Pros: Interesting. Informative. Relaxing. Humourous. Reasonably Priced.
Cons: No buddy seat for Wheelchair-bound passengers. Seats rickety and close quarters.
When the San Antonio Riverwalk was conceived by Architect Robert H H Hugman, the idea was to incorporate a Venice-like atmosphere in downtown San Antonio, Texas. During the early days of along the Riverwalk, gondola rides were available from a departure point in front of the oldest waterfront Mexican restaurant, Casa Rio. The cruises now depart from several locations along the Riverwalk, using compressed natural gas powered barges. The shallow bottomed barges easily navigate the river, where depths can range from five to fifteen feet. The cruises last between thirty and forty-five minutes, covering the two and a half mile stretch of river in the downtown area. The boats run from 9 AM until 9 PM.
The current cruise contract with the city of San Antonio has been awarded to Rio San Antonio Cruises. Pricing for the water attraction makes for an informative and inexpensive trip through the city. The normal adult fare runs $7.75, plus an tips you decide to bestow upon your Tour Guide. The pricing for residents of Bexar County, Senior Citizens and Military shaves a few dollars off the price, with an even five dollar fee. Children five years and younger pay a modest two dollars to ride. In order to get the discounted pricing, be prepared to show identification. The ticket booths clearly state that ID is required. The pricing rolls the taxes into the advertised price. Group rates are available on-line, where a ten percent discount is offered.
The experience with Rio San Antonio Cruises relies heavily on the Tour Guide you draw. My trip included a would-be comedian whose levity was actually enjoyable. Sometimes Tour Guides try hard to be funny and fail miserably. Others offer dry statistics or bland history without any personality or character inserted into their dialogue. My trip was both comedic and informational. The levity filled the gaps in the tour between points of interest. I’m not sure how many of these guides ride together to work on their material, but I spoke with a friend that traveled with a different tour guide. The experience sounded a lot less fun than mine. During the cruise, the tour guides will point out skyline features along with a brief history or little known facts. For instance, my hotel (The Marriott Rivercenter) is allegedly listed in the Guiness Book of World Records. It seems that an operational hotel called the Fairmont was already sitting where Marriott wanted to put their hotel. A historical preservation group lobbied to prevent the destruction of the Fairmont Hotel. In return for the prime location on the Riverwalk, Marriott lifted the entire three-story tall Fairmont Hotel, placed it on 36 axles, and moved it to another location. I fact checked this trivia on the internet, where I found the Fairmont Hotel’s website. The website details this move in 1986 and verified that it obtained the World Record for the largest structure ever moved on wheels.
The Rio San Antonio Cruise maintains handicap accessibility. The four ticket locations are situated in areas of the Riverwalk where ramps or elevators to street level are located. I did not take the cruise with any disabled visitors. However, when researching the history of the Riverwalk, I discovered some articles regarding accessibility. I did note when entering the boat that the barge floor did not have any visible obstruction. The entrance to the boat was a flat surface. However, one of the articles I read indicated that the wheelchairs are placed in the back of the boat behind the Tour Guide. Having been on the cruise, it is apparent that this would be the only location the wheelchair could possibly fit. There are no “jump seats” to allow a friend or relative to sit with the wheelchair-bound visitor during a tour. The lack of a buddy seat might be one valid complaint in terms of accessibility. One other issue might be the proximity to the natural gas motor, which isn’t excessively loud, but might still inhibit the experience a bit.
Rio San Antonio Cruises also offer a River Taxi service. The Taxi Service runs a continuous route around the Riverwalk, stopping at 39 hotels, restaurants and shops. Although the Taxi ride does not include the narrative offered by Tour Guides, the pricing makes it an interesting option for navigating the river. The one way fare runs four dollars and can be purchased at the ticket booths or when boarding the taxi. A 24 hour pass can be purchased for ten dollars in the event you want to get on and off at your own leisure. The price comes down further for a three-day pass, which will set you back $25. The hours of operation and inclusive taxes are the same as the river tours. A map available on the cruise line website indicates river taxi locations that are handicap accessible. The river taxi navigates a larger stretch of the river in case you want to see more without the narration.