California Coast RV Road Trip

Most known for Hollywood celebrity sightings, California is also home to some of the most famous beaches and coastlines of the world. This is perfectly complemented by the seamless weather and temperature that lures in new residents and tourists every year. So if you are looking forward to enjoying the summer heat, regardless of the More »

Going to Orlando and its Parks

It’s time to make a journey and the destination this time is called Orlando, a space full of fun that attracts millions of people during the whole year due to it’s famous parks, places like Disney World, Universal Studio or the Cabo Discovery will keep you busy all day long. Start by looking for a More »

Helsinki City Guide

Helsinki, recently awarded as ‘City of Design’ by UNESCO, is the capital of Finland. Unlike the Nordic winter, the temperature of this city is quite livable, and life continues throughout the year. It has four seasons, and the temperatures vary from 32 degrees in the summer and about -20 degrees in the winter. With the More »

Tag Archives: activ travel

Join a flash mob at a Florida resort

On Friday, diners at the Quinn’s on the Beach restaurant at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, outside Naples, Fla., experienced something a little different with their pan-seared snapper and peel-and-eat shrimp: a flash mob, a seemingly impromptu but well-choreographed dance attack by several dozen students from a local high school.

Dancing to the music of Sonora Carruseles, the students salsa danced their way along the beach to the surprise of patrons.

“It was a chance for our students to do something different for homecoming,” said Leigh Anne Bates, principal of the First Baptist Academy. “Flash mobs are a part of pop culture, and this just seemed like a cool thing to do.” 

The group was the first to take advantage of the resort’s new Mobbed at Marco Island group package, in which guests can engage in the sort of “flash mob” dance numbers seen on YouTube or television shows such as “Glee” and “Modern Family.”

The idea was conceived in June as a way to enliven a Marriott company meeting at the resort. “The first speaker was about to kick off the general session, the music started and people broke out into dance,” said Bob Pfeffer, the resort’s director of sales and marketing, who helped organize the event. “It was a shock at first, but a lot of people in the audience joined in.”

Rolled out for the public last week, the package costs $10 to $35 per participating guest, which includes a choreographer to teach the moves, a videographer to shoot the event and the resulting DVD. It can be customized for business and leisure groups, involve guests and/or resort employees and include special occasion-specific add-ons.

“How fun would it be if a couple went to our recreation hut on the beach and suddenly the music starts?” said Pfeffer. “The staff breaks out in a dance — maybe they’re all wearing T-shirts that say will you marry him — and the guy proposes?”

While skeptics may consider the flash-mob angle a gimmick, Pfeffer disagrees, citing the viral nature of dance-themed group events, such as “Jill and Kevin’s Big Day,” the insanely popular YouTube wedding video that’s received a whopping 69.9 million hits since it was posted two years ago.

It’s all about creating memories, he told msnbc.com. “Whether it’s a gimmick or not is in the eye of the beholder.”

“Hotels are trying to set themselves apart from all the other properties that people can choose to go to,” said hospitality consultant Scott Brush. “They’re trying to say, ‘Here, you can do this or that; there you can’t.’ Weddings, bar mitzvahs, quinceañeras — people are always looking for the opportunity to do something different.”

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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.

Half Dome survivors wish they had taken heed

Armando Castillo knew he should not attempt the last treacherous stretch up Half Dome with storm clouds looming. But he felt he had come too far not to accomplish his goal.

So up the side of the slick, granite monolith he went, 400 vertical feet at nearly a 40 percent grade.

“About three-quarters of the way up it started hailing,” he said. “There’s a bunch of people and everybody just stops. Some women started crying because it was slippery and pretty scary. Then it cleared up.”

While others turned back, Castillo pushed on up the park’s iconic feature, making him one of Yosemite National Park’s worst nightmares— the increasing number of wilderness neophytes who mistakenly think the government is obligated to save them.


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“People are pushing their luck, trying to beat the weather, and their backup plan is to call for a rescue,” said Mark Marschall, project manager for the Half Dome interim permit program. “They’re not understanding what that means. We can’t fly in that kind of weather. They’re on their own.”

The problem has surfaced in recent weeks on the park’s most inspiring hike, where visitors confronted by unseasonable rains are ignoring warning signs and common sense. With less than a month to go until the Half Dome route is closed, park officials are making a rare appeal for visitors to use discretion on the trail.

“Over the last few weekends we’ve had some lightning and thunderstorms on Half Dome, but people are still going up,” said park spokesman Scott Gediman, who adds that for two weekends in a row people have called 911 for rescue.

