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Washington DC Boat Tours | Which One is Best

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This post compares the various boat tours and cruises, including dinner cruises, available in Washington, DC. to help you decide which, if any, is best for you. 

This post was updated June 26th, 2021 - many cruises are running for 2021 Summer season! 

 


 

Overview

Boat tours offer you a unique perspective of Washington, D.C. During a cruise, you can enjoy unique views of some of the city's many attractions including the memorials on the National Mall, Old Town Alexandria, and National Harbor.

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.

 


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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.

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 photographs.

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 

The Potomac Riverboat Company offers a large variety of cruises that depart from multiple docks around the city, Alexandria, VA, and the National Harbor in Maryland.

 

Potomac Riverboat Company DC

 

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.  

Washington Monuments Cruise

See many of the most notable monuments and memorials in DC from the water. Operates from late March through October. 

Departing from Alexandria, VA, and Georgetown in Washington, DC. 

Friday - Sunday

  • Adults: $18 One Way | $32 Round Trip
  • Children: $12 One Way | $20 Round Trip
  • Senior/Military: $16 One Way | $29 Round Trip
  • Free for kids under 3

Purchase tickets or learn more.

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

Reviews

Reviews and ratings for the Potomac Riverboat Company are typically very good. The company has received a 4 out of 5-star rating on TripAdvisor.

Some services have better or worse review profiles, so we link to each one below.  


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.

This cruise is included for free with USA Guided Tour's Discover DC Tour.

In addition to the cruise, you'll also receive reserved access to the White House Visitor Center, a walking tour of Washington's monuments, and reserved access to the International Spy Museum.

 


Tour Schedule and Pricing

Capitol River Cruises provides service from Spring-Fall. Tours are offered daily starting at 12 pm and every hour on the hour afterward.

The last tour is at either 7 pm or 8 pm depending on the season. This is their sunset cruise!

Ticket Price:

  • $20 for Adults
  • $10 for Children
  • Taxes not included
  • Book here.

Tour Length:

  • 45 minutes

Reviews

Although this service is perhaps the most economical in Washington DC, reviews on TripAdvisor (read the reviews) indicate that it may not be the best experience you could have on the river.

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. 


DC Harbor Cruises

This company provides both a daytime and a sunset cruise on the National Harbor. Each boat includes a refreshment bar and music, creating a relaxing atmosphere for sightseeing. 

Reviews

It would appear that many guests have mixed feelings about DC Harbor Cruises (read the reviews).

It is a budget option if you're looking for an inexpensive way to cruise the Harbor, you can get tickets here.

NOTE: This service does not appear to be available as of June 2021. We are not sure when or if it will return to service following the pandemic.

 


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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.

*SOME OF THESE WASHINGTON DC BOAT TOURS ARE RUNNING IN 2021**

Dinner Cruise Ticket Prices: $102+ per person 

Length of Journey: 3 hours

BOOK TICKETS HERE

Lunch Cruise Ticket Prices: $69+ per person

Length of Journey: 2 hours

Brunch Cruise Ticket Prices: $110+ per person

Length of Journey: 2 hours

BOOK TICKETS HERE


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.

Sunset Dinner Cruise Ticket Prices: from $139 per person

Length of Journey: 3 hours

BOOK TICKETS HERE

Lunch Cruise Ticket Prices: $69+ per person

Length of Journey: 2 hours

BOOK TICKETS HERE

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

Length of Journey: 2 hours

NOTE: Some of these cruises are unavailable as of June 2021. We are unsure when they will return to service, but our recommendation is to check and see if the cruise you want to take is available before giving up on the idea.

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.

 


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MOUNT VERNON ESTATE CRUISES

**THESE WASHINGTON DC BOAT TOURS ARE RUNNING AS OF JUNE 2021**

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.

One company's service, the Spirit of Mount Vernon Cruise, is already included for free with the DC Sightseeing Pass.

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 (15:00).  The cruises take place from March through October.

Ticket Prices

This excursion is already included for free with the DC Sightseeing Pass.

Reviews

Reviews for The Spirit of Mount Vernon are actually pretty good, averaging almost 5 out of 5-stars on TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (read the reviews).


Potomac Riverboat Company

This company offers a similar cruise that departs from Alexandria and National Harbor, making stops at the Gaylord Hotel and National Harbor before arriving at 12:00 pm at Mt. Vernon Estate.

The return trip boards at 4 pm (16:00), affording you up to 4 hours at this historic plantation. As with the Spirit cruise, roundtrip fare includes the price of admission to Mount Vernon.

Ticket Prices

  • $50 for Adults
  • $29 for Children
  • $45 for Seniors
  • Kids under 2 ride free

More info or to book.

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

Reviews

Reviews for their Mount Vernon service are very favorable, averaging almost 5 out of 5-stars rating on TripAdvisor and Viator (read the reviews).

 


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DC 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.   

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 Wharf in the southwest of DC, 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.  

Ticket Prices

Round Trip from National Mall:

  • $31 for Adults
  • $22 for Children
  • $28 for Seniors/Military

One Way from National Mall:

  • $18 for Adults
  • $13 for Children
  • $16 for Seniors/Military

Round Trip from Alexandria/National Harbor:

  • $24 for Adults
  • $17 for Children
  • $22 for Seniors/Military

One Way from Alexandria/National Harbor:

  • $15 for Adults
  • $11 for Children
  • $14 for Seniors/Military

NOTE: Service to Nationals Park is not currently being offered as of June 2021.

Reviews

A majority of reviews for this water taxi service are very good. Although there were a couple of 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.


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

  • $26 for Adults
  • $13 for Children (5-16)
  • $23 for Seniors/Students/Government Workers
  • Children under 4 ride for free

Only Available in March and April

 


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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.

 


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DC Sail 

For those looking for a more unique experience, consider exploring the Potomac on a sailboat 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.

 

 


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How to Get to Georgetown Waterfront

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

 

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How to get to Georgetown Waterfront

If you're taking the Metro, it's 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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About The Author

Canden Arciniega

Canden is a historian and tour guide in Washington DC with 4 published books about the city. She has written for HuffPost Travel and has been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. She's also been interviewed by the BBC, NPR, Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. Canden is the producer of our podcast, Tour Guide Tell All With a M.A. in History from University College London and a B.A. in History from Elon University, she is an authority on D.C. history, and has led tours in the city for over 10 years. She currently resides in DC, but has also lived in London and South Korea, and has travelled to 28 countries. Her two children (both under the age of 4) have their passports and own frequent flier accounts.
Updated: October 6th, 2021
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