1. Swim with whale sharks. Swimming with the largest fish in the sea is a thrill worth seeking. Whale sharks reach lengths of 40 feet and can weigh 15 tons. Despite their imposing presence, the gentle creatures peacefully share the warm seas with visitors who arrive via boat from the shores of nearby Cancun, Mexico (pictured above). Two at a time, along with a guide, you’ll don a life jacket or wet suit and fins before jumping in for a swim with these plankton slurpers. No touching is allowed (the megafish are considered a “vulnerable species”), but you can swim alongside as they thrust forward their supersize square jaws and begin filtering everything in their path like a water-borne vacuum cleaner.
2. Snorkel with jellyfish. Visitors to Palau, an archipelago of more than 586 islands in the westernmost corner of Micronesia, often put swimming among the moon and golden jellies of Jellyfish Lake at the top of their adventure list. A short hike brings snorkelers to the 12,000-year-old brackish marine lake, where millions of the mystical creatures waft through the water each day following the arc of the sun. Void of the sting normally associated with these gelatinous floaters, you’ll marvel at the colorful underwater display as you observe the graceful migration.
3. Swim with stingrays. Wade into the warm Caribbean Sea at the Stingray City Sandbar for your family’s chance to pet the dozens of sea creatures that visit the area for a little love and a few tasty treats. Tour operators will assist in your introduction to the Southern stingray, taking over for fishermen who originally attracted the rays to the area by cleaning fish and tossing the remnants into the water. Soon, the stingrays associated the sound of boat motors with breakfast. For a more pleasurable experience, avoid visiting when cruise ships are in port.
4. Alaska up close. Kayak among whales and sea lions and past puffins when you explore Alaska with Inner Sea Discoveries and American Safari Cruises. With a limited number of guests on board, the vessels wind their way into narrow passages and wilderness areas that bigger ships cannot access. The adventuresome in your clan can don a dry suit and use a paddleboard to get even closer to extraordinary riches in Alaska’s wild.
Contact: (888) 862-8881; innerseadiscoveries.com
5. Adventures with alligators. You will learn about the ways of these fierce creatures from a safe distance at this Myrtle Beach, S.C., park, which is home to more than 800 gators ranging in size from 8-inch babies to 15-foot, 1,000-pound adults. As you wander through natural swamps and marshes, you’ll also encounter turtles, lizards, giant frogs and exotic birds. Lectures and live shows add to the experience.
Contact: (843) 361-0789; alligatoradventure.com