Archive for February, 2010

Horsing Around: How You Can Ride Into History With Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show

February 27, 2010

Buffalo Bill's Wild WestWhen I read that today was William “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s birthday, it made me wonder whether anyone out there was still putting on the kind of Old West extravaganzas this larger-than-life showman made famous in the waning days of the American frontier.  What I discovered will surprise city slickers and delight all those folks for whom cowboy skills are much more than just quaint historical relics.

You see, it turns out that Buffalo Bill’s Wild West is currently gearing up for its 39th season full of trick riders, fancy ropers, stagecoach robberies, Native American dancers and much more.  Modern-day impresario Montie Montana Jr. says he likes to think of this blend of history and theater as the kind of show old Buffalo Bill himself would be putting on if he were still with us.

While that’s all well and good, what makes this such an extraordinary experience is the fact that Montana holds open tryouts the morning of every performance.  Virtually everyone who turns up can earn a spot in the over-the-top grand finale of that night’s show, while a lucky few may be offered a permanent spot in the show’s internationally touring cast.

To find out where you can see Buffalo Bill’s Wild West—and possibly audition for what’s sure to be an unforgettable moment in this living-history spectacle—check the show’s online calendar.

More Cool Stuff:

3 Family-Friendly Living History Adventures

Cool photos of the original Buffalo Bill

There’s A Spell For That: How To Magically Transport Yourself To The Land of Harry Potter

February 25, 2010

Harry Potter Theme ParkIs it possible to wear out a DVD?  The question came to mind this past weekend as my son watched Harry Potter and The Order Of The Phoenix for what seems like the millionth time since he opened the package on Christmas morning.  Add his new-found habit of walking around the house practicing his “spells” with a home-made magic wand and I think it’s safe to say we have a die-hard Harry Potter fan in the family.

Which is why I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at the ensuing excitement when I casually mentioned the fact that the Universal Orlando theme park was opening a huge new attraction called “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.”  If you know someone equally smitten with the mysterious goings-on at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, well, we’ll most likely see you there when the place opens this spring.

While this three-dimensional version of our hero’s cinematic world will undoubtedly be great fun, it also raises one unavoidable question.  Where does the serious Harry Potter enthusiast go from here?

Fortunately, with a little digging, I’ve turned up three extraordinary experiences where hardcore wizard-wannabes can take their Potter-mania to the next level:

HP Fan Trips

This is the ultimate Harry Potter experience.  While there are no trips scheduled for 2010, sign up for their mailing list to make sure you get the details of the 10-day tour they have planned for July 2011.  High points will include storytellers, a ride aboard the Hogwarts Express steam train, and a grand Hogwarts-style farewell banquet in the great hall of Edinburgh Castle.

London Taxi Tours

Combine a ride in one of London’s classic black taxis with visits to a long list of memorable Harry Potter filming locations, including the chance to have your picture taken at King Cross Station’s Platform 9-3/4.Harry Potter - Platform 9-3/4

The Jacobite Steam Train

Roll through the stunning scenery of the Scottish Highlands on the train that played the role of the Hogwarts Express.  Memorable moments include a trip over the dramatic stone viaduct featured in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets and a chance to ride in the same carriages where Harry and Ron first met Hermione.

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More Cool Family Adventures from XTRORD.com

Blown Up: Indoor Skydiving Offers A Much Saner Alternative To The Real Deal

February 23, 2010

Indoor Skydive--Las VegasAs I look around this tubular chamber, a random thought occurs to me:  Aren’t rooms with padded walls usually reserved for crazy people?  Before I have a chance to consider what lying spread-eagled on the wire mesh floor of a two-story padded room says about my mental health, the gentle breeze generated by the giant fan beneath me quickly builds to hurricane force.  And suddenly I find myself flying.

Granted, the concept of “indoor skydiving” may seem a bit loony in its own right.  But the fact is this is about as close to the exhilaration of free fall as a relatively sane person—herein defined as anyone with more sense than to jump out of a perfectly good airplane—is ever likely to get.

When my friend Todd and I decided to give the sport a whirl we headed to Vegas Indoor Skydiving, one of only a handful of places in the U.S. that make these 120 mile-per-hour vertical wind tunnels available to the general public.  Our instructor K8 (her spelling, not mine) started out by showing us a short video that demonstrated proper body-flight technique, the hand signals we’d use to communicate, and—most importantly—how to tuck-and-roll properly to guarantee a safe landing on the chamber’s well-padded rim if we found ourselves flying out of the airstream.

