20 BEST St Pete Beach boat tours and water activities

Rachel HannahMay 29, 2022

As you can imagine, most of the St Pete Beach activities are outdoors or water-related. The options for St Pete Beach boat tours are almost endless, from laidback sailboat rides, dolphin and eco tours, kayak and paddleboarding adventures, private fishing charters, and even dining and party boat experiences there are so many different ways to get out on the water!

So if you’re trying to figure out which of the boat tours in St Petersburg is right for you this guide will take you through all of the best St Pete boat tours including some of my personal favorites and what makes each of them special!

I’ll also break down the prices and some of the different pros and cons of each so you will hopefully be able to come to a decision on which of the St Pete Beach boat tours you want to book by the end of this post.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

Overview of the different types of St Pete Beach boat tours:

  • Private Boat Charters
  • Fishing Charters
  • Sailing Cruises
  • Dolphin and Eco Tours
  • Kayak and Paddleboarding
  • Dinner and Drink Cruises
  • Other types of water tours

Private St Pete Beach Boat Tours and Rentals

To me, private boat tours are some of my favorite kinds but really I don’t think that perspective is just mine, who wouldn’t want to have the whole boat all to themselves?

While ideal they can sometimes be expensive but the options I’ve included in this section are unique experiences or really good value, and in some cases are actually rather affordable if you can get together some friends or family to join, you’ll see the cost per person drop significantly. That being said, here are the best private St Pete Beach boat tours.

Private Funship Boats

Just north of St Pete Beach is A Boat Day charters, the owners have 7 different types of luxury boats and you can choose from boats that hold up to 6 or 10 people.  Definitely, one of the best boat cruises in St Pete to go for if you want to party with a group of friends and explore nearby islands! 

Tours depart from Maderia Beach (the closest, just 10 mins from St Pete Beach), Clearwater, and Dunedin. The starting cost for 6 people and 4 hours is $800, so with 6 people, it’s only around $133 per person which I think is a great deal for a private boat tour in St Petersburg!

They also own Bach Boats so if you ever need a bachelorette party idea I would definitely recommend them for a fun time! You can check out their Instagram for what your experience could look like.

I personally was able to experience the Platinum Funship Boat which had a dining table, lots of lounge seating so we could spread out, a sound system, and an upper deck with a waterslide!

This was by far the most fun boating experience I’ve ever had – can all boats have a waterslide, please?! I also loved how half of the boat was in the shade and the other half and the upper deck in the sun because anyone could cool off or soak up more rays whenever they wanted!

You can check prices and book in advance here!

Barrier Island Beach Day on the Gulf of Mexico

This 3-hour St Pete boat tour can be completely customized to your wants (ex: pick your stops and length at each stop) but the standard tour includes dolphin and marine tour, stops at the Barrier Islands to see tropical birds, look for shells, and to enjoy the white sand beaches, along with a celebrity mansion tour and passing under the different bridges in the area. 

Pricing per person starts at $149 and the boat holds up to 6 people. If you are coming in a group of less than 4 you’ll need to call them directly. Honestly, this option is great for duos or smaller groups of 4 that can’t often make flat-rate choices from other companies worth it. 

Mini Self-Drive Speed Boats

Out of all the St Pete boat tours, this option is a bit unique because you get the chance to drive an F-13 mini speedboat yourself at high speeds past several gulf coast landmarks. There is also a high probability of getting close to dolphins! You’ll follow behind your guide who will provide instructions through the intercom. 

If you choose the double seater option only one of you will be the driver, however, if you both want a chance to drive you can also choose to go with the single-seater boats which are definitely going to be a bit pricier. 

Keep in mind that since the boat is so small there is a chance the ride could be a bit rough depending on the weather, so if that is a concern this might not be the tour for you. However, if you want a high adrenaline activity and a unique way to see the Tampa Bay sights it’s a great choice.

Fishing Charters in St Pete Beach

I would be the first to admit that I am not a fan of fishing but I know a lot of people really enjoy it so I wanted to include some options here even though I don’t know much about what makes a fishing charter so bear with me!

If you aren’t from the area or are but don’t own a boat booking a fishing charter is the best way to try your luck at catching some local fish. There’s a 5-hour half-day tour or the full day 10-hour tour.

If you want more assurance that you’ll catch more than a fish or two definitely go with the 10-hour tour. Especially considering the fact that the journey out to the best spots is a roundtrip minimum of 2 hours. 

