All Mancation Articles Thu, 26 Nov 2015 00:12:41 -0800 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (ManTripping) A Different Kind of Golf Retreat - The Ranch at Laguna Beach There is certainly no shortage of options for where to golf in Southern California. We're privileged to have some of the best and most beautiful courses in the world right here at our doorstep. One of these resorts is a relatively hidden gem that is in the process of being brought back to life. The Ranch at Laguna Beach is open right now for golf but the full resort experience will be coming online in early 2016 following an extensive renovation of the resort that traces it's heritage all the way back to the 1940s.

golf course

In the 1940's, construction began on the course and then later in 1956 Ben and Violet Brown purchased the property with plans to make it a destination resort and for the next 20 years it draws guests from all over the world as well as the rapidly growing city of Los Angeles. 

As it moved into the 21st century though, the heyday was over. In 2013, new developers came in to create The Ranch at Laguna Beach - a new and unique golf resort experience on the property inspired by it's heritage but also thoroughly modern in its style and comfort.

ben browns golf map

The centerpiece of the resort is Ben Brown's Golf Course, a Par 32 9 hole course that winds through the valley with majestic canyon walls in the background and wild animals that can be seen at dawn and dusk including deer.

guest room

While the golf course is open now, the hotel will be opening in 2016 but it promises that same spirit of modern luxury and classic elegance that defines the golf course itself.


Continuing this old meets new heritage, the dining at The Ranch At Laguna Beach also pulls from classic organic farming but mixed with modern California cuisine inspired by fresh ingredients from land and sea.

The seasonal menu will feature fresh vegetables pulled from their on-site garden as well as house-smoked meats, and even homemade bitters as well as condiments such as ketchup and mustard.

I think that's what makes this something special that I'm looking forward to checking out in a few weeks. After all - there are plenty of places to "go play golf" ... but when I'm looking for an escape it needs to wrap around me and inspire me to try new things and forget the pains of everyday life. That seems to be what the Ranch at Laguna Beach is all about. 

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Fri, 13 Nov 2015 03:19:08 -0800
Facts About Wildfires and the Men That Fight Them Sadly, wildfires are a fact of life for many of us living in the mountain west, but most of us don't really know a lot about this phenomenon. The same beautiful landscape that draws us here also has a tendency to turn deadly in the fall when the brush and grass turns into tinder waiting for a spark to start a maelstrom.

Most of us look to our veterans, local police and firefighters when we consider who our heroes are - but the guys fighting fires on the sides of mountains surrounded by burning trees are sometimes forgotten. Since 1994, the WFF - Wildland Firefighter Foundation - has supported the brave men and women that risk their lives to help protect us in those situations.

coors banquet stubby

As a company based in Colorado, the folks at Coors are intimately familiar with the devastation that these fires can cause - as well as the great people that help fight them. That's why, for the second year, Coors Banquet is donating 25 cents from every case sold in select Western States to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation (up to $250,000) to support these guys.

This is part of their larger "Protect Our West" program that encourages education and retail items such as the "Restore Our Forest" plantable coaster that is embedded with evergreen seeds.

firefighters stream

While supporting these guys is important to our safety, it's also extremely important that us "normal" people work to better understand what these wildfires are all about so that we can take steps to reduce the man-made factors.

Some Quick Facts About Wildfires and Firefighters:

90% of all wildfires are started by humans - while lighting strikes are responsible for most of the rest. However, wildfires can also start by an accumulation of dead organic matter on the forest floor (leaves, twigs, trees) that can cause enough heat to result in spontaneously combustion under the right conditions.

Common man-made causes of wildfires include: unattended campfires, discarded cigarettes, cars parked on improperly maintained shoulders, and arson.

Many wildland firefighters work year round actively fighting fires and preventing potentaial fires. They most commonly work for organizations including the National Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs as well as similar state-level organizations. However, these full time firefighters are supported by volunteers

The term, "Crown Fires" are referred to as such because the flames are spread quickly across the top of trees driven by high winds that can change directions rapidly and are extremely hot.

On average, there are more than 100,000 wildfires in the US each year and they can clear as many as 4-5 million acres of land.

Large wildfires are actually capable of creating or modifying the local weather conditions due to their heat, smoke, and scale.

