Past Guests

June 14, 2011

Does Your Family Capture the Fun?

Nothing like capturing a shot that forever reminds you of your family adventure .. so here are our latest top three photo contest winners (in no particular order):

spectacled caiman in Costa Rica

Spectacled Caiman in Costa Rica

A lurking spectacled caiman may come as a surprise, but there are lots of them to be found in the canals of Tortuguero in Costa Rica. Thanks to the Spencer Calcott family for capturing this one on film.

a swim in the Galapagos almost always includes sea lions

Who is imitating who?

Next up, the Barnard family caught this excellent shot of the fun found in the blue waters of the Galapagos Islands. Sea lions are everywhere! You are welcome to imitate them, but no hugging please

leaping into the pool

Leaping into the infinity pool with a view

And then there is the fun in Baja (I was there!!) where, at the end of an active day the kids can keep going while the parents enjoy the breathtaking view. Thanks to the Murray Bruce family for their great photos, and for being fun traveling companions too.

April 14, 2011

From the Mouths of Babes

Stephen at Manuel Antonio National Park

A proud mother from California sent us this great essay written by her 12 year old son Stephen about thier recent foray to Costa Rica. Want to see it from a kid’s point of view? Read on

Over winter break, my mother, my father, and my sister and I went to Costa Rica. It was one of the best vacations I have ever been on. I had an interesting time and learned a lot from our tour guide, Jorge . Jorge was always smiling and welcoming.

On the first day, we flew in to the San Jose airport and stayed at the Bougainvillea hotel, which had outstanding gardens that we explored in the morning. The first day was short and quick, but the second day was just around the corner. On Sunday, we woke up in Bougainvillea and had Gallo Pinto (rice and beans), and fresh tortillas for breakfast. I had never had fresh tortillas before, but they were amazing! After eating we drove east towards the Caribbean coast, over the continental divide. The driving felt like it took forever, and we were all still tired from the day of traveling before. We stopped at a small market and a banana plantation to see how they worked. The small market was pretty interesting because of how it was set up outdoors.

We later got aboard a boat with about 30 other people and journeyed out to Tortuguero. Skimming through the water, my sister and I took many photos of the trees and flowers passing by. After checking in to our second hotel, Anhinga Lodge, we took another boat to the Sea Turtle Conservation Center. There we learned about why sea turtles are important to Costa Rica with a group of other tourists. Then we went to the nearby beach, and bought coconut water from a man at a stand. He was very good at slicing the coconuts, and I was scared to get too close because of the gigantic machete he used. We explored Tortuguero town a little bit, but it was soon time to go back to our hotel and sleep. Shops, playgrounds, children, and dogs filled the streets of Tortuguero town. I really liked Tortuguero town because it reminded me of Burlingame Avenue, quite close to my home.

On day three, it rained very hard a while, but the weather was nice for our 5:30 am boat ride. We rode into the national park with Jorge and Michael, our boat driver. We saw caiman, colorful birds and howler monkeys. We returned to our hotel for a lovely breakfast. We then kayaked for the rest of the morning. I love kayaking. I really liked this part of our trip because it was much different from kayaking in California. In California, the sun is always shining in your eyes and the water is much more open and wide. In Costa Rica, we kayaked in small, narrow water with the lovely shade from the trees above our heads protecting us from the sun. In the afternoon, we relaxed for a while and swam in the hotel’s turtle-shaped pool until we went on another boat ride into the park. This time we saw river otter, sloth, bats, eyelash viper, and caiman. My favorite animal we saw this time was the river otter, because I never thought I’d see one in Costa Rica. The eyelash viper really stood out because of its yellow color in the green plants.

At 7 am the next morning we flew back to San Jose on a small airplane. I ordinarily hate airplanes but this was different. This was the first time I had ever been on such a small aircraft, and I actually thought it was pretty cool. We then drove through San Jose to Irazu Volcano, elevation 11,000+ feet. Irazu Volcano was very nice because of its big craters. We ate lunch on the mountain, then drove to Costa Rica’s largest archeological site, which was a market center 1,000 years ago. The archeological site was amazing. We saw all sorts of remains from the past. Rocks were everywhere and leaf cutter ants stretched for what seemed to be miles in just one line. The ants were fantastic but they sort of spooked me out in a way. The line of ants was almost the exact length of our trail, and there were so many of them! At the end of the day we checked into Casa Turire outside of Turrialba.

The next day we went white water rafting on the Pacuare River with our guide Pablo. One word describes this event – epic. The water splashed us and tossed us around, but thankfully no one fell out. This was so fun and we all enjoyed it. We learned how to maneuver the raft quickly and quickly got used to the feeling. We stopped to have a snack and play in the water for a few minutes. During that break, we skipped stones in the water and had a great time. We ate lunch overlooking the farms of the Turrialba Valley after driving back from the river. In the evening we visited Rancho Naturalista to see all sorts of hummingbirds. We even saw a mouse who would come out every minute to get a bite to eat. Afterwards we came back to our hotel and slept like logs.

