Hi from Southern California. I’m finally home for an extended period of time, and I’m happy to be catching up on everything (work, mail, laundry, friends, sleep…). First of all, my heart and prayers go out to all those involved in the ridiculous Tucson shooting. When is America going to clean up gun control? It should not be this easy to get a gun. It’s really pathetic. (Please don’t send me any political emails–I’m a registered Independent and vote for candidates of both parties.) Now to the good stuff: This week’s stories are about what I did this past week, which was play golf with my dad at The Breakers in Palm Beach and then go skiing in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Not a bad week of travel, eh? We also have David Zuchowski’s trip to the island of Curacao. I was there a few years ago for Carnival and boy was it fun (my story, video). Speaking of fun, I’m going to be presenting at the AAA Great Vacations EXPO on January 21 and 22 at Franklin County Veterans Memorial in downtown Columbus, Ohio. If you are around, come by and say hi!

Last year, well I guess now it’s technically the year before last, in November of 2009, I spent a few nights at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida. The Breakers is arguably one of the most famous and luxurious hotels in America. Instead of writing a whole new story, I just updated my old one by adding a couple of slides at the end (see slides 21 & 22) of our incredible lunch at Flagler Steakhouse and our round of golf on Florida’s oldest golf course. Click here for the story.

I was in Florida to take care of my sister Carol’s pets. I was there for most of the holiday alone with my dad, and we had so much fun. Taking care of the kittens was most entertaining. Check out these photos to see what I mean: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.

I flew from Fort Lauderdale to LAX. Yes, West Palm Beach Airport (PBI) is closer, but they don’t have nonstop flights to California. The good news is my sister turned me on to her friend Claudio, who will drive folks from Delray Beach to Fort Lauderdale for just $60. That’s an incredibly low price since it’s 33 miles and takes a good 40 minutes. If you are interested, his number is 754-242-3111. FYI: He charges the same for PBI and $85 for Miami.

I flew Delta back to L.A., and because of the winter winds it took five and a half hours (30 minutes longer than summer). I sat in an exit row in coach, and one of the most interesting things was the man in the row in front of me across the aisle, who must’ve taken a sleeping pill because he just kept leaning over into the aisle. It was amazing to watch and I took a little video of it. He was so big he blocked three quarters of the aisle, and his wide-awake wife, who was across the aisle, could not have cared less. The other highlight, besides taking part in the miracle of flight, accessing wireless Internet 35,000 feet up, and seeing the Grand Canyon, was the flight attendant letting some young passengers help collect the trash. It was really cute. Since I didn’t get the parent’s permission to publish the photo, I’m blurring out the child’s face.

I was supposed to be in L.A. for just six hours. It was enough time to grab my warm clothes and see the amazing sunset, then head back to LAX to fly to Reno. But just before boarding the Horizon Airlines flight, the gate agent warned passengers that due to fog in Reno there was a very good chance the plane would be diverted to Sacramento, and we would all be on our own from there. I was tired and didn’t feel like an adventure, so I took the easy way out and changed my flight to the next morning (free of charge). Twelve hours later I was back at LAX and it was a smooth operation. Flight time on the Q400 was just over an hour, and landing in Reno was interesting. The city isn’t very attractive except for its snow-capped mountains. Part of the airport is really old and has annoying slot machines while the other half is quite nice and new. BTW: How crazy is this sign? I had no idea the best TSA agents are based in Reno.

I was in Nevada to speak at the third Annual Snowcial conference. I was on a panel with Chris Elliott (National Geographic Traveler, Washington Post…) and Rich Beattie from Travel + Leisure. The conference organizers arranged a private car (they drive Suburbans in the winter) for the 55-minute drive to the South Shore of Lake Tahoe. There was traffic on the main highway, so my Syrian driver took me through Nevada’s capital of Carson City, which was neat and more attractive than I’d pictured it. But the roads and scenery to the hotel were even more spectacular. Wow–what a beautiful place Lake Tahoe is.

The conference was held in Harveys Hotel and Casino (Harveys website), which is across the street from Harrah’s Hotel (they are owned by the same company and there is an underground connecter). What’s interesting is the hotels are built right inside the border of Nevada. If you walk outside one block, you are in California. The laws are completely different from state to state, so it’s a trip to see people walking around Nevada with open containers of alcohol and smoking.

My room in Harvey’s was surprisingly really nice. It was recently decorated, with a comfortable bed, a big flat-screen TV, and a separate shower and tub. The only thing I didn’t like was the parking garage blocking most of my view. I was on the sixth floor, so ask for the seventh floor or higher. Also the rooms are not that soundproof. The first night I slept well, but the second night (Saturday) I kept getting woken up. That’s because a large family with kids checked in next door and there were a bunch of rowdy partiers running through the hallways at 3 a.m.

