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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

Congratulations to Sarah Stocks!

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Congratulations to Sarah Stocks, winner of the isango! Perfect Holiday Contest.

Sarah entertained, surprised and inspired us all with her creative description of paradise, entitled ‘Tropical Rainforest? Or is it?’.

Having received the most public votes throughout the month-long competition, she is now entitled to £500 worth if isango! products.

Way to go, Sarah!

Here is her (scandalous!) entry:

Tropical Rainforest? Or is it?’

He looks right into my eyes with his soulful browns, rippling muscles, dressed only in a small loin cloth. “I want to take you to a secret place high in the rainforest” he says “we can make a hammock from the vines.” His voice is so sultry, so sexy. But no, I can’t. Yes, it sounds like paradise, but I am here with my new husband on honeymoon, and he is waiting for me. “I’m so sorry I need to go.” He looks sad for a moment then says “okay, but please let me walk with you to keep you company.” We stroll in the scorching heat, passing all sorts of wild and crazy animals. We walk for miles and eventually reach my partner standing beside a huge castle. My tall, dark stranger turns to me and whispers in my ear, “maybe tomorrow you will return? Balou was looking forward to meeting you and we really need a hand to stitch that hammock.” I replied, “we’ll see, Tarzan – I still haven’t seen Tigger yet, so that’s tomorrow’s goal.” I turn to my husband with freshly dripping ice cream in his hands and think to myself, “I love Disneyland…”

Ooh la la, Sarah! Great work. We hope that your holiday fantasy comes true!

Tours:
Enchanted Rainforest Dinner

Daintree Rainforest Tour

Disneyland Adventure

Disneyworld Adventure

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Photos of La Jolla Seals

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I would like to thank Karen Lorah for submitting her fantastic photographs of La Jolla for yesterday’s blog about top wedding locations – I had to post more of them!

For those of you that don’t know, La Jolla is a wealthy seaside resort or “village” in San Diego, California, which annually attracts not only lots of tourists but also…lots of adorable SEALS.

Check out Karen’s photos:

La Jolla Seals

 

La Jolla Seal 2

 

La Jolla Seal 3

 

So cute!  Thanks again, Karen!

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PERFECT HOLIDAY CONTEST FINALISTS

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Thanks to those who participated in the 2008 isango! ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest! We were overwhelmed with enthusiastic responses and sincerely apologize for the delay in posting the finalists. But we’ve finally done it! Hooray! The top 5 entries have been selected, and it’s time to VOTE!

FYI: though we could only select 5 finalists, we truly enjoyed reviewing your (100!) entries. We admire your imaginative efforts; thus, the majority of this blog is dedicated to the bulk of entries that did not make it through to the shortlist. We have explained why certain types of entries were not selected and have included some relevant travel tips to assist you in actualizing your dream getaways!

If this sounds boring to you ( – it’s not, actually!), you can skip straight to the action, and:

CLICK HERE to VOTE for one of the TOP FIVE ENTRIES

…as selected by our team of travel writers and product specialists. Go ahead, do it! But remember, you can vote once, and once only!

SOME TRENDS AND TIPS:

(By the way, we’ve listed the finalists at the bottom of this blog in hopes that you will actually read the rest of what we have to say!)

…right, so we learned a great deal about your travel desires and needs from reading your entries—namely that most of you are in need of a good, long holiday! There were also some recurring themes:

1. “It’s not where you are, it’s who you are with…”
A large number you would prefer to spend your precious time away from the office on a romantic getaway with your significant other. Your descriptions of destinations were often very imaginative, but also quite vague, as you focused on the experience that you would have with the love of your life—just the two of you—isolated in paradise. These entries were fantastic (and heartwarming) but were also, unfortunately, more difficult to judge as sometimes we were not sure where, exactly, you aimed to go on your holiday! We suggest visiting the Romantic Retreats section of the isango! website to transform your, ahem, ‘daydreams’ (wink!) into reality.

