Trips: If you're looking for high excitement and low stress, the options are everywhere.

February 27, 2000|By Judi Dash | Judi Dash,Special to the Sun

After an overdose of millennium hype, many travelers this year are looking for adventures that excite but do not exhaust.

"People are so tired of the pressure to outdo themselves in the millennium year by doing something above and beyond," says Bridget Kimmel of Rosenbluth Travel, one of the country's largest travel agencies. "But really, they need to stop agonizing over scoring the trip of the century, and book a joyful getaway with as little stress as possible."

What's hot but not too hot to handle? Read on.

Action and comfort

Many hotels and resorts have become hotbeds of activities, offering not just the usual pool action, but adventures outside the property and spas to soothe aching muscles after you get back. Vacationers get to have their action and stay put, too.

* In Canada's British Columbia, Strathcona Park Lodge, set on 160 acres fronting Upper Campbell Lake in the heart of Vancouver Island, comes alive each summer as a combination resort and outdoor education center for singles, couples and families.

Guests choose from a daily "Best of Adventure" menu that includes classes in canoeing, kayak touring, sailing, rock climbing and a wilderness skills clinic. All-inclusive family adventure-camp weeks are offered throughout July and August, during which children and their parents participate in climbing, kayaking, eco-training and an overnight canoe journey.

* American Wilderness Experience, a Colorado company, specializes in ranch programs that include a variety of outdoor excursions. One of the most interesting getaways is to Hawaii's Molokai Ranch, where year-round mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, surfing, snorkeling, outrigger canoeing and seasonal whale-watching complement ranch activities such as horseback riding, rodeo games and cattle herding. Guests stay in upscale yurts and "tentalos" (canvas bungalows) at one of three compounds on the property, and there are loads of programs for children.

* Wintergreen Resort in Vir-ginia's Blue Ridge Mountains attracts skiers and golfers at the same time. Thanks to a 3,000-foot difference between the mountain and valley and state-of-the-art snow-making, during winter warm spells and early spring there's skiing in the morning and golf in the afternoon (both for the price of your ski lift ticket). Indoor tennis courts serve guests year-round, and there's guided mountain biking, kayaking clinics, rock climbing and rappelling. Naturalists lead nature walks over the resort's 30 miles of trails year-round. There are also winter and summer kids' camps for the 2- to 14-year-old set, as well as a teen adventure camp.

On the move

The nice thing about taking a cruise or train tour is that you only have to unpack once and your vehicle takes you from one destination to another (with excursions along the way that include an increasing number of active pursuits).

Ships have become seagoing resorts, but they need not feel like giant floating cities. Smaller vessels offer plenty of amenities with fewer hassles than the mammoth liners. Some top journeys:

* Hike and bike Scotland -- and cruise it, too -- on Butterfield & Robinson's August and September eight-day trips aboard the 47-passenger Hebridean Princess. The journey starts in Edinburgh, with cycling and walking excursions on the Hebrides islands of Iona, Skye, Muck, Mull, Rum, Harris (as in tweed) and Islay (as in whiskey). A bonus: There is no extra fee for single cabins.

* Families love the laid-back style of Temptress Adventure Cruises, which takes just 100 passengers on one-week nature excursions along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica aboard the Temptress Voyager. There are daily nature hikes suitable for all ages, with wildlife-viewing, birding (the country has more than 500 species) and opportunities for horseback riding, snorkeling and sea kayaking.

* Back on the domestic front, Great Lakes Cruise Co. glides leisurely through lakes Erie, Ontario, Huron, Michigan and Superior on eight-night June and September cruises from Toronto to Chicago aboard the 90-passenger French luxury yacht Levant. There is also a nine-night September trip from Windsor, Ontario, to Chicago aboard the 410-passenger MS Columbus.

* For something more exotic, try Inta-Aussie Tours' five-night explorations of Papua New Guinea's Sepik River aboard the 42-passenger Melanesian Discoverer or 18-passenger Sepik Spirit, buying carved wooden masks and crafts along the way. Longer trips take in lodges in the Southern Highlands, where elders paint their bodies and wear giant wigs made from human hair collected throughout the village.

If land travel suits you better, hop aboard a deluxe rail tour that provides a moving view of the countryside, cozy sleeping quarters and easy camaraderie in an elegant dining car.

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