Last Updated On 19th July 2022 By Lauren | Wild Lovely World
With so many Milford Sound cruise operators it can be confusing on knowing which company to choose for your boat trip. This post will help you to understand the differences between all the Milford Sound cruise companies so that you can make an informed choice on which company to choose.
Doing a Milford Sound cruise is a top bucket list item for many visitors to New Zealand to tick off their itinerary. Milford Sound is very deserving of the fame and attention it receives as it is very beautiful. It will become a highlight of your trip to New Zealand and you’ll have the memories and photos to treasure the experience.
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What Will You See On A Milford Sound Cruise?
While on your Milford Sound cruise you will be able to experience Milford Sound the best way by enjoying the scenery by boat. From the water, you will be able to get a sense of the scale of Milford Sound as you journey from the end of the road and out to the Tasman Sea and back again.
You will see majestic peaks, tumbling waterfalls, rainbows and if you’re lucky some wildlife! Milford Sound is known the have the New Zealand fur seals (you’ll have a good chance to see those), dolphins and Fiordland Crested penguins (rare but not impossible to see!).
Lady Bowen Falls, Stirling Falls and Mitre Peak are highlights of the Milford Sound cruise. These beautiful natural formations are stunning and will have you taking lots of pictures.
Mitre Peak is a huge mountain that is on the shore of Milford Sound and has a famous triangular shape. There is also The Lion which is another huge peak rising from the shore of Milford Sound.
Lady Bowen Falls and Stirling Falls are the two most famous waterfalls in Milford Sound. They are large waterfalls, being 162m and 155m respectively. There is also the Fairy Falls, which on a good day creates a gorgeous rainbow in the misty water bouncing from the rocks. This is a very cool experience.
What Are The Similarities Between Milford Sound Cruise Companies?
Many different companies operate cruises in Milford Sound. However, it is important to realise that many cruise companies are offering very similar products. Here are some of the main similarities between the Milford Sound cruise companies:
- Sight Seeing: No matter which cruise company you decide to book with for your Milford Sound cruise, you’ll see pretty much the same sights that you would see on any other cruise. The route they take on the Milford Sound is essentially the same.
- Experiences: Every Milford Sound Cruise goes under the waterfalls and as close as reasonably possible to wildlife. However, it is true that the smaller boats will likely offer a more intimate experience than the larger boats.
- Nature Guide: Every cruise on Milford Sound has a nature guide on board. The guide will help you spot local wildlife and provide a commentary on Milford Sound. They will explain how Milford Sound formed, the history of tourism there and the natural wonders and wildlife living in the fiord.
- Duration: Most Milford Sound cruises are 2 hours in duration because it takes 1 hour to cruise to the Tasman Sea and 1 hour to cruise back. The Milford Sound fiord is 16km long.
- Frequency Of Operation: All the Milford Sound cruises tend to operate every day, especially in the high season (summer). Each Milford Sound cruise company decides its own seasonal operating hours so you will need to check each company specifically. The times provided in the comparison section below are the times that they tend to operate.
- Tea & Coffee: Every Milford Sound cruise company offers complimentary tea and coffee on board, however, some companies also include biscuits and a free packed lunch! I explain more about what each company includes on their Milford Sound cruise below.
What Are The Differences Between Milford Sound Cruise Companies?
So all of that being said, the main differences between the Milford sound cruise companies are as follows:
- Ticket price: The cost of a Milford Sound daytime cruise is generally between $60 – $110 and an overnight cruise between $500 – $2500.
- Departure times: Daytime Milford Sound cruises tend to operate between 9 am and 3 pm.
- Cruise duration: As mentioned above, many of the cruises are 2 hours in length. However, there are also overnight cruises available and cruises that are longer in duration because they have more inclusions. I discuss more on this below.
- Size of the cruise boat: There is a big difference in the size of the vessels that operate on Milford Sound. There are large boats and small boats, and in between.
- Inclusions: As mentioned above, all operators provide complimentary tea and coffee, but some also include food as part of the package.
- Wheelchair accessibility: Some Milford Sound cruises are wheelchair accessible. I have included more details on these cruises in the descriptions below.
- Underwater Observatory: One of the main differences is that there is only one Milford Sound cruise company that visits the Underwater Observatory. This is the Southern Discoveries Discover More Cruise and I have written more details about that one below.
