Chicago Boat Tours | Discounts and Cheap Rides

This post compares the best discounts on Chicago boat tours and cruises, including architecture cruises, sightseeing tours, speedboats, sailboats, kayaks, and water taxis.

 

 

Disclosure: We think you should consider our free tours, but we have also provided other options. While our recommendations are always unbiased, we may receive a small share of sales through some of the links below at no cost to you. See the full text.
 

OVERVIEW

There are a lot of different cruises and boat tours available in Chicago, and this post provides links to the discounts available for each tour in the sections listed below.

There are several different types of discount available which can help you save money in a variety of ways.

One of the most popular options is to purchase a tourist pass.

These services charge one flat price for access to dozens of popular attractions and activities, and they typically include at least a few cruises or boat tours.

Another option is to check popular discount sites like Groupon and LivingSocial to see if they are offering any deals on cruises or boat tours.

The advantage of these sites is they usually offer additional coupon codes to save even more money!

One of the most common discounts are group rates, and these special prices are only offered to people who are buying 20-40 tickets or more at once.

Some companies also offer discounts for seniors and military members, and there is at least one company that provides coupon codes.

If that’s not enough, there are a few cruise companies that also offer free drinks!

 


CHICAGO ARCHITECTURE TOUR DISCOUNTS

The windy city is home to the world’s first skyscraper, so it’s a pretty popular destination for anyone interested in the history of architecture.

There are currently 4 different ways to save money on an architecture boat tour in Chicago:

  • Free for kids
  • Tourist Pass
  • Group Rates
  • Discount Sites

 

Chicago River Boat Tours

 

You’ll enjoy the biggest possible discount by using a tourist pass but depending on when you check discount sites, you may find that they offer similarly excellent deals. 

For more details about these services, please read our full post covering Chicago Architecture Tours.


SHORELINE ARCHITECTURE CRUISE

This company also provides a cruise covering some of the more notable architectural feats in Chicago.

 

 

While you wind your way down the river, you’ll learn about the history of how this city recovered from the Great Fire of 1871 and see both older and newer examples of magnificent architecture.

Discover the role that architects such as Bertrand Goldberg, Jeanne Gang, and Mies van der Rohe played in creating the windy city that exists today.

Duration: 75 minutes

Prices

Location

This architectural cruise departs from either the Michigan Avenue or Navy Pier docks.

Discounts

The Shoreline company offers the following deals on its Architectural cruise.

  • Children 2 and under are free.
  • Free when you purchase the Chicago Go Card.
  • Special group rates offered to 20 or more visitors.
  • Get 10% – 20% or more off with Groupon/LivingSocial.

 


SIGHTSEEING CRUISE DISCOUNTS

These services are all about discovering Chicago and learning about its history. Anyone looking for excellent photo ops will want to consider a sightseeing cruise.

 

Shoreline Sightseeing Cruises Chicago

 

Most of these boat tours offer some kind of narration describing the significant landmarks in the areas you will visit.

There are a total of 5 different discounts available on the following sightseeing boat tours in Chicago:

  • Tourist Pass
  • Discount Sites
  • Group Rates
  • Free for Kids
  • Coupon Code

The best opportunity to save is probably to purchase a tourist pass, but you might be able to get a comparable deal using a discount site.


SHORELINE SIGHTSEEING CLASSIC LAKE TOUR

Shoreline has been offering tours since 1939, and their experience shows. We highly recommend this guided, historic sightseeing tour on Lake Michigan.

 

Lake Cruise Shoreline Sightseeing Chicago

 

You can bet that your guide will have more than a few jokes as they describe Chicago history through the current landmarks along the waterfront.

Duration: 40 minutes

Prices

Location

Classic Lake Michigan Tours depart from West Dock Navy Pier, 600 E Grand Ave, across from McDonald’s (map).

