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Suggestions on whale watching from experienced Alaska travelers


hoopslover
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I booked a b2b cruise next August on NCL Jewel and have been reading posts and reviews for the past 6 months.   We are going to twice to Kechikan, Juneau and Skagway, and one day in Icy Strait Point and all day on the turnaround day in Seward.

 

If you had to choose one whale watching excursion would you choose one in Juneau, Icy Strait Point or Kenai Fjords through Major Marine?

 

If we run into bad weather in Juneau on the way up we might have time to book in Icy Strait Point or in Seward for later in our trip.

 

Any help or ideas would be appreciated.  Thanks for your suggestions.

 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, ridethetide said:

Two years in a row, we have gone whale watching in Icy Strait Point.  Both times, it was fantastic with bubble net feeding on both excursions!  It was far superior to the whale watching in Juneau.

We just got back today from our Alaska cruise.  Same as above post, ICP was by far the best whale watching.  We had 4 whales within 30 yards of our boat (Allen Marine) and saw bubble feeding 5 times.  At one point, we counted 10 whales nearby!

 

We did Juneau a couple of years ago and while it was good, it was no where near as good as ICP.

 

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1 hour ago, DaveOKC said:

We just got back today from our Alaska cruise.  Same as above post, ICP was by far the best whale watching.  We had 4 whales within 30 yards of our boat (Allen Marine) and saw bubble feeding 5 times.  At one point, we counted 10 whales nearby!

 

We did Juneau a couple of years ago and while it was good, it was no where near as good as ICP.

 

Did you book your Allen Marine excursion on your ship?  ISP isn't listed on their website for NCL next year.  Any additional information would be appreciated.

 

At least all three of the responses agree on ISP.  Thanks for your input.  That leaves Juneau to do Mendenhall and something else.  No excursions yet available so it is kind of hard to make decisions.

 

Thanks again

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I did a non ship in ISP, 18 passengers, the small boats can get closer. Both large and small have to turn there motors off same distance out but the small boats sped up and ran to the line and then coasted in closer. We had Okras go right under the boat.

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We did whale watching in Juneau (6 person boat), Icy Strait (6 person boat) and Seward (60 person boat). Our highlight was Icy Strait with Glacier Winds Charters. So often what you get is determined by weather and the whales participation during your short trip out. I have to add that the skill and experience of the captain of the boat will greatly effect the success of the trip out. With Glacier Winds, the family running the outfit truly know what they are doing. I got close to 500 great pictures of whale playing, breaching and performing in many ways. I would absolutely do their tour again.

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18 hours ago, hoopslover said:

Did you book your Allen Marine excursion on your ship?  ISP isn't listed on their website for NCL next year.  Any additional information would be appreciated.

 

At least all three of the responses agree on ISP.  Thanks for your input.  That leaves Juneau to do Mendenhall and something else.  No excursions yet available so it is kind of hard to make decisions.

 

Thanks again

Yes, we did both ICP and previous Juneau through the ships.  HAL uses Allen Marine alot.

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We have had excellent customer service and whale watching excursions with the following independent companies:

 

Icy Strait Point:  Glacier Wind Charters https://www.g-wind.com/.

This company offers a small boat experience (6 passengers) AND, coming in July, (approximately) there will be a new 13- passenger boat available.  Having been on the larger Allen Marine boat (used by many cruise lines), we prefer to be up close and personal on the smaller boats.

 

Juneau:  Jayleen's Alaska https://jayleensalaska.com/.

Jayleen also offers the small boat experience.

 

Please keep in mind that many people have unrealistic expectations of whale watching excursions:  breaching and bubble net feeding.  While these wonderful sights do occur, they should not be expected as they are more along the lines of being in the right place at the right time -- pure luck.  Expect tails, blows and whales.  We go with no expectations and feel truly blessed if we see breaching and bubble net feeding.

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, Italy52 said:

Please keep in mind that many people have unrealistic expectations of whale watching excursions:  breaching and bubble net feeding.  While these wonderful sights do occur, they should not be expected as they are more along the lines of being in the right place at the right time -- pure luck.  Expect tails, blows and whales.  We go with no expectations and feel truly blessed if we see breaching and bubble net feeding.

 

 

 

This is a very good reminder and from someone with multiple whale watch trips.

