Category: Travel

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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Beat The Heat With A Non-Stop Visit To Vail

What’s the deal with Colorado?  Why do so many people flock to this land-locked state not just to play in the winter snow but to soak up the summer fun in its high altitude?

I don’t look into these questions too deeply.  I simply visit the Rocky Mountain state regularly – seemingly a few times each year – and thank God I’m a country boy.  Last year the family visited Beaver Creek, minus my oldest son who was at summer camp.  After seeing our photos and hearing our stories, the kid insisted he make the next trip with us.  And thus the Garfield Colorado trip of summer 2014 included him and his two younger brothers.

The allure of the mountains west of Denver called us again.  This time just a few miles down from Beaver Creek to Vail.  This destination, like last year’s, makes for convenient travel thanks to non-stop flights from Texas into Eagle County Regional Airport (EGE).  United Airlines has several weekly flights directly into this cozy airport from George H.W. Bush Intercontinental Airport while American Airlines operates service from D/FW.

The trip from EGE to Vail took about 30 minutes in a comfy SUV driven by Colorado Mountain Express.  Our driver pulled into what we would call home base for the next few days, The Sebastian, a resort located near the foot of the Vail mountainside.

The Sebastian is a Trip Advisor Four Diamond property is a chic social hub for owners, hotel guests and the local community.  The inviting lobby offers a roaring fireplace, plush couches and some of the friendliest staff I have met during my travels.

It is a wonderful place for families for many reasons including the variety of room choices and suites.  And when traveling with kids one of my rules has been to put those boys in their own rooms.  We checked into a three bedroom suite overlooking the 11,450 foot tall mountain complete with kitchen, dining area and washer/dryer.  It was a big suite.  I barely saw the kids when we were in there.

The next several days found us eating, hiking, climbing, fishing, eating, laughing, swimming and eating.  Maybe it was the thin air but our appetites were big and the food did not disappoint.  From small sandwich shops to the luxurious restaurants in The Sebastian, we added back the weight that we lost throughout our active days.

Leonora, an Alpine Bistro & Tapas Bar, offers fresh, local and organic ingredients with tapas, crudo and Alpine bistro fare   The wine list is extensive but I was more impressed with their bourbon selection (you know me).  Frost is the bar you can never pass up as it is just off the lobby.  The warm atmosphere has an amazing adventure in microbrew and bartenders who take pride in the art of mixology.  I can imagine how rocking this place is for après ski.

One of the more famous eateries in the village is the Vail Chophouse, situated a few yards away from the bottom of the mountain.  I can imagine patrons visiting during the winter skiing directly onto the patio and partaking in a late-afternoon cocktail while still attached to their skis.  Red meat is aplenty in the chic yet comfy restaurant.  I’m more of a seafood guy and the menu did not disappoint.  A three-tiered seafood smorgasbord of lobster tail, oysters, jumbo shrimp and crab legs could have sufficed for my dinner but I still had the perfectly grilled salmon a main course.

While the kids enjoyed the chophouse burger and, of course, chicken tenders they were eager to catch some food of their own out of the local rivers and creeks.  The following morning found us knee-deep in Eagle River slowly casting fly rods into the cool running water.   I tried to explain to the boys that fly fishing is vastly different from the fishing they have grown up with in the Texas lakes and Gulf of Mexico.  This is an active sport that takes a different technique and some guidance, which Daddy could not provide.

So some expert anglers from Gore Creek Fly Fishing led us on a half-day experience that we won’t soon forget.  After suiting up with waders and getting state fishing licenses we received hands-on lessons on the way to catch trout in the local waters using flies and a rod.  I have been fly fishing before and was a bit concerned the boys would have a little difficulty getting the casting motion down and reaching the goal – catching fish.  Guess who caught fish before the old man?  All three kids.

