Archive for the ‘Water’ Category

Into The Blue: 7 Of The World’s Most Unique & Unforgettable Diving Adventures

March 22, 2010

World's best dive tripsIf you’re a scuba diver, it’s a pretty safe bet that you spend a fair amount of time dreaming of new underwater worlds to explore.  The problem, of course, is that with so many spectacular dive sites around the world, you may have a hard time deciding where you want to go next.

Fortunately, there are a handful of dive trips that qualify as truly extraordinary experiences. The kind of once-in-a-lifetime aquatic adventures you’ll be talking about to anyone who’ll listen for many years to come.

So to give a little focus to your wetsuit wanderlust, I’ve pulled together this list of what many dive travel experts believe to be the world’s most over-the-top underwater experiences:

Pearl Diving

Divers have been harvesting pearls from the waters surrounding Bahrain for 4,000 years, and these trips to the local oyster beds prove they’re still producing some of the finest examples in the world.

Underwater Overnight

If you simply can’t get enough time beneath the waves, the Jules Undersea Lodge offers you the rare opportunity to actually sleep with the fishes.

Lost City of Atlantis

You may have thought that the story of Atlantis was a myth, but these dive tours will take you to explore manmade structures that some believe prove this legendary sunken city’s existence.

Graveyard Of The Atlantic

For history buffs and wreck diving aficionados, this area off the North Carolina coast offers a chance to dive on dozens of sunken vessels ranging from World War II-era freighters to the German U-boats that sank them.

Whale Sharks

The waters around sleepy Holbox Island, Mexico are home to one of the largest annual gatherings of the world’s biggest (and gentlest) fish, which gather here each summer by the hundreds.

Creature Feature

While there are lots of reasons to dive the warm waters off Key Largo, Captain Spencer Slate’s weekly subaquatic circus (starring barracuda he feeds fish held in his teeth and huggable six-foot moray eels) has to be seen to be believed.

Shark Diving

If climbing into a shark cage in the crystal clear waters off the California or Baja coast while being circled by great white sharks the size of compact cars isn’t exciting enough for you, well, I’m afraid you’re simply beyond help.

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A Real Wild Time—Part 1

October 22, 2009

A lot of folks mistakenly assume that having a truly extraordinary experience means spending a ton of dough or traveling to exotic locales.  Today’s post, the first in a two-part series, proves that ain’t necessarily so.

Eat your heart out, Captain Ahab!

Eat your heart out, Captain Ahab!

Considering I’m all about hunting down remarkable adventures, it’s probably not all that surprising that I generally tend to shy away from theme parks and similar attractions that cater to the masses. But my recent trip to San Diego reminded me that sometimes, with a little digging, it’s possible to turn up some downright extraordinary experiences even in the most touristy places you can imagine.

Case in point: SeaWorld’s Beluga Interaction Program.  While dolphin encounters have become fairly common, I can’t think of anywhere else you can get up-close-and-personal with one of these great white whales short of making the arduous and expensive trip to the Arctic Ocean (you can read about my friend Bob Howells’ beluga experience in the waters of Hudson Bay here).

While actually sliding into the 52-degree water with two of the park’s 14-foot long belugas was definitely the high point of our behind-the-scenes experience in the park’s Wild Arctic habitat, it was far from the only cool thing we did during the 70-minute program.  Seeing an 11-foot tall male polar bear rear up on his hind legs to reach a treat offered by his keeper—even if he was behind his protective steel enclosure—was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

I am the walrus!

Obie: I am the walrus!

My favorite part of the experience, however, was the chance to feed a 2,500-pound male walrus named Obie. After his snack, the portly pinniped showed off a few of the hilarious sounds he could make, including a lion-esque roar that left me covered in fish scales and walrus snot  (Note to Self: Never stand in front of a vocalizing walrus).  Now there’s a story for my next cocktail party!

In short, the entire Beluga Interaction Program was an absolute hoot.  Not to mention a great reminder that sometimes you’ll find extraordinary experiences waiting for you in the least likely places.

NEXT TIME: We go on safari without leaving California.

Shark Season

September 17, 2009

"I think we're going to need a bigger boat."

"We're going to need a bigger boat."

