I’ve thought about taking one of the Potomac boat trips for almost the full seven years I’ve lived in the DC area and have always passed on it. When I proposed writing this feature Jenn L chimed in that she’d always wanted to go but never had, so apparently I wasn’t the only one. In retrospect I don’t know why I balked at the price. If you take the poorly named – but very enjoyable – “mounments cruise” you can expect to pay about $25 for a round trip, which isn’t the most I’ve ever paid for two hours of entertainment. You can start in Georgetown or Alexandria and in fact you’re under no obligation to purchase a round trip.
Now, you probably want to, given the fact that both locations aren’t very metro accessible, making other ways of getting back to where you’re going kind of a drag, and if you situate yourself so you can actually hear the pre-recorded tour guide you’ll have an opportunity to hear a different spiel heading down-river than you will going up-river. If you’re aiming to go full tourist make sure to pick a seat towards the middle of the boat, as the bow and stern are both quite noisy. Alternately you can do what I did for most of the trip back to Alexandria and simply stand near one of the speakers – it’s easier on your neck than craning sideways in your seat anyway.
While the robo-tour guide is pretty good, and taught me at least one thing I hadn’t known before, the enjoyment of simply sitting back and feeling the breeze and watching the world go by is pretty good too. We probably were luckier than average on Memorial Day itself and had no shortage of enjoyable sights to view. No matter what approach plan they’re using at Reagan National you’ll have the planes going over your head at some point, which for me is a positive feature. Even as much as I love that, however, the jetskier in the viking helmet might have been a more enjoyable sight.
The reality is that while you get views of the Jefferson (barely), and the Washington and Lincoln memorials in the distance, the real reason to take this trip is to be out on the water and see everything from a different angle than usual. I guess nobody ever went broke in this area by pitching monument-related tourism to the public, but after we’d taken this trip the first thing that came to my mind was how much fun it would be to start an evening out with a ride to Georgetown, do a little bar-crawling, and then catch the last boat back to Alexandria at 10:30pm and do a little wandering around there.
If Georgetown doesn’t excite you, the same company runs water taxi tours from the Alexandria docks over to the National Harbor, or you can take the Alexandria by Water cruise. The Alexandria one just goes on a big loop and covers what was probably the least scenic part of the monuments tour, but it’s half the price if you just need a taste of being on the water. If you’re of a mind to hit Mt Vernon they have a trip that takes you there by boat and includes admission, which would be a good way to see ol’ George’s place if you’re car-free.
I grew up in a beach town, so it’s possible that my review is colored by my love of being on the water. Take it with a grain of salt, and if you take the Alexandria-Georgetown trip make sure to hit up the coupons page of the Riverboat Company’s website. There’s a $2 coupon there now, I have no idea how often it rotates.
Oh, by the way: that jetskier probably had that helmet glued down because he got some serious air.