100 Points Of Tripe

In June of 2013, I wrote a post called, “What Do You Get A Blog For Its First Birthday?”.  In the same spirit of shameless self-congratulations (proving I haven’t matured in the intervening year), here is a short interlude from our regular programing to celebrate both my second blog birthday and my one hundredth post!   If that doesn’t rank right up there with the signing of the Magna Charta and the Normandy invasion on D-Day for historical significance, I can’t imagine what would.

Dancing hot dogIf you are one of the tiny minority who have not studiously perused every post I have ever written, here are a couple of ways for you to purge your shame and cleanse your conscience.  Trust me, this will constitute some serious penance!  You can go to the “What Did I Miss?” page along the top for a list of all 100 posts or, conversely, you can scan the right rail for a list of categories.  Then by simply reading all one hundred at one sitting, you will be automatically inducted into the Travel By Terry “Hall Of Masochists” of which I am currently the only member.  At this point, the meetings are short, lonely and, as you might expect, painful.  I would love some company.

Wordpress badgesIf you think I am being a little too hard on myself calling this post 100 Points of Tripe, as I pointed out in a previous post, hot dogs (of which I am a fan) are largely tripe and quite tasty!  I take it for granted that you are chomping at the Frankfurter to join the celebration and so I have provided a means for you to do so.  Simply register your opinion in the poll below.

As I enter my terrible twos, I encourage you to come back soon for another tasty . . .  if not necessarily nutritious . . . offering.   With any luck at all you will be entertained, educated and enticed which, coincidentally, happen to be the three pillars of this humble blog.

Crème de Cancun: The Top Five Resorts

A while back I wrote a blog post called Crème de Los Cabos:  The Top Five Resorts  which has proven to be one of my most popular posts ever.   Having been decidedly unpopular among the snootier cliques during my high school days (I’m not bitter, honest I’m not),  I now warmly embrace popularity wherever I stumble into it.

Seeing a golden opportunity to make those uppity, out-of-ballast cheerleaders eat their black little hearts out, I have decided to ride this “crème”  train all the way to the station, so to speak.  Thus, you can expect  in the days ahead, even more gangly siblings in this growing family of “crème” posts.

Some may wonder how I have arrived at my personal list of Cancun’s top five resorts.  Let’s just say that the polling was even less democratic than the recent election in Crimea where the populace voted with Russian boots firmly planted on their necks.  As was famously said by Putin’s diabolical predecessor, “In elections it doesn’t matter so much who votes as who counts the votes.”  In my case, I readily admit, I did both.

Excellence Playa Mujeres

Excellence ResortsYou have to admire the chutzpah of any hotel chain daring to call itself “Excellence”.  It is a lot less risky when you actually are excellent, or so I’m told. One of the things I like best about this property is its location.  As they describe it on their website “an all-inclusive Playa Mujeres Golf Courseoasis situated on an untouched peninsula between the Caribbean and a wetlands preserve”.  Even though it is a little out from Cancun proper, I have included it this grouping because it is the opposite direction from the Rivera Maya. Instead of south it is north and a little west.

Another great feature of this resort is both the quality and variety of dining options.  Suppose your busy schedule only permits a three night stay.  (The first order of business is to re-priortize your schedule!  Do you want to die young?)  In any case, imagine being able to savor the tangy herbs and spices of India’s North-West frontier your first night at Basmati,  sauntering (by the second night you have slowed your pace signficantly) over to Barcelona Mediterranean Restaurant for a variety of tapas followed by paella, veal or perhaps seafood.  By the third night the romantic juices are in full flow (remember those?) and nowhere else will do but Chez Isabelle, their signature French restaurant.  The resort claims you will forget for a moment that you are in Cancun and begin to imagine you have been transported to the Left Bank.  My guess is that by this time you will have been transported to an amorous place where geography is the last thing on your mind.

Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach

Fiesta Americana Grand Coral BeachIf “Excellence” was apropos of the previous resort, “Grand” certainly fits this hotel every bit as much. It begins with the location on what is arguably the nicest stretch of beach in Cancun.  If you are familiar with Cancun’s resemblance to the number seven, this property sits at the top of the seven just before it bends southward.  If you like to be in the heart of things, you can’t find a better location.

