Category: Travel

Nissan’s AWD Altima Handles Ice Like A Pro

Mont-Tremblant, Canada – If there is one thing I learned from my 28 hours here in the frozen north, it’s that -40 degrees Celsius is the same as -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Though our group did not see that number on the digital thermometers of our vehicles, we got very close.  But that was the point.  Driving, braking and learning to control a vehicle when on snow and ice.

Lots of ice.  So hello, Montreal.

Nissan invited a small group of auto journalists and enthusiasts from across the U.S. to test the latest technology on its all-wheel drive (AWD) versions of its 2019 Altima sedan and Murano CUV.  The winding, wintry roads here in early March proved to be the perfect proving ground for these tasks that seem simple in normal weather.

The Altima is the first AWD sedan that Nissan has sold in the U.S. market.  This affordable ride starts at $23,900 and has several configurations scaling up to the Platinum version at $31,930.

With gas mileage at 26/36/30 mpg, Nissan says it’s the most fuel efficient AWD in its class. 

We weren’t too concerned about fuel efficiency on this particular venture as we kept the speedometer in check most of the time due to the snow-packed roads around this beautiful mountain village.  But our destination, Circuit Mecaglisse, had more than white fluff waiting for us.

This famed, looped driving track has been groomed since November to pack 8-12 inches of solid ice on top of its paved curves and straightaways.  Nissan figured there was no better place to than bring unskilled winter drivers like us there and let us have our way for a few hours.

Alas, we did have professional drivers in our passenger seats giving us detailed instruction on when to brake, hit the gas and start a controlled turn. 

The Altima handled the icy track with very little sliding and taking off from a stop was not an issue.  There’s an initial 50-50 split front-rear power before the drive shifts to 70/30 when road conditions become slick.  When the ground is nicely thawed the car rolls along in front-wheel drive mode.

This sixth-generation Altima has a 2.5-litre engine and boasts 182 hp – a bit higher than the previous model. The AWD is pretty techy but Nissan’s ProPilot Assist continues to wow me.  This driving aid, found on several of the company’s other vehicles, offers semi-autonomous acceleration, braking and steering.

The heated seats and steering wheel were a bonus and the inside is quite spacious.  An 8” nav/entertainment screen in the center of the dashboard was easy to read.  The other displays and readouts were intuitive.

The look is sharp and sleek with LED lights all around and a floating roof.  I’d call it stylish especially for a sedan – a shrinking segment that many people think has had its time. 

I doubt I will personally need the driving skills nor the new technology in the AWD Altima on a daily basis as my home base of Texas keeps the winter weather in check.  But should I one day move to a cooler climate where I have to learn how to shovel my driveway, I could totally see an Altima backing out of garage.

CES 2019 – 12 Minutes of Everything You Missed

My 15th year of covering CES brought a slew of things I never thought I would see.  Let’s start with 5G…because I didn’t see it!  Rumors swirled for weeks that many companies would be touting new 5G services and products that could utilize the highspeed bandwidth.  Bust.  I saw a few products that wanted to latch on to the 5G hype but nothing solid because there is no actual 5G yet.  I’ll save that story for CES 2020.

What I did see was plenty of companies touting partnerships with Google and Amazon, the leaders in voice assistants. Alexa was the only player here a few years ago but this week was tough to get away from a product that didn’t turn on after hearing “Hey Google.”  The search company which is much more than search built a monstrosity of a booth in front of the Las Vegas Convention Center that was part mansion, part “It’s A Small World” ride.

A Google rep told me they had to pour a slab of concrete – on top of the current parking lot concrete – to construct the temporary shrine to the five colors.  Visitors walked through “rooms” made to mimic a kitchen, living room and even a garage complete with Google-made and 3rd party-made products.  The other part of the building housed a roller coaster-like ride that moved through scenarios of a typical day in a home.  Voice activated curtains opened in the morning continuing to mom asking the Google Assistant how to make a birthday cake.  The queue had a waiting line of sometimes up to 45 minutes; not really worth it save for the Google Home Hub that was given out to all riders at the end (so yeah, I guess it was worth it).

TVs continue to be a big thing and 8K was the winning number-letter combination at CES (sorry again 5K).  LG showed a 65″ TV that rolls up-and-down at the push of a button.  Samsung, TCL, and other manufacturers had so many monitors I was afraid of getting sunburned as I walked by.  8K screens (twice the resolution of 4K) looked great even side-by-side of 4K monitors.  But wake me up when networks and providers start delivering even 4K content on a prevalent basis.  My guess is my grandkids may one day enjoy 8K TVs with content to fill the screen.  Note: my kids are relatively young.

CES has seemingly become the de facto national car show as most every major OEM – from Audi to Mercedes to Hyundai – had massive booths and displays to tout their new vehicles and concepts.  Audi always brings it A-game booth design and tricked out an A8 with front and rear seat video screens along with seats similar to a D-BOX rumble seat found in movie theaters.  A quick screening of “The Avengers” while sitting in the back seat reminded me of a 4D ride at Universal Studios.  All they needed were motion sickness bags.