Remember the scene in the movie Jaws where beachgoers ran screaming from the water’s edge when someone spotted the movie’s toothy star (no, not Roy Scheider) in the waters off the fictional Amity Island?  Well, call me crazy, but I had exactly the opposite reaction last week when I heard several great white sharks had been seen cruising the waters around Cape Cod.

You see, I’m one of those people who’d go way out of my way to see a great white in the wild.  If you’re similarly inclined, you might want to check out the one-day shark diving trips to California’s Farallon Islands or five-day expeditions to Baja’s Isla Guadalupe offered by Great White Adventures.  Fall is prime-time for seeing great whites in these two areas, as the 15-foot eating machines come to feed on the seals that congregate on these remote rocky outcroppings.

If these up-close-and-personal shark encounters seem a little too, ummm, up-close for you, you might want to head to the Monterey Bay Aquarium where they’ve just introduced the fifth in a series of juvenile great whites into their million-gallon Outer Bay exhibit.  But don’t delay if you’re hoping to get a look at one of only a handful of these rare creatures ever put on public display, as this sleek five-foot female will likely be released back into the open ocean before the turn of the year.

Don’t Be A Crab!

July 29, 2009

deadlyDon’t be a crab fisherman in Alaska, that is.  If you’re wondering why, just watch a couple of these clips (especially #10 Weather) from Discovery Channel’s hit reality series Deadliest Catch and, trust me, you’ll understand.

The show, which follows a handful of Alaskan crab fishing boats on the storm-tossed Bering Sea, has developed a surprisingly sizeable following over the past five seasons.  And now fans can get an up-close-and-personal look at these commercial fishermen’s world without having to brave the monster waves and brutal cold that go with the job.

Since one of our guiding principles states that “Reality kicks virtual reality’s butt every time,” we’ll only mention the Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm video game in passing.  Better to get up off the couch, put down your Xbox 360 controller, and head for downtown Seattle’s Fisherman’s Terminal where you can tour the Sea Star, one of the fishing boats that starred in the show’s first season.

For a more immersive experience, book a spot on the Bering Sea Crab Fisherman’s Tour that sets sail from the port of Ketchikan, Alaska.  Climb aboard the 107-foot Aleutian Ballad, the only crab fishing boat designed and licensed to carry paying passengers, for a three-hour tour where you can watch the crew set and haul in 700-pound crab pots filled with a variety of marine life including crabs, octopus,  cod, and even sharks, all of which get plopped into a live tank for your viewing pleasure before they’re returned to their watery home.

If that’s just not authentic enough for you, check out this page on the Deadliest Reports blog for tips on finding a job on a real Alaskan fishing boat.  And if you’re, ahem, lucky enough to land a spot working on one of these boats, well, just don’t say we didn’t warn you!

The Great Explorers

June 19, 2009

Ancient_MapI know traditional cruises aboard humongous ocean liners are wildly popular but, honestly, their formal dress code, glitzy stage shows, and endless buffets really aren’t my thing.  I much prefer smaller ships that are able to go all sorts of places those floating cities can’t, while offering a much friendlier atmosphere and a more adventurous feel.

Which explains why this new around-the-world cruise aboard the 120-passenger Spirit of Oceanus caught my eye.  The folks at CruiseWest have come up with a 335-day itinerary they’re calling The Voyages of the Great Explorers that will follow the travels of Marco Polo, Odysseus, Leif Eriksson, Christopher Columbus, James Cook, and Magellan.  A fleet of inflatable Zodiacs and a long list of guest lecturers ups the adventure quotient.

The cruise departs from Singapore on March 6, 2010 and sails westward on its way to 242 ports of call in 59 countries.  If setting off on an 11-month cruise doesn’t quite mesh with your work schedule, don’t write the idea off as CruiseWest is also booking passengers on shorter segments of 10 to 20 days.  Either way, it sounds like a truly extraordinary experience.

Hugs & Kisses

April 2, 2009

rider-kissOver the years I’ve been fortunate enough to have had several truly remarkable wildlife encounters with everything from a 400-pound Alaskan grizzly to a 24-ounce Harris hawk.  And now I can add another extraordinary experience to that list thanks to folks at Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys.

