Top 10 cruises to discover the animal kingdom

A baby orangutan

From orcas to orangutans and piranhas to parakeets, you can discover a wealth of wildlife from the comfort of your cruise ship.

David Attenborough, you have a lot to answer for. These days we all want to see wildlife, close-up and in its natural environment.

How many creatures can you see on a cruise? Well, you may be surprised by the number of itineraries that cover regions rich in flora and fauna, whether this forms the main focus of the voyage or is a component of a happy mix of nature and culture.

Inevitably, for the most in-depth encounters with animals you’ll need to splash out on an expedition-style journey. But more comprehensive cruises on larger ships can still yield some remarkable experiences if you choose the right shore excursions.

Read on to discover our top five ways to get back to nature…

1 PENGUIN CLASSIC

They don’t really dance like they did in Happy Feet, but penguins are still the world’s most endearing birds. These dinner-suited creatures are a key attraction of Antarctica, and Hurtigruten has a 15-night Antarctic Circle voyage that really does put the wild into wildlife.

The 300-passenger MS Fram spends a full eight days around the Antarctic Peninsula, nudging its way among the vast floes of melting pack ice. Shore hikes allow you to see Adélie and gentoo penguins, as well as seals, while the vessel itself is a great platform for viewing albatrosses and humpback whales.

An expedition team accompanies the ship, which has comfortable cabins, a stylish lounge and a fleet of manoeuvrable Polarcirkel craft.

  • Departs January 25 or February 8, 2018. From £7,089pp; includes flights between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia

2 SAFARI SPECIAL

Cheetah - South Africa
You can chase cheetahs in South Africa

South Africa is home to many of the animals that tourists most want to see, yet surprisingly few cruise ships make their way there.

Fred Olsen has an exciting 14-night Madagascar, Mozambique and South Africa itinerary over New Year that combines safari-style options with visits to alluring islands in the Indian Ocean.

Its 880-passenger Boudicca sets off from Mauritius to Madagascar – where you can see cute lemurs and weird baobab trees – then stops at several places in South Africa.

Here, your excursion options promise an array of wonderful beasts. From Richards Bay you could go looking for cheetahs and the rare white rhinoceros, while at the Kariega Game Reserve live the Big Five – lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards and rhinos. A two-night stay in Cape Town at the end offers the chance to reflect on your memories over a glass or two of the excellent local wine.

  • Departs December 28, 2017. From £2,099 excluding flights

3 CURIOUS CREATURES

Giant Tortoise - Galapagos
Meet giant tortoises

One of the planet’s premier destinations for wildlife, the Galapagos islands are a bucket-list dream. Here you can walk among creatures that are found nowhere else on Earth and have no fear of humans. But tourism is strictly controlled so only a limited number of smaller ships are allowed to cruise the archipelago.

G Adventures has an itinerary that takes in the western, central and eastern isles. You’ll admire the breathtaking volcanic landscapes but the biggest draw is the fauna – grumpy-looking iguanas, lumbering giant tortoises and comical blue-footed boobies. Diving pelicans, red-throated frigate birds and graceful tropic birds also thrive here.

This itinerary offers chances to snorkel among the (safe) reef sharks, rays, turtles and sea lions, and the seven-night cruise is bookended by hotel stays in Ecuador’s capital Quito.

  • Departures all year. From £2,430pp excluding international flights

4 A WHALE OF A TIME

From iridescent hummingbirds to foraging grizzly bears and leaping killer whales, the coastline of Alaska is a nature documentary that unfolds before your eyes.

The wildlife is the icing on the cake of a sensationally scenic journey past glaciers, forests and rocky green islands.

Plenty of bigger ships ply up and down, with great chances to see the animals on various shore excursions. But for a more immersive experience, try an expedition cruise, such as Silversea’s 11-night Seward to Vancouver trip aboard Silver Explorer.

With guided hikes ashore included, you can see both grizzly and black bears, sea otters, bald eagles and those emblematic black-and-white orcas performing acrobatics. But if the butler-serviced suites and all-inclusive drinks tempt you to stay on board, you can still look out for sea lions and humpback whales as you enjoy your G&T on deck.

  • Departs August 25, 2018. From £6,345pp, excluding flights

5 GULLS ALOUD

Puffins - British Isles
Endearing puffins can be seen in the British Isles

Soaring cliffs characterise the remoter coasts of Ireland and Scotland, and that means they attract huge flocks of nesting seabirds – puffins, kittiwakes, petrels, shearwaters and more. An early highlight of Noble Caledonia’s 10-night Bird Quest expedition – from Dartmouth to Oban on the west coast of Scotland – is a visit to the Skellig Islands off Ireland, home to tens of thousands of gannets. Then there are the near-700ft Cliffs of Moher, with razorbills and guillemots, and the puffins and corncrakes of Tory Island.

