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Between April and October, New England's surrounding waters are home to migrating whales that feed in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of Boston. This allows visitors an opportunity to see humpback, minke, northern right whales, pilot, sperm whales and fin whales, plus other marine animals in their natural habitat. Whale-watching cruises are extremely popular, and while a handful departs right from Boston, others leave from nearby Plymouth, Gloucester and Provincetown and make a fantastic day trip from Beantown. Need a little help deciding which is best for you and your family? Here are the best whale watching cruises to book when you're in the greater Boston area.
Best Classic from Boston: Boston Whale Watching Cruise
For a convenient departure from Boston and a reasonable price, the classic Boston Whale Watching Cruise is a great way to see the gentle giants up close. The three-hour tour leaves from Boston’s Central Wharf aboard a state-of-the-art catamaran ferry and heads to the marine sanctuary. An expert from the Whale Center of New England is onboard to share information about the animals’ behaviors, conservation status, scientific tracking and more. In between sightings, passengers can relax in the indoor cabins with state-of-the-art sound and video systems and a New England Aquarium education station, plus there’s a galley offering food and beverages. Viator members claimed it is a “once in a lifetime” experience and that the boat didn’t feel crowded.
Best Full-Day Tour: Plymouth Plantation Plus a Whale Watching Tour
If you’re looking for a full-day experience but don’t want to drive, the Full Day Trip to the Plymouth Plantation Plus a Whale Watching Tour is a great option. The 12-hour experience includes narrated, round-trip transportation from Boston to Plymouth for a three-hour morning whale watching cruise where travelers will learn about the different species and the history of the whale fishing industry. Next up is a visit to Plymouth Rock and Plimoth Plantation, where you can explore a 17th-century English village, a recreation of the farming and maritime community. There’s also an opportunity to see the historic Plimoth Grist Mill, which was built by the Pilgrims. Note that meals and entrance fees are not included.
Best from Cape Cod: Whale Watch from Plymouth
This cruise tour departs from the popular Town Wharf in Plymouth (less than an hour south from Boston), and heads to the Cape Cod Bay and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, where an underwater plateau serves as a feeding ground for the whales. The boat has both an upper deck for viewing as well as an interior, climate-controlled cabin. A photographer will be on hand snapping photos, and there’s also a galley to purchase refreshments and alcoholic beverages. A naturalist guide helps to explain the behaviors of the whales and provides commentary throughout the four to five-hour trip. Parking is an additional $1 per hour.
Best Value: Boston Super Saver Whale Watching Cruise
If you’re looking for an affordable, value-packed whale watching experience in Boston, consider the Boston Super Saver Whale Watching Cruise. The family-friendly package tour bundles together a three-hour whale-spotting voyage with admission into the world-famous, New England Aquarium. Home to seals, sea lions, sea turtles and stingrays, the aquarium provides scientific research and close-encounters to marine life – including the largest “touch tank” on the East Coast. The boat portion of tour conveniently departs from Central Wharf in Boston to the marine sanctuary, and provides three observation decks plus an indoor area. Naturalist guides help point out birds, porpoises, humpback whiles, white-sided dolphins and more.
Best North of Boston: Whale-Watching Cruise from Gloucester
The city of Gloucester is perched between two whale feeding grounds and is easily accessible from Boston by train (about a one-hour journey). As one of the most affordable whale-watching cruises, on the four-hour whale-watching cruise from Gloucester, the boat plies the waters around the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The high-speed catamaran can cover a larger area quickly, increasing chances at seeing the whales, plus there are upper and lower observation decks. The tour company has been operating for 35 years and with a naturalist guide onboard, you’ll be in expert hands and can have opportunities to see whales up close. A snack and refreshment bar is available for an additional charge.
Best from Provincetown: Whale Watch from Provincetown
Although further away from Boston (just over two hours), Provincetown is perched on the “hook” of Cape Cod and is a colorful destination that makes for a great day trip or overnight stay from Boston. Beautiful beaches, art galleries and an LGBT-friendly community attract tourists from all over. The Whale Watch Provincetown cruise departs from the Macmillan Pier and spends 3.5 hours exploring the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. A naturalist guide helps to locate the majestic creatures while providing narrative and passengers can enjoy both indoor and outdoor viewing areas. If you don’t plan on a driving from Boston, there a several public transportation options to Provincetown.
Best Multi-Destination: 5-Day Tour: Boston, Cape Cod w/Nantucket & Whale Watch
If you’re looking to splurge and experience a bit of everything in Boston and the surrounding area to get a true taste of New England, consider the Boston 5-Day Package that includes a whale-watching cruise from Cape Cod and exploration of Nantucket. The tour infuses the area’s whaling history and includes sightseeing in Boston, a day trip to Nantucket (the scenic island that was a famous whaling port in the late 18th century), plus a whale watching trip from Provincetown to the marine sanctuary. The five-day package includes four nights’ hotel accommodations, tours (including the JFK Library), a private guide, transportation, three dinners and three breakfasts’ and a ferry ride to Nantucket. The tour departs from Boston.