The elite ground-based firefighters typically fall into two categories - Hotshots who work in 20-person teams to build firebreaks aroudn the fire and Smokejumpers who are paratroopers that jump out of planes to reach small blazes in remote areas.

Wildfires occur in all 50 states, but they are the most common in the West where Heat, Drought, and Thunderstorms create perfect conditions for fires to spread.

Wildfires can be made worse by the extremely hot and dry Santa Ana winds that cross the mountains from the deserts and can carry sparks for miles.

Firefighters fight wildfires by eliminating the fire from one of three fundamentals from the "fire triangle" - Oxygen, Heat, and Fuel. They do this by educating people on fire safety, dousing the flames with water or retardant, clearing brush to create "firebreaks", and proactively starting controlled burns to remove undergrowth depriving a potential wildfire from fuel.

Despite their destructive abilities, several forms of conifers actually require the extreme heat to release their seeds and the fire allows new trees to grow since more sunlight can reach the forest floor. The fires can also return nutrients to the soil and remove diseased plants and destructive insects from the ecosystem - allowing healthy trees and vegetation to grow stronger.

Wildfires can move at speeds up to 14 miles per hour and change directions at the whim of the wind.

Despite how it's portrayed in the media, wildfires themselves are typically not devastating to all animals. In fact, during the 1998 Yosemite wildfire only 1% of the elk population was killed. Most animals are able to rely on their instincts and move quickly to avoid threatened areas. However other dangers such as smoke inhilation can affect humans and animals alike - even if safe from the flames.

Wildfires can produce what's known as "fire tornadoes" which are most closely related to dust devils and whirlwinds that contain flames rotating up to 90 mph and extending from 100 to more than 1,000 feet.

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Wed, 11 Nov 2015 06:16:49 -0800
I Had a Ball During My Stay at Disney's All-Star Sports Resort When I visit Disney World, one of my favorite parts is their resort hotels. While this is considered an afterthought at many attractions, Disney takes as much care and planning with where you sleep as they do with how you spend your day. Luckily, while there are some incredibly expensive hotel options at Disney World there are also plenty that are affordable and just as fun. A couple years ago I stayed at Pop Century and this year I decided to check out Disney's All Star Sports Resort during a quick stop at the park.

mickey mouse

Just as the name suggests, All-Star Sports is the destination for anyone who loves sports. With zone's celebrating Baseball, Basketball, Football, Surfing, and Tennis there's something to appeal to everyone's taste. It is also part of Disney's larger "All Star Resorts" family, which includes: All-Star Movies and All-Star Music. During October, my price was under $100 per night but even during peak season the rates are affordable (by Disney standards) and you still get access to "Magic Hours" to help beat the lines and get even more value out of your passes.

surfs up building 6

While it opened 11 years ago in 1994, all of the areas that I visited felt nearly new and in excellent condition with all of that expected Disney Magic. Additionally, whenever I had a question the Disney cast members never failed to impress me with both their knowledge and high-level of customer service. The level of service was what I expect at a 5 star resort - but don't always get even there.

basketball motel

The only thing missing here is that it would have been fun to actually have "real" basketball hoops and similar at the other areas. While not feasible for "Surf's Up" certainly you could do a baseball diamond, tennis court, and basketball hoops in case you still have energy to burn after a day trekking through Africa at Animal Kingdom or one of the other parks.

playing tennis courtyard

After a short walk, I arived at my zone -  "Tennis" only to find that Huey, Dewey, and Louie had decided to take over the tennis court ... much to Donald's chagrin!

donald tennis

Again, this is all part of the Disney fun and the large open "tennis court" area was actually artificial grass with a nice padding below it that was perfect for the kids to run around on it without getting hurt.

all star sports room

Disney now uses the same "magic bands" that they have for admission to the park to get into your room as well. Once inside I found a setup that was very similar to what I experienced at Pop Century previously. 

