Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

Take A Walk On The Wacky Side: Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade

April 29, 2010

Here’s a sad side effect of the time I spent living in New Orleans: Once you’ve been to Mardi Gras, most other parades seem downright dull by comparison.  The one notable exception, of course, is Pasadena’s annual Doo Dah Parade.

This year’s event—the “34th Occasional” version of this terrifically tongue-in-cheek sendup of the city’s stuffy Rose Parade—rolls down a new route along Colorado Boulevard in East Pasadena this Saturday morning at 11.  What thankfully hasn’t changed is the full-on wackiness of the festivities.

pasadena doo dah parade

My kind of parade float!

Just how oddball can a parade actually be, you ask? Well, part of what makes the Doo Dah Parade so much fun is that you never know quite what to expect, though long-time crowd favorites like the Men Of Leisure synchronized napping team, the BBQ & Hibachi Marching Grill Team, the Benzedrine Monks, and the official band Snotty Scotty and The Hankies are all expected to return for 2010.

For details on the official parade route and after-party—not to mention finding out how you can be in next year’s Doo Dah Parade—visit the event’s website here


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

Full Moon Fever: These 3 Unique Events Will Give You Lots Of Tales To Tell


Never A Dull Moment: These 3 Unique Events Will Give You Lots Of Tales To Tell

April 12, 2010

Spock Days Vulcan AlbertaEven if this is your first visit to, it won’t take long for you to figure out that this isn’t your typical “travel” website.  No stale tales of traditional vacation destinations or generic activities like cruising.  No “hot tips” about new low airfares to Europe or last-minute discounts to some mega-resort in the Caribbean.  Mainly because that stuff bores me to tears.

Instead, you’ll find these pages filled with reports of truly extraordinary experiences you never knew existed.  The kind of once-in-a-lifetime adventures that will give you great stories to tell for years to come.

Which brings me to a handful of upcoming events that seem especially novel.  But, please, don’t take my word for it—get up off the couch and go see for yourself:

No BS Event

Test your arm against the locals in Beaver, Oklahoma’s World Cow Chip Throwing Championship (Warning: The record here is an amazing 182 feet!).

To Boldly Go…

Be “transported” to another  world as Trekkies take over the small Canadian town of Vulcan, Alberta June 11-13 for a three-day Spock Days/GalaxyFest party that’s out-of-this-world.mooning of the Amtrak

Full Moon Fever

Join hundreds of fun-loving locals for the 31st Annual Mooning Of The Amtrak Day as they, ahem, greet each and every one of the three dozen Amtrak passenger trains that roll past Laguna Niguel California’s Mugs Away Saloon.


Off To The Races: Ducks, and Camels, and Ostriches Oh My!

Magic Man: 2 Places Where The Spirit of Houdini Lives On

Tour de France Tours: These Cycling Adventures Will Make You More Than Just Another Spectator

March 29, 2010

Tour de France toursWhile most of my cycling these days is limited to Spinning class at the gym, I totally get the attraction of a challenging bike ride.  Not to mention the desire to have a truly remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventure in the process.

Which got me wondering if there was a way that hardcore cyclists like my friend Julie—a die-hard Tour de France fan whose idea of a good time is grinding out a 50-miler before lunch—could combine these two passions into one extraordinary experience.

Following my curiosity lead me to Robbin McKinney, a man who’s been leading cycling trips to Europe for 20 years.  For the 2010 Tour de France—which many sportswriters believe may be Lance Armstrong’s last—McKinney’s company Great Explorations is offering two different adventures that allow serious pedal pushers to be more than just passive spectators at the world’s most grueling cycling event.

The Alps tour—McKinney’s favorite—runs July 8-15 and includes the chance to ride legendary Tour de France routes including the 21 hairpin turns of the Alpe D’Huez.  Their Pyrenees program, which runs July 19- 26, offers an opportunity to be there for the event’s exciting conclusion, as the riders circle Paris’ Champs D’Elyssees before crossing the finish line.

Tour de France Cycling tourNo matter which Tour de France program you sign up for, you’ll have a choice of several daily rides—many on the same roads the peloton will be passing over just hours later—plus special behind-the-scenes access at the start or finish lines and prime viewing locations for several important stages.  Not to mention great meals at quaint local bistros, wine tastings, and swanky spas.

