I have gone with Orca and Dolphin, my clear preferece is a small ship. Allen is a well run company but ships hold 120+ passengers. Just not for me. I want unobstructive viewing all to myself and a close location to the naturalist.
We have recently returned and loved our trip with Orca..it was certainly one of the highlights of our US vacation!
we had about 12 people on our tour and we all had a wonderful time. I loved the interaction and enthusiasm in our particular group.
We were lucky because a tour after ours was cancelled and Capt Jack let us stay out a little bit longer we saw mostly humped back whales (lots of tail shots but no breaching), eagles, bears, porpoises and seals.
I noticed that on the Allen Marine Tours Website there are actually a few options to choose from. Some of their larger vessels would accommodate more passengers but they do have tours available for groups "up to 12" and offer these in several versions and two ports.
I've taken several tours with Allen Marine and found their staff to be top notch and very knowledgeable about the local area!
During our August cruise to Alaska my family took an Orca whale watching tour, which turned out to be a really unpleasant experience. The female sales rep who handled our tour booking was very dishonest and even overcharged us for the fare, which she later admitted and my AMEX had to get involved to fix it. A couple of minutes before we walked into their office from the cruise pier in Juneau, I called her via my cell phone to make sure that we would get onto the captain Larry's tour as some members recommended. And she said yes. Until boarding onto a shuttle bus, we didn't realize that instead of putting us on the boat we requested, they sent us to a smaller boat operated by another captain for a much shorter tour without any advanced notice. On its own website they stated "We operate three tours daily, approximately 2 1/2 hours on the water, total duration 3 1/2 hours." We actually only had about 1 1/2 hour on the water. We got onto a shuttle bus around 9:30 AM and arrived at the docking port at about 10:00 AM to board, and then back to the dock at 11:30 AM. Compared to the whale watching tours offered on the same day by other companies, we only saw much fewer whales from a very far distance. It is very likely we would have seen more whales if they didn't cut back time and rush back. During the tour they were supposed to provide some Alaskan special snack food and beverages which was included in the fare and also mentioned on their website, but they didn't offer anything. After we were back from the cruise, I called Orca and tried to share our experience with its owner Carol, but she has never called me back. Given the overpriced fares they charged us, we felt it was a complete rip-off. If anyone really has to use them, please make sure to take the longer tour. Otherwise you will be very disappointed for sure.
Orca is the better one to go on. You will see whales with both companies. Humpback whales come to Alaska to feed when they are in Hi they are only their to breed and don't eat. It would be a rare day to be in Auke bay and not see at least 3 even in the winter. I say orca is the better one to go on because a Juneau resident i have seen the allen marine tours harrase the whales and chase them. You will not be gurenteed to see Orcas their is 1 resident pod and some transient pods that come through.
I have done whale watching twice with Capt. Larry, Orca Enterprises and have wonderful excursions. Their office is right in town, not far from the pier. I haven't heard of the other one, possibly someone else can chime in if they have used them....Either way, it is a great excursion in Juneau.
This one goes round and round. Do you prefer a smaller boat and fewer people around? Then go with Orca. But remember that fewer people on a smaller boat does NOT mean more or better viewing space per person, do the math .
We love our comfort and convenience, and the larger boats of Allen Marine offer that for us. The are especially designed for whale and marine life watching. True they carry a lot more passengers, but there is more than enough space to feel uncrowded. There are comfortable seats in a large heated cabin with very big picture windows all around. There is a large upper deck for unobstructed photography. The Allen Marine boats are equipped with "stealth mode" motors to approach the marine life quietly which seems to be a big plus. There is a good local naturalist with exhibits to pass around. There are adequate flush toilets and even a snack bar! Frankly I prefer this to small boat cruising.
Be aware in any case that whale watching does not normally produce the spectacular breaching shown in the cruise ship photos, does not even normally find "bubble feeding". Most often what you get is a fairly distant rolling back, a spout, and then the flukes coming out of the water as the whale dives.
Actually, our most spectacular whale sightings came on board an Allen Marine sea otter search in Sitka. You can see some good views of the Allen Marine boat and the sightings at http://www.bully4.us/alaska2010.html
So, if you prefer comfort and convenience, but still good wildlife viewing, the ship's excursion on Allen Marine will be the one for you.