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The Best Whale Watching Cruises in Alaska


One of the top things to do on many traveler bucket lists is to go on one of the whale-watching cruises in Alaska. The 49th state is one of the best destinations in the world when it comes to witnessing the world’s largest mammals in their natural habitat. 


Whale-watching cruises in Alaska bring the best chance to witness humpback whales bubble feeding or tail slapping, orca whales with their black and white markings swimming by with offspring, and gray whales breaching.

Or you might even spot blue whales, the biggest animal to ever live, weighing up to 150 tons and as long as 110 feet.  

This state is also the best place to encounter all sorts of other marine life and land animals. In Glacier Bay National Park, for example, a wildlife cruise often means marveling not only at whales, but Steller sea lions, harbor seals, harbor porpoise, Dall’s porpoise, and sea otters in the water.

Look out to the shore and you’ll often see mountain goats climb the steep, rocky cliffs. Moose and both brown and black bears can be spotted, with most of the islands in the bay routinely visited by bears.

Alaska whales surrounded by birds

It’s always a big thrill to see them rambling along the beaches in search of a new food source.

Don’t forget to gaze up into the trees and farther into the sky, with bald eagles found in abundance here. There are also many other birds like puffins and cormorants.

Be sure to bring a good camera – in addition to all the wildlife there is to capture, the scenery is out of this world. 

The Best Whale Watching Cruises in Alaska

Here is a list of the top 5 whale watching cruises carefully selected for you.

If you are interested in one of the cruises recommended here below, click on the links provided and you will be redirected to Liveaboard reservation page.

This way you will be able to take advantage of the Liveaboard book now, pay later policy

That means, you can place your booking online and liveaboard will check availability and hold the spaces for you. You can confirm with a payment later.

Catalyst 

Catalyst in front of a glacier
Photo © Catalyst

For an intimate experience on a historic vessel, the Catalyst cruise ship offers one of the best whale-watching cruises in Alaska.

She’s an original, taking passengers back to a time when construction was all about craftsmanship. She has a beautiful wooden interior that includes beamed ceilings, mahogany trim, and decades-old paneling.

She was originally an oceanographic research vessel for the University of Washington, but today she’s known as one of the best small ships for getting up close to Alaskan wildlife, including whales. 

The Catalyst typically travels between Juneau and Petersburg or vice versa, with itineraries ranging from eight to ten days.

With a maximum capacity of just 12 passengers, the crew can provide personalized service that includes expert insight into the area and the many whales and other wildlife you’ll be seeing.

catalist boat beyond a whale in alaska

Exploring the Eastern and Inside Passages, her guests can take part in a myriad of adventures like paddling in a kayak through narrow inlets, winding through ice-filled fjords, getting face-to-face with tidewater glaciers, and viewing the incredible wildlife firsthand.

Expect a pace that’s relaxed and not rushed for enjoying those moments, which, if you’re lucky, might include looking a humpback right in the eye. 

The specific itinerary varies depending on the weather but typically includes The Brothers Islands in the middle of Frederick Sound, a prime feeding ground for humpback whales, while killer whales (technically the largest member of the dolphin family) are often included in the whale sightings too.

While journeying to the face of Dawes Glacier, you’re likely to see humpbacks before lingering to experience the sights and booming sounds of iceberg calving. 

catalist boat

Boat Specifications

  • Year built 1932
  • Length 22.6m/74.7ft
  • Beam 5.6m/18.4ft
  • Number of cabins 6
  • Max guests 12
  • Number of bathrooms 3

What is Included in the price

Airport Transfer, VAT, National Park Fees, Airport Transfer, Alcoholic Beverages, Drinking Water, Soft drinks, Full-Board Meal Plan plus Tea, Coffee and Snacks, Land Excursions, Kayak, Naturalist Guide

What is not included but mandatory

Visas and Other Fees.

What is optional

Travel insurance is most of the time optional but always very much recommended. If anything unexpected would happen, you are covered.


Safari Endeavor

Safari Endeavour cruise in Alaska

UnCruise Adventures is popular among the more adventurous as the name belies. It offers expedition cruises aimed at exploration, with the chance to engage and connect with the destination in an environment that feels as if you’re traveling with friends.

