• Scuba Santa

    Scuba Santa at Newport Aquarium in Kentucky is a holiday tradition in the Cincinnati area. The all-new Water Wonderland with Scuba Santa is a truly wondrous experience where families connect and interact with the magic of an undersea holiday celebration.

    Newport Aquarium in Kentucky, the number one aquarium in the country according to USA Today’s 10Best.com, showcases thousands of animals from around the world in a million gallons of water. In December, the aquarium turns into a winter wonderland where families are treated to seeing Scuba Santa. Scuba Santa swims hourly inside the shark tank with his elves for kids of all ages to view and enjoy the unique experience.

    While at the aquarium patrons can also check out the Albino Alligators, “Snowflake” and “Snowball” who returned to Newport in 2014 and have permanent residency. They are about six feet long and weigh between 65-85 pounds. There are less than 100 albino alligators known in the world today and this is due to poor blending in with their natural environment and their sensitivity to UV rays.

    Newport Aquarium is a leader in wildlife conservation with many community outreach programs. Mobile Shark Cart is a mobile cart that is used as an education/touch pool that is taken to schools, events, etc. and is used to bring awareness to shark protection and ocean conservation. WAVE Program is a program that promotes the importance of ocean conservation, leadership, and STEM to young children through young adults. Individuals can go behind the scenes with a staff member and gets to see how the aquarium works and learn about the conservation programs and species at the aquarium.

    Scuba Santa will be at the aquarium through December 31st so there is still plenty of time to visit this holiday season.

  • Interview: Chef Tom Colicchio

    Season 16 of Top Chef premiered on December 6 on BRAVO and this season contestants made their way down south to Kentucky to compete for the coveted title of Top Chef. The season kicked off at Churchill Downs, the iconic home of the Kentucky Derby. It is no secret among my friends that I love Top Chef and live within an hour of many of the filming locations for this show in the bluegrass state so I am extra excited to see how this season unfolds. Earlier this Fall I was able to catch up with Tom Colicchio on a trip to Kentucky and talk Top Chef, his love of bourbon, and travel.

    Tom Colicchio is known for being the head judge for the cooking show Top Chef while being a multi-award winning top chef himself. He’s also an Emmy award-winning producer, cookbook writer and involved in hunger relief foundations City Harvest and Food Bank for New York. He went from the East Coast to down South for this year’s food, drink and music festival Bourbon and Beyond which took place on September 22-23 in Louisville, Kentucky.

    Check out The Travel Addict’s exclusive interview with chef Tom Colicchio:

    You have won five James Spirit Awards, judge Bravo’s Top Chef, opened numerous restaurants, written cookbooks, is there anything left on your culinary bucket list?

    I think I have been in the game for a long time now and the challenge right now is to stay relevant. There is so much young talent and it is great to see up and coming chefs, while still figuring out how to stay relevant and continue to make great food and open new restaurants. That is it. I never set out to win awards or do TV when I started cooking. All of it is fine, and validation, I hope that I can give something back and that is all great, but like most chefs, I want to continue to work and cook.

    I heard (and we all now know) Top Chef was filmed in Kentucky for Season 16.

    We were, we shot here. I can’t give up too much. It is a lot of Kentucky, we shot in Louisville, shot in Lexington. We had a great time here, the competition, it is a special season. The chefs are all very surprising. When we first start shooting, we usually have a good idea of where it would end up, but not this season, couldn’t do it. It was a really great season.

    You often talk about stories about your family and how food brings your family together. What is your fondest food memory?

    In the summer, my grandfather used to take me fishing when I was a kid. We used to go crabbing, clamming, and occasionally we would catch fish. We would come home. I had two jobs, one, make sure I kept him awake on the way home. It was about an hour and a half drive from the Jersey Shore. I also had to clean all the fish. At a young age, my grandfather taught me to clean fish and crabs. It was a great meal. We used to take the crabs and marinara sauce and make a crab gravy, serve it with linguini. If we caught clams, some of them were steamed. Some were stuffed or steamed with pasta.

    Whatever fish we caught we’d have as well. That was one of my first food memories. Most of the year, we had to be at the dinner table every night, but in the summer that lagged a bit because we would be out swimming. But this was the one meal, everyone came home. Uncles were there. We usually cooked at my grandmother’s house. It was one of those meals that never ended because I used to pick through every crab. This year I caught some crabs and had a great time with family. I sat around the table and picked some crab this season. That was my first food memory.

