Here are 8 Houston-area cruises, boat tours perfect for spring, summer

Versie Dortch

For those with nautical inclinations but no ship to call their own, here are eight Houston-area boats – from a pontoon to a yacht – offering daytime and evening sightseeing tours, and dinner and dancing cruises.

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Ivory Bill, Big Thicket National Preserve

Ivory Bill (Photo courtesy of the Big Thicket Association/Neches River Adventures)

The historic Collier’s Ferry Park is the launching point for Ivory Bill, a 45-foot excursion boat operated by the Big Thicket Association. Named for the region’s now-extinct ivory-billed woodpecker, the open-air pontoon boat offers public tours, field trips, private charters and nature classes, taking passengers through the moss-draped cypress-tupelo sloughs of the Big Thicket National Preserve. As the boat navigates the shallow backwater channels of the Neches River, guides teach passengers the importance of the wetlands while identifying various flora and fauna along the way. The area is home to more than 300 species of birds, 200 species of trees, 47 mammals and an array of reptiles and amphibians.


The Ivory Bill is at 5390 Pine Street in Beaumont. Tickets range from $10 for children ages 2-4, to $20 for adults.

Call (409) 651-5326;

Southern Empress, Conroe

Built in 1983 in a Mississippi shipyard, this 131-foot paddle-wheeler was cut into sections and transported to the captive waters of Lake Conroe where it was reassembled. With two enclosed decks and an open-air boiler deck, the Southern Empress can accommodate 375 guests. The three-story vessel churns through the waters of Lake Conroe weekly, offering cocktail and dinner cruises and, once monthly, a weekday luncheon for those who wish to see the lake by day.

The Southern Empress is docked at 7035 Kingston Cove Lane in Willis.

Dinner-cruise tickets start at $74.95.

Call (936) 588-3000;

Boardwalk FantaSea, Kemah

Boardwalk FantaSea (Image courtesy of Landry’s)

This luxury yacht, measuring 117 feet from bow to stern, holds as many as 149 passengers. Its hour-long sightseeing excursions provide panoramic views of Galveston Bay. Expect to glimpse multi-million-dollar waterfront homes, picturesque lighthouses and the charming Kemah Boardwalk. The vessel offers drinks and snacks as well as frequent dinner cruises and themed party cruises.


Boardwalk FantaSea launches from the Kemah Boardwalk Marina.

Tickets for the sightseeing cruises cost $25 for adults and $20 for seniors and kids ages 12 and under. Tickets for the frequent dinner cruises start at $89.99.

Call (281) 538-9600;

Seagull II, Galveston

Galveston Historical Foundation (Photo provided by the Galveston Historical Foundation)

Operated by the Galveston Historical Foundation, Seagull II offers public tours, field trips, private charters and history classes along Galveston’s shoreline. On narrated cruises aboard the 50-foot double-decker Seagull II, passengers learn about Galveston Bay’s history and animal inhabitants. Dolphin sightings are common. Beverages are available for purchase during the voyage.

Sailing Tuesday-Sunday, Seagull II departs from the Galveston Historic Seaport at 10:15 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:45 p.m., and 4 p.m. Tickets cost $17 for adults and children.

Call (409) 763-1877;


Colonel Paddlewheel Boat, Galveston

Colonel Paddlewheel Boat (Image courtesy of Moody Gardens)

A replica of an 1800s-style paddlewheel boat, the Colonel offers hour-long sightseeing tours of Offatts Bayou. The vessel offers drinks and snacks, as well as monthly dinner cruises.

Boat tickets cost $15 for adults and $12 for seniors and children ages 4-12. Tickets for dinner cruises are $90 for adults and $65 for children ages 4-12.

Moody Gardens is at One Hope Blvd. in Galveston. Call (800) 582-4673;

Bayou Ranger II, Pasadena

Wildlife seen from the Bayou Ranger II at the Armand Bayou Nature Center. (Image provided by the Armand Bayou Nature Center)

Each weekend, Bayou Ranger II shuttles the waters of the Armand and Horsepen Bayous of the Armand Bayou Nature Center. The pontoon boat’s 90-minute excursions provide passing views of wetlands forest, prairie and marsh habitats and the chance to spot various critters, including the occasional alligator. The 2,500-acre wilderness preserve is home to more than 370 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Along the way, guides share the history of the preserve while highlighting the importance of environmental conservation.


The pontoon tours depart Friday through Sunday from Armand Bayou Nature Center at 8500 Bay Area Boulevard in Pasadena.

Tickets cost $35 for the morning and sunset cruises and $45 for the night cruise.

Call (281) 474-2551;

Spirit of the Bayou, Houston

Spirit of the Bayou (Buffalo Bayou Partnership)

The historic Allen’s Landing is the launching point for the Spirit of the Bayou, a small excursion boat operated by Buffalo Bayou Partnership. With a 21-person maximum, the intimate, open-air vessel offers public tours and private charters weekly. As the boat navigates the shallow channels of Buffalo Bayou, it takes passengers through the heart of Downtown Houston, past several noteworthy locations such as the University of Houston-Downtown, the Downtown Aquarium and Sesquicentennial Park. Spirit of the Bayou offers several different excursions including various history tours, 90-minute sunset tours of the Waugh Bat Colony, 30-minute twilight tours and 45-minute general tours. Passengers are encouraged to keep their eyes peeled for herons, jumping fish, and the occasional alligator.


Allen’s Landing is at 1001 Commerce Street in Houston.

Tickets start at $10 for adults and $8 for children ages 4-12.

Call (713) 752-0314;

M/V Sam Houston, Houston

Sam Houston Boat Tour (Image courtesy of Port of Houston)

The Sam Houston Boat Tour will resume tours on June 1.The Port of Houston Authority offers free boat tours

Operated by the Port of Houston Authority, the M/V Sam Houston offers tours along the Houston Ship Channel, the 52-mile-long, 530-foot-wide waterway that connects the port to Galveston Bay. The 100-passenger Sam Houston has operated as Port Houston’s public tour vessel since its inaugural voyage on July 30, 1958. During leisurely, 90-minute roundtrip tours, passengers learn about the port and the maritime industry while enjoying passing views of international cargo vessels and operations at the port’s Turning Basin Terminal.

Sam Houston Boat Tours depart from 7300 Clinton Dr. in Houston. Reservations are required.


Call (713) 670-2416;

MORE: This is the stunning place in Texas where you can take a glass-bottom boat tour

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