(BPT) - The big skies and open spaces of the American West have captured the imagination for hundreds of years. Whether it's the beauty of a desert sunset or the cold majesty of snow-capped mountains, there's something about the landscape and the clean air that reinvigorates the spirit.
Seeking relief from the hustle and bustle of modern life, people from all over stay at one of many dude ranches across the country. Here, an intimate blend of adventure and comfort allows visitors to experience the majesty of the west in style and unmatched luxury.
Since 1926, members of The Dude Ranchers Association have served as stewards of both the land and the traditions of the American West. Always eager to share their way of life with guests from the big city or just down the road, they have transformed the rancher's way of life into one of the most incredible vacation opportunities around.
For a taste of the variety offered, here are five reasons all kinds of people return to dude ranches across the country.
1. Roughing it has never been so luxurious. Simply put, it's hard to find a more relaxing experience. With many ranches offering morning yoga to limber you up before you get in the saddle along with spa services to induce a state of complete relaxation, you'll think those cowboys had it easy on their cattle drives!
2. An educational adventure for the whole family. Many dude ranches have an array of kid-friendly activities. Children of all ages can ride horses, play, learn about animals and the wonders of the great outdoors. Parents treasure this direct, hands-on learning, and kids, well, they hardly know that what they're doing is educational.
3. A perfect getaway for animal lovers. There is no shortage of people who visit a dude ranch in order to live their childhood dream of having a horse or a pony. Horses are an integral part of the dude ranch experience, and whether you ride them through the mountainside meadows or learn some grooming techniques, working with these animals is a magical experience.
4. Indulge in a meal like none other. After a day luxuriating in the crisp western air, nothing is better than sitting down with your family for a gourmet meal paired with the perfect wine. Yes, the food is a world-class combination of classic favorites and new flavors, but it's also a chance to share stories with your loved ones, hear about the things your kids discovered and create lasting memories.
5. Discover something about yourself. Each year, there is no shortage of people who come to relax and let the stress of daily life melt away. While doing this, they also manage to participate in things they never imagined. Whether it is zooming down a zip line, going whitewater rafting or mountain biking, many people discover new experiences that give them a new perspective on life.
Founded in 1926, The Dude Ranchers' Association was founded to preserve, protect and promote this unique vacation experience. Since then, the core principles of dude ranching remain the same: horses, hats, hospitality, heritage, honesty and heart.
With more than 100 accredited members, all of which are required to uphold the highest quality and standards within the dude ranching industry, The Dude Ranchers' Association can help you find your next dream vacation.
(BPT) - When booking a sea cruise vacation, it may seem like a good idea to schedule your flight to the port of departure for the same morning your ship sets sail.
A same-day flight might appear to save you time and money, but travel experts warn this could turn into an expensive mistake. Should airline delays keep you from getting to the port on time, you could end up shelling out hundreds more dollars to book another flight, just so you can catch up to your ship at the next port of call.
In addition, the panic and worry that set in from even the smallest hiccup in your tight travel schedule can defeat the idea of a vacation. To start your relaxing ocean getaway in the right frame of mind, give yourself and your family an extra pre-cruise day in your cruise line's port city. If everything goes as planned and you arrive the day before your ship casts off, your vacation can start early, too. Use the extra time to explore and kick back. You'll find the home ports for these cruise ships are set up to accommodate and welcome cruise travelers.
For example, if your ship happens to launch from Florida's Port Canaveral, the world's second-busiest cruise port, you'll discover many area hotels have cruise package deals that include free parking, special nightly rates and even free shuttle transportation to and from the port and to and from the airport.
You'll also find plenty to see and do locally. Cape Canaveral, near the Kennedy Space Center, is part of the east-central section of Florida popularly known as the Space Coast. Here, there are numerous attractions and other entertaining diversions that can help create the perfect countdown to your cruise to paradise.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
For visitors, the eye-opening facility that has propelled countless rockets and scores of shuttles out of our atmosphere also provides a full day's worth of exhibits and hands-on learning about space exploration. Eyeball a 3-D image produced by one of NASA's powerful space telescopes, inspect the Space Shuttle Atlantis up close, and "experience" life on Mars through an interactive display.
Of course, there are plenty of space memorabilia to examine and fascinating astronaut stories to absorb, all of which will round out your appreciation of what NASA has accomplished so far - and what is yet to come.