2. Family First.
A large percentage of you have young children and thus face difficulties with planning to please multiple parties. For you, the ‘perfect holiday’ is one that is free of logistical nightmares: your entries thus tended to be long lists of things that you wanted to avoid (long queues, large crowds, flight delays), rather than of things you actually wanted to do. Though we can do nothing about rubbish airlines (except to complain right alongside you) we can help you to avoid ‘on the ground’ family feuds by encouraging you to plan a detailed itinerary prior to departing. Start with our list of Family Tours under the Activities section of our website, which can be narrowed down, for example, to theme parks and self drive tours.

Others of you focused on the needs of your parents and grandparents, wishing to fulfill their dreams by taking them to parts of the world that they have always wanted to see. We suggest starting with our Seniors category and narrowing your options down by country, or city, from there. (You can also always contact one of our friendly customer service reps if you have any questions!)

3. Some of you are, well, CRAZY…
Really, wow. You submitted some fantastically wild travel ‘plots’ (- you know who you are!). Check out some of our quirkier blogs for more unconventional ideas and inspiration.

Now, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for!

THE FINALISTS:

1. Hanlie Burger, ‘Shipwrecks, Sand Dunes and Desert Elephants’.

2. Louise Brown, ‘Northern Solitude’

3. Sarah Berl, ‘Spelunk!!’

4. Marian Redmond, ‘Campania Felix’, and

5. Sarah Stocks, ‘Tropical Rainforest? Or is it?’

A huge CONGRATS to Hanlie, Louise, Sarah, Marian and Sarah—and all of our participants—for dreaming up such fabulous ‘perfect holidays’! We cannot thank you enough.

Please vote here, and to pass this email along to all of your family and friends!

You can also check out more blog coverage of the contest here.

Thanks again for participating!

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Globe trotters unite: a journey with a purpose.

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Our ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest entries have been rolling in! A few of you got very creative with your responses, crafting globe trotting itineraries with inventive themes. Here are some of our favourites thus far:

1. ‘Southern Music Odyssey’, by Greg Davies

A road trip with a difference—i.e. not your usual ‘Route 66’ or ‘Coast to Coast’ American Dream. Due to my late grandfather’s musical obsession that he passed onto me, my dream holiday would be to drive the southern United States, visiting and enjoying some of the famous sights and sounds of Country music—the Grand Ol’ Opry, Memphis, Tupelo, Austin, Nashville—all in an old convertible…staying at old-style motels along the way and enjoying southern hospitality and good ol’ time music, the way it’s meant to be enjoyed!

2. ‘A Taste for Travel’, by Lydia Houghton

I’d have lobster in Cancun, cocktails in New York, A balti in Bombay, A Guinness in County Cork, coq au vin in Paris, a pizza in fair Rome, a chop suey in Beijing, and Swedish meatballs in Stockholm.

It would be such a treat to take a break from all the cooking, but the only problem is… my tummy might need tucking!

3. ‘Natural World Wonders’, by Chris Woodroofe

My Perfect Holiday would be a tour around all of the natural world wonders: Serengeti Migration, Galápagos Islands, Grand Canyon, Iguazu Falls, Amazon Rainforest, Ngorongoro Crater, Great Barrier Reef, Bora Bora Cappadocia and Victoria Falls. All I would need would be a backpack, a diary, and a camera…this would be my perfect holiday—very simple, but very rewarding, as the natural world wonders are being destroyed…

That’s all for now!

The official shortlist will be posted on the isango! website very soon. Be sure to vote!

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Mama Mia! Mania: Behind the Scenes in Greece

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“(I would) fly to the beautiful Greek Isles, to a quiet marina, where I could introduce my wife to the boat that would take us island hopping – sailing from fishing village to fishing village…local ports fringed with tavernas…seafood washed down with the native wine whilst the blood-red sun kisses the Mediterranean sea `good night’…”

– Fred Harper, ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest Entrant

Sparkling blue water, rugged coastal terrain, sailboats, sunshine, serenity, and fresh seafood (mmm…..)

…not to mention a strutting, overall-clad Meryl Streep, a feisty Julie Walters, a singing Pierce Brosnan, a glowing Amanda Seyfried……and, of course, a non-stop ABBA marathon.

