Quantum gases of atoms and exciton-polaritons are now well-established theoretical and experimental tools for fundamental studies of quantum many-body physics and suggest promising applications to quantum computing. Given their technological complexity, it is of paramount interest to devise other systems where such quantum many-body physics can be investigated at lesser technological expense. Here we examine a relatively well-known system of laser light propagating through thermo-optical defocusing media: based on a hydrodynamic description of light as a quantum fluid of interacting photons, we investigate such systems as a valid room-temperature alternative to atomic or exciton-polariton condensates for studies of many-body physics. First, we show that by using a technique traditionally used in oceanography it is possible to perform a direct measurement of the single-particle part of the dispersion relation of the elementary excitations on top of the photon fluid and to detect its global flow. Then, using a pump-and-probe setup, we investigate the dispersion of excitation modes of the fluid: for very long wavelengths, a sonic, dispersionless propagation is observed that we interpret as a signature of superfluid behavior. (C) 2015 Optical Society of America.