Green Family Travel

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Kermit was wrong: it is easy being green. And trendy too.

Environmentally conscious travelers no longer have to rough it in jungle leans-to without electricity or trek to remote campgrounds in order to vacation. More and more hotels, resorts and lodges are targeting eco-aware tourists by touting green credentials.

Treading gently on mother earth when traveling not only feels good, it also sells. Although statistics on what exactly inspired someone to book a property are hard to come by, a Travel Industry Association of America national survey of 3000 travelers conducted in August 2007 found that more than half of U.S. adults would be more likely to choose an environmentally friendly hotel, rental car or airline if given the opportunity.

The tricky part, however, is defining “environmentally friendly.” After all, “green” comes in many shades.

Some properties claim to be environmentally sound when their sole green action is to place a “do not change the linen daily” sign on your bed. For purists that’s “green-washing.” Like “white-washing,” the term means covering-up false or misleading statements but in the context of a property’s ecological sensitivity.

For other travelers, the laundry option marks a step in the right direction. Amelia Island Plantation, a green property under Florida’s standards, saved 180,000 gallons of water with its linen reuse program. If that were all the resort did, however, it would not have won green certification.

Certifications
What distinguishes a truly green resort is its entire package of initiatives so check to see how and who rates the property. “Certification,” notes Ayako Ezaki, the International Ecotourism Society’s director of communications, “has certainly been one of the most effective ways to distinguish truly green companies from those that are merely using ‘eco’ and ‘sustainable’ as a marketing tool.

Not all certifications carry the same weight since standards differ. “Certifications are nice, but a piece of paper by no means can guarantee company and employee commitments,” says Bill de Stanisloa, director of Florida’s Amelia Island Plantation spa and also of the resort’s ecological program. “A green guest should ask ‘How long has your resort or hotel been green and what are your initiatives in place now?’ One reason for the extra research on the part of the consumer is that a few states have so-called green standards that are more of a ‘pay-to-play’ certification.

To be recognized by Green Seal, a 20-year-old non-profit organization, a lodging must not only minimize waste and recycle, but also demonstrate energy efficiency, proper management of fresh water and waste water, as well as purchase and use environmentally-sensitive products.

“It’s not an easy process and it can take a long time to achieve,” says Linda Chipperfield, Green Seal’s vice president of marketing and research. “What we do is add credibility back into the claims. We apply standards and have guidelines, do a site visit and have third party involvement. But once a property goes through this and gets certified, it creates real change.” Green Seal, like other organizations, offers gold, silver and bronze awards, designating varying levels of green actions.

Great Wolf Lodges, on April 16, 2009, became the first national hotel chain to be awarded Green Seal certification. All 11 U.S. lodging units of the indoor water park resorts achieved Green Seal Silver designation while the Niagara Falls, Ontario, property gained Green Leaf status, an analogous Canadian certification.

Project Green Wolf began with simple changes about 18-months ago at Great Wolf’s Pocono property. “In one year,” says Steve Shattuck, Great Wolf Lodges’ director of communications, “with low-flow toilets and linen recycling, we saved 9 million gallons of water. We have some great guest feedback about our efforts,” says Shattuck. “At the end of the day, it makes sense. It’s healthier for our guests, healthier for the environment and healthier for our bottom line.”

Green applies to daytrips from the resort as well. The best outfitters preserve the environment you’ve come to experience, adhering to the credo of “taking only photographs and leaving only footprints.” Ecologically responsible operators also encourage the area’s tourism industry by working with local guides and companies.

Recommended Hotels and Resorts
Options abound for going green on your next family vacation whether you want a strict, easy-on-the-land eco-lodge or a resort that complies with basic recycling. The following earth-friendly accommodations offer varying degrees of green and range from plain seaside tents to indoor waterparks, rainforest lodges and AAA Four Diamond properties. At each of them, you can feel good about your ecological awareness plus have a great family vacation.

U.S. Virgin Islands: Maho Bay Camps and Harmony Studios, St. John
In 1976, long before “green” was anything but a color, Stanley Selengut opened Maho Bay Camps, a series of tent-cottages located within the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park. Perched on a hillside overlooking the teal-colored Caribbean sea, the 114 structures rely on island breezes and electric fans for cooling and camp stoves for cooking. The nearby bathhouses have limited shower hours.

The deluxe camping units proved so popular that Selengut opened Harmony Studios, ecologically friendly townhouses with a similar setting but such creature comforts as running water, kitchens and private bathrooms. Elevated walkways minimize ground contact. Harmony’s construction features recycled milk jugs for roof insulation, floor tiles constructed from recycled tire rubber or clay scraps, as well as rafters, floor girders and I-beams made from waste wood or farmed trees.

