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Whale of a time: Everything you need to know about taking a luxury wildlife cruise

Wildlife cruises offer a glimpse into the mesmerising lives of the animals of the deep and an opportunity to explore the diverse marine ecosystems they call home. And, by sailing with experts you can increase your chances of spotting the beautiful beasts.

Wildlife cruises are best done with specialists on hand to help you spy the creatures and luxury cruise line Saga has been inviting experts from the marine wildlife conservation charity, ORCA on board their boutique ships for over a decade.

Whether you want to spot blue whales, walruses or puffins, taking such a voyage can elevate your cruising experience no end – and give you the memories (and photos!) of a lifetime.

Saga offers ORCA cruises to Iceland, the Canary Islands, the Caribbean and beyond so you can pack in all sorts of exciting destinations as well as keep your eyes peeled for some of nature’s most fascinating animals.

Not only can guests on wildlife cruises with Saga join the pros’ deck watches but the ORCA team also hold informative talks and sometimes join special wildlife excursions ashore too.

What’s more, if guests really want to get stuck in they can spend time as a volunteer and collect data for the ORCA gang to use in their research! You might say, you’ll have a whale of a time…

What is ORCA?

ORCA is a charity dedicated to the conservation and protection of whales, dolphins and porpoises and works to raise awareness about these cetaceans and their habitats. The organisation conducts research, conservation projects and education initiatives to promote their welfare and conservation.

Such research doesn’t come cheap for a charity though. Luckily by sailing onboard one of Saga’s boutique cruises ORCA has the chance to undertake extensive surveys in remote parts of our oceans without the prohibitively expensive cost of chartering a boat.

What animals can you see on a Saga wildlife cruise with ORCA?

Saga cruises have sighted tens of thousands of animals and amazing species such as orcas, belugas, blue whales, humpback whales and Cuvier’s beaked whales over the years.

On one occasion a walrus was even seen on the Isles of Scilly! Fun fact: these guys have long tusks that can grow up to three feet in length! Or maybe you can rival the guests who once saw a polar bear in its natural habitat?

ORCA and Saga guests have also recorded myriad birds on these wildlife cruises, with 160 species spied in total, including puffins, kittiwakes, razorbills and a white-tailed sea eagle.

In 2021, over 3,000 individual animals were sighted on just a handful of cruises, highlights comprising sightings of over 1,800 acrobatic common dolphins and 32 fin whales!

The former are known to ride the bow waves and wake created by ships while fin whales are the second largest animal on the planet, growing up to 27 metres long! Their occasional breaches make for a remarkable sight to behold.

Can you see whales from a cruise ship?

Yes, if you strike lucky with the right time and place you may encounter whales and admire them from the comfort of your ship deck.

Of course the huge advantage of cruises with Saga and ORCA wildlife specialists is they are absolute experts at spotting marine animals out in the wild. You’ll also have Saga binoculars so you can get stuck in with identifying species and learning all about them.

Where can I go for whale watching?

So, what is the best place for whale watching? Regions such as Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, Norway and certain parts of the Caribbean, are known for their whale populations and offer excellent opportunities for sightings on whale-watching cruise holidays.

Other popular whale-watching destinations include Iceland, Canada’s East Coast and parts of Mexico.

Whale watching best time of year – when is it?

The best time for whale watching cruises can vary depending on the specific location and the species of whales you are interested in observing – but luckily Saga carefully plans wildlife cruises to ensure guests get the best experience possible.

Generally, whale-watching seasons coincide with the migration and feeding patterns of different whale species. For example, in North America, humpback whales can often be seen during their breeding season from December to April in Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Saga offers Canada and New England ORCA cruises in September where you can be in with a chance of ogling humpback whales as these gentle giants migrate to the region during the summer months to feed. Alongside humpback whales, you may also encounter fin whales and Atlantic white-sided dolphins which often travel in energetic pods.

In Alaska, the peak whale watching cruises season is from May to September, when various whale species, including humpback, orcas and grey whales, migrate through the area.

Other regions, such as Iceland and Norway, offer prime whale-watching opportunities during summer – hence Saga’s three ORCA cruises there in June and July.

Saga also offers two ORCA Canary Islands cruises in October and November respectively when holidaymakers on wildlife cruises from the UK will have a chance to spot resident pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins and Risso’s dolphins, with their distinct grey bodies and vertical scars.

Additionally, November in the Canary Islands offers opportunities to spot loggerhead turtles gracefully navigating the warm ocean waters while beneath the surface, you may encounter parrotfish, damselfish and wrasses if you opt for any snorkelling on a Canaries shore excursion!

Is a whale-watching cruise worth it?

Yes, a whale-watching cruise is worth it for the incredible opportunity to witness these magnificent creatures up close in their natural habitat and learn about both their behaviour and conservation from experts in their field.

Do you see whales on Caribbean cruise holidays?

Yes, it is possible. The majority of whale species that migrate through the Caribbean do so during the winter months, particularly from January to April when humpback whales are known to visit the area for breeding and calving. Dolphins may also be spotted.

Saga offers the Caribbean Calypso itinerary as an ORCA cruise, sailing from Portsmouth via Tenerife to Antigua, Martinique, St Lucia and Barbados (to name a few calls) in January 2024.

Given it’s a 30-night voyage, your chances of spotting whales, dolphins, seabirds and other sea life will hopefully be high on these wildlife cruises from the UK!

Set Sail

Cape Verde and the Canary Islands with Saga Cruises

Duration: 21 nights

Where: Portsmouth | Funchal, Madeira | Santa Cruz, La Palma | San Sebastian, La Gomera | Porto da Praia, Cape Verde | Porto Granda, Cape Verde | Santa Cruz, Tenerife | Arrecife, Lanzarote | Cádiz, Spain | La Coruña, Spain | Portsmouth

Ship: Spirit of Adventure

Price: From £4,650 pp

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Published 09.07.23