Santa crawl around the world: Ho! Ho! Ho! from Gadling to you

Last Saturday night, Times Square was literally a Santa free for all. I first noticed the Santa madness as I approached from the direction of the Empire State Building while walking along Broadway. Along the way, a group of five Santas passed me. Then another group of Santas strolled by. Then there was a lone Santa and a Santa with Mrs. Claus. There were also elves.

By the time I reached 42nd Street, I wondered if this was some Improv Everywhere stunt. Nope. This was the annual Santa pub crawl where people dress like Santa Claus–some better than others, and wander the streets stopping to pop into a bar now and then or indulge a tourist with a photo op.

These hundreds of jolly Santas provided a surprising night of entertainment and an unusual taste of holiday cheer. There’s nothing quite like seeing Santa Claus taking pictures of tourists who are flanked by other Santas. The guy with the fake ear locks dressed up like a Jewish Santa was my favorite version.

Here are 15 more shots of Santa’s around the world–some in surprising places. Each was taken by a traveler who happened by. From Gadling to you, here’s another version of a Santa crawl. Ho! ho! ho! and enjoy.

Just like when there are hundreds of Santa’s, when there’s only one, magic can happen. This Santa’s kiss is being delivered at a Christmas party for kids in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Evidently, Santa has more to do than listen to kid’s Christmas wishes, make presents and deliver them. This Santa, also in South Africa, is feeding the fish at UShaka Marine World in Durban.

The first time I saw Santa en mass was Christmas Eve in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Take this fellow and multiply him over several times. If I had been thinking, I’d have bought a Santa suit for a song for myself.

These Santas gathered en mass at the Tate Modern in London. Even Santa needs a culture fix.

They make Santa kinda young in Bethlehem, Israel. He has pint-sized Santa pals in Vietnam. Santa suits are plentiful in kids sizes there as well.

In Buenos Aires, Argentina this Santa was witness to a travel related scavenger hunt put on by Midnight Soret, that aims to give people an unique way to see the country. The woman with the paper is a contestant who was able to snap, along with her group of fellow travelers, 66 of the 100 required photos.

This Santa and sidekick Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) are scaling a building in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Zwarte Piet is a version of Santa’s elves. According to the photo’s description, Zwarte Pete arrives in The Netherlands via steamboat from Spain with the aim to deliver presents to children. This building stunt looks like a swell task option for the Amazing Race.

This Santa Claus in Turkey talked turkey with the photographer about how he is concerned about children who suffer in the world and his job is to make them smile.

These Santas are high fiving in Tokyo, Japan.

Santa in Seattle, Washington at the Northgate Mall does not look like a happy fellow even though he wears the suit like it was made for him. Too many naughty kids? Not enough time off between Christmas Eves?

Sometimes Santa’s tasks wander into hawking Santa goods. This fellow is wandering the streets in Azerbaijan. This mostly Muslim country does have Russian traditions in some parts like celebrating the Russian Christmas on December 6.

This Santa is in Russia where he travels with a bear. I wonder if the station wagon in the background is his ride?

This Santa’s “Ho, ho, ho’s” are being delivered at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. The only thing that looks like the visit with Santa at the light up at the zoo in Columbus, Ohio where my son visits Santa is the guy in the red suit and the tinsel garland.

Even Santa has to do the laundry. These duds are line drying in Copenhagen, Denmark. I wonder which bicycle is Santa’s? Maybe the one with the attached carrying case? Santa needs a place for those presents, you know.

Also taken in Denmark, this photo has that warm, cozy feeling of peace. Something one hopes every Santa around the world is bringing along with him–or her–whichever the case may be.

First snow: Eight winter activities for budget friendly fun

With the first snow comes thoughts of winter’s smorgasbord of budget friendly travel options. Fall festivals and foliage tours are long gone. What was missed has been moved to next year’s got to go agenda.

The first snow is a reminder that winter, like other seasons, has a timetable that waits for no one. To make the most of winter, create a checklist of what you’d like to do. Plan for those winter outings before it’s too late. Don’t be left behind wondering where the winter went.

