Traveling with teens can be a challenge. They want independence and space from you, and you want to spend quality family time and get them to explore the world. But it can be done, and well.
- First of all, get them interested upfront by involving them in trip planning so they have a say in what your destinations and activities will be.
- Second, expand the possibilities. Some activities you might think of as adults-only affairs can be tailored for teens, like going to a spa.
- Third, remember that it’s always hard to spend all day long with the same people for multiple days in a row. Be prepared to give your teens (and yourself) breaks from the family, either between activities or built into the activities themselves.
Here are some things to do and places to go on vacation that can be as fun for your teenagers as they are for you.
You can stretch out on a towel while your teen uses all that energy they have exploring the water and the shore. Beach trips offer amazing scenery that can get teens interested in the planet and curious about landscapes they may not have seen before. A stay at the beach offers opportunities to experiment with activities, too. Beaches are also a natural place for teens to socialize, so they get some time away from the family during the vacation.
Beach activities are some of the healthiest, both physically and mentally. Surfing with teenagers is not only fun, but it requires mental focus and teaches them to be resilient and try again each time they fall. Windsurfing, boogie boarding, and even paddle boarding can have similar effects on their minds and bodies. Doing activities like this on vacation may just leave your teen with a new interest in a sport that will stick with them for a long time.
National Park Hike
You don’t need to leave the country to have an epic vacation. The US has some fantastic national parks to explore, and many trails are family-friendly. You might have more success if you let your teen go at their own pace instead of insisting you stick together the whole time—just plan for regular check-in breaks. But walking through the woods can also be a great time to have deeper conversations that might not happen at home.
What better setting to give your teenager all the freedom they want while not worrying too much about them than a big ship? Cruises tend to be all-inclusive, which means it’s easy to say yes to the food and activities teens might want to have or do without worrying about your trip budget. And while a cruise might bring to mind a trip with your parents before one with your kids, there are cruise lines that cater specifically to families with teenagers. Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas, for instance, has zip lines, laser tag, and a teens club. You can also opt for an itinerary that stops at CoCo Cay, the cruiseline's private island.
If you’re physically active, consider a bike tour with your teen. This is a different way to sight-see that also keeps you active and energized throughout the day. Different age groups have different needs, and touring companies will put together packages specifically for families with teens, like these bike trip options throughout Europe.
Like cruises, all-inclusive resorts package lodging, food, and activities into one deal so you know what to budget for upfront. Many offer a range of activities your teen can try (with or without you) and parties and movies at night. There are great options throughout Central America and the Caribbean.
Traveling with teens can be a smooth and fun process if you go about it the right way. Take their interests into account and make sure there’s plenty for them to do, and you might be pleasantly surprised by how much quality time you get to spend with them. - - Morgen Henderson.
Diving boards and the deep end have been replaced by daredevil drops and surf zones.
Here are five places where you and the family can splash together in cool pools and waterparks.
Royal Caribbean, Perfect Day at CocoCay.
Visitors to the cruise line’s recently relaunched, 125-acre, private island, CocoCay, can choose to Thrill, Chill or both, while the ship docks for the day at a newly built pier. For those who opt for the Thrill Zone, the centerpiece is Daredevil Peak, a 135-foot high slide, said to be the highest in North America. A dozen other slides, a wave pool and assorted water play areas will keep youngsters and the young at heart busy for hours. Also, in the neighborhood you’ll find a helium balloon ride, a 1,600-foot long zip line and casual hang out zones from which to watch others tackle the heights.
On the Chill side, expect a long stretch of beach, options for snorkeling, wave running, paddle boarding, kayaking and simply soaking up the sun while floating on a royal blue raft.
Don't forget your sunscreen!
JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa, Aventura, FL
This South Florida resort recently opened the Tidal Cove Waterpark, an integral part of a multi-million dollar expansion and renovation project. The new five-acre fun zone includes a 60-foot tower with seven water slides, a 4,000-square-foot kids pool with an aquatic play area, and a triple Flow Rider simulation pool, the first of its kind in the country. The 42-foot wide surf simulation machine incorporates elements of surfing, bodyboarding, skateboarding, skimboarding, snowboarding and wakeboarding. The new water features connect with current facilities that include a Lazy River, a zero entry pool and 25 luxury cabanas for privacy and relaxation.