The entire hotel exudes an old-world charm that from the moment you enter delivers careful attention to detail.  If you are the sort who Le Basilicappreciates refined taste and gentile surroundings, you will immediately fall in love with this hotel.  You will not want to miss the incomparable dining experience afforded at the five diamond Le Basilic.

One of the lingering memories I carried away from my stay was how incredibly fresh and delicious were the breakfast pastries.  Every hotel, including Motel 6, offers pastries and in spite of the fact I have a sweet tooth that would shame a sabre tooth tiger, most of them are frankly not all that tasty.  It is a testament to the class of this resort that it maintains exacting standards even in a relatively small matter.

Hyatt Zilara (formally Royal Cancun)

Room at Hyatt Zilara CancunIn case you didn’t know (keep reading this blog and eventually you will know almost as much as the master), Hyatt Resorts has entered the all-inclusive market.  When a player the size of Hyatt makes a move, they don’t do anything by half-measures!  When they entered the Los Cabos market, they just went out and bought the Barcelo Los Cabos Palace Deluxe with one of the most stunning settings in that destination (see Hyatt Ziva).  In Cancun, they merely ponied up a few mil from their rainy day account and acquired the storied Royal Cancun and rebranded it the Hyatt Zilara.  (The Hyatt Zebra and Hyatt Zephyr can’t be far behind, can they?)

I want you to picture yourself coming home from work one evening, flashing the picture above to your life partner and saying this is the room where we will be staying next weekend.  If that Hyatt Zilara Cancundoesn’t get you around third and all the way home you have bigger problems than I have a clue how to solve.   I suppose if your beloved has an aversion to the color blue as in sky, ocean and pool, that could present a problem.

This stunning resort property is all adults, all -suite, all-inclusive and all your greedy little heart could covet.  There are seven specialty restaurants including Pelicanos which offers international cuisine in an oceanfront setting.  Catering to your refined palate will hardly be a problem here.  Check out this impressive new video!

Nizuc Resort And Spa

Nizuc Resort and SpaBy way of full disclosure, I have never been to Nizuc Resort and Spa.  This picture above is of the reflecting pond.  I find it has put me in a very reflective mood.  Right now I am reflecting on the question of why I have never stayed there.  Two reasons come to mind.  One, it only opened in March of 2013.  The second, and more important reason, I have never been invited.  Note to whom it may concern in Nizuc’s upper management.  My passport is up to date, my bags are perennially packed and my dance card is wide open!  (I know, not exactly subtle.)

By virtue of research, reputation and recommendation, I have definitely determined that it is a place I want to visit.   If you visit their website, take a little time to drool all over your Nizuc Resort and Spa. Cancunkeyboard in the “Gallery” section.

Once you get to Nizuc, you don’t even have to leave your room to enjoy spectacular views.  Not a bad place to enjoy your morning coffee, I would say.  The resort is located in the secluded enclave of Punta Nizuc.  I suspect you have to flash your American Express platinum card just to get past the gate which could potentially constitute a problem for me since my most exclusive credit card is made of balsa wood.  Since I am sure you don’t share that problem, should my pathetic hint above falls on deaf ears, promise me you will send me pictures!

All four of the properties I have mentioned so far deserve a much richer treatment than space permits here.  Should the Lord tarry and my body parts not collectively implode, I promise to write about each one of these gems separately.  That, however, is not a problem for my final selection below as you will shortly see.

Secrets the Vine

Secrets The Vine The Wine GlassOf these five properties, this is the only one I have already treated in detail.  Knock yourself out and read all three.  It’s not like you have anything else going on in your life, right?

At Secrets The Vine, The Wine’s Divine (1)

At Secrets The Vine, The Wine’s Divine (2)

At Secrets The Vine, The Wine’s Divine (3)

I know that many of you will have your own thoughts about which resorts should and should not be on this short list.  I invite you to use the comment section to weigh in.  I would love to hear your list.  All I ask is please don’t tell any of the other worthy candidates I didn’t select!

If you would like to visit one of these incredible resorts, reach out to us here.

