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Mickey88

Best Whale Watching Excursion (Celebrity-Alaska)?

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Hi Forums!  First time posting (first time cruising, for that matter!).  We are on the Celebrity Millennium next August and there are whale watching excursions offered in three of our ports (Icy Strait Point, Juneau, and Seward - Kenai Fjords).  We definitely want to see whales as close up as possible and would love suggestions for which excursion / port to choose.  We don't have mobility or seasickness issues.

 

I read some reviews, and there was conflicting information.  Specifically on the Icy Strait Point excursions, one reviewer said it was a huge boat and one said there were only six people on the boat.  I would do the six-person boat if I knew that was the one I was paying for.

 

Thanks for any help!!

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ISP and Juneau are the 2 popular (and successful) locations for whale watching.  If they're going to both ports, many people choose to do the whale watching in ISP since there more sightseeing options available in Juneau to occupy their time, whereas ISP is a very small port.   

The Kenai cruises out of Seward aren't whale watching tours.  Not to say you won't see them, but it's not guaranteed.  The Kenai cruises (except the short one) take you out to a glacier and you see lots of sealife .... many types of birds, seals, sealions, otters,  and usually up in the cliffs you'll see mountain goats. 

I suggest you read thru trip reports posted near the top of the forum.  They're an excellent resource, with detailed information on sights, activities, and the vendors they used.  

Have fun with your research !

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If you are getting on the ship in Seward or getting off and not spending extra time there, you probably don't have time for an excursion there.

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I agree there is so much more to do in Juneau. On the other hand, humpbacks in Glacier Bay and Icy Strait Point have decreased by 50% since 2013 so there may be less chance of sightings from ISP.  You will see many people jump in here and say they had fantastic sightings in both places although few report back that they didn’t see much other than a back or tail from a distance. Everybody wants to report the good stuff.

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We were in ISP two weeks ago and saw plenty! There was a mother and calf who both put on a show of breaching and managed to breach at least 15-20 times. Then we followed a family of Orca for a while and then headed to another spot where we witnessed a pod of at least five humpbacks, rolling and flipping tails!

 

There are no guarantees, fo course and we were extremely lucky to see the breaching. In fact, our guide said that this was the third tour of the day and the only time they breached - and usually, it's just the calf, not the mother as well!

 

We booked direct and our sightings were guaranteed - no whales, full refund. This is NOT true of the tours booked though the cruise line, although it's extremely rare to not see whales.

 

 

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Edited by Guindalf

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5 hours ago, Ptroxx said:

I used a small co in Juneau only 4 others on the boat.   

Had a blast.  Seen a bunch of whales in an awesome boat.    Very clean and well operated. 

 

   https://youtu.be/GUyzHh7oHB4

Jayleen's Alaska is a well-run company.  Cpt. Jayleen and Cpt. Amber work hard to ensure everyone has a great time.  We have gone with the company 6 times and have another two trips booked for 2020.  Thanks for sharing your video.

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20 hours ago, Guindalf said:

We were in ISP two weeks ago and saw plenty! There was a mother and calf who both put on a show of breaching and managed to breach at least 15-20 times. Then we followed a family of Orca for a while and then headed to another spot where we witnessed a pod of at least five humpbacks, rolling and flipping tails!

 

There are no guarantees, fo course and we were extremely lucky to see the breaching. In fact, our guide said that this was the third tour of the day and the only time they breached - and usually, it's just the calf, not the mother as well!

 

We booked direct and our sightings were guaranteed - no whales, full refund. This is NOT true of the tours booked though the cruise line, although it's extremely rare to not see whales.

 

 

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Thanks for sharing your pictures.  You were very fortunate to see so much activity -- what a blessing.  Did you book with Glacier Wind?

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4 minutes ago, Italy52 said:

Jayleen's Alaska is a well-run company.  Cpt. Jayleen and Cpt. Amber work hard to ensure everyone has a great time.  We have gone with the company 6 times and have another two trips booked for 2020.  Thanks for sharing your video.