No new smartphones were announced at the trade show; most companies are waiting to release them next month at GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.  Bad news: my travel budget does not reach that far so I’ll have to report from afar.  While smartphones were not found amongst the 4,000+ exhibitors it seemed like half of the vendors were handing out smartphone cases.  I got one for my Samsung Galaxy S9 that apparently can withstand a drop from 5 floors up and continue to work in 10 meters of water.

My main takeaways from CES 2019 were that this massive gathering of tech giants, buyers and media does not seem to be slowing down despite the dearth of new products that are already on the market or planned to be released soon.  But it is OK to dream and ooh and ahh.  Because I certainly did.  Especially when I went to sleep each night after walking an average of 18,000 steps each day (according to my high-tech watch).

For all the highlights, join me in a 12 minute video recap:

Safety Is Job 1 at Shell and Team Penske

6,000 ft above the Gulf of Mexico – Flying aboard a 16-person helicopter back to New Orleans I was still questioning why I spent an entire day sitting in a classroom and being dunked in a pool.  Upside down.  Harnessed to a helicopter simulator chair.  Shell explained it was all in the name of safety just in case there was an issue during the flights to and from its deep water oil and gas production facility in the Gulf we were headed to.  As we are about to land safely at the New Orleans airport there was nary an issue during the 100-minute flight but it was reassuring to have passed the Tropical Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET) the day before.

I was a part of the crew invited to tour the Turritella, Shell’s Floating Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO) facility stationed 200 miles south of Louisiana.  The purpose of this trip was to demonstrate to media and members of Team Penske how safety and preparation are critical in the offshore environment and on the track.  Team Penske, of course, is a the professional stock car, open wheel and sports car racing team that currently competes in the IndyCar and NASCAR Cup Series, among other racing leagues.  Penske Corp. president Bud Denker led his team members on the trip – he was first in the training pool – which included 3-time Indy Car champ Helio Castroneves.

Day 1 of this 2-day event was spent at Shell’s training facility in Robert, Louisiana, about an hour north of New Orleans.  The 9-hour (yes, 9 hours!) training class taught us safety techniques and procedures of how to escape and survive a helicopter should it ditch in the water.  Teamwork was the theme as all participants learned how to work together to exit the aircraft should it land upright or upside down.  This is where fun came in.

The afternoon found us all in an Olympic-size pool that featured a full-scale replica of a helicopter attached to moving cables above.  After watching several demonstrations of how to enter and exit the chopper we were strapped to the 5-point harnessed seats several times in both upright and upside positions.  Notwithstanding unwanted water rushing up our noses we all passed with flying colors and were presented with HUET certificates we would need for the trip the next day.

 

A 6:00am hotel lobby rendezvous began our busy Day 2 with a bus ride to the airport.  After another safety briefing we were escorted to a helicopter that Shell contracts with PHI.  Liftoff was right on schedule and we were quickly soaring above the Gulf.  Several members of the Shell team briefed us on their Gulf of Mexico drilling and production facilities while we gazed at nothing but water as far as the eye could see.

Carlos Maurer, president of Shell Lubricants America, was quick to point out one of the final products that is produced in the water below us includes engine oil so many of us use everyday.  Helio made sure we all knew that his likeness appears on many of those oil cannisters sold at retail outlets and was the sole reason Shell continue to have record sales numbers.  Knowing that we needed to remain strapped to the seats during the flight no one was going to ague with the gregarious race car driver.

 

 

We approached the Turritella vessel which hovers over Shell’s Stones field in the Lower Tertiary geologic frontier in the Gulf.  Discovered in 2005, it is Shell’s second producing field in this region along with Perdido.

 

 

As we circled to get a good view we could see an oil tanker floating a few hundred yards behind the FPSO.  They were in the midst of off-loading millions of gallons of oil from the Turritella onto the tanker.  This process occurs several times each week.

We landed slowly onto the helipad located a the stern of the vessel.  After unstrapping ourselves we carefully walked down into a holding area where we were given more safety instructions and handed personal protective equipment.  Our tour began as we were clad in coveralls, protective eye wear, gloves and hard hats.  Over the next several hours we were led through the Turritella’s command center, bridge, engineering room, crew bunks and the cafeteria.

120 crew members were on board during our visit, most working the typical off-shore schedule of 14 days on, 14 days off.  The crew certainly eats well as we dined with them during a lunchtime shift.  Homemade hummus, salads, baked cod, pasta, potatoes and dessert was served by the trained cooks and kitchen crew.  The menus change daily which makes for a happy, well-fed crew.

At some point we needed to see the equipment and learn the process of how oil and gas – almost 10,000 feet below us – was being extracted from 27,000 feet below the earth’s surface onto the vessel on which we were standing.  The Turritella is a modified ship with one key feature – an extremely large turret is situated near the bow.  This structure rises several hundred feet above the main deck and extends through the vessel nearly 30 feet under sea level.  This feature allows the Turritella to circle around the stationary turret ensuring the vessel is constantly pointed into the Gulf’s waves to minimize rocking and swaying.

