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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Four Top Tours to Take Your Teens from Angst to Thanks!

In one respect, I am my teenage son's worst nightmare. My idea of a dream family holiday revolves around a secluded rustic farmhouse in deepest Corsica. My son’s, of course, bears no resemblance to mine. My 17 year old respects fast, furious and way, way over the top.

If - like mine - your teenager reckons he's seen it, been it, done it.... here's a shortlist of four guaranteed over-the-top top teenage tours to give you ultimate cred and to lift that eternal cloud of pubescent indifference.

Learn the skills of a cowboy, acquire bush tracking skills, swim in lakes, take part in fun games, enjoy thrilling pony rides and become a young wildlife photographer on this family riding safari through South Africa. The horses are extremely well natured and sure-footed and the expert riding team at the Horizon Safari Lodge are well-seasoned in looking after all levels of riders, from those that have never touched a horse to those who have been riding all their lives. 

Shane the bushman will take your teens out for the day on foot to teach them how to track animals and demonstrate his bushman’s skills in order to utilize natural resources as valuable survival aids. Other skills they'll learn include; billy boiling, fire building and cooking, how to muster, cut and draft cattle on the ranch and lasso from horseback. Guests also have the chance to learn advanced horsemanship skills and simple dressage manoeuvres and jumping. The trip includes a two-day wilderness adventure deep in the bush at Camp Davidson, where you will sleep in luxury safari tents surrounded by nothing but nature and the sounds of Africa. Here guests can learn photography, take their horse swimming in the lake bareback, fish for bass or learn how to build rafts. 

With plenty of teen-orientated activities on offer the Big Apple is a great option for any family looking for action, adventure and discovery. First stop the instant gratification of the wham-bam mega screens of Times Square. Check-in at The Hotel @ Times Square. Its top floors provide added space with deluxe family suites including two connecting rooms with one king and one queen bed and a shared bathroom plus complimentary continental breakfast and wi-fi.

Throughout May New York Ghost Tours offer fun spook-themed walking tours of the city, with ghoulish stories of New York’s most popular ghosts. Starting from Fifth Avenue,  just five-minutes walk from the hotel, the tour guide is dressed in Victorian costume and leads the group by lantern light. By day a set of shady East Village stairs lead to the inconspicuous second floor store, Toy Tokyo.  Savvy young shoppers head to this Mecca for imaginative, collectible Japanese toys. Teen nirvana.
For thrill & spills take a spin on 
The Beast, an action-packed 30-minute speedboat ride, which start at the beginning of May. Every Saturday in August the annual Summer Streets festival opens up miles of the city’s streets to allow people to walk, bike and play. Last year’s festivities included a climbing wall, zip line, picnic spaces and a whole foods market. For an all-American family day out, take the team to a baseball game at the New York Yankee Stadium. It’s just a short subway ride from the hotel, and with more hot dogs and flag-waving than you can shake a baseball bat at. For a high energy treat, take a stroll from the hotel down Fifth Avenue to Max Brenner on 841 Broadway, for a host of chocolate-themed delights including sugar star landscape waffles with chocolate asteroids and Yumminummiwoopdidoohoo Chocolate Bagels.  

Get up close and personal on a offer a once-in-a-lifetime 25 day tour of Rwanda & Uganda   Aimed at teenagers 15 years and and above, it is full of abundant wildlife, gorilla and chimpanzee tracking. This tour will expose you to Uganda’s unique National Parks ranging from Mountain Elgon National Park famed for its hiking, Murchison Falls National Park for fantastic game viewing, Kibale forest National Park with it is chimpanzee tracking safaris, Semuliki National Park for unique hot springs not found anywhere else in Africa, Queen Elizabeth National Park with the wonderful launch drive along the Kazinga channel, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park for a gorilla tracking experience and onto Rwanda for golden monkey tracking, a cruise across Lake Bunyonyi, game drives through Lake Mburo National Park, as well as the culture of Kampala.

