There’s a reason animal lovers flock to the open water—and a wildlife cruise provides the perfect vantage point.
Like a safari by sea, wildlife cruises let travelers admire animals in their natural habitats. Sometimes, it’s a top-deck dolphin spotting. Other times, it’s observing a distant polar bear. It’s about more than just one animal sighting, though. The best wildlife cruises include multiple unscripted fauna encounters—something I learned on a recent Galapagos eco-cruise with World Expeditions.
In just one week at sea, we snorkeled with sea turtles and sea lions, watched a blue-footed booby mating dance, visited a Galapagos giant tortoise breeding and rehabilitation center, and sat awestruck as a pint-sized Galapagos penguin mouth-fed her crying baby on the volcanic Bartolomé Island shore. Distant manta rays leaping during the ship’s sunset repositioning were a jaw-dropping cherry on top.
Sharing waterways with wildlife is awe-inspiring, but it comes with an important responsibility: protecting these pristine ecosystems. The cruise industry has a notoriously large carbon footprint, but it’s slowly responding to travelers’ growing sustainability demands. In 2022, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) shared new eco-initiatives, including a push for net-zero carbon cruising by 2050. The industry still has a long way to go, but some trailblazing brands have made impressive sustainability strides. Take Norwegian adventure company Hurtigruten, which launched the first hybrid electric-powered cruise ship in 2019. It aims to launch a zero-emission ship by 2030.
From eco-conscious Arctic voyages to small-ship Galapagos trips expeditions, here are seven of the world’s best overnight wildlife cruises—including the species you’ll see, and measures the operator has in place to protect them.
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