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, Scottsdale, Ariz
A family stay at this Sonoran desert resort is full of fun surprises, beginning at the Kid's Check-in desk. In no time, your gang can dig your toes in the sand at the Sunset Beach pool or join the festivities at the Sonoran Splash pool where water slides, music, games and dive-in movies up the fun factor. Kids can fish in the lagoon, play golf or spend the day at the Trailblazers Kids Club where activities include ping pong, learning about desert wildlife, making s'mores in a solar oven and recreational games. The day ends with an ice cream social. Sweet treats aside, parents will appreciate the Lifestyle Cuisine menu for adults and children that focuses on providing healthy choices.
Grand Wailea Resort, Maui, HI
This island haven may be most famous for its beaches, but don't pass up the chance to explore what this resort has to offer. The whole family will be eager to explore the 25,700-square-foot area that includes nine free-form pools. Travel via a "river" to check out the slides, waterfalls, caves, water elevator, swim-up bar, rope swing and more that are part of this water wonderland. Adventurers will want to check out the 262-foot Lava Slide, a 14-second thrill ride that includes a 30-foot drop and speeds up to 22 miles per hour.
Aquatica, Orlando, FL.
With 42 water slides, rides, rivers, and lagoons, this award-winning water park in Orlando is part of the SeaWorld family. Check out the Walhalla Wave, a family raft ride that includes more than 600 feet of drenching twists, turns, and drops into darkness. Earlier this year, Aquatica Orlando became the world’s first water park to be recognized as a certified autism center with the ability to offer resources and tools for families with members that have autism and other special needs.
There are family vacations. And, then there are epic adventures that may qualify as the experience of a lifetime.
Here are five to consider now.
Plan a family safari.
Visit northern Tanzania’s Serengeti for a wildlife viewing and cultural extravaganza. Home to more than 3,000 lions and1000 leopards as well as zebras, wildebeests, warthogs and waterbuck, it’s a magical sanctuary best known for the great migration.
With the Four Seasons Serengeti as your basecamp, choose to explore via half and full day jeep tours, walking safaris, or from the basket of a high-flying, hot air balloon. The excitement doesn’t end when you return to the Lodge, where a watering hole, just beyond the Infiniti pool, serves up hydrating sustenance to elephant families on a daily basis.
Dine on the veranda, with sweeping views of the plains, where giraffe, eland and topi graze in the distance. Kids can visit the on-site discovery center to learn about Maasai history and culture, the significance of the Serengeti Cheetah Project and life in the bush. Relax at the spa, take a family cooking class and be amazed by a live performance of tribal dance and song offered by local Maasai.
Contact: https://www.fourseasons.com/serengeti/ ;
Revel in a river cruise.
Unpack. Settle in and let the adventure begin.
Explore the Rhine, Danube or Seine river valleys with your family or multigenerational group from aboard a luxury AmaWaterways ship. With itineraries crafted to your family’s preferences, each day you’ll take part in active adventures or culturally immersive experiences in compelling destinations.
Well-trained and knowledgable Disney adventure guides, paired with local storytellers, combine talents to insure each member of the family gets maximum enjoyment from the trip. Wander through medieval castles, sample local cuisine, pedal along the river bank and enjoy private tours and insider access to popular attractions. Adventure guides are at the ready to engage youngsters in evening activities so the adults may opt for a fine dining experience or a musical performance. (Food and wine trips are also possible when it's time to leave the youngest travelers at home.)
Expect an all-inclusive, backstage pass-style adventure through the heart of Europe.
Our sparsely populated and endlessly captivating 49th state lures those who yearn for epic scenery, spouting whales and glaciers the size of small countries. Experience family travel in rugged Alaska via boutique yachts and expedition ships that set sail for adventure beginning each Spring.
