Posts Tagged ‘Adventure Travel’

Backroads Biking Adventure through Calgary

By Paul Largay   Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Each time I consider taking an active vacation there are some immediate  questions/concerns that surface prior to taking the trip itself: have I chosen the right company, have I chosen the correct trip for me with regards to activity levels,  geographic venues, style/ levels of hotels? What will my group of fellow travelers/ adventures be like? Most importantly, HOW GOOD WILL THE TOUR DIRECTORS/GUIDES BE??!!

 Prior to ultimately selecting the Backroads Canadian Rockies biking trip, I spent considerable time seeking answers to all my aforementioned questions.I knew I wanted a physically challenging program that had multiple options for both longer & shorter days on the bike.  I wanted (4-5) star hotel properties.  I wanted nightly fine wine & dining opportunities.  I wanted less travelled country roads.  I wanted magnificent scenery and authentic wildlife encounters.  I wanted moderate temperatures conducive to long days on the saddle.  I guess you could say, like most folks, I essentially wanted it all…

 Backroads and the National Parks of Canada didn’t disappoint & delivered in style.

 For (6) days we were treated to a buffet and endless stream of brilliant blue skies, iridescent , jewel-like lakes, majestic, craggy-faced relentless mountain peaks.  Abundant wildlife seemed to magically and strategically await us around each bend in the road (big horn sheep, elk, black bear, and yes even a mother grizzly bear…YIKES!).

 The challenges of the daily distance and considerable elevation gains were a test of our collective wills, but whose attainment always offered the reward of a magnificent, scenic, visual dessert.

 The guides were all incredibly energetic (they had no choice with all these ‘type A’ personalities!) knowledgeable, personable, and unilaterally available.  They somehow innately understood & catered to the uniqueness of each participant and, in certain select instances, when somebody climbing a mountain pass ‘ran outta gas‘ , provided a seamless ‘lift‘ to the top where they eventually toasted & celebrated our arrival.

 The hotels were all ‘best in show’ in their respective locales.  The service, accommodations, & cuisine at the Post Hotel was in a category second to none and would rival ANY US/European ‘best of the best’ property.

 Because of our desire to be situated in a very remote wilderness environment, everyone understood that on certain nights the level of accommodations would be adequate but NOT exceptional.  On those particular nights the level of service, food, charm ,and dinner conversation offered by the inn keeper and his staff more than compensated us for the utilitarian accommodations.

 What a privilege it was to bike & physically experience this hidden gem, pristine and well preserved wilderness area.  The memories of this experience, like the endless rewarding scenery & wildlife of Calgary, will provide lifelong memories for all fortunate enough to have participated!

American Safari Cruises through the Hawaiian Islands

By Paul Largay   Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

If you ask me, choice is one of life’s greatest challenges because eventually by  its very definition you need to make one. So, here I am again, it’s another year, another February vacation opportunity; ultimately another choice needs to be made.
Oh where oh where should I go this year? And what should I do once I get there? Said the cobbler’s son :O)

Well, after reviewing multiple options (translated professional & personal zip code fantasies!) I’ve decided upon a rediscovery tour of the Hawaiian Islands. The 1st runners up, The Maldives, Tahiti, Dubai, etc. etc. etc, will just have to take their rightful, patient place in my traveler’s universal category of ‘must see & do, just not now!’
I describe my choice as a “rediscovery of the Hawaiian Islands” because I’ve been fortunate to have traveled there several times on traditional, multiple Island hopper itineraries-staying a few days on one Island and then taking a puddle skipping transfer to another. Can you say fly & flop? But this time, I wanted to see it from what I anticipated would be a unique and rewarding perspective: from the vantage point of cruising on an ultra yacht.
The ship we (my significant only Ms. Reenie is always at my side!) chose, the Safari Explorer, was (1) of (3) ships in the fleet from American Safari Cruises (can you, should you call it a fleet if there are only three vessels?). Their ships range in size from 8 to 36 passengers and sail, depending upon the season, to

Alaska , British Columbia, Sea of Cortez/Baja, U.S./Canada, and most important of all, (because this is after all.. all about me!) to the Hawaiian Islands from October to May.
Our ‘official ‘Hawaiian itinerary included The Big Island/Maui/Lanai/Molokai. The unofficial, actual itinerary was where the wildlife, culture and the real, pristine beauty of Hawaii led our talented and affable captain.
(5) minutes after embarking and setting sail from the Hilo area our published course took a 180 degree turn as we lazily paralleled (20) migrating

humpback whales and their recent offspring, and a school of spinner dolphins intent on doing their best to live up to their name! The only aspects more incredible than the immediacy, and abundance of the wildlife sighting were the resolute discipline of the crew to respect a non-invasive distance from the marine life, and the breadth of their mammal and environmental knowledge that they dispensed with ease, precision, and artistry-as if they were the love children of a maestro conductor and a college professor.
The precedent of flexibility and ‘Hawaiian go with the flow’ had been established and magically mirrored for the balance of the week. We were treated to a blended collage of water sports (snorkeling/scuba diving/kayaking/zodiac tours), contemplative sunsets, cultural immersions, active hikes, bike rides and good ol’ fashioned Happy Hour socializing with our fellow travelers. We would gather at day’s end to reflect and share the personal experiences, activities and insights we had collected during the day.
One of the most unique and enriching aspects of the experience was the familiarity and intimacy of the group that developed and matured as trip progressed. We seemed to magically morph from (12) individual couples to a familial, fraternal group similar to the social dynamics in one of my favorite movies The Big Chill.

