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We love going often to Gatlinburg, TN, where Appalachian Mountain heritage is preserved and demonstrated in such fun ways. We like to make various crafts and on the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts 8 Mile Loop we can see over 100 workshops, watch artists at work, and shop for gifts and special treasures to keep. We also find especially fun and helpful the Dollywood Craftsman’s Valley.  Sometimes you can even participate in workshops in the area to gain certain skills for practical creations, which the mountain people in past generations had to learn in order to make life’s necessities.  We are so happy to see these skills are preserved and have developed into useful modern artistry as well.  These are among your first Must-Sees at Gatlinburg.

Ripley’s is famous for the Believe It Or Not Museums in many tourist centers and here in Gatlinburg area you can choose among eight different Ripley’s attractions: Believe It Or Not, Haunted Adventure, Guinness World Records, The Moving Theatre, Mirror Maze, Old McDonald’s Farm Mini-Golf, Davy Crockett Mini-Golf, and Ripley’s Aquarium Of The Smokies. We highly recommend purchasing the all-inclusive combo ticket so you can spend a day or more visiting all of them. Thank goodness, this ticket is good for a year because we were so fascinated with the wonderful aquarium that we spent a half day there and ran out of time on this visit to do any others. So be sure to keep your tickets to reuse.  Although we have written about many larger aquaria in various places in the world with other kinds of displays, our family found this to be our favorite Aquarium because the species and tanks were so very well labeled that we could easily know what we were seeing in each tank and learn some of the life habits of each species.

One of the favorites of children and adults is the Penguin Habitat. The great, fun thing is little people can go through a small, clear tunnel and emerge up inside the Habitat next to the penguins, only separated by the clear tunnel encasement. The penguins come right up to the awe-struck faces while parents can stand at the big window and take pictures!

Next our route led us to the walkway everyone loves. It appeared that we were walking through the waters of the enormous ocean tank, when actually we were protected by clear sides and ceiling of our tubelike pathway, so that the fish, huge sharks, and even REAL MERMAIDS swam over and around us! How amazing it feels to think you are in a real undersea environment. And we found it incredible that you can even arrange to have a birthday overnight party in here. How cool is that!!

Speaking of nights at Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville, there are many nightly events to give you thrilling entertainment. Dolly Parton’s Stampede and her Smoky Mountain Adventure Dinner Theaters are a very good choice.

Instead of dinner theater if you prefer to attend a show after you dine at one of the numerous restaurants in Gatlinburg, choose the Country Tonite Theater, which in 2017 celebrated 20 years and has been voted the Best Show In the Smokies year after year. Whether you attend the afternoon or evening performances you will marvel at the enormous talent of singers and dancers. We simply couldn’t believe they could keep up the flawless, high energy dancing and never miss a step, a lift, or a swing! Their feet seemed to fly fast across the floor! We were so impressed, as we watched their faces, that all performers kept exuberant smiles and appeared to love what they were doing, and the entire audience simply loved it too!  Much acclaim goes to the wonderful talent of 16 year old Miss Willow Osborne on her banjo (which she has played since she was four!) and 12 year old Shelton Tyson who sings and dances and presents himself winningly on stage with the confidence of a professional.  These two are destined to be famous for their enormous talent for years to come.  Sometimes comedy acts on a stage seem lame, but the comedy acts by Memaw in Country Tonite are hilarious!  This fast-paced fun show with toe-tapping music is filled with your favorite country, gospel, and patriotic hits.  The many changes of beautiful costumes reflect the colors and words of the songs…fantastic!  Do not miss it!  And once a month April through November the Country Tonite Theater presents a Celebrity Concert with big-name performers you have always wanted to see in a live show.  Check the dates to see if you can book Celebrity tickets during your vacation time.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

http://www.gatlinburgcrafts.com/map.html

https://www.pigeonforge.com/plan-your-visit/dollywood/craftsman-s-valley/

http://www.ripleys.com/gatlinburg/ultimate-fun-pass/

https://smokymountainadventures.com

https://www.dixiestampede.com/

http://www.countrytonitepf.com/

 

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I was delighted when my husband and I received Betty’s invitation to join her for a picnic at the Sunset in the Palms Resort in Negril, Jamaica. The setting was lush, the food and wine enticing. Conversation, though, was a tad strained. But then her recent history was a bit dicey. Recently married, rumor has it was a shotgun wedding. Seems Betty had been knocked up and the kids already there. It was hard for her to attend to them and also focus on her guests. Still she was already back at work maintaining the grounds — Betty is a very resilient goat. And one of Sunset’s favorite staff members.

