Bats of Austin
We should have brought beer.
That would have been a great idea.
Lone Star Boat Tours tl;dr
One of the popular things to do in Austin is to walk to the Congress Street Bridge and see the bats emerge at sunset or after. After debating whether to try to see the sight from the bridge itself or view it from below on a boat cruise, we opted for the latter since we thought it would probably give us a better view.
Austin Bat Watching
If you look it up there are really just 2 options for the sunset boat cruise, one is through Capital Cruises (which sells out quickly) and the other is through Lone Star Boat Tours.
Since there was availability on Lone Star and it got decent reviews, we decided to go with them. A tip if you do decide to go this route is to book the tour online to guarantee yourself a seat. We saw a family try to do a “walk in” but got turned away since the two boats Lone Star Cruises had were full and there were no no-shows. The only downside to the online booking is the $3 service charge but at least you know you’ll get a seat.
On the plus side, it is BYOB so we saw people with coolers enjoying a nice beverage or several, including ourselves while cruising along Lady Bird River.
We started the tour around 8 pm but boarding of the boats started at 7:15 pm. The seating is first come first serve so if you want a particular seat or if you have a big party it may be better to show up early.
From what I saw, there wasn’t any specific benefit to one seat versus another since the boat is quite small. Similar to any tour guide you get, it is very hit or miss. Some are funnier and more interactive than others and some are just okay; ours was just OK.
At 8 pm and after a final warning to use the restroom since there isn’t one on-board and the next opportunity wouldn’t be until 1.5 hours later, we were on our way.
We were sitting in the second row from the front so I wished the microphone was louder but from what I did hear, the guide gave us a nice history of the buildings along the way as we cruised down the river. It was a beautiful way to check out the Austin Skyline at sunset and also see some of the many bridge is Austin from a different perspective.
Learning a little more about the history of the city and some of the buildings (did you know there is a building downtown that looks like an owl and one that looks like an armadillo from above?) also helps me feel more educated about the city I’m visiting.
After cruising for about 40-45 minutes down the river, we headed back towards the Congress Street bridge and got a bat lesson. Our guide gave us info on the bats, their migration patterns, what they eat (lots of insects!) and other interesting tidbits about the residents under the bridge.
One of the facts that stood out in my mind is that all the thousands of bats that live under the bridge are all female bats! Then we sat and waited…and waited…and waited…While the captain of the other boat shined a red light (not harmful to the bats) and we were able to see pockets of scout bats fly out (these are the bats that tend to come out first before the rest to ensure conditions are right for the rest), unfortunately we didn’t get to see a huge flock of bats as expected.
If you’re coming in July/August from what we hear you may have better luck. All in all, $10 per person + $3 online convenience fee and tax making it a grand total of a little less than $25 for 2 people was not bad for a relaxing sunset cruise, Austin City history lesson and potential awesome bat sighting (I just wish we actually saw more bats!).
F8T Tip Bring your own alcohol to enjoy during you sunset cruise!