From whales and dolphins to lions and bears, a wildlife cruise is a fantastic way to see some of the most magnificent species on the planet. Deborah Stone chooses seven of the best itineraries

Sleepy koala at Brisbane’s Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Credit: Getty Images

Australia

Scuba-diving or snorkelling the waters of the Great Barrier Reef will yield all sorts of underwater treasures, from tropical fish to turtles and, of course, spectacular coral. In the nearby Whitsunday Islands you’ll also see dolphins, stingray and sharks. If you want to get up close to something a little more cuddly, then visit Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane, the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary. Although there are some koalas and kangaroos that are visitor-friendly, most are wild animals so this is as authentic an experience as a one-day stop will allow.
Getting there: Oceania Cruises offers a 34-day Southern Cross Sojourn cruise on Sirena (oceaniacruises.com/0345 505 1920).

South Africa

The chance to explore South Africa has a special attraction for animal lovers. Yes, you will see natural splendours, such as Table Mountain outside Cape Town and the scenic but also botanically legendary Garden Route outside Mossel Bay, yet nothing beats the sight of elephants, lions, leopards, rhino and giraffes in their natural habitat. Hluhluwe Game Reserve, accessible from Richards Bay, for instance, has all these plus cheetah, leopard, zebra and wildebeest, while Addo Elephant Park, about 45 miles from Port Elizabeth, is a sanctuary for 450 elephants as well as Cape buffalo, black rhino and antelope.
Getting there: Voyages to Antiquity offers a 14-day Games Parks of South Africa cruise (voyagestoantiquity.com; 01865 302 550).

Alaska

While the Arctic offers isolation, the wilds of Alaska are conveniently close to Canada, which gives you the option of adding a land-based stay to the typical seven-night cruise past Alaska’s icebergs and glaciers. The classic itinerary through the Inside Passage should guarantee sightings of bald eagles, sea lions and porpoises. Among the whales often seen are humpback, gray, beluga and minke as well as the mighty orca or killer whale. Most Alaska cruises will include small boat excursions to get you closer to wildlife but at Ketchikan there are floatplane trips to one of Alaska’s best black bear sites. There are also wolves, mountain goats, Sitka black-tailed deer and you may even catch a glimpse of a lynx. If you are spending a few days on land, the Rocky Mountaineer Train will take you through sensational scenery, forests and waterfalls with the chance of seeing herds of elk or a solitary moose.
Getting there: Jetline Cruise offers a 14-night Alaska & Rocky Mountaineer fly-cruise (jetlinecruise.com).

The Caribbean

Soft white sand beaches and a backdrop of picturesque peaks – the Caribbean is a paradise for relaxation. But there’s also plenty of wildlife if you look for it. The Caribbean is particularly good for birdwatchers, with the twin islands of Antigua and Barbuda home to the endangered West Indian whistling duck and Barbuda warbler. But it is the majestic frigate bird (booby) that really catches the imagination. Barbuda has 5,000 of them in its Frigate Bird Sanctuary, and it is also home to nesting sea turtles. Although cruise ships stop at Antigua rather than Barbuda, a 90-minute ferry takes you over to the smaller island, with its idyllic beaches.
Getting there: Royal Caribbean offers a 7-night Southern Caribbean cruise (royalcaribbean.co.uk; 0844 571 9999).

South America

From the stunning fjords of Chile to the fiercely independent Falkland Islands, a cruise around Cape Horn in South America reveals world class scenery but also some astonishing wildlife sights. The Falklands themselves have several types of penguins that you can get up close to with expert guides. There are inquisitive rockhoppers, regal king penguins and more retiring Magellanic and macaroni penguins. Friendly dolphins often accompany small boat trips from the island. Other wildlife highlights can include seeing black-necked swans in Puerto Chacabuco, the gateway to Chile’s fjords, and at Ushuaia in Argentina the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego has walruses as well as seals and seabirds.
Getting there: Norwegian Cruise Line offers a 16-night South America From Buenos Aires fly-cruise (ncl.co.uk; 0845 201 8900).

Japan

You could say Japan’s archipelago of four main islands is purpose-built for cruises. Japan has a well-deserved reputation for its cultural treasures, but it is also a country full of national parks and natural splendours – from snow-capped mountains to conifer forests and waterfalls. Cruise through the dolphin-dotteds waters around Japan’s north island, Hokkaido, and visit the marshes of Kushiro to see graceful red-necked cranes, the emblem of Japan, along with Hokkaido deer, white-tailed sea eagles and masses of wildflowers. The sea around Shiretoko Peninsula, on the north east side of the island, is home to several varieties of whales, and much of the peninsula is national parkland, with one of the world’s biggest populations of brown bears.
Getting there: Princess Cruises offers a 9-day Hokkaido Islands cruise departing Yokahama (princess.com; 0843 374 4444).

The Arctic

In the sparkling waters around Iceland you can see dolphins and seals, with sea eagles for the keen-eyed and puffins during the summer. Head further into the Arctic and there are minke, humpback and fin whales in summer and autumn, not to mention icebergs galore as you sail along the coast of Greenland; Prince Christian Sound is awash with them. You may see a lone polar bear or two in the High Arctic – the pack ice off Svalbard in summer and autumn is the best place to see them – but mountains, sea and ice are the dominant features of a High Arctic cruise. There are few signs of human life except intermittent settlements, such as the colourful houses of Uummannaq in Greenland. Sea birds fly alongside the cruise ships and you may spot birds such as the ivory gull on lumps of ice or gyrfalcon wheeling overhead. Guided walks through a landscape of stunted shrubs and watery moorlands may also bring you within sight of musk ox bulls and reindeer or white Arctic hares and silver foxes.
Getting there: Titan Travel offers a 14-day Iceland and Natural Wonders of Greenland cruise (titantravel.co.uk; 0808 163 7488).

Wildlife cruises are fantastic for the adventurous traveller. And you can find more cruises here to inspire you for your next holiday.