Deep inside the vessel at the bottom of the turret is an incredibly engineered system where a large buoy connects to the ship.  Underneath the buoy are a network of steel pipes that creep almost 2 miles down to the bottom of the Gulf.  Oil is pumped up through these pipes into the massive storage tanks aboard the Turritella where it is held until it is off-loaded onto tankers.

We were told this FPSO concept was created, in lieu of a stationary oil rig, for several reasons including safety, of course.  An FPSO can disconnect the buoy and float away from danger should a hurricane enter the Gulf.  The process of disconnecting the buoy – which floats about 200 ft below the water surface – and reconnecting it to the Turritella takes about 7 days.  To ensure a smooth operation should the vessel be in the path of a hurricane Shell goes through the drill once a year.  An estimated 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent (boe) per day is produced from Stones field.

Our visit ended with most of the Turritella’s crew listening to Helio and Team Penske members talk about teamwork and the importance of their work.  Helio made sure to let them know their efforts propel his team to race throughout the year and his checkered flag finishes could not happen without Team Shell.

Upon landing back at the airport we realized the HUET certification we received the previous day was but a small percentage of the measures Shell goes through to ensure its employees and equipment remain safe.

 

 

LISTEN TO THE TRIP RECAP AS HEARD ON IHEARTRADIO’S “THE HIGH-TECH TEXAN SHOW WITH MICHAEL GARFIELD”

VIDEO: Summer Tech/Travel Gadgets

Summer is halfway over but you may still be packing up to hit the road.  Here are some smart and sharp products to help you with packing, monitoring your home, sharing your memories, and helping you sleep in those noisy hotel rooms.  I will elaborate on these and more products, as usual, on my High-Tech Texan radio show (Saturdays 11a – 1p CT) on iHeartRadio around the world.

Click screenshot below to watch clip from HOUSTON LIFE (NBC-Houston)

PRODUCTS SPOTLIGHTED:

Eagle Creek/National Geographic Explorer Series Travel Bag
Guardzilla 360 degree video camera
B-hyve WiFi hose faucet timer
PhotoSpring digital photo frame
SleepPhones headphones for sleeping

Living The Dream, Costa Rican Style – A Visit To Reserva Conchal Beach Resort, Golf & Spa

It’s 9:45 in the morning and I’m already starting to sweat. Maybe because the temperature is creeping towards 90 degrees and the humidity is approaching that same number. Or it could be that I’m staring at a small flag 178 yards away surrounded by 5 deep, sandy bunkers.

The par 5, fourth hole at Reserva Conchal Golf Club in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica has me thinking. 5 or 6 iron? A slight fade to avoid the tall, luscious, swaying trees should put my ball solidly on deck. Too much club could carry my new, logoed Top Flite right into the Pacific Ocean.

This moment ends up being the toughest decision of my five-day stay at Reserva Conchal, a 2300-acre planned community in the northern Pacific coast of this beautiful country.  After all there is not much to think about when exploring parts of this Central American paradise, hiking through a wildlife refuge, or taking a cool dip in the blue, coastal water.

I was invited to the property by the marketing staff to check out the many opportunities to live in the land of Reserva Conchal. I jumped at the chance as my lifelong travels had never brought me to Costa Rica.  I wanted to see if there was more to the tales I heard about the howler monkeys and the strong, flavorful coffee.  (note: as my readers know I do not drink coffee so I took the word of my fellow traveling journos…it is good)

This private residential community is about an hour drive from the International airport in Liberia.  The perfectly landscaped, guarded front gates open to winding roads that take off in many directions to unique properties where visitors come to play and others come to stay.

I unpack my bags in a three-bedroom condo overlooking the 3rd fairway of the sprawling golf course.  The Bougainvillea Condominiums are spacious with a two-level dining and living room just off the fully appointed kitchen. A utility room with washer and dryer made me feel at home knowing I will put those to use with my swim and golf gear during my stay.

Though we stayed at these 3-story condos for just a few days you can’t rent them directly from the property management.  They are owned by residents who use them or lease them out during the year.  There are several units  currently available for purchase.

This was just the first of the many living options I would see throughout Reserva Conchal.  Just up the road was Roble Sabana, a more contemporary styled condo with ocean and golf views featuring 1- and 2-bedroom units. The living space was smaller than the condo I was staying in and reminded me a bit of apartment-style living.  Certainly a potential place of ownership for couples and small families who would enjoy walking downstairs to their own picturesque pool and cabana.

Property owners here live around the world and most utilize their Reserva Conchal residence as a second – or even third – home.

Summers in Costa Rica can typically be toasty and keep some owners away until the cooler months. That may have been the reason for the quietness and relaxing, lazy feel of the area during my early June stay.  Or maybe that’s the year-round vibe that drives people to live here full-time or partially.

Condo life is just a part of the eco-oriented property nestled in this hilly, oceanside development.  A drive through more gated subdivisions had me yearning to jump out of the property’s air-conditioned, WiFi equipped shuttles to knock on front doors of the beautiful, custom-built homes for a tour.

