The End of An Era…Peter, Paul and…

This post has very little do to with travel. It has a lot to do with life. Mary Travers passed away Wednesday, September 16th. Many don’t know her by her last name, but rather by her first. For the last 4+ decades, she has been the “Mary” of one of America’s legendary folk trios, Peter, Paul & Mary.

For some, they were three people who wrote songs protesting the war in Viet Nam and other social injustices. Some probably considered them left-wing wackos (and still do). But I suggest to you they were (and still are) the conscience of the country, often during times of great social stress and disagreement.

They wrote of real places like El Salvador, and of magical characters like Puff, The Magic Dragon. People say to be at one of their concerts was like taking a trip through time, through our country in the last 40 years. That’s what people say. Personally, I don’t know. For despite the fact that Sports Leisure Vacations took people to see the famous trio in concert many times, I was never able to tag along. You know, one of those things you keep putting off, thinking there will always be another chance. This time there won’t be another chance. It makes me sad.

Peter and Paul have indicated they will carry on. It’s reassuring to know they will continue to carry their message of social justice and hope. They have entertained countless millions of people in their careers as musicians. I hope it will be the same, but I know it will not.

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Farewell Mary Travers. Thank you for the joy you brought to our lives. Amen.

Hello from the beautiful Oregon Coast…

Today we conclude our most recent stay on the Oregon Coast in my favorite town of Newport.  For the last three days, we have enjoyed the hospitality at the Elizabeth Street Inn, Newport finest lodging.  From the complimentary hot breakfast in the morning to salmon chowder and hot cookies each evening, you can practically “live off the land” at the inn.  The flat sandy beach that runs for as far as the eye can see north and south from the inn is just begging for you to pause for a moment and get some sand between your toes.

While in Newport, make certain you include the Marine Discovery Cruise in your itinerary.  Don and Fran Mathews put on the best marine wildlife cruise in the country and on this trip, we were particularly fortunate in our search for whales, with multiple sightings and two instances where the gray whales were seemingly showing off for our boat as they gracefully spouted and darted through the water.  It was an amazing sight.  I can’t remember seeing so many whales on one trip.  There’s a marine naturalist on board, and you’ll drop a couple of crab pots on the way to the ocean and pick them up on the way back to the dock.  That allows you to “meet” the creatures of the sea up close and personal.  Time and money well spent. 
We went on a sand dune buggy adventure Wednesday morning.  Adventure barely describes it.  Arriving in Florence in a light mist, 13 of us bravely (?) decided to try and trump Mother Nature.  We bundled up and headed out to the dunes.  Except the mist became a steady rain, and then a harder rain.  Within ten minutes we were soaked to the skin, despite our poncho and trash bag “protection.”  It was a time for leadership.  Knowing the driver had a “point of no return” early on, I shouted for him to return to base.  It’s one thing to brave the elements, it’s another to drown while trying to have a good time.  A for effort.  A cup of that great clam chowder at Mo’s in Old Town Florence and all was well with the world again.
Next stop, the Spruce Goose.  And so it goes…  

Airlines Continue to Goose the Flying Public, or, Grab Your Ankles, Here Come the Airlines Again

Airlines continue to tack on fees and added charges anywhere they can in what seems to this observer to be a remarkably effective way to aggravate even the occasional traveler.  Just this past week, three carriers announced increases to checked bag fees.  In fact, if you are flying one of the “legacy” carriers (United, American, US Air, Delta/Northwest and Continental), taking a short trip and checking two bags, it’s entirely possible that the government-imposed taxes on your ticket, combined with the charges to check your bags, could end up being more than the cost of the actual transportation!

Airlines have taken the same tack as rental car companies, who for years have been tacking on everything from the fees they pay the airport to do business there (my landlord calls it rent, they call it a “concession fee” on the bill), to property taxes (I kid you not, take a look at the invoice) to ridiculous charges to refill the gas tank ($5, $6 even $7 a gallon).  It took the airlines a little while to figure out how to play this game, but greed is helping them close the gap quickly, and it’s not good news for travelers.  Baggage fees are rising, literally on an almost daily basis.  You’ll pay for pre-packaged food, a movie, a cocktail; US Air even tried charging for water for a time before public outcry made them rethink their approach.

