Where to go for the holidays: Morocco Family Adventure!

For expertly researched, custom-designed travel experiences,
contact Melanie Tucker, owner and chief designer at Tough Love Travel (soon to debut as Rare Finds Travel Design)

Catherine and her family of 6 started in Casablanca, journeyed to Marrakech and down through the Atlas Mountains, then drove around to Fez, ending in a camp under the stars of the Sahara.

photo compliments of Davide Marcesini Fotografo

HOW MUCH TIME DO I NEED FOR THIS ITINERARY?
Catherine’s family itinerary spanned 2 weeks, but you need at least 10 days to cover the entire route.

WHAT’S THE IDEAL AGE FOR MY KIDS?
Catherine’s kids ran from 10-22.  If you kid will try new foods, ride a camel, and hike in the mountains, he’s ready for Morocco!

WHAT’S ONE SPECIAL THING TO DO MARRAKECH?
In Catherine’s words:
“Maison Arabe is FANTASTIC.  We have stayed at a long list of the the best hotels in the world and we have nominated this hotel into the top five.”

IN CASABLANCA?

Likely you’ll be arriving into Morocco via the Casablanca airport, but before you tour the Hassan II seafront 25,000-person mosque with filagreed, retracting rooftop, or sip a Sourb Jdid at Rick’s Cafe — go first to a hammam.  These communal baths will get all the airplane soreness out, and I recommend  Hammam Ziani!

For 360 dirhams (or about $45), you’ll get “parts of your body scrubbed that you didn’t even know existed!” – exfoliation, steam, seaweed wraps, and massage, all in the camaraderie of 30 other women from ages 8 to 80.

IN FEZ?
The Fez medina is a candy-store of metalworking, leather crafts, food markets, and stunning architecture.   (Fez even has the oldest University in the world! University of Al-Karaouine has been operating continuously since 859AD!)

But my favorite remains the cooking in Fez!
Cafe Clock offers a bread-making class, where you actually carry your hand-kneaded product through the crowded kasbah to the storefront with the wood-fired oven where, for a few dirham, the baker will slide your cookies alongside your neighbor’s khobz.

WHAT’S THE WEATHER LIKE IN DECEMBER?
It’s quite cold and snowy up in the mountains and, in fact, impassable for driving along some routes.
But Fez will be in the 50s and near the coast, you’ll be even a bit warmer.

WHAT’S IT LIKE IN THE MOROCCAN DESERT?

For starters, take a drive through the mountains, then 4-wheel drive into the desert, until you meet the camels for the final leg!
Camps can run from modest canvas tents to regal, fully-concierge-d communities fit for a sheikh.

Expect dazzling sunsets, entertainment-worthy bread-baking ceremonies right in the coals, and skies so full of stars that they look like powdered sugar!

WHAT’S SPECIAL FOR THE HOLIDAYS IN MOROCCO?
You can enjoy High Tea at the Al Mounia (watch the dress code, though!)…

Or book a unique Christmas diffa, or feast, featuring mechoui (roast lamb) prepared with herbs and spices…

Or meet my guide Abedellatif for a custom-designed family bonding event.

photo compliments of Davide Marcesini, professional photographer

 

To get your holiday travel off the ground this year, schedule a call to chat with expert travel designer, Melanie Tucker.

Where to go for the holidays: a British Christmas

In England for the holidays, you can still do my favorites:

  • sleep in an Oxford dorm
  • get “Inside the Stones” at Stonehenge
  • get tickets to the storied Keys ceremony
  • trace the lives of the Beatles, or Jack the Ripper!
  • cheer at a Chelsea game!
  • pub crawl along the Mayflower and other historic pubs of the Thames

But there is a certain buzz to the streets.  AND there are special events offered around the Holidays that are particularly fun:

Christmas with Charles Dickens
On December 7th, there’s a Dicken’s Christmas Festival in Rochester.  The entire street is transformed into a 1820’s Victorian wonderland with in-character Scrooge (and even Marley the Ghost), roasting chestnuts, and bell ringers.  At the end of the day, there’s even a candlelit carol singalong.
But on the 25th, you can meet at the Christmas tree at Trafalgar Square at 2pm and enjoy London’s car-free streets to celebrate a Christmas before Cola turned Santa red (that’s a London Walks quote!)   You’ll hear all about Charles Dickens’ life and books,  and the Christmas traditions of these alleyways off The Strand.
Both of these events are hosted by London Walks, who specialize in a little bit of old fashioned specialness. 

