Archive for travel


My Top Ten Travel Moments of 2017

Posted by: | Comments (0)


I took a break from blogging for much of 2017 as I focused on my travel business (shared with my wife Anne) and other activities.  In 2018 I intend to start blogging again (more book reviews to come).  But this post is about travel: In my 15th year as a travel agent I enjoyed planning vacations for clients and doing some travel myself! Here are my top 10 travel moments from 2017:

#10 Dinner at Wonderland on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas


We loved our Harmony of the Seas cruise in early December, the largest cruise ship afloat. On a ship that can hold 6,000 people we especially liked our dinner at the Wonderland speciality restaurant. The romantic setting, the wait service, and the food were all excellent.

#9 Watching fish in the huge tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium


The Monterey Bay Aquarium featured a huge tank with a wide variety of fish. Remember the scene in ‘Finding Nemo’ with the thousands of sardines swimming in synchronized patterns? It was fascinating to see this phenomenon in person in this tank. Read more about our visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium here.

#8 Revolving Aquarium Show in Scottsdale, Arizona


Can you tell I like aquariums? We visited another good one in Scottsdale, Arizona. The OdySea featured an “aqua theater” where we were seated in a rotating theater and were shown different tanks with narration as we moved in a circular pattern. It reminded me of Disney World’s Carousel of Progress, only in aquarium style! Read more about the OdySea here.

#7 Buffet of Buffets Pass In Las Vegas


We enjoy dining at buffets and there are none better than what Caesars Resorts offer in Las Vegas. We dined at four different buffets in a 24 hour period with Caesars “Buffet of Buffets” pass. A very good value at $50/person (the individual buffets would cost much more if purchased separately). Read more about our Buffet of Buffets experience here.

#6 A Day at Grand Turk

top6bOn our many Caribbean cruises we had never visited Grand Turk until the Spring of 2017. We found this to be a worthwhile island stop, with a nice beach right by the port, an interesting display from U.S. Space Program history (the island had a NASA tracking station in the 1960’s), and wild donkeys roaming the island. Read more about our day at Grand Turk here.

#5 Google Take Your Parents to Work Day


Over the years we attended many “back to school” nights with our son Josh. Josh is now a software engineer at the Google main campus in Mountain View, California. In a day of role reversal, it was Josh’s turn to show us around during Google’s “Take Your Parents to Work Day”. I was a software for many years before becoming a travel agent, and it was fascinating to see the inner workings of this high tech giant.

#4 Celine Dion Show in Las Vegas


Canadian singer Celine Dion is a favorite of ours, and it was a thrill to see her perform in person at Caesars Palace Colosseum in Las Vegas. Celine sang many of her hits, backed by a full orchestra and some amazing special effects.

#3 A Day at Labadee


On our December Harmony of the Seas cruise we especially enjoyed our day at Royal Caribbean’s Labadee (a private beach area on the island of Haiti). Royal Caribbean treated us to a full Labadee tour this day where we saw parts of the island we hadn’t visited before, and then we had a few hours to relax on our own.

#2 A Visit to the World War II History Museum in New Orleans


I’m a World War II history buff, and I especially enjoyed visiting New Orlean’s World War II history museum. My Dad served in Europe in the war and touring the museum’s many displays gave me a sense of what my Dad experienced during his time in the service.

#1 A Day at Half Moon Cay


Private island stops often highlight our Caribbean cruises, and there is no private island better than Holland America’s Half Moon Cay. As the above picture shows, we found Half Moon Cay to be uncrowded on the day we visited in the Spring. It was nice to relax on the Caribbean sunshine for a few hours at this idyllic island paradise. Read more about our day at Half Moon Cay here.

That’s it for 2017 – I look forward to more travel adventures in 2018!

Categories : travel
Comments (0)

A Weekend In Mexico City

Posted by: | Comments (0)


tim in mexico cityTravel Weekly selected me along with 24 other agents for a weekend “familiarization (fam)” trip to Mexico City . I had been to Mexico many times before – each visit was at a coastal destination (Cozumel, Cancun, Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, etc). On this trip I learned that Mexico City has its own treasures – you don’t have to go to a beach to enjoy Mexico!

