Like everyone else, I’ve been reflecting on 2012 these last few days. How it measured up, things I accomplished, and what I’d like to bring forward into the coming year. One of those things is definitely to continue to travel.
Luckily there have been some great opportunities to see some awesome places past year. We unintentionally made this the year of “dream vacationing” where we got to see two places that have topped the travel bucket list for 10 years – Iceland and Alaska. But there were also a bunch of unexpected highlights to the travel year too.
Here’s a list of my top 12 travel highlights of 2012:
1. Top “shit my pants” experience: Bungy Jumping, Nanaimo BC
For some reason, bungy jumping has long been on my list of must-do’s and this past November, I took the plunge. The jump was a mere 150 foot leap at the Wildplay Element Park near Nanaimo, BC. Not sure I would ever do it again (it was hard enough to actually jump the first time), but at least I can say “check!”
2. Top repeatable experience: Extreme Off-Roading, Iceland
I literally had no idea what I was getting into the day I went extreme off-roading in Iceland until I was standing on the edge of an enormous sand pit, dressed in a fire retardant suit and listening to the sound of a monster engine roaring to life. This ride, with the world’s off-road driving champion, may have only lasted five minutes, but it was worth every stomach quenching moment!
3. Top weirdest attraction: Sign Post Forest, Watson Lake, Yukon
Anyone who knows me, knows I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for unusual tourist attractions. And one of my favourite this year was no doubt the Sign Post Forest in Watson Lake, Yukon. This “forest” was started in 1942 by a homesick US army man, and hundreds of thousands of people have erected signs ever since. Needless to say, we added a couple more to the collection during our visit.
4. Top caving experience: Ice cave, Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska
The main purpose of our trip to Alaska was to go king salmon fishing, but it was our hike to the Mendenhall Glacier that was the most memorable moment of this vacation. We booked a guide – a young enthusiastic hiker – who escorted us on our 5-hour, round hike through Tongass National Forest to this mammoth chunk of ice. Just walking a small portion of its surface made the experience surreal, that is until we ventured beneath this 12 mile long glacier and explored it’s hidden caves. Just knowing we were seeing and touching ice not viewed for hundreds of years is what puts this venture on my top 12 of 2012 list.
5. Top water rush: Canyon Adventures, near Grand Falls-Windsor, NL
I’m a lover of water, but when faced with the force of the Exploits River during my first trip with Canyon Adventures, I questioned this affection. This new 2.5 hour excursion along a section of Newfoundland’s longest and largest river is exhilarating, to say the least. Setting out from the Salmonid Interpretation Centre in Grand Falls-Windsor, this trip meanders the curves, steadies and rapids in one of the most interesting sections of the river. It’s always been well worth the initial reservations for me, and a trip that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed completing several times this past year.
6. Top bathing experiences: Blue Lagoon, Iceland
That’s right – I’ve had more than one “bathing” experience in 2012, but the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa in Iceland definitely tops the list. This place is everything you expect it to be and then some. From the natural white clay body treatments to the warm water pool surrounded by volcanic rock, the Blue Lagoon is certainly a place that’s been re-added to my must-see destinations list.
7. Top winter excursion: Polar Dip, Appleton, Newfoundland and Labrador
What was I thinking you ask? Obviously I wasn’t when I signed up to immerse myself into the Gander River in Appleton during it’s annual festival this past February. The water may have been cold that day, but the warm community spirit made it all worth while. A crowd gathered to cheer on all nine of us participants, who all donned strange outfits to mark the silver anniversary of this annual community celebration.
8. Top customer appreciation: The Chocolate Bar, Buffalo, New York
There was nothing overly special about the Chocolate Bar in Buffalo, just that we arrived on the right night. This particular chocolate bar had partnered with a local nail salon to provide free nail jobbies on Monday nights with the purchase of a martini. Needless to say, I enjoyed several chocolate flavoured refreshments like white raspberry chocolate, and walked away with some well-manicured nails.
9. Top Tavern: Bonanza Bar & Grill, Skagway, Alaska
This place was a hidden gem in a town that was not so impressive. Skayway itself was not our style, as it was geared towards the cruise ship industry, but the Bonanza Bar & Grill certainly provided some respite during our wait for the Juneau ferry. Besides serving locally brewed beer, the grilled crab sandwich I ordered was one of the best I’ve ever eaten. AND the washrooms in this place were something I should have photographed! They reflected the town’s burlesque history with antique photos and tin ceilings. Overall, this place was well worth visiting.
10. Top accommodation: Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort, Parksville, BC
From the moment I arrived at the Tigh-Na-Mara, I was impressed. The whole resort is quite large and spread out, and the rooms are extremely spacious. The decor is rustic which certainly fits in with the accommodations’ highlight which is the grotto spa. Apparently named the number one spa in western Canada, it’s no trouble to see why. This place is visually appealing with it’s man-made stone like walls and waterfalls, and is the perfect place to relax after a day of adventure.
11. Top Museum: Alcatraz, San Francisco, California
Who wouldn’t expect Alcatraz to be amazing? This infamous former federal prison, which was home to the likes of Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelley, and Robert “The Birdman” Stroud, certainly was memorable, but for reasons unexpected. The stunning gardens and aging architecture were notable the moment I disembarked the passenger ferry that escorts thousands of visitors here each year. Opt for the audio tour which is what really makes this attraction a highlight. With ex-cons and guards narrating in your ear as you walk the halls of the most famed prison, it’s hard not to be impressed.
12. Top mode of transportation: White Pass and Yukon Route
I had never ridden a train until I boarded the White Pass and Yukon Route that travels between Fraser, BC and Skagway, Alaska. This railroad was built in 1898 for the Klondike Gold Rush and is “…an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, a designation shared with the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty,” according to its website. This trip is much more than just panoramic views of stunning architecture, mountainsides and waterways. Train personal are continuously mentioning points of interest along the way and it’s just cool to ride a railway that was built well over 100 years ago.