The Potomac River is the fourth longest river in the Atlantic States of the United States. It's approximately 400 miles of length flow from the Potomac Highlands, through three states and the District of Columbia as it wends its way into the Chesapeake Bay. A Potomac river cruise is one of the best ways to experience the beauty and heritage of this magnificent natural resource. Let us help you find the best river cruise for you.

The Potomac River is at least 2 million years old. Its name comes from the Algonquin word for "river of swans," Patowmeck. The river was an important resource for the Native Americans who inhabited the area before European settlers arrived.

History of The Potomac

The Potomac has an important place in the history of the United States too and has been nicknamed "The Nation's River." The first President of the United States, George Washington, was born in the Potomac River watershed area. As an adult, he surveyed the area, and he spent most of his life in the rich basin of this mighty river.

The Potomac River is rich in US history. It was the dividing line between the Confederate States and the Union States during the United States' Civil War of the 1860's. Many battles were fought as Confederate armies tried to invade the Capital city of Washington DC.

The river is a major freight artery for moving goods from the coast inland. Since 1996, The Potomac has been a "sister river" to the Ara River, one of the most important rivers in Tokyo, Japan. In 1998, the river was designated as an American Heritage River, by then President, Bill Clinton.

Features of The Potomac River

And it is now the main source of drinking water for the District of Columbia. Water supply, management, and quality are coordinated by the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River basin, a compact between Washington DC, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania who all have a stake in the health of the river.

The river has not always been this healthy. Upstream mining and agriculture alongside urban runoff and sewage made the Potomac a polluted disaster by the mid-19th century. It is said that President Abraham Lincoln escaped to the highlands in the evenings to get away from the river's stench. In the 1660's President, Lyndon Johnson called the Nation's River a "national disgrace." But efforts since the 1970's have resulted in an amazing turnaround. The Potomac, though still vulnerable, has seen a return of fish populations and of its beauty and majesty, as you will see on your Potomac river cruise.

What is a Potomac River Cruise?

River cruising is one of the fastest growing vacation activities of the past decade. A river cruise will take you along an inland waterway. If you are familiar with ocean cruises, you will find there are some distinct differences. Potomac River cruise ships are much smaller. While an ocean-going vessel may carry thousands of passengers, a river-going ship will have a maximum of about 200 guests.

River cruises are more port-focused than ship-focused with cultural and historical port stops. And while you can find multi-day river cruises, on the Potomac, we will focus on shorter excursions. These are day or dinner trips that you can include in your larger DC area itinerary.

The Potomac River Cruise

We chose four special shorter cruises to review. There will be many things you want to explore on your trip to this culturally and historically rich area of the US. Cruising along the Potomac River is a wonderful and relaxing way to explore the District of Columbia and our nations' capital. Whether your focus is on learning and exploring the nation's history, or on excellent dining as the river gently carries you along, you're sure to find your ideal cruise.

Pricing of The Potomac River Cruise

A day cruise or dinner cruise will cost between $50.00 and $150.00 per person. The price may or may not include food and beverages, depending upon the focus of the cruise. It also may or may not include admission to any shore sights along the way.

Potomac River Cruise: How They Compare

We picked four similar products available on the Potomac River Cruise to see how they compare:

In the Footsteps of George Washington: Spirit Day Cruise to Mount Vernon

Washington DC Odyssey Dinner Cruise

Spirit of Washington DC Sunset Dinner Cruise with Buffet

George Washington's Mount Vernon by Water Cruise





In the Footsteps of George Washington: Spirit Day Cruise to Mount Vernon
Pros & Cons

PROS

  • Knowledgeable tour guides
  • Plenty of time to explore Mount Vernon
  • An affordable whole day event
  • Generous cancelation policy

CONS

  • No food is included with the price of the ticket, but it can be purchased at Mount Vernon and on the boat.
  • It's a sunny boat ride unless you find a seat inside the cabin
  • Some travelers reported that the tour guides on the boat were hard to hear. Ask where the speakers are and plan accordingly.


In the Footsteps of George Washington Spirit Day Cruise to Mount Vernon 

This historic and cultural cruise revolves around the life and times of George Washington.

Price $$

In the Footsteps of George Washington: Spirit Day Cruise to Mount Vernon is currently listed on viator.com for about $55.00 per person. Gratuities are NOT included.

Cancelation: for a full refund, cancel more than 24 hours before the start time of the cruise.

Activities 

The main focus of this tour is Mount Vernon, George Washington's pastoral mansion, and grounds. You will cruise from Dock 4 in Washington DC to the estate in Virginia. There you will disembark and have several hours to explore this historical site. The admission to Mount Vernon, a National Historic Landmark, is included in your ticket price. Then you will re-board the ship to cruise back to Dock 4.

On the cruise, as you glide past the sights on the shore, your guides will tell you all about the cultural and historical aspects of what you are seeing. You will also hear about President Washington, his life, and his legacy.

Famous Garden

At Mount Vernon, you can explore the 21 room mansion, the working distillery, and the famous gardens. George Washington was a notorious gardener. The Mount Vernon gardens are just as he created them. Washington also experimented with progressive farming practices, and you'll be able to explore the 4-acre Pioneer Farm where he tested and practiced his innovative techniques.

