The Quality of Guiding in the Galapagos Islands Just Got Better

The International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA), in partnership with the Galapagos National Park Directorate and World Wildlife Fund Ecuador, is working to improve the quality of guiding in the Galapagos Islands as part of a broader long term effort to preserve and protect the world famous archipelago.

As part of this effort, IGTOA initiated, cosponsored, and helped organize a “Training of Trainers” guide training certification course from November 2 to November 12 in Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz. The course was offered to 10 elite national park guides who, as a result of the training, are now officially certified Galapagos National Park Guide Trainers.

This is the first such Park-sanctioned certification in the history of the Galapagos Islands. The Director of Galapagos National Park, Alejandra Ordonez, was present to hand out the certificates to the new guide trainers, and spoke about the long term commitment that the Park, along with IGTOA and the WWF, are making to quality guide training through this initiative.

The goal of the course is to build long-term capacity for guiding excellence in the Galapagos and to empower all Galapagos guides to become true ambassadors for the conservation and protection of the islands. The recently certified guide trainers will conduct workshops and lead courses on universal best practices in interpretive guiding for other national park guides in the future.

“When properly trained, guides are the most effective ambassadors for conservation that the Galapagos can have; the quality of guiding has a huge impact not only on the overall quality of visitor experience, but also on the impressions those visitors form about the importance of conserving the islands,” says Jim Lutz, IGTOA Board President, who was on hand for the full two week course.

The course was developed and taught by Dr. Sam Ham and Tom O’Brien, who are widely regarded as the world’s foremost authorities on guide training and thematic nature interpretation. Ham’s book, Thematic Interpretation: Making a Difference on Purpose, is considered the bible of guide training and thematic interpretation. The course focused on teaching the trainers to educate other trainers in a variety of critical guiding skills, thematic interpretation in particular.

“Visitors can play important an role in the ongoing protection and conservation of the Galapagos Islands. But first they need to truly understand the threats to this fragile ecosystem,” explains Matt Kareus, Executive Director of IGTOA. “This training allows guides to better understand and communicate these challenges and opportunities to the 200,000 visitors who come to the park each year.”

Thematic interpretation involves a guide creating a strong, relevant central theme in order to structure communication with guests. Studies have shown that this approach increases the likelihood that guests will be provoked to think about important issues related to the destination.

The first week took place in a classroom in Puerto Ayora. During the second week, participants were charged with creating their own training plan and teaching other national park guides to use thematic interpretation in their guiding as well as other guiding skills. With input and oversight from Sam Ham and Tom O’Brien as well as representatives from IGTOA, WWF Ecuador and the Galapagos National Park Directorate, the trainers instructed two groups of 25 national park guides as part of the certification process.

The first one-day training courses lead by the newly certified trainers are scheduled to start in February 2016 and will continue through the year.  IGTOA hopes that all licensed national park guides will receive the highly specialized training within the next two to three years.

The Galapagos Islands are one of the world’s most pristine oceanic archipelagos and home to hundreds of species found nowhere else on Earth.  The islands’ unique biodiversity, famously inspiring Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, face a variety of threats, including invasive species, illegal fishing and poaching, and the impacts of population growth and development.

“IGTOA’s member companies are deeply committed to the idea that our industry and has a moral obligation to support education and conservation in the Galapagos Islands,” says Lutz.

About the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association (IGTOA)
IGTOA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit association of travel providers dedicated to the complete and lasting protection of the Galapagos Islands. Through its Galapagos Traveler Conservation Fund, IGTOA raises money to support critical Galapagos conservation initiatives and educates travelers about the challenges facing the islands. Its mission is to preserve the Galápagos Islands as a unique and priceless world heritage that will provide enjoyment, education, adventure and inspiration to present and future generations of travelers. Membership is open exclusively to commercial and nonprofit organizations. See:


Holiday Expeditions Teams with Clark Planetarium on New Star-Gazing Trips

Veteran adventure travel company, Holiday River Expeditions (, clusters spokes with stars and river canyons with constellations in a new trip line-up for 2016.

