Whale spotting in Juneau, Alaska and a blogging fail

The second port of call for us on our recent Alaskan cruise aboard the Norwegian Jewel was Juneau, the capital of Alaska. Despite being the capital, it still has only three supermarkets – it’s not the raging metropolis you might have assumed the capital of (by far) the largest state in the USA would be. Oh, and there are no roads in or out of the city.

The city is mostly known for outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking and skiing. It’s also famous for its wildlife, so we decided to do something else we’d never done before. Go whale watching!


For some reason, the ship’s schedule for arriving and departing in Juneau was not at all clear before time, and I spent a long time trying to find out what it was. Looking back, I think it was highly subject to change because it all depended on how our glacier cruising in the morning went. As it happened, we had to cruise a different glacier than usual due to ice build up in the area, but we still managed to arrive in Juneau just when the port authorities said we would. Still, we were cruise newbies and with the Norwegian website being unhelpful and horror stories of ships leaving without passengers floating around my head (remember, no roads in or out of town…) I decided that the safest option would be to book this particular excursion via Norwegian. Yes, it was more expensive than booking direct, but cheaper than shelling out for a one way seaplane flight to our next port of call to catch the ship.

Long story long, that’s how we ended up in the passenger bunfight I mentioned in an earlier post.

However, I’m not here to dwell on that. I’m here to talk about whales!

So, we boarded our vessel and settled in to a seat on the top deck. The boat was decked out comfortably, and binoculars were provided which was very useful.


We motored out to an area frequented by whales, which took about half an hour or so. On the way, we were treated to educational info and some beautiful sights, including another glacier to add to the tally:


There was a snack bar on board handing out free tea or coffee, but as I like neither I was SOL. I didn’t mind, I was enjoying the views and as it was getting a bit choppy I’d probably have ended up spilling it all down myself anyway.

We headed past an island stuffed with sea lions- we got pretty close and they didn’t seem bothered at all. They were busy disagreeing with each other about one thing or another. So we bobbed about looking at them for a bit before we moved on.


Once we arrived at the spot normally good for seeing whales, we spent a minute or two looking for any cetaceans in the vicinity. Soon enough, we found a lone humpback. It was explained to us that humpbacks spend this season basically stuffing their faces on the rich food available in the cool Alaskan waters before they migrate to Hawaii for the summer to mate, when they really don’t eat anything at all.

Consequently the whales are all very focused on eating and not much else. They weren’t bothered by us but equally they weren’t very active either. The whale we found surfaced a few times, treating us to a brief spout of whale breath, then dived down deep.


Once he had gone, a mother and baby showed up. We got sight of a whale back…


And a whale tail as they both dived again.

After a few breaths and a tail or two that was our lot. Trying not to feel disappointed (we had seen at least three whales, after all) I took my seat again as the captain turned the boat back around for shore. As I turned, I heard a loud splash and quite a few gasps. A whale had appeared and launched himself into the air close to our boat, splashing back down into the water. I had missed it! I was so cross!

Then- the whale breached again! In a totally different spot. This time, I caught the end splash. I was a little more satisfied. Then he breached again! And I saw the whole thing. All in all, this particular whale breached about 9 times within sight of the boat. He didn’t breach predictably, he wasn’t that close to the boat, and nobody had any idea where he’d appear next; his huge bulk soaring gracefully above the water.

So I made a decision. And this is a blogging fail but a calculated life win. There are plenty of excellent photos of whales breaching, and any attempt I made would have probably been unsuccessful due to my amateur photography skills and the whim of the whale. So I decided that I’d rather see it fully with my eyes, than partially through a viewfinder.

So I have no photos of that beautiful animal showing off and having fun, which is what our guide on board surmised this particular whale was up to. But the image is burned into my memory and will stay there forever. Sometimes I think that’s the better option.

Have you ever been whale watching? Did you take good photos or commit it to your memory instead?

ETA: if you want a decent photo of a humpie breaching, please head to my Canadian cousin’s blog where he shares some gorgeous shots he took in the waters around Haida Gwaii, BC. He posted them just for me! Thanks, cousin 🙂


Linking up with Van, Marcella, Lauren and Isabel  for Wanderlust Wednesday



  1. 29th November 2016 / 18:31

    We actually saw the whales when they were in Hawaii during one of our trips when I was in high school, but we didn’t do an actual excursion to actually get up close and personal with those beauties! I think that you made the right decision to enjoy the moment, rather than try to capture a picture because sometimes you just have to live your life!

  2. Jen
    29th November 2016 / 19:06

    So amazing! I went whale watching in Hawaii several years ago and it was an amazing experience.

  3. 29th November 2016 / 19:18

    There are so many times that I’m traveling and not paying attention to what’s actually happening because i’m worried about getting the “perfect” picture. I realized how much I was missing so I try not to care as much anymore. Memories are much more important!

  4. 29th November 2016 / 21:14

    What an amazing adventure! You put it so eloquently when you discussed that dilemma between experiencing something for yourself versus experiencing it for the blog. It is true, what you see and experience for yourself will last longer in your memory than a series of photos.

    SSG xxx

  5. 30th November 2016 / 05:37

    I have a few of those breaches burned into the back of my eye, forever visible, and especially one off the stern of our small work boat only 100m or so aft. Absolutely huge and awe inspiring and startling to say the least.

    Tomorrow my blog features, just for you, a breaching humpback from Haida Gwaii this summer. Not the best shot, but the best I have to offer.

  6. 30th November 2016 / 09:03

    Rachel, I 100% unequivocally support your decision to just experience and watch the natural wonder of the whale that try to capture a perfect photo. What an amazing experience that you will always remember!