Later, the 84-passenger Ocean Nova sails out to St Kilda, 50 miles beyond the Outer Hebrides, where you can see Europe’s largest colonies of storm petrels, as well as northern fulmars, from the ship’s Zodiac craft. On this trip, you’re also sure to spot seals – and possibly dolphins.

  • Departs May 1, 2018. From £3,595pp

 

6 BEARS AND BELUGAS

Way up north, between mainland Norway and the North Pole, the desolately beautiful archipelago of Svalbard is home to about 3,000 polar bears.

Often referred to by the name of its main island, Spitsbergen, this icy region is a magnet for adventurous travellers. A few larger ships make the journey for a “quick  look” but an in-depth exploration

will reveal much more. Steppes Travel arranges trips on a former polar research vessel for its nine-night Explorer Polar Bear cruise. Sightings of bears are not guaranteed but the chances of an encounter are good.

These waters are plied by beluga whales, bearded seals and – you may smell them before you see them – giant walruses. For photographers, the glaciers and icebergs will provide the perfect backdrop for snaps of the wildlife, which also includes more than 100,000 pairs of Brünich’s guillemots on the cliffs of Alkefjellet harbour.

  • Departs June 19 or 28, 2018, from £5,995pp (twin cabin). Flights and pre-cruise hotel about £550 (steppestravel.co.uk)

7 AMAZING AMAZON

Penetrating deep into Brazil, the Amazon – by far the world’s biggest river – presents one of the most intriguing nature cruise possibilities.

Sizeable cities cluster along its shore but in between, the endless rainforest creeps down to the banks, harbouring one of the richest diversities of animal and plant life on Earth.

In the river, fearsome piranhas share their watery home with rare pink dolphins. Ashore, parrots and countless other colourful birds flash through the dense foliage.

Oceania’s Amazon Discovery cruise combines the culture of villages and cities with the natural bounty on their doorsteps.

The mid-sized Sirena – noted for its gourmet food – stops several times along the Amazon during its 20-night voyage from Rio de Janeiro to Miami.

Make the most of the excursions and you may see sloths, crocodiles and golden parakeets – and even fish for those piranhas.

8 DIVERSE DESTINATION

Jaguar
Costa Rica is home to elusive jaguar

Costa Rica boasts that it offers the highest concentration of biodiversity on the planet.  Quite a few cruise ships pop into one of the country’s ports but Azamara is one of the few lines to offer an intensive experience. Its stylish ship Quest includes several overnights in port during its 12-night Azamazing Costa Rica journey, so you can engage with the local people as well as discovering the country’s more elusive inhabitants.

You’ll also get the chance to make forays into national parks that are teeming with wildlife. In the rainforests of Corcovado you could be lucky enough to spot a jaguar, while crocodiles can be observed around the Damas estuary, and on the Papagayo peninsula you may see turtle flipper-prints in the sand and toucans in the trees.

There are user-friendly nature experiences too, such as canopy walks where monkeys leap between the trees.

9 DRAGONS’ DEN

Is there a more prehistoric-looking animal than the Komodo dragon? This fearsome lizard, which can grow to more than 10ft long, is endemic to a few islands in Indonesia, most notably the one that shares their name.

Holland America’s 13-night Indonesian Discovery round trip from Singapore on the mid-sized Volendam includes a call at Komodo, where you can take a guided walk to the habitats of these carnivorous beasts.

You will also visit the tourist haven of Bali. The Safari Park is rather commercialised but look out for trips to the “monkey forests” – Sangeh and Alas Kedaton – where long-tailed macaques help to guard these spiritual sanctuaries. They are notorious thieves, so watch your sunglasses!

10 SHOW ME THE MONKEY

You only have to see a social group of orangutans to realise how much of our DNA we share with apes.

orangutans
Explore Borneo to discover artful orangutans

At the Semenggoh nature reserve on Borneo, injured or orphaned orangutans complete their rehabilitation into the wild, and platforms are set up so visitors can watch them feeding.

It’s a highlight of Regent Seven Seas’ 16-night round trip from Singapore on Voyager, which features three calls on Borneo.

Excursions from Kinabalu – where a 13,400ft mountain rises above the cloud forest – could take you to see rare orchids, while from Muara in Brunei a mangrove boat trip will reveal monkeys and birdlife.

Apart from Semenggoh, Kuching offers the alternative of Bako National Park, where Mother Nature is at her weirdest – think carnivorous pitcher plants and flying lizards.

This all-inclusive luxury cruise includes a three-night shore stay at a choice of destinations.

  • Departs January 17, 2018, from £8,048 including flights (rssc.com)