Washington DC Boat Tours | Which One is Best

This post compares the various boat tours and cruises, including dinner cruises, available in Washington, DC. Boat tours offer visitors a unique perspective of Washington, D.C. During a cruise, guests can enjoy some of the city’s many attractions including the memorials on the National Mall, Old Town Alexandria, and National Harbor. Most of the landmarks in and around our nation’s capital are only accessible on foot, so the cruises in this area focus on providing entertainment and sightseeing opportunities instead. If you want to learn more about the various sites in DC, consider one of our free walking tours as a substitute.

Rather than providing an interesting account of our nation’s history, these services often include meals and music. While some companies offer cruising options during the day, others focus their attention primarily on night tours. With so many different options, it can be difficult to pick the right excursion for your schedule. Taking this into account, we’ve decided to offer a comprehensive comparison of the boat tours and cruises offered in Washington DC. Prices range from $25-$40 for a boat tour and $80-$100 for dinner cruises.

 


Mount Vernon Cruises

Water Taxis

Deals and Discounts

 

 

Day/Night Sightseeing Boat Tours

Dinner + Lunch Cruises

Kayaks, Canoes + Paddleboards

 

 

 


SIGHTSEEING BOAT TOURS

There are several different riverboats that will take you down the Potomac river and provide a wonderful view of Washington DC’s greatest monuments from the water. Many of these tours are designed for large groups of people and they aren’t going to be very private. While some will offer commentary about the various monuments you can see from the river, others will play music and give you the opportunity to take some fantastic pictures. If you’re looking for an affordable and fun boat tour of the nation’s capital, consider one of the following services.

 


Potomac Riverboat Company 

As one of the largest boat tour companies in Washington DC, the Potomac Riverboat Company offers a huge variety of cruises that depart from multiple docks around the city. Ticket prices for all of their tours are between $25-$45 for adult round-trip fares, which is pretty reasonable. Pricing for water taxi and transportation services are similarly structured.  In fact, their sightseeing tour is really two water taxi rides.  If you have the Washington DC Go Card, the Washington Monuments Cruise from Potomac Riverboat Company is actually included for free with the Explorer Pass.

 

Potomac Riverboat Company DC

 

Reviews

Reviews and ratings for the Potomac Riverboat Company are typically very high. The company has received a 4 star rating on TripAdvisor, with most passengers reporting that they received excellent service.  PRC provides both tours and transportation services, each of which are highly rated.  The Potomac Riverboat Company is a popular choice for school field trips, so if you would prefer to avoid large crowds of children, make sure to call ahead and schedule your boat tour accordingly. Although there are a few negative reviews of the company here and there, most of them are based on random mistakes which do not appear to be habitual or recurring problems.

Washington Monuments Cruise

See many of the most notable monuments and memorials in DC from the water.  Operates from late March through October. Click here to view the schedule.

Departing From Alexandria/Georgetown (book here

Free with the Washington DC Go Card.

Monday – Thursday

  • $15 one way or $28 roundtrip – Adults
  • $9 one way or $28 roundtrip – Children

Friday – Sunday

  • $16 one way or $30 roundtrip – Adults
  • $10 one way or $17 roundtrip – Children

Cruise length is 45 minutes for a one-way trip and 90 minutes for round trip.

 

Departing From National Harbor/Gaylord Hotel (book here)

Free with the Washington DC Go Card.

Monday – Thursday

  • $17 one way or $32 roundtrip – Adults
  • $10 one way or $18 roundtrip – Children

Friday-Sunday

  • $18 one way or $34 roundtrip – Adults
  • $11 one way or $19 roundtrip – Children

Cruise length is 70 minutes for a one-way trip and 2 ½ hours for round trip.

 


DC Ducks 

The DC Ducks Tour provides guests with an interesting look at the most historically relevant locations in our nation’s capital.  Using World War 2 amphibious assault vehicles, this tour begins with a drive around downtown D.C. and then concludes with a brief cruise along the Potomac. All guests are given “quackers” upon boarding. If you’re looking for a boat tour you can take with your family, this might be your best bet. Save 10% by ordering your tickets online. 

