Comin’ Home….

Mark and FlowerI’ve been to Kansas City, Chicago, Pontiac, Springfield (IL and MO), Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Amarillo, Tucumcari (New Mexico, in case you didn’t know), Albuquerque, San Francisco (twice), Needles (home of the best chicken fried steak you’ll ever eat), San Bernardino, Santa Monica, Kauai, Honolulu, Kona, Montreal, scouting for next year’s Christmas Lights Mystery (sorry, can’t tell you the name of that one), Pittsburgh, New York City, Miami and Key West since we last gathered in this corner.

So what have you been up to? Just kidding. It’s been a busy last couple of months, traveling back and forth across the country, escorting groups (Route 66, Hawaii, New York) and finding and finalizing great destination for next year. Finally, in a couple of weeks, life will slow down a little. I promise to come back and tell you abou the Sea Horse Ranch, or the revival of the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, MO, or the name of that restaurant in Needles with the chicken fried steak that will make you smack your lips double-time (one of Clayton’s favorite sayings). One day in Sacramento and then back on the road. What a lucky man I am to be able to be in this business of making people’s dreams come true. It’s an amazingly blessed way to make this journey. Thank you.

The Ramona Bowl

Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel Ramona is a classic love story of life in early California which
authentically depicts the cultural diversity of emerging settlers and native peoples during the 1850’s.
Each year, the communities of Hemet/San Jacinto join together to share their love of theatre arts and
bring Ramona back to life. The pageant is America’s longest-running outdoor play with over 400 actors,
singers, dancers and horsemen staged in the uniquely beautiful Ramona Bowl, a breath-taking natural
amphitheater. The Bowl is as important to the play as all the costumes, animals and props are. The
natural setting makes the story so much more authentic. And the Bowl’s surroundings, about 160 acres of
canyon country, really allow the audience to immerse themselves in the story. Make time this spring to
join Sports Leisure Vacations and enjoy the splendor of Ramona!

Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel Ramona is a classic love story of life in early California which authentically depicts the cultural diversity of emerging settlers and native peoples during the 1850’s. Each year, the communities of Hemet/San Jacinto join together to share their love of theatre arts and bring Ramona back to life. The pageant is America’s longest-running outdoor play with over 400 actors, singers, dancers and horsemen staged in the uniquely beautiful Ramona Bowl, a breath-taking natural amphitheater. The Bowl is as important to the play as all the costumes, animals and props are. The natural setting makes the story so much more authentic. And the Bowl’s surroundings, about 160 acres of canyon country, really allow the audience to immerse themselves in the story. Make time this spring to join Sports Leisure Vacations and enjoy the splendor of Ramona!

Check out the official Ramona Bowl trailer on Facebook

Thanksgiving Eve?!?!?!

Take the Thanksgiving Train to LAWhat is it that’s so special about Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve? Both are clearly descended from the event one day later, yet they have grown in popularity to become holidays in their own right not just in America, but all around the world. Some consider the Eve to be more popular and celebratory than the Day itself. Even I have fallen prey to the wiles of a good Eve. For example, nowadays I only go to church on December 24th, never the 25th, and New Year’s parties are always on the Eve, leaving the following day free for those who enjoy watching the big game on TV, hangover recuperation or both! Personally, I usually reserve New Year’s Day to clean out my closet.

So why is it that Thanksgiving Eve doesn’t enjoy the same revered place in American culture? Can it not be equally festive? Why is this singular wintertime Eve not also known as a time for good food, drink and fellowship? I think it is past time that lovers of Thanksgiving Eve (and anyone else simply looking for a good reason to celebrate) should rise up and do something about this terrible disparity in the calendar. Won’t you join me?

This year, Thanksgiving Eve is November 24. On that date, “Take The Thanksgiving Train to LA” takes rail for the last time. On this very special journey, we charter the historic Silver Lariat, the beautifully restored lounge car from the pre-Amtrak California Zephyr, and make tracks from Oakland to Van Nuys (just short of LA). The all-day trip includes three meals served hot and fresh from the microscopic gallery tucked in below the observation dome. The hosted bar is open all day for “adult beverages” from Bloody Marys in the morning to evening cocktails. A host of attendants are there to attend to your every need including owner/restorer Burt Hermey. If I do say so myself, it’s a great way to spend an Eve.

Upon arrival in Southern California, we sleep well for two nights in the 4-Diamond Hilton Hotel in Glendale. On Thanksgiving Day, the transportation theme continues with a visit to Long Beach for a ride on a real Venetian gondola in the canals of the Naples neighborhood, followed by the lavish Champagne Holiday Brunch and ship’s tour aboard the venerable Queen Mary. (Want to sleep on the ship? Check out “Anchors Away” in February!) On the day after Thanksgiving, we wrap up the trip with a ride aboard the new LA subway to Hollywood for a guided tour of everything both classic and new in Tinsel Town. A flight from Burbank Airport returns you safely to Sacramento.

Only a couple spaces remain on this exciting adventure. Call the office at (916) 361-2051 or toll-free at 1-800-951-5556 and make your reservation today!  You can also learn more about our Thanksgiving trip to LA by clicking here.

Mystery Solved!

Chesterfield PubI expected the reactions I received from each traveler as I passed out the boarding passes on the curb at Sacramento Airport: A few raised eyebrows, a few expressions of surprise, and a few downright disappointed glares. No one wanted to think that a Sports Leisure Vacations Mystery Tour was headed for Ontario, California! But Ontario we were bound. Just the airport, mind you – our jumping off point for a four day tour exploring California’s Inland Empire on the Not An Oktoberfest Mystery Tour. I knew I had a big job ahead of me. Fortunately I had the tools to get it done – a list of solid attractions and restaurants I had scouted myself several months ago. Even though I hadn’t escorted a group of this nature in over ten years, I figured I was the natural choice to lead it – and to deal with those disappointed looks on the morning of our departure!