Grey Snapper, Porgies, Black Seabass, Hogfish, and Mangrove Snapper are the most likely to be caught, however, even Mackerel or Kingfish are possibilities! If you end the day with some fish in your bucket you can bring em’ home for dinner or take them next door to the Friendly Fisherman Seafood Restaurant and they will prepare it for you!

Nature and Eco St Pete Beach Boat Tours 

Visitors and locals alike have a fondness for the local sea life and nature that can be found all across St Petersburg. Of course, the best way to really uncover the beauty is on a dolphin or eco St Pete Beach boat tour.

They will give you the best chance to get up close and personal with not only dolphins but manatees, jellyfish, sting rays, sea and land birds, and other elements of the ecosystem.

Not to mention, some of these tours even take you out to sandbars, uninhabited islands, under bridges, and through mangroves. The Tampa Bay gulf coast is truly so beautiful from out on the water!

Ferries to Shell Key Island Nature Preserve

Just look at the color of this water on Shell Key!

If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of being right on St. Pete Beach then in my opinion a visit to Shell Key is one of the most budget-friendly St Petersburg boat tours you can take. 

For me personally, I am not always a big fan of mass tours, I usually prefer small group settings or just getting transported to a destination so I can go off and explore on my own, which is just what these ferries do!

They will transport you out to a tranquil island setting with white sand beaches and some of the brightest blue water you’ll find in St. Pete! It will seriously blow you away as it did to me!  It’s also a great place to go shelling and spot local seabirds and wildlife such as manatees, dolphins, and if you’re lucky sea turtles. 

When I went, my friend and I saw a few dolphins on the ride and once on the island were able to swim right next to a manatee! Keep in mind if you ever come close enough to touch a manatee it is illegal to do so according to the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act.

Two different ferries go to Shell Key, the Shell Key Shuttle and the Shell Key Ferry. It’s only a 10-minute ride to the island from either choice they just drop you off in separate areas of the island. I think the best thing about this activity is that you get to choose which time slot you want to ride back on making it very accommodating to each individual’s preference.

view of the edge of the mainland on the Shell Key Shutle

I chose to take the Shell Key Shuttle based near Pass-a-grille Beach just a short drive south of St Pete Beach. Unfortunately, you can only purchase your tickets in person at the booth so if you come on a weekend or over a holiday come early or on a weekday to assure your spot. It costs $25 for adults and ½ price for kids. Parking passes are $5 and are valid for the whole day! Each ticket includes snorkel gear, a bag for shells, and a beach umbrella which was nice!

Shell Key Shuttle Schedule:

  • Departure Times:10:00 AM, 12:00 Noon, 2:00 PM
  • Pick-up Times: 12:15 PM, 2:15 PM, 4:15 PM

The other option, the Shell Key Ferry, is located at the Fort DeSoto boat ramp. It is practically the same thing except you do have the option to book in advance online which is highly recommended. The ticket cost is $40 but it includes a parking pass and the online booking fee in the price so it’s pretty comparable to the Shell Key Shuttle but gives you some peace of mind. 

Shell Key Ferry Schedule:

  • Departure Times: 10:00 AM, 12:00 PM, 2:00 PM Fri-Mon
  • Pick-up Times:  1:00 PM, 3:00 PM, 5:00 PM Fri-Mon

My Findings Tip: If you want to camp on the key underneath the stars you can actually upgrade to the Camper Ticket for a slight upcharge as long as you have a camping permit from Shell Key and your own camping gear. 

St Petersburg Sailboat Cruises 

I feel like sometimes people go into a sailboat tour with the wrong expectation, even with strong winds sailboats only go upwards of 7mph. Sailboat cruises are meant for those of you who want to take it easy and are in no rush. These types of boat tours in St Petersburg are great for couples or small groups who want to spend quality time talking with a great view of the gulf while also having the chance to spot dolphins! 

I recommend this 2.5 Hour Day Time Sailing Tour because you can choose to cruise on either the Gulf of Mexico or Boca Ciega Bay and there’s a cooler on board so bring as many drinks as you want! The tour does provide bottled water and soda and there is a bathroom on the ship. You can also book this same tour for sunset, nothing like a romantic evening on the water! If it gets a little chilly from the evening breeze there are blankets you can use.

Dolphin Boat Cruises in St Pete

As I’m sure we all know, one of the most stereotypical things to do anywhere in Florida is to go on a dolphin cruise. While they are heavily touristy, as a Michigander, I get the pull to go on a dolphin tour as I rarely ever got to see dolphins until I moved near St Pete Beach. So regardless of some tours being a little touristy and busy, there is still a good range of dolphin boat cruises in St Pete that will fit your preference for both tourists and locals! 