Sunset is an airy, compact oasis in the middle of a jungle, wood-filled and woodsy, the abundant foliage making the transition from outside to inside seamless, with towering masses of greenery at every turn of the head. So different from the many large, bustling, antiseptic resorts often lining Caribbean beaches. Here, you’re a part of Jamaica, mon!

The beach a short walk away, free of the seaweed currently plaguing so many Caribbean shores. Spotting a red flag usually indicates a warning sign of some kind. Here, placed in front of your chaise lounge, it simply means please bring me another Pina Colada…

Tranquil was a word I heard a lot. Maybe because the all-inclusive resort is adults only — except for Betty’s kids of course, and they’re not likely to be running down the halls… And as appealing as reggae music is in the Caribbean, it is often ear-splitting along the beaches and the bars. Here, it is mellow – though, admittedly, for some, that might seem an oxymoron.

The resort comes by its name honestly. All the rooms resemble palm-fringed treehouses. The hammock on our tree-topped balcony was just a bonus. One morning I was awakened by an unaccustomed sound only to find, Betty, husband Royal Brown and kids bleating greetings below our balcony.

Sunset is all about service. Everyone sports a badge saying, “I am your personal concierge,” which I initially mistook for … well… the actual concierge. And indeed there did seem to be a more genuine camaraderie between staff and guests than I’ve seen at other resorts, possibly because so many are repeat customers.

Taking the pampering of guests to an extreme, there is a crossing guard to usher you across the street to the beach. Admittedly I felt like I was in grade school again and petulantly assured the poor guard that I had been crossing the street by myself for decades without mishap.

Like every all-inclusive, there are a number of restaurant options, but how often do you go to a restaurant with no menu in sight? Welcome to the Chef’s Showcase, where every night is a surprise in which the chef prepares a five-course meal in a candle-lit setting that sparkles with class and romanticism. But be prepared — it’s a while between courses. This is island-time, the precision timepiece upon which Jamaica runs. Overheard at a bar one afternoon, a local remarked that he’d be ready in 3 minutes. He then added: “That’s 6 minutes in Jamaican.”

Just sitting at the bar is an island experience in itself. Locals instinctively move to the music as if they were on a dance floor. And not just any dance floor but one in the middle of a dance contest. And perhaps not without some embellishment. Everywhere on the island there is that unmistakable whiff of the ubiquitous substance for which the island is so famous. It was nice to hear that possession of small amounts is now even legal.

There are three things for which Jamaica is famous: Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios, the aforementioned ganja and Rick’s Cafe in Negril, where everyone at one time or another has to go to see the sunset. So go we did, despite the noise, the crowds, the commercialism and a sunset like many others (okay, so it was a pretty nice sunset…) for which the masses erupt in applause. What a marketing idea! Which is what I applauded as I happily headed for the exit. Check the Rick’s Cafe box — been there, done that.

A much more authentic experience happened on our Rasta Tour at Zimbali Retreat in Negril. Although Zimbali is a fascinating destination in its own right, based on organic farming and the Rastafarian philosophy, we were there to meet Fire.To say we climbed to the top of a mountain to do so is no exaggeration; to say it was worth it is also not an exaggeration, not only for the views and the excellent all natural meal prepared by Fire but mainly for his story. He’s been living away from civilization for 33 years in a lean-to that doesn’t even qualify as a hut. Long ago, he felt a need to get away from his mainstream life and learn how to survive — literally — in the 21st century. He grows what he needs to live, espouses a simple, less-stressful life living off Mother Earth, and adopts the Rasta approach of kindness, simplicity, eschewing financial gains.

When he started grating coconut on a grater, it sounded a lot like a Reggae beat – which somehow seemed fitting. Life as a Rasta, says Fire, became much easier after Bob Marley. The plantain, soy meat, carrots and callaloo flavored in coconut milk was perhaps not your usual luncheon fare but it was tasty. Fire lost me just a bit when he answered his smartphone. He acknowledged, with a smile: “There goes my reputation.” But technology is ubiquitous even on top of a mountain.

