Riding the Channel Cat Water Taxi is one of our family’s favorite summer activities. Whether you’re a Quad Citizen or a visitor to the area, the Channel Cat is one of the best ways to experience the Mississippi River and our community.

The Channel Cat Water Taxi service is operated by MetroLINK and includes three open-air passenger ferry boats on the Mississippi. The boats shuttle guests around a loop of four stops (two in Iowa and two in Illinois). The boats run seven days a week from Memorial Day through Labor Day, with additional weekend service into the fall as long as weather permits. Check out route details, ticket info and the Channel Cat’s history.

I’m not here to tell you about the basics of the Channel Cat Water Taxi service, though. You can find that on their website. I want to take a deeper dive for my fellow Type-A planners so you’ll feel well prepared and like a pro from the moment you arrive at the dock! Because let’s be honest, sometimes going on a new adventure can be scary when you don’t know what to expect (especially if you have kids along for the ride!).

Family on Channel Cat
Our family enjoying the ride!

What to know before you go:

1. Download the Channel Cat app to buy your mobile tickets in advance. 

Tickets purchased through the app are not designated for a specific date (that confused me at first). Your mobile tickets are valid for one year, and are activated the first time you board a boat. Once activated, they’re only good for that day. After my initial confusion, I really liked the fact that tickets are not date-specific and that I could purchase multiple tickets to accommodate our entire group from just one phone. It makes the boarding process easier for our group, and for the Channel Cat employee checking everyone in. And with kids, or visitors from out of town, or finicky Midwestern weather, plans can change, so flexibility is key. While you can buy tickets on the boat when you arrive, I’d definitely recommend mobile ticketing.

2. Boats are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.

This is the biggest piece of info I want you to know in advance, especially if you’re planning a trip on the Channel Cat Water Taxi on a beautiful weekend day. The boats can fill! The best way to ensure you will have a seat is to arrive as early in the day as you can. After you board once, if you choose to get off at one of the stops, you’ll have the priority to re-board over people who are just arriving and starting their day. Be prepared to wait for a while if you are getting on and off the boat on a busy day or if you are arriving in the afternoon on a beautiful weekend day. If there is no wait, then you’ll be running ahead of schedule! And if there is a wait… you (and the kids) are prepared!

3. Arrive at the dock a little early. 

I’m always amazed at how well the boats can keep their scheduled times! Especially on busy days. When looking at the schedule, be sure to pay attention to the different days of the week since they vary. Maybe it’s just because we are a family of planners, but we like to park our car and get to the dock about 15 minutes before the time we’d like to board. If an earlier boat is still at the dock and we can jump on – great! If not, then we will be in line for the next boat.

4. You can ride the whole loop (or not).

When our son was young, we would typically ride the Channel Cat Water Taxi in a loop rather than de-boarding and re-boarding. The entire loop takes about 75 minutes, so it’s a nice way to spend time with a curious and adventurous little one. Now that he is older, we’ve enjoyed planning longer days of exploring that include the Channel Cat. We will bring our bikes (the boats can fit 7 bikes on-board) or walking shoes and enjoy the Village of East Davenport, Downtown Moline Centre or the bike paths on either side of the river. Strollers can be brought on-board, too. I love the variety of experiences available to guests who ride the Channel Cat!

5. Have your camera ready!

If you’re still reading, then I’d venture to guess that you’re also a planner, which means you always have your camera ready. But just a reminder that you’ll definitely want to capture moments of your Channel Cat Water Taxi trip! I love seeing people’s faces light up when the wind picks up and the boat gets moving in the middle of the river. The views of the Quad Cities downtowns, Arsenal Island and the I-74 bridge are second-to-none.

Channel Cat Water Taxi at sunset
Photo provided by MetroLINK.

The Channel Cat is a unique attraction for the Quad Cities, and I love that it can be enjoyed again and again by people of all ages and the adventure can be customized every time. With a bit of planning, your day on the Channel Cat Water Taxi can go from a 75-minute boat ride to a day of boarding and de-boarding.

Have you ridden the Channel Cat with your family? What other advice would you give? 

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