The Big Blue Boat Tour

This is the largest and most iconic narrated dolphin boat tour in St Petersburg which departs from Johns Pass right across from Maderia Beach. This boat, while not so private does have some nice onboard amenities like bathrooms and a snack bar!

If you’ve never been on a dolphin tour before this is a great first-time option because your guides will help point out dolphins for you and if for some reason you don’t get to see any during your tour you will be fully refunded or given a make-up date. Because of that, I can’t really disagree that this tour really your safest bet to see dolphins! You can book it here!

Note: Make sure to bring cash for snacks and drinks. 

Dolphin Quest Cruise

The Dolphin Quest Cruise is another of the boat tours in St Petersburg that takes off from Johns Pass near Madeira Beach. What I love about this tour is the size and shape of the boat, It’s only a 40-foot that holds up to 35 people but it has bench seats that go the full length of each side giving each person a “window seat” view. Plus, the whole boat is covered so you won’t leave looking like a tomato.

Dolphin Racer Speedboat

Another similar mainstream option is the St Pete Beach Dolphin Racer Speedboat, it too has provided commentary over the speakers but the main difference is that you will go faster speeds than many of the other cruises.

The main con I have with this tour is that the boat is completely unshaded unlike the Dolphin Quest Tour so on a hot summer’s day there you won’t be able to get out of the sun so if you burn easily or don’t like the constant sun this may not be the best choice for you. But as long as you use a lot of sunscreen and bring a hat and shades you should be fine.

Small Group Dolphin Cruise to Shell Key

If you can’t afford a private tour or don’t have enough people to make the cost worth it then this Dolphin Cruise to Shell Key is the next closest option! The boat only holds 6 so you could honestly book it all for yourself if you are able to that size group together but it’s priced at $52 per person so you could also go solo or doubles affordably.

This tour leaves from Tierra Verde and once you take off your captain will head out to Boca Ciega Bay on St. Pete Beach to look for dolphins before continuing on to Shell Key Preserve where you can swim, snorkel, relax on the beach, or collect seashells. 

Keep in mind this tour is only 2 hours so by the time you get to the island it won’t really be for too long of a stop but at such a low cost I wouldn’t expect anything more.  But if your main priority is getting to relax on the island then I would definitely do the Shell Key Ferry that I mentioned earlier in this guide because you get to choose your own departure and return. Otherwise, if you don’t mind a faster-paced tour this boat tour is rather private and of great value for a dolphin boat cruise in St Pete Beach.

Kayak and Paddleboards Adventures

A fun alternative to taking a St Pete Beach boat tour is paddling a kayak or paddleboard, there is something I personally love about being that close to the water. 

Electric Standup Paddleboard Tour

electric paddleboard tour to shell key island in st pete, fl

One of my favorite activities I have done so far in St. Pete since moving here is an electric paddle board called an eSUP, it’s a completely new concept started by a local couple in St. Pete! At Native eSUP Adventures they essentially figured out a way to attach a motor onto the backside of the paddle board and the controls are conveniently on a wristband remote.

Their 3-mile tours depart from Tierra Verde and go out to Shell Key Island Preserve during the morning or at sunset and even go through the mangroves when the tide is high. You’ll have a chance to spot dolphins, birds, and the occasional manatee.

I had never gone paddleboarding up until this tour and I had always been a little intimidated by regular paddle boards because learning something new as an adult can be a bit uncomfortable but when I read about this new concept I was convinced to give it a go and I’m so glad I did!

Daryl and I went on the Morning eSUP Tour of Shell Key and during our tour, it was very windy, I was SO glad we had the motor! We could easily crank the speed up to 7 or 8 mph, it really helped us cut through the water without struggling to reach the island. I would recommend this activity to just about anyone!

Johns Pass Paddleboard Tour

If you are more of a traditionalist and don’t care about the flashy motor of the eSUP tour then this paddleboarding tour is the alternative for you. This excursion is around 2 hours and like the Native eSUP will have a chance to go through mangrove tunnels in the right tide conditions.

But instead of this tour going out to Shell Key this tour leaves from Treasure Island (close to St Pete Beach) and goes out to a sandbar in Johns Pass, you’ll also paddle close to a drawbridge where you’ll see lots of different types of boats pass through and spotting dolphins on this tour is likely! The other perk about this tour is that after you’re finished you’ll be within walking distance of a lot of restaurants to grab a bite after.