A more typical outing was the trip to YS Falls and the Black River, one of the hotel tour options. YS Falls offers a multitude of ways to swing over, jump into, swim under and play in a wide variety of waterfalls. And if none of that appeals, the falls alone provide sufficient photo ops. The boat ride along the Black River is billed as a “river safari” – using the term very loosely. I suspect just having crocodiles in the river justifies the safari designation. Otherwise, it’s nice boat ride with all the de rigueur bird sighting that accompany all such ventures.

As we left the resort kicking and screaming, our voices were overshadowed by the gentle bleating of the entire Royal Brown family who all gathered below our balcony to say good-bye. A fitting exit, mon! For more information, visit http://www.thepalmsjamaica.com.

 

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The Greatest Showman, now playing in many theaters around the world is a marvelous tribute to an era gone by, since the 146 years of the thrill of the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus tours ended in 2017 with the final performance in May in Uniondale, New York at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The elephant performances had ended because training them was considered inhumane to many who protested for decades. Although around 10 million people went to a Ringling circus each year, it was not enough to make the traveling show profitable.

Carson and Barnes Circus in Hugo, OK, is the last of the touring big tent, three-ring circuses left.  The show winters in Hugo, OK, its home for nearly four decades. Kristin Para is Circus Manager with Jan 25th this year’s special opening day and she encourages fans to watch Facebook for all the information about the show schedules for 2018. Going on the road to take the show around the country is not an easy task, which requires a large cookhouse trailer fully equipped to serve the many performers and their families. School children must be tutored for part of the tour, and families usually travel in RV’s. To see the many vehicles in route along a highway is quite fascinating.  There are specially built vehicles to transport the animals, and traveling behind them on the highway is a bit slow-going.

But who is not captivated by a circus, anywhere in the world! Although we love to travel in our RV we cannot imagine going on the road with such a large and mixed group for months at a time. And I tried to imagine how emergencies and accidents are handled when the show must move on to keep deadlines. I tried to reach the management for an interview but they were too busy to respond, so my imagination and yours can run the gamut.

Since we lived not far away, we once visited the elephant barn where the Circus vet, a friend of ours, was about to deliver a baby elephant. The elephants seemed to be well treated and content in their large farm environment, and successful breeding in captivity was a rare event for these enormous animals. The vet had carefully nurtured the mother for the nearly two-year gestation period.

Performers train and practice their acts, creating new ones, all winter in this small town in which the circus people are a welcome part of the community and when the show goes on the road for half a year they are really missed. In Paris Texas families always enjoy the Grand opening days of the circus in March, often during Spring Break with many free and discounted tickets available. And one of the most popular things for groups to see is the erecting of the Big Top tent and setting up of the Circus, with animals in their traveling coaches outside the Paris, Texas, fairgrounds. It takes many experienced people to set the ropes just right and pull to make the red and white striped tent arise into place and each rope and wire must be safely secured and expertly checked. Often unpredictable weather including high winds occur in Paris, TX, in spring, so the tent must be extra strong and well-grounded for safety.

 

There are other areas when the final setup is complete and these include many fun midway type games and the well-loved circus snacks of soft drinks, popcorn, peanuts, candy, and cotton candy. Children beg for the balloons and other trinkets to show their friends after they return from the exciting day at the Circus. It makes us all sad to think that because of the thrills and constant entertainment today’s populations have so plentifully in video games, TV, and other live performances, the circus could possibly end altogether. So go out to enjoy your time under the Big Top this year when you find it is near you. Take your family to the unforgettable experience of a lifetime.

If you are in this area of Northeast Texas or Southeast Oklahoma, be sure to visit the Circus Cemetery in Hugo. It is worth an hour to walk through and see the fascinating circus tombstones. Many have a picture and tribute to the performer buried there. And when the circus is not traveling, you can enjoy driving by their farm headquarters just outside Hugo, where you can see the large barns, many animal food supplies, trainers practicing and caring for their animals and other daily activities necessary to keep the circus the “Greatest Show on Earth.”