You'll also have time to visit the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center. There is a self-guided tour that includes 23 galleries, theaters and interactive exhibits that will help you understand George Washington and the times he lived in.

Ports 

This cruise goes directly from Washington to Mount Vernon with no other stops along the way.

This is a 6.5-hour cruise, leaving at 8:30 am from Washington, DC.





Washington DC Odyssey Dinner Cruise
Pros & Cons

PROS

  • Includes a vegetarian choice of entree
  • Includes accommodations for food allergies if requested in advance
  • They will guarantee a table for your party size
  • The Odyssey is a modern ship

CONS

  • Strict no-refund policy


Washington DC Odyssey Dinner Cruise 

The Odyssey Dinner Cruise is a great way to relax on a modern dining ship and see the sights of Washington DC.

Price  $$$

This cruise lists for about $80.00 per person on viator.com Price includes a three-course dinner, a two and a half to three-hour cruise along the Potomac, and live entertainment. Your ticket does not include any beverages other than coffee, hot tea, iced tea, and water, though cocktails are available for purchase. Gratuities are NOT included.

Cancelation: No Refund for cancelation.

Activities 

You will enjoy a three-course meal served in one of three atrium dining rooms as you glide by the spectacular evening sights of Washington DC. You'll see the historic waterfront, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Old Town Alexandria in Virginia and much more. Dance to live music on the open-air observation deck. Your evening entertainment starts out mellow for your dining, then ramps up to celebratory as the evening goes on.

Ports 

This cruise does not stop at any ports. It includes dinner and music while gliding along the river. It departs and returns from Gangplank Marina in Washington DC.




Spirit of Washington DC Sunset Dinner Cruise with Buffet
Pros & Cons

PROS

  • Offers vegetarian options in the buffet
  • Also, it offers five decks for strolling and observing
  • Offers comedy as well as DJ curated music
  • Generous cancelation policy

CONS

  • This is one of the costlier options for a dinner cruise in Washington DC


Spirit of Washington DC Sunset Dinner Cruise with Buffet 

The Spirit of Washington Cruise offers an outstanding buffet dining experience on a five-deck modern river cruising ship.

Price  $$$

This Potomac River Cruise is listed on the viator.com site for $123.00 and up per person. The ticket includes your buffet dinner and entertainment. It does not include additional beverages or gratuities.

Cancelation Policy: You can cancel up to 24 hours before the start of your cruise for a full refund.

Activities  

If a buffet is your thing, you will love this dinner cruise. Fill your plate with salads, main dishes or desserts and enjoy them in the comfortable dining room while being entertained with music and comedy. Then dance off all those calories as you glide by the illuminated sights of our nation's Capital. The Spirit of Washington Sunset Dinner cruise offers five decks to stroll and take in the sunset and the lighted sights of the city.

Ports 

This dinner cruise leave from Pier 4 in Washington DC, cruises the river for about 3 hours while you dine and dance, then returns to the embarkation point.




George Washington's Mount Vernon by Water Cruise
Pros & Cons

PROS

  • Generous cancelation policy
  • Plenty of time to explore Mount Vernon
  • Covered cruising and sightseeing deck

CONS

  • Food and drinks are not included in the cost of the ticket.


George Washington's Mount Vernon by Water Cruise 

The George Washington Mount Vernon by Water Cruise is a great choice both for seeing the sights of Washington DC by the river and for exploring one of our most important historical sights.

Price  $

This Potomac River cruise is listed on the viator.com site starting at about $47.00 per person. The ticket includes your admission to Mount Vernon. Food and drink are not included. Gratuities are NOT included.

Cancelation Policy: Cancel up to 24 hours before the start of your cruise for a full refund.

Activities 

This Potomac River cruise boat has a covered sightseeing deck for the 90-minute trip to Mount Vernon.

Mount Vernon is a fascinating and important historical site. You will have access to the 21-room mansion of George and Martha Washington, the beautiful gardens designed by President Washington, the distillery which is still operational, and the Pioneer Farm where Washington experimented with progressive farming techniques.

There are interactive displays, self-guided tours and plenty of history. You will learn, not only about George Washington's life and legacy but also about the Revolutionary time when he lived.

You might want to arrive at the Alexandria City Marina an hour before your embarkation time. Alexandria is a charming and historic city -good for strolling.

Ports

You will embark at the Alexandria City Marina. The cruise to Mount Vernon is about 90 minutes. This is the only port of call on this cruise.

Conclusion

If you're looking for a daytime cruise, you can't beat the Mount Vernon by Water cruise that embarks in Alexandria. The covered deck beats either sitting inside a cabin or baking in the sun on the river portion of this tour. There is plenty of time to explore Mount Vernon, and you can also take a walk around beautiful Alexandria before or after your cruise.

As for a Potomac River cruise that serves dinner, either of these choices will provide you with plenty of sights, good food, and music. But the slightly costlier choice, the Spirit of Washington with its five-deck boat and all-you-can-eat buffet offers much more than the beautiful sights of Washington DC by night.

When you're ready to explore a city by a river cruise, make sure you check with rivercruisingguide.com before you make your travel plans. We'll provide you with the most up-to-date information for planning your special vacation.

QUALITY

PRICE

RATING

Great

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