We stopped at a privately-owned home that appears in some of the Reserva Conchal brochures.  And rightly so.  This 3-bedroom, 2-story modern wonder could be considered a dream home, much less a second dream home to the couple that built it a few years earlier.  Airy in feel, the floor-to-ceiling windows offered a backyard view of the lot-sized pool with the meticulous, green golf course just behind that. Wood floors and a clean, modern kitchen seemingly await hosted happy hours with friends or breakfasts with the grandkids.

The home is in the Llama Del Bosque subdivision where lots start at $197,000 (US). For those wanting to an immediate move-in a few spec homes dot this secluded area with prices beginning at $799,000.

Throughout my stay I was reminded by the friendly staff that Reserva Conchal is more than just a residential community with resort-style amenities such as a beach club and spa.  The developer makes it a point to be as eco-friendly as possible.

To prove that point we were given a tour of the off-site recycling post that resembled nothing less than a well-tuned factory. Dedicated employees oversee an operation that separates biodegradable products from waste to make sure everything at Reserva Conchal is carbon positive.

Sustainability is a way of life here.  Ownership embraces this philosophy by focusing on three pillars that form the business plan:  economic, social and environmental development.

Plastic wear is not found anywhere in the communal areas which explained the use of paper straws in the ice-cold drinks served at the bars and restaurants.

Towards the end of the week our guided tour continued to a construction site where the Aromo Townhomes are being completed.  A hard hat walk-through of these self-contained, 2-story units offered a peek inside what will soon be contemporary 3- and 4-bedroom residences complete with their own pools.  These start at $629,000 and should be finished by the end of summer.

Just above the townhomes is a groomed patch of dirt marked with stakes and construction tape.  This will be an exclusive enclave of five ocean view home sites.

Maybe I was wrong about that golf shot being toughest decision of the week. I was now wondering where in this beautiful property I would build my dream home. Again, a fun dilemma that kept my mind off the real-world I was about to go home to at the end of the week.

Costa Rica is a popular place to both vacation and live due partly to its easy-to-reach location.  It is a short 3-hour flight from my hometown of Houston and accessible from all parts of the world via non-stop flights from airport hubs nearby.

Reserva Conchal offers so many options of living styles it will probably take some time to decide which one is right for you. My suggestion would be to be visit and stay for a while at the all-inclusive Westin Golf Resort & Spa in the heart of the development.  Guests have the use of the same golf course that challenged me along with its own pools and 10 restaurants and bars. Try the sushi and catch a few games on TV in the sports-themed Pura Vida bar.

Or perhaps go later this year after the grand opening of W Costa Rica.  This hotel will surely be a world-class destination for vacationing jet setters with luxurious suites, grand lobbies and ultra-private beachfront units.

Between golf, hiking, or a relaxing day at the spa, the on-site staff will share all the options that Reserva Conchal offers for primary living or a perfect second home where Central American escapism will pervade your thoughts when not in Costa Rica.

Your biggest decision then will not be whether to use a 5 or 6 iron on that approach shot at the Robert Trent Jones II designed course, but rather whether to build on a lot, move into a spec home, or choose what subdivision within this massive planned community is right for you.

But if you are faced with my similar decision during your time here, go with the 6 iron and drop that ball softly on the right side of the green.  Birdie.

For more information about Reserva Conchal Beach Resort, Golf & Spa, please visit www.reservaconchal.com or call 855-851-5000.

-by Michael Garfield, as published in Prime Living Magazine

Summer Live Broadcasts Continue. Where In The World Is Garf?

We are trying to keep you entertained throughout this hot summer by taking our show on the road to give you ideas of where to travel and stay cool (or at least have some fun).  From Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to Chicago, we have brought you some fun sights, sounds and ideas of where to go and what to do with your family.

Next stop:  Orlando in August.  Stay tuned…

And THIS is how you make a splash upon arrival at a live show!

One (Fun) Night in the Mississippi Gulf Coast

Driving cross-country can be an experience that some people despise while others enjoy a leisurely, cathartic trip across our great country.  I generally remember my family trips when I was younger sitting in the back seat of our station wagon.  The only that kept us entertained between nightly stops at a Holiday Inn was playing the license plate game on passing cars.

Today’s driving experience is much easier thanks to luxuries like satellite radio, GPS directions and – with all due respect to Holiday Inn – much nicer places to stay and a lot of entertaining (and appetizing) cities to stop over in.

On a recent journey from Orlando to Houston I wanted to stay the night where I could take in some nice scenery, experience local food and culture and relax a bit to get my mind off the 1,000 mile trek.  Based on that smart GPS map I found that Biloxi, Mississippi, was the perfect place to chill out for about 20 hours.