While planning your overnight along the Space Coast, be sure to check Spacecoastlaunches.com for schedules of rocket launches, public viewing sites, and special hotel packages. If you're lucky, you might have an opportunity to witness the sights, sounds and ground-shaking vibrations of a rocket launch. Cape Canaveral and the greater Space Coast area have numerous parks and observation points that make it easy to sit back and watch these rockets streak into the sky.
Shopping, arts and entertainment
The Space Coast features many historic shopping districts to help you leisurely pass the time morning, afternoon and evening. You can dine al fresco at one of the trendy independent restaurants or pick out a catchy new cruise outfit at a local boutique. The area also has a lively arts scene to help inspire you for your trip. Take in a pre-cruise musical performance or theater production at the Historic Cocoa Village Playhouse, or wander the assorted art galleries that dot the Eau Gallie Arts District.
Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier
A historic landmark along a beautiful stretch of beachfront, the Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier was established in 1962. Its festival-like setting is the perfect backdrop for any traveler's early escape from reality: beachside restaurants and bars with live entertainment, an 800-foot fishing pier, spectacular views of the majestic cruise ships coming and going, rolling waves breaking and beautiful bodies surfing, the sparkling beach and the glorious sunshine. What could be better?
You also can elude the crowds and pilot your own escapade along the area's beautiful waterways. It's easy to rent a boat and navigate the rivers and canals. You can look for dolphins and manatees or drop anchor at an island for a family barbecue and swim. Cast your line into the Banana River, pull into Sebastian Inlet State Park for snorkeling and scuba diving, or simply enjoy the journey and tie up at a waterside restaurant when hunger sets in.
For planning some Space Coast fun and relaxation before you set off to sea on your cruise ship, you can peruse an extensive collection of local tourism ideas and resources at www.visitspacecoast.com.
(BPT) - It may sound contrary to the holiday hype, but the winter season following the holidays can be a perfect time for a relaxing, soul-soothing getaway.
Research cited by the American Psychological Association shows stress increases for many in the weeks leading up to the holidays, due to factors like lack of time, commercialism, family issues and the pressures of additional shopping, cooking, cleaning and decorating.
All are good reasons to choose a post-holiday vacation that allows you to get away and completely relax. Studies show people able to completely relax during their vacations remain happy for longer after returning to their regular lives, while other research indicates regular vacations from the routines of daily life can help prevent health issues, including coronary disease.
One area of the U.S. offering a wealth of relaxing vacation options is the Badger State - Wisconsin. Each winter, a multitude of leisure seekers travel to the Midwestern gem to enjoy its rustic beauty and recreational opportunities for all ages. Some examples of local amenities include:
Destination Kohler: The only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond resort hotel in the Midwest, this stunning resort offers the best of both worlds - luxury accommodations and a private, rustic setting. This stately resort in Kohler, Wisconsin features a variety of invigorating activities centered around its 500-acre nature preserve, including cross country skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing. Following time breathing fresh air in the snowy woods, guests can visit the resort's spa, enjoy any of 12 on-site dining establishments catering to different tastes or just retreat to their well-appointed rooms.
Sandhill: This 2,000-square-foot backwoods cabin in Mosel, Wisconsin is a quiet, beautifully constructed destination set within 350 acres of wilderness. The retreat can sleep four to six and features a gas fireplace, chef-inspired kitchen, deep-soaking tub and stand-alone sauna hut, in addition to a fully stocked fridge and full access to Destination Kohler's 12 eating establishments
Hunting at River Wildlife: Encompassing 500 acres of the best pheasant- and partridge-hunting land in the Midwest, this beautiful nature preserve along the Sheboygan River invites sportsmen to enjoy the quest for game birds in the authentic English tradition. Guests from all over are drawn by the chance to traverse these snowy woodlands with accompaniment from a trained hunting dog and experienced guide knowledgeable about the area. Afterward, your group can enjoy lunch at a local restaurant lodged in a rustic cabin.
Yoga on the lake: This holistic yoga studio offers some 30 weekly classes in a comfortable space made picturesque by floor-to-ceiling bay windows overlooking adjacent Wood Lake. Nationally certified instructors gently guide guests of all levels through a mind-body connection in this peaceful atmosphere, helping them reduce stress, improve sleep patterns and relaxation and induce health benefits.
