Did further research on the board and it looks like we really need to take a whale watching tour out of Juneau if we want to see whales close up. Is there any difference between the quality of Captain Larry's tour and Allen Marine Tours? I've seen great recommendations for both.
"Quality" is a very subjective term. All of the whale watching tours in Juneau are "quality tours"... AND, they're all different. Each tour will take you from Auke Bay to an area (or 3) where humpback whales hang out. That's where the tours begin to differ.
The main difference between tours is the capacity of the boats they operate. Allen Marine and 4-Seasons (ship booked tours) operate large vessels with a capacity ranging from 100-150 people. Orca and Dolphin Jet Boat Tours operate 30-50 foot vessels which carry between 12 and 50 passengers each. You can also book a private or semi-private charter on a 25-40 foot vessel carrying not more than 6 guests at a time.
All tours will have snacks and refreshments available (although some charge and some do not.) Most tours will see other wildlife besides just whales. Often times the smaller boats can get closer to shore for a peek at seals on a rock, deer, eagles, etc. and the tour can follow your wishes much closer if there aren't 20-50 other opinions joining you - can you tell I'm a fan of the private chartered tours? ;-)
Some companies are starting to go beyond the basic Coast Guard safety requirements... I think it's mostly a marketing ploy as I've only seen news articles or witnessed "safety related problems" with one company. For the most part, all are good tours. It just depends what you're looking for.
The only way to keep everyone happy is to delete my signature completely.
If anyone wants advice from a life-long Alaskan resident, please don't hesitate to ask.
I am beginning to think that a small private tour is the way to go. Can you recommend a company or two to contact? We will be visiting at the beginning of September. I emailed OracEnterprises (I think that is their name) and never got a response to my query. If you prefer to email me directly (to avoid getting flammed!!), just let me know!
Thanks for all of the input. We decided to book with Allen Marine through Princess because we already had a Mendenhall glacier/Salmon bake booked and it was easiest to add the whale watching to that. It sounds like all of the tours were highly recommended so that's encouraging. I actually would have preferred the smaller whale watching, but hopefully this will be good.