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When planning our trip to the United States, Washington, DC, was at the top of our list – and cruising along the Potomac River is one of the best ways to see this capital city. Not only do you get to sail past famous historic landmarks, but you also get to eat, drink, and be merry while doing it!
We had a fantastic time on our Washington, DC, river cruise, BUT they’re not always what you would expect. Unless you opt for a private boat, a river cruise in Washington, DC, is generally a pretty lively experience rather than a super educational one. That was certainly the case with the cruise we did, but we’re not complaining, as it was a blast!
To make sure that you choose the right Washington, DC, river cruise for you, we’ve put together this useful guide. It contains everything you need to know before booking and the details of all the best cruise options.
1. Are river cruises in Washington, DC, worth it?
Yes, they are. We really enjoyed our cruise – it was so much fun!
We did this brunch cruise, and the food was great! We had bottomless mimosas, and there was a DJ playing fun, upbeat music. We had an amazing time and would definitely recommend going on this cruise.
However, I wouldn’t say that the cruises in Washington, DC, are for everyone. Even though the cruises are highly rated, there are still some people who don’t like the party atmosphere on the boat. Some people mention not liking the buffet, either (although we enjoyed the food a lot!).
Basically, I think that these people probably should have looked into doing a private experience instead. Shared river cruises in Washington, DC, are pretty lively and upbeat. A private boat would be more suitable for those who want a calmer and more educational experience.
But despite that, we loved our cruise, and it suited us perfectly. We thought it was well worth the price of $133 USD each for a 3-hour cruise with bottomless drinks and a buffet meal.
One reason that we enjoyed our cruise so much is that it was a fun yet relaxing experience. So much sightseeing in Washington, DC, is walking around in the heat and looking at monuments, which can get tiring after a while. Doing a river cruise is super chill, and you get to eat, drink, and listen to music while doing it. It was a very welcome change of pace!
2. What do you get to see on a river cruise in Washington, DC?
You’ll sail past the iconic Lincoln Memorial. This white neoclassical temple was built in honor of one of the most famous US presidents, Abraham Lincoln. It’s also where Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. To say it’s a historically significant site would be a huge understatement.
The Capitol is the seat of the US Congress, and it’s one of the most famous government buildings in the world. It’s a super historic building, and it features on the back of the American $50 bill!
The Washington Monument is a 555-foot (169-meter) obelisk that was built to commemorate George Washington, the first-ever US president. It was completed in 1884 and was the tallest structure in the world – that is, until 1889 when it was overtaken by the Eiffel Tower.
The Watergate Complex
The Watergate Office building was famously broken into in 1972, which led to an investigation into President Nixon’s administration. The Watergate investigation exposed spying and sabotage, resulting in one of the biggest political scandals in US history!
Theodore Roosevelt Island
Not to be confused with Roosevelt Island in New York’s East River, Theodore Roosevelt Island is dedicated to the late US president. It’s kept as a natural park with walking trails, and no cars are permitted on the island. It was also previously used as a training camp for the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War.
The Kennedy Center – or The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, to use its full name – is on the eastern bank of the Potomac River. It hosts a free performance every day at midday, and many famous names have either performed or been honored here, including George Clooney and U2! You can check their website for upcoming events and more info.
Arlington House is a Greek Revival Mansion that was the home of Confederate war general Robert E. Lee. It was used as a US Army headquarters during the Civil War. The grounds were later used for Arlington Cemetery, where over 400,000 people are now buried – including President John F. Kennedy.
Related Read: If you’re also visiting New York, read our guide to visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. It’s a must if you want to learn more about this historic event and how it impacted locals.
3. What are the best river cruises in Washington, DC?
Washington DC Premier Brunch Cruise
This is the river cruise that we did, and we had a fantastic time!
It was a really nice boat with lots of windows, so we saw a ton of famous landmarks and memorials along the way. We also loved the buffet. It was super generous with plenty of brunch options, and of course, bottomless mimosas are never a bad thing.
