Adopt a Manta Ray on Vacation

Adopt a Manta Ray on Vacation

I love those sleek rays with their impossibly cheery grins. I dream of gliding across the sea floor with such grace.

And staying in one of those dreamy overwater bungalows on a Pacific island is one of my #travelgoals.

Baros Maldives overwater bungalows

Now there’s an eco-friendly resort, Baros Maldives, that really could not have chosen a more attractive combination of features for the manta ray and bungalow lover. The five-star resort has taken a proactive approach in luring guests beyond the beach with its Manta Ray and Coral Reef Rehabilitation programs. Working alongside the resort’s Marine and Diving Center, Baros Maldives encourages its guests to not only embrace and enjoy the lush tropical paradise but to also give back to the underwater creatures that make it such a natural beauty.

divers look up at manta raymanta rays frolickingManta Ray Surveying & Adoption System: Baros Maldives has a Manta Ray program that invites guests to photograph the underwater gentle giants at the resort and then follow along on their migration even when they return home. A diver who photographs a Manta Ray not seen before is offered the opportunity to give it a name and “adopt” it, which means the diver will receive regular reports on the Manta’s whereabouts and habits. Guests who re-visit the resort have a good chance to have a reunion with a Manta Ray they have seen on their dives in previous years. The best times to visit are from May to November and from January to April, when sightings are frequent.

Coral Reef Rehabilitation Program: Guests are also able to aid in a coral conservation initiative by sponsoring a coral frame through Baros Maldives’ Reef Rehabilitation Program. In addition to sponsoring a frame, guests learn about the coral propagation process and are escorted in a swim to the house reef, where they collect broken coral fragments and reattach them to specially designed structures. These provide a stable substrate elevated from the sandy seafloor. The coral frames not only give artificial reef-structure corals a chance to grow, but also creates new homes for various marine animals. Additionally, the Baros Maldives marine biologists keep participants up-to-date by e-mail every six months about the growth of the corals as they develop on the table.

diver and colorful coral reef

If you are interested in learning more about Baros Resort, comment below or send me an email.

Planning a family vacation? Great Deals for 2015

Planning a family vacation? Great Deals for 2015

When you are planning a family vacation, the costs can add up very quickly. Even the best deals don’t sound cheap anymore when you multiply them by 4, 5, 6 or more. At the recent New York Times Travel show, I had the chance to speak with representatives of destinations and travel companies from around the world to find out the latest and the greatest deals for families, and the newest trends in family travel.

I dodged the dancing girls from Indonesia, the feather-clad dancers from Brazil, the big brown bear from Taiwan, and someone dressed as a stack of vegetables (something to do with Expo Milano 2015), to dig deep and find you all the best deals for families this year.

The bear from Taiwan with Paige

Great Deals for Family Travel

Children Travel Free on Eurail

Eurail, the rail pass for travel throughout 28 countries in Europe, has launched its new “Children Travel Free” initiative, which allows up to two children ages 4 to 11 to ride for free with each family member or friend who is traveling on an Adult Eurail Pass.

We are rather partial to traveling on Eurail Passes, having done so as kids, and then again as adults with our kids.

Also new this year from Eurail is the Attica Pass, which offers travel around the Greek Islands by ferry. It offers six ferry crossings within one month, including the high-speed ferry from Italy to Greece and back.

Even Older Children Travel Free to Tahiti

For a limited time, 2 children up to age 15 can travel free with 2 adults on Air Tahiti Nui’s flights from Los Angeles, paying only government taxes. Current round trip prices start at $1672 (with taxes of $63), so this is some serious savings! For a family of four you’re saving more than $3000 with this deal. The airline representatives I met at the travel show said that they took this step because many of the resorts in Tahiti offer similar discounts for children up to age 15. So let’s not think of Tahiti as just a honeymoon destination. Maybe you can afford to take the kids after all!

Check their website for details.

Low Fares on New Flights to Iceland (and Beyond)

Iceland’s new Wow Air is offering super-low rates on their new flights from Boston and Baltimore/Washington to Reykjavik (from $149 and $165 one way) and London (from $202 and $240 one way).