This is clearly a budget property and you're not going to find some of the nicer amenities that you might at other properties. However, everything was meticulously clean and in better shape than I've experienced at hotels priced 4 times as much. Again, you'll notice the distinct Disney flair here from the poster on the walls to the stars in the bed linens and the Mickeys on the table.

mini mouse tennis poster

It's these little touches that I love about staying on property at Disney and helps complete the vacation experience.

disney pizza delivery

Even the pizza I ordered was delivered very quickly and carried Disney branding. BTW I've had better pizza but I've had MUCH worse and if you are looking for something hearty that doesn't involve more lines and more crowds then Disney's pizza delivery service is a GREAT option. Frankly the price wasn't really any worse than what you might get charged off resort.

magic express

Finally, the other reason why I love staying on property is that it is just so easy to get there. Disney's Magical Express is a free shuttle service provided to resort guests that is extremely smooth and efficient.

Even as a grown man with no kids, there's something special about visiting Disney World and it's nice to find great hotel options for all budgets, without feeling like you are sacrificing on fun.

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Mon, 09 Nov 2015 01:26:04 -0800
15 Things I Can't Wait to Explore on Carnival Sunshine In less than a week I'll be getting on Carnival Sunshine along with a group of other male bloggers. Before any cruise though, I always love to do research to prepare but this one's a bit different since not only is it the "newest" ship in the Carnival fleet but it's an experiment of sorts with some new venues that aren't available on any other ship. Plus, while Heather is joining me on this trip as part of a romantic getaway, it's also a mancation at sea with some of my best friends.

So, stay tuned to our adventure using #MWBcarnival on Twitter and Instagram. We're setting sail on November 13 and headed to Aruba, Bonaire, and Grand Turk before heading back to Port Canaveral on Florida's "Space Coast".

So, that's what Carnival has to say about the Carnival Sunshine ... here's my favorite parts too!

racing water slides

Racing Water Slides at Water Works

What's better than simply throwing yourself down a plastic tube and flying towards the pool at the end? How about racing your buddy to see who can get there first? - Yeah! Carnival Sunshine's Water Works has that and more to keep kids us busy on sea days ...

24 hour pizza

All You Can Eat 24-hour Pizza

One thing that may surprise first time cruisers is that food is included and virtually limitless. From ice cream to fresh deli sandwhiches and of course pizza, it's available 24-hours a day and just a quick walk from wherever you happen to be at that moment. And it's all prepared fresh too!

hasbro game show

Hasbro The Game Show

Ever wanted to participate in a real life game show that features some of your favorite games from Hasbro? Now's your chance ...

Seuss "Green Eggs and Ham" Breakfast

While this and Hasbro the Game Show are clearly pitched as "family" activities, part of the thing I love about cruising is that there are virtually no rules what you can and can't do. That means if a group of guys wants to go and eat green eggs and ham and meet the Cat in The Hat then we can! Hey, it's our vacation too and it's ok to be a little weird :)

havana bar

Havana Bar

While we will soon be able to explore Cuba for real, I've heard great things about this new bar on Carnival Sunshine. Guests are transported back in time to Havana where there's Latin dancing at night, Cuban lite-bites, and great cocktails throughout the day.

u pour it beer taps

Self Pour Beer Taps

Red Frog Red is one of my favorite beers and now you can even pour it yourself. Sadly it isn't free like the pizza and ice cream but boy is it tasty!

live music red frog

Red Frog Pub

Red Frog Pub is one of my absolute favorite bars on Carnival ships. It has great tropical food and drinks, a great vibe, and live music in the evenings. For those looking for something extra they even have "Beer Towers" to share with friends. Make sure to ask for a Red's Painkiller if you've had a hot day in the sun and need to get knocked out!

Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse

I've had the fortune to dine at some of the greatest steakhouses in the United States, but I'm happy to say that Carnival's steakhouses hold their own in that company. However what's even better than just being good is that it's only a $35 surcharge per person that includes the entire meal including desert! Compare that to paying upwards of $55 for just the steak back on land and you're going to eat here more than once.

punchliner comedy club

Punchliner Comedy Club

Outside of Red Frog Pub, the Punchliner Comedy Club is my favorite late night destination for their "Adult Only" shows. If you are easily offended then get the hell out of the room - but if you want to laugh your ass off then this is the place to go. Plus they have some super tasty drinks that are only served here.

