Updated: May 21, 2015
Best Lake Tahoe Cruises:When you visit Lake Tahoe it's really hard to appreciate the size and scope of the lake unless you take a boat tour on it. Lake Tahoe is located at the border of California and Nevada, not too far from the city of Reno. The lake is roughly 22 miles long by 13 miles wide and is surrounded by snow capped mountains in the winter. The summer months on Lake Tahoe bring out boaters of all types including paid tours and excursions on the water. I have been visiting Lake Tahoe for decades now and had never done the cruises that are offered on either end of the lake. I had toured on a speed boat years ago and even rented jet skis a while back, but the Lake Tahoe cruises were something I wanted to try. On a recent trip in the September 2009, I finally had a great opportunity to get out on the M.S. Dixie II and do the Emerald Bay Sightseeing Cruise. The paddlewheeler is an old fashioned boat and that is what you take across the lake over to Emerald Bay. Actually there are 3 different cruises available from the South Lake Tahoe location.
You catch the M.S. Dixie II paddlewheeler out of Zephyr Cove (see address and directions below). I had read that parking was complimentary, but that was not the case when we arrived. It is a park with a day use fee of $8 and the guy said we had to pay that if we wanted to ride on the boat. The other option was to park along the main road about 3/10's of a mile away and walk down. That seemed ridiculous to me, so I paid the fee and tried to enjoy the cruise. The M.S. Dixie II Emerald Bay Sightseeing Cruise is available at 11:30AM and 2:30PM daily. I also saw it leaving at 9AM on the weekend up along the east side of the lake for roughly 1 1/2 hours. Perhaps that is a seasonally cruise, but it is not mentioned on their website. The MS Dixie Captain's Sunset Dinner Dance is offered at 6 PM daily and we heard good reviews for that cruises. I choose the 11:30AM departure and we arrived about 40 minutes in advance with no ticket reservation on a Sunday. We got the tickets without a hassle, but they do recommend reservations during the peak months to guarantee there is room. You can see all the cruise schedules, prices, etc. online at http://www.zephyrcove.com/cruises/cruise-schedules.cfm. The Tahoe Queen is the other boat available on the South Lake Tahoe side of things for cruising on the lake. The Tahoe Queen Emerald Bay Sighteseeing Cruise leaves from 900 Ski Run Blvd., South Lake Tahoe, CA. It is just past the casinos - west of Stateline. That boat leaves at 11:00AM and 2:30PM daily. The Tahoe Queen Sierra Sunset Dinner Cruise has a 6:30PM daily departure from the same spot. If you are on the north side of the lake, consider the Tahoe Gal (Tahoegal.com) cruise that is offered. You catch it in Tahoe City and they have a shoreline brunch cruise at 10:30AM, a lunch cruise to Emerald Bay that departs at 12:30PM, a cocktail cruise, and a sunset dinner cruise (6:30PM departure). You can charter smaller boats and do more private tours, but we think the variety and times offered on the larger boats should fit most everyones needs.
PRICES - How much is the Lake Tahoe Cruise? - Prices on the M.S. Dixie II are $39 for ages 12 and older and $15 for those 3 and up. On the lunch cruise we were able to order food on board (burgers, wraps, sandwiches) for a small fee. They also serve drinks - check out the 3rd level bar with the Emerald Bay drink (for adults only). The dinner cruise on the Dixie paddlewheeler is $65 for ages 12+ and $35 for 3+. The Tahoe Queen is slightly more expensive at $46 (12+) but still $15 for the youngsters. The Tahoe Gal cruises are roughly $30 to $40 for adults and close to $20 for kids.