On Thursday, we visited the Central Market in Cartago to see local produce. I had never seen so many fruits and vegetables anywhere in my life! We later took a flight to Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Coast. From the airport we walked to Titi Zipline. In the jungle, we rode on lines 1,000 to 1,500 feet, and rappelled down from a platform. This might be the best family thing we’ve ever done together. The wind brushed against our faces during the zipline and our hearts all pounded on the very first line. It was really fun and exciting but scary too. Then we went to Hotel Parador high on a cliff above the ocean. We often saw spider monkeys peek out of the trees at Hotel Parador.

The next day we hiked through Manuel Antonio National Park to the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. It was wonderful. The water was warm and we had hermit crab races on the beach. Jorge spotted a sloth at Anaconda Restaurant, later we left to go to our hotel. I had a fever in the evening, but it broke by 10 pm. I hated being sick in Costa Rica. Feeling sick at home is bad enough, but it just felt horrible to have to lie in bed during our adventure.

We packed up in the morning and drove to Jaco for lunch by the beach. We took the Tarcoles River ride to see crocodiles and many magnificent birds. We even saw 2 scarlet macaws. I was worried that a crocodile would leap into the boat and bite my head off, but my fear was turned to excitement once I was taking pictures of all these brilliant creatures. We drove over the mountains and back to San Jose and Hotel Bougainvillea for dinner.

On Sunday morning, we drove to the airport at 5:30 am and flew to Dallas Fort Worth. We ran as fast as we could to our next flight but missed it. We found a new flight departing at 4:30 pm and arrived home by 8:30 to watch the end of the Oscars.

This has been one of my favorite vacations so far and you just read why. It was magical, outstanding, and almost perfect. It would have been perfect if I hadn’t gotten sick, but you know, stuff happens. For anyone who hasn’t been to Costa Rica, I hope you consider going and have as much fun as I had!

February 3, 2011

Meet Katie from Tennessee

New friends in Tanzania

Katie is an extraordinary child (like all of our kids!) who was so enamored of her family’s safari last March that in her French class she accidentally answered in Swahili. When I heard this I knew I wanted to know more. Wait until you hear about her favorite hobby in this interview:

How old are you / what grade in school? 12 years old, and in the 7th grade

What is your favorite travel moment? Passing out playground equipment to orphans & school children in Tanzania.

What have you learned from traveling? That not everybody lives the way we do in America. You have to be flexible about things like food, showers, schedules, transportation and other amenities we take for granted. When you travel, some experiences are good & some are not, but from them all, you learn something new about the people with whom we share our world.

What is your favorite hobby and why? In my room, I have constructed a town made from lunchbags. The people are made from popsickle sticks and milk lids and have names that are common to a particular country. My neighborhoods are culturally diverse and the shops and other buildings reflect what you might find in a particular geographic region. I get inspired to add new neighborhoods from books, movies, or meeting new people, This is a fun hobby because it doesn’t require batteries, allows you to be creative, and you have total control of the whole town. I don’t have any leftover space on my floor anymore, so I just have to build up; that’s how I came to add “Mount Olympus” to the town. I also like building houses on Google Sketch-Up.

What do you want to be/do when you grow up?? A missionary

Anything else you want us to know about you? In my lifetime, I want to travel to all 7 continents. I have 4 to go.

For some great scenes of Katie and her visits to the orphanage and Ayalabe School:

January 30, 2011

Wonder about a Family Safari?

December 28, 2010

Winter Storms and Why We Include Travel Insurance

The Beauty of a Blizzard

The dichotomy of a blizzard: It is beautiful, but at the holidays it is sure to ruin a lot of travel plans.

This particular holiday season was a traveler’s nightmare. In a small window of time we saw no fewer than 35 people lose their family holiday travel plans due to snowstorms, flight cancellations, and unexpected illness. That’s a lot of non refundable money!

You spend a lot of time, thought, and dollars on choosing your family adventure – you can’t let the unexpected ruin it. Whether it’s weather, or health, or even a home flood or fire, you have to protect your investment.

At Thomson Family Adventures, we know no one really likes to invest in insurance because it’s something you don’t want until you need it. And of course then it is too late. So we include comprehensive trip cancellation insurance in all of our adventures. And guess what? That insurance will reimburse all 35 of those disappointed travelers.

Sure there are procedures and paperwork to follow – but this really does help take the sting out of the unexpected. Getting your money back also gives you opportunity to recreate your adventure for another time. Like in the spring when it doesn’t blizzard…

What’s the fine print, what’s the catch you ask? For no additional cost we include trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance up to $8,000 per person, land and air cost. In addition, our insurance covers for a number of other losses or damages, including issues with baggage, medical expenses, and emergency medical evacuation.

