Sunday, June 29, 2008

My Week of Dragonflies

Dragonfly #1: Last week I was in Gainesville for a conference and ate at one of my fave restaurants, Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Company. I tried the signature dragonfly roll -tuna, yellow tail and scallions wrapped with grouper then baked with a spicy sauce and finished with eel sauce. YUM!! ! Definitely not the traditional sushi but very tasty.Dragonfly #2: This morning I hiked the new Footprints Trail at Babcock Ranch. The trail debuted earlier this month and I couldn't wait to check it out. Minor detail left out of the info I could find about the trail and I should have picked up on this (like when I was given directions across the dry lake bed for Barbfest Part II while living in Death Valley).

The trail leads through cypress forests and cypress forests need WATER to exist. Not just a little rain, but relatively deep water. I was up to my knee in water at some points. I kept waiting to see a water moccasin but thankfully, didn't see any.

And what comes with standing water? Mosquitoes and other biting insects. Thankfully, I saw a few dragonflies, like this one pointing me in the right direction down the path. Dragonflies eat mosquitoes, remember that.

So why is the trail named Footprints? You'll have to read my article to find out.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Recognizing Signs of a Stroke

I've learned all sorts of life lessons this year, dealing with my ex-husband's death, my grandma's hospitalization and now my 32-year-old sister's stroke. Yes, these things happen to young people. My former mother-in-law suffered from one in her mid-thirties.

Sister should be okay, it just may take some time. I imagine the fact she's athletic will help in her recovery.

In a measure of public service, I'm sharing five signs of a stroke, thanks to the American Stroke Association's Give Me 5 for Stroke campaign:
  • Walk — Is balance off?
  • Talk — Is speech slurred or face droopy?
  • Reach — Is one side weak or numb?
  • See — Is vision all or partly lost?
  • Feel — Is headache severe?
These signs present? Call 9-1-1.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh Really! Visiting the Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary

Ever what happens to bears who need to retire from the circus? Or tigers who are no longer star quality for the movies? The lucky ones end up in a wildlife sanctuary, like the Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary and Rehabilitation Center in Punta Gorda, Florida. It's a bit like a retirement facility for exotic animals.

Yes, lions, tigers and bears are there, along with other critters like Death Valley burros (brought back memories of the park!), a de-scented skunk, cougars, monkeys and other exotic critters.

The animals are in very clean cages and have access to fresh water in the Florida heat. What I really liked about the zoo were all the quirky-kitsch statues and nooks around. A nativity scene was set up in one corner while a Buddha sculpture rested somewhere else. A little gnome was in another corner and fairies were tucked into nooks. Not sure if they mean anything but they are fun.

It's a fun place and would be great for kids. Check it out!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hunting for Fossils in Florida

I spent today hunting for fossils in the Peace River in Wauchula, Florida. I can't tell you everything I found - not that it's top secret, I can't remember!

I did find: shark's teeth along with fossilized sea urchin spine, piece of a deer's tooth, piece of a mastodon tooth, a snaggletooth shark tooth, oyster shell agate, dugong bone (manatee), turtle shell and turtle leg bone. The small group (three plus the guide) were given our tools: a screen (foam so it floats), shovel and pouch to collect the findings. We waded into the river where we dug and sifted. A four-foot alligator was in our spot when we first went out but he soon swam away.

I went with a Fort Myers-based guiding company called Fossil Expeditions. Mark, the owner and guide, was awesome! He's wealth of information and has a great demeanor about him. This is a great trip for beginners and experienced fossil hunters. I hope to go on another expedition soon.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Have You Found Hampton's Hidden Landmarks?

Ah, Savannah, the "Hostess City." The Most Haunted City in the U.S. I visited Savannah over the weekend with a friend and during the planning stages, I scoured the Web for unique things to do. Ironically, an excellent resource was an old fashioned book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt.

Because of "The Book," as the people of Savannah refer to it, we saw the Lady Chablis (who was born in Quincy, Fla., near Tallahassee) and yes, she is a Lady.

