Friday, July 18, 2008

Traveling with Grandchildren

Looking for a chance to spend quality time with a grandchild? How about taking them on a trip?

Travel experts report a boom in intergenerational travel fueled in part by the bulge in boomer retirees with time on their hands, good health and plump wallets. And why not? Properly planned, a trip with grandchildren can be a wonderful experience for everyone involved.

The grandparent gets quality, one-on-one time with the child.

The parents, who are often both still working, know their child is in good hands having the time of their young lives.

The kids get to go on an adventure to remember.

As one traveling grandparent said, “I’d rather leave them with memories than money. Money is quickly spent but memories last a lifetime.”

The range of destinations is limitless; from independent travel to organized tours targeted specifically at the grandparent/grandchild combination. Activity levels vary from going and looking to going and doing; visit Yellowstone, tour the nation’s capital, take a cruise, raft the Colorado River, cycle Vermont, hike in the Rockies…. The idea list is limited only by one’s imagination and can be tailored to the interests and ability of the participants.

As wonderful as a good trip can be, a poorly planned excursion can leave the wrong kind of memories. So, don’t simply select a trip that you, the adult, will enjoy. Talk to the child and their parents about options. Having them involved in the planning will make it more their trip, not simply your trip that they are joining. Besides, it’s good to talk with grandchildren. You may be surprised at where their interests lie.

Pick the destination carefully. Do you want to try something new or revisit a place you previously enjoyed? If you recall a great hike from your past, consider it. If you know your way around New York City you can be the tour guide. Or think about a place that will be new to all of you. Whatever you consider, don’t forget the child. Do they like to read or run? Have they ever slept in a tent or is a bed preferred? Have they ever been away from the parents before? If not, a short “test” trip might be in order. Do they live nearby (so you know them well) or across the country (so you are a gray haired stranger.)

Some travelers like to plan their own trips. There are advantages to independent travel as opposed to an organized tour. You will likely be together with the child more and free of group distractions. That works well for some grandparents.

Other travelers prefer the guided tour approach to travel. The child might enjoy having other kids along. Often tours offer educational opportunities that grandparents would have trouble duplicating. And the grandparents may welcome some quiet time when the child is engaged with a guide or other young people.

Consider the ages involved. There is no “best” age to travel. But an effort should be made to match the destination with the ages of all parties. The six year old might do well at Disneyland but poorly on a trip to Florence. Rock climbing might attract the sixteen year old but be a bit tough on Grandpa. There are enough choices out there that age appropriate activities are not hard to find. Some of the organized tours, Elderhostel for example, tailors each tour to children of a certain age range. That allows them to focus the adventure on kids of similar abilities and insures they are surrounded by peers as well as their grandparents.

Pick an activity level that suits all parties. If little Johnny lives a sedimentary existence don’t try to turn the trip into a two week boot camp. You may try to amp up the activity level from what he is used to but don’t try to remake the child. It will only frustrate the grandparent and irritate the child. So consider the child’s interests, match them with your own and try to select an activity both can enjoy.

As an alternative, consider a trip that has different activities for adults and kids. For example, if you visit a dude ranch, you don’t have to ride your assigned steed every day or at all. Let the child go with the guide. You will still have quality time together. Some cruise lines offer family suites and programs for kids of all ages. You can turn the kids loose in the morning and see them at dinner. The same is true for all-inclusive resorts, like Club Med. The time together comes when they return from the day’s activity and report in.

Planning for travel success doesn’t end once you have selected an interest, age and activity appropriate destination. Next think about the little things.

Help the grandchild put together a packing list; things they shouldn’t leave home without. On an organized tour, the operator may have a suggested packing list for you. Do you need special shoes; a backpack or sunscreen? Don’t forget the earphones, a benefit if you have different musical tastes. Other ideas:
· Get a medical release from the parents in case care is needed on the trip.
· Plan ahead if a passport will be required.
· Are there any books, videos or web sites they should experience that will enhance their enjoyment or understanding of the destination?
· A camera and journal will add to the memory of the trip. If the child doesn’t have one, consider providing one. You know how important they can be even if the child may not.

Most important, once you are on your way, relax and enjoy yourself. Remember, kids will be kids. Traveling with kids is different from traveling with your spouse of many years. You might have to share the bathroom. They might leave their things around the room. You may be surprised by their choice of clothing. Go with the flow and you will stitch a memory for the child that will last them forever; and that’s a good thing.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Whether traveling independently or with a group, the web is a resource. A Google search of “intergenerational travel” reveals a wealth of resources and ideas. The list below targets some specific tour groups. Even if you don’t chose a tour company you will find some wonderful destination ideas in their listings.