Aboard smaller vessels you’ll have meaningful cultural experiences, find your way to natural nooks and crannies, opt for hiking and kayaking and discover rarely visited wilderness areas, increasing the chance for up-close wildlife viewing. Those who venture to America’s last frontier will be rewarded with Mother Nature in all her glory.
Discover Minnesota’s Boundary Waters.
Ease your canoes into the pristine water near Ely, MN and look forward to peaceful days of paddling amid a sparsely populated, one million-plus acre expanse of wilderness. Listen to the waves lapping against the shoreline and the haunting lullaby offered by local loons as you drift to sleep in one of 2,000 secluded campsites that dot the lake region. Wake to the sounds of birds chirping in the birch trees and enjoy breakfast over a campfire. Then set out to explore more of the 1,500 miles of canoe routes that crisscross the waterways.
Immerse in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands.
Given the island’s location on the equator, air and water temperatures remain relatively stable, making the Galapagos Islands a desirable destination any time of the year. Within this pristine and diverse eco-system, your family will thrill to the site of cliff-diving blue-footed boobies and the waved albatross known for an elaborate courtship dance that can include 20 minutes of bowing, honking, whistling and bill clacking. You’ll want to know about Darwin’s 13 finches, creatures that were central to the scientist’s evolutionary theories. Learn more about the volcanic island’s winged population as well as the abundance of sharks, sea lions, mantas and iguanas via a live aboard vessel (popular with scuba divers), a cruise or a hotel-based tour.
Take advantage of the years when your family travel plans are not limited by school holidays and summer vacation.
Travel with your toddlers! You'll expand their world and plant the seed of adventure early. (And have fun in the process.)
Here are a handful of ideas to consider:
Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa, St Lucia.
At this Caribbean Resort, children will learn about their destination through activities designed for each age group. The SCOUTS program – Seeing, Crafting, Observing, Understanding, Tasting, St. Lucia) is infused in the fun you’ll find headquartered within the 50,000 square foot Cocoland Kidz Club. Expect youngsters to access a mini zipline and rock wall, a petting zoo and plenty of water play. Three of five resort pools cater to kids and include a lazy river and a zero entry splash pool. Savvy youngsters can order colorful slushies and fruity drinks at their own swim up bar. When parents opt for a night on their own, kids can enjoy their own Pirates Night or Movie Night on the Splash Lawn.
FDR Resort, Jamaica.
There is nothing like an afternoon splashing in the surf and building sand castles to wear out an active toddler. At the FDR Resort in Runaway Bay, Jamaica, once Junior goes down, a Vacation Nanny is available to sit by his side, while you enjoy an afternoon playing golf, scuba diving or exploring by kayak. Check in to this all-inclusive seaside getaway, and meet your CPR-trained Vacation Nanny who will assist you and your family in having the most relaxing time possible. Trained in child care and housekeeping, this professional staff member’s goal is to fill in where needed, whether by looking after youngsters in the pool, or making sure the kids’ favorite snacks are on hand in the room. Contact: www.fdrholidays.com.
Loews Miami Beach Hotel, Miami Beach, FL.
This oceanfront resort, the recipient of a recent $50 million redesign, offers a bounty of family enticements via the Loews Loves Kids program. Families can choose to enjoy the benefits of direct beach access (which makes castle building a breeze) or head to the zero entry pool where pop fountains add to the vacation vibe. Celebrate in style by spending the day with access to a SOAK cabana where air conditioning, flat screen TVs, private butler service and rooftop terraces will convince the kids they’ve reached VIP status. Take a pizza-making class together or take advantage of Family Happy Hour during which time kids can enjoy complimentary lawn games while parents sip cocktails, join in or cheer them on.
Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas.
For families that check into The Coral, the resort’s recently revamped, family-centric tower, a new level of luxury awaits. Compare notes with the Kids Concierge and in a flash, the dreams of mini-travelers (and their parents) will soon be a reality. From scheduling family swims with the dolphins to registering for Sea Squirts, an interactive marine program where youngsters can feed baby stingrays, sharks and schools of fish, the concierge is on hand to help create itineraries and smooth any bumps on the path to a memorable vacation. Ask about helping the Atlantis Aquarists guide Green Sea Turtle hatchlings to the sea.