I contacted the Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional CVB for some tips on what to do in the area during a quick stop.  I was inundated with a variety of options that could have kept me busy for a week.  Here are some of the places I checked out and recommend when in the area:

  • Harrah’s Gulf Coast.  It helps that I like to gamble so why not stay in a hotel/casino.  Harrah’s is centered along the seawall with sweeping views of the gulf and other large hotels that twinkle at night.  The rooms are spacious and the pool is situated on a deck a few floors above the street which provides a wonderful place to watch the sun rise or set with your favorite cocktail.  I spent some time in the vast casino just off the lobby area.  The table minimums (as low as $5) make it easy to hang around awhile and the dealers were some of the friendliest people I have ever met.
  • Magnolia House by Kelly English.  We had reservations at this restaurant which I imagined was a stand-alone house with a 100 year-old back story.  I actually appreciated the fact it is situated in Harrah’s just inside the pool deck area.  But the easy and laid-back décor made it seem we were dining in that heritage home I had envisioned.  Kelly English is a 2009 Food & Wine “Chef of the Year” who makes a very creative menu that highlights the southern and Gulf Coast roots of the restaurant.  It is a luxurious experience that is romantic; made even better by the attentive and knowledgeable wait staff.  Must try dishes: Fried Oyster Spinach Salad, Black Truffle Burger, Gulf Snapper with Pontchartrain Sauce, Cheese Grits.  You will thank you me later.
  • There is a great deal of history throughout the Gulf Coast and as you can imagine a number of interesting museums, tours and sightseeing for all ages.  The Lynn Meadows Discovery Center is a top 50 children’s museum and the Infinity Science Center should also be a stop with the family.  History buffs should visit the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum which will impress and make you hungry at the same time.  Beauvoir is very unique as it the home of Jefferson Davis, the last president of the Confederate States of America.  The Walter Anderson and Ohr-O’Keefe Museums of Art offer lovely exhibits and pieces showcasing the Gulf Coast. The design and architecture of the Ohr-O’Keefe itself is a work of art.
  • We did not have time to play on the water and beaches during our brief stay but Biloxi is not lacking in adventures for those that like sun and sand.  Kayak and jet ski rentals can be found up and down the shoreline.  Biloxi Schooners and Ship Island Excursions take passengers out on the water to a variety of destinations or just to sightsee from the water back to the land.

Though our stay was short lived the entire area is inviting and I look forward to a return trip with a longer stay.  I plan to bring my golf clubs, sandals, sunscreen, dancing shoes and maybe even my kids.  It’s my turn to show them how to travel in style and have fun doing so…unlike their dad in the backseat of that station wagon and playing in above-ground motel pools.

Sandos Resorts In Mexico – A Nearby Escape To Fun & Sun

20150903_143539One great thing about living in Texas is our close proximity to Mexico. This allows for quick flights to some of the best resorts in the world.  Pack your passport, some sunscreen, flip flops, and maybe a hat, and then head down south for fun in the sun.

My crew and I did just that over Labor Day weekend as we partied it up and do a live radio show from Sandos Caracol Eco Resort.  Sandos has four resorts in Mexico spread out from Cabo San Lucas to Cancun to Playa Del Carmen.  Working with the great Sandos staff we flew to Cancun and then took a short bus trip down to the Eco Resort in Playa.

Getting to Cancun (or most anywhere on Earth, for that matter) was simple as we booked travel through United Vacations.  With United Vacations’ low deposit payment plans, the guaranteed best prices on United Airlines flights, you know you’re getting a great deal.

United Vacations has a great feature called Premier Vacation Protection.  It gives you extra piece of mind before and during your vacation.   Benefits include baggage protection, medical coverage, cancellation for any reason and more.

I also like the fact that you don’t have to worry about waiting around for a lower price. If the price of your hotel stay goes down, you can be refunded the difference if you’re covered by Premier Vacation Protection.

It was less than four hours travel from the time we departed IAH to the time we checked in at Sandos Caracol. We were greeted at the resort with a frozen concoction of tequila or rum (does it really matter when on vacation?) and the most important item of our stay – a wristband that allowed for all the food, drinks and fun across the sprawling property.20150904_104133

The resort has 956 guest rooms with access to an all-inclusive food and beverage program featuring 3 buffets, 6 a la carte restaurants, 8 bars and 24-hour room service. We hit every bar and restaurant during our stay with our favorites being Las Mascaras (Mexican), La Riviera (Mediterranean), and La Toscana (Italian).  Fresh food and friendly service was abundant.  And did I mention tequila and rum?

This particular resort in the Sandos family is eco-focused to promote sustainable practices to their guests and suppliers.  Guest rooms are “green” by using certified materials, LED lighting, and a system for recycling gray and soapy water.

The property is family-friendly with an Adults Only section and several areas for kids and teens.  Even though I didn’t bring my kids on this trip I still found myself splashing around the Aquapark.   You just can’t keep me off a water slide.  There are 17 slides and a splash zone here.

20150903_184232The adults section features an exclusive guest reception, beach club house with private bar service, private pool and an adults only restaurant for breakfast and lunch.  This area was nice and quiet for lounging around during the late afternoons however we spent most of the day on the beautiful, palm tree-lined beach.

White sand and clear blue water borders the large property.  Beach chairs and day beds are pristinely lined up waiting for guests to do nothing but sit back, lie down and relax.  Beachside bars are no more than a few yards away and the large, main pool is nearby if you want a chlorinated dip and inviting party music.

Fans of water sports have many options to choose from with kayaks, boogie boards, snorkel gear and sailboats included in some of the guest packages. SCUBA dives and deep-sea fishing trips can also be planned.

