Bellagio Day

Exploring the new symbol of Las Vegas.

My Top 8 Bucket List Golf Courses

After a year of incredible golf travel, it was time to revise the bucket list.

Adventures with Uncle Deej

The Grande Lakes Resort in Orlando played host to the first trip with our nephew.

The American Club Resort - Kohler, Wisconsin

"A place unlike any other place in America."

The Oasis of the Seas - Revisited

There's so much left to see. We need to go again.

At least, that's what we told the booking agent aboard the Oasis of the Seas on the final day of our cruise last year. It seemed like a justifiable reason to book the same itinerary, the same stateroom, and the same ship, barely 10 months from the sailing we had yet to disembark from - as if I ever really need a good excuse for booking another trip.

It was true though; despite the best of planning and seven full days onboard the Oasis of the Seas, MJ and I both felt like we hadn't scratched the surface of this megaship. So the only logical solution to the problem was to simply go again...

This time around, the objective was to slow down a bit. The first time aboard Oasis we created a checklist of all the spots - read: bars - we wanted to see on the ship. And although we got to a fair number of them, the tradeoff was that our amount of R&R plummeted. Granted, this was partially offset by the twice daily trips to the donut shop, but I still missed the style of our typical cruise where I plop on the balcony with a beverage and book for days on end.

Best people watching spot on the ship...the Schooner Bar.

The first way we tried to dial things down was with a trip to the Vitality Spa. MJ had a massage and pedicure, while I enjoyed a massage and facial combination. As crazy as this will sound, both of us walked away a little underwhelmed. The treatments themselves were great, but we were disappointed to learn that booking one doesn't provide access to the other spa facilities like the steamroom, sauna, and whirlpools like it does at literally every other spa on the planet. The reason given was that the spa facility is quite small - which makes zero sense on the world's largest cruise ship - so in the end the "spa day" that we had envisioned was more like a "spa-couple hours."

Best spot for castoff - deck 5 aft.

Another way we kept things at a slower pace was by skipping all of the nightly shows - a luxury that one doesn't really have the first time around, as all of them Oasis of Dreams shouldn't be missed. This gave us more time to spend strolling Central Park, people watching on the Promenade, or in a quiet corner of the Champagne Bar. Tip: Take your buy one/get one glass of wine coupons there and the server will likely give you an entire bottle for the price of two glasses.

Best and slowest elevator in the world - the Rising Tide.

The one repeat that I insisted MJ put on the itinerary was a night at the Chef's Table. This was one of the highlights of our first Oasis cruise, as we became fast friends with ten other guests while enjoying a five course meal - and plenty of wine - in the concierge lounge. It seems the Chef's Table might have fallen out of favor, as this time around there were only six of us, two of which had been rescheduled from a previous night because they were the only ones to sign up. A sad sign for the future of this unique and memorable experience. But just like last time, we came away with four new friends. 

When it came to the ports of call, we took the easy route here too. Instead of booking an overpriced excursion, we stayed on the boat in Nassau - you're only there for like 20 minutes anyway - and took a cab to Emerald Beach, which was just a stones throw form the port in St. Thomas.

Best parallel parking job...ever.

This was one of those times where MJ's advance research paid off. Emerald Beach was not only gorgeous, but the resort there had chairs and thatch umbrellas available for $20 for the day. Given my motto is "one can never pay too much for quality shade" I found this to be a bargain. We were told the restaurant had a mahi sandwich that would change your life - I'm calling BS on that one, but it was hard to be too upset with this kind of view.

Best use of a thatched umbrella.

Naturally, the highlight of the cruise for me was a return trip to Maho Beach. This is simply one of those places that will never get old for me - I mean, how could it?

We knew from our first visit to bring plenty of cash (no where else can you see airplanes like this, but they won't take American Express) and to get there early, as the prime tables - read: the ones in the shade - fill up early. I must say, this was the first time I had ever had ever combined french toast, a screwdriver, the beach, and a Boeing 757.

Best everything.

