Want to get your feet wet sailing? Try a day cruise

Pure Florida offers sightseeing cruises.
Pure Florida offers sightseeing cruises.

When I stepped out on the deck of the General Jackson Showboat on a recent afternoon, a view I’d seen dozens of times looked almost new.

I grew up in Nashville and practically have its skyline memorized. But sailing into downtown along the Cumberland River on the vessel’s midday cruise marked my first time seeing the AT&T Building and the Broadway honky tonks from the water.

The onboard band had primed us for our arrival in the heart of Music City with live country, bluegrass and blues music during its Tennessee Legends show following a Southern buffet lunch. I got to feel like a tourist for around two and a half hours, after just a 20-minute drive from my apartment and a roughly $76 fare.

With steep travel costs in the wake of high inflation, day cruises can offer passengers a relatively affordable way to see destinations – or their own city – from a new vantage point.

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‘A nice change of perspective’

Joy Hess, owner and lead travel consultant at Outside the Lines Travel, often recommends day cruises when she shares local activities in various destinations with clients.

“It’s just a nice change of perspective,” said Hess, who recently took a sunset cruise herself during a trip to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.

In addition to being budget-friendly – Hess said most day cruises start at between $40 and $50 per person for two to four hours of sailing, though prices vary by location – the sailings can serve as a good test run for people who haven’t been on a boat or ship before. “It’s shorter (than a multinight cruise),” she said. “You know the end is in sight.”

Downtown Nashville as seen from the General Jackson Showboat.
Downtown Nashville as seen from the General Jackson Showboat.

Hess said most cruises have a bar on board with snacks and drinks available for purchase. If a cruise is labeled a sightseeing cruise, food and beverages typically cost extra, she added, while dinner cruises often bake food into the fare.

“Read the inclusions,” she said, which passengers can usually find on the operator’s website. Tips for the crew are also typically not included in the fare, and Hess recommended bringing cash with you.

Day cruises around the US

General Jackson Showboat, Nashville, Tennessee: The showboat offers year-round midday and evening cruises, offering meals on board and shows in its Victorian Theater.

“Guests are able to experience so many parts of what makes Nashville special during the cruise including music paying homage to world-famous musicians who have roots in Tennessee, like Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley, scenic views of the city and the Cumberland River, along with authentic Southern cuisine,” Patrick Walker, the showboat’s general manager, said in an email.

The midday cruise featuring the Tennessee Legends show that I took runs from March through November and pays homage to iconic music and artists of the Volunteer State. Tickets for passengers 12 and older range from $45 to $104, and tickets for kids age 4 through 11 range from $30 to $79. Children 3 and under can sail for free.

Pure Florida, Naples, Florida: Pure Florida offers multiple cruises, including sightseeing cruises that take guests from waterfront shopping district Tin City through Naples Bay to the Gulf of Mexico over 90 minutes. Passengers can spot mansions and wildlife while the crew narrates, according to Merry Coffman, director of marketing communications.

“The M/V Double Sunshine is an open-air double-decker catamaran,” Coffman said in an email. “Guests can move aboard the boat to experience different views, enjoy the fresh air and warm sun while cruising.”

Sightseeing cruises cost $46 for adults and $23 for kids age 3 through 12. Children 2 and under can sail for free.

Red and White San Francisco Bay Cruises, San Francisco: Passengers can choose from several cruises and tours but the company’s most popular is its Golden Gate Bay Cruise, according to Tyler Foster, managing director and partner.

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The one-hour trip takes guests beneath the Golden Gate Bridge, along the coastline of Marin County and next to Alcatraz Island. Adult fares for the sailing start at $38, while fares for children age 5 through 17 start at $29. Children younger than 5 can sail for free.

Argosy Cruises, Seattle: Argosy offers multiple sightseeing cruises. The one-hour Harbor Cruise takes guests on a narrated tour, and they can take in views of the Seattle skyline, Mount Rainier – if the weather allows – and more, according to marketing coordinator Georgia Golla.

The cruise costs start at $37 for adults (though that will go up to $39 on May 29), $32 for seniors and $20 for children age 4 through 12. The trip is free for kids 3 and younger.

Nathan Diller is a consumer travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville. You can reach him at ndiller@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Best local tourist spot? Day cruises offer short, low cost adventures