Guy's Burger Joint

fantastic shows

Awesome Shows

Cruise ship shows used to be more of a variety show style, but Carnival's new Playlist Productions have up'd the game by integrating awesome lighting and video effects with great costume design that's designed to wow.

alchemy bar

Alchemy Cocktail Bar

While a nice daiquiri is nice to sip on, sometimes you just need something fun and unique with a bit of flair. That's where Alchemy Cocktail Bar comes in and it's staffed by top notch mixologists that are ready to whip up some awesome cocktails for us!

Liquid Lounge Night Club

While most cruise ships have an auditorium and a night club - Carnival Sunshine has both in one place. At night they transform the theater into a huge discotec that's ready for you to rock the night away till dawn.

Superstar Live Karaoke

Karaoke is good when you are with friends listening to some pre-recorded music ... but it's even better with an audience and a live band to back you up. Even if you aren't going to sing, this is a great place for some people watching.

ea sports bar not sunshine

EA Sports Bar

Finally, if you think that being on a ship for a week means missing your favorite football and hockey games then you're going to be really excited. Not only is this THE place on the ship to watch sports but they also have xboxes hooked up here to play your favorite EA Sports games too.

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Sat, 07 Nov 2015 20:49:46 -0800
All Aboard! V&T Railroad to Virginia City, Nevada Allllllll aboard! It's time to take a journey into the past and explore a time when the west was barely settled and riches were sitting just below the surface of the earth simply waiting for someone to uncover them. During this time, one of the greatest mining booms in the United States happened in Virginia City, site of the 1859 Comstock Lode.

That discovery instantly turned men into millionaires and the city exploded from just a handful of miners to 25,000 residents. With that explosive growth and the city's remote location at 6,200 feet elevation on the side of a mountain, a railway was needed. While the V&T railway isn't the exact same as what once serviced the city, it is a great way for guests to reach Virginia City from Carson City today and it provides a better perspective on Virginia City's history than simply driving up the twisty turny roads.


By 1863 (only 4 years after the Comstock Lode was discovered), Virginia City included gas and sewer lines, a one hundred room International Hotel with an elevator, three theatres, the Maguire Opera House, four churches, and three daily newspapers. At it's peak, the city had a population of more than 25,000 residents and was one of the richest cities in America - a partner to San Francisco, which had boomed due to the riches flowing out of the California gold fields 10 years earlier.

passing old mining sites

By 1970 regular train service was established between Virginia City and Carson City along this route that you can now ride again. By the mid-1870s the mines in Virginia become so productive that 30-45 trains operated daily along the 55-mile long railway that no stretched all the way to Reno where it connected with the Central Pacific. Despite this high volume of traffic, the V & T Railway became known as the "Very Crooked and Terribly Rough" Railroad due to the twisted and winding route up the mountain. While I have to imagine that our experience was probably more smooth than that over a hundred years ago I can certainly identify with that sentiment.

virginia city strip

Unfortunately, with the decline of mining starting in the 1880's and continuing through the 1900's, the line was ultimately abandoned in 1950 and the historic rolling stock was sold to Paramount Studios. Luckily this was not the end of the story for the V&T railway. In 1972, Robert Gray acquired part of the right of way and began reconstructing the historic route. By 1979 trains had started rolling again and now operates between the Carson City Depot "Eastgate" and Virginia City.

railway tunnel

While the heyday is long over, Virginia City is still an active mining area and takes you back in time like almost nothing else can. Along the route we say a herd of wild mustangs, passed through hand-dug tunnels that were so narrow that you could nearly touch the walls from the train, and past both historic remains of mines and ones that are still operating today. 

rounding a corner

Steam trains run between May and October. However, there are a variety of tickets and routes that are available throughout the year including the Polar Express leading up to Christmas as well as Dinner Trains and Wine Tasting Trains. The two main routes are Carson City-Virginia City, a 24-mile round trip that makes a great way to visit Virginia City, and the 4-mile road trip between Virginia City - Gold Hill.

Tickets can be purchased on their website.

vt railway engineers

Whether you are visiting with a bunch of guys to relive the days of the wild west on your mancation adventure or doing a romantic weekend with your wife to go shopping in Virginia City, a ride on the historic V&T Railway is more than worth both the time and money. There aren't that many authentic experiences like this that are left for us these days and so when you get one it's hard to pass up!