The Sierra Club offers a range of outings targeted to families and suitable for grandparent/grandchild travel. They tend to be more physical than some tours. Opportunities exist to work on trail building and other public service activities while you enjoy the outdoors.
www.sierraclub.org/outings/national/

Grandtravel is the high end choice. They can take you from Africa to Alaska and many places in between. This firm specifically targets intergenerational trips.
www.grandtrvl.com/web/guest/Home

Most of the cruise lines offer family programs that work for Grandparent/Grandchild travel. The Norwegian Cruise Line offers Freestyle Family Fun with programs for all age groups. Holland America, through Club HAL and a teen program, can also keep the kids occupied. Disney Cruise Lines is all about kids and families. With a busy cruise activity program the child may be away from the grandparent as much as they are with them. But they are sure to come home with lots of memories.
www.ncl.com
www.hollandamerica.com
www.disneycruise.com

As the name implies, Rascals in Paradise delivers a menu of family friendly, active tours appropriate for an active grandparent/grandchild team.
www.rascalsinparadise.com/

Butterfield & Robinson offers a range of age specific tours. You can select from tours for kids 5+, 8+ and 12+. Most are abroad and involve cycling. Each trip is rated for “activity” level so you can judge how strenuous they might be.
http://www.butterfield.com/

Don’t be fooled by the Elderhostel name. Elderhostel trips are not for wimps. Originally they focused on adults, 55 and up. Now they offer over 150 tours designed for grandparents with grandchildren. You can select different activities and activity levels that are designed for specific age groups. The Elderhostel program mixes activity with education in a package that has an appeal across generations.
http://www.elderhostel.org/

Retiring Relationships; Managing the Non-Financial Side of Retirement

Retirement! Your whole career it’s out there; a distant thing that your father went through. Then suddenly, or so it might seem, retirement time is here. It may be something you elect to do or it may be thrust upon you as in “downsizing” or “layoff.” Either way one day you are a productive member of the workforce and then next you are a retiree. Will you be ready?

No problem you say? You have your IRA, 401K and your financial plan all tuned for the big day. But how about your non-financial plan? What are you going to do with yourself? How do your plans mesh with your spouse’s? Have you thought about it? Does it matter? After 40 years in the workforce you may now face an identity crisis like you last faced as an adolescent.

Think about it. While working you typically have structure in your day and a sense of purpose. You spend time away from your spouse. You exert influence, earn praise and have a sense of identity. Friendships often revolve around work and business. The day you retire much more than a paycheck goes away. It may come as a shock to realize that, no matter how valuable you were to your firm, they will get along without you.

So the question is, how do you prepare and execute your “non-financial” retirement plan? Fortunately there are a few simple steps you can take to ease your slide into the retirement world. Consider these:
1. Plan ahead (as in before the day you retire.)
2. Talk (as in communicate with your partner.)
3. Compromise (as in be willing to give a little.)
4. Get a space (as in a shop, office or a place to go.)
5. Get a life (as in find something to do.)
6. Know that nothing is something (as in reading a good book counts.)

We’ll look at these ideas one at a time.

PLAN AHEAD
Harry was shocked the day after he retired. No meetings were scheduled. His Blackberry was silent. No one was asking his opinion. Other than eating three meals and reading the paper his day was open. His wife was busy with her own schedule. What was he to do?

Harry shouldn’t have been surprised. Without a plan he was going through the same withdrawal symptoms that thousands of retirees face each year. Keith Bender, a professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin, found that retirees with a plan are happier in retirement than those who enter retirement with no plan or only a financial plan.

There are simple ways to avoid Harry’s dilemma. Learn what to expect in retirement before you get there. Talk to recent retirees. They can be a great source of comfort and insight. Businesses, brokers and some colleges offer retirement planning seminars. Buy a good book on retirement planning. A search for retirement planning books on Amazon provides a broad range of choices.

Take a look, buy a book and avoid Harry’s surprise.

TALK
"What we've got here is failure to communicate." That memorable quote from Paul Newman’s Oscar winning 1967 film “Cool Hand Luke” aptly describes many post retirement marriages. Two people, married for years, suddenly find themselves thrust together 24/7. The “underfoot syndrome” begins to poison the relationship. Studies suggest that only a small percentage of marriages go sour after retirement but many undergo high levels of stress as they pass through a period of adjustment. If the partners don’t talk freely about this new stage in life the stress can be daunting.

The new retiree often forgets that their spouse already has a life and daily schedule. The retiree’s presence during the day can be viewed more as an intrusion than a joy as the non-working spouse feels a loss of independence. The partners may find they have widely differing views on what constitutes an “ideal” retirement.

Upon retiring Jeff planned to sell the house and move to their Whidbey Island home full time. Oops, he forgot to tell his wife. They didn’t move.

Sally retired and began using Dave’s home computer during the day. But Dave used it for his home business and had never shared it before. They bought a second computer.

Larry assumed they would begin eating all their meals together. Betty had her own schedule and it didn’t include making three meals a day for Larry. They have dinner together.

Bill and Ann both retired. She assumed they would travel. He assumed he would golf near home with friends. They are a work in progress.

On the surface all these examples seem petty and insignificant. But if left to fester all can (and did) cause friction for far too long. In each case the offended spouse hoped the issue would resolve itself and avoided talking about it until the minor irritation grew into a major confrontation. To complicate the matter further, each of these incidents were one of many points of friction. Taken out of context they seem like no big deal but, taken along with a other friction points they grew to flash points, resolved only when anger and frustration grew to a breaking point.

The suggested solution; talk or communicate in ways that work for you. Following a series of miscommunications one couple set aside Monday morning for a weekly “meeting” to review points of friction and communicate plans for the week. After the post retirement routines were in place the need for the meeting diminished but, at first, it was a welcome outlet. Another pair leaves their respective calendars in the kitchen so each knows what the other has planned for the week. They point out they are providing information to their spouse, not asking permission.

However you communicate do it often enough that the little issues don’t become big ones.

COMPROMISE
My way or the highway! That management style may work at the office. It is harder to execute at home. Unless a relationship is indescribably harmonious or absolutely tyrannical the transition into retirement will entail some compromise. Embrace it. The outcome may be better than you envisioned.