 

 

Reviews

With an overall rating of 4 ½ stars, it’s fair to say that the DC Ducks Tour is one of the most popular tours in the area. Many passengers have said that this is an excellent option for families with children, as the quackers will give them something fun to do while they are learning about the history of Washington DC.  Unfortunately, there are some common complaints with this company. Many reviewers have reported that customer service from the DC Ducks Tour is sometimes questionable, and that they have had difficulty ensuring that their reservations were honored. Thankfully, most passengers have had a positive experience on the Duck tours, but it might be worth it to consider a backup plan if anything goes wrong with their schedule.

Tour Schedule and Pricing

DC Ducks provides service from March–October. Tours start every hour from 10 AM–4 PM.

Ticket Price:

  • $42 for Adults
  • $32 for Children

Tour Length:

  • 90 minutes

 


Capitol River Cruises

If you’re looking for a short cruise on the river, this is probably one of the most affordable options. In addition to historical narration, they also provide a refreshment bar with spirits, soda and snacks. While drifting down the Potomac, you’ll see and learn about locations such as The Washington Monument, The Lincoln Memorial and even the Kennedy Center.  This cruise is included for free with USA Guided Tour’s Discover DC Tour.

Reviews

Although this service is perhaps the most economical in Washington DC, reviews on TripAdvisor indicate that it may not be the best experience you could have on the river. It would appear that the old adage “you get what you pay for” still holds water, as customers complained about poor service and unimpressive narration.  This service seems to be best for saving money and to enjoy a short cruise on the water. Those who enjoyed their trip recommended a sunset tour in order to see the monuments and memorials in an entirely new light. Consider this option if you’re just looking for a short trip around our nation’s capital.

Tour Schedule and Pricing

Capitol River Cruises provides service from Spring–Fall. Save $2 per ticket by ordering online.

Tip: Often discount tickets could be found on discount sites such as GoldStar and Living Social.

Ticket Price:

Tour Length:

  • 45 minutes

 


DC Harbor Cruises

This company provides both a daytime and a sunset cruise on the National Harbor. Drift down the Potomac as you enjoy light narration and see all of the most significant monuments from the water. Each boat includes a refreshment bar and music, creating a relaxing atmosphere for sightseeing. Although you might not learn a lot while on this boat tour, you’ll still have the opportunity to see many important landmarks in Washington DC. Compared to similar services in our nation’s capital, ticket prices are a bit more expensive. Thankfully, DC Harbor Cruises regularly offers discounts through Groupon.

Reviews

With higher prices than usual, you would expect that this service would receive a good rating from their customers. It would appear that many guests have mixed feelings about DC Harbor Cruises. To be fair, most of their truly negative reviews were written several years ago, and more recent comments suggest that this company may have turned a new leaf. Those who enjoyed their experience proposed taking earlier tours to avoid large crowds. A majority of positive reviews were given during the spring, indicating that this might be the opportune time to enjoy a cruise in Washington DC.

Daytime Harbor Cruise

This excursion begins offering their services in March.

Ticket Price:

  • $38.50 per person

Tour Length:

  • 50 minutes

 

Sunset on the Harbor

This cruise also begins sailing in March.

Ticket Price:

  • $45 per person

Tour Length:

  • 90 minutes

 


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DINNER CRUISES

See the sights in Washington DC as you enjoy a wonderful meal while cruising down the Potomac. Several different companies offer dining cruises in our nation’s capital, and most of them are highly rated. Although you can expect music on many of these trips, some cruise ships simply play pre-recorded classics while others hire live musicians to play onboard. Services range from 3-course meals to buffet style dining. Prices range from $50-$60 for a lunch or brunch cruise and $80-$100 for a dinner cruise.

 

 


Odyssey Cruise

More elegant than many of the other cruises, the Odyssey is appropriate for those hoping to dress up and enjoy a leisurely evening cruise along the river. Alternatively, the Odyssey is also available for corporate events, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and school outings. This ship is larger than most, with the potential to provide comfort and luxury to hundreds of guests. Each cruise includes a three-course meal and live music. For around $100-$130 per person, you can experience everything that the Odyssey has to offer during one of their dinner cruises. They also offer Brunch and Lunch cruises at a much lower price.