We started in the city of Redlands in San Bernardino County. Famed as the hometown of so many successful ranching and farming families, the community is filled with beautiful homes and architecture. One of those homes, Kimberly Crest, was our first stop. With it’s steep, one-lane approach, I immediately put the driver of our motorcoach through his paces. Lee Webb, one of our favorite drivers from Transportation Charter Services in Southern California, took it all in stride and drove beautifully throughout the tour. After exploring Kimberly Crest and its tiered gardens, lunch was included at Martha Green’s Eating Room in Downtown Redlands. Martha, who has a fair reputation as a cookbook author, chef, and television host, has put together a great menu of soups, salads and sandwiches. Of course, you can’t leave her place without stopping at the bakery counter for a cookie or other treat! Our final stop of the day was the Abraham Lincoln Shrine, just a few blocks away. It’s hard to believe that Redlands is the home of the largest depository of artifacts and papers about the Civil War and the former president west of the Mississippi.

After a restful night at the Hilton Hotel in San Bernardino, our home for all three nights, we paused at the California Welcome Center and learned a bit about the history of the city and Route 66, which passes right through the area. Next, a slow climb up the highway known as The Rim of the World to Lake Arrowhead. Of course, with the dense fog that surrounded us, there wasn’t much of a world to see. That said the sun made a guest appearance at the lake just in time for a paddle-wheel cruise and lunch and a little time for shopping in the village.

Our third and fourth days found us in and around Alta Loma, Rancho Cucamonga, Oak Glen and Riverside. A visit to the home and studio of Sam Maloof, the famous woodcarver and furniture maker who passed away just last year, was an unexpected pleasure for many. We also had fabulous colonial-themed dinner at Riley’s Farm, complete with costumed servers and hosts and traditional music of the time. Along with John Adams, Patrick Henry made an appearance and, with a little prodding, he recited his famed speech that ended with the immortal words, “Give me Liberty or give me death.” Sunday brunch at the historic Mission Inn was followed by a ranger-led walk among the groves of California Citrus State Historic Park and a visit to family-owned and operated Graber Olives before returning to Sacramento.

While the tour’s evaluations will have the final say, I am confident that all enjoyed the tour and everyone, including the two travelers who grew up in Riverside, learned more about the sites this region has to offer than they had ever known. I hope to put a similar tour together for next fall that will include another visit to Sam Maloof’s home and studio in conjunction with a retrospective of his work that is being hosted by the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino in September 2011. If you are interested in joining us, call the office and ask to be put on the Priority Notification List!

Radio, from a Different Point of View

Born in ’87, radio is one thing I can honestly say I’ve taken for granted my entire life.  While I enjoy “tuning in” to my favorite music station occasionally in the car, the majority of my time is now spent listening to my iPhone or downloading my favorite talk shows online.  I love being able to listen when I want and skip the commercials.  In fact, it wasn’t until recently, when Mark started his own radio show called The Travel Guys that I truly began to appreciate all the hard work and time it takes to put out a quality radio program.

Every week, Mark scours the planet for interesting interviews, travel stories and oddities.  Whether it’s the local barber in a small city or a chocolate farmer in Hawaii, no stone is left unturned in his quest for quality content.  Each week, these random interviews and interesting tidbits magically (with the help of Tom Romano!) gel into the radio program you hear on Sundays.  It’s a lot of effort, but definitely worth it.  The Travel Guys is unique because it allows you to travel the world from the comfort of your living room or car.  This year alone I’ve been taken across The Lincoln Highway and back on Route 66; from Mackinac Island to Hawaii and the Florida Keys.  I’ve explored the farmer’s markets in Oregon, learned a little about cruise ships and shuddered at the idea of bed bugs.  Having now helped out with a little bit of the interviewing and radio process, I can appreciate these experiences all the more!

I recommend you dedicate some time and check out The Travel Guys, it’s on every other Sunday on KFBK AM 1530 from 12-1pm PDT.  Or, if you’d rather check out that commercial free version I told you about, just head over to www.travelguysradio.com.  You can listen to all the previous episodes and catch new ones just a few days after they air.

As of this writing, the next episode of The Travel Guys airs Sunday, November 7th at 12:00pm PDT on KFBK AM 1530

Chris takes on Death Valley and the Eastern Sierra Nevada

What’s in a name?  With a name like Death Valley, it would seem not much.  I was recently assigned to plan and escort our Death Valley and the Eastern Sierra Nevada Tour.  As I began my research I was shocked at what I found.  There is more than just dry, cracked clay and tumbleweeds (as I have always envisioned), instead there is actually an abundance of LIFE in Death Valley.  The park is home to numerous species that have adapted over time to the dry conditions and thrive here such as the Bullhorn Sheep and Coyote.  Luckily, we will have two full days of touring to take in the sights and to learn more about this fascinating region.

The Furnace Creek Ranch will be our oasis in the desert.  You can check out their website in order to give you an idea of the accommodations and the beauty that awaits you at every angle.  Make sure to look at the photo gallery provided on the site.  My interest has definitely been piqued and I am eager to continue my research to learn more.  If you are interested in joining me I encourage you to take a look at the hotel link provided above and feel free to write to me at Chris@sportsleisure.com with any questions…or just write to me to share information or a story from a previous visit.  I look forward to hearing from you!