Who will take the car for service? Who will plan the vacations? Where will you vacation? Do you work out together or independently? Who pays the bills? When is “my” time on the computer?

Questions that seemed resolved over years of marriage surface again when the former worker comes home. Jerry thought he would have more time to pursue his own interests in retirement and that his wife would continue to manage the home as before. Her response; “when do I get to retire? I managed the home because I knew you were engaged at work.” In her view it was time to reassign the home management tasks. Jerry was surprised; they compromised.

Compromise should not be confused with “giving in.” It isn’t a win-lose discussion. It’s a timely assessment of a new reality.

Sally and Jim, married at 50 and retired at 60, faced each other at the kitchen table discussing their retirement options. She liked sun, beaches and being near the water. He liked fishing. They purchased a 42 foot boat, took a boating safety course, joined a local yacht club and have never looked back. It was the first boat either had owned and a win-win solution.

Bill and Ann resolved their golf vs. travel conflict by planning travel to destinations where golf was an option allowing Bill to play at a whole range of new courses.

A successful compromise doesn’t have to include a major purchase. It can simply involve agreeing to split household chores, scheduling computer time, allocating time to be alone or with friends (awayness time vs. togetherness time.)

GET A SPACE
A psychologist could likely explain why we have a need for a place to call our own. Maybe it’s because we always had a place at work that was “ours.” Maybe it’s a womb envy thing. But for whatever reason a retiree needs a place to call their own. It could be a desk, a shop, a sewing room, a craft area or even a rented space away from home.

The space may reflect the needs of a new hobby or of a second profession. If you take up quilting you need a place to spread out. If you decide to build a wooden kayak you need space to make a mess. If you are managing your investments you need an office area that you might not want to share with your spouse. If you are taking up a second profession or doing non-profit work you will need all the trappings of an office; phone, fax, computer.

Even if you are doing none of these things you may just need a refuge to call your own. By setting up your own area, for whatever purpose, you can set the rules and avoid spousal conflicts.

Short of space? Look at options. Take a table at Starbucks. Visit the Library. Find a desk at the non-profit you are working with. Spend more time at your summer home or on your boat.

Unsure of what of what kind of space you’ll need? Don’t worry. It will evolve once you begin to sort out your post retirement activities.

One final note about space. Don’t mess with your spouse’s space. No spouse wants to come home and hear, “honey, I’ve found a new way to optimize our closet and storage space” or “dear, I’ve rearranged your things in the garage. Doesn’t it look nice?” Don’t go there.

GET A LIFE
There is no excuse for boredom in retirement. Period.

Sadly not every retiree would agree with that statement. And many potential retirees live in fear of retirement because they dread “having nothing to do.” Staying physically and mentally active is also good for your health. Dr Eric Sundstrom, a University of Tennessee professor of psychology, says “people who are engaged live longer and happier than those who sit on the porch and rock….”

Successful retirees tend to parrot a hackneyed line; “I’m so busy in retirement I don’t know when I ever had time to work.” It’s true. There is plenty to do out there if, and it’s a big “if,” you will be proactive and find something that matches your interests.

Manage your investments. Remodel a house. Train for a marathon. Get a hobby; there are too many to list. Work for a non-profit. Visit city hall and find a board or committee to work on. Get active in a political party. Run for office. Take up reading. Mentor a child. If worse comes to worse, get a real job.

Unattached John capitalized on his interest in World War I, took French lessons at community college, read extensively and then moved to France for six months to walk the battlefields and meet the people.

Matt is a volunteer sailing instructor at the Wooden Boat Center on Lake Union.

Sue volunteers at a hospital.

Nancy retired from teaching and now substitute teaches in the same district.

Getting a life after retirement serves many purposes. You do something of value. You have a reason to get up in the morning. It gives you some time away from your spouse so they can nurture their own interests.

Dr. Paul Nussbaum, a neuropsychologist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine argues that mental and physical activity is critical to a healthy brain. Travel, for example, puts the brain in a complex environment and provides healthy mental activity. Physical activity stimulates the brain, refreshing blood flow. Start moving and keep thinking. Don’t get stuck in a rocking chair with the TV remote.

One caveat. Don’t get too involved. When that chance to travel comes up you don’t want to be over committed!

KNOW THAT NOTHING IS SOMETHING
Do nothing? What kind of advice is that? Taken in context, sound advice. While post retirement activity is encouraged don’t forget to stop and smell the roses. It is OK to have a quiet visit with a friend or grandchild. It is OK to sit and read a book or meet a friend for coffee. After all, you may have spent your entire working career on a schedule treadmill. You’re retired. It is OK to take it easy some of the time provided you still remember the suggestions noted above.

Retirement is a time you can do things you didn’t have time for in the past. Take advantage of the opportunity. The key word is balance. Balance activity with relaxation. Balance recreation with stimulation. Balance time with your spouse with time away. Everyone is different. Find your balance point and enjoy your retirement.

Retirement years can be the best part of your life. Census numbers suggest that if you make it to 60 years of age odds are good that you will see 80 which means that nearly a third of your adult life might be spent in retirement. Relish it. Take advantage of it. Enjoy the time you can spend with your spouse while respecting the time you spend away. You just may be pleasantly surprised where the retirement road takes you.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Interested in more information on retirement preparation? With 78 million baby boomers marching toward retirement there is a wealth of information being generated to make their retirement transition as successful as possible. Here is a sample.

