Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Photo by Getty ImagesHey folks, sorry I missed my dispatch yesterday, but I was stranded on the runway at JFK in a massive blizzard - for ten hours! My flight from Puerto Rico landed in a nail-biting gauntlet of wind and blinding snow. Our captain and crew were just amazing. But once on the ground, we learned that the taxi-ways were closed due to the weather. So it was totally fine for us to risk our lives descending from thousands of feet in the air, but putt-putting our way over to the terminal is totally out of the question. Are kidding me?! Well they weren't kidding, and there we sat - all night. The snacks and booze ran out early, and max-capacity in the lavatories soon followed. But we sang some songs, exchanged travel/holiday stories, and were kept in good spirits by our tireless flight crew.

Earlier this morning we were finally able to get off of the plane and into the terminal, which is a bit like going from the frying pan into the flame. There are some more snacks and drinks, and the bathrooms are at least open. But there are thousands - thousands - of people stranded here. I saw an entire family sleeping on a pair of luggage racks that they had pushed together, and another guy was using his two suitcases as a make-shift mattress. Most people are simply spread out on the floor or in a much-coveted chair. Everyone seems pretty reasonable at the moment, but word is that some of us might not be going anywhere until Thursday... or beyond.

I just need to get to the Manhattan Club in NYC, where I will be spending New Year's Eve. They say I "might" be able to catch a cab some time on Wednesday. Are you kidding me?! So I went to the car rental counter to see if they had any cars, and to maybe get a good laugh. They actually did have a number of vehicles, but they wanted $5,000 each. I inquired about the seemingly inflated price, and they said that to dig out the car and to plow a path to the exit of the airport would require a crew to be pulled from runway duty. Furthermore, once I got to the exit of the airport all major roadways are closed due to the storm. So this is basically a $5,000 ride to nowhere. I thanked them politely and started counting the seconds until my cab on Wednesday.

Well, I have to run. The fellow I borrowed this laptop from is starting to give me the stink-eye. I told him I was with Homeland Security and that it was absolutely emergent that I file a report, but I don't think he's buying it any longer. I wonder if I can check my FaceBook fan page really quickly before he wrestles this thing away from me?

Monday, December 20, 2010

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like...

I imagine most of you are spending Christmas at home with loved ones all around, and what could be nicer than that? But if you're like me, and let's hope you're not, duty calls and I must hit the road in pursuit of fantastic timeshare destinations. This ambassador business knows no holidays, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I go on vacation for a living for Pete's sake, what would I do with a holiday anyway? Mow my lawn? Me thinks not. No, I've got my wish list narrowed down to a few prime Christmas locations, and I just need to pull the trigger on one of them. Decisions, decisions...

When I think Christmas I automatically think of crotchety old Ebenezer Scrooge and Dickensian London. I am not sure what that says about me, but if you've never been to London at Christmas time you should consider it. First of all, there are very few tourists and you can get to see all of the top tourist sites for reduced prices and without the lines. Take in the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, check out the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, and visit the London Bridge at a leisurely pace. And specifically for the holidays you can visit 48 Doughty Street, where Charles Dickens lived and worked. It is all decked our for Christmas and you can enjoy minced pies and knock back a glass of "Smoking Bishop," Dickens's favorite punch. And don't miss the Christmas Pantomimes. Do you know about these? They are a UK tradition, where actors perform folk classics like "Cinderella" or "Jack and the Beanstalk". But unlike the originals, men play the leading lady roles and vice versa. Little children are played by beefy wrestler types, and adults by children. Good still triumphs over evil in the end, but everything else is upside-down in these hilarious yuletide farces. Basing yourself out of a London timeshare will make your stay all the more festive.

Or how about Christmas "down under"? Sure Christmas isn't the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of Australia but, remember, it is summertime there and the Gold Coast has some of the best surfing beaches in the world. This juxtaposition of time and geography is not lost on the Aussies. Everything is decked out in lights, and carolers abound. Except, instead of scarves and snow boots, bikinis and sunscreen are the appropriate attire. And if surfing is not your thing, great swimming beaches can be found in nearby New South Wales, and there is even a hinterland rainforest in Gold Coast proper. I am not really sure what constitutes a hinterland rainforest, but it sounds way cool. A timeshare rental in Surfers Paradise puts you right in the thick of things.

Sticking with warm climate - but a bit closer to home - why not San Juan, Puerto Rico? The largest city in this U.S. territory, San Juan has strong Catholic traditions dating back to the Spanish colonization. Suffice it to say that they take their Christmas pretty seriously here. The celebrations run from mid-November to mid-January and include largely sacred and joyous observances. Being a Caribbean Island there will of course be fireworks and honking of car horns, but typical activities include singing aguinaldos (Christmas carols), going to Misa de Aguinaldo (midnight mass), and a feast celebrating Nochebuena (Christmas eve). If you stay on through New Year's, you can celebrate El Día de los Tres Reyes Magos (Three King Day) with a huge parade, and someone may even offer/insist you eat twelve grapes for good luck. But remember, they call it Año Viejo, or "Old Year", instead of New Year, which is certainly one way to look at it. Or you could simply kick back on some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. Puerto Rican timeshare rentals are popular destination any time of the year.

Of course I am always a sucker for New York City, as you know. Can you beat The Rockettes at Radio City, The Tree at Rockefeller Center, FAO Schwarz for toy shopping, or a carriage ride around Central Park? The city that never sleeps is in overdrive this time of year, and I can think of no other place like it on earth. Hey, did you know that each Rockette goes through 7 complete wardrobe changes during the Christmas Spectacular, with less than 90 seconds allotted for each? Yeah, it takes over 200 people to pull off each performance of this show. And it is estimated that during the Christmas season each Rockette performs 1200 of their signature "eye-high" kicks per day. Are you kidding me?! Even if I could keep up with that pace, I don't meet their strict height and weight requirements. Oh well, I can always dream. A timeshare rental at The Manhattan Club will put you within steps of all of this, and so much more.

Well I guess I need to make a decision and be on my way. If you've been naughty, and you know who you are, you've got less than a week to make amends. Either way, have a safe and joyous holiday and remember, it's about the giving and not the getting.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Baby It's Cold Outside

Well Old Man Winter has arrived in earnest throughout much of the country. From the Rockies to the panhandle of Florida folks are seeing record low temperatures and I am sure you heard about those blizzards that socked the Midwest. Hey, did you see the roof of the Metrodome in Minnesota come down over the weekend? Thank goodness no one was on hand at the time. With the way the Vikings have played this year, I am sure their fans were wanting the game canceled instead of rescheduled for the next day. But even with an extra day off Brett Favre's injuries ended his consecutive starts streak at 297. That's 19 years without missing a start folks. Heck, I go on vacation for a living and even I miss a day here or there. He's one tough guy, and I hope he enjoyed his well-deserved day off. I just hope he stayed off the Blackberry, if you know what I mean.

So we've got snow in the MidWest, frigid temperatures in the East, and rain and mudslides in the West. Where's an ambassador to go for some nice weather? Can you say Cabo? That's right. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, has a ten-day forecast with daily highs in the 80s, nightly lows in the 50s, and 0% chance of precipitation. That's what I'm talkin' about! Cape St. Lucas, or simply Cabo, lies at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, and is a seaside paradise. Once known as a rowdy outpost for sport-fishing and rabble-rousing (think Hemingway), it is now Mexico's premiere luxury resort destination; and that is saying something for a country that is also home to Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, and Cancun. Once you arrive, usually by plane or boat, you can lose the car and explore pretty much everything Cabo has to offer on foot.

El Medano ("the sand dune") is the main beach in Cabo and, depending on your activity requirements, is a place you could spend your entire stay. Its beautiful, long, sandy beaches are perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and all manner of water sports. But no trip to Cabo would be complete without a visit to Playa del Amor and El Arco. In English, that is Lover's Beach (hubba hubba) and The Arch. The former is a remote and secluded beach accessible by water, and the latter is a towering rock formation at the very tip of the peninsula. It literally is land's end, where the Pacific meets the Sea of Cortez. Several times a year the tide is so low in this area that you can walk right under the arch. The rest of the time it is partially submerged and people say it looks like a rhino getting a drink of water - but some people say that about me when I am snorkeling so, who knows.

While in Cabo I am staying at Casa Dorada at Medano Beach. There are so many great resorts here, it was hard to choose just one. I went with Casa Dorada because of its location right on Medano Beach, two pools, two restaurants, three bars, private beach club, walking distance to everything, and access to world-class amenities like the spa center and gym. It's no wonder the English translation of this place is "golden house" and that RedWeek members rate it 5-stars. You can rent an ocean-view timeshare that sleeps four for as little as $179/night.