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Summary Of Milford Sound Cruise Companies
First, here is an overview of all the Milford Sound cruise companies. This summary of the Milford Sound cruise companies is based on criteria such as best value for money, best for your travel group, how much time you have and boat preference.
Best Milford Sound Cruise For Price & Group Size
Cheapest Milford Sound Cruise For Adults: Mitre Peak Early Bird (book your tickets in advance to get a discounted price of approx $69-75 per adult), then Real NZ Nature Cruise, Southern Discoveries Nature Cruise or Mitre Peak (all approx $89 per adult). If you have a vehicle rental with Jucy then you can get a discount on their Milford Sound cruise – the driver can get the ticket for $49.50.
Best Value Milford Sound Cruise For Families With Kids: Real NZ Nature Cruise (free for kids ages 0-4, approx $30 for ages 5-15, accompanying adults ages 16+ approx $89 per person) or Cruise Milford (free for kids ages 0-4, $30 for ages 5-14, accompanying adults ages 15+ approx $105 per person). Real NZ is a bigger vessel and Cruise Milford is a smaller vessel.
Top Milford Sound Cruise For Couples: Mitre Peak is a great option for couples as they offer a relaxed, intimate smaller boat experience for a great price.
Best Milford Sound Cruises For Duration & Departure Times
Shortest Day-Time Milford Sound Cruise: Cruise Milford – 1 hour 45 minutes duration.
Longest Day-Time Milford Sound Cruise: Southern Discoveries Discover More – 3 hours duration.
Best Milford Sound Cruise Boats
Most Luxury Milford Sound Cruise Boat: Fiordland Jewel operated by Fiordland Discovery.
Best Overnight Milford Sound Cruise
Most Affordable Overnight Milford Sound Cruise: Real NZ Milford Sound Overnight Cruise – From $499 per adult for a double/twin cabin.
Luxury Overnight Milford Sound Cruise: Fiordland Discovery – Approx. $2498 for a king suite.
Best Milford Sound Cruise For Inclusions & Accessibility
Best Wheelchair Accessible Milford Sound Cruise: Real NZ Milford Sound Nature Cruise – includes wheelchair-accessible restroom on-board.
Underwater Observatory Cruise: Southern Discoveries Discover More – the only cruise with access to the Underwater Observatory.
8 Milford Sound Cruises Compared
Now, to help you choose the best cruise company for your boat trip in Milford sound, let’s look at the main cruise operators and evaluate the differences between them based on the criteria above – ticket costs, departure times, cruise duration, size of the boat and tour inclusions. You can see this comparison and a description of each company and the cruises they offer below.
All prices are approximate and prices change throughout the seasons (the peak season is December – April). Prices are for the cruise only and do not include any transport or add-on options. All cruises depart from Milford Sound wharf.
1. Real NZ Milford Sound Nature Cruise
Real NZ is a well-known company in New Zealand that offers a large variety of tours to major tourist sights, including the Doubtful Sound Cruise, Te Anau Glowworm Caves, Queenstown TSS Earnslaw Cruise and Queenstown Jet Boat. They are known for their modern facilities, knowledgeable and friendly tour guides and excellent customer service.
Real NZ’s Milford Sound Cruise (Get Your Guide*, Viator*) is one of the most popular in the fiord. They have a large, recently-renovated vessel that has indoor and outdoor spaces. The indoor seats all face the windows so everyone gets the best view. The rooftop deck will give you 360-degree views of Milford Sound. There is a cafe on board with barista coffee and alcohol options available.
The Real NZ boat is surveyed for 400 people, but the company has said that in future they will cap the passengers at 200 people. This is because they want to focus on quality rather than quantity, and see the advantage to the customer experience by not packing their boats with as many people as possible.
The Real NZ Milford Sound Cruise is one of the best options for families, as they have a generous child age policy. Real NZ offers free tickets for children aged up to 4 and $30 for each child aged 5-15.
Real NZ Milford Sound Nature Cruise Important Details
Prices: From $89 per adult (ages 16+), $30 per child (ages 5-15), and free for infants (ages 0-4) – children and infants must be booked with at least 1 adult.