Travel Industry Proposes, Royal Caribbean Disposes

One of my favorite quotes comes from “The Imitation of Christ” by the German-born Thomas à Kempis (c.1380-1471): “For man proposes, but God disposes; neither is the way of man in his own hands.”  We in the travel agency community are a little like that.  We propose all sorts of brilliant ideas, at least in our own humble estimation, yet we face the reality that in most cases we have zero power to dispose.

Royal Caribbean's Navigator of the SeasI recently interviewed Vicki Freed,  the Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support & Services for Royal Caribbean International, right here on this incomparable little blog and one of my queries was, for her at least, this very familiar and possibly tiresome question:  “When will Royal Caribbean start sailing year round out of the port of Galveston?”

For a little context, travel agents throughout Texas and surrounding states have for a few years now  been clamoring, cajoling, carping (and various other exertions too embarrassing to mention in print) for Royal Caribbean to position a ship in Galveston year round.  We travel types are nothing if not annoyingly persistent.

I have big news!  Let me share a brief excerpt from a press release issued today.  “Royal Caribbean International, the cruise line known for first at-sea innovations, announced today that it is basing 3,114-guest Navigator of the Seas year-round from the Texas port city of Galveston.”   Unlike when mighty Casey struck out, there was great joy in Mudville today. More than one of our travel agents was observed doing the happy dance on their desks!

Navigator of the Seas cabin

Since by design, these “Hear It Here First” posts are intended to be short and sweet, you can click here to read all the details.One exciting aspect of the news is that not only will Navigator of the Seas begin sailing year round from Galveston beginning this November but also will be emerging from an extensive drydock revitalization in February of 2014.  

This is absolutely going to be a very popular ship and departure port so start making your plans now.   Click here if you would like a full schedule of departure dates and itineraries and reach out to me for prices and to secure space.

Remember, you heard it here first.  And, if you didn’t, then clearly you aren’t as devoted a follower of this blog as you should be!  Come on, let’s muster a little fanatical devotion here.

Vicki Freed: One Of Royal Caribbean’s Leading Ladies

There are achievers and then there are over-achievers.  (You may have noticed,  I intentionally omitted under-achievers since that strikes a little too close to home for some of us.)  Vicki Freed, the Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support & Services for Royal Caribbean International, certainly belongs to the over-achiever category.

Vicki Freed of Royal Caribbean

One of the few times you will catch Vicki just hanging around!

She has set an incredible record of accomplishment.  Should I attempt to catalog her rather daunting list of achievements here, it would only serve to make Vicki blush and, more importantly, take time away from hearing her valuable insights.  I suggest instead you read her full bio here.

What is even more remarkable though is how she has managed to reach the pinnacle of the cruise industry while retaining such warm affection and high esteem among so many of her colleagues and travel industry constituents.  I refrained from saying all because surely there must be someone out there for whom Vicki is not the flavor of the month but lacking an electron microscope and a research sabbatical, so far I have not been able to detect one.

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the SeasWhat you will discover for yourself when you listen to the recorded interview below is that Vicki combines a keen intellect with an ebullient charm.  This happy confluence of gifts has served her well in her career.  She embodies the brand she represents:  contemporary style and timeless grace.  Cream rises inexorably to the top and Vicki is the executive equivalent of crème de la crème.  Hey, I would be right there too if I hadn’t somehow become a little curdled along the way!

Before you listen to the interview, you might be amused (not that I was at the time) by this quick aside.  In preparing for the interview I alerted my co-workers not to come calling, put my phone on Do Not Disturb, turned off my cell phone and securely shut my door, all to insure that the recorded call would be as clear as possible.  Notwithstanding all my precautions, sixty seconds into the interview a window washer started spraying what sounded,  to my ears at least, like a 3″ fire hose on to my exterior windows rattling the window panes and shattering my nerves.  By some miracle, you will not be able to detect the clatter on the recording!

I seem to have been assigned a guardian angel who requires both morning and afternoon naps.  Granted looking after me has to be particularly exhausting but why can’t I have someone shepherding me around with a little more energy or perhaps, more importantly, a less perverse sense of humor!