Local colleges offer a range of programs aimed at the retired and soon to be retired. They include:
Bellevue Community College at: www.conted.bcc.ctc.edu/index.asp
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Washington at: www.outreach.washington.edu/olli/
A number of retiree resources sites are available on the web. Here are just a few.
www.matureresources.org
www.mynextphase.com
www.navigatingyourretirement.com
If you like to curl up with a good book try:
For Better or for Worse...But Not for Lunch : Making Marriage Work in Retirement” by Sara Yogev
The Power Years: A User's Guide to the Rest of Your Life” by Ken Dychtwald and Daniel J. Kadlec

Vermont; A Snowy Winter Playground

Ready to explore a new winter vacation destination? Tired of Whistler rain and interminable border crossing delays? Bored by Sun Valley’s predictably good weather? Then perhaps it’s time to branch out, skip the western half of the country and give Vermont a try.

Unexplored by most west coast travelers, Vermont is full of surprises for anyone with a love of snow and an interest in trying a new vacation destination. The major resorts offer all that you would expect in a winter package; alpine and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, sleigh rides and ice skating. Seeking a slower tempo? Smaller inns offer cross-country and snowshoeing opportunities far from the bustle of the big name resorts. And, everywhere in the region, visitors are exposed to the natural beauty, country charm and rich history of the state.

While not one of the 13 original colonies, Vermont was first settled in 1724 and joined the union as the 14th state in 1791. For the skier, that historic charm is very much in evidence in the 100 year old village of Stowe, just a short drive from the 75 year old Stowe Resort. The modern ski area draws energy from the well preserved Stowe Village with its many shops, restaurants and lodging choices. And don’t be put off by the age of the village and resort. This Northern Vermont resort is modern beneath the surface, offers a range of winter activities and has recently spent over fifty million dollars on new lifts to whisk skiers up the mountain.

Scattered down the mountain spine of the state here are resorts for every taste and skill level. Killington, the east coast’s largest ski area, boasts the most lifts, most runs and the most vertical drop in the state. Okemo, little known outside the state, is known as the ‘family place’ with its emphasis on kid friendly activities. If you would like to sample several resorts during a single vacation, other resorts, like Mount Snow, Sugarbush and Stratton, are just a short drive from one another.

Killington’s lift pass covers seven peaks with the tallest offering 3000 feet of vertical. That compares favorably with Sun Valley’s 3400 feet of vertical. The area boasts of over 200 inches of natural snowfall in an average year backed up by the state’s largest snow making system, in case mother nature throws a curve. Their expansive lift network includes two heated high-speed express gondolas. Its large size tends to draw large crowds so a traveler would be wise to avoid the holidays or the big three-day winter weekends.

Okemo Mountain Resort, just 20 miles from Killington, has added new lifts and lodging in its pursuit of the family market. Spread over two mountains and served from two bases skiers can choose from easy green runs to knee banging black diamonds so no one is left out.

While all the major areas cater to alpine and cross-country skiers and snow boarders Stratton Resort hold the title as the home of the first serious snowboard. Jake Carpenter, the founder of Burton Snowboards, reportedly snuck onto the Stratton slopes at night, when he wouldn’t be observed by competitors, to test his new metal edged designs. Stratton now offers four terrain parks for all levels of boarding enthusiast while still presenting a first class ski experience.

Not an downhill skier? You are not forgotten. All the major resorts offer a choice of winter activities. The woods around the mountains are laced with trails for more sublime cross-country or snowshoeing activities. Sled rides, ice skating and even snowmobile opportunities are available in or near most resorts. Over twenty areas focus entirely on the people powered trail sports, with no down hill facilities at all. For example, central Vermont’s Three Stallions Inn offers 30 miles of trails in an environment so quiet you can almost hear the sap flow from the sugar maples.

While there, be sure to sample Vermont’s cuisine. There’s more to Vermont than Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. To support the local farm scene restaurants make a point of offering locally grown foods with a focus on their strong dairy industry. Vermont Cheddar, which is white, not yellow, is one of more popular though many varieties are produced by artisan cheese makers across the state. Woodstock Water Buffalo offers both Yogurt and a Mozzarella made from the milk of their Water Buffalos. The yogurt has a rich, sensuous feel, quite different from traditional styles.

No visit would be complete without savoring something “maple.” In addition to syrup you can find candy, pancake mix, bacon, ham and sausage all flavored with maple drawn from their ubiquitous trees. In Vermont it seems there is little that can be eaten that can’t be flavored with maple.

While Vermont seems far from Bellevue, connections to Burlington, the states largest city, or Boston place you within three hours of all the major areas. Burlington is less than one hour from Stowe, one of the more northerly resorts. The promise of lots of snow mixed with the charm and beauty of the state justifies a few more hours in the air.

Vermont doesn’t offer Rocky Mountain powder but new grooming and snow making technology allows the resorts to make the most of the abundant snow and overcome their old reputation for icy slopes. With lots of snow and good grooming you will find enough good corduroy to satisfy your need for speed. As for the weather, temperatures in the teens are common during the ski season so pack your warmest gear. You may not need it but it’s good insurance.

Visitors can choose from a range of lodging types; from rustic B & B’s and inns to four star hotels. Resort condos and mid range hotels are also available. Vermont visitors can select as much “charm and quaintness” as they wish. Stowe, for example, is all New England in feel and appearance. Other resorts present a more contemporary European or Rocky Mountain atmosphere.