    More and more music festivals are starting to host celebrity chefs and have curated food options. If you could do a cooking and music duet, who would you choose?

    There’s a lot of good choices here. One of my favorite guitar players is David Bromberg and he is a big guy so he seems like he is into food as well. That could be funny and really interesting. I respect him as a guitar player.

    Is there anybody you are interested in seeing music-wise at Bourbon & Beyond today?

    Keb Mo, I like his Blues. That could be a lot of fun. I don’t know if I can see him though because I am doing a demo at the same time. I want to see Robert Plant but I am not staying tomorrow. My first concert ever was in 1977 was Led Zeppelin in the Garden. I saw the reunion in London and that was great. I really wanted to see him but unfortunately, I have to get home tomorrow morning.

    Are there any foods you refuse to eat?

    I am not a fan of okra. Great Mountain yams for the same reason, that slimy texture.

    What’s your favorite travel destination based on location or food?

    I will tell you where I have never been that I would like to go, my dream vacation, Thailand. I have never been to Southeast Asia. I have been to Japan, been to Hong Kong, but I have never been to Southeast Asia. I haven’t been traveling as much in the last ten years, for pleasure anyway.

    What’s your favorite bourbon?

    I am a fan of a bunch. I got a bottle of Kentucky Owl when I was here, so I cracked that a couple nights ago. That’s really good. Weller, I like a lot. I drink a lot of bourbon, especially in the winter.

    Do you have a favorite bourbon food pairing?

    I’m not a big fan of pairing any booze and eating. I do, but when I think of bourbon I think of desserts as a good pairing. I think the obvious choices are things like smoked fish and smoked meats. Earthy dishes like mushrooms or beets also work really well because they stand up really well with the bourbon. Anything with brown sugar works really well. I have a sweet tooth but I don’t cook a lot of sweets.

  • No Sunsets

    As our trip came to a close on Ortelius, I was kind of sad to leave the boat that had been home for the past 9 days. It was a magical adventure and as crazy as it sounds, I would highly a trip to the Arctic in the middle of the summer. Oceanwide Expeditions provides a unique travel experience for trips of a lifetime to see one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

    Travelers can witness wildlife only found in these regions and see first hand the impact of climate change as you sail to the polar ice cap. Take some time off and go to the land where the sun never sets on your next holiday!

    Total distance sailed: 1,445 Nautical Miles
    Most northerly position 82°28‘N, 017°30‘E

  • Walrus Beach

    Our last morning of arctic excursions started with the anticipated welcoming 7:30 am a wakeup call from Expedition leader Ali. We had now fully circumnavigated the Svalbard archipelago and we arrived at Poolepynten. Good news came over the ships address system that the walrus that we had been looking forward to seeing were home at their expected location on the beach.

    This point of land is a favored site for these marine mammals as it is easily accessible and the location provides a plentiful supply of nearby food, soft sand and relative shelter. We split into two groups for the landing. This allowed for premium viewing in smaller numbers, as well as not to overwhelm the walrus with our presence.

    Once ashore we walked with our guides to the animals, at a certain distance beyond the minimum 30 meters we were instructed to form a line and slowly walked in unison towards the herd, stopping periodically to observe and appreciate these giants of the Arctic without disturbing them. At one point a few of these giant animals took a swim and came up on the beach right next to us so we had to quickly move back to keep the 30 meters distance.

    As our visit on land was coming to a close, a Humpback whale appeared and passed by, very close to shore. Day 9 and it’s the first whale we had sighted.

  • Goose Bay

    Back onboard after our morning trip to Paierlbreen glacier, Captain Mikka set a new course to Gåshamna (Goose Bay), a scenic bay surrounded by high mountains, with the highest peak in Hornsund – Horsundtind at 1429 meters.

    The afternoon brought some of the best weather of the trip so the expedition staff was able to offer us a landing with several hiking possibilities. I chose to hike for the first time with no camera and only iPhone in hand for the first time throughout the trip.

    Those who took the long hike profited in a  breathtaking view from the top. With almost clear skies on the summit, we could see the whole of Hornsund up to Brepollen.