Some callers tell the dispatcher they want to use their platinum credit card for the free helicopter ride some companies guarantee in an emergency. Park officials don’t charge for rescues — nearly 1,000 rescues cost more than $2.5 million between 2007 and 2010 — but neither do they fly in dangerous weather.

Castillo, with six hours of hiking behind him, made a poor choice.

The salsa dancer from Hayward, Calif., soon found himself trapped at the 8,842-foot summit in a freezing thunderstorm. Soaked and shivering, he huddled under a rock with four other terrified hikers. Then he called 911, thinking he was going to die.

I’m wet and I’m shivering and I’m really cold right now, Castillo pleaded to dispatchers.

A sign at the bottom of the cables warns hikers not to attempt Half Dome if weather threatens — and rangers try to issue verbal warnings.

But 20 people have died on Half Dome over the decades, nearly all with rain as a factor, officials say. One of the two to perish this year was a Bay Area woman who slipped in a July storm and fell 800 feet. (A total of 13 died in park mishaps this year, the most in decades — including three swept over a raging waterfall on the trail to Half Dome.)

“People make poor decisions for a lot of reasons,” said Kevin Killian, deputy chief ranger. “What it comes down to is a lack of clarity in peoples’ risk assessment. What is the true hazard and what are my bailout options?”

Half Dome sits at the east end of Yosemite Valley, its face cut flat by retreating glaciers looking almost as if a bowling ball were cut in half. It is accessible to anyone with a pair of hiking boots and the physical stamina to ascend 4,800 feet over eight miles. Metal cables anchored by poles allow hikers to pull themselves up the final stretch of worn-slick granite. Every 10 feet a 2×4 braced by the poles sits atop the path to provide a resting spot, a non-slip spot for hikers to brace their boots.

After a man on the rain-soaked granite slipped to his death from the cables in 2009, the park launched a permit program this year, which limits the climb to 400 hikers a day roughly June through October.

Whenever Gina Bartiroma hears about another tragedy on Half Dome she recalls June 6, 2009 — the day she slipped in a freak snow storm, then slid 140 feet before her broken body caught on a eight-inch ledge. She broke her back, fractured her skull and is still suffering memory lapses from a traumatic brain injury.

“We got to the top and it was so cloudy, all I could think was let’s get down,” said Bartiroma. “I was tired and I was hungry. My arms weren’t stable, and being cold, it all factored in.”

After 911 dispatchers told Castillo and other hikers they were on their own, he cowered under the rock to escape the rain for three hours. When the rain stopped, the group waited for the granite to dry before heading down as the sun dropped low on the horizon.

“I was freaking out and thought I wasn’t going to make it,” he said. “But then I remembered that because of my dancing I was in a better position than most people.'”

Most slid on their butts, he said. He started out on foot, slipped and broke a potentially long fall by snagging the cable with one hand. Frightened, he sat on his butt and scooted down the rest of the way.

“After the fact I realized it’s the wilderness and they’re not supposed to do anything, but I did go in expecting a little more of a warning,” said Castillo, who plans to return.

The day after Castillo called for help, a group of 20 hikers called 911, not understanding that the very rain storm threatening their lives would also endanger a ranger.

“We have to decide ‘Can we really expose rescuers to the risk that is present?'” Marschall said. “Can we commit a helicopter in the middle of a rainstorm with the potential of lightning? The answer is typically no.”

_____

Link to a time lapse view of the Sept. 24 storm: http://archives.halfdome.net/archive/search .

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Popular Las Vegas zip line expanding

Sure, zip lines looked fun to Jeff Victor. But the ones he saw all took too long, cost too much, and required lots of bug spray, sunscreen and inoculations against exotic jungle diseases.

So he built one himself.

That’s what happens when you’re the president of the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas. 

“Every time I saw one of these, they cost like $150 and took about four hours,” says Victor. “That’s a big chunk of time if you’re on vacation. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have one of these run right down Fremont Street for people to just give it a try?’”

They’ve done more than given it a try. They’ve tried and tried it again and again.

“I’ve done it more than two dozen times,” says Vegas resident Dara Ness. “Whenever anyone comes from out of town, I always take them to do the zip line. My son Aden is 7 and he wants to do it every chance he gets. We just love it.”

Most of the world’s zip lines traverse jungle canopies or desolate landscapes. Urban zips have been gaining in popularity after a temporary zip line at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver earned raves.