Departure Times: 11 am and 1:15 pm.
Duration: 2 hours.
Wheelchair Access: Yes, Real NZ’s Milford Sound Nature Cruise boat is wheelchair accessible and also has a wheelchair-accessible restroom on board – one of the only Milford Sound cruising vessels with this. Read this post from Grab Your Wheels about going the Real NZ Milford Sound Cruise with a wheelchair. Grab Your Wheels say that the outdoor decks were inaccessible in a wheelchair but there are designated indoor spots for wheelchairs.
2. Real NZ Milford Sound Overnight Cruise
As well as their daytime Nature Cruise, Real NZ also operates an overnight cruise in Milford Sound. On this cruise, you can spend the night in Milford Sound on the iconic Milford Mariner ship.
By staying overnight in Milford Sound, you have the opportunity to experience the serenity and majesty of the fiord after the day-trippers have gone home. You’ll have a better chance at seeing some of Milford Sound’s elusive wildlife and have the option to do some additional exploring in Milford Sound closer to the water.
The Milford Mariner (Trip Advisor*) departs the Milford Sound wharf in the late afternoon and you’ll get a tour of the fiord to all the best sites. Then the boat anchors overnight in the sheltered Harrison Cove. From there, you can explore the fiord by kayak, small boat or even go for a swim. If you wish to relax on the boat, you are also free to do so before dinner. Dinner is a 3-course buffet cooked by onboard chefs. Relax in the lounge, socialise and get a drink from the onboard bar (cash only). In the morning, you’ll enjoy a cooked and continental breakfast. Then, you’ll head out into the Tasman Sea and explore more of Milford Sound before returning to disembark around 9:15 am.
The Milford Mariner sleeps 64 people in private cabin accommodation with ensuite bathrooms. There are also quad-share bunk-style compartments.
Real NZ Milford Sound Overnight Cruise Important Details
Prices: From $499 per adult (ages 16+) in a double or twin-share cabin. $249 per child (ages 2-15). Free for infants 0-23 months if sleeping in a cot (twin cabins only). An adult must be booked per child or infant. $900+ for single occupancy adults.
Departure Times: Departs Milford Sound wharf in the late afternoon around 4:30 pm and returns around 9:15 am the next day.
Duration: 1 night – (4:30 pm – 9:15 am).
Inclusions: Complimentary tea and coffee. Free parking is available for overnight cruise passengers in the Real NZ bus parking at the Visitor Terminal in Milford Sound. 3-course buffet dinner and cooked breakfast. Option to explore the coastline by kayak or small boat.
How To Book: Book this Real NZ overnight cruise on Trip Advisor*.
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3. Southern Discoveries Milford Sound Nature Cruise
I would say that Southern Discoveries is the second most well-known Milford Sound cruise operator. Southern Discoveries are a New Zealand-wide company that offers tours not only in Milford Sound but also in Queenstown. They run cruises and sightseeing tours as well as jet boating experiences, scenic flights and kayaking.
The Southern Discoveries Milford Sound Nature Cruise (Get Your Guide*, Viator*) runs on a large boat with an open-top deck. The interior cabins have full-height windows to give you the best view even inside. On board is a licensed bar and picnic lunches are available to purchase.
Southern Discoveries Milford Sound Cruise Important Details
Prices: From $89 per adult.
Departure Times: 10:30 am.
Duration: 2 hours.
Inclusions: Complimentary tea and coffee included.
Wheelchair Access: The Southern Discoveries website states that the Pride Of Milford’s vessel is a wheelchair-accessible cruise boat operated by the Southern Discoveries cruise company. I can’t find any more information than this about wheelchair accessibility on the Southern Discoveries Milford Sound Nature Cruise but if you’re interested in this company you could contact them to find out more.
4. Southern Discoveries Milford Sound Discover More Cruise (Underwater Observatory)
If you’re keen on visiting the Underwater Observatory while you’re in Milford Sound, then this is the tour you must go on! The Southern Discoveries Milford Sound Discover More Cruise (Get Your Guide*) is the only Milford Sound cruise that visits the Underwater Observatory. The Underwater Observatory
At the Underwater Observatory, you can see rare black coral in its natural habitat and creatures that live in the Milford Sound’s waters. You will descend 10 meters below the surface down 64 steps and observe what is happening through the big glass windows that look out into the depths.
