Monday, 27 August 2012

Top 10 over the past 10 years.... No 7 Wild Wadi Waterpark in Dubai

This month we're celebrating our 10th birthday at Escape Worldwide, and looking back at 10 years of globetrotting in the name of bringing you great holidays - at least that's our excuse! We're having a look at our personal top 10 favourite travel experiences of the last 10 years.

Karen makes a splash in Dubai

"My first visit to Dubai was on the way back from Thailand one September, and while the weather in Thailand had been hot and humid, I wasn't really prepared for quite how hot Dubai can get in the summer! I wanted to see Dubai's main attractions in the few days I had there, but having explored the older parts of the city and finding that the only place I could cool off was on a traditional abra crossing the creek, I decided to head to the beach and to one of the best water parks in the region, Wild Wadi. 

Abra on the creek in Dubai
Take an abra accross Dubai Creek
I wouldn't normally class myself as a water park kind of person, but in the heat of Dubai it's one of the best places to cool down - although the air conditioned shopping malls are also worth a look! In fact, I'd started cooling off at the Mall of the Emirates, one of the largest malls in the world and home to Dubai's very own indoor ski slope (once you've been to Dubai a few times nothing surprises you about what they can build there!) My only attempt at skiing ended up in hospital so I wasn't going to try that again, but the mall's air-conditioning worked its magic - as did the shops! 

Great views from across the park
Great view from Wild Wadi
Wild Wadi is a great family option, so if you're taking your kids to Dubai be sure to allow yourself a full day here. There's a host of rides and slides from the gentle to the plain scary, and I tended to stick to the more sedate side of things - there's something really relaxing about floating around the lazy river of Juha's Journey in a rubber ring while taking in the Dubai sunshine and the sights of the city from the high points!

When I visited, the park was home to the fabulously-named Jumeirah Sceirah, the tallest and fastest water slide outside of North America. At over 100 feet high, you shoot down in just a few seconds and can apparently reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour! Just climbing the stairs to the top of the Jumeirah Sceirah was hard enough in itself, and I spent a good 10 minutes at the top deliberating as to whether I could actually bring myself to hurtle down it - or just take the stairs back! Little kids were looking at me as if to say 'you're pathetic', but it's only when someone twice my age took the plunge without even batting an eyelid that I plucked up the courage! Apparently the view is superb - I wouldn't know as I had my eyes firmly closed throughout! 

the top of the Jumeirah Sceirah
Wild Wadi's great rides
Last winter the Sceirah was replaced with a new attraction to keep Wild Wadi bang up to date, so on my next visit (I'm sure to go back!) there's bound to be something bigger and more terrifying for me to pluck up the courage to ride - or not!"

Watch this space for number 6...... Angkor Wat Cambodia

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Kenya Wildebeest Migration Update

Wildebeest Migration Update

This week it has been all about the river crossings as wildebeest and zebra took the plunge and crossed the Mara River in their thousands. There were dramatic scenes as crocodiles snatched a meal and wildebeest struggled to cross the mighty Mara River

river crossing
Migration in full swing

The migration covered the plains and there were wildebeest as far as the eye could see.

Wildebeest as far as the eye can see!

In these time of plenty with abundant prey around the big cats of the Mara have been busy raising the next generation and our guests have enjoyed regular sightings of Malaika the cheetah and her cub and the newest additions to the famous Marsh pride of lions. 

cheetah mother and cubs
Cheetah mother and her cubs
We still have some tents available for this year's migration season, so if you would like to come on safari and see this incredible wildlife spectacle then go to to book! 

Many thanks to our friends at Governors Camp, Masai Mara for the update.

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Top 10 over the past 10 years.... No 8 Borneo

This month we're celebrating our 10th birthday at Escape Worldwide, and looking back at 10 years of globetrotting in the name of bringing you great holidays - at least that's our excuse! We're having a look at our personal top 10 favourite travel experiences of the last 10 years.

James gets a little too close to a baby Orang Utan!

"On my first visit to Malaysia I went to Borneo, which has always been on my 'must see' list of places. I was lucky enough to visit the Sepilok Orang Utan rehab centre, but it was back at my hotel where I got a little too close to these incredible creatures!

