Charleston Harbor Tours

This post compares and reviews all of the different cruise companies operating around Charleston Harbor, providing details about ticket prices, services included and how long each outing will last.

Boat tours offer guests visiting Charleston a unique perspective of the city, as well as give visitors the chance to learn more about the famous sites dotting Charleston Harbor.

 


CHARLESTON HARBOR SIGHTSEEING CRUISES

This section will provide details about each of the sightseeing cruises available in the Charleston Harbor, including the length of the trip, ticket prices and a short review of each service.


Charleston Harbor Tours 

Charleston Harbor Tours offers a daily tour of the harbor and surrounding area on their Carolina Belle. The tour is 90 minutes long and features guided commentary by a professional USCG licensed captain. 

Depending on the time of year, tours run 2-4 times per day. Sites include Fort Sumter, St. Michael’s Church, stately homes on the Battery, and the occasional dolphin, among other things!

 

 

TIP: This company also sells combo packages and their cruise is included with the Charleston tour pass. Check out the discounts section of this page to learn more.

Charleston Harbor Tours is an extremely popular company with many positive reviews, averaging 4 ½ of 5 stars on TripAdvisor (read some of the reviews). 

Guests write that their experience was “well worth the time and money” and “a fun time on the water.” Several reviewers are especially impressed with the staff, who are praised for being personable and well organized.


SpiritLine Cruises (GrayLine)

Though most of the other tour companies feature recorded commentary or guided narration by the captain, SpiritLine Cruises is the only company to offer guests live narration by a licensed city tour guide. 

This means that guests receive very detailed information about the surrounding areas and visible attractions.

 

 

Included in this commentary are “notable American landmarks, such as Fort Sumter, the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, The Battery, the Ravenel Bridge, Castle Pinckney,” as well as several other sites. 

Tours depart 3-5 times daily, depending on the season and the tour lasts for about 1 ½ hours total. No tours run from December – February.

TIP: This cruise is included with the Charleston tour pass. Please check our discount section for more details.

Though not quite as highly rated as their Dinner Cruise, the Charleston Harbor Tour by SpiritLine also receives positive reviews, averaging 4 out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor. 

Most guests praise the interesting commentary and beautiful sites, though some write that they found the narration to be dry. However, these comments are infrequent, indicating that it’s not the opinion of most visitors.


Adventure Harbor Tours 

Though this company specializes in private tours, they also offer a handful of public tours that run on the weekends. 

The Morris Island Boat Tour is a 2 ½ hour adventure that brings guests to an island that is “unspoiled, undeveloped and undeniably the ecological jewel of Charleston Harbor.”

 

 

Alternatively, guests can choose one of the “Mild” or “Wild” Sunset Cocktail Cruises. The “Mild” cruise caters primarily to families and does not allow guests to bring their own booze, while the “Wild” one is BYOB friendly and entertains younger crowds (including many bachelorette parties!). 

Children are welcomed on both, though the Mild Sunset Cocktail Cruise is typically much more popular with families.

Morris Island Boat Tour

“Wild” Sunset Cocktail Cruise

“Mild” Sunset Cocktail Cruise

Adventure Harbor Tours receives excellent reviews and maintains an impressive 5 out of 5 star rating on TripAdvisor. 

In fact, of their nearly 1,000 reviews, less than 10 rate the company at 3 or fewer stars. Some even describe the tour as “the best thing ever” and “absolutely outstanding.”


Sandlapper

If you’re in the mood for a sunset cruise, but you’re not looking for a dining experience, this company offers a service that will take you out on the Charleston Harbor just as the sun goes down.

 

 

During this 2-hour tour, you’ll have the opportunity to see several landmarks from the water and enjoy native wildlife such as dolphins in their natural habitat.

Sandlapper Tours currently enjoys a 5 out of 5 star rating (read reviews here). Most guests report that the captain and tour guide are very knowledgeable about the area and they provide a lot of historical information about Charleston Harbor.

Many customers were pleased with the sunset, some reporting that the experience was both beautiful and peaceful.

 


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DINNER CRUISES

Those looking for a more luxurious experience should consider taking a dinner cruise of Charleston Harbor.

 

Currently, SpiritLine Cruises is the only company offering this service.


