Fun Stuff

July 30, 2013

A Heartwarming Tale of Rescue on Safari!

The magic of an African safari is something no family can fully prepare for. Everyone’s experience is different, loaded with spontaneous cultural and wildlife encounters that couldn’t possibly have been written into an itinerary – that’s what makes a safari in Tanzania remarkable.

A prime example is the unplanned wildlife rescue mission undertaken by the Hartz family on their recent Tanzania Active Safari for Families with Teens. Jennifer, Eric, and their four teens were riding along in their safari vehicle, wildlife viewing in the Eastern Serengeti Ecosystem, in the private nature refuge that Thomson guests have exclusive privileges to visit. Suddenly, they spotted a Kori Bustard (a large, mostly ground-dwelling bird) hobbling along with something sticking out of its back.

They followed the bird in their rover, hoping to help in any way they could. Upon closer inspection, the Hartz family and their driver realized that the poor thing had been struck between the shoulder blades by a Maasai arrow. Hunting on this property is strictly prohibited, but somebody had attempted to make an illegal dinner out of this Kori Bustard. The family, along with their guide and driver, removed the arrow as carefully as possible, applied Neosporin to the wound, and patched it up to the best of their ability. Afterwards, they sat back and watched as the bird went on its way, concerned but gratified in the knowledge that they probably just saved its life.

That uplifting tale of chance and compassion is exactly the type of thing that makes a safari such a special family adventure. In addition to saving an unfortunate Kori Bustard, the Hartz family had plenty of other wonderful experiences… a bike ride into a village quarry near Gibb’s Farm where bricks are hand-made by local workers, and a rewarding encounter with friendly and enthusiastic Maasai children, to name a couple. But this unexpected act of kindness and teamwork is something that will surely stick out as a particularly fond travel memory!



July 23, 2013

Grace’s Family Adventure Tradition!

Grace’s finished quilt top, using the “French Roast” pattern!

Grace, our newest salesperson, just returned from a trip to Texas revolving around a great family tradition. She went down to her birthplace of Georgetown, Texas, to stay at her grandmother’s house and get back to her down-home roots.

From there, Grace, her grandmother, her sister, and 3 of her cousins (15, 16, and 18 years old) headed to the Compass Centre in Mount Calm, Texas for a quilting retreat. It’s a wonderful opportunity for grandmothers and great aunts to bond with their granddaughters and grandnieces, design some beautiful quilts, and enjoy an abundance of delicious comfort food – Texas style!

The first time Grace experienced the quilting retreat was in 2010, and she’s only missed one year since; it’s definitely become a family tradition that Grace, her grandmother, her sister and her cousins all cherish.



May 28, 2013

How a Family Adventure Feels at 17

Hannah and Frank

We received this email  from 17 year old Hannah whose family lives in New Jersey. We know how our guides can impact adults and children alike, and we never tire of hearing about it. These are the life changing experiences we travel for!

“I’m writing to give you feedback on one of your Tanzania staff members, Frank Julius.

I went on a family safari in Tanzania over the December holidays (2012) with my mom, dad and 15-year-old brother, and Frank came along as a mentor. We met up with a family we hadn’t met before with two kids, ages eleven and eight.

As a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old, my brother and I weren’t in need of the same type of mentoring as the other kids were. Instead, Frank became a friend to us. He played soccer and goofed around with the younger ones, but Frank and I also had interesting intellectual conversations, discussed our lives and compared cultures. He has incredible people skills, is able to shift seamlessly between adults and children, and developed lasting relationships with each person on our trip, regardless of age. The two families went in separate trucks, and we always hoped Frank would end up in ours.

I was also incredibly impressed by Frank’s intellect. He is so well read, world-aware and ambitious. I was amazed to hear that he speaks six languages, and we enjoyed practicing Spanish together throughout the trip. As I observed with all the other Thomson staff members, he was very knowledgeable about the animals and wildlife. He went beyond just facts about the animals, permeating our observation with jokes and anecdotes.