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Sat, 31 Oct 2015 21:43:19 -0700
Temecula Wine Country Half Marathon So do you like wine?  I think most adults enjoy a glass or two of fine vino at dinners or social events.  Its a nice way to unwind and relax from the day's stresses add a little music and now its a party.  What if you could do a little run at a great destination and then enjoy a great Wine+Music Festival?  Well next month on 21 Nov 2015 you have the opportunity to do just that!  

The Temecula Wine Country Half Marathon weekend includes a pre-race dinner on Friday, the race itself on Saturday morning and then the wine+music festival at Wilson Creek Winery, from 9:30 am to Noon

After the festival you will be invited to the Post-Race Finisher's Party at Danza Del Sol Winery, 2 pm from 4 pm!  The following day (Sunday) to help you recover, there is a Sunrise Yoga with Mimosas, 9 am till 10am.  

I've ran a half before and wished there was this kind of activities to enjoy that post race high!  The race starts at the Ponte winery and ends at the Wilson Creek winery.  The route is a road route that takes you through the beautiful wine country of Temecula.  The wine+music festival has some of the regions best wine's for pouring!   

wine glasses

For more information, please visit the Temecula Wine Country Half Marathon site.

]]> (Bill Breeding) Mancation Blog Thu, 22 Oct 2015 14:25:22 -0700
Father and Son Adventure Awaits in Gulf County Florida This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Visit Gulf County for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.

Kids grow up fast, but those moments that you and your son spend together may be memories that last a lifetime and can turn into yearly traditions. From shark fishing to dolphin watching and showing your son how to cast a net to gather shrimp there are a ton of opportunities for you to spend some meaningful time together in Gulf County.



gulf county map

If you've never been to the gulf coast of Florida, it's difficult to describe how beautiful the beaches are there and Gulf County has plenty! It's located on the panhandle, just east of Panama City but has acres of natural wetlands that are perfect for fishing, bird watching or kayaking. There are even more great ideas on their Gulf County Adventure Guide

dogs on beach

 Gulf County beaches are some of the most dog friendly beaches in Florida. In fact, all beaches in the county are dog friendly (except the state park). Many towns and shops along the shore are also dog friendly.

dolphin parade

It's not just dogs that love Gulf Shores - dolphins do too! So much so that they call it the "Dolphin Parade" as these awesome aquatic creatures follow the tidal current that flows out of the Intracoastal.

father son shark fishing

While relaxing is great, I love more exciting adventure too and I am sure you and your son will as well. So how about going shark fishing?

Don't worry - we're not talking about catching "Jaws" here, these fish are typically only 2-3 feet but you can catch 8-foot tiger sharks too. It's a huge thrill that can help cement those father-son bonds that will last a lifetime.

net casting

I remember as a kid how much fun it was to learn skills from my dad. While fishing is something common, I also remember learning how to crab using chicken necks on strings and throwing a casting net to catch shrimp. These are some of the skills you can share with your son on a trip to Gulf County as well. 

Even better, do it in the evening with a great sunset as a backdrop and take your catch back to the campsite where you can cook it up and share stories about the ones that got away till it's time to go to bed.


Finally, one of the things that I have yet to experience in my life is going scalloping. I've fished and gathered clams and oysters before but I've never had the chance to gather fresh scallops (though they are one of my absolute favorite types of seafood to eat!).

Gulf County Florida has some great opportunities for diving - whether to collect scallops or looking at wrecks of old shrimp boats. For those who want to try diving but aren't certified for SCUBA there are rigs available for shallow dives to ~20 feet where you use the same regulator as SCUBA but are attached to a hose and people on the boat are monitoring the oxygen level. This is perfect for scallop hunting or simply just enjoying watching the fish swim by.

camping on beach

Whatever your preference for adventure in Gulf County there is something perfect for you and your son to create memories that will last a lifetime and hopefully start a family tradition that will make you count down the days till you can return again to explore even more of this beautiful area.

Visit Sponsors Site

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Mon, 19 Oct 2015 00:45:38 -0700
Craftsman MAKEcation 2015 The act of "making stuff" is something that is often overlooked today and this is especially true when it comes to physically picking up a tool so I wasn't really sure what to expect when I got invited to MAKEcation 2015, Craftsman's annual gathering of "tool guys" (and several tool women too!). This event was one part celebration of all the great things that the brand stands for and one part a reunion for some of the most active members of the Craftsman Club online community that the brand runs.