SPECIAL DEAL:  Call Great Explorations at 800-242-1825 to book your Tour de France trip by Monday April 12th, and you and a friend will each receive a $250 discount when you mention


Amazing Race, Leisurely Pace: CompetiTours Offers A More Challenging Way To See Europe

A Mondo Motorcycle Tour: 248 Days, 30 Countries, 1 Extraordinary Experience

Magic Man: 2 Places Where The Spirit of Houdini Lives!

March 24, 2010

Trolling around the internet last week, I noticed that today is Harry Houdini’s birthday.  Which got me thinking about the state of “magic” in our culture and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

In an era of computer-generated trickery ranging from software-doctored photos in magazines to entire computer-generated worlds in movies like Avatar, the idea of someone performing old-school prestidigitation seems almost quaint.  Just the same, anyone who’s ever been wowed by updated versions of these traditional magic acts as performed by the likes of David Blaine or Penn & Teller understands that there’s some part of the human psyche that truly enjoys the experience of being mystified by illusions so finely crafted and deftly executed that the word magic definitely seems to apply.

Whether you’re an aspiring professional magician or just a curious amateur looking to pick up a few simple tricks to amaze and amuse friends and relatives, I think you’ll find these two annual events to be true extraordinary experiences:

Society of American Magicians Annual Convention

June 30 – July 3, 2010; Atlanta

Founded in 1902, Harry Houdini was the longest-serving president of this organization whose members include everyone from Siegfried & Roy to David Copperfield.  Their annual get together includes special programs for young magicians, a circus sideshow-style midway, contests, and nightly gala performances.

International Brotherhood of Magicians Annual Convention

July 6-10, 2010; San Diego

With 12,000 members in 73, countries, the I.B.M. is the world’s largest organization for professional magicians and amateur enthusiasts. Their four-day convention includes lectures and workshops taught by internationally known magicians, a dealers area where you can try and buy some of the latest tricks, and several large-scale nightly magic shows.


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

A Visit To Hollywood’s Magic Castle

Hot Lead & Lipstick: Becoming An Outdoors-Woman Weekends

March 10, 2010

While I’m open to all kinds of once-in-a-lifetime adventures, there are some I’m just not physically cut out for.  Like these Becoming An Outdoors-Woman weekends, for example.  Fortunately we were able to persuade special correspondent Christina Newton to attend a recent two-day B.O.W. program and bring us this report:

Becoming An Outdoors-WomanLooking down the barrel of my 20-gauge shotgun, I track the fluorescent-orange disc streaking across the blue California sky.  Without hesitation I pull the trigger and—BLAMO!—the four-inch clay target is blown to smithereens.  As my classmates erupt in a spontaneous round of applause, all I can think is  “Dang, this is fun!”

You might wonder what an ordinary minivan-driving mother is doing here pumping these harmless skeet-shooting targets full of hot lead.  Actually, it was the promise of  just this kind of extraordinary experience that drew my friend Karen and I to this Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (B.O.W.) weekend.

These two-and-a-half-day sampler programs, which are held at locations throughout the U.S., are designed to introduce women of all ages and backgrounds to a wide variety of traditionally male-dominated outdoor sports.  Our B.O.W. weekend’s menu of available classes included everything from backcountry navigation using GPS and topographical maps to Dutch-oven cooking.

In fact, the most difficult part of the entire program was choosing which outdoor activities we wanted to try.  Ultimately, we ended up signing up for workshops that seemed like they’d be the biggest stretch for a couple of big-city girls.Becoming An Outdoors Woman

Like our archery class, for instance, where we got to enjoy the satisfying “thwap” as our arrows hit the target, even if they weren’t exactly bullseyes.  Or an introduction to fly-fishing session where, suited up in full gear, I waded into the river and landed my first leaf.  Or the twilight kayak paddle where we got to watch the full moon rise over the Sierra Nevada mountains.

By the time we got to the skeet shooting range Sunday morning, I really felt like I was beginning to get the hang of this outdoors-woman thing. At least until I reached into my pocket for a shotgun shell and ended up trying to slip my lipstick into the gun’s open chamber!


In A Tight Spot: Wild Cave Tours Offer Glimpse Into Hidden Underground World

Welcome To The Jungle: These Survival Classes Include Lots Of Tasty Grub(s)

Fashion Designer Dreams: 4 Fab Ways To Make Your Fashionista Fantasies Come True

March 3, 2010

Not sure how to put this delicately, so I’ll just come right out and say it: I don’t do fashion.  Unless, of course, you consider cargo shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops to be valid fashion statements.

