Archive for the Category »eco-friendly «

  Hotel of the Week: Costa Rica Enchantment in the Jungle
Tortuga Lodge & Gardens, Costa Rica from

Tortuga Lodge & Gardens, Costa Rica from

Costa Rica is a great family travel destination for many reasons – There are diverse regions that can appeal to a wide variety of travelers – Beach? Check. Rain forest and wild life? Check. Adventure? Check. Volcano? Got that too.

The hardest part is deciding where you want to go in this Central America country… most people visit a few places for a few days each to encounter all Costa Rica has to offer.

Another bright spot here when bringing kids is that the tap water is clean, and the local food can be eaten without serious stomach problems… and the country is generally safe. A potential negative: You have to buy airfare.

Tortuga Lodge & Gardens, Costa Rica

Tortuga Lodge & Gardens, Costa Rica

So that being said, I wanted to share with you what seems to be a reasonably priced, yet totally enchanting lodge in the Costa Rica jungle. I’ve heard about it a few times lately with great reviews. It is the Tortuga Lodge and Gardens.

Tortuga Lodge & gardens, Costa Rica

Tortuga Lodge & gardens, Costa Rica

Tortuga Lodge & Gardens is a small hotel situated on 146 acres of private land on Costa Rica’s northeast Caribbean coast…surrounded by rivers, which is part of the charm – no roads. .  Tortuguero National Park is a 20 minute boat ride away. Prepare to spend a lot of time on the water actually – there is a lot of exploring to be done on  its back water creeks and lagoons with a Tortuguero Naturalist Guide.

Tortuguero Natl Park, from

Tortuguero Natl Park, from

Tortuguero National Park is an exciting place – At 51,870 acres, it is one of the most biologically rich and last large areas of tropical rain forests in Central America.

From Tortuga Lodge and Gardens

From Tortuga Lodge and Gardens

Among the wild-life you may encounter and your kids will love are three species of monkeys (spider, howler, and white-faced), three-toed sloths, river otters, caimans, iguanas,river turtles, basilisk lizards, poison dart frogs, as well as more than 320 species of birds.

Turtles at Tortuga Lodge and Gardens

Turtles at Tortuga Lodge and Gardens

Some  of the coolest activities available to you at the Tortuga Lodge (for a price) are turtle expeditions. The eco-lodge is located near a major nesting area of the Atlantic Green sea turtle, so there are opportunities to up close to these reptiles. If you’ve never seen these beautiful (and large!) creatures before, the really are a sight to behold on the sand, with the moonlit sparkling water nearby.   One of the outings you can pay for is an outdoor dinner under the stars, and afterward a walk on a secluded beach to observe the nesting of these interesting creatures.

Beyond normal travel activities,  the lodge offers it’s guests a unique opportunity:  to volunteer in the immediate community. Guests can get to know some local children and speak English with them to help them learn the language. It doesn’t cost anything and transportation is provided in exchange for your time. I will say from my travels that getting to experience authentic life in a destination always makes it richer… and this is a chance to give back – Jackpot.

Tortuga Lodge and Gardens, Costa Rica

Tortuga Lodge and Gardens, Costa Rica

The lodge is NOT a slick, fancy resort… it is basic, but reportedly feels more authentic, while also clean and spacious.

Tortuga Lodge & Gardens Deck

Tortuga Lodge & Gardens Deck

One of the best features in my opinion is the deck off of the main dining room, so you can take a meal there overlooking the river and forest.. or just sit and enjoy. The setting is magical.

Remember – Costa Rica is quite rainy all year long so pack a rain poncho for those unexpected storms.

Good news – it is pretty affordable for the average budget – Room rates at Tortuga start at $178 for a double; $278 for the penthouse… BONUS  Kids ages 0-5 eat free, ages 6-10 receive a 50% discount, ages 11 and older pay full price.

Special packages are also offered on the website, so be sure to check.




  Travel Tip Tuesday: Don’t Be Fooled by the Travel Brochures

How many of us fantasize about visiting a destination, or booking a hotel based on the travel pamphlet or website?

Buyer beware. All of the digital tools available to even amateurs these days makes it very easy to exaggerate the positive qualities of any place or feature. Some hotels or sights don’t even resemble what the brochure is selling.