Of course, like most low-cost airlines, there are some tricks to this low fare. You will have to pay extra to check a bag, and only one carry-on bag weighing 11 pounds or less is included in the fare. Also, the flight back from Europe might not be so cheap. When I checked, I could not find a return flight from either Reykjavik or London for the same low fare.

wow air logo and jetIn any case, I could see from my explorations that travel companies and destinations are giving some thought to family travelers, and they are creating deals for families to lure them in and make it more affordable to take the whole clan.

Have you seen any great deals lately? Let us know in the comments below.

We can help you plan a perfect family vacation

Don’t forget that we offer family travel coaching services to help you plan your perfect family vacation. Contact us and tell us what you like to do, where you want to go, and when you have time to go there, and we will take it from there. Take at look at our travel coaching page for more information.

5 Things to Do in Melbourne with Kids Who Love Animals

5 Things to Do in Melbourne with Kids Who Love Animals

We arrived in Melbourne with the kids on a Friday afternoon, five days into the Australia part of our round-the-world-trip, and still no iconic Australian critter sightings. The highway signs kept teasing us with their messages. A “Kangaroo Crossing” sign here or an outline of a large furry animal there made us put down our maps and scour the road ahead for moving creatures. But after five days of driving, we still hadn’t seen any (except for that dead wombat). Our CouchSurfing hosts in Melbourne were all too happy to help remedy that. We had scarcely had time to put down our bags when they whisked us to a local park where we saw loads of kangaroos noshing on the wide lawns there. We even saw a couple of mamas with baby joeys in their pouches. These kangaroos were used to people gawking at them, so we were able to get quite close to them.

Wildlife Street Signs in Australia

The area where we were staying was about an hour from the center of Melbourne, in the Dandenong Ranges, a hilly area of soaring forests. We soon discovered that this area held many many treasures in its small towns and parks. Our recommendations if you’re in Melbourne with kids, especially if they love animals, are these:

Healesville Sanctuary

1- Healesville Sanctuary – This is the place to get your fill of all the cute and cuddly (and not so) Australian animals. This is a zoo specifically for the native fauna of Australia. Try to make it for koala feeding time, otherwise, all you’ll see are furry balls perched up in the trees. Platypus, dingo, kangaroo, wallaby, echidna, lyrebird, wombat, and even Tasmanian devil can all be found here. The staff are happy to answer questions, and occasionally bring out an animal for petting. The sanctuary is about an hour outside of the city, but is accessible by public transportation. There are also several bus companies in Melbourne that run shuttles to the sanctuary.

Kangaroos at Cardinia Reservoir

Kangaroos at Cardinia Reservoir

2 –  Cardinia Reservoir Park – The park itself, in the town of Emerald, is a great big expanse of green surrounding a lovely reservoir that supplies Melbourne with drinking water. But the real treat here is the kangaroos, who venture out into the large fields of the park just before dusk. Though of course you shouldn’t pester the ‘roos, they are accustomed enough to people that you can get close enough for some great photos. But seriously, don’t try to pet them. They’ve got a kick that can flatten a sumo wrestler.

Picnic along the Great Ocean Road

Picnic along the Great Ocean Road

3 – The Great Ocean Road – This has to be one of the best coastal drives in the world, with dramatic cliffs dropping down to great wide beaches as bare as a newborn’s bottom. All along the route are parks, where you can find all sorts of wildlife from snakes to sea anemone to observe, and marine sanctuaries, where you can rest assured there are happy sea creatures, even though you can’t swim with them. My advice? Just pack a picnic, get in the car, and drive until a spot draws you in. You really can’t go wrong here.

Yep, that crab is sun-baked.

Crab along the Great Ocean Road

4 – Melbourne Zoo and Melbourne Aquarium – While the two are not related, most folks in Melbourne discuss them in the same breath, because they are two stellar animal parks and they are both highlights of a visit to the city, especially for families.

Puffing Billy Railway

Puffing Billy Railway

5 – Puffing Billy Railway – Yes, I will grant you, this is not, per se, an animal-related outing. However, the Puffing Billy Railway is a 100-year-old steam train in the Dandenongs that is beloved by all. Who can resist the adorable wooden cars, the puffing steam from the coal-fired locomotive, the hoot of the train whistle? The locals hop right on and stick their feet out the side to ride in the windows, which is perfectly fine until you get to the rail trestle crossing. Just don’t look down. The ride takes between 40 minutes and an hour, depending on the day and the stops.