Skate under the holiday lights…
Starting at Hyde Park, the city hosts several outdoor (and free!) skating venues! 











Reserve a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party
On December 4th, the Great Hall of Christ Church college will be all spruced up to welcome Alice in Wonderland fans for special finger sandwiches and cakes at a festive High Tea around the Wonderland-inspired Christmas tree.
Prefer tea with Scrooge?   An exclusive High Tea honoring the Christmas Carol will served on December 1st.

See the decorations!
Why go all the way to London when San Fran and NY have some of the most elaborate decorations around?  Well, where else can you see the lion in a snowfall?

 In fact, if you want the whole decorated shebang, join London Architecture Walks for their highly-acclaimed Xmas Lights Walking Tour.  You’ll learn wonderful tidbits with an interesting perspective about the light displays, the surrounding architecture, and the history.

To get your holiday trip off the ground, call Melanie Tucker, owner and chief designer at Tough Love Travel (soon to debut as Rare Finds Travel Design). 

She’ll custom-design a holiday that you’ll talk about for decades to come!
(609)923-0304
melanie@toughlovetravel.com

A day at Pack Creek with Alaska’s Grizzly Bears

Imagine…
you’re soaring in your 4-seater over the verdant island-dotted channels of Alaska’s Inside Passage.   As your seaplane banks around the cove at Admiralty Island, you spot your first grizzly, tugging at a tree stump by the water’s edge.   A bump and a shower of spray, and you’ve landed at Pack Creek.
Unfold yourself from the cockpit and climb down onto the float of your seaplane.  Your first gaze around Pack Creek confirms your complete isolation.  Not to worry – your bear guide Ken has decades of experience in the wild, and his stouthearted presence reassures you.
With only a spyglass, you move gingerly down the beach, staying downwind of the grizzly.   At 30 yards, he grunts and shoots upright.  It’s not you but another grizzly coming down the beach that has alarmed him.  He mock-charges, and the younger one scurries off.  It’s only a show, but still you are struck by the speed of the great bear’s feint, and you take a step behind Ken.
The grizzly returns to his stump and in the soft breeze, you can hear him whinge and strain as he tugs.   As you soak in this privileged audience with this remote grizzly, something titillating yet peaceful stirs in you.
The bear finds a clam.  His attention is drawn up onto the beach and he meanders, one clam at a time, towards you. You can hear the scratch of his 7” claws in the gravel, see his wet nose pry open shells and rip out succulent morsels.
He’s making a big mess of the beach, with holes here and there, a string of ravaged shells.
He pauses once, and looks over – directly at you.  “Who, me?” you shake yourself.   You’ve been noticed.  The staring eyes of this strapping bear give you a flash of panic, but good ole’ Ken is unruffled, and the grizzly’s attention, more curious than comminatory, returns to the clams.
It’s an hour… then more… that you crouch on the stones, watching this moving clam feast.  The grizzly’s company now feels so natural that your gaze shifts to the sun-rippled bay and the encircling snow-capped peaks. 
When you look back to the beach, this 700-pound grizzly has curled up on the stones and dozed off, right before your eyes.   He’s so close that his still coat gleams in the sunlight, and with a spyglass, you watch his whiskers twitch.
You’re fooled for a minute that you could reach out and stroke him, but he’s as wild as this treasured island and you’ve been one of a mere 28 permitted daily guests at Kootznoowoo, or Fortress of the Bears, for the afternoon.
You collect a smooth stone off the beach to take home – a touchstone.

That was a trip of a lifetime.  You say, “Let’s do it again next year”.
 
Melanie Tucker, owner and chief designer of Tough Love Travel, can custom design YOUR trip to Alaska.  
It’ll be an Alaska like you’ve never imagined. 

Contact her today to get started:  
(609) 923-0304

Yellowstone: then and now

Yellowstone was the first National Park that I visited as a child and it remains an American favorite today. 
Haven’t visited Yellowstone yet?  I can get you there.   Email me to start planning today. 

on the top bunk of our beloved Shasta

I first visited Yellowstone as a 7-year-old.  I was with my family in a Shasta camper – one of those white boxes with an orange stripe down the side (I’m the cute one in red).   We drank warm Tang, gathered with the crowds around Old Faithful geyser, and – believe it or not! – cracked the windows of our Rambler station wagon to feed oreos to the bears.  Yes, our parents instructed us to do this, and the rangers stood by and watched, to make sure it all went smoothly.   That was 1971.