If your idea of a winter vacation encompasses the entire package; atmosphere, history, food, lodging, time spent in front of the fireplace, weather and snow quality, then Vermont has a lot to offer. If you measure trip success in feet of vertical achieved, then stay in the Rockies.

Still not sure you want to risk New England travel in the winter. Fear not. Jet Blue recently inaugurated non-stop service from Burlington to Orlando. If the thermometer plunges during you visit you can slip away for a few days of sun while your friends at home think you are shivering in the mountains of Vermont.

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Many on-line resources are available to help you design your winter vacation.
The Vermont Chamber of Commerce Provides extensive information on activities, lodging and dining choices in the Green Mountain State. Request their Winter Vacation Guide at the site. They will send it along with a state highway map.http://www.vtchamber.com/

Another good source of general information is provided at http://www.newenglandtravelplanner.com/outdoors/ski/vt/

A quick link to all the alpine and cross-country ski areas and other useful winter activity information can be found at the site of the Vermont Ski Association. Links to specific areas and inns are provided at the site.http://www.skivermont.com/

Remember the “Sound of Music?” Vermont is the home of the famous Trapp family and their inviting lodge near Stowe. Don’t expect to Julie Andrews but the lodge is wonderful and you could pick up an edelweiss mug at the extensive gift shop.http://www.trappfamily.com/

Looking for a quiet inn away from the bustle. Try the Select Registry.http://www.selectregistry.com/default.aspx
The Three Stallion Inn offers cross country trails in a four star wrapper.http://www.skivermont.com/crosscountry/resort/threestallion
For an inn experience near both Killington and Okemo try the cozy October Country Inn.http://www.vermontinns.net/
For a walk back through time at Stowe try the Green Mountain Inn. Dating from 1833 the centrally located in is in walking distance of the village shops and restaurants.www.greenmountaininn.com

Free Stuff; A Guide to Seattle Area Bargains

The Seattle metro area is one of the nations best places to live. With robust arts and education communities and an abundance of recreational opportunities there is so much to do. And it may be a surprise to learn how many of these activities are absolutely free!

Yes, zero, zilch, nada, free. The region offers a menu of free places and events broad enough to satisfy nearly every age and taste.

For example, travel guru Rick Steves offers free travel classes where you can learn about topics ranging from travel destinations and language to how to ride a train in Europe.

In its area stores, kitchen retailer Williams Sonoma offers “technique demonstrations” on topics as diverse as the basics of omelet making to tips for holiday entertaining. Topics and times vary so it’s advisable to call your nearest store for a schedule.

Wine tasting at area wineries is another free activity. One of the regions largest wineries, Ch√Ęteau Ste. Michelle, offers visitors wine samples and the opportunity to wander their beautiful Woodinville grounds. But it is just one of dozens of local wine makers who can be found by typing “seattle wine tasting” in the search box at citysearch.com.

If your interests roam beyond travel, food and wine you will find a wide array of additional options available.

The Fry Museum is always free. Most other major museums allow free access at times. The Seattle Art Museum has evenings free to the public the first Thursday of each month, to seniors the first Friday and to teens the second Friday. Boeing sponsors a free night, the first Friday of the month at the Bellevue Art Museum.

If you prefer airplanes to art the Museum of Flight opens its doors to everyone the first Thursday of the month, in a program sponsored by Wells Fargo Bank.

The performing arts want to encourage your visits as well though tickets are not quite free. Many of the theaters staging live plays offer “near free” opportunities by holding “pay what you can” evenings. The Seattle Repertory Theater holds a “pay what you can” evening once during each main stage production with a one dollar minimum payment. Act Theater sets aside two nights during each production, suggesting a five dollar payment but accepting more or less, down to one dollar. Contact you favorite theater to learn of their programs and dates. In most cases the tickets are offered on a space available basis. The Paramount Theater offers a free tour of their beautifully restored facility the first Saturday of each month but doesn’t offer free shows. For history buffs that trumps actually sitting through an expensive event!

Water lovers are not left out of the regional bargain hunt. The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, in Ballard, are open to all everyday during daylight hours. If you don’t think watching boats motor through the locks is entertaining then you haven’t been there at the end of along summer weekend when the boats are pouring home and the crews a little weary. If you tire of boat watching, wander over to the fish ladder where all ages can enjoy watching salmon make the climb from salt water to fresh. If gardens are your thing save time to visit the extensive and well maintained gardens as you return to your car.

On the opening day of boating, the first Saturday in May, celebrations, crew races and boat parade make the Montlake cut, near Husky Stadium, the best waterfront bargain in town. Any boater will advise you that it is always cheaper to watch a boat than own one.

For those who would like to board a boat, rather than just watch, the Center for Wooden Boats, at the south end of Lake Union, offers free rides most Sundays from 2:00 to 3:00. The Seattle Singles Yacht Club offers free boating lessons from time to time. Check their web site or give them a call to see if any are planned.

The University of Washington, offers a number of bargains. The athletic department welcomes all to their spring football game at Husky Stadium. For kids it’s a chance to get close to the players and create a lasting memory. There are also kids camps and clinics offered in various sports at the “U .” If academics is your preference free on-line programs are available covering topics ranging from American History and Shakespeare to the History of Jazz.