USA Today called its expeditions on the Safari Endeavor one of the most intriguing small ships for an “outdoorsy, wildlife-filled trip.”

The 84-passenger vessel is loaded with motorized Zodiac boats, paddleboards, and kayaks for active exploring.

Plus, it’s small enough to access those difficult-to-reach coves and bays that larger vessels can’t.

Specializing in “affordable luxury,” her smaller size means there are no Broadway-style shows or water parks, but there are plenty of enticing facilities, including a rooftop hot tub.

Even better for whale enthusiasts, she has a hydrophone for listening to the songs of the humpbacks and an underwater camera for viewing. 

Safari Endeavour dining

Itineraries on the Safari Endeavor are typically eight days, sailing between Sitka and Juneau, although the cruise line also offers 13-day cruises from Seattle to Juneau.

There are few “typical” port stops – instead, the ship pauses in secluded coves, bays, and inlets that provide the best chance for whale and other wildlife watching.

You might sail Chatham Strait, where you can hop into a kayak and glide across the water near pods of orcas that skim along the surface. 

Glacier Bay National Park, a 3.3 million-acre UNESCO-listed site and Biosphere Reserve, is a highlight on a Safari Endeavor cruise.

A park ranger will join you for a day of exploring that often includes sightings of foraging bears along the shore, mountain goats on rocky peaks, sea lions wrestling for a spot on South Marble Island, and harbor seals lounging on bits of the bergs that have calved off the glaciers.

While cruising Icy Strait, you’re likely to be surrounded by spouts and fin slaps.

Safari endeavour bedroom

Boat Specifications

  • Year built 2012
  • Length 232ft
  • Beam 37ft
  • Number of cabins 42
  • Number of bathrooms 42
  • Max guests84

What is included in the rate

Airport Transfer, Hotel Transfer, VAT, Fuel Surcharge, National Park Fees, Visas, Alcoholic Beverages, Drinking Water, Soft drinks, Tea & Coffee, Welcome Cocktails, Wine with Dinner, Full-Board Meal Plan (All meals), Snacks, Special Dinner, Land Excursions, Naturalist Guide, Stand Up Paddleboard, kayak Towels, Toiletries, Yoga.

What is not included in the rate and it’s required

Port Fees (375-750 USD per trip).

Optional Extras

Travel Insurance, Gratuities, Local Flights.


Wilderness Adventurer

Wilderness adventurer cruise boat in alaska
Photo © Wilderness Adventurer

One of the first ships launched by UnCruise Adventures, Wilderness Adventurer offers another one of the best whale watching cruises in Alaska.

She sails the smaller waterways of Alaska’s Inside Passage, anchoring in bays and small coves each night.

She has just 30 cabins for a maximum capacity of 60, providing a casual, laid-back environment that’s ideal for making like-minded friends while enjoying an intimate ambiance and personal service. 

The focus is on nature and wildlife rather than fancy dresses, collared shirts, and formal dinners. You’ll be joined by fellow guests who tend to have the latest outdoor gear and take advantage of the opportunity to use it. 

 Wilderness Adventurer boat and kayaks with snowcapped mountains as a background
Photo © Wilderness Adventurer

Wilderness Adventurer typically offers eight-day itineraries, round-trip from Juneau that include Icy Strait, Glacier Bay National Park, Chatham Strait, Kuiu Island, Frederick Sound, and Dawes Glacier.

Educational opportunities are plentiful too, with everything from naturalist-led lectures to learn more about the area, the whales, and other wildlife, to the underwater hydrophone so you can hear what you don’t see beneath the surface.

Like the other UnCruise adventures, there are ample opportunities to hop offboard for hiking and paddling, with a hot tub ideal for a soak afterward.

With a pastry chef traveling with you, you’ll replenish all those calories you’re bound to consume quickly. It’s quiet in the evening with everyone usually worn out from the day’s activities. 

Boat Specifications

  • Year built 1984
  • Year renovated 2011
  • Length 48.5m/160ft
  • Beam 11.5m/38ft
  • Number of cabins 30
  • Number of bathrooms 30
  • Max guests 60
Wilderness adventurer cabin
Photo © Wilderness Adventurer

What’s included in the rate

Airport Transfer, VAT, Fuel Surcharge, National Park Fees, Hotel Transfer, Alcoholic Beverages, Drinking Water, Soft drinks, Tea & Coffee, Welcome Cocktails, Wine with Dinner, Full-Board Meal Plan (All meals), Snacks, Special Dinner, Kayaks, Yoga,Naturalist Guide, Stand Up Paddleboard, Towels, Land Excursions, Toiletries, Visas and Fees,

What is not included in the rate

Port Fees (375-750 USD per trip).