This tour is around one hour longer than a regular Milford Sound cruise because you will spend that time visiting the Underwater Observatory.
A picnic lunch is included in the cost of the tour and a licensed bar is available on board.
Due to visiting the Underwater Observatory, the Southern Discoveries Discover More Cruise is a little more expensive than other options but does include more and last longer.
Southern Discoveries Milford Sound Discover More Cruise (Underwater Observatory) Important Details
Prices: From $107 per adult.
Departure Times: 12:15 pm and 1:15 pm.
Duration: 3 hours.
Inclusions: Complimentary tea and coffee. Picnic lunch (vegan, vegetarian and halal options available).
Wheelchair Access: No.
How To Book: Book this Southern Discoveries cruise on Get Your Guide*.
5. Jucy Cruise / Pure Milford Milford Sound Cruise
You may know the Jucy brand from their popular green rental campervans or Jucy hostels and hotels. The Jucy company also offers a Milford Sound Cruise. The company has recently rebranded as Pure Milford since the Covid Pandemic as they wanted to appeal to the domestic Kiwi audience. Despite the name change, the product is still essentially the same and it is still known as Jucy cruise on some booking websites.
If you have a hire vehicle from Jucy then the Jucy Cruise / Pure Milford Sound Cruise (Get Your Guide*) could be a good option. You can get a special discount of around 50% off the cruise ticket price for the driver of the rental vehicle. Considering this, the Jucy cruise is one of the most expensive Milford Sound cruises compared to other companies, so it could only be worth it if you are taking advantage of the discount.
Jucy Cruise / Pure Milford Milford Sound Cruise operates on a glass roof catamaran which sounds pretty cool. It is the only vessel in Milford Sound that has this feature. The boat looks incredibly modern with comfortable seating. There are two indoor and three outdoor viewing decks on the boat, as well as a cafe on board with food available to purchase.
The boat is large and that means more people so if you’re after a less-crowded cruise maybe this isn’t one for you.
Jucy Milford Sound Cruise Important Details
Prices: From $99 per adult and $30 per child. If you hire a rental vehicle from Jucy you will get a special price on your Milford Sound cruise – $49.50 for the driver.
Departure Times: The morning cruise departs at 10:30 am in summer and at 11 am in winter. The afternoon cruise departs at 1 pm in summer and 1:45 pm in winter
Duration: 2 hours.
Inclusions: Complimentary tea and coffee.
Wheelchair Access: No.
How To Book: Book this Jucy Cruise / Pure Milford Milford Sound Cruise on Get Your Guide*.
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6. Mitre Peak Milford Sound Cruise
The Mitre Peak Milford Sound Cruise (Get Your Guide*, Viator*) is one of the smallest cruise boat companies that operate in Milford Sound. A smaller cruise boat has many advantages over a larger vessel like many of the other Milford Sound cruise companies.
Firstly, a smaller cruise boat can allow closer access to Milford Sound’s waterfalls and shoreline because the boat is more agile. Secondly, each cruise on the Mitre Peak boat has no more than 55 or 75 spaces because they limit the number of passengers. The boat is, therefore, less crowded and allows more opportunity for seats and standing space from which to observe the sights.
Due to the agility and speed of the Mitre Peak vessel, the company claims that it can go further and closer than any other Milford Sound cruise.
There is a comfortable indoor lounge and outdoor decks at the top, front and back with seating available as well.
The Mitre Peak Milford Sound Cruise can also be one of the cheapest Milford Sound cruise options. If you book your tickets in advance, you can get a discounted price of approx $69-75 per adult. This is opposed to the regular price of $89 per adult.
Mitre Peak also offers one of the earliest Milford Sound cruises departing at 8:50 am. They also have one of the latest departings at 3:55 pm compared to other Milford Sound cruise companies.
My Experience On The Mitre Peak Milford Sound Nature Cruise
The Mitre Peak Milford Sound Nature Cruise is the Milford Sound cruise that I went on. I loved the small boat experience as it just made the landscapes feel even grander. The boat was not crowded as it can hold fewer people.
On the Milford Sound Cruise, I joined, and we got very close to fur seals basking on rocks. They were just meters from us as we were standing on the outside deck of the boat. It was awesome to see wildlife so close in their natural habitat.