 

Everyone who has had a great experience jumps in with their breaching and bubble net feeding stories although most will only see backs, flukes and/or blow.  You’ll see many fewer posts regarding this as it’s just not that exciting but it’s what most will see.

 

It’s the same with which port has the best potential for sightings. There are a ton of posts from folks who have done 1 or 2 whale watch tours and beat the odds and post that such and such a port is the very best for whale watching.

 

I think it’s difficult for people to set their expectations properly when most of the posts rave about an experience that is really a much smaller percentage then what people actually see. Not a lot of posters want to brag that they spent $150 to see a whale tail from a distance and that’s it.

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6 hours ago, Glaciers said:

This is a very good reminder and from someone with multiple whale watch trips.

 

 

 

Everyone who has had a great experience jumps in with their breaching and bubble net feeding stories although most will only see backs, flukes and/or blow.  You’ll see many fewer posts regarding this as it’s just not that exciting but it’s what most will see.

 

 

 

It’s the same with which port has the best potential for sightings. There are a ton of posts from folks who have done 1 or 2 whale watch tours and beat the odds and post that such and such a port is the very best for whale watching.

 

 

 

I think it’s difficult for people to set their expectations properly when most of the posts rave about an experience that is really a much smaller percentage then what people actually see. Not a lot of posters want to brag that they spent $150 to see a whale tail from a distance and that’s it.

 

Thanks for all of your suggestions.  We live on the central coast of California and whales are a common sight near our shore.  I agree you have to be in the right place at the right time to see them. It is mostly puffs and a few breaches.  

 

I will definitely book in ISP instead of Juneau.  I will probably also book a 6 hour tour in Seward.  Hopefully there will be a black Friday sale like last year.

 

We have been booked for 6 months now and have 11 months to go.

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8 hours ago, hoopslover said:

Thanks for all of your suggestions.  We live on the central coast of California and whales are a common sight near our shore.  I agree you have to be in the right place at the right time to see them. It is mostly puffs and a few breaches.  

 

I will definitely book in ISP instead of Juneau.  I will probably also book a 6 hour tour in Seward.  Hopefully there will be a black Friday sale like last year.

 

We have been booked for 6 months now and have 11 months to go.

Do you mean the cruise lines have Black Friday sales on excursions?

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4 hours ago, mawvkysc said:

Do you mean the cruise lines have Black Friday sales on excursions?

There have been several posts on this board about Black Friday deals from either Major Marine or Kenai Fjords.  I will need to check my notes and I really don't know how people found these sales.  I will try to find the posts and ask these questions.  It isn't through the cruise lines though.  

 

If anyone out there knows how these sales work, please post here.  Thanks

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Major Marine has had 40% off on Black Friday the past 2 years - like their Facebook page or watch their website as it gets closer for the code. Don't book until then - they will not honor it for previous sales (and that is clearly stated). It's a great deal!!

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23 hours ago, Glaciers said:

This is a very good reminder and from someone with multiple whale watch trips.

Everyone who has had a great experience jumps in with their breaching and bubble net feeding stories although most will only see backs, flukes and/or blow.  You’ll see many fewer posts regarding this as it’s just not that exciting but it’s what most will see.

It’s the same with which port has the best potential for sightings. There are a ton of posts from folks who have done 1 or 2 whale watch tours and beat the odds and post that such and such a port is the very best for whale watching.

I think it’s difficult for people to set their expectations properly when most of the posts rave about an experience that is really a much smaller percentage then what people actually see. Not a lot of posters want to brag that they spent $150 to see a whale tail from a distance and that’s it.

 

Glaciers is pretty much on point. We took 3 whale watch cruises in the 16 days we were in Alaska. May 23 we did the 60 person Orca Watch and saw only backs, a few blows and dorsal fins. It was a very rough day with grey skies and a smattering of rain. The May 26 small boat trip out of Juneau was great weather. Except for a one second apparent attack on a Sea Lion by an Orca, the only thing whale like that we observed was tail, blows and a lot of dorsal. Also followed an Orca dorsal for a while. The May 28th small boat trip out of Icy Point with Glacier Winds made up for all the lack of sightings earlier. Pectoral fins waving magically for what seemed like hours. Tails flagging like headstands. Big blows. Sometimes almost non-stop breaching. Playful rough housing. Nearly non-stop activity. Over 500 images. Never spotted any bubble net feeding.