Now, it’s 2014 and I’m 47 (about).  Now, the wildlife is well protected by rangers who enforce strict food storage rules and the national park service has launched campaigns, like this one: 

Don’t make your car into a bear lunchbox!

Yellowstone’s BIG attraction:  
Old Faithful
In 2014, you can plan your trip to watch Old Faithful do its thing by tracking the eruptions on your phone’s app, Geysertimes.   
Sleeping and hiking in Yellowstone
And you don’t have to sleep in a Shasta.  Stay at the Roosevelt cabins (although they might not be much more luxurious.  They describe their Roughrider cabins as “sparsely furnished” and one visitor walked in and said “Is this even legal?”)
At the other end of the luxury spectrum, consider Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful Inn, the largest log structure in the entire world.  On the list of Historic Landmarks, offering a towering lobby with giant stone fireplace, decorated with copper and iron features, this 1903 lodge is so popular that they offer daily tours. Stay in one of the 350 rooms for about $350/night.

Things to do in Yellowstone National Park

Favorite activities include hiking the steep but short trail down Tower Falls, or driving up to the Mammoth area to view the hot springs.

Wondering how to spend 1-day in Yellowstone, on daytrip up from Jackson?   Start at Old Faithful’s geyser, grab a quick snack in the classic Old Faithful Inn, head over to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and stop by Hayden Point (a lookout over Hayden’s sub-alpine Valley, which is along the Yellowstone River between the lake and the Falls) for a chance to peek at bison (and maybe even a bear) — dusk is best!

Secret Swimming hole at Yellowstone? 
3 miles into Yellowstone NP from the north entrance, before you reach Mammoth Hot Springs, there’s a small parking lot on your left.  Park and walk down the trail 400m to the confluence of the Gardiner and Boiling River, and you’ll find a small swimming hole known mostly to locals. It’s a rejuvenating mix of hot Boiling water and chilled Gardiner water.  This is what it looks like: 
Off-the-beaten-path in Yellowstone?
With over 3 million visitors last year in Yellowstone, you might be thinking “How do I get away from it all to really SEE the park?” 
You can llama trek, horsepack, or even sea kayak to the outer reaches of the wilds, and I have just the guide to escort you. (email for details)

Want a map of the park?
Want to see ALL the highlights? 


Call Melanie’s custom design service to make it happen!
(609)923-0304

And stay tuned to my next post about a different season in Yellowstone:  WINTER!

Acadia National Park: carriage roads, sailing, and lobsters!

For help with your Acadia National Park vacation, contact Melanie @ Tough Love Travel!

7 things you should NOT miss at Acadia National Park:

ACADIA HIGHLIGHT #1:  The Carriage Roads

57 miles of rustic carriage roads were created by Rockefeller between 1915 and 1940.  He was living on Seal Island, and imagined a network of lovely wooded trails and granite bridges over which Desert Island (which is now Acadia NP) could be explored by horse-drawn carriage.

Today, these broken-stone roads remain, and allow YOU to totally escape the automobile!

Rent a bike out of Bar Harbor, strap it onto a park bus, and ride to your starting point of choice.  The Jordan Pond House is a central, though crowded, option.
Here’s a map – the dotted lines are the carriage roads and the red arrow is the town of Bar Harbor.

ACADIA HIGHLIGHT #2:   Meet a real lobsterman, and then submit to a lobster-only diet
Captain John will take you on a 2-hour “run” to check his traps, teaching you about the local lobster industry, shipping and pricing, and giving you a chance to see sea lions along the way!
His boat is called LuLus Lobster Rides and costs $33.  Reservations are required for this tour that departs right out of Bar Harbor.

Afterwards, make sure you sample some of this local delicacy.  My family went on a lobster-only diet for 3 straight days:  lobster omelette for breakfast, lobster bisque for lunch, a lobster boil for dinner.   Lobster eggs benedict the next morning, followed by lobster fritters and a slider, then lobster linguine for dinner.  I could go on and on…

ACADIA HIGHLIGHT #3:  Kayaking to the Cranberry Islands

Out of the Southwest Harbor area, you can launch kayaks for a 45 minute paddle over to the Cranberry Isles.  There, you can wander the island’s sandy lanes, take a photo of the good old fashioned general store, wave to some locals (are they summer or winter folks, you’ll wonder), visit the historical museum (both Great and Little Cranberry Island have museums open in summer), and eat some shellfish at this dockside spot.