For instance, in past few months, I have experienced a few examples I’d like to share with you.

On the island of Hawaii recently, I was given brochures to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The pamphlet photos looked like this:

firework volcano


In reality, most visitors don’t see lava this active, if at all. Most of the time it is just captivating black rock. Sometimes if the lava is flowing, visitors aren’t allowed closer because of potential danger. I have heard mixed reviews that a helicopter tour allows you see too more lava, but I can’t confirm as I haven’t done it.

The point is, this is an all day trip,  a good 2.5 hour drive from resorts near Kona airport. There are fantastic hikes, and ethereal scenery to see, but if your heart is set on seeing lava, you’d better weigh if it is worth it to you to give up a day on a beautiful beach, and pay for a rental car.

Another example occurred when I went whale watching.. There are many places in the world you can watch the migration of these beautiful creatures from cold to warm waters. This form of eco-tourism can be absolutely thrilling… when you get up close to a whale.

A misleading card I received recently after a whale watching journey looked like this:


But in reality, one would be EXTREMELY lucky to see something that close up, or that bold. The boats are forbidden from getting closer than 200 yards to a whale that is seen… the whale has to come to the boat. And not every whale shows it’s tail – they each have their own style of swimming. The photos from the journey more often than not look like mine:

Whale Watching in the Marina del Rey, Ca

Whale Watching in the Marina del Rey, Ca

(Cue the music: Wa wa waaaa)  Yep – that little beige spec is a whale.

Moreover, it requires a lot of patience  to spot a whale. They come up for breath typically every five minutes, and you don’t know exactly where they are if you are even near one. Five minutes is a rather long time looking at nothing. This is good to think about when you are bringing young children.

A few ways to ferret out the truth in a misleading photo is to use trusted websites and social media:

Websites like offer true photos of various hotels taken by objective scouts for Oyster. Also is a community that offers reviews on places. Trip Advisor and Yelp also offer reviews, but you can’t always trust them to be objective. Some hotels are offering upgrades in exchange for positive reviews. Finally – Ask around to your own trusted friends on social media. Be a savvy traveler!


  A Quintessential East Coast Outing Fantastic For Kids This Labor Day


What could be more representative of the state of Maine than lighthouses and lobsters?


Throw in a few pairs of latex gloves, an engaging captain, and a little lobster education and you have yourself a fun afternoon lobster fishing on the waters of Maine.

It is still lobster season on the East Coast, where the waters are cold. The season runs until the very end of October. It is BIG business in Maine – in 2012 alone, fishermen caught 123 million lbs of lobster and there are some 3 million traps in Maine’s waters. Applying for a trap is difficult because one has to wait until traps are given up – some stay in the family for years.


If you ever find yourself looking for something authentic and interesting  to do with your kids in Maine, I recommend hopping aboard “The Lucky Catch,” or another lobster boat offering tours. I took my kids recently, and it was a hands on experience for sure.


The Lucky Catch is docked in the cute town of Portland, Maine. The boat gives tours May-October.


Captain Tom is a wonderful teacher along the way – after donning our appropriate lobster fishing duds, we learned about Maine’s lobster industry.


Captain Tom let the kids bait the traps, and throw them down into the murky waters.

We learned interesting tidbits about harvesting lobster – how the fishermen are required to practice some conservation. If they catch a female with eggs, they have to throw her back.


While the kids are hard at work setting the traps, adults can simultaneously enjoy the picturesque scenery. Lighthouses, rocky beaches, and traditional New England homes dot the shoreline.


When it is time to pull up a trap or two, the kids are welcomed right in the action.


Then, because our little fishermen are THAT good, passengers can buy the lobsters, for a  mere $5.00 each!!! What a deal.


After our adventure and purchase of one fine lobster, Captain Tom recommended that we walk on over to the Portland Lobster Co. ….Animal lovers – read no further.  The chef will then cook your lobster for you right there, on the spot, and serve it up with corn on the cob and other sides.


I was sort of excited about  fishing for my own food. However, my kids and I found that shelling and cleaning the lobster is not so easy… and it is much more appetizing to order it in a restaurant where they clean and crack the shell for you!

Overall though, a great family experience.