Isn’t it interesting that among the three major carriers to post a profit in the most recent quarter you can find Southwest and Jet Blue airlines (Air Tran, which does not serve Sacramento is the third).  Neither charges a fee for the first two checked bags.  And while they do charge for cocktails in flight, the rest of the fees, up to now, have remained property of their competitors.   But now there are signs that even Southwest is falling into the abyss.  Last week Southwest announced a $20 round trip fee to secure a lower numbered/lettered boarding pass.

There has been one positive side to the baggage fees.  People are bringing less junk with them on the road.  There seems to be a prevailing attitude that even if you paid $2,000 a person for your vacation, you aren’t going to give an airline an extra $50-$60 to transport that second suitcase.  Down side – people are cramming more into the one bag they check, and carrying on more luggage, creating more competition for the overhead space on the plane.   And that one checked bag tends to weigh 10-15 pounds more than it used to.  As a Tour Director who has to handle those suitcases on an almost daily basis, I can only think of one comment.  Oh joy.

There seems to be no end in sight to the fee-free-for-all.  Ryan Air, a low-cost carrier in the UK, is installing one pound coin slot in the toilets on board their planes.  Don’t have correct change you say?  Hmmm, guess it will be a long trip.  Which US airline will be the first to add this insult to previous injury?  Stay tuned, and keep your hand on your wallet, especially on your way to the airport.  Or the john. – Mark

(Ed. Note – Sports Leisure Vacations is proud of our policy of including any fees for the first checked bag in the price of your trip.  This policy is based on baggage fees as of August 15, 2009, when our annual catalog went to press.)   

Our 2010 Catalog & Dream Book, “Imagine,” Mailed to All Travel Club Members

 From the Sports Leisure Newsroom – The brand new 60-page, four-color Dream Book, entitled “Imagine,” was dropped at the post office Wednesday morning, September 2nd.  Travel Club Members should begin receiving their personal copies in the next few days.  Be sure to look for the special Day Trip insert, which also contains dozens of Early Registration Di$counts for tours, cruises and vacations in the catalog.  The book will be posted on the web and be available for distribution to non-members beginning Monday, September 7th.  Copies are also available at the Sports Leisure office. 

Expanded Door-to-Door Service is Announced

 From the Sports Leisure Newsroom – At Preview Day, is was announced that door-to-door home pick-up, without a doubt one of the most popular services Sports Leisure Vacations offers, has been expanded.  Previously, the service had been included on fly-away and extended motorcoach tours.  Effective immediately with the newly announced tour schedule, the service has been expanded to include all motorcoach trips of three days or longer and even some overnighters.

Instead of the coach winding through town, travelers will be brought by Carey Limousines to the new Sports Leisure offices at 9812 Old Winery Place for departure.  Those wishing to drive to the office will receive a $50 per person credit in place of the home pick-up.  At the tour’s conclusion, the coach will meet our fleet of Carey Limousine vehicles at the office and return you to your home. 

Tours announced prior to Preview Day are not included in the new services, which is being phased in.  Should you have any questions, consult the tour itinerary, or inquire with our office when you make your reservation. 


Preview Day Draws Big Crowd, Sets Record

 From the Sports Leisure Newsroom – Over 600 Sports Leisure Travelers and their friends attended our annual Tour & Vacation Preview Day at the Marriott Hotel on Saturday, August 29th.  The morning and early afternoon sessions were complete sellouts, with the late afternoon crowd coming just short of capacity at the Marriott. 

Travel Club Members were entertained, first by Jessie Norman, our 2008 Chuck Evans Scholarship award winner; then by noted chef Chris Chisholm.  Jessie sang a medley of Broadway show tunes, accompanied by Joe Gilman on the baby grand piano, to resounding applause.  Chef Chris prepared a delicious shrimp and wilted spinach salad, right before our eyes, then two lucky guests were chosen to sample the finished product at the end of the demonstration.  It marked the first time such a feat had been a part of Preview Day activities. 

Rounding out the “food” portion of the program, Tour Director Ramona Goodge teamed up with guest Katherine Setness from Setness Tours of Stockton to offer treats involving the use of olive oil in one of the breakout sessions which followed the main program.

The 2009 scholarship winner was announced.  She is Morgan Sommer, the granddaughter of Travel Club Members Bob and Amy Rath, and she is pursuing a variety (literally) of majors in college.  She is studying in Puerto Rico this year.  Morgan’s grandparents were on hand to pick up her check, as her studies have already started for the year.