Its new Dark Sky Stargazing Trip Series in cooperation with Salt Lake City’s Clark Planetarium includes both mountain biking and whitewater rafting programs with a night-time focus expected to include, among others, Saturn, the Milky Way, Whirlpool and Sombrero galaxies, Hercules Globular Cluster, iridium flares and Earth-born satellites.

“Each night on these bike and river trips we will attempt to find and identify stars, constellations, planets, galaxies, nebulas, clusters and satellites. More importantly, we’ll use those objects to talk about the structure of our galaxy, the origin and future of the universe, our place in the cosmos,” says Tom Beckett, board chair of Clark Planetarium and part-time guide for Holiday River Expeditions. “Much of Earth is losing its dark night skies to light pollution and many Americans never have a chance to see the Milky Way. However, the rivers we run, and the trails we bike are all desolate and have some of the darkest night skies on the planet.”

The series begins in early May and runs through early October. Each trip takes place during the “New Moon” phase for the darkest sky. Three of four trips are in Canyonlands National Park designated as a gold-tier “dark sky” park. A Clark Planetarium representative will accompany each trip. Guests camp under the stars. Trail and river-side meals have garnered rave reviews.

The new trip series includes:

White Rim Trail Mountain Biking in Canyonlands National Park explores Canyonlands NP, recently certified as a “Dark Sky Park” by the International Dark Sky Association.  Luminaries to be revealed include the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy, among others. While looking up, guests will stand 1,000 feet above the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers. The group meets up at Holiday River Expeditions headquarters in Green River, UT.  A two-hour van ride to the head of the Shafer Trail marks the start of the trip. After that it’s pedal power on some of the most technically challenging mountain bike trails in the country. A telescope accompanies the guests. Scheduled trips are May 7-9 and Oct. 1-4 and the per person rate is from $750.

Green River through Lodore Canyon in Dinosaur National Monument is a July 5-8 river rafting departure through a protected region recognized by the National Park Service as a “Sanctuary of Natural Darkness.” This trip connects to ghosts of river-runners and canyon dwellers of the past while escaping into deep-red cliffs and exhilarating whitewater. With binoculars and the naked eye guests explore the Milky Way, see the Andromeda Galaxy, watch satellites and meteors, and learn the constellations. The per person rate is from $935.

Colorado River through Cataract Canyon in Canyonlands National Park is an Aug. 1-6 departure cradled in Canyonlands National Park. Again the Andromeda Galaxy, satellites and meteors take center stage at night. Days are spent luxuriating in the sunshine, exploring ancient side-canyons (many with rock art and ruins) and facing some of the biggest whitewater in North America. The per person rate is from $1,175.

“It’s a natural partnership,” says Beckett. “Clark Planetarium’s mission is to teach science and astronomy. Holiday’s mission is to take people into the wilderness and teach them about the natural world.  Working together, Holiday and Clark can offer multi-night star parties in the wilderness, where the night skies are darkest and the daytime scenery is simply out of this world.”

About Clark Planetarium, Salt Lake City: Clark Planetarium is one of the world’s leading centers for space and science education.  Clark Planetarium’s mission is to create and present stimulating educational programs that effectively share astronomy and space exploration information with Salt Lake County residents, Utah students, educators and families, and visitors from around the country and the world. For more information visit

About Holiday River Expeditions
Holiday River Expeditions ( began in 1966, when Dee Holladay and his wife Sue took the plunge to become river outfitters. Due to its respect for the lands, rivers, guests and employees, the family-owned-and-operated company has grown exponentially. Each of its guides is professionally trained in first aid and river safety, and with 50 years of experience, the company provides guests the opportunity to explore the nation’s wild lands safely and securely. Holiday River Expeditions has a commitment to protect the environment through education and conservation, and as such, uses oar-powered and paddle rafts exclusively.

