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Extreme sports, New Zealand’s draw for many, will take place on land today. The Sky Tower offers both sky walks and sky jumping. I actually got up the nerve to sign up to sky jump from FLOOR 56 of the tower. When we arrived, we walked by a giant bulls eye on the sidewalk; now I know what it’s there for – my landing but at the time I didn’t really get what I was in for. Another tip off should have been at lunch when the four “jumpers” in our group of many, were told that NO alcohol could be consumed prior to the jump.
Blissful ignorance got me through lunch and down to the basement level where we were each weighed at least twice after removing absolutely every accessory that would come off and take flight on its own. The eyeglasses were attached then taped to a lanyard which was then clipped to a special jumpsuit hook. Absolutely no personal belongings were on our bodies and a metal scanner was used to insure we didn’t forget to remove even a single coin.
We were then covered in harnesses and strapped so tight that I thought I would burst. If my stomach wasn’t nervous enough yet, this did the trick. I saw a shirt for sale that said “I almost jumped” with a picture of a giant chicken on it. I made a mental note to purchase the shirt when I came back down in the elevator after chickening out.
The next thing I knew, we were in the glass bottomed elevator and the guide pressed Floor 56, then he waved goodbye and was gone. As we zipped up the building, we watched the ground below getting further and further away and pretty soon, it felt like we were looking down from space. The door finally opened into a hallway with a sign point to the dreaded Sky Jump area.
Doug, a representative from Air New Zealand, and the only guy in our group of four, agreed to jump first. He went into a glass room where yet again his weight was checked twice, each of his shoes were tugged on by two employees to be sure they couldn’t come off, and his eye glass straps were checked. The harnesses were checked and tightened once again and a Go Pro was snapped onto his wrist. I was still OK with this – since it was him.
The next step was for Doug to step out onto this platform to prepare to jump off the side. When I ever saw the wind whipping his jump suit arms and hair around, reality set in. I just wanted to get this over with and get that CHICKEN Tshirt before moving on. After all, the Sky Tower also has a huge casino, pubs, shops and plenty of other things to do. All of the sudden, Doug was gone. He had stepped off the side.
They called me into the room. While I let them do all the same checks, I thought about that wind some more and I told my guide that I needed to jump right away or forget it. (That T shirt was waiting for me). She said there was no need for backing out and we finally walked out onto the plank. I was told to hold the two poles and face out. The poles were placed so far apart I couldn’t reach both, so they told me to just hold a rope. At the count of three, I was told to just walk off the edge. “You mean you won’t push me? I thought somehow you would make that last move, not me!” She told me it was time to jump and I did, screaming all the way to that bul’ls eye. It was the craziest and most exciting moment of my entire life. I was so glad it was over, yet so sad it ended so quickly.
Even though I successfully made the jump, I walked inside and got that T shirt, the one with the chicken on the back. What a way to start my Kiwi Adventure!
I have finally arrived in New Zealand, having departed San Francisco on a non-stop flight on Air New Zealand Monday night at 9:30 PM and landing in Auckland on Wednesday morning at 6 AM (lost a day crossing the international date line). As long flights go, this was relatively easy. We were in darkness the whole time, so it made it super comfortable to get 8 hours of sleep, two meals and a few hours to play around with the computer or watch a movie.
Auckland is the main gateway city to New Zealand and its largest city, but interestingly it is not the capital. Still it’s a place that nearly every arriving guest to New Zealand will visit and it will be the main destination for some guests.
Although the airport is only about 40 minutes from the city center, there isn’t a direct highway. Enroute to our downtown hotel, we passed through several homey neighborhoods, most houses are built with timber; wood from the khouri tree is perfect for construction, it’s light with beautiful grains and grows straight, so the logging and cutting make it the perfect choice for bungalow type homes.
Some will venture to the Northlands where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasmanian Sea. Known for snorkel and dive adventures, the famous Kaori forests and the Maori culture center. The North Islands can be reached in under three hours by car and the most Northern Islands are about 4-5 hours from there by car or ferry.
Others will head down the west coast of the North Island along the Surf Highway. I dream of having the time to tramp along one of New Zealand’s nine Great Walks or to ski on a glacier during another trip.
Today, though, I will tour Auckland, a city of 1.4 million residents. A city set between two harbors, where there is no shortage of water activities. Located in the northern half of the North Island, it has a moderate climate, suitable to sun worship and relaxation. It is also perfect for those seeking adventure.