Kohler Waters Spa: This oasis of calm specializes in hydrotherapy treatments such as the Balancing Moroccan Ritual, a body scrub followed by a Chakra stone application, a traditional Shirodhara hair wash and treatment, a cool stone facial massage, a warm Kohler Custom Vichy shower and a body soufflÃ© finish. The best-kept secret of the facility awarded five stars by Forbes? Its rooftop hot tub is framed by twinkling skylights and a 16-foot fireplace.
Ready to relax, unwind and enjoy the winter season to its fullest? Look no further than the heartland of Wisconsin for your next winter vacation.
(BPT) - If you enjoy exploring new and unique cultures when you travel, you're far from alone. In a 2016 Trip Advisor study, 47 percent of travelers worldwide chose foreign destinations to visit in hopes of being exposed to other cultures and people.
Learning the history of ancient cultures can be the most fascinating part of such trips, especially for visitors who measure the age of their own nation in hundreds, not thousands. That's partly why the 1,800-year-old city of Nanjing, China is such an attractive destination for curious tourists from across the world.
The city of 8 million offers access to a wide range of awe-inspiring ancient sites along with multiple opportunities to experience the people, places and culture that make up the Jiangsu province present day. Visitors also enjoy the ease of transportation: An international airport and two train stations connect Nanjing to China's major cities including Shanghai and Beijing, 90 minutes and 3.5 hours by bullet train, respectively.
Those wishing to immerse themselves in Nanjing's ancient beauty and culture can enjoy the following attractions:
Historic sites: Among the most historically and architecturally significant are two mausoleums enshrining former Chinese leaders: the Ming Dynasty-era Xiaoling Tomb and Dr. Sun Yat-sen's Mausoleum, honoring the founder of modern China. Also compelling is the Presidential Palace, built in Neoclassical style in 1864 and transformed into the China Modern History Museum in 1980. Visitors are often inspired by the 600-year-old City Wall of Nanjing, built by 200,000 laborers over a 21-year period to ward off invaders. The structure encloses 55 square kilometers and is among the largest walls ever constructed in Chinese history.
Cultural landmarks: A must-see for many tourists is the Confucius Temple Scenic Area. Tour the temple, visit former homes of historic figures then board the Qinhuai river sightseeing cruise while you learn about Nanjing's history and take in performances along the river's banks. Visit the opulent subterranean Buddhist palace and two different temples at the 197-acre Niushoushan Cultural Park, an ode to Buddhist beliefs built on a sacred site just outside the city. Don't miss the Grand Bao'en Temple, a reproduction of a Ming Dynasty pagoda considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Medieval Age.
Natural attractions: A popular choice is Xuanwu Lake Park, which features five islands interconnected by arched bridges and miles of enjoyable walkways. Within the park are temples, pagodas, pavilions, gardens, teahouses, restaurants, entertainment venues, a small zoo and other attractions. Elsewhere, choose to walk Qixia Mountain, known for its beautiful foliage in the autumn months, crystal clear springs and multiple scenic spots, or relax at Tangshan Hot Springs, open to both day trippers and local resort guests.
Festivals: Mingle with thousands of locals and tourists alike while celebrating the city's culturally rich traditions. Nanjing will kick off 2017 with New Year's Eve Bell Ringing Ceremonies throughout the city. Other festivities include the Qinhuai International Lantern Festival (early January), the International Plum Blossom Festival (mid-February through March); the Rain Flower Stone Festival (September) and the Gaochun County Hairy Crab Festival (September through November). While sampling vendors' offerings at such events, be sure to partake of Nanjing's culinary specialty - duck, deliciously served up in myriad soups, appetizers, main courses, pastries, snacks and dim sum. The city's claim to fame: The tender, fragrant and often crispy salted duck first popularized during the Qing Dynasty.
Ready to start planning your Nanjing adventure? Visit gotonanjing.com for more information.
(BPT) - Family travel is a great way for everyone to bond and create lifelong memories. However, before you can hit the road, you need to do a little planning.
Traditionally, moms took the lead in organizing vacations. Today, a new trend is emerging in which men are taking charge and planning family trips. Driven by the desire to share important life experiences with their kids and partner, fathers are handling every aspect of travel, from researching locations to booking hotels.