Our guide told us that fly fishing can be a sport enjoyed throughout the year but the summertime is when the best fishing happens.  Not to mention you could be standing in an ice pond come winter.  We caught and released nearly a dozen rainbow and brown trout but not before taking photos with our booty and prepping our stories to tell of the whoppers we caught.

3,000 feet above that river sits the summit of Vail Mountain.  There are a few ways of traversing the steep mountainside.  While we saw hikers and bikers trek up and down the dirt trails we decided the 10 minute ascent in an enclosed gondola was more our speed.  Atop the mountain are breathtaking views of the Gore and Sawatch Ranges.  And more adventure.

Adventure Ridge provides daylong fun for all ages.  A zip line allows you to soar a few hundred yards down the mountain and a ropes course provides a challenging way to prove to your kids that your parents still have a bit of athleticism.  The three-level ropes course was one of the most memorable parts of our trip as it not only tasked us with problem-solving ways on maneuvering but also incredible views of the mountaintop and surrounding area.

Back down at the base of the mountain Vail provides its own exhilaration and views.  The layout of the town allows for relaxing strolls down narrow streets populated with taverns, shops, boutique hotels and family gathering places.  Vail Village encompasses the east end of town and has an old world Bavarian-style charm.  Covered wooden bridges provide picturesque walkways over Gore Creek.  A pint of ale (or hot cocoa for the kids) makes for a nice afternoon stop on flower-covered tavern patio.

A newer town center-style area in the Village seemed to be the hot spot during our stay.  A large green space surrounded by shops and condos allowed the kids to run around, toss a football and kick a soccer ball.  This is the same space an ice rink occupies during the winter months and I can only imagine how inviting that setting is.

A short walk or a quick, free bus ride away is Lionshead on the west side of Vail.  I found this section of town to be a bit more modern with newer architecture yet still retaining a village-style feel.  What could be described as a high-end outdoor mall includes a space for a wintertime ice rink, shops, ice cream and pizza joints, and more inviting taverns, restaurants and bars.  Between meals we found time to stop off at Blue Moose Pizza in this area for design-your-own slices and soda.

Back in Vail Village we decided to spend one evening challenging our taste buds and bowling skills in the modish Bol.  Gourmet food and 12 pound bowling balls just can’t be beat.  We reserved a colorful lane flanked by large TV screens and ordered chef-prepared burgers, steaks, fries and seafood while participating in the Garfield Boys Bowlathon.  Finally something I could win.

When planning a visit to Vail during the summer I would suggest scheduling a Sunday to experience the Farmer’s Market & Art Show.  Colorado’s finest are showcased including locally grown produce, international dishes, fresh baked goods and even Colorado wine.  The Art Show feeds travelers’ creativity offering everything from beautiful clothing and jewelry to handmade home items.

Sure we could have played golf on one the nearby courses.  White water rafting trips also enticed us as did hiking and biking tours.  But we couldn’t decide who was more tuckered out – dad or kids – from our adventures in eating, fishing, and well you know the rest.  And there was no shortage of ways to relax especially back at The Sebastian.  The swimming pool and hot tubs provided a nice respite.  The spa and gym also make leaving the property tough.

The hardest part of our visit was packing up realizing we were about to leave a climate that averages 75 degrees during the day and 45 degrees at night would soon give way to the heat and humidity of home back in Texas.  An easy ride back to Eagle County Regional Airport via Colorado Mountain Express was a final hurrah to end our boys’ getaway.

As I have written before, for those that imagine Colorado as a place to only enjoy the winter, my simple advice is to GO WEST, young man.  Thanks to non-stop flights directly into the most beautiful parts of the state there is no reason to swelter and sweat in your hometown this summer.

Everything You Need to Know About Dominican Republic – DATE 2015

DATE 2015, the 16th edition of the Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange, took place April 28-30 in Punta Cana.  We hit the road (and the air) once again to see everything that the Dominican Republic has to offer to the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) market.DATE_Dominican_logo

DATE is the Dominican tourist sector’s most important international fair organized by the Dominican Republic’s Association of Hotels and Tourism, Inc. It has been created to provide a professional atmosphere for business exchanges between international tour operators and travel agents and the suppliers of the Dominican tourist product.

