Located in the state of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee River is about 100 miles long, stretching from Fond du Lac County to Lake Michigan. Once the center of the city's industry, the river has seen a boom in the housing industry, creating interesting scenery along its banks. As the river's popularity continues to grow, ample options abound to explore the area on a Milwaukee River cruise.
Edelweiss Boat Tours
If you're looking for a themed cruise, or one offering food and beverage options, you'll want to check out Edelweiss Boat Tours. Tours operate seasonally, typically from May through the end of summer. Edelweiss has five boats in its fleet, including some with two levels and accommodating between 40 and 150 passengers.
Edelweiss Boat Tours offers a variety of themed cruises. These include:
- Champagne Brunch Cruise: Two hours; Champagne, orange juice and seasonal breakfast menu; children allowed; cash bar; prices are around $50 for adults and $25 for children 12 and under
- Weekend Margarita Fiesta Cruise: 1.5 hour cruise with complimentary margaritas and taco buffet; cash bar; 21 and over only; $28 per person
- Late Night Party Cruise: 1.5 hour cruise; price includes 2 Miller Lite vouchers and DJ entertainment; cash bar available; 21 and over only; Edelweiss Boats reserves right to refuse boarding to already intoxicated guests; about $25 per person
- Historic Milwaukee Boat Tour: 1 hour, 20 minute cruise through downtown Milwaukee and some of its best landmarks; cash bar available; prices are approximately $18 for adults and $9 for children 12 and under
Throughout the season, look for special event cruises like Halloween, wine and beer themed cruises, and even an Oktoberfest cruise.
Things to Know
Edelweiss can accommodate manual wheelchair boarding only on the Highland Avenue dock. They cannot accommodate motorized wheelchairs or scooters due to weight restrictions and doorway widths, so contact the reservations office ahead of time if you are in need of handicap boarding.
If you're planning to bring a big group, Edelweiss doesn't offer special group pricing. Birthday parties are popular on the boats, but skip the cake as some cruises are standing-room only for a majority of the trip.
Some cruises, like the Margarita Fiesta or Late Night Party Cruise, are 21 and over, and that means no children under 21 are allowed, even if they are accompanied by a parent.
Edelweiss is one of top recommended river boat tours per Visit Milwaukee Tourism. Reviews on sites like TripAdvisor are mixed, with some people loving the views and sightseeing cruises, while others were not necessarily fans of the "party" cruises. Others noted the boats feel dated and aren't necessarily that clean, but it's important to note that most negative reviews are at least two years old.
Riverwalk Boat Tours
Riverwalk Boat Tours is the company to check out for a variety of "booze cruises" and alcohol themed options. Like Edelweiss, these cruises operate seasonally, so expect scheduled dates around summer. The two smaller 40-foot pontoon boats take up to 22 passengers, whereas the two larger 45-foot pontoon boats can accommodate up to 49 people. Both have on-board bathrooms and are available for private charter.
Riverwalk Boat Tours offers everything from Margarita Monday and Tiki Tuesday Cruises to Funky Fridays and Sunday Bloody Mary Cruises. A couple tours of note include:
- Wild Wednesday Craft Beer Cruise: 1.5 hour cruise down the river and out to Lake Michigan; new brewery featured each week with onboard brewery rep discussing their beers; wine, soft drinks, and beer infused appetizers included; $29 per person
- Saturday 3 Pub Cruise: 4.5 hour, Saturday afternoon pub crawl by boat, stopping by three different pubs; price includes drink tickets at each location; $34 per person
Tips and Reviews
There are times when multiple boats may be scheduled for the same cruise, so make sure you are booking the same boat if you're part of a group who are booking their own tickets.
Many of these cruises, if not all, involve alcohol or stops at bars. These cruises are 21 and over, no exceptions. You must show government-issued ID when checking in.
Reviews on sites like Yelp are mixed. Some people aren't a fan of the stops on the pub crawl cruise, despite it being their most popular. Some users noted a tendency for rowdy crowds on these cruises, and the food is relatively mediocre. Those who went with the mindset of a fun booze cruise all rank this experience as pretty awesome. A number of the positive reviews are also from guests who rented their own small pontoon boat, so consider that option if you want to explore the Milwaukee River at your own pace.
