ohUr Zodiac slammed on the waves towards the surf, scattering rafts of screaming harlequin ducks. From the ship, the beach seemed deserted, but suddenly a figure loomed among the rocks – a brown bear. I watched through unstable binoculars as she got on all fours and fled across the beach, two cubs just behind. The trio climbed the cliffs and fled inland, tiny figures were eventually swallowed up by the vastness. Beyond, tundra and scree rose to a breathtaking mountain panorama. It was a serious desert. “Wait,” our guide had shouted, and I braced myself for the breakers.

This memorable experience, on the Chukotka Coast in the Russian Far East, was typical of the many landings I made on animal cruises around the world. While safari may be the obvious option for a vacation with wildlife, for the devoted observer only a ship brings you to these otherwise inaccessible places – uninhabited islands or peaceful shores. Here, far from human interference, you’ll find overcrowded fur seal colonies, cliffs teeming with seabirds or rare reptiles. A cruise also allows you to seek out those special areas of the open ocean, from the floating sea ice beloved by wandering polar bears, to the convergences of nutrient-rich currents where whales and dolphins congregate. Plus, you only have to unpack once, you don’t have to get on small planes or bump into uncomfortable roads – and animals often come your way.

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