Beluga whale watching in Quebec is an exhilarating travel experience - but what would a queasy girl like myself think about it?
Vomiting. Vomiting on people. Toppling over furniture. Quietly crying. Some of my most woe-begotten travel moments have involved motion sickness and many of those have involved boats. Who can forget when I had motion sickness while on the Houseboat Museum of Amsterdam? I'm not an adventurous girl and, on the rare times that I am, that adventurous spirit does NOT involve boats. But all that changed when I had the chance to go beluga whale watching in Quebec; Tadoussac to be exact. "Whale watching: Quebec" has been on my travel bucket list for a long time, and for good reason. Whale watching in Tadoussac is reputed to be among the best in the world and there was no way that I was going to miss it - no matter what my stomach wanted to do!
Would I have a 'whale' of a good time? Or would I be all washed up?
I started out on the three hour whale watching boat cruise with Croisières AML with a mix of confidence and apprehension. I was confident because I had planned ahead and had already taken my non-drowsy, anti-motion sickness medication. (Note the words "non-drowsy". They'll be important later!). I also had a bottle of soda and was dressed warmly, with several layers, a hat, scarf, and jacket.
All those layers were critical to surviving the boat ride with comfort. It is CHILLY out there! If you happen to be reading this prior to a summer Tadoussac whale watching cruise, be warned - I heard several people say that while it may be warm and sunny on land, it's always brisk and chilly on the open water in the summer months. And that goes double if you happen to choose one of Croisières AML's Tadoussac zodiac whale watching boats (which this wimpy gal would certainly never choose but power to you!) You've been warned - pack a sweater!
And my apprehension? Well, let's just say that I have a very bad track record where boats are concerned. I wanted to have a good time and I definitely did not want to disgrace myself by being sick!
Things got off to a good start. The boat had a comfortable interior section with glass walls - the views were good and I was nice and warm. And it wasn't long before the on board naturalist spotted a group of beluga whales! Seeing the belugas really is a magical experience. They're a brilliant, shining white and they move through the waters so gracefully. So graceful, in fact, that it was impossible to get a photo of them. I've since learned that it's REALLY hard to get great whale watching photos. Distance and perspective is tricky over bright, sparkling water and most whales don't dramatically rise out of the water or slap their tails. They're quiet, calm animals, breaking the surface quickly to breathe and say hello before diving back into the depths of the water.
(In case you're accidentally here looking for a beluga whale stuffed animal, take heart. I've got an adorable one for you here!)
So in lieu of great whale photos, I'm treating you to a few photos (above) of when I was just too darn late to get a great shot. Sneaky whales! Also sneaky: my "non-drowsy" medication. Was it filled it with an "ultra-drowsy" formula instead? My eyelids were starting to droop. I was getting worried....
What were the odds that, instead of getting motion sick, I would fall asleep instead? Apparently they were very good indeed as that is exactly what happened! A friend commented that maybe the reason I was nodding off had to do with the gentle motion of the boat, rocking me into a slumber. Maybe. But I know better!
I was none too pleased with myself, with my head slumping down on the table as everyone else on the boat was excitedly rushing from side to side as the naturalist spotted whales in abundance. I'm sure I looked like the ultimate travel snob, so blasé about sightseeing that not every the famous Tadoussac beluga whales could spark my excitement.
Fortunately, while I have no photos to showcase it here, I did have a chance to see several minke whales in addition to the belugas. Our captain took us to a quiet cove where the minkes are known to congregate and I woke up with the excitement. Even from my perch inside the glass enclosure of the boat, I was able to see them clearly as their dark color was a strong contrast to the blue water. Amazing!
Happily, towards the end of our Tadoussac whale watching cruise, my medication began to wear off and I was a bit more lively for the last part of the trip. The boat went up along the Saguenay Fjord so we could see a waterfall and seals basking on the rocks.
Of course, as the medication began to wear off and I became more alert, I also started to feel the effects of the boat. However, a poll of my travel companions revealed that normal people would never, ever consider the whale watching cruise to be a rough boat ride. It's only anti-adventurists like me who can't handle it! So if you're a regular traveler who has successfully traveled by boat in the past, you'll find this experience a breeze. If you're a bit of a disaster like me, be prepared for an unexpected nap - but also to really appreciate the beauty of whales in their natural environment. (And in case you're wondering how to stop motion sickness after a boat ride: fresh air and firm land are all I need.)
Beluga whale watching in Quebec takes on a new meaning: My special visit to the Marine Mammals Interpretation Centre
Part of what made beluga whale watching in Quebec so meaningful for me (all anti-adventurist drama aside!) is that I had the opportunity to visit the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre beforehand. Located in central Tadoussac, they're the most visited museum in Quebec's Cote-Nord region and it's easy to see why.
The Marine Mammal Interpretation Center is doing incredible research on protecting and preserving beluga whales, who call the nearby Saguenay-St Laurence Marine park their home. Of the estimated 900 some belugas who reside in the area, the staff of the Interpretation Centre know about 350 by name - that is, they have identified them through their distinct markings and have been able to record their movements.
