daily lectures will also be provided by the Riverlorian, an onboard history and culture expert.

The American Empress was built in 2003 and operated by Majestic America Line from 2003 to 2008, sailing Alaska’s Inside Passage and the Pacific Northwest. Just as the American Queen brought luxury and grandeur to river cruising America’s heartland, the American Empress will do the same for the Pacific Northwest.

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