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Alaska Whale Watching Excursions

Whale watching excursion
Whale watchers on an excursion wait patiently for a whale to appear. © 2018 Scott Bateman
Whale watching on an Alaska cruise is a big game of chance. Travelers may see a breach, a spout, a tail or nothing at all.

A handful of films exist online of whales jumping clear out of the water within a dozen feet or so of the excursion boat. The jump is so close that it rocks the boat and drenches the viewers in seawater. They have the memory of a lifetime on that trip.

Others may see a complete or partial jump a few hundred feet or yards away. They are still close enough for good photos and dropping jaws.

Still others see no whales at all.

One excursion operator in Juneau says on its website, “There is a 100% guarantee or your money back to see the majestic humpback whales that travel to Alaska for feeding in the nutrient rich waters.

“Once a whale is spotted, our captain will slow down and passengers are allowed out on the decks for a truly unique and up-close experience. With plenty of time out on the water, you're sure to see an array of spouts, tails, breaches, and more from these magnificent whales!”

Notice the reference to “spouts, tails, breaches”. Those are key terms for passengers who want to know what they might see.

A “spout” happens when a whale returns to the surface after being underwater and blows air upward, usually along with a spray of water. A “tail” is simply a whale’s tail that breaks the surface of the water.

A whale breach is a winning lottery ticket. This ultimate viewing experience of a whale takes place when the whale jumps out of the water and spins before going under the surface again.

Whale Watching Expectations


The excursion operator above and other operators offer a 100 percent guarantee of seeing a whale or your money back because Alaska waters have so many whales.


The odds are high that cruise passengers on these tours will see spouts or tails. They are less likely to see breaches.

But there is more to these tours than whale watching because the tours take place in waters teeming with other sea creatures. Shorelines nearby often have viewable land creatures.

Operators will point out seals, sea lions, sea otters, bald eagles, porpoise, deer and sometimes a bear or moose on the shore. On our first Alaska cruise, we saw most of the above. Our boat’s captain also took us to a couple of nesting places of interesting native birds. Some of the shorelines were beautiful.

Did we see any whales? Yes, we saw two of them from a distance. We saw spouts and tails but no breaches. We have had similar experiences on other whale watching cruises.

Is Whale Watching Worth the Money?


Whale watching excursions in Alaska often cost $100 to $200 per person depending on the length and amenities. Some are more expensive if the excursion includes other activities such as a salmon bake or another type of lunch.

The excursion is a better value for anyone who researches them in advance of the cruise and finds discounts online.

We found a 2 for 1 discount and ended up paying $128 for two people rather than $256 for two plus port tax and sales tax.

For a three-hour boat tour, we found the price of $128 within reason for what we did and saw. We wouldn’t have found that $256 was worth the money.

Then again, if we saw a whale breach 10 feet away from our boat, $256 would be worth every penny. Just imagine the photos.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

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September 11, 2018

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