  7. Nomadic clan member
    30th November 2016 / 12:56

    I’m glad you were lucky enough to see some actual whales and I wouldn’t say it’s a blogging fail that you didn’t share any photos of them, as you describe the moment of catching sight of the whales and your decision-making processes (in choosing not to take pics…) in a very captivating fashion!

    My question would be: did you not feel even a little seasick on the boat? Did you take any seasickness medication beforehand?

    NCM 😊

  8. 30th November 2016 / 15:15

    what an amazing time! and great that you got to see all that you did. i have gone whale watching in hawaii and it was just extraordinary. glad you put the camera down to watch it. i totally would be seasick – dramamine for the win!

    xoxo cheshire kat

  9. 30th November 2016 / 16:40

    Wow – this looks incredible! I’ve seen Whales in Ecuador, and it was a seriously special experience. I so want to visit Alaska!

  10. 30th November 2016 / 16:45

    Good for you! Some things just need to be taken in for memory sake – give up trying to capture the shot – just enjoy it.
    What an exciting adventure. I’d love to see the whales – especially the babies.

  11. 30th November 2016 / 17:00

    Ohhh so gorgeous! I did the mistake of concentrating on pictures only on my first whale safari in Greenland and I totally regretted it. I was so lucky that we could watch the whales for over an hour on my last trip, that way I had time to take pictures AND enjoy the moment 🙂

  12. 30th November 2016 / 17:47

    Rachel I felt compelled to pop over after you commented on my whale watching experience to read about yours and compare notes. I had to smile at the picture of your beautiful boat as this was what I was expecting when we went out in Monterey so was horrified to find we were in the equivalent of a single hulled fishing trawler – although in hindsight it was probably the best for whale spotting. Also the lovely American I mentioned in my post had regaled me with her Alaskan whale adventures so was keen to read about yours. I am glad you gave up on the photography and decided to sit back and enjoy the sights first hand, sometimes it is so easy to get stuck behind a lens and not enjoy real life isn’t it? You do have some great shots and like you I found it the most amazing experience. Jo x

  13. 30th November 2016 / 19:30

    Wow! These views are just beautiful! I would love to do this one day! Was your tour and all day trip?

  14. 30th November 2016 / 19:33

    I know the post is about whale watching, but I couldn’t help but notice the STUNNING views off the coast of Juneau! Enough to make me want to move (back?) to Alaska! Also – if you don’t like tea or coffee, what doooo you drink? Now I’m just curious 😉

  15. 30th November 2016 / 19:50

    That picture of the tail is cool enough! Absolutely the right decision to just enhoy the experience rather than miss it fiddling with your camera! Sounds like an incredbile experience 😀 #WanderfulWednesday

  16. 30th November 2016 / 21:05

    I’d love to go whale watching some day, and opting for not taking pictures because there are already some is something I do sometimes too!

  17. 30th November 2016 / 21:38

    I think you were right to enjoy the moment. The memories are better than trying to get the photographs and maybe missing the action.

    We saw killer whales last year but the first sighting happened when we had our back to the sea for a picture!! Luckily the whale appeared in the photo!!!

  18. 1st December 2016 / 17:54

    Hahah so many times I consider my picture taking skills just one bit blogging fail. I really am just no photographer ….. But still, it’s the experience that counts right! You got to see it and that’s what matters!

    Also .. I cannot believe there are no roads in or out of Juneau ……. I had no idea! The people have to enter and leave by boat?!

  19. 1st December 2016 / 21:06

    Sounds like the right decision to just watch and not take photos! Very cool experience.

  20. 2nd December 2016 / 04:26

    I’m so glad you saw a whale completely breach and so many times! So jealous! And yes I totally agree that sometimes, it’s just better to see it with your eyes instead of through a screen. Before blogging, I hardly EVER took pictures and just preferred to fully experience something. But sometimes, I get so caught up with blogging sometimes that I’m more concerned with capturing it for the blog. I try to compromise now and take the pictures I need, and then put my camera away and just enjoy. I’m sure you’ll remember this forever, even if you don’t have photos to look at!

  21. 3rd December 2016 / 11:13

    Wow, what an experience!! The best memories stay in our minds forever, even if we don’t have the photos to show them, I think that’s certainly true 🙂

  22. 3rd December 2016 / 22:11

    Was the boat quite bumpy? I love whale watching, but I love whale watching from the shore even more haha

  23. 5th December 2016 / 02:09

    Love love LOVE this Rachel! I try so hard to get pictures of everything when i’m traveling, but things like animals can be so hard to capture because their movements are so hard to predict. Good for you for realizing the importance of being in the moment and sacrificing the “perfect” picture. 🙂

  24. 5th December 2016 / 08:13

    I understand completely. In moments like this I rarely take photos; in fact, I don’t even start to give it a second’s thought until I’m in front of my computer blogging about it… at which time, of course, it is far too late.

    Looks like a wonderful experience. Thanks for sharing, and greetings from Luxembourg!

  25. 5th December 2016 / 10:36

    A life win wins every time over a blogger one! It was a once in a lifetime event at the end of a day, and you were there to witness it!! Sometimes technology gets in our way to enjoy that moment. Happy to see you enjoyed it in the end 🙂

  26. 7th December 2016 / 19:52

    yes! love this because that’s how i view a lot of things. you take lots of proper, awesome photos, but i have discovered i miss things if i try and take halfway decent photos with my iphone, i’d much rather enjoy it in the moment and live it. later i can take photos of KC and I or whatever, they are the ones i like to keep, but i like the memories for things like this.

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