As someone who doesn't usually use tools beyond what is needed to fix something around the house this was quite an experience. However, after an intense three days of going through sessions that included making my own leather belt, disassembling a corroborator, making a coat rack from hammers, and my own wooden toolbox it really opened my eyes to more than just the concept of "using tools" but what it really means to be a man and how much many of us have lost as we've shifted from banging on nails to typing on the keys.

leather working instruction

1) Just because You Can Buy It Doesn't Make it Better

Sure, it's easy to run out to Sears or Kmart and buy a belt - heck you can buy one by going online and having it delivered the next day. However, there's something special about wearing something that YOU made. Craftsman tools are more than just objects - they are well ... tools that can enable you to create great stuff.


2) Making Stuff is Therapeutic

One of the sessions had us making handles for a pizza cutter and bottle opener on a lathe. While I am generally not fond of getting messy - and this was certainly NOT the day to wear a nice polo - I had an absolute blast. There is something therapeutic about taking a tool and using it to create something that is uniquely yours.

carb parts

3) It's Important to Know How Stuff Works

While I'm not fabricating engine parts here by any means, it was enlightening to gain a better understanding of how a carborator works by pulling it apart and putting it back together again. Instead of looking at the engine as a single big piece of metal and plastic, I now have a better understanding for how things work ... and maybe even a better way of explaining future problems to the mechanic. (Though honestly, there's NO WAY Heather should ever allow me anywhere near our car ...)

maker faire

4) "Making" Isn't Just Wood, Leather, and Metal ...

As part of our trip we took a quick swing through Maker Faire and WOW the next generation has a passion for "making" that I am astonished by. While my generation enjoyed creating lines of code, this generation is taking those fundamentals and using it to build amazing stuff using not just screwdrivers and hammers but 3D Printing.

Beyond simply computer driven tools that are nearing mass consumer availability, these kids are building robots, drones, musical instruments and other items. While we expressed our creativity through typing on computer keyboards, they are doing it in the physical world.

chainsaw carving

5) Tools Can Create Art

At Maker Faire we also saw how you can carve the trunk of a tree and turn it into a sculpture. 


6) Sometimes "Making" is about "Rediscovering" Lost Arts

A few years ago when you went to the bar and got a drink that meant a bottle of beer or glass of wine. Ask for a Manhattan and you got one type vermouth and bitters. Today though the options are more open and it's OK to experiment while making new concoctions.

eric pasley

7) In Music Too There is a Passion For "Making"

Our entertainment one of the nights was Eric Pasley - not only is he a fantastic performer but he's also a songwriter. 

pizza cutter

9) It's Always Best to Make Gifts for Your Loved Ones ...

At the end of every trip, I've learned that it's good to bring something home for Heather. This time was no exception but instead of simply buying a tee-shirt or something, this time I had something that I had made myself. When I gave it to my my wife she initially didn't believe that I had designed it myself and certainly not carved it from a block of wood.

blood sweat tools sidewalk

Beyond any of the items I made, what made this trip even more special was that it was about discovering what you can do and that trying new things is exciting. While there are plenty of people that can create websites and code scripts to do fantastic things online, it's important to spread your wings sometimes and try new things. 

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Sun, 18 Oct 2015 21:10:13 -0700
A great weekend with NASCAR and Crown Royal NASCAR is an great American past-time that allows fans an up close and personal view of their favorite cars, drivers, teams and the owners!  Recently I was invited to a weekend with Crown Royal and NASCAR at the Jeff Kyle Brickyard 400 and had a once in lifetime experience with 11 other bloggers.  Our weekend started with a fun filled evening at the fabulous Georgia Reese's in downtown Indianapolis for whiskey tasting and a delicious dinner.  Our tasting of the Crown Royal blends and dinner was hosted by Master of Whiskey, Stephen Wilson.  This small quaint event was the meet and greet with the Crown Royal PR staff, and us bloggers.  While we were chatting and enjoying the ambiance, we learned about the uniqueness of the Crown Royal blends and how they differ from Irish whiskeys and American whiskeys.  

