Ride in Style With the St. Johns River Taxi


Words and Photos by Ambar Ramirez & Carmen Macri


Some tend to forget that Jacksonville is not all beaches; it’s also home to beautiful rivers. And they also seem to forget that car rides, buses and Skyways aren’t the only modes of transportation in this bold city. Established in 1987, the St. Johns River Taxi ferried passengers across the St. Johns River between the Northbank and Southbank of Downtown Jacksonville. However, now it is more than just a mode of getting from point A to point B — it is a vibrant party cruise. 


“Water Taxi service in Jacksonville has been around for a long time, years before we have been personally involved. That said, the service has changed significantly,” said Heather Surface, owner of the St. Johns River Taxi. “We still offer traditional taxi service. We operate multiple ‘transit’ boats when there is an event occurring Downtown or when there is a large group or demand for transport. This is especially popular for concerts, baseball, games, hockey games, and, of course, Jags games. Passengers can also text the taxi for pick up — texts are checked only when we are safely docked so the response is not immediate. As Downtown Jacksonville has evolved, so has our business.” 


It was on a Saturday evening that we decided to board the Captain Jax River taxi for the newly added sunset cruises at Jacksonville Beach. Walking down the dock at Beaches Marina, we were met with the smell of brackish water, fish and the sight of the sun beginning to set. As we boarded the 31-passenger river taxi, we were quickly introduced to the driver, also known as Captain Steve Cardano, entertainer and personal DJ of the cruise. Our only job for the excursion? “Listen to music and have a good time.”


The sunset cruise navigates through the Intracoastal Waterway for an hour and 15 minutes — an ideal prelude to a night out or a romantic date. Passengers have the freedom to relax and enjoy the journey as they please. They can sit back and take in the scenery, stroll onto the front deck for a clear view of the river and its wildlife, or visit the beer and wine station at the back for a refreshing drink. 


We opted to relax and enjoy the ride, accompanied by some classic rock, thanks to Cardano. As luck would have it, the weather was perfect with hardly a cloud in the sky. Casual conversations filled the air until around 7:45 p.m., when the sun transformed into a blood-orange hue. At that moment, all the passengers, including ourselves, made their way to the front deck to witness the sunset, even though the taxi boasts open windows throughout. It’s strange, living in this city and witnessing countless sunsets, yet there’s something special about experiencing it while idly cruising along the river in a boat packed full of strangers. Everyone was there for the same reason — to admire the beautiful place we call home.


Surface’s family has been in the marine business since the early ’80s and has always been extremely passionate about our rivers and expanding access to everyone. To achieve that goal, the St. Johns River Taxi is constantly adding innovative ways to get the city excited about our environment and about getting locals and tourists aboard the large passenger boats. So if a relaxing sunset cruise isn’t your cup of tea, that’s OK because there are many other trips to choose from. 


“The project gave us an opportunity to put our passion into practice. We host narrated Downtown Sightseeing Tours, Sunset Cruises, Eco Tours, Happy Hour Tours and City Lights Tours. We periodically offer narrated neighborhood cruises featuring San Marco, Riverside, Avondale, Ortega and Arlington. We hope to expand this program to the Northside and resume our service to/from the Jacksonville Zoo. We recently resumed our weekend river tours at our beach location where passengers can look for wildlife along the Intracoastal Waterway,” Surface shared. “[And] starting May 3rd and running every Friday through the end of September, we will feature local musicians on our sunset cruises. This is made possible through a special collaboration with the Ronan School of Music and its founder Darren Ronan.”


Another recent addition worthy of recognition is the informative and thrilling eco-cruise. Collaborating with the St. Johns Riverkeeper, the St. Johns River Taxi now offers a fun immersive and educational tour along Jacksonville’s waterways, providing passengers, including students, with insight into the diverse wildlife inhabiting both the river and its surrounding areas. 


“The River Taxi has been a valuable partner to us as we can take up to 50 students at a time aboard a ‘floating classroom’ on the St. Johns River. On each RiverX trip, we ask the students if they’ve ever been on a boat before — most of the time over half of them raise their hands,” St. Johns Riverkeeper Education Director Jamie De Nisco said. “At St. Johns Riverkeeper, we advocate for hands-on education, and what better way to teach the next generation about our local environment than to take them on a trip down the St. Johns River!” 


Thanks to Constellation Furyk & Friends the RiverX field trips are free of charge to Title 1 schools in Duval County and are tailored to give fourth to sixth graders the resources they need to become better stewards of our rivers. 


“On our RiverX trips, fourth through sixth graders break out into three groups and rotate through three stations: salinity, EcoWeb and observation. At the salinity station, students can use refractometers to take salinity readings from five locations throughout the St. Johns River. This allows them to see what freshwater, saltwater and brackish water look like under the lens of the same tool that many scientists use. At the EcoWeb station, students participate in building a perfectly balanced ecosystem using photos of plants and animals along the St. Johns. We use rope to demonstrate how ecosystems are connected and show the students how each component of our environment is critical to protect. Finally, students rotate to an observation station where they can use their skills to observe and take notes on what they see along the river,” De Nisco added. 


All of these unique excursions are a perfect representation of how local businesses can unite and work together to make something greater. And just because you are technically an adult doesn’t mean you can’t take a field trip: The new Jax Beach Eco Cruise is open to all ages and is just as informative.


Whether you want to relax, learn, take a trip down Jacksonville’s history or party on the water, the St. Johns River Taxi is well worth the $15-28 ticket.  


Here is a list of some of the St. Johns River Taxi most honorable mentions:

  • Downtown Sunset Cruise
  • Downtown Round trip game transport
  • Jax Beach Sunset Cruise
  • Jax Beach Eco Cruise
  • Downtown Happy Hour Tour
  • Sunset, Friendship Fountain Light Show & City Lights Cruise


Upcoming live concerts on the Friday sunset cruises: 

  • May 3- Alex Affronti
  • May 10 – Aaron DeCicco
  • May 17 – John Austill
  • May 24 – Luke Peacock
  • May 31 – Natalie Ealum
  • June 7 – Darren Ronan
  • June 14 – John Citrone 
  • June 21 – Ace Winn
  • June 28 – Natalie Ealum
  • July 5 – Alex Affronti
  • July 12 – Luke Peacock
  • July 19 – Andy Haney
  • July 26 – Tom LeGrand
  • Aug. 2 – John Citrone
  • Aug. 9 – TBD
  • Aug. 16 – Andy Haney
  • Aug. 23 – Darren Ronan
  • Aug. 30 – Aaron DiCicco