Each April the three UW campuses open their doors to visitors of all ages offering department open houses, lectures and exhibitions. Such a visit could be particularly useful for a student trying to decide what course of study they might like to pursue at the UW or any other school. And the weekend gives new meaning to the school’s old advertising line, “you benefit [from the University] whether you go there or not.”

Summer, in the Seattle area, activities abound where you will not have to reach for your wallet. Seafair inspired events alone can keep you busy every weekend. Communities across the region sponsor parades, festivals and arts and crafts shows. Area 4th of July fireworks shows are all well worth the price of admission which, by the way, is zilch. The August Seafair finale presents the downtown torchlight parade and four ear splitting Blue Angel shows for the same low price.

Attending the big hydro race costs a few dollars but the TV coverage is excellent so you can enjoy the screaming boats from the comfort of home, for free.

The Christmas Holidays bring another elevation to the level of free community activities. The Seattle Center comes alive at a Winterfest celebration with activities for all ages. The Great Figgy Pudding Street Corner Caroling Competition, held in downtown Seattle, is a popular holiday tradition. Attendees can then wander the streets, enjoying the window displays on their way to the Sheraton hotel to examine the winners in the Gingerbread House competition that pits the areas leading architectural firms against one another.

Bellevue offers its own nightly holiday show with the festive Snowflake Lane extravaganza drawing hundred of celebrants to Bellevue Place. The Bellevue Botanical garden lights up its grounds for the holidays with a display that appeals to all ages and is free, free, free.

So now you have a comeback for those negative thinkers who think you can’t get something for nothing. It’s just not true. But at times there may be a price to pay for a “free” experience. Free nights at museums tend to draw crowds so don’t count on having the place to yourself. Discount nights at theaters fill up fast so you may not get to see the show. Dates and times can change, month to month, so be sure to check before you go to avoid disappointment. But if you are willing to look, verify before you go and be ready for some inconvenience at times, free opportunities abound. Enjoy them. They are a dividend you receive for living in a diverse and active metropolitan area.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Web sites and advertising for area activities don’t always highlight the “free” options that are available so it is best to call for current information. Some helpful web sites include:

Click “Free Travel Classes” at http://www.ricksteves.com/ for information on available classes.

For area wine tasting opportunities visit http://www.citysearch.com/

Info on the Center for Wooden Boats is available at http://www.cwb.org/

For UW sports see http://www.gohuskies.com/

UW courses are described at www.outreach.washington.edu/openuw

The schedule of campus events during Washington Weekend, held each April, can be found at www.washington.edu/alumni/weekend

The City of Seattle does an excellent job of cataloging a range of regional fairs and festivals at www.seattle.gov/html/VISITOR/festival.htm

The Seattle Seafair site outlines activity schedules at http://www.seafair.com/

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Golf at Sea; A Cruise and Golf Vacation Combo

She wants to go on a cruise. You want a golfing vacation. Does this mean separate vacations are in the offing?

Not necessarily. The world’s cruise lines seem dedicated to keeping couples together by offering itineraries that combine cruising with golfing all over the world. With more baby boomers entering the travel market and more ships sailing the high seas the cruise industry is continuing to expand their offerings to attract more and diverse groups. Since golfers represent an ideal target audience for both golf and cruising, more attention is being devoted to attracting golfers to cruise destinations.

According to cruise planners, whether or not you are on a “golf” cruise, some level of golf has been always been available whenever a golf course is near a port of call on their itinerary. If you wanted to golf you advised the cruise concierge and they would arrange a shore excursion that met your needs. However, if the concierge lacked a knowledge of local courses, the planning and research might end up as a guest responsibility. The new, golf focused itineraries have taken the golf experience to a new level and the onboard golf pro can be looked on as a resource.

Consider the “Silver Links” program available on 12 Silversea cruises in 2008 and 16 in 2009. Presented on the two larger ships of their fleet the Silver Links program is staffed by a PGA class golf pro who is available to provide onboard instruction for guests. State-of-the-art video technology is available to assist with the lessons and provide real time instructional feedback. If you don’t want to lug your clubs along, Nike clubs are available for rent on board so you can hit the beach ready to swing.

As for destinations, the common theme is warm weather. Consider the following Silversea itineraries available in 2008.
· The “Mexican Riviera” voyage from Los Angeles to Costa Rica will put you ashore for golf at Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Zihuatanejo and Acapulco.
· The “Caribbean” voyage from Fort Lauderdale to Barbados will give you an opportunity to swing in Antigua, St. Lucia and Barbados.
· The “South Pacific” voyage from Sydney to Auckland will put you on the links in Melbourne, Christchurch, Wellington and five other locations “down under.”

Any one of these cruises will give you a chance to acquire bag tags that will impress your friends.
According to a Silversea’s spokesman, “Our golf cruises are an excellent option for the affluent traveler looking to hone his or her game on the finest international links and fairways. Avid golfers of all levels can combine a luxury vacation with the chance to enjoy guided golf excursions and priority tee times at some of the world’s most celebrated courses.”

Silverseas is not the only line with a golf focus. Princess Cruises now operates full-time “golf academies at sea” on four of their newest ships and plans to add similar features on the rest of the fleet in the near future. Like Silversea, Princess golf academies are staffed with golf professionals, offer instructions, putting contests, shore arrangements and other services to make the cruise a memorable experience for the cruising golfer.

Carnival Cruises supports similar programs and the trend seems to be spreading to other cruise lines around the world.