Well I am off to Museo del Tequila, or the Tequila Museum. Located in Cabo's "Golden Zone" it is a must-see for anyone interested in the history, production, and tasting of Mexico's favorite alcoholic beverage. The tour I am taking includes samples of five different tequilas, representing the five different regions of Mexico's tequila production. I'll be walking of course, but I am also going to switch off the Blackberry as well. Because drinking and texting just don't mix - even if you are Brett Favre.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Terminally Bored

In my role as the Timeshare Ambassador, I spend a lot of time in airports ... a LOT of time. And while I generally view them as soul-crushing nightmare spaces, you can occasionally find a glimmer of joy here and there in airport culture. Why, just this week Jay-Z announced he will be franchising his 40/40 Club to select airports around the country. For those of you not in-the-know, Jay-Z is a hip-hop performer/mogul and his 40/40 sports-themed night club in NYC is the who's-who's spot to watch major sporting events and the occasional shootout (just kidding). Seems Z thinks that airport travel is missing a place to watch the big game and buy expensive drinks. I'm not too sure about that dawg, but I would like to talk to him about trading roles for a day. I could see what it is like to be a mogul and he could try on the ambassador hat. Although I don't look particularly good in gold chains and running suits, if that is what they are still wearing.

Hey, speaking of waiting in terminals, do you remember that Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks movie, "The Terminal"? You know, the one where the fellow is stranded at JFK due to a series of mishaps and ends up living there? Well it seems that the story was based loosely on a true story. A fellow named Mehran Karimi Nasseri was expelled from Iran as a political dissident and a mix-up in is refugee paperwork left him stranded at Charles de Gaulle Airport in France on August 8, 1988. He stayed there until July 2006, when he became ill and had to be hospitalized. That's 18 years folks. Are you kidding me?! I've had some bad layovers in my time, but nothing compares with that. The only thing worse, I imagine, would be having to endure Tom Hanks mangle his way through that phony accent in the movie again.

And how about this guy Alain de Botton, who recently spent a week in London's Heathrow Airport as a "writer is residence". Yeah, he set up a desk in Terminal 5 - you know the baggage shredding one - and wrote about what he saw. He took in a lot of predictable sights: tearful goodbyes, frantic running, the occasionally tantrum, and lots of just waiting around. But he also picked up on some subtler things, like the amount of kissing that goes on in an airport terminal. He noted that once you become aware of it, it's a virtual love-fest in these places. And now that he's pointed it out to me, I wish that he hadn't. That notwithstanding, it's great little book called "A Week at the Airport," and I recommend it. If nothing else, read the part about the guy whose job it is to comb the runway for stray bits of metal. From where might this runway metal be coming, you ask? Read the book, or if you'd prefer not to know, don't.

Well, they've just announced that my flight is going to leave today after all. So I guess I'll wrap this up and go do some more waiting in the gate area of EWR. If you are not hip on your airport codes, that's Liberty International Airport in Newark, NJ. And if you were flying from Wenatchee Airport in Washington to Sembach Airport in Germany, you'd be going from EAT to SEX, which doesn't sound like a bad trip at all. I wonder if they have timeshares in Sembach?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cyborg Monday

So it is official. Thanksgiving is over, and the Christmas shopping season is upon us. Some folks - who are completely crazy by the way - ran out on Black Friday to snag deals in a shop-'til-you-drop marathon. Others waited until today (a.k.a Cyber Monday) to get started online. I don't know about you, but it's just not Christmas shopping if you simply sit in front of your PC and clickety-clackety your way down your naughty and nice lists. If you are like me, and I hope you're not, Christmas shopping means just one thing: toy stores. In my opinion, there is nothing like a toy store, and the bigger the better. Below are a few of my favorites which, if you ever get the chance to visit, also have timeshare rentals available nearby.

Starting out in the City by the Bay, San Francisco has two great independent toy stores. The Ark and Ambassador Toys both have downtown locations and feature "classic" toys, like the ones I played with back in the Paleolithic era. That is to say, made from wood, metal, and cloth. Although mine probably had lots of lead and asbestos in them too, the point is that they are durable, timeless, and simply fun. Don't get me wrong, there is a time and a place for some Wii bowling, but there is just something about a pedal car, a really good set of stacking blocks, or a quality hand-made doll. And I think it is more than simple nostalgia, judging by the throngs of young parents found at these stores who came of age in the plastic, play-with-it-once and toss it era. There are also many timeshare rental options available right in San Francisco, so you can do some shopping and dropping of your own.

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, you will find Wacko in Los Angeles. As indicated by the name, this place is simply crazy. To call it a toy store would not be quite right. It's more like the largest collection of pop-culture-inspired ephemera in one place. Within that are some of the coolest retro and original collectible toys and accessories you've ever seen. Don't believe me? How about Pulp Fiction action figures? Or maybe a Fonzie lunch box? If you came of age in the 70s (a.k.a. the Plastic Age) this place is like a time portal back to your youth: bad haircuts and all. Nearby Anaheim is loaded with great timeshare rentals and a place called Disney that you might want to check out as well.

Of course, no review of toy stores would be complete without talking about the grand-daddy of them all: FAO Schwarz in New York City. The Toys 'R Us flagship store in NYC is now the largest toy store in the world (and totally awesome by the way), but FAO is legendary. Started in the 1860s in Baltimore, it is the oldest toy store in the U.S.A. and one of the oldest retailers of any kind. Did you ever see the movie Big with Tom Hanks? Remember the scene where he played "Heart & Soul" with his feet on the giant piano? That's the place, and it is even better in person. It's a true hands-on (and sometimes feet) experience. You are encouraged to play with the toys, and locals and tourists alike flock here to do just that. If you can get here to see this place decked out for the holidays, you really should. Try the Manhattan Club for a timeshare rental experience, NYC-style.

Well I am off to see if I can snag LEGO's new Ultimate Building Set. It's 405 pieces of colorful goodness in a durable plastic box, with a see-through lid. That way your little one can see the pieces they need without dumping them out all over the floor. It's perfect for the toddler on your list who is graduating from the Duplo stage LEGO block up to the big-boy leagues. Or, as in my case, an aging boomer whose collection is incomplete without it. It's madness I tell you, pure madness.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Those Aren't Pillows

Did you ever see that John Candy/Steve Martin movie "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles"? They are an odd-couple of strangers, teamed up by accident, just trying to get home for Thanksgiving. But one funny disaster after the next befalls them along the way. In this one scene they have been relegated to a cheesy motel, sleeping in a single bed together. Martin's character, Neal, wakes first to discover that he and Candy's character, Del, are in a spooning position. Del, obviously thinking he is at home with his spouse, is holding his hand and cooing softly. Neal inquires, "Del, why are you holding my hand?", as Del dreamily awakes. Neal frowns and then asks "Where's your other hand?" Del - still waking up - replies, "Between two pillows." Neal breaks the silence of the moment with a shriek of "Those aren't pillows!". The two men jump out of bed and try to shake off an implication of inappropriate behavior with references to football and other manly pursuits. It's a hilarious flick if you've never seen it, and watching it has become a Thanksgiving tradition in my home.

Of course our original Thanksgiving traditions go all the way back to the first colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Jamestown, Virginia. If you have never been, I highly recommend both. At Plymouth (or Plimoth Planation as it was known), you will be treated to an educational and entertaining re-creation of the second permanent English colony in America, and the place from where our original Thanksgiving legend originated (I say legend because much of what we think we know about the first Thanksgiving is probably not quite right). For example, it is very unlikely that the Pilgrims and native Wampanoag tribe celebrated a meal together in 1621. It was noted in several journals and letters that the colonists celebrated their first harvest that fall, and that curious representatives of the Wampanoag dropped by. The fact is, the remaining Pilgrims were happy and lucky to still be alive (many of them were neither) and, understandably, the two groups of people were not on the best of terms. None of this should deter you from enjoying your visit, or continuing to celebrate this treasured piece of our cultural past. Quite the opposite, really. The English plantation is staffed with interpreters who dress in period clothing, and speak in period accents. You can ask them anything you want about their lives, and they will answer from a 17th century perspective. They never break character. The Wompanoag homestead, however, is staffed by modern day members of the tribe. They feel it would be inappropriate to reenact something they still feel culturally a part of and, that not talking about the hardship that befell them after the arrival of the English would be a disservice. I respect and admire both perspectives, and came away with a knowledge of this distant past not really available in any other format. If you visit, you can rent a timeshare in either Boston or Cape Cod. Plymouth is situated along the route between the two.

With our Thanksgiving tracing its routes to Plymouth, it is easy to forget that the Jamestown settlement predates it by thirteen years. On the shores of the Jamestown River you will find a beautiful museum, a re-creation of the English fort, replicas of the boats they sailed from England, and a native Powhatan village. After enjoying the extensive displays of artifacts, movies and galleries at the museum, you climb aboard the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, and see just what a hellish experience the trip from England must have been for those original 104 men and boys. Then you can take a tour of the fort and native village. Both groups of interpreters dress in period garb and occupy themselves with period tasks. But neither pretends to be in the past. So if you ask a Powhatan about their most famous daughter, Pocahontas, they are going to be aware of the Disney movie as well as real life details of the Indian princess. I'll tell you first-hand that they don't know why Mel Gibson was cast in a singing role as John Smith. Nobody does, really. When you go, be sure to rent a timeshare in nearby Williamsburg. It will put you in the heart of America's Historic Triangle of Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, where the British finally called it quits in the Revolutionary War. The latter is why we watch football on Thanksgiving and not soccer, I suppose. I for one am thankful for that.

