Go Back  Fodor's Forum > Destinations > United States
Reload this Page > Best Whale Watching Tour, San Juan Islands

Best Whale Watching Tour, San Juan Islands


Feb 1st, 2011, 09:02 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jun 2009
Posts: 50
Best Whale Watching Tour, San Juan Islands

My husband and I are visiting the San Juan Islands in July 2011. We are planning to take an Orca Whale Watching tour and would like some feedback on which is the best. We are unfamiliar with this area and will be driving from Tacoma. The ferrys seem a bit confusing to me and I have also read that the ferry tickets should be bought well in advance, is this correct? Can a person take a ferry to all the islands or are there any bridges that connect them? We would also like info on a nice but reasonable place or places to stay. We can stay anywhere from 2-4 days. What islands are a must see and any other excursions that are a must. We are middle ages and looking for beauty and fun but nothing too crazy or dangerous. We love wildlife, history and good food. Any feedback would be very much appreciated.
susierah is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 1st, 2011, 12:55 PM
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 10,962
All the tours know where the whales are. The best one is the one that fits into your schedule and budget.

San Juan and Orcas are the two most popular islands. I prefer San Juan.

There are no bridges between the islands. The ferry schedule is here: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/

happytrailstoyou is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 3rd, 2011, 07:43 PM
Join Date: Jan 2011
Posts: 2,757
You can get to Camano Island and Whidby island without taking a ferry..check maps to see how; Orcas is probably the wildest and most natural place, but it is accessible only by ferry (get a ferry schedule and if you are coming on the weekend, the ferry lines can be long, so you should plan ahead). Anacortes is a great place to catch a Whale watch, and maybe even stay overnight while you decide what is next. Rosario is a great choice; we have been there many times.

If I were you and only had a few days, I'd head to Orcas and just stay there.
justwishin is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 4th, 2011, 05:20 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,521
The ferries out of Anacortes are not that complicated. Depending on the time of year (and time of the week), you may want to get a reservation, but that is no big deal to get. To go whale watching, I'd recommend going to San Juan Island. There are several operators going out of Friday Harbor on various types of boats - I think that the Zodiac-type inflatables are more fun and intimate, and worth the slightly higher cost. We have gone out with Western Prince (orcawhalewatch.com) twice and had a spectacular time, with great whale sightings.

It is kind of expensive to bring your car on the ferry, but then you can drive around and sight-see at your own pace. You could spend a day or two driving around San Juan Island, and the same for Orcas Island.
ALF is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 4th, 2011, 06:11 PM
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 1
We took a tour offered by Western Prince on a Zodiac that held 15 people. It was fantastic! There were 11 people on the boat, including 2 naturalists/guides. They were very knowledgeable and being on a small, fast, open boat was so much fun. I would do it again in a heartbeat! Oh, and we did see a lot of whales!
nancy0455 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 9th, 2012, 07:31 AM
Join Date: Nov 2007
Posts: 52
Western Prince also has slightly larger boats with a bathroom, a covered seating area and an inside space with a tiny snack bar. Much more comfortable than the Zodiacs I imagine. Better for us middle agers. They also have great naturalists on board. All the boats end up on the west coast of San Juan Island where the whales swim by and all the boats have to stay a certain distance from the whales.
lbecker24 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 16th, 2013, 02:08 AM
Join Date: May 2013
Posts: 2
Currently the best tourist company for the whale watching in san juan islands is san juan cruises
DrewSchmidt is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 16th, 2013, 04:02 AM
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 7,443
Drew, This trip was in 2011. I had a great experience with James Maya, and his his rated highest at Tripadvisor and Yelp. Small boat with 6 people or less. Saw whales the entire 4 hours. Saw all 27 whales in J Pod. Even photographed every single one of them but the baby that had been born that week.
spirobulldog is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 16th, 2013, 04:16 AM
Join Date: May 2007
Posts: 22,983
volcanogirl is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 16th, 2013, 07:41 AM
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 6,474
Looks like Drew pulled up a two-year-old topic to promote San Juan Cruises for whale watching.

