Massachusetts is the main hub for whale watching on the East Coast, and so you might think that Boston is the whale watching capital of this region, playing a role comparable to San Diego’s on the West Coast. However, there actually aren’t that many whale watching cruises in Boston – there are lots of whale watching companies in nearby towns, but not in Boston specifically – so we thought it would be worthwhile to delve into the details of what is offered in the city. Who offers whale watching cruises in Boston, and how do you go about booking them?
As far as we can tell, and contrary to some things you may read online, there is only one whale watching company in Boston: Boston Harbor Cruises. However, BHC, as we’ll call it henceforth, offers quite a few whale watching cruises per year, so the fact that they are coming from a single company doesn’t really limit the total number of trips available. During the Massachusetts whale watching season, which runs from mid-Spring to mid-Fall, BHC operates cruises every day, and during the peak parts of the season, the company offers as many as six different sailings a day. Here is the breakdown of their seasonal schedule:
March 28 – May 8
Weekends: 10:00AM, 1:30PM
May 9 – May 22
Weekdays: 10:00AM, 12:00PM
Weekends: 10:00AM, 12:00PM, 1:30PM, 4:00PM
May 23- May 25 (Memorial Day Weekend)
9:00AM, 10:00AM, 12:00PM, 1:30PM, 3:00PM, 5:30PM
May 26 – June 26
Weekdays: 10:00AM, 12:00PM, 1:30PM
Weeknights: 10:00AM, 12:00PM, 1:30PM, 3:00PM (and 5:30PM on Saturdays)
June 27 – September 7
Weekdays: 9:00AM, 10:00AM, 12:00PM, 1:30PM
Weeknights: 9:00AM, 10:00AM, 12:00PM, 1:30PM, 3:00PM, 5:30PM
September 8 – September 27
Weekdays: 10:00AM, 1:30PM
Weekends: 10:00AM, 12:00PM, 1:30PM, 3:00PM
September 28 – October 25
Weekends: 10:00AM, 12:00PM
October 26 – October 31
Regardless of what time you are in the city, the prices are the same. The cruise costs $49 for adults, $44 for seniors, and $33 for children 11 and under (but those under 3 pay only $16). The cruises are about three hours long, and you are guaranteed to see a whale. If you don’t, you will receive a voucher for a free whale watching trip in the future. The time of day you go is a matter of personal convenience, as you aren’t more or less likely to see a whale on the basis of when you leave. The time of year you go also doesn’t matter, as whales are seen throughout the whole season. This is because the whales you are most likely to see – humpbacks, finbacks, and minkes – are there for the entire season, feeding in Massachusetts Bay. Many whale watching cruises are catered to spotting whales in migration (whale watching on the Pacific Coast, for instance, is largely based on the gray whale migration), but off the Boston coast the whales are in residence, and for this reason some of the same exact whales can be seen every year. BHC has even given some of them names; these names, like Slugger and Freckles, are nauseatingly playful, but it’s still cool that the same whales can spotted for decades.
Before concluding, we have a couple of final notes. First, it worth mentioning that BHC partners with the New England Aquarium for their cruises. If you see anything about New England Aquarium cruises, these are the same cruises operated by BHC, not a distinct cruise company. Also, because of the partnership, the BHC cruises are scientifically informed, as naturalists trained by the Aquarium are on board every cruise to talk about the marine life you are seeing. Second, BHC offers a number of other cruises besides whale watching cruises, like the Codzilla speedboat cruise and a few historical tours, which we mention only to ensure that you book the right trip. It would be pretty hard to mess up your online order, but we thought a quick note was in order since we have been talking only about BHC whale watching trips – they do offer other tours, so just keep this mind.
So, there is only one whale watching company in Boston, Boston Harbor Cruises, but this isn’t much of a limitation given the number and the quality of the cruises they offer. If you have an idea of when you might want to take a whale watching cruise in Boston, it is worth making a reservation in advance, which can be easily done online. This isn’t necessary, strictly speaking, but it is advisable since the cruises sell-out in advance with some regularity, especially on the weekend. For more general information, check out our article on whale watching in Massachusetts.