Here are 8 winter activities to put on your list of things to do before the spring thaw comes and crocus appear.

1. Go tubing: For anyone who wants the thrill of speeding down a snow packed hill, but is not fond of the idea of falling (count me in on this one) tubing is an excellent option. If you have the physical skills to sit on the ground and get back up again with or without help, you can tube. The beauty of tubing is that people of various athletic abilities and ages can enjoy the same experience at the same time.

Many ski resorts have added tubing hills to their repertoire. From the Poconos in Pennsylvania to Copper Mountain Ski Resort in Colorado, the cost for tubing is quite a bit less than the cost of a ski lift pass. Plus, there’s no equipment to rent and you can enjoy the warmth of the ski resort’s lodge like any skier who forked out more money than you did.

2. Take a winter hike: Although hiking might seem more suited for warmer weather, winter hiking offers another look at outdoor beauty. Plus, there’s a level of solitude for reflection, part of what winter months invite. Sections of the Appalachian Trail are one possibility. For options that offer the opportunity to find out more about nature and natural history of an area, check your state’s park system. Many have an organized winter hike like Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio does. This park’s winter hike is January 16.

3. Go cross-country skiing or snow shoeing: Where there is snow, you can cross-country ski or snowshoe. City and town parks, logging roads or trails that have been specifically for either sport are waiting for you. The Enchanted Forest in northern New Mexico is one such place. To see if either sport is a good fit, head to a trail on Winter Trails Day. This winter, January 9th is the day to bundle up and strap on skis or snowshoes. Rentals are available.

4. Build a snowman in an unusual place: Where there’s snow perfect for packing, you can build a snowman. By building a snowman in a place that’s more public than your yard, you add to other people’s winter fun. A favorite memory of mine is watching people build a snowman on the Great Wall of China.

For people who live where it never snows, don’t pass up a chance to indulge in a snippet of childhood if you happen to have traveled to a place where it does–London, England, for example.

5. Sip hot chocolate, mulled wine or another hot beverage made extra warm by alcohol by a fire crackling in a stone fireplace. This is where you enjoy a winter wonderland by looking out a window. Where does one find such an experience? Ski lodges and hotel lounges and lobbies are perfect places for indulging in an afternoon or evening of relaxation in a comfy chair. Going solo? Bring a book. You don’t have to be an overnight guest to enjoy such pleasure.

6. Visit an historic village to learn about winter life in the olden days. At an historic village, costumed interpreters demonstrate how life was lived in yesteryear. Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts is one of the more extensive historic villages. The sticker price is not exactly budget friendly. For the cheapest option, head to the Slate Run Living Historical Farm in Ohio. It’s free. I repeat. Free.

7. Bird watch at a local park, a nature center, a refuge or another area known for bird watching. Check out Critter Watch, for best winter birding spots in Colorado. In Ohio, the newest bird watching place is the Grange Insurance Audubon Center, one mile from the heart of downtown Columbus. It’s located on an important migration stop next to the Scioto River.

8. Ice-skate at a city’s outdoor rink or a frozen pond. Many cities open skating rinks in their downtown’s to attract people. One of the most famous is the skating rink at Rockefeller Center. There are other less touristy skating options in New York City, however.

If you’re planning to head to any other city, see if there is an outdoor skating rink there. Skating on a city’s downtown rink is an active way to enjoy the city’s architecture while becoming part of the city’s scene. Skate rentals are available.

Some city parks and zoos like Buhr Park in Ann Arbor, Michigan and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus Ohio, also offer ice-skating with skate rentals available.

A water park does well its first year out and Disney is pleased with its earnings

First of all, the water park Zoombezi Bay and Disney have nothing to do with each other, but there is a common element in their stories–their businesses have done swimmingly well this summer.

Zoombezi Bay, a new addition to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium opened on Memorial Day. When I was talking with the associate director last Thursday, he said that they are fiscally ahead of where they had hoped to be and have plans to increase offerings next year. Attendance has been terrific despite their worries that gas prices and the sluggish economy (in Ohio it’s a bit of the pits) may adversely affect the numbers. On the contrary. The thought is that perhaps the “stay-vacation” trend may have swung in the water park’s favor. The weather has also cooperated ever since June’s rainfest ended.