Here is a look at the some of the exhibitors at the convention:

Every year it is attended by hundreds of tour operators and travel agents –mainly from the United States, Canada, Europe and South America. Ever since its first edition in 2000, DATE has been able to establish itself as “the official event of Dominican tourism.”

According to data of the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic, the number of non-resident foreign visitors who arrived in the country by air from January to September of this year has grown 9.99%, registering a total of 3,414,551 arrivals. North America has contributed 58.04% of the foreign tourists arriving through the Dominican Republic’s airports; Europe 25.42%; South America 11.84%.DATE repeat banner

Our stay at the Barcelo Bavaro Beach was convenient to the onsite convention center and allowed plenty of opportunity to play, eat and – yes – drink some of the local favorites.  My new cocktail is the Mama Juana – a mixture of rum, red wine, and honey to soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs.  Couldn’t get enough of that stuff.

Looking forward to going back to this fun locale and country with large groups of people who want to have fun in the sun.

Bet On Vegas As The Place To Watch The Super Bowl

LAS VEGAS, February 4, 2015 – Super Bowl Sunday has seemingly turned into a national holiday with a large percentage of the country focused on the two NFL teams facing off for the annual championship.  Though television has been bringing better viewing experiences with high-def, cable cam, and surround sound coverage, the best place to watch the game is in the stadium itself.  So you didn’t have $2500 (or more) for a ticket to Glendale, Arizona, to watch the Patriots and Eagles?  The next best place to watch the “big game” was in Las Vegas.

I went to the Super Bowl last year in New Jersey but the opportunity did not present itself for this year.  So I thought I would go check out the atmosphere that Las Vegas offers to watch the big game.  I will refer to it as the “big game” as the NFL may crack down on me for using the official name without its permission.

I have been to Las Vegas the past 24 years to watch the opening weekend of March Madness.  The crowds, the game wagering, and the atmosphere make for a wonderful experience to view the games and cheer on your favorite team (anyone but Duke).  So Vegas seemed like a perfect place to watch the big football game, the countless hours of pregame, viewing parties and post-parties.  I found that there are so many football-related activities in this city during the big game weekend that the NFL may want to award Las Vegas all future rights to play the game here.

Quick research on local festivities showed dozens of viewing parties on Super Sunday. Though you could belly up to almost any bar and casino, the real fun happens inside private parties hosted in hotel ballrooms and restaurants.  Prices ranged as low as $25 for a standing room only space to several hundred dollars for a seat, all-you-can eat buffet and open bar.  Of course you could find the champagne and bottle service tables at high-end clubs for $1000 or more.  If that was in my price range I probably would have opted to hop over to Arizona and watch the game in person.

After placing a few bets Sunday morning on the game’s outcome (don’t ask my outcome.  Thank you very much Coach Pete Carroll, NOT!), I put on some comfy walking shoes and hit a few parties on the famed Las Vegas Strip.  First stop was LAVO – a popular club inside The Palazzo – for the annual Lavo Bowl.  $65 got you a general admission ticket with either open bar or the buffet.  Tough choice.  Drink or eat.  $120 got you both which probably works out the best since doors opened 90 minutes before game time.  At $120 I am sure many patrons were hoping for overtime but the young, hip crowd appeared to get their money’s worth of special cocktails, Kobe sliders, salt and pepper shrimp, and more.  The vibe was rocking which matched the look of the club with its sultry lighting, plush couches and long bars.

Watching the game action was easy no matter where you were in the club as flat screen and projection TVs were never out of glimpse wherever you turned.  I did not notice a lot of jersey-wearing party goers here as it seemed the bipartisan crowd was more concerned that final score was over 47 points.  Onto the next spot.

