The Ambassadors of the Environment is an international project started by Jean-Michel Cousteau. The project makes education fun with hands-on, in-depth experiences exploring local environments, and helping children appreciate the natural wonders of the world we live in. My family was lucky to be able to experience the Ambassadors of the Environment program at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua in Hawaii. Now, June 2010, sees the grand opening of an Ambassadors of the Environment at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel as well. Laguna Beach CA is a pretty easy drive for me, so my family was delighted to have the excuse to spend a weekend there. The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel is one of the finer examples of this luxury line of resorts, and it’s the longest tenured AAA 5-Diamond holder in California. The Ambassadors of the Environment program here is brand new, with a terrific staff of trained naturalists. Their passion for the local Southern California animals and plants is readily apparent. What a group of enthusiastic people.
Wherever Ritz-Carlton has opened a branch of the Ambassadors of the Environment (Grand Cayman, Maui, and now Laguna), it has replaced the resort Ritz Kids camp. Ritz Kids is more of a traditional child care/day camp for the children of vacationing parents. The deeper, more meaningful and lasting experience Ambassadors of the Environment provides makes all other resort day camps pale by comparison.
There are drop-off programs for children at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel Ambassadors of the Environment program, as well as activities for the whole family. We tried one of each. Each is led by a naturalist, and the two we met were absolutely terrific with our kids: Never condescending, they intuitively knew exactly how to relate to our kids and the other participants in a friendly, outgoing, but never pushy way.
First, we dropped our kids off for the “Lights, Camera, Take Action” activity. In three hours, my children wrote, directed, and filmed their own public service announcement (my reserved older kid opted to direct, while my younger daughter joyfully performed for the camera). They wrote an obviously age-appropriate public service announcement about endangered animals, and we received a DVD of this at times hilarious, slapdash ad for walruses and the like. It’s a keeper. My kids really had a great time with their naturalist, who also put the DVD together for us before our weekend vacation in Laguna was over.
It was the second activity that really blew us away, though. We signed up as a family for “The Biggest Show on Earth” Whale Adventure which is essentially a whale watching trip — but it’s so much more. The Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel Ambassadors of the Environment program has teamed up with a couple of local whale watching tour charters; Captain Dave, and his Dolphin & Whale Safari company, is absolutely a treasure. Because its motor is internal, his catamaran is safe to sail through the pods of dolphins we passed. The bottlenose dolphins swam alongside the boat, and Captain Dave’s ingenious setup of a plexiglass viewing pod in one of the hulls lets passengers sit eye to eye with the dolphins. My children loved this, and I did too. Even the dolphins seemed to be enjoying themselves, showing off and looking right back at us.
California Grey Whales migrate past Dana Point in the Laguna Beach area and are a regular sighting for Captain Dave and his crew...and blue whales, the largest animal on Earth, migrate right past Dana Point too! We saw a blue whale surface several times; it was incredible. Captain Dave and his crew were able to figure out that the whale surfaced around every 10 minutes, for three times each, and they followed the whale. Everyone on the boat was awed. There is something about seeing these huge, graceful marine mammals that brings a group of disparate people together in a shared experience — everyone started pointing, talking to each other, and laughing. It was such an incredible, uniting experience that many on board realized only later that they’d forgotten to to take photos of the whale — my self included! Our Ambassadors of the Environment naturalist did, though, and gave us a DVD of his photographs of the “Biggest Show on Earth” activity later.
Captain Dave is committed to the health and safely of marine animals; leading whale watching tours is much more than just a job for him. His knowledge of and love for the local dolphins and the whales passing through is evident. Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel’s Ambassadors of the Environment is smart to partner with him, and my family is so, so lucky to have experienced a whale watching trip with him and his crew. More than just the highlight of our weekend vacation in Southern California, the Ambassadors of the Environment Biggest Show on Earth program is a highlight of our entire year.
The Ritz-Carlton Languna Niguel hosted my family, and a significant portion of our Ambassadors of the Environment participation was provided by the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel as well: thank you from the Vacation Gals!