Who’s seen Mama Mia! And doesn’t want to go to Greece?

I’m always skeptical of movie renditions of musicals, but, in this case, the big screen certainly exploits what the West End can’t: the absolutely breathtaking scenery of the Greek Islands.

Behind the Scenes in Skiathos and Skopelos

Just over a year ago, Streep, Brosnan, and the rest of the multi-talented Mama Mia! cast were staging 1970’s ABBA mayhem on remote islands of the Aegean sea…

It’s time to follow in the footsteps of the stars (and as well as the imagination of our contest entrant Fred) on the following tours:

1. Romantic Sunset Cruise in Skiathos.

If you’ve seen the film, it’s impossible not to imagine yourself as a blissful, young bride or groom to be, sheltered from the realities of the world on a little Greek slice of paradise. The amorous atmosphere of the Sophie’s dream island wedding lingers on the island of Skiathos, where a Calypso fishing boat awaits the next pair of lovebirds that desire a taste of Aegean seaside culture, music, cuisine and scenery.

The Skiathos ‘Music and Moonlight’ Sunset Cruise departs Tuesdays from 15 May – 15 October and is the perfect romantic outing for the adventurous duo. Indulge in freshly prepared island cuisine, feel the rhythms of the traditional Greek folk music, and dance your way into the sunset…..

2. Tour of Skopelos

Explore the magnificent setting of Donna’s infamously ‘rustic’ hotel—‘the greenest island in Greece’—by embarking on the Sporades Island Hopping Tour, which includes a stop at ‘Kalokairi Island’, or rather, Skopelos!

Your adventure will begin as you board a boat in the harbour of Skiathos, where some of Mama Mia’s most lively scenes were created. Coast across the sparkling Aegean until you arrive at what was, just under a year ago, the central hub of ABBA action—where Pierce Brosnan’s flip flops are now on display…and where the film’s fairytale church, Agios Ioannis, juts out over the sea on a magnificent, towering rock formation.

Your day will end with a stop at neighbouring Alonissos; you will return to Skiathos in time for a relaxing sunset meal.

Mama Mia! Here we go again…

May your romantic, island hopping adventure leave you ‘stranded’ at an isolated taverna…complete with a staff that breaks out into spontaneous song and dance…

Other great behind-the-scenes film tour ideas:

The ‘Film Tours: Hollywood and Beyond’ Blog

The ‘Hollywood, Bollywood and Beyond’ Blog (a favourite!)

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WIN YOUR ‘PERFECT HOLIDAY’ (Seriously!)

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Ok folks, it’s finally that time of year – the time when you wake up on a rainy, chilly ‘summer’ morning and realise that you were a fool for economising in ’08 and using your holidays to visit Auntie Maeve in Birmingham for her mid-August birthday…boring!

There’s still time to plan an adventure, and there’s a way to do it…and cheaply.

Here’s how:

1. Dream up your wildest, most intriguing/ creative/ exotic/ romantic/ adventurous/ whimsical holiday EVER.

2. Write it down (before you share the idea with any of your friends/family—they will just think you are crazy, thus stifling your creative genius/globe trotting aspirations. For example, my mum wasn’t so keen on my brilliant idea to become a Bollywood dancer in Bombay, so I had to settle for a 4 week course in Mayfair. If only this contest had existed then! ).

3. While we are certain that you would all make fantastic novelists—and would love to jumpstart your careers as travel journalists—we ask that you please reduce the text to 200 words or less and come up with a short, catchy title.

4. Go to the contest website, paste your text in the entry window, and enter to WIN £500 of isango! credit towards your dream holiday.

Click here to enter the Isango! ‘Perfect Holiday’ Contest.

We will be posting our favourite entries on the blog throughout July/August, with the shortlist posted here for public voting in early August.

The Grand Prize Winner of the £500 isango! voucher will be announced at the end of August!

Good luck!

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Following the footsteps of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – A Patagonian Adventure!

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After a very long stint in Buenos Aires (everyone I have ever known has gotten stuck there for weeks and weeks beyond their intended stay – might have something to do with the Argentinian Men, the electric atmosphere of the city, the incredible nightlife and….well, the Argentinian Men…) I decided it was high time that I head south and see what all the fuss was about.