When considering family destinations, keep the flight time and ease of communication at the forefront. If this is a first international trip for children, this is especially true. While its important for them to experience cultures and people with a different way of life, it’s equally important for them to love the vacation and become truly interested in travel for the experience of tasting the world.
For east coast travelers, Amsterdam is a quick and easy option. With non-stop flights from Boston, New York and Dulles, to name a few, departures will likely be in the early evening resulting in a morning arrival. Plan fun and easy activities on Day One to allow for an early bed time that will get everyone on track with the time zones. The most common local transportation for families is by bike. Plan to ride as often as possible on the mostly flat, well marked and super safe bike routes along the country side.
For west coast travelers, Hawaii may be the perfect family getaway. Participate in a luau on the beach. Experience the dances and customs of island people at the Polynesian Culture Center. The PCC is at least a full day out event.
All US locations will have an easy flight to Tennessee to see Opryland Graceland and Dollyworld. Focus on music by seeing a concert by having a tour of Nashville. If you have extra time, take a paddle boat cruise up the Mississippi. Be sure to check dates that will accommodate families and children. Consider taking Grandma along for a multigenerational vacation.
The US National Park system truly has something for everyone. Choose which park to visit after considering each family members interests. For younger children, hiking should be short and easy, leading to animal viewing locations. A great choice is Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, with lodging at nearby Custer State Park. Older kids will enjoy walking the Freedom Trail in Boston. Fourth of July visits will include fireworks and festivities that highlight our nations independence.
A weekend away, in a resort with a pool might be just right for the finicky eater and sleeper. This will allow them to see the fun and excitement of being away from home, without the stress of a flight. Be sure to pack all the favorites right into the car (blanket, pillow, favorite cup and snacks).
I had the pleasure of spending last week in Unstoppable Baja Mexico on an Un-Cruise Baja adventure. As promised, it was unrushed, uncrowded and unbelievable. The Safari Endeavor had approximately 60 guests onboard, most were between the ages of 40 and 70. All loved light adventure, great food and wine and the incredibly devoted staff. The Baja is a great spot for year round outdoor fun. With over 300 days of sunshine each year and over 100 islands to explore, we explored someplace new each day. Unlike a traditional cruise ship, we were able to unwind at unclaimed beaches within the National Parks of the Baja Peninsula.
Snorkelers had the opportunity on Day 1 to refresh their skills with Un-Cruise Snorkel 101 training, or to just enjoy a small group explore. This prepared them for their next uncommon adventures: snorkeling with whale sharks one day and sea lions another day. Equipment including wet suits masks and snorkels were provided and thanks to the massive supply, everyone found wetsuits they were very happy with. While there were many masks to choose from, a few guests had a hard time finding their perfect fit. I suggest that guests bring their own mask along for convenience.
A docking station on the back of the ship carried kayaks and stand up paddle boards. During the seven day cruise, we had the opportunity to use these items about five different days. We had a few guided kayak trips and a few
open times to uncover hidden gems on our own. While there wasn’t formal training, the staff was very helpful and encouraging in getting everyone out on the water.
I tried SUP for my first time and also took full advantage of the kayak opportunities. While I was not interested in snorkeling, I had the opportunity to see all of the wildlife on a skiff tour or even from the ship, so I didn’t feel I was missing out on any unbelievable views. We also had a few opportunities to hike the untamed and unpredictable desserts on shore. We uncovered quite a few unique treasures such as the unrattled rattle snake, a scorpion, several types of sea shells and skeleton pieces from fish and mammals including a dolphin spine. Being a land lubber, I took advantage of every opportunity and managed to log 28 miles during the course of the week, counting hikes, walking tours and just moving around.
We were provided with three wonderful meals daily. Each consisted of three main course options (meat, fish, vegetarian for instance). Fear of missing out (FOMO) was never a problem because we could request half and half or extra portions of all choices. I opted for the half and half at every meal, just to try all of the amazing Mexican specialties as well as traditional fare. There were also unending bowls of fruit, snacks and appetizers available throughout the day in the lounge. The bar was always open and had about every drink imaginable.
One thing I really loved was the unanticipated table service at every single meal. There are no assigned seats, so we got to know most of the 60 guests on board and within a few days, each staff member knew most of us by name.