But I digress...

We stayed at a Hampton Inn and I noticed the chain has a feature called "Hampton Landmarks." A site to find the fun, funky, quirky and offbeat in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Enter the destination city and choose an interest. Choose "World's Largest," "Pop Culture" or "Mystery/Tragedy" to find groovy sights to visit. Or, choose "Food," "American History" or "Celebrity" for things maybe considered more mainstream.

Have the inside scoop on a really cool sight but it's not listed? Check the "Lost Landmarks" section to see if it's listed. If so, submit a lead to let the Hampton folks know where to find it. What's lost right now? The tiki idol from "The Brady Bunch," "Dorothy's Ruby Slippers" and "Marilyn Monroe's White Dress."

It's a fun tool and resource. Where did it send us while in Savannah? The sight we chose was Bonaventure Cemetery, specifically Johnny Mercer's grave. And if you read "The Book," you know what people are suppose to do when visiting...

Monday, June 16, 2008

Savannah Hilton Head Airport TSA: Best in the Nation?

My travel since January has been minimal but I've still had my interactions with TSA. I flew up to Savannah, Ga. this weekend and took along a bag I've carried on board and has gone through security at least five times without incident. Yesterday was different.

Something suspicious showed up on the TSA security screen at the Savannah Hilton Head Airport. "Ma'am, is there a bottle opener in your bag?"

"Not that I'm aware of," I always figure that generic response doesn't make me a liar in case it is an unintentional lie.

My bag was run through the x-ray at least five times, with stuff and without stuff. The TSA agent kept on feeling around and could feel something but couldn't locate anything. Finally another TSA agent came over. He started pulling apart the interior and found...nothing.

I thought he was going to take one of the confiscated pocketknives and slash the bag open but he didn't. He was persistent and reached into the exterior pocket and located a small hole.

And what did he confiscate?

Truth be told, this story began back in January when I attended a trade show and put a pocketknife in my bag. I used the knife during the show and thought I lost it. Fast forward to yesterday....

He pulled out my missing pocketknife! Somehow it had worked its way from an exterior pocket to lodge itself between the lining of the interior pocket and the exterior.

I gasped with shock.

"Do you want to give this to anyone in Savannah?"

"No, just toss it, I don't need it."

While I'm glad I wasn't hauled off by the TSA agents and interrogated, I was shocked thinking how many times that bag has gone through TSA security without being noticed. Obviously, I had no intentions of using the darn thing, I didn't know it was there and it was very difficult to get out. But makes me wonder, do these enhanced security measures really work?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Guerrilla Marketing for God?

Times are tough. We're in a recession and when organizations look at trimming budgets, marketing and advertising budgets are the first targets for making cuts. Big mistake. In tough times, it's smart to continue marketing and advertising efforts, just tweak them to fit the economic times.

So when our organization was asked to review its budget and re-evaluate how we advertise and market, I wondered, how can we promote our destination differently? I've always been a proponent of working with the homeless. Give them 50 bucks a day to stand at an intersection and hand out visitor guides. Or, an absolute guerrilla marketing campaign is to have a team scour every bathroom in sight and scrawl on the stall walls, "For a Good Time Call..."

Every so often I use the stairs when heading home. The office is on the fifth floor and figure it's some exercise. When I reached the ground floor today, sitting on the water pipe was a small white card which read in green writing, "Love can neither be bought nor sold; its only price is love." On the flip side the card read, "Whether in lush green mountaintops or dry desert places, God goes with me as my Guide and my Friend."

How many times have you been to a public restroom and found a message from one of God's followers? Or, the laundromat is another popular message to get the latest message from God. Know anyone who actually picks these bits of propaganda, or, guerrilla marketing for God pieces? My hand is raised.

I don't pick them up because I think I'm going to be saved (I already have my ticket to Heaven), I pick them up because I'm fascinated by the marketing technique. I mean, leaving messages about God and Jesus in bathrooms and laundromats is the ultimate guerrilla marketing technique.