Side note: I did have the best dreams that I’ve had in a long time while I was there. The first night I dreamt I was a current New York Yankee legend and I was featured in one of their promotional commercials alongside Derek Jeter. Later, in a game I hit a long (and I mean long) home run and I actually felt like I was hitting it. While rounding the bases I kept telling myself to slow down and enjoy the trot. It must’ve been some milestone home run because the opposing players (evil Red Sox) were congratulating me and the pretty girls in the stands were rushing the field to hug me.

The second night’s dream was even better. I was on a train or luxury bus from New York to Connecticut in the summertime and it dropped me off in the driveway of the house where I grew up. The front door to our house was unlocked and while pushing it open I was yelling, “Mom, I’m home.” I walked into the kitchen and she was holding a bowl of cereal while watching TV and when she saw me she just started to run and we both hugged each other for a long time while crying. I kept saying, “Mom, it’s been so long since we’ve seen each other, and time just keeps slipping by.” It’s tough to describe, but my mom passed away in the year 2000 and I’ve only had the fortune of dreaming about her four times. I have other dreams of me trying to get home to see her but I never make it, or she’s not there. However, those four times I did connect with her I knew it was really an encounter with her because I get an indescribable feeling. I’m not sure if it was the high altitude or the fact that the mountain we were on was called Heavenly, but both of those dreams were exactly that.

One of the highlights of Snowcial was meeting MC Hammer. He’s big in social media and was the conference’s keynote speaker last year. He liked it so much that he came back to kick it off this year, and later in the evening held a sold-out concert in Harrah’s for about 1,000 people. I thought it was going to be lame since MC Hammer was in when I was in high school, and the club’s speakers were humming a terrible sound, but once he got on stage it all changed. He really gave the crowd their money’s worth (tickets were $40). He was singing in the aisle and then invited everyone to come up on stage and dance with him–literally half the crowd was up on stage, including me. Too funny!

The main highlight for me was putting on a pair of skis for the first time in 20 years (video), besides the one-hour stint in Dubai (story, video). My parents got us skiing early, around three or four years old, in our backyard. I was practically an expert by the time I was 12 and I used to bomb down double black diamonds at Sugarbush mountain in Vermont. That all changed when I was in high school and fell off a ski lift goofing around. I instantly became afraid of heights and still get freaked out to this day. I snowboarded a few times in the ’90s, but it wasn’t until I went to Dubai that I was able to enjoy skiing again. How crazy is that? The great news is that the chair lifts at Heavenly didn’t freak me out, as they weren’t too high, and I even had to take a gondola to the base of the mountain where there are a bunch of chairlifts to take you up even farther. The weather was perfect–clear, around 40 degrees–and the views were to die for. Before I left, Scott Jordan from Scottevest sent me their newest and warmest jacket, which was perfect! It not only kept me warm but organized (it has 26 pockets!).

One of the highlights was trying out EpicMix. Vail Resorts, which owns Heavenly, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, and Keystone mountains, has created a revolutionary technological tool for the ski industry. With EpicMix, all your activity on the slopes is automatically captured and uploaded to your EpicMix dashboard, which is possible because of Radio Frequency scanners at the base of every lift, and RF technology built into every Vail Resorts season pass and PEAKS card. I had my PEAKS card in one of my jacket pockets (I never had to take it out, they can scan it through the jacket), and I was able to follow all of my days skied, track my vertical feet, and see where I rode. Along the way I earned EpicMix pins for my achievements and collected points. I could also connect it with my social networks like Facebook and Twitter to share my stats, pins, and points. The technology is really cool but I think it needs to be tweaked–first of all, it would be nice if all mountains used it, and second, instead of just offering digital accolades they should offer discounts and real prizes.

Renting skis and having them delivered to the hotel made it so easy.
-To get to the gondola you just walk two blocks out of the hotel (it’s a trip to see people with skis walking through the casino).
-Being able to ski in both Nevada and California on the same day (heck, on the same run)
-Breathing the fresh clear air
-Taking in the views of Lake Tahoe and Carson Valley. Wow, is it gorgeous.
-Having lunch on top of the mountain. The conference catered it for us and we had a ton of appetizers, chili, Kobe beef sliders, lobster rolls, steak, and chicken paninis, and then cheesecake and bread pudding.
-Their hot chocolate is so good, and it’s made with water.
-Instead of taking the gondola down, skiing roundabout down to the bottom then taking the shuttle to the hotel.
-Taking my ski boots off.

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