Well, I am off to get ready for my local Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot. Do you know about these? Yeah, a bunch of people who are otherwise sedentary the other 364 days of the year participate in a 5k race on the morning of Thanksgiving. I guess it is a way to try to preemptively burn off the 10,000 calories awaiting them later in the day, and they typically raise money for charity too. But from a pure comedy standpoint, it's priceless and I like to reserve myself a spot right near the finish line. Do you remember the opening segment on Wide World of Sports when the announcer would say, "The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat"? It's like that, without the victory.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Want To Believe

So did you catch the story last week about a mystery missile in California? Yeah, there's video of the thing circulating around the web, and it seems to clearly show an unidentified flying object leaving a giant trail in the sky. NORAD, The Pentagon, the FAA, and the DOD all denied being involved in any kind of a missile launch, but none could explain what the object - seen by thousands of people - could have been. Each insisted there was nothing to worry about and that there was absolutely no threat, terrestrial or otherwise. Which to me is not all that comforting on the heels of just saying you have no idea what it was. In the end, it would seem that things are not always as they appear. Seems that, due to the curvature of the earth, a commercial airplane leaving a horizontal contrail behind it can create the illusion that it is climbing straight up. But why let facts get in the way of a good UFO sighting?

So I was thinking it might be fun to see if there were timeshare rentals nearby famous UFO sightings that I could write about this week. But the green guys never turn up where lots of people (and cameras) are around to detect them, right? They don't fly right to the White House looking for our leader like they did in that movie Independence Day. Or do they? Turns out that a formation of orange lights was detected by D.C. air traffic controllers and thousands of people on the ground over the course of two nights in January 1952. The objects were verified by radar to be traveling over 900 m.p.h. Even President Truman was notified and kept abreast of the situation. Radio frequencies were scrambled in the Capitol and security threat levels were elevated. To date, no reasonable explanation has ever been offered and, officially, the flying objects remain "unknown". Man that's creepy! I mean, I am sure it was the Russians - or something we were building to use on the Russians - but what if aliens really did come in for a closer look at our capitol? Check out D.C. and decide for yourself by renting a timeshare at either Wyndham Vacation Resorts at National Harbor or Wyndham Old Town Alexandria.

When you think of Los Angeles I am sure that a long list of movies about UFOs comes to mind: like ET, Close Encounters, Alien, and so forth. But have you ever heard of the Battle of Los Angeles? No, it wasn't one of those awful 1950s martian invasion flicks, but an actual event that occurred in 1942. Just a few months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the west coast was on high alert for more attacks from the air. On the evening of February 24, a giant flying object was spotted by thousands of people on the ground and by U.S. military installations. L.A. was put under blackout, and massive search lights locked in on the object. Soon the Army's 37th Coast Artillery Brigade opened fire on the object, striking it several times to no avail. In the end, it flew off and was last seen over Long Beach. They've even got a photo of the incident, available here. Are you kidding me?! I guess the nation was too consumed with having just entered World War II to even consider a war of the worlds. I think a trip to Southern California is in order, don't you? I suggest the numerous timeshares available in the Anaheim area as a base for your exploration.

Then there's the case of the Lubbock Lights in 1951. Now you may know Lubbock, TX, as the birthplace of Buddy Holly - or at least you do now. But this event had nothing to do with rock 'n roll. Over the course of several evenings in late August hundreds of people - which is saying something in a town the size of Lubbock - witnessed 20 to 30 objects flying in a V formation in the night sky. Among the observers were three professors from Texas Technical College, and a student of theirs who managed to get several photographs of the objects. The photos were so amazing that they appeared in Life magazine. And keeping with a theme, they remain "unidentified" to this day. Now I won't lie to you. There isn't a timeshare resort within a hundred miles of Lubbock, TX. In fact, there isn't one within 200 miles. But if you are willing to consider neighboring New Mexico... do you see where I am gong with this? That's right, the grand-daddy of all UFO incidents occurred in Roswell, NM. You can rent a timeshare in Ruidoso, NM - about an hour outside of Roswell - and have yourself a UFO-themed timeshare vacation. Sure, your friends will think you're nuts, but you know better.

Should you decide to embark on this quest, I would point out something that famed physicist Stephen Hawking recently had to say about alien encounters. They way he sees it, if extraterrestrials have already figured out how to travel here from the far reaches of outer space, they certainly possess the technology to liquidate us all in the blink of one of their giant black eyes. He makes a good argument for things not going so well for the home team in this scenario. But then again, would you rather be watching X-Files reruns when you get obliterated, or on vacation in the beautiful Southwest?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Miami Vice

The last time I was in Miami Beach, it was all the rage to wear a tight T-shirt under an Armani jacket, white pants, and a pair of impossibly tight Italian loafers. Suffice it to say that this was not a good look for me, and I was never a candidate to replace Don Johnson on Miami Vice during his rift with his bosses at NBC. Besides, I could never get that permanent five o'clock shadow look down. I go from baby-face to werewolf in about twelve hours myself. But that was then, and this is now, and Miami Beach is hotter than ever.

Hey, did you know that Miami Beach was actually once just a sandbar off the city of Miami? Yeah, in the 1860s a couple of guys from New Jersey bought it from the U.S. government for 25 cents an acre with the hopes of operating a coconut plantation on it. They managed to get investors, and even produced some salable fruits. But getting it back to the mainland proved to be a nightmare. After raising a lot of money, and going bust a few times, they built the longest wooden bridge in the country to connect what is now known as Miami Beach to the rest of the country. But being eaten alive by mosquitos and overwhelming debt led to the end of the plantation phase, and the vacation resort concept was hatched. Under new management, plots of land were sold to wealthy northeasterners and a railroad was built to replace the bridge. In 1921, President-elect Warren Harding vacationed at the brand new Flamingo Hotel and put Miami Beach on the map. Then a massive hurricane struck and took it right back. The stock market craze of the Roaring Twenties saw a new boom in development, which was just as quickly crushed by the crash and the Great Depression. Are you sensing a pattern here? This booming and busting has been going on since the earliest days of settlement on this strip of sand, and if the off season signing of NBA great Lebron James is any indicator, we're in a big-time boom right now. Let's just hope history doesn't repeat itself while I am in town.

You may know Miami Beach for its famous South Beach (or SOBE, if you are in the know), chic restaurants, vibrant immigrant neighborhoods, and a nightlife scene without equal. But did you know it also has the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world? Yeah, from 1923-43 Miami was a flash point of this internationally acclaimed style. The Art Deco Historic District was featured heavily in both Scarface and The Birdcage, if you saw either of those films. Hey, wouldn't it be funny if they remade Scarface with Nathan Lane as Tony Montana instead of Al Pacino? "Say Hello to my little friend!" Maybe not.

Anywho, Miami Beach is also a fantastic spot to find timeshare rentals. I am staying at the Hilton Grand Vacation Club at South Beach. Located in the heart of the Art Deco District, this is a meticulously restored resort. It features a rooftop deck, whirlpool spa, recreation room, laundry and fitness facilities, and is within easy walking distance to superb restaurants and shopping. Oh, and its location on Ocean Drive -- better known as The American Riviera -- puts you just steps from the beach. You can get a rental at this fantastic resort for as little as $175/night.

Well I have to run. I have it on good authority that there is going to be a "Conchita the Chihuahua" sighting on the strip at South Beach today. Do you know about this pooch? Her former owner and heiress Gale Posner left a $3 million dollar trust fund and her mansion to this "tea-cup" chihuahua. A little bigger than a guinea pig, this canine is officially "The Most Pampered Dog In The World," and I want to see if I can get my picture taken with her. I'd really like to get a picture of Posner's son, Brett Carr, who essentially was left out of the will in favor of the dog. But he understandably keeps a low profile.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Just Do It

Do you know what starts in Boston, stops in London and Berlin, blows through Chicago, and wraps up in New York? No, not an Elton John shopping spree, but the World Marathon Majors fall season. That's right, the 26.22 mile road race that has come to signify the epitome of human physical endurance wraps up its season with the NYC Marathon this Sunday; and I don't plan on missing it. I've logged too many miles not to be there. In fact, I haven't missed the NYC marathon in over 20 years -- as a fan, of course. You'd have to be out of your mind to run that far, unless something really big and hungry was chasing you. Heck, I drive to the mailbox to get my paper! But I love being part of the spectacle that is a world-class marathon, and NYC is the grand daddy of them all.

Hey, did you know that the first marathon is said to have been run by the Greek messenger Pheidippides? The Greeks had just defeated the Persians at Marathon and, having fought in the battle, this fellow ran all the way to Athens to deliver the good news. He proclaimed, "We have won!", or words to that effect, and then dropped dead. That's a really lousy story when you think about it, and why it inspired long-distance foot races is beyond me. You'd think the lesson learned there would be NOT to run 26 miles -- even under the best of circumstances -- but there you have it. These days, the world records for running this absurdly long distance is around 2:05 for men, and 2:15 for women. Are you kidding me?! My flight from Chicago is going to take longer than that, and we'll be cruising at 600 m.p.h.

