Sunday, July 3, 2011

Clipper Vacations Friday Harbor/Whale Watching Tour

Friday Harbor

It's always nice to have visitors. When you're living somewhere and you start to take it for granted, it's nice to have a look at where you live through their eyes. My husband and I are relocating to the East Coast next year (D.C. area, to be more specific), so we're expecting a lot of visitors this summer. Or that could just be a coincidence. But since we got a larger number of visitors our last year in Germany, I'm thinking it's not.

First up - my cousins Lori and Lindsey, who flew in from Minnesota last Sunday. They left this morning (and are, in fact, winging their way back to MSP as I type this).

I may post about other bits of their visit later, but right now, I want to focus on the whale watching tour. Because that was new to me, and it was something I always wanted to do since I moved here.

We did, in fact, see orcas. And that made it all worthwhile (and fulfilled, at least for me, an item on my bucket list). But there were unpleasant parts. We had to get up super early to get to Seattle from Kent (weekday morning = rush hour = crush of humanity on public transportation). But Seattle was brilliant and beautiful that morning, and we enjoyed our walk from the rail station to Pier 69, where Clipper Vacations docks their Victoria Clipper boats.

Check-in and boarding were easy enough. We were advised to reserve seats on the lower decks if we wanted to sit on the top deck, because it gets cold and windy up there. Most people don't sit up there for the duration. But to "reserve" your seats, you have to leave your personal items on them to claim them. We didn't feel comfortable doing that. So in a girl power moment, we decided to suck it up and deal with whatever uncomfortable conditions we'd encounter on the top deck. The view was best from there, after all.

And yeah, it was cold. Very cold. And windy. Very windy (we all got windburn, actually). But we had heavy jackets with hoods and bundled up as best we could. It wasn't too bad. We could laugh about our misery while we were up there, but the views were spectacular. And getting some scalding hot chocolate from the concession stand helped warm us up some.

We also saw a Bald Eagle. And several Harbor Seals.

Harbor Seals

After about 3 hours and 45 minutes, we docked at Friday Harbor. Us whale watchers had to stay on the boat. We had a 15 minute stop there before the whale watching tour began.

And there were whales. Probably at least 6 of them. We came upon several tour and research boats circling a pod (which, I'm sure, was not by accident). We watched them for half an hour or so. They breached the water several times, which was spectacular. We had to stay at least a couple hundred meters away though, so it's not a close encounter. Binoculars are handy. And a camera with a mega zoom lens (and super fast shutter speed) is also handy. Needless to say, I didn't get pictures of the whales. The pictures were mostly of ripples on water, and I ended up missing a few breaches because I was fiddling with my camera. So I stopped. Not everything has to be viewed through a lens.

The whale watching was over with too soon, and we went back to Friday Harbor for a couple of hours. Which, in my opinion, was not nearly long enough. After we had lunch (at a place called Downriggers Restaurant, right next to the Clipper pier), we only had about half an hour before we had to board for our return trip. No time to look in the shops, but at least we had time for a quick wine tasting (there is always time for free tastings) at Island Wine, where I bought a couple bottles of blush on sale.

That is probably my major complaint about the tour - not enough time at Friday Harbor. And I did mention that on the survey I filled out during the return trip.

On the way back to Seattle, we opted to sit in the lower deck. We couldn't stand to be exposed to the elements anymore. We were all exhausted and I caught a few winks on the return trip. Other than some people being obnoxious (not unlike being crammed on a full flight), it was an excellent trip. It makes for a very long day, though. In total, we were on the tour for nearly 12 hours, and I'm not including the commute time between Kent and Seattle.

As always, you can see more photos on Flickr.

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