And what is a resort vacation without a trip to the spa?  Spa Sandos has luxurious facilities with 16 treatment rooms, saunas and steam baths, gym and spinning room and a beachfront massage palapa overlooking views of the Caribbean Sea.

Sandos Caracol offers some unique things that I you must check out when visiting.  I partook in a unique Mayan therapy called Temazcal. This ancient tradition guides guests to different levels of heat and steam generated by volcanic rocks and medicinal herbs in a spiritual atmosphere.  My body, mind and soul were purified…at least until I found the bar later that night.20150905_130608

The Xcalacoco Experience allows guests to learn more about Mayan and Mexican culture with different daily activities.  Each day of the week is set aside to honor a different element.  Four live theatrical shows are performed on the property each week.  Make sure to catch at least one during your stay.

Our trip went by quickly before we hopped back on the short flight from Cancun to Houston.  The radio show went well with one of the most gorgeous backdrops we’ve ever had.  Our suntans should last a few weeks which will serve as a conversation starter with friends back home. And I now have a top-of-mind recommendation when I’m asked where to escape for a nearby vacation, incentive or wedding:  Sandos Caracol Eco Resort!

Click HERE to hear the radio show podcast from beachside at Sandos Caracol Eco Resort

Touring San Francisco – A Treat Indeed

I have been to San Francisco many times and – just like the song says – I have left my heart there each time.  The Golden Gate City is arguably the most unique city in the U.S. with its hilly terrain, sweeping views, late 19th century charm mixed with 21st century buzz, and different international-flavored neighborhoods everywhere you turn.

Why do I keep going back?  And why do I recommend it as a “must see” place for one’s bucket list?

Maybe it’s the weather.  Not so much the fog but the cool, dry air that makes me ask myself why I live in a hot, humid climate (oh yeah, probably the cost of the living).   It could be the food.   Within a few blocks walk one can dine on fresh seafood, authentic Italian, world-class Chinese and old-fashioned Mexican.

I believe the answer is all-of-the-above.  Like the city itself, I love the melting pot atmosphere of the residents and the tourists that come from all over the globe.  I recently spent a few days traversing the area by foot, go cart, subway, boat and bicycle.  I even threw in old school transportation with a ride on the famed cable cars and new school with an easy to grab Uber car.

So let’s go find my heart:

The first place I began my journey was online, of course.  Before your visit, take some time to plan your trip on San Francisco Travel, the city’s official guide for visitors and meeting planners.   Everything from activities to dining, nightlife to shopping, and even hotel suggestions are found on this website.  I knew I would be there for three nights so I made an itinerary that allowed me to play, eat, exercise and eat.  And eat.

My home base for my stay was Union Square.  I really enjoy this vibrant area as it is located near the city center with easy access to cable car lines, the underground subway, busses and trains.  It is an easy walk (despite some of the notorious hills) to get to Chinatown, the financial district and of course, all the shopping you can handle.

Yes there are high-end stores that can also be found in places like Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue and London’s High Street but I found many boutique shops and local hangouts with a northern California flair.  The fact that a pub or bar seemed to populate the area also added to my pleasure.

One must not forget a nickname of San Francisco – “The City By The Bay.”  So it makes sense to get on the bay to view the scenery and cityscape from a different vantage point.  First-timers to the area will enjoy a dinner cruise on the Hornblower, a sightseeing ship with several decks for fine dining, weddings and parties, and perches with unrestricted views no matter which way you look.

This three-hour cruise departs from the Embarcadero not far from the Bay Bridge.  Guests are welcomed at their assigned tables with a glass of champagne and a four-course dinner menu.  Live entertainment and dancing will keep you having fun down below when you aren’t on the top deck looking at the beautiful sights.  The Hornblower breezes past Alcatraz Island, circles underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge, all while delivering breathtaking views of the city.

San Fran (we are pretty tight so I can call it that) seems synonymous with fishing and seafood which is why a visit to the Wharf is a must.  Two cable car lines drop off passengers within walking distance of this area where cool breezes during the day and night may call for a stop at one of the many souvenir shops for a lightweight jacket.

No doubt many of the restaurants, stores and venues are geared to tourists but you can find some wonderful food and plenty of things to keep busy.  Lunch at Cioppino’s on Jefferson Street was a treat as I sat on the outside patio sipping a local beer.  The menu offers – what else – fresh seafood along with Italian fare that draws customers from blocks away with smells of garlic and clams.

It would be a sin not to get the clam chowder in a freshly made bread bowl.  The Dungeness crab cocktail is also very tasty but those appetizers only led up to the main dish of which this place is named.   Cioppino is the signature dish here.  A bountiful seafood extravaganza of Dungeness crab, clams, mussels, snapper, calamari, shrimp, and tomatoes braised in a fennel scented stew.  ‘Nuff said.

It is no secret that I try to keep in shape as much as I can so when I enjoy a fine meal I need to find a way to work it off.  A glance down the street found Bay City Bike Rentals & Tours.  I haven’t been on a bike in years but there was no time like the present to hop on for good exercise but also a fun way to see more sights.