Now little messages about God are being leaved in the office building. Is it a sign? Wonder if it's a clue for a scavenger hunt. Perhaps the green writing is indication I need to head to a golf course to look for my next clue...or sign (green writing = golf greens). Will there be a message tomorrow? If so, I will tell.

Monday, June 09, 2008

My Tips for a Girlfriend Getaway to New Orleans

Looking for a girlfriend getaway idea? How about New Orleans? Check out my latest article simply called, "Girlfriend Getaway to New Orleans: Weekend Travel Guide to the Big Easy."

What tips do I offer in this article?
  • Funky shops
  • Smooth jazz
  • Good eats
  • Enjoying the local culture
I have to admit, I got the idea of writing this from Pauline Frommer during the Atlanta Travel Expo this past April. She was asked to suggest a girlfriend getaway and she suggested New Orleans (after scolding girlfriend getaway focused magazines for just focusing on shopping and spas - amen! - although, I had to throw some shopping into my New Orleans article, but you'll see, these aren't your run of the mill shops).

Looking for other girlfriend getaway destinations? Give these a try:
Homestead, Fla.
Seaside, Fla.

And, I promise more girlfriend getaways are coming soon!

Oh, the video! Took this while in New Orleans this past April, for the Tourism Cares project. Don't ya just love street performers?

Budget Travel Tips: Don't the Price at the Pump Put a Crimp in Your Summer Vacation

With gas prices rising and all sorts of budget travel articles on making the most of a summer vacation, thought I'd dust off my article called, "Don't Let High Gas Prices Spoil Your Vacation."

Funny, the first sentence states something like "crazy talk of gas at $4 per gallon." Not so crazy these days, especially when there's now talk of $5 a gallon and I think we'll see it soon. In my "Don't Let High Gas Prices..." article, I offer budget travel tips on:
  • Sightseeing
  • Dining
  • Utilizing resources
  • Sacrifices
Check out my other budget travel articles:

Frommer's 2008 Travel Bargains
Budget Travel Tips for Bird-Watchers to Sanibel, Florida
Six Secrets to Budget Travel in Italy
Cheap Souvenirs of Italy
Budget Travel in Philadelphia

[Photo: New Orleans, April 2008]

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Cypress Lodge: Secret Group Retreat in the Florida Woods

I'm learning more about Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands and Friday, spent some of it at Babcock Ranch, specifically the Cypress Lodge.

What a true treasure in the woods!

Originally a hunting lodge, the Cypress Lodge is now an ideal location for corporate retreats and getaways. The lodge has seven rooms and can accommodate up to 11 people (if everyone has their own bed). Bedrooms are configured either with double or twin beds, some with private bathrooms, some with connecting bathrooms.

The lodge is surrounded by the Telegraph Swamp and trees. Florida cracker cattle come to the shore to drink and birds serenade visitors all day long.

The lodge's secluded location makes it ideal to get work done in a relaxed, casual atmosphere. Life slows down.

The Cypress Lodge innkeeper is a professional chef so you know retreat attendees will be eating really well.

And who would have thunk this was in Florida?

Friday, June 06, 2008

Traveling to Las Vegas? Don't Miss the Blue Man Group!

Monday night I got to see the Blue Man Group perform at the Venetian. While it was probably the most bizarre show I've ever seen (not that I've seen a lot of shows), it was also the most exhilarating.

The show features three men painted blue (they aren't the original Blue Men but have trained under them) who do the most bizarre acts, like painting with their mouths, eat Cap'n Crunch Cereal and make melodic music with PVC piping. One PVC piping instrument was like a giant nest in which each man was the center of a tangling of white plastic piping.

(Makes me wonder if anyone after seeing the Blue Man Group have shown up at Home Depot requesting piping to replicate their instruments.)

The men are supported by a rockin band.