Hawks Cay, which is located on Duck Key about 90 minutes south of Miami, has all the things you’d expect at an upscale resort, including a wide array of watersports activities (Hot Tip: Check out their jet ski tours where we saw both dolphins and sea turtles in their natural environment).  But the hotel also has something you’re not likely to find anywhere else: A full-on dolphin encounter program dedicated to both preserving the species and protecting the oceans that these highly intelligent marine mammals call home.

One way the folks at the Dolphin Connection hope to achieve those admirable goals is by offering three distinct programs designed to appeal to a variety of ages and interest levels.  My family and I opted for the 45-minute Dolphin Discovery program that allowed us to spend nearly a half-hour in the water with the program’s four Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. 

While guests’ interactions with the dolphins are tightly controlled for the good of all concerned, it was still pretty amazing to be this close to these intelligent creatures and interact with them as the trainers put them through their paces.  Actually, in retrospect, it was a little like co-starring in one of those old Flipper episodes I watched as a kid.

rider-hug-2In the end our time with the dolphins was over much too soon, though not before we all managed to get both a hug and a kiss out of the deal.  Which, come to think of it, is more than I can say for any of the other wildlife encounters I’ve ever had!

Giggles Per Greenback

January 26, 2009

meterLook, I watch the nonstop gloom-and-doom festival they call the nightly news and I know that times are tough all over.  But I also know that, if ever there was a time when we could all use to blow off a little steam and have a few laughs, well, this is it.

Which is why I’ve created  a thoroughly unscientific list of extraordinary experiences that I feel are outstanding values.  We’re talking about maximum yucks for minimum bucks

All will set you back less than $500.  Which seems like a small price to pay for an adventure guaranteed to make you forget all those news reports that had you feeling so freaky-freaky in the first place:

 

Heavy-Duty Therapy

Feeling frustrated?  Powerless?  Here’s my prescription: Take a few hours of tearing stuff up behind the controls of a 20-ton bulldozer or tracked excavator and call me in the morning.

 Mellow Out With Manatees

Remember the old Get Smart episode with the retrogressor gun, a device that made everyone act like a goofy eight-year-old kid for 30 minutes?  Coming face-to-face with a Florida manatee is just like that, only wetter.

Paragliding For Perspective

Sometimes, when things look bad, it helps to try a different perspective.  Like cruising hundreds of feet above the Pacific on an hour-long tandem paraglider flight from La Jolla’s Torrey Pines Gliderport.

Driven To Distraction

Car lovers looking for a little four-wheeled escapism need look no further than Detroit’s annual Woodward Dream Cruise.  If 12 hours of rubbernecking at 40,000 hot rods, customs, and classics doesn’t distract you from your troubles, nothing will.

Golden Opportunity

Who couldn’t use a little extra cash right about now, you know, for little luxuries like rent and groceries?  Well, allow me to suggest you go pick it up from the source on one of these gold prospecting adventures.

Iron Butt It!

For me, riding a motorcycle has always been a great way to decompress.  Add the gorgeous scenery and mental challenges of riding in a 24-hour endurance rally like the Utah 1088 and you have an experience that is both extraordinary and therapeutic.

Fais Do-Do At Fred’s

If there were a graduate-level course in forgetting your worries, they’d teach it during the weekly Saturday morning Cajun dance party at the legendary Fred’s Lounge in Mamou, Louisiana.  Don’t believe me?  Go ahead, show up here and try and have a bad time here, I dare you.

Run Flat Out

Life is complicated.  Which explains the appeal of running in the USFRA’s 130 MPH Club on the Bonneville Salt Flats.  Pull up to the starting line, stand on the gas pedal, grin like an idiot, and hang on.  If only everything were this simple.

Leap Of Faith

Jumping out of a perfectly good airplane may seem a little nutty, but I’ll tell you this: If there’s a more fully-alive-in-the-present-moment experience on this planet, I haven’t found it.  Plus, after watching them open that door at 14,000 feet, nothing you face in your everyday life will ever seem all that scary again.

Have Family, Will Travel

January 5, 2009

foto-8Given the sub-freezing overnight lows here in the last couple of weeks, I’m really looking forward to a little family trip to Florida we have planned for next month. 