Don’t have a kayak?   There’s a wonderful outfitter right in Bar Harbor, named Coastal Kayaker.

Don’t want to kayak?  There’s a mail boat/ferry service that runs out of Northeast Harbor, with stops at both islands (and a motor by the lighthouse, too!) for about $28pp.

ACADIA HIGHLIGHT #4:  Your own private island
Want more than just a day trip to the Cranberrys?   You can stay on your very own island!  Only minutes from the national park, on your own 15 acres, for just you and your group (of up to 10), your caretaker and your private boat captain – because, of course, you’ll need to get ferried out to this most exclusive spot.   Call Melanie to hear more:  (609) 923-0304

ACADIA HIGHLIGHT #5:  A good hike, like the Precipice
Many hikes of different lengths and levels are waiting for you in Acadia but my favorite — for challenge and for views — is the Precipice. Not for young hikers or for people with fear of heights, this hike is not actually technical but does require you to use iron handholds in the rock for certain sections. But it’s not that hard — I knew a family who took their pug on this hike!   It’s hot up there on the bald face, so take lots of water.

ACADIA HIGHLIGHT #6:  Walking “the bar”
At low tide, the sand bar connecting Bar Harbor to the little offshore rocky islet is exposed, and you can walk or ride your bike across the sea!  Once on the island, a 12 minute hike to the top will give you great views, as well as a super spot for lunch picnic or sunset photos (depending on tide schedule)

ACADIA HIGHLIGHT #7:  Ferry to the Schoodic peninsula
A mere 4 miles (as the crow flies) or a 1 hour ferry ride from Bar Harbor will land you in Winter Harbor,  from where you can take the free Island Explore Shuttle Bus for a tour of the peninsula.

FUN PHOTO:  horse-drawn carriages, back in the day…
Back in time:  Maine’s Carriage Roads
Wondering whether to stay in Bar Harbor or Southwest? 
Would you like to sail? 
What some hints for best restaurants for that lobster-only diet?

To get set up on the insider’s track for Acadia, so YOU can experience all the hidden gems of this northern paradise, talk to Melanie Tucker, owner and chief designer at Tough Love Travel. 

Isle Royale National Park: moose, wolves, and Esther Williams

For your customized UP Roadtrip, including to Isle Royale, grab a complimentary 20-minute planning session with Melanie Tucker, owner & chief designer at Tough Love Travel.

I went to Michigan’s UP (or Upper Peninsula) on a cherry-picking mission.  What I discovered, though, were the wolves and moose of Isle Royale NP.

Getting to remote NPs is often a dilemma for the traveler.   How should you physically arrive at Isle Royale and why did you choose this method?
I was on a road trip from NJ, so I drove from Chicago, up through Michigan (that finger of land sticking north into the lake in this map) and across the UP, to the passenger ferry at Houghton where the Ranger III ferry swept us and our backpacks over to Rock Harbor – that strip of island in the NW part of the lake –  in just under 6 hours.   
What were the benefits as well as downsides of this arrival method?  
The ferry only runs on select days of the week, so timing is strict.
What other arrival methods did you consider, or have you heard about?
You can also train up to the ferry but the schedule is cumbersome.  Note that ferries also travel to Isle Royale from Copper Harbor as well as the Minnesota shore. 
If you have only one overnight in the park (2 days, 1 night), where would you stay and what would you do?

I’d grab a 60’s-style motel room at the main lodge in Rock Harbor (NE corner of island), and spend my first evening on a short hike up to Lookout Louise, and in the interpretive center, learning about the wolf-and-moose population. 

On Day 2, I’d hop the water taxi down to Moskey, and then hike back, approximately 11 miles, along the spine and coasts of the island.

What is the optimal length of time to spend at the park in your opinion?

4 days would be a great treat!