For more information, availability, reservations or a copy of the 2016 catalog please call 800-624-6323, Email: or log onto:

What’s New in Small Ship Cruising for 2016?

Small ship cruise expert AdventureSmith Explorations ( has just revealed its list of new trip offerings for next year. These small ship cruises include regions recently opened for cruising, along with new routes and the introduction of state-of-the-art, newly built vessels.

“Where there’s curiosity and desire to experience some place new and where we’re seeing our established destinations explored in a new way are two of the major themes in our 2016 new trip line-up,” said Todd Smith, AdventureSmith Explorations’ founder and director.

The Top New Cruises for 2016 Include:

The 24-guest Island Passage sails May through October in Tahiti before returning to New Zealand for the austral summer. The new cruise, Tahitian Affair, sails over eight days round-trip from Bora Bora, also visiting the islands of Tahaá, Raiatea and Huahine. This is an active cruise with kayaking, fishing, swimming, snorkeling and stand-up paddleboarding spliced in with visits to a vanilla plantation, local markets and the Maeva Marae archaeological site. Time will also be spent listening to a local choir and learning how to crack coconuts.

The US embargo against Cuba, in place since 1960, once prevented ordinary Americans from traveling to Cuba, but now with a special visa under the provision of a “people-to-people exchange”, US citizens can visit on properly licensed tours. The new Cuba People to People Cruise aboard the 49-guest Panorama sail cruiser focuses on bringing travelers into contact with Cuban people, culture and their communities. Departures start in late December and run through April 2016 for the cruise’s inaugural season. Panorama and Panorama II, with their white sails and masts, provide a romantic yet modern home base.

According to AdventureSmith, the Amazon River and its tributaries represent a hot destination with travelers right now, with high- and low-water seasons providing a varied travel experience year-round. One new itinerary and vessel recently introduced is the newly built 44-guest Amazon Discovery, an all-suite riverboat that sails round-trip from Iquitos and includes a visit to a private reserve on Monkey Island, home to seven different species. The Amazon Discovery Cruise offers seven-day departures year-round, with the inaugural voyage sailing in December 2015.

The Dalmatian Coast Cruise utilizes, among other sister ships, a 2015-built vessel, the 38-guest Infinity, on explorations of the Adriatic Sea coastline between Split and Dubrovnik over eight days. These port towns are featured in the popular Game of Thrones HBO series. The show’s fictional city of King’s Landing is filmed in Dubrovnik, with Split also appearing in scenes. Sailings start at $1,425 per person and start in May 2016.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
The 90-guest Santa Cruz II made its maiden voyage last October and is the star in AdventureSmith’s Santa Cruz Galapagos Cruise, the top pick for what’s new and exciting in the Galapagos for 2016. The completely refurbished vessel has been refitted for the Galapagos Islands’ style of cruising, and it represents a 58 percent increase in passenger space and a 31 percent reduction in fuel consumption over its predecessor. See: 6 New Ways to Cruise the Galapagos

New Zealand
Voted by Lonely Planet as its fifth top region to travel to in 2016, New Zealand’s Waiheke Island is making many travelers’ lists for 2016. The Bay of Islands Explorer cruise aboard the 24-guest Island Passage visits this 36-square-mile island just north of Auckland before sailing farther north to the Bay of Islands region. Highlights of the eight-day itinerary include wine tasting on Waiheke, dolphin watching, dining on the region’s famed green-lipped mussels, a scenic helicopter ride in the Bay of Islands and visiting the wild and enchanting Great Barrier Island, home to the beautiful Fitzroy Harbour.

