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Best Seattle Boat Tours for Family Fun

9 unique tours and cruises for adventure on the water

Kate Missine

Published on: April 19, 2022

View from above of the water, Mt Rainier and downtown Seattle on a sunny day

One of my family’s favorite things about living on the West Coast is all the gorgeous bodies of water surrounding us everywhere we look, from plentiful lakes to stunning Puget Sound, the Salish Sea and the great Pacific Ocean beyond. What better way to take advantage of these natural wonders than to spend time on them? Warm summer months are the perfect time to enjoy a leisurely sail or boat ride. (Bonus: It’s cool and breezy on the water, even on the hottest days.) And luckily for us, there’s no shortage of cool local water ride options to choose from — no boating license required.

The following unique local boat tours, rentals and cruises are essential additions to your summer adventure bucket list!

"Adults sitting and smiling in a round floating boat on a lake on a sunny day"
Photo courtesy Seattle Donut Boat Co.

Seattle Donut Boat Co

No, there are no actual doughnuts involved in this ring-shaped ride (though you’re always welcome to bring your own), but that doesn’t make it any less sweet! Grab some snacks and beverages, and pile into one of these cute doughnut-shaped vessels to float lazily around Lake Union, chilling in the shade provided by the cheerful red umbrella overhead. The boats seat six and are a breeze to control by anyone age 25 or older with a valid driver’s license; life jackets are provided and required for any passenger younger than 12.

Cost: Hour-long cruise, $125; two-hour cruise, $198

Ice Cream Cruise 

Everything is better with ice cream, and boats are no exception! Board this sweet family- and dog-friendly tour boat at Lake Union Park and get ready to enjoy a 45-minute narrated sailing, learning entertaining facts about local landmarks, such as Boeing’s birthplace and the lake’s houseboat community. And, of course, there’s the ice cream — for sale as soon as you get aboard! The cruise sails year-round on Sundays (five sailings during the day); an additional schedule of summer Saturday cruises will run June 18–Aug. 27 in 2022. You can also bring your bikes aboard with the new Bike-and-Boat option: Dock at Fishermen’s Terminal for a 3-mile return ride along the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

Cost: Adults, $15; kids ages 3–12, $10; children ages 2 and younger, $4; ice cream treats, snacks and beverages available for purchase

"Mother and daughter on a boat, smiling"
Photo courtesy Emerald City Pirates

Emerald City Pirates 

Arr, mateys! Gather up your little buccaneers and get your sea legs ready for a voyage aboard Queen Anne’s Revenge, a 50-foot, custom-built ship hosting Seattle’s only interactive pirate-themed cruise. For the popular Family Treasure Cruise, salty dogs of all ages can optionally get outfitted with cool pirate swag to wear (at an additional cost), and select an item of choice from the ship’s treasure chest. Then it’s off to chart the waters of Lake Union, searching for treasure, playing games and learning some pirate slang. The highlight of the cruise is the firing of the ship’s cannons. Snacks, drinks, more pirate goodies and adult beverages are available for purchase from the ship’s store; the entire experience takes around 1.5 hours.

Cost: Salty dogs ages 14 and older, $39; scallywags ages 18 months–14 years, $32; wee pirates 18 months and younger, $15

"Two wooden boats floating on the water near a dock"

The Center for Wooden Boats

Ready to row, row, row your boat? Due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Center for Wooden Boats has temporarily replaced its 25-year-old Sunday Public Sail tradition with its Public Peapod Program, offering one-hour rowboat rentals for free, every day during business hours, as a nostalgic way to explore the lake at your leisure. No experience is needed — the friendly team of staff and volunteers will assist you when you arrive. Five people at a time can get rowing; reservations must be made ahead of time.

Cost: Free!

