Boat tours are back in Chicago — and the water taxi is next

·3 min read

CHICAGO — They don’t call Chicago the Third Coast for nothing. We are on the water, on the river and our ever-popular boat tours are coming back for summer. From the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s river cruises to those little, bright green kayaks, tours and rentals are reopening, some this weekend.

“We expect to be really busy, said Urban Kayak co-owner James Morro. His business was able to open last summer as well, but “people have been feeling cooped up for so long.”

Here’s a roundup of options, most of which feature limited capacities and COVID-19 safety protocols.

Chicago Architecture Center: The popular, long-running river cruises by the CAC returned to the water earlier this month. The 90-minute tours are narrated by the center’s volunteer docents aboard Chicago’s First Lady vessels, including the Leading Lady, and have new sights to see along the way this summer, including the St. Regis Tower and the refurbished Old Post Office. You sit in the open air for the tours (rain or shine), and masks may be required. If want something just for your own family or group, private tours are available on the six-passenger vintage yacht Lady Grebe (from $495).

Hourly cruises Friday, Saturday and Sunday from the dock at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, stairway entrance at 112 E. Wacker Drive. Tickets start at $48.18 for daytime, $52.91 for evening tours; www.architecture.org

Urban Kayaks: Yes, you’re in a tiny boat for one or two, mixing it up with river currents and barge traffic a few inches off the water of the Chicago River. If that sounds about right to you, Urban Kayaks is reopening for business starting this weekend. Most popular option is the historic Chicago tour, which visits both architectural and historic sites along the river, says Morro, “but the fireworks tour is up there as well. If there were fireworks every night, that would be first.”

The Riverwalk location (435 E. Chicago Riverwalk) opens Saturday; the Lakefront location in Monroe Harbor (110 N. Lakeshore Drive) on May 21. Guided tours, rentals and paddleboards are available (paddleboards at the lakefront only). Tours start at $40 and rentals from $30; urbankayaks.com .

Chicago Electric Boat: Easiest way we can think of to charter your own private vessel. Such that it is. Battery-powered boat rentals reopened mid-April, with boats that hold four people or more — pontoons and “Duffy” boats — though the company is restricting its larger vessels to a limit of four adults and two children. The group-paddled Cycleboats are operating at 50% capacity.

Rentals are for one to four hours daily, from multiple locations, including Marina City, 300 N. State St.; from $159 an hour; www.chicagoelectricboats.com

Shoreline Sightseeing: Though Shoreline’s red, white and blue water taxis are still sidelined, its 60-minute, open-air river architecture tours are up and running and its 40-minute lakefront tours have resumed. Plus, a 75-minute architecture tour in Spanish is available.

Docks at the northeast corner of Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River, as well as at Navy Pier. Tours run daily and start at $25; shorelinesightseeing.com

Wendella: The longtime Chicago company has been operating on the river since 1935 and it launched the precursor to its famous Chicago Water Taxi service in 1962. Attention commuters and tourists: Those iconic yellow boats are slated to resume service (to Ogilvie, Michigan Avenue and Chinatown) May 29. Meanwhile, Wendella’s 90-minute architecture tours on both the river and lakefront, as well as its sunset and Saturday fireworks tours, are now up and running.

Tours daily from the docks at the northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River. Tickets from $39; www.wendellaboats.com

Odyssey and Seadog: With the reopening of Navy Pier comes the reopening for City Experiences from the Pier’s docks, including the Odyssey, Spirit of Chicago and Seadog tours. The dining cruises are back up and running, says sales director Kimi Williams, and many days are already close to selling out. There are more than a dozen cruise options available, including the Seadog speedboat thrill rides, all with extra COVID precautions and sanitation procedures.

Tours every hour daily from the docks at Navy Pier, as well as at the Chicago River at 455 N. Cityfront Plaza Drive. Tickets, options and prices at www.cityexperiences.com

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