March 14, 2011
On Site: Paddleboarding Craze Set to Sweep Sandals' Jamaican Resorts
Sandals Resorts across Jamaica are gearing up for a "March Madness" of their own as employees and guests get set to wet their feet in the world of paddleboarding, a new offering by the all-inclusive giant that is sure to be an instant addiction among water sports junkies.
And Travel Agent was on hand to be the first to try it out.
Royce Hanamaikai and Todd Caranto, co-founders of the California-based Pau Hana Surf Supply, along with Josh Schwartz, president of Watersports Direct International and water sports consultant for Sandals Resorts Inc., hosted yours truly at the Sandals Royal Caribbean Resort and Private Island in Montego Bay, Jamaica last week. The three-man crew attracted a large audience as they passed the craft along to myself as well as water sports directors from the other Jamaica Sandals properties.
“The coolest thing about it is seeing all the people who line up to watch. There is always a big audience,” Caranto says. “People are just curious. They see people basically walking on water and wonder what we are doing.”
I consider myself pretty athletic, but balance and water usually make me look like I’ve had too many Red Stripe beers. Just ask the folks at Cap Juluca in Anguilla how my little water skiing lesson went two years ago. But these surfer dudes made me look like a professional in just five minutes. If only golf worked that way.
And like the water sports instructors from the other Jamaican Sandals Resorts that Hanamaikai. Caranto and Schwartz were training the same day, I was instantly hooked.
|From left, Josh Schwartz, Watersports Direct International and water sports consultant for Sandals Resorts Inc., and Royce Hanamaikai and Todd Caranto, Pau Hana Surf Supply.|
So much so that I took up Hanamaikai and Caranto on their offer to be among the first people to ever paddle board down Jamaica’s famous Martha Brae river. Sure, I may have taken a few nasty spills, but in my roughly 16 or 17 times visiting Jamaica, this will definitely be one of my fondest memories.
“The most satisfying thing is seeing how fast people usually catch on to this,” Schwartz told us. “In five minutes, they are doing something they probably never imagined doing in their whole lives.”
The best way to describe the sport is if kayaking and surfing got drunk, hooked up and conceived a child. The board is vertical as opposed to surfing. The board is extremely sturdy so balance isn’t an issue. You kneel on the board, stand straight up and then use both hands to grip the oar, paddling on either the right or left side, depending on which way the wind is blowing that day.
Schwartz says that he, Hanamaikai and Caranto have been trying to bring the sport to Caribbean resorts for two years until Hanamaikai and Caranto literally began knocking on doors in Jamaica when Sandals bit. Caranto says Sandals evaluated several board manufactures and then chose Pau Hana and the Big EZ Hawaiian board.
|Author Joe Pike take his new-found paddleboarding hobby to the Martha Brae river.|
“We were literally going door to door, just knocking on doors and seeing if there was interest,” Hanamaikai told us. “When we came here, there was instant interest and we knew we had a winner. Everyone here was really welcoming to the idea. I just knew the hotel had a great sense of water sports and what their guests would enjoy it. From there, everything basically just went really smoothly and now we plan on having this great activity at every Sandals resort that wants it.”
The program at Sandals is expected to be launched to Sandals Royal Caribbean guests this week. After that, it will be rolled out at the other Sandals properties in Jamaica. The program will come to Turks and Caicos in about a month and then throughout the rest of Sandals’ Caribbean properties shortly after.
“I really think the Sandals brand of water sports is really different than any other water sports offerings at other resorts,” Schwartz says. “And Sandals is really the first resort to officially brand its water sports. Those ‘Sandals' logos on the boards aren’t stickers. That's the real thing. I don’t think any other resort is branding their water sports the way Sandals is. It’s really exciting to be a part of.”
By: Joe Pike
May 28, 2009
Snorkeling, Swimming with Dolphins on The Big Island
An exterior shot of the Hilton Waikoloa Village
You remember that sappy poem that keeps coming back to how you should always wear sunscreen? Yeah, do that. Especially if you're going to be out in the sun all day. Especially if you're going to be in the sun and in the water all day. Apply sunscreen liberally, and keep re-applying. (But wait 15 minutes for your skin to soak it up before going into the water, or it'll just wash off. Yes, I learned this the hard way today, and yes, I do resemble a blond tomato.)
When I woke up this morning, the sun had just risen, and I heard weird noises coming from below my balcony. I walked out onto said balcony and looked down to see dolphins playing in the lagoon almost directly beneath me. Pretty cool way to start a day.