Bay City Bikes rent several types of equipment for a leisurely or a high-performance stroll.  I opted for a lightweight, 21-speed model with a front camera bag, lock, water bottle holder and a map.  They also offer an electric hybrid bike with a battery and pedal assist feature lets riders experience the fun with less exertion.  I almost regret not choosing the hybrid but at least I worked off my lunch.

I opted for a guided tour and took my place amongst a dozen fellow tourists donned with bike helmets and spandex pants (No such pants for me.  Shorts will do just fine.)  We departed from the Wharf on a two-and-a-half hour journey that led us on paved trails and streets with sweeping views of the water.

The final destination of the tour would be in Sausalito, a small town just north of the bay filled with stunning sidewalk restaurants, shops and parks.  But to reach this point we would need to cross the water.  And the only way would be to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge.  Bam!

I have driven across this (arguably) most famous bridge in the world several times but traversing it on two wheels was almost an out-of-body experience.  An exclusive lane for walkers and bikers was crowded but allowed for a slow-paced pedal underneath the rust-colored towers of the bridge.   I had to stop a few times only to take in the view of the city to the south, Marin County to the north, and lots of water right below.

After crossing the bridge with high-fives amongst my fellow pedalers it was literally all downhill into Sausalito.  Part of this tour package from Bay City Bikes included a ferry ride back to the Wharf that allowed me to soak up the sights from the water again and rest up from the bike ride.

SF June 2015

Similar to dining at a restaurant, touring the city and visiting places can be done by itself (a la carte) or enjoying many things on an all-you-can-eat menu.  Like a buffet, the GO Card is a smart way to visit a variety of places across San Francisco and saves money in the long run.  A 1-day card can be purchased for $60 ($45 for kids) up to a 7-day card for $160 ($115 for kids) that gives entrance and discounts to over two dozen venues around the area.

The GO Card can be used to access several museums from the Asian Art to the U.S.S. Hornet; even to Madame Tussaud’s and Ripley’s Believe It or Not!.  My favorite place to use the card was another way to tour the city…the GoCar Tour.  The card allowed for a 30 minute use of these yellow, battery-powered vehicles equipped with a GPS-enabled storytelling experience.

The GoCar is easy and fun to drive.  As you drive, it tells you where to turn and gives an audible story of sights like Ghirardelli Square, The Presidio, Cliff House and Golden Gate Park.  My personal highlight was driving the GoCar down the curves of famous Lombardi Street.

As if I hadn’t had enough touring – and one can never get enough in this city – I found an intriguing way to learn about the vastly different neighborhoods while experiencing the unique cuisine each is famous for.  The Local Tastes Of The City Tour makes it easy to learn, eat and explore within a few hours but an experience that lasts a lifetime.

Offering several tours daily one can hop on its decorative bus or choose to walk a late morning, early afternoon or evening stroll through a choice of celebrated districts.  I opted for a night walking tour of Chinatown and North Beach as I wanted to learn about these two different cultures but also chow down on some good Chinese and Italian grub.

Our small group was led by an exuberant guide that started at the foot of Chinatown.  We were led at our own pace while listening to the historic significance of the neighborhood and its architecture.  Walking creates an appetite so every few blocks we stopped to sample local cuisine.  A dim sum selection was offered at a local shop followed by samples of freshly-made fortune cookies at a baking company in an out-of-the way alley.

We spent about an hour leaning about tea while sipping several varieties at Vital Tea Leaf.  I have never been a lover of hot tea but after learning the health advantages of these drinks I found myself purchasing several bags to take home.  Tip: try the Pu-erh.

Before we found our way out of Chinatown we popped into Begoni Bistro Wok & Wine.  The stop was initially for a bit of wine but after seeing the prawn salad spring roll and grilled French rack of lamb we could not help but have a quick snack.  (Say hello to the gregarious owner, Ming, for me)

That snack tied us over only for the next two blocks as we entered North Beach, a vibrant district named after the part of town that used to be the northernmost section of the city.  The iconic pyramid-shaped TransAmerica Tower hovered over us like a welcoming concierge.  We meandered slightly uphill to pass inviting clubs, book shops and restaurants inviting us with tempting scents of Italian flavor.

A few slices of pizza and a glass of wine were waiting at final stop of this journey.  We tipped our gracious guide and then tried to remember the spots we had just passed to go back and enjoy a little more of the local sounds and flavor of these unique neighborhoods.

I could go back to San Francisco every year for the rest of my life and still be able to discover something I haven’t seen before.  Maybe a small park with centuries-old trees or an alleyway that winds its way out to a view of another part of the bay I have yet to see.

There is no doubt when visiting this great city that every one of all ages and from all places around the world will leave with several things:  great memories, suitcases of souvenirs, an appreciation for a beautiful cityscape and atmosphere, and recommendations for others to go back and enjoy.

Oh yeah, and you won’t leave hungry either.

Golden Nugget Lake Charles Welcomes The High-Tech Texan (and all Texans)

When it comes to gambling, eating, sipping cocktails, playing in the sun or – heck – just about living life to its fullest, I am your man.  This fact is not hard to figure out since Las Vegas is my most-visited city in the U.S.  (confession – but don’t be a hater – I’ve already been to Vegas 4x this year alone).  But instead of hopping a flight for all this fun I may have found my new hangout just a few hours drive from Houston.