So couples can stay together, cruise together and golf together if they wish. The cruise industry is only too happy to supply the itineraries and activities you seek to make your vacation time a memorable time.


To learn more about “golf at sea” programs visit these sites or contact a cruise professional:
For Silverseas, http://www.silversea.com/ Then click “programs” and “enrichments.”

For Princess Golf, www.princessgolf.com/princess

Golf is not the only “specialty” offering available for a cruise. For example, consider the other enrichment topics available at Silversea.
· The Wine Series voyages offer lectures, tastings and private tours of world-class wineries and cellars. Red and white wine pairings are offered at meals to test the newly acquired knowledge.
· The Culinary voyages include guest chefs, special menus, demonstrations and cooking classes. Meals include some of the mouth watering offerings the guests saw prepared.
· The Art Aficionado voyages include guest lecturers whose presentations enhance visits to local art venues. Both visual and performing arts are highlighted.

That is just a sample of the long list of Silverseas specialty itineraries that also cover topics such as outdoor adventure, history and natural history. But they certainly don’t have a monopoly on theme cruises.

The website for the Cruise Lines International Association allows the traveler to select from a range of themed cruises from all of their member cruise lines.

Interested in rock’n roll music? Try Holland America Lines.

Want to attend personal finance and retirement planning seminars? Try Holland America, Crystal or Regent Lines.

Want to solve a murder mystery? Consider a “murder” itinerary with Cunard or Crystal Lines.The themed itinerary list goes on covering such diverse topics as theater, holidays, health and fitness, music and religion, just to name a few. Each cruise line approaches the idea a little differently and a good cruise travel agent could assist you with your planning. For a list of themed cruise options visit www.cruising.org/planyourcruise/guides/theme.cfm

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Banks Island; The Thomsen River Kayak Trip

The summer of 2005, club member Dean Behse, my wife Kathy and I were able to fulfill a long time dream. We joined two naturalist guides and five other guests for a once in a lifetime kayak trip down the remote Thomsen River in the Canadian Arctic. The trip came highly recommended and we were drawn to the area by the sheer remoteness of the place and the promise of an abundant birds and wildlife living in an area virtually untouched by humans. We were not disappointed.

The Thomsen River flows north in Aulavik National Park on Banks Island, which lies at the western entrance to the fabled Northwest Passage. About the size of Vancouver Island, Banks is home to less than 200 year around residents and the remote Aulavik Park sees fewer than fifty visitors in a typical year. The Thomsen can only be paddled during a narrow June-July window after the ice melts and before the water flow drops and it becomes too shallow. Like several other Canadian Arctic parks, Aulavik can only be reached by plane during the short summer season and offers absolutely no services of any kind for the visitor.

“That is the beauty of the place,” says Dean. “It’s totally undeveloped. Once you are in the park you’re on your own.”

We chose W&S Expeditions, a Canadian tour company, to lead our band of adventurers. We’d kayaked with them on two other occasions and it was their glowing reports of Banks Island wildlife that placed it on our “must see” list. The lead guide, Bob Saunders, was a biologist with nearly ten years experience guiding in the north country. The second guide, Jamie Whiteside contributed arctic experience, a penchant for organization and an exceptional singing voice to the mix.

In mid June the Bellevue contingent met former club member David Harrison, four other guests and the guides in Edmonton, Alberta, for the start of the journey. We flew north to Inuvik by commercial jet, spent the night and then boarded a chartered Twin Otter (the big brother to the deHavilland Single Otter flown locally by Kenmore Air) for the three hour flight across the Beaufort Sea to Banks.

Lacking a formal runway, a luxury in the Arctic, the Otter deposited us on the flat shoreline of the Thomsen River and left with the promise of a return flight from a particular sand island near the mouth of the river two weeks hence.

The plane’s departure was one of the more memorable moments of the trip. It lifted off into a snow filled 30 knot wind leaving our group standing on the treeless tundra beside a jumbled pile containing five collapsible kayaks, five tents and a mountain of food and personal gear. As we dug through the pile in search of additional winter clothes we all questioned the sanity of otherwise normal people who would give up home and hearth to come to such a barren place.

Once tents were up and anchored, providing us with a respite from the wind, spirits revived and we began to assess the island that was to be our home for the next two weeks. The slow flowing Thomsen is surrounded by low, rolling hills. From a distance the ground looks quite dead but on closer examination the tundra is very much alive with masses of hardy plants and spring flowers on a spongy base.
The first day was devoted to repacking our food stocks into kayak sized nylon bags which were distributed so each kayak carried a portion of the group supplies. In the land of the midnight sun the packing operation carried us into the evening and the first dinner wasn’t served until well past 10:00 p.m.

“Time somehow loses meaning when you have no schedule and it’s light 24-hours a day,” said Dean. “It became difficult to remember what day it was!”

The next morning we assembled our collapsible Klepper kayaks, by stretching their rubberized canvas skin over a fragile looking wooden frame. The sturdy little boats proved to be quite seaworthy and capable of carrying two people and all of our food and camping equipment.
The second day we fell into a routine that would be maintained for the duration of our Banks Island stay. With 24-hour daylight, eating habits were adjusted to reflect an Arctic tempo; breakfast mid morning, lunch late afternoon and dinner between 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Any concern about sleeping in our bright yellow tents with the midnight sun were quickly dispelled. Typically tired after a day of paddling or hiking, no one complained about the light. On kayaking days we would break camp, be on the river by late morning and in a new camp by early evening. Other days we would stay ashore and devote our time to hiking, fishing or just relaxing.