My anticipation grew in chatting with a honeymoon couple as I was waiting in line at the United Airlines counter to change my flight arrangements. “Mexico City is one of my favorite cities in the World,” said the young bride. “You’ll have a wonderful time.” The United agent at the gate did a great job in finding me alternate flights, and soon I was on my way. Over my four day trip (Thursday night through Sunday afternoon) I experienced a sampling of the best Mexico City has to offer:


The highlight of my trip was a hot air balloon ride over the Teotihuacán Pyramids just north of the city. I describe this amazing experience in detail in my earlier blog post.

tim at the pyramidsLater that day our travel agent group were escorted by our guide Jacob to see the pyramids close up. I was familiar with the Kukulkan Pyramid at Chichen Itza and the Tulum ruins elsewhere in Mexico, but somehow in my many years of schooling I missed the fact that Mexico City had ancient Mayan pyramids nearby, too. I learned that the massive Pyramid of the Sun at this site is the third largest ancient pyramid in the World!

pyramid steps

We were given the opportunity to climb the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon with our guide. I made the first climb to a ceremonial platform for a better view (about 48 steps). The climb was very steep, as the above picture show, and I wondered how the ancient Mayans were able to traverse these structures (the Mayans were short – males averaged 5’2″ tall). My knee started to act up so I skipped climbing the taller two pyramids – the more hearty in our group did make the climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun (over 240 steps)

I found the whole Teotihuacán Pyramid complex fascinating – a glimpse into a great civilization of the past.


My second favorite activity of the weekend was a visit to the Palacio De Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) theatre to see the Ballet Folklorico. Now going to a ballet on a Sunday is not the norm for me (you will more likely find me watching NFL football or Major League baseball back home on a typical Sunday). But I enjoyed this performance very much – a shining example of Mexican culture. The dancers and musicians were highly skilled in a two hour show – with a variety of traditional Mexican dance and music. This is a must see during any visit to Mexico City.


If you like museums, Mexico City is the place to be! We could have spent weeks exploring the 150+ museums in the city. For our short weekend trip we only had time to visit one – the Museo Frida Kahlo – displaying the work of this well known Mexican self-portrait artist. On a return trip to Mexico City I for sure will allow for more museum time (others in our group visited an Archaeology museum on their free time with good reports).


On Saturday morning we visited the Saturday Bazaar and Art Fair in the San Angel area. Here local vendors were selling their wares. I have visited open air markets in other parts of the World and I thought this one was one of the best. The vendors called out to us as we passed by but they weren’t overly aggressive. Many in our group bought local crafts and artwork here.

These are just a few of the activities you can experience on a trip to Mexico City. There’s more than enough to fill your days.


villa maria

We were treated to some wonderful restaurants during our trip. My favorite was the Villa Maria restaurant. Outside the restaurant was posted a review by New York Times critic William Grimes:

“You think you love Mexican food? You ain’t seen nothin! There is a mexican restaurant by the name of Villa Maria. It not only serves the best and most outrageous mexican food in the world but it also happens to be quite inexpensive. They feature live mariachi music. We guarantee you’ll have lots of fun.”

Mr Grimes was right! I found the food to be superb and the mariachi singers were excellent.


“I don’t often drink margaritas, but when I do I like them big.”

Villa Maria featured the largest margarita I have had anywhere (and it was quite good!)

danceThe women I dined with were charmed by the lead mariachi singer, Sergio, who took turns dancing with some in our group.


cave2My other favorite place we dined at was “La Gruta” near the Teotihuacán Pyramids. This restaurant, open only for lunch, is located in a cave! I enjoyed the unusual setting and the food here.

We had a number of good breakfasts, lunches, and dinners at different restaurants throughout the city. A visit to Mexico City is sure to satisfy your palette!



View out of my window at the Presidente InterContinental Hotel

Our base hotel for our 4 day trip was the Presidente InterContinental Hotel. I enjoyed my stay here very much. My room was large with a good sized shower and a great view (above).


pool at jw marriott mexico city

workout room at the st regis, mexico city

workout room at the st regis, mexico city

We toured a number of other hotels in the area, including the JW Marriott and St Regis. I recommend any of these for an enjoyable and comfortable Mexico City getaway.

city viewThe young bride I talked to at the airport was right – Mexico City is a wonderful place to visit. So many people when they consider traveling to Mexico think only of the beach destinations (which are delightful places to visit in their own right). Mexico City is equally marvelous with a plethora of activities, restaurants, and more to explore. I hope to return to Mexico City for a longer stay next time.