The vast and hostile terrain that makes up Patagonia, the southernmost point in both Argentina and Chile is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful sights there is on this earth. Snow-capped peaks, vast mountain lakes, glaciers, fjords, not to mention the wildlife – penguins, whales, sea lions,…and did I mention the penguins!? They are so cute – like miniature black and white people with funny stumpy legs!!

In order to get a sense of the scale of the place – it takes 50 hours to get from Buenos Aires to the tip in Ushuaia by bus (luxury bus that is) – Immense!…I cheated, however and flew down to Punta Arenas on the Chilean side (in my defense… it was only just the end of winter, and many said it was the only way of getting there at all! Turns out wasn’t, but this made me feel slightly less guilty at the time).

Punta Arenas was a rather depressing little town – very grey, crumbling and weather beaten…perhaps what you’d expect from such a harsh climate. Puerto Natales (my actual destination) was the same. From a tourism perspective, it is simply a jump off point for Torres del Paine National Park and the ferry ride back up to Puerto Mont through the Chilean Fjords (a stunning trip, so I’m told). I was on my own at this point in my travels, and there was absolutely no one else around –well, apart from 3 incredibly brave German girls – only 13 years old – that were on the adventure trip of a lifetime in their school holiday exchange break. They adopted me as a ‘big sister’, and we decided to go off trekking in the Torres Del Paine national park for a couple of days. It was spectacular – despite our 8 hour trek yielding nothing but fog-ridden views and knee deep snow. Occasionally, I would drop back from the girls and take it all in – space, as far as the eye could see (which was a long way when the fog cleared intermittently!), beauty, nature at its most powerful, and there I was – practically at the end of the world!

I soon left Puerto Natales and made my way back into Argentina, anxious to see the Perito Moreno glacier. The nearest town, El Calafate was far more bustling and welcoming and the hostel (run by friends of friends back in Buenos Aires) was a home from home (the Argentine people are among the kindest I have met in my life – generous, hospitable and above all fun!).

I didn’t have much time to spare, so I organised an ice trekking trip for the very next day – a little expensive but something I had always wanted to do! It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life! There I was, trekking on a real life glacier, crampons and all! My little group followed the guide in single file as he took us on a walk up and around the glacier, explaining as we went about how they worked, the dangers, etc. I have never seen ice so blue, so pure, so white – and looking out from the top of the monstrous slab of ice that was moving, living, breathing: I felt like I was in another world.

Perito Merino Patagonia

I did a bit more trekking in El Chalten National Park and then, deciding to forgo Ushuaia (another 18 hours south-west), headed north to see the whales and the penguins in Peninsula Valdes, Puerto Madryn and the lakes and ski resorts of Bariloche.

I had never before been so close to such incredible animals – my little boat was entirely surrounded by whales as far as the eye could see – almost close enough to touch! When we got back to shore, I wanted to go out again and again! Instead, however, I headed over to a different part of the peninsula to see the penguins, sea lions and elephant seals – fascinating! I just sat and watched for hours until it was time to go home.

My final stop in Patagonia (for now, at least…) was Bariloche in the lake region. Probably the least ‘alternative’ stop of all – it reminded my of a Swiss alpine village with chocolate shops aplenty, beautiful mountain lakes and even a ski resort a short distance from the town. It was, in a word, idyllic; it was extremely hard to tear myself away from the ease and comfort of it all (I even indulged in a little spa activity while I was there!)

Patagonia is a nature lover’s paradise – its raw beauty is undeniable, and this, coupled with the simplicity of life within the boundaries of the region soothes the soul (without wanting to sound too cliché or cheesy). I felt refreshed, alive, and invigorated after my stint there and would recommend it to anyone travelling in the South America region. I myself have vowed to go back one day to the very tip of the world – Ushuaia – to experience the Ferry trip and perhaps even hop on a cruise to Antarctica.

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Get your golf on…

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Tee off in Fuerteventura

Golfderdash: (n) An artful pastime that combines elements of the classic (mildly elitist, impossible to master) board game of Balderdash with the classic (mildly elitist, impossible to master) sporting activity of Golf.