Costa Rica
A new ship and itinerary to Costa Rica, Uncharted Isthmus: Sloths, Monkeys & Mangroves aboard the 64-guest Safari Voyager, is an eight-day cruise offering guests twice-daily options by skiff, hike, stand-up paddleboard, snorkel and kayak. Itinerary highlights include transiting the 48-mile-long Panama Canal connecting the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, visiting Costa Rica’s largest park, Corcovado National Park, and snorkeling the crystalline waters at Panama’s Granito de Oro.

New to the company’s wilderness cruise program is the Alaska’s Islands, Whales & Glaciers itinerary, featuring eight days between Sitka and Juneau aboard the intimate 10-guest yacht Misty Fjord. Native culture and off-the-beaten path explorations along with sea kayaking, hiking and zodiac adventures engage guests in the pleasures of exploring Southeast Alaska. A hover flight at Taku Glacier offers a ride on an amphibious vehicle designed to travel over ice, water, sandbars and grasslands.

For a recent blog post about the new season please go to:

For information on all of AdventureSmith’s small ship cruises, itineraries, availability and 2016 reservations, Phone: 800-728-2875 toll-free or visit

About AdventureSmith Explorations – Think Outside the Boat!
Founded in 2003, AdventureSmith Explorations is based in Tahoe City, CA, along the northern shore of Lake Tahoe. A recognized leader in small ship cruising, in 2012 owner Todd Smith joined the ranks of Conde Nast Traveler‘s prestigious Annual Travel Specialists List as the world’s expert on small ship expeditions.

Chamber of Horrors NY’s Holiday Horror Show is Produced by Award Winning Make-Up Artist

It takes an elite team to prepare for Long Islands only off season holiday horror show, Chamber of Horrors NY A Very Scary XMAS. With the right amount of fake blood and perfect airbrush techniques, an artist can transform any human into a creepy Christmas creature. Chamber of Horror’s head make-up artist, Stephanie Sabolenko, won first place at the pristine NY Horror Show King and Queen SFX make up competition. With the most talented make-up artists in the haunt industry, Chamber of Horrors promises double the fear as you are stalked by Santa and his minions of cannibalistic elves, zombie snowmen and other twisted Christmas characters.

Haunting is one of the most unique jobs that provides a world of social and real-life networking opportunities. A self-taught SPFX make-up artist from Mastic Beach Long Island, Sabolenko goes by the nickname Bloody Sabo. She started haunt make-up right from her kitchen table with a little latex and toilet paper. Today she is a master at sculpting and creating original looks and designs for Chamber of Horrors NY. A Very Scary XMAS Part 2 includes every aspect of haunt make-up, beauty, gore and fantasy face painting.
The haunt is not a holiday show for the faint-hearted, but rather an interactive theatrical experience. A VERY SCARY XMAS PART 2 is designed to scare your stockings off.  As participants go room to room, the settings and characters get progressively more frightening. Santa is skipping town and bringing a new tradition to the holidays: the spirit of fear.
Christmas and H0-H0-H0RROR go together perfectly during A VERY SCARY XMAS PART 2, featuring Nightmare on 34th St. and The Elf Asylum. The Christmas fright fest will take place on December 11th, 12th, 18th and 19th. Admission tickets are currently being sold on the Chamber of Horrors NY Website for $25 and include a picture with Santa.

ExploringCircle – a New Company on a Mission to Transform the World

A brand-new, innovative company combining a long adventure travel history with a strong sense of purpose is ringing in the new year.

ExploringCircle (, headquartered in Seattle, is positioned to engage travelers around environmental and social issues by introducing them to far-flung destinations and environmental issues associated with such places. The company in turn Pays it Forward by donating up to five percent of client fees to a cause actively working to ameliorate such issues.

“ExploringCircle is an inspired alchemy, where caring for people, places and our planet transforms the world into a better place,” explains founder and director Kristy Royce.

