Archive for November, 2009

Black Friday Blues

November 27, 2009

Just heard an interview with a women who arrived at a southern California mall at 4:30 this morning because she thought joining the crowds lined up for the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving deals would be an interesting “experience.” I’m sure she’s right on some level, though honestly battling the Black Friday throngs for questionable deals on things I have no real use for is one adventure I have absolutely no interest in.

As a matter of fact, I’ve long been a proponent of the philosophy that we’re all burdened by way too much “stuff.”  All of which will wear out, go out of style, or just plain get ignored at the back of the hall closet much sooner than we’d care to imagine.  Which explains why one of’s core principles is that “Possessions don’t last but memories do.

With that in mind, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I recommend giving the gift of an extraordinary experience this holiday.  Besides providing your giftee with a day they’ll never forget, you can also take satisfaction in knowing that you’ll be able to avoid the whole hassle of standing in line at the Returns counter when you discover that your friends and relatives already had one.

If you’re in need of some specific ideas for once-in-a-lifetime adventure gifts, here are a few I can highly recommend based on personal experience:

  • Let your favorite guitar hero live out their rock star fantasies (minus the groupies) at Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp.
  • Give her an experience that’s as unique as she is by creating her own one-of-a-kind custom fragrance.
  • Honestly now, what guy (actually, I’m told girls like it too) wouldn’t dig spending the day operating a 10-ton bulldozer or excavator?
  • Top Gun wannabes can take the controls of their own fighter plane at Air Combat USA and go head-to-head with an opponent in full-on dogfights.
  • If you know someone who has dreams where they find themselves flying like a bird, make those visions come true on a tandem paragliding flight.
  • Find out what the whole surfing craze is about with these affordable surfing lessons.
  • This drag racing school is one of the few places where putting the pedal to the metal is actually encouraged.
  • History buffs and aviation geeks will both love these one-hour flights aboard an authentic World War II-era B-17 bomber.
  • If you know someone who enjoys sailing, it’s a pretty safe bet they’ll get off on taking the wheel of a genuine America’s Cup yacht.

Give Me Reality Any Day

November 19, 2009

One of our guiding principles is that “reality kicks virtual reality’s butt every time.”  Which is why I found this new TV commercial promoting travel to the Florida Keys and Key West to be a lot more profound than anybody at the ad agency or tourism bureau probably expected.

You see, as much as I like the Keys—and I like them a lot—what struck me as so right-on about this 30-second spot that spoofs the whole “There’s an app for that” iPhone ad campaign is the idea that all the cutting-edge technology in the world can’t beat getting out there and having a good old-fashioned extraordinary experience.  I mean, really, how can  performing in a virtual rock band in your living room possibly compare with actually getting up on stage and playing your heart out in front of a cheering crowd?

Now, if I sound like a bit of a Luddite on this, well, so be it.  But as someone who’s tried aerial combat in both a computer-generated fighter plane and the real deal, let me tell you there’s just no contest which one I’ll remember for the rest of my days.

One final thought on this subject.  Maybe you believe the virtual reality version of living your dream will have to suffice because your fantasy is just too far out there to expect that you could ever do it for real.  Well, here’s my challenge to you: Use the comment area below to let me know what it is you’ve always dreamed of doing and I’ll do my best to find you a way to make it happen.

While there are no guarantees with this offer, what I can promise you this:  Once you make your long-held dream a reality, the virtual world will never seem quite as exciting again.

Still Play With Trains?

November 11, 2009

N NV Steam TrainI know lots of adults who’ve never outgrown their childhood fascination with trains. And while I don’t have the patience to sit beside railroad tracks for hours with my camera in hand like some of the hardcore rail buffs I’ve met, I’ll admit that I have been known to go out of my way to watch a passing train roll by.

If you’re equally smitten with railroading (or know someone who is), you’ll want to take note of these three new additions to my growing list of extraordinary experiences:

Northern Nevada Railway

There’s no shortage of scenic excursion trains in the world, but this Ely, Nevada museum is the only place I know of where you can actually take the controls of a vintage steam-powered locomotive (diesel-electric engines are also available) as you roll down the main-line tracks under the supervision of an experienced engineer. Some cool video here.

Station Inn Bed-and-Breakfast

While most folks would avoid a hotel where trains rumble by day and night, that’s precisely the attraction at this five-room trackside B&B.  Accommodations are simple (twin beds with no phones or televisions), but that doesn’t seem to deter rail fans who gather on the front porch to watch the 70-plus passenger and freight trains that roll by on any given day.  A host of other nearby railroading attractions make this Pennsylvania inn about as close to train-geek nirvana as you’re ever likely to find.


This 52,000 square-foot warehouse about an hour west of New York City is an example of what happens when one man’s toy train obsession gets a little out of hand.  But, as obsessions go, this is a pretty cool one, with more than 100 trains rolling along 50,000 feet (that’s roughly 9 miles) of track in a display that’s earned the distinction of being one of the world’s largest model railroads.

San Diego: 3 Ways To Stay

November 5, 2009

As someone who’s spent the night in thousands of hotel rooms over the years, I’m not easily impressed. So when I discover places that turn out to be more than just another generic place to lay my head at the end of a long day, I figure I ought to share the wealth.

Which brings me to these hot tips on three great lodging options I discovered on my recent visit to San Diego:

Marriott Courtyard/Liberty Station

sanal_phototour14Located on the grounds of the former Naval Training Center, this year-old waterfront hotel combines an ideal location with a super-friendly staff, surprisingly attractive and well-kept rooms and public spaces, and an on-site restaurant (serving up killer breakfasts) and deli into something that’s way more than just another chain-operated airport hotel.  In fact, I actually preferred it hands-down over the much pricier W Hotel downtown I stayed at earlier in the week.

Pacific Terrace Hotel

1If you know anything about San Diego, you know sooner or later you’re going to end up at the beach.  So why not stay there?  Located a couple of blocks north of the Crystal Pier in my old Pacific Beach neighborhood, this relatively small property offers huge rooms with ocean views as good as any in town, plus a free continental breakfast every morning and fresh, hot cookies every afternoon.  Check out the view at their online web cam.

Roar & Snore/Wild Animal Park

31108654Okay, so technically this isn’t a hotel.  But sleeping in one of the large canvas tents overlooking the San Diego Wild Animal Park’s wide-open East Africa exhibit offers amenities no hotel room can match, like the sounds of tigers roaring and elephants trumpeting as you drift off to sleep.  Add some tasty grub plus walking tours and family-friendly activities and you have a lodging alternative that you won’t soon forget.