When the producers of Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home were casting for the roles of coastal marine patrollers, they didn't look to the scores of hopeful actors in Hollywood, opting instead to find boating professionals with real experience. Their search led them to Orcas Island Eclipse Charters founders Dan and Denise Wilk, whose extensive knowledge of aquatic wildlife made them a serendipitous choice for sharing the camera with Hollywood's most famous orca.
Aboard their 56-foot vessel, Dan and Denise continue to share the passion that led them to the big screen in the first place. Their enthusiasm shines through to passengers while they guide tours into the habitats of killer whales and harbor seals. Occasionally, expert guides direct passengers to look up from the water to spot deer on nearby land or bald eagles soaring through the sky above. When asked how they happen upon so many natural specimens on their trips, Dan and Denise would tell you they don't leave their tours up to chance, coordinating excursions with a whale-watching service that pinpoints where the underwater mammals are feeding.
The tenure of US Coast Guard–certified Captain Brett as captain of the Island Whaler began as a dream. In the course of nine months, he had a recurring dream about an unusual flatbed boat, which replaced his normal dreams about beating up Napoleon with Horatio Hornblower. More than a year after the visions stopped, Brett discovered his fantasy boat sitting in a parking lot in Anacortes. He now owns that boat and pilots the open-topped Island Whaler through picturesque waters to view the multitudinous wildlife found in and around Deception Pass.
The open deck and low-slung cabin of the seafaring sloop grants easy, panoramic views of the steep, rocky landscape. Captain Brett chimes in against the breeze with educational details about the pass' historical significance, structures, and ecology. Throughout the tours, spritely fauna with unevolved senses of stage fright perform lively, natural ballets as visitors potentially lock eyes with bald eagles, seals, porpoises, gray whales, and Pacific-Northwest giant squid.
Dave Button grew up along Washington's Skagit River and had the inspiration to found his own company while navigating the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon under the helm of famed guide Georgie White. Soon after, Dave returned home to create Pacific NW Float Trips in 1974. Today, Dave and his crew of trained, passionate guides share their knowledge of the region's landscapes and hottest nightclubs for 20-something salmon via inspirational tours held year-round on the Skagit, Nooksack, and Wenatchee Rivers. Having scored the No. 5 spot on Sunset magazine's Top 10 Rafting Trips, Pacific NW's famed Bald Eagle Raft Adventure grants tourists a chance to take in the serenity of rustling cottonwoods and the majesty of Mount Baker as their guides quietly point out migratory eagles from Canada and Alaska.
For the Hanke family, it seems like Puget Sound Express has always been part of their lives. Raised in the Puget Sound his entire life, Pete Hanke honed his seafaring abilities alongside his father, Pete Sr. Together, the two started leading weeklong sailing adventures across the Pacific Northwest in 1981 and eventually started whale tours. Today, the business still remains a family affair, with grandparents, children, and grandchildren working side by side. Sherri Hanke, Pete’s wife, feels this is the company's biggest feature. "We have three generations of captains, so there is a wealth of knowledge there."
In addition to their family members, Puget Sound Express's crew is well acquainted with the area's 88 resident killer whales, which naturalists can identify based on their markings and slick leather jackets. Tours also pass into the habitats of other wildlife, often spotting humpbacks, sea birds, and bald eagles. The Hankes' most popular voyage tours the San Juan Islands, pausing at the fishing village of Friday Harbor. According to Sherri, this region is well known for its weather. "We refer to it as the Blue Hole, because it is like this circle of sunlight. It could be raining in Seattle and extremely sunny here."
The Hankes take adventure-seekers out on the M.V. Glacier Spirit, a modern, 70-seat vessel with open-air viewing decks and large windows allowing sightseers unencumbered views. Additionally, an on-board hydrophone listens in on whales' vocalizations to see which songs are currently stuck in their heads.
As fall winds sweep over the land, all manner of horrifying creatures descend on Scream Fair Halloween Haunt to feast on visitors' shrieks. Multiple themed areas provide a host of different scares to curdle the blood of even the bravest souls, and new horrors rumble the walls each season. In previous years, vampires have hunted the living, murderous lunatics have escaped their cells, and Michael Myers has caught an unlucky few in order to subject them to his vacation photos.
Seasoned charioteers at Black Beauty Line navigate winding routes past Victoria’s most picturesque locales. The average 30-minute tour circles the neo-baroque Parliament buildings that border the Inner Harbour and clip-clops toward historic James Bay Village. Riders can snuggle under provided quilts as buggies glide past sites such as the Heritage Homes, whose snowy veils on winter rides melt away for spring rides to reveal manicured gardens and groggy lawn ornaments. Along the way, charioteers impart tales and tidbits about the tour attractions, and good-naturedly pose for photos after the ride. The well-kept carriages are also available for private event rental, often for weddings. Owner Rebecca Spray brings 30 years of caring for horses to Black Beauty Line. As a member of Carriage Operators of North America, she ensures that horses are healthy, well groomed, and not actually a horse impersonator looking for real-world experience. Pets are welcome to come along for the ride, and everyone must make reservations before the tour.