Best wildlife viewing opportunity?
You will inevitably spot a moose as you hike the trails.   Though their numbers have fluctuated over the years due to ticks and disease, they remain abundant in the national park.
The wolves are a different story.  The original pack migrated over Lake Superior’s ice during a particularly harsh winter in the 1940’s, and they remain more elusive.  Their numbers were dwindling from inner-breeding until a new wolf arrived around 2000. 
Still, you may hear a howl in the dark of night!
Best of most unique meals/foods?
Cherries, fresh off the trees in August, were delicious, but an even more interesting food was the pasty (pronounced past-ee), a traditional meat pie imported to Michigan by the Cornish minters in the 1800’s.
Best photography shot?
The dark green and deep blue shallow waters of the archipelago.
What problems have you encountered there (or heard of others encountering)?
Moose are extremely dangerous and not to be underestimated. 
What is the “rare find” within Isle Royale NP?
In the entire season, Isle Royale sees fewer visitors than Yellowstone sees in one day. 
It’s difficult to find a more pristine and remote, yet accessible northern woods – and the crystal waters are invigorating!  To know that the wolf pack lurks just beyond the trees adds an element of thrill.

A special activity is to boat over to one of the many nearby islands, like Caribou, where you’ll share the island with a mere handful of other campers at  remote sites. 

Extra tip?     Along the crest of the island are fire towers that you can climb for sweeping views of the national park and Lake Superior.

So where does Esther Williams come into this story?

Esther Williams Pool, before the Grand Hotel

Enroute to the Isle Royale ferry,  you’ll pass though the isthmus connecting lower to upper Michigan.   There you will find the storied Grand Hotel, located on the pedestrian-only Mackinaw island. This lovely old-fashioned mansion has been featured in the movie Somewhere in Time, and today, you can not only stay there and sip your beverage from a rocker on the grand wrap-around porch, but you can also swim in their famous Esther Williams pool.

Have questions?  I am here to help.  You can reach me at (609)923-0304.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park: bats, caves, and aliens

Quick facts:  
WHERE:  southeastern New Mexico
HIGHLIGHT:  caves and bats

I traveled to Carlsbad National Park with my sons in 2004.  That summer, a new backcountry cave had recently been opened which we toured with special permits, but the highlight of our visit was the sunset show of the bats.  They spiraled out of the cavern each and every evening, counter-clockwise (the same way that toilets flush and eucalyptus trees grow in the northern hemisphere) and we were quite amazed!  (check out video at bottom of blog)
  

Getting to our remote NPs is often a dilemma for the traveler.   How should you physically arrive at Carlsbad and why?
We drove, but you can also fly into Roswell (100 miles away) – the home of the aliens!
By driving on a long road trip, we visited Carlsbad after Big Bend NP in TX and before Saguaro NP in AZ.  (read blogs later this week for these parks)

If you have only one overnight in the park (2 days, 1 night), where would you stay and what would you do?
I’d see the main caverns and stick around for the bat exit at sunset.  Then I’d pre-reserve a special tour for Day 2, like Slaughter Canyon (see below) or the 3-dimensional maze, Spider Cave.
Best wildlife viewing opportunity?
The bats!


Best food?
You’ll only find cafeteria food in the park, but in Carlsbad village, there’s a sushi spot called Blue Ocean Robata.  Located more than 6 hours from the nearest ocean, it offers quite a unique experience.

Best photography shot?
The Christmas Tree formation inside Slaughter Canyon Cave.
What problems have you encountered there (or heard of others encountering)?
Be ready for close screening prior to entering the caves, because our noses, footwear, and clothing sometimes carry diseases harmful to bats.

What is the “rare find” within Carlsbad NP?  

the road out to remote Slaughter Canyon

The private tour of Slaughter Canyon Cave is extra special.  There’s no illumination, no paved walkways.  You have to have a flashlight or headlamp to enter this underground space!  It’s a true, wild cave, accessed only by a 1/2 hour hike up the desert mountain, to crawl though the small circular opening.  And, in addition to the untouched stalagmites, there are anthropological remains from ancient peoples who used to collect the bat guano here.   Cost:  $15pp


Any words of warning, or wisdom, for the Carlsbad NP planner?

Take a jacket.  The desert may be 120* outside but the cave is 50* inside. 

Did you know?
The limestone rock that holds Carlsbad Caverns is full of ocean fossil plants and animals from a time before the dinosaurs when the southeastern corner of New Mexico was a coastline similar to the Florida Keys. 
waiting for the bats to fly

If you’re looking for a road trip though some of our country’s most spectacular scenery and most intriguing National Parks, I would love to talk to you. 

