Whale Watching in Boston and Gloucester

Updated: April 9, 2024

As a tour guide and resident of the Boston area, I’ve had the pleasure of going on a few whale-watching excursions over the years.

It’s a pretty popular activity which is why I wrote this post about whale-watching season in Boston and tours you can take from both Boston and nearby Gloucester.

Included are a list of tour companies (and an analysis of reviews), ticket prices and schedules. We also share tips on what to expect from your excursion and how to prepare.

Lastly, we include suggestions from members of our popular Boston Travel Tips Facebook group.

Our group of more than 16,000 members consists of locals and regular visitors to Boston. You don't need to join the group to read the posts and comments.

So check us out once you are finished reading this post. You can even post a question yourself!


WHAT TO EXPECT

In this section, we answer important questions to help you plan your trip, what you can expect to see, and how to prepare for your adventure.


When Is Whale Watching Season?

Whale-watching season in the Boston area runs from April to October with the summer months offering more scheduled outings.

Early or late in the season schedule times for excursions are more limited with just one or two trips a day.

At peak times including holiday weekends, some companies have as many as 8 trips per day.


How Long Does a Tour Last?

To reach the prime locations to see whales, you will have to travel on the boat for about an hour.

Then with time to visit various feeding spots and the return trip, your entire voyage will be between 3 and 4 hours long. 


What Will You See and Learn? 

You will likely see different whale species like Humpback, Fin, Minkeund Pilot.

Many cruises have ‘naturalists’ on board to explain differences among species, educate you about spotting techniques, and also whale behavior.

Other marine creatures you may see are Atlantic White-sided Dolphins, Harbor Porpoises, Basking Sharks and Sea birds.

Whale Watching Main Image

Some companies offer a whale sighting guarantee and if you don’t see any whales on your trip, you will be given some sort of compensation like a ticket for another trip.

Read the fine print and check the "Things to Consider" section before choosing which company to book.


What You Should Wear

Rubber sole shoes or sneakers are best and give you the best traction on a moving boat.

Depending on the season, the weather could be cold and breezy when you are out on the ocean.

In the summer months, bring a jacket, sweater, or hoodie. From April through November, you will likely want a winter coat, a hat (that won’t blow off!), and gloves.


What to Bring with You

A camera or smartphone (fully charged or extra batteries), sunscreen, sunglasses, and binoculars.


Food, Beverages, and Restrooms Onboard

All boats have 'galleys' that serve refreshments on board for purchase.

It is good to have cash since credit/debit card machines do not always function when far out from land. All boats have restrooms.


Motion Sickness

Most cruises are aboard comfortable and highly stable boats.

Still, it is possible that if you have never been on a boat in the ocean, you may experience motion sickness.

One way to avoid feeling queasy on your trip is to take Dramamine (at least an hour before the trip to be effective).

While on the ship, try riding toward the front of the boat and face forward. Bring some saltines or crackers as well.


Difference Between Whale Watching Trips from Boston and Gloucester

Boston is of course where you are most likely where you're staying. It is more convenient to take an excursion from Boston.  

The benefit of departing from Gloucester is that it is located between two of the primary feeding grounds of the whales.

Excursions from Gloucester have the flexibility of going to either Jeffreys Ledge or Stellwagen Bank, allowing you to see the best whales on your trip.  

To get to Gloucester, you can travel by train on MBTA. It takes approximately an hour from North Station to Gloucester. Trains run frequently. The cost is between $7-$10. Check out our post on using the MBTA.

By car, the ride is approximately 45 minutes.


BOSTON WHALE WATCHING EXCURSIONS

Boston Harbor Cruises

Boston Harbor Cruises takes passengers to Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary, where there is an abundance of marine life to behold. 

The 3-hour cruise is guided by a naturalist from the Whale Center of New England who will share intriguing facts about the whales and other marine life during your passage.

Riders will have a chance to view a variety of different breeds of whales including, Humpbacks, Minkes, and Finbacks, some reaching lengths up to 80 ft.

Their high-speed catamarans board up to 400 and feature three outside decks.

The interior is equipped with climate-controlled cabin space and is complete with cozy seating and a snack bar. 


Reviews

Boston Harbor Cruises sports a 4.5 out of 5 stars rating on both TripAdvisor and Get Your Guide (read their reviews).

Many reviewers report seeing a great number of whales and a variety of species.

Comments state that the guide is extremely knowledgeable and considerate with answering questions.

Guests report that the interior cabins are very comfortable and the three decks provide optimum viewing opportunity.

The word "fantastic" appears dozens of times in reviews. Over and over, guests say that it was definitely worth the money and would even take the tour a second time!  

A tiny percentage of dissatisfied guests were disappointed because they became seasick or because they did not see any whales.

The company does provide a "rain check" if this occurs. 


