Is a Cape Cod whale watching cruise in your vacation plans? On this page you'll find all the must-have information for a fantastic day on the water!
Cape Cod's whale watch season begins in mid-April as hundreds of the gentle giants migrate to their summer feeding grounds off the Massachusetts coast.
The season comes to an end in late October when the whales head south again for the winter.
June, July, August and September are prime time!
During the summer, the Humpbacks are here, along with Finbacks, Minkes, and their colorful "cousins" the Atlantic White-sided dolphin.
On our trip to the whale grounds this past June, we saw so many whales that I lost count. Awe-inspiring, even for an "old salt" like me!
Here's a quick clip from a video I shot that day ...
Some days on the ocean are better than others. When you're trying to pick a perfect day for whale watching, keep these two things in mind: (1) offshore water conditions; and (2) the weather.
Are you a fan of rockin' and rollin' boat rides in big seas? I doubt it!
So, how can you gauge the offshore water conditions before you get out there?
Keep an eye on the marine weather forecast!
Look for a day when light wind is in the forecast and seas (a/k/a "swells") are predicted to be 2 feet or less. Those are the best days to be on the water!
Are you sceptical about the forecast?
Call the whale watch cruise provider, and ask for their advice. They'll give you the straight scoop. Believe me, they don't want a bunch of barfy passengers onboard, any more than you want to be one of those barfy passengers! ;-)
Of course, we all hope for blue skies and sunshine for our whale watching days. Don't despair, though, if Mother Nature isn't totally cooperative while you're here.
Rain showers in the forecast? That's not a big deal. The cruise boats have lots of indoor space for getting out of the weather. Pack a hooded rain slicker (more about that, below), and you'll be all set when you want to head out on deck to see the whales up close.
Will you see whales when it's raining? Sure! Remember ... whales live in water. A little more water coming from the sky doesn't bother them a bit. They still swim, feed and play, even when it's raining!
No matter where you're staying on Cape Cod, there's a whale watching cruise reasonably nearby.
Whale watch cruises leave from two places on Cape Cod:
My advice is to minimize your driving time as much as possible, especially in the height of our tourism season when traffic can be an issue. Go with the port that's nearest to you.
Barnstable Harbor is nearest to:
Provincetown Harbor is nearest to:
Mid-way between the two ports are the towns of:
If you're staying in one of these "mid-way between" towns, then take your pick of either whale watch cruise port.
Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises
Whale Watcher is a state-of-the-art, high-speed, water-jet driven ship that's designed and built especially for whale watching. It's a good-sized vessel measuring in at 130 feet in total length, with comfy interior cabins, a well-stocked galley, and outdoor decks for up-close viewing.
Note: Despite the company's name, these excursions leave from Barnstable Harbor - not Hyannis Harbor! (Hyannis is on Nantucket Sound on the south side of the Cape. The village of Barnstable is on Cape Cod Bay on the north side of the Cape.)
Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown
Dolphin Fleet has multiple ships, each with climate-controlled cabins, open viewing decks, and a galley serving a variety of meals, snacks and beverages.
Provincetown Whale Watches
Docked at the end of McMillan Wharf, this Cape Cod whale watching company has a shorter operating season than the others and only offers one departure a day.
Looking for an extra-special adventure? Book a private whale watching charter for your family or a small group of friends!
Want even more fun? Some Cape Cod charter captains offer "combo" trips that include fishing and/or lobstering, too.
Having a boat and professional captain all to yourself is the recipe for an unforgettable day!
Interested in a private whale watch or combo trip? Drop me a quick note via my contact form. I'll get back to you with info about local charter captains who'll show you a great time on the water!
Along with your camera (the #1 must-have for whale watching!), these items are super handy for your day on the water:
This is one of those "you never know when you'll need it" items that I always carry in my boat bag. My dad gave me one of these pull-overs years ago, and it's still serving me well today.
The light-weight, water-resistant fabric is a great shield against wind, salt spray, and the unexpected rain shower.
The jacket packs into its own pouch pocket. So it takes up virtually no space at all in a carry-on bag.
BTW: These jackets are great for everyday wear, too. The zippered pocket is a handy (secure) place to carry your phone and wallet when you're out and about around town!
Passengers may bring their own food and non-alcoholic beverages on board. But ... carry-on coolers must be "6-pack" size or smaller.
My go-to food tote for the boat? A soft-sided cooler bag.
These babies are sturdy and flexible. They're much easier to cram full of stuff than their hard-sided cousins. And the hand and shoulder straps make them a breeze to carry on board!
You might think your hat is firmly planted on your head ... until the boat gets up to speed and the breeze catches the brim. Bye bye favorite ball cap!
With these hat leashes (a/k/a "hat lanyards"), you clip one end to the back of your chapeau and the other to your shirt or jacket. Your hat might fly off, but it won't escape into the briny waters of Cape Cod!
Have you heard of anti-seasickness spray? I never knew it existed until a neighbor told me about it. (She loves sailing. But, as she says, "I get queasy just looking at a boat.")
The beauty of this spray is that you only use it if/when you need it. No worries if you forget to take a seasick pill an hour before boarding the boat. No drowsiness from using the spray.
Carry it with you for quease-free Cape Cod whale watching!
Photo Credits: Northern Right Whale and Greater Shearwater courtesy of NOAA