After getting us decked out like escapees from some low-budget sci-fi flick in brightly-colored flight-suits, helmets, and goggles, the three of us headed for the wind tunnel.  Once inside, K8 had me lie face down on the trampoline-like wire mesh in the center of the chamber as she signaled the wind tunnel operator to crank up the huge fan in the building’s basement.

As the wind speed approached 75 miles-per-hour I was literally blown up, with K8 stepping in with an occasional tug on a sleeve or pants leg to keep me positioned in the center of the airstream.  Once I started to get the hang of flying sans aircraft, I was able to stand on the rim of the chamber and dive head-first into the airstream in a move not unlike Superman taking flight.

While most of this operation’s customers are satisfied with a couple of three-minute flight sessions, I flew for a total of 12 minutes as Todd took his sweet time snapping photos.  Then it was his turn to fly with K8, whereupon he quickly decided that this off-the-wall form of flight is a lot harder than it looks.

Having done a couple of tandem skydives I can tell you that, while this indoor version of free fall lacks the full-on sensory overload of the real deal, the overall experience is pretty darn similar.  It also happens to be the best way I know to get a taste of skydiving without making folks think you’ve lost your mind.

MORE COOL STUFF
The Ultimate Thrill Ride: Tandem Skydive

List of Other Indoor Skydiving Centers

The Wildest Ride At The Winter Olympics

February 19, 2010

Utah Olympic Park Comet bobsled rideLet’s say you find yourself watching the opening rounds of the Olympic bobsled competition this weekend and thinking “Man, that looks like fun!” Well, here’s the cautionary tale of how you can experience this wild ride for yourself—and why you may not want to.

You see, I had the same thought when I visited Park City’s Utah Olympic Park last August.  When their PR person offered me the chance to try their Comet bobsled ride, well, I couldn’t say “Yes!” fast enough.

The park offers these rides year-round, though the number of public runs is limited during the winter months when dozens of world-class athletes use the mile-long track for training.  The modified 400-pound Comet sleds wrap a professional driver and three passengers inside a steel roll-cage as they go hurtling down through the track’s 15 turns in just under a minute.

While they tell me the ride is a little less extreme in the summer—the wheeled bobsleds only hit 70 miles-per-hour and subject you to 4 G’s on concrete—it was still the wildest ride I’ve ever experienced.  So much so that it actually made my Air Combat USA fighter pilot experience look downright tame by comparison.

Which is why you need to take the warnings in the Comet’s pre-ride video briefings seriously.  Even though I’m in pretty good shape, I walked away from this ride with a collection of physical complaints ranging from bruised shoulders to a sore lower back.

Though I’m now perfectly content to go back to watching the bobsled competition on TV, I can tell you those 60 seconds I spent watching the world go by in a serious bobsled-induced blur are something I’ll never ever forget.

More Cool Stuff:

VIDEO: Utah Olympic Park Comet Bobsled Ride

Bonneville Salt Flats: Utah’s Other Home For Those Who Feel The Need For Speed

Matadors, Machine Guns, Monster Trucks & More: 4 Politically Incorrect Adventures

February 17, 2010

Come on, admit it: There’s something you’ve always wanted to do, some extraordinary experience you’ve always wanted to have, that you just don’t talk about for fear of what people might think.  Well, you’ll find no judgments here.  Provided it’s not illegal or immoral, I say go for it.

If you’re one of those rare folks who don’t harbor such secret fantasies, allow me to put a few outrageous ideas into your head. Here are four thoroughly un-PC adventures that promise to be so unforgettable you’ll have a hard time keeping them to yourself:

bullfight schoolFight A Bull

There’s just something about squaring off with a quarter-ton of bad-tempered bovine that’s bound to make you feel fully alive.  This San Diego-based school will teach you the basics of the bullfighter’s art (minus the bloodshed) and then turn you loose to face a yearling bull who’s also in training.

knob creek machine gun shootFire A Machine Gun

Chances are none of us will ever own the kind of high-caliber hardware that shows up at this annual event, which is probably a good thing.  But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be wicked good fun to blow through a few hundred rounds of ammo within the safe confines of this springtime firepower festival.

professional wrestling schoolBecome A Pro Wrestler

If you’ve ever watched the stars of the WWE strut their stuff in the ring and thought, “Man, I could do that!”, well, here’s your chance to prove it.  These schools will teach you the grappling moves you’ll need to crush your opponents, right along with the less obvious but no less important skills you’ll need like developing a crowd-pleasing character and doing on-camera interviews.

Drive A Monster Truck

Anyone who’s ever been stuck in an endless traffic jam has surely fantasized about taking the wheel of one of these massive machines and simply driving right over the top of anything that gets in your way.  This British monster truck driving experience allows you to do just that, flattening a couple of perfectly good cars in the process.

