Anacortes is basically attached to the mainland of Washington, but it is on a jagged landmass that stretches toward the San Juan Islands, and these two features make Anacortes an excellent place to take a whale watching cruise. You can drive a car to the port, and then once you are at the port you aren’t very far from the whales, or more precisely the killer whales that inhabit or pass through the San Juan Island area. As is the case with whale watching cruises in any given city, it is helpful to know a little about the scene – like which companies offer these types of voyages – before you start looking into cruises to book. We have done the research for you, and below we have compiled our findings into a guide to whale watching in Anacortes, Washington.
Although a few different companies offer whale watching cruises out of Anacortes, you are going to get a fairly comparable experience regardless of the company you book with. All of the companies sail during the same time of year (May to October) and boast of high sighting success rates, and this makes sense since they are all sailing in the same waters looking for the same types of whales (and in fact even the same whales, as there are a few resident whale pods off the coast of Anacortes). You are also likely to see the same marine life, including sea lions, seals, porpoise, and a variety of different sea birds. There can only be so much variation among whale watching cruises that depart from the same town and sail the same waters.
That said, there some differences between the main whale watching companies, which are Island Adventures, Mystic Sea Charters, and Outer Island Excursions. These are the only companies that offer dedicated whale watching cruises that depart from Anacortes. (There are companies that offer other boat-oriented services – like kayaking or sport fishing – and you can occasionally see a whale when you are out on the waters, but seeing whales isn’t the point of the service.) Island Adventures and Mystic Sea Charters are quite similar, as they both offer cruises on larger vessels that last between five and six hours, and they also charge almost identical rates. During the late spring and early summer, the companies charge about $100 for a cruise, and then from early summer till the end of the summer, they charge $10 more. After this, the prices drop $10 again, returning to the price set at the beginning of the season. For the record, Island Adventures charges $5 more, and the companies’ price hikes and decreases aren’t perfectly aligned, although they are pretty close. One major advantage of Island Adventures is that you can get substantial discounts for booking online and in advance, in addition to whatever discount you qualify for because of your age and memberships (e.g., AAA). If you are able to capitalize on every discount, you can save up to $30 by booking with Island Adventures.
As for Outer Island Excursions, they charge a similar rate as the other two companies – $109 throughout the season – but their boats are much smaller, as no more than 13 people are allowed on board for any given sailing. And while Outer Island Excursions trips can last five hours, they can also be as short as three, and in fact the company uses this as something of selling point. (Their smaller ships can cover more sea in a shorter period of time, at least according to their site.)
As you can see, the whale watching companies based in Anacortes are quite similar – they all sail the same waters and cost roughly the same, and you are about as likely on one ship to see whales and other sea life as you are on any other. So, unless the ship size and trip duration is a major issue (and in which case you’ll either want to go with or avoid Outer Island Excursions depending on how you feel), you should just pick your cruise based on whichever company is easiest to book with. The major exception to this is if you are able to capitalize on the Island Adventures discounts, or if one of the companies is offering some sort of promotion. This is really the only way to save a substantial amount of money. So, as always, it is worth checking out all the competition before booking with any company, and this guide should give you a pretty good idea what the different companies offer.