Reviews

Odyssey Cruises has earned a 4 star rating on TripAdvisor, with most guests reporting that they had an excellent time.  Some reviewers were displeased with both the food and the service, stating that it was not worth the money. Considering that they offer live music in addition to the cruise and the dinner, the ticket prices for an Odyssey Cruise are actually quite fair. Although some passengers have reported an unimpressive experience, it would appear that this doesn’t happen very often.

All of these trips are offered pretty much year round. As long as they have enough passengers, the boat will disembark. Prices will fluctuate depending on when you book your ticket.

Dinner Cruise Ticket Prices: $108-$128 per person 

Length of Journey: 3 hours

Lunch Cruise Ticket Prices: $60-$65 per person

Length of Journey: 2 hours

Brunch Cruise Ticket Prices: $73-$80 per person

Length of Journey: 2 hours


Spirit Cruises

This cruise line is run by the same company that owns and operates Odyssey Cruises. However, there is actually a notable difference between the services. While Odyssey is more of a premium experience, Spirit Cruises focuses on providing a fun trip for all types of audiences. Instead of a three-course meal, you can expect a buffet with freshly prepared food. Live music is replaced with DJ music and interactive games. Tickets are much more affordable than some of the other dining cruises on our list.

Reviews

In comparison to their sister company, Spirit has a slightly less impressive rating of 3 ½ stars on TripAdvisor. While some have complained about a lack of servers, others have indicated that they received excellent service. Even those who didn’t enjoy the trip or the food had to admit that the view was quite spectacular. Guests who enjoyed their experience seem to disagree entirely with those who didn’t like the food or atmosphere. Families, couples and people on business trips were most likely to leave positive reviews.

Disembarkment depends upon how many people book tickets for a cruise. Prices fluctuate depending on when you purchase your ticket.

Dinner Cruise Ticket Prices: $88-$100 per person

Length of Journey: 3 hours

Lunch Cruise Ticket Prices: $50-$57 per person

Length of Journey: 2 hours

Brunch Cruise Ticket Prices: $57-$60 per person

Length of Journey: 2 hours

 


Dandy Restaurant Cruises

If you’d like to make a meal out of your cruise, then this is a great option. Guests can choose between brunch, lunch, and 3 or 4-course dinner cruises that travel alongside some of the most notable monuments and landmarks in Washington DC. The Dandy Dinner Boat also provides holiday cruises and charters for special events such as weddings or other group events. In addition to providing narration about various points of interests during their lunch cruise, they actually offer live music during their dinner cruises.

Prices will fluctuate depending on which cruise you take, but they tend to be fairly affordable. The standard lunch cruise is $50 per person and includes a three course meal. Using services like Goldstar, you can actually save quite a bit of money on these tickets.

Reviews

The Dandy Dinner Boat has earned 3 stars on both Yelp and TripAdvisor, with many guests reporting that they had a great time while on their 2 ½ hour cruise.As long as you aren’t expecting miracles to come out of their kitchen, most reviewers indicate that Dandy Restaurant Cruise is worth your time. Although their ratings may not be perfect, there is reason to believe that this service will meet your expectations. Many passengers enjoyed their experience with this company and recommend them for special trips.

Lunch Cruise

Monday–Friday: $50 per person

Saturday: $55 per person

Saturday Champagne Brunch: $60 per person

Length of Excursion: 2 ½ hours

 

Dinner Cruise

 

Sunday–Friday: $98 per person

Saturday: $108 per person

Length of Excursion: 3 hours

 


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MOUNT VERNON ESTATE CRUISES AND TOURS

Taking a cruise to and from Mount Vernon is a great alternative to the typical tours of our nation’s capital. Rather than bothering with a rental car or public transportation, a cruise will transport you directly to the plantation’s wharf, allowing you to enjoy the beauty of the Potomac River along the way. There are two different companies that offer tours to Mount Vernon. Ticket prices range from $42-$48 for adults and $18-$43 for children.  If a boat cruise isn’t for you, then consider an organized bus tour or taking mass transit to the estate, and be sure to read our guide to Mount Vernon Estate before you go.