OK, let’s get to the good stuff!  In our conversation, Vicki, among other things:

1)  Offers some excellent advice to first-time cruisers

2)  Gives us just a peek into the new Quantum class of ships on the near horizon

3)  Nimbly explains how “Every Ship Can Be The Best Ship”

Click here or on Vicki’s picture to see probing questions magically transformed into perceptive answers right before your very eyes . . .  or ears, I suppose, in this case.

Interview with Royal Caribbean's Vicky FreedDo you have a favorite travel industry executive that you would like to see subjected to the unquestionable prestige of appearing on Backroom Banter?  Vicki has set a very high bar but if you do have someone in mind, send me their name and I will see if can’t appeal to their charitable spirit as I did with Vicki.

River Cruising: A Languid Stroll Down Liquid Highways

There is a very good reason that so many great cities, not only in Europe but throughout the world, are found alongside some of the world’s most majestic rivers.  Before relatively recent times, challenging terrain posed many obstacles to travel over land.  In the rivers, however, the merchants found ready-made highways to transport their goods and thus these cities sprung up as inland ports-of-call.  River cruising is capitalizing upon this reality and rapidly becoming one of the hottest vacation options in travel.

View from the Viking HelvetiaA couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to experience a truly magnificent river cruise aboard the Viking Helvetia.  We sailed from Amsterdam to Basel mostly along the Rhine River.  Part of what made the experience so enjoyable was that I was sauntering along with eighty or so of my closest friends.  You are no doubt shocked I would have 80 casual acquaintances much less that many close friends.

Viking River Cruise Excursion

The wheels on the bus go round and round.

You might be surprised to learn how much natural affinity there is between us like-minded, quirky travel folks.  We tend to congregate in large clusters, kind of like the Amish but without the beards . . .  and the foggiest notion of what’s appropriate in public, of course.  Actually I count the folks in this picture among my dear friends. At least I did before I published this candid shot on the internet without their permission where it will linger in some dank corner of cyberspace for all eternity.  Flip’s not really driving.  It just sort of looks that way.

I discovered that there are a whole host of things I like about river cruising, first and foremost being the leisurely pace.  Someone like my fellow blogger Lesley Carter over at Bucket List Publications, a frequenter of these pages, God love her,  would probably have to parasail behind the ship upside down, blindfolded and tethered to concertina wire just to stay awake.  Check out her blog to see what I mean.

However, for those of us for whom an adrenaline rush is defined as sipping a mellow Malbec in a dimly lit room, it is ideal.   When you are trying to absorb several hundred years of European history through the bar’s gigantic picture window, even five knots an hour seems like wave running.  Captain, can’t you slow this thing down a bit!

Archimedes' screws in Amsterdam

Giant Archimedes’ screws

Our first stop was in Kinderdijk where we did a windmill excursion.  If you have ever wondered how they move water around in a country which is largely below sea level check out these gigantic Archimedes’ screws.  Those of you who are expecting one of my typical crude attempts at humor will have to wait a sentence or two.  I’m not touching this one.

Just to prove I actually was in The Netherlands, here is one of many windmills dotting the landscape.  And no, dear skeptics out there, I did not photoshop the third hole at my local miniature golf course.  Windmill in KinderdijkI can tell by your drooping eyelids that I am not going to be able to hold your attention all the way to Basel.  Therefore I have made an editorial decision, seeing as I am what passes for an editor around here, to return next post with more of my heart-throbbing river adventures.  I have decided to do this just for the  Helvetia of it.  (Now there’s the kind of pathetic pun you have come to expect from your humble blogger.)

Have you ever been on a river cruise?  After reading this scintillating post, would you like to?  Check it out here. At you own languid pace, of course!

Two Provocative Travel Insights From G.K. Chesterton

Writer

Writer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You are to be altogether forgiven if the initials G.K.C. strike no immediate chord with you. Let me assure you, however, that there was a time in the early twentieth century when those initials at the conclusion of an essay or newspaper article (mere initials being the customary byline of the time) guaranteed a thoughtful reading by the literate class across the entire English-speaking world.   As my title reveals, those initials stand for the English journalist, novelist and essayist, Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

Chesterton was, and still is, one of the world’s most quoted individuals.   You would be doing yourself an immense and pleasurable favor to Google “G. K. Chesterton quotes” and spend a little time perusing any of the several sites that come up.   Today, however, I want to call your attention to two particular quotes.  The first offers an insight into the proper approach to travel and the second reveals the single greatest benefit of traversing the planet.

