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Writer:Janie Robinson and Brian Quinn

Destinations to warm up to

After the soggy Simcoe County summer we had, sundrenched southern shores are looking pretty tempting right about now. Whether you're planning a warm winter getaway, or just escaping the late-fall blahs for awhile with a bit of arm-chair travelling, I've got travel tips from four of my favourite sunny destinations – from Florida to Cuba, Bermuda to the Bahamas. Some steel drum music from the U.S. Virgin Islands should help you get in a happy holiday mood, too. Join the Jump Up street party in St. Croix on our web video at www.simcoelife.ca


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Feeling 'blue' in the Bahamas

Many of the world's resorts are "going green" these days, but in the Bahamas, Nassau's Atlantis is "turning blue."

Blue Tourism is the Paradise Island resort's new initiative in ecofriendly travel – the protection and conservation of the world's oceans – kicking in with an initial donation of $1 million for what they're calling "The Blue Project".

At Atlantis - said to have the world's largest open-air aquarium – being blue is as easy as making a reservation at The Reef suites, taking a unique Blue Tours snorkelling trip, or booking an aquatic activity at the resort with a Blue Adventure Planner.

"We're going to explore several coral reefs this trip, some healthy and some endangered," says aquarist Kendra Knowles, on board the new beachloading catamaran, providing doorto- reef service for our educational snorkelling adventure.

We're learning first-hand about marine conservation, as well as discovering the colourful sea life and delicate habitat of coral reefs on a Blue Tour Reef Adventure.

"The main focus of the Blue Project is to raise public awareness – with both our guests and the local community – of the perils that coral reefs face," says Michelle Liu, Atlantis VP of Marine Aquarium Operations. "Coral reefs are one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth, rivalled only by tropical rain forests, yet many people don't understand their significance, or how they affect each one of us."

The Blue Project plans to create the first coral reef nursery in the Bahamas, just off the coast of Paradise Island. http://www.atlantis.com/blue

Family fun in Florida

If heading south to Florida for some Disney holiday magic is on the top of your wish list this year, remember Christmas cheer comes early to Walt Disney World. Holiday happenings start as early as Nov. 10 this year.

The week between Christmas and New Year is one of the busiest times of year at Disney World, so if you want to avoid the crowds, the best time to go is between American Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 26 to 29) and the week before Christmas.

"We jokingly call it Hell Week," our Disney World shuttle bus driver confessed to us on our visit during the Christmas week crush. "It happens every time. The parks weren't busy at all over the last few weeks before Christmas, and we've had all this holiday stuff happening here since November, then all of a sudden ..."

If you're planning a family Disney Christmas sometime soon, here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind:

  • Over Christmas, one of the three Disney Theme Parks opens an hour early or stays open up to an extra three hours after regular park closing, to give Disney Resort hotel guests more time in the parks without the crowds.
  • Tickets go fast for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom for 18 selected nights between Nov. 10 and Dec. 18. From 7 p.m. until midnight (after regular park hours), party guests enjoy special holiday events and unlimited use of the most popular attractions.
  • Disney World has more than 800 holiday entertainers and hangs more than seven million Christmas lights. And that's not counting the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights at Disney's Hollywood Studios from Nov. 10 to Jan. 4, 2010.
  • The Candlelight Processional, featuring a mass choir, orchestra and celebrity narrator retelling the story of Christmas, plus storytellers from around the world, share holiday traditions and legends at the Epcot World Showcase from Nov. 17 to Dec. 30.
  • In 2009, you get free admission to a Disney theme park on your birthday as part of Disney's Celebration Vacations. So, it's not too late for a Happy Birthday from Disney!


    Charming Cuban culture

    The sexy rhythm of Cuban music spilling out to the Varadero street entices us into the cheerful open-air café.

    Minty mojitos in hand, we sit to savour the live music and local atmosphere. Within moments, a smiling older Cuban man approaches me to dance, while the roomful of lively locals clap and take pictures.

    Turns out, we've just crashed a private party, and I'm dancing with the birthday boy! It seems that Cuba's charming, convivial culture welcomes even party-crashers.

    Wander off the white sand, palmfringed beaches for awhile and discover Varadero's local Cuban charm. Climb aboard a double-decker tourist bus, and for just $5 convertible pesos, hop on-and-off all day, to explore the streets of "real" Cuba – the town covers at least one third of this popular beachresort peninsula.

    In shady Parque Josone, what looks to be an excited wedding party posing for photos, is actually a Cuban girl's quinceañera celebration. In Cuba, this elaborate 15th birthday party marks the transition into womanhood, and is often considered one of the most important days of a young woman's life. Learn about Varadero's storied, colonial history in the Museo Municipal de Varadero, housed in a charmingly restored blue and white balconied mansion.

    Enjoy sunset cocktails and a fine Cuban cigar on the rooftop of Mansión Xanadu – once the Dupont family mansion.

    That's between basking on those beautiful beaches and soaking in the sun of course.


    Bermuda doffs its decorum Bermuda's oldest cottage colony is going adults-only, has hired a sexologist for relationship wellness getaways, and even built a new clothing-optional terrace.

    That might seem like a scandalous departure for a place long known for its sense of decorum and tradition, but it doesn't mean the Cambridge Beach Resort & Spa will soon be overrun with naked "swingers."

    Nestled on a private, picturesque peninsula near the western end of Bermuda, this secluded 12-hectare resort – dotted with pink-stucco cottages and gleaming whitewashed roofs (including several new ocean view plunge pool suites), four private pink-sand beaches, a European-style spa, a country estate clubhouse, chic new infinity pool with private decks for sunbathing, and a private marina – is already the ideal adults-only atmosphere.

    "I believe people who have been in a relationship for some time, are perfectly capable of being romantic," says Michael Winfield, president of Cambridge Beach Resort & Spa. "They may need a little help, a little inspiration. Why is it that people will go to a golf clinic to improve their game, but won't go to a relationship seminar to improve their relationship?" Love and Romance, Girls' Getaways and Life Balance are three personal wellness programs being offered this January, February and March at the exclusive Bermuda cottage colony, billing itself as "a resort for the romantics of the world."

    While you're on the western end of the island for a little R&R (that's romance and relaxation) don't miss the hidden-gem Heydon Trust Estate and a lovely eight-kilometre stretch of the island-long Bermuda Railway Trail. Heydon Trust Estate is an oceanview sanctuary in Somerset – its 17 hectare grounds are filled with flower gardens, citrus orchards, walkways and a picturesque little white chapel dating back to 1616.

    At Somerset Bridge – the world's smallest drawbridge – follow the Bermuda Railway Trail past 19th century Fort Scaur, for stunning views across the harbour to Hamilton. Continue along the tropical coastal track past pretty Mangrove Bay, ending up at the Royal Naval Dockyard – now a centre of arts and shops – at Bermuda's most westerly end.

    Colourful dancing Gombeys can often be seen during Bermudian celebrations – lively dancing and drumming troupes that meld historic roots and culture of slaves brought to Bermuda. Similarly, in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, costumed, dancing Moko Jumbies "stand tall" at parties and local celebrations.