Capt Amber was great.   Such a well run Co. 

Can’t Ambers passion is Sailing.  But she loves the adventure and wildlife that being in Alaska’s has given her.  

Her story on how she started working for Capt Jayleen is awesome.   

 

  Just wish I had 2 gopros.   Seemed every time my Gopro was on one side of the boat a whale would pop up on the other side.  Lolol. All good.  

 

We seen so many different types of wildlife too.    All in a 4 hour trip.  And made it back to our ship with an hour to spare.   Leaving at 130 pm.  

Joy aug 27 2019

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15 minutes ago, Italy52 said:

Thanks for sharing your pictures.  You were very fortunate to see so much activity -- what a blessing.  Did you book with Glacier Wind?


No, we went with Icy Strait Whale Adventures, booked through TripAdvisor. 
 

 

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On 9/10/2019 at 1:09 AM, Guindalf said:

We were in ISP two weeks ago and saw plenty! There was a mother and calf who both put on a show of breaching and managed to breach at least 15-20 times. Then we followed a family of Orca for a while and then headed to another spot where we witnessed a pod of at least five humpbacks, rolling and flipping tails!

 

There are no guarantees, fo course and we were extremely lucky to see the breaching. In fact, our guide said that this was the third tour of the day and the only time they breached - and usually, it's just the calf, not the mother as well!

 

We booked direct and our sightings were guaranteed - no whales, full refund. This is NOT true of the tours booked though the cruise line, although it's extremely rare to not see whales.

 

 

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Can you tell us what company and tour you used?

 

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We were in ISP a month ago and booked a whale watching excursion with Glacier Winds that was spectacular! Like Guindalf, we saw many whales and had an enjoyable experience. We chose to book the tour on a smaller boat that only took 6 people.

 

There are many whale watching tour choices in both Juneau and ISP. Some are on larger boats with many people and some can be booked on boats that take less people. When you research the individual tours, you can decide what type of tour you would like to book. 

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12 hours ago, Guindalf said:


No, we went with Icy Strait Whale Adventures, booked through TripAdvisor. 
 

 

Thanks.

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14 hours ago, Italy52 said:

Jayleen's Alaska is a well-run company.  Cpt. Jayleen and Cpt. Amber work hard to ensure everyone has a great time.  We have gone with the company 6 times and have another two trips booked for 2020.  Thanks for sharing your video.

 

I'll second the recommendation for Jayleen's Whale Watching. I went out with Captain Jayleen in July, and it was a wonderful trip on a small boat, captained by a woman who grew up in the area and has been driving boats since she was a young teenager. She knows her stuff, and her tour is longer than most, giving more time to locate and stay with whales.

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So as a first time cruiser I have to ask - any concerns about getting back to the ship on time with these private companies?  

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2 hours ago, Mickey88 said:

So as a first time cruiser I have to ask - any concerns about getting back to the ship on time with these private companies?  

Never had a problem with booking through an independent vendor. Tour operators are well aware of the ships schedules and plan their excursions accordingly.  If you are concerned, check with your operator for assurance.

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3 hours ago, Mickey88 said:

So as a first time cruiser I have to ask - any concerns about getting back to the ship on time with these private companies?  

 

Not a problem. When we first started cruising, my DW had the same fears and we always booked through the ship. Then I discovered CC and started joining private group tours from our Roll Call and never looked back. We generally save on average 20-25% by booking direct and have actually been on the same tour with guests from our ship who paid more!

 

Now we always book using a combination of recommendations and price. I can recall one occasion where the ship was cheaper than booking direct, so we went with that option.

