The Portland Spirit operates a fleet of five ships, including the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler, and offer a variety of cruises including Champagne brunch, lunch, dinner, sightseeing and special holiday cruises. We are committed to excellence in river dining and serving locally-sourced Northwest cuisine prepared fresh on board.
American Waterways, Inc. (AWI) was founded in 1991 and its first project was a joint venture whale-watching cruise company called “San Juan Sealife Cruises” out of Everett, WA. In early 1994, AWI sold its share of San Juan Sealife Cruises and focused exclusively on the Portland market.
In March of 1994, AWI chartered the M/V “Star Dancer,” a 150-foot, 540-passenger vessel, from Pacific Marine of Hawaii and renamed the vessel the “Spirit of Portland.” The Star Dancer was sailed to Portland and was quickly remodeled and pressed into service in early May, 1994. The goal of AWI was to be the first dinner boat in the nation that gave each party a private table, live entertainment and freshly onboard prepared food. Sounds simple, but in 1994 it was revolutionary and extremely difficult to do. The first year of operation for the Spirit of Portland was difficult and on January 1, 1995 there was an ownership and name change to “Portland Spirit.” Since 1995, AWI has been a Portland family and employee-owned company.
AWI’s core business is to provide “Excellence in River Dining.” To accomplish our goal we have made a commitment that all dining vessels have completely independent galleys so that all food preparation and presentation is at the highest possible level. All of our vessels are beautifully appointed, temperature-controlled and offer extensive beverage options. The Willamette River is beautiful and the Portland skyline is spectacular from the water. Many of our employees have been with AWI for several years and about ten are owners of the company. Between the beautiful scenery, wonderful employees, fresh food, talented entertainment and modern vessels, we have all the ingredients for a great cruise experience.
In 1996, AWI had the M/Y “Willamette Star,” a 75-foot, 149-passenger yacht, custom-built in LaCrosse, WI by Skipperliner Industries. The Star was trucked out and assembled in Boardman, Oregon. The Star was designed to offer our clients more booking options and to provide small groups the opportunity to host exclusive events.
In 1997, AWI participated in the purchase of eight acres of downtown Portland waterfront at 110 SE Caruthers Street. Near OMSI, Caruthers Landing is home to the Portland Spirit, its maintenance facility, office building and dock.
In 1998, AWI completely remodeled all passenger areas of the M/V Portland Spirit. The $750,000 remodel added 40 seats and renewed the interior.
In December of 1998, AWI purchased the M/Y “Crystal Dolphin,” an 84-foot, 140-passenger yacht. In November of 1999, the M/Y Crystal Dolphin had a $250,000 remodel which completely upgraded all passenger spaces and galley.
In the winter of 2000, AWI built over 300 feet of full service dock at our SE Caruthers Street location. The dock provides 800 amps of electrical power, sewage pump-out, potable water, fuel and computer hookups.
In the winter of 2003, AWI cut the M/Y Willamette Star in half and extended her by 18 feet. The extension increased her seating from 65 to over 100. The Star was also completely remodeled during the extension project.
In the winter of 2004, the M/V Portland Spirit was repowered with new, environmentally friendly engines and generators. In the Spring of 2004, the jet boat “The Explorer” (previously named the “Outrageous”) was purchased from Lake Meade Cruises and started operations.
The Cinnamon Bear returned to Portland when AWI obtained the rights and launched our 1st annual Cinnamon Bear Cruises. The Cinnamon Bear has captured the hearts of children for over 70 years and in 2007 we published the first true children’s Cinnamon Bear book.
In the spring of 2006, AWI entered into a long term contract to operate the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler out of Cascade Locks. From 2007 to 2015, AWI has invested about 1.5 million dollars in the Cascade Locks operation. At the dock in Cascade Locks, we feature our land-based restaurant, “Locks Waterfront Grill.” Open seasonally, its menu features NW favorites, espresso and ice cream.
AWI has about 20 employees and performs about 2,000 cruises annually. We strive to make every cruise special. AWI is proud of how the Portland Spirit has become the centerpiece of downtown Portland’s waterfront and the Columbia Gorge Sternwheeler is the perfect way to view the heart of the Columbia Gorge national scenic area. Dedicated employees, great boats and beautiful rivers combine to make AWI a world class operation.