"Little boy eating popcorn on a cruise ship"
Photo courtesy of Argosy Cruises

Argosy Cruises 

Play tourist in your own town by treating the family to one of Argosy’s fun hour-long narrated cruises, departing from the Seattle waterfront. Listen to fun facts about the city and its history, and enjoy panoramic and close-up views of the city skyline, shipping port and more. Two tour options are available: the Harbor Cruise; and the Locks Cruise, during which you get to ride the Ballard Locks “elevator” as the vessel transitions from salt water to fresh water! Snacks and soft drinks are sold on board for the youngsters, and there is a full bar for the grown-ups.

Cost: Harbor Cruise: Seniors (65 and older), $32; adults (ages 13 and older), $35; kids (ages 4–12), $20; children ages 3 and younger, free

Cost: Locks Cruise: Seniors (65 and older), $46; adults (ages 13 and older), $49; kids (ages 4–12), $25; children ages 3 and younger, free

The Electric Boat Company 

Looking for more independent water fun? Put on your captain’s hat and get ready to steer these electric rental boats for groups of 6–12 — they’re an awesome option for a birthday celebration, family reunion or just a grand adventure. Traverse Lake Union between the Ballard Locks and Portage Bay in one of the three options available: a standard or luxury Duffy boat, or an open-air donut boat. All of the boats are easy to operate and come with features such as a Bluetooth sound system, tables, heating and shade canopies. (No restrooms are on board, however, so prepare to disembark should you need to use the facilities.) Catering options made on-site are available, along with snacks and beverages for sale in the rental office. Plus, check out the new “Clueless in Seattle” scavenger hunt add-on for extra family fun!

Cost: Boat rentals range from $85/hour for the donut boat (seats six) to $125/hour for the standard Duffy (seats 10) to $175/hour for the luxury Duffy (seats 12); catering, GPS-guided tour add-on and the scavenger hunt option are extra

Hot Tub Boats 

That summer sun not hot enough for you? Turn up the heat with a dip in a one-of-a-kind boat that is a hot tub, too! Take in the scenery around Lake Union as you soak in balmy 104-degree water in a tub set right in the middle of the joystick-navigated boat. Each hot tub seats six and is surrounded with teak decking for lounging, hatches for storing snacks and drinks, and waterproof Bluetooth speakers for blasting your favorite tunes. Changing rooms, lockers and showers are available at the rental facility, which is quite an attraction itself: a floating hut decorated by local muralists. All ages are allowed on board, but passengers need to keep safety precautions in mind for little ones and pregnant mamas.

Cost: $400 for two hours; six people maximum per boat

Salish Sea Tours

If you have strolled by Miners Landing lately, you might have noticed a distinctive black-and-red vessel taking off from Pier 57. Opened to the public last summer, these new boat tours are a chance to get a taste of Indigenous culture as well as have fun cruising on the water. The two 93-foot catamarans are Native-owned and -designed, featuring carvings by a local Skokomish artist as well as pieces by a group of traditional carvers from British Columbia. Passengers learn about Native history during the one-hour voyage, which is narrated by a member of the Duwamish Tribe. Two full-service bars operate on board, offering a salmon meal along with sandwiches, snacks and other nonalcoholic beverages.

Cost: Seniors (65 and older), $27; adults (ages 12–64), $30; kids (ages 3–11), $20; children 2 and younger, free

"Sail boat with tall sails out on the water with many passengers on a sunny day"

Seattle’s Tall Ship 

Looking for truly old-school sailing action? You can’t get more classic than the Bay Lady — an actual old-world tall ship — operating daily sailing cruises departing from Seattle’s historic Elliott Bay waterfront. Kiddos will feel like they stepped into a favorite adventure novel as they board the 85-foot, twin-masted schooner right out of a bygone era, complete with a friendly crew and even a cannon! Three public sailings take place daily, most of them powered by wind alone. The ship is family-friendly, with two onboard bathrooms, a snack and drink bar, and plentiful seating.

Cost: Adults, $39–$49; kids ages 2–12, $29–$39; children younger than 2, $5

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