We’ve been working our way through the most fun to-do list ever, and we decided it was high time to check off number 37, a whale watching cruise. After an exciting Whale Watch with Boston Harbor Cruises, I am – for the record – ranking it as one of the top 10 things to do with kids in Boston before they grow up.
However, I don’t recommend just jumping on the next BHC Catamaran going out to Stellwagen Bank. The difference between having a great experience and a phenomenal one, especially when you’re taking kids on the cruise, is knowing what to expect and getting a few tips from a fellow parent before you go.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Whale
There's really only one game in town if you want to depart from the city. The New England Aquarium (NEAQ) and Boston Harbor Cruises (BHC) partnership creates a unique opportunity to learn as you cruise, making the whale sightings even more meaningful and memorable.
The ride out to whale central is the ideal time to get acquainted with the Harbor's sights and sounds. The NEAQ guide shares stories about the Boston Harbor and some of its more notable landmarks, including the Boston Harbor Islands, several lighthouses, and a spot where pirates were once hung and left as a visual deterrent to would-be wrongdoers.
It's also a great opportunity to explore the Catamaran. Enjoy relaxing in the climate-controlled cabin while snacking on a soft pretzel from the snack bar, check out the views from different areas of the boat, and read all kinds of fun facts about whales (like how many burgers you would need to eat in a day to match the calories they consume – it’s mind-blowing).
As the boat approaches the location of the whales (usually at or near Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary), everyone tries to find a good viewing spot out on the deck. The crew asks adults to yield the front-row spots along the handrails to the kids, which not only makes sense, is also really nice.
The excitement among the passengers and crew is palpable when a whale is sighted. Audible gasps, oohing and ahhing are par for the course when a flipper, fin, water spout or tail appears. As you watch for whales, the guide shares fascinating facts, explains whale behaviors, and may try to identify particular whales by their markings.
After much fanfare and picture-taking, the boat heads back to the city. Everything shifts into a lower gear as you pass the now-familiar sights of the Harbor and reflect on the extraordinary moments you have shared with your fellow whale watchers.
Being greeted by the Boston skyline is like a homecoming. Then it's time to trade in your sea legs for ones better suited to walking the Greenway, playing in Christopher Columbus Park, or visiting the shops and restaurants of Faneuil Hall.
Tips for a Terrific Time on a BHC Whale Watch Cruise
1. I recommend the whale watch cruise for ages 6 and up. You will be on a boat for at least three hours, after waiting in line to board for 30-45 minutes. If your child has difficulty sitting and standing for that long without running, jumping or climbing, you should definitely consider waiting until she is a little older.
2. Take the T if you can. The Aquarium stop is a stone’s throw away from the BHC ticket booth and where you board the boat.
3. If you must drive, we like parking at International Place on weekends. There’s also inexpensive parking available (with validation) at a few other parking lots close by. Details are on the Aquarium website.
4. Stake your claim on a table in the lower cabin as soon as you board the boat. You don’t have to stay glued to it – keep valuables with you when you leave – but when the kids want snacks or when everyone on the boat makes a beeline for the tables on the way back to Boston, you’ll be glad you have a table. Also, the guides from the New England Aquarium are chock full of information, and it’s a lot easier to hear the narration from inside the cabin.
5. Don’t be shy. The guides are knowledgeable and friendly. Ask questions! You might also be able to score an activity kit for the kids to use while you’re on the boat.
6. Consider taking the evening (5pm) cruise. We got a tip from one of the crew members that the later whale watches are the best because the crew already has the coordinates for where the whales are located that day. Plus, you get a gorgeous sunset and are greeted by the glittering Boston skyline when you return from your adventure.
New England Aquarium Whale Watch with Boston Harbor Cruises | Departures from Long Wharf, Boston | Schedule online | 617-227-4321 or firstname.lastname@example.org