The next day we were bused to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a breakfast and to get our morning pace car rides.  I was able to sit in the front seat seat for a ride around the world famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway!  This ride was my first time on the actual track and it was great!  The driver was a local racer and he took me and 2 other bloggers around once reaching speeds over 100 MPH.  The video clips of our ride show how close they get to the wall and then the final stretch.

Crown Royal also send us bloggers up on a scavenger hunt around the IMS.  This was done in teams, with a Crown Royal Rep assigned to each team to keep us honest!  We had task from interacting with fans, Doing task with Crown Royal bags and sending care packages to our troops overseas, and of course meeting and talking with Jeff Kyle and his crew.  Being a Navy Chief(Retired) and knowing the Kyle family story made it even more special.  The evening ended with Crown Royal hosting a VIP party that Jeff Kyle and the rest of the finalist Hero's were honored at.  Their stories were all inspiring and I'm sure it was tough for the judges to pick any of them above the others.  Jeff was with his wonderful wife and when we discovered we served in sister units in Iraq, well it didn't take long for a toast to the fallen to happen. We ended the night doing shots and remembering good and not so good times.

vip food table


brickyard bloggers

Race day came and luckily it didn't start until the afternoon.  We had a tour of pit row and watched as the cars were stringently inspected by NASCAR.  This process was in view of the fans who could see through the fence.  The teams then had to put their cars in the starting line up as they were done.  We then completed our scavenger hunt task for with on our last task being leaving the track area and finding someone playing corn hole!  We were down to our last minute and running to the RV'ers across the street from the track knowing that someone there was going to be our best shot.  With our last seconds we snapped the picture and then realized we could also complete another task of them having Crown Royal on their tailgate because one of my team had their Crown Royal airline bottles!  We ending up winning the scavenger hunt!  Crown Royal rewarded our hard efforts with some great prizes for the whole team!  

kissing the bricks

name your heroes finalists

Once the scavenger hunt was done, we were free to go back to the Pagado where Crown Royal had the whole 7th floor.  The air conditioning was a treat considering it was over 90 degrees and very high humidity.  A brunch was catered and us bloggers relaxed with some of Crowns invited guest to include Kelly Pickler and her family. Kelly sang the national anthem and did it well!  No Rosanne BS for this crowd! 


kelly pickler jeff kyleKelly Pickler and Jeff Kyle

Once the race started we were able to visit pit row with our "Hot Pass"  This was my first time at a NASCAR race and I was impressed!  I have worked as a team member on US Navy ships, in combat with the grunts and air wing Marines and these guys have teamwork down to a science!

tony stewart pit



victory lane 

I would like to give a huge shout out to Crown Royal for setting this up and being great host!  They truly support the community of Hero's by naming the race after one every year under their sponsorship.



]]> (Bill Breeding) Mancation Blog Tue, 25 Aug 2015 20:51:14 -0700
A Look at a New Lodging Concept: Intra-Day Stay Hotels As our society evolves, we are moving away from the old-style booking in advance as business, socializing and personal time have become more fluid. People are wanting more immediate satisfaction, compared to carefully planning weeks or months in advance. This is why same day hotels booking offered by HotelsByDay and other companies that are mutually beneficial for hotels and guests, is skyrocketing in popularity in New York, considering the fast life and lack of time. 

Think about it this way - sometimes you just need to book a room for a quick meeting or to clean up before a business meeting and other times you might need a place for a quick nap after an international flight. This is where these hotels come in super handy since you really don't need the whole night and don't want to pay for it either!

So let’s explore some of the benefits that this new style of immediate booking helps both customers and hotels in our constantly moving and evolving world.

Intra-Day Bookings Can Benefit You By Creating New Travel Options

It’s not always possible to plan precisely how your vacation, business trip or travelling will turn out – And this is especially so in the busy city of New York. Unexpected weather, bad traffic holdups and small delays can end messing up your itinerary. However, by utilizing this concept - sometimes even booking it on the same day - you can conveniently find a hotel in New York – or any other city – to stay for the the day, without being charged ridiculous prices.

When I looked it up on HotelsByDay for a local hotel here in San Diego - the Manchester Grand Hyatt was listed as an option. Their "normal" rate for the day I compared is $329 but through HotelsByDay it's only $175 from 9am to 5pm. This means you can use their pool and other amenities for just about half the price during the day instead of looking at it