Take to the water for a taste of Boston's rich maritime history or a daylong break from walking and driving. You can cruise around the harbor or go all the way to Provincetown. The sightseeing cruise season runs from April through November, with spring and fall offerings often restricted to weekends. Check websites for discount coupons before you leave home. If you're traveling in a large group, call ahead for information about reservations and discounted tickets. And if you're prone to seasickness, check the size of the vessel for your tour before buying tickets; larger boats provide more cushioning and comfort than smaller ones.
Before taking a cruise just for the sake of taking a cruise, weigh the investment of time and money against your group's interests. Especially if kids are along, you might be better off with an excursion that targets a destination -- the Charlestown Navy Yard, the Boston Harbor Islands, or Boston Light -- than with a pricey narrated cruise.
The largest company is Boston Harbor Cruises, 1 Long Wharf (tel. 877/733-9425 or 617/227-4321; www.bostonharborcruises.com). Ninety-minute historic sightseeing cruises, which tour the Inner and Outer harbors, depart from Long Wharf May through September daily at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm, with extra excursions at busy times. Tickets are $21 for adults, $19 for seniors, and $17 for children 4 to 12; tickets for the sunset cruise (6 or 7pm) are $1 more. The 45-minute USS Constitution cruise takes you around the Inner Harbor and docks at the Charlestown Navy Yard so that you can go ashore and visit "Old Ironsides." Tours leave Long Wharf daily April through November hourly from 10:30am to 4:30pm, and on the hour from the Navy Yard from 11am to 5pm. The cruise is $16 for adults, $14 for seniors, and $12 for children. Check the website for other offerings, including dining cruises and a 5-hour excursion that passes a dozen lighthouses.
The Charles Riverboat Company (tel. 617/621-3001; www.charlesriverboat.com) offers 60-minute narrated cruises from the CambridgeSide Galleria mall daily May through October. Tours of the lower Charles River basin start at 11:30am and 12:45, 2, 3:15, and 4:30pm. A tour of the Charles River lock system and Boston Harbor begins at 10am. The sunset cruise runs daily from June through August; call to confirm times. Tickets cost $14 to $16 for adults, $12 to $14 for seniors, and $8 to $10 for children 2 to 12.
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.
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).
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.
Boston Harbor Cruises, 1 Long Wharf (tel. 877/733-9425 or 617/227-4321; www.bostonharborcruises.com), operates catamarans that make the trip in just 90 minutes. They operate from mid-May through Columbus Day, three times a day between early June and Labor Day weekend, and less often early and late in the season. The round-trip fare is $79 for adults, $69 for seniors, and $58 for children 4 to 12.
The New England Aquarium (tel. 617/973-5200 for information, 617/973-5206 for tickets; www.neaq.org) runs whale watches daily from mid-April through late October and on weekends in early April. You'll travel several miles out to sea to Stellwagen Bank, the feeding ground for the whales as they migrate from Newfoundland to Provincetown. Enthusiastic naturalists narrate and identify the whales, many of which they call by name. Allow 3 to 4 hours. Tickets are $40 for adults, $32 for children 11 and under. Children must be at least 30 inches tall. Reservations are strongly recommended; you can buy tickets online, subject to a service charge.
With its onboard exhibits and vast experience, the aquarium offers the best whale watches in Boston. If they're booked, try Boston Harbor Cruises (tel. 877/733-9425 or 617/227-4321; www.bostonharborcruises.com), which operates up to five trips a day on its two high-speed catamarans, trimming the excursion time to 3 hours total.
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.