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Window Seat or Aisle Seat: New Family Holiday Traditions South of the Equator

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Browns Beach AustraliaBefore the start of the new year, you can start some unexpected traditions. Kerri Zane uses her Window Seat or Aisle Seat column to take on eco-travel and adventures below the equator. Keep reading for family travel ideas on four continents.

The winter holidays are steeped in family tradition. But if you are a single mom like me, who no longer has conventional celebrations, or a family who have had enough eggnog, artificial trees, and piles of freezing snow to last a lifetime, there are plenty of unforgettable travel destinations south of the equator.

As marriage and family therapist Marc Lynn advises,

“Any time a family can create a positive and enjoyable shared experience it gives parents a way of connecting with their children at any stage of life. Also making [travel] a tradition can create of sense of order and stability within the family. In other words we may be separate and disconnected during the year, but we always travel together during the holiday.”

And so we did! My daughters and I chose a Cruceros Australis expedition in the Patagonia region of Chile and Argentina. Instead of another Christmas party with the cousins, we connected with a colony of Emperor Penguins. And rather than waking to see frost on our windowsill, we peered out the porthole as the ship passes along the massive glaciers in the Southern Hemisphere.

The End of The World – South America

After a long LAN flight from Los Angeles to Santiago, , the girls and I rested overnight at the W hotel. We then took one more flight, a three-hour trip to the famed city at the end of the world, Punta Arenas. Originally established as a penal colony, it was also a vibrant hub for gold miners and sheep farmers. Today most of the town’s 19th century exteriors have been preserved, while building interiors are fully modernized. Punta Arenas is one of the two boarding docks for the 210 passenger, Stella Australis (the other is Ushuaia, Argentina). The four-day cruise takes you through through the Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel and around Tierra del Fuego archipelago, along Glacier Alley, through Drake Passage, with a visit to the iconic Cape Horn.

One of the excursions had us stopping in Ainsworth Bay, were we traversed a lacing of seagrass and roots tightly woven together over a swamp bed– we were literally walking on water! We spotted King Cormorants, Kelp Geese, Magellanic Oyster Catchers, and Steamer Ducks, who all take up local residence in the area. Our absolute favorite stop was being able to get up close and personal with a colony of Magellanic penguins, who were building their family nests on Tucker’s Islet. Hiking on the Pia Glacier and seeing it’s bluish hue was breathtaking. But listening to the sounds of the ice buckling and calving into the ocean waters below had us in awe.

The final stop of this amazing voyage was historic Cape Horn. There we met the Cadiz family, who maintain the last, most southerly lighthouse on the planet. Their story is amazing as they keep watch over ships navigating the most difficult ocean waters in the world.

The best part of this Christmas getaway is any child under 15 travels for free (one child per adult). When you book your trip, inform the  crew that you are coming with kids and they will set you up with movies, games and activities for the long periods of traversing between on-shore excursions.

The tip of the continent is a long way from North America, so you may want to add on a side trip like a visit to EcoCamp Patagonia Wildlife Safari, which combines hiking with nature trails.  Many of the guests from the Stella Australis cruise visited this area, but the girls and I chose to finish our trip with a stop in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The late-night tango shows, outdoor cafes, beautiful art museums,  plus a stay at the Alvear Palace were the perfect sophisticated city counterpoint to our earlier, earth-conscious cruise.

That was just our trip! Keep reading for four different south of the equator adventures.

South and to the left – Australia

Cairns, Australia is a long way from a North American White Christmas but well worth the trip. Small World Journeys organizes holiday vacations with fun family activities for all ages. Their 7-Day Cairns Family Tour includes a Find Nemo! Excursion. Which is unlimited snorkeling in The Great Barrier Reef plus a semi-submarine, underwater observatory and glass-bottom boat visit (and a talk by a marine naturalist on the boat ride to the reef). Your young one can become Tarzan, riding a jungle canopy zip line in the famous Daintree Rainforest. There’s a night trip to search for “Forest Dragons,” Lumholtz’s Tree Kangaroos and the Northern Brown Bandicoot. And you can all spend the day creating art with Aborigines. They’ll give instruction on how to catch crabs, mussels and other seafood the traditional way, then help you cook up what you’ve caught!  Kids can come close to crocs, hold a koala, and feed a kangaroo!  Lodging is at a family-friendly caravan park in en suite cabins and a Cape Tribulation beachside cabin.  Another super cool gimme on this trip is a gift of a 5-metre square plot of Daintree rainforest adopted in your family’s name.

Half a world away – Africa

On the other side of the planet Wilddog Safari’s has a special winter break 13-day Family Adventure in Nambia. It is specially designed for families with small children 5 years and older. You and your family can visit the Africat Foundation at Okonjima to meet and learn about Africa’s Big Cats. Then go on to Etosha National Park for some concentrated Big Game viewing. Next there is a visit to Himba village steeped in ancient traditions.  Next you and your family will travel into the desert proper to spend the night at The Brandberg, Namibia’s highest mountain and an ancient Bushman spiritual site. Swakopmund on the Skeleton Coast is an adrenaline junkie’s dream come true offering every type of high energy water sport you can imagine. Finally, you will all spend two nights visiting the sand dunes at Sesriem & Sossusvlei, the world’s tallest dunes in the world’s oldest desert.

While in Namibia you may want to make a side trip to two of the world’s known natural wonders, the Okavango Delta in Botswana or Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

Right down the middle – On the Equator

Photographer:”’ Martin Zeise, Berlin ”’Date:”’ 16.12.2004

How about having your Christmas family photo taken right on the center of the world? In Quito, the capitol of Equador, you can visit the Mitad del Mundo complex which is – in theory – located right on the line of the Equator. In fact, the French survey team responsible got their measurements got it wrong. The actual line of the equator is 200 yards farther north! Nevertheless, on this spot a fun, kid friendly, museum lets you do all sorts of activities that only work on the Equator itself: like a movable sink so that you can see for yourself which way water goes down the plughole on one side of the Equator than the other. And of course what happens right on the line. You might also like to take a side trip to a climbing school. Heading away from the Equator you and yours can visit the Valley of the Volcanoes, where you all can take dinghies out into the huge crater lake of Mt Quilotoa. Then travel down into the Amazon basin and enjoy a traditional Amazonian Christmas with roast suckling pig and spicy peanut sauce.

On the Equadorian Coast stay at the Hosteria Mandala on the edge of Machalilla National Park, it has special family beach cabins. In the mountains, Hacienda Umbria has a working farm for younger children to visit. And in Quito the Cafe Cultura has a really great family suite.

The bottom of the planet  – Antarctica

Of course some families can never get enough snow, and if yours is one of them then Antarctica could be this years highly anticipated Christmas vacation destination. Two options are Quark Expeditions and Oceanwide Expeditions. Both offer a range of activities from information talks to adventurous hikes.  Visit Oceanwide Expeditions website to review the various 10 and 12-day voyages available on specific dates throughout the winter holiday vacation season. And check out Quark Expeditions’ Black Friday sale for 50 percent off rates at select sailings.

For more holiday family travel ideas, both conventional and unconventional, check out:

By Kerri Zane for PeterGreenberg.com. Kerri Zane is a family travel expert and author of It Takes All 5: A Single Mom’s Guide to Finding the REAL One, on sale now, For more advice on health, beauty and travel, visit her on the Web at KerriZane.com.

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