 

 


Spirit of Mount Vernon Cruise

In addition to transportation to and from Mount Vernon (admission included), you’ll also learn a lot about the history of this area while on your cruise. The Spirit leaves from Pier 4 at 6th and Water St. SW, which is about a mile from the National Mall in Washington DC. The trip lasts approximately 1 ½ hours and departs from D.C. at 8:30 AM. You will arrive at Mount Vernon at 10 AM and spend about 3 hours at this historic location. The return cruise boards at 1:15 PM and will make its way back to Washington D.C. at 3 PM.  The cruises take place from March through October.

Reviews

Reviews for The Spirit of Mount Vernon are actually pretty good. There are only a few negative comments and they don’t appear to indicate any common issues. Ultimately, there are more positive comments than negative, so it’s safe to say that this company provides a reliable cruise. Several guests suggested that this is the best way to see Mount Vernon. Families and couples were the most likely groups to appreciate the trip.

Ticket Prices

 


Potomac Riverboat Company

This company offers a similar cruise that departs from Alexandria and National Harbor. The boat leaves Alexandria at 10:30 AM, and then stops at Gaylord National Hotel (11 AM) and National Harbor (11:10 AM). At 12 PM, the boat will arrive at Mount Vernon. The return trip boards at 4 PM, affording you and your group up to 4 hours at this historic estate.  As with the Spirit cruise, roundtrip fare includes the price of admission to Mount Vernon. Unlike their competitors, tickets are actually much cheaper for children. If you are bringing groups of more than 20 people, you can actually receive a discount on each ticket, making the cruise even more affordable. The Potomac Riverboat Company welcomes groups who are going on field trips, and they provide a lot of interesting historical information on the cruise.

Reviews

Reviews for their Mount Vernon service are very favorable, with only one customer suggesting that the trip wasn’t worth the price of admission. An overwhelming majority of guests were pleased with their experience. Some passengers felt that this was a pleasant and enjoyable way to visit such a historic location. As usual, families and couples were most likely to enjoy their cruise.

Ticket Prices

More info or to book.

Monday – Thursday

  • $31 one way or $42 roundtrip – Adults
  • $18 one way or $22 roundtrip – Children

Monday – Thursday

  • $17 one way or $32 roundtrip – Adults
  • $10 one way or $18 roundtrip – Children

Prices increase by $2 per ticket during weekends and $4 per ticket during holidays.

 


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WATER TAXIS 

Water taxis are an excellent and relaxing mode of transportation, especially if you need to get to and from Washington, DC, Old Town Alexandria, National Harbor.  However, water taxis are not a good method of transportation for getting around Washington, DC and the memorials and monuments of the National Mall.  In these cases, you should consider a guided bus tour or take our walking tours. Currently, there are two different companies offering this service. Expect ticket prices to range from $10-$30 per passenger.  Sometimes, a water taxi is also a tour and vice-versa.

 


Potomac Riverboat Company

In addition to their boat tours and service to Mount Vernon Estate, Potomac Riverboat Company is also the main water taxi company in the Washington DC area. They offer ferries to and from the National Mall, Alexandria and the National Harbor, making it fairly easy to get around our nation’s capital region. During baseball season, they also provide transportation to and from Nationals Park. Ticket prices are comparable to their boat tours, so you might want to consider that instead if you have the opportunity.  

Reviews

A majority of reviews for this water taxi service are very good. Although there were a couple negative comments, they didn’t indicate any recurring issues. Most passengers feel that this is an excellent method for getting around town. Others enjoyed the break from driving around and getting stuck in traffic. Even though some customers weren’t necessarily interested in a boat tour or sightseeing cruise, there were many comments about the beauty of a calm, quiet trip along the Potomac.