The game of Golfderdash was created 18 minutes before this blog was posted, on the premise that one’s successful participation in the game of Golf (+ Balderdash) is dependent upon one’s ability to feign knowledge of obscure terminology (basically, both games involve lots of BS’ing).Please participate in the trial run of Golfderdash by posting your best answer to the following golf-related questions at the end of this blog.

1: What is an ‘Elephant Burial Ground’?

Choose from:

a. An ancient site of ritual sacrifice, several of which have are embedded beneath the fairways of golf courses near Durban, South Africa.

b. A large, mysterious mound encountered by golfers—usually on the green of a course—where good scores tend to ‘die’.

c. A sacred place where dead elephants are buried.

d. A Las Vegas Casino, known for its extensive range of golf-themed machines, in which gamblers ‘bury’ large quantities of money.

Go ahead, take a guess! Post below—all winners get virtual ‘high fives’. How about it?

2: What is a ‘Yank’?

Choose from:

Nothing. I’m leaving this one open-ended. Hit me with your best shot, below.

3: Can you eat a ‘Texas Wedge’?

…obviously not.

Folks, there’s more where that came from…

So I’ll admit it—I’m not much of a golfer. However, as a young girl I did own a fluorescent pink golf bag and a putter; I used to tag along to the 9 hole practice course with my dad and brother, who, of course, always inverted the scoring system to cater to my 28 put sinks.

Recently, though, I’ve been thinking—I would like to take up this beloved pastime as a serious adult…mainly so I can meet some cute guys I mean become a well-rounded athlete/person.Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

How to become a golfer:

Step 1 – Learn lingo (check.)

Step 2 – Take a bunch of lessons (er…)

Step 3 – Exercise newfound skills on courses in exotic locales (yes, please!)

Step 4 – Become well-rounded athlete/person (on my way.)Let’s skip straight to the most crucial step, shall we?

Putting through paradise: Hot golfing destinations ’08…

1. Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria:

Sun, sand, turquoise blue…oh, and of course an enormous expanse of green for your golfing pleasure!The Fuerteventura Golf Club contains over 1,500,000 square meters of open playing space—including a state-of-the-art driving range, putting green and chipping green—making it the largest green area of the Canary Island of Fuerteventura.

Tee off in paradise as you watch the sunrise over the Atlantic; drive, chip, and put your way to the 18th green, as you admire the sparkling lakes, lush palm trees and glorious scenery; relax into the late afternoon on a peaceful catamaran cruise.Venture beyond the fairways to experience a huge range of sightseeing activities, including deep sea fishing trips, scenic bike safaris, volcano excursions, and family cruises.

2. Akaroa, New Zealand.

Mix a bit of culture—and breathtaking South Island scenery—into your golfing adventure by embarking on a trip to the historic French whaling village of Akaroa. The adjacent 18 hole Akaroa golf course (par: 67M, 70W), overlooking the Akaroa Harbor, is considered one of the most picturesque courses in Canterbury.

This sightseeing tour of Akaroa includes hotel pick up and drop off, lunch, a visit to a local cheese factory (?), and, of course, a round of golf!

End your trip with a splash by taking swim with rare dolphins in AkaroaHarbor.

3. Selborne Estate, South Africa

Live in luxury at the exclusive Selborne Hotel, Spa and Golf Estate, as you soak in the subtropical warmth of the Indian Ocean, just 30 miles south of Durban.Their 18-hole golf course has been described by some as one of the finest in South Africa, where “wild coastal forest frames a superbly manicured course…where the only disturbance may be one of nature’s creatures” (- an elephant ghost?)

Suitable for professionals and amateurs alike, Selborne even has its own resident PGA instructor and indoor golf academy.

Selborne Estate South Africa

Should you desire to venture beyond the comforts of the estate, you may opt for a bit of local culture at the Phezulu Village or in the city of Durban.

Get your golf on.

I hope that I’ve inspired you to plan en exotic golfing adventure.