Kids on the Trail.
Getting kids outside early and often is likely to instill a lifetime love of nature. Visit a local trail and watch as your child explores with wonder, turning over rocks and observing small animals and birds. Choose a loop trail or plan a scavenger hunt. Bring along a picnic and plenty of water or juice so that the whole family stays hydrated. After a few close-to-home practice rounds, include nature walks and hiking in your family vacation travel plans. In time, you’ll be scaling heights.
It's been more than 50 years since the creation of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, which protects more than 12,000 miles of pristine waterways.
Here are five places where you and your family can relish the natural beauty of our nation’s rivers.
Middle Fork of the Salmon, Idaho.
Find your way to Idaho’s Frank Church Wilderness and commit to an unplugged week on the Middle Fork of the Salmon. As you float, fish, and splash through 100 miles of spectacular scenery you’ll be treated to unexpected luxuries along the way. Relish the fresh air of morning as your crew delivers hot coffee or cocoa to your luxury tent. Later, warm up in a hot spring, dine on organic, seasonal specialties and plan for the next day’s adventure under a starry sky. Contact:
Rio Grande River, Big Bend National Park, Texas.
This Wild and Scenic River forms the southern boundary of this 800,000-acre playground. It’s the only Park in the United States that hosts a complete mountain range – the Chisos. With older children in tow, soak in the Park’s scenery as well as the warm water offered by a resident hot spring. On the northern riverbank, steamy water fills the foundation of an old bathhouse, creating a popular natural hot tub. Nearby, look for painted pictographs on the cliff walls as you enjoy a one-mile loop hike past historic buildings and the area where various Indian groups lived and traveled.
The Rogue RIver, Oregon.
Float through 40 miles of scenic Southwestern Oregon and you’ll explore the same rugged country that drew Native Americans, trappers and prospectors for centuries. Stay in the raft or up the adrenalin ante by running the rapids in an inflatable kayak. Designated a “Wild & Scenic” wilderness area, you and your family will paddle through the Siskiyou Mountains and the Rogue River National Forest. Also possible are adventures that include hiking and gourmet dining options.
Au Sable, Wellston, MI. Introduce your family to the joys of fly-fishing in the north woods of Michigan. The scenic and diverse Au Sable River originates north of Grayling and winds for more than 100 miles before meeting Lake Huron
A fly-fishing only section of the river flows past Burton’s Landing and is known as the “Holy Water” for its productive riffles and trout filled pools. Team up with a local outfitter for instruction designed for young anglers.
Contact: PureMichigan.com; https://www.dloopoutfitters.com
Cache la Poudre, Colorado.
Located in the northern Front Range and dubbed thePoudre” by local residents and longtime visitors, the main and south forks of the Cache la Poudre River, originate in Rocky Mountain National Park and flow north and east through the Roosevelt National Forest before eventually passing through Fort Collins.
You can explore the region via the Cache la Poudre – North Park Scenic Byway. Beginning in Fort Collins, it follows the river and the route used by settlers to connect Colorado’s northern plains to the Green River settlement in Utah.
Novelist and travel writer, Pico Iyer says, “We travel, initially to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and to learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate.
So be mindful of who we are, where we are going, what we are bringing with us and what we leave behind. Each and every day get up and ask yourself, why the hell not?
Be fearless. Be independent. Be bold. Out dream yourself and just go."
Girls – as in grandmothers, mothers, daughters, aunts, and nieces – are more likely than ever to "just go" and explore the world together.
That, according to multiple research reports that indicate an increasing number of women are seeking new adventures at home and abroad. Here are five to consider:
This global adventure travel company has recently launched a series of women-only expeditions in Morocco, Iran and Jordan, encouraging female empowerment and showcasing the traditions and routines of local women in each destination.
The itineraries, guided by female tour leaders, are designed to break the barriers of traditional tourism in these locations, offering a deeper understanding of female culture in each of three Middle Eastern nations. For example, travelers will have the option to visit a traditional hammam with local women in Morocco, spend time with a female shepherd in Jordan and experience the nomadic life of rural people in Iran.