For More Info:

http://www.carsonbarnescircus.com/caring-circus-animals/

http://variety.com/2018/film/news/the-greatest-showman-sing-along-screenings-set-1202662441/

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/showmen-s-rest

 

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Dollywood is an amazing theme park where people of all ages and all physical capabilities can have a wonderful, unforgettable time. We recommend the excellent bargain tickets for three-day two parks pass package because there is no way you can do it all in one day. The Theme Park has forty fun rides, many with themes pertaining to Dolly’s beloved Smoky Mountains, such as the Mystery Mine where your ride feels as if you are lost in a haunted mine with twists and turns and you are wondering if you will find light at the end of the tunnel.  The Smoky River Rampage feels like you are rafting through exciting river rapids of the Pigeon River. Many of these rides are unusual roller coasters of varying heights and themes including Dare Devil Falls where you will get splashed; Blazing Fury where you seem to be next to a building on fire; Wild Eagle simulates the feeling of an eagle soaring with dips and turns which give vast views of the mountains surrounding you and the highest one Tennessee Tornado. There are many fun rides for younger children and for families. The wonderful Swinger-Off Ride which is a carousel with seated and harnessed and parents going around and swinging out as centrifugal force sets in and the swings rise up along the carousel. Of course, are many down to earth rides and thrills and the beloved Merry-Go-Round and Ferris Wheel type rides.

But 40 different rides are only part of the GREAT things to enjoy at Dollywood. There are fifteen incredible shows to give you a rest between excitements. The shows vary with times of year and always provide fun for everyone, and a break from inclement weather. Make no mistake, as I almost did, the Gazillion Bubbles Show is NOT just for children, and it is Magical!!! There is Gospel Music and several other music performances; Heartsong which is multi-sensory film of the beautiful mountains you are in; Live Birds of Prey show, and many more shows planned to entertain and thrill all ages.

In summer, the nights are long and stars come out around the mountains as the sky darkens and then your evening is not complete until you stay for Dolly’s Nights of Many Colors and the spectacular fireworks display. And throughout the year there are many different specially themed festivals which always have Dolly’s signature perfectly planned wholesome entertainment and unforgettable experiences for the whole family.

Craftsman’s Valley is my favorite place since I am a Senior who cherishes old time arts and crafts. I loved seeing  Blacksmith, glass-blowers, wood carvers, leather crafters, candle makers and many more demonstrations and shops containing handmade items typical of talents which have been vital to living and survival throughout the history of the United States and are still pertinent to the mountain lifestyle today. These artists at Dollywood are not only showing visitors how the items are made but also are friendly in explaining why they have been and still are necessary skills  for life. At some of the venues you can even try your hand at participating in making an item to treasure. And your upper grade kids can even drive the fabulous cars of past years!

In summer you MUST include Dolly’s Splash Country Waterpark in your itinerary! What a WONDERFUL place to stay cool and bond as a family and have wet and wild (or tame) thrills to laugh through together! Even though this is not in your cold-weather stays, you will find many more things to enjoy at Dollywood which change according to each season. Dollywood should be your Number 1 place to visit to create lasting family memories.

Dolly Parton is not just a great country music singer; she is also known throughout Tennessee and now the world over for her generosity. She Dreams of something, and she does it, as her book Dream More tells. She sees a need and she does her best to fill it. She set up funds to give $1,000 each month for six months to each family who lost their home in the 2016 Gatlinburg fire so that they could get necessities until insurance and rebuilding were in place. She also is celebrating her 20th year of her Imagination Library in which she provides the opportunity for any child anywhere to love learning through books. From birth to school age she sends one book each month to each child who is signed up in the program, which she started for Tennessee kids and has now expanded to any child the world over who is registered. She knows that education is the way out of poverty and narrow thinking.  She is an amazing woman to be admired.

 

For More Information:

 

www.Dollywood.com

 

http://www.dollywood.com/waterpark

 

https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C2EODB_enUS573US573&site=&source=hp&q=dolly+parton&oq=dolly+parton&gs_l=psy-ab.1.2.35i39k1l2j0i67k1l2.29.1763.0.3882.10.10.0.0.0.0.191.928.4j4.8.0….0…1.1.64.psy-ab..2.8.925…0j0i131k1j0i20k1.u3PZHlZstPQ

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHB7bgxkXc0

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQqewk2IRqk&t=35s

 

http://www.pigeonforge.com/

 

https://gatlinburgtncoc.wliinc22.com/WebInput/VacGuideWebInputPage.aspx?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=gatlinburg.com?clientID=1540707005.1500652368

 

http://visitsevierville.com/

 

 

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Sitting on my balcony at the RIU Palace in Cabo San Lucas, I’m overlooking the Sea of Cortez, watching a parade of one (sometimes two) cruise ships glide past El Arches into port. This is Baja’s version of a traffic jam.