Borneo is a really special place, and while it's not the easiest to get to it's well worth the effort. Having spent a few nights in the capital Kuala Lumpur (which I just loved - but that's a different story!) I flew over to Kota Kinabalu, the main town in Sabah - Borneo's geography is quite complicated, with the one island split between three countries, but while the Malaysia side of the island is far smaller than the Indonesian side (the third country, Brunei, has a really tiny area) far more visitors head to the Malaysian side, and the province of Sabah receives most of these.

Stunning setting of the Shangri-La Rasa Ria, Borneo
Shangri La Rasa Ria
The town of Kota Kinabalu - or KK as it's often known (they seem to like shortening town names in Malaysia!) - is a fairly bustling place with plenty of interest, some great restaurants and a relaxed feel - it's certainly far less hectic than KL. There are some glorious beaches along the coastline either side of the town, and I started my trip at the lovely Shangri-La Tanjung Aru, set right on the beach but just on the edge of the town too, so it was easy to get out & about to explore a little.

Orang Utan making a lunge for me at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria
The Orang Utan that liked James
I then flew over to Sandakan, on the east coast of Sabah, where the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre is located. The centre has been helping rescued Orang Utans back in to the wild since the 1960s, with many of their residents coming from areas of Borneo that have been cleared for logging, or from illegal hunting activities or from being kept as pets. Orang Utans are so rare, and so mesmerizing, that a centre such as this is such an important place - I was really moved to see some of the younger Orang Utans being hand reared by the staff, on their gradual way back in to the jungle. 

Orang Utans at the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre, Borneo
Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre
When I came back to Kota Kinabalu I changed hotels, to the equally as beautiful Shangri-La Rasa Ria, set on a stunning beach but further from the town itself - the whole area has a very relaxing feel, but the highlight to me was their very own Orang Utan centre, a 64-acre site that allows guests to see these amazing creatures up close. Here, you can actually get closer to the Orang Utans than you generally can at Sepilok (which is a good sign for Sepilok as it shows that their programme is working as the animals are gradually moving back in to the jungle areas of the centre). As I was walking through the centre one of the younger residents showed a particular interest in my camera, and made a bit of a lunge from his tree position towards me - he managed to swing on his rope to within a few inches of me, before one of the rangers intervened. I'm not sure who was most surprised, the Orang Utan or me!"

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Top 10 over the past 10 years.... No 9 Luxor, Egypt

Darren checks out Egypt's history from the air! 

This month we're celebrating our 10th birthday at Escape Worldwide, and looking back at 10 years of globetrotting in the name of bringing you great holidays - at least that's our excuse! We're having a look at our personal top 10 favourite travel experiences of the last 10 years.

"I'm a huge fan of Egypt's historical sites - I think it dates back to my school days when tales of Pharaoh's and their treasures buried in the desert really captured my imagination! The thing to my mind that's so wonderful about Egypt's history is how accessible it is, and how easy it is to picture the scene thousands of years old - so many temples and other sites are so well preserved, it has to be the best place in the world for any history buff! 

Hot air balloon taking off at sunrise
Balloon over Luxor at sunrise

Luxor probably has the highest concentration of antiquities of any part of Egypt, and the West Bank is probably my favourite area. If I was to pick a single temple it would be a hard call between the clean lines and stunning setting of the Temple of Hapshetsut, located on the West Bank; and the grandeur and sheer scale Karnak Temple, over on the East Bank closer to the town of Luxor itself. But for a whole area full of historical interest, the West Bank wins hands down. 

Statues at the Temple of Hapshetsut, West Bank Luxor
Temple of Hapshetsut
The West Bank at Luxor covers a large area that is home to some of Egypt's most important sites - the ancient Pharaohs thought that this mountainous setting on the edge of the desert would protect them from tomb robbers, which partly worked, so today there's a huge amount of interest here from the Valley of the Kings (where many of Egypt's most important Pharaohs were buried) and the Valley of the Queens, to the Temple of Hapshetsut and the Colossi of Memnon, who were originally guarding the entrance to a long-gone temple on an even grander scale.