Travel makes women feel on top of the world. - Trafalger*
As boomers check destinations and experiences off bucket lists, they are often eager to include other family members in their adventures. This, in part, has contributed to the significant rise in multigenerational travel. At active travel companies like Country Walkers, more women are joining their well-curated trips, often in the company of sisters, daughters and nieces. Immersive guided and self-guided walking and hiking adventures are possible in destinations from Iceland and Ireland to Zambia and New Zealand. The Travel Together program means a helpful consultant will coordinate the various needs, interests and requirements of family members. You’ll also garner savings when six or more join a guided walking adventure.
She believed she could, so she did. The vast majority of women believe traveling has made them more independent. - Trafalger*
In response to a significant increase in women booking their trips as well as requests for more cycling, walking, trekking and responsible wildlife tours, the 40 year old company has added itineraries they believe will help women of all ages and interests to push their own personal boundaries. Consider trips to China, Myanmar, Iran, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama and beyond. The departures, which will include four to sixteen travelers, will be led by local female guides, creating more career opportunities for women across the globe.
Chebeague Island Inn, Chebeague, ME.
For those family members eager to reconnect or celebrate a special life event, a getaway to this island inn might fit the bill. It will be easy to unplug and focus on good conversation around a beach bonfire or while sipping a glass of wine aboard a classic schooner as your group sets sail in Casco Bay. Dine on fresh seafood and local ingredients harvested from the island farm or the garden behind the inn. Take in a yoga class on the lawn, ride bikes to the General Store for lunch or set out on island trails for a breath of fresh air.
Recent research revealed that when planning a trip, adventure outweighed luxury by 20% among the women surveyed. So why not channel your inner cowgirl, and gather the gals for a ranch-style getaway. From horseback riding and hiking to fishing and cattle rustling, a trip to the wide open spaces is sure to inspire the wild hearts in your group. If rustic isn’t right up your alley, there are plenty of ranch destinations where gourmet meals, yoga and spa treatments as well as luxury accommodations are on the menu.
* Award winning travel company, Trafalgar, recently conducted a survey of over 1,000 U.S. women to discover how travel both empowers and inspires women. The study illuminates all of the reasons #SHEGOES – with nearly three quarters of American women believing that travel makes them stronger and regardless of what’s happening in the world today – 86 percent of women continue to travel unafraid.
One of the hottest trends in travel is EAT vacations. We’re not talking about tours with celebrity chefs. Rather, families are looking for trips that provide memorable Experiences, real Adventure and Transformative moments.
Here are five ideas that may fit the bill.
1. Discover Palau.
Located in the westernmost corner of Micronesia, Palau, an archipelago of more than 586 islands, consistently ranks as one of the world's best dive destinations. Pay off for the lengthy travel time includes 1,450 species of fish, 500 species of coral as well as rare sharks and stingrays.
You may have heard about the opportunity to snorkel amidst the moon and golden jellies of Jellyfish Lake. For now, the lake is closed to snorkelers while the environment recovers from complications of drought. It is still possible to hike around the 12,000-year-old marine lake where scores of gelatinous creatures waft through the water following the arc of the sun.
When not diving, snorkeling or kayaking through the turquoise waters tap into the country's considerable WWII history that incudes sunken ships and planes.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
Fans of the Tomb Raider film series will particularly enjoy exploring the Angkor Archeological Park, unfolding deep within the Siem Reap province. While hundreds of archeological and artistic temples and ancient structures remain, the most familiar (it’s on the Cambodian flag) is Angkor Wat. Built in the 12th century to honor Vishnu, a Hindu God, the temple's bas relief galleries inform modern visitors of life in ancient times.
Also of note is the remarkable water system, including moats, canals and reservoirs, that once provided water and crop assistance for the thriving communities. Visitors arrive via river cruises on the Mekong or a stop in Siem Riep where lodging and tours are plentiful.
Choose your backcountry.