There was a DJ playing music and definitely a party atmosphere on board. Washington, DC, is the kind of city you visit to sightsee. But after spending a lot of time walking around in the heat, we were so happy to be drinking mimosas on a climate-controlled boat instead.
There are also outdoor decks so you can take in the views without glass. Plus, with two dance floors on the boat, you know you’re in for a good time. So if you’re looking for a fun way to sightsee in Washington, DC, this is most definitely it!
This cruise departs at 11:30 am on weekends and lasts for two hours. You’ll need to find your own way to and from the wharf. There’s no parking provided, but local parking is available at the Wharf Parking Garage.
It costs $133 USD per person, which isn’t bad considering you get a full meal with drinks. We thought that it was way better than going for bottomless brunch in a restaurant. Kids (ages 3-12) cost $106 USD, but we think this cruise is much better suited for adults. Plus, you have to be over 21 to indulge in the mimosas anyway.
This cruise definitely has our stamp of approval – but it’s a popular one and will sell out! So secure your spot on this brunch river cruise in advance!
Washington DC Signature Scenic Lunch Cruise
This lunch cruise is another fantastic option if you’re looking for a fun and lively boat ride. There’s a DJ playing pop music hits, two dance floors, and a generous buffet. You get amazing views of Washington, DC, as you go, and there’s a really fun atmosphere on board.
Similar to our tour above, this cruise leaves at 11:30 am from the wharf, lasting around two hours. It’s easy to fit into a full day of sightseeing – and it makes for a nice, relaxing break from all of the walking. I mean, you have to eat lunch anyway, so you may as well do it in style!
This cruise is also fantastic if you want to meet new people. There are shared tables of 4-8 people. So, if you’re a solo traveler or looking to make new friends in DC, then this is a good way to do it!
You can feast on the classic breakfast and lunch staples, along with coffee, tea, and other beverages. There are bars on board, but not all drinks are included in the price.
As you sail, your captain will tell you all about each landmark you pass. You’ll see the top sights like the Washington Monument and pass under Woodrow Wilson Bridge.
Prices range between $70 USD and $120 USD. Generally speaking, it’s usually cheaper to do this cruise on a weekday than a weekend, so that can save you a few bucks if it fits your schedule.
Weekday cruises are limited, but you can check availability and book your cruise online here.
Washington DC Premier Dinner Cruise
If you want to enjoy dinner on the river, this 3-hour cruise is the way to go! It’s an awesome thing to do in DC – and we think it would make a great date night, too!
Guests tend to dress pretty nicely for this cruise, and it’s a really fun evening out. During summer, you cruise down the river at sunset, which is pretty spectacular if the weather is on your side! It’s also really cool to see monuments like the Lincoln Memorial lit up after dark.
This cruise involves a 3-course plated dinner, and there’s a nice selection of cocktails to choose from. Tea, coffee, and water are included, but other beverages will cost extra. There’s also a DJ and dancefloor, so you can dance after dinner is served.
The dinner cruise leaves at 7 pm every day except Sunday, when it leaves at 6 pm. Make sure to dress up, avoiding flip-flops or jeans. Cruises leave from the wharf, and parking is available nearby at the Wharf Parking Garage.
Prices vary between $94 USD and $264 USD, depending on demand, so it’s definitely worth your while to book well in advance!
Washington DC Signature Dinner Cruise
This signature dinner cruise differs from the one above in that it offers a 3-course all-you-can-eat buffet rather than a plated dinner.
The boat leaves at 7 pm and the cruise lasts for around 2.5 hours. In the summer, you’ll see a sunset over the Potomac River – which is stunning. But regardless of the time of year, you can spot famous landmarks lit up at night.
The crew members are really good fun and make sure that everyone has a great time. Plus, everyone hits the dancefloor after the dinner – including some of the staff!
We think that the signature cruise is perfect for groups of friends looking for a lively evening on the river. On this cruise, you get a large buffet meal, so it’s easy for everyone to find something they like. There’s a wide array of salad options, and entrees usually include beef, chicken, and fish. If you have any dietary restrictions, make sure to let them know when you book your cruise.