When you travel with Thomson, you’ll always be in good hands not just leading up to your trip, but while on your trip as well. We try to think of everything! We hand-select guides in every locale, and work closely with these local operators to ensure they adhere to the high standards we promise our guests.

Have any questions? Just give us a call, or send an email. We’d be happy to provide you with more details about our reputable travel protection services.

Oh, and if you’re not traveling with Thomson, be sure to add on the cost of travel insurance to your travel plans!

Where did you get stuck this year?

December 7, 2010

Extraordinary Children and the Makings of Hope

At the age of 11 Jim’s niece Jessica spent two years in Indonesia while her father did relief work. Now at 16 Jessica has created a beautiful photo essay about her impressions, titled The Makings of Hope. Her time in Banda Aceh affected her profoundly and the depth of feeling and expression in this essay are remarkable. It’s an emotional watch, and well worth the seven minutes.

Are you impressed by children who make a difference? We’d like to share a story like this each month. If you have a child in your life who is making a difference (or know of one), email me at For each month’s selection Thomson Family Adventures will donate $100 to the charity of your choice.

December 1, 2010

If you waited for a Bargain, This is a Dream Come True

Galapagos Wonder

A Galapagos Wonder – the Blue Footed Booby


Due to unexpected circumstances a large family had to cancel their holiday adventure – very sad!

Now we have room for the Galapagos December 25 – January 2 2010. – so exciting!

We are offering this to you at almost 50% off full fare. Wowie!!


Even with international flights, your total cost will still be a significant savings


Adults $2990, Age 12 – 17 $2890, Child under 12 $2690


Call 800-262-6255 and you’ll be snorkeling with sea lions in just a few weeks

May 27, 2010

Remember the ash cloud from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano?

Gayle and Matthew

…Well, so do Gayle Botti and her grandson, en route to Egypt. Thanks to luck, good humor, and our included trip cancellation insurance this story has a happy ending! Gayle is a travel agent at Let’s Travel in Santa Monica CA. Her specialty is ‘unusual trips’ – and this was no exception. Her letter follows in its entirety:

“First I would like to thank you and everyone at Thomson Family Adventures for the most wonderful travel experience I could ask for. It was truly incredible and so worry free.

I recently took my 11 year old grandson to Egypt for 10days on Egypt – Valley of the Nile. I told my 3 grandchildren that when they turned 10 years old I would take them on a trip anywhere in the world they want to go. Matthew being the oldest has always wanted to go to Egypt so that is why we went there.

We did get delayed in Frankfurt, Germany because of the volcano eruption in Iceland for four days. Everyone at Thomson was on top of it and said I would be able to pick up the tour whenever we arrived. Fortunately I had us arriving in Cairo a day before we would meet the group and also stay a day after the tour ended. Beth, at Thomson kept in touch with my daughter, Matthew’s mother, in Rochester, New York with the latest happenings. Mohammed in Cairo also called my daughter to reassure her we would be taken care of.

By the time we finally left Frankfurt the group of 8 – 4 adults and 4 children, ages 9, 11 and 14 were already in Sharm el Sheikh. Well Matthew was in his element because now there were 4 boys, three of whom were 11 years old and one girl. Shortly after our plane from Frankfurt arrived in Cairo we were met my Mohammed and taken to dinner. He told us that we were confirmed on a 10:30 p.m. flight to Sharm el Sheikh but he was trying to get us on the earlier flight at 8:30 p.m. As it turned out we made the earlier flight and Mohammed never left our side until he saw to it that we were on the plane. What service is unheard of!

Matthew did miss the snorkeling in the Red Sea. He was disappointed at first but once he met the other children in our group he quickly got over it especially when he saw the Red Sea wasn’t really red! From then on we joined in the scheduled tour.

Now for a word on why Thomson is the very best in my estimation. Not only was our guide, Randa, top notch but the mentor, Temer, was fantastic. He kept the kids entertained and happy the entire time including eating with them at all meals and letting the adults eat together. Every day Thomson had some little gift for the kids to open. How they looked forward to that! Every time I asked a question about our air schedule on the return flights I was told not to worry just enjoy the trip! When they say don’t worry they will take care of everything, they mean it and you really have no reason to worry. That is so important to me. I seem to worry about everything! Another wonderful part of the trip was for the dinners we were able to order from the menu. A fabulous touch! Hotels were wonderful – all 5 star and great locations, the vans were always very clean and the drivers very professional. Snacks, water and soft drinks were provided everyday. No need to pack any munchies for the kids. There was plenty for everyone. We were even given coins to use the public restrooms. Honestly, they left no stone unturned!!!!!