Optional Extras

Travel Insurance, Gratuities, Local Flights.

* Extra fees are shown per person.

If you are in doubt about travel insurance here is a helpful post on why you need a travel insurance


Northern Dream 

Northern Dream overview
Photo © Northern Dream

The Northern Dream is an independent owner-operated yacht offering small-ship cruises with a maximum capacity for just six guests.

It offers the 7-day Discovery Cruise that travels between Juneau and St. Petersburg or round-trip from Juneau. The experience is like traveling with a friend who is a Southeast Alaskan local and wildlife expert while enjoying plenty of space and comfort. 

The yacht has a walk-around main deck and a large upper deck area that provides a stunning, unobstructed 360-view from its high perch. Kayaks are included for those who want to get out on the water for a paddle too.

Itineraries often start by anchoring in Swanson Harbor the first night, which sits along the Icy Strait, famous for its whale and bear sightings. You’ll get to visit the Native American village of Hoonah, Laconte Glacier, Baranoff Hot Springs, and Tenakee Springs.

Northern dream whale
Photo © Northern Dream

In addition to kayaking, there are hiking and fishing excursions. Any time you’re out on the water, there’s a good chance of spotting humpback and orca whales. On land, frequently spotted animals include otter, beaver, Sitka black-tail deer, mink, marten, and lots of bald eagles.

Another option is Northern Dream’s Lighthouse & Whale Watching cruise. It sails for 10 days between Ketchikan and Juneau, providing the chance to take in some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery while exploring historic lighthouses and watching for whales.

It includes a lecture on the local marine life along with shore excursions at all lighthouses that are visited, except for just one. Each visit includes an exclusive tour of the lighthouse and its history.  

The Northern Dream yacht is one of the best for escaping the crowds and enjoying one of the most intimate Alaska whale watching cruises available today.

Boat Specifications

  • Length 65ft
  • Beam 18ft
  • Number of cabins 3
  • Number of bathrooms 3
  • Max guests 6
  • Tenders 14ft Tender
Northern Dream Cabin
Photo © Northern Dream

What is included in the rate 

VAT, Environment Tax, National Park Fees, Port Fees, Transfers, Alcoholic Beverages, Soft drinks and water, Tea & Coffee, Wine with Dinner, Full-Board Meal Plan, Snacks, Special Dinner, Fishing, Kayaks, Land Excursions, Towels, Towels, Toiletries.

What is not included in the rate

Visas and Fees.

Optional Extras: 

Gratuities and travel insurance.

* Extra fees are shown per person.

Book now, pay later: You can easily place your booking online. We will then hold the spaces for you and you can confirm with a payment later.


Westward

Westward Alaskan Cruise overview
Photo © Westward

Available to book through LiveAboard.com, Westward is a historic yacht for up to eight guests. She’s listed with the US National Register of Historic Places providing adventurous spirits with a unique voyage through Alaskan waters.

She was first launched back in 1924, designed by a renowned naval architect to become what’s been called the most famous boat in Seattle.

While cruising aboard Westward, you’ll enjoy her historic nature, the quiet calm while she’s at anchor, and windows that open.

Listening to the sounds of the whales as they inhale and exhale is one of the most relaxing soundtracks for a peaceful night’s sleep. The ship was designed in a way so that air flows through freely to prevent stuffiness without a noisy generator interrupting the tranquility. 

This vessel offers several offboard activities too, including both single and double sea kayaks, enough to accommodate every passenger.

There’s also an inflatable utility boat and aluminum skiff for exploring islands and glaciers up close and ferrying guests ashore. 

Westward cabin
Photo © Westwards

Westwards itineraries include a round-trip adventure between Juneau and Glacier Bay, cruising for 10 days, departing from Auke Bay just a short drive from downtown Juneau.