Discounts

If you’re looking to save money on this cruise, Shoreline offers the following deals:

  • Free with the purchase of the Chicago Go Card.
  • Special group rates available for 20 or more visitors.
  • Save 10% – 20% or more with Groupon/LivingSocial.
  • Children 2 and under are free.

KAYAK CHICAGO

Take a guided tour of Lake Michigan while paddling your own single or tandem kayak!

Perfect for beginners, this leisurely sightseeing experience offers top quality tours that Yelp users applaud for customer service and easily accommodating last-minute walk-ups.

 

Kayak Chicago River

 

They even allow dogs! This tour includes an orientation to paddling.

Duration: 2.5 hours

Price:

Discounts

This company doesn’t offer a lot of discounts, but they do have coupon codes every now and then, so we recommend checking their site to see whether or not there are even more deals available.

  • New for 2020: Get 10% off using the code Openair20.
  • Check Groupon/LivingSocial for potential additional discounts.

 


SPEED BOAT TOUR DISCOUNTS

Anyone looking for fun and excitement on the Chicago River will want to consider a Speed Boat cruise. These trips are more like a roller coaster ride than they are a boat tour.

As you ride through Chi-town at top speeds, you’ll see some of the most important landmarks in the city. Guides will usually point out significant sights as you enjoy a thrilling experience.

There are only 3 ways to save money on these Chicago boat tours as of right now:

  • Group Rates
  • Kids are Free
  • Dog Discount

While the last option is definitely the strangest discount of them all, group rates are probably the best way to save money on these speed boat tours.


SEADOG’S LAKEFRONT SPEEDBOAT TOUR

If you’re looking to have some moderate thrills as you do your sightseeing, and you don’t mind the wind in your hair, we recommend Seadog.  

 

 

Race through the water as you hear about the Windy City’s most famous landmarks along the shoreline.

Light and humorous, reviewers have a hard time knowing if they like the speed or the speeches more!

Beware: We see a pattern in the reviews of guests who are unhappy with the will call ticket option due to long lines.

We recommend buying E-tickets in advance, which saves you from the long line and can help ensure you get a great seat by showing up about 20 minutes in advance.

Duration: 30 Minutes

Price:

Location:

Depart from South Navy Pier, 600 E Grand Ave. (map). Look for the red & white ticket booth just across from the Ferris Wheel.

Discounts

The deals provided by this company are a bit different from what you’ll find with other services, but at least you’ll be able to save some money.

  • 15% off tickets if you bring your dog for the ride.
  • Special group rates offered for Skydeck Chicago.
  • Children 2 and under are free.

SEADOG’S EXTREME THRILL RIDE

Kicking it up a notch! There is nothing like the experience of racing across the Great Lake at 45mph!

Add full spins (360 degrees here we come!) and getting soaked, and you’ve got yourself a guaranteed thrill ride on Lake Michigan.

Like most attractions in Chicago, you want to book your tickets in advance and have them ready when you arrive to skip the long lines at the ticket booth. Seats are first to come, first serve, so show up early for the best seats.

Duration: 30 Minutes

Price:

Location:

Depart from South Navy Pier, 600 E Grand Ave (map). Look for the red & white ticket booth just across from the Ferris Wheel.

 


CHICAGO WATER TAXI 

If you don’t care about narration or tour guides, a water taxi might be the most affordable option on this list.

This cruise is more about transporting you from one location to the next, but you can typically enjoy a lot of wonderful views while on the boat.

 

Chicago Water Taxi

 

There are only 3 different discount opportunities currently available on Chicago water taxis:

  • Senior Discount
  • Military Discount
  • Disability Discount

If you fit any of these categories, you’ll be able to save at least 50% on tickets. However, military members undoubtedly get the best deal, as they ride for free!


THE CHICAGO WATER TAXI

For a fast and cheap cruise on the River, hopping on a water taxi can be a convenient way to travel for local commuters and travelers.

Many of Chicago’s popular attractions can be seen along these routes, and each of the station stops offer fantastic things to do, see, and eat.

