When it comes to US seaside destinations, tourists are often presented with several options when it comes to Dolphin and Whale Sighting cruises. This is true of Virginia Beach (Virginia), Outer Banks (North Carolina), Clearwater, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Key West (Florida), as well as San Diego and Newport Beach (California) and the list goes on.
So, it stands to reason that a tourist mecca such as Myrtle Beach, South Carolina would have numerous tours to choose from as well. And they do!
Two of the most popular cruises are with sister boats – Sea Thunder and Sea Screamer, both of which depart from locations north of North Myrtle Beach. Many travelers might be familiar with Sea Screamer’s other locations – currently in Clearwater, Florida and former locations that included Miami and Toronto, Canada. Of course, the Toronto franchise did not offer dolphin sightings; it was more of a scenic tour of the harbor followed by a thrill ride on Lake Ontario.
Been Here Done That reviewers have, at one time or another, ridden each of the boats in the Sea Screamer fleet, and recently have enjoyed a cruise aboard the Sea Thunder as well. Consequently, we feel qualified to compare both experiences.
Sea Thunder and Sea Screamer have much in common, including:
- Both hold 149 passengers and 3 crew members.
- Both are 65 feet long and 20 feet wide with 2 restrooms on board.
- Cruises are both 1.5 – 2 hours long.
- Pricing is identical with adult tickets at $25.00 and children (3-12) at $15.00. Under 2 is free. Booking online yields a $3 discount on tickets. A printable coupon is available on the site, for $3.00 off each ticket in your party should you choose to purchase tickets in person.
- During peak season these tours are full so reservations are recommended.
- Both run 3 trips per day.
- The route up the Intracoastal Waterway and out to the ocean is the same, thus the scenery and points of interest are identical.
- Based on the same route, the narrated portion of the tour is very similar.
- The objective of a slow, narrated tour on the waterway, followed by a casual dolphin watch, followed by a fast and thrilling ride through the ocean, is the same.
- Passengers will get wet on both boats.
The differences aren’t many but they include:
- No cover, thus no shade on the Sea Screamer – 50% covered on the Sea Thunder.
- 111 bucket seats and 38 bench seats on the Sea Screamer – 4 bucket seats and 145 bench seats on the Sea Thunder.
- 1500 Horse Power on the Sea Screamer – 2100 Horse Power on the Sea Thunder.
- Sea Screamer is docked at Little River, Sea Thunder is docked at Cherry Grove, thus creating an 8-minute difference in cruise time on the Intracoastal Waterway before reaching the mouth of the ocean.
For the calm Intracoastal Waterway portion of the tour, guests are treated to views of beautiful residential properties, restaurant patios that overlook the water, golf courses that stretch to the water’s edge, jet skis and boats of all kinds including a massive floating casino that offers nighttime tours. As well, there is much in the way of indigenous birds, animals and plants. Narration includes information about the civil war and some properties that date back to that time-period. Bare in mind that it doesn’t matter on which side of the boat you sit as you will catch whatever you missed on the return trip to the dock.
The ride becomes choppy as you reach the churning white water at the mouth of the ocean, but certainly not enough that guests need to be concerned about motion sickness. And it doesn’t last long. Very soon the boat is cruising through rolling waves while guests enjoy views of the beach and sand dunes, with North Myrtle Beach and all of its resorts in the distance.
From there, the casual dolphin watch begins and almost always entails a jaunt out to a shrimp boat or fishing trawler. It’s there that most cruises are lucky enough to spot a pod of dolphins while feasting on scraps of fish. However, if this is not the case for your cruise, the Sea Screamer and Sea Thunder both offer a free pass to ride again. You can use the pass to ride the same boat or opt for the sister boat for a slightly different experience.
Then it’s time for the speed portion of the cruise through the open ocean, pushing the boat’s horsepower to deliver maximum excitement. This is the portion of the tour that will cause guests to get wet. It’s also where the boats differ somewhat. Although the Sea Screamer has less horsepower, the boat feels lighter and far more agile, causing it soar across the water and crash through waves with a force capable of bouncing riders off their bucket seats. To be honest, our BHDT reviewers felt that Sea Screamer was far faster and much better at delivering a thrill than the Sea Thunder. Guests at the front of the boat receive a thorough soaking, whereas seats further to the back are spared somewhat. If you’re seated at the sides, there’s still considerable splash, but not nearly as extensive as up front.
Though the Sea Thunder technically possesses more power, the boat is heavier so the speed is still impressive but the ride is less aggressive. Guests will experience some jostling but they are unlikely to be bounced off the bench seats. Riders at the front of the boat will get drenched, as will riders seated as the sides. However, for the most part, seats toward the back and middle of the boat are spared.
It bears mentioning that, if you suffer from back or neck problems, the cruise might not be wise on either boat.
The excursion will certainly produce plenty of photo opportunities so don’t forget to take your camera or smartphone. Also, don’t forget that a little planning and preparation goes a long way. We recommend arriving early for your tour considering guests line-up on the dock and those at the front of the line have the first choice of seats. Although a few select snacks and beverages are available on board, they are expensive so consider eating something before you go.
Don’t forget to take sunscreen and sunglasses, and perhaps a hat as well considering 2 hours of direct sunlight. Even those seated in the covered section of Sea Thunder will encounter the sun on their right or left side. You also might want to think about taking a towel and/or a change of clothes in case you get soaked to the bone. If you don’t want to take them onboard lest they get wet as well, simply leave a bag or knapsack of supplies in the trunk of your car. And when it comes to your electronics, whether it’s your smartphone, camera or video equipment, be sure to protect them by taking a weatherproof bag so you can stash everything inside during the high-speed portion of the cruise.
No matter which boat you choose to cruise on, you’re sure to enjoy your trip. It probably won’t be something you will do again and again, but if you’re a first-timer in Myrtle Beach, this tour should not be missed.