Charleston Harbor Tours

This post compares and reviews all of the different cruise companies operating around Charleston Harbor.

We hope that this post encourages you to visit and helps you decide which cruise company to use.

 

Charlston Harbor Cruises

 


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.

There are many companies leading both group and private cruises of the area. We decided to research Charleston harbor tours to help you decide which is the best one to take on your next visit to Charleston. 

Don’t forget that you could also explore Charleston’s Historic District on one of our pay-what-you-wish walking tours.

 


CHARLESTON HARBOR/SIGHTSEEING CRUISES

Though there are several different companies offering sightseeing cruises of Charleston Harbor, the 3 biggest are Charleston Harbor Tours, SpiritLine Cruises, and Adventure Harbor Tours. Two of these companies, Charleston Harbor Tours and SpiritLine Cruises, offer standard tours of Charleston Harbor departing several times daily.

Charleston Harbor Tours is best known for partnering with several other tourist attractions and therefore can offer great combo deals.

SpiritLine Cruises, on the other hand, offers a very highly reputed Dinner Cruise.

The third company, Adventure Harbor Tours, is the most highly rated outdoor activity on TripAdvisor and allows guests to bring their own booze on board, which attracts younger visitors. 


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! 

  • Adults – $28
  • Seniors/Military – $26.50
  • Children – $19
  • Children 3 and under – FREE
  • More info and to book.

Charleston Harbor Tours also sells Combo Packages, which combine a ticket to their Charleston Harbor Tour with another popular attraction or activity. Check out the Combos section of this page to learn more.

Reviews of Charleston Harbor Tours

Charleston Harbor Tours is an extremely popular company with many positive reviews, averaging 4.5 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. The only common complaint seems to be in regards to the food on board. However, this issue can be easily avoided by eating before or after the cruise. 


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 these 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. Tour depart 3-5 times daily, depending on the season. No tours run from December – February. 

  • Adults – $26
  • Seniors/Military – $24
  • Children – $16
  • Children 3 and under – FREE

Reviews: Though not quite as highly rated as their Dinner Cruise, the Charleston Harbor Tour by SpiritLine also receives positive reviews, averaging 4 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 this is not the opinion of most visitors. 


Adventure Harbor Tours 

Though Adventure Harbor Cruise specializes in private tours, they also offer a handful of public tours that run on the weekends. The Morris Island Boat Tour is a 2.5-hour adventure that brings guests to an island that is “unspoiled, undeveloped and undeniably the ecological jewel of Charleston Harbor.”

The entire tour lasts 2.5 hours, including 90 minutes on the island itself. Alternatively, guests can choose one of the “Mild” or “Wild” Sunset Cocktail Cruises. These 2 tours were originally one and the same, but when the company began allowing guests to bring personal coolers of adult beverages, the atmosphere on the cruise dramatically changed. 

To help keep a balance between family friendliness and fun, Adventure Harbor Cruise created the “Mild” and “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 

  • Adults – $55
  • Children – $30 
  • Children under 2 – FREE

“Wild” Sunset Cocktail Cruise

  • Adults – $33
  • Children – $25
  • Children under 2 – FREE

“Mild” Sunset Cocktail Cruise

  • Adults – $33
  • Children – $25
  • Children under 2 – FREE

Reviews: Adventure Harbor Tours receives excellent reviews and maintains an impressive 5 out of 5 stars 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.”

Thanks to the diversity of options, this company appeals to a wide range of audiences, which is reflected in the reviews themselves. Definitely a top option for those looking for a Charleston Harbor tour. 


Additional Charleston Harbor Tours 

Sandlapper

Sandlapper is another company offering tours around Charleston Harbor. Though their schedule is fairly limited and only offer private charters, they do run a History Tour, Nature Tour, Cocktail Cruise, and Haunted Harbor Ghost Tour seasonally. Check their website for more details.   

 

 


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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 2.5-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, which 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

Reviews: SpiritLine’s Dinner Cruise is especially highly regarded, with a 4.5 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. Some guests write that they were unhappy with the lack of guided narration on board.

However, SpirtLine’s Dinner Cruise is not a tour, per se, and so guests who would prefer onboard commentary should opt for the company’s day tour of Charleston Harbor instead. TripAdvisor Rating: 4.5 stars. 

 

 


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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 voice 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) 

  • Adults – $23
  • Seniors/Military – $21
  • Children – $15
  • Children under 3 – FREE

Sunset at Fort Sumter (departs Fridays at 5pm) 

  • Adults – $49 
  • Seniors – $47
  • Children – $36 
  • Children under 3 – FREE

Fort Sumter Tours also sells Combo Packages, which combine a ticket to Fort Sumter with another popular attraction or activity. Check out the Combos section of this page to learn more.

Reviews: History lovers all agree that this is a worthwhile tour with beautiful views and lots of interesting commentaries. The occasional negative review usually comes from a guest who either does not like history or who experienced poor weather. However, for the most part, guests write that they were very impressed with their experience with Fort Sumter Tours. TripAdvsior Rating: 4.5 stars. 


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COMBOS

Several different cruise companies offer combo packages featuring other popular tourist attractions. Guests interested in a cruise of Charleston Harbor as well as visit the South Caroline Aquarium, for example, should consider buying the two as a package to save money and avoid the extra hassle.

 

Fort Sumter Tours and Charleston Harbor Tour both promote a wide range of package tour deals. 


Fort Sumter Tours (GrayLine)

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

 

 


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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 service 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.

In addition to easy transportation to each of these amazing sites, as well as 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 boat 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 boat cruises. Private sailing tours, on the other hand, typically cost several hundred dollars, if not more.

Some of the highest-rated sailing tour companies in Charleston are:

We recommend checking out their websites for rates and setting up tours. 


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