Carmines facadeHeading south down the Strip I stopped in to Caesar’s Forum Shops, a high-end mall attached to Caesar’s Palace.  Carmine’s Restaurant had an inviting placard in front touting its “Big Game Party on “17 big screens.”  For $75 it seemed reasonable thanks to the Italian Buffet from the legendary Italian family-style restaurant based in New York.  The venue was more open and airy than LAVO which is the difference between a restaurant and a nightclub.  A long buffet table welcomed viewers with wings, pasta and other tasty offerings found on the regular menu.

Carmines posterThis crowd was into game watching and cheering a bit more than LAVO patrons.  I spotted many Patriots and Seahawks’ jerseys in the crowd.  Loud cheers could be heard down the Forum Shops cavernous walkway where shoppers tried to get a sneak peek into Carmine’s to see what just happened on the screens.  The vibe in this party was very “homey”.  If I had a giant kitchen at my home with hundreds of tables and 17 big screen TVs, this would have been a typical football watching party I would have thrown.  Waiters kept replenishing the dozens of chafing dishes throughout the afternoon with more delicious food.  By halftime no one seemed to be focusing on Katy Perry’s show on TV but rather piling more on their large plates.Carmines food

I am hoping Carmine’s throws a similar March Madness viewing party this March when I make my annual visit with my college buddies.

My final stop was at a large ballroom bash inside The Cosmopolitan.  Many of the larger hotels and casinos throw watch parties in ballrooms and theaters as they can sometimes fit thousands of people in the seats.   This $300 ticket was not for the faint of heart or stomach.

Cosmo Cowboy CheerleadersLet’s start with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders welcoming patrons into the venue.  That was almost worth the price of admission.  The seats in two-level stadium seating venue were packed and the floor of the cavernous Castellana ballroom was filled with round tables, comfy couches, blackjack tables, four bars and rows of freshly made food being cooked and served by chefs.

But for all of the food and fun this, after all, was a football watching party.  Instead of having flat screen TVs, we got to focus on movie theater-size projection screens in front with a six-side projection screen hanging from the ceiling.  Sound was piped in so that we didn’t miss a word of Al Michael’s play calling on NBC nor any of the expensive commercials.Cosmo screens

Let’s get back to the food.  Going with the big game football theme we had our choice of New England Clam Chowder or Seattle Creamy Stew (they did have Buffalo wings in case the Bills made it to the big game).  Snack stations throughout the venue served high-end fare from chicken kabobs to steak sliders, while other kiosks simulated in-stadium experiences like hot dogs, popcorn, and peanuts.  After an afternoon of party-hopping all I really wanted was a little dessert.  By “a little” I mean I started with a Haagen-Dazs bar followed by a brownie, chocolate chunk cookie, two homemade Rice Krispies treats, and an apple tart.Cosmo Desserts

The game came down to a final defensive play that made Seahawks’ bettors wish they hadn’t eaten so much.  My final play came about 20 minutes after the game-ending whistle when I left the Cosmopolitan ballroom and headed up to my room to take a nap.Cosmo soups

Compared to last year when I sat in freezing MetLife Stadium in the Jersey suburbs watching a blowout big game, my experience this year in the beautiful Las Vegas climate made for a more fun time.  Sure I didn’t get to see the fireworks and flyovers in person.  But the wagering, strolling, non-stop eating and drinking in this city is the way to go if you don’t have the cash and the patience to visit the actual game (the security to get into the stadium last year took roughly the same time as my flight from Houston to Las Vegas).

So here’s to next year’s big game.  I have just under one year to get in shape for more walking, drinking and eating to prepare to watch the 50th version of this football championship.  The weather and setting should be nice in Santa Clara, California, but Las Vegas will be my site for experiencing the most fun that day.

And if the Seahawks make it for the third year in a row someone PLEASE tell Pete Carroll to hand off the ball the Marshawn Lynch.  And take the over.