Categories : travel
Comments (0)

Tim before his ride

“Me??? In a hot air balloon???” I’m not sure about this!” I said to myself when I was given the opportunity to experience my first hot air balloon ride ever above the Teotihuacán Pyramids just north of Mexico City.

air adventures

As a child I always had a fear of heights. In my years as a travel agent I had pretty much conquered those jitters, in doing high flying activities such as ziplining on a cruise shore excursion or soaring over the Misty Fjords, Alaska in a small plane. “You were nervous before at great heights and you survived,” I told myself. “Hot air ballooning? No sweat!”


Our bus picked us up at 5:30 am for the hour long ride to the balloon launching field. It was eerily quiet as we rode through the streets of Mexico City in what seemed like the middle of the night. I could sense a tension among the other travel agents with me. “Don’t do it, Mom!” said the woman next to me in relaying a conversation she had with her daughter the night before. It was to be her first hot air balloon ride, too. Our guide Jacob filled us in on what we were about to experience at the Teotihuacán Pyramids. Suddenly the bus stopped. The air conditioning had stopped working. “I hope the bus company isn’t maintaining the balloons, too,” I thought.


After a short delay to fix the air conditioning, we were on our way. Soon we arrived at the open field where the balloons would be launched. We were all given release forms to sign. “Surely this is safe,” I told myself, putting out of my mind the hot air ballooning accident I had read about two weeks earlier.


“Tim Larison! Tim Larison!” yelled the woman in a heavy Spanish accent. “That’s me! I’m first. I hope I’m not on the test balloon!”


Tensions eased as we saw the brilliantly colored balloons unfurl before our eyes. “We can do this!”


Eight of us were instructed to climb into the balloon basket. The hardest part was getting in and getting out! But we helped each other and no one was left behind – soon we were standing up, all snug 4 to a side in our balloon basket.


Our pilot Roman expertly filled our balloon with hot air as we slowly rose off the ground. Roman didn’t say much but we were ok with that – we preferred he concentrate on his job! We could feel the heat as Roman turned up the gas to fill up the balloon. The warmth of the flame felt good on this cool, crisp Mexico morning.


Any worries I had quickly melted away as I was awestruck with the beauty of the sunrise, the landscape below, and the colorful balloons all around. It was an amazing sight!


We flew over the ancient Mayan Pyramid of the Moon and Pyramid of the Sun. I marveled at the ancient technology (around 100 AD) that built these behemoth structures. We were to get a closeup view of the Pyramids in a hike later in the day – the most impressive views, though, were from the air.


We flew close, but never too close, to the other balloons around us. We could hear roosters crowing below welcoming the morning sun. It was a very peaceful and beautiful setting as we stayed in the air for almost an hour.



By now I was feeling relaxed and confident, enough to take this mid-air selfie!


At the end of our exhilarating hour ride we touched down softly in an open field.



The crew quickly deflated our big balloon, stuffed it into a bag, loaded it along with our basket on a trailer and off they went. Ballooning is a very portable business!


We were each given a certificate to commemorate our memorable ballooning adventure. Thanks to the staff of Travel Weekly and the Mexican Tourism Board for giving me and my travel agent group an experience I will long remember. Like with my past aerial adventures the hesitant anticipation of the event made the outcome even more satisfying when it was all done. I had conquered my fear! That’s one reason I like my work. Whether it be a physical challenge, like high flying over ancient pyramids in a small basket, or an emotional one, like immersing yourself in a foreign culture for the first time, travel has a way of stretching you beyond your limits.

If you would like a life expanding travel experience, whether it be hot air ballooning over the Teotihuacán Pyramids or something else, contact us. We can make it happen.

Coming soon: more from my weekend in Mexico City – it was an amazing place to visit.

Categories : travel
Comments (0)

dealey plazaI finally got to see it.  Last month I took the picture at the left of Dealey Plaza, the site of the Kennedy assassination 50 years ago today.  Though I was only seven years old when JFK was killed, I have had a fascination with the event over the years.  I remember staying up late on a school night in 1975, as a college freshman, to watch the first public showing of the famous Zapruder film on Geraldo Riveria’s late night ABC show.  “Surely there was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy!” I thought at the time as the Zapruder film showed the fatal head shot appearing to come from the front, and not from the Texas School Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald was perched on the 6th floor.  In the 90’s I read a number of books about the assassination, and even gave a speech giving details of various conspiracy theories to my Toastmaster club.