That said, I have a niece who reads every issue of Vogue cover-to-cover and has even started sketching out and stitching up some of her own creations.  Add the success of long-running television series like Project Runway and What Not To Wear and I’ve come to realize that there are an awful lot of people out there who share her passion for fashion.Fashion Design Programs

Which got me to wondering if there was a way all these style-savvy folks could do more than just watch someone else bringing their distinctive designs to life on TV.  Programs that, unlike the many career-oriented schools out there, require commitments measured in days or weeks instead of years.

And to my surprise, I’ve found several extraordinary experiences that seem all but guaranteed to make anyone’s long-repressed fashionista fantasies come true:

Teen Fashion Camp NYC

This five-day “summer camp” in midtown Manhattan gives teens a chance to explore all aspects of the fashion industry while dreaming up and presenting their own unique “brand.” An advanced follow-up session offers an in-depth look at working for fashion magazines and designing for the runway.

Istituto di Moda Burgo

The haute couture capital of Milan, Italy provides a once-in-a-lifetime backdrop for these summer fashion design programs that feature individualized instruction from pros currently working in some of Europe’s trendiest design studios.  The best part is that classes are available for all levels of experience, from complete novices to working professionals.

Austin School of Fashion Design

No time for a drawn-out program of study?  Try this school’s series of adult-friendly four-day “crash courses” in everything from fashion illustration to basic sewing.  Also check out their one-day workshop on how to design, manufacture, and market your own collection.

M. Avery Designs

Located across the Hudson from New York City, these Bag Lab workshops make it easy for anyone to design and stitch up their own one-of-a-kind handbag. Can’t make the trip?  Send them sketches and notes on fabrics, detailing and the like and they’ll be happy to make your vision a reality.


The Nose Knows: Experience Olfactory Overload On This NYC Custom Perfume-Making Adventure

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.

Related Experiences

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

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,, 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!

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

February 2, 2010

I’m looking out at a sea of outstretched arms and upturned faces.  The noise is just this side of deafening, a long pulsating chorus of “Hey, Hey, Hey!”  In response to their pleadings, I’m chucking handfuls of cheap plastic trinkets at the crowd while dressed in an outfit so garish it would make your average clown costume look downright somber.

If this sounds like something straight out of one of those freaky dreams where you wake up sweating and shaking your head, well, you’re close.  Except this surreal scene was very real.  And very, very fun.

You see, while I’d been to a lot of Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans over the years, I always assumed you had to be born into the right family to join one of the dozens of organizations—known as “krewes”—that put them on in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday.  That was until my friend Arthur Hardy, publisher of the indispensable Mardi Gras Guide, happened to mention there were a number of krewes that actually welcomed outsiders like me to join in the fun.

Long story short, I jumped at the chance to go from parade spectator to participant by signing on with the star-studded Krewe of Orpheus.  On the day of the event, we loaded hundreds of pounds of beads aboard our float, donned our goofy-looking costumes and masks, and rolled out of the New Orleans Convention Center for an experience that can best be described as five hours of the most extraordinary nonstop chaos I’ve  ever had the pleasure to be in the middle of.

If you’re interested in seeing a Mardi Gras parade from this downright mind-blowing perspective, here are a few of the New Orleans krewes with membership open to the general public:

Krewe of Orpheus

Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club

Krewe of Morpheus

Krewe of Tucks

Related Posts:

9 Things I Learned About Mardi Gras

Going Out With A Bang: Contest Lets Lucky Winner Blow Up Texas Stadium

January 6, 2010

Not sure what it is about human nature, but it seems we’re genetically hard-wired for an attraction to things that go BOOM!  Now, a new contest is offering one lucky person what very well may be the ultimate extraordinary experience: A chance to set off an explosion that will literally bring the house down.

You see, the folks at Kraft Foods have just signed a deal that will allow the winner of an essay contest to push a button that will turn Texas Stadium, former home of the Dallas Cowboys, into a pile of rubble.  The blast that triggers the implosion is scheduled to happen this spring in front of a crowd of former players, coaches, and fans who have understandably fond memories of the historic 65,000-seat stadium.

For more information on how you can enter the contest or watch festivities, check out the contest’s official website here.

Related Experiences:

International Fireworks Competitions

Explosives Summer Camp

Civil War Adventure Camp