As we pulled out of St. Maarten and turned for home, it seemed I was still missing out on all of that R&R I had planned. You see, Oasis of the Seas just isn't all that conducive to vegging out. Despite the best of intentions, I'd say I spent a grand total of a single hour on our balcony over the course the week. Instead, I was doing this...

Best Flowrider wipeout.

And this...

Best to not look down.

Rock climbing was one of the things on the old checklist that I didn't get to - not that I minded. I mean, really it was just a lot of bravdo being tossed around pre-trip that I had absolutely zero intentions of backing up. As I should have expected, MJ wasn't about to let me chicken out a second time.

Best feeling of being on "land" again.

When the last day rolled around, it happened - we were bored. Sure, there was still plenty we could do which we hadn't before, but aside from yoga on the helipad - which was canceled thanks to rain and 15 foot seas - our checklist pretty much felt complete. The downside was after so much activity, we found it hard to do what we had set out to in the first place...nothing. The upside was the trip to the Schooner Bar to play some cards allowed us to stumble on the food fight the Captain and Hotel Director were having on the Promenade. 

Best food fight between officers in uniform.

In the end, there were two things that I learned from our second cruise aboard Oasis of the Seas. First, the ship is so big with so many activities, after a while you start to wonder if you're at at Disney theme park instead of a cruise ship. The second was that just because Oasis is the largest ship in the world by a huge margin that doesn't mean you won't feel the ebbs and flows of the ocean. It simply takes much bigger waves for you to do so, something we experienced on the last day - easily the worst seas I've ever experienced. 

Best hold on's gonna get bumpy.

As much as I love the Oasis of the Seas, part of me longed for the style of cruising that's more prevalent on the smaller ships. The one where the checklist is replaced by overabundance of balcony time. Where the bartenders all know your name, not just the guy at Starbucks. And finally, the one where a week seems to last forever, as opposed to passing in just the blink of an eye. 

No doubt we will be back aboard Oasis in the future, so I'm trusting future cruisers to keep cabin 12566 in good form. But for now, I think it's best to kick it old school on some of the smaller ships and try out some different itineraries.

The Rhapsody of the Seas and Alaska's inside passage would do...

Enjoy Your Stay

Things You Only Hear on a Cruise - Part 2

A little over a year ago, I compiled a list of some of the unique things you only hear on a cruise. They ranged from humorous, to puzzling, to mind-numbingly stupid, but apparently they were also highly relatable because it turned into one of the most read posts in the history of this little website. So what does one do when they've got a hit? Why, a sequel, of course...

Here's a few more things you only hear on a cruise, courtesy of two sailings this year aboard the Oasis of the Seas.

"Is the patio air-conditioned?"

Yes....the cruise line is so concerned with your comfort, they've found a way to air-condition an outdoor patio at one of their restaurants. How did they manage this feat? By using some strange phenomenon called a "breeze."

The air-conditioned patio at Chops Grille

"I brought SPF 15 this time. I used SPF 8 in Cancun and got burned real bad. Although, I guess that's closer to the equator."

There were so many things wrong with this statement, I got off the elevator I was riding two decks early just to get away from this fellow passenger. It's no wonder skin cancer is such a growing problem. Apparently, people are choosing sunscreen based on their degree of latitude.

"I don't know where my kids are and I don't know if I care..."

After hearing this from the middle aged woman sucking down what might have been her 7th "Drink of the Day" one might get the impression she's a lousy parent. Not on a cruise. The programs for kids and teens are so extensive, it's possible for a family to wave goodbye in port and not see each other again until returning to Florida. But parents...don't feel bad about ditching your kid. They don't want to spend vacation with you any more than you do with them, as evidenced by the next quote courtesy of a 4 year old kid...

"I want to go to the school!"

See what I mean? When was the last time you heard that one?

Can't find your kids? Did you try the flashmob?

"I can't believe I'm not getting any service here."

Alas, one of the last bastions in the fight against public cell phone use is beginning to fall. There was a time in the not so distant past that cell phone use on a cruise ship was unheard of. Not anymore. Now, just about everywhere you turn someone is jabbering on their phone, while simultaneously killing your buzz and ruining the incredible view that's passing by. Trust me, as a guy who relies on being connected for a living, I know it's hard to put the phone down. But give a try - the cruise will seem to last a whole lot longer.