At Concordia, Maho Bay’s sister property on St. John’s southeastern side, choose from 25 eco-tents with running water, toilets and solar heated showers or opt for the added luxury of Estate Concordia’s nine studios, each with a bathroom, living area and kitchen facilities.

All the properties come with stunning views and the chance to enjoy the essential Caribbean. Hike the wooded trails, snorkel the coves and kayak the tranquil waters. At Maho Bay’s art studio, you and your kids can create a treasure from recycled trash.

Belize: Inn at Chaa Creek
Located in Belize’s inland Cayo District, the Lodge at Chaa Creek gained Green Globe Silver certification in 2009 and has been a member of the Rainforest Alliance for twenty years. The eco-resort, about 20-minutes from San Ignacio, is situated on a private 365-acre nature reserve in the hills above the Macal River.

All 23 cottages feature decks, making it easy to watch for toucans, parrots and spider monkeys in the nearby trees. Both the modest thatched-roof cottages and the more elaborate casitas are decorated with tile floors and Belizean fabrics and colors. Among the resort’s many eco-friendly initiatives are howler monkey reintroduction programs plus the use of energy-efficient lighting, crushed metal cans in concrete building foundations and organic kitchen waste as fertilizer for vegetable gardens.

You and your children can watch butterflies hatch at the Butterfly Farm, learn about rainforest animals and insects at the Natural History Centre, discover the healing properties of plants on the Medicine Trail plus hike and horseback ride through the rainforest. The Eco-Kids Rainforest Adventure package, a four-night, five-day program geared to ages 6 to 10 and 11 to 15, includes many of these activities.

Florida: Amelia Island Plantation, Amelia Island
Sprawling on 1,350 acres, Amelia Island Plantation not only rates Four Diamonds from AAA, but also a Green Lodging designation from Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection. The resort maintains 70 percent of its natural tree canopy despite offering 610 guest accommodations: 249 hotel rooms in the oceanfront Amelia Inn and Beach Club, and 361 one- to three-bedroom condominiums called “villas.” Along with energy efficient lighting, linen reuse and recycling programs for paper, plastic, glass and aluminum, the resort irrigates its golf courses with reclaimed water and the spa uses only chemical free, natural products.

Stroll the long stretch of beach, swim in the ocean, play golf and tennis with your kids as well as go crabbing, fishing and kayaking. You can also learn more about the local environment on a guided tour of the salt marshes led by a naturalist. Kids’ Camp Amelia hosts morning, afternoon and all-day sessions for ages 3 to 10.

US and Canada: Great Wolf Lodges
Great Wolf Lodges are located in Kansas City, KS; Traverse City, MI; Concord, NC; Mason; OH; Sandusky, OH; Pocono Mountains, PA; Grapevine, TX; Williamsburg, VA; Grand Mound, WA; Wisconsin Dells, WI; Blue Harbor, Sheboygan, WI, and Niagara Falls, Ontario.

Great Wolf Lodges captivate kids with its mega-sized, indoor water parks. At these huge water play areas (78,000 square feet indoors at the Wisconsin Dells resort) you can float along current pools, splash down slides, dunk in fountains and climb four-story treehouses arrayed with sprays and water guns for dousing unsuspecting relatives. Even though the size and water elements differ at the various properties, you can count on slides, bucket dumps, kiddie pools and swimming areas.

Alas, you have to get out of the water sometimes. The lodges, except for the Sheboygan, WI, Blue Harbor, aim to evoke a Wisconsin Northwoods’ cabin. Sculptures of howling wolves, timbered facades and even totem poles adorn some hotels. Beds have log-like headboards and some rooms come with a pretend cabin or a tent outfitted with bunk beds.

The 12 hotels — not the water parks — became the first national chain to receive Green Seal certification in April. The company also launched Project Green Wolf, a program that develops standards for “greener” water parks and works National Geographic Kids to educate children about environmental protection through play areas and in-room television programming.

Arizona: Sheraton Wild Horse Pass, Chandler
Only 11 miles from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International airport, the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass is world’s away. The 500 room resort occupies 2,400 acres of the 372,000-acre Gila River Indian Reservation, home to the Pima, Maricopa and HuHugam (Hohokam) tribes. More than 1500 wild horses still roam the land, Native American art graces the public areas, storytellers engage guests in winter, a year-round cultural concierge answers questions and a two and a half mile replica of the Gila River runs through the desert property, all part of the tribes’ effort to tell their story about water rights and cultural survival.

These initiatives, as well as recycling, energy-efficient lighting, controlled air conditioning and other ecological programs, combine to create what the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass calls a “GeoGreen” property, one that combines cultural sustainability with environmental stewardship.

Forget-about being bored. Children can twist down the water slide and make crafts at the kids’ program as well as ride horses across the high mountain plains. At the AAA Four Diamond property, you can play golf, luxuriate at the spa and savor dinner at Kai, Arizona’s only Mobil Five Star restaurant.

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