While in Gotham, I am going to stay at one of my favorite spots to rent a timeshare: The Manhattan Club. I know I have talked about its incomparable elegance and sophistication in the past, so I won't go on and on about it. But seriously folks, this is what going to New York is all about. Right in the heart of midtown Manhattan, close to everything, ensconced in oak and marble, and starting as low as $200/night. It is not out of reach of everyday travelers. Besides, it's not every day the NYC Marathon comes to town.

Well, I have to run to get to another of my favorite NYC events. The New York Comedy Festival happens to coincide with the marathon, and I am equally enthusiastic about the comedy festival circuit. Rather than cheer on the participants -- as I do with the runners -- I prefer to heckle the comedians. I figure it keeps them sharp and their material fresh. They tend not to see it that way, and I am presently banned from Caroline's, The Comedy Factory, or from coming within 500 feet of Lewis CK. For comedians, some of these guys are really wound-up tight. Maybe they should take up running.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Trick or Treat?

I don't know about you, but I love a good scare. For me, there is nothing as life reaffirming as getting the bejeezus scared out of yourself every now and again. And 'tis the season for just such misadventures. That's right, All Hallows Eve, Halloween, All Saints Day, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), or whatever you want to call it is upon us. And while for some it means turning out the porch light and pretending not to be at home when the trick-or-treaters come calling, for me it is all about having a scary good time.

Hey, did you know that Halloween is said to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain? Yeah, it roughly translates to "summer's end," which sounds harmless enough, but its purpose was to demarcate the "light half" of the year from the "dark half". During this special time of year, Celts believed the line between the worlds of living and the dead became very thin, allowing spirits (good and evil) to pass through from one to the other. Man, that makes the hair on my neck stand on end just thinking about it.

Some great places to fulfill your fright quotient also happen to have great timeshare rental options nearby. For example, you should check out the Queen Mary's Dark Harbor in Long Beach, CA. The famous ocean liner makes its permanent home here, and during the weeks around Halloween it is transformed into a macabre spectacle of demons, undead, and the like. According to their website, the Queen Mary steams into a harbor of the damned, a decidedly demonic destination, and serves up to 45,000 scares per hour, 160 monsters, and 20-foot tall flames. That's what I'm talkin' about! You can base yourself out of an Anaheim timeshare and be within close proximity to grim death, Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, SeaWorld, Universal Studios, and about a million other things to do in the greater Orange County area.

California is also home to The Haunted Hotel, the longest running haunted house in San Diego. To get some idea of the fear factor involved in this attraction, check out this warning from their website: "All patrons enter at their own risk. This attraction contains high impact scares and strobe lights which may not be suitable for people with heart conditions or prone to seizures. Attraction may include the use of fog juice." Are you kidding me?! I don't know what the heck fog juice is, but I am so there. In addition to being infested with the undead, San Diego abounds with great timeshare options. I suggest checking out the San Diego Zoo and LegoLand in nearby Carlsbad, while you are in the area.

In the southeast, Charleston, SC, is your best bet for fright-seeing. Aside from being one of this country's oldest established European settlements, and an impeccably preserved seaside colonial experience, the entire place is haunted. That's right, they even have an officially recognized "haunted district". And get this, they've got a bona fide dungeon. That's right, a pre-revolutionary hell-hole where pirates, criminals, and the like spent their last days before heading into the next world. Seems as though some of them have stuck around to this day. Charleston Ghost & Dungeon Walking Tours provide a great way to see one of the most haunted places in America, as recognized by the Travel Channel. Many timeshare rental options are available in and around Charleston Harbor.

Well, I gotta go work on my Halloween costume. No I'm not going trick-or-treating, but I am going to participate in the nation's largest public Halloween celebration. That's right, New York City's own Village Halloween Parade. The nation's only major night time parade is attended by over two million visitors and the procession itself is over a mile long. You've never seen so many giant masks, puppets, marching bands, stilt walkers, jugglers, break dancers, and drag queens in one place in your life. This year's theme is "Memento Mori" or "Remembrance of Death" in tribute to the Day of the Dead skeleton costumes popular in Mexico, Haiti, New Orleans, and elsewhere. Which is great, not only because black is slimming, but because my original costume idea didn't work out. I was planning on going as Lady Gaga, but apparently to get enough prosciutto to cover my body would set me back about ten grand.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Listen... do your hear that? It's the sound of falling leaves, which means only one thing to me: fall foliage road trip! Yeah, I pay some neighborhood kid to rake my lawn and hit the road for this annual display of color, compliments of Mother Nature. Hey, do you know why leaves change their color in the fall? Me neither, but I think it's a reminder to stop putting off mowing the grass and start putting off cleaning out the gutters. Regardless, I did learn recently where the colors come from. Those brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows are actually present in the leaves all year long. That's right, the carotenoids in leaves are responsible for yellows, oranges, and browns; while anthocyanins provide the reds and purples. But the chlorophyll used in photosynthesis by leaf-bearing trees has a dominant green pigment to it, obscuring the others. As the nights grow longer and cooler, chlorophyll production slows and the hidden colors are revealed; sort of like watching my summer tan fade away, sans the love handles and back hair. That's probably more than you needed to know.

Anyway, I've got a route I like to take each year to maximize the amount of color I can see, and great towns and villages I can visit. I start way up north in New England and finish up in the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. Along the way I like to rent timeshares at some great resorts, and catch a bit of the local flavor along the way. For example, from Bangor, ME, to Boston, MA, the fall colors are at or near their peak right now. I like The Falls at Ogunquit in Maine and Marriott's Custom House in Beantown. You can still enjoy a great bowl of chowdah and, unlike most of the 20th century, the Red Sox might still be playing baseball. And while it is wicked ha'd to pa'k your ca' in New England during the summer, the crowds have largely dispersed by the time the frost forms on the pumpkins.

Then I like shoot across Connecticut, catching more color and great antiquing along the way, and head into the Catskills region of New York. Villa Roma Resort Lodges in Callicoon provides a front row seat for some of the best "leaf-peeping" as they like to call it here. You are only about two hours from NYC if you want to do some "people-peeping" as well. Just watch out for the Naked Cowboy in Gotham, and don't get caught by the headless horseman as you make your way through the village of Sleepy Hollow.

Next up I like to head south through the Delaware Valley, which separates New Jersey from Pennsylvania, and stop at Ridge Top Village at Shawnee Resort. I always encounter intense colors in this stretch of the Appalachian spine, and not just from the fall leaves. The Crayola crayon factory is located in nearby Easton, PA, and is part of my annual pilgrimage. There is nothing quite like the smell of a new box of crayons wafting upon the crisp fall air.

Finally, I cross the Mason-Dixon line to hit the Massanutten area of Virginia, and on down to the greater Gatlinburg region of the Volunteer State of Tennessee. Eagle Trace at Massanutten puts you in the heart of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. When you are not being bowled over by the reds and oranges of the Appalachian hardwoods, you can take in some of the blue and gray. There are fourteen civil war battlefields in the region, which saw action in Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign of 1862. You can visit Jackson's home in the beautiful town of Lexington, VA, about an hour away, and even visit his gravesite. Oddly, his left arm, which had to be amputated prior to his death, is buried about two hours away in Orange County, VA. So if you are a real Stonewall Jackson nut, you might want to plan an extra trip for that. The Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort provides my final abode in Gatlinburg, TN. Nestled in this quiet hillside community, I can't think of any better place to wrap up a fall foliage trip; except perhaps a trip over to Dollywood in nearby Pigeon Forge. That's right, Dolly Parton's got her own theme park in the town of her birth. So if you've got a hankerin' for some good old country music, spandex, and rhinestones, head on over. You'll be glad you did.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Space Travel for the Rest of Us

Not sure if you saw this or not, but Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic company cleared a major hurdle on Sunday in their quest to bring space tourism into reality. A pair of Virgin pilots navigated the first-ever commercial space craft to a safe landing in the Mojave desert. Now, the craft did not ever reach outer space, but it did glide safely from a "carrier ship" in the same manner that the space shuttle did decades ago during its initial development and testing. If they can stay on schedule, Virgin plans to launch the first "space tourists" into outer space within the next two years. As I read this, I could just imagine myself hurtling through space, just like my heros of the space race did. But then I saw this line: "Each [tourist] will pay $200,000 for the ride and train for at least three days before going." Houston, we have a problem.

I can probably handle the three day training, but $200k for a vacation is a deal killer. So where's the space junkie to go without breaking the bank? How about Florida's Space Coast? You won't technically find any such place on a map, but most of it is in Brevard County and contains both the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The former is famous for launching NASA space craft, including the space shuttle, while the latter launches civilian and military satellites. Some of the towns and cities that make up the Space Cost are Titusville, Rockledge, Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Melbourne and Palm Bay. Bordered to the south by the Treasure Coast, the Orlando metro area to the west, and the Atlantic to the east, it is an ideal spot for any Florida getaway.