I’m Melanie Tucker, owner and chief designer at Tough Love Travel, where I offer complimentary 20-minute get-acquainted sessions.  Select yours right here.


Glacier National Park: scenery, summertime snow, and big-horned sheep

Today begins a series of blogs featuring our US National Parks. 
Here’s the first installment, an interview with Bernie, who loves Glacier National Park. 
Have questions?  I am here to help.  Email me here.
Bernie, welcome to the Tough Love Travel blog.   I hear you’re a Glacier NP expert, so tell us…
Q:  Did you know that people often confuse Glacier National Park with Glacier Bay National Park? 
A:  Yes, some people find it confusing, but I have visited Glacier National Park in Montana, for 3 different summer vacations!

Q:  Getting to our remote national parks is often a dilemma for the traveler.   How did you physically arrive at Glacier, and why did you choose this method?
A:  We flew in to Kalispell, MT, the closest airport to the park.   
This minimizes travel time (it’s only a half hour by car to the west entrance), but airline tickets to FCA can be expensive.
Q:  If you have only one overnight in the park (2 days, 1 night), where would you stay and what would you do?
A:  If you are the hiking sort, I would drive the Going To The Sun Road to the east side of the park (assuming you are coming from the west) and spend the night at the Many Glacier Hotel.  There are many beautiful day hikes in the area.  
boardwalk trail over tundra by pass

The famed road is a treat.  It bisects the park from west to east, covering 53 miles.  Allow 2-2.5 hours driving time, plus stops at viewing points along the way.  Stop at Logan Pass and hike a mile or two on the Hidden Lake trail or the Highline trail – both are flat and easy, and the views are stunning!  In the Many Glacier area, there are numerous trails – the Swiftcurrent Pass trail is virtually flat for the first 3-4 miles and passes two lakes along the way.  There is also the Iceberg Lake trail, a 9-mile out and back to a pristine, blue lake that actually has icebergs on it until early August!

down, down, down to Wonder Lake

trail down to Wonder Lake
If you’re not into hiking, you could stay at McDonald Lodge and take one of the red “jammer” bus tours.  The busses are fully restored 1930’s White busses.  They got the nickname “jammers” because the drivers were constantly jamming the gears going up and down the grades on the road.  They have modern engines and automatic transmissions nowadays, so the jamming factor is no more.  They have open tops so that you have an unobstructed view of the peaks as you ride along listening to the guide.  Blankets are provided, because even in the summer it can be chilly early in the morning in an open vehicle.
Q: What is the optimal length of time to spend at the park in your opinion?
A:  It depends on how much you like to hike.  If you are “road bound”, perhaps a day or two is fine.  But with only one road, yet over 700 miles of maintained trails, Glacier is a hiker’s paradise.  I go for a week.
Q:  Best wildlife viewing opportunity?
A:  The wildlife will best be encountered away from the road, which gets a lot of traffic.  On an 8 mile hike on the Highline trail from Logan Pass to Granite Park Chalet, I walked to within a few feet of a mule deer doe, saw a small herd of big horn sheep from a hundred yards, mountain goats, and hoary marmots.
Q:  Best of most unique meals/foods?
A:   Just about anything that comes off my backpacking stove is guaranteed to be “unique”.  

But for lodge guests, I’d suggest the dining rooms at McDonald Lodge or Many Glacier Hotel, which offer a varied menu similar to other national parks.  But honestly, you don’t come here for the food; the mountains are the star of the show.

Q:  Best photography shot?
A:  Probably the one of a mule deer buck sniffing the hand sanitizer at the door of the restroom at Granite Park Chalet.  He looks as if he is waiting to go in.  

But if you like landscape photography, just point the camera in any direction.
Q:  What problems have you encountered there?
I haven’t encountered a grizzly on the trail…yet, but if you spend much time in the back country, you need to take the usual precautions.
 Q:  I hear you think that Glacier NP is a rare find.  What is the rare find within Glacier NP?  (this can be a lodge, a trail, a moment, a program)
A:  That’s easy.  The two remaining chalets built by the Great Northern Railway in 1914 as part of an 8- or 9-chalet system, each one a day’s ride by horse apart, by which the early visitors used to experience the park.  The two that remain are the Sperry Chalet and the Granite Park Chalet.  

