Walking among penguins in Antarctica, swimming with manta rays in the Galapagos Islands and seeing polar bears in the Arctic are just some of the pleasures that can come with a wildlife cruise. Be prepared for some wet landings by Zodiac as you step ashore in wild and remote places. Wildlife cruising often involves small ships, with 100 passengers or fewer. The smaller vessels, referred to as expedition ships, are able to reach areas some of the bigger ships cannot.
In the Antarctic and Arctic, the specialist expedition ships are strengthened to withstand the extra forces of ice. Standing on the bow of an icebreaker as it cuts through pack ice that stretches to the horizon is a memory you will never forget. Or, if you’re cruising in warmer climes, you’ll experience snorkelling in water teeming with colourful tropical fish. Because wildlife cruising is often close to land, or ice, chances are most of the itinerary will be in calmer waters than a trip that involves ocean crossings.
Rug up for an icy bucket-list adventure with frequent landings to see penguins, seals and even abandoned whaling stations. Whales often come close to the ship.
Glaciers, fjords and bears are likely to be in your camera lens and there are stops in ports such as Juneau and Anchorage where wildlife-viewing excursions, husky rides and sightseeing flights are available. The Inside Passage is usually included on Alaska itineraries. Larger cruise ships can ply these waters, so you won’t be limited to an expedition ship.
3. Galapagos Islands
A remote archipelago 1000 kilometres from the coast of Ecuador. There are 13 main islands and hundreds of others with unique wildlife: iguana, giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies among them. There are plenty of close encounters to be had with the friendly wildlife while snorkelling, or walking with guides.
A moment to remember
Watching killer whales hunt for seals resting on ice floes in Antarctica. The whales rise out of the water and try to create a wave over the ice floe to wash their prey into the water.
Expect a full program of fascinating lectures and talks by experts in the field such as naturalists, botanists, zoologists and photographers. Celebrity guests such as explorers, mountain climbers and adventurers are sometimes on the voyages to talk about their exploits. On the small ships, passengers get a chance to share a dinner table with them for some enthralling evening conversation. Expedition ships usually have a library with books about the flora and fauna of the area being visited.
Typically, passengers on these cruises are divided into groups of about 10 for several Zodiac landings daily, so even if you’re travelling solo there is a chance to quickly get to know the people in your group. If you need help with the landings, there are always guides on hand to provide assistance.
Binoculars may be provided for passengers to share, but if you take your own you’ll get a close-up view of the wildlife 100 per cent of the time.