On February 29, 2016, my friend and I took a whale watching cruise through Flagship Cruises and Events. We had initially planned the day for February 15th but the tour was cancelled due to extremely high surf. The manager also gave us two complimentary tickets for the rescheduled date. If you have an Entertainment.com coupon book, there is also a great coupon inside for the Flagship events.
Flagship is located at 990 N. Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA, 92101. They are open from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sunday through Saturday. Whale watching season is from mid-December through April 17 for 2016. There is a choice of tours and boats for whale watching. There is the choice of a 1400 power high speed jet boat. This tour is offered Saturday and Sunday. It costs more than the normal whale watching boat tour. It is $55 for one adult, $45 for children (ages 4-12), and $50 for seniors and military.
My friend and I chose the regular boat tour. It is approximately 3 hours long. Flagship has one very special thing going for them and that is a 6 year partnership with Birch Aquarium. This means that every whale watching tour has a Birch Aquarium naturalist aboard to narrate the tour and give interesting facts about the local sights, wildlife, and of course, the whales.
The regular boat tours are offered 7 days per week. The weekday costs are $40/adult, $20/child (4-12), younger children are free, and $35 for senior/military. The weekend regular boat tours cost $435/adult, $23/child, and $40/senior/military. The tours depart at 9:30 and 1:30 for the regular whale watching boat.
If you are prone to seasickness, you should speak with your doctor or if able to, take a Dramamine pill 40 minutes prior to departure. There are parts of the cruise where the boat is really rocking.
Also good advice from the staff, if you feel sick, do not go to the restrooms on the lower deck. That is where you will feel the boat rocking the most. They recommend you look at the horizon to give yourself a steady image to stare at, take deep breaths, and stay on the deck in the fresh air. (They do provide sea sickness bags). There is also a small snack shop on the first level and they also sell Dramamine, but by the time you decide you want it, it may be too late.
We took the morning tour on a Monday so it was wonderful to have a very small group on the boat. One thing I did not care for was they have someone standing at the gate to take your picture as you enter the waiting area. I know they do this at many places now and all you have to say is you do not want your picture taken. I said this but they told my friend and I that it was for identification purposes. What a crock. And of course, at the end of the tour, we stepped off the boat to see this:
OK, the negative is now out of the way. While we waited for them to open the area to board, we were able to look down into the water and we saw a number of baby rays. They were so cute and amazing, but too quick for me and my camera.
The day we went on the tour was extremely overcast, which you will see by the pictures. The staff were extremely friendly and as we boarded the boat, they greeted us warmly. We left the dock right on time and were underway. (It gets cold out there so remember a sweatshirt or jacket.)
Also, no matter how overcast it is, sunscreen is a great idea. Instead of just silently making our way out to the open sea, the Birch Aquarium naturalist narrated many of the sights we were seeing on our way out of the harbor. She imparted many interesting facts about some of the buildings along the way, as well as facts about Point Loma and the lighthouse there. We passed the Midway, the US Navy Air Base, and many other areas. If you keep your eyes open, you can spot many sea birds in different areas; like the snowy egret and cormorants.
With the fog, the other ships looked like ghost ships. We passed a number of naval vessels and were lucky enough to see a submarine out on the ocean. I had never seen one actually moving except in the movies.
There were tugboats helping an refill tanker, dredging equipment, the Cabrillo National Monument, and an assortment of other sights to take in on the way out to the open sea.
Another good thing on the Flagship whale watching tours is that Birch also has several Birch volunteers on board to help spot whales, answer questions, and to bring around interactive items that are great for the kids. On the way back to the San Diego harbor area, the volunteers brought out items that interested the kids as well as the adults. I was fascinated being able to touch the baleen and see how it actually works and I was fascinated by the whale lice and the symbiotic relationship their have with the grey whales.
I personally am happy seeing any animals on the water and there were plenty of sea lions resting on the buoys on the way to and the way back from the open sea.
Now, of course anyone on a whale watching tour wants to see whales. And the whale watching tour advertisements always show the whales breaching. We were looking for grey whales and on a very overcast day, they are not easy to spot. Try not to get your hopes up, especially your kids' hopes about what they will see. Just enjoy the entire experience. We saw three grey whales, but what I mean by that is, we saw mostly small slivers of their backs, a fluke, and the spray from their blow holes. They move so quickly, so it is difficult to get pictures and I would recommend you keep your camera on a burst setting once the whales are spotted. This was what we saw.
Now, this is not a bad thing. We DID see whales. They are beautiful and majestic. The narrative gave us so many facts about their migration behaviors, breeding, and their behaviors that we were witnessing. Also, being on a tour with so few people, made it easy for everyone to be able to see. (We have been on crowded tours and people push and shove and by the time you get a place on the side of the boat, the whale is gone). Everyone was very nice and the volunteers were amazing at pointing out the whales and where they may surface next.
So my dream of an entire pod of whales breaching at the same time in slow motion while I took lots of pictures did not materialize. But it was nice to have a day out on the water and it is always nice to learn new things. So, we headed back to the harbor area. On the way back, we saw more sea lions and a replica of the America's Cup. Another cool thing that kids and adults seemed to enjoy watching was the wake left by our boat. It made the most beautiful blue as we left the open sea.
All in all, a great day. They post the whale count on their website and there are days where they have seen numerous whales, dolphins, and sea lions. I would think the viewing would be best near the beginning of the season but you never know. This is a great ride for children as the staff does their best to keep them engaged and there is a lot to see both ways to and from the