For an EAT trifecta, establish a pure connection with nature, off the beaten path. Hike, paddle or float into a pristine location where your family can learn or hone their wilderness skills. Choose a destination suitable for the ages and abilities of your crew. Encourage each person to take responsibility for the adventure whether that is early research, carrying a small pack, collecting kindling or serving as master storyteller around the fire.
For the youngest set, get started with an overnight in the backyard or a nearby park. That way, should the weather or unforeseen forces create a kink in your plan, warm and dry shelter is nearby.
Contact: www.Backcountry.com; www.NPS.gov ; www.Huts.org
The Dalí Museum. St. Petersburg, FLA
The budding artist in your clan will be transformed by a visit to this 66,450-square-foot museum that houses the most comprehensive collection of Salvador Dali’s works in the world. Enjoy the priceless collection of masterpieces, paintings, photographs, watercolors and books sure to inspire the whole family.
Younger children will enjoy the “Dillydally with Dali” program offered daily, which includes puzzles, games, story hour and creative expression. Be there on the first Saturday of the month, for Breakfast With Dali, a morning that includes a junior-focused tour, followed by a buffet breakfast. Children under five are admitted free.
Boundary Waters Canoe Trips. Ely, MN.
Ease your canoes into the pristine water and look forward to peaceful days of paddling amidst a sparsely populated, one million-plus acre expanse of wilderness. Listen to the waves lapping against the shoreline and the haunting lullaby offered by local loons as you drift to sleep in one of 2,000 secluded campsites that dot the lake region. Wake to the sounds of birds chirping in the birch trees and enjoy breakfast over a campfire. Then set out to explore more of the 1,500 miles of canoe routes that crisscross the waterways.
According to U.S Travel, more than half of American workers leave unused vacation days on their company’s board room table. Meanwhile, the research shows that by planning ahead, more families will actually take much-need vacations and thus reap a multitude of personal and professional benefits.
Here are five ideas to consider:
Make planning a priority.
Whether you begin by tossing up a tent in the backyard or strategizing to experience a safari in Africa, there is no time like the present to begin planning a family vacation. As children and grandchildren get older, their schedules become more complicated by their own commitments making it more difficult than ever to plan time together. With dates on the calendar, you’ll feel less stress at work, knowing you’ve provided the boss and coworkers with plenty of notice about your plans.
According to research, 75 percent of those who plan ahead were more likely to take a full week or more of vacation in a single stretch. By crafting a strategy in advance you’ll have your pick of departures, the best cabins on a cruise ship and more options in popular resort areas. While you are at it, scan the year ahead and be the first to claim vacation days around existing holidays and school breaks, creating a longer stretch for relaxation and enjoyment. Knowing good times are on the horizon, you’ll have the added benefit of anticipating the getaway.
Taking time to create a thoughtful bucket list can make it easier to plan for meaningful vacations, those that are a deliberate reflection of your values, hopes and dreams. So before you begin listing desired destinations, ask yourself what aspects of the world - geographically, spiritually and culturally - you want to share with your children, grandchildren and perhaps other friends and family members. As your ideas take shape, know your list will evolve over the years. Therefore, think about which destinations you hope to visit while your children are in the nest and which might best be saved for later. And, when it comes time to involve the children in creating the bucket list, remember that kids don’t know what they don’t know. Certain theme parks and resorts will likely be on their radar screens. But they may not be aware of the glories of Yellowstone or Yosemite or the historical significance of Gettysburg or Montpelier.
Celebrate milestone events.
Geographic spread, busy careers and school and sports schedules make it more difficult than ever to spend time together. Therefore, planning ahead to celebrate birthdays, graduations and anniversaries can be an important touchstone and meaningful part of a family’s legacy. With plenty of advance notice, you’ll increase the odds that more family members will be able to take part in the fun. Ask your clan to save a date and then get to work creating a gathering that will be a lasting memory for all.
Reap the benefits.