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.”

When we pack to go on a trip we all pack two kinds of items:

Picture from ATTitude

Picture from ATTitude

1)  We consciously pack every tangible item we think we might need.  (In my case, unfortunately, that tends to be everything I could conceivably need in any climate under any set of foreseeable or unforeseeable circumstances resulting in baggage fees equal to the GDP of small nations.  Don’t even ask about the ladies’ lingerie or the bunny.)

2)  We subconsciously pack an invisible suitcase with intangible items such as every expectation, preconceived notion,  prejudice, and misconception we have ever harbored regarding our destination.

This practice, of which we are almost all guilty to some extent, makes us very vulnerable to seeing only that which we expect and plan to see.  As G. K .C. astutely suggests, a true traveler manages to removed the filtered sunglasses of expectation and absorbs reality as he or she encounters it.  As G. K .C. once remarked of some of his contemporaries, ““It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.”  The best way to ensure you are a traveler and not a tourist, is to recognize this growth inhibiting problem and determine that you are going to travel more like a wide-eyed child than a jaded know-it-all.

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” 

This quote demands a little more reflection.  It seems paradoxical to the first which is hardly surprising since every fan of G. K .C. knows he is often referred to as the “prince of paradox.”  He believed that if you really wanted to see something clearly you could do that best by standing on your head.

Tourist

Picture from Anna Maria Island Realtor

We are all so immersed in our own culture that it practically never occurs to us to question anything about it.  They say a fish does not know there is any such thing as water.  What envelopes you, largely gets ignored.  Ah, but when you travel to a distant land (remember, as a traveler, not a tourist!), suddenly everything seems strange and . . . well . . . foreign.

When we return home, especially after an extended stay, suddenly we notice all sorts of things we had heretofore taken totally for granted.

Why do we drive on the right?  Why do we switch hands with our forks?  Why do we use Fahrenheit?  What is the big bleeping deal with soccer (OK, football everywhere else) anyway.?  Why don’t we have a Parliament?  You mean all women don’t shave under their arms???  You mean all male children aren’t circumcised???

If Socrates was right that the unexamined life is not worth living, then one of the best ways to re-examine all your core beliefs is to travel somewhere with a radically different culture and a markedly different perspective.

Finally, apologies to those who regularly tune in expecting to find a more liberal sprinkling of silliness often topped off by a shot of stupidity, straight up.  Ever so often I feel compelled to write a relatively sane post to restore a modicum of credulity and decorum to this blog.  But never fear,  I am sure in my next post I will resort to the same tasty yet trivial travel tripe for which I am rapidly earning a reputation.  Just remember, tripe can be quite tasty.  What do you think goes into a hotdog?

We Get You. We Get You There.

As many of you know who follow this blog, our agency Travel Leaders / Main Street Travel is an associate of Travel Leaders, one of the travel industry’s fastest-growing and most robust networks of travel agents.  Just a couple of months back, at our national meeting in Dallas, a new marketing campaign was unveiled and I thought you might enjoy a little backstage view of the rationale behind this branding effort.

This campaign, “We Get You.  We Get You There” is anchored by a new shortenedWe Get You with Logo tagline “Travel Better”.  Please don’t ask me to share the older, longer version because I could never remember it which, I am told by savvy marketers, is not considered a strong selling point for a tagline.  Granted, I have the attention span of a gnat but even I can remember “Travel Better.” 

WE GET YOU

I recently wrote a post about the value of travel agents called “Travel Agents:  Dinosaurs or Crocodiles?”  in which I addressed the tremendous value travel agents add to the equation.  One of the primary tools we use is asking customers a series of discovery questions to better understand our clients’ specific interests, their personal budget, their previous travel experience, etc.