Ticket Prices

Round Trip from National Mall: $28 for Adults | $16 for Children

One Way from National Mall: $16 for Adults | $8 for Children

Round Trip from Alexandria/National Harbor: $16 for Adults | $10 for Children

One Way from Alexandria/National Harbor: $8 for Adults | $5 for Children

Round Trip to Nationals Park: $25 per person

One Way to/from Nationals Park: $20 per person

 


DC Water Taxi (DC Cruises)

When they aren’t offering several different party cruises, this company also provides water taxi services. Unfortunately, their water taxis are only available during the spring, making them far less accessible than their competitors. That being said, you might just find that DC Cruises is the more affordable option. If you’re visiting Washington DC in the springtime, we recommend comparing ticket prices between these two companies.

Ratings for DC Water Taxi are mixed. Some passengers appreciated the service, while others found it lacking. While there was one complaint, it didn’t seem to indicate a recurring problem. Even those who weren’t very impressed with their trip still felt that it was worth the money they paid. Positive comments suggest that they often offer discounts through Groupon, and that may be an excellent way to save even more money.

Ticket Prices

$20 for Adults | $10 for Children (5-16) | Children under 4 ride for free

Only Available in March and April

 


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KAYAK AND CANOE RENTALS

Although there aren’t a lot of Kayak and Canoe services, there is at least one worth mentioning. If you want to experience the Potomac from a closer perspective – just as our nation’s founders once did – a kayak tour might be in order. Even if you have to take your own self-guided tour of the Washington DC area, this kind of boating experience could be a lot more entertaining and educational than some of the other services you’ll find on this page.

 


Key Bridge Boathouse

Also known as Boating in DC, the Key Bridge Boathouse in Georgetown (map) rents out canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddle boards. Guests can take kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddle board lessons. In addition to offering classes and rentals, they also provide various boat tours around Washington DC. Discover the monuments either during the day or late at night on one of these fun and educational trips.

Reviews

This company currently enjoys a 4 ½ star rating on TripAdvisor. All but one of the reviews for this service are positive, indicating that few customers have had any major issues with Boating in DC. Most guests felt that their excursion was wonderful, while others stated that it was perfect for beginners. These boat tours were popular among pretty much every kind of audience.

Ticket Prices

Each of the following boat tours is $45 per person. Season Pass holders can save 50% on all tours. Expect each trip to last for approximately 90 minutes.

  • Cherry Blossom Tour
  • Daytime Monuments Tour
  • Full Moon Monuments Paddle
  • Capitol Riverfront Twilight Tour
  • Twilight Monuments Tour

 


Thompson Boat Center 

Ideal for adventurous travelers! Guests can rent kayaks, canoes, or bicycles by the hour or day.

 


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COMBO TICKETS AND DISCOUNTS

One of the most common ways to save money on various tours is by combining more than one ticket purchase. Some companies offer their own combo deals, while others provide tour passes at a discount. You can typically save between 20-40% on the cost of certain tickets, keeping room in your budget for other activities. Avoid paying full price by taking advantage of the following bargains.  If you want to learn more about this and other opportunities to save money on tours and fun activities in our nation’s capital, please visit our comparison of Washington DC tourist passes.

 


Go Washington DC Card

This is one of the most popular tourist passes, offering deals and discounts on various activities in major cities across the country. Although most of the options available through the Go Washington DC Card are not boat tours, they do offer one cruise from the Potomac Riverboat Company. If you’re interested in taking their Washington Monuments Cruise, this could be a great way to save money on tickets. With the Explorer Pass, you can choose this as one of either 3 or 5 activities for one flat price. Alternatively, you can also Build Your Own pass and save 20% off each ticket you purchase.

 


Capitol River Cruises

NOTE: This deal may not be valid for 2017.  Big Bus notified us that they will make their decision by April 2017.

Although they offer one of the shorter cruises in Washington DC, it’s worth pointing out that you can actually enjoy this boat tour as part of a combo deal. If you purchase a 24 or 48-hour ticket from Big Bus Tours or a Discover DC Tour with USA Guided Tours, the service from Capitol River Cruises is included for free. Anyone interested in both a hop-on, hop-off bus tour and a short cruise will want to consider this opportunity. This represents a savings of $15 for adult passengers and $7 for children.