My junior suite is strategically situated for straight-line views of the pool and restaurant terrace as well. It is a perfect spot to watch people; what they drink, what they eat, how they dress, and how sunburned they are.  I feel like a drone hovering above the crowd.  It’s a guilty pleasure.  A recent list of obscure words pop into my mind. One is “fudgel,” from the 18th century, meaning “pretending to work but not really doing anything.” Remember The Office and the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company?  I feel like a full-fledged fudgeler.  However, I remind myself I’m actually here to write a travel story about the RIU Palace $23 million upgrade.  My intention is to let the changes sink in slowly while enjoying the all-inclusive aspects of the resort.

First Impressions: Upon arrival, I notice the striking pyramid in the lobby, along with the new front desk design. Bold colors and shapes are artistically juxtaposed onto the classic colonial style architecture. A new palate of hues throughout the resort is obvious.

The completely redesigned bathroom and shower are worthy of a 5-star rating. There’s a mellow ambient sound outside. The mingling of surf, soft breezes, people chatting, music and children laughing blend into a pleasing buzz, occasionally punctuated by the vigilant staff’s “Hola” or “Would you like a drink?”

Discoveries: The proverbial fork in the road leads to the two main pools. The Entertainment Pool features hourly activities to keep me busy: games, water aerobics, volleyball, music, and an engaging social director. The Relaxation Pool is much quieter and conducive to lounging, reading, snoozing, and unwinding. Being a RIU beach bum is another option; chaises under palm trees dot the sand. Stretched out, I can watch people para-sailing, watercraft buzzing by, and locals selling everything from sombreros and jewelry to horseback rides. My mode for the entire week is languid and lazy. That circles me back to the word “fudgeler.” How do I write about unhurried mornings at the pool reading, followed by lazy afternoons settled in by the sea and watching the procession of people and boats as they sail or motor by?  I’m floating in time on my own land-locked cruise to nowhere; food, drinks, entertainment, beach, and a great “cabin” in an all-inclusive setting. No one will believe I’m actually working!

Culinary: Three new outlets have been added: Bombay, an Indian restaurant, Lounge 24, a self-service snack, drink and coffee bar, and Capuchino, a patisserie featuring coffee and ice cream treats.  I’m kept well fed at six other restaurants featuring Mexican, Japanese, Italian, fusion cuisine, steaks, plus expansive buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I try them all and don’t go hungry.  Does that count as work?

RIU Style: RIU’s 692 room types range from standard to suites (there are eight with Jacuzzis on their balcony). They also added 44 junior suites with their own splash pools.  There is free Wi-Fi throughout the resort, mini-bar, alcohol dispensers, and flat screen TVs in the comfortable rooms. There are seven bars including two expanded swim-ups, 24-hour room service, six pools and a beachfront fitness center. RIULand is a camp for children.  Nighttime activities for kids and adults feature live shows and music.  Scuba Caribe offers whale watching, fishing, water sports and tours. The Renova Spa features a full range of massages, facials, plus salon and beauty care treatments.

The RIU chain was founded in Mallorca in 1953. Today, it spans the globe with over 100 hotels and resorts in 18 countries.  Logon to www.riu.com for information and reservations.

The Hawaiian island of Maui is widely known as one of the most beautiful destinations on planet Earth. Its luscious green peaks and pristine beaches are nothing short of breath taking. Upon landing at the Kahului Airport on the northernmost coast of the island and hearing the tranquil sound of live Hawaiian music at baggage claim, it becomes clear why this is a treasured vacation spot of many people. This busy father, husband and businessman found it to be the perfect sanctuary to escape from daily burdens and worriment.

In addition to an exquisite seascape, the quaint port-town of Lahaina offers a perfect place to search for a memorable keepsake or to simply embrace the true Hawaiian culture. A quick walk down Front Street or a stroll past the famous Banyan Tree will quickly orient you to the laid-back feel of the native islanders. My wife, a true introvert, often found herself gabbing with the locals due to their innate ability to connect with those who surround them. The Banyan Tree in the center of Lahaina is a perfect portrayal of the deep-rooted Hawaiian kin that reside on the island of Maui. Planted in the year 1873, this local historical token has grown to completely enwrap the Lahaina town square.

