One of the most popular requests for cruise enthusiasts relates to marine animals. With many travelers living in land-locked locations, it’s common to hear requests for cruises that feature plenty of marine life—from dolphins to coral to manatees.
For many, sighting a whale on migration is a bucket-list moment. For others, it’s enough to seek out cruises that specifically cater to hopeful whale-watchers. Still, not many cruises can guarantee a sighting, which means travelers tend to shop around.
Regardless of how rare whale sightings are, they’re one of the world’s most recognizable and popular animals. Not only are they an important feature in folk tales around the world, but they’re also a big part of pop culture.
For instance, the glow whale Leviathan was introduced as a representative of the gentle giants to the popular open-world survival game, Subnautica. Additionally, online casinos have dedicated some of their slots titles to the largest mammal on earth with titles like Big Blue Bounty, which feature other sea creatures like jellyfish and octopi.
Filmmakers have also explored the gentle giants in films like Whale Rider (2002), as well as award-winning documentaries like Secrets of the Whales (2021) and The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 (2021).
Clearly, the whale has a special place in the human heart and imagination—but with increasingly stringent regulations on how close boats and ships can approach whales and shrinking habitats, seeing one of these sea creatures in person is increasingly unlikely. However, these locations and cruises regularly report whale sightings from travelers.
Cruise fanatics know that most trips are focused on certain features, whether onboard activities, stopping in port at attractive locations, or simply getting from point A to point B with a little extra flare. Accordingly, cruises with whale sightings will go to great lengths to advertise this aspect.
The overwhelming majority of cruises that feature whale sightings are located in colder climates, like Canada and Iceland in the Northern Hemisphere and Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego in the Southern Hemisphere. However, this isn’t always the case; keep reading for the top-rated cruises that are likely to include whale sightings.
Common sightings: Humpback, Sperm, Minke, & Southern Right Whales; Orcas
Though travelers will have to brave temperatures far below zero, this southern region is one of the most abundant in terms of wildlife sightings (which even include penguins). Hotspots from the Drake Passage to the Lemaire Channel have become popular for cruises that pass through the region.
Top-rated cruise lines that travel these routes:
Common sightings: Gray, Minke, Beluga, & Humpback Whales; Orcas; Porpoises; Sea Lions
If a trip to South America sounds too far, an Alaskan destination may be a better bet for whale watching. In Antarctica, whales follow krill migrations; in Alaska, they’re enjoying nutrient-rich summer waters (which means higher temperatures for travelers).
Keep in mind that Alaskan cruises are incredibly popular, which means standard ports may be a bit crowded for some—and especially for the whales. Stick to a smaller ship in a lesser-known region for truly unforgettable sightings.
Top-rated cruise lines that stay off the beaten path:
- Glacier Wind Charter (Hoonah/Icy Strait)
- Above & Beyond Alaska (Juneau)
- Stan Stephens Cruises (Valdez)
Sea of Cortez
Common Sightings: Blue, Gray, Fin, Minke, Bryde’s, Pilot, Sperm, & Humpback Whales; Orcas; Porpoises; Sea Lions; Whale Sharks
Nestled between the Baja Peninsula and mainland Mexico, the Sea of Cortez is one of the most whale-dense regions in the world. Even better, the tropical climate makes it an easy choice for fair-weather cruise travelers and is considered by some to be the globe’s premier whale-watching destination.
In fact, hundreds of gray whales gather in this region each year to nurture their young in the calm waters. However, with so much marine life on the table, travelers will have to be happy with whichever sightings come their way; whale sightings aren’t always the most common.
Top-rated cruise lines:
- UnCruise Adventures
- AventureSmith Explorations