 

Our next trip will drop the expensive float plane and glacier flyover flights. I will spend the green to "chance" seeing up close bears, calving glaciers, bubble net feeding, aurora and the 8.5 hr Northwestern Fjord Cruise out of Seward on the Viewfinder (a 36 passenger single level monohull). It will take some detailed planning to fit those possibilities into our trip. I figure I've got almost 2 years to work it all out. I would also like to see Denali in Fall colors which might play well with working some aurora viewing hours into the trip.

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2 hours ago, Bearvet said:

Major Marine has had 40% off on Black Friday the past 2 years - like their Facebook page or watch their website as it gets closer for the code. Don't book until then - they will not honor it for previous sales (and that is clearly stated). It's a great deal!!

Thanks so much! I liked and am following them on facebook.  I have it on my calendar as a reminder.

 

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We've done several tours with Gastineau Guiding and have been thrilled every time. They're very good at being exclusive via the cruise lines, but don't let that turn you away: their boats are better and you'll appreciate the difference. At least through Princess, it's JNU-670, JNU-700, and JNU-705, though they have boats in many of the ports and therefore can offer tours there.

 

On our last cruise, we wanted to maximize our whale-watching time. Although most of their whale watches have a secondary component, that part is most definitely optional. I called ahead (two months, two weeks, morning of Juneau) and essentially made arrangements to do a "double tour". They tend to not commit until they get final day-of numbers from all of their cruise lines, but what they did was issue us hand-written tickets for the second tour at the pier, and told us to expect an update from our captain or guide while out on the water. Sure enough, they had room, and when we got back to Auke Bay they told us to wait by the dock and another boat would be there in 15 minutes where we'd go right back out for a second time, then join that group's bus for the ride back to town. That was a great way to enjoy our time in Juneau! It was a little tricky for us as we couldn't successfully book a double tour directly through the cruise line - none of the offerings were staggered enough to do it, nor did we want to bother with a bus ride back to town and another ride back out to the dock, but a few phone calls and it was fairly easy to do.

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On 9/26/2019 at 4:22 PM, Bearvet said:

Major Marine has had 40% off on Black Friday the past 2 years - like their Facebook page or watch their website as it gets closer for the code. Don't book until then - they will not honor it for previous sales (and that is clearly stated). It's a great deal!!

Does anyone know if Phillips Cruises ever does Black Friday sales (or any other time sales)?  We were going to book the 26 glaciers cruise for next June before we get on our Princess ship...  Thanks!

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 9/27/2019 at 1:22 PM, mawvkysc said:

We won’t be going to ISP unfortunately. 

Does anyone know if Jayleen has a hydrophone on her boat?

I don't recall seeing one.  However, if the hydrophone is of importance to you, contact Jayleen directly and ask.  I am sure she will be happy to answer your question.

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Just now, Italy52 said:

I don't recall seeing one.  However, if the hydrophone is of importance to you, contact Jayleen directly and ask.  I am sure she will be happy to answer your question.

I ended up doing that and she said she did. We’ve decided to whale watch in Sitka instead. 

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1 minute ago, mawvkysc said:

I ended up doing that and she said she did. We’ve decided to whale watch in Sitka instead. 

Glad to hear Jayleen got back to you.  Please come back to the board and let us know about your whale watching experience in Sitka -- what company your used and what you saw.

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  • 5 weeks later...
On 10/9/2019 at 1:45 PM, mawvkysc said:

...We’ve decided to whale watch in Sitka instead. 

If whales are a priority, rather than otters, change this - Sitka is the worst port option for whales on most AK cruises. It's on the outside of the island, therefore open ocean instead of the reliable, major feeding grounds on the inside. There's a reason that every company out of ISP and Juneau offer guarantees of whale sightings, but Sitka tours do not. There are plenty more operators than Jayleen in Juneau with small boats if that's your preference.

26 minutes ago, slotmomma3 said:

Going at the end of April 2020.  Is that too early for whale watching in ISP?

Nope - both Juneau and ISP will have whales moving in before you arrive. There won't be as many as a little later in the season - they don't all swim up in one big bunch - but you should still find guarantees of sightings or refunds.

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