 

 

While there are no guides on these boats, the sights are comparable to the ones on any of the sightseeing cruises listed above, and at a huge discount!

Duration: 15 to 30 minutes

Price Options:

Station Locations:

  • Ogilvie/Union Station (West Loop)
  • Michigan Avenue
  • LaSalle (River North)
  • Riverwalk Clark Street
  • North Avenue/Sheffield
  • Chinatown
  • Chicago Avenue

Discounts

There are a few deals available for senior citizens and members of the military. If this describes you, chances are you’ll be able to save a lot of money on tickets.

  • 50% off one-way tickets for Seniors & people w/ Disabilities.
  • Active Duty military w/ ID ride for free.

SHORELINE WATER TAXI SERVICE

Another affordable taxiing service is Shoreline, which offers a route on the lake as well as the river.

We like this service for their unique lake route, which is the cheapest way to view the skyline while on Lake Michigan; notably the Museum campuses.

 

 

Duration: 15-40 minutes, depending on the chosen route.

Schedule:

  • May through September
  • Taxis operate 10 am-6 pm, at least every 20 minutes

Price Options and Packages:

There are no reservations for Shoreline taxis, as they are a commuter service. Tickets can be bought on site.

Single Ride Extended River Route (Orange Line) | Lake Route (Green Line)

  • $8 – Adults 
  • $4 – Children

Single Ride River Route (Brown or Blue Line)

  • $6 – Adults
  • $3 – Children

Multi-Ride Pass (10 rides)

General $15

1-Day All Route Discount Pass

  • $23 – Adult
  • $11 – Children

2-Day All Route Discount Pass

  • $29 – Adult
  • $14 – Children

Station Locations:

  • Union Station/Willis Tower
  • Navy Pier
  • Museum Campus
  • Michigan Avenue

 


NIGHT BOAT TOURS AND FIREWORK CRUISE DISCOUNTS

Like most metropolitan cities, Chicago looks entirely different after dark.

Several cruise companies offer services at night, allowing you to get a good look at the lights from the city while you’re drifting down the river.

Some of these opportunities are only offered during the summer months, but they often include fireworks.

There are currently 3 different discounts available for the following Chicago night boat tours:

  • Group Rates
  • Discount Sites
  • Kids are Free

If you’re looking for the best opportunity to save money on a night boat tour or cruise, discount sites will likely provide your best chance at a good deal.

Major discount sites tend to feature all the latest fireworks and holiday cruises.

Depending on whether or not they have additional coupon codes, you could end up saving even more than you would with group rates.


SHORELINE LAKE FIREWORK TOUR

Enjoy impressive views of Chicago’s skyline from Lake Michigan, with an uninterrupted view of the weekly fireworks display.

Tour-goers love to watch the reflection of the lights on the water, as well as the buildings!

 

 

Reviewers say to arrive at least 15 minutes prior to the tour’s start time, and this is well worth the money!

For a few extra dollars, many reviewers recommend taking Shoreline’s nighttime architecture fireworks tour (see below) which includes a guided view of the river.

Times:

Seasonal, May-September only.  

  • Saturdays 9:30 pm
  • Wednesdays 9:00 pm  

Duration: 60 minutes

Price(s):

Location:

Departs from Navy Pier West Dock, 600 E Grand Ave (map)

Discounts

As with their other services, the following deals are also available for their night/firework cruises.

  • Special group rates available for 20 or more visitors.
  • Save 10% – 20% or more with Groupon/LivingSocial.
  • Children 2 and under are free.

SHORELINE ARCHITECTURE FIREWORK TOUR

Get all of the information on a daytime architecture tour, with an added grand finale: seeing fireworks on the lake!

Whether you depart from Navy Pier or Michigan Avenue, you’ll tour the main and south branch of the Chicago River before traveling out onto the Great Lake for the best view of the weekly fireworks display.

