April 2011 Archives

The Sunset at Yellowstone

Image by Stuck in Customs via Flickr

With weekend sporting events, school field trips, and work and social commitments, it can often be hard for even the most well intentioned of families to take time out of their busy schedules for a vacation. Thankfully, the U.S. offers an array of natural wonders in the form of its national park system right in your own backyard. With National Park Week coming up April 16-24, 2011, now is the perfect time to discover one of the country's 58 national parks spread across 27 different states. These protected wildlife areas have provided millions of travelers with breathtaking scenery and once-in-a-lifetime experiences that get passed down from generation to generation. If outdoor sports is your family's thing, some of the best hiking, swimming, and fishing is located in national parks, or if you're simply looking to relax and enjoy the views, they also offer plenty of camping opportunities and scenic lookouts.Here we take a look at some of America's most family-friendly national parks.

Glacier National Park, Montana

While it's cool climate and snow-capped mountains may not be the hot tropical locale for the typical family vacation, it doesn't make the views and options for recreational activity any less spectacular. If snow isn't your thing, visit Glacier National Park toward the end of June for the most moderate temperatures. For a true winter adventure head out during the winter months to enjoy an afternoon of cross-country skiing or snowshoeing through the wilderness or simply take a hike on one of the park's many trails. Hidden Lake Nature Trail is one of the most popular and is a 1.5-mile uphill trek from Logan Pass southwest to Hidden Lake Overlook, which offers a beautiful view of the lake and McDonald Valley. After you're done hitting the trails, rent a surrey bike at Pat's Waterton store and enjoy peddling around the town. A surrey bike has a flat seat and a canopy and can hold up to three people, so it is great for families and is one of the best ways to see the area. The park also boasts six historical national landmarks and has ranger-led programs for kids up to grade 12 that teach children about the geologic activities that have shaped the land.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Carlsbad Cave (Carlsbad Caverns National Park ...

Image via Wikipedia

Located in the heart of the Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns features some of the most spectacular underground attractions in the world. The park contains an underground network of 113 caves and fascinating rock formations that were formed over 500,000 years ago. Take a guided tour to learn more about the caves' geology and history or be your own guide to take in the natural wonders at your own pace. Two different tours leave from the visitor center, but try the Big Room route for the best view of the cavern's most famous features. It is a one-mile, self-guided underground stroll around the perimeter of the largest room in the cave, and takes you by the Bottomless Pit, Giant Dome, Rock of Ages, and Painted Grotto. Don't forget to sign up for the "Bat Flight Program," which can become the most memorable experience for families. The caverns are home to hundreds of thousands of bats and this program is coordinated with their schedules so you can experience them firsthand. When you've had your fair share of underground activities, head over to Rattlesnake Springs for barbecuing and picnicking.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone is not just the world's first national park, it is also one of the most family-friendly. It's full of amazing sights and wildlife and is easily accessible by car or foot, which makes it easy for traveling with small children. Head over to the famous geyser Old Faithful to catch one of the national park system's most awe-inspiring wonders or drive along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. This 23-mile long canyon runs along the Yellowstone River and cuts through the heart of the park. It is best explored along the North and South Rim roads. If you're looking for a guided experience, hop on one of the Historic Yellow Bus Tours. The tours take place in colorful 1937 buses and can range from one hour to one day depending on your time preference. If it's sunny, you'll get to bask in the sun as your  guide rolls back the soft-top convertible. Another family favorite is the Roosevelt Old West Dinner Cookout, which starts with an hour-long trail or stagecoach ride before sitting down to a homey meal with live entertainment.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Not only is Hawaii one of the top family vacation destinations, it is also home to one of the most family-friendly national parks. The main attraction of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is you guess it--volcanoes, but it also offers over 120 miles of world-class hiking trails and a wide range of additional recreational opportunities. Located on the "Big Island" of Hawaii, this national park houses two of the world's most active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Be prepared to witness stunning volcanic features like lava tubes, some of which you can actually walk right through. Take the family for a trip on Kipuka Puaulu, a short one-mile trail that showcases more recent lava flow, as well as one of the richest concentrations of native plants and birds. Then make your way over to the Devastation Trail for a walk though the remains of a forest destroyed during an eruption in 1959. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park provides the perfect balance of educational opportunities for kids, the world's greatest geologic wonders for adults and a delightful climate.