Stunning accommodations are “a dime a dozen” around the Island of Maui. However, the Honua Kai Resort and Spa near Kaanapali on the East coast is exquisite beyond belief. Clear blue relaxation pools lined with colorful green landscape makes for the perfect relaxation spot. Upon waking up each morning, we quickly found ourselves drawn to the oversized lanai (balcony) to bask in the astounding views while enjoying a breakfast prepared in our fully equipped kitchen. The thought frequently came to mind – “Why would I ever leave this place?”

During one of our daily explorations of the stunning Island, we wandered to one of Maui’s best-kept secrets – Slaughterhouse Beach. Hidden from the view of the coastal highway and tucked away in a beautiful cove, this beach is perfect for a day of relaxation. The high-towering rocks that surround you are topped with palm trees, which gives this beach the perfect ratio of shade and sunlight.

The luxuriant green hills that constantly surround locals and travelers alike are hard to ignore. We heard about a short hike through the hills that led to a dream-like waterfall which we attempted one afternoon. At the front end of the picturesque “Road to Hana” is a small trailhead called “Twin Falls”. A small, tree-engulfed shack which welcomed us provided a variety of juices that perfectly complemented the short one mile hike that followed. During walk through a thick forest of bamboo trees, the sound of falling water will slowly began to surround. Upon arrival at the falls, we found a calm 10-foot-deep pool of crisp-cool water being replenished by a steady waterfall. The sound of the crashing water was enough to put us in a Hawaii-induced relaxation coma.

As we sat in our seats at gate seven of the Kahului airport awaiting our red-eye Delta flight back to the mainland, I couldn’t get my mind off the sweet smell of the Maui Air. My mind is frequently taken back to our precious time on the Island. Now returned to the reality of an office, frequently as I lift the water glass from my bamboo Maui coaster I find myself asking, “Why am I not back in Maui?”

 

 

In New Zealand North Island State Highway 27 from the north to Rotorua is a beautiful road of wineries and dense conifer forests mixed with jungles of tall jungle fern trees.  We stopped just inside Rotorua to see Rainbow Springs Nature Park, a magical tropical forest with flora and fauna preserved and identified. It is a GREAT Family place for an educational preview of New Zealand’s natural environs, unlike anywhere else on earth. We expected to quickly look through this learning center, but it was so much fun and the exhibits were so attractive and informative we stayed half a day, FASCINATED and in WONDER.

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At first we had our photo taken with the adorable native Kiwi bird, (which was magically processed into the photo by the photographer) since the endangered Kiwi birds are nocturnal and very shy. Our trail led us to a series of glass terraria, each beautifully set as a natural environment for each of the herpeto-fauna that live within. Geckos and skinks are the only species of these natives of New Zealand and these species are found nowhere else on earth. There are also four very rare types of frogs native to New Zealand. These primitive natives have changed very little over the last 70 million years.  Fascinating signs, which even young children can understand and enjoy, explained the habits, foods, and life cycles of these unusual beings.

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We even saw several tuatara, actual living creatures whose line dates from the dinosaur era, which is the only species of lizard native to New Zealand. Tuatara are green lizards, about the size of my fore arm, which can change colors for camouflage. They take years to reach maturity and there are only about 100,000 living ones today, the oldest living species on earth. We could see the actual third eye in the middle of its high forehead on one tuatara, who looked very sleepy.

In the Aviary there are large areas enclosed with tall fences and planted with small trees and other natural species of the understory. Each of these areas had several kinds of birds native to this country, some of which migrate to New Zealand seasonally. In the South Pacific, the spring/summers coincide with fall/winter in the Northern hemisphere, so many species of birds come here to escape the cold.

We saw beautiful parrots with bright red and yellow and green feathers which enable them to hide within jungle flowers and green leaves. Adults and children enjoy a wonderful Trained Bird Show where trainers have native birds and African gray parrots do tricks on command, rewarded by seeds each time. This is a MUST SEE show for families, and you may want to volunteer to help with an act.