The prevailing north wind was a factor everyday. The good news was that it kept all but the hardiest bugs at bay. But, with rare exceptions, it was always blowing against us on the river creating a paddling challenge. One afternoon we simply gave up paddling, tied lines to the kayaks and walked along the shore, dragging the boats behind.


Where possible we tucked our five rugged little tents into gullies beside the river, sheltered from the strongest winds. Our guides capitalized on that protection allowing them to perform kitchen magic at meal time. Breakfast ranged from staples like cold cereal and oatmeal to pancakes, omelets and eggs benedict. Lunch, in camp or on the river, consisted of cold cuts, fruit, a variety of breads and other surprises. Dinner was the highlight of the eating day. Soups, chili, burritos, cous cous and polenta served with assorted canned meats kept everyone’s calorie count up. When the fishermen were successful their Arctic char or trout would be added to the menu.

The promised wildlife did not disappoint us. The island is home to the world’s largest muskox herd. Built like an American buffalo the muskox sports a shaggy winter coat well adapted to the harsh northern winters. In the summer, as they shed their winter fur, they look a bit ragged. We saw them every day; sometimes in the distance and sometimes very close to camp. Normally they are skittish around people but we heard they can be aggressive so we treated them with respect. Wolf, fox and the hamster-like lemming rounded out the mammal populations. None of them proved curious enough to threaten our food supplies.

Dean, an early riser at home, maintained that schedule on the river taking morning hikes while everyone else slept. On one such hike he spotted and photographed the only wolf seen on the trip.

“He captured an image on his digital camera so we wouldn’t write off the sighting as a tall tale,” Kathy offered with a smile.

Bob, the guide, favored midnight hikes and had excellent luck spotting difficult to find birds and wildlife well after midnight.
Any concern about potential polar bears was put to rest by the guides who pointed out that the big white bears favor the ice pack along the island coast where the seal hunting is best. While not unheard of near the mouth of the Thomsen the guides had never encountered a bear up-river and rated the risk low. That was fine with us.

The wide variety of birds nesting on Banks provided a never ending aerial show. Considering that migrating birds must cross all of northern Canada and 100 miles of open sea to reach Banks the variety of bird life impressed us. Snowy owls, gyrfalcons, peregrine falcons, eiders, loons and sandhill cranes were just some of the species we identified.

In addition to birds and wildlife our guides provided an archeological bonus. Several hundred year old campsites along the river gave evidence of native peoples that once lived in this harsh environment. The absence of contemporary visitors meant the stone tent rings and other signs of native life were well preserved.

After 13 days, 100 miles of paddling, eight different camps, seven fish tales, one wolf tale and, between us all, about 2900 photographs we pulled ashore for the last time on a sand island that was to be our final campsite and the landing strip for the return flight. With a mix of relief and sadness we began taking the kayaks apart and organizing our gear for the flight out.

There had been some difficult days when wind and rain lashed our campsite, driving us into our tents for hours at a time. There was a day on the water when the wind was so persistent it felt like we were paddling in molasses. But those days were more than offset by the wildlife, the sunny days and the stark beauty of the island. Both guides and guests had made the best of every situation and nary a discouraging word was heard during the two weeks.

As the day of departure dawned we were reminded of Arctic Travel Rule #1 in the park visitor guide. “The schedule will change. Poor weather conditions often prevent scheduled flights from arriving on time. A delayed departure is a real possibility ...”

Via satellite phone the guides confirmed that weather in Inuvik had delayed all flights and put our schedule in jeopardy. After a long day of uncertainty we learned our plane was in the air and finally, as midnight approached, the sound of the reliable Otter was heard. After a last look around our river home we climbed aboard and were soon heading back to a world of cell phones and internet access.

“It was nice to be back but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. The trip proves there still are places on this earth where you can truly ‘get away from it all,’” said Dean.
Would we recommend the trip to others?

“Absolutely! It is one of the few unspoiled places left,” said Kathy. “I loved the birds and wildflowers. Another trip north is on my life list, but not this year.”

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FOR TRAVELERS
Northern Canada offers a range of choices for the would-be traveler. Many are accessible by car and lodging choices range from first class hotels to tents in the tundra. But the area can easily be enjoyed without “roughing it.” Festivals, fishing, hiking, boating, wildlife viewing and just driving around are options. A variety of online resources are available to help with your travel planning.

Canadian National Parks: The parks site provides information about the Canadian system; what to expect, how to get there and trip planning information. http://www.pc.gc.ca/

Provincial Government: The two northern provinces most accessible from Bellevue are the Yukon and Northwest Territories. Both have excellent sites to assist with your travel planning.
For the Yukon visit www.touryukon.com
For the Northwest Territories visit http://www.explorenwt.com/

Guides and Outfitters: There are many qualified outfitters and guides. They can be found with a web search or through links from the government sites. Outfitters in the area include:
W&S Expedition which offers several kayak trips in the area.
www.legendaryex.com
Nahanni River Adventures which offers trips on most of the areas major rivers. www.nahanni.com
Canadian River Expeditions which offers rafting and canoeing trips.
www.canriver.com
Black Feather offers canoe, kayak and hiking trips. The also offer women only trips. www.blackfeather.com