Biscayne National Park, Florida

How do you know Biscayne is a top destination for families? For starters, they actually have their own free Family Fun Fest program. The program is a celebration of the park's wonders with stories, superheroes, and cool park activities that take place on the second Saturday of each month from December to April. Don't worry if you miss the fest, there are still plenty of opportunities for family bonding in the park. Young ones will love looking at the park's cool creatures, including manatees and sea turtles, during a snorkeling adventure or take a kid-friendly ride on a glass-bottom boat. The Dante Fascell Visitor Center also has exhibits and even some touch tanks where kids can talk to rangers about Biscayne's unique ecosystems. If you're feeling really adventurous, test your seas legs by going scuba diving. The park has one of the only wall dives in the Florida Keys and offers impressive up-close views of marine life. Families can also choose from a variety of activities ranging from canoeing and camping to swimming and ranger-led talks, so there is sure to be something for everyone.

 by Amanda Miller, Contributing Author

Bucket List: Get Inverted in a Jet

| Comments
There is little more thrilling than getting inverted in a Jet.  As a private pilot I have always been fascinated by all aircraft but flying a jet has always been a dream of mine.  This weekend my friends at Gauntlet Warbirds took me up for a lesson on flying aerobatics in the Czech made L-39 Albatros turbo fan jet.  The Albatros is used by more than 30 countries for either training or as a light attack aircraft.  Gauntlet Warbirds is one of just a handful of schools that offer L-39 training.

Greg Morris, my certified flight instructor for the flight, let me do much of the flying including performing some aileron rolls and stalls.  He showed off the airplanes capabilities putting us through a 5G Half Cuban Eight and a 6.5G break turn, both maneuvers put a strain on your body but resulted in ear to ear grinning smiles. To fly the L-39 in the United States you need to be a FAA certified pilot and participate in training as the plane is not certified by the FAA for rides.  Only a handful of providers offer training in such an aircraft, Chicago based Gauntlet Warbirds is one of them.

Mikoyan MiG-29, a Soviet air superiority fight...

Image via Wikipedia

However, if you have the need for speed and are not a pilot, iExplore offers a flight experience that is high on my bucket list, a flight in a Russian Mig-29 Fulcrum. A customizable 3-5 day tour to Russia to fly the Mikoyan MiG-29.  You don't need to be a pilot to enjoy this opportunity.

Participants can choose from a 25 minute sub-sonic experience or a 45 supersonic flight experience.  Based on your comfort level and health the pilot will perform a variety of maneuvers that could include flying inverted, the Hammer Head, aileron rolls, loops and low level passes.  The Aerobatics flight is flexible and the pilot may adjust the program according to how you are feeling.

Bookend this amazing experience with an opportunity to explore Moscow and you will have a trip of a lifetime.   Our adventure consultants can help customize your experience in Moscow and add additional days in St. Petersburg as well.

How to Choose an RV

| Comments | No TrackBacks

Airstream Trailer

Image via Wikipedia

While a vacation home or rental is a nice choice for travelers who like heading to the same destination year after year, it is not always ideal for those who desire a new experience each time they vacation. If you want to hit the open road in style and have the luxury of visiting any number of places you wish, then an RV might be the ultimate travel companion for you. These rolling vacation homes can be used for the occasional weekend getaway or even long-term trips, as their amenities seem endless.

Queen-size beds, plasma TV's, leather captain chairs, and fully equipped kitchens, are just a few of the elaborate options that will bring the lap of luxury to the open road. As with choosing a grounded home, choosing an RV comes with many decisions. Do you want the most space and upgrade options? A Class A RV (basically a bus), might be for you. Do you want something a little smaller and low profile that can be towed by a variety of vehicles? A simple travel trailer could be your best choice. Aside from analyzing your lifestyle, here we are some quick tips about which type of RV may be right for you.

