It’s easy and exhilarating to take to the ocean from downtown Boston. The season runs from late March to mid-November. 

Harbor cruise options from Boston Harbor Cruises, One Long Wharf (tel. 617/227-4321) include a 90-minute Historic Sightseeing Cruise, a 45-minute USS Constitution Cruise, a 40-minute Codzilla “high-speed thrill” boat ride, a 90-minute Sunset Cruise, and a 3-hour nighttime Sea the Stars Cruise, produced in conjunction with the Museum of Science. Boats leave from the wharf next to the New England Aquarium; check website for times and prices, which vary considerably throughout the season.

Down in the Seaport District, lunch, dinner and sunset cruises are offered by Spirit of Boston (tel. 617/748-1450). These boats leave from 200 Seaport Blvd., at the Seaport World Trade Center. Prices range from $28 for a 1-hour cruise to $135 for a 3-hour dinner cruise with live music (children 2 and under free).

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Lower-key tours of the quieter Charles River are offered by the Charles Riverboat Company, 100 Cambridge Side Place, Cambridge (tel. 617/621-3001). Trips include narrated daytime cruises, narrated architecture cruises, and sunset drinking cruises. Tickets cost $19.50–$28.50 for adults, $12–$24.50 for children 3 to 12, and $3 children 2 and under. Boats leave from the CambridgeSide Galleria mall, a short walk from the Lechmere T station.

On the Cheap -- You don't have to take a tour to take a cruise. The MBTA runs a ferry that connects Long Wharf, next to the New England Aquarium, and the Charlestown Navy Yard. It costs $1.70, is included in the MBTA's 7-day LinkPass, and makes a good final leg of the Freedom Trail.

Trip the Light Fantastic -- North America's oldest lighthouse, Boston Light, is the only one in the country that's still staffed (by the Coast Guard). Built on Little Brewster Island in 1716, it fell to the British in 1776 and was rebuilt in 1783. Excursions to the 102-foot lighthouse include a narrated cruise that passes two other lighthouses, 90 minutes to explore the island, and a chance to climb the spiral stairs to the top (you must be at least 50 in. tall). The 3-hour tours operate on weekends from late June to late September from the Moakley Courthouse dock at Fan Pier, off Northern Avenue. Tickets cost $41 for adults, $37 for seniors, $31 for children 3 to 11, free for children 2 and under. Only 48 people may take each tour; reservations (tel. 617/223-8666; www.bostonislands.com/tour-lighthouse) are strongly recommended. Visit the website for information about a tour of Boston Harbor that concentrates on three lighthouses and includes a visit to Little Brewster, but not a lighthouse climb.

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Day Trips

Two companies serve Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod. On a day trip, you'll have time for world-class people-watching, strolling around the novelty shops and art galleries, lunching on seafood, and -- if you're quick -- a trip to the famous beaches. However, you'll have to forgo the hopping gay nightlife scene unless you've planned a longer excursion. (For in-depth coverage of Provincetown and other Cape Cod locales, consult Frommer's Cape Cod, Nantucket & Martha's Vineyard or Frommer's New England.)

Bay State Cruise Company (tel. 877/783-3779 or 617/748-1428; www.provincetownfastferry.com) operates high-speed and conventional service to Provincetown. High-speed service takes half as long and costs almost twice as much as the conventional excursion, which is a time-honored New England tradition that's especially popular with families. Trips leave from the Seaport World Trade Center Marine Terminal, 200 Seaport Blvd. To get to the pier, take the Silver Line bus from South Station to the World Trade Center stop, the $10 water taxi (tel. 617/422-0392; www.citywatertaxi.com) from locations around the harbor, or a regular taxi (when you reserve your cruise, ask the clerk for the best way to reach the pier from your hotel).

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Fast ferry service on the Provincetown III takes 90 minutes and operates three times a day from mid-May to mid-October. The round-trip fare is $79 for adults, $69 for seniors, and $58 for children 3 to 12, plus $6 each way for your bike. Reservations are recommended. M/V Provincetown II sails Saturday only from late June through early September. It leaves at 9am for the 3-hour trip to Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod. The return leg leaves at 3:30pm, giving you 3 1/2 hours for shopping and sightseeing in P-town. The same-day round-trip fare is $44 for adults, free for children. Bringing a bike costs $6 extra each way.

Whale Watching

Straight east from Boston, in the Massachusetts Bay heading toward the Atlantic, there’s a large section of ocean designated as the Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary where whales live—humpback, finback, minke, pilot, and endangered right whales—as well as dolphins. The New England Aquarium runs whale-watch trips on customized catamarans (tel. 617/227-4321). Tours run usually 3 hours, sometimes longer depending on where the whales are, and they almost always have a sighting of these magnificent, curious, playful creatures. Naturalists trained by the Aquarium are aboard each trip. Tickets are $53 for adults and youth 12 and older, $45 seniors, $33 kids 3 to 11, and $16 kids under 3. Discounted packages with Aquarium tickets are available. Trips run daily late March to mid-November. Check the website for times and frequency, which vary considerably throughout the season. Note that if you are heading up to Cape Ann (chapter 5) or down to Cape Cod (chapter 6), there will be whale-watch options there as well.

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Duck Boats: Boston by Land and by Sea

Despite safety issues in other cities, tours of Boston in a reconditioned World War II amphibious vehicle remain a popular way to explore the city. “Duck Boats” (tel. 617/267-3825) trundle around the city streets before slipping into the placid waters of the Charles River basin for a cruise of about 20 minutes. Con-duck-tours (ouch) have licenses to operate the mammoth vehicles on both land and water, and they spin off historical highlights. It’s a pricey ticket, but it does provide a unique combination of unusual perspectives and cooling breezes. There are departure points at the New England Aquarium, Museum of Science, or Prudential Center. Tickets are $42 for adults and youth 12 and over, $34 for seniors, $28 for kids 3 to 11, and $11 for kids 2 and under. Discounts are available online. All tickets are for a specific time. Check ahead for schedules. Duck boats operate daily mid-March to late November, from 9am to 1 hour before sunset.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.