The cabins were unceremonious, small but efficient. Each was equipped with refillable water bottles, binoculars, extra blankets (for inside or outdoors), plenty of 110V power outlets, good lighting and places to hang bathing suits and towels. The twin beds were small and if budget allows, I would definitely recommend the upgrade to larger beds. The bathroom also was very small but efficient. Shampoo, soaps and a hair dryer were all a good quality. Sun block and bug spray were also supplied, although we never needed the bug spray.
After spending each day active on the water, it was nice to kick back and relax at night. Following dinner each evening, a casual gathering was offered. Expedition staff was always on hand to explain the unanswered questions from the day. One night, there was a campfire on the uninhabited beach with smores and a full bar in place. This was also an opportunity to meet a few of the locals, as they enjoy meeting the tourists as much as we enjoy meeting them. Hannah was a brilliant guide and she did a presentation on John Steinbach one night, describing his writings about the local area. Another night brought a presentation about sharks and mammals and the final night brought us all closer together as we reminisced about the highlights of the week with a 300 picture slide show put together by the expedition team.
I look forward to returning to Un-Cruise for another adventure. A huge thank you to Un-Cruise for stepping out of the box and bringing this truly unforgettable adventure my way. I picture myself as a returning guest, just like so many of the folks I met on the cruise, who enjoy sharing their last Un-Cruise stories as much as they look forward to their next Un-Cruise journey. Which one should I choose next? Alaska, Hawaii or Galapagos?
Antarctica has a short travel window, lasting from December through February each year. A number of cruise ships schedule expeditions during that period, as well as a few land based providers (who still travel by ship). While all the ships offer wildlife viewing and possible encounters, there are huge differences in the ship size, feel, and atmosphere.
Two adventure companies stand out with me as the most comprehensive and educational when it comes to Antarctica and one is having a huge weekend sale. I will be open all weekend to accommodate clients who wish to take advantage of this great offer. I will also add a little incentive to guests who book with me during this sale period. Call today, this offer will only last for three days.
The Fairmont Hotel in Monte Carlo is the perfect destination. Enjoy the Grand Prix Raceway, glamorous casinos and clubs as well as views of the Mediterranean Sea. One of the most elegant destinations in the Cote D’Azur area. Our group tour in October, 2015 will conclude at this (or similar) hotel prior to our flights home from Naples or for some, onward passage to nearby Tuscany, Italy or other destinations.
A Deluxe Resort and Convention Complex jutting over the Mediterranean, overlooking the Grand Prix Racecourse and just 35 minutes from airport.
Hotel Amenities Include: Free WiFi Elevator Fitness Room Concierge desk Bar/Lounge Spa Services Dry Cleaning Pool Currency Exchange Business Center Gift Shop Beauty Salon Parking/Valet Restaurant On-Site ATM Room AmenitiesInclude: Coffee Maker Non-smoking Rooms Television Window Opens Cable/Satellite Mini-bar Hair Dryer Voicemail Room Service Internet Access In-Room Safe Climate Control Desk Complimentary Toiletries Air Conditioning Phone Located at: 12 Avenue des Spelugues Monte Carlo, Monaco
Today is the Feast of the Three Wise Men, whose remains are said to be buried in the Cathedral in Cologne. Each hour a mass is held with the church bells chiming throughout the town square.
This is the biggest church in Europe, having been spared during WW2. There are bullet holes evident on the exterior facade along with some blackened walls from coal use, but still it is a beautiful and well cared for piece of history.
Today, four couples were being honored in a special service to renew their wedding vows too. During the services, the church was still open to guests who could view from a distance. Churches like this make Roman churches seem small.
My favorite exhibit at the Rijksmuseum has got to be The Milkmaid by Johannesburg Vermeer. He actually poked a pin hole in the canvas to be sure all lines lead back to one point. This is a still with the exception of the perception of the milk pouring into the bowl. This is one of many Vermeers proudly displayed in the hall with Rembrandt’s Night Watch and others.
While one hour is enough for a quick peek, two or more hours will allow guests time for an audio tour or self guided in depth look at the many artists on display. Note: bring your own headphones to save a few euro on the audio tour which will cost 5 euro.
Cross the square and visit the Van Gogh Museum too. Get tickets in advance to avoid the lines.