Sperry Chalet

Sperry can best be reached by the iconic 13.3-mile Gunsight Pass Trail, which begins at the Jackson Glacier Turnout on the Going To The Sun Road about half way between Logan Pass and the St. Mary Visitor Center. This trail is on any hikers bucket list.  It’s another 6.5 miles from the chalet down to McDonald Lodge via the Sperry trail.  Sperry Chalet is rustic, with no electricity, no heat, no showers.  But they provide dinner the night of your arrival, breakfast the next morning, and boxed lunch or the trail when you depart.

Granite Park is a similar set up, except that you have to bring your own food, which you cook in the kitchen there.  The best way to get there is by another of Glacier’s iconic trails, The Highline, which departs from Logan Pass and travels 7.5 miles along the Garden Wall all the way to Granite Park.  The ridge of the Garden Wall is the Continental Divide, and you have breathtaking views every step of the way.
Q:  Any words of warning, or wisdom, for the Glacier NP planner?
A:  Although Glacier is technically open year round, the road is not completely plowed clear of snow until late June or early July, and the higher elevation trails are not clear until then too.  So, the best time to visit is July-August better to assure full access to the park.  Because the season is so short and lodgings are relatively limited, PLAN EARLY if you intend to stay within the park.  Reservations typically open a year in advance and book up quickly.  Reservations for the two chalets open in October for the following season, and will completely book up within a few days.
The other thing is the weather.  Although daytime summer temperatures are usually comfortable, nights can be chilly, dipping into the low 40’s and upper 30’s at higher elevations (around 6500 ft.).  Bring rain gear and even a couple of items of warmer clothing.  You never know what kind of weather Glacier is capable of – in mid-June this year, they received 15-20 inches of snow above 6500 ft!

If you’re interested in National Park experiences, stay tuned to this Tough Love Travel blog over the next 10 days. 
Coming up:   Carlsbad Caverns,  Isle Royale, the Channel Islands, and Katmai!

Would you like to have the help of an expert? 
I’m Melanie Tucker, owner and chief travel designer at Tough Love Travel.

ROADTRIP: Croatia! Zagreb to Plitvice to Split to Dubrovnik

For more info on Croatia, email Melanie Tucker, owner and chief travel designer of Tough Love Travel.

Croatia has something for every adventurer, starting with lighthouses where you can spend the night!

If you’ve loved truffles in Italy and France, then you won’t want to miss Buzet, in Croatia!
 The National Parks are postcard-perfect.  Plitvice has 16 terraced lakes, like you see here, laced together with waterfalls and boardwalk-ed paths.
 After all this landscape, you’ll hit the sea!   The water organ in Zadar is a novelty that’s worth the stop.
 Boats and beaches, seafood and seascapes…. this short drive will, and should, take you all day. 
 Cavtat’ cozy fishing village makes a more affordable (and relaxing) overnight before hitting Dubrovnik. 

If you’re as fasciated by Dubrovnik’s orange rooftops, click here.
On this drive from Split to Dubronik, stop to buy fresh oranges an local honey from shacks lining the waterfront.  
Walk the city walls of Dubrovnik.
Ride the cable car up Mr Srd to take in an aerial view of Dubrovnik and the Lower Dalmation Coast.  
There’s a cafe at the top so plan to have a drink or snack with a view!

Want help planning YOUR Croatia vacation? 
Melanie Tucker, owner of Tough Love Travel (soon to debut as Rare Finds Travel Design), 
is an expert travel designer with more than 2 decades of experience. 

She’d love to talk to you about your next adventure — maybe through Croatia?!
Call her today:  (609) 923-0304

Scenes from St Lucia’s backroads!

If changing gears with your “wrong” (right) hand, while driving up a mountainside around hairpin curves is your thing, then go straight to St Lucia!  This southern Caribbean island, a neighbor of Barbardos where they drive on the opposite side of the road, holds many treats for those willing to explore.

Waterfalls that run warm from the live sulphur springs


…Local crab tests where you sit on picnic tables surrounded by townsfolk

…tiny ferries that cross small inlets to deliver you to intimate restaurants hidden in the jungle

…off-the-grid spots where your “painkiller” is served on tree-trunk-formed furniture, right by the sea

and sunsets, like this:

Want the full slideshow?   Check it out here!

To catch YOUR island sunset, call Melanie today. 
She owns Tough Love Travel, where she researches and designs unique trips for adventurous travelers. 

To explore the possibilities, choose a good time for your complimentary 20-minute call here.