Some lobster tours in Maine:

Lucky Catch Cruises, Portland, Maine

Connemara Bay Fishing Charters, Cape Ann, Maine

Rugosa Lobster Tours, Kennebunkport, Maine

  Travel Tip Tuesday: Extinguish Those Smoke-Friendly Hotel Rooms

Have I developed smoker’s voice? In the past month I have been given two cigarette-friendly hotel rooms. I sincerely forgot they still even exist. Didn’t hotels kick the habit?

Girls Weekend in Vegas

Apparently not…. and definitely not in Vegas…. where there ARE a lot of smoking rooms.  I recently booked a hotel room in Vegas online.

The other time I got a smoke friendly room was in a very clean, outdoorsy city so I was surprised.

Beware: Many hotel chains that claim to be “smoke free” still offer smoking rooms to travelers abroad, where smoking is more commonly accepted.

If you are booking online and the website doesn’t ask if you want a smoking or non-smoking room, make sure to follow up with a phone call. Especially in a place like Vegas!

Secondly, if you do receive a smoking room and the hotel offers to change your room, or to bring in a machine that cleanses the air, choose the room change. Even if you think it is a hassle to re-pack, we tried the machine and it is only about 40% effective, so if you are highly sensitive to cigarette smoke residue, grab that new room while it is available.

If you can. ask for a non-smoking floor – sometimes the smoke seeps through the rooms. You especially don’t want your children exposed to the carcinogenic second hand smoke.

Happy Travels!

  Hotel of the Week: Earth Day and How Resorts are Getting Green

Portland, Maine

I was in Portland Maine recently …cute little town…progressive…still lots of mom and pop establishments surviving and very few chains downtown. That strong-willed spirit carried over to the nearby resort where I stayed: Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth.

Inn by the Sea, Cape Elizabeth, Maine

I was impressed by the care the hotel went to in it’s recent renovation to be eco-friendly.

Perhaps it is the beautiful environment that motivated the green growth…. it is set right near the water, walking distance from a cute private beach.

But here are some of the advancements made by the hotel:

Solar panels, recycled sheet rock walls, recycled cork floors, recycled rubber floors, dual flush toilets, heating with bio fuels, preferred hybrid parking, sheet and towel reuse programs & purchasing renewable electricity are just a few of the green initiatives and design features which helped the Inn by the Sea achieve a SILVER LEED® and Maine’s Green Lodging certifications.

And I loved the fact that when I ate in the beautiful dining room or on the deck, I knew the seafood on my plate was locally caught…the produce was from local farms..and even some cheese I tasted at an event in the lobby was made by a local farm. You could tell – it was all fresh and delicious, and sustainable.

I am starting to see a lot of hotels offering linen re-use options, local and organic cooking, green lighting and construction. The one EASY thing I don’t see often is in-room recycling, But the hotels below go above the bare minimum to be green:

Hotel Terra, Jackson Hole

Hotel Terra Jackson Hole, Teton Village, Wyoming – Average Nightly Rate: $371

Eco-friendly elements abound in the Hotel Terra, literally from floor (environmentally-friendly carpets) to ceiling (recycled roof shingles). And the design is still fantastic.

Organic linens, low-flow toilets and solar-powered faucets can also be found in guest rooms, and even relaxation is green here, with organic spa products, and 100 percent natural mattresses made from recycled and organic materials.

Green doesn’t have to mean roughing it – this is an example of eco-luxury.

The Ambrose Hotel, Santa Monica, California – Average Nightly Rate: $242

Ambrose Hotel, Santa Monica

The first hotel in the U.S. to receive the United States Green Building Council’s LEED Silver Certification, the Ambrose Hotel has put green practices in place all over the property, including composting, cleaning guest rooms with eco-friendly products, and recycling.

Ambrose Hotel

Alaska’s Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge, Homer, Alaska – Average Nightly Rate: $300

Sadie Cove WIlderness Lodge, Alaska

If you go to Alaska, try to stay in a wilderness lodge – cruises aren’t the only way to see the splendors of the Last Frontier. Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge is only accessible by boat, floatplane, or helicopter. It is  built from local and reused materials.  Water to the lodge comes from a mountain stream, and along with the usual  recycling and energy-efficient lighting, the lodge gets cute and creative by planting a tree for each guest to offset carbon emissions.