ExploringCircle has partnered with 5 Gyres and is now accepting reservations for its Classic Northwest Passage a 13-day cruise Aug. 12-24, 2016 that explores the remote Northwest Passage and stunning fjords of the Baffin Island coastline. Sharing an west-bound itinerary on the 92 passenger Akademik Sergey Vavilov
with guests will be marine researchers from 5 Gyres studying the potential effects on wildlife and habitats of accumulations of plastics in northern waters. The on-board scientists will share their research and concerns with other passengers throughout the voyage.

Proceeds from this trip will support 5 Gyres.  Since 2009, 5 Gyres has been a global leader in researching the extent of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. We educate youth and consumers as well as business and government leaders about ocean plastics, and advocate for solutions. 5 Gyres’ mission is to empower citizens to become leaders in combating the global health crisis of plastic pollution. It will take all of us to solve this massive, devastating issue and help achieve 5 Gyres’ vision of a planet free of plastic pollution.

The Akademik Sergey Vavilov, recently upgraded and retrofitted to accommodate leisure guests was designed for polar research. The trip cost is from $8,895 per person double which includes accommodation, onboard dining, general naturalist guide / lecture service, and transfers from airport in Cambridge Bay to ship and from the ship to Iqaluit airport. Activities include viewing polar bears and other animals, whale watching, zodiac tours, birding, hiking and photography along with voluntary participation in scientific research.

This iconic voyage follows in the footsteps of the early Arctic explorers such as Franklin, Amundsen and Larsen. Guests are immersed in the archipelago of islands and channels that create Canada’s high Arctic region that is home to polar bear, barren ground grizzly bear, musk ox, caribou and walrus. Central to this voyage are the history and lore of an ill-fated expedition by Sir John Franklin nearly 170 years ago. Franklin made his last heroic foray into the Arctic in 1845 with two ships and 129 men, never to be heard from again. The fate of the expedition remained a mystery until September 2014 when one of the vessels was discovered in a remarkable state of preservation in the frigid waters of Victoria Strait. The find is undoubtedly one of the great archeological discoveries of the last 100 years and has been likened to the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb.

Exploring Circle Founder / President Kristy Royce, who is on constant lookout for such enriching travel opportunities, brings over 20 years of adventure travel experience to ExploringCircle along with a passion for environmentalism and social justice.

“We listen to you and use the knowledge and contacts that we have developed to help you realize your travel dreams. In doing so, we fund hope,” Royce said.  “Leave No Trace Behind, while a great ethic, is no longer enough.”

For reservations and information please visit or email The telephone number is 800.201.8074.

About ExploringCircle
Founded in August 2015 but with a legacy that spans over two decades, ExploringCircle ( is a new company with a diverse adventure travel history and a strong sense of purpose. ExploringCircle sends travelers on journeys of discovery and adventure and then donates up to 5 percent of the trip’s cost to organizations working to make Earth a better place. ExploringCircle combines the joy of travel with a social consciousness built upon three primary principles: To send people on amazing trips / To engage people around important environmental and social issues / To direct funds to groups actively working on those causes.

Water, the Elixir of Life, is ExploringCircle’s first Pay it Forward theme. Issues include clean water and sanitation, plastics in water, vanishing ice and sea level rise. These causes will lead ExploringCircle guests to Alaska, Amazon, Antarctica, Arctic, Baja, Galapagos Islands, Pacific Northwest, Pacific Islands, Peru and Central America.

Orlando Welcomes Royals at Madame Tussauds

Madame Tussauds Orlando is providing a royal welcome for the arrival of its newest figures of Queen Elizabeth, Prince Harry, Prince William and Duchess Catherine. Britain’s royal family will be featured in the Orlando attraction in a special holiday-themed set for a limited time. Guests are encouraged to get up close and personal with royalty and snap their best selfies for a memorable holiday card.

Queen Elizabeth’s wax figure is fitted in an exact replica of the dress she wore for her official Diamond Jubilee portrait. Madame Tussauds studio artists were invited to the Palace to obtain exact measurements, photos and detailed notes of the dress. It is embellished with approximately 10,000 Swarovski crystals, and took artists over 60 hours to complete. Her jewelry is handmade and includes the George IV State Diadem, the Garter Star, the Garter Badge, the insignia of the Royal Order of George V and George VI, and Colette necklace and earrings.