Audience participation makes the show, too and the men climb through the audience looking for participants. I got nervous when one came into our section, stood a few rows away and stared directly into my eyes. "Don't pick me, don't pick me," I wished and he didn't.

There's also a LOT of paper in this show. Paper (almost like toilet paper but not quite) is distributed at the beginning of the performance and guests are encouraged to wear it. At the end, rolls and rolls of it are draped over the crowd from the back of the theater and dragged to the stage. Wonder how many trees are sacrificed so the show can go on? Either way, the tree hugger in me still enjoyed the performance.

Throughout the two-hour show, the men never speak, but I got one to speak to me after the show. Couldn't tell if his accent was from New Zealand or South Africa. I complemented him on the show and he replied, "thank you very much." I don't think he was intimidating Elvis.

I'd definitely see the Blue Man Group again. Are they scheduled to visit Southwest Florida soon? Hmm, will have to check Ticketmaster.

Prior to the show, the restaurants of the Venetian (at the Shoppes at the Palazzo) and Restaurant Row, fed the delegation. Most restaurants had samples of from their luscious menus. My favorite was a sushi taco from Sushi Samba Strip. Two of my favorite foods were combined into a mini, light and crisp taco shell, sushi yellow fin and cilantro - yum!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Pow Wow 2008: Favorite Booth Display

OK, so it's occurred to me that some of you out there don't know what "Pow Wow" is. Well, it's the largest International Travel Show in the U.S. with nearly 5,000 delegates from across the globe and the U.S. attending.

It's an appointment show where U.S. suppliers, such as destinations, hotels, resorts, attractions, car rental companies, etc. have booths and the buyers, usually international tour operators, run to booths for the appointments. Capish? If not, follow this link.

Now back to my post...

Some companies/destinations go all out in decorating their booths but my favorite two this year were somewhat simple.

See who's riding a mountain bike? That's Elvis representing the state of Nevada. Can you read what it says? "Yes, this is actually Nevada. Thank you very much."

I love it and think it's brilliant! Nevada has tied in the glitz of Las Vegas, Reno and any other gambling town with the rugged outdoors of the state and therefore, appealing to the tree huggers and gamblers. Rock on, Nevada!

The next booth I loved, and I admit to being biased (because I worked for them one point in my career), was Wyoming, specifically Xanterra Parks & Resorts and the old fashioned yellow motor coach. Isn't it cool!? Rick, the Director of Sales, was conducting his appointments in the backseat of the coach. They brought a second coach and used it to shuttle clients to evening events.

And who said riding in a motor coach is uncool? Not I.

Pow Wow 2008: Opening Night at Mandalay Bay

Sunday evening was the opening night for the 2008 Pow Wow and Las Vegas restaurants came out to play at Mandalay Bay. A big beach bash was held around Mandalay Bay's fabulous pool and the best restaurants kept the international and domestic delegates fed and hydrated with adult beverages.

Upon entering the pool area, delegates were given a single white glove. Was Michael Jackson making an appearance and we were to wear the glove in a, uh, tribute (?) to the Gloved One? No. The glove was to keep the drinking hand warm, the next stop was an ice bar with glasses carved from ice holding crisp and refreshing martinis.

Pockets of entertainment were seeded around the pool, including the freak show area with the snake lady and some "freak" putting hooks and other pointy stuff in his face.

Seeing I flew in that day and was running on Eastern Time, I called it an early night and headed back to the hotel around 10 p.m.

So what happened the next night?

Wait for the next post...

Monday, June 02, 2008

Las Vegas Snapshots: Star Trek Experience at the Hilton

So I'm here in Vegas, staying at the Hilton, famous for Elvis and friend Shep (love her!) and her boyfriend Ambrose are here, too.

Enjoy some of last night's snapshots.

Oh! I DID get to meet someone famous, Beverly Washburn (that's us in the photo to the right). She had guest appearances on "Star Trek" Episode 1, 1967, "Old Yeller" and "Leave it to Beaver."