Trust me when I say you will be up close and personal with the Alaska wilderness here.

Hotel Monaco Seattle – a Kimpton Hotel, Seattle, Washington – Average Nightly Rate: $344

Hotel Monaco, Seattle

The Hotel Monaco brings green to an urban setting with a variety of eco-friendly programs, such as donating unused toiletry bottles to local charities rather than throwing them away, and using recycled paper at the hotel. In your guest room you will find  recycling bins,which is refreshing – that is so easy to do – why  don’t more hotels do it?? There are also  low-flow toilets, faucets and showers, and organic coffee and snacks.

Like most Kimpton hotels, there are special touches  – Great design …and travelers can feel closer to nature with a pet goldfish available for free from the hotel for the duration of their stay.

  Travel Tip Tuesday: An App for the Green Road Trip

How do you like paying $4 a gallon for gas? In some places, for instance where I live, it is quickly approaching $5. Sheesh – that summer road trip gets more expensive all the time. Maybe many of you travelers will consider an electric car soon???

I’m not on my soap box about it – I realize that the price of electric vehicles needs to come down… and we drivers want more mileage from one charge. But until that day comes… we still have some decent options:

2012 Chevrolet Volt

Chevrolet Volt can operate for about 35 miles on one charge…and an auxiliary gas option kicks in for an extra 375 miles.

2012 Ford Focus

The Ford Focus and Nissan Leaf can get about 100 miles on one charge – pretty darn good…

2012 Tesla

And the king of electric, the tony and expensive Tesla, can go for an amazing 300 miles.

A  report this week says consumers save about $700-$1000 a year on fuel costs with an electric car . You tell me – if you can afford one in the first place, is that enough savings to outweigh the hassles of recharging?

There is an app out to make electric car ownership easier – “Carstations” is a free, regularly updated app that uses Google Maps to help you locate a charging station. You can plan your trips around the locations.

If you are thinking that charging stations are about as plentiful as a drive thru Starbucks in the Mojave Desert,  well – that is changing too my revolutionary road trippers. Word is that Walmart, Ikea, and other retailers are going to add charging stations at their venues.

And by the way… Two other reasons to support the electric movement: fewer emissions… and less dependence on foreign oil.

One of my friends who will go unnamed to protect the innocent has a taken the plunge toward environmental enlightenment: He has a car that runs on natural gas – pretty impressive. He has a manual with all the charging stations and plans his trips accordingly… he just sometimes forgets his wallet, LOL.. That’s another way to save money on gas…but I don’t recommend it :)

For some good summer road trips & other ways to save money on fuel – The Automobile Club provides driving trips with maps, and tips.

Are we there yet?

  Tues. Travel Tip: Not 2 Late for New England Leaves & an Upscale Farm to Visit While You’re There


It would be easy for anyone who watched the news during Hurricane Irene to think the state of Vermont was floating away. Yes, there was significant damage for many, and a few roads are still closed. But according to Greg Gerdel of Vermont’s Dept of Travel and Tourism, the storm directly impacted only 15% of the state.

I was there for the storm and luckily it wasn’t bad in Stowe. But – Gerdel says there were a rash of leaf peeping reservations that were cancelled as a result. I want to tell you that it’s not too late to book a room for a fall trip. There are availabilities, and you can go plenty of beautiful places that aren’t feeling Irene after affects. has detailed maps with updates of road closures… and links to lodging.

Vermont Fall Foliage

Vermont is one of the most quaint and gorgeous place to witness the splendor of the season. What I have always loved about Vermont is that there are no billboards on the highways  and most are lined with trees.

Vermont Fall Foliage

In the northern part of the state, the leaves are already changing color. The colors will move south and will last almost until the end of October. But in the Burlington area near Lake Champlain, the “late effect” keeps that area warmer, so leaves will change later than nearby areas.

Shelburne Farms, Vermont

If you do get to the Burlington area, there is so much to do – but don’t miss Shelburne Farms, a National Historic Landmark. When the farm was established in the late 1800s, it was ahead of it’s time, aspiring to become a model agricultural estate; a working farm that emphasized sustainability.