The Brazilan Pantanal, a vast area of wetlands in Brazil is an incredible place to see a wide array of flora and fauna. There are very few lodges dotted around this incredible environment and a firm favourite is the family run fazenda of Barra Mansa in the southern area of the Pantanal. The charm of this place is all about the owners, their lifestyle and their intense knowledge of the area. There are an excellent variety of horse related excursions including getting involved in the cattle management and helping with exhilarating round-ups to experience the cowboy way of life. Best of all are the endless amount of trails to take riders through fields, golden savannahs, forests and lakes on horseback in the armchair-like traditional saddles for an even better view of the wildlife all around. For a real ‘in the wild’ experience, guests can ride and stay overnight in the forest, sleeping in hammocks in a specially built casita with the bonus of hot water washrooms.

Monday, March 11, 2013

My Top Six wildlife and nature vacations offering unparalleled access to the most remote regions on earth


Now family adventurers can push their physical boundaries even further ... and encounter wild animals in wide open spaces. From grizzly bears in Canada and wolves in Sweden, to gazelle in Mongolia and the king penguins of the Falklands.

 I got an insider's view from the people who put these inspiring tours together. Patrick Coyle, Sales Director for The Mighty Fine Company told me, “Lazing on a sun lounger or snoozing by a pool isn’t for everyone... combining the thrill of proximity to wildlife - real wild animals, in their own habitats - with some of the most spectacular scenery in the world has inspired us to create hearty summer holidays for those who have a passion for travel with a difference.” And from Edwin Blythe, Zegrahm's President, who told me, "as with all of our small-group land programs, we will bring travelers as close to the wildlife as possible..."

Bring it on ...

1. A Wild Mongolia adventure explores the world's largest intact prairie to search for herds of argali sheep, Siberian ibex, and Mongolian gazelle, as well as the corsac fox, Pallas's cat, and cinereous vulture. Among the many highlights of this trip, adventurers will spend two nights on the banks of the Onon River in a private ger (yurt) camp with opportunities to river float, fly fish, ride horses, hike, and search for birds. Departures August 20 until September 8 2013.

2. Wildlife Watching in British Columbia promises to bring adventurers as close as possible to brown and grizzly bears in Canada. The expert guides - escorting small groups from Vancouver into the remote mountains - know best how to maximise every safe opportunity to spot bears, beavers, bald eagles and elks. This seven-night adventure includes four nights in Vancouver, allowing plenty of time for whale watching and for exploring the cosmopolitan city. With Departures from 20 May until 11 October 2013, including room only accommodation in Vancouver for four nights, floatplane transfers to Bones Bay Lodge for three nights with meals, and six to eight-hour guided wildlife tours each day in the mountains.
3. The Ultimate Namibia expedition will be led by Jonathan Rosssouw, a medical doctor turned wildlife guide. Having identified over 7,000 bird and 700 mammal species during his career, adventurers will be in good hands while seeking out zebras, wildebeest, Damara dik-dik, white and black rhinos, and over 340 species of birds. Also an accomplished photographer, Jonathan can give guidance on how to best capture Namibia's captivating landscapes from Sossusvlei's red dunes to Damaraland's dramatic wilderness. Departures from September 17 until October 2 2013.

4. Tackling The Big Five in Norway is not for the faint hearted: some treks take up to ten hours… but the sense of achievement is worth the effort. Boasting some of northern Europe’s most spellbinding views across glacial valleys and mountain ranges, this seven-night hiking adventure takes you right to the edge - yes literally, the edge: the eight-hour hike to Troll’s Tongue, for example, provides unrivalled views from the 1,000 metre-high rock promontory. “The Big Five Hiking Holiday in Norway” highlights the Pulpit Rock, Kjerag Rock, Folgefonna Glacier, Troll’s Tongue and Langfoss Waterfall, all of which offer breathtaking views and postcard-perfect moments. Departures from 1 April until 28 September 2013, that take advantage of the lightest days of the Norwegian summer: in mid-June, the sun is visible for up to twenty four hours each day.

