Aboard Empress of the North

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There's no disputing it: The new 235-passenger Empress of the North holds its own among the plethora of megaships that seasonally ply Alaskan waters.

Size, obviously, has nothing to do with the splash the vessel is making on its inaugural sailing season.

No one -- on land or sea -- could have missed this colorful American West Steamboat Co. sternwheeler as it sliced through the waters of southeast Alaska on its inaugural cruise season.

The vessel's interiors are as distinctive as its exterior. Bedecked in jewel tones, public rooms feature plush couches and embroidered rocking chairs.

In short, this vessel is more of a floating inn than a floating hotel; it's gracious but not spacious. There is one dining room, one showroom, one lounge and a bar and grill on the top deck for casual lunches and continental breakfast.

Staterooms and suites are appointed with baroque lighting fixtures, lace curtains and richly embroidered furniture.

The Aug. 20 itinerary out of Juneau, only its second cruise, sailed at about 85% occupancy, with most guests ranging in age from about 50 to 85, but the majority in the 70- to 80-year-old range.

Many had sailed on an eclectic array of lines -- from Crystal to Radisson Seven Seas to Holland America. About half of the passengers, the line said, had sailed on the ship's sister, the Queen of the West.

The Empress of the North will reposition to Portland, Ore., on Sept. 21, where it will join its sister ship, the Queen of the West, for Columbia and Snake River itineraries in the fall.

To contact reporter Claudette Covey, send e-mail to [email protected].

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