Highlights include going back to swim with the manatees off Florida’s west coast, an interspecies encounter that I found to be nothing short of amazing the first time around.  We’ll also be checking out a few new extraordinary experiences, including watching one of the last remaining Space Shuttle launches before NASA pulls the plug on the giant rocket-planes in 2010. space_shuttle_launch

And speaking of family travel, I wanted to say a special thanks to Shannon Hurst Lane, one of the four adventurous ladies behind TravelingMamas.com for the great interview with me she just posted on the website.   While you’re there, check out some of the stories of their own memorable family advenures, including this one that I’ve just put on my personal “to-do” list.   

WAY Too Close For Comfort

December 12, 2008

gws3_b1

Coming face-to-face with a great white shark (from the safety of a shark cage, of course) is something that’s been on my to-do list for some time.  Now I’m having second thoughts.

Why, you ask?  Well, when I mentioned the idea to my friend Jim McDonough (an avid northern California surfer who regularly braves shark-infested waters when he’s not doing his web development/marketing thing) he turned me onto this video.  Seems these two guys got a little more out of their shark-diving trip off the coast of Mexico’s Baja peninsula than they bargained for.  Talk about close encounters! 

Does this mean I’m crossing this off my list of future extraordinary experiences?  Nah.  But I do believe I’ll make sure my life and disability insurance premiums (“whatdaya mean being bitten in half isn’t covered?”) are paid up beforehand!  

8 Great (Affordable) Gift Ideas

December 9, 2008

It’s time for XTRORD.com’s first-annual holiday gift guide.  And, if you’re a regular follower of this space, you probably already know how I feel about giving and getting more stuff that, let’s face it, none of us really needs.  But giving someone an extraordinary experience? Ah, well, that’s a different story altogether.

So with a nod to the dark clouds that seem to be hanging over the global economy in general and many folks personal finances in particular right now, I thought I’d focus on extraordinary experiences you can give that will blow the recipient’s socks off without breaking the bank (herein defined as under $200).

In no particular order then, here are my Eight Great Extraordinary Gift Ideas:

For The Jaded: Paragliding Above The Pacific

If you give this gift to someone and they’re not completely wowed, well, I suggest you immediately check them for signs of a pulse.  And even though the idea of running off the edge of a 300-foot cliff may sound a little daunting, you can rest assured knowing that paragliding is actually one of the safest and most serene forms of flight. 

For The Athletic: Wild Cave Tour

If you’ve got someone on your list who’s in good shape and likes a challenge, six hours of climbing, crawling, and squeezing through impossibly tight cracks in the depths of Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave will give them a spelunking experience they won’t soon forget.

 For The Nature Lover: Swim With Manatees

From personal experience I can tell you there’s no more moving interspecies encounter than coming face-to-face—literally—with these gentle creatures in the crystal-clear waters off Florida’s west coast.

 For The Speed Freak: Joining The 130 MPH Club

Know someone with a lead foot? Here’s your chance to feed their need for speed by allowing them to set their own personal land speed record on the world-famous Bonneville Salt Flats.

 For The Big Kid:  Sleeping In A Treehouse

C’mon now, what kid (of any age) wouldn’t like to spend the night in a really cool treehouse?  Add the fact that most of the over-the-top “rooms” at this arboreal bed-and-breakfast have a long list of grown-up creature comforts and your gift-givee may not want to come down.

 For The History Buff:  Civil War Adventure Camp

I like historical attractions as much as the next guy. But, let’s face it, some can be a little dull.  Petersburg, Virginia’s Pamplin Historical Park changes all that with a 24-hour program that gives participants the chance to live the life of a civil war soldier right down to firing actual muzzleloaders!

 For The Sailor: Command An America’s Cup Yacht

To a sailing aficionado, being allowed to take the wheel of an 80-foot America’s Cup contender is like being handed the keys to a Ferrari.  Add the warm sunshine, cool breezes, and stunning scenery of San Diego Bay and you have a great way to spend the day. 

 For The Cash-Strapped: Panning For Gold

When it comes right down to it, who couldn’t use a little extra walking around money right now?  Which is why we love the idea of spending the day panning for gold—which is still going for around $800 an ounce—in the creeks of California’s gold country. 

 If none of these tickle your fancy, you’ll find lots more ideas on our Xperiences page.