Last updated: 05:00 AM ET, Wed June 24 2015

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  • Amber Nolan | June 24, 2015 5:00 AM ET

    6 of the Best Cruises for Whale Watching

    6 of the Best Cruises for Whale Watching

    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

    During the spring and summer months, many species of whales make the northern waters in Alaska, the Arctic, Canada, and New England their homes. Several cruise ships schedule dedicated whale-watching voyages that follow this migration. These adventurous itineraries are available on a range of vessels from expedition ships designed to ply icy waters to schooners and small, mainstream cruise ships. Here are some of the best northern, whale-watching summer cruises as well as an option in southern waters during the cooler months.

    Gray Whales in the Russian Arctic with Aurora Expeditions

    Getting there is half the fun with this two-week cruise: in order to reach the remote departure port of Anadyr, Russia, guests must first fly from Nome, Alaska. The ultimate destinations are the isolated Wrangel and Herald Islands, weather permitting, with opportunities to see puffin, walrus, polar bear, and gray whales.

    Unusual land highlights include Dragi Harbour, where the survivors of the 1913 expedition aboard the Karluk set up camp until they were rescued, as well as Yttygran Island, the home to an ancient aboriginal site known as Whale Bone Alley. Two departure dates are available in July and August aboard the Spirit of Enderby, a 50-passenger ship designed for polar and oceanographic research.

    Sea of Cortez with Adventure Smith Explorations

    Set sail on the Westward, an eight-passenger ship built in 1924 and meticulously restored (it is even listed with the U.S. National Register of Historic Places). The cruise expedition includes time in San Ignacio or Bahia Magdalena before embarkation, where there are excellent opportunities for spotting gray whales.

    Passengers will then go island hopping in the Sea of Cortez in what is often called the “Blue Triangle,” a popular area for sperm whales. There’s also snorkeling in Bahia San Gabriel, kayaking through the mangrove labyrinths at Isla San Jose, and evenings spent anchoring in quiet coves free from light pollution. Sailing dates range from November through March.

    Humpback Whales in Alaska’s Inner Coves

    Un-Cruise Adventures specializes in small-ship cruising in Alaska, so there is a very good chance of seeing whales on any of the company’s itineraries. The “Inner Reaches Eastern Coves” cruise has several departure dates through September 2015, and sails from Juneau to Ketchikan — two relatively easy ports to reach by air.

    The seven-night voyage calls on Frederick Sound, the summer feeding ground for the northern hemisphere’s largest concentration of humpback whales, while the Behm Canal and Tongass National Forest offer a chance to see orca, porpoise, seals, sea lions, bears, and otters.

    Cruise to Iceland with Saga

    The Saga Pearl II will depart from Dover, England on a 15-night cruise to Iceland with U.K. television personnel, Michaela Strachan, onboard. With a passenger capacity of 449, the cruise is a hybrid between an expedition and a traditional voyage with the usual comforts like a spa, cinema, gym, and swimming pool. It sails to some far-flung ports of call including three on Iceland’s northwestern coast in search of orca, minke, humpback and blue whales. The ship returns to Southampton, U.K., making this an easier option than some of the Arctic voyages.

    Bowhead Whales in the Greenland Sea on a Sailing Ship

    This expedition isn’t for the faint at heart, but the team at Oceanwide Expeditions has their sights set on following the bowhead whales (a species that lives in Arctic waters and does not migrate to warmer climates) along the ice edge in the Greenland Sea. The 20-passenger schooner, s/v Noorderlicht, embarks in April 2016 from Longyearbyen, the “city center” of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.

    The ship visits Ytre Norskøya, a small island that served as a lookout point for Dutch whalers in the17th century — where blubber ovens can still be seen next to the graves of 200 whalers. In addition to spotting bowhead whales, harp seals, hooded seals, polar bears, bottlenose and beluga whales, passengers can watch calving glaciers and visit historical whaling towns.

    Maine Whale Watching on a Windjammer

    For those on the East Coast who want to stay close to home for whale-watching adventures, the windjammer Angelique sails a five-night cruise with the objective of finding whales and other marine life. The ships leaves July 19 from Camden, Maine and will sail offshore of Mt. Desert Rock and the Inner Schoodic Ridge. The Gulf of Maine is home to several species of whales so there is a chance for passengers to see finback, humpback and minke, as well as the smaller pilot whale, harbor porpoises, and white-sided dolphins


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Amber Nolan Captain’s Blog: Cruise Tips and Advice

Amber Nolan Amber Nolan loves to be on the water, and although she enjoys the fun and excitement of larger cruise ships, she prefers setting sail on smaller vessels to unique destinations. Originally from western New York, this restless traveler has a knack for finding creative ways to travel and befriending interesting characters along the way. On her most recent adventure, she hitchhiked on private aircraft across the United States. She previously served as the cruise editor at Sherman’s Travel but her work can also be found on and USA Today Travel. She current resides in South Florida.
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