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 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.