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Cruising for Critters
by Ginger Dingus, AAA Traveler
Coast to coast and around the globe, cruising offers an enticing array of close encounters of the wildlife kind. Whether your ship takes you to chilly Alaska or balmy Antigua, exciting excursions bring you face-to-face with a whole cast of weird and wonderful critters.
Trail Tortoises in the Galapagos
Lonesome George is quite the celebrity when it comes to residents of Ecuador’s remote Galapagos Islands. Not only has the famous giant tortoise been around for 90-plus years, he’s one of the rarest creatures on the planet. He’s so unique, scientists have spent decades searching for a suitable mate in hopes of keeping his subspecies alive and well. Drop in on him and other doghouse-size tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island.
Living without fear of predators, the animals and birds of the Galapagos are amazingly approachable. Imagine going eye-to-eye with playful sea lion pups, nesting blue-footed boobies and fluffy, two-foot tall albatross chicks. You can even swim with marine iguanas and the world’s most northerly penguins while cruising with Celebrity or Cruise West.
Swim with Stingrays in the Caribbean
Speaking of swimming, major cruise lines—Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean—call at Grand Cayman for excursions to Stingray City. Hop off your tour boat into the crystal clear, waist-deep water for a chance to swim with and feed a dozen or more gently gliding stingrays.
Would you rather be swimming with dolphins? No problem. Play dolphin trainer for a day when your ship docks in Cozumel, Mexico. After learning a few simple hand signals, test your new skills on the super smart dolphins. Best of all is joining them for a dip and letting the real trainer give the signals. It’s pure magic when a dolphin swims up behind you and does a black flip right over your head.
Watch Walruses in the Arctic
You can look, but you can’t touch or get too close to a snoozing walrus. In Spitsbergen, Norway, part of an island group just 600 miles from the North Pole, you climb into a Zodiac (motorized rubber boat) for wildlife adventures near breathtaking fjords and spectacular glaciers. Walruses, you discover when you suddenly find one sleeping on a huge iceberg, only look lazy. Once in the water these hefty critters are remarkably agile and fast.
The abundance of marine life in chilly Arctic waters, seals in particular, attracts a polar bear population of roughly 3,000. Thanks to the bright midnight sun, you can look for them day or night while aboard a Hurtigruten expedition ship, Holland America or Princess.
Spot Puffins in Alaska
When you think of Alaska, do bald eagles, puffins and whales come to mind? They should. You can see them right from the deck of your ship.
Or take a flightseeing excursion to marvel at bears—brown, black, grizzly—catching a meal of tasty salmon.
With a bit of luck, you may hit the critter jackpot while cruising in Glacier Bay aboard Cruise West’s small ships or luxurious Crystal Cruises. Hundreds of birds, brown bears, sea otters, sea lions and spouting humpback whales put on incredible shows in the national park.
Eye Koalas in Australia
From the feisty Tasmanian devil to the too-cute koala and bounding kangaroo, some of the world’s most bizarre animals call Australia home. Where else could you see a duck billed platypus, emu or dingo? Have your picture taken with a koala. Feed a ’roo. Pet a wallaby. Check out excursions to wildlife preserves when Princess or Holland America dock in Tasmania, Melbourne and Sydney.
Wherever you cruise, remember to look for your favorite critters while riding along the open road in your tour bus. Spotting animals in the wild is a special thrill.