In 2000 I did a 180 degree turn – changing my opinion to believe Lee Harvey Oswald did act alone to kill JFK.  Arguments by former Charles Manson prosecuter Vincent Bugliosi, and by author Gerald Posner, who both wrote books filled with evidence pointing to Oswald as the lone killer, were very convincing. Standing at Dealey Plaza on a cool Saturday morning last month showed me that Oswald could have easily fired the shots.  The whole area is smaller when you see it in person than it appears on film.  Two “x’s” still mark the pavement noting the location of the presidential limo when Kennedy was hit.  I could only imagine the horror of the bystanders that day as they witnessed the shooting first hand – the limo was only a few feet away.

I haven’t thought much about the Kennedy assassination in recent years, but the 50 year anniversary of the tragedy this week has renewed my interest.  I have watched various documentaries in the past week from different viewpoints, ranging from a theory that a Secret Service agent accidentally fired the fatal shot, to the anti-conspiracy shows again showing Oswald was the lone gunman.  My current opinion is that Oswald was definitely involved and fired shots, but that there was more to the assassination than that.  Could Oswald’s ties to some questionable characters point to a conspiracy?  Perhaps.

Today I think it is time to put all the speculation about the Kennedy assassination behind us.  We’ll never know the full truth.  Instead I prefer to focus on what an inspiration JFK was to the country.  Yes, he had his flaws (don’t we all), but he had an amazing ability to inspire audiences with his speeches.  One of the best JFK documentaries I’ve seen in the past week focused on his final hours in Texas.  In interviews with people he met on his Texas trip I got a better picture of Kennedy the person, and his charismatic wife Jackie, and the effect they had on people.  I prefer to see footage of JFK’s memorable speeches rather than endless replays of the fatal assassination head shot.  In watching those speeches John F Kennedy is still an inspiration to us today, 50 years after his death.

Categories : travel
Comments (0)

We heard a flapping noise outside our stateroom early in the morning – what could it be?




We were so close we could touch them!


After a hearty breakfast we went on a four hour tour of Germany’s Black Forest.  We enjoyed a hike in the mountains.


Though the temperatures were cold  it felt good to hike in nature after seeing castles and cathedrals on other days of our trip.


At the end of our hike we returned to a small shopping area featuring this huge cuckoo clock.  The intricate workings of the clock were fascinating to see.


In the afternoon we took another tour – this one on world war II action in the Black Forest area.  Our guide was extremely knowledgeable in telling us the military history of the area.  The story of Audie Murphy was featured – we saw the spot where Murphy fought off a German battalion for 90 minutes single-handedly.


The Allies victory at the Colmar Pocket was a key turning point in the war.  As we stood on a mountain top near a French military cemetary our guide pointed out the military maneuvers of the day and how the Nazis were forced out of this region.

We had a memorable river cruise overall, and this last day in the Black Forest was one of the highlights!

Categories : travel
Comments (0)


It was a cold, misty morning as we arrived in Kehl, Germany.  We were soon on a tour bus to Stasbourg, France – a short distance away on the other side of the Rhine River.


Our Viking tour guide took us on a two hour walking tour of this old city – founded by the Romans in 12 B.C.  We noticed immediately the architectural style was French, not German.  Stasbourg is a center for European politics – home to the European Council and European Parliament.


Dominating the city center was the huge Notre Dame Cathedral.  This gothic structure dates back to 1176 and took over 300 years to build.  On a trip where we have seen many churches, Notre Dame was one of the most impressive.  At 466 feet high it was the tallest building in the Christian world from the 15th through 19th century (only the Great Pyramid in Egypt was higher).


The inside of the cathedral was impressive.  Our guide said one of the stain glass windows here dated back to the 13th century.  Other stain glass windows, added in the 16th century, displayed scenes from the Gospels.  In that era many peasants could not read or write, so the display of Jesus’ life through stain glass pictures was a way of getting the Bible’s message to the poor.


The church’s intricate clock dates back to the 1800’s.  We watched characters move on the clock on the half hour.  We just missed the main attraction – a procession of 18 inch high figures of Christ and the Apostles which occurs once at midday while a life-size cock crows thrice.


We returned to Germany and our ship docked on the Rhine in the early afternoon.  The weather had cleared up by then.  Anne took a pleasant walk along the riverfront in the late afternoon while I took a midday nap.

Tomorrow we sail to the Black Forest region of Germany, our last full day of the cruise.

Categories : travel
Comments (0)


I opened our stateroom window to see this sunrise over the Rhine River.  We were ready for another day of seeing castles, German towns, and cathedrals!


