We received a family whale watching day trip to the San Juan Islands from Clipper Vacations to facilitate this review.
On Sunday, I went with John, the kids and our friends Alyssa, Caesar and their kids on a Clipper Vacations whale watching day trip to the San Juan Islands. We’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for over 11 years and this was our first-ever whale watching excursion, which is just sad with this amazing natural opportunity so close to us in Seattle. It was absolutely thrilling to see huge killer whale Orcas breaching out of the water, and even more exciting for me to actually capture this split second surprise shot of one such sighting.
Have you ever been whale watching?
Our trip began out of Seattle from Clipper Vacations Pier 69 with our beloved Space Needle looking on. If you’re unfamiliar with Clipper Vacations, they offer daily ferries to both Friday Harbor on San Juan Island via the San Juan Clipper, and to Victoria, Canada on the Victoria Clipper. It was a gray day when we shoved off, but our luck changed and we were in for a gorgeous day!
On our trip north, which is not a part of the official whale watching excursion, we totally lucked out to see a couple of Humpback Whales. The on-board naturalist talked a bit about these animals and pointed out where we might be able to see them. It was pretty exciting considering we had only been traveling for a half and hour and wasn’t expecting it. It was a beautifully scenic ride up past Camano and Whidbey Islands through Deception Pass toward San Juan Island.
Travelers not going on the whale watching excursion are dropped off in quaint Friday Harbor, but we had more in store as we headed back out to Deception Pass for another 2 1/2 hours looking for Orcas and other sealife. The time absolutely flew as we encountered killer whale after killer whale. We witnessed Orcas breaching out of the water multiple times and I was so thrilled to capture images with my own little camera. My friend Alyssa also captured some beautiful shots as well.
The kids really enjoyed their time on the water, particularly Alyssa and Caesar’s 9-year-old son Carter who has been studying sealife non-stop this summer. Clipper Vacation recommends that children under 6 may be too young for such a long day, which for the day trip ends up being about 11 hours. We had kids 5, 6, 8 and 9 with us and they all had a great time, but of course we brought along a lot of entertainment (both electronic and coloring) and our younger girls took naps on the boat ride up. But they were all very excited to watch the water for the whales popping up and the on-board naturalist was a fountain of information for all of us.
The naturalist told us that these are four resident Orcas near Deception Pass. Two adult females, Princess Angelina and her daughter Polaris, Polaris’ 7-month-old calf (2nd from the left) and a male named DoubleStuf (his mom’s name is Oreo). J-pod currently has 29 whales and we were thrilled to see many of them on our trip. Granny, the 105-year-old matriarch of J-pod is the oldest Orca in the world.
The colors of the water and sky was just incredible. We saw orcas and porpoises and seals. Bald eagles too. Plus seaplanes, sailboats and other water craft that the kids just loved seeing around us.
After the whale watching excursion, we were able to visit Friday Harbor for 2 hours to get a late lunch and ice cream. Such a cute harbor town. We talked about how much fun it would be to come back and stay overnight sometime without the kids!
Tips to enhance your experience aboard the San Juan Clipper
I was pretty impressed with the seating options with tables. We were on the boat a lot so it was nice to have larger seats and space to spread out with the kids. The red chairs in the middle of the boat were quite comfortable and I was glad we sat in them on the way out. We switched it up and sat in the tables by the windows on the way back, which was nice for seeing the sealife along the route home. These had more traditional booth bench seats, which were not quite as comfortable but the kids could easily lay down in them.
We really enjoyed learning from the naturalist as we went. At one point she even laid this out to show the kids how big an actual whale is. The boat also offered many books with information to learn about what we were seeing.
The snacks on the boat are a bit expensive and they did not have very many gluten free options. I highly recommend packing snacks and even a lunch if you plan to do the full day adventure. We ended up having lunch at a restaurant in Friday Harbor after whale watching, but if we had packed lunches, we could have spent a little more time exploring Friday Harbor, which looked like such a cute town.
Bring a camera with a good zooming lense (I wish mine had a larger zoom!) and a pair of binoculars would not be unwelcome.
Be sure to prepare for sun and lots of wind, particularly when you walk up to the top deck to take some photos en route. Luckily no matter the weather, there is plenty of seating inside if you prefer a less windblown look.