I was told by Thomson to save all my receipts from Frankfurt and whatever out of pocket expenses I incurred would be reimbursed by their insurance company. What a nice feeling that was. On our last day in Cairo, which should have been on our own, Thomson said we could make up the full day of sightseeing that we missed at the beginning of our trip including meeting Matthew’s Pen Pal at the Pyramids. We had our own van, driver and guide for the entire day. Mohammed reconfirmed our return reservations for us and for the flights home all went well.

Now on a personal note, Matthew’s brother, Robert will turn 10 in November. After hearing Matthew and me talk about the trip and of TFA he asked me when it is his turn will I chose Thomson or look around for another tour. I don’t think I have to tell you what my answer was! It looks like I’ll be contacting Thomson for a trip to Tanzania in the not to distant future!

I didn’t just take Matthew on a trip, I created a memory for him that will last forever. I am very fortunate to have accomplished what I had hoped to do and I can thank Thomson for making this come true!

Thanks again for a truly wonderful experience. Look forward to working with you again.

All the best,


May 10, 2010

The Power of the Great Pyramid. And an iPhone.

the procession to the Great Pyramid

Thanks to the Sanger Family for sharing their story.

Our first day in Cairo, we visited The Great Pyramid in Giza. Only 200 people are allowed in each day and we were one of the lucky ones. It’s not for the faint of heart, believe me. A long, narrow ascent through a three-foot high tunnel, followed by a steeper climb up many steps to the ancient burial tomb. All the while breathing a warm, stale air – trying to imagine how this mammoth structure was created and how the tomb raiders were able to loot the place dry.

Joining myself, wife Kim, son Matt and daughter Julia were the LoPicollo’s – Greg, Gayle, Sam and Joe – our wonderful traveling partners for the week. Once we reached the burial tomb – we were the only people in the place! The group ahead of us had already vacated the room and nobody was making the ascent behind us. We had this amazing piece of history to ourselves. You could almost feel the ancient spirits in the darkened room.

Soon Sam began humming, before too long we all joined in, harmonizing an eerie sound that echoed through the empty chamber. So I whipped out my trusty iPhone. Now, you aren’t allowed to take photos in the pyramid, but you can certainly record! I tapped open the voice recorder, pressed record and came away with this.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

As we listened to it later, a smile came to all our faces, remembering the moment. That will be an experience none of us will ever forget – the Sangers and the LoPicollos. And to think, it was only the start of one of the greatest adventures of our lives.

April 21, 2010

Meet Our Pal, Barbara Ruttenberg

Another is our ocassional series of interviews with our past guests. Barbara began her Thomson travels on a Thomson Safari in 2000, and has been on 3 Thomson Family Adventures with her grandchildren since; and we hope there will be many more!

How / when did you find TFA? My first trip with TFA was in 2002 with my granddaughter Kayla. She had selected Africa as her chosen destination for her Bat Mitzvah gift. Internet research indicated to me that TFA had the best family trip to Tanzania so off we went. It was an amazing experience and convinced me that TFA was the best organization for traveling with my grandkids. Since then TFA has taken me and one of my grandkids to Panama, China, and Turkey, and each trip has provided a gift of learning and adventure. These trips have encouraged my grandchildren to experience fascination, not fear, when confronting difference, and I am grateful.

Why do you like to travel? Travel is one of my passions and sharing it with my grandchildren makes it extra special. Travel provides a kind of learning that far surpasses what we gain from books or media. We not only learn firsthand about other cultures, but we come home with a different vision of ourselves. When I am standing on the Great Wall of China or staring at Turkey’s Hagia Sophia at sunset, I experience a sense of joy and wonder that cannot be replicated any other way. Travel is an amazing tonic for the spirit. The whole idea after the journey is to return home, not just with souvenirs, but as a changed and more conscious human being.

What was your first trip outside the USA? In 1975 I visited several European countries. Back then Europe was not so westernized so it was my first taste of the newness and strangeness of a foreign culture. The enchantment hooked me and I’ve been traveling ever since.

What is your favorite travel moment? My favorite travel moment always involves interaction with the people of the country I’m visiting. I am mostly interested in the human landscape, learning about the myriad ways we humans meet the challenges of living on this earth. One of the things I love about TFA is that they encourage this aspect of travel. There have been many moments of serendipity when I’ve interacted with people of the country we’re visiting and I’ve never felt rushed to move on to the next activity. I travel to open myself to the endless diversity found on our planet……to experience it, relish it, celebrate it.

What is your favorite hobby/ activity / passion and why? My passion is people – my family, my friends, the children I serve in my work as a special educator, and the people I connect with in the world through travel and charitable giving.

Anything else you want us to know about you? Just one of my favorite quotes: Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body. But rather to skid in sideways, chardonnay in one hand, strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up – totally worn out, and screaming “WOO HOO! What a Ride!”