Beau Coffron is one of these dads. With a passion for travel, the Lunchbox Dad blogger has planned numerous family vacations. These experiences led him to become a Travel MANager for Homewood Suites by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton.
Coffron knows family travel is a lot of fun, but it can also get stressful fast. To avoid those out-of-control moments and keep kids (and parents!) happy, he offers eight smart tips for stress-free family travel.
Plan early: Whether a quick weekend adventure or a grand week-long escape, plan as early as possible. Having extra time to research the right location, travel accommodations and activities cuts stress and ensures you plan a memorable vacation.
Use online planning tools: Save time by using the internet to research and book travel. An all-in-one website like Mencanplantravel.com is packed with inspirational insight from dad travelers, tips for planning a great family vacation and fast options for finding great hotel rates around the world.
Pack smart: Traveling with a family can mean bringing a lot of stuff for each person. Pack smarter by focusing on items that multitask. For example, kids' T-shirts take up little space and can be worn during the day or at night as pajamas. Accessories like scarves can also be used as small blankets for picnics.
Keep kids busy in transit: No matter what your mode of travel, kids can get bored while in-route to your destination. Keep kids busy by packing unique activities such as giving out a small metal tin from the kitchen and pack magnets for mess-free fun. Searching "free printable coloring sheets" online and printing out loads of activities kids can color with crayons is another great option.
Guarantee sound sleep: For little ones, always pack a crib sheet so you know you'll have fresh linens for your baby or toddler. For all kids, you can download a soothing sound machine app on your phone to block any sound to help everyone sleep better.
Simplify first-aid: Create a travel-friendly first-aid kit by filling a plastic pencil box with travel-size sunscreen, insect repellent, bandages, tweezers and more. It takes up little space and you won't have to spend time digging around your luggage to find items when needed most.
Bring a disposable camera for kids: Kids love to take pictures, but parents tire of having to share their smartphone constantly. Instead, give kids control by buying a disposable camera. They'll have fun documenting the vacation and you don't have to worry about them breaking your screen.
Document possessions: You're sure to use your phone to take photos and videos of the kids, but have you thought of doing so with your luggage? Lay out what you've brought and take a quick video before putting items away at the hotel. This helps should you have to make an insurance claim.
With these tips, dads can plan stress-free family trips with ease. Now you just count down the days until takeoff.
(BPT) - Whether it's a quick weekend away or a weeklong adventure, family travel is a great way to bond and create lifelong memories. However, if you have an infant, you may be hesitant to pack all those bags and venture to the unknown.
"With their love of a set schedule and the familiar, plus loads of gear, babies are natural homebodies," says Sandra Gordon, baby safety expert and blogger at www.babyproductsmom.com. "Still, they can be surprisingly adaptable and getting out and about can be loads of fun for everyone. The trick is to be prepared so you can enjoy the journey and the destination."
Gordon offers eight tips and tricks that make infant travel easy so everyone can have an enjoyable vacation:
Prepare the diaper bag
The diaper bag is your go-to throughout your trip. Pack everything your baby might need including diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, snacks, toys, a pacifier, feeding supplies, infant formula and lots of Ziploc bags for dirty bottles, clothes, etc. An extra shirt for yourself is a smart addition as well, just in case.
Pack pre-measured, dry powder baby formula
Whether on the plane or out for the day, pack two to four bottles with pre-measured, dry baby formula that you can mix with bottled water at feeding time. To save up to 50 percent, buy store brand infant formula. All infant formula sold in the United States is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so store brand formula must meet the same FDA standards as the big advertised brands. It's available wherever infant formula is sold, such as Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and Target.
Bring a prepared bottle
Bring a prepared bottle for the airport; it can help keep your baby content during the lengthy check-in process. It's also a must during takeoff to relieve ear pressure. You can take more than 3.4 ounces of infant formula or breast milk through airport security. Tell the transportation security officer that you have medically necessary liquids at the beginning of the checkpoint screening process. Visit the TSA for more info on flying with children.
Split up your stuff
When packing bags you plan to check at the airport, split up the contents so that each suitcase has everyone's clothes in it, including your baby's. That way if a bag gets lost, everyone will have something to wear for the next few days until your bag is found. Essentials such as formula, medicine, etc. should be packed in your carry-on.
