Our favourite day on our trip to Iceland was a whale watching tour from Reykjavik Harbour. Here’s our full Iceland whale watching review from our day on board the ‘Sea Trips Amelia Rose’ whale watching boat…
Whale watching is a popular activity in Reykjavík with lots of boat operators dotted around the harbour – and active whale feeding grounds in and around Faxaflói Bay just a short boat ride from the city centre.
With the spectacular sunny, clear weather we were lucky enough to be experiencing, we thought it was an ideal way to spend one of our days in Iceland – and we were certainly not disappointed!
After researching all the different companies offering whale watching tours in Iceland, we decided on ‘Sea Trips Iceland’ and their ‘Luxury Whale Watching Tour’ on board the Amelia Rose vessel.
We liked the idea that they limited the number of passengers to avoid the kind of over-crowding some operators suffer from which, we know from experience, can take a lot of the enjoyment out of the trip.
And despite the ‘luxury’ name of the trip, it was actually no different in price from any of the other boats operating around the Reykjavík harbour.
We boarded the boat just after lunch and were impressed by the amount of space, with seating and viewing areas spread over three decks. There was around 40 other passengers and this allowed for plenty of room to relax, spread out and walk around on the journey out of the harbour and to the feeding grounds.
Even on the kind of bright sunny day we had (which are rare in Iceland even in summer) it was cold out on the sea but there was plenty of places to shelter, including an indoor bar area with comfortable seating, toilets and even bedrooms.
We saw a smaller whale watching tour boat leaving at the same time as us and it looked far more crowded and cramped so we were really pleased with our choice.
About an hour went by as we cruised through unusually calm waters, admiring the stunning Icelandic coastline and distant views of mountains and volcanos, all the time scanning the waters for any sign of whales.
Looking around us at the vast expanse of the Greenland Sea we wondered what on earth the chances of actually finding any would be.
We deliberately tried to set our expectations low so as not to be disappointed – but having paid over £240 for our family of four, we know we’d have been hugely disappointed to have to sail back to shore without seeing whales.
Like most whale watching tours in Reykjavík, Sea Trips offer a second trip for free if there are no sightings, but we were headed home the next day so that’d be no use to us!
After what felt like a long time heading out to sea, excitement among the passengers began to grow.
Apparently the captain had said humpback whales had been spotted up ahead – and everyone sprang to life, cameras in hand, avidly scanning the waves in all directions.
Suddenly Emma, our 10-year old, shouted out “there’s one!” We – and all the other passengers on our top deck – jumped up, only to see nothing.
She got a telling-off for what we assumed was one of her many practical jokes, when suddenly, sure enough the unmistakable back and fin of a whale surfaced about 100-metres or so from the boat. Sorry Emma, we should never have doubted you!
Cameras clicked in to life and excitement filled the boat, but the whale disappeared with only the very briefest of glimpses and a few distant, blurry photos.
We wondered if that was it. Did that count as a sighting? Would we get our free 2nd trip still, or had the boat operators fulfilled their requirements for a whale spotting? Would we be happy that the trip was money well spent if that was all we got to see?
Well all those questions vanished from our minds when suddenly the unmistakeable sound of a whale blowing was heard – and the resulting spout of water spraying in to the air just metres from the boat.
The back and fin of a huge humpback whale breached the surface right by the boat, with the black and white tail flipping in to the air as it dived, almost as if putting on a display for us and the two other boats that had arrived nearby.
We all had photos as clear as could be and there was great excitement amongst all the passengers at having seen something that so few people are ever actually lucky enough to see in real life.
Now we felt like we’d got our money’s worth and could go home happy.
But that was not the end of it by any means.
The next thing we knew, there was another, then another, then another…
Almost everywhere we looked we saw spouts of water blowing up, backs arching and tails flipping as Humpbacks and Minke whales surfaced and dived all around us.
Everyone was darting around the boat, watching from all angles and the captain slowly manoeuvred in to positions as close as safely possible to the whales as they surfaced and dived around us.
It was an utterly magical experience – so much better than we could ever have hoped for.
Everything had combined to make it the perfect whale watching trip. The sea conditions were calm, the sun glistened off the waters as the whales flipped their tails and blew their vents all around us. The sky totally clear giving unrestricted views of the ice-capped volcanic landscape in the distance beyond us.
The crew said they do see whales on virtually every trip, but it’s rare to have so many, putting on such a display and in such perfect weather.
This was an experience we’ll remember – and we’re sure the children will always remember – for the rest of our lives.
All too soon we had to turn round and head back to the port. Everyone on board that boat could happily have spent hours floating around there watching these amazing creatures for as long as they agreed to stay and entertain us, but the tour is limited to about 3-hours and we had to get back.
The journey back, with the wind behind us, actually became pleasantly warm and coats came off and passengers even sun-bathed as the crew wandered around telling entertaining stories and making jokes.
This was one of the best things we’ve ever done on a holiday and the whole experience was made all the better by the Sea Trips Amelia Rose crew, with their large, comfortable boat, limited passenger numbers – and friendly, knowledgeable team.
Very few days in Iceland are as sunny, calm and pleasant as we were so lucky to experience. But whatever the weather on your visit, if you get lucky enough to see the kind of display from all the whales that we got to see, you’ll remember this trip for a lifetime!