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Captain Dan McSweeney's Whale Watching Adventures
Ranked #2 of 20 things to do in Holualoa
Certificate of Excellence
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Attraction details
Owner description: Ocean tours to learn about humpback whales and see them close up off the Kona Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, personally guided by veteran whale researcher Captain Dan McSweeney.
Level Contributor
54 reviews
12 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 20 helpful votes
“Just okay”
Reviewed January 8, 2013 via mobile

This whale watching excursion was just ok. The information available prior to the trip was rather misleading. The 'coffee shop' next at the entrance was basically a gas station with nasty coffee. The 'breakfast' was tortilla chips and carrots - note: eat something of substance before you go out. The boat was clean, the crew was nice but not real friendly. We did see a pair of whales, and thanks to the captain's expertise followed them for a brief period. Overall, I think the $110 price tag for this 3 hour trip was a bit steep for what I actually got.

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Thank LocalLadyMT
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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268 reviews from our community

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Date | Rating
  • English first
  • French first
  • German first
  • Any
English first
Musselburgh, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
42 reviews
12 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 27 helpful votes
“A great time!”
Reviewed January 8, 2013

Cap'n Dan was great, very informative and knowledgeable. His staff were also well versed and very nice as well. We enjoyed the trip & were fortunate enough to see whales as well. I must admit when we broke off from the whales to "head along the coast to look for mothers with their calfs" my first thought was "can you come up with something better?" Like "Hey, times up, have to head back now!" My wife and I saw a Mother & calf from the shore our 1st day in, so I was hopeful although it was further North. We also saw Spinner Dolphins, which were awesome! The only spotty part came when we were going back to the harbor in rough swells and "Danger Zone" came on. I looked for Goose but he was nowhere to be found although we also did see some F-16's earlier on maneuvers. All in all this is an excellent trip and worth your time and money. They are knowledgeable, passionate and dedicated and as someone who lived in the San Juan Islands and watched whale watch captains buzz Orcas, I can tell you he cares about their well being and is in it for the conservation & research, not the dough. As for the breakfast comments, perhaps you should get up early and grab a bite before you go. Last time I looked I was not booking a brunch cruise. Thank you Cap'n Dan and crew, you made our trip!

Visited December 2012
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Thank Admiral_Snarkington
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Level Contributor
27 reviews
4 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 24 helpful votes
“Excellent, professional and informative”
Reviewed January 1, 2013

I did my research and booked with Captain Dan McSweeney because of most of the reviews I've read, and I was NOT disappointed! We saw a few whales that we followed for most of the time, and Captain Dan was very helpful in predicting the timing of their surfacings and even when to get your cameras ready to shoot the photos of the whales diving. He is incredibly knowledgeable. And they provide very nice snacks throughout the trip too. I suppose I would have been very disappointed if we didn't see any whales, but that's always a possibility, so you must keep your expectations in check. We also had a pod of spinner dolphins swim alongside the boat for awhile too. I'd recommend him to anyone!

Visited December 2012
Helpful?
Thank Sally-on-the-go
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Houston, Texas
2 reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 5 helpful votes
“Not what I was hoping for”
Reviewed December 25, 2012

I've been on whale watching tours before and while Captain Dan does give very informative information as others have mentioned there is no guarantee you'll see any whales. Unfortunately after I paid $220 and spent 3 hours on the ocean the only breaching I saw was of a man hurling over the railing in the seat behind me.

We didn't see a whale, a dolphin, or even a ripple in the water the entire time but I'm very aware that nobody can predict nature and thus you shouldn't rate this tour as poor just because you didn't see a whale in the end. I rated the tour as average because of the following reasons:

1. For a tour that you have to check in by 7 am you really would expect to get a decent breakfast when you arrive. I don't mean an omelet or anything fancy, but a simple convenience store muffin with juice would have been appreciated. That's not to say we didn't get any breakfast, but I've never heard of carrots and mexican tortilla chips as breakfast before. We were served fruits afterwards which was nice and then M&Ms at the end.

Another issue is they served us our drinks first and then waited until all the cups were empty so they could pick them up and then later on began serving us the food which kind of sucked because now we had nothing to drink down the dry chips or wash out the sweet chocolate from the M&Ms.

2. The commentary from Captain Dan was extremely dry and without emotion. It almost sounded as if it was a recording by a robot. A boring robot, not the cool Star Wars/Stephen Hawking kind.

That's not to say the information he was mentioning wasn't interesting, just that there should have been more engagement with the audience or at least some variation in vocal pitch. For example, one story he told was of an encounter with a killer whale in Alaska where the whale swam up to him to offer him half chewed food. The story itself is amazing to imagine, but was told so plainly that it took away from it.

3. If you don't see a whale then you've just wasted at least 3 hours of your vacation time in addition to the time you'll probably head back to your hotel afterwards to sleep a little bit because of waking up so early which eats into your day even more.

All in all I would say Captain Dan knows more about whales than anyone on the island and is the main reason I booked our tour with him. The things that really took away from the experience was the lack of excitement and dialogue that came with it and the sub-par "breakfast".

Carlie and Katerina were the helpers that served us the food and gave us the drinks and they were both very sweet. I think if the captain traded off the narratives and let the helpers mention on the mic what parts of the island we were passing and other information it would add a lot more to the experience because they were easy to talk to and projecting with their voices.

If you even think you may be sick or if you've ever been motion-sick before I would highly recommend taking Dramamine or another motion sickness medicine before stepping on the boat because by then it's too late. I went the last week of December 2012 and apparently this is too early for the whales to migrate out to these warm waters from Alaska. I wish we knew beforehand.

In addition I wish there was some information on their website that stated if they saw a whale that day or not so you could get an idea of what your chances of seeing a whale are. I would highly recommend asking your snorkel/diving tour guides if they've heard any whales being sighted lately. Our snorkel guide the night before told us good luck, but that there were only 2 reports of whales being sighted lately. I wish the crew of Dan McSweeney's was as upfront about our chances as well.

In the end we didn't see anything and the Captain gave us a ticket with no expiration to come back for free to book another whale tour with them. I can't imagine going back again to waste more vacation time and wish there was a % cash back option instead. Obviously not seeing a whale on a whale tour is disappointing, but there are improvements they could make to help ease the blow of draining so much $ without even being able to take a picture of one home on your camera. Definitely the largest waste of time and $ I spent on the island and I would only caution others to find out from several sources (snorkel tours, kayak tours, surfers, etc..) what they've heard about the whale sightings lately because word gets around if whales are being seen more frequently and it's better to find out before dropping so much money for a nausea-producing boat ride.

Visited December 2012
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5 Thank XxIsland_DreamerxX
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Mesa, AZ
Level Contributor
147 reviews
54 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 98 helpful votes
“No Guarantees”
Reviewed November 14, 2012

One thing I would impress on anyone taking a whale watching tour, or a snorkel-with-the-dolphins tour, is that there are no guarantees! As the saying goes, this isn't Disneyland (or SeaWorld). My tour with Cap't McSweeney was very educational, scenic, and enjoyable, but I was hoping for the classic breaching whale. Didn't happen. But the Cap'n and crew were great and I would recommend this to anyone.

Visited February 2012
Helpful?
Thank kmesaaz
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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