Welcome to The Check-In, our weekend feature focusing on all things travel.
This new travel company is making dinosaur dreams come true
Growing up, Zach Vanasse was fascinated by dinosaurs, so much so that he envisioned becoming a paleontologist, going on fossil digs and discovering ancient relics. His interest waned as a teenager, and he became a travel journalist, but that childhood passion for dinosaurs was rekindled in his late 20s through podcasts and social media. "It reinvigorated the curiosity in me, and I recognized we're living in the golden age of paleontology," Vanasse told The Week. "A lot had been discovered since I was a kid."
While working as a consultant for the travel and tourism industry, Vanasse was surprised to learn that no one was planning trips devoted solely to dinosaurs and paleontology. People could take self-guided tours of fossil-rich areas and go on digs, but that was about it. "That got the wheels turning," Vanasse said.
He shared his idea about starting his own dinosaur-focused travel company with his wife, but the plan was put on pause when she died of an illness, and he needed to grieve. "One of the last great conversations we had was about starting this," Vanasse said. When he decided it was time to "find a purpose again," he jumped into getting Dinosaur Trips off the ground in late 2022.
Based in Calgary, Dinosaur Trips creates group trips and private itineraries that are centered around dinosaur digs, going to museums and meeting paleontologists and experts, topped with "stylish and trendy touches," like visiting buzzworthy restaurants and bars. The first group trip will take place in the Badlands of Alberta July 2 though 13 and includes a multiday dinosaur dig with Dr. Philip J. Currie. "It's like a fantasy camp," Vanasse said, with participants able to embrace their inner paleontologist.
With the inaugural trip just around the corner, Vanasse is looking forward to seeing how everyone fits as a group. "When you bring together like-minded travelers, people bond by having these experiences in incredible landscapes and participating in digs together," he said. "I would love to have people form friendships and come back and go to new destinations together. That would be really rewarding."
Vanasse is mindful of the delicate areas travelers will be visiting and said conservation and sustainability are two pillars of Dinosaur Trips. "We've made it our mission, first and foremost, that any dig we're doing meets all local and federal laws, every law," he said. Each destination will have its own rules and regulations, and "fossils found in a country will stay where they are found. We won't be entering any dig sites without professionals leading the way."
Dinosaur Trips is a company 66 million years in the making and, from a historical perspective, might not be as niche as people think. Seeing SUE the T. rex on display at Chicago's Field Museum is "as interesting and compelling as going to see the Mona Lisa," Vanasse said. "It's just as rare and way older and has a story to tell too."
New York's last seltzer factory offers a blast from the past
A trip to New York City isn't complete without a bagel, cheesecake, a slice of pizza, and a stop at the last standing seltzer shop. Brooklyn Seltzer Boys is in the Cypress Hills neighborhood and includes the Brooklyn Seltzer Museum with exhibits on the history of seltzer, how it's made and bottled, and a spritzing station. "We want to introduce the next generation to seltzer," owner Alex Gomberg told The New York Times.
Seltzer is the family business. In 1953, Alex's great-grandfather opened Gomberg Seltzer Works in Canarsie. Alex decided to reinvent the business, moving it to Cypress Hills, changing the name and opening the museum. The centerpiece of the new operation is the century-old carbonator, which puts bubbles into the triple-filtered tap water that's then delivered in hand-blown glass bottles to about 600 customers across New York City. "Good seltzer should hurt," Alex said. "It should be carbonated enough that it kind of stings the back of your throat."
The Brooklyn Seltzer Museum is open by appointment only. To start planning a visit, sign up on the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys' website for appointment notifications.
Morgan's Wonderland is the theme park for everyone
At Morgan's Wonderland, nothing is off limits. Dubbed the world's first ultra-accessible theme park, this San Antonio space is designed to be inclusive and welcoming of everyone. Gordon Hartman came up with the idea for the park after seeing his daughter, Morgan, ignored by other kids while at a hotel pool. She had an "anguished look of misunderstanding and disappointment," Hartman told Travel + Leisure, and the incident convinced him "of the need for more places where people with and without special needs can come together and interact in safe, nonjudgmental, barrier-free environments."
Morgan's Wonderland opened in 2010 and is entirely wheelchair accessible. Spread across 25 acres, there are more than 25 rides and experiences, including a train, Ferris wheel and the signature Wonderland complex; playgrounds; gardens; picnic spaces; an amphitheater; and a catch-and-release fishing lake. Nearby, there's Morgan's Inspiration Island, a splash water park, and Morgan's Wonderland Sports, with softball, baseball and tennis activities offered. Tickets for the parks are free for guests with disabilities.
Plan accordingly: upcoming events to add to your calendar
Some of the best comedians in the game will be in Montreal this July to headline the Just for Laughs Festival. Since its beginning in 1983, Just for Laughs has grown into the largest international comedy festival, with Kurtis Conner, Anthony Jeselnik, Russell Peters, Jonathan Van Ness, Ali Wong, and Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova among the performers on deck this year. Indoor shows are scheduled for July 14 through 29, with outdoor shows July 20 through 29.