But getting back to space travel, the Kennedy Space Center is the best place to get started. The inspiring exhibits and hands-on experiences include: The Apollo/Saturn V Center, which recaptures the events of the space race and moon landing eras; IMAX theaters, where you can feel the thrill of space exploration on five-story screen; and, guided behind-the-scenes tours of the working space flight facilities. But that's just for starters. There's also a Children's Play Dome, a Hubble Telescope Exhibit, the Space Shuttle Plaza, the Astronaut Hall of Fame, the very touching Astronaut Memorial, and something they call the Rocket Garden. No it's not where they grow the rockets, as I learned, but a dramatic display of the actual rockets used to propel astronauts into space, splashed with dramatic red, white, and blue lighting and set to patriotic music. But my favorite attraction by far, is the Shuttle Launch Experience. It's a six-story replica of the actual space shuttle facilities. After a crew briefing, visitors are strapped in for the sights, sounds, and sensations of a real space shuttle launch. Man that's cool, and it's included in a very reasonable general admission ticket. So it will save you a couple of hundred grand over the Virgin Galactic route, which you can use to rent a timeshare.

While on my space odyssey, I am renting a timeshare at The Resort on Cocoa Beach, right on the famed Cocoa Beach itself. It's a beautiful resort, which RedWeek members rate 5-stars. The resort offers a heated pool, tiki bar, interactive children's fountain and playroom, exercise room, basketball and tennis courts, an elevated jacuzzi overlooking the resort's dramatic fountain, and a 50-seat movie theater. You can get all of this, and possibly witness an actual space shuttle launch, for just $107/night. Are you kidding me?!

Well I am off to explore the home of another of my passions. The Ron Jon Surf Shop is the most famous chain of surfing stores in all of the world and, as luck would have it, their flagship store is right here in Cocoa Beach. The store's motto is "One of a Kind," and at more than two acres it is the largest single venue for surf wear, sportswear, and beach gear anywhere. You see, I have been hanging ten since before Gidget and the Big Kahoona were even in diapers. Don't know what that means? Neither do I really, but suffice it say that I am an old surfing nut, and if you've never been to a real surf shop, add Ron Jon to you bucket list. Mahalo, over and out.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


I don't know about you, but I love LEGOS. I know I am a grown man (and then some), but there is just something about them. Once I start noodling with 'em, the hours just click on by.

Hey, did you know that the LEGO was created in Denmark in 1949? Yeah, they were based on a very similar English-made interlocking block, but took the form we all know today under the direction of Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter and toy-maker from Billund. According to their website, the name LEGO was coined by Christiansen from the Danish phrase "leg godt" meaning "play well". The modern LEGO brick was patented in 1958. If you have blocks from that era (I do), they will work seamlessly with today's systems. So a grandfather and his grandchildren can "play well" together using a system that spans generations. Try that with your Atari.

If you are a LEGO lover, or have young children, I strongly suggest a trip to LEGOLand in Carlsbad, CA. The original LEGOLand was first conceived in Denmark by Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, the son and heir of the original LEGO creator. He envisioned it as a simple outdoor space to demonstrate the many wondrous constructions that can be made using only LEGOs. What started as a simple 9-acre "display garden" is now celebrating its 40th anniversary, and includes locations in four countries. But the 128-acre site in Carlsbad is my personal favorite. Opened in 2009, it is the only LEGOLand to feature a water park. It also has some small roller coasters and rides, but the primary focus is on children and what can be created with LEGOs. Dino Island, for example, is a mini roller coaster that weaves among massive dinosaurs constructed from LEGOs, while Fun Town features actual vehicles made from LEGOs which children get to drive on a closed course. Are you kidding me? Where was this stuff when I was a kid?! And Miniland USA features miniature dioramas of seven regions of the USA, made from over 40 million LEGOs!

When you go to LEGOLand, you will have a choice of great timeshare rentals in the Carlsbad area. The Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara and Grand Pacific MarBrisa Resort are both rated 5-stars by RedWeek.com members. And none of the area's timeshare resorts are less than 4-stars, according to our members. I am staying at the beautiful Grand Pacific Palisades Resort. In addition to great access to LEGOLand, it is right next to Carlsbad's famous flower fields. From mid-March through early-May these fields are awash with row-upon-row of every color of flower you can imagine. Just gorgeous. Plus it has all of the other amenities you expect from a great timeshare resort and never get from hotels: clubhouse, separate children's pool, playground, laundry room, etc. Plus, all of the units come with full-sized kitchens to help you save money on meals.

Of course my trip to Carlsbad is not purely for entertainment. You see, there is a worldwide community of people who set and break records involving LEGO constructions. For example, the largest LEGO Christmas tree is housed in Carlsbad and is 30 feet tall and 16 feet around! That will never fit in my house, so I instead have my eyes on the largest LEGO ship record. Some school kids from Switzerland hold the record with a container ship model that is just over 25 feet long. With some serious rearranging, I think I can fit the record breaker in my basement. Now I just need to figure out where I am going to score a half a million LEGOs.

Monday, September 27, 2010

At the Zoo

I don't know about you, but I love a good zoo. When done right -- with lots of open space and healthy, contented-looking animals -- they can be a wonderful way to spend a day (or more), and to learn something you didn't know about the natural world. When done wrong, of course, they're soul-crushing nightmares that make you wish you'd never stepped foot in the place. The National Zoo in Washington, DC (part of the Smithsonian) is among the best I've ever been to. The first thing that struck me was its location, right in the heart of Northwest downtown. Directly off of Connecticut Avenue and a nearby Metro station, you can simply walk right in. No massive parking lot or turn-style maze.

It was designed in 1889 by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York's Central Park, among many other great American public spaces. At 163 acres, it may be small as zoos go but you'd never know it once you are in among the tree-lined pathways and beautiful buildings which adorn the park. The animal installations are sizable and thoughtfully planned, and the park volunteers are first rate and knowledgeable. And unlike most first-class zoos, it's completely free. That's right, there is no charge. It's your zoo, after all. Sure you'll still pay $4 for a lemonade, but you can walk in anytime you like, as many times as you like, and simply enjoy it. If I worked or lived here, I am pretty sure I'd take my lunch here at least once a week. If you don't live in the area, a timeshare rental at Wyndham Old Town Alexandria in nearby Virginia, or Wyndham Vacation Resorts at National Harbor in neighboring Maryland are both convenient to DC and major transportation.

Other great zoo/timeshare combos are San Diego, CA, Knoxville, TN, Boston, MA, and both Tuscon and Phoenix, AZ. Like most great zoo locations, these areas offer abundant family-friendly fun for young and old alike. And timeshare rentals give you the space and amenities you need to really enjoy them.

Well, I am off to see the Giant Pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian at the National Zoo's Asia Trail. These black and white beauties are on loan from the Chinese government, and two of only 160 pandas in captivity. Technically speaking, they are bears and not pandas. Pandas are a separate genus of animal with one living species, the Red Panda. Also from Asia, they are just a little bigger than a house cat, with a face so cute you just want to pick one up and hug it. Of course it would scratch and bite the heck out of you if you did, but we're talking cute as all get out here folks. They have two of them at the zoo as well, so make sure you stop by and give them some love. You'll be glad that you did.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Increase and Diffusion of Knowledge

That was the stated reason for the monetary gift that created the Smithsonian Institution in 1835. Today it is the largest museum complex in the world, consisting of over nineteen museums, a zoo, and nine research centers. It's based mostly in Washington, DC -- from where I am writing to you today -- and it almost never happened. A very wealthy British scientist named James Smithson decided that if his lone heir, a nephew, did not have any children, he would leave a sum of $10 million dollars (in today's money) to the government of the United States to create just such a museum. Talk about pressure! Well the kid didn't produce and the money went west, even though Smithson himself had never even been to the US and didn't know anyone here. After President Jackson announced the gift to Congress, the money was promptly invested and lost on state bonds that defaulted. But feeling badly about about such a blunder, the Congress authorized repaying the gift (with interest) a some years later, and construction began in 1844.

Now there are over 135 million objects in the museum's collection, of which only a small percentage are on display at one time. Among its most iconic items are Dorothy's ruby red slippers worn by Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz, Neil Armstrong's spacesuit, the Wright Brother's Flyer, the Hope Diamond, and the flag that flew over the bombardment at Fort McHenry, inspiring Francis Scott Key to pen "The Star Spangled Banner". But there are plenty of lesser known gems to uncover. Ever heard of Soap Man? A fellow named Wilhelm von Ellenbogen, who died of yellow fever in the 1790's, had his corpse go through a rare, but natural, process whereupon all his body fat was converted to soap, mummifying him in great detail. His wife, Soap Lady, was buried in the same spot and her remains now reside in Philadelphia. Or how about Naked George Washington? It was the first statue ever commissioned by Congress, and created by Horatio Greenough in 1841. But when it was delivered, it drew snickers instead of praise. You see, he has Washington in a classic Greek pose of Zeus - naked to his waist, with a toga tastefully draped over his man parts. They tried moving it to less conspicuous places in the Capital, but it continued to draw laughs until it ended up here.

