A Whale-Watching Cruise Got My Teens Off Their Phones


When my husband and I started toying with the idea of taking my teenagers on a whale-watching expedition cruise, we had no idea what to expect. While we’d cruised on several major cruise lines in the past, hopping on a 100-passenger ship run by National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions felt far different than anything we’d done before.

Instead of bouncing from port to port and experiencing water slides and stage shows like cruises we’d done in the past, our itinerary for this trip would take us around the peninsula of Baja California Sur, Mexico, aboard the National Geographic Venture for an eight-day long excursion filled with whale-watching, cultural experiences, and sea lion sightings. We’d be led by a team of National Geographic naturalists on a true expedition where the entertainment would be sunsets and snorkeling instead of kids’ clubs and casinos.

Since we homeschool our 15- and 13-year-old kids, we chalked the experience up to one extremely long science unit and signed up. I expected to see some pretty sights and learn a bit about whales, but I was surprised that the trip was actually truly transformative for my kids. Here are seven things I loved about taking my teenagers on an expedition cruise.

Seeing the world through my kids’ eyes was an enlightening experience

Terri Peters' daughter sitting on a beach taking a photo.

Terri Peters enjoyed seeing the scenery through her kids’ eyes during her expedition cruise.

Courtesy Terri Peters

I had my own set of expectations for our trip, but pretty early on I found myself abandoning my agenda and watching my kids take it all in. At moments when I worried they’d be bored, I saw them snapping photos of beautiful rock formations or heard them saying gray whales were “so cute” as they breached the waters of Magdalena Bay. Their reactions to the experience were a great reminder that I don’t always need to control the itinerary in our travels.

It was good for my teens to see people who are passionate about our planet

Terri Peters' son learning from a naturalist while on an expedition cruise.

Terri Peters and her family learned from naturalists while on their expedition cruise.

Courtesy Terri Peters

Throughout our voyage, National Geographic naturalists — nature experts who specialize in topics like birding and deep sea diving — taught guests about the region through lectures, on-shore tours, and even chats with passengers in the ship’s dining room at meal times. My kids don’t know anyone at home who is passionate about shorebirds or can wax poetic about different species of rays, and I loved seeing them get the chance to meet people passionate about things other than TikTok and Taylor Swift.

Shayne Sanders, the expedition leader during our sailing, said one of the purposes of having naturalists on board is to “show [kids] a different avenue of life that really is a beautiful way to exist.” Having experienced this firsthand, I’d have to agree.

My kids don’t love to travel, but this trip showed me some teen travel hacks

On our first day ashore in Baja California Sur, we’d planned to go on a hike designed for advanced hikers. Instead, my kids asked if we could go on a “photo hike” with one of the naturalists. I had been looking forward to getting in a bit of a workout, and I almost said no, but made a last-minute decision to let my teens be in the driver’s seat.

Terri Peters family during a photo hike.

Terri Peters allowed her teens to decide what to do, and they ended up taking a photo hike.

Courtesy Terri Peters

The afternoon ended up being one of the best ones of the trip. Our guide taught my kids about iPhone nature photography, and as I watched them climb rocks and take photos of beautiful scenery, I was reminded that sometimes traveling with teens means doing things they’re interested in. My kids got some Snapchat-worthy shots and I got an afternoon making memories with them — a win for all of us.

The changing itinerary taught my teenagers some flexibility

While our expedition had an approximate itinerary, the plan changed several times based on things like where the most whale-sighting opportunities would be and how windy the weather was. Waking up each day and doing things on the fly showed my kids sometimes the best moments are ones you didn’t plan for.

Terri Peters' two kids while sitting on a boat.

Terri Peters kids enjoyed their expedition cruise and learned a lot about nature.

Courtesy Terri Peters

Sanders said that’s because our trip was an expedition, not a cruise. “We have a very unique ability to change the itinerary based on what the wildlife is doing and what will make it the most remarkable trip,” he said. “We’re going to do what makes the most ideal trip and the most beautiful experience for everyone.”

I learned teens will be teens, no matter where they are

Early on, I decided the best way to get them to engage in the trip was not to make a big deal of the occasional text to friends or peek at social media. The ship had WiFi, yes, but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of time they stayed disconnected, even though we did have to remind them to put their phones away sometimes at dinner.

In moments of downtime, I was often surprised by my kids’ activities

While there were moments of texting and Snapchatting, taking kids on a more remote, expedition-style cruise brought times when the WiFi didn’t connect and they had to get back to basics. Whether they were playing a game of tic-tac-toe on the beach or doing their best impression of a sea lion’s bark with our tour guide, there were lots of special moments where I saw the technology fade away and my teens just be kids for a minute.

Terri Peters' kids playing tic-tac-toe on the beach.

Terri Peters’ kids occupied themselves by playing tic-tac-toe on the beach.

Courtesy Terri Peters

Sanders said his biggest tip for families taking an expedition cruise is to “get ready to disconnect,” explaining that while WiFi is offered on these types of ships, the most magical moments happen when the phone screens are put away. “Honestly, get off your phone,” he said. “Having the ability to be immersed in the place you’re going is special. It’s memories you’re going to share forever as opposed to being stuck behind a screen.”

My kids took unexpected inspiration from the National Geographic naturalists, and so did I

The most surprising part of our expedition cruise wasn’t the beauty of breaching humpback whales at Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park or the thrill of watching costumed Mexican dancers in La Paz. The part of our trip my teens are still talking about now that we’ve returned home is the bond they formed with the naturalists on board.

Through classes, tours, and intimate dinners with the ship’s staff, my kids were inspired to be more involved in observing nature and working to conserve the planet’s resources. My son, who is passionate about movies, learned from a National Geographic filmmaker that there’s more to do with a film or photography degree than just creating Hollywood blockbusters.

Terri Peters and her family saw whales while on an expedition cruise.

Terri Peters and her family went whale-watching while on their expedition cruise.

Courtesy Terri Peters

My daughter, a budding theater star, heard from a naturalist who gave presentations about marine life that it’s possible to turn a love of performing into a passion for teaching others about the world around us. And my husband and I arrived home with an interest in learning more about the nature in our own backyard, and plan to get our kids involved in more nature walks and community clean-ups. 

[Photo: 8 teens]
Our expedition cruise ended up being about more than seeing wildlife and taught our teens some lessons they’d never have learned otherwise. Sanders said expeditions aboard the Venture are all about “leaving a lasting memory of how important preserving the natural world is,” and for our family, the trip did just that.


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