SpiritLine Cruises (GrayLine)

In addition to their standard Charleston Harbor Tours, SpiritLine Cruises also offers a daily dinner cruise. The price of a ticket includes a 3-4 course dinner, live nightly music, and a 2 ½ hour cruise with spectacular views of Charleston.

Guests can choose between Captain Seating (which is the normal arrangement with 4-6 people per table) or a private table that seats 2. 

There is also a full-service bar and additional amenities (such as flowers or sparkling wine), all of which is available for purchase.

  • Captain Seating (Monday – Thursday) -$60.60* per person
  • Captain Seating (Friday – Sunday) – $65.60 per person
  • Private Seating (Monday – Thursday)  – $151.20 per couple
  • Private Seating (Friday – Sunday) – $161.20 per couple

*Gratuity not included

Purchase tickets or learn more.

 

 

SpiritLine’s Dinner Cruise is especially highly regarded, with a 4 ½ out of 5 star rating on TripAdvisor. 

Guests describe the experience as “amazing”, “wonderful”, and “romantic.” The food also receives high marks, which is certainly not always the case with most dinner cruises.

 


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FORT SUMTER CRUISES

The very first shots of the Civil War were fired on Fort Sumter by Confederate forces who were outraged by Abraham Lincoln’s successful candidacy.

After a long night of carnage, Union soldiers were forced to abandon their post the very next day, thus beginning the bloodiest war in American history.

Today, guests can visit Fort Sumter to learn more about the incredible history of this tiny island. 

Read our post on Fort Sumter to learn more. 


Fort Sumter Tours

Though most cruises and boat tours pass by Fort Sumter, there is only one company to actually dock at the island. Fort Sumter Tours, which is an authorized National Park Service concessioner, offers 7 daily departures and 1 evening departure. 

Guests enjoy a 30-minute boat ride out to the island, during which time a pre-recorded audio guide discusses various points of interest, including the history of Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbor. 

Upon arrival, a National Park Ranger greets guests and offers a 10-minute overview of the island. Then guests are allowed 45-60 minutes to explore the fort and the museum on their own. 

 

 

Guests who opt for the Sunset at Fort Sumter Tour also get to enjoy tasty southern BBQ cuisine during the ride back. Though there is no guided tour around the fort, there are several signs noting points of interest.

Additionally, those who would prefer a guided tour of the museum can request one through Fort Sumter Tours for no additional cost.

Those who want to learn even more about Fort Sumter’s history should consider taking our Charleston Civil War Tour.

Fort Sumter Tour (departs 7 times daily) 

Sunset at Fort Sumter (departs Fridays at 5:00 pm) 

TIP: Fort Sumter Tours also sells combo packages and their basic service is included with the Charleston tour pass. Check out the discounts section of this page to learn more.

Fort Sumter Tours has an average rating of 4 ½ out of 5 stars on TripAdvisor. History lovers all agree that this is a worthwhile tour with beautiful views and lots of interesting commentaries.

 


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WATER TAXIS

Looking to enjoy beautiful views of Charleston from the water, but not interested in the guided commentary and price tag that comes with a traditional boat tour? Take advantage of Charleston’s Water Taxi!

 

 

The Water Taxi services 4 different locations: Aquarium Wharf/Maritime Center, Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina, and Waterfront Park/Market St/Historic District. 

Guests pay a flat fee of $12 (3 & under free) for an all-day pass to travel from any departure point as many times as you wish. 

Alternatively, you can also use the Charleston tour pass for admission to save some money. Please read our discounts section for more details.

In addition to easy transportation and beautiful views of the city, the Water Taxi promises guests the possibility of seeing dolphins along the way.

 


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SAILING TOURS

If a traditional cruise around Charleston Harbor doesn’t strike your fancy, you can opt to take a sailing tour instead. 

There are a handful of companies offering sailing tours of the area, ranging from 90-minute public tours to multi-day private and fully customized trips.

 

 

The public tours tend to be upwards of $50 per person, making them more expensive than other cruises. Private sailing tours, on the other hand, typically cost several hundred dollars, if not more.

Here are a few sailing tours you may want to consider:

Schooner Sailing Cruise

  • $49.82/Adults | $33.92/Children
  • Availability: Daily
  • Hours: 1 pm – 4 pm
  • Duration: 2 hours

Schooner Sunset Sail

  • $61.48/Adults | $44.52/Children
  • Availability: Daily
  • Hours: 5:30 pm – 7 pm
  • Duration: 2 hours

Sailing tours typically receive high ratings of around 4 ½ out of 5 stars (read reviews here). Most guests refer to this experience as a smooth and enjoyable ride, indicating their captain and crew are fun and professional.