I decided to do a hot air balloon ride over the West Bank, to see the whole area from a different angle. As balloon rides go (I've done one other, over the Masai Mara in Kenya) this one wasn't about the distance travelled as we pretty much only went up and down again, but the view was just spectacular. We probably covered a few miles over the area, launching in time to see the sun rise over the Nile, and in the hour or so we were in the air we'd seen all the main sites. Most of the tombs look more like a quarry from the sky as their unimposing entrances hide the tomb itself, but the most famous tomb of all, that of King Tutankhamen, was pointed out to us. We came down a little over the Colossi of Memnon, and the views over the magnificent Temple of Hapshetsut were just spectacular.

Balloon over the Temple of Hapshetsut, West Bank Luxor
Amazing Balloon Trip over the West Bank

There's something really special about a hot air balloon ride, where all the noise of ground level is taken away and the silence is only interrupted by the occasional blast on the burner. Seeing the antiquities of Egypt from the air is something that will stay with me forever."

Next time....No 8 -  Borneo Orang Utans

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Top 10 over the past 10 years.... No 10 Hawaii

Escape Worldwide are 10 years old this year - Happy Birthday to Us! 

This month we're celebrating our 10th birthday at Escape Worldwide, and looking back at 10 years of globetrotting in the name of bringing you great holidays - at least that's our excuse! We're having a look at our personal top 10 favourite travel experiences of the last 10 years.

Mark's fear of heights goes out the window! 

"I'd been in a helicopter once prior to my visit to Hawaii, and that was over the Victoria Falls in Zambia - I have a terrible fear of heights but I'm OK with flying and thankfully the experience in Zambia showed me that I was OK in helicopters too (unless the pilot does any sudden maneuvers which leave my stomach half a mile behind!) On Hawaii's Big Island, however, the view was so incredible that I didn't really have a chance to think about anything else!

Helicopter for our flight over the lava
The helicopter that Mark took over Big Island

The Volcano National Park is an incredible and unpredictable place, where the Kilauea Volcano has been continually erupting since 1983, making it the world's most active eruption. Before my visit I'd been keeping up to date with volcanic activity at the park, not sure whether I wanted little activity (but to perhaps be disappointed - after all it's a very long way to Hawaii!) or lots of activity (and to be so scared I'd bottle out of going to the crater!) At the time of my visit activity was actually fairly low, I'd been told, but that just led me in to a false sense of security as I was really blown away with what I saw!

Kilauea Volcano, Big Island Hawaii
Kilauea Volcano in Big Island

I took the helicopter trip from Hilo, the main town on the east coast of Big Island and apparently the wettest place in the USA (all Hawaiian island have 'wet' sides and 'dry' sides, and the difference on relatively small islands is quite unbelievable! The flight was before I'd explored the area at ground level, so I really didn't know what to expect. Kilauea isn't your traditional 'pointy' volcano, but rather it's more a series of craters along the flank of Mauna Loa, the biggest volcano in the world - Hawaii is seriously volcanic! The landscape around Kilauea is very dramatic, and from the sky you can see how the lava flows have cut swathes through the fertile landscape, irrespective of towns and villages in its way - our pilot pointed out a number of houses that had been completely cut off by the lava flows.

Signpost in the Volcano National Park
Sign post in Volcano National Park
As you get closer to the current activity you can see fresh lava flows that are still glowing bright red and orange as they burn their way towards the coast - those that reach the coast hit the Pacific Ocean with a blast of steam. We circled over Pu'u O'o cone a number of times to see the lava coming out on its way to the ocean - dangerous gases prevent you getting too close to some of the vents as you try to take in this bizarrely beautiful sight.

Lava flow at Volcano National Park, Big Island Hawaii
Amazing Lava flows

At ground level Volcano National Park is very different, and we drove through the park, along the superbly-named Chain of Craters Road to the coast, as far as we could before the road was cut off by the latest eruption - in this part of the world, there are reminders everywhere as to how powerful and destructive nature can be. This is a superb national park and one I'd highly recommend visiting - so long as activity isn't too much!

One option that you may want to consider if you do take a helicopter ride over Volcano National Park is the 'doors off' flight - experience the smell and the heat of the volcano as well as the view. Now that would have brought my fear of heights straight back!"

Next time....No 9 - Balloon ride over the West Bank in Luxor, Egypt

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays