I really didn’t want to see Trolls World Tour, the recent DreamWorks Animation release skewed more to my young cousins than this ornery auto journalist in his 50’s. But I wanted to do something a bit different for my review of the 2020 Nissan Armada. Since we can’t do a lot of road trips due to the COVID-19 quarantine, I decided to take the large SUV to a place I haven’t visited in probably four decades – a drive-in movie theater.
These outdoor screens are making a comeback of sorts due to the coronavirus as it is easy to social distance by sitting in your vehicle to enjoy a movie. Sadly, the Top Gun sequel was pushed back to a December 2020 opening and the only thing playing at the Showboat Drive-in in nearby Hockey, Texas, was this animated gem of a flick featuring a tribe of techno trolls.
I’ll skip the plot so I don’t spoil it for those who have yet to see it, but we did have a pleasant and comfy experience in the Armada.
I have spent time in Nissan’s largest SUV and have rated it near the top of my category list for large passenger vehicles. The starting price of $47,100 is a good deal for an 8-passenger truck, especially if you tow or occasionally go off-road.
This model was the Platinum 4WD version which topped out just over $71,000. Sure it is tough to find flaws in a vehicle with so many upgrades – though I found a few – but the Zero Gravity seats made watching Barb, King Peppy, and Poppy trolls a lot more bearable.
Nissan puts these seats in most all their products which can reduce muscle fatigue. Inspired by the weightlessness of space, they are built with 14 difference pressure points to put you in a neutral position. By the start of Act 3 I almost found myself falling asleep. Not sure if it was the comfy seats or the movie.
The last time I remember bring at a drive-in theater I swear my parents made me hide in the back seat so they wouldn’t have to pay for me and my sister to see Jaws. You also had to place a small, tin speaker on the driver’s window to hear the movie’s sound. Technology caught up with the industry and now you simply tune your vehicle’s radio to an FM station for a low-powered signal to blare through the speakers.
13 Bose Premium speakers in this case. The squeaky voices of the candy-colored characters on screen did not do the Armada’s sound system justice, but the Sirius XM tunes on the drive up there sounded great.
The infotainment system could be larger for such a big SUV but the NissanConnect services and nav system were simple to control via buttons and touchscreen. At some point Nissan needs to add Android and Apple compatibility to fully bring the Armada into the 21st century.
At one point during the movie I wanted to sit in the second row and just pop a DVD into the Family Entertainment System complete with two 8” color displays and wireless headsets.
Passenger space is ample in the first two rows yet a little tight in row three. Cargo room is enormous especially when the third row is lowered. Should you need to haul more gear it can tow up to 8,500 pounds (imagine how many kids I could have snuck into the drive-in).
The strong 5.6-liter, V8 engine felt like a good amount of power transferred to the four wheels via a 7-speed automatic transmission. My ride had optional 22” wheels (a $2,250 upgrade) which made the SUV stand out even more, though I’m not sure they were necessary for a cost-vs-comfort situation.
Safety is not an issue with me when it comes to driving and riding in Nissan vehicles. The Armada comes standard with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and a rear-seat reminder system. I usually suggest features like blind-spot monitors and parking sensors which can be added options here.
Nissan says the 2020 Armada can use regular unleaded fuel which is nice to know. The 4WD version gets a moderate 13/15/15 mpg so try to stick with the least-expensive gas.
Four versions are available starting with the SV then escalating up to the SL, Platinum and Platinum Reserve. They all share the same capable engine so if you are looking for value stay towards the lower end.
As the credits began to roll on the movie, I couldn’t tell you much about what happened on the screen other than Trolls World Tour seemed to hit its target audience due the loud laughs of sugared-up kids nearby. But the 2020 Armada made a lasting impression on me and still sits near the top of my favorites in the large SUV category.
Though I won’t be first in line at the next version of Trolls (trust me, there will be many), I do anticipate a longer trip and review opportunity in the comfort of the Armada. Hopefully to an air-conditioned movie theater that is showing the new Top Gun.
LISTEN to my thoughts on the 2020 Nissan Armada from my radio show heard on iHeartRadio:
From Great Day Houston (CBS): We’re stuck inside our homes which could mean less exercising and activities. Here are some apps to help get you motivated and an interesting device, Stealth Body Fitness, to keep your abs tight. Take a look as I try to melt away the fat and blast away alien invaders.
If your couch and dining room table are strewn with laptops, work and school gear during this COVID-19 era, here are some ideas to make some extra room and dedicated space in your home. As seen on Great Day Houston (CBS).
I am always in need of plugging things into an electrical outlet. My home office frequently looks like a wiring fiasco around a Christmas tree with extension cords strewn all over the place. And now that we are in the midst of the COVID19 quarantine, my kids now need to plug their laptops and phones into outlets to juice up their gadgets.
I recently discovered one smart solution by using the Accell Power Dot Office. It is a round power station that currently handles most all of our family’s power needs in our makeshift office/home school (aka the dining room table).
The Dot Office has four surge-protected AC outlets that can swivel, 3 USB Type-A charging ports and 1 USB Type-C charging port. Total output of the ports is 5V and 24W.
The low-profile device measures 8 x 7 x 2.4″ and has an 8′ ($54.99) or 16′ ($64.99) power cord. The center top can pop off to hold gadgets like an Amazon Dot (hence the name), a Google Home Mini, or other small accessories for a neat work space.
It come in stark white or shiny black and can be ordered on Amazon.com or directly though the Accell website.
VIDEO: Slow internet speed? The problem may be as near as your couch. (ABC13)
With so many family members using the internet from your home during this COVID19 quarantine time, internet speeds can seem to slow to a crawl. Do you blame your ISP? Are there better times of the day or night to watch streaming videos or download items?
I recently spoke with ABC13 (Houston) about this issue and how to maximize your internet speed as best as possible.
You should have been doing it all along. Regularly cleaning and disinfecting that nasty smart phone of yours. And your laptop, tablet, remote control and every other piece of gadgetry around your home and office. But now with COVID19 spreading you hopefully are more aware of the germs and dangers that can cling to these electronics. So do it.
It is not just you touching your phone. When you touch a public door handle or grocery cart and then pick up your phone, congrats it is dirty. The first thing you should NOT do is wipe it with rubbing alcohol. STOP, don’t do that. Straight alcohol can strip the protective coatings that keep oil and water from damaging your display and other ports. My first choice has been to use cleaners made specifically for electronics. Whoosh Screen Shine is safe for all screens as it is alcohol-free, ammonia-free, and an anti-static. Screen Mom and Bryson are similar products also without alcohol, ammonia or phosphates.
Whichever you choose, unplug the device and do not ever spray anything directly onto the screen . Use a microfiber cloth that is often sold with these products. Spray the cleaner onto the cloth and then carefully wipe down all parts of your phone. Make sure to remove the phone cover to get parts such as buttons and crevices.
Other products can be safely used on electronics such as Clorox Wipes. Just make sure to use disinfectants that contain no more than 70% isopropyl alcohol to clean screens.
Other products to avoid cleaning phones with:
dish and hand soap
Here is a recent TV segment from FOX26 (Houston) where I go into more detail:
an average of 27,000 steps walked per day (photo here just to prove it)
hundreds of hand shakes
14 glasses of highly-caffeinated iced tea (we don’t do coffee)
less than 6 hours of sleep per night
3 packed suitcases of gadgets and trinkets that will either change my life or trash up my garage
I am receiving more items from companies who announced or launched products at the annual Las Vegas convention. I continue to talk about and review them on my radio show (11a-1p Saturdays, KPRC/iHeartRadio) and TV appearances. Here is a recent clip from “Great Day Houston” (KHOU, CBS) with much more to come:
My 20th year covering CES in Las Vegas. It only gets larger and crazier, at least in terms of the product launches and offerings. Sex “toys” are the thing this year after being dissed at the tech trade show in 2019. I’m still waiting for samples to arrive for full review.
Smart homes, cars, 8K TVs, 5G, AI, Google and Amazon are all over the place. Tune in to my radio show on KPRC 950AM and iHeartRadio for live reports from the show floor.
Catalina Island Offers At Least A Full Day of Fun, Relaxion and Adventure
I have traveled to California most all my life. As far south as San Diego and up north past San Francisco in the wine country. Los Angeles and Orange County have been my sweet spot for decades as I enjoy the hustle of Hollywood and the nearby sunny beaches.
I’ve spent countless years staring out at the Pacific Ocean wondering how far it is to Hawaii, in my mind the closest land mass to the west of SoCal. But how could I forget another famous island where people go to play and enjoy the sun, but just 22 miles away?
Catalina here I come.
The only things I really knew about Catalina Island were from a Beach Boys song and a memorable scene from the Will Ferrell movie “Step Brothers.” It seemed beautiful (though most of that scene was not shot on the island) but it was presented in a way that one must visit the lush, mountainous landmass with sparkling blue harbors.
During a recent swing to the left coast I decided to make a trip to Catalina to see what all the hubbub was about, if not to find remnants of that (explicative) wine mixer made famous in that 2008 film.
I suppose the rich and famous take their private helicopters across the water to Catalina. A helipad sits about a mile south of Avalon, the largest community on the island. There is even an airstrip for planes up near the highest point. However, most visitors come by boat.
Catalina Express operates the main charter service to-and-from Catalina Island. Departing from three ports – San Pedro, Long Beach and Dana Point – the company offers up to 30 daily departures to Avalon and Two Harbors. According to a company spokesperson, Catalina Express transports nearly one million passengers annually.
Ticketing is like booking a flight. I logged on to the website and booked a few tickets from Long Beach to Avalon in a matter of minutes. There is even a higher “class” of seating called the Commander Lounge that offers a quieter and comfier experience than a standard ticket. The lounge has retractable seats with an attendant who serves a drink (alcohol or not) that comes with the ticket.
We arrived at the Long Beach terminal about an hour before our morning departure. Parking was convenient – if not pricey at $19 per day – in a covered garage.
Though we were going only for the day equipped with a small backpack, several passengers were wheeling luggage into the terminal. These were travelers who were staying on the island for a few days in some of the private homes and hotels. Each passenger rolled their luggage onto a storage area on the boat and retrieved them upon arrival.
Our vessel held around 400 passengers and departed right on time. It was a smooth cruise across the Pacific as a I sipped a Bloody Mary, watching the sun rise and keeping an eye open for dolphins that sometime swim near the boats.
We arrived in Avalon about an hour later ready to soak in the atmosphere that looked so inviting in the Catalina Express brochures.
Best Way Too See The Island
As we stepped off the boat onto the long dock, we could see how tall and hilly this 76-square mile rock really is. Large, leafy trees crept up the slopes with colorful houses and apartments popping out of the green scenery.
This is an ideal place for hikers and we saw many of them. I’d recommend a good pair of walking boots, a hiking stick and lots of water should you journey his way.
We opted for an easier mode to explore and traverse the steep terrain by renting a golf cart. Automobiles are scarce on Catalina so many residents get around via these gas-powered vehicles. They are the perfect size for the small streets and certainly easier to park in the tiny town.
Catalina Island Golf Carts rents 4- and 6-seat carts for about $50 per hour. It is a good idea to make a reservation before you arrive especially on a weekend. I signed in at the kiosk near the dock and off we went. Up, up, and up.
We headed south to follow the scenic tour signs to be sure and catch the most picturesque sites on Catalina. The convenience of a golf cart allows you to go at your own pace and stop as often as you’d like. Within 10 minutes we were perched on one of the highest overlooks of Avalon and the harbor. It was breathtaking and gave us bearings for the rest of our day.
Hundreds of feet below us, dozens of private boats were floating in the calm harbor water. It seemed as if they were anchored there overnight, if not for days. And why not? Catalina has long been a getaway destination to lounge in the sun and splash in the crystal blue water. If I lived in SoCal and had a boat this is where I’d hang out on most summer weekends.
Beyond the boats sits probably the most iconic landmark of Avalon, the Casino. Built in 1929 at a cost of $2 million, no gambling takes place – or ever took place – at the enormous, round auditorium. The word “casino,” it seems, means “a gathering place” in Italian. The building is used for events and shows movies regularly.
After snapping a ton of photos, we hopped back on the golf cart to continue our tour through town. Another hill led us past a golf course to the picturesque Wrigley Museum. The same Wrigley family as in the chewing gum magnate and owner of the Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs held their spring training camp on Catalina Island from 1921-1951, except for a short break during World War II. The Wrigley name still has a large presence everywhere you go.
We passed several hotels and some over-the-top homes wondering if people lived here year-round or just used them for leisurely escapes. Most all of them have wonderous views of the harbor down below.
We finished our island excursion in about 90 minutes as we returned the golf cart back to the waterfront just in time for lunch.
Eat, Drink, Enjoy The Views
There are many options to dine in Avalon with most centered around the harbor and dotting the nearby streets. Small cafes serving crepes and sandwiches were crowded with visitors and locals soaking in the sun on flower-filled patios. Sounds of laughter could be heard drifting out of bars that offer exotic drinks and cold beer.
We wanted to find a place with a perfect view of the water to enjoy the nice breeze on this Sunday afternoon. The Bluewater Grill was the perfect destination. The only true waterfront restaurant in town, this centrally-located building has a large deck that juts out over the harbor. We didn’t bother opening the menu for at least 10 minutes as we stared out at the water on a picture-perfect day.
The restaurant is part of the Bluewater Grill group on the Mainland and sources the globe for the freshest seafood. It’s a casual, fun setting with a large, open bar area, sushi and oyster bars and great hospitality.
Our waitress recommended some of the more popular cocktails and appetizers. Within minutes we were sipping and snacking to our hearts’ content. The artichokes with lemon butter tasted like they were picked fresh that morning and the chicken wings had just the right spice. I was talked into the menu favorite – lightly fried shrimp and fish with a large helping of French fries. I was on vacation, after all. Deliciousness.
The lobster tail was tender and there are vegan and child options. We were told we couldn’t leave without trying the bread pudding, so we had to oblige. The memorable meal left us feeling like fat, happy cats, but we knew we would work it off with the rest of the day’s activities.
Catalina From Above
While we saw most everything on land during our golf cart tour, there is another angle worth seeing. From high above the harbor. 800 feet high to be exact. While being pulled from a boat with a large parachute above your head. Yes, it was time to parasail.
I have parasailed a few times during trips to Mexico, but this “flight” was extra special. Catalina Island Parasail offers the experience of floating through the air while a speedboat navigates in-and-around the harbor. And the view is spectacular.
It’s a surreal experience. A two-person harness is launched from the boat’s deck to let you float in almost absolute silence. The panoramic view of the island is something you don’t see every day and certainly can’t see from land.
The experienced crew safely guided us up towards the sky for a 10-minute tour that could have lasted for hours. We opted to purchase photos they took from the boat so we could prove to everyone that we floated in paradise.
We didn’t want to leave Catalina without experiencing a little more adventure. We then walked north a bit past the Casino into the Descanso Canyon. Catalina Aerial Adventure is set up here complete with zip lines that crisscross the mountains and a thrilling obstacle course suspended in trees.
We harnessed up and spent the next hour laughing like kids as we negotiated wood planks and slides that led from treetop to treetop.
Our daylong trip to Catalina Island was coming to end so we scurried through town towards the Catalina Express. But not before stopping at Lloyd’s of Avalon. The line stretching out the front door sensed something good was being served.
Lloyd’s has been making salt water taffy, caramel apples, peanut brittle, fudge and chocolates in the window on Crescent Avenue in Avalon since 1934. The sweet smell of sugar was wafting throughout the deep store, but our snack of choice was hand-dipped ice cream cones. Families gathered outside with all sorts of tasty treats, possibly to reward themselves of a day well spent.
Our boat was right on time as the sun was still in the sky. Passengers were starting to board, headed back to Long Beach from at least an overnight stay somewhere on the island. We fell into our Commodore Lounge seats with barely enough energy to order one final round of beer during the hour-long trip to the Mainland.
Halfway through the voyage we watched the sun begin to set into the Pacific Ocean through the large, tinted windows of boat. I took a stroll outside on the large, open, back deck to make sure I got a few last photos of the water and took in a final breath of the clean, sea air.
And just like that, we were back at the Catalina Express terminal.
There are many things to do and see on Catalina Island. Had we stayed another day or two I probably would have got in a round of golf, camped in a tent overnight, and hiked across the rugged wilderness. But our one day visit to this beautiful piece of land gave us something to look forward to the next time we head out to west to California.
After all, I still did not find that (expletive) wine mixer.
LISTEN to my recap here as heard on my radio show:
During a recent swing up-and-down the SoCal coastline I made a point to find unique spots to dine and stay. I travel so often I wanted to experience things other than chain hotels and eateries that dot the rest of the U.S.
The South Bay of Los Angeles is a beautiful place to play on white, sandy beaches and watch the sun fade into the Pacific Ocean. It’s even better when you have a cold cocktail in hand and delicious food to begin a breezy, summer evening.
Redondo Beach can be a busy place this time of year with visitors, beachgoers, boaters and traffic, but just a few hundred yards off N. Harbor Drive – across a basin filled with eye-popping private boats – sits the Portofino Hotel.
My plans to stay at the waterfront property were scuttled at the last-minute but I wanted to experience the area and see the premium luxury hotel for myself. Part of the Noble House family of hotels and resorts, the Portofino boasts breathtaking scenes of the water from almost view.
Around 5 o’clock in the afternoon I heard some commotion a few yards away from the hotel’s grand entrance. The open windows of a restaurant were inviting me with laughter, chatter and the smell of fresh seafood. So in I went into BALEENKitchen.
The open-air setting and light mood first led me to the large bar. Good looking, happy people (are there any others in SoCal?) were lounging in comfy chairs holding colorful drinks. Happy hour was in full swing and I helped myself to a Pineapple Express.
Justin King, General Manager of the restaurant, wanted to personally make sure my drinks was made to standard, so he popped behind the bar and started pouring and shaking.
Plantation pineapple rum, Bacardi coconut rum, ginger liqueur topped with coconut, lime and basil. I closed my eyes and thought I was in the tropics.
After opening my eyes Justin led me into the spacious dining room to a white-clothed table by the window. I knew at that point I wasn’t going anywhere for hours. I certainly did not want to miss that west coast sunset.
The menu offers a lengthy list of small plates and shareables. Ahi tuna tacos with fresh guacamole was my first stop followed blistered shishito peppers and then a beautiful charcuterie and cheese board. By the time I was halfway through the olives and grapes on the board I was sipping on a Pat’s Ol’ Fashioned.
As a bourbon lover I make sure to sample specialty drinks made with that Kentucky brown water. Angel’s Envy bourbon is the base along with demerara sugar and orange bitters. I got my Uber app ready as I finished two of those.
The presentation was exemplary as heads turned when the waiter placed a plate of pan-roasted diver scallops in front of me. Surrounded by pee wee potatoes, mushrooms and blistered cherry tomatoes, I wanted to savor this for a while. Alas, the miso-glazed salmon was coming.
It was cooked as perfect as can be atop a bed of soba noodles and baby bok choy. Justin snuck back to my table with a serving of sweet potatoes as he wanted me to know that was one of the more popular side dish choices. I quickly realized why.
As the sun began to fall into the water and I finished snapping 3 dozen photos of the gorgeous view, a sampler of bread pudding, apple tart and gelato was within reach of my spoon. Perfect desserts to finish a perfect evening.
BALEENkitchen offers a top-notch waitstaff who readily answer questions about the menu and who owns which boat just outside of the expansive restaurant.
My only wish would have been to walk back across the driveway into what I believe would be a glorious hotel room and quickly drift into a deep sleep dreaming about those scallops.
Alas, my Uber arrived to take me up the coast a bit, but I vow to return one day for the full Portofino experience.