Next we walked into a totally dark room, which is the daytime viewing area for kiwi birds, since they only are active at night. It took a while for our eyes to adjust, but finally we could make out the creatures, which are about the size of a chicken and also flightless.  They are in big glassed-in areas with a natural setting of trees, soil, and under-brush. We could see them moving around… long legs and long slightly curved beak, reaching into soil for bugs. One kept going around a tree in circles as long as we watched, which means it is upset about something. If you are lucky enough to walk in the forest at night and listen carefully you may hear or see these very shy little natives. They only live in New Zealand.  Don’t be fooled by their look-alike wannabe, the weka bird, which is active in the daytime along some roads.

4 child at pond

The total area of our Rainbow Springs trail was like a jungle walk through all the different varieties of plants native to New Zealand, and many of these are unique to this country. Signs taught much about the plants of this South Pacific paradise and the uses for them.  We found answers to many questions we have had as we hiked in wonder through the beautiful forest trails of North and South Islands.  As native Texans and with years of hiking also on other continents we are always wary and on the lookout for dangerous animals… bears, wolves, poisonous frogs and snakes, etc.  The New Zealand forests are a dense mixture of jungle-like plants and tall evergreens along with many broad leaf trees, making us hyper-alert to possible dangers.  But we learned at Rainbow Springs that we can walk

anywhere without fears: there are NO snakes in all of New Zealand, and the only native mammals are bats, which are nocturnal. All the other mammals were brought here by settlers. Some of these foreign species have become dangerous to indigenous species of plants and the birds. Possums and ferrets, rabbits and other rodents eat bird eggs and plants and these varmints have no predators here. It is a perfect example of why no one should transport any living thing to an environment where it is not native. New Zealand is constantly fighting the problem of these foreign species of both plants and animals harming the natural environment of these beautiful islands.

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Don’t miss the gift shop, where you will find many New Zealand souvenirs of all types and prices. Kids enjoy browsing and you can purchase your photo with a kiwi, and buy a Maori Tiki, the symbol of creation. Our last stop at Rainbow Springs was a fun boat ride through time, where we learned New Zealand is the newest land on earth. We traveled through the Jurassic Era and saw a computerized Alliosaurus dinosaur. Then we floated through the simulated arrival of Maori people about 1,000 years ago. Next we came to the arrival of British settlers 200 years ago. Then our boat was pulled up a steep water track and we had a fun splashy ride down to our landing.  You might get a wet spray in the first or second seats. It was just very happy family fun. We really enjoyed Rainbow Springs, and it is definitely not just for kids. We highly Rainbow Springs as a perfect place to start your New Zealand adventure, as it will inform you so much about what you will see while there.

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NOTE: Since we returned from New Zealand scientists have discovered it is actually not two islands but part of the newly named Zealandia, earth’s eighth continent!

http://www.rotoruanz.com/

http://www.rainbowsprings.co.nz/?gclid=Cj0KEQiAwrbEBRDqxqzMsrTGmogBEiQAeSE6ZYRptOMYQwng0aU05mfYgeUfQKz6JaTR_1JKVRWTAEEaAmC08P8HAQ

http://www.newzealand.com/us/

http://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/reptiles-and-frogs/

http://www.doc.govt.nz/nztcs

http://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/birds/birds-a-z/kiwi/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weka

http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/weka

http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/16/travel/zealandia-new-continent-discovered/

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One of Delaware’s best-kept secrets is the Blue Hen B&B, nestled along Nottingham Road in Newark. Originally built in 1692, the Blue Hen is considered to be one of the oldest homes in the state.

Once part of a 255-acre farm, the B&B now includes 2 acres of beautifully-maintained property. Located a mile and a half from the hip and bustling Main Street of Newark, the Blue Hen is a haven of quiet charm.

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Once part of a 255-acre farm, the B&B now includes 2 acres of beautifully-maintained property. Located a mile and a half from the hip and bustling Main Street of Newark, the Blue Hen is a haven of quiet charm.

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Offering three guestrooms, each with its own private bath, the B&B is run by innkeepers Amy and Don Eschenbrenner. Amy, a Delaware native, is a wealth of information on local attractions and history, while Don – who works as an engineer – also teaches art lessons in landscape oil painting on the property.

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A pet-friendly bed and breakfast, the Blue Hen includes a doggie room for furry friends, and a large fenced-in yard in which the canine guests can run to their hearts’ content. Animal lovers appreciate the hospitality extended to pets, a unique feature of the Blue Hen B&B.