Without Frank, this trip would have been a completely different experience for my family and I. We had amazing luck with sightings in all the parks, took incredible pictures and had wonderful stays at all of the camps, but what was most impactful to me were the people I met along the way. Everybody was lovely, but I developed an amazing friendship with Frank. We continue to keep each other updated through Facebook today, and I hope to keep in touch with him for the rest of my life. Anybody who gets to go on a Thomson Family Safari is in for an amazing experience, but a trip with Frank is guaranteed to be all the more unique and memorable.”



May 10, 2013

A Worldwide Celebration of Mothers

My mother and I in Madrid (excuse the facial hair; Mom did NOT approve)

If there’s one thing that’s pretty much universal, it’s appreciation for mothers and all that they do for us. Almost every place in the world has some sort of Mother’s Day celebration; they’re not all on the same day, and every country approaches it differently, but  the general sentiment of love and appreciation for our mothers is something unhampered by cultural differences. I’m going to highlight a few particularly noteworthy Mother’s Day traditions from some of our favorite destinations:

In Mexico, Mother’s Day is no joke. Mothers are highly venerated in Mexican culture, and people really go all out to honor the women who raised them. For example, it’s customary for kids to greet their mothers with a morning serenade – the traditional song selection for special occasions like this is “Las Mañanitas.” In addition to the serenade, Mexican mothers are given cards, flowers, chocolates and gifts, and families usually celebrate with a morning meal together; typical dishes include tamales and atole.

Costa Rica considers Mother’s Day a national holiday, so banks, schools, government buildings and other offices are closed, and mothers are showered with gifts and flowers.

Panamanians take a very religious approach to their celebration of this special day (not surprising, given the extremely strong Catholic influence on all aspects of life in Latin America). Mother’ Day in Panama is celebrated on the same day as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, as a way of drawing a connection between the Virgin Mary and mothers everywhere. There are festivals, dances and religious parades throughout the day honoring the mother of Jesus and all moms in general.

Egypt and Turkey are two of the countries with the strongest historical ties to Mother’s Day, both serving as partial inspirations for the origins of the holiday. One of the earliest known records of people celebrating a mother figure as a deity comes from the ancient Egyptians, who would hold a yearly festival to honor the goddess Isis. Isis is considered the divine mother of the pharaohs, and of the land of Egypt.

Turkey, however, probably gave us the most direct inspiration for the global celebration of Mother’s Day: the goddess Cybele. She came from the Turkish region of Anatolia and is revered as a mother goddess, representing things like fertility, the earth’s bounty, and motherhood in general. Celebrations honoring Cybele have been taking place since about 250 years before the birth of Jesus.

Perhaps the most unique take on Mother’s Day is the Thai tradition. The Thais first dedicated this day to birthday celebrations for Queen Sirikit, considered the “First Mother” of Thailand. She became Queen of Thailand in 1950, and has since been held in very high regard for her tireless work and endless devotion to her people. Queen Sirikit has become a symbolic mother figure for the Thai nation, and her birthday is commemorated each year with elaborate festivals, ceremonies, fireworks, charitable activities, etc. The Thai people take the opportunity to appreciate their beloved queen, as well as their gratitude for the unconditional love shown by mothers in general.

If you know of any other interesting cultural Mother’s Day traditions, or if your family does something special, please share it with us! Happy Mother’s Day, all!



March 12, 2013

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Alaska (and a Cool Slideshow!)

Click to see our Alaska slideshow

I feel like I’m doing the great state of Alaska a disservice by limiting this list to five reasons, but “7,000,000 Reasons to Visit Alaska” would have been a bit excessive.

Alaska is by far the largest American state, and there is a LOT more to this place than snow and whale blubber.

1.) Great Outdoors/Final Frontier. If you’re a nature lover, Alaska is where you want to be. It’s an unspoiled wilderness boasting secluded bays and coves; lush temperate rain forest; mountains; caves and rocky islands; glowing blue glaciers; quaint fishing towns… not to mention abundant wildlife, like eagles, brown and black bears, humpback and orca whales, sea lions, seals, moose, caribou, deer, elk, otters, etc.

2.) An Active Family’s Dream-Come-True. For the outdoorsy, adventurous family looking for some fun bonding time, it doesn’t get any better than Alaska. You’ll cruise in style around floating chunks of ice in the Inside Passage, stopping throughout to explore via kayak or skiff, swim and snorkel, hike forest trails and enormous glaciers, fly over an icefield by helicopter and even ride a real dogsled.