In-depth research indicates that Americans who take time to plan their vacation time in the year ahead are happier than their come-what-may counterparts. Planners are happier with their health and well-being, their financial picture, their personal relationships and even their overall mood, according to the research. Further, an overwhelming majority of American workers report that time off helps them relax and recharge, and offers the opportunity to pursue personal interests Nearly two-thirds of employees say their concentration and productivity at work improves with time off. Business leaders echo this sentiment. Of those surveyed, 91 percent believe employees return from vacation recharged and renewed—and ready to work more effectively.
Ready to make a plan? Find out how we can help or check in with our FamilyTravel.com Vacation Planner!
Take advantage of National Plan For Vacation Day. #TakeFamilyTime
Want to kiss a giraffe?
You’ve probably never asked yourself that question. But yes, you can, as my kids discovered on a recent visit to Kenya.
Head over to the Giraffe Centre just outside Nairobi, more formally known as the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, a breeding center of the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe.
Our whirlwind tour of two Kenyan wildlife attractions took place in a single morning, the ideal day trip if you happen to be in Nairobi for a day or two. If nothing else, it’ll allow your family to appreciate the conservancy efforts being made in Africa, or just to get in touch with your wilder side.
What giraffe saliva feels like
Here’s how the Giraffe thing works: You pay the $9.65 admission to the center, and that gets you close — very close — to these rare giraffe. A guide will offer you a pellet. It’s not for you, it’s for the giraffe. Open your hand and one of these gentle creatures will swoop down and gobble up the pellet.
My daughter, who can follow basic instructions when she wants to, decided to cooperate. She’s only 10 and fairly short. The Rothschilds must have looked like monsters to her. Good call.
After a few false starts (she dropped the pellet and the annoyed giraffe retreated into the sky) she made contact with tallest terrestrial animal on earth. Specifically, with the animal’s long, gray tongue.
What does giraffe saliva feels like? Glad you asked. In order to find out, I grabbed a pellet and offered it to the nearest animal. It gratefully accepted, leaving a generous amount of warm, thick, translucent substance behind. It felt a little sticky.
What does it taste like? Ask this woman, who was part of a delegation of American travel agents in town for a convention. Brave soul.
She did not reveal any details of this intimate moment to the group. Then again, we were so shocked by it, no one could say a word.
But it’s settled: You can kiss a giraffe.
Elephants, mud and a cautionary tale of getting too close
At the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Kenya’s famous elephant orphanage, you can get close to one of nature’s cutest creations: baby elephants. The trust helps rescue and raise mostly elephant and rhino orphans. Guides parade the babies into a large viewing area, where the orphans receive milk, water and leafy vegetation.
But the question isn’t if can you get close, but do you want to. With signs like this, the kids had second thoughts, understandably.
Just to be clear, the elephants didn’t look dangerous at all. On the contrary, they were adorable. Maybe a little messy, rolling around in all that red mud, but still adorable.
Can we stay on the topic of messy for a moment.
Elephants can squirt water over long distances. You probably know where this is going, right? Now scroll to the top of this story and look at my daughter’s shirt. Notice anything? Yep, nailed by a baby elephant. I got splattered, too. Those pachyderms can spit!
But, awwww. How could you stay mad at something like this?
Like the Giraffe Centre, the Sheldrick Trust is doing this for a good cause — in this case, offering hope for the future of Kenya’s threatened elephant and rhino populations against poachers, loss of habitat and human conflict. That’s well worth the $7 contribution to get into the orphanage.
If you don’t have the time or resources for an African safari, this day trip may be the next best thing. Your kids are guaranteed to see giraffe, elephant, rhino and other species in an almost-natural environment.
The trouble with eating raw oysters isn’t the taste (it’s delicious) or knowing where it’s been (filtering water on the bottom of the bay) but that it’s alive.
“If you open it right, you can still see the heart beating,” says oyster farmer Lane Zirlott, who co-owns the perhaps appropriately named Murder Point Oysters in Bayou La Batre, Ala.
Zirlott pries open a fresh oyster, recently scooped out of Portersville Bay, and shows my kids the soft, white flesh, pointing to the veins and other organs of the still-living mollusk.
Then he eats it.
“Ohhhhh,” exclaims my 10-year-old daughter.