We prod and probe (in an ever-so-gentle manner, I hasten to add, and thankfully without ever asking you to disrobe or bend over), until a clear picture begins to emerge of you, the traveler.  As has been aptly pointed out . . . by me, I think . . . prescription without diagnosis is malpractice.

Perhaps you are thinking at this point, “Sheesh, I didn’t come into your office to get psychoanalyzed.  I just wanted to go on vacation.”  OK, fair enough but here is an interesting thing I have discovered over the years, “People generally don’t care how much you know about them once they know how much you care about them.”  Once you realize our objective is not to sate our prurient interests (the National Enquirer and Star serve that purpose nicely, thank you), but to understand and thus serve you better, hopefully you will not care either.

It is when we get to know your preferences, your expectations and your aspirations that we well and truly “get you.”  It is then we are prepared to move to the next step.

We Get Your Priceless Moments

WE GET YOU THERE 

So you are probably thinking, “After I have confessed in front of God (and let’s not forget my spouse who is a little less forgiving), to every secret travel fantasy I’ve ever had, I hope to heck you are going to put that information to some good use!”   We are and trust us, all will be forgiven when you get back from the perfect vacation.

It is at this juncture that we take off our doctor’s lab coats and pick up the pins, patterns and measuring tape of a tailor to fashion a memorable vacation that is perfectly suited to your needs.  I like to think of it as fitting you to a T since that was my dad’s nickname for me and has nice associations.

Think about it.  Wouldn’t you much rather have us tailor a vacation that fits you instead of grabbing “garments” off the rack and trying to squeeze you into them?  I did that years ago with a leisure suit which may explain my uncanny ability to sing falsetto.

THREE COMMERCIALS

Now for a little entertainment.  I know, it’s about time!  Travel Leaders has fashioned  three clever thirty second commercials in support of this new campaign, all of which can be found on YouTube at Travel By Terry Videos.

Travel Leaders commercial

We Get You – Humor

Travel Leaders Commerical

We Get You – Heartstrings

Travel Leaders Commerical

We Get You – Aspirations

I would be very curious to know which one of these commercials most resonates with you.  Please take a moment and cast your vote below.

OK, I’m Here . . . So Now What? Cancun and the Mayan Riviera

Some travelers get so caught up in their destination (where do I want to go?) and their domicile (where do I want to stay?), they forget to ask themselves “What do I want to do when I get there?”.  In fact, that question should probably precede the previous two.  If your definition of a perfect vacation contains certain “must do” items, you might want to travel somewhere that offers those specific activities.

Wow, are you blown away by my mastery of Aristotelian logic?  Don’t try this kind of insightful thinking at home without an open copy of The Organon next to you or you might bruise your little gray cells!

This post starts a new category on this blog called “OK, I’m Here . . . So Now What?” in which I will inform you about things to see and do in various destinations.  Let’s take Cancun and the Mayan Riviera as our first example . . . especially since that is the only thing I am prepared to write about at the moment.  On September 7th I published a

Picture of a Mayan Calendar

This is either a Mayan calendar or an Oreo cookie, not sure which.

post called Cancun:  A Bundle (or Unbundle) Of Fun in which I promised  to provide you more information about this precise subject very soon.  OK, very soon is a relative term. Compared with say the Mayan calendar’s “baktun” which divides history into periods of 394.26 years, the past few months have been a mere heartbeat.  Speaking of the Mayans, the world didn’t end last Friday while I was out Christmas shopping, did it?  I would be extremely upset to find out that while I was being jostled in line at Bath And Body Works by a tattooed teenager with a nose ring , I missed the entire apocalypse!

There are way too many tour options and activities (over a hundred) to list them all here so I will just mention a few and then point you to this awesome site where you can research, dream and even book to your little heart’s content.

Camel Safari   (No, this is not a misprint from a tour of North Africa.)

Be honest, haven’t you always wanted to ride a camel?  I’m not saying you dream about it at night because frankly, that would be a little weird.  But wouldn’t it be nice, when there is a lull in the conversation at your next cocktail party, to be able to throw out a totally random comment Camel Safari in Riviera Mayaabout camel riding in Cancun?  This is a unique experience specially designed for travelers with a taste for the exotic.  If vacations are all about experiences outside your normal routine,  unless you recently traded in your Dodge Ram pickup for a dromedary, this should certainly fit the bill.

