To most of us - especially in the U.S. - "Spring Break" conjures up images of college kids covering Southern beaches like a swarm of honeybees.
But who says Spring Break has to be only for college kids? Who says - especially after the winter many of us have had - that we adults aren't entitled to a little spring celebration of our own?
Here are my top ten picks for a "Spring Break Breakaway."
10) PRIVATE SAFARI IN AFRICA - A company called Passage to Africa offers private safaris. You'll stay in the finest hotels, game lodges, safari camps and mobile-tented camps, ensconced in luxury or sleeping outside under a canopy of stars. You might choose to visit "the smoke that thunders" - Zambia's Victoria Falls. Or toast the sunset with champagne in the Seychelles. Or spend a romantic night in a South African tree-house. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.
9) SPRING INTO YOGA - THREE JEWELS RETREAT, PUNTA MITA, MEXICO - Just north of Puerto Vallarta is the village of Punta Mita, surrounded by beaches and beautiful coves. Here, in a private luxury estate, the Three Jewels Retreat offers an interesting mix of yoga, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, and healthy cuisine. Guests can indulge in twice-daily yoga classes, learn to surf, get a massage, walk on a secluded beach, or just relax in the infinity pool. Better hurry, though. Each retreat is limited to fifteen guests. And the next one is May 7-11.
8) GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS, TENNESSEE, USA - Spring comes to the Great Smokies - so named because of the purple fog enveloping them each morning - in subtle ways. The chill of a rushing river. The blossoming of wildflowers. The vocal awakenings of the animals of the forest. The early morning anticipation in beautiful towns such as Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge, as the sun tinges the peaks, and slowly chases away the darkness. The clear, fresh air. And, if the family's with you, an assortment of incredible attractions (Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Dollywood, Dixie Stampede, The Titanic, Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park, Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, etc.). And a land steeped in Native American heritage and southern-mountain folklore.
7) CRUISE THE GALAPAGOS, ECUADOR - What better way to witness the awakenings of spring than in Charles Darwin's laboratory - the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador? A company called Ecoventura will transport you in a luxury yacht. You'll make daily expeditions to observe wildlife - who haven't yet learned to fear humans - in their natural habitats, on foot, by kayak, and by small fishing boats called pangas. You'll be one of only twenty passengers on the yacht, for a seven-night intimate peek into a lost world.
6) QUEBEC CITY, CANADA - As the icy grip of winter subsides, the ethereal beauty and "Old France" ambience of the Quebec City region start to bloom. In the Old Town, at the bottom of cliffs fronting the mighty St. Lawrence Seaway, you'll wander through colorful alleys nearly five hundred years old. You'll stand on the Plains of Abraham, where the battle deciding the fate of Canada - and North America - was fought in 1959. You'll walk along the fortified battlements surrounding the city - the only walled city in North America. You'll be enveloped in the misty roar of Montmorency Falls, higher even than Niagara. And you'll drive the circle route around the beautiful Ile D'Orleans, a pastoral island with seven picturesque villages where time seems to have stood still.
5) JAPAN THROUGH LOCAL EYES - A Thai company called Backyard Travel has a trip offering a deep insight into local Japanese cultures. You'll visit lesser-known regions such as Takayama, Kanazawa and Kiso Valley en route to captivating Kyoto. In Tokyo, you'll see the often overlooked Shitamachi (old town) area on the banks of the Sumida River. In Shitamachi, you'll visit the fascinating Drum Museum and the Edo Shitamachi Traditional Craft Museum. In Nagano Prefecture, you'll visit the legendary Matsumoto Castle, one of the best-preserved original castles still standing in Japan.
4) WESTERN PLEASURE GUEST RANCH, SANDPOINT, IDAHO, USA - Up in the Idaho Panhandle, in the scenic town of Sandpoint, you're only forty miles from the Canadian border. But you can also be deep in the heart of the Old West. Western Pleasure Guest Ranch is an authentic working ranch with 1,100 acres of horses, cattle, deer, elk, and moose, run by the same family since 1940. The ranch has four authentic log cabins, and six guest rooms in the Main Lodge, all filled with Native Northwestern blankets, rugs, pottery, and carvings. The lodge's Great Room may be the most impressive I've seen in the West. You can enjoy some of America's most beautiful horseback-riding here, through pine forests and verdant meadows, and past small herds of cattle in the trees. And, in spring, the air and the mountains and the woods seem to come alive, touching all your senses.
3) ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - Zurich is a jewel, a cosmopolitan city that nonetheless cherishes its country roots and its mountain setting. Spring is a time of grand awakenings here, when the mountains and meadows burst with brilliant wildflowers, and the colorful old villages in the countryside come alive with festivals. You can go sailing on Lake Zurich, in the heart of town. You can wander the cobblestone streets up in Old Town, where you can also play "human" chess on chessboards some forty feet across. And Zurich is a foodie fantasy. Sample the luxurious chocolates beckoning you from storefronts. And try the landmark Raclete Stube Restaurant for its specialty...raclete, a tantalizing combination of melted cheese, onions, potatoes, and pickles.
2) MOON DANCE CLIFFS RESORT, JAMAICA - Suites with ocean views, perched atop the Cliffs of Negril. Garden hot tubs. A state-of-the-art spa and health club. Two restaurants and three bars. And lush tropical gardens. This is an ideal place to recoup if you've had a long, hard winter. You'll sample island cuisine such as Caribbean Cream of Pumpkin Soup, Avocado Coconut Shrimp or High Hope Mountain Dew Salad, and signature desserts such as Love Our Life Together Cheesecake. Enjoy a couples massage, and a cocktail on a sunset cruise.
And, now, my personal choice for this year's Top Spring Break Breakaway...
CAPTIVA ISLAND, FLORIDA, USA - Captiva Island, off the southwest coast of Florida, is one of those precious little places you'd love to keep to yourself...but you just can't, because you've got to shout it out to the world. Captiva is a place of beautiful beaches with a lot of solitude (and the best shelling in the world), leafy lanes with eclectic cottages, and a colorful, laid-back village with interesting shops and restaurants. Keylime Bistro has live music and outdoor dining, while Cantina Captiva has great Mexican food, and Sunshine Seafood, as you might expect, offers the bounty of the surrounding sea. The Bubble Room, a whirling fantasy world of American pop culture and classic American food, is one of the most famous restaurants in Florida. There are also two excellent resorts on the island. 'Tween Waters Inn has two restaurants and an Irish Pub, along with rooms-with-a-view over the island's lush forests and waterways. And South Seas Island Resort has 2.5 miles of private white-sand beach, a variety of water sports, four restaurants, a Starbuck's, and two general stores. On Captiva Island, you're only a short ride away from mainland Florida. But it might as well be a million miles. This is one spring breakaway that'll really give you a break!
These are my personal favorites for a Spring Break Breakaway. Let the debate begin!