Anytime we’ve mentioned to friends and family that we had the best time whale watching near NYC this summer, the first question we’re asked is, “Where can you go whale watching in New York City?” After all, the closest most local families have probably come to a larger-than-life marine mammal is the famous, oversized blue whale that hangs overhead at the American Museum of Natural History.
Believe us: If we hadn’t gone whale watching near NYC and seen these ginormous marine mammals jump out of the water with our own eyes, we wouldn’t think it would be possible either! When we set sail on our NYC Whale Watching Cruise, we thought we might see a fin here or there. By the end of our three-hour tour, the whale watching boat roared with cheers of excitement, thanks to several humpback whale sightings.
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Take the whole family on a whale-watching outing with Event Cruises NYC.
Whale Watching Cruises Sailing from NYC
1. Event Cruises NYC Whale Watching Cruise – South Street Seaport
$85 for adults; $55 for children ages 12 and under
For our whale watching outing, we chose Event Cruises NYC’s Whale Watching Cruise. We caught our boat from Pier 36 for an early morning sail aboard a two-level boat that would take us out to sea. En route, we enjoyed breathtaking views of the NYC skyline. On this whale watching excursion, seating is first come, first served, so be sure to get there early. Also, note that strollers are not allowed on board but can be left safely at the dock with its staff. We always geek out passing by the Brooklyn Bridge and enjoyed the look at Lady Liberty from a distance as we ventured out to the whale watching grounds where possible sightings include North Atlantic right whales, fin whales, humpback whales, bottleneck dolphins, and more. While there’s a high chance of spotting marine animals, it’s not guaranteed. Fortunately, this experience has kid-friendly board games, nautical books, and coloring books to enjoy along the adventure. The complete cruise duration is about 4 1/2 hours. During that time, you can take tons of photos and enjoy onboard food options including hot dogs, Caprese sandwiches, tuna sandwiches, snacks, and beverages for an added fee. No outside food is permitted onboard.
2. Seastreak – Midtown East
$59 for adults; $34 for children ages 12 and under
This 3-hour cruise departs from the East 35th Street ferry terminal in a luxurious-feeling Seastreak Ferry, where airline-style seating can be enjoyed inside with air conditioning or on the outdoor decks. In addition to whales, cruises offer a chance to spot bottlenose dolphins, pelagic birds, sea turtles, and more while learning all about their behaviors. As a proud member of Whale Sense, the company is committed to responsible whale watching practices. All tickets are non-refundable but you can exchange them for a different day before the boat sailing. This NYC Whale watching experience is available on weekends-only from the city; if you want to embark on a weekday consider booking from its Highlands, New Jersey dock.
3. American Princess Cruises – Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn
$65 for adults; $45 for children ages 5-12; FREE for children ages 4 and younger
This is a family-friendly whale watching cruise that departs from Sheepshead Bay’s Pier 3. The tour operator touts a 95-97% sighting rate, and its active social media feeds are booming with recent sightings. Reservations are suggested, but you can also purchase tickets while boarding the boat on the same day of your excursion. Feel free to pack some sandwiches to bring aboard, but beverages and coolers are not permitted. Fortunately, there is a concession stand and full beverage bar onboard.
Whale Watching Cruises from Long Island
4. CRESLI – Montauk, New York
$80 for adults; $50 for children ages 5-12; FREE for children ages 5 and younger
These trips, sponsored by the Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island, whisk land lubbers off on a whale watching adventure from Long Island’s East End. Search the waters for whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sea birds, and sunfish with the help of a marine biologist who narrates the visit and answers questions. Trips last four hours and boast 100 percent success in sighting whales, dolphins, or porpoises.
5. Long Island Whale & Seal Watching – Freeport, New York
$65 for adults; $49 for children ages 12 and younger
Climb aboard the Atlantic Pearl to search the Long Island waters for marine life. A naturalist joins each sailing to discuss the behavior and biology of the animals you encounter. Among the mammals seen recently are bottlenose and short-beaked dolphins, humpback, fin, and North Atlantic right whales. Loggerhead sea turtles are also spotted. If you can’t get enough time on the ocean, consider coming early in the season for a seal watching cruise.
You might see whales, dolphins, and porpoises on a Cape May Whale Watcher Trip.
More Cruises for Whale Watching Near NYC
6. The Cape May Whale Watcher — Cape May, New Jersey
$50 for adults; $35 for children ages 7-12; FREE for one child ages 6 and younger with every paying adult
These daily 3-hour trips take whale watchers into the Delaware Bay Estuary, where sightings of whales, dolphins, and porpoises often happen relatively close to shore. The trips, which include historical highlights, are narrated by the captain, and mammal sightings are guaranteed or you get a FREE trip on another boat. The Cape May Whale Watcher also offers dolphin cruises, including a 2-hour sunset cruise with complimentary pizza and hot dogs. You can upgrade to a buffet dinner in advance on select cruises. The Cape May Whale Watcher is a large boat, so seasickness is less likely.
7. The Starlight Fleet – Wildwood, New Jersey
$35 for adults; $25 for children ages 7-12; one child under age 6 rides for FREE with each paying adult, $15 for all other children under age 6
Getting up close and personal with dolphins and other marine life is an educational adventure for the entire family aboard the Starlight Fleet. An experienced marine biologist and educator leads each two-hour trip, and you’ll enjoy hands-on learning with access to a touch tank. Along the way, naturalists draw your attention to spotted seabirds, turtles, and other wildlife while highlighting historical sites. During the 9:30am sail, complimentary pastries, coffee, and juice are offered. You can also enjoy complimentary hot dogs at its afternoon sails, and complimentary pizza and hot dogs during evening excursions. If you don’t spot a sea mammal, you’ll sail for FREE on a future cruise.
RELATED: 12 Top NYC Boat Rides with Kids
Enjoy a dolphin watching cruise with Atlantic City Cruises for all-ages family fun.
8. Atlantic City Cruises – Atlantic City, New Jersey
$45 for adults; $20 for children ages 5-15; FREE for children ages 4 and under
Jump onboard for an incredible two-hour adventure that’s perfectly suited for the entire family. The Atlantic City Cruises Dolphin Watching Adventure transports guests on a whale watching journey off the Jersey Shore. A marine naturalist narrates your journey as you venture out to sea. A cash bar is available onboard.
9. Jersey Shore Whale Watching Tour – Belmar and Point Pleasant, New Jersey
$60-$85 for adults; $45 for children ages 3-14; $15 for ages 2 and younger
On this three-hour educational tour, sailing daily from Belmar and on Wednesdays and Sundays from Point Pleasant, expect to see the beautiful Jersey Shore coastline, plus dolphins, sea turtles, and sharks. As long as you give 24 hours notice, you can always change your trip date for FREE. Mammal sightings are guaranteed, or you can sail again until you see one.
10. New England Aquarium Whale Watch Cruise – Boston, Massachusetts
$65 for adults, $45 for children ages 3-11; FREE for children ages 2 and younger
Just steps from the New England Aquarium and other Boston landmarks, climb aboard a custom whale-watching catamaran. Groups of 20 set off to Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary, a rich feeding ground for whales, dolphins, sea birds, and other marine creatures. Naturalists from the New England Aquarium share their knowledge and answer your questions during the 3 1/2-4 hour trip. There’s an outdoor deck, many large windows to view from, comfy seats, and an assortment of snacks to purchase. If you don’t see a marine mammal, you can return for another cruise.
Things to Know Before You Go Whale Watching near NYC
- Pack extra clothes and wear layers. It can get chilly out on the water, even when it’s hot on the shore.
- Whale-watching boats move fast and can get rocky. It’s a good idea to bring Dramamine even if you don’t tend to get seasick easily—and if you do, definitely take some before setting out to sea! There are also child-safe “Sea-Bands” that you might consider.
- Bring a few pairs of binoculars. It can help you find whales and dolphins.
- There’s no guarantee. Tell your children it’s possible you won’t see marine mammals so they aren’t crushed if it doesn’t happen. Plus, you can always choose a tour that guarantees you another excursion if you don’t spot a whale or dolphin.
- Have fun! It’s always especially exciting for urban families to get out there on the water, so consider whales or dolphins a bonus.
Fiona Taylor contributed additional reporting. Unless noted, all photos courtesy of the venues