Prince Harry’s figure is dressed in a Dege & Skinner suit from Savile Row — created by the actual tailor he uses for his uniforms. Prince Harry is adorned with medals: a set of three Court-Mounted full-size medals, three pairs of gilt and enamel Garter Stars, and one pair of Flying Wings.

Duchess Catherine’s figure is styled after her look at the 2011 BAFTA Awards in a one-of-a-kind pale lilac Alexander McQueen gown. Prince William is in a double-breasted six button two-piece dinner suit specially made for Madame Tussauds by Gieves & Hawkes.


Madame Tussauds enjoys a close relationship with the British Royal Family dating back to William IV, King of England when the attraction first opened in London in 1835. Their Highnesses have been closely involved with the royal figures. Madame Tussauds originally began as a traveling exhibit before establishing a permanent home in London and ultimately expanding to 19 attractions worldwide.

Madame Tussauds Orlando has new Florida resident rates, offering attraction admission for $18 ($13 for children between the ages of 3-12). This special offer saves visitors more than 25 percent off regular admission. For a limited time, tickets may be purchased at or at the attraction’s admissions desk. This offer is valid for Florida residents, with valid proof of residency, such as a state-issued ID, utilities or cable bill, bank statement, library card, or recent paystub. Restrictions may apply. Prices and hours subject to change without notice. Attraction admission is not guaranteed and subject to availability. The offer is not valid for premium products and cannot be combined with any other offers or packages.

Madame Tussauds is world-renowned for the creation of detailed and lifelike wax figures that pay homage to A-list celebrities from film and television, sports icons, musicians from all genres, and notable figures from history and pop culture. Each Madame Tussauds figure is truly a work of art, involving teams of professional artists and sculptors who spend months on extensive research and take more than 300 measurements to recreate world-famous icons, to achieve the kind of astonishing realism that has been at the heart of the 250-year Madame Tussauds legacy.

Guests at Madame Tussauds Orlando will experience the essence of America with this brand new, immersive and interactive wax experience, bursting with family fun and world-class entertainment, as they move through themed areas meeting all of their favorite stars from award-winning film actors, to historical and modern world leaders, sports stars, music legends as well as figures important to Florida. All visitors can shake hands with the president, get on stage with rock stars and pop princesses, or get up close and personal with a Hollywood heartthrob and take the ultimate selfie! For more information, visit

Local Students Visit Universal Orlando for Hands-On Look at Art-Related Careers

As part of an ongoing partnership between Universal Orlando Resort and Orange County Public Schools, more than 200 students from local middle schools are visiting Universal Orlando this week for a hands-on look at real-world jobs that exist within the entertainment industry.


Students from Carver, Union Park and Memorial Middle Schools are joining members of Universal Orlando’s Art & Design department to walk through the processes involved in creating the many attractions and shows at the theme parks.  The students are touring soundstages where the creative team showcases several key processes, such as concept design, production, costuming and makeup – all centered around Universal Orlando’s Holidays and Mardi Gras celebrations. Students have the chance to fire confetti cannons, learn dance choreography, participate in graphic design projects, speak to performers from the popular Grinchmas show and more.


Universal Orlando artists and designers have also visited the students in their classrooms as part of the program, discussing everything from brainstorming to website creation. As a related project, the students will work in groups to create their very own stage characters, and Universal Orlando will bring them to life at the resort later this school year.


Universal Orlando and Orange County Public Schools partnered to create The Art of Tomorrow program in 2012 to inspire local middle school students to stay in school and pursue arts-related careers. Universal Orlando has opened both its theme parks to serve as “learning labs” for students to explore the various creative roles that help make Universal Orlando Resort a world-class entertainment destination.