Amazing Astronomy: Three Extraordinary Stargazing Experiences

February 15, 2010

Galileo Galilei Astronomy

Galileo Galilei

While wandering around aimlessly online last night, I discovered that today is the 446th birthday of Galileo Galilei, the guy widely considered to be the father of modern astronomy.  Which got me to thinking about some of the amazing stargazing experiences I’ve had over the years.

My all-time favorite has to be the weekend we spent at Benson, Arizona’s Astronomers Inn.  This four-room bed-and-breakfast located an hour southeast of Tucson isn’t much to look at.  But its amenities—including an in-house observatory where your own personal astronomer will roll back the roof and take you on an eye-opening tour of the galaxy using one of their eight telescopes—made for one of the most memorable nights I’ve spent in any property anywhere.

Then there’s a program at the nearby Kitt Peak Observatory that sure to be an unforgetable once-in-a-lifetime experience for anyone who’s ever looked up at the night sky with a sense of wonder.  Along with its more modest public stargazing sessions, the observatory—which sports the largest collection of optical research telescopes in the world—offers an Advanced Observing Program that allows a limited number of visitors to view and photograph deep space objects through a telescope that would make a professional astronomer drool.  Note that these sessions fills up fast, so don’t delay if you’re interested.

Kitt Peak Observatory

Photo of M51 galaxy taken by visitor in Kitt Peak's Advanced Observing Program

Finally, there’s a lot to be said for just laying on your back gazing up at a night sky so dark the stars look like the aftermath of a powdered sugar donut binge on the dark blue suit of the universe.  And for such low-tech stargazing it’s hard to beat southeastern Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument, a spot so ideal it was designated as the world’s first International Dark Sky Park.

Spend some time at any of these places and chances are you’ll be thinking “Galileo, eat your heart out!”

If you’ve had an amazing stargazing experience, tell us about it via the Leave A Comment link below.

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Mardi Gras Mentoring: How To Kill Time Between Parades

February 12, 2010

If you’re headed to New Orleans for Mardi Gras weekend, you’re in for a real treat.  I can tell you from personal experience that I sincerely doubt there’s a friendlier place or happier time on the face of the planet.

By this point you probably already know the two dozen parades that roll through the city’s streets between now and Fat Tuesday are the big attraction here (if you need parade info, check out my friend Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide).  What you might be wondering, however, is what to do with yourself in the hours before or after all those floats roll by.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share my own highly subjective and slightly idiosyncratic list of my favorite ways to kill time between Mardi Gras parades:

Cafe du monde new orleans

Beignets at Cafe du Monde

Eat, Eat, Eat

  • Personally, I think it should be against the law for visitors to eat at a national chain restaurant or fast food franchise in New Orleans.  But if you’re not sure where to go, here are four can’t miss recommendations you can string together to create a day-long feeding frenzy:
  • Breakfast at Café du Monde (hint: get your beignets and café au lait to go and scarf ‘em down watching the river traffic from atop the nearby Moonwalk).
  • When lunchtime rolls around, grab a muffaletta from the Central Grocery and then pull up a bench on Jackson Square for some first-rate people-watching.
  • The sheer number of great restaurants here makes recommending a dinner spot tough, but I’ve found you can’t go wrong with the crawfish etoufee or shrimp creole at the Gumbo Shop.

Music, Music, Music

If there’s anything that can rival these local delicacies on the list of New Orleans’ greatest pleasures, it’s the local music scene.  There are dozens of popular venues (check out Offbeat magazine for a full listing), but here are my two favorites:

  • While a bowling alley may sound like an odd place to go looking for live music, Mid City Lanes—the originator of the Rock-n-Bowl concept—is known as much for its jumpin’ bands as it is for its 18 lanes.
  • The stage at Tipitina’s has played host to a long line of New Orleans’ home-grown legends, from Professor Longhair to Dr. John to the Neville Brothers, and it’s always a safe bet for great local music.

Tipitina's New OrleansHelp, Help, Help

While New Orleans has made an admirable recovery when it comes to all those things that make it a world-class tourist destination, there’s still an awful lot of work to be done to help local residents undo the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  You can do your part—and earn some serious good karma in the process—by volunteering with one of the dozens of local organizations working to rebuild the hardest hit areas of the City That Care Forgot.

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A Mind-Blowing Mardi Gras: How To Go From Spectator To Participant in One of New Orleans’ Glitziest Parades

9 Things I Learned At Mardi Gras

A Mondo Motorcycle Tour

February 10, 2010

Long distance motorcycle touring Utah 1088Despite a bad wreck, I still love motorcycles with the kind of completely irrational passion normally reserved for sports teams.  And given the fact that bike sales have gone through the roof in recent years, I figure I’m not alone in this mania.