According to this article published in the L.A. Times, Disney resorts and theme parks have not been adversely affected by the economy either. Although, there has been a slight dip in Disneyland’s revenue because of an attendance drop, the numbers have not been as bad as feared. Disney World execs were worried that the number of flights being cut to Orlando would equal a lower attendance, but this had not occurred.

Perhaps Zoombezi Bay and Disney attractions hold what attracts many vacationers. You don’t have to play guesswork when figuring out what you’ll get when you hand over your hard-earned dollars. When the sun is shining, you are usually guaranteed a good time, and in the summer, the sun usually shines. Zoombezi Bay has the added bonus of being new.

(The photo of Zoombezi Bay is from Trip Advisor. Erinslone, the person who posted it, loved the park. Three other commenters were disappointed and frustrated because when they were there the park was incredibly busy. The associate director said more space is being added. I was there Thursday late afternoon and there was plenty of chairs available. My husband was there all day yesterday with our son and neighbor friends. They had a great time.)

Chicago’s thoughtful guide for folks who have disabilities

Over this past year, each time I’ve gone to the Columbus Zoo, I’ve looked at the hopefully temporary location of handicapped parking and thought, “This is not very handicapped friendly.” It’s too far from the main gate. By the time a person hoofs it to the main gate, it’s been a hike already. The main gate, to be fair, is going to be located elsewhere once the water park is finished, and the details for connecting the zoo to the new water park are completed. I’m assuming the gate will once more be closer to the parking lot. In the meantime, there’s a bit of a long walk. Possibly, the walk seems long because before the renovations started, handicapped parking was right at the gate.

For anyone who has a disability, or who travels with people who have disabilities–where accessibility to attractions is a concern, Chicago has developed a guide to help folks find the easy places to visit. “Easy Access Chicago” highlights all those spots that are handicapped accessible and provides details about visiting those places.

As people get older, but still have a desire to get out and enjoy travel, this type of guide is a great idea. I hope other cities follow suit if they haven’t already. It seems this guide would be useful for folks packing a stroller as well. You can download the guide at or call 1-800-226-6632 to order one. The guide is free.

Thanks to Snakes on a Plane, Fluffy, the world’s largest snake in a zoo, is staying put

Crating up and sending home Fluffy, the largest snake in captivity, as far as anyone knows, proved to be too much effort –and that’s a good thing for the Columbus Zoo. Besides that, the movie Snakes on a Plane has created a we don’t like to put snakes on a plane mentality by shipping companies. The snake was on loan from the guy who raised it. Can you imagine feeding a python from birth to be one whopping snake that people don’t want to take anywhere?

Bob Clark, the former owner, sold the snake to the zoo for $35,000 after a plan to get Fluffy back to his abode in Oklahoma City didn’t work out. Clark originally didn’t want to part with the snake forever. The company who got the snake to the Columbus Zoo early last year and was to get it back home in November has gone out of business and there weren’t any takers when it came to finding a replacement company.

Besides that, the zoo keepers looked at the size of the snake and sighed every time they thought about crating Fluffy up. Not only is he monstrous–imagine 300 pounds, 24-feet long and “girth the size of a watermelon”, he’s been a real boost the the zoo. Fluffy’s presence draws people to the zoo and folks have been pestering the zoo to keep Fluffy anyway. One of my trips to the zoo this past year was to see Fluffy and I’ve mentioned the world’s largest snake as part of the draw. Who needs the world’s tallest building when you have the world’s largest snake in captivity?

Now that the zoo is keeping Fluffy, that will save some redecorating costs. The exhibit can stay as is and not be refigured for some other critter. When I first saw the exhibit, I thought it was permanent. When I heard Fluffy was just on loan, it felt sad to think of the python’s departure.

I bet the folks at the Columbus International Airport are happy as well. On one of the concourse walls there is a life-size photograph of Fluffy, all stretched out advertising the zoo. It’s a great photograph and fits perfectly where it is. [via Columbus Dispatch]