Several of Riverwalk Boat Tours' itineraries made TripSavvy's list of best river cruises in Milwaukee. They recommend the Tiki Tuesday, Thirsty Thursday, and the Pub Crawl cruises.
Milwaukee Boat Line
Guests who want a more historical or landmark-rich river cruise should look at Milwaukee Boat Line offerings. Milwaukee Boat Line also comes recommended by Visit Milwaukee Tourism. There are three boats in the fleet, including two yachts and the Iroquois historic boat originally christened as the "Detroit" in 1922 by Defoe Boat & Motor Werks. The yachts include such features as flatscreen TVs and wrap-around windows.
Milwaukee Boat Line offers a number of cruises, complete with historical narration.
- Sightseeing Tour: Most popular tour; 90 minutes learning about Milwaukee's past and present; live narration from the captain and experienced guides; snacks, soft drinks, beer, and cocktails available; $17.99 for adults, kids ages 4-12 are $8.99, children 3 and under are free
- Sightseeing - Happy Hour Cruise: Adults-only 90-minute cruise; $17.99 and option to purchase $5 drink package online
- Mondo Milwaukee: Two-hour tour led by true crime author Matthew J. Prigge, reliving some of the creepiest and scariest aspects of Milwaukee's history; 18 and over only due to adult content; $17.99 per person
Reviews and Important Notes
The original sightseeing tour is dog friendly, but dogs must be well-behaved, leashed, and "take care of business" prior to boarding. Be sure to look online for possible meal package options as well, otherwise brats, hot dogs, and other snacks can be purchased individually on board.
Milwaukee Boat Line is #3 for boat tours in Milwaukee on TripAdvisor. Guests really love the narration, and note the length of the tour is perfect, although some noted that the narration on the happy hour tour was not as thorough as they would've preferred. Of the very few negative reviews, the complaints centered around not being able to hear the narration, or it felt like the guide was reading from a script.
Milwaukee Paddle Tavern
For a completely different way to experience the Milwaukee River, consider Milwaukee Paddle Tavern. This is a little more work than the other river boat tours as you are actually pedaling on this one! Similar to the big bike pedal tours you might've seen, this one is on a riverboat.
Tours are about 1 hour, 45 minutes and pedaling is said to be easier on the boat than some bicycle pedal tours. The boats hold up to 14 people, so you won't be alone. Most of these are private tours, but they run public tours each Friday and Saturday. Prices are $30 per person for Sunday to Thursday and $39 per person for Friday and Saturday. Private tours are $499 for Friday and Saturday, $375 for "Sunday Funday," and $350 for Monday through Thursday.
Look for seasonal cruises, like a Fireworks cruise, that are only offered a couple times a year. The Fireworks cruise sells out quickly, and it's a three hour cruise that leaves at 7:30 p.m. and returns at or after 10:30 p.m.
FAQs and Reviews
There are no food or beverages on Milwaukee Paddle Tavern; it's BYOB. The boats have four built-in bar coolers to cool down your drinks. They request no glass, and you are allowed up to three drinks per person. Food is permissible as well, but they recommend you only bring items you can eat one handed, like a pretzel or maybe a sandwich.
Milwaukee Paddle Tavern is the #1 rated boat tour on TripAdvisor with almost all five-star ratings. The only one-star rating mentions an unfriendly captain who made for an uncomfortable trip.
This is a new tour with only one season under its belt so far. There was a lot of local press in early 2017 when the new tour was announced. The first season saw such popularity, owners told local media they are already planning to expand soon, and they have had to turn people away, especially on Saturdays.
Choosing a Milwaukee River Cruise
There are a number of options available for Milwaukee river cruises, so it really comes down to what aspects are most important to you. Do you want a historical tour, a booze and party cruise, a Champagne brunch, or a combination drinking and paddle yourself tour? Or maybe you want a private tour? No matter which you choose, you're in for a fun day (or night) along the beautiful Milwaukee River.