While visiting DC, I am staying at a timeshare rental at Wyndham Old Town Alexandria in nearby Alexandria, VA. It features an indoor pool, exercise area, guest dining area, and is walkable to the Metro system for easily moving around the area. Be sure to leave some time to explore Old Town Alexandria too, with its lively nightlife and quaint shops and restaurants. Looks like you can get a 2 bed/2 bath unit, with a full kitchen, for about $150/night on RedWeek. Our members give it 4.5 stars, and I'd have to agree with them.

Well, I am heading back to "America's attic" as the Smithsonian is sometimes called. I just love presidential memorabilia, and they have some of the best. I am not too interested in naked George, but I would like to see some of his hair. That's right, they have locks of hair from the first 14 presidents. I am not sure why they stopped with Buchanan, but if its anything like having kids, you run out of places to put the stuff if you hold onto every little thing.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Night of the Iguana

I hate to date myself like this, but do you remember that movie with Richard Burton and Ava Gardner? Well even if you don't, it was based on the 1961 Tennessee Williams play of the same name, and helped put Puerta Vallarta on the map as a world-class travel destination. You see, while shooting on location in the area, Mr. Burton was carrying on a very public affair with his soon-to-be wife, Elizabeth Taylor, and thought she might enjoy tagging along for some fun and sun. I doubt their respective spouses shared their enthusiasm, but the paparazzi absolutely ate it up and descended upon this somewhat sleepy Pacific paradise.

Sleepy no more, Puerta Vallarta is a thriving international tourist destination and the sixth largest city in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Named after former governor Ignatio Vallarta, it is located on the Bay of Banderas and in the shadow of the Sierra Madre. A more picturesque location I cannot think of offhand. So as you might imagine, many of the activities and sights of interest involve the outdoors. From parasailing to deep sea fishing, snorkeling to whale watching, and everything in between, PV (as us gringos call it) has got you covered. And if blood sports are your thing, you can catch a bullfight or watch two chickens peck each other to death at a local cockfight. Not for me, but I sure dig swimming with dolphins at Vallarta Adventures' Dolphin Adventure Center.

During my visit I am staying at Club Regina Puerto Vallarta at Westin. It's on the site of a former coconut palm plantation and about fifteen minutes from downtown. My timeshare rental is a one bed/two bath unit with an ocean view and every possible amenity you can imagine located on site: a grocery store, spa services, medical facilities, live entertainment, pools, and more. It's no wonder RedWeek.com members rate this place 4.5 stars, and yet you can rent here for as little as $107/night. Muy loco.

I have to go so I won't miss my zip line canopy tour with Los Veranos Canopy Tours. Do you know about these? They strap you into a climbing harness and shoot you down a glorified clothesline suspended above the tree canopy at speeds up to 30 mph. Are you kidding me?! There are three separate lines in all, nicknamed Banana Split, Speedy Gonzalez, and The Big Enchilada. I have a pretty good idea about the last two, but that first one has me questioning the wisdom of this outing. I'm pretty sure it doesn't have anything to do with ice cream.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

South Padre Island

This little strip of land off the Gulf Coast of Texas was once known as Isla Blanca by its Spanish settlers, but you'll recognize it by its modern name of South Padre Island. Bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre Bay, South Padre Island is linked to the mainland by the Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge. And while it has developed a bit of a wild reputation for its Spring Break activities, the rest of the year it provides a nearly endless list of outdoor family fun in a sub-tropical climate. Get this, they have over 250 days of sunshine a year here. Are you kidding me!? Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, that is a lifetime's worth of sunshine. And talk about casual! Did you know that you can actually get a ticket for wearing a necktie in this town? Since visitors come here to leave the working world behind for a week (or more), they passed a proclamation in 1997 which created a "no tie" zone. The first offense comes with a warning, and a complimentary South Padre Island t-shirt. A second offense will set you back the cost of one silk tie. I love this place.

If nature watching and encounters are your thing, you may end up staying here forever. Some great (and inexpensive) places to hit are the Dolphin Research and Sea Life Nature Center, Sea Turtle Inc., the Birding and Nature Center, and the Laguna Madre Nature Trail. The latter is a raised boardwalk, crossing over four acres of marshland, where many species of migrating birds can be observed up close. Or you may wish to take a guided tour of the area's wildlife attractions with Colley's Fins to Feathers. If you are looking for a little more action with your outdoors, how about deep-sea fishing, kiteboarding, windsurfing, horseback rides on the beach, or the Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark. That last one offers a "standing wave" pool and uphill water slides, if you can get your head around those. Or maybe you just want to read the last few items on your summer reading list in the quiet seclusion of the Gulf of Mexico? Well, Andy Bowie Park has got you covered, along with concessions and bathhouses.

While in South Padre Island, I am renting a timeshare at the Royale Beach & Tennis Club. It features such on-site amenities as three pools, four hot tubs, four tennis courts, a daily activities center, and a poolside bar and grill. Did I mention that it is beachfront, with balconies overlooking the Gulf of Mexico? Rentals are currently available between $166 - $171/night, and there is a timeshare resale available for $1299. RedWeek.com members give the place 4 1/2 stars, so you may want to sign up to receive a posting alert for new rentals and resales.

Well I am off to attend a private sand castle construction lesson from master sand sculptor Sandy Feet. I swear that is her real name. If you think you can't be a sculptor of sand, you should check out her Flickr stream. I fancy myself a sand castle hobbyist, but I am hoping to step up my game a bit this year with a lesson from the master. Too bad I don't have one of those great pun name like hers.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Big Easy

Five years after Hurricane Katrina, and with the BP oil spill catastrophe still playing out, New Orleans may not be at the top of your list of vacation spots. But I've decided to make my small contribution to restoring the vibrancy of this special place by participating in the tourism trade that has long been its life blood. And despite what you may have heard to the contrary, tourism is booming in NOLA. It is estimated that there are hundreds more restaurants than there were before the storm, and that more than three quarters of the tourism jobs that existed prior to Katrina have been restored, even in the midst of a horrible recession. In short, billions of dollars have been spent to repair this city and billions more are being spent by travelers enjoying this one-of-a-kind American city.

Now you may think of N'awlins as being an adult-only experience, and its nightlife reputation is not overstated. But there are plenty of things for families to do as well. For example, the Audobon Institute Park and Zoo is an oasis just beyond the urban center of Uptown New Orleans. You can take a lovely streetcar ride to the park and spend a whole day there. Audobon also operates the Insectarium on Canal Street, and the Aquarium of the Americas right on the Mississippi River. Is there anything kids love more than bugs and sharks? And be sure to hit City Park as well, right in the heart of town. There's an antique carousel (you know how I feel about carousels), a miniature train, and a bayou running right through it. And for Mom and Dad, the park also houses the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Bestoff Sculpture Garden, and the Botanical Gardens. The latter has the largest stand of live oak trees in the world. A live oak is one that does not shed its leaves in the fall and winter, providing much needed, year-round shade to this beautiful park.

But of course, I am not traveling with children and will be staying up very late at least a few nights. You'd need about a hundred years to eat at all of the great restaurants and take in all of the live music here. My plan is to spend some time at the more famous places like Commander's Palace, The French Market, and Brennan's (best breakfast ever), and then branch out into the neighborhood joints. This is where much of the post-Katrina restaurant action has been focused. You can find everything from po' boys to panninis, gumbo to vichyssoise, and everything in between. And if live music is not provided onsite, you don't have to walk far to find some. It seems to come up out of the cracks in the sidewalk in this town.

While in New Orleans, I am renting a timeshare at Avenue Plaza. It's located in the heart of the Garden District (a must see) and directly on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line. So you can forget about your car for a while and really take in the town. On site, the spa offers herbal wraps and therapeutic massages, exercise equipment and whirlpools, a courtyard with a pool, a rooftop sundeck and hot tub, and a restaurant. You can find a studio rental here for as low as $83/night, and own for as little as $399.

Well I need to go rest up for my Moonlight Graveyard Tour with the Crescent City's own Bloody Mary. New Orleans is loaded with above ground cemeteries (known as cities of the dead) and lots of voodoo and black arts practitioners. I don't know about you, but I love to get the bejeezus scared out of me, and an above ground cemetery at night led by a real voodoo priestess is just what the doctor ordered!

Monday, August 23, 2010


RoundupAugust is one of those months that seems to creep up on me every year, and then slip away just as quickly. Maybe it is because it lacks a major holiday, or that as a child it meant that summer was ending and school would soon begin. Whatever it is, August has a feel like no other month. Primarily hot, but something less tangible too. Hey, did you know that other than leap years, no other month will start on the same day as August? I just learned that on Wikipedia so it must be true. Seriously though, look on your calendar and note on which day of the week August begins (Sunday in 2010). Then scan the other eleven, and you'll see that no other month begins on that day. Neat, huh?