Had breakfast with the group on a patio by the lagoon and tried not to watch the animals playing while Adrea Gibbs, general manager of Dolphin Quest Hawaii (which has been part of the property since 1988), talked about the program and how it differs from others like it at other resorts. First of all, she emphasized, human beings can't swim 25 miles per hour, so it wouldn't be accurate to say that we'd be swimming with dolphins. "It's more like they're swimming with us," she said.
Look closely and you'll see dolphin fins making ripples
The program, she went on to explain, is as much about learning from and about the dolphins as it is letting people play with them. Riding the dolphins is not allowed (Gibbs compared holding a dolphin by its dorsal fin to a human carrying another person by their nose), and, she emphasized, the dolphins are never forced to do anything they don't want to.
We got in the water and the dolphins swam over, and we got to pet and feed them while they performed tricks for treats. If a dolphin wasn't interested in the assigned trick, another would quickly swim over to earn its fish. It was utterly adorable, and the dolphins seemed perfectly happy to play with one another and with us. (Gibbs pointed out that the dolphins have had ample opportunity to escape, but like to stay where they are—they don’t even like moving to the larger lagoon adjacent to their own.)
Still wet from the dolphin lagoon, we piled into a van and headed to a beach on the property, where we set off on a catamaran for a black sand beach on the other side of the bay. While we chugged along, the staff instructed us on the finer points of snorkeling and on the fish and coral life we could expect to see. (One of our guides was named Pepper, and Pepper is studying to be a biologist. When she gets her Ph.D, she will, indeed, be Dr. Pepper. I’m not making this up at all.) When the catamaran dropped anchor, we jumped into the water (well, some of us jumped; some of us inched in slowly) to look up close at the coral and sea life.
Our guide, Pepper, filling us in on coral and sea life
The further we got from the boat, the bolder the fish got, and the more we
could see. Both the coral and the fish were brightly colored and
exquisite—there really aren’t words to describe the beauty of these exotic
animals in their equally exotic environment. Someone caught a puffer fish and
brought it onboard in a bucket so that everyone could have a look, and even
hold the scared little fella before sending him back home where he belongs.
Far too soon, it was time to head back to the resort. (Well, maybe it wasn’t too soon at all. Did I mention the sunburn? It’s gotten worse since I started writing this. Owww.....)
By: Jena Tesse Fox
October 15, 2008
Xcaret Park, A Gem for Families Visiting Mexico
On our second day at the Cancun Travel Mart Mexico Summit 2008, Cancun’s Convention & Visitor’s Bureau took us and other media to Xcaret to spend a day at what is arguably Mexico’s best attraction for families, Xcaret Park. Located about a little more than an hour drive from Cancun, this park offers a little of everything from Jaguar Island, where guests can view the park’s jaguars and pumas, to the Regional Wildlife Breeding Farm, an area filled with hundreds of birds and different species of regional wildlife, some of which are in danger of extinction.
Your clients can experience other wonders such as the Coral Reef Aquarium followed by a display of some of the largest sea turtles they’ll ever see. Clients can also catch a glimpse of some parrots and pink flamingos as soon as they enter, can opt to swim with the dolphins and, at night, can watch the Xcaret Mexico Spectacular, in which 300 performers display as much authentic Mexican traditions as they can cram into two hours.
We watched the show last night and couldn’t get enough, from the live music to an exhibition game of the traditional Mayan Ball Game, or “Pok ta’ pok,” a mythical sport that goes back 1,000 years. Our favorite part of the show, however, was the Burning Ball Game, or “Uarhukua,” a game that could be best compared to hockey except there’s no ice and the puck is substituted with a rubber ball. Oh, by the way, the rubber ball is then set on fire and the competitors takes turns whaling the fire ball with a wooden stick past the other team’s goal.
Coming in at a close second was the Papantla Flyers, four men of Totonacan blood who descend from the top of the “Universal Tree,” located about 30 meters from the ground. The park also offers an array of interactivity including snorkeling and the Underground Rivers, which we took part in. This is highly recommended and perfectly safe. We strapped on a bright pink life jacket, the only uncool part of the venture, and let the light current drift us all the way to the other side, spending primarily the entire swim underground. You can choose to rent a snorkel and mask and admire the river floor or you can do what we did and simply float the entire way on your back, getting lost in the limestone formations on the ceiling and the fossil encrusted walls.
There are 1,500 staff members at the park and guides are available all day for tours. It is open from about 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week. The evening show, however, begins at 7 p.m. and concludes at 9 p.m. Basic admission is $69 a person. The Xcaret Plus admission is $99 a person and includes lunch and access to exclusive areas and the Basica Con Cena admission is $114 and includes lunch, dinner and exclusive access. We recommend agents call Viangy Rocha, media relations for Xcaret, at 011-52-984-871-5200. Xcaret Park is offered through most major U.S. tour operators selling Mexico.
By: Joe Pike