Do I look worried about cell phone service?

"I ate some bran but I still have so much pressure down there."

OK, people. Please pay close attention to this one. You see that little partition separating your balcony from mine? Yes, the one that is similar to a bathroom stall in terms of privacy. Well, it's not a bathroom stall. Please refrain from bodily function talk, or just about anything else unless it is related to the cruise. I don't care about Aunt Edna's hip surgery, nor do I want to hear about Uncle Leo's new gold digger girlfriend. Take it inside. Oh, and if I happen to stand up and lean against the rail, that's not an invitation for chit chat. Ever.

Talk about bowel movements, MJ's gonna get mad.

"Not so much bad weather. Just...bigger waves."

This was when I knew we were in trouble. When the crew starts scurrying around, tying up anything that can conceivably fly off the ship, it's probably best to take a dose of Dramamine. 48 hours later, I was finally able to walk without clanging into the walls. Although, now that I think about it, that's not so much different than real life.

Seriously..never a good sign.

"I'm putting that on the comment card."

Ah yes, the passive aggressive comment card threatener. Next to bowel movement talk and one floor elevator riders (take the stairs people), they're my least favorite passengers on the ship. Seriously, look out the window. Do you see where you are? I'm thinking there are bigger things to be upset about than finding out this ice skating session is full, especially since you're second to last in line. The crew relies on these comment cards for good standing, and trust me, it means a whole lot more to them in the long run than the slight which you'll forget about in a hour. So unless you have something nice to say, or your cabin floods with human waste, forget about the comment card and enjoy your cruise.

No doubt about it, cruise ships are wacky places. But in the end, it's not the ships or the environment that brings it out of people - it's simply human nature on display in all its glory. And that, my friends, is perhaps the scariest statement of all.

Enjoy Your Stay

Adventures with Uncle Deej - Old Sport's First Trip to Disney

For the last year and a half, I have apparently been under a false impression - I understood that being an uncle meant enjoying all the cool and fun moments with your niece or nephew, before kindly returning them to mom and dad when it was time for the seedy underbelly of parenthood. 

Nobody warned me Uncle-hood involved vomit. Allow me to explain...

Last weekend, MJ and I traveled with my mom, dad and Old Sport to the Hilton Bonnet Creek near Disney. Our being there was something of a secret - my brother had snuck my sister (in-law) away for a weekend of pampering at another Disney hotel, while the rest of us were to surprise her at the front gate of the Magic Kingdom the next morning. There was just one problem...

Old Sport had caught the stomach bug his mom and dad had the day before.

There I was, kicked back at our usual table in the lobby bar, sipping on an old fashioned and awaiting the burger I'd ordered for dinner, when ominous words came in from my mom via text:

"Old Sport sick. Please come out front to help."

I burst through the front doors of the hotel, still unaware of what "sick" actually meant, and then I saw one of the most heartbreaking things of my life. There stood my dad holding Old Sport, who was covered in what might have been chicken nuggets in a former life. The look in Old Sport's eye nearly killed me - he was clearly scared and maybe even a little embarrassed - and now I got the pleasure of entering the bio-hazard zone that was my dad's car and unhooking his car seat. 

This was not what I signed up for, but for this kid....anything.

"For real granddad, this thing has got to go."

The next morning, Old Sport was feeling better and we set off for the Magic Kingdom. This was a moment I had looked forward to for over 2 years - ever since I learned of his impending arrival. There were lots of questions to be answered: Would he scream or puke all over Mickey? Would the crowds and atmosphere be too much for him - he is only 18 months after all. And, perhaps most importantly, would we pull off the surprise for AJ? 

The answer to the last question came first - remarkably, with so many people involved from two different families, AJ had no idea of the surprise gathering. My brother claimed it was the first time he had managed to surprise her in their entire relationship. There was a heap of mushy hugs, and probably a few tears, mixed with a ridiculous number of pictures that Old Sport begrudgingly posed for. Somehow, I think he knew The Mouse was waiting.