 

5 Things to Do in Melbourne with Kids Who Love Animals

5 Things to Do in Melbourne with Kids Who Love Animals

We arrived in Melbourne with the kids on a Friday afternoon, five days into the Australia part of our round-the-world-trip, and still no iconic Australian critter sightings. The highway signs kept teasing us with their messages. A “Kangaroo Crossing” sign here or an outline of a large furry animal there made us put down our maps and scour the road ahead for moving creatures. But after five days of driving, we still hadn’t seen any (except for that dead wombat). Our CouchSurfing hosts in Melbourne were all too happy to help remedy that. We had scarcely had time to put down our bags when they whisked us to a local park where we saw loads of kangaroos noshing on the wide lawns there. We even saw a couple of mamas with baby joeys in their pouches. These kangaroos were used to people gawking at them, so we were able to get quite close to them.

Wildlife Street Signs in Australia

The area where we were staying was about an hour from the center of Melbourne, in the Dandenong Ranges, a hilly area of soaring forests. We soon discovered that this area held many many treasures in its small towns and parks. Our recommendations if you’re in Melbourne with kids, especially if they love animals, are these:

Healesville Sanctuary

1- Healesville Sanctuary – This is the place to get your fill of all the cute and cuddly (and not so) Australian animals. This is a zoo specifically for the native fauna of Australia. Try to make it for koala feeding time, otherwise, all you’ll see are furry balls perched up in the trees. Platypus, dingo, kangaroo, wallaby, echidna, lyrebird, wombat, and even Tasmanian devil can all be found here. The staff are happy to answer questions, and occasionally bring out an animal for petting. The sanctuary is about an hour outside of the city, but is accessible by public transportation. There are also several bus companies in Melbourne that run shuttles to the sanctuary.

Kangaroos at Cardinia Reservoir

Kangaroos at Cardinia Reservoir

2 –  Cardinia Reservoir Park – The park itself, in the town of Emerald, is a great big expanse of green surrounding a lovely reservoir that supplies Melbourne with drinking water. But the real treat here is the kangaroos, who venture out into the large fields of the park just before dusk. Though of course you shouldn’t pester the ‘roos, they are accustomed enough to people that you can get close enough for some great photos. But seriously, don’t try to pet them. They’ve got a kick that can flatten a sumo wrestler.

Picnic along the Great Ocean Road

Picnic along the Great Ocean Road

3 – The Great Ocean Road – This has to be one of the best coastal drives in the world, with dramatic cliffs dropping down to great wide beaches as bare as a newborn’s bottom. All along the route are parks, where you can find all sorts of wildlife from snakes to sea anemone to observe, and marine sanctuaries, where you can rest assured there are happy sea creatures, even though you can’t swim with them. My advice? Just pack a picnic, get in the car, and drive until a spot draws you in. You really can’t go wrong here.

Yep, that crab is sun-baked.

Crab along the Great Ocean Road

4 – Melbourne Zoo and Melbourne Aquarium – While the two are not related, most folks in Melbourne discuss them in the same breath, because they are two stellar animal parks and they are both highlights of a visit to the city, especially for families.

Puffing Billy Railway

Puffing Billy Railway

5 – Puffing Billy Railway – Yes, I will grant you, this is not, per se, an animal-related outing. However, the Puffing Billy Railway is a 100-year-old steam train in the Dandenongs that is beloved by all. Who can resist the adorable wooden cars, the puffing steam from the coal-fired locomotive, the hoot of the train whistle? The locals hop right on and stick their feet out the side to ride in the windows, which is perfectly fine until you get to the rail trestle crossing. Just don’t look down. The ride takes between 40 minutes and an hour, depending on the day and the stops.

 

Magno’s Travel Journal: New Zealand

Magno’s Travel Journal: New Zealand

Opotiki, New Zealand

We have been in New Zealand for about three weeks
now, and while it’s a lot like the U.S.A., there are many
major differences. One of the biggest differences that I’ve noticed is that
the majority of Kiwis are a lot more active and adventurous
than most Americans. Almost all of the attractions and sights
require lots of activity. We took a lot of hikes; there were
thousands of rafting, biking, zip lining, skydiving and of
course, hiking trips you could take all over the north and
south islands.

