Which Charleston, SC Boat Tours Are Best?

Updated: 22 diciembre 2023

This post covers some of the best ways to save money on Charleston Harbor cruises and tours.

We also include important details about how to get affordable tickets for these Charleston boat tours and cruises.


OVERVIEW

There are several different types of cruises and boat tours in Charleston, South Carolina, that will enable you to fully appreciate the beauty of the Charleston Harbor.

And in addition to providing basic details about these services, we will also be offering tips on how to save money on admission.

Each section will include a breakdown of the types of discounts available.

One of the most popular options is to purchase a tourist pass, which allows you to pay one flat price for access to dozens of activities.

Charleston Boat Tours

There are also discounts for seniors, military, and children, so if you're planning to take a cruise with your family, this could be an excellent way to save money on admission.

In addition to these deals, there are also services listed on popular discount sites like Groupon and LivingSocial.

These services typically offer additional coupon codes to help you save even more.

Alternatively, you may also want to consider taking advantage of a combo package.

Some companies offer packages that include their cruises and other sightseeing tours or activities at a more affordable price when they are bundled together.

If you're planning to enjoy multiple tours or attractions in Charleston, this might be a good opportunity to pay less for all of your tickets.

Another way to save money is with group discounts, which allow you to pay less per person when you get admission for at least 15 people.

No matter which method you use, we definitely recommend using at least one of these deals to lower costs for Charleston cruises.

Although there currently aren't any teacher discounts or student discounts, you might want to call ahead and ask about these potential savings before buying admission.

We also recommend checking for AAA discounts if you are a member.


CHARLESTON HARBOR SIGHTSEEING CRUISES

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

There are currently 6 ways to pay less for Charleston Sightseeing Cruises:

  • Senior Discount
  • Children's Discount
  • Free for Kids Under 3
  • Combo Packages
  • Tourist Pass
  • Discount Sites

You can save up to 40% off using a tourist pass, making it one of the biggest possible discounts on any of these cruises.

Discount sites and combo packages will also provide decent savings.

Boats at the docks in the harbor of Charleston. Image source: Pixabay user Chris Collins.
Boats at the docks in the harbor of Charleston. Image source: Pixabay user Chris Collins.

When is the best time of year to take a cruise in Charleston?

The temperatures out on the water can be up to 10 degrees lower than on land, so it's recommended to come during the warmer months (March - September).

How long is a boat tour of the harbor in Charleston?

The average cruise around the harbor will last 90 minutes, but some are as long as 2-3 hours in duration.

How much is a boat tour in Charleston, SC?

These services typically cost between $30-$60 per person for the basic harbor outing, but dinner cruises can run from $60-$120 each.


Charleston Harbor Tours

This company 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.

Sights include St. Michael’s Church, stately homes on the Battery, and the occasional dolphin, among other things!


Prices

Descuentos

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 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.


Prices

Descuentos

  • Children 3 and under ride for free.
  • Admission for children aged 4-11 are $12 off.
  • Seniors are eligible for a $2 discount.
  • Included on the Charleston Tour Pass.

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 tour 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 customers 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

Descuentos

  • Kids under 2 ride for free.
  • Children's admission is between $8 - $25 off.

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 rates the company at 3 or fewer stars.

Some even describe the tour as “the best thing ever” and “absolutely outstanding.”


Sandlapper Water Tours

If you’re in the mood for a sunset cruise, but you’re not looking for a dining experience, this tour 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 historical landmarks from the water and enjoy native wildlife such as dolphins in their natural habitat.


Prices

Descuentos

  • Kids under 2 ride for free.
  • Children's tickets are $15 off.
  • Included on Discount Sites like Groupon and LivingSocial.
  • Combo Packages are available including your choice of a cruise and a bus tour, walking tour, or plantation excursion.

Sandlapper Tours currently enjoys a 5 out of 5-star rating (read reviews here).

Most customers report that the captain and tour guide are very knowledgeable about the area and they provide a lot of historical information about Harbor of Charleston, SC.

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


DINNER CRUISES

Those looking for a more luxurious experience should consider taking a dinner cruise of the harbor in Charleston.

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

There is currently only one way to save money on these outings, and that is by taking advantage of group rates.


SpiritLine Cruises (GrayLine)

In addition to their standard tours of the harbor in Charleston, SpiritLine Cruises also offers a daily dinner cruise.

The price of admission includes a 3-4 course dinner, live nightly music, and a 2 ½ hour cruise with spectacular views of Charleston, SC.

Passengers 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.


Prices

Descuentos

  • The following group rates apply when you purchase admission for parties of 15 or more.
    • $62.95 per person | Monday - Thursday
    • $71.21 per person | Friday - Sunday

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

Passengers describe the experience as “amazing”, “wonderful”, and “romantic.”

The food also receives high marks, which is certainly not always the case with similar services.


FORT SUMTER CRUISES

The very first shots of the Civil War were fired on this historic fort 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 this important location to learn more about the incredible history of this tiny island. 

There are currently 6 discounts available for this tour, including the following deals:

  • Free for Kids under 3
  • Children's Discount
  • Senior Discount
  • Military Discount
  • Tourist Pass
  • Combo Packages

The tourist pass can save you up to 40% off on admission, making it the best discount available. The combo packages are another great way to save a good chunk of change.

Read our post on Fort Sumter to learn more. 

Fort Sumter Tours

Though most cruises and boat tours pass by this landmark, there is only one company to actually docks at the island.

This authorized National Park Service concessioner, offers 7 daily departures and 1 evening departure. 

Passengers 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 the fort and Charleston Harbor. 

Upon arrival, a National Park Ranger greets guests and offers a 10-minute overview of the island.

Then visitors are allowed 45-60 minutes to explore the fort and the museum on their own. 

Visitors who opt for the Sunset 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 this company for no additional cost.

Those who want to learn even more about the history of this landmark should consider taking our Charleston Civil War Tour.


Fort Sumter Tour (departs 5 times daily) 

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

Descuentos

TIP: This company 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.

This company 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.


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 the Charleston 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. 

Visitors pay a flat fee of $12 for an all-day pass to travel from any departure point as many times as they wish. 


Descuentos

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


SAILING TOURS

If a traditional cruise around Charleston doesn’t strike your fancy, you can opt to take a yacht 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 charters, 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/Adults | $33/Children
  • Availability: Daily
  • Hours: 1 pm - 4 pm
  • Duration: 2 hours

Schooner Sunset Sail

  • $70/Adults
  • Availability: Daily
  • Hours: 5:30 pm - 7 pm
  • Duration: 2 hours

Discount

Sailing tours typically receive high ratings of around 4 ½ out of 5 stars (read reviews here).

Most customers refer to this experience as a smooth and enjoyable ride, indicating their captain and crew are fun and professional.

 

SPEEDBOAT CRUISE

If you’re looking for a more exciting trip out on the harbor of Charleston, 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 on how to pilot the speedboat.

  • $86.69 per person
  • Must purchase admission for at least 2 passengers
  • Availability: Daily
  • Hours: 9 am - 5 pm
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Get admission or learn more.

Descuentos

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

Customers 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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About The Author

Scott Nelson

Scott has led over 2,000 tours of Charleston and has more than 1000 5 star reviews. He started working in museums at the age of 16 (Unsinkable Molly Brown House) and hasn't looked back. He was the Executive Director of Heurich House and on the historic interpretation/ education staff at Mount Vernon, both in Washington DC, for over 6 years. Scott moved to Charleston in 2012 for a job with the Historic Charleston Foundation and began leading tours for Free Tours by Foot.
Updated: diciembre 22nd, 2023
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