Tickets (non-refundable)

NOTE: Book with the ability to cancel up to 24 hours in advance. Also, enter our $ 100-a-week giveaway contest.

Whale sightings are fully guaranteed. If you do not see any whales on your trip, the company will give you a free ticket for a future trip. 


Schedule

  • May 16-23
    • Mon- Fri 10 am, 12 pm Exception: Friday, May 24 12 pm only
    • Sat 10 am, 11 am, 2:30 pm
    • Sun 10 am, 11 am, 3:30 pm Execption: Sunday May 26 10 am, 11 am, 2:30 pm
  • May 27-May 31
    • Mon-Fri: 10 am, 12 pm
    • Sat/Sun: 10 am, 11 am, 2:30 pm, 3:30 pm
  • June 1-June 12
    • Mon-Fri: 10 am, 11 am, 12 pm, 2:30 pm.
    • Sat/Sun: 10 am, 11 am, 12 pm, 2:30 pm, 3:30 pm
  • June 13 - September 4
    • Mon-Fri: 9 am, 10 am, 11 am, 12 pm, 2:30 pm
    • Sat/Sun: 9 am, 10 am, 11 am, 12 pm, 2:30 pm, 3:30 pm, 5 pm
  • September 5 - September 30
    • Mon-Fri: 10 am, 12 pm
    • Sat/Sun: 10 am, 2:30 pm
  • October 1 - October 8
    • Mon-Fri: 10 am, 12 pm
    • Sat/Sun: 10 am, 12 pm, 2:30 pm
  • Oct 9 - Nov 11: Daily: 12 pm

GLOUCESTER WHALE WATCHING EXCURSIONS

TIP: Before booking be sure to check Groupon and Living Social for specials.

They don't always have deals, but when they do you can save almost 50% on the cost of a ticket. 


Cape Ann Whale Watch

Boasting their Hurricane II, a 115 ft. length boat with over 400 ft. of whale watching space, Cape Ann Whale Watch promises passengers a speedy trip to their destination.

Their 3-4 hour long expedition is designed to spend as little time as possible on the actual journey, to allow travelers to spend an extended amount of time with the whales.

From Sperm Whales to Blue Whales, this cruise aims to showcase the many different breeds that migrate to Massachusetts every year.

Their heated indoor cabin features a full-service galley offering snacks, hot meals, and a full bar.

Cape Ann’s vessels communicate with one another to ensure they’re following the whales wherever they choose to go.

From the North and South shores of Massachusetts to Salem, Cape Cod, Peabody, and Swampscott, this cruise is dedicated to providing guests with the best opportunity to whale watch.

A perk from Cape Ann is free parking, something other companies don’t offer.

Additionally, Cape Ann sells seasickness pills on board for those with weaker stomachs for just $1.


Reviews

Cape Ann Whale Watch Cruises is rated as the #2 tour in Gloucester on TripAdvisor where they boast a 4 ½ out of 5 stars rating.

The majority of reviews suggest the cruise is well worth the price, citing an informative crew and plenty of whale sightings.

Some users reported the boat was too crowded and the trip duration too long.

Keep in mind this cruise is intended to maximize their generous availability of space and duration lengths can vary between the 4 and 5-hour mark. 


Tickets

  • Adult (age 17-59)  $65
  • Senior (age 60+). $60
  • Junior (age 4-16) $50
  • Child (age 3 or younger)$10 
  • $5 off for AAA, CAA, AARP, college students, and military personnel.
  • Reduced rates for groups are available through their website.
  • Purchase tickets or learn more.

*Whale sightings are fully guaranteed. If you do not see any whales on your trip, the company will give you a free ticket for a future trip.

TIP: Before booking be sure to check Groupon and Living Social for specials. They don't always have deals, but when they do you can save almost 50% on the cost of a ticket. 


Schedule

  • April 22nd - July 2nd
    • Mon-Fri: 10 am
    • Sat/Sun: 8:30 am, 1:30 pm
  • July 3rd - September 4th
    • Daily: 8:30 am, 1:30 pm
  • September 5th - October 1st
    • Mon - Fri: 1 pm
    • Sat/Sun: 8:30 am and 1:30 pm
  • October 2nd - 29th
    • Mon-Fri: 10 am
    • Sat/Sun: 8:30 am, 1:30 pm

7 Seas Whale Watch

On TripAdvisor, 7 Seas Whale Watch is the top tour out of 27 tours in Gloucester. Operating since 1983, 7 Seas is home to three generations of sea captains.

While each trip is unique, 7 Seas boasts a 99% sighting record with a tremendous amount of marine life to be seen.

Partnered with one of the world’s most renowned whale and dolphin conservation organizations, Ocean Alliance, 7 Seas Whale Watch’s goal is to educate and inspire passengers, and provide a deeper understanding of the marine environment.

Their boat is complete with a sun deck for panoramic views, and a wrap-around low-profile hull design that allows for unobstructed views close to the water.

The inner cabin features a full galley with snacks, sandwiches, and a full bar.

While it is designed to hold 300 passengers, The Privateer IV will only carry a maximum of 149 passengers to ensure safety and comfort. 


Reviews

7 Seas has a solid 5 out of 5-star rating on TripAdvisor. The overwhelming majority of reviews for this tour strongly praise the friendly staff and boat itself.

The Privateer IV is said to be kept very clean and comfortable.

Many reviewers were very pleased that the staff did not cram many people on the boat, which allowed for ample viewing spaces for everyone aboard.

The tour guides receive high praise for their abundance of knowledge and desire to answer questions. The sound system is said to be top-notch and easy to hear anywhere on the boat.

Users report seeing countless whales and dolphins and generally are in favor of the 4-hour duration period. 


Tickets

  • $60 adults
  • $55 seniors (age 55+)
  • $45 children (ages 3-17)
  • $10 toddlers (2 and under)
  • $50 for AAA members, military members, and students with valid ID.
  • Click here to purchase tickets. 

TIP: Before booking be sure to check Groupon and Living Social for specials. They don't always have deals, but when they do you can save almost 50% on the cost of a ticket. 


Schedule

  • April 15th to June 21st
    • Mon-Fri: 11 am
    • Sat/Sun: 8:30 am, 1:30 pm
  • June 22 - September 7
    • Everyday 8:30 am, 1:30 pm
  • September 8 - October 30
    • Mon-Fri: 11 am
    • Sat/Sun: 8:30 am, 1:30 pm

Captain Bill & Sons

Captain Bill & Sons is a family-operated company celebrating over 50 years in business. Their 3-4 hour whale watching tour explores both Stellwagen and Jeffrey’s Ledge.

You’ll be guided by a naturalist from the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation who will share insight on whale spotting.

The tour offers passengers a chance to spot many different breeds of whales including the Northern Right Whale.

Captain Bill & Son’s guarantees an uncrowded boat without lines to the onboard bar, galley, and restrooms.

Whale sightings are fully guaranteed. If you do not see any whales on your trip, the company will give you a free ticket for a future trip.

Teamed with The Whale Center of New England, Captain Bill & Son’s goal is to make your trip an educational and of course fun experience.

For a preview of the tour, click here for a video.


Reviews

Captain Bill & Son’s is rated at 4 1/2 stars on TripAdvisor and has a Certificate of Excellence.

Guests are most impressed with the smaller style boat, compared to its larger, commercial-style competitors. Many say the boat never felt overly crowded which made for a relaxing experience.

The departure from Gloucester is also preferred to typical Boston departures, cutting the travel time to reach destinations down significantly.

It is consistently reported that there are many whale sightings, most commonly the Humpbacks.

The guide/naturalist is said to be a tremendous benefit to the tour, offering expert knowledge about marine life.

The boat is described as comfortable and the trip calming.


Tickets (Online reservations highly recommended)

  • $48 adults
  • $42 seniors
  • $32 children (under 16)
  • Free for children under 3
  • Student and Group reduced rates are available through their website.

NOTE: This tour may not be available in 2024.

TIP: Before booking be sure to check Groupon and Living Social for specials. They don't always have deals, but when they do you can save almost 50% on the cost of a ticket. 


Schedule - This tour may not be available in 2024.

  • May and June: Monday-Friday 10:30 am;  Sat/Sun 9 am and 2 pm
  • July 1 to September 4 - daily 9 am and 2 pm (additional trips may run. Call to find out)
  • September 5-30: Monday-Friday 11 am, Sat/Sun 9 am and 2 pm
  • October to end of season: Monday-Friday 10 am, Saturday 1 pm, Sunday 10 am

DEALS AND WAYS TO SAVE

The following section provides details about ways to cut costs on whale-watching excursions, including information about tourist passes and other money-saving options.


Tourist Passes

The New England Aquarium Whale Watch (provided by Boston Harbor Cruises) is included with tourist passes in the past.

Depending on how you use these services, you could save anywhere from 20% - 50% off general admission prices for this activity and many others.

Here are a few of the most popular additional activities often included with these passes:

If you want to learn more about how you can use these services to save money, please read our post covering Boston tourist passes.


Groupon and Living Social

For those who only want to enjoy a whale-watching adventure, you may want to consider checking a site like Groupon or Living Social to see if they have any deals on this activity.

These services often run deals on at least a few whale-watching tours, allowing you to save some money on tickets.

In addition to the deals you'll find on these sites, they often provide additional sales on top of the already lower prices, which you can use to save an extra 10% - 20% off local activities.

To get the biggest possible savings, check both the top and bottom of the page for banners that show when an additional sale is happening.