5. The Falkland Islands - named one of The New York Times' Top 46 Places to Go in 2013 - is a birdwatcher's dream. Thanks to the rich surrounding seas, the Falklands boast no less than six breeding species of penguins: king, gentoo, rockhopper, and on occasion macaroni, royal, and magellanic.  With such an array of flora and fauna in the Falklands, Quark Expedition's team of lecturers and specialists provide enriching discussions on the history and fascinating wildlife of this remote island. Quark Expeditions have six departures to the Falkland Islands during the 2013 -2014 Antarctic season. The voyages vary from 17- to 23-days and are available on three different Quark vessels, offering passengers a variety of cabin styles and prices.
6.  Howling with Wolves a three-night expedition in Sweden to discover some of Europe’s last remaining wild wolves in their own territory. With departures from London Stansted Airport from 27 June until 25 September 2013, this adventure takes advantage of the bright days and nights of the Swedish summer to maximise time spent outdoors, including an overnight camp, complete with campfire dinner. Marvel at nature up close without intrusion, including opportunities to encounter moose, beavers and other Scandinavian wildlife.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Top Six Up & Coming Bonding Vacations that will stay with your Family Forever

I'm not one for sacrifice, but when it comes to planning family holidays I, like most parents, buckle under the pressure of satisfying my child's every perceived need. When endless theme parks, water parks, zoos and museums no longer cut it, these six adventures may just send you packing.
As more and more accessible and less expensive modes of travel – along with increasing international co-operation – have opened up the globe to families seeking fresh challenges, new possibilities seem endless. River rafting, abseiling, wilderness hikes, jungle boating, rock climbing, cattle drives, staying on a mozzarella farm, swimming with sea lions, trying-out as a bush tracker, chef, cowboy, or dog-sledder. These sort of trips will inevitably test your family's abilities and endurance. At the same time they will help to promote independence, a willingness to try something new and a sense of achievement – all so important to children and (more importantly) your sanity.

People have been coming to the Bay of Naples from far and wide for thousands of years to build cities, farm the volcanic soil or just to enjoy the incredible beauty of the place. With Classicist Rupert Smith as your guide, this family journey designed around 11 to 14 year olds, will inspire and captivate the imagination of eager young minds. This family trip will travel from the 8th century BC when the Greeks headed west and founded their first Italian colony at Cumae to the 1st century AD when Vesuvius destroyed the port towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii. 

This May sees the launch of the ‘Smile Club’, a tailored facility for children at Villa San Michele, Florence. 
Housed in a former chapel with terrace, in a quiet part of the hotel grounds, the ‘Smile Club’ will be a complimentary service for young guests aged 4 – 12 years. Qualified staff will oversee carefully planned activities including jewellery making, pizza and cookie baking, Italian lessons, Florentine crafts, treasure hunts and nature trails, all designed to immerse children into Italy’s rich and vibrant culture. Open from May – September, Monday to Saturday from 10.30 to 17.00, Villa San Michele’s ‘Smile Club’ will cater for a maximum of 10 children at any one time. Complementing the new children’s club, a dedicated Kid’s Concierge will be on hand to help plan activities, advise on kid friendly restaurants or the best place in Florence to buy ice cream, treats or toys.   

Treasure Hunt: An adventure for the whole family, kids and parents can discover Florence with a lively and professional guide who will lead guests on a treasure hunt around Florence’s most famous museums, the Uffizi Museum and the Palazzo Vecchio Museum. Fun quizzes and games will lead children from one treasure to the next. The minimum length of the tour is three hours and the aim is to encourage children (and adults!) to learn about the abundant history and art in Florence while having fun.

Young Chefs Academy: The hotel's renowned cookery school is offering children a chance to develop their culinary interests through special classes with the hotel’s chef, Attilio, who will go through the basics of Italian cuisine and pasta making, even picking some of the ingredients from the hotels own herb garden. As part of their class children will receive a cookery school apron, chef’s hat and folder with the recipes so they can recreate the dishes at home. The ‘Young Chefs Academy’ is available from June – August for a minimum of four children, aged between 6 – 14 years. Also available are exclusive private cooking lessons for the whole family to enjoy together.