"Seriously, you guys know Mickey is inside, right?"

For me, this was the moment of truth. I could handle seeing his dinner a second time the night before, but if he cried in terror when meeting Mickey, well, it's safe to say my insides would turn to some sort of goo. 

Fear not, Uncle Deej. Mickey was clearly used to meeting little kids for the first time, and was so kind and warm to Old Sport, I couldn't help but get a little misty eyed. He gave the Mickster a high-five, didn't cry, and, perhaps most importantly, fulfilled a dream for his Disney-geek uncle. 

"Funny, I always pictured you taller."

He did so well, in fact, that the day continued on much longer that we'd expected.

We rode the train...

"So you're telling me this train goes in a circle? What's the point of that?"

And watched trees fall down a hill of water??

"If you put me on your shoulders I'll be tall enough Aunt MJ."

We played in the 100 Acre Wood.

"No way Uncle Deej, I've got one word for you: germs."

And hung out with a few Presidents. 

"Politics is boring."

We even rode his Uncle's favorite ride....

"This is your favorite ride? The PeopleMover? Seriously, these buttons are more interesting."

Put simply, Old Sport's first trip to Disney was about as close to perfect as any of us could have imagined...vomit and all. Although I'm sure years from now he'll have no recollection of his first encounter with the Mickster, my hope is that somewhere tucked in his subconscious are happy memories from this day. 

Two families....One awesome day.

It was one that none of us will ever forget, and there's no doubt it was just the first of many.

For you, AJ

A Father-Sons Golf Trip to the Bay Hill Club & Lodge

Next week, the PGA Tour rolls through Orlando for their annual visit to Arnold Palmer's winter home; the Bay Hill Club & Lodge. Aside from hosting the world's best golfers, Bay Hill recently provided my brother and I with a long sought solution to a nagging problem: what to get our dad for Christmas.

You see, our dad isn't an easy fellow to buy gifts for, because naturally he never claims to "need" anything. Every year he asks for things like socks and picture-a-day desk calendars, which has to make Christmas morning for him about as exciting as going for an oil change. Frustrated with endless rounds of "So what did you get dad?" text messages, RJ and I combined our considerable intellect and hatched a plan to solve this issue once and for all. We decided to make dad's annual Christmas gift a golf trip for just the three of us, with the surprise each year being, not the gift, but the destination.

First up: A visit to The King.

For any fan of the game of golf, and the universally beloved Arnold Palmer, Bay Hill is a truly special place. Everywhere you turn throughout the decidedly masculine Lodge, memorabilia from The King's storied career is on display. After a while, it's easy to wonder if the Lodge is equal parts hotel and museum - and maybe even a little self absorbed - but as someone that has Mr. Palmer on a pedestal somewhere between Yoda and the Dalai Lama, I most definitely didn't mind.

After checking-in we started the festivities with a visit to the lounge in the Bay Window restaurant for a casual dinner. Aside from serving a delicious Old Fashioned and some of the best chicken wings I've ever experienced, the atmosphere was far livelier than you might expect from an old stodgy country club. The place was packed, probably a little too packed from a service perspective, and was a far cry from my last visit here when the restaurant was dead empty. 

RJ and I talked a big talk before dinner - we were going to ditch dad and head to the Member's Lounge for a couple beverages and to watch our Gators play Kentucky in basketball. Alas, we are far older and more boring than we used to be, because that plan turned into ordering dessert from room service and both falling asleep 4 minutes into the game. It also led to the awkward encounter with the room service guy, who was delivering dessert to a pair of dudes, one of which is under the covers of his bed in pajamas. No doubt our wives would have had a field day with that one.

My only non-negotiable demand on this trip came the next morning in the form of french toast in the main dining room. It was just as awesome as I'd remembered it from my previous visit, and a great preparation for what I had a feeling was going to be a challenging day on the golf course.

Boy was that an understatement. 