But here’s something few people understand: Even though we might all look the same to the folks trapped inside their shiny metal boxes, there are basically two distinct types of motorcyclists.

The first and by far the largest group generally likes to spend their time polishing chrome or going for a leisurely afternoon ride within a couple hours of home.  Then there are the folks for whom their bike is a sort of magic carpet, a two-wheeled ticket to adventure.

If you or someone you know falls into this latter category, Austrian tour operator Edelweiss Bike Travel is offering what can only be described as a true once-in-a-lifetime motorcycling adventure. Riders on the Discover Our Earth Expedition will travel to more than 30 countries on five continents over the course of 248 days, covering roughly 40,000 miles along the way.

This never-before-attempted tour is fully supported, but you’ll need to supply your own dual-sport bike and come up with the —gulp—$101,000 price of admission. While that isn’t exactly cheap, it sounds like a small price to pay for a truly extraordinary experience to me.

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Mileage Monsters: Long-Distance Motorcycle Rallies

Competitours: Amazing Race With A More Leisurely Pace

Extraordinary Event: Spain’s La Tomatina Festival

February 8, 2010

La Tomatina FestivalLast night’s post-Super Bowl celebrations in the streets of the French Quarter may have gotten a little wild, but it’s a safe bet they looked downright sedate compared to Spain’s La Tomatina Festival.

Each year on the last Wednesday in August, as many as 40,000 people pack the streets of the tiny town of Bruñol to pelt each other with their share of 45 tons of tomatoes.  In other words, the annual event is essentially the world’s biggest food fight.

Well, it turns out my friend Susie Wyshak was right there in the middle of all the action last year.  Her website, SuperViva.com, is built around the really cool idea of creating your own “life list” of all those things you’ve always wanted to do.  And this tomato-tossing melee had been something she’d wanted to check off her list for years.

If this sounds like fun to you too, read on for Susie’s take on this extraordinary experience:

What in the world made you want to do this?

I saw some videos of La Tomatina on YouTube a couple of years ago and couldn’t believe such an event existed.  As a lover of both tomatoes and wild experiences, I knew instantly this had to go on my life list.

La Tomatina festivalIs the whole thing as crazy as it looks?

Pretty much.  People are packed into the streets like  Spanish sardines, so it’s not an event for the claustrophobic!  Even before the trucks drive through dumping the tomatoes, local residents in the apartments above are spraying the crowd with water and people are ripping off their wet shirts and throwing them around.  When it comes time for the actual tomato fight, which is only an hour long, it gets even wilder.

What was it like to be there doing something you’d been dreaming of for such a long time?

It was one of the best hours of my life.  It was just sheer joy, standing in a sea of juice while crushing these over-ripe tomatoes (to make them slightly less hazardous projectiles) and throwing them with complete abandon. And then, before you know it, they give the signal and everybody just stops.

What was the best part of the experience? And the worst?

The actual fight itself was definitely the high point!  The worst part was that the weak U.S. dollar made it kind of an expensive trip.

What advice would you have for someone who wanted to experience La Tomatina?

There are ways to make the trip more affordable, as flights to Spain can be surprisingly cheap and you can couch-surf if you plan ahead.  I went with a tour group put together by First Festival Travel, which was nice because I didn’t have to worry about any of the logistics.

Once you’re at the event, you should also make sure you wear some kind of eye protection and then don’t be shy—if you’re going, you might as well get right out there in the middle of the fight!

Celebrate Babe Ruth’s Birthday At Baseball Fantasy Camp!

February 6, 2010

While most of the country’s attention is still focused on football, another group of sports fans are spending this weekend marking the Bambino’s birthday (February 6, 1895) at one of a dozen-plus baseball fantasy camps.

baseball fantasy campsVirtually every MLB team offers these week-long events where amateur athletes can play with—and oftentimes against—baseball legends like Goose Gossage and Bucky Dent.  While each program is slightly different, perks generally include your own team uniform, personalized instruction from some of the biggest names to ever round the bases, one or more daily games, and nightly social events where life-long fans can actually spend time schmoozing with the players they idolized growing up.  Many programs also offer summertime reunions where campers take the field before one of their team’s home games for a little batting practice.

If this sounds like your idea of a good time, you’ll want to start planning now to attend next year’s sessions as spaces are limited and often fill up months in advance.  To get you started, here’s a list of some of the most popular baseball fantasy camps:

Boston Reds Sox

Cincinnati Reds

Chicago Cubs/White Sox

Cleveland Indians

Detroit Tigers

Milwaukee Brewers

New York Yankees

Oakland Athletics

Philadelphia Phillies

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