XPLOR Tour

This is described as “A totally wild adventure where you will drive an amphibious vehicle, go over the exotic vegetation on a zip line, and swim in an ancestral cenote.”  Personally, I think it would be even wilder if you swam in the exotic vegetation and zipped over a cenote in an amphibious vehicle but that’s just me.  Actually, I have done this activity.   One small Extreme Canopy Adventurecautionary note.  When the guide tells you that should you come in a little “hot” on your zip line run, don’t worry, he will be on the platform on the other end to catch you before you wrench your knee careening into an unforgiving tree . . . well . . . let me translate for you.  What he really means is if you are young, cute, petite and female, he is there for you.  If you old, male, scruffy and a little above your fighting weight, you should count on a loud “¡Olé!” coupled with a dexterous sideways jump that would make a Spanish bullfighter proud.  If you have to ask what the heck is going on in the picture to the left, you don’t have any business signing up for this adventure.

Delphinus Trek

Interacting safely with dolphins, under water as if you were a diver, is simply unmatched.
You will appreciate them from a unique and different point of view thanks to secure underwater breathing equipment that can be used by anyone.  By anyone, I am excluding people like me who are claustrophobic in small, confined places such as Cowboy Stadium, Notre Dame and Yellowstone National Park.

Delphinus Trek, Riviera Maya

Are you are ready to peruse a list of over one hundred tour and activity choices as well as nifty transfer options to and from the airport?   Just follow this link and explore to your heart’s content: Travel Leaders Cancun ActivitiesWhen you are ready for some help selecting the perfect resort for you, just visit Travel Leaders / Main Street Travel.  And finally, when you are desperately bored and find yourself craving even more mindless drivel, just come back here.  As you have probably discovered by now, we can deliver drivel by the dump truck load around here.

Michael Batt Talks Travel

If there is anyone I’ve met across the years who seemed destined to fulfill a successful career in “bidness”, as we like to mangle the term here in Texas, it is truly Michael Batt.  Mike is founder and chairman of Travel Leaders Group and is the latest travel industry expert to visit us here on Backroom Banter.

Mike is the business equivalent of Roy Hobbs, i.e. The Natural, without all the sub-plots.  If you want a quick overview of his immensely successful corporate career click here.  But honestly, that is just part of the story.  At heart, he is a bold entrepreneur with investments in restaurants, publishing, internet marketing, and only he, God and his tax attorney know what else.

Mike possesses that rare package of gifts the rest of us only pine for.  He has a keen analytical mind that enables him to quickly diagnose the financial health of a potential acquisition.  As you will see when you watch the video below, he is an effective communicator whether chatting one-on-one or captivating a large audience on stage.

Without a doubt, however, the single trait I most admire in Mike is his commitment to integrity.  One of the major reasons he has been able to broker the amazing deals he has with other industry giants is the transparent honesty he exudes in business dealings.  People quickly realize when negotiating with Mike that he has zero tolerance for sharp corners or shady deals.   There is a lesson here for all of us.  The word integrity is related to the word integer, meaning whole, as in whole numbers.  When you are just one thing, both without and within, it spares you loads of game playing.  This is the essence of being real.

You would think a guy with Mike’s immense gifts would at least have the decency to be an arrogant jerk so the rest of us could rationalize our jealousy.  But no, on top of everything, Mike has to go and be a genuinely warm, gracious and kindhearted person as well.  It has been my genuine privilege to count Mike a valued friend over more than a dozen years.

I will share one quick anecdote and on to the video interview.