The price of the Washington DC Signature Dinner Cruise ranges between $133 USD and $196 USD, including food and drinks (except alcohol). It tends to be the most expensive to go on a Saturday night, but what a fun way to spend a weekend in DC!
There are limited dates, so check availability and book this one in advance.
Plated dinner option
If you’re not a fan of buffets, go for this 3-course plated dinner cruise instead. We think this option is great for date night, and the table service gives it a slightly fancier edge.
You’ll get to choose from their menu of salads, entrees, and desserts. Their mains have included Romesco-crusted salmon, short ribs, and cauliflower steak. To go all out, you can upgrade to a steak and lobster tail dinner. But again, make sure to give them a heads-up with any dietary requests at the time of booking!
The logistics of this plated dinner cruise are the same as the one above. Cruises depart at 7 pm, lasting at least 2.5 hours. After dinner, you can expect the DJ to keep the party going. Prices range from $117 to $286 USD and include all your food and beverages (excluding alcohol). However, you can get the best deals by booking in advance!
Related Read: Looking for a similar experience in New York City? If so, check out our guide on booking a NYC dinner cruise.
Private Guided Yacht Tour of Washington DC Waterfront
This private yacht tour of Washington, DC, is really highly rated, and it’s perfect if you’re not interested in a party boat. However, if you have a lively group, that’s fine too! We love this private option because you can tailor it to your needs, making it super easy to fit into your DC itinerary.
There’s a cooler, fridge, and Bluetooth speaker to play your own tunes. There’s also a TV on board, although you won’t want to look at a screen when you’re sailing past iconic sights like the Washington Monument and the Capitol!
This tour is perfect if you want a personalized experience rather than being on a lively shared boat. Your captain will point out landmarks as you go and explain what you’re seeing. You definitely get more commentary with this river cruise than you do on the shared boats. It’s great for those history or political buffs who want to know more about this city.
You have your choice of a 1, 2, or 4-hour tour with a range of departure times. This tour costs $499 USD for a 1-hour tour, $629 USD for 2 hours, or $1,199 for a 4-hour tour on a weekday (weekends are more expensive). The price is for a group of up to six people, so it’s not as pricey as it sounds initially! It covers the boat ride and your knowledgeable captain – and you can bring your own food, drinks, and music to create your ideal ambiance.
We think that this is a great experience for families or groups of friends celebrating a special occasion. It’s the perfect way to see DC! You can book this private yacht cruise online here.
Sunset Cruise (Private) in Washington DC
Nothing says luxury like this private sunset river cruise! Cruising up and down the Potomac River during golden hour and sunset makes all the famous landmarks look even more spectacular.
We love that this cruise is owner-operated. Captain Jerry shares lots of personal anecdotes and fun stories about the city with his guests. It’s a really friendly and intimate experience, so this is perfect for anyone who doesn’t want to do a party cruise.
This 2-hour cruise costs $499 USD for a group of up to four people. Sodas and alcoholic drinks are included in the price. You’re also welcome to bring your own picnic on board! You can bring your favorite wine, beer, and snacks (However, there’s no hard liquor allowed).
Tours are offered from Wednesday to Sunday. Just meet at the Gangplank Marina entrance for a 6:30 pm departure. Also, as soon as you book this tour, send the owner a text message or email so he can have your info.
We love how personal it is, and we think it’s perfect if you want a chilled-out river cruise with stunning sunset views (and who wouldn’t want that?!). If that sounds like you, don’t hesitate to book Captain Jerry’s cruise by clicking here.
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
4. What is the best river cruise if you want to party?
All of the river cruises are pretty upbeat, with music and dance floors. But if you’re really in the mood for a party boat, then we recommend the brunch cruise that we did.
It was so much fun, and there was a super lively atmosphere. Plus, it comes with bottomless mimosas, so you can’t go wrong if you’re looking to party! There were two dance floors and a DJ, and the whole thing was a blast!
This brunch cruise is only available on weekends and does sell out, so secure your spot here!