Shelburne Farms, Vermont

Today, it is still a 1400 acre working farm teaching others about the connections to the land – an awesome lesson to reinforce to my city slicker kids. For instance, we walked around the barn …

and  got to milk goats and cows. Every morning the raw milk goes to the farm’s cheese plant, where award winning cheddar is produced.

We then toured the cheesemaking area, and watched the process – from cow’s udder to the curdling vats.. direct connection. Shelburne makes about 130,000 lbs of cheese  – all from their cows’ milk.

The farm raises all their animals with no anti-biotics and are grass fed… and man, can you see the healthy difference in the chickens there.

Seriously, they look healthier than my adorable dog.

Kids love being able to “pet” the chickens, and collect the eggs, which goes to feed the guests at the inn on the farm. Same with all the vegetables and other foods grown on the land.

For more:

Whether watching leaves change… or at home on the range… Vermont offers so much for visitors, and fall is a fabulous time to visit.

  Get Off the Lounge Chair and into the Wild in Hawaii

Believe me, there are times when all I want to do on vacation is show up with my good book, have everything planned for me, and never ever leave the beach. But that rarely happens because I am the planner, and once I am on a trip, I want to see things. Hawaii – the ultimate lounging vacation – is no exception.

Manoa Falls Hike, Oahu

On my recent trip that I have written about in the past couple weeks, I took a family hike along a trail that is totally enjoyable and lush. I have taken the Manoa Falls hike a couple times now, and it really is an easy outing if you are staying on Oahu. If you don’t stay on Oahu, don’t worry, there are plenty of good hikes on other islands, and plenty of guide books to tell you where.

But what makes Manoa Falls special is that it is fabulous for kids – it is easy enough, yet the path is also interesting to hold their attention. It is about a 1 1/2 mile hike round trip… and the reward is a pretty waterfall.

Along the way you go through enormous bamboo forests….

and a rain forest that resembles Jurassic Park.

There are also bridges and other natural structures along the path that the kids find fun.

The other thing I like about Manoa is that if you aren’t with kids, you can extend the hike with a pretty strenuous and steep detour to the left once you reach the  falls.  If you go on that path it will take you another good hour higher. Although the lower portion of the hike  – to the falls – is plenty aerobic, this second portion will have you comatose. Good comatose, however, because when I hiked it on another trip with my girlfriends,  we rewarded ourselves with the best burgers in Oahu – The Counter in Kahala.

Overall, it is a couple hour outing, and longer if you do the extended hike. It is a great way to spend time with your kids- lots of time for good conversations – and pointing out some of the beauty of nature. We saw some brilliantly colored birds… as well as a friendly chicken :)

It is an easy drive from Waikiki… there is a parking lot right there for $5, and you can buy water at the cafe about 100 yards from the parking lot. Better yet – bring water on your own. Don’t leave valuables in your car – there have been some reported problems with thieves. Remember to wear comfortable walking shoes with good traction – it can be slippery on parts of the trail because it is so moist.

I have been on some equally beautiful hikes on Maui as well… If you motivate to get off the lounge chair, there are some good resources to help you plan a hike on your next trip to the islands:

“The Hiker’s Guide to Oahu”… Stuart M. Ball Jr.  and “The Hiker’s Guide to th e Hawaiian Islands” by the same author…also “Day HIkes in Hawaii,” by Robert Stone

Happy Trails….

  A Fun Way to See the Harbors of Southern California

If you live on the east coast, this is a warning before you read on. It may be hazardous to keeping your envy in check, considering all the snow you all have been under, to read about the utterly summer time activity we So Cal locals can do in January. (And all year long I might add.)

Cruising Newport Harbor

Cruising the harbors lining the coast of Southern California makes for an enjoyable way to see some of the Golden State’s most beautiful areas. You don’t have to own a boat – there are places in various beach towns to rent a small electric boat, known as the Duffy, named after the man who invented it – Marshall Duffield. The boats are quite quaint – going only 5 mph and topped with a canvas canopy, ranging from 14-22 feet in length.

All aboard!

Just last week a group of about 20 of us was down in Newport Beach, California, for our daughters’ soccer tournament. Between games, the families rented a couple Duffy boats from Duffy Electric Boat Company ..where you can see in the photo below, they have quite a few boats.

