Whale Watching With Kids

Last year, Rainer Jenss traveled around the world with his wife and two sons, and blogged about his experience here on Intelligent Travel. This year, he’s back with a new column that focuses on traveling with kids.

Humback.jpgWarning: The term ‘”family friendly” can be deceiving. If you’re planning a holiday that includes children, do you only consider options that are kid-appropriate? Conversely, if you’re on a trip sans little ones, do you instinctively avoid doing anything with this label? The truth is, unless you absolutely refuse to be in the company of anyone under the age of 18, family-friendly activities can be the highlight of anyone’s vacation, whether you have children or not. Case in point: Whale watching.

Ever since our boys were old enough to look through a pair of binoculars, we’ve been going on whale watching excursions every chance we get. Our fascination with whales’ tails started in the summer of 2001 when we took our first outing off the coast of Cape Cod, our favorite summertime getaway. Honestly, there are few sights as exhilarating as spotting the world’s largest mammal cruising alongside the bow of your boat, no matter how many times you’ve seen it. Departing from Provincetown on the tip of the Cape, The Dolphin Fleet and Portuguese Princess Excursions both offer guarantees to see at least one of a possible five species that congregate around the Steelwagen Bank to feed each year between May and October.

Hermanus Whales.JPGTwo years after our maiden voyage, we lucked out and saw a group of humpbacks breaching. Then in 2007, the bar was raised even higher when our boat came upon a humpback “bubblenet feeding,” a rarely seen act in which the whale captures fish by blowing bubbles around a school to bring them up to the surface to keep them from escaping. Once at the surface, the whale lunges upward and gulps down as many fish as it can with their huge mouths. Exciting stuff for kids of all ages.

We continued watching whales during our around-the-world trip in places like Bar Harbor, Maine and the San Juan Islands off northwestern Washington State, where orcas gather every summer.

After we arrived in Africa, instead of heading straight for the bush, our first stop was Hermanus, South Africa, where we were fortunate to catch the tail end of the southern right whale calving season. We got some incredible views of a half-dozen mothers with their newborn calves not more than 100 feet from our boat. Priceless.

On our recent spring break in California, we found yet another way to get a glimpse of these majestic creatures. (And no, it wasn’t from the grandstands of Shamu Stadium at Sea World in San Diego.)

Instead, we boarded the 139-foot sailing yacht America to search for grey whales that migrate off the coast of southern California. As eager as the boys were to see more whales, I was equally as excited about the four-hour ocean sail. After all, not too many whale-watching trips are aboard a classic two-masted clipper ship. And get this, the company that operates these daily trips, Dennis Conner’s America’s Cup Experience, even offers a “no seasickness guarantee,” a problem that has frequently plagued my wife and youngest son, Stefan.

Of course, there’s also the obligatory guarantee that you’ll see a whale, or you get another opportunity at no cost. Well, as luck would have it, we didn’t see any grey whales. Instead, we followed a lone humpback for a solid 45 minutes, and even watched as it breached. One thing of note: The excursion is narrated by a guy named Al dressed in a pirate suite, who, of course, was great with the kids. But if you don’t think can handle something that’s just as entertaining for a 10-year-old as it is for someone who’s 50, you don’t know what you’re missing!

Where have you taken your kids whale watching? Let us know in the comments or tweet Rainer at @JenssTravel.

Photos: Above, following the humpback in southern California; Below, a mother and calf in Hermanus, South Africa. By Rainer Jenss.


  1. alvaromoore
    Areyonga, Northern Territory
    June 20, 2014, 8:04 am

    Its amazing idea to travel these types of areas on particular period of time and where we watch whales close to us and enjoy their tricks carefully.So,in vacations everyone who is travel lover must enjoy whale watching tours with family.

  2. Ásta
    Reykjavík, Old Harbour
    September 3, 2013, 11:11 am


    We had the privilege of having Carole Carlson, from the Dolphin, fleet giving us a lecture about her work and how we could improve our tours here in Reykjavík. :)

    Now our tours are more educational and interactive!
    The kids enjoy taking part in our tours as we allow them to explore plankton samples on our microscopes. We have the kids also helping the guide out when placing the sightings of each tour on a map we have on the wall :)

  3. Vince
    March 14, 2012, 8:07 am

    That looks like it was so much fun. I wish I had the opportunity to go whale watching. Maybe i’ll be able to take up that hobby this year when the weather warms up. Great post and thanks for sharing.

  4. Mia
    October 8, 2010, 1:59 pm

    We had the most amazing whale watching experience in De Kelders (Close to Cape Town, South Africa) in August this year. We were fortunate enough to see a young whale jump over its mother. Unfortunately I didnt have my camera with me! …but it was such a magnificent sight.
    I highly recommend this area to go whale watching.
    (and recommend the affordable and homely B&B Haus Giotto, which is run by a very nice couple, Gina and Otto, who are so informed and enthusiastic about the area)

  5. Gina
    October 7, 2010, 2:26 pm

    We are very fortunate living in a little town (a village really) where we can see whales from the cliffs. That makes it ideal to watch with children.

  6. Alejandro
    August 29, 2010, 9:05 am

    If you want to travel with kids, and to enjoy the Whale Watching Valdes Valdes Peninsula in Patagonia Argentina is the point. You can see many whales, meters from the coast and the Whale Watching tours depart daily from Puerto Piramides, starting early in the morning and extending until the afternoon.
    Any time is good for a natural event, where the protagonists are the whales. From July to December mothers with young, swim across the chilly waters of the south, while farther away from the coast can be seen mating groups working in the procession, fundamental challenge to the survival of this species.
    There are approximately 500 individuals who are in the waters of ValdesPeninsula, between the Gulf Nuevo and the Gulf San Jose.

  7. sandra
    July 26, 2010, 4:12 am

    Whale watching is one of the most adventurous tours i would ever want to have.And that too travelling with the family is even more entertaining.I am planning to have one of this experience in my life.

  8. ed-hardy
    July 6, 2010, 4:27 am

    do you want to become the beautiful scenery this summer? or do you want to attract eyeball among the crowd?now,listen carefully,your wishes will come true here .we support all different kinds of beautiful leisure production,such as sunglasses,t-shiirts and swim trunks et.from here,you will find your favorite things.What are you waiting for?go and choose the now!

  9. World Explorer
    May 13, 2010, 7:29 am

    Beautiful i have to agree, if you are travelling with children, rather ask your travel agent namely; Flight Centre, or tour guide to advice you on what time of itinery you should have to accommodate the whole family.

  10. David Webb
    May 6, 2010, 3:05 pm

    We had a whale come right into downtown Vancouver yesterday! (False Creek.) Whales are amazing, but I would like to add that anyone going whale watching should ensure they choose an ethical tour guide who won’t harass or get to close to the whales. (I’m sure the tour operator in this post is one of the good guys.)