Most of the day we were in Heidelberg.  Here we are shown in front of the old castle, “considered the most magnificent castle ruin in Germany” according to our guide.


Our Viking guide, a graduate student at a local university, was excellent in telling us the history of the castle.  It took over 400 years to build and shows a mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles.


Back in the castle’s heyday this barrel held 58,000 gallons of wine.


The views from the castle of the city of Heidelberg below were also spectacular.


After touring the castle we explored the city of Heidelberg on our own for two hours.  Perhaps time for a German lunch?  Nahh, we are not big fans of German cuisine.  Instead we found a little Italian cafe and split a delicious Margherita pizza.


We returned to our river boat in the mid afternoon and resumed sailing down the Rhine.  We arrived at Speyer, Germany shortly before dinner.  We took a 40 minute stroll to the town’s square where we saw this magnificent cathedral – one of the largest we’ve seen on this trip.

Tomorrow we take a detour and venture into France for a visit to Strasbourg.

Categories : travel
Comments (0)

Today we visited one of the best preserved fortresses overlooking the Rhine – Marksburg Castle.


The castle, high on a hill, is over 700 years old.  Its location made it difficult for attackers to reach it over the years, hence it had far less damage than other Rhine castles.

guide2Viking River Cruises arranged for an excellent guide to show us around the castle in a one hour tour.  We walked over cobblestone paths and climbed steep stairways during the presentation.


A display of medieval armament in one of the castle’s many rooms was interesting.



The view from the Marksburg Castle was equally spectacular.  We saw our Viking Forseti ship sail by far below – we met up with the ship by bus down river after the tour.


In the afternoon we sailed down the Rhine with amazing scenery all around us.  We came upon castle after castle as our ship’s program director explained the historical significance of each fortress.


In the evening we were treated to a concert by local musicians.  Anne was surprisingly pulled from the audience for the finale to lead a conga line.  She was a good sport about it and led a group of our fellow travelers around the ship’s lounge.  No conga for me – I stayed on the outside taking pictures of the festivities!

Tomorrow we are off to Heidelberg and another day of touring.



Categories : travel
Comments (0)

Rhine River Cruise Day 3 (Cologne)

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Our river cruise brought us to Cologne this morning – Germany’s fourth largest city.


As we approached Cologne the massive cathedral dominated the skyline.


Before venturing out into the city we had breakfast in our ship’s dining room.  We try to get a window table each time.  The food at all meals has been excellent!


Our German tour guide led us on a two hour walking tour of Cologne – a city originally founded by the Romans 2000 years ago.  We learned that 90% of Cologne was destroyed by allied bombs in World War II.  Most of the old buildings we saw were reconstructions built after the war.


The highlight of our walking tour was a visit to the Cologne Cathedral – the largest Gothic church in Germany and tallest Roman Catholic cathedral in the world.  The church took 600 years to build dating back to 1248.


The cathedral was just as impressive on the inside.  While the church was bombed during the war some of the original sections were undamaged.  Services are still held here – we exited the church before the 12 noon gathering.

We are skipping the optional tour Viking is offering, a night time walking tour of Cologne’s beer halls, instead preferring to remain onboard for another delicious dinner, a lecture on the European Union, and a concert of classic German music.  Our ship remains docked until 11 pm, when we set sail for Koblenz, Germany.

Categories : travel
Comments (0)


It was a cold, windy morning in Holland where we visited Kinderdijk and its windmills.


Our Dutch guide Margriet led us on a two hour tour.  We learned of the inner workings of windmills.  Most of the windmills we saw this day dated back to the 1700’s.  We went inside one windmill surprised to find it once was a family home.



The series of windmills dotting the Holland countryside was impressive!


We got a better look at our Viking river cruise ship from the outside.  Our stateroom is on the lower deck near the aft.

I wore my University of Colorado jacket.  One woman came up to me and said, “Go Buffs!”  She was a CU grad who attended many football games from the late 60’s to the mid 90’s before moving to Arizona.



We returned to the ship shortly before lunch and resumed our journey down the Rhine.  We visited the top observation deck for the first time.  Though cold we enjoyed watching the sights go by as we sailed by farms, small towns, and under bridges.captain

The captain, at age 26 the youngest in the Viking fleet, explained to us the operation of the “wheelhouse” on the top deck.  Our Viking Forseti ship, only six months old, had all the latest technology to make this a safe and smooth trip.

Tomorrow we visit a much bigger city on the Rhine – Cologne, Germany.

Categories : travel
Comments (0)