Golden Nugget Lake Charles Casino. (PRNewsFoto/Landry's)

The Golden Nugget in Lake Charles, Louisiana, opened in December 2014, and I recently spent a Friday night at this palatial playground near the swamp lands.  My crew and I headed eastbound along Interstate 10 to broadcast my radio show from “the Nugget” and we experienced a wonderful time from arrival to departure.  The $700 million project came into view as we crossed over the I-210 bridge.  Thoughts of ringing slot machines and stacks of casino chips in my head had me more excited than seeing Space Mountain the first time I approached Disney World as a kid.

Walking into the hotel was akin to entering one of the glitzy hotel casinos in Las Vegas.  That is a high compliment from me as I have been in many casinos around the world that looked similar to my upstairs poker room at home.  The marble floor and high ceiling gives the lobby and casino a roomy feel.  Several retail shops dotted the aisles and I caught a glimpse of several restaurants throughout the ground floor.  More on this later as restaurants play a large part of the Golden Nugget since it is owned and operated by Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta.  Yes, that Tilman Fertitta of Landry’s Inc. fame and fortune.

Check in was quick and simple probably because I was staring at the large window behind the counter which overlooks the H20 pool and bar.  It was a Friday afternoon and the outdoor area looked rocking as tanned guests were wading around the swim-up bar.

My pool view room with balcony overlooked this same scene and I could not wait to get down there to sample the libations and do a quick site check for my radio broadcast location the next day.  But I spent a while in the nicely appointed room looking at the many features.  500 square feet of space included a large soaker tub, king size bed, 42″ TV, stand-up shower and a dining nook.  I’m not sure how many guests utilize the small table and chairs to eat as we soon found out there are so many things to do to keep you downstairs.

The pool scene was indeed loud and fun.  Cabanas are spaced around the adult pool and bar (21 and up) with a large stage for DJs, concerts and other entertainment.  A lazy river is adjacent to the adult pool winding its way around a waterfall and under foot bridges.Golden Nugget photo4

Back to the restaurants.  It is hard to determine whether this facility was built around the restaurants of Fertitta’s empire or the hotel/casino just happened to place a Fertitta-owned restaurant every few feet along the spacious corridors.  Familiar brands can be found throughout the grounds including Saltgrass Steakhouse, Grotto, Landry’s Seafood House, and Cadillac Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar.  We wanted to go all out for dinner so we opted for Vic & Anthony’s, a top steakhouse with locations in Houston and Las Vegas.

V&A General Manager Craig Harrington was inviting and worked the elegant dining room filled with guests dressed in sport coats, blue jeans and even shorts.  An order of maple glazed quail and a jumbo lump crabcake started us off.  Those appetizers quickly gave way to a table full of prime porterhouse, organic lamb chops, blackened scallops and grits, and of course there was a lobster tail.  The wine list is extensive and – my personal affection to a bar – the bourbon collection was first rate.

Golden Nugget photo2Once our bellies were full and happy it was time for one of my favorite ways to kill time and money (or hopefully make money)…the casino.  The Golden Nugget has 70 gaming tables and 1,600 slot machines.  This Friday night seemed busy and it took a little while to find an open spot at a craps table.  But once I realized there was 20x odds on the numbers all was well.  A large bar sits in the middle of the casino floor which makes for a nice place to relax and meet on the couches or tabletops.  A high roller section is situated in the back of the casino with its own bar and higher minimum tables and slot machines.  I did not notice a VIP lounge on the casino floor but, alas, there may be one somewhere for actual VIPs.

The staff was friendly whether they paid you winnings or took your losses.  This was a real Vegas “feel” which is hard to replicate outside of those large Nevada casinos.

Saturday morning found us broadcasting my radio show back to Houston (KPRC 950AM) and the world (iHeartRadio app).  The marketing staff found a wonderful location for our booth with a backdrop just a few feet away from the sparkling water and in-pool lounges.  My guests on the show included the property’s executives from the resort, operations, and beverage departments as we learned some of the interesting facts about the gleaming property.  [Note to self:  I need to visit again soon to play the recently-opened Country Club 18 hole golf course]  And our good friend Craig Harrington stopped by to bring some more delicious snacks from Vic & Anthony’s.

After the 2 hour show it was time to pack up the radio gear and change into swim gear.  We hung out the rest of the afternoon in a cabana which I recommend reserving if you have several people in your party.  It provided a nice place for shade with couches, small refrigerator stocked with bottled water, and a TV.Golden Nugget photo1

Our quick 24 hour visit left a great impression on us and many of my radio listeners.  Lake Charles has become a booming destination for entertainment for southerners but especially with Texans who daily cross the border in hoards.   Until Texas approves legalized casino gambling (hint: do not hold your breath) this will continue to be a hot place to visit.  The Golden Nugget is shiniest new star in the area and I can’t wait to go back.

Listen to The High-Tech Texan Show podcast from the Golden Nugget:

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