Cruises may not be traditionally associated with spotting land wildlife, but that is definitely changing. Many wildlife cruises, like those to Alaska, are intensive expeditions where the main aim is to spot as much wildlife as possible. Others combine overnight excursions, where you can get up close with wildlife – such as on an African safari – with city trips, beach breaks and adventure activities.
Here we let you know which cruise lines have made a niche for themselves in which parts of the world, in turn providing top cruises for wildlife. Wherever creature is on your bucket list, we can help you find the best wildlife cruise deals to just about any corner of the world.
Travelling for seven nights on the mid-size MS Zaandam, you don’t have to forego facilities to explore Alaska’s scenic Inside Passage and cold-weather wildlife with Holland America. The ship has a fitness centre, two pools, a casino and show lounge for a start. But the focus here is on the unusual ice-scapes and creatures you might spot on your way from Vancouver to Seward or vice versa.
As well as memorable moments like riding the White Pass & Yukon scenic narrow-gauge railway in Skagway and seeing immense glaciers and ice fields, the animals you might see range from whales to bears and bald eagles to sea lions.
In Ketchican you can choose a floatplane excursion to a viewing platform in the Tongass National Forest, which overlooks black bears feeding in a salmon stream. Bald eagles wait to clean up the scraps and Sitka blacktail deer, bald eagles, mink and marten may also make an appearance.
Juneau offers the chance for both sea and land-based wildlife spotting. Beavers, salmon, Arctic terns, porcupines and black bears all roam here, while a water-based safari vessel will guarantee the chance to see orcas, sea lions, porpoises, seals and sea birds.
Other highlights include the Skagway Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve and seeing near-endangered Stellar sea lions in Seward – the largest of the eared seals. You’re also bound to spot one of the 73,000 cute sea otters that live in Alaska, floating on their backs in the water as you sail by.
Australia and New Zealand
Radiance of the Seas® will take you on your 11-night journey from Sydney to meet the wildlife of New Zealand. This 2,500 passenger ship offers plenty to do on your five sea days, including an outdoor movie screen, nightclub and kids’ discos, mini golf, a climbing wall, pools and whirlpools.
Highlights of the trip include spotting penguins and dolphins, as well as seeing fish and sea life up close in the iridescent water of Doubtful Sound.
Your exploration of the volcano-rich islands of New Zealand takes in the magnificent Fiordland National Park, including the second largest fjord in New Zealand, Doubtful Sound. Its mirrored waters are unusual as they’re formed from a layer of fresh water over the saltwater, meaning the marine life comes close to the surface. Some of the best spots here are bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and the rare Fiordland Crested Penguin.
Another stop is Dusky Sound, where Fiordland Penguins and numerous other birds dwell. In Dunedin you can cycle or travel by vintage train to Otago Harbor, where Wellington fur-seals and yellow-eyed penguins bask in the sun. You’re also likely to see Royal Albatrosses here.
The almost-mythical landscape of Akaroa is where Lord of the Rings was filmed and also houses the largest colony of Little Penguins on the mainland. Take kayaking or boat trips in Akaroa, with the chance to see one of the rarest and smallest marine dolphins in the world – the Hector’s Dolphin.
With over 12 years experience of exploring the Galapagos, Celebrity Cruises will take you on an immersive expedition trip. You’ll travel for seven nights on a Galapagos inner or outer loop onboard the 296-foot mega-yacht Celebrity Xpedition®. She carries just 94 passengers but manages to fit a gym, beauty parlour, sauna and hot tub onboard. Everything is included, from meals and drinks to excursions, park entrance and snorkelling equipment, and even onboard naturalist’s lectures.
A bird-watcher’s paradise, in the Galapagos you’ll also find sea lions, whales, dolphins, giant tortoises and iguanas. Wildlife in the Galapagos has little human contact so remains unfazed by visitors, meaning you can get up close on foot or on motorised zodiac dinghy rides. There are different levels of excursions to suit all ages and levels of fitness and adventure.
Gently drifting around Daphne Island on a zodiac ride, you’ll see big schools of fish in the water and sea lions, pelicans and other birds along the rocky shores. In contrast, a zodiac trip of Elizabeth Bay takes you through the mangrove ecosystem of Western Galapagos. Blue-footed boobies dive into the sea and penguins surface while flightless cormorants nest on shore. Other wildlife sightings include rays, sea turtles and Galapagos hawks.
North Seymour Island is the place to see both land and marine iguanas, as well as fur seals along the coast and the largest nesting colony of frigate birds in the Galapagos. And it wouldn’t be a trip to the Galapagos without seeing giant tortoises. Puerto Ayora is home to a giant tortoise breeding station as well as the Charles Darwin Research Station, and conversely also has good shopping opportunities in town.
This is your chance to see the Big Five animals of Africa – African lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo – with stop-offs at other East African idylls like the Seychelles and Madagascar for a lemur reserve. Travel on Silversea’s mid-size luxury ship, Silver Shadow for 18 nights, from Mahe in the Seychelles to Cape Town South Africa. There are overnight calls in Mombasa and Richards Bay to make the most of the game parks.
On sea days, indulge in the superb onboard dining, spa, pool, fitness centre, show lounge and casino or relax in your suite with ocean views – many of which have private teak verandas.
Starting on the Seychelles’ main island of Mahe, you’ll first travel to Mombasa in Kenya, sailing into its deep-water harbour, overlooked by a 16th-century Portuguese-built fortress. What you’re here for is the chance to safari through Tsavo National Park to see black rhino, elephant, leopard, hippo and Masai lion and giraffes.
After stopping at the Spice Island of Zanzibar, it’s onwards for two of Madagascar’s islands, including Nosy Komba’s lemur reserve and Tulear’s coral reef – the third largest in the world. Richards Bay is where you’ll first stop on South African shores, while overnight trips to Hluhluwe Game Park allow you to see all of the Big Five.
Panama Canal with Costa Rica and the Caribbean
You might not think that the 3142-occupancy Caribbean Princess would fit along the Panama Canal, but she does, and Princess are one of the top rated cruise lines to take you there. On a 10-day roundtrip from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, you’ll take in The Everglades, Cayman Islands, the rainforests around the Panama Canal.
The ship comes brimming with activities ,covering six bars, two nightclubs and a casino, five pools and two splash pools, a fitness centre and spa with massages. Movies Under the Stars at the poolside outdoor cinema are a favourite, too.
Starting and ending in Florida, you’ll get the chance to see the crocodiles, alligators, flamingos and otters of the vast, swampy Everglades National Park. You’ll also stop to take in Falmouth in Jamaica, Cartagena in Colombia and the second largest city in Panama, Colon. Before reaching the Panama Canal and passing through its impressive locks, you’ll cruise Gatun Lake around forest-rich islands – where exotic birds, monkeys, sloths, iguanas, and crocodiles dwell.
In Costa Rica there’s the chance to visit a sloth sanctuary and take a guided canoe ride to see other Costa Rican wildlife. You may also choose to go on an aerial tour to view the creatures of the canopy. The last port before heading back to Florida is Grand Cayman, where you’ll find a turtle centre and the chance to snorkel through the impressive reef.
Whether your next cruise will be an Alaskan wilderness adventure, an African safari combination or a Galapagos discovery, start planning it now by looking at our latest cruise deals.
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