    We also had time to explore the historical Pomor sites as well as the English land-based whaling station in the bay. Remnant whale bones and blubber deposited in the ground still lend nutrients to the soil, thus creating small satellite biospheres of flora to the stark glacial outwash landscape. There were amazing rock formations along the jagged coastline and stunning views on the sea wall.

  • Paierlbreen Glacier

    Overnight on the Ortelius, as we headed into Day 8, we sailed around the southern tip of the archipelago and up to Hornsund, one of the most spectacular areas of Spitsbergen. Named by Jonas Poole, an English whaler in the 1600s after his crew returned to the ship bearing a deer’s horn, it is a place of deep, high sided fjords, active glacier fronts, and rocky ridgelines.

    When we woke there was low-lying fog and mist in the air, but the weather forecast suggested that it was meant to improve so we wrapped up warmly and the zodiacs were lowered ready for our morning cruise. Our destination was Paierlbreen, a huge valley glacier at the end of the Burgerbukta fjord. We spent two hours cruising in and around the glacier and it was by far one of the most spectacular glaciers I have ever seen. The zodiac boats full of red coats of cruise mates made the most spectacular photo opportunities of the day.

    On the way back to the boat we found two more polar bears at the entrance to the fjord but they were positioned in a way that made photographing them difficult.

  • Austfonna

    After our exciting time with the guillemots, we headed to see the expansive ice wall called Austfonna. Austfonna is an ice cap located on Nordaustlandet in Svalbard archipelago in Norway covering an area of 8492 sq kilometers.

    Just as we approached the massive wall of ice, the sun came out and an old sailing ship made its way into the photo frame. It captured a scene that looked like it was from a different time in history.

  • Alkefjellet – Mount Guillemot

    Day 6 of our Arctic journey sent us to Akerfjellet, which is known for the guillemot birds covering the cliff side all summer before taking their heroic journey south. These little birds are a tough species. When the birds reach adolescence at only 20-21 days old they must jump off the high cliffs into the arctic waters joined by their fathers for a swimming migration in the rough seas to travel away from the breeding ground to areas around Iceland and Greenland. They travel back to the same breeding area each spring.

    As we entered the zodiac boats to take a closer look at the birds, gone are thoughts of framing that perfect wildlife shot. Rough seas and swells were crashing against the small boats. Instead, hastily taken photos to be cropped later are snatched between sheltering one’s camera from sea spray and the ever-present risk of aerial excrement.  It was definitely a risky boat ride with a boat full of photographers with expensive cameras. Giant zip-lock plastic bags were the saving grace of the day.

  • Arctic Ice

    Late on Saturday evening, Ortelius had entered the fringes of the pack ice; I stayed up in anticipation of this moment. Around 1 am, a patchwork blanket of ice covering the ocean started to appear. We were moving at a steady able continuously northward. By 6 am we had reached 82° 23’2 N, which was much further North than the trip was planned to reach. The ice was 400 miles more north this year than in previous years.

    It was cold but all guests seemed to stay on deck as long as possible to enjoy the spectacular views before warming up in the lounge area with hot coffee and warm hot chocolate. This is a vista uniquely arctic and one that is sadly in decline. It is a pleasure to enjoy the expanse of such a landscape and be in the moment.

  • Karl XI Part 2

    The visit to Karl XI was a little heart-wrenching. The bears on the island had clearly missed their ride on the Arctic ice and were stranded on the island until the freeze would come back. The bears had limited food supply and most likely they would all not make it through the long summer until the ice returns. One of the bears was injured and we also witnessed the saddest scene of a mother carrying her dead cub around. The cub had died at least a month before based on reports and she was still grieving.

    The week before our visit there was a large controversy after a polar bear was shot by a crew on a German tourist ship after one member was attacked on land. This brought up the debate on whether this type of tourist excursion to the area where there is the risk of human interaction with the vulnerable status bears should be continued.

    This particular German expedition did not participate in information sharing about bear locations as part of the treaty in the Svalbard area with 99% of boats in the area. This could have likely resulted in preventing this incident where this bear was known to be on land for several weeks. The crew has strict guidelines and share information daily on the locations of all bears in the area to avoid these types of interactions.

    My personal opinion is that the more people see and learn first hand about the effects global warming and the retraction of polar ice caps have on the environment maybe they will do something to prevent further climate change issues. My eyes were opened on this trip to the realities of the shrinking of the Arctic ice by seeing first hand the impact on these amazing animals.