I LOVED this ship and experience, but it is NOT for everybody. Travelers accustomed to, and expecting the more traditional cruise experience are best served elsewhere. If multiple dining venues & extensive menu options, nightly choreographed entertainment, spas, large commodious cabins, assigned dining room seating, and a large variety of daily shore excursions and a formal shipboard dress code is what constitutes the ‘DNA’ of vacation success, you won’t find ANY of this aboard the Safari Explorer.
What you will find is a floating house party properly primed (great bar!) and supported by the all inclusive nature of ship board life. Your fellow passenger (historically 50+ years of age) will be successful, highly educated (present party and author excluded!), well travelled, and most willing to share their

respective life & discovery experiences with you over a hearty glass (or two) of scotch. The nightly meals include a choice of meat or local fish accompanied with fresh vegetables & all too delicious homemade desserts. All meals are nicely prepared and graciously delivered in portions that thankfully won’t have you mistaken as cargo as you disembark the ship.
The entertainment, when not generated by the interaction of the passengers, usually consists of a compelling lecture about the local marine creatures or the culture and traditions of the local people. You will find a very upscale but incredibly understated experience. Never to be confused with bohemian, but, with a complete and refreshing absence of glitz and pretense.
In closing I would be remiss if I did not point out that the crew was indeed the crown jewel in the overall experience. The crew (2 to 1 ratio to the passengers) were a magical, eclectic group comprised of eager, gregarious, talented, interesting, and knowledgeable individuals, (where did they learn ALL that stuff..I think they would clean up on Jeopardy or perhaps Cash Cab!) who were ready to please and delight. They essentially personify the essence of what the cruise; authentic, unstructured, beguiling, educational, engaging and just plain and simple..A total ‘hoot!’

Polar Bear Trekking – The Arrival

By Paul Largay   Monday, November 1st, 2010

I have always been fascinated by extremes, whether it be extreme adventures, extreme personalities or extreme travels. In my mind, in the animal kingdom, there is nothing more extreme than the polar bear and that is why I decided to take this journey.

Day 1 & 2 – Our journey to the sub-Arctic habitat of the great white bears began with a short flight to Chicago and then a slightly longer ride, 4 hours, on to Winnipeg Manitoba. Natural Habitats had arranged for a comfortable stay at the Fort Gary Hotel, which is one of the more architecturally interesting buildings in the city and is in the historic registry. The hotel itself was built by the Canadian Railway in 1911 in a Gothic chateau style. Candidly, I feel Winnipeg is not a terribly unique destination, but does provide the necessary “staging” area for the trip to Churchill to view the bears.

The following morning we departed the hotel for our two hour flight transfer to Churchill. This flight was the most seamless, pain free, experience I have ever encountered thanks to our hosts from Natural Habitat Adventures, who charter their own 737 aircraft for guests. What did this mean for us as travelers? It meant, there was no hassle at the airport, no airport security and we were allowed to drive right onto the tarmac, up to the plane to load. Now THIS is living!

One of my best friends, Peter, had joined me for this journey and we were booked on the Ultimate Churchill program. In flight we met a number of other folks who were traveling on the Natural Habitat Photographic and Tundra Lodge programs. Each program has it’s own unique nuances and is customized for each travelers specific interests. It became very apparent that you need a specialist to make sure you are on the correct program or your experience and enjoyment will be impacted and potentially diminished.

Upon arrival in the town of Churchill (about a half hour ride from the airport), you immediately know why the bears operate from, and thrive in, this region. Even in mid-October the temperatures are low and the wind is strong and relentless. To be comfortable, you must dress in layered, heavy winter clothing and wear warm hats and gloves when heading out. The town is minimalistic at best and there are only about 900 full-time residents. The only way in and out is by rail, boat or by air and the similarities to many northern Alaskan frontier towns immediately springs to my mind.

In Churchill the hotels, restaurants and gift shops provide all the necessary, but rather utilitarian needs, of the locals and visitors alike. All visitors must prepare and remind themselves that it is the allure of the bears and not the charm or temperate weather of the town that draws folks to Churchill. As we went to sleep that night, we could only imagine what lay ahead of us in this remote land.

Taking Fun to a Whole New Level at Skytop Lodge

By Amanda Klimak CTIE   Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Skytop Lodge in the Poconos has always been known for it’s traditional atmosphere and menu of outdoor activities. Hiking, biking, golf and tennis were some of the most popular activities and for the true outdoors-man, fly fishing at the Orvis fly fishing school, skeet shooting, skiing (both cross country and downhill) and a 400 foot toboggan run that takes sledders down a steep track and out onto the lake were just a few of the options. But over the past few years, Skytop has added some exciting new adventures and I, for one, was blown away by the fun.

With the addition of an “Adventure Lodge”, which doubles as the ski lodge in the winter months, guests of all ages can enjoy mountain biking, rock climbing, ATV tours, paint ball and laser tag. Just imagine a family reunion or company outting with a fun and competitive game of paint ball.  Imagine hiking into the woods with a hand held GPS on a modern day treasure hunt. Sound like fun? Well, it is and I for one am sold.

My absolute favorite, however, is the Dog Sledding Experience, which was re-introduced to Skytop last October. You see dog sledding was a tradition at Skytop in the early 1900’s but when World War II broke out, the dogs were sent away to assist in the war. Today, a team of twenty-five Husky’s live at Skytop and offer guests year-round fun with sleds in the winter and wheels in the summer. The dogs are incredibly friendly and absolutely love to run, which makes for a whole lot of fun.  Guests at Skytop can either visit the dog yard for a tour and meet-and-great with the dogs, take a ride on a buggy or sled pulled by a team of ten dogs or, for the true adrenaline junky, can take a scooter ride pulled by a team of two dogs. With the safety of the guest and the health and happiness of the dogs as his number one priority, Jared O’Neill from Snow Caps Sled Dogs  out of Breckenridge, Colorado will ensure a fun and safe adventure for the whole family. Take a quick peek at a short video I shot while visiting Skytop.