August is also a time of plenty. From tomatoes to corn, peaches to early apples, and all sorts of things in between, fresh fruits and vegetables seem to be abundant pretty much wherever you go. State and county fairs typically take place in August as well. If you've never been to yours, you should check it out. County fairs and carnivals, no matter where they are, harken you back to a simpler time. Check out the 4-H animals, feast on some cotton candy, and hop on a tilt-a-whirl that looks like this ride will surely be its last. Or take in a summer festival, like the All-American Soap Box Derby in Akron, OH, the Newport Jazz Festival, or even the Belly Dance Festival in Snowbird, UT. I don't normally miss that last one, and even participate in the amateur open event. But I am still nursing some injuries I suffered in a bull encounter in Pamplona earlier this year, so I'll have to skip it.

Or maybe just take one final getaway at a timeshare rental before September arrives. You could hit a ski resort town like Whistler, BC or Stowe, VT, and enjoy the mountains, lakes and streams, sans the crowds typically associated with these destinations. Or how about Maui? Sure it's hot, but it's hot where you are too, right? You might as well be hot in Hawaii. But if the heat is a deal breaker, how about a Las Vegas timeshare vacation? It's probably 120 degrees outside, but you'll be too busy inside casinos, theaters, galleries, museums, and five-star restaurants. As for me, I am packing my bags for the Hyatt Grand Aspen in Colorado. Our members give it five stars, and I cannot wait to see for myself. Something tells me the county fair in Aspen is going to be more of a sushi and goat cheese affair, rather than BBQ and sweet corn, but we'll see.

By the way, August is National Goat Cheese Month in the U.S. as well as being Psoriasis and Cataract Awareness Month. You gotta go goat cheese there.

Monday, August 16, 2010

City by the Sea

No, not that gritty cop flick with Robert DeNiro, the other "City by the Sea": Newport Rhode Island. Also known as "Queen of Summer Resorts" and "America's Society Capital," Newport's origins date back to 1639. And if its various monickers haven't given it away, it is a beautiful seaside resort and summer playground of the highest of high society. In addition to having one of the largest collection of Colonial-era homes in the U.S., its Guilded Age mansions are among the most opulent found anywhere in the country. But there was a time when Newport nearly lost these treasures to neglect and decay. As is often the case, the rich and famous found trendier summer spots and abandoned the shores of Newport. But thanks in large part to the restoration efforts of billionaire philanthropist Doris Duke, Newport saw the restoration of both the Colonial and Guilded Age homes of this seaside jewel. She did accidentally run over and kill her interior designer while restoring her own home, but generally speaking, it was an unmitigated success.

Some other things Newport is know for, which you may or may not know, are hosting the America's Cup race, the Newport Folk Festival (where Dylan was vilified in '65 for playing electric), the Newport Jazz Festival, the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and Redwood Library, which is the oldest lending library in the country. Did I mention the mansions? I mean, you've really got to see these things. There is a 3.5 mile walking trail called the Newport Cliff Walk, which offers stunning views of the Atlantic to one side, and the lifestyles of the rich and famous to the other. Basically it is free public access to the front yards of some of the swankiest digs ever built, as well as a nature and hiking excursion. Be careful though, there are places just off of the trail with sheer drops of over seventy feet to the rocks below. Gawk and then walk in those spots, is my advice. You can also tour many of the mansions for a fee, which seems like a cruel joke in a way, but I'd recommend the Breakers if you had to pick just one.

While in Newport, I am staying at the Wyndham Long Wharf. This place is right in the heart of the downtown and wharf areas, so it is close to everything you want to see. It features heated indoor/outdoor pools and whirlpools, a private surround-sound movie theater, 24-hour fitness center, game room, and laundry facilities. I'm in a 2-Bed/2-Bath unit with a full kitchen. You can rent one on RedWeek for $127/night, or own here for $3,500 - $4,000. Our members rate it 4 stars, and you might want to add it to your posting alerts to learn when new units become available for rent or sale.

Another Newport nickname I failed to mention is "Sailing Capital of the World," and I am off to enjoy a "dark and stormy" schooner sail. Let me clarify that there is not a hint of rain in the forecast. A dark and stormy is a local libation held in the highest regard, made from Bermuda's Goslings Rum and spicy New England Ginger Beer. It is served aboard the Adirondack II on a sunset sail of Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay. I am a devout landlubber mind you, but they had me at Bermuda's Goslings Rum.

Monday, August 9, 2010


That's Provincetown, Massachusetts, at the eastern tip of Cape Cod, in case you didn't know. Originally inhabited by the Nauset, this is the place that the pilgrims first came ashore from the Mayflower. In fact, the Mayflower Compact was authored and signed in this very harbor. But the pilgrims moved on to nearby Plymouth, and Provincetown saw fishing and whaling become its primary activities for most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It had a pretty wild and crazy reputation for a time there. Think Jersey Shore meets Deadwood. But as the whaling dried up, the Portuguese sailors who crewed many of the whaling ships settled here permanently. They, and their descendants, laid the foundation for a more permanent town, and their contributions and influence can be felt to this day.

By the turn of the twentieth century, P-Town was booming. Artists, authors, actors, and dancers began to make it their summer home. The Provincetown Players were established in 1915, and count Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill are among its alumni. Along with the arts, and its patrons, came a broader acceptance of different lifestyles. Specifically, open homosexuality. Today, Provincetown is a mecca for a booming gay and lesbian travel industry as well as a straight, family-friendly destination, and everything in between. Basically, it's a place where people from all walks of life come for a seaside retreat and simplyto enjoy themselves. Oh, and Mother Nature puts on her show here too. From pristine beaches to whale and bird watching, the Cape Cod National Seashore is a natural treasure. Race Beach offers one of the few spots on the East Coast where you can watch an ocean sunset, which I greatly enjoyed being from the West Coast myself.

While in Provincetown, I am staying at Eastwood at Provincetown. It has absolutely everything you need for a great seaside vacation, as well as close proximity to downtown and its colorful attractions. RedWeek members rate it 4.5 stars and I'd have to agree. You might also want to check out Harbor Hill for a great Provincetown timeshare rental. And as an inside tip, the beach crowds die down quite a bit in early September, but without turning into a ghost town, if you know what I mean.

Well, I am off to Commerce Street for some serious people watching. A regular parade of drag queens, cabaret performers, jugglers, dancers, and more make their way around entertaining the crowds. I also hear that there is some pretty serious karaoke around here, and I just might have to stretch out the old vocal chords and give it a shot.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Oregon, that is. If you've never been to this resort town at the edge of the Pacific, you should make plans to visit sometime soon. Seaside sits at the end of the Lewis and Clark Trail and is a national landmark. The Corps of Discovery made camp here in 1806 in order to make much needed salt to cure meat for the long journey back East. In the 1870s, Ben "the Stagecoach King" Holladay built a summer cottage here, which he dubbed "Seaside House," and from where the city gets its preset name. The cottage, now the site of the Seaside Golf Course, was reported to accommodate up to 125 guests at a time. Fortunes came and went, but Seaside has remained a summer getaway for Portlanders and world travelers alike. Its 250 foot wide beach is the most heavily used of any beach on the Oregon Coast. And the 1.8 mile promenade or "Prom", as it is known, provides an excellent opportunity to stroll and take in the natural beauty of this place.

Hey, did you know the tallest douglas fir tree in the world was discovered in Seaside? Yep, in 1962 the clatsop fir was declared the king of coastal firs, measuring 200 feet 6 inches tall, and 15 feet in diameter. Unfortunately, a Pacific storm blew through just a few months later and knocked the giant down. The tree was estimated to be 702 years old, which would have made it a sapling during the time that Kublai Khan took the reigns of the Mongol Empire. Are you kidding me?!

While in Seaside, I am staying at The Resort at Seaside by WorldMark. This is a beautiful resort, located right on the Prom (see what I did there?), with shops and a restaurant on the first floor, heated outdoor pool, whirlpool, and a "reactive" fountain for the kids to play with. I'm in a 1 bedroom oceanfront unit that sleeps four. Looks like you can get a similar unit for as little as $114/night. There's also a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom unit for sale at an asking price of $6,500. RedWeek members give this place 5 stars, and I can see why. Sign up for a posting alert and be notified as units become available for rent or sale.

Well I am going to go get in a little beach volleyball practice. That's right, I am a beach volleyball enthusiast and Seaside happens to be home to the largest amateur tournament in the country. Over 700 teams compete each August to see who will be crowned champion. The tourney is in its 29th year and I am hoping to catch on with a team that needs the services of a slow-footed, but crafty, veteran of the "old school" variety. A Cinderella story in the making. Or, I might end up back in the hospital like after my bull encounter. Hmmm, I'd better check my out-of-pocket on my health insurance first.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Arkansas Traveler

Hello from the Natural State. Sounds like the intro to some new age workshop, but it is in fact the slogan of the beautiful state of Arkansas. The twenty-fifth state, Arkansas is in the heart of the Deep South, bordered by six other states, and the Mississippi River. Few places I can think of offer this much physical beauty and diversity in such a small area. But if you're like me, and I hope you're not, the name is a bit confusing. Looks like it ought to be pronounced "Are-Kanzes", like the state of Kansas. Well a lot of other people, including its residents, thought so too. In fact, there are many other ways to pronounce this name, which is a French interpretation of a Quaoaw Indian word. In 1881, the two U.S. Senators from the state had it out and it was decided for good and all that "Are-Kansaw" would be the pronunciation. States like Washington and Maryland don't have these problems.