Pro tip: Don’t forget your camera! Even though it is nighttime, the lights of the city offer perfect photo opportunities. You’ll have your postcard-worthy photo in no time!

Times:

Seasonal, May-September only. 

  • Saturdays 9:00 pm
  • Wednesdays 8:15 pm  

Duration: 90 minutes

Price(s):

Location:

Depart from one of two locations:

  • Navy Pier Entrance, Polk Bros Park. GPS: 600 E Grand Ave
  • Michigan Avenue Bridge (NE corner). GPS: 401 Michigan Ave

WINDY CITY SAILING

Windy City Sailing has led private yacht tours for 18 years, and recently added fireworks and special event packages.

Pro tip: Once the yacht is out of the harbor, ask for a chance to drive!

Duration: Flexible, minimum of 3 hours

Price:

$230-350 Hourly Rates

  • The Nebula, a 40-foot sloop-rig Beneteau sailboat

Discounts

This company offers a few different deals on their night/fireworks cruises that you may want to consider.

  • Group Discounts: 10% off for 20-39 people.
  • Group Discount: 15% off for 40-59 people.
  • Group Discount: 20% off for 60 or more people.
  • Check Groupon/LivingSocial to save 10% – 20% or more.

CHICAGO SAILBOAT CHARTERS  (NIGHTTIME OR FIREWORKS)

Want to try something different with friends, or surprise your significant other? Why not charter a sailboat and watch the fireworks on the lake!

Pack a picnic basket full of romantic food (BYoB) and watch the skyline light up. Don’t forget your camera!

Pro tip: While it might be tempting to wear flip-flops, for comfort and safety consider wearing non-slip shoes.

Fireworks: Wednesday and Saturday evenings, May through September.

Duration: Flexible, minimum of 3 hours

Price:

$130-350 Hourly Rates based on vessel size and number of passengers:

  • Sporting (31’, 1-6 passengers)
  • Large (36’, up to 8 passengers)
  • Luxury (39’, up to 11 passengers )
  • Call 773-236-7245 for booking questions and special events.

Location: 400 W Belmont Harbor Dr

Discounts

This company changes their deals quite frequently, so we recommend checking their website to see what is currently available.

 


LUNCH AND DINNER CRUISE DISCOUNTS

In addition to the various night tours offered on Lake Michigan, you’ll also find a nice selection of dinner cruises as well.

Instead of focusing on the excitement of a fireworks show, this boat trip is all about enjoying a meal while you drift alongside the city and experience the skyline in style.

There are a total of 3 different ways to save money on lunch and dinner cruises in Chicago:

  • Group Rates
  • Military Discount
  • Free Drink

Although the discounts available for these services aren’t always big, even 10% – 20% off a cruise that costs $100 on average is going to be a pretty good deal.

It’s also worth noting that the free drink offer from each cruise company is likely one of the easiest discounts to enjoy.


Odyssey Cruises

This is one of the most popular cruise companies in the United States. Their Chicago branch offers lunch, brunch, and dinner cruises.

The earlier the trip, the less you will pay for a ticket.

 

 

Most of their excursions include a three-course plated meal and wonderful music curated by an onboard DJ.

In comparison to their competition, this is definitely one of the more classy experiences you’ll have on Lake Michigan. Odyssey offers service pretty much year-round.

As one of the premiere cruise services in the Windy City, it shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise that they have earned a 4-star rating on TripAdvisor.

Although there are a few negative reviews, most customers were more than pleased with their trip.

Unhappy customers typically complained of uncommon issues that don’t represent the typical experience with Odyssey Cruises.

A majority of reviews came from passengers who were very impressed with the quality of the cruise ship and the views at night in Chicago.

This dinner cruise is very popular with couples.

Discounts

There are a few different deals available when you cruise with this company, including opportunities to save on other popular activities.

  • Members of the Military will receive special rates w/ ID.
  • Get discounted group rates at Skydeck Chicago.
  • Receive 1 complimentary premium drink when you check in on Yelp.

