Animal Travel

See, Swim With Penguins
(Not in Antarctica)

Every day around dusk the world’s smallest penguins waddle up on a stretch of coast near Oamaru, New Zealand

Is it possible to dislike penguins? There’s something universally adorable about them. Maybe it’s their waddling. Or their tuxedo outfits. Or how they are portrayed in popular culture, as in the wonderful March of the Penguins documentary.

Most penguin stories, including March, take place in Antarctica. However there are several other places on the planet to see wild penguins. At a few of those you can hop in the water and swim along side these friendly, feathered creatures. Here’s a look at our favorite:

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This Little Piggy Goes Swimming

Swimming with penguins is adorable. Swimming with whale sharks is magnificent. But swimming with pigs?

In the Caribbean, there’s a bay of pigs where you can experience for yourself what that’s like. No, not the Bay of Pigs, as in the site of the CIA’s failed invasion of Cuba1. This (literal) bay of pigs is located in the Bahamas, on the uninhabited island of Big Major Cay — one of the 365 Exuma islands that stretch out in an arc south of Nassau. That’s where you’ll find beach Babes swimming in the clear waters and frolicking on the golden sand.

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The Great Outdoors, Indoors at the Montreal Biodome

Regular Spot Cool Stuff travel blog readers might remember our review of Beijing’s cool Happy Magic water park, which is housed inside a building originally constructed to host the swimming events at the 2008 Beijing Games.

But it isn’t the only structure that was originally built for an Olympics but that’s used today for a completely different purpose. Also in that category is the Montreal Biodome. It was originally built as a venue for the track cycling and judo events of the 1976 Olympic Games. Today, the dome is home to fascinating replicas of various ecosystems around the Americas.

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Montreal Family Travel

For a family vacation, we absolutely adore Montreal.

Quebec’s largest city is a stellar place to travel with kids. (It’s superb choice for a romantic weekend or singles getaway too, though for different reasons.) We’d place Montreal among the likes of Paris, Sydney and San Francisco as one of the world’s top urban family travel destinations. However, unlike all the other cities that would be on that list, Montreal doesn’t really have any iconic, world-famous sights. There’s no Montreal equivalent of the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House1 or Alcatraz Island.

Do not be put off. While Montreal might lack that one must-see attraction, the city makes up for it with its depth of offerings and range of special events and festivals. Especially the festivals. Montreal’s unofficial moto is “Any excuse for a party.” The city almost always has something fun happening, something officials will gladly close streets and divert traffic for. And the best part for families traveling on a budget: Montreal’s festivals tend to be are partly, or completely, free!

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7 Amazing & Luxurious
South Africa Safari Lodges

Spot Cool Stuff loves a good safari lodge, one that’s inviting and is in tune with its natural surroundings. Somehow candlelit dinners are more romantic when they are on a wood deck overlooking a river with crocodiles and hippos. Cold drinks taste better when drunk while gazing out at lions and giraffes in the heat of the day. Beds are more comfortable when they double as a refuge in the middle of an animal-filled wilderness.

Spot Cool Stuff also loves South Africa, a wondrous country that has more diversity of culture and landscape than most people imagine.

So it was an easy decision to write up two posts that combine our twin passions for South Africa and safari lodges.

In this, the first of our two-part series, we check out seven luxurious safari lodges. If you’re looking for a resort to celebrate a special occasion (or if you have access to an expense account) consider a stay at one of these WOW-inducing digs that combine luxury with some of the best game viewing in Africa. In our next South Africa post we’ll focus on our favorite budget safari lodges. To stay updated on that (and all the other travel goings at Spot Cool Stuff), follow us on Twitter, join us on Facebook or subscribe to our RSS feed and get our travel posts delivered to you directly.

And with that, here’s to luxury in the middle of South African wilderness:

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The Cat Houseboat of Amsterdam

Most crazy cat ladies live in dilapidated houses in blighted suburban neighborhoods that you wouldn’t want to travel to. Henriette van Weelde is not one of those crazy cat ladies. For one, she lives in a quaint section of central Amsterdam. Also, her cat-filled abode is not only a place you might want to visit, it’s a place lots of tourists do.

It started in 1966 when van Weelde decided to take in a family of stray cats she found near her home. Then she found another stray and thought to herself what so many crazy cat ladies have: Well, I’m sure I can find room for just one more cat.

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The Truth Behind Iceland’s Most Secluded House

Off the coast of Iceland there’s one particular island upon which is built a single, solitary house. It is a house that looks like the sort the Dursleys could have hidden Harry Potter for his 11th birthday.

Over the years, photos of this house — some snapped from airplanes, most from boats — have circulated around various blogs. And as people have glimpsed the digital images of the abode’s stark setting and seemingly impossible seclusion, internet gossip about the place has mounted.

So, let’s start by dispensing with some misconceptions. Here’s some of what the house is not:

It is not located on Iceland’s third largest island. It was not a gift by the government of Iceland to its most famous pop star, Bjork. The house is not a hoax created using PhotoShop. And it is not inhabited by a secretive billionaire, nor by a religious hermit, nor by a paranoid recluse intent on surviving a coming zombie apocalypse.

In fact, technically, it is not a house at all.

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The Elephant Four Seasons

Four Seasons hotels are known for their excellent service and exceptional luxury — their Tented Camp Golden Triangle property certainly has those qualities. But that Four Seasons — located by the village of Chiang Saen, Thailand near the borders with Burma and Laos — also has a feature not usually associate with the chain: Elephants!

Spot Cool Stuff loves the combination of animals and hotels. We’ve written before about a Kenyan hotel inundated by giraffe, a Japanese style inn where guests bathe with monkeys and an unlikely California bed and breakfast surrounded by lions and tigers. But none of those accommodations offer the pampered, high-end experience that Four Seasons does.

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