Things to Do

3 Themed Boat Tours in DC

From DC Ducks to pirate ships, are the themed boat tours cruising the Potomac fun or cheesy? A seasick-prone reporter picked three and cast off.

Boomerang Pirate Ship

In what can best be described as “Adams Morgan on the water,” the Boomerang Pirate Ship is in its second season pillaging down the Potomac, and it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. During a 2½-hour booze cruise ($20 to $30, depending on day), I watched patrons get loaded to the gunwales on rum cocktails, Fireball shots, and an excessive number of pirate puns.

“Two people went overboard one time,” said an employee when asked about the craziest story. Was it the result of an eye-patch-related loss of depth perception? “They were just very drunk.” Oh.

Less of a boat and more of an open barge, the Jolly Roger-strewn deck turned into a drunken dance floor within the first half hour. The crowd was a decidedly young group of landlubbers, with a few who had clearly spent too much time on their pirate costumes. But everyone jelled quickly, as evidenced by the howling echo the crowd made each time we sailed under a bridge. About midway through, the crew anchored for a ship-wide game of limbo. Because how could it not?

Photograph courtesy of DC Ducks.

DC Ducks

On D-Day, 2,000 of the Army’s amphibious DUKW vehicles poured into Normandy and were instrumental in winning World War II’s beachhead battle. Today they shuttle tourists with duckbill-shaped whistles down Pennsylvania Avenue before splashing into the Potomac. You may have seen these boat/car hybrids around town. You may have said to yourself, as I did until getting this assignment, “I thought they were shaped like a boat for fun—they actually go in the water?” They do.

After a life-jacket demonstration, we launched from Union Station. I didn’t envy the driver forced to navigate a 70-year-old vessel through rush hour. The on-land portion of the $39 tour for adults ($35.10 online) featured narration from the “captain,” who can tell a funny Labor Department joke. Halfway through, the Duck eased into the Potomac near Reagan National. We didn’t get close to monuments, but the planes landing proved exciting for the children aboard. The same children who are given those whistles to “quack” throughout the ride. That part wasn’t as funny.

Photograph courtesy of DC Cruises.

DC Cruises

Before DC Cruises’ Happy Hour Cruise even left the dock, the line for the bar stretched the length of the boat. Overheard during the wait: “This reminds me of college.”

The 90-minute $24 outing departs from Georgetown at 6:15 every Saturday and alternating Thursdays and Fridays. Although the drink menu looks like it caters to a very specific crowd—with cocktails such as a $5 punch and something called a Capital Intern—the clientele was diverse. There were young, well-dressed couples enjoying the sunset, corporate retreaters throwing back Bud Lights, tourists who probably got on the wrong boat, and, yes, interns. We got a pretty good view of the Washington Monument, but don’t expect real sightseeing.

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Staff Writer

Michael J. Gaynor has written about fake Navy SEALs, a town without cell phones, his Russian spy landlord, and many more weird and fascinating stories for the Washingtonian. He lives in DC, where his landlord is no longer a Russian spy.