Posts Tagged ‘cruise tours’

Gardens of the Caribbean

Thursday, August 5th, 2010
The <i>Sea Cloud II</i> sailing the Caribbean.

The Sea Cloud II sailing the Caribbean.

The first thing most of us think about when we imagine the Caribbean is how fast we can get a bathing suit on and stick an umbrella on a sandy part of the beach. But the Caribbean is also a haven for beautiful gardens, unique animal species, and an eclectic ecosystem.

The region ranges in elevation from 40 meters below sea level to up to 3,000 meters, resulting in a variety of rare animals and plants that can only be found on these islands. The lowlands are don’t receive much rain and are considered semiarid, with some plants such as cactus scrubs being found on parts of Barbados, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. At the same time, trade winds tend to push moisture in the highlands of the islands, creating a rainforest climate where completely different species of flora and fauna are found.

How special is the Caribbean when it comes to biodiversity? When you look at the numbers, it’s pretty amazing. There are over 13,000 plant species found on these islands, and 50.4% are only found in this region of the Earth. But it’s the amphibians that truly makes the islands special. Amazingly, 100% of the amphibians—over  170 species—are native to the islands. Then there is the unique diversity of mammals, reptiles, and birds that are found on each island.

The wildlife to view and appreciate in the Caribbean is everywhere, and if you have really good eyes, you might see a few of the tiny hummingbirds found in the tropics - all while getting a great tan.

Which Caribbean Island is your favorite to visit? Tell us why!

Marvel at the beautiful colonial architecture and gardens of the Caribbean this January aboard the Sea Cloud II with Smithsonian Journeys!

Into Africa: Who Was Diego Cão?

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Elephants at a watering hole.    Photo: Leo Dos Remedios

Europeans have sought riches in the Congo for centuries. As we planned our Into Africa cruise, part 3 of our 4-part Grand African Voyage exploring this fascinating continent, we wondered which European first explored the famed Congo River. It turns out that the first European exploration dates back to the 15th century, led by a Portuguese explorer named Diego Cão.

Born around 1450 as an illegitimate son in Vila Real, Portugal, Cão was one of the most remarkable explorers from the Age of Discovery, and led two voyages sailing along the west coast of Africa. In the late summer of 1482, Cão reached the mouth and estuary of the Congo River, at what is now Shark Point, Angola, and marked it with a stone pillar known as a padrão – declaring the area sovereign to Portugal.

Today, the pillar still exists but has fallen to pieces. Yet, the people of Angola are very aware of Diego Cão, as he was responsible for Angola’s colonization, and continued close ties to Portugal.

If you had lived in the 15th Century, would you want to be an explorer?

Check out Africa in the 21st century from Namibia to Ghana on our Into Africa tour, as well as our other tours on the Grand African Voyage, departing in 2011!  

Conservation and the Galápagos Islands

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010
The Northern Elephant Seal Pup  Photograph by Thomas Schnetlage

Northern Elephant Seal Pup. Photo: Thomas Schnetlage

The Galápagos Islands are known worldwide for their stunning beauty and environmental diversity. Due to their unique location, size, and home to plants and animals found anywhere else in the world, the islands are in need of environmental conservation and were recognized in 1978 as UNESCO World Heritage Site. As a result, tourist organizations are very careful not to harm the sensitive islands while visiting.

Here are some other interesting facts about the islands:

  1. They are one of the few locations in the world that do not have and have never had an indigenous human population.
  2. In 1959, about 1,500 souls called the islands home. By 2006, the population had ballooned to as many as 40,000.
  3. Although there are eighteen main islands that make up the Galápagos Islands, only five are inhabited by people – Baltra, Floreana, Isabela, San Cristobal, and Santa Cruz.
  4. The islands have a healthy diverse plant and animal population, but have struggled to maintain them due to species that have been introduced by humans. 700 plants have been introduced by visitors since European discovery in 1535 – compared to the 500 native plants. As a result, there is competition between the two groups for survival.
  5. The same can be said for animals – British pirates first released goats on the islands to use for food. Today, non-native animals still include goats, as well as pigs, dogs, rats, cats, mice, sheep, horses, donkeys, cows, poultry, ants, cockroaches, and some parasites. Dogs and cats may attack birds and damage their nests. Pigs can destroy the nests of tortoises, turtles, and iguanas.