Related Read: For stunning views of New York City, check out the best observational decks in NYC (including our favorite!).
5. What is the best river cruise for a private experience?
Both this private yacht tour and this private sunset cruise are awesome and super well-rated. They’re perfect if you want a more personal experience and don’t want to share the boat with dozens of other people.
This private yacht tour is super customizable and can be 1, 2, or 4 hours long. They have fridges, coolers, and Bluetooth, so you can create your own vibe with music, drinks, and food. You’ll also have a personal guide to share details of all the landmarks you pass.
We love this private sunset cruise because you’ll can catch all the sights during the golden hour. Bring your own wine, beer, and snacks to enjoy a picnic as the sun goes down over DC. This is an owner-operated cruise, and Captain Jerry will definitely show your group a great time!
Overall, we think that a private Washington, DC, river cruise would be so much fun with a group of people. Plus, it’s a really unforgettable way to see the city!
6. Can you get seasick on a river cruise in Washington, DC?
No, you really don’t need to be worried about seasickness on a Washington, DC, river cruise. The river is extremely calm, and the boats are huge. Even if there were waves, you probably wouldn’t feel them! You don’t even realize that you’re floating.
Related Read: If you’re visiting the East Coast, we also recommend stopping in New York City! To learn why, check out our list of the best things to do in NYC.
Where to Stay in Washington, DC
Now that you’ve learned all about Washington, DC, river cruises, you’ll probably need a place to stay! This city has loads of options. To help you narrow it down, we’ve highlighted our top choices. We’ve included everything from budget hostels to luxurious hotels, so you’re bound to find something you like!
Pendry Washington DC – $$$
For the ultimate luxury and convenience, opt for the Pendry Washington DC. This 5-star hotel has free bikes, an outdoor pool, a hot tub, a fitness center, a rooftop bar, and a large terrace overlooking the wharf. Plus, it’s just a 5-minute walk to the docking port for many of the river cruises (you might even see your boat from your window!). The rooms are spacious, modern, and super comfortable.
There’s a wide range of room options, ranging from $260 USD to over $1,000 USD, depending on what you choose. However, you’ll find the best deals when you book your stay in advance.
Hotel Madera – $$
Hotel Madera is a great mid-range accommodation in the heart of DC. You can have a taste of American comfort food and cocktails at their on-site restaurant – or grab a complimentary glass of wine at the bar. It’s located close to many bars and restaurants and is just a 5-minute walk to Dupont Circle. It’s also a 25-minute taxi ride to the wharf. Rooms are quite large and well-equipped, and some come with balconies to view the city.
Prices start at $170 USD which is a great value for what you get! Snag this deal by booking online here.
Duo Nomad – $
Duo Nomad is our top choice for budget accommodations in DC. It’s a clean place with complimentary breakfast, a garden, a terrace, and a shared lounge to meet other travelers or relax after a day of sightseeing. It’s located just off Capital Hill and a 10-minute drive to the wharf. Prices run from $39-$59 USD for a bed in a shared dorm. However, if you’re two people traveling, get a 2-bed shared dorm, and voila – it’s your own private accommodation!
Don’t get Caught without Travel Insurance!
We never travel without travel insurance! We’ve had a few instances during our travels when one of us has ended up in the hospital, and travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance, we both have policies with them whenever we travel.
They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!)The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!) While most travel insurance companies left people stranded, SafetyWing fully reimbursed us for our last-minute, pricey flights!
Also, because it is so affordable, there really is no excuse not to take out a policy. Check prices and get a quote online here with SafetyWing (you can even take out a policy if you’re already traveling!)
Thanks for reading!
If you’re in Washington, DC, we highly recommend a river cruise! It’s a great way to see the sights while relaxing and having fun. It’s also really nice to take a break from all those walking tours. Plus, you get a delicious meal and drinks – and potentially some dancing too!
We hope this guide has helped you find the best DC river cruise for you. For those traveling to other parts of the country, read our other blogs about the USA. And since Bailey is Canadian, we have a whole section dedicated to Canada as well!