 

The only caveat is if you are taking a tour that is dangerous or has a possibility of injury. I took an introduction to Scuba tour in Cozumel and scraped my leg on some coral, which was messy and very painful. After enduring the 'you hired a scooter and fell off, didn't you?' calls when getting back to the ship, the shore excursion team sent me to the medical office, where I was taken care of for free. Had it been a private tour, I would have gotten a bill!

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We did both ports (Juneau & ISP) whale watching and also in Seward, an Orca watch (4 hrs) so you might fit that in.

 

On May 26th we went with Harv & Marv's in Juneau (3+ hrs). Small boat with only 5 passengers and a new Captain, I think Tracy.

 

I did not see the following event until I got back home and edited all the pictures. I was looking through the viewfinder but none of the others mentioned what it looked like naked eye to them either. The following sequence was taken in about 1 second and appears to be an Orca making an attempted attack on a Sea Lion swimming next to a Humpback Whale.

 

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On May 28th, we did another 3+ hour Whale watch with Glacier Winds. Great family to work with. Teresa always stayed in contact with fast email replies. Her husband Shawn McConnell is awesome as a host/captain on a 6 person, very well maintained 33' Catamaran named Catabatic powered by twin Zuzuki outboards. He has written a couple of books. Check them out - Night Vision and Icy Passage. I could not put Night Vision down. These folks are a great team and know how to take care of guests. I shot over 500 images while on their boat. Many looked similar to these.

 

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On 9/11/2019 at 11:48 AM, Mickey88 said:

So as a first time cruiser I have to ask - any concerns about getting back to the ship on time with these private companies?  

 

I've never been on a ship's excursion... In specific, I wouldn't be concerned about booking a private whale watching excursion. The venders are well aware of the port schedule...there are so many reviews here and I have not read of anyone having any issues with timing and the whale watching tours.

 

I will chime in here as one person that had very few whale sightings on our ISP Glacier Winds whale watching tour. Conditions were a bit rough...and the sightings were incredible for the morning tour apparently...but our afternoon tour struggled to find the whales. We did see them...but we mostly saw their backs...and the sightings were such that we actually cheered if we saw a whale tail. Pictures and accounts such as those reported here are amazing...and nothing like what I experienced.

 

That said, one of the lovely things about booking with Glacier Winds...is that you are dealing with a local. There is something indescribably wonderful about being able to talk to someone who lives year round in Alaska and is proud of and loves where they live. The small boat excursion gives you a chance to have real conversation...and the experience itself of getting on a smaller boat in the midst of the grandeur of the Alaskan scenery helps your perspective on the size of the landscape. 

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I want to hop in here to support what Anita posted. We had a fear about booking excursions through off ship vendors. Especially being 1st time Alaska cruisers. Through my reading throughout CC, it became clear how that worked, as Anita mentioned. The only excursion that we booked through our cruise line got moved from 3:30 to 10:30. We discovered when we boarded day one and had to cancel due to conflicts with other tours.

 

I also support what she says about weather having a big impact on whale sightings. We took a 4 hr mid day Orca Watch through Major Marine on May 23rd. The weather was so stormy and windy that 2 full day tours had been cancelled and 2 others shortened. Our went out as scheduled at 1:00pm. The plan was to stay in Resurrection Bay. The weather was cold and hard but right out of the boat harbor we saw a Humpback and its youngster.

 

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And we did spot a very few Orca.

 

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But they we all singles far from our boat and not giving much of a show. It was rough and got much rougher as we approached the Gulf of Alaska near the bottom of Resurrection Bay.

 

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The previous day, May 21, was perfect weather and many, many more Orca were seen from the same tour and several others. Multiple pods were seen with many playing and breaching. So my guess is that weather plays a really big role in whale sightings.

 

To add to the small boat benefit, I'll say that the largest boat we went on was the Orca Song with a seating capacity of 60. The day we went it was not full and most folks stayed inside due to the harsh weather. There were about 10-15 on top where we stayed the full trip out. All the other 3 boat tours we took were on 6 person boats. IMHO, it's they way to go.

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