Clark Griswold would have been proud: Mark Scherr managed to pull off the perfect family vacation, and in a destination off the beaten tourist track – Panama!
This past April, the adventure-loving Scherr family traveled to Panama for the first time. Their visit may have been brief (9 days) but you’d never know it from the astonishing breadth and scope of their experiences in this emerging travel destination.
In honor of Father’s Day, we decided to shine a spotlight on this master-travel-planning Dad who actually achieved the ambitious, adventure-filled, and unforgettable family vacation that the beloved National Lampoon’s character was forever haplessly clambering after.
Vacations with the whole gang require a few additional considerations, especially for a family as adventurous as the Scherrs.
“I knew there was a lot to do,” says Mark, which is why he set the wheels in motion for this trip nearly a year in advance. After booking last July, Mark dove headfirst into researching his destination. Since a paucity of information exists online to assist Panama travelers, Mark augmented his Internet research with the Moon Panama handbook, travelers’ reviews, and a little expert guidance. Briant Dominici (a biologist and tour guide in Panama) and The Resort at Isla Palenque’s Laura Moller (a seasoned Panama traveler and expat) assisted Mark in making arrangements for a family vacation chock-full of natural and cultural experiences.
Mark kept up a correspondence with his travel contacts, checking in a couple of times a month to ask questions and plan excursions, even continuing to do so after the Scherrs’ arrival in Panama. Another key component of preparation: getting the kids dive-certified. Mark’s two children – Joel, 13, and Chloe, 10 – received their diving certifications in February and spent ample time in the training pool before their first ocean diving experience. Thanks to Dad’s foresight in getting them acclimated to aquatic environments, the three were able to share an unforgettable moment in the waters around San Blas.
“We came across a school of baby squid,” recalls Mark, “so we started swimming around, following them. They kept inking us! I’d only ever seen three squid before, all adults, while diving in Aruba, so seeing all these little squid with my kids was very cool.”
Venturing Off the Beaten Path
Mark, his wife Traci, and their kids Joel and Chloe made sure not to miss any of Panama’s most talked-about attractions; they witnessed a ship passing through the locks on Easter Sunday at the Panama Canal, checked out Ancon Hill, and had lunch on the Amador Causeway. But their individual favorite parts of the trip were all discovered through more intrepid exploration off the beaten path in Panama.
“My kids are pretty adventurous,” Mark says. “They both liked Boca Chica and Isla Palenque better than Panama City.” Mark, however, relished the time they spent in Panama City’s historic district of Casco Viejo, where the old buildings and history (and the fresh ceviche from the fish market) satisfied his craving for Panamanian culture.
Mark’s son shares Dad’s interest in local culture – Joel’s favorite day of the trip was spent among the Kuna people on the beautiful, untouched islands of the San Blas archipelago. For budding adrenaline junkie Chloe, the best part of the trip was ziplining through the cloud forest and quetzal-spotting in Boquete.
Thanks to Mark’s pre-trip planning and coordination, his family was able to explore the up-and-coming Chiriqui Province – and make a privileged stop on a private jungle-covered island not yet open to the public – for a sense of “discovery” that’s impossible to find in more trodden destinations.
So great planning was a key component. But what’s the other secret to pulling off the perfect family vacation?
Early rising. For most of the Scherrs’ vacation, the family rose with the sun at 6:30 a.m. For their Boquete hiking tour with Explore Ya, they were up and out the door at 4:30!
“There was no sleeping in on this trip,” says Mark.
The gang practically fell into bed at night after making the most of every day in Panama, reaping rewards such as rare wildlife sightings – “Yes, we did see the quetzal!” says Mark – and many more unforgettable experiences.
The Scherrs kept their energy up throughout the trip with authentic Panamanian meals, stopping at Manolo Caracol in Casco Viejo for a singular dining experience and enjoying local cuisine at restaurants throughout Chiriqui.
Father’s Day Inspiration
So many are daunted by travel planning; in consequence, they’ll often return from a trip somewhat disappointed. And Clark Griswold’s vacation-bungling prowess meant his family was lucky whenever they made it home alive.
But this Father’s Day, we’ve got to hand it to Mark Scherr and all the other master-travel-planning Dads out there who take their families on incredible adventures. Mark’s already paved the way for anyone eyeing Panama for their next family trip — thanks, Mark, for the tips & inspiration, and Happy Father’s Day from all of us at Amble Resorts!