 


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SPEEDBOAT CRUISE

If you’re looking for a more exciting trip out on the Charleston Harbor, consider heading out on a speedboat for a fun adventure!

While these excursions are definitely more about having fun, you’ll also receive live narration from a tour guide providing details about the area.

 

 

Best of all, you’ll have the opportunity to drive the boat yourself, as your guide will provide instructions for how to pilot the speedboat.

  • $75.84 per person
  • Must purchase tickets for at least 2 passengers
  • Availability: Daily
  • Hours: 9 am – 5 pm
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Purchase tickets or learn more.

TIP: This activity is included with the Charleston Tour Pass, allowing you to save money on admission. Please read our discounts section for more information.

Reviews for Charleston Speedboat Adventures are excellent with an overall rating of almost 5 out of 5 stars (read reviews here). 

Guests report that this is a fun cruise, with some customers saying it was the best money they spent during their entire vacation.

 


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DEALS AND DISCOUNTS

This section provides details about some of the best ways to save money on various Charleston Harbor cruises, including information about tourist passes, combo packages and more.


Tourist Passes

There is currently one tourist pass in this city which includes admission to multiple Charleston Harbor cruises – The Charleston Tour Pass.

This service is an all-inclusive pass, which provides access to over 40 different activities for a specific amount of time (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 days).

 

 

Depending on how you use the pass, you could easily save between 20% – 55% off general admission prices.

Here are the Charleston Harbor cruises and tours currently offered with this pass:

  • SpiritLine Charleston Harbor Tour | $26
  • Charleston Speedboat Adventures | $75.84
  • Charleston Harbor Tours | $31.80
  • Charleston Water Taxi | $12
  • Fort Sumter Tours | $23

In addition to these services, the Charleston Tour Pass also includes several fun activities and attractions such as the following:

  • Palmetto Carriage Works Tours | $28
  • Haunted Charleston Walking Tours | $30
  • Nathaniel Russell House Museum | $12
  • Charleston Tea Plantation | $12
  • Gray Line City Bus Tour | $24
  • Boone Hall Plantation | $24
  • And more!

As if that weren’t enough, this pass also includes additional discounts at local restaurants and breweries, allowing you to save even more money!

With prices starting at just $69, this pass would save you a few bucks even if you decided to use it only for the Speedboat cruise.

For more information, please read our post about Charleston tourist passes.


Combo Packages

If you’re only interested in a few activities, you may want to consider a combo package instead of a tourist pass. These packages typically include 2-3 attractions at a discounted price.

Fort Sumter Tours

Fort Sumter Tours offers 4 different combo packages. In addition to their standard cruise to Fort Sumter, guests can choose from an Old South Carriage Tour, USS Yorktown Tour, Gray Line Tour, or a visit to the South Carolina Aquarium. 

 

The Old South Carriage tour is a 60-minute tour that brings guests to all of the most famous sites in Charleston via carriage. To learn more about Charleston carriage tours, click here.

The Gray Line Tour takes guests around historic Charleston via bus and is 90 minutes long. For more on Charleston bus tours, click here

Combo packages to USS Yorktown and the South Carolina Aquarium include entrance tickets to those attractions.

Charleston Harbor Tours 

Though Charleston Harbor Tours only runs 1 type of tour, they offer many different combination packages. Like Fort Sumter Tours, they sell packages that feature Old South Carriage Tour and South Carolina Aquarium.

They also offer a combo Plantation Tour and Haunted Jail/Ghosts & Graveyards Tour and a very popular tri-combo tour that features Charleston Harbor Tours, Old South Carriage, and the Plantation Tour.

 For more on Charleston ghost tours, click here.


Discount Sites

If you’re just looking to save some money on one cruise, it’s worth checking sites such as Groupon and Living Social just to see if they have any deals.

In addition to any discounts they may offer to begin with, these services usually provide coupon codes you can use to save an extra 10% – 25% or more on local activities.

Before you purchase any tickets, make sure to check both the top and bottom of the page for banners that may include coupons you can use to save even more money.

 


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