Lunch Cruise

Ticket Price: $79 for Adults | $61 for Children

Duration: 2 hours

Schedule and more information


Brunch Cruise 

Ticket Price: $98 for Adults | $73 for Children

Duration: 2 hours

Schedule and more information


Dinner Cruise Pricing

Champagne Weekday Dinner Cruise: $109.90 for Adults and Children
Champagne Weekend Dinner Cruise: $129.90 for Adults and Children
Prix Fixe Weekday Dinner Cruise: $64.90 for Adults and Children
Prix Fixe Weekend Dinner Cruise: $72.90 for Adults | $43.95 for Children

Duration: 3 hours

Schedule and more information


Spirit Cruises

Although this cruise line is owned and operated by the same company as Odyssey, they actually offer a somewhat different experience.

Instead of a three-course plated meal, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a nice buffet while drifting along Lake Michigan.

In addition, they also provide entertainment in the form of DJ music and interactive games.

Unlike their classy counterpart, this service is all about having fun with friends and family.

Spirit offers lunch, brunch, and dinner cruises fairly often. Ticket prices are typically more affordable for these excursions.

Despite the differences between Odyssey and Spirit Cruises, this company has also received a 4-star rating on TripAdvisor.

There aren’t many negative reviews to speak of, but it’s worth noting that some passengers were unhappy with either the food or the customer service.

Thankfully, these comments do not represent the typical experience with their cruises.

An overwhelming majority of reviewers were very pleased with their trip, stating that the meal and entertainment they received were both excellent. 

Discounts

Much like the other dinner cruise companies on our list, this company also offers a variety of deals.

  • Military w/ ID will receive special rates.
  • Discounted group rates at Skydeck Chicago.
  • Get 1 complimentary premium drink by checking in on Yelp.

Lunch Cruise 

Ticket Price: $52.90 for Adults | $31.95 for Children

Duration: 2 hours

Schedule and more information


Dinner Cruise Pricing

Weekday: $89.90 for Adults and Children
Saturday: $104.90 for Adults and Children
Sunday: $79.90 for Adults | $47.95 for Children

Duration: 2 ½ – 3 hours

Schedule and more information


Hornblower Cruises (Formerly Mystic Blue Cruises)

This service is actually very similar to what you’ll find from Spirit Cruises.

Hornblower also offers a dinner buffet and DJ music on their excursions. After enjoying a meal, you can have fun on the dance floor with your friends or close ones.

Anyone looking for a more casual experience out on Lake Michigan will want to consider this option.

Once again, you can expect them to provide lunch, brunch, and dinner cruises almost all year round.

Prices are on par with the other dining cruises offered in Chicago.

Unlike the services offered by their sister companies, Hornblower Cruises enjoys a slightly better rating of 4 ½ stars on TripAdvisor.

They have only received a couple of negative reviews, and the comments provided indicate that these customers were looking for a classier experience.

Those who were looking for a casual dinner cruise actually enjoyed themselves quite a bit, giving high praise to their staff and the entertainment provided.

This boat trip was especially well-rated by couples and guests with business partners.

Discounts

The deals offered by this company are very similar to what you’ll find with their competitors.

  • Military members will receive special rates w/ ID.
  • Check in on Yelp to receive one free premium drink.

Lunch Cruise 

Ticket Prices: $52.90 for Adults | $31.95 for Children

Duration: 2 hours


Brunch Cruise 

Ticket Prices: $57.90 for Adults | $34.95 for Children

Duration: 2 hours


Dinner Cruise 

Weekday: $84.90 for Adults and Children
Saturday: $104.90 for Adults and Children
Sunday: $79.90 for Adults | $47.95 for Children

Duration: 2 ½ – 3 hours

 


CHICAGO SAILBOAT AND KAYAK TOURS

When it comes to rest and relaxation, few boat tours are going to be as inviting as a sailboat. What better place to sail than the Windy City?