Magno on a high wire at Adrenalin Forest, Christchurch, NZ

While driving, we found many more unfamiliar qualities.
For one, each town was extremely far away from the next one; whenever we
set off for our next campsite, we had to drive at least 3
hours in between each town. Second, the winding roads. In
the U.S., we have tunnels through most mountains but
here, not a chance. Everywhere we turn, there’s another
mountain, and another narrow road where if you
miscalculated your turn the slightest bit, you’d be flying off
a cliff.

New Zealand view

New Zealanders are a lot more concerned with the
environment, it seems. They have much fewer signs telling you
not to litter and to recycle, but much more people seem to
than in America. It’s a very clean place; You have to wear
extra sunscreen because of how clean and clear the air is.
All in all, I think that although we speak the same
language, New Zealand and America are very, very,
different.

Central Otago, New Zealand

Dead Wombat in the Middle of the Road

Dead Wombat in the Middle of the Road

Day three in Australia begins with rain outside and Magnolia running a fever. We stop for oysters on our way out of town, since we had been foiled in our earlier effort. These Clyde River oysters were the perfect balance of briny and sweet, and had come right out of the river just hours before. We made a pledge to eat as many fresh local oysters as possible. Bonus: they were not crazy expensive.

Clyde River Oysters

We stopped at Mystery Bay, just south of Narooma, where in 1880 a ship carrying a gold-field surveyor and his crew washed ashore not long after its departure, completely empty of supplies, and with four holes in the hull that appeared to have been made from the inside. For us, it was a sweet spot for a picnic and a quick dip in the crystal clear water. The girls did not join us in the swim, though. We’ve all been reading Bill Bryson’s book, Down Under, which includes in it’s first chapters a litany of all the deadly creatures living in Australia and its waters, so they choose the relative safety of the swing set.

The drive was full of signs for kangaroo crossings, and the eucalyptus forests are home to koalas. We passed the Genoa River, which is said to be home to platypus. But we have yet to see any of those things. We were thrilled, though, to hang out with these pelicans for a while.

Pelicans on the Clyde River

Spent the night in the town of Lakes Entrance. According to Aboriginal legend, the lakes were formed by a mystical spit take, when a frog who had swallowed the ocean was surprised by an eel who was standing upright. I think I need to read more Aboriginal legends.

We stopped by several motels before we found one with wifi. The very pleasant Comfort Inn Emmanuel fit the bill, and had a cute googie style that I forgot to photograph.

Before we left in the morning, we crossed the footbridge over to Ninety Mile Beach. Yes. Ninety Mile Beach. We were about to declare it the greatest beach ever, when we almost stepped on a tiny bluebottle jellyfish. And then another. And another. Bluebottle stings are notoriously painful, and can leave permanent scars. We decided to put our shoes back on and head back to the car.

Tiny bluebottle jellyfish

Before going to our friend Nicole’s house near Melbourne, we thought we’d aim for one more beach along the way. Or, sort of along the way. Or, “a four-hour detour to a total sh*thole on the most dangerous road in all of Australia,” as Nicole would call it. She tried to talk us out of it, but I could tell that the more she discouraged us, the more John dug in his heels. This place he had read a paragraph about in a tourist office publication this morning was now an essential must-do on our trip.

I’m happy to say that it was a very cool place. The Bununrong Marine National Park had an amazing rocky beach with tide pools full of sea life we’d never seen before, surrounded by dramatic sandstone cliffs. We even saw some penguin-like birds.

Bununrung Marine National Park

But indeed we did see our first cool Australian critter – a wombat –  sadly dead on the side of the road. Those things are huge! I always thought they were like large guinea pigs, but this was closer in size to a small bear. Even legs up and clearly dead, it was adorable, and reminded me of Mr. Danders, the misunderstood guinea pig in Cul de Sac. I did not photograph it, but here’s a photo of a wombat by Phil Whitehouse for your viewing pleasure.

Wombat by Phil Whitehouse