Military Discounts

Most companies that offer whale-watching tours in the Boston area provide reduced rates for members of the military. This deal is usually at least $5 off the adult ticket price!


Student Discounts

If you're a student at a local university, you might be eligible for a reduced-rate ticket to one of the whale-watching tours listed above.

This deal is usually about $5 off the adult ticket price!


AAA Discounts

Many companies on our list also provide deals for AAA members. Depending on which company you choose, you could save up to $5 on tickets.


Senior Discounts

Most of the tour companies providing whale-watching outings offer a savings of between $3 - $5 off the adult ticket price for senior citizens over the age of 60.


Children's Discount

Depending on which tour you take, you can expect tickets for children to cost between $15-$20 less than an adult ticket.


THINGS TO CONSIDER

When planning your trip, these are some factors to take into account.


Can you see whales from land in Cape Cod or Boston?

Yes, you can see whales from land in both Cape Cod and Boston.

Cape Cod, especially Provincetown and Cape Cod National Seashore, offers good opportunities for whale watching from the coastline.

In Boston, sightings are more sporadic, but certain spots along the waterfront like Castle Island and the Harborwalk provide chances to observe whales if they are passing by.

Taking a whale-watching tour can increase your chances of seeing whales up close.


What month is best for whale watching in Boston?

The best month for whale watching in Boston is typically from April through October.

During this period, several whale species, including humpback whales, finback whales, and minke whales, migrate to the waters near Boston in search of food.

The peak season for whale sightings is generally from June to September when the waters are warmer and the whales are more abundant.


Do whale-watching cruises run all year round?

Whale-watching cruises in Boston typically operate from late March or early April through November.

This period corresponds to the prime whale watching season when whales migrate to the waters near Boston.

During this time, whale-watching tour companies offer regular trips to take passengers out to the whale feeding grounds.


How close can you get to the whales on a Boston whale-watching cruise?

On a Boston whale-watching cruise, you can typically get within 100 feet (30 meters) of the whales.

This distance is regulated to ensure the safety of the whales and comply with guidelines.

However, the proximity may vary depending on whale behavior and the discretion of the experienced crew.


What is the best time of day for a whale-watching cruise in Boston?

The best time of day for a whale-watching cruise in Boston is usually in the morning or early afternoon.

This is when the waters are typically calmer, providing better visibility and a smoother experience on the boat.


What is the best weather for whale watching in Boston?

The best weather for whale watching in Boston is typically during the summer months when the weather is warm and the seas are generally calmer.

Whales can still be observed in various weather conditions, including rain.

However, it's worth noting that rainy weather might affect visibility and make it more challenging to spot the whales from a distance.


SUGGESTIONS FROM LOCALS AND TRAVELERS

We always do our best to provide helpful information on any Boston topic, but we think that hearing from other locals as well as travelers might be useful.

Here are some thoughts and tips about whale-watching excursions from our Boston Travel Tips Facebook group members.

As we explained above, a whale-watching tour will take between 3 to 4 hours, and longer if you depart from Glouster.

If you have only a few days in Boston you may be wondering if such a trip is a worthwhile way to spend your time, given all the other great activities in Boston.

Reviewing our Facebook group, it was rare to come across a comment saying to skip it.

Not only did the majority of group members say that it was worth the time, but that it was an incredible adventure.

Group members were happy to share useful tips to prepare for your trip. Here are a handful.

To be comfortable you will want to dress appropriately as we mentioned above. Here are some ideas on what to wear.

Depending on what you want from your experience, you may want to be seated inside for part of the trip and then head outside when sightings occur.

If you do want to be inside at a table, this group member (who also loved the tour) advises getting to the cruise very early.

An important consideration is the potential for seasickness. It is not uncommon for many people to become seasick on these tours. 

But because it is common, there is no reason to feel out of place. Crews are used to this and will help anyone get through any unpleasant moments.

Here one group member knew in advance that she might get seasick. She did fine, however,

Her advice: Dramamine, light meal before and stay hydrated. Always look at the horizon!

One question comes up from time to time: “Should I take a whale-watching tour or a “Duck tour”? (Read about Duck Tours).

These are entirely different, but equally enjoyable, experiences.

This member points out what you will get from each of the two tours. She doesnt make things easy by saying to take both!

Our suggestion is to consider your itinerary and what your interests are -- and yes, if you can take both tours, do it!


OTHER BOSTON ACTIVITIES

About The Author

Brian Burgess

I was born in Cambridge and have been living in the Boston area all my life. I am a graduate of Boston's Emerson College with a degree in communications with a journalism/history focus. I have been leading tours for Free Tours By Foot Boston since it was started in the city of Boston in 2012, and enjoy sharing my knowledge of Boston's rich history with not only the guests on my tours, but with everyone I meet. <a href="https://freetoursbyfoot.com/contributors/brian-burgess/" Read More...
Updated: April 9th, 2024
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