Choosing the Right Type For You

Before you get down to the nitty gritty of choosing things like fabric colors and dinette sets, you must first decide if you want a true motor home that can tow a vehicle or rather a trailer that requires a vehicle to tow it. Here are the main options to choose from when determining what type and size of RV will work for you.

Class A RV: A Class A is the largest and most expensive type of RV and has a bus-like appearance. They also have the most ability to upgrade to luxury amenities and feature at least one bedroom, living area, dining area, and bathroom. Many have "slide outs" that can be used when the RV is parked to expand the living space. Since most Class A RV's are 40 feet or longer, they are also great for towing an extra vehicle if you don't want to deal with the cumbersome size of the Class A for your entire trip.

Pros to Class A

·Spacious, open floor plans suitable for long-term trips

·Elevated driver position provides good view of the road

·Most storage space out of all RV's

Cons to Class A

·Large size makes it difficult to maneuver in large spaces

·Top clearance can be a problem under low bridges and structures

·The RV Consumer Group rates Class A's as having more structural problems and safety issues in crashes

Class B RV: If you're already used to driving a conversion van, the Class B might be for you. The Class B RV is created from a standard passenger or work minivan. Most models have raised roofs, but otherwise the living space is constrained by the dimensions of the van, which leaves you with quite a bit less wiggle room than the Class A. However, they still have many amenities of a Class A, like air conditioning and a bathroom, and the bedroom can be easily accessed from the front cabin. On the downside, they have a limited towing capacity.

Pros to Class B

·Can tow a small trailer or support a carrying platform on hitch receive

·Can be used as a second family vehicle when not in use for travel

·Fits in standard driveway, so no need for storage

Cons to Class B

·Limited space, would not be ideal for long-term trips

·Can accommodate no more than four travelers

·Lower towing capacity

Class C RV: If you're looking for an economical use of space with easier driving capability than the Class A, the Class C RV might be for you. Many Class C motor homes are roughly the size and shape of rental moving trucks and are distinct for their "bedroom" compartments that extend over the cab. Space is more limited in the Class C, than in the Class A or Class B, but air conditioning, a bathroom, and a small kitchenette are still options. One more positive is its towing capacity. Class C's can tow boats, trailers, and cars with the proper hitch hook-ups.

Pros to Class C

·Easy to drive, fairly similar to a large moving truck

·The RV Consumer Group generally considers Class C a safer motor home than Class A because of cockpit construction

·Smaller windshield and curtain separation makes Class C easier to heat and cool

Cons to Class C

·Requires large storage area when not in use

·Largest models can be difficult to maneuver in small spaces

·Space is smaller than Class A and Class B and may not satisfy needs for long-term travel

Fifth Wheel: For those who like to keep their driving compartments and living spaces separate, the best choice might be the Fifth Wheel trailer. The fifth wheel is a towable trailer that connects to your pickup truck directly above the rear axle by way of a special fifth wheel hitch. It causes several feet of the connected trailer to hang over the tow truck's bed that is generally used as a sleeping compartment. Fifth wheels are very spacious and can offer all of the luxuries of a Class A RV, like a living and dining area, and a bathroom. Unfortunately, Fifth Wheels generally cannot tow additional cars or boats.

Pros to Fifth Wheel

·Spacious, open floor plans suitable for longer trips

·Easier to back up than travel trailers

·Most storage of all trailer-type RV's

Cons to Fifth Wheel

·Requires a truck with fifth wheel hitch in bed

·Living area is inaccessible when moving

·Cannot tow vehicle behind trailer

Folding Trailer: A folding trailer is a great option for people who don't have access to a truck for towing. The trailer can be pulled easily by cars, SUV's, and smaller pickup trucks, and it folds or collapses into a smaller size that makes it less of a burden to drive around. However, it's also one of the less luxurious travel options. Because of its collapsible structure, folding trailers generally don't have air conditioning, dining areas, bathrooms, or kitchens. If you're simply looking for a place to sleep and protection from the elements it may be a good option and less hassle to park.