LED Glass Bottom Kayak Tour

If you enjoy kayaking then I would recommend this LED Glass Bottom Kayak Tour right on St Pete Beach for a twist on the conventional. The reason you go at night is to see the fish and ecosystem underneath the water with the use of an LED light attached to the sides of each kayak.

You’ll adventure in the water near the Don CeSar and head to a mangrove island to spot other creatures and birds before reaching the Pinellas Bayway Bridge which looks awesome lit up at night. You’ll be allowed to feed the fish and find other creatures like crab, conch, or starfish in Boca Ciega Bay.

Drink and Dinner Cruise St Pete

There are two main types of food and drink boat cruises in St Pete. One is more upscale on a yacht and the other is on a super relaxed triple-decker colorful boat. You can read about the differences between the two below!

StarLite Sapphire Yacht Cruise

StarLite Cruise lit up at night at the dock near St Pete Beach

Right before we boarded our StarLight dinner boat cruise in St Pete

You take either a lunch or dinner dining cruise out of Pasadena. I chose to book the Evening Dinner and Dance Cruise and overall it ended up being a pretty fun date night! But after my experience, I almost feel like this is a better activity for a group of friends or as a pregame before going bar hopping in downtown St Pete, keep reading below to find out why. 

What I liked most about this dinner cruise was the upper outdoor deck and we ended up hanging out up there while we waited for our food to arrive!  We caught dolphins swimming alongside the yacht, and the view of St Petersburg lit up at night was so pretty and romantic! The lower dining room was quite noisy because there was a bachelorette party, so we didn’t care to be down there anyway. 

You won’t really know what the atmosphere will be like until it gets going, so definitely something to consider with this dinner cruise in St. Pete, and it may not be as romantic as you might anticipate.

Another con is that dinner and drinks are a separate cost from the entry ticket, entrees were priced around $25-30 and I’m not going to sugarcoat it, the cocktails were BAD, way too sweet, and syrupy. So stay on the safe side and order wine or whiskey. The food however was actually pretty good for being prepared in mass quantities, and the free dessert was a nice treat. 

You can book the lunch version of this tour here which I think is the better choice if you want more of a calmer dining cruise.

Calypso Breeze Tropical Party Boat Cruises in St Pete

These party cruises are based in Maderia Beach and if you want to have a good time with family or friends, enjoy the music, tropical food buffet, and unlimited drinks (choice of wine, beer, or rum punch) then I would recommend this option! It’s way more casual and not as pricey as the StarLight Cruise because food and drinks are included!

The cons I have with this cruise are that it obviously isn’t as luxurious and there will be more tourists or families on board so it’s not as exclusive or romantic if that’s what you’re looking for. You can book the lunch party cruise here, or opt for the sunset dinner cruise here instead.

Tiki Boat Tours in St Petersburg

This Tiki Boat Tour is another one of my favorite types of experiences that I’ve had on a boat tour in St Petersburg, I mean come on there are not many other places in the U.S. where you can ride around on a tiki boat, bring your own drinks, and jam out to your own playlist over Bluetooth!

It’s definitely a must-do whether you’re on vacation or from the area. It’s also a unique way to celebrate a birthday or a bachelorette party. This cruise departs from Johns Pass in Madeira Beach and holds up to 12 people.

There’s also another company, Cruisin’ Tikis, that holds up to 6 people and departs from downtown St Pete (the one I did) and cruises around the pier and gives great sights of the skyscraper, it was super beautiful at sunset! Our captain cruised to shallow water where we could wade if we wanted and also let us take turns steering. If you get lucky on your tour you can even see nurse sharks (harmless to humans)!

Additional Water Activities to Try in St Pete Beach

Jet skiing

The jet skis on this rental are brand-new Sea-Doo GTIs that ride smoothly and go really fast! They even have high-quality Bluetooth speakers! Honestly, going jet skiing is a perfect water activity to do when you’re short on time or want a bit of a thrill. I haven’t gone in a while and I miss it, maybe this is my sign to do it again soon!


Ever heard of kiteboarding? Well, neither had I until recently and now it’s definitely got me intrigued! Kiteboarding or kitesurfing is an extreme sport where you essentially use the wind from a large kite to move the surfboard across the water.

This tour is actually a 2-hour lesson where you’ll be taught how to kiteboard in shallow water so even when you fall over you won’t have to worry about how deep the water is. You are also strapped in and connected to the board and kite so it’s perfectly safe. Because only your group will participate in the lesson it’s quite pricey but definitely worth it for the adventurous type looking to try something new! 