Big Bus Tours Combo Ticket

  • 24-hour ticket + Cruise: $49 for Adults | $29 for Children
  • 48-hour ticket + Cruise: $59 for Adults | $35 for Children

 


Hometown Pass (Trusted Tours)

This deal is only available to residents of the Washington DC area, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. Whether you’ve got visitors coming from out of town or you just want to take someone on a tour without spending a lot of money, the Hometown Pass is a great deal. This tourist pass allows locals to take advantage of a B1G1 offer on four different activities in our nation’s capital. One of these activities is the DC Ducks tour, which means you can save 50% off a trip for two passengers. This represents a savings of $42 for adult guests and $32 for kids.

B1G1 Tours and Activities

  • 1-Day Old Town Trolley Tour
  • Monuments by Moonlight Tour
  • Arlington National Cemetery Tour
  • DC Ducks Tour

 

 

Boomerang Tours 

Boomerang Tours are party boat cruises with a DJ. Food and drinks are not included in the price of the ticket, but can be purchased on board.  Boomerang Tours also offers a treasure hunt pirate ship cruise meant for families during the day. At night, it becomes an Adult Party Boat.  Living Social has a deal for the pirate cruise for $12.

Boomerang Tours depart from Georgetown Waterfront.

LUXURY CRUISES

Most of the luxury cruises below are for private hire only where your group can have the entire ship to yourself, with or without meals. However, the Odyssey does give you the option to join others on public cruises with individual and small group tickets.

Potomac Belle  

Offers private yacht charters from Old Town Alexandria along the Potomac River. Best for groups, company events, or family reunions up to 35 persons. Guests are charged by the hour and there is a minimal rental time of 2 hours.

The Potomac Belle is a 59′ custom Bluewater yacht built in 1990.

Potomac Belle depart from Alexandria Waterfront.

Elite Yacht & Odyssey Cruises

Wharf Renovation Map

This company rents out private yachts by the hour for groups.

Elite Yacht & Odyssey Cruises depart from SW Washington Waterfront. Please note that as of 2016 this area is under construction but the dock remains open. Please confirm this is the correct location should that change.

Elite Yachts allow you to book an entire boat for whatever size your party may be. These private yachts can also include buffets or plated meals.

More elegant than many of the other cruises, the Odyssey is appropriate for those hoping to dress up and enjoy a leisurely evening cruise along the river. This option has brunch, lunch and dinner cruises on three levels as well as dance floors. Parties of 1-19 can book online, but larger groups much book separately.

You don’t have to book the entire boat so this is the better option for smaller groups. The Odyssey Cruise is one of the higher ranked boat cruises with positive reviews and many guests saying it was better than expected with great staff, food and lively bands.

 

DC Sail 

For those looking for a more unique experience, consider exploring the Potomac on a sail boat rather than a cruise! DC Sail, which also offers adult sailing lessons throughout the summer, offers a handful of sailboat tours every month. These do not run nearly as often as most of the other cruise companies, so if you are interested, be sure to check the calendar and book in advance.


 

 


How to Get to Georgetown Waterfront

The Georgetown Waterfront is easily accessible on foot or public transportation.

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 19.19.31

How to get to Georgetown Waterfront If you’re taking the Metro, you its an 18 minute walk from Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro Station (Blue/Orange/Silver).

Many of the major bus routes through Georgetown will take you down M Street NW, the main street of the neighborhood. Exit the bus/Circulator at one of the M Street stops and head south towards the river.

Along the Georgetown Waterfront, you can find many of the river cruise companies as well as the Key Bridge Boathouse, which is on the far end and also easily accessible from Rosslyn Metro by crossing the Key Bridge and Thomas Boat Center, which is on the closer end of the Waterfront to Foggy Bottom Metro Station.

As one of the older and more established waterfronts, you’ll find this a very popular option with many private boats in addition to cruise tours.

 

How to get to Alexandria Waterfront

Old Town Alexandria’s waterfront can be found at the end of King Street. While the King Street Station is at the other end of the historic downtown, there is a free trolley that runs the length of King Street.

How to get to Alexandria Waterfront

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