Weekday breakfasts, prepared by Amy, offer home-baked breads, scones, muffins, granola, and fruit. Weekends are covered by Don, who whips up delicious international offerings. A plethora of restaurants for dinner and lunch are nearby.

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Scooping up local awards in business, history, and romance, the Blue Hen is perfect for any getaway, whether it be work-related, family, or romantic.

www.bluehenbnb.com

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This fall Southwest Airlines offered great promo fares from Baltimore – Washington Airport to Providence, Rhode Island. With fares at just over $100 for a round trip, we decided to explore as much of Rhode Island as possible over the three day Veterans Day weekend.  At 48 miles long and 37 miles wide, you can cover quite a bit of this state in a few days!

In November, the fall foliage through Rhode Island remained quite colorful, with trees blazing in oranges and reds. Using a hotel in downtown Providence as a base, we spent time in Providence- the capital, ritzy Newport and small town Bristol over the three days.

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Our top activities and favorite moments:

  • “Cottages” of Newport: In the 1800s, Newport became a summer resort, attracting the country’s wealthiest families. Nineteenth century barons and magnates had extravagant mansions built along Bellevue Avenue. Much like European palaces and castles, the summer cottages are constructed with precious metals and contain collections of art and lavish furniture. The Breakers Plus package covered admission to the Breakers and any one of several Newport mansions. We toured The Breakers and Marble House, both built for Vanderbilt family members. The audio tours provided extensive information about the family and the gilded age when these elite families brought the rich and famous to Newport. The grounds and gardens are lovely, overlooking Easton Beach and Bay.
  • Federal Hill, Providence: Close to downtown Providence, Federal Hill is a charming community full of restaurants and shops. After noting its Italian heritage, we had dinner at an exceptional Italian restaurant, Pane E Vino, on Atwells Avenue, the main street of Federal Hill. The focaccia bread, eggplant and the pasta were exceptionally tasty. The extremely courteous and welcoming wait staffs made us feel as if we were dining in Italy with family!
  • RISD Museum, Providence: Within downtown Providence, the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design provided us with several hours of entertainment. The museum collection is varied, including Egyptian mummies, as well as ancient Greek and Roman sculptures. We particularly enjoyed the rooms of French impressionist paintings. Contained within five buildings and a courtyard, this museum experience was not overwhelming, but did allow for pleasurable wandering between furniture, paintings and sculptures from classical to modern.
  • Strolling through Bristol: On the eastern border close to Massachusetts overlooking Narragansett Bay, Bristol provided us with a small town USA feel. Unfortunately Blithewold Mansion was closed (despite advertisements to the contrary), but we were able to walk through the grounds, which included landscaped gardens and a magnificent view of the bay. The recommended seafood restaurant (Quitos) was also closed for the season, so we viewed the lovely upscale 18th and 19th century homes and read signage showing massive destruction from the 1938 hurricane and tidal wave.
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  • Touro Synagogue, Newport: Although not open for tours during our stay, we walked around the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue in the United States. Built in 1863, Touro is the only remaining Jewish house of worship from the Colonial era. The simple exterior is European in style. A small orthodox Jewish congregation holds services at Touro.
  • Brown University, Providence: Just above the downtown, we walked up the hill and entered the beautiful ivy-league campus through one of its gates. Founded in 1764, Brown is the seventh oldest college in the United States. We walked on Thayer Street, which runs through the campus, with its many quirky shops and restaurants. Inside the John Carter Brown Library, we quietly toured the plush reading room, with its tapestries and exhibits showing the French colonization of the United States.
  • Seafood, Providence: The culinary highlight of our weekend took place over dinner in Hemenway’s restaurant in downtown. The interior was elegant. We enjoyed a wide variety of seafood and fish. The waitress was exceptionally knowledgeable and friendly. IMG_2849
  • A very brief stop in Massachusetts: Traveling from Providence to Bristol, we passed through Fall River, Massachusetts. We just had to see the Lizzie Borden home, where in 1892 Lizzie’s father and step-mother were murdered by blows from an ax. Although Lizzie was arrested and jailed, she was acquitted. In the bay, Battleship Cove contains a collection of historic naval ships, including PT boats from World War II.   Also overlooking the bay, we lunched at the Cove restaurant, which featured fine seafood in an open attractive dining room.