3.) Rich History and Native Culture. Alaska is brimming with fascinating history and unique culture. The place hearkens back to an exciting time in American history, when ambitious people ventured west to the great frontier in search of gold and great fortunes. And your family will get a taste of some of Alaska’s indigenous culture, visiting the authentic native Tlingit village of Klawock and learning about the traditional art of carving colorful totem poles.

4.) Pleasant, Refreshing Summer Climate. The summers in Southeast Alaska are typically pretty mild, with temperatures often in the high-50s to mid-60s. It can be very nice to get away from the heat and humidity of your home city and enjoy the comfort of a mild coastal climate with crisp, clean air and ocean breezes.

5.) David Jaffe – Mentor, Expert and Outdoorsman. With Thomson, your family will have the privilege of traveling alongside an expert mentor, our friend David Jaffe. He’s a rugged adventurer and veteran outdoorsman with a contagious love of travel and cultures. David has a long, impressive list of accomplishments, from extensive marine and avian research to experience as a research consultant for the Nature Conservancy and as a biological research technician at Yosemite National Park. He’s been a TFA mentor since 1998 and is excellent with children. With David onboard, your kids will be constantly enthralled and intrigued.

Bonus: The Special Privilege of a Smaller Ship and Secluded Spots! I couldn’t resist; I just had to mention the perks of traveling on the M/V Wilderness Discoverer. This is a comfortable 76-passenger ship with a friendly, knowledgeable crew. Her size allows for some extra special experiences, since we have the opportunity to navigate and drop anchor in secluded, pristine coves that large cruise ships aren’t even allowed to enter! The Wilderness Discoverer really makes for a wonderfully intimate adventure!



March 7, 2013

Gray Whales in Baja – Our Video Contest Winner!

Check out the video here!

Congratulations to Remy for winning our most recent video contest! We had some really outstanding entries this time around, but we selected this exciting footage for the way it showcases some of the close-up interaction families get to have with the gray whales on our February departures to Baja. It also brilliantly captures the magical atmosphere of family fun on all of our adventures!

Great job, Remy! And to all our traveling families, keep the videos coming!



March 5, 2013

Have Baby, Will travel

Ready to hit the road....

We have some very special friends in Costa Rica, and we are so thrilled their family has just grown by one. When we sent them a gift card we figured they’d go for a play pen, baby clothes, maybe even diapers….. But nooooo! We should have known a travel accessory would be the top pick for an adventurous family. Enjoy their thank you note.

Hola TFA!

I’m sorry it has taken so long for me (& Alexa) to send this email…

When we received your really nice gift card,  Alexa & I went shopping together, and she decided to invest on her very first travel bag. (Picture attached!)

She’s got lots of travel dreams for her future, and will start with a short trip to San Jose this upcoming week… so she is now all set with a her own cute travel bag to fit all of her little outfits and toys.

Muchas gracias to all of our friends at Thomson Family Adventures…  now while Diego and I surf the madness of our sleepless nights, our little Alexa will keep on dreaming about new and exciting adventures to take her bag along.

PURA VIDA,

Alexa, Diego & Sole



December 19, 2012

A Family Holiday Story

Thanksgiving Oysters

Reprinted with permission from the Taking the Kids blog

Oysters await at our T-Day breakfast

By Andy Yemma

Maybe Christmas is the big day in your house. Maybe it’s the family Hanukah or Kwanza party.

For us, it’s always been Thanksgiving, from the time the kids were small and we flew from Chicago to New York to celebrate with Eileen’s parents. It’s the touchstone of our year – and this year was especially poignant as we gathered, now our kids flying in from around the country.

This Thanksgiving marked 30 years of marriage for Eileen and me. She’d floated the idea of taking everyone on a vacation Thanksgiving week but the kids nixed that idea. They wanted the Thanksgiving we always had—running in our town’s Turkey Trot, cooking together, arguing over doing the dishes, football, walks with our pooch on the beach and Scrabble in front of the fire. The last few years we’ve treated everyone to a Broadway play too.

Where did the last 30 years go, we asked as we started preparing for the annual Thanksgiving Day feast, ordering a 20-pound grass-fed, chemical-free turkey from a farm in Vermont (most expensive turkey ever!), buying potatoes, yams, onions, green beans, cranberries, stuffing mix, you name it.

