Virginia Beach, VA
We received a gift certificate for whale watching at Christmas, and after initially scheduling a weekend at the end of January then rescheduling twice because of weather conditions, we finally made it!
The Virginia Beach, VA, whale watching season typically runs from December to March when humpback whales migrate. About a 3 to 4-hour drive from our location near D.C., we signed up for a two-hour excursion with Rudee Tours.
On this trip, we were less than two miles from shore when the crew spotted not one but two juvenile humpbacks! We approached the whales fairly closely, then the engines were cut, and we drifted along with them. We saw several types of surface behavior from the whales, including logging, spy hopping, spouting, rolling, and pec slapping. We did not see any breaches (when a whale leaps out of the water) as we were in shallow water. As a bonus, we saw a pod of dolphins in the area that seemed intent on harassing the whales.
When it comes to wheelchair accessibility, the staff at Rudee Tours has always been accommodating with embarking/debarking from the boats. While not fully accessible due to Coast Guard regulations, their boats are large enough for a wheelchair to move around outside on the main deck. Access to the climate-controlled cabin where the concessions and bathrooms are located is through a sliding door with a several-inch tall lip at the bottom (those Coast Guard regulations we mentioned), which can be navigated with a bit of help. The same bottom lip applies to the bathrooms as well, which in typical boat fashion are too small for a wheelchair to fit inside, making transfers difficult. There is an upper deck, but it can only be accessed by stairs.
While being on a boat can present accessibility challenges, if you are a wheelchair user, you may want to contact the tour company directly to ask them about accessibility. Don’t let having a disability stop you from getting on a boat and taking a tour because observing wildlife in the ocean is a rarity for many of us.
We will definitely be whale watching again soon!
Until next time,
Abe and Maggie