The official Chicago Architecture Foundation Center (CAFC) River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady returns for its 29th season. Operated in partnership with Chicago’s First Lady Cruises and the Chicago Architecture Center (CAC), the CAFC River Cruise is the only cruise narrated by CAC certified-volunteer docents.
The 90-minute CAFC River Cruise is lauded as a “must-do” Chicago activity by guests who leave the cruise inspired by the city’s wide variety of architectural styles—which glide by during travel up and down all three branches of the Chicago River—including art deco, neoclassicism, mid-century modernism, and postmodernism. Guests often praise the CAFC River Cruise as the best way to see Chicago’s skyscrapers unobstructed due to the open-air, 360-degree view from each vessel’s top deck and at different angles that cannot be seen by foot.
As a fourth-generation family-owned and operated company, Chicago’s First Lady Cruises celebrates local businesses by offering guests the opportunity to purchase locally-based food and beverages aboard its tours, such as Revolution Brewing craft beverages and the brand new Chicago’s First Lady Bascule Blend, a coffee roasted and blended by Chicago family-owned Metropolis Coffee Co.
Each cruise is led by a CAC certified-volunteer, expertly trained docent who share their fascinating stories behind more than 50 buildings and 13 bascule bridges along the Chicago River, including the city’s third tallest structure, St. Regis (Vista) Tower, the refurbished riverfront Old Post Office and more. Volunteer docents undergo nearly 100 hours of rigorous training to become certified, plus an additional 12 weeks of study about Chicago’s “canyon of architecture” along the river. They join a cohort of more than 100 CAC certified-volunteer veteran docents who lend their expertise and unique perspectives to guests on the popular River Cruise.
A portion of proceeds from purchased CAFC River Cruise tickets support the CAC’s nonprofit educational mission. In pursuit of the CAC’s mission to inspire people to discover why design matters, the CAC produces programs for children, students, teens and families. Teen Ambassadors, Teen Fellows and Girls Build! programs proactively advance diversity, inclusion, and representation in STEM fields and ACED careers, while field trips, award-winning publications and online tools expand the CAC’s reach into communities across and beyond the Chicagoland area.
The CAFC River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady departs from the Michigan Avenue Bridge at Wacker Drive on Chicago’s Riverwalk just three blocks north of Millennium Park. A blue awning marks the entrance to the stairway leading to the Chicago Riverwalk docking area. Discounted self-park is located at 111 East Wacker Drive. Guests with limited mobility may find an ADA ramp located at Chicago’s Riverwalk at State Street and Wacker Drive, and limited mobility drop-off directions can be found at CruiseChicago.com.
Ticketing and 2022 schedule
For full information on departures and availabilities, please visit CruiseChicago.com. Tickets start at $51.96 for the daytime river cruise. Tickets for the Evening River Cruises start at $52.91.
Tickets can be obtained the following ways:
- Bypassing the box office with e-ticket purchases at Ticketmaster.com/RiverCruise (highly recommended option due to tour popularity)
- In-person at Chicago’s First Lady Cruises’ dockside box office daily, starting at 9 a.m., at 112 E. Wacker Dr., Riverwalk level
- In-person at Chicago Architecture Center Box Office, Friday – Monday, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., at 111 East Wacker Dr.
- By phone at 1-800-982-2787
Groups of 10 or more may reserve in advance by contacting the Group Sales Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 312-322-1130.
Passengers to the CAFC River Cruise can take advantage of visiting the award winning Chicago Architecture Center for an additional $5 and have seven days to visit the Center after their cruise date. This spring the CAC opens their largest exhibition in history on climate change Energy Revolution.
Chicago’s First Lady Cruises also offers private charter experiences aboard Lady Grebe, a vintage six-passenger yacht. Lady Grebe offers an intimate atmosphere for families, groups, visiting celebrities and more to explore the Chicago River from the comfort and privacy of their own 1961 vintage yacht. Lady Grebe’s private offerings is available for groups of 2-6 passengers and depart Friday – Sunday at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Private cruise fees begin at $595, and beverage service and a private CAC docent may be added with an additional fee.