Right in the harbor, a majestic humpback whale might even surprise you with a breach. But as soon as you head out into the open water, you’ll be among glaciers and likely a myriad of both humpbacks and orcas

You’ll travel through the inlets and bays in Glacier Bay National Park with stops at picturesque anchorages for watching the wildlife, including whales and possibly calving glaciers.

Accompanied by the onboard naturalist, hiking and kayaking excursions bring the chance to learn about the flora and fauna you’re seeing.

As this is one of the richest fishing grounds in Southeast Alaska, whales are drawn here for a feast, making it almost impossible not to see them during the season. 

Alaska Blue Whales
Alaska Blue Whales

Boat specifications

  • Year built 1924
  • Year renovated 2016
  • Length 86ft
  • Beam 19ft
  • Cruising speed 8 knots
  • Max guests 11
  • Number of cabins 4
  • Number of bathrooms 4

What is included in the rate

 VAT, National Park Fees, Airport Transfer, Alcoholic Beverages, Drinking Water, Soft drinks, Tea & Coffee, Full-Board Meal Plan (All meals), Snacks, Kayaks, Land Excursions, Naturalist Guide.

What is not included in the rates

Visas and Fees.

Optional Extras

Gratuities.

Book now, pay later: You can easily place your booking online. We will then hold the spaces for you and you can confirm with a payment later.

* Extra fees are shown per person.


Best Alaska cruises for whale watching at a glance

BOAT
NAME
BOAT
PICTURE
MAX.
OCCUPANCY
SHARING
OPTION
SINGLE
CABIN
SINGLE
SUPPLEMENT
VIEW
DETAILS
CATALYSTCatalyst in front of a glacier12YesNo50%
SAFARI ENDEAVOURSafari Endeavour cruise in Alaska84NoNo75%
WILDERNESS ADVENTURER Wilderness Adventurer boat and kayaks with snowcapped mountains as a background60NoYes75%
NORTHERN DREAMNorthern Dream overview6YesNo50%
WESTWARDWestward Alaskan Cruise overview11YesNo50%

Best Time to See Whales in Alaska

Alaskan landscape

The time of year you embark on your cruise has a significant impact on the number of whales you may be able to see. In addition to choosing one of the best whale watching cruises in Alaska, you’ll want to increase your odds by timing it right.

The cruise season in Alaska runs between late April and September, which is also when whales are frequently spotted in the area. After spending their winter in the Pacific’s southern warmer waters, by spring, many of the whales have either reached Alaska or are on the way and will be arriving soon.

It’s a long season without food, a time when they’re focused on breeding and birthing their young. Alaska is their feeding grounds, where they’ll feed and teach their offspring how to hunt through early fall when it’s time to head back again. 

But the peak time to cruise and spot whales isn’t necessarily anytime throughout the cruising season, unlike you might read elsewhere.

It depends on the type of whales you hope to see. There are certain months where you’re likely to spot an abundance of humpback whales, with around 600 of them inhabiting the waters of the northern Inside Passage, primarily in the summer months of June, July, and August.

Alaska Whale Watching

The season also brings long days, with the abundant sunlight increasing the chance of witnessing behaviors like lunge feeding and tail slapping.

Breaches are rarer as these whales are famished, ready for the nutrient-rich waters after months of starvation, but they aren’t unheard of. 

If you’re hoping to view orcas, cruises in May and June tend to be best, while gray whales are more likely to be seen earlier in the season too. Blue whales are here in larger numbers during the latter half of the summer. 

You’ll encounter fewer crowds in the early and latter parts of the season, although the nature of small-ship cruising means even during the busy summer months, it’s not something you need to be too concerned about.

Also read: The best time to visit Alaska


Final Thoughts on the best whale watching Cruises in Alaska

Imagine paddling in a kayak while watching a dorsal fin rise from the water’s surface or seeing a massive humpback leap into the air against a backdrop of dramatic snow-capped peaks just feet away from the deck of your ship.

Or, perhaps, with luck on your side, humpbacks create their famous bubble nets while hungry gulls circle overhead hoping for leftover scraps. 

The experience is life-changing – that’s the magic of a whale-watching cruise in Alaska. 


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The Best Time to Visit Alaska by Season

The Best Whale Watching in Alaska – the 5 most spectacular sites

Where to find the best whale-watching in the world

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