During my visit, I gained valuable insight into the region's whales, especially the Quebec belugas, as well as other marine animals. It was fascinating to see the skeletons in their collection, including a 13 meter long sperm whale and a narwhal tusk. I also learned a lot about the history of the belugas in the area and particularly about the challenges they face today in terms of pollution, contaminants, climate change, and even threats from the increased underwater noise resulting from high levels of boating traffic. It was eye opening to realize how valuable the belugas are to the community and how significant marine health is to the social and economic health of Tadoussac, a truly picturesque and friendly village.
If you're dream of whale watching, Quebec City is not your best choice. It'sa destination I adore but they just don't have facilities like this that really round out the experience. Quebec City whale watching tour seekers should absolutely make the short drive just three hours north to come to Tadoussac. It's definitely the best whale watching near Quebec City and (in my opinion) the best in the entire province.
And Tadoussac has much more than just whales and the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre!
While in Tadoussac, be sure not to miss....
It's easy to think whales, whales, and more whales when you're in and around Tadoussac. But no trip would be complete without taking the time to walk around the village. The delightful, brightly colored houses are charming and the water front views are wonderful.
Another highly recommend walk is easy enough to find - it starts from the parking lot at the wharf where the Tadoussac whale watching cruises depart. Look for the sign marking the trail to the scenic lookout, which is right by the machine where you pay for parking. It's a fairly easy walk along a boardwalk that has breathtaking views along the way.
Where to eat in Tadoussac, Quebec: La Galouïne Restaurant
Aside from the bed and breakfast (more on that below!) I only ate at one restaurant in Tadoussac. And it made me so happy that I went back twice! So if you're curious about the best restaurant in Tadoussac, I'm happy to oblige with my recommendation for La Galouïne.
In truth, La Galouïne is not just a restaurant. It's also an inn, a catering company, and a producer of traditional boreal cuisine products like powdered berries with fleur de sel (excellent for rimming a cocktail glass), Labrador tea based edibles, and herbal blends. There's a lot going on here and their love of the region really shines in all that they do.
On my first visit, I feasted on a seafood trio platter with a Quebec lobster tail, white fish (I'm not sure exactly which kind), and three big shrimp. It came with herb butter for the lobster, a cream sauce over the fish, rice, veggies (including pureed peas - I thought it was guacamole at first!), and salad. Seafood is absolutely a specialty here but if you're not a fan, there is a vegetarian option or two, along with a small selection of other meats.
I finished off the evening with a classic creme brule, which was lovely, and a frosty glass of Nordic boreal iced tea. It was absolutely delicious and included some of the powdered berry-salt mix along the rim (so fancy!), as well as syrups from local blueberries and ligonberries and local herbs and plants brewed in the tea. For about $3 it was a steal and a great way to easily get a taste for the region.
On my subsequent visit for lunch in Tadoussac, I had a delicious small bowl of traditional chicken and rice soup, followed by an appetizer of fried Parmesan cheese croquettes (which are described on local menus as "fondue" but aren't at all fondue-like), which was accompanied by a small salad. It was a delicious, refreshing light lunch and my only complaint was the latte at the end. It could definitely be improved :-(.
Where to stay in Tadoussac, Quebec: Auberge La Sainte Paix
Friendly proprietors Maire-Josee and Ken are the team behind one of Tadoussac's most popular bed and breakfasts, Auberge La Sainte Paix. Located in the heart of town and overlooking the harbour, the accommodation options include traditional guest rooms, a loft with a private entrance, and family quarters. Prices range from $87 to $145 and don't include breakfast (usually a choice of a French toast and fruit or a classic bacon and eggs plate), which is an extra $9.
At Auberge La Sainte Paix, I stayed in the "Saguenay" room, which had a queen bed, desk, mini fridge, and easy chair, as well as its own small en suite bathroom. Each room had a theme of sort. My neighbours' room was nautical in nature, while mine was in shades of grey and included a cute plush whale. It really had the old fashioned bed and breakfast charm as I felt like I was staying in the spare room of someone's house and not a formal inn or hotel. I slept well and enjoyed the soft, comfortable bed, as well as the lovely views of the Tadoussac waterfront and the common areas for hanging out. On the downside, the walls are a bit thin (for instance, I could hear the pipes make a strange gurgling sound when another guest would flush the toilet), and the WiFi had spotty moments. Overall, I'd consider it a comfortable, reasonably priced, well located bed and breakfast that's a good base for exploring Tadoussac's attractions. And if you're looking for Tadaoussac whale watching accommodations, this is the perfect spot - sometimes you can spot beluga whales from the windows if you're lucky. It really is that close to the water!
(But don't just take our word for it! You can read more reviews about Auberge La Sainte Paix and other Tadoussac accommodations here and compare prices on Expedia and Hotels Combined. As always, if browsing turns to booking, a small commission is paid to our blog, which augments our indispensable coffee budget and we thank you kindly for your support).
Quebec whale watching travel dreams are made in Tadoussac
If an anti-adventurist like me can enjoy whale watching, I know that anyone can! It was a beautiful, unique experience (even with the unintended nap....) and the opportunity to explore lovely Tadoussac made my trip all the more memorable. I hope you have the chance to follow in my footsteps!
Have you ever been whale watching before? Tell me all about your experience! I'm also keen to hear your best anti-motion sickness tips ;-)
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My trip to Tadoussac was part of a hosted media visit with the Quebec Maritime tourism board and I thank them for their support. All research, writing, and opinions are my own.
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