But since it is here and bookmarked, I will make some comments for others who might be reading.

Most of the tours mentioned here ( apart from Drew's San Juan Cruises) depart from the San Juan Islands, general from SJ itself. To get there you must take a ferry from either Anacortesor Sidney in BC ( Canada). Or from one of the other islands. Putting you car on the ferry is expensive ($57 unless you have a sub-compact). And you may have to wait inline several hours, if itis a busy time. They do not take reservations for the islands, unless you for the commercial operator category . It is difficult to do as a daytrip from Seattle, so best go stay in the islands for several days ( it is beautiful there and we'll worth it).

Then you have to choose the type of boat. Zodiacs may be fun but keep in mind you must stay seated and there are no restroom facilities. The larger boats allow you to get up and walk around, and use the restroom if needed. Some provide snacks or lunch. I like the James Maya tour suggested by spirobulldog as the best compromise---a smaller boat (30') but large enough that you can stand and walk around.

All the boats, no matter the size, must maintain the same minimum distance from the Orcas.

If a tour from the San Juan's is not doable, there are boats that depart from Bellingham ( San Juan Cruises), from Port Townsend ( Puget Sound Express), and even from Seattle ( Clipper cruises). Of these, I would choose the Port Townsend option, as it is a cool place to visit overnight in any case. Visit on a weekend to catch one of the best Farmers Markets around. you can also go cider tasting or winery hopping in the area. And it is a great place for sea kayaking.
enzian is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 1st, 2013, 07:38 AM
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 1
Best whale watching boat I have been on! The boat is so comfortable and the guides are really nice and taught us a lot! We saw a lot of orca whales plus sea lions. I would recommend San Juan Excursions to every age.go to this site watch whale
humza is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 1st, 2013, 02:17 PM
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 7,443
Another First Time Poster.
spirobulldog is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 1st, 2013, 07:59 PM
Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 2,698
I hadn't caught this thread ever before--excellent summary from several of you.

Is there a better/best time of year to see orcas?
5alive is offline  
Reply With Quote
Sep 12th, 2013, 02:55 PM
Join Date: Sep 2013
Posts: 1
Attractions in San Juan Islands Vacation is one of the most popular summer activities in the San Juans, and no one should visit the islands at this time ...
YeamiN is offline  
Reply With Quote
Oct 4th, 2013, 01:14 PM
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 1
I hadn't caught this thread ever before--excellent summary from several of you.http://www.watchwhales.com/

Is there a better/best time of year to see Dorcas?
samsulisl is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 8th, 2014, 10:36 AM
Join Date: Jul 2014
Posts: 4
I am also trying to visit the San Juan Islands in August '14. I know one can't predict mother nature but is it likely we will see lots of whales during the mid-August time frame? We have been looking forward to this for many years and hate to go if the "season" isn't the best and we should do it another time? And we will be trying to go from Seattle and will have a car-but reading the above posts maybe we should not do the ferry but rather just a Whale Watching tour departing from SEA or another port?
lyndaweir is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 8th, 2014, 01:47 PM
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 7,443
Do the ferry without a car. Just walk on to the ferry. You are going at what is probably the best whale watching time. However, it's anyone's guess. I think last year was a bad year, but that was due to the salmon runs. NOt sure about this year. We are going again the last week of July.
spirobulldog is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jul 14th, 2014, 08:07 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 3,249
The orca population is declining...no new births for two years, if news reports are correct. Speculation is that the sockeye salmon population on which the orcas feed is also in decline or that the orcas, who communicate with sound, are affected by the whale watching boats. I hope the whale watching industry wakes up and smells the coffee before all of the orcas are gone.
Bobmrg is offline  
Reply With Quote

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is On
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 10:46 AM.