As the sun makes its retreat into the horizon, the whales of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary come out to play. Their elephantine fins slap the waters with such zeal that the pod seems to be putting on a performance for the catamaran of whale watchers in their midst. This end-of-day nature show experienced by passengers aboard Boston's Best Cruises’ New England Aquarium Whale Watch is hardly a rarity, as the ship’s crews guarantee sightings of these gentle giants with each excursion.
Champions of the natural beauty of Boston Harbor and the area’s rich maritime history, Boston's Best Cruises’ expert crew sets sail on cruises to suit all manner of interest. Along with their whale watches, Boston’s Best Cruises whisks passengers away on Harbor Cruises that grant unimpeded views of the Boston skyline and the King Kongs pumping fists within its skyscrapers. The Salem Ferry facilitates leisurely cruises between Boston and the historic city, and aquatic outings to the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area enable activities such as sunset clambakes, hiking, and fishing.
During tours with Massachusetts Bay Lines, passengers can watch the sun dip behind the city from the middle of the harbor. Lights flicker on across the skyline, poking holes in the setting darkness and pinpointing each building's location. All the while, the water laps against the side of the boat, providing a soothing soundtrack.
Massachusetts Bay Lines has specialized in stunning views such as these for nearly 50 years. The family-owned company operates out of Rowes Wharf in downtown Boston, and its fleet includes a total of five unique vessels, instead of just one boat with a different name painted on the side each week. Customers can rent these boats out as private charters, or they can climb aboard for music and group tours of the harbor, which cruise past the 200-year-old USS Constitution and many more of the city's historic sites.
One of the largest conservation organizations in New England, Mass Audubon cares for 34,000 acres of natural land in a network of more than 50 wildlife sanctuaries across the state. Its members receive free admission to these pacific preserves, where, alongside more than 150 endangered or threatened native species, they can breathe in Mother Nature’s perfume or have a good cry on her mossy bosom. During bird-migration season, alert gazes can capture some 300 species of sky surfer at Allens Pond on the South Coast, and visitors to Lincoln’s Drumlin Farm can re-enact Charlotte's Web with a motley band of sheep, cows, goats, and pigs.
Since 1979, the whale-watching pioneers of Cape Ann Whale Watch have escorted more than half a million spectators fascinated by the sea's magnificent leviathans on three- to four-hour treks 15 miles off the Gloucester coast. Aboard the lightning-fast 115-foot Hurricane II, passengers can witness the natural grace of humpback whales, finback whales, dolphins, and pirates disguised as mermaids feeding and frolicking just feet from the boat. In the course of the approximately 60-mile circuit, a naturalist from "Planet Whale" narrates excursions, illumining the sight of each water dweller by discussing why whales breach, how to recognize individual humpbacks, and various feeding styles.
Yankee Fleet's knowledgeable naturalists narrate the tour with nuggets of whale wisdom, and on-board whale researchers are available to answer one-on-one questions. While eyes are sure to be filled with majestic sightings of mammalian sea beasts (if you don't see one, your next trip is free), the body's fellow senses won't be forgotten. Passengers may have the opportunity to listen to whale sounds, touch whale artifacts, help capture plankton, analyze water visibility, and measure how far away whales are by counting the seconds between their lightning flashes.
As many as 15 species of whales populate the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The mission of 7 Seas Whale Watch is to bring passengers within eyeshot of these enormous sea creatures as they thrash about, breaking the water's surface with their enormous heft and diving gracefully back below.
Seven of the species that populate the area are defined as great whales, which means they reach 30-feet at full growth. So while the tours spend 90 minutes in the whales' feeding area, customers might spot humpback whales, finback whales, minke whales, and even Atlantic white-sided dolphins. As the whales appear, grandiose and graceful, an on-staff naturalist describes the different species and their behaviors. Though whale sightings are never guaranteed—the whales are wild and act entirely on their own whims, much like tenured philosophy professors—7 Seas boasts a 99% success rate for spotting whales, and they offer free rain checks if whales don't appear.
Customers scan the seas from the sun decks or heated cabins of The Privateer IV, a Coast Guard–certified boat with modern accommodations. The boat was built to accommodate 300 passengers, though 7 Seas' trips top out at 149 passengers to ensure space, comfort, and a good view.