Sports Leisure staff were on hand, including our newest member, Ryan Quinn, the designer or this new and improved website.  Ryan is soliciting ideas and suggestions from those who use this site.  You can click here to send Ryan and Sports Leisure founder Mark Hoffmann your thoughts

Exclusive Sports Leisure Travel Club Special of the Month

Each month, we’ll be using this blog to post a new exclusive discount for Travel Club members only!  This month’s coupon will get you $25.00 off The Fourth in Philly tour which can be found on page 51 of our new 2010 catalog.  Make sure to check back here regularly for the Travel Club Member Special of the Month. 

To redeem your coupon, grab your Sports Leisure Travel Club number and click here.

Chris and the Pageant of the Masters

Chris Galloway, one of our Tour Directors, just returned from taking the August tour to the Pageant of the Masters and the Hollywood Bowl last week. Here he offers his observations on the pageant, which is certainly one of the most unique cultural arts events in the country.

I got the call from Mark that a tour director was needed to escort a group to Laguna Beach to attend The Festival of the Arts & Pageant of the Masters. Knowing nothing of what the Pageant entailed, I hesitantly accepted the assignment. I did my research and was convinced that I would never appreciate the spectacle of the Pageant. I mean, a show comprised of people posing and replicating famous works of art? I had my doubts. My travelers, many of whom had attended the pageant previously, tried to convince me that I was in for a real treat and would be awe struck. By the time intermission came, I had to admit to them all, with hat-in-hand, I was impressed, absolutely amazed and intrigued. Though words can never capture the brilliance of the show, allow me to try.

The whole concept behind The Pageant of The Masters is to make what in real life is 3-D (the performers and sets), appear two dimensional and replicate famous works of art. Through the use of specialized sets, costumes, creatively applied make-up, and the magic of stage lighting, live people completely disappeared into the painting, so that one cannot distinguish the live performers from the rest of the subjects in the paintings.

In one instillation, the stage crew explains and demonstrates how this illusion is achieved. The sets are all constructed so that the foreground is to scale and slopes backwards into the scenery. Even the size of the performers is also used to create scale. For example, children are dressed as adults, and because of their small size, it creates the illusion that they are in the background of the painting. All the performers are harnessed into the set and posed identically to the subjects in the painting. Next, an adjustable framing system and drapes are used to dress the image. The lights are turned off, then stage lights are used and…voila!…the illusion is complete. On more than one occasion, I found myself slack-jawed, exclaiming, “No Way!” Seeing how the magician’s tricks are performed only heighten my enjoyment, because afterwards, I was better able to appreciate how much time, work, and creativity went into each presentation.

I was so impressed that I have already approached Mark about the possibility of returning next year with a group to the Pageant of The Masters. If you want a touch of class and appreciate the arts, I invite you to come along on next year’s trip as art comes alive right before your eyes!

Building a Dream Book

Each year about this time, we barricade ourselves in the Sports Leisure offices and work feverishly for three weeks to produce our annual Tour Catalog.  We often refer to it as a "Dream Book," because we know that’s what many people do when they see it.  They start to dream.  Big dreams of far-away places, smaller dreams of returning to that favorite spot you visited oh-so-many-years-ago.
As hotel contracts, restaurant menus, tour cost sheets and proposals for attending attractions and cultural events float across my desk, it’s impossible not to dream a little yourself.  My specialty is Classic Highway Tours, so I’m up to my elbows in Route 66, The Lincoln Highway and Highway 101 for next year.  Talking with old friends to plan a return visit, finding exciting unique things (and people) to add to our trips, it’s all in a day’s work. 
This morning, I spoke with the folks at the Latrobe Country Club in Pennsylvania.  Latrobe is the hometown of Arnold Palmer, and the country club is owned by him and run by his brother.  We enjoyed lunch there last year (the country club is on Arnold Palmer Drive, which is actually the original Lincoln Highway route), and if you ever have the opportunity to visit with a member, take it.  The clubhouse is like taking a step back in time to the 1960’s, when Arnie was king of the links.  I can’t wait to get back next year.  Made hotel reservations in South Bend today for the same trip, home not only to Notre Dame, but also to the best candy shoppe in the country, South Bend Chocolates…
Back to building tours and making dreams come true.  The new catalog hits the streets Sunday, August 29th, at our annual Tour Preview Day at the Marriott Hotel.  Space is still available for the 4:15pm session.  Call our office for details.  And prepare to have your dreams come true…