Anyway, besides the beautiful mountains, valleys, caverns, and waterfalls, there is a natural attraction here that is truly one-of-a-kind. Crater of Diamonds State Park is the only diamond-producing site in the world that is open to the public. Seriously, you can come to this state park and dig for diamonds and other semi-precious stones like amethyst, peridot, garnet, and many others. And the park's "finders keepers" policy means that you get to keep anything you find, regardless of its value. Are you kidding me?! Shirley Strawn, of Murfreesboro, AR, found a 3 carat diamond here in 1990 that is to date the most perfect cut diamond ever graded by the American Gem Society. According to the AGS, a diamond this perfect occurs perhaps only once in a billion. Another diamond, found by a miner before the park's creation, weighed in at over 40 carats. To date, it is the largest diamond ever found in the United States, and goes by the name Uncle Sam. Roughly 60,000 visitors come here every year and they find approximately 600 diamonds. So if my math is correct, and it probably isn't, you have a 1 in 600 chance of finding a diamond. Think Vegas is going to give you those kinds of odds?

But if you want to guarantee you find a gem, rent a timeshare in Arkansas. I am staying at Escapes! to Hot Springs Village, in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit with mountain views in the 26,000 acre gated community of Hot Springs. And as you may have guessed, it is located near downtown Hot Springs, the only place in the U.S. with a National Park within city limits. Plus Golf Digest's #1 rated course in Arkansas is in Hot Springs Village, along with fishing, boating, swimming, tennis, waterskiing, and so much more. Looks like you can find a rental here on RedWeek for as little as $86, and own for just $899. The only thing bad I can say about the place is the name. Maybe it's just me, but it's more like a sentence, and having an exclamation point in it gets tiring if you have to keep saying it. I am glad I don't answer the phones around here.

Well, I am off on a little detour to check out what the NY Times called the World's Largest Biscuit, at the Smokehouse Cafe if Eureka Springs. It's every bit of four hours from here, but the thing is the size of a shoe box and their slogan is "eat in, waddle out." How could I not?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Kickin' Back in BC

Well I guess you heard about my run in with with los torros in Spain by now. I am under strict orders from my doctors to get some rest and relaxation, whilst my injuries heal. Being in the rest and relaxation business, I've had no problems complying. I've made my way to beautiful Victoria on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. If you should ever be so unfortunate as to get gored and trampled by a raging bull, put it on your short list of places to convalesce afterward. Victoria, named for said Queen of England, is the capital of British Columbia and located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island. It's about sixty miles from Seattle by plane or ferry, and even closer to Pt. Angeles, WA.

Hey, did you know that Victoria has some of the most mild weather in all of Canada? Yeah, it rarely gets hotter than about 86° F on summer days, and about 40° F on winter ones. And it receives about half the rain per year as Seattle. I think it is a closely guarded secret here, however, so I won't go on about it lest they give me the boot. Some of the top attractions in Victoria are Butchart Gardens, the Royal British Columbia Museum, and the Victoria Butterfly Gardens. For nature lovers, Goldstream Provincial Park is a must see for salmon spawning, bald eagle sightings, and cascading waterfalls. View grizzly bears, orcas (killer whales), and sea lions at the Knight Inlet wilderness. If it is culture you seek, Victoria offers up everything from opera to ballet, Shakespeare to street performers, and everything in between. And don't get me started on the world class cuisine options.

But perhaps one of the oddest attractions in Victoria is Miniature World, or "the greatest little show on Earth," as it dubs itself. It is a collection of some of the most painstakingly detailed dioramas I've ever seen, depicting scenes both real and imagined from early Canadian frontier life to space exploration of the future. All at 1/100th of the actual size. They even have the largest dollhouse in the world on display. You'll feel like Gulliver traveling through this place, and surely learn something you didn't know along the way. Although I must confess that I felt a bit like Godzilla at times as well, and had to resist the urge to fling a few city buses around or take out a skyscraper with the flick of my finger.

While in Victoria, I've booked a timeshare rental at the WorldMark Victoria Resort. This place is right in the inner harbor where the ferries arrive and is a great location for taking in everything this vibrant capital city has to offer. They have water view units overlooking the bay. RedWeek members give it five stars and I can see why. My two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit could easily sleep six, and the full kitchen, jacuzzi tub, outdoor deck, and walkable location is an ideal getaway for a family or large group. There are no resales available on RedWeek at present, so you might want to sign up for a posting alert when some do come up.

Well, I am off to afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel. It's a daily tradition in Victoria going back over a century. While normally a coffee-and-donut type of guy, I can't pass up this chance to mingle with fellow travelers, locals, celebrities, dignitaries, and royalty alike. They serve their own special blend of tea, and homemade goodies by award-winning pastry chef D'Oyen Christie. If you go, a "smart casual" dress code is in place. Which is to say that I'll be trading my Hawaiian shirt and Crocks in for a polo shirt and some penny loafers. A small price to pay for freshly baked raisin scones served with heavy cream and strawberry preserves, wouldn't you say?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Beware of Charging Bulls in Pamplona

My post comes to you today from a local hospital. Sorry I could not provide my usual Monday post but, while participating in the annual running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, I became injured! Although gored in the leg and then trampled by a 1200 lb. bull, my doctor says I should make a complete recovery. My physician tells me it was a miracle, or at the very least dumb luck, that I was not more seriously injured.

I guess I yinged when I should have yanged. Of course, stopping along the route to converse with spectators was probably not a good idea. I was just trying to tell someone how much money I saved renting a timeshare instead of staying at a hotel when suddenly, the bull appeared out of nowhere and headed straight for me.

It's mostly my pride that was hurt. Well, that and this giant whole in my leg, and the head-to-toe bruising... but mainly my pride.

While lying in my hospital bed I saw a clip of myself on the Spanish news, as my death-defying tale has made me a bit of a media sensation. They are calling me, "El Ambassador del Loco." Can anyone translate that for me?

I should be discharged later this week so I can be off on another timeshare travel adventure!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Reflections on Independence

I hope you had a nice Fourth of July, and were able to spend some time with your family and friends taking a well deserved, mid-summer breather. For someone who travels for a living, you might be surprised to know that I don't travel for the Fourth. The airports are jammed, rental cars booked, attractions crowded, etc. So I kick back at home, reflect upon my good fortunes, catch some fireworks, and get ready for my next trip.

I was listening to the radio yesterday and heard a fellow named Ray Raphael say that we sort of celebrate our independence on the wrong day. Yeah, he's a historian and author and he points out that the Declaration of Independence was voted for on July 2, 1776, and did not start being signed until August 3rd of the same year. John Adams even wrote to his wife Abigail on the 3rd that the second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. He predicted fireworks, patriotic songs and speeches, the works. So how did we end up doing it on the 4th? Well, in the days before the interweb, TV, radio, etc., things needed to be printed up, delivered to the masses via dispatches on horseback, and then read in the town square. That took a day or two to organize and, by the time it occurred the date at the top of the document read July 4, 1776. And so it has been ever since. Turns out, both Adams and Thomas Jefferson (the guy who wrote the thing) both died on the 4th of July fifty years later. So maybe they each got two extra days, if you want to look at it that way.

But there's no ambiguity about the fireworks. They shot them off at the first 4th of July and all of them since. According to the American Pyrotechnics Associations, over $945 million dollars worth fireworks were sold in 2009 alone. And fortunately, there has been a 920% decrease in firework-related injuries since 1976. Still, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 6,400 Americans spent part of their 4th of July in an emergency room last year due to firework mishaps. So there's still a little work to do, but it's clear you can have a blast and still be safe.

And how about this hot dog eating contest at Coney Island every 4th of July? Legend has it that it started with two recent immigrants to the U.S. in 1916. The eating contest was devised as a way to settle a feud as to who was the more patriotic of the two. It was held on July 4th at Nathan's Hot Dog stand in Coney Island. Legend or not, tens of thousands of people flock to the event every year, and over a million more watch it on TV. The event is currently sanctioned by the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) and all participants are members of Major League Eating (MLE). I don't make this stuff up folks. The 2010 title went to Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, his fourth in a row, after he devoured 54 hot dogs and buns in ten minutes. Are you kidding me?! But the event was marred by controversy when ex-champ Takeru Kobayashi, currently in a dispute with MLE and not part of the competition, showed up and tried to jump on stage. He was arrested after a melee with NY's finest and taken away. But no one was injured, and Pepto Bismol (MLE's top sponsor) flowed freely afterwards.

Well it sure is great to be free, and there is no better place than the good old U.S.A. to be so. And while I choose not to eat 54 hot dogs and buns or blow part of my hand off in observing it, the 4th of July is undoubtedly my favorite day of the year.