Pros to Folding Trailer

·No concern for top clearance because the trailer folds lower than the tow vehicle

·Very light weight and can be towed by almost any vehicle

·Can fit in more space-constrained camping sites that are hard to maneuver for larger RV's

Cons to Folding Trailer

·Limited space, only practical for short trips

·Living area is closed during travel and is inaccessible unless you take the time to pop it open

·Limited insulation from canvas walls makes it impractical in cold weather

Travel Trailer: If your looking for a towable trailer that is smaller and generally less expensive than a fifth wheel, the travel trailer offers similar amenities and can be towed by any vehicle with a hitch. There are numerous types of travel trailers to choose from, including the expandable, teardrop trailer, and park model. The expandable trailer is designed to collapse either vertically or horizontally and offers extra living space when expanded, and greater travel ease when collapsed. The teardrop trailer gets its name from its tear-shaped profile- pointed in the back and rounded in the front. Teardrop trailers are small and light and can be towed by both cars and SUV's, but can offer only the basic amenities due to their limited space. The final form of travel trailer is the park model, which is a travel trailer that requires park facilities to function. It must be plugged into water, sewage, and electrical facilities, but is ideal for long-term stays in parks.

Pros to Travel Trailer

·Provides more interior space per length foot than RV's because it does not contain driving and engine compartments

·Lower profile allows easier entry than fifth wheel trailer

·Tow vehicle doubles as local transportation

Cons to Travel Trailer

·Least stable on the road of all RV types and requires the most skill to tow and back up

·Less storage than fifth wheel trailers because it lacks a raised compartment

·Living area inaccessible while moving

Truck Camper: If you're looking for the bare bones RV model, consider the truck camper. The truck camper fits directly into the bed of a pickup truck. While it offers little space and even fewer amenities, many find it to be a nice alternative to sleeping on the ground in a tent. There's no bathrooms, dining areas, or living space, but it's convenient to drive around and still allows for the towing of a small trailer. It's small size and ability to fit on a truck bed also make it ideal for maneuvering in small spaces and tight campgrounds. It can easily be parked on a standard driveway, so no need for storage.

Pros to Truck Camper

·Can reach less accessible camping sites that are hard to maneuver for larger RV's

·Mounts in the bed of most full-size trucks with minimal modifications

·Easy to drive, back up, and park

Cons to Truck Camper

·Limited space, practical only for short trips

·Living area inaccessible while moving

·Does not include amenities like a bathroom or kitchenette

Other Considerations

A few other things to take into consideration when choosing your RV are the hardware and operation costs, ease of parking and backing up, and storage. Traditional RV's are considerably easier to back up than trailers, but if you are in the market for a trailer in particular, fifth wheels are generally considered the easiest to maneuver. Storage of the vehicle itself is also something to consider as many of the larger RV's do not fit in standard driveways. The cost for RV storage is normally the same for an RV or a trailer of the same size, as the storage space is usually priced per foot. It is usually not a large cost in comparison to keeping up with the motor and compartment upkeep, but is still an additional budgetary note. Far and wide though, the single most important thing to consider is the lifestyle you want your RV to serve. If you like ample space and plan to take longer trips, a truck camper wouldn't be ideal. If you keep these things in mind and do a little research before making your purchase, an RV can make a wonderful addition to the family and will surely become your closest travel companion.

by Amanda Miller, Contributing Author

Taiwanese cuisine at a wedding

Image via Wikipedia

Being a foodie is much more than being able to afford gourmet cuisine. It's an epicure of taste- a true love and affection of all things food and drink from the preparation to the consumption.  While your own town is scattered with gems from global menus and cuisines, one of the best ways to enjoy a vacation is by over-indulging on global flavors without the guilt of calorie counting. A trip centered around eating is a way to experience the local culture, as well as expand your own palate.  Taste the world through one of these diverse culinary journeys.

