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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Tour Schedule and Pricing Capitol River Cruises provides service from Spring-Fall. Save $2 per ticket by ordering online.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 a reason to believe that this service will meet your expectations. Many passengers enjoyed their experience with this company and recommend them for special trips.
Monday–Friday: $50 per person
Saturday: $55 per person
Saturday Champagne Brunch: $60 per person Length of Excursion: 2 ½ hours
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. 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. 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
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
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
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.
Boomerang Tours depart from Georgetown Waterfront.
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.
How to Get to Georgetown Waterfront
The Georgetown Waterfront is easily accessible on foot or public transportation.
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.
Canden is a historian and tour guide in Washington DC with 3 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 Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. Canden is the host 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 25 countries. Her two children (both under the age of 3) have their passports and own frequent flier accounts.