Duffys at Duffy Electric Boat Company in Newport Beach

We then journeyed out on Newport Harbor. Our Duffy fit about 10 adults comfortably….and they come with Ipod hook ups, life jackets for kids, and a map to help you navigate the waterways…which is very helpful.

There are tables on board for food and drinks…came in handy to hold the “adult beverages,” or wine. Note: A cocktail cruise at sunset is highly recommended.

The kids on the other hand, appreciated the novelty of the whole outing, and used the table to complete a game and some challenges based on what they see in the harbor – provided by the Duffy Electric Boat Company.

What you see in the harbor is picturesque… I grew up right in this part of the state, and still don’t get tired of the view or the experience. If you love real estate you are in for a treat because you cruise by lovely homes… some famous owners are pointed out on the map – i.e. the former home of John Wayne. It may inspire you to rent a home in Newport for the summer.

If you appreciate the beauty of nautical architecture, it is interesting to look at the private yachts and sailboats docked here in the marina. The kids enjoyed the marine life along the way.

There are public docks in front of some restaurants where you can pull up and eat… but since you are renting by the hour, you may want to maximize your time on the Duffy, unless you are willing to pay more and rent for a longer amount of time. I wouldn’t rent for less than two hours. I’ve seen rental prices vary from $75-99 an hour.. so if you have a large group, or a bunch of couples, it can be as low as $15 per person for a two hour tour. Worth every penny too. Peaceful and pretty, the cruise relaxes you (or is it the wine?), melts all your troubles away, and makes you appreciate life. How often can you say that?

Here are some rental companies for Oceanside, Long Beach, Marina Del Rey, and Newport Beach. Summer books up, and so does Christmas in Newport Beach, so book ahead.  (Duffy Electric Boat Company where we rented.)

  Winter When It Feels Like Summer Travel

While much of the Mid-West is blanketed in snow… the Minneapolis Metrodome caved in from the storm, we in Southern California are having a heatwave! It was an odd sight to say the least, when this weekend there were two cars stopped at a light – one with a surfboard on top, and another with a Christmas tree. Talk about backwards. It is 80 degrees.

On top of that, my garden is still producing roses – even more buds coming! Normally at this time, my roses would be dormant, and I would be cutting my orchids…It is all quite harmonious because I have roses May-Nov, and orchids Nov-May…so my vases are always full. But the wacky weather we have had all year is disrupting our circadian rhythms.

I was thinking about this when it dawned on me that I have some backwards tendencies myself. I have been known to crave  a beach vacation this time of year (haven’t we all?)… and welcome a disruption to my life’s normal weather pattern. One place I have escaped to during a dreary winter is Australia, and boy was it hard to come home to foggy, cold San Francisco afterward. Down under it is just about summer right now mate. I visited the usual Sydney…but made an extra trek to the Great Barrier Reef resorts of Hamilton and Hayman Islands. Hamilton is for families… Hayman, leave the kids at home.

Heron Island Resort, Australia

But I’ve always wanted to visit Heron Island, another island resort in the Great Barrier Reef. In fact, this may be the only island you can really mean it is IN the Great Barrier Reef because you can wade out to the reef from the shores of the resort. THAT makes for some easy marine tours.

Heron Island Resort on Great Barrier Reef

Heron is one of the few upscale GB reefs that caters to families. There is a junior ranger program, with heavy emphasis on the environment, and was developed by marine biologists and naturalists.  The Junior Rangers Program offers a range of nature based activities designed to nurture a sense of exploration and caring for the environment, from reef walks, bird-watching and beach combing through to tree planting and even the opportunity to design and run your own resort island. The young explorers earn badges through each activity.

The island is surrounded by bountiful wildlife, which makes it a perfect location for a resort research station…The crystal clear waters of the reef surrounding the Research Station are home to around 60% of the 1500 species of fish and around 72% of the coral species found in the Great Barrier Reef. One of my favorite things is that there are two types of turtles that nest on the island, and if you time it right, you can observe.

Of course, all of the enrichment and fun takes place against the backdrop of drop dead beautiful beaches. There are snorkeling and diving opportunities at the resort… or you can choose to kayak out in the waters and picnic on a deserted beach.

If you feel like you’ve “been there, done that,” when you look at travel brochures, this might be the perfect antidote. Especially if you are buried in the Mid-West. I feel for ya. G’day!