Hawai‘i Whale Watching Tours Aren’t Just For Tourists

A local take on a touristy day whale watching on the Star of Honolulu.


Whale Watching Honolulu

Photo: Courtesy of Star of Honolulu



Life in paradise ain’t all it’s cracked up to be: beaches, yes. Mai Tais all day? Not quite.


While (thank god) your world isn’t all plastic hula girls and thrown-together Blue Hawai‘i’s, sometimes it’s fun to play tourist.


What better time show that love than during whale season, when joyfully sunburned visitors are bounding around town decked in broad-brimmed hats and cameras? While we are lurking in the office buildings downtown, trying to drink enough coffee to get us through the day ahead, sunshine and waves and cresting whales are the last things on our minds. So, when I got the chance to join the vacationers on a Star of Honolulu whale cruise that takes off just minutes from our downtown office, I threw down my red pens, stuffed my weekly planner in a drawer and said YES.


Whale Watching Honolulu

Photo: Courtesy of Star of Honolulu



Stats on whales: Whale season stretches from November to April each year, when the majestic, gentle and federally protected humpbacks come to Hawai‘i’s warm, shallow waters to breed and nurse.


SEE ALSO: 18 Really Interesting Facts You Didn’t Know About Humpback Whales


Stats on me: I’ve lived here almost my entire life bar a few years for college and have yet to get my act together in time to get a whale watching plan going before the season ends. So I donned my loudest floral top, snapped up my sunglasses and headed to the docks. It was on, whales. Prepare to be watched!


The Digs

The large liner-style setup means three tiers of dining areas lined with balconies. We weren’t here for the food but clearly someone was. We were greeted by a lovely, friendly staff, including the captain, and ushered to a large dining room near a window, perfect for viewing whales.


The Food

Our first tip: Skip the food. The food, while plentiful, was nothing to write home about, and buying the sans buffet option will save you serious cash. Plus, less chance of getting seasick!


The Intro

Whale Watching Honolulu

Photo: Natalie Schack



This is the point where you definitely don’t want to be spotted by someone you know. Aloha-shirt-clad staff organizing jolly tourists by home state in the length of a humpback whale? Saaaaave me.


The Drinks

No hipster mixology masters here, but find me someone who doesn’t now and then enjoy a piña colada or strawberry daiquiri and I’ll show you a liar. I personally don’t want to live in a world without Mai Tais even if they are made from a mix. These babies were $8 a pop and not included in the lunch or tour cost, but worth a little splurge.


The Whales

Whale Watching Honolulu

Photo: Courtesy of Star of Honolulu



I may or may not have cried when the mama and calf swam up to the side of the boat and I was just all, NATURE IS THE BEST. The Star of Honolulu promises to give you a rain-check pass if you don’t see whales on your trip (no lunch included with the rain check), but, almost immediately after getting out to sea, we spotted a gorgeous whale with her little one. There was no dramatic breaching, but these lovelies came practically right up to the boat—multiple times. *Magical.* We also saw dolphins!


The Crowd

Tourists get a bad rap (this article probably isn’t helping the issue) but one thing is just lovely about being around them: They’re all so HAPPY. They’re like,“Sun! OMG, Ocean! We don’t have this in Minnesota,” and you can’t help but feel a whole new appreciation for your home. Their excitement can be infectious. They can also, however, really get in the way of you running from bow to stern to catch an ideal glimpse of a mama whale because they’re huddled in the middle of the walkway comparing camera lenses.


In conclusion: I thoroughly enjoyed my Mai Tai, ocean-bobbing, buffet-eating morning but was pretty damn thankful to go back to reality and not to a tour-bus-riding world stocked with hour long hula classes and complimentary lei. Also, for the rest of the day, I was in a magical haze of happiness as I remembered being right up close with my childhood favorite animal (now coming in a close second to sloths).


The pros:

  • Super convenient location.
  • All the whales!
  • Food for those who need to eat every two hours.
  • Tropical cocktails make everything more fun.
  • Multiple floors make running around each deck looking for whales even more fun—like a fun-house!
  • Super nice staff, from the buffet team to the “whale experts.” No sad, grumpy, bitter hospitality workers here.
  • All the tourists are busy eating during prime whale-watching time, so you have a lot of the balconies to yourself. If you must have lunch, do what we do and carry your plate around.


The cons:

  • You have to sit through performances of the ‘ukulele and hula classes held onboard during the two-hour ride.
  • The food budget would be better spent on land at some cool downtown restaurant.
  • The crowd is of the “old auntie and uncle from your Mainland side” variety. They move slowly, spend their time eating instead of watching whales, they have lots of children that must be attended to or placated and they keep pronouncing words hilariously wrong.


Star of Honolulu, 1 Aloha Tower Drive, (808) 983-7827