The good news is there are many professionals keeping an eye on the environmental balance of the islands, including the Galapagos National Park and The Darwin Foundation. To help learn, study, and educate yourself about our world’s oceans, we recommend the Smithsonian’s own Ocean Portal, which includes tools for educators, amazing photo essays, and information on how you can make a difference in preserving these precious resources.

What would you do to conserve the Galápagos Islands? Share your ideas.

Visit the Galapágos with your family! Click here for more information.

Video: Flamenco!

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Native to the Anadalucia region of Spain, flamenco dancing has become synonymous with Spanish culture. There have been traces of Andalusian, Gypsy, Sephardic, Moorish and Byzantine influences in the dance, and while it is believed the dance originated in the 15th century, the term flamenco was not recorded until the 18th century. The mixture of Moorish guitar with Gypsy dancing resulted in a social dance that has now spread throughout the world, particularly in Central America.

The Golden Age of Flamenco is considered to be 1869-1910, when ticketed performances in public venues attracted a new audience. Dancers began to receive attention, while flamenco guitarists gained a positive reputation as well. However, this created a split in the flamenco community. For purists, the dance changed drastically with public attention. The flamenco fiestas involved a gathering of twenty or so dancers, and there was no certainty as to when (or if) people would show, or for how long.  But once ticketed performances started, there was a structure there did not exist previously. This commercialization of the dance left some feeling it was not authentic, while others saw it to be a new opportunity in creativity and performance.

Check out this scene from the 1995 film Flamenco by Carlos Saura, and then join a dance class in your community.  

Have you seen a flamenco performance in person? Tell us about it.

You can experience the beauty of the dance on Historic Cities of the Sea, where you’ll experience flamenco in lovely Seville.

Cruising The Great Lakes

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Alex Whaley is a Reservation Specialist in the Smithsonian Journeys call center, where she advises travelers on where to go and what tours best meet their needs. She recently accompanied Smithsonian travelers on our Great Lakes cruise, and here, she shares her reflections on the experience.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Our journey aboard the Clelia II began as we traveled east from Duluth, Minnesota and the waters of Lake Superior, to Toronto and the waters of Lake Ontario. All voyages through such beautiful landscapes would be lovely, but traveling with Smithsonian made the journey a memorable and enriching experience.

The star of my voyage, my study leader, Dr. Bob Burger, is a university professor of geology, and because of the design of our Smithsonian tours, not only was I able to attend his fascinating lectures, I was also able to travel with him on our daily excursions and dine with him at several points throughout the tour. It was like having your favorite professor in college by your side anytime!

Throughout our voyage, our lectures focused on how the Great Lakes  were formed, the mineral deposits of the regions, the natural wonders of the lakes, and finally what trade and settlements developed as a result of the lakes. Of course, each of these lectures tied in directly to our daily excursions. Excursions included the copper mines of Houghton, Minnesota, the Fur Trade Settlement of Old Fort William, and Niagara Falls, as well as the locks our ship passed through.

These locks are incredible feats of engineering- the Soo Locks of Sault St. Marie are the busiest in the world with 12000 ships passing annually, and the Welland Canal is a series of seven locks designed as a continuous flight of “stairs” that lifted Clelia II 324 feet over a distance of 27 miles! I couldn’t believe how excited our travelers got as we passed through these locks, and it was wonderful to share their enthusiasm.

My most memorable moment with Dr. Burger, however, was on Mackinac Island as we visited Arch Rock, a natural limestone arch formed during the Nipissing post-glacial period. According to Native American legend, this rock was formed when a beautiful Indian maiden’s tears washed away the limestone bluff as she waited in vain for her lover to return. As we were looking at the beautiful site, he turned to me with quiet humor and said, “Well, it’s possible, but not very likely that that’s how it was formed.” Experiencing history and nature firsthand is truly exceptional, and Study Leaders like Dr. Burger make the difference between being a tourist and becoming a traveler.

What’s your favorite engineering marvel? Share below.

Join us on the next Great Lakes cruise or click to see all of our US tours.