Parasailing flight

A Parasailing Flight is a classic water activity you can do on Maderia Beach. See the coastal landscapes of St Pete Beach and beyond as you gently get lifted a few hundred feet into the sky. You can book solo, tandem, or triple and you’ll hang out in the sky for around 10-12 minutes with the option to let your toes dip in the water on the descent down.

Activities other than boat cruises in St Pete

There are actually a lot more fun things to do in St Pete to do other than lying out on the beach or cruising on the water so I wanted to include some other ideas for your trip to St Pete Beach!

Where to Stay in St Petersburg

hollander hotel pool

There are two main areas that people stay at when visiting St Pete, the downtown or the beachside. So those are the two places I have given my personal recommendations on below.

However, if you are having trouble deciding which area is best for you I have a very in-depth guide of the best hotels in St Petersburg that goes over the pros and cons of each location, gives options for all budgets, as well as provides other nearby alternative areas if you want to stay outside of the busy zones.

Downtown St Pete

  • The Exchange – A newly renovated older hotel where you can grab rooms for around $100 USD a night plus $20 a night for parking if you have a car. It’s one of the cheapest places to stay right in downtown so keep in mind while it has been refreshed a bit some of the fixtures are still a bit dated and there are no fridges in the rooms. There is a fitness center and a lobby bar with cozy seating but they do not serve breakfast.
  • The Hollander Hotel – The hotel I recommend the most to family and friends who come to visit. The rate per night cannot be beaten for the location, amenities, comfort, and design of the rooms. I really like the food at the on-site restaurant and there is also a coffee shop, spa, and a pool with an outside bar. The property is located close to restaurants and shopping and is under a mile from the pier.
  • Avalon Hotel – The neighboring sister hotel of The Hollander which is another great and comparable choice. You will also have access to all of the amenities at the Hollander, the main difference is the art deco style of the lobby and rooms. They offer a free shuttle to Tropicana Field daily.
  • Bay Street Inn – This B&B is the most home-like stay you will find right downtown. It is a bit higher priced but it is in one of my favorite safe neighborhoods that is easily walkable to the heart of downtown. It has very high reviews on booking.com. There is a continental breakfast served each morning and some rooms have a kitchen and hot tub.
  • The Vinoy – This historic pink resort is right next to the bay in the center of downtown. Some of the rooms have been updated while still keeping the architecture from its past. There are all kinds of amenities, there is a spa, heated pool, hot tub, and sauna. You can eat at 4 different options, join daily fitness classes, or play at the 18-hole golf course nearby.

St Pete Beach

pass-a-grill boardwalk
  • Sea Jay Motel and Marina $ – One of the most affordable modern motels that is just a 5-minute walk to Treasure Island Beach. Rooms have a microwave and some have a fridge or kitchenette. There’s a shared courtyard pool and grills.
  • Hilton Garden Inn $$ – This is the perfect mid-range budget hotel set on St Pete Beach and Coconut Charlie’s restaurant and beach bar is on the property. It’s within walking distance of the best restaurants, beach bars, and shops on St Pete Beach. You will have ocean views from some of the higher-floor rooms which are clean with simple modern furnishings. You can book standard rooms, suites, or the penthouse.
  • Bellweather Beach Resort $$ – The rooms are located below Spinners Revolving Restaurant which I believe to have some of the best views on St Pete Beach! This resort has everything you could ask for – a beachfront pool and sun deck, complimentary beach cabanas, 24-hour help desk, evening live music, and a bar. Bellweather is sandwiched in between two great beach bars serving delicious food!
  • Treasure Island Beach Resort $$$ – The place to stay on Treasure Island if you are coming with a large group or have a big family! Apartment-styled suites, choose between the standard, one, or two-bedroom suites that can accommodate up to 8 adults. Rooms have full kitchens, a desk, seating, and robes. The property has a beachfront pool, an on-site restaurant BRGR (great breakfast), and a gym.
  • The Saint Hotel $$$ – A converted motel into a hip and trendy hotel with one of the highest overall ratings on booking.com! It is not beachfront but just a 5-minute walk to Upham Beach. Plus, there is a pool and bar to enjoy from. You can opt for a kitchenette when choosing a room. The on-site restaurant, 82 Degrees offers incredible dishes!
  • Don CeSar $$$ – Historic exterior with a recently renovated interior that brings the rooms back into this era. “The Don” is a stay that is sure to impress, it’s super clean with comfortable beds and a great place to celebrate special occasions. Inside the resort, there are several restaurants from casual, fine dining, and a rooftop bar. You can also browse the boutique shops, take a dip in the pool, or have a spa day.

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