Hawaii Whale Watching Cruises & Excursions
What To Consider Before You Book
Each of the major Hawaiian Islands features a dozen-plus tour companies that operate Hawaii winter whale watching cruises. That said, it’s often hard to figure out which ocean adventure is best for you and your traveling companions.
Hawaii’s winter whale watching excursions depart from different areas on each island, with boats ranging from small catamarans to multi-deck ships like the Star of Honolulu and everything between. Some operators also provide transportation to the departing harbor, plus meals, snacks, and even snorkeling.
Keep in mind that this bucket list activity may become expensive, especially if you bring the entire family. Some options are better than others, depending on how adventurous you are, how much time you have, what your budget is, and how prone you are to motion sickness.
If you’re asking yourself what criteria to use for finding a cruise that’s a good fit for you and your family, review our handy list below before you book!
Where & How To Book
Nearly every Hawaii tour can be booked online. Some online travel agencies like Expedia will bundle activities like whale watching journeys with your Hawaii flight and hotel. Some prefer to book directly with the tour operator over the phone so they can ask questions directly. Others prefer to book with the activities desk at their hotel or resort, where they have access to a local and knowledgeable guests services person for answering questions and making recommendations based on the group’s needs.
And don’t forget your travel agent! If you’re working with one for any part of your Hawaii vacation itinerary, request help with booking your tour. Your agent will confirm that it’s always best to reserve this bucket list activity ahead of travel if you can, since it’s so popular and some tours sell out.
Boat Size & Design
Small boats often offer a more exciting and personal experience with a 360-degree view. Larger ones tend to have a much smoother ride and serve food and beverages. Also consider a boat that has a covered area, in case it rains or if you are especially sensitive to the sun and prefer the shade
Years In Operation & Reputation
Before booking, consider checking sources like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and other websites that offer customer reviews.
Timing For Peak Season
Are you traveling to Hawaii during peak whale watching season, as things are ramping up, or as the action is winding down? (January and February are considered prime months)
Boat Location In Relation To Your Hotel
Avoid booking an early tour departing from the other side of the island where you’re staying, especially if you are short on time. The exception would be if you find out that a particular part of the island is especially active while you’re visiting.
Transportation From Your Hotel To The Boat
Some tour operators provide round-trip ground transportation to the boat. Be sure to ask if the price is reduced if you don’t need transportation.
Factor the amount of travel time it takes from when you leave your hotel and when you return. Also consider the time of day you’ll need to leave your hotel to be at the boat. This can be tricky if it’s during a time when island residents are driving to work or returning home at the end of the day.
Where Does The Boat Explore?
How does your tour operator’s exploration area compare to the NOAA Surface Sightings Map from our previous blog post?
How much time does the tour require, meaning how early must you arrive to fill out waivers, how long does the water portion of the trip last and how much time does it take from departing the port to arriving where the action is?
Guarantee Of Sightings
Some tour operators provide a “Guarantee Of Sightings” that offers any cruise the next day if there are no sightings. This option typically extends the cruise only, meaning no food or meals if the original cruise included this.
What To Bring
Consider a light jacket or long-sleeve shirt in case it’s an especially breezy day. Also bring a hat, sunblock, polarized sunglasses, water, snacks and binoculars or spotting scope. It’s easier to spot a whale with your naked eyes, and then zero in with binoculars or a spotting scope for a better view. As for cameras, a zoom lens optimizes capturing the action.
Do you want a tour that includes lunch or one that offers light food service? Or would you prefer to take your own food? Check out the menu and read reviews to see how others consider the quality of the food. And be sure not to pay for something you don’t really want!
What To Expect/Typical Experience
Before you take off, count on a safety briefing, house rules, lecture and general information about whales that will be presented in person on smaller boats or over the PA system on larger ships. Also know that boats typically stop when whales are spotted and passengers are alerted as to where to look.
Avoiding Motion Sickness
If you start to feel sick, get some fresh air! Keep your eyes on the horizon. Put away your cell phone since texting and social media action can make the condition worse. Completely avoid reading or looking through your binoculars. Don't go on an empty stomach. It’s best to have a little food in your stomach before you set out. But avoid overeating. Also avoid alcohol but drink Ginger Ale or something like 7-Up if it’s available.
If you already know you’re inclined toward motion sickness, consider purchasing Dramamine, Bonine, Motion Eaze, or other prescription or over-the-counter antihistamines before the tour.
We hope you enjoyed our little taste of Aloha! If you ever have any questions or story ideas, please e-mail us at [email protected]!
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