We also went underneath the waterfalls to the point where the waterfalls were falling onto the deck of the boat. At Stirling Falls, we could stand under the falling water and get absolutely drenched. It was awesome fun to see the waterfall from this perspective.
I thought the tea and coffee were really nice and it was good to have throughout the tour.
Mitre Peak Milford Sound Cruise Important Details
Prices: From $89 per adult (ages 15+), $30 per child (ages 4-14), free for infants (ages 0-2). Early bird special $69.
Departure Times: 8:50 am, 11:10 am, 1:30 pm and 3:55 pm (subject to season).
Duration: 2 hours.
Inclusions: Complimentary tea and coffee.
Wheelchair Access: Yes, Mitre Peak’s Milford Sound Cruise is wheelchair accessible but on the back deck only. However, there is no accessible restroom on board. Check out this post from Wheelchair Jimmy about his experience in Milford Sound on the Mitre Peak cruise.
7. Cruise Milford Milford Sound Boutique Small Boat Cruise
One of the smallest Milford Sound cruises is the Cruise Milford Boutique Small Boat Cruise (Viator*). The passengers on their cruises are limited to 75 for a better viewing experience. This is despite the boat being surveyed for 150 passengers.
The smaller size vessel allows it to get very close to wildlife and waterfalls. This is similar to the Mitre Peak Cruise described above.
In addition to the complimentary tea and coffee, Cruise Milford also offers biscuits.
Cruise Milford aims to offer a boutique, small-group experience. Their prices reflect this, being the most expensive Milford Sound cruise company considering the inclusions. The tour duration is also advertised as being 15 minutes shorter compared to other Milford Sound cruise companies.
Cruise Milford Milford Sound Boutique Small Boat Cruise Important Details
Prices: From $105 per adult (ages 15+) , $30 per child (ages 5-14), free for infants (ages 4 and under).
Departure Times: 10:45am, 12:45pm, 1:45pm and 2:45pm depending on day and season.
Duration: 1 hour 45 minutes.
Inclusions: Complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits.
Wheelchair Access: Yes, Cruise Milford’s website states that their Small Boat Cruise is wheelchair accessible into the main cabin.
How To Book: Book this Cruise Milford Tour on Viator*.
8. Fiordland Discovery Milford Sound Overnight
If you have the money to spend and are looking for a unique Milford Sound overnight cruise, then you may want to consider the Fiordland Discovery (Trip Advisor*, Booking*) cruise company. This luxury overnight cruise travels Milford Sound on the Fiordland Jewel, a luxury vessel with ensuite cabins, a top-deck hot tub and a helipad.
The small group cruise can accommodate just 20 passengers per night, in 9 cabins with ensuites. As part of your overnight experience, you will enjoy a 3-course dinner, a full cooked and continental breakfast, and complimentary tea and coffee.
There are opportunities for kayaking and small boat excursions in Milford Sound during your trip. You can also enjoy a pampering soak in the top deck hot tub while enjoying the incredible views.
The Fiordland Discovery operates in the summer only from December to April.
Departures are from the usual Milford Sound wharf, but the onboard helipad means that if you want to arrive by helicopter directly to the boat without the long drive, you can do so in just a 30-minute flight from Queenstown (extra charges apply). Talk about arriving in style!
Fiordland Discovery Milford Sound Overnight Important Details
Prices: $1598 for a quadruple bunk cabin, $1898 twin or double cabin, and $2498 for a king suite cabin.
Departure Times: Check-in between 3 pm – 3:45 pm and check-out at 9 am the following day.
Duration: 1 night (3 pm – 9 am)
Inclusions: Complimentary tea and coffee. 3-course dinner and cooked and continental breakfast. Option to explore the coastline by kayak or small boat. Top deck hot tub.
Milford Sound Cruise: Which Company To Choose? Thanks For Reading!
In this post, we looked at the differences and similarities between each Milford Sound cruise company. Every Milford Sound cruise offers essentially the same experience, just in different formats. I hope that this post has helped you to understand the difference between the Milford Sound cruise companies. With this knowledge, you can choose the best cruise for you! Enjoy your trip to Milford Sound! – Lauren x
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