Mike once told me that he was the son of a Welsh coal miner and was the first in his family to have the privilege of attending university.  Fresh out of school, his first job was with M & M Mars candy company.  As Mike tells it, he drove home flush with his new position and immediately dragged his father from his easy chair and out to his car.  He popped open the boot (trunk for you non-Anglophiles) to reveal hundreds of assorted candy bars.  His dad took one look, glanced over at Mike, coughed out a little mine dust and said, “Let me get this straight, I worked thirty years in a coal mine so you could sell candy bars out of the boot of your car?”  From candy merchant to capitalist mogul,  it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Now enjoy a few minutes with one of our industry’s leading lights as he shares his insights on the remarkable growth of Travel Leaders, the overall state of the travel industry and the merger between two New York powerhouse agencies, Tzell Travel Group and Protravel International. You will even get a glimpse into  how Mike likes to spend his own leisure time.  Just click on the image below to view the interview.

Thanks, Mike, for stopping by.  By the way, do you still have any connections over at Mars?  I really like those Twix bars.

A Life Lesson Learned in London

I have been an Anglophile as far back as I can remember . . .which lately seems to be about the day before yesterday.  Even before I got into the travel business, my brother and I used to own a book store and had a yen to visit the mother country.  I realize now that no amount of yen would have done us any good in Great Britain, since they use pounds, but, to my credit, my grasp of world currencies has expanded greatly since then.

Our bookstore was located next to the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary whose students had a rapacious (unfortunate choice of words, perhaps) appetite for classic 19th century biblical commentaries.   This seemed liked the perfect excuse, as if we needed one, to hop over the pond and scour used book shops for as many of said tomes as we could unearth.

London Tower Bridge

Picture from Health Insurance Solutions of London

Having, if possible, less sense in those days than I do now, my first introduction to London was landing at Gatwick Airport, renting a stick-shift car and driving blithely into the heart of central London as if I were taking a Sunday stroll in Hyde Park.  After grinding the transmission into first gear with an unfamiliar use of the left hand and finding the clutch in a ridiculously unlikely spot on the floorboard, we were almost flattened by a lorry the size of a Cotswold Tudor cottage pulling out of the car rental agency because I instinctively glanced in the wrong direction.  Had the guardian angel in charge of dim-witted book sellers not been working overtime, you hapless readers would have never had a chance to read all these stimulating blog posts you find so entertaining.  I know, a very chilling thought indeed.

The point I am trying to make in my insufferable, laborious way is that from that first visit I fell in love with England.  My role as a travel entrepreneur . . . goodness, that term makes me sound almost successful . .  has enabled me to make many return trips.  On one such trip I was delivered a mortifying tutorial as only the Brits can dispense.

I was wandering one day off Fleet Street when I stopped by Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub.  The sign outside reads “Rebuilt 1667″ which, of course, was the year following the great London fire making it practically a new build in English historical terms.   The pub has been the haunt of literary geniuses for centuries making it all the more apropos that I should stop by.  Speaking of other literary lights, I had just read the famous biography  Boswell’s Life of Johnson.

Portrait of Samuel Johnson commissioned for He...

Portrait of Samuel Johnson commissioned for Henry Thrale’s Streatham Park gallery (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Samuel Johnson, who compiled one of the earliest English dictionaries, was a frequent visitor to said pub and, in point of fact, you can to this day sit in his favorite chair.  He won’t mind.

The house where Johnson lived and did all his lexicographical labor is now a museum and just a short walk away from the pub.  I decided to take a tour since I had enjoyed the biography so immensely.  Upon entering the very narrow, four-story edifice, I turned to the right and began examining various objects on display.   Sitting quietly on a bench was an unassuming, bespectacled  lady.  As our eyes met, she asked me “Are you a fan of Dr. Johnson?”  “Oh yes,” I assured her.  As if to offer proof, though none was requested, I blurted out, “I loved the clever remark he once made about an attorney,” at which point I offered what can only be called a badly mangled version of the quote.

Without a pause the woman replied, “I believe the remark you have in mind is where Johnson said ” . .  he did not care to speak ill of any man behind his back, but he believed the gentleman was an attorney.”   Thus having inserted the stiletto into the deepest recesses of my bloated ego, she slowly turned it further by saying, “I have always thought Dr. Johnson is best remembered when he is quoted accurately, don’t you?”

I learned two important things that day.   The woman in question was the curator of the museum and more importantly, “Never attempt to carelessly quote any famous personage in their own home!”

Have you had any similar “teachable moments” in your travels?