A Whale of a Time aboard Star of Honolulu
Boasting an enormous size of up to 50 tons and often stretching as long as 45 feet, Humpback whales are truly one of the world’s most impressive marine mammals. And at the peak of whale watch season in Hawaiʻi, we couldn’t turn down the opportunity to spot Humpback whales with our friends aboard Star of Honolulu!
There's nothing more incredible than watching a whale breach! Photo courtesy of Star of Honolulu.
Every winter, thousands of Humpback whales migrate from frigid Alaska to Hawaiʻi’s warm waters to mate, give birth, nurse their young and enjoy a well-deserved rest. Hawaiʻi’s temperate weather conditions make for the perfect environment for Humpbacks to indulge in a much needed winter vacation before returning to Alaska in the spring. And while many coastal spots around the Hawaiian Islands make for great viewing posts, one of the best places to observe Humpback whales is out on the water on a whale watching cruise.
Thankfully, Star of Honolulu’s got us covered. Every December through April, Star of Honolulu operates daily morning and mid day whale watch cruises aboard its enormous, ADA compliant vessel. Featuring four walk-around decks, three different types of stabilizers, two elevators and a 60-foot high observation deck, the STAR is equipped with all of the features and facilities you need to indulge in a picture perfect day at sea. This Week Hawaii certainly enjoyed a memorable experience when we climbed aboard for Star of Honolulu's Premium Whale Watch cruise!
After being escorted onto the second floor of the multi-level vessel, I made my way over to a table near the beverage station and main stage area. Though this wasn’t my first whale watch cruise, I was eager to relive the experience and—hopefully—spot some whales! One of my favorite ways to reconnect with nature is to spend some time near Hawaiʻi waters, and aboard the Star of Honolulu I was able to do just that.
First up—ginger pills. STAR offers them at the bar for free, and they help to abate nausea and seasickness. I’m usually okay on boats, but always take the ginger pills just in case.
As the last of the cruisegoers boarded the vessel, Captain Wade Matsueda approached the stage to give his customary Captain’s Briefing. During the briefing, we learned how to identify different sides of the boat (noon, three o’clock, six o’clock and nine o’clock), spot whales in the ocean and hear about the itinerary for the day. Certified Naturalist Crystal followed Captain Wade with a friendly demonstration of the immense size of these majestic marine mammals. Did you know females weigh in at an average 90,000 pounds? Or that males are actually smaller in size than females? How about that a newborn calf consumes 100 gallons of milk a day? We learned all this and more during Crystal’s brief demo as the STAR pulled out of the dock and officially set sail.
Waving aloha to Downtown Honolulu as we sailed away in search of whales.
Picture perfect Diamond Head off in the distance.
I watched giddily as the STAR made its way toward the National Marine Sanctuary area where Humpback whales are protected and easily spotted. During the briefing, Captain Wade had explained that the STAR is conscientious about maintaining a 100 yard gap between the vessel and whales—and when the friendly Humpbacks do decide to move in a little closer, all engines stop and no propellers turn beneath the surface. While en route to the National Marine Sanctuary, we were invited to the lunch buffet line first to get a sneak peek at the delicious offerings.
As someone who’s boarded the Star of Honolulu before, I can attest to the amazing quality of its food. Whether you’re enjoying a romantic sunset dinner cruise or spending your lunchtime looking for whales, you’ll be treated to food that tastes fresh and delicious. During whale watch season, Star of Honolulu offers its scrumptious Taste of Hawaii Buffet Lunch, featuring USDA Choice Top Round Grade Roast Beef with Alaea Salt, Citrus Miso Glazed White Fish, Teriyaki Chicken, Lomilomi Salmon, Chow Mein Noodles, Big Island Sweet Potatoes and more, as well as a beautifully displayed dessert station.
I couldn't wait to dig into the Taste of Hawaii buffet!
For dessert? Chocolate brownies, macadamia nut chocolate chip cookies, fresh papaya, pineapple and more!
I’d returned to the table with my plate piled high, when not even five minutes later someone onboard spotted the first whale of the afternoon. Ditching our meals and belongings in the main dining area, most of us onboard rushed to all sides of the boat to catch a glimpse of the first Humpback whale—what a beauty! Though far off in the distance, the whale made its presence known with a very prominent waterspout bursting through the air. We learned from the certified Naturalists to look for blows of water, which only last for a few seconds. Sure enough, we spotted multiple blows in sequence and the miraculous sight of a Humpback’s body slowly surfacing.
After eating a quick but delicious lunch, I left the dining area to wander the upper and lower decks in search for whale blows and—ideally—the wondrous Humpback whale breach. Though all four decks offer ample outdoor viewing space, the 60 foot high observation deck is really the best place to spy these marine mammals. From here I enjoyed even more sightings of blows and even a whale tail slapping against the water!
Alas, this was the last of the whale sightings for the afternoon, and the STAR restarted its engines to make its way back to shore. However, the entertainment didn’t stop with the whales. On the ride back, the Star of Honolulu shared the spirit of aloha with its guests through hands-on Hawaiian culture activities including hula and ʻukulele lessons and lei making.
No matter how many photos or videos you see of Humpback whales, there’s nothing quite like witnessing them in person. It’s a breathtaking, humbling experience, one that people should enjoy at least once in their lives. Make the most of this whale watch season and climb aboard the Star of Honolulu today!
A look back as we returned to dock at Pier 8.
Star of Honolulu operates daily morning and afternoon whale watch cruises from December through April 5 and departs from Aloha Tower Marketplace, Pier 8. Whale sightings are guaranteed; if you don’t see them during your cruise, Star of Honolulu will issue you a free return "Whale Check" to try again. To book a cruise, call (808) 983-7827 or visit starofhonolulu.com.