But it’s difficult to imagine any urban zip line that will ever match the flashy pizzazz of the Fremont Street Experience.

Passengers scale a 65-foot tower and are strapped into a dangling harness. A gentle shove and gravity does the rest.

“You take off about 30 mph with the traffic 40 feet below your feet and then it’s into Fremont Street Experience where you’re practically surrounded by the largest video screen on the planet,” Victor says. “There’s a real celebrity exhibitionist factor to it. Everyone’s looking at you and waving. People are screaming and just having a blast. It’s a real special feeling.”

Cost: $15 during the day; $20 when the lights come on and the Vegas magic begins.

The zip line began making its first runs last October and has proven so successful Victor is announcing plans to extend it.

“We’re doubling the length and capacity,” he says. “We’re adding four more lines and adding another tower that’ll run for 1,600 feet. We hope to have the new lines open in February.”

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Chris Rodell is a Latrobe, Pa., contributor who blogs at www.EightDaysToAmish.com.

 

Get lost! Heli-hiking vacations take off

Topher Donahue / CMH Summer Adventures

Hikers reach new heights while trekking on one of Canadian Mountain Holidays guided summer adventures.

Heli-hiking and heli-camping give the phrase “mountain getaway” an entirely new meaning.

Adventurous hikers and campers simply hitch a ride on a helicopter to a remote location that would otherwise take days to reach. At the top of a mountain, the helicopter drops hikers off to explore the backcountry — saving them both time and grueling mileage.

“It’s unlike anything you could do anywhere else,” said eight-time heli-hiker Anne Hipp of Atlanta, Ga.

Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), located in Banff, Alberta, offered its first heli-hiking trip in 1978.

Since then, CMH has evolved from hosting a handful of heli-hikers its first year to 1,200 participants in 2011 — a 25 percent increase over the previous season, says CMH marketing representative Jane Carswell.

But the experience isn’t cheap. The price for a three-night trip is $2,565 Canadian per person, which includes meals, helicopter flights, 2 1/2 days of guided heli-hiking and accommodations.

CMH continues to tweak existing hiking programs and create new specialty trips tailored to guests’ needs, said CMH spokesperson Sarah Pearson. “We are constantly asking our guests what they enjoyed, what they would like to see us improve, and how can we make these trips even more exciting.”

Canadian helicopter charter service White River Helicopters offered its first heli-hiking trip in 1996 and over the past two years has seen a 30 percent to 50 percent increase in business, said company spokesman Andy Ramsay. He attributes the spike in popularity to the originality of the experience. “It’s the ability to actually do more adventurous things,” he said.

White River Helicopters also offers heli-camping (think helicopter ride, with an overnight stay thrown in) and heli-fishing (a helicopter ride to a remote fishing location). White River is currently advertising heli-camping offerings around the globe, specifically focusing on the European market. “We are diversifying at the moment,” said Ramsay.

A two-week heli-guided trip with White River Helicopters can exceed $10,000 per person, including any hotel stays and meals.

Longtime heli-hiker Hipp already has her trip booked with CMH for next season. “I can’t think of a better vacation if you like the outdoors,” she said.

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8 colorful ways to experience autumn

Apple picking, corn mazes and fall foliage drives have their charms, but the crisp air and advent of winter beg you to do something more active. Don’t shelve the typical harvest rites of passage — just add to them from our picks for amazing autumn activities around the world.

Biking Acadia National Park’s carriage roads

Oil baron John D. Rockefeller Jr. was so enraptured by the beauty of the Maine island called Mount Desert that he commissioned the construction of 45 miles’ worth of carriage paths on it. Today, those paths make for some of the some phenomenal crushed-stone-trail biking in the United States — made even more gorgeous with a curtain of color from fall foliage.

Mount Desert Island is the third-largest island on the Eastern Seaboard and is connected to the mainland by a bridge. The carriage trails take bikers over rustic bridges, past secluded ponds and to scenic overlooks framed by white birch, beech and maple groves.

Swimming with whale sharks off the Mexican coast

Donning snorkeling gear and hopping into the ocean with a fish the size of a school bus is easily one of the coolest wildlife encounters you could ever have. Spotted like dominoes, with a 4.5-foot-wide mouth, whale sharks are docile and curious, allowing humans to swim alongside them and observe their filter-feeding habits.


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Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks, with the optimal time in the fall running from mid-September through late October. Water temperatures are in the upper 70’s.

All outings must be done with a tour operator, most of whom run trips from Cancun, Holbox, the Maya Riviera and Isla Mujeres. Make sure to select an outfit with a solid environmental record.

