- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2000

Many Washingtonians cross the bridges spanning the Potomac River with barely a glance at the waters below.

But take a trip on a lazy, sunny day, and it is hard to believe this curvy river gets so little attention. Out-of-town tourists are far more likely to ask to visit the White House, Capitol and Washington Monument than to beg for a cruise along the river.

It is a missed opportunity. A riverside view of Washington gives a unique perspective of the city's layout and juxtaposition with Virginia and Maryland. It also hearkens back to a time when agriculture and trade rather than politics were the principal forms of commerce.

A good introduction to the water for families with young children is the Potomac Spirit cruise, which makes two trips a day from George Washington's wharf at Mount Vernon. The boat runs Tuesday through Sunday and has an air-conditioned interior as well as rooftop seating.

"We're starting up," shouts Briana Owens, 6, a District girl who is on her first boat trip with her mother. The ramp to the boat is rolled away, the engines begin rumbling, and lines are cast off.

The cruise ship has three decks and plenty of tables and chairs to accommodate the crowds on a recent Friday. A snack bar serves pizza, soft drinks and chips. The atmosphere is relaxing the ship's engines hum quietly enough for passengers to carry on conversations without shouting.

And no need to worry about seasickness. The ride is so smooth it is like being in a car.

After the ship pulls away from the wharf, Capt. Marvin Prince, the pilot for today's cruise, begins a short narration of local geography. He points out the panoramic view of Mount Vernon, and the boat goes slowly enough for visitors to snap photographs.

The boat sweeps past Fort Belvoir, Fort Washington and Piscataway Park. Mr. Prince explains George Washington's role in establishing the District of Columbia as the capital of the United States a decision that involved many compromises from other states.

Children who are too young to absorb history lessons can enjoy watching other boats on the river and the occasional sight of waterfowl diving for fish.

"We see a lot of families come aboard," Mr. Prince says. "They really have a good time."

It is rare for children to be afraid of the boat ride, Mr. Prince says, but he is ready to reassure reluctant visitors by taking them to the captain's deck and showing them around. The crew members also will answer questions from visitors.

Longer cruises also are available on the Potomac Spirit, leaving from the boat docks at Pier 4 at Sixth and Water streets SW in the District. These five-hour cruises offer more recognizable views of Washington.

"That's really my favorite," Mr. Prince says. "You get to see Fort McNair, National Airport, the Pentagon and go under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge."

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