Stick to baby's schedule
Babies rely on a schedule so there's no need to disrupt it when on vacation. Try travelling around nap time for domestic flights or at bedtime for international flights. Be sure to bring along her favorite stuffed animal or blanket that she normally sleeps with so there's something familiar to sooth her. Baby can sleep and you can relax.
Avoid popular travel times
Avoid crowds and save money by travelling on slower days. The day prior to holidays will always be hectic, so opt to fly two to three days before or after to enjoy a slower airport plus cheaper ticket prices. For non-holiday travel, avoid early-morning flights on weekdays so you and your baby don't have to compete with harried business travelers.
If you can't bring all your gear when travelling, consider renting. Ask your hotel about rental options in the area so you can have everything you need to make baby feel comfortable without having to lug items across the country. It is an extra cost, but it also saves you the cost of having to check bulky items on the plane.
Eat in or eat out early
Book a hotel with a kitchen so you can make baby-friendly foods in a comfortable space. When you do want to eat out, remember that prime time for eating out with infants, toddlers and preschoolers is Sunday through Wednesday before standard lunch or dinner times (11:30 a.m. or 5:30 p.m.). Restaurants are less crowded and you'll get faster service.
Travelling with a baby gets easier every time you do it. With these tips you'll satisfy your wanderlust without worry, plus your little one will have a great time.
(BPT) - If you love to travel, chances are you have a bucket list filled with once-in-a-lifetime destinations you simply cannot wait to visit, whether you dream of exploring the homeland of your ancestors, cities renowned for their culinary feats, or a place known for its wildlife.
If your focus is the latter, no bucket list is complete without an authentic African safari that provides the opportunity to step into the native habitats of Africa's big five animals, rare birds, and great apes. If this type of intimate animal experience is on your must-do travel list, here are five reasons Uganda is the perfect destination for your African adventure.
You can get up close and personal with mountain gorillas and chimpanzees
Uganda is home to more than half the world's population of endangered mountain gorillas, and trekking to see these majestic creatures in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a top bucket list item for nature enthusiasts. The country is also a prime location for those hoping to catch sight of chimpanzees, as Budongo Forest Reserve is home to 700 of these playful primates, including three groups that have been habituated and can be visited by humans.
See it all at Murchison Falls National Park
You can see it all at Murchison Falls National Park, which is a four-hour drive northwest of the capital city of Kampala. Bisected by the Nile River, Murchison Falls boasts 76 species of mammals and 451 species of birds. The park is home to iconic African game such as elephants, lions, leopards, buffaloes and giraffes, as well as river-loving animals like crocodiles and hippopotamuses. The dramatic falls, created by a remnant rift that plunges water 150 feet down the valley wall, provide a picture perfect photo opportunity.
Catch a glimpse of the southern white rhino at Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch
Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch is home to 15 southern white rhinoceroses and is the only place in Uganda to see this majestic creature. The ranch, a collaborative effort between the Uganda Wildlife Authority and Rhino Fund Uganda, serves as a sanctuary where the animals can live and breed in a protected environment. In addition to the rhinos, more than 40 species of mammals, reptiles, and birds call Ziwa home. Those who visit leave invigorated by the power of conservation and the work the ranch is doing to protect its residents for generations to come.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is for the birds, and you
Bird is the word at Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwestern Uganda, where 600 different species of birds can be found - more than any other park on the eastern half of the continent. Here, you will have a chance to see some of Africa's most sensational birds such as the Shoebill, African Broadbill, Martial Eagle, Black-rumped Buttonquail, African Skimmer and Pink-backed Pelican.
Seize the opportunity to enjoy authentic, immersive cultural experiences
Uganda is home to more than 50 distinct tribes, and meeting individuals from any of them offers a unique opportunity to experience their way of life and make lasting personal connections. Join the Batwa Experience for a glimpse into the living history of a tribe that once called Uganda's forests home. You can also learn the art of basket weaving or beekeeping from communities across Uganda who use these arts to sustain their villages. A number of lodges connect travelers directly to these local communities, providing the chance to experience unique cultural performances of dance, music and song that will leave a lasting impression on your heart and soul.
Uganda is often referred to as "The Pearl of Africa," and those who visit quickly understand why. Some of the continent's most diverse wildlife viewing, dramatic landscapes, and mesmerizing cultural interactions await adventurous travelers, and there is no better time to plan a visit than right now. To get started, head to www.visituganda.com and begin preparing for the African adventure of a lifetime.
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