Guzzling beer at Oktoberfest in Germany

As synonymous with autumn as Thanksgiving and blisters from raking leaves, Oktoberfest is one of Germany’s biggest exports to the world. Every city has some version of it — Kitchener and Waterloo, Ontario, co-host the largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany — but the original in Munich remains the largest and most authentic.

Shouldn’t it be called Septemberfest? Back when it first started in the early 1800’s (to honor the Bavarian crown prince’s marriage), Oktoberfest did indeed happen in October. Subsequent celebrations started earlier, and organizers soon realized September weekends tended to be warmer and attract bigger crowds. Thus the majority of the event happens then.

This year, the first keg will be tapped during a ceremony at noon on Sept. 17, and the festivities last until Oct. 3. What do they involve? Smushing yourself onto long benches at tables under tents and drinking beer from liter mugs bigger than your head. Prost!

Birding in the United States

Motivated by the need to eat and stay warm, birds migrate seasonally along important flyways around the world. The United States has many significant migratory paths, with refuges for birds to make vital pit stops each autumn en route to their wintering homes.

If you visit a key wildlife refuge during a peak period, you could potentially see dozens of species in one day. A few noteworthy ones include the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri (best visited from early October through early November), Wisconsin’s Horicon National Wildlife Refuge (early October) and Cape May, N.J. (October through early November). Some of the best early-fall bird watching is in early September at Sunrise Coast in Maine; flocks arrive as late as the end of November at Point Loma, Calif.

Must-haves for your packing list: good binoculars, foul-weather gear and reliable walking shoes.

Experiencing fall festival season in Bhutan

Residents of the Land of the Thunder Dragon commemorate the saint who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the eighth century by hosting three- to five-day ritual dance festivals called tsechus. They’re among the biggest social events of the year. While they’re held throughout the year in different districts, October and November see the most. Back-to-back festivals will be held in the city of Thimphu from Oct. 1 to 8.

The festivals involve monks and locals donning masks and colorful costumes and performing mystical, ritual dances. It’s considered an important step in the obtainment of enlightenment to attend these events, so gussied-up Bhutanese families sporting coral and turquoise jewelry and toting bamboo picnic baskets flock to Thimphu. While serious business is at work, there are also some moments of comic relief, usually provided by big-nosed clowns called atsara.

Taste-testing truffles at festivals in Italy

Italy has numerous fall festivals celebrating foodstuffs — chestnuts, wild mushrooms and wine among them — but none takes center stage like the tartufo bianco, or the white truffle. More than three dozen truffle fairs take place throughout northern and central Italy in October and November; you’ll find one happening every weekend — some big and touristy, others intimate and local.

Tuscany, Umbria, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Le Marche are regions that have especially popular ones, with Piedmont’s Alba White Truffle Festival the oldest and largest. The San Miniato Truffle Fair is in the namesake medieval Tuscan town midway between Pisa and Florence, and runs the last three weekends of November.

During the fall, truffles are the centerpiece of Italian restaurant menus and tastings. Other events at festivals include donkey races, prize ceremonies for the best-picked truffle, markets, wine tastings, theater performances and marching bands.

Grape stomping in California

Lucille Ball was hilarious in 1956 when she hesitantly climbed into a barrel full of grapes and began stomping with reckless, slippery abandon, on one of the most beloved episodes of the TV comedy “I Love Lucy.”

Blessedly, the laws of wine-making states around the world prevent producers from creating the nectar of the gods by foot these days. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t give it a try.

Ten wine-making regions in California host grape-stomping activities in September and October. Pick your own grapes, then mash them with your piggies in St. Helena. Watch experts juice the competition during the World Championship Grape Stomp during the Sonoma County Harvest Fair in Santa Rosa (Sept. 30 to Oct. 2). Other locales feature Italian music accompaniments, bocce ball competitions, country buffet dinners and hayrides.

Whale watching in South Africa

Technically, October is springtime in the Southern Hemisphere. But the whale watching off the southern coast of South Africa is so spectacular that it’s worth fudging the seasonal calendar for a closer look.

Southern right whales come to the shallow bays and secluded coves around Hermanus to mate and breed. They get so close to the shoreline that you can observe them from terra firma. Grab a prime seat along the cliffs edging Hermanus and you’ll likely see more than a few whales breaching.

Very few cruise boats are allowed in the water at this time, so as not to interfere with mating and breeding. If you want to take a whale watching expedition, look for outfits departing from Cape Town.

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