On Alabama’s Gulf Coast, you’ll have a lot of “I-can’t-believe-I-ate-that” moments, from Zirlott’s murderously tasty oysters to the farm-to-table restaurants that serve bycatch fish, the alternate seafood that helps stocks stay sustainable.
(OK, I can’t believe I just used the words “farm-to-table” and “sustainable” in the same sentence. Forgive me!)
Murder Point is part of a fledgling movement, just now springing up on this state’s shores, to nurture more environmentally viable food sources. Oysters used to be abundant in the estuaries that flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, but over the decades, development and pollution decimated the colonies.
The answer: oyster farming.
In these shallow waters, they use the longline method — PVC pipes spaced at equal distances on a premeasured length of wire — to raise the oysters. The line is submerged off a dock, anchored on hard bottoms, and hung on a rack. Looks a little like a maze in shallow water.
This is one of several new farms that have sprung up in the last few years. Zirlott, whose family owns a 2 ½-acre farm capable of of growing 1.4 million oysters says the mollusks raised in these waters have a unique taste: sweet, buttery meat with a subtle, briny aftertaste.
I admit, I was reluctant to try a live oyster, but then, I’d do anything for a good story. I grabbed a live mussel and sucked it down. No discernable movement in my mouth. I channeled my inner Andrew Zimmern and swallowed quickly.
Zirlott is right. I’ve had oysters before, but never like this. It’s said that chefs from Charlotte to New Orleans phone him frantically when they run out of Murder Point oysters, begging for more. He can’t keep up with demand, he says.
Oyster farming is more than a novelty for his family. They’re fifth-generation shrimpers and were looking for something new that kept them near the ocean. When his mother, Rosa Zirlott, took an aquaculture class at Auburn University, something clicked. They could be close to the water, doing what they loved, without spending weeks at sea. That’s when they decided to try oyster farming.
But that’s not the only unusual item you’ll eat here. A short drive and a ferry ride away on the more touristy Orange Beach, you’ll find an unusual experience at Voyagers, a fine dining restaurant overlooking the Gulf. The restaurant’s executive chef, Brody Olive, participates in a program called NUISANCE Group, which served “trash” fish.
I know what you’re thinking. No, a “trash” fish isn’t something they plucked out of the dumpster. It’s a fish my daddy used to call “not an eatin’ fish” like bonita, pigfish, pinfish, hog snapper, butterfish or the highly invasive lionfish. Only, it turns out they are eatin’ fish. (Sorry, Dad.)
“The bycatch used to get thrown back into the ocean,” explains Olive. “We keep it.”
Focusing on these lesser-known fish, he notes, allows the more popular stocks like Red Snapper to replenish, which is good for the environment. But also, it lets you take a culinary expedition through the ocean to try something a little more unusual.
I ordered one of the more exotic Strawberry Grouper and braced myself, but I shouldn’t have worried. It was excellent (and definitely not alive) and to make things more interesting, they even showed my kids the exact location of where they caught the fish with an iPad and geotagging software.
Why such detail? Well, the NUISANCE Group wants you to know the fish is local and that your seafood came from the Gulf and helped make the world a better place. When’s the last time your dinner did that for you?
Reality check: This part of Alabama is still known for deep fried seafood and oysters imported from Louisiana or Florida. But like a tide slowly moving up the white sands of Orange Beach, change is coming. The next time you visit this area, you might be surprised by what you eat.
If you go …
Where to stay
For a resort experience amid all the vacation rentals, book a room at Perdido Beach Resort, a pink hotel right on the Gulf. Need more room? Check out Turquoise Place, a luxury beachside condominium by Spectrum Resorts, which offers breathtaking ocean views and more creature comforts than your home.
What to do
You mean, besides the beach? Try a flying lesson from BeachFlight Aviation, which offers a 20-minute powered hang-gliding experience over Orange Beach.
What to eat
Stop by The Gulf, a restaurant made almost entirely of repurposed shipping containers. It serves seafood in a relaxed beachside experience. For barbecue — hey, it’s the South — try Hog Wild BBQ. Warning: Their hot sauce burns real good!