In the mean time, let’s keep the Golfderdash tradition going strong. I await your answers.

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Squirrel Mania!

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Once upon a time, two naïve, young Americans resided in an isolated garden amidst thousands of Britons. For years, they cohabited peacefully, frolicking through the flowers, making the most of available resources, scavenging what they could and protecting themselves from the inclimate weather with drab, grey (yet functional) attire.

They remained blissfully unaware of their neighbouring British brethren, who, steeped in age-old tradition, upheld their distinctive, refined set of food and fashion tastes…

Then, one day, some idiot let those Americans loose.

The Yankees invade.

The Grey Squirrels have taken over— ‘those big, ugly rats’, as some of my British friends call them, are destroying the native population of beloved, beautiful Red Squirrels.

continue reading

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Father’s Day 2008: The Gift of Adventure

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Do not underestimate the crazy types of things your father would do with his free time: those receding silver streaks mean nothing. In fact, they were probably, unavoidably, caused by you.

You see, a protective dad’s biggest fear is that his kids are secretly behaving half as stupidly as he was during the dumbest moment of his own youth. Most dads are just giant kids, really. And this Father’s Day (Sunday 15 June 2008!) is the perfect opportunity to make your old man feel like a young lad again. Give him the father’s day gift of a lifetime! It’s time to send dad on one of these…

Big Kid Adventure Tours

1. Four Wheeling through the Australian Outback.

Your mother will hate it (thus he’ll love it even more) when you sweep your dad away on a vacation Down Under, where he can trail blaze through rugged, open plains on his very own 4×4 motorbike! He will delight in pioneering the breathtaking landscapes and beloved fauna of Oz.

(You can assure mother that the tour is led by experienced local bikers!)

2. White Water Rafting on the Ganges

The ultimate adventure. A two-day excursion to India’s prime rafting spot—a most thrilling (and beautiful!) stretch of the Ganges River in the north.

After a refreshing afternoon and overnight stay at the Ganges Nature Camp, your favorite Big Kid will brave the rapids full force (mothers: helmets are provided, and the rapids are interspersed with calm swimming spots and picturesque scenery).

The bravest dads may opt for a quick cliff dive before completing the five-hour journey in Rishikesh.

The excursion includes hotel pick up and drop off, transportation to camp in an air-conditioned vehicle, accommodation in safari tents, rafting equipment, trained and professional guides, and various adventure activities (jungle walking, body surfing, cliff jumping, etc.).

3. Helicopter Ride over Grand Canyon

Who wouldn’t love it? (Actually, I think my acrophobic mother would hate this one, too…).

Suitable for the busy businessman, this exhilarating flight will give your deserving dad a breathtaking vantage point of the grand, cavernous expanse of striated rock that he dreamed about as a boy.

The tour commences at the Southern Rim and will bring him soaring through the center and across to Imperial Point, which boasts spectacular views of the Canyon, the Painted Desert and the Colorado River.

4. Everglades Safari Park Tour

Perfect for all the binocular-clad dads out there, this (affordable!) airboat ride excursion through the Everglades National Park, the “largest subtropical wilderness in the US,”will bring ‘em face-to-face with mother nature.

Dad will relish in the abundant flora and fauna as he watches the gators in action, explores the marshes by foot and truly immerses himself in one of America’s most precious ecosystems.

This most affordable Father’s Day gift includes: a wildlife nature show, reptile cave exhibits, an alligator wrestling show, and, of course, an airboat ride!

5. Bungee Jumping in New Zealand

For the craziest Big Kids out there, this one is pretty self-explanatory:

1. Climb (200 ft up the stunning Auckland harbour bridge),

2. Strap (on the appropriate gear), and…

3. JUMP!

He will even get a complimentary t-shirt and bungee certification…

The Gift of Adventure

This Father’s Day, forget the gardening gadgets and golfing shirts, and ignite dad’s inner child—send him on the Big Kid Adventure of a Lifetime!

Excursions:
Quad Biking in Australian Outback

White Water Rafting on the Ganges

Helicopter Ride over Grand Canyon

Everglades Safari Park Tour

Bungee Jumping in New Zealand

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