Paris- There is one word that symbolizes Paris - gastronomy. The French, always appreciative of the finer things in life, have a unique tradition of famous restaurants and great chefs and anyone with a love of good food will find true happiness in this city. The style of cooking known as 'la Grande Cuisine' comes from Paris and it's hard to walk the streets without being tempted into every restaurant by its formidable aroma. Cafés and dive bars are an almost obligatory stop on the way to or from work for most Parisians and open aired dining is king for grabbing a coffee, paper and people watching. With a more varied and developed cuisine than any other country, the richness of French pastries and delicacies will leave you yearning for more. Premium wines and cheeses are staples with luxuries like foie gras, escargot, moules frites, coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon.

Suggested Itinerary:  A Taste of Provence

Picture of an authentic Neapolitan Pizza Margh...

Image via Wikipedia

Italy- Embark on your own Eat Pray Love adventure. Indulgent in plate after plate of glorious pasta followed by a true Neapolitan pizza in Venice, Rome and Florence.  Heavily influenced by the discovery of the New World with the introduction of items such as potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and maize, now central to the cuisine but not introduced in quantity until the 18th century. Italian cuisine varies widely by region. In the North, fish such as cod, or baccalà, and different types of cheeses are the most common ingredients. Traditional Central Italian cuisine is heavy on tomato-based sauces and all kinds of meat and pecorino cheese. Finally, in Southern Italy, tomatoes - fresh or cooked into tomato sauce - peppers, olives and olive oil, garlic, artichokes, oranges, ricotta cheese, eggplants, zucchini, certain types of fish (anchovies, sardines and tuna), and capers are the important components to the local cuisine.

Suggested Itinerary: Italy in Style

Vietnam- Tantalize your taste buds with some of Southeast Asia's finest cuisine. Vietnamese cuisine is diverse and specific to each region. The north's cuisine is more traditional; as a 'new' land, the south's cuisine is more exotic and liberal, while the cuisine of central Vietnam is quite different to its counterparts in its use of distinct spices.  Popular ingredients include lemongrass, mint, coriander and Thai basil in a variety of rice and noodle soup dishes. Key features of all regions are freshness and the abundance of healthy vegetables and herbs.

Suggested Itinerary:  Vietnam Culinary Journey

Taiwan- With culinary styles influenced all over China, Taipei hotels and restaurants offer both Western and Chinese cuisine for the discriminating palate. The Chinese, never at a loss for vivid description, refer to their cuisine as an 'ancient art of ultimate harmony: pleasing to the eye; mouth-watering; and a delight to the palate'. Culinary styles come from Canton, Hunan, Mongolia, Peking, Shanghai, Szechuan and Taiwan. Pork, seafood, rice, and soy are very common ingredients. Beef is less common, and some Taiwanese (particularly the elderly generation) still refrain from eating it due to a Buddhist sensitivity toward killing animals. An important part of Taiwanese cuisine are xiaochi, "small eats" similar to Tapas that can be purchased from street vendors.

Suggested Itinerary: Best of Taiwan

Morocco- A more "off the beaten" path foodie destination, fusion is characteristic of Morocco, a blend of their Mediterranean, Arabic, Jewish, Persian, West African and Berber neighbors. Meals range from the diffa, an elaborate multicourse feast featuring elegantly presented couscous and grilled meats, to quick bites of Merguez sausages and shwarma (spit-roasted lamb sandwich) street food. Common spices include karfa (cinnamon), kamoun (cumin), kharkoum (turmeric), skinjbir (ginger), libzar (pepper), tahmira (paprika), anise seed, sesame seeds, qesbour (coriander), andzaafran beldi (saffron). By law, no-one is allowed to drink alcohol in view of a mosque or during Ramadan, but most bars and restaurants stay open late in Marrakech.

Suggested Itinerary: Morocco Experience

About this Blog

This blog is written by the travel experts at iExplore, the leading resource for adventure, experiential and luxury travel.

Our bloggers scour the world to help you find your next perfect trip.

You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Advertising Partners

RSS Subscription