Enjoy the sights and sounds as you drift around the Chicago River in comfort.

There are 4 types of discounts available on sailing and kayak adventures in the Chicago area:

  • Tourist Pass
  • Group Rates
  • Discount Sites
  • Coupon Code

Without question, you’ll get the best possible deal on this service by using a tourist pass. That said, you may also find a similarly excellent deal on a discount site.


TALL SHIP WINDY

A true gem on the lake, Tall Ship Windy, and its billowing sails, have all the allure of a pirate ship with modern conveniences to make your experience memorable.

Recent passengers say this is the most family-friendly experience they had on Navy Pier. Kids love the pirate ship, and adults love the full bar!

Pro tip: Don’t have the time or the budget to board Tall Ship Windy? While visiting Navy Pier you can get up close and personal to admire its beauty while it is docked between tours.

Navy Pier offers many free and cheap activities for families on a budget.

Tour Theme Options:

  • Lakeside Architecture Sail
  • Real Pirates of the Inland Seas
  • Sunset Skyline Sail
  • A Sailor’s Life for Me!
  • Spirit Ships and Haunted Harbor

Duration: 75 minutes (arrive 30 minutes prior for boarding)

Check the current schedule.

Price:

  • $30 – Adult
  • $10 – Child (under 13)

Location: Navy Pier, 600 E Grand Ave

Discounts

There is at least one additional opportunity to save money on these outings in addition to the deals you can also get on their night/firework cruises.

  • Enjoy this cruise for free with the Go Chicago Card.
  • Group Discounts: 10% off for 20-39 people.
  • Group Discount: 15% off for 40-59 people.
  • Group Discount: 20% off for 60 or more people.
  • Check Groupon/LivingSocial to save 10% – 20% or more.

CHICAGO SAILBOAT CHARTERS (DAYTIME)

Looking to set sail privately? Consider these sailboat rentals, complete with your own Captain!

Highly rated for their customer service, your group can sail along our world-renowned shoreline knowing you are in good hands.

Pro tip: Don’t forget the cheese and wine! Charters allow snacks, including alcohol, onboard. Cups and ice provided.

Duration: Flexible, minimum of 3 hours

Price Range:

$130-350 Hourly Rates based on vessel size and number of passengers.

Discounts

This company frequently changes up their deals from one season to the next, so we recommend checking their website to see what’s available when you plan to go for a sail.

 


CHICAGO KAYAKS

If you’re looking for a more unique trip down the Chicago River, it’s hard to beat a kayak tour!

Renting a kayak will get you closer to the water than any other option on our list.

You’ll also get a good workout while traveling around the city and enjoying wonderful views.

There are currently two different ways to save money on this type of service:

  • Coupon Codes
  • Discount Sites

The best option may in fact be discount sites, as they often offer additional coupon codes that you could use to save even more than usual!


KAYAK CHICAGO

Whether you want a guided tour of Lake Michigan, an Architectural tour on the Chicago River, or rent out a kayak (single or tandem!) for the day, Kayak Chicago is a company you can trust.

Pro tip: Choosing to ride tandem (two people, one kayak) saves you $10 off of the regular price of two kayaks, and allows one person to paddle while the other has their hands free to take photos!  

Prices for Rentals:

Price includes kayak, paddle, personal flotation device, brief instruction

  • Single $20/hr
  • Double $30 /hr or $80/day

No reservations needed. Questions? Call (312) 852-9258

Discounts

If you’re looking to save money on this service, make sure to consider the following deals.

  • New for 2020: Save 10% off tickets with code Openair20.
  • Check Groupon/LivingSocial to see if they are currently offering any additional discounts.

 


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About the author

Manager | Chicago & Los Angeles

Mel loves to be a tourist in her own city. With a background in performing arts, tourism, and photography, giving tours and being a story-teller comes naturally to her. She loves traveling, food, and theatre. Mel splits her time between Chicago and Los Angeles (#theatrelife) and leads tours and manages both cities!