It's one thing to play a PGA Tour venue on just any random day - it's an entirely different story when the tournament is less than a month away. The Bay Hill I played two summers ago was a completely different animal than the one we experienced. The rough was thick, the greens were fast, and the atmosphere of a course with grandstands going up all around only served to add to the intimidation factor. Not to mention that I was playing with my dad and brother - losing was not an option. 

But lose I would, and with dignity in short supply. 

There were a few highlights - tap in birdies on #4 and #13, plus a stunner of a 4-iron on #9. These were offset by far more lowlights - an 8 on #8, hitting a house on #10, an 8 on #15, and finding the water on the famed 18th. Meanwhile my brother played a solid, well thought out round of golf that avoided the big numbers that can obliterate a round in one fell swoop. Although, it's worth noting that he did careen one off the VIP spectator boxes being built on the 16th hole, in a shot that can only be described as epic. 

And dad....well, no doubt he enjoyed our company. 

As cliche as it will sound, I suppose that's really what it was all about. This was our second father/sons golf trip of the year, and really just the 2nd in our entire lives, and it added a host of memories to the old scrapbook. From room service dessert, to a playing partner from Chicago that we'll never forget, the weekend at Bay Hill was nothing short of memorable. 

Of course, the venue had a heavy hand in that outcome. Bay Hill is the kind of place that every golfer should visit at least once, thanks to an incredible display of history, exceptional accommodations, and a golf course that will absolutely eat your lunch if played in February or early-March.

It certainly ate mine - with any luck, next year's Christmas present destination will be far kinder to me on the scorecard. 

Enjoy Your Stay

Ice Skating at Cosmopolitan Las Vegas

As a lifelong resident of Florida, winter sports aren't exactly something I get to experience very often. About as close to the snow and ice as I'll get is what's seen on the TV every four years during the Winter Olympics. Every once in a while, however, I get the opportunity to lace up a pair of skates and fumble my way around the ice like a fish out of water. One afternoon during our recent trip to Las Vegas, just such an opportunity presented itself at The Cosmopolitan.

We decided to go ice skating as a way to burn off a few of the calories we consumed during our gorge fest at the Sterling Brunch. MJ and I had scouted out the options throughout our trip, as it seems everyone in Vegas decided to get into the ice skating business this winter. The one at Caesars was deemed too small - the Venetian too busy. But The Cosmopolitan was just right - a sufficiently large rink that wasn't too crowded, so as to save the potential embarrassment associated with cracking open my skull. Oh, and it also happened to feature one of the best views in Las Vegas.

The other reason I liked the ice skating rink at The Cosmopolitan is slightly, shall I say, unorthodox. You see, I walk like a duck and have a hard enough time staying upright in shoes, let alone ice skates. My technique for ice skating, therefore, is little different - basically, I plant my left foot and push along with my right. The moment I try and lift my left foot off the ice is the start of a two second countdown before my bum meets it up close. 

Sorry kid, didn't mean to snap a picture of you eating it.

The problem with this technique and my outward pointing left foot, is that I can basically only skate in a counter-clockwise circle. I'll never forget when the rink in Central Park had everyone change to clockwise mid-skate - I was forced to throw in the towel. Thankfully, The Cosmo was a counter-clockwise friendly establishment.

After about half an hour of doing what I call "skate" we decided to explore the other reason we chose The Cosmopolitan: the bar. Since it was a little chilly, we opted for a pair of Irish coffees - appropriately named The Buena Vista - while warming up next to one of the fire pits. Given my level of skill on the ice, I'm not sure how wise it was to throw Jameson into the mix, but since this was one of the best drinks I had in Vegas, I figured the risk of any potential injury was worthwhile. 

We went for a few more spins around the ice before the crowds got a little too big for my liking. OK, so it wasn't really busy, but there was a disproportionate number of little kids flying around and it was only a matter of time before I accidentally took one of them down. 


Ice skating at The Cosmopolitan was certainly a great time, and it will no doubt make our list the next time we are in Las Vegas during the winter. I must admit, however, that there was yet another reason why we chose to skate here instead of the other rinks....The Chandelier Bar. Since this was our last day in Las Vegas, it seemed like the best way to toast the end of a trip. 

Enjoy Your Stay