Our youngest daughter, Melanie, about to graduate from college, is helping to run her college farm and writing a column about cooking for her college newspaper. So she had a lot to say about the menu. Our daughter, Reggie, is embarking on a new career as a teacher and pursuing a graduate degree. Thanksgiving is the only trip home from the West Coast she has time for all year! Our son Matt is building his own business and working on a graduate degree as well. Both Matt and Reggie have significant others in their lives who joined us, as did 13-year-old Enesi Domi, who we have come to know through the Fresh Air Fund. He brought his older sister with him this year.

The kids all told us how excited they were for our annual family reunion. “I wish it was Thanksgiving already,” Melanie said back in September. They swapped ideas for side dishes they promised to make. Matt and his girlfriend Emmie picked up 3 dozen oysters from a fish market in New York City—a new tradition, the kids decided, would be oysters and champagne for breakfast Thanksgiving morning. Several of signed up for the annual 5-mile, 2.5 mile run-walk fundraiser.

But you know that old expression of “regression to the mean?” Once they all get home it’s like they revert to their old pecking orders. Some of the oldest sibling rivalries start to percolate. One of them suggests getting some Diet Coke (which I can’t figure out how we forgot during our multiple shopping forays). Another immediately pipes in that drinking soda is bad for you, not to mention all of the packaging.

Despite the interminable discussion via email, text and links about the menu, some of the menu items fall a little short of perfection – like the “hockey puck” homemade biscuits and the pumpkin pie, though yummy, that we put in too large a pie pan. There are disputes over whether to listen to music or watch football. They don’t let me watch the news, preferring music instead. They complain we use too much water to do the dishes. Perfection? Not.

But then we all gather around the table and, as is our tradition, we tell each other what we’re thankful for this year. “Thank you for being such wonderful kids and such terrific, responsible adults. We can’t imagine our lives without you!” Eileen says.

The kids are thankful for all the good eats they didn’t have to pay for and, I’m glad to say, the time together. With assorted friends, we had at least 10 for every meal that weekend. Afterward, I don’t even know how many loads of wash we did of sheets and towels. Yes, it is a lot of work—and a lot of expense—to gather the gang and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I know next year we’ll be joking about the hockey puck biscuits and the soda pop just as we always do about the time out late beloved black labrador, Gus, ate a large snoutful of the homemade pate a cousin had brought and left in a vulnerable place.

As the kids packed up to leave the nest again we feel a bittersweet mixture of pride and relief. How did they grow up so fast?

Nothing lives up to expectations, we agree, but that really doesn’t matter—as long as we can laugh about the imperfections. That’s what makes us a family, after all.

So don’t set your expectations too high for Christmas. Relax and enjoy the imperfection.

We can’t wait for our next adventures with them – to the Bahamas with Matt and Emmie in December; skiing with Melanie in February in Colorado, visiting Reggie and Dan in San Francisco in the spring! And of course, next Thanksgiving.



December 11, 2012

Striking a Chord

Megan and Marjie

Another Great Kid! Let us introduce you to Megan Spector, 12 years old, who loves to sing. In fact she’s been singing and performing since she was 5 years old. Megan’s Aunt Marjie has ALS (Lous Gehrig’s Disease) for which there is no cure. So using her considerable talents Megan has organized a benefit concert to raise funds and awareness for ALS.

The concert will be held in Encinitas, CA on February 11, 2013 and features not just Megan but many talented singers and performers from across the United States. Along with a silent auction proceeds, 100% of all money raised will go to the ALS Association of San Diego.

To learn more about the concert (maybe you can go!) and Megan’s fundraising efforts email strikingachord@gmail.com.

To find out more about ALS contact the ALS Association



December 3, 2012

Fabulous Photos! #3 – 2 – 1

Winners of our 2011 – 2012 Photo Contest!

Biking in Yangshuo, China

That’s Number 3 above, by the Basile Family

Next is # 2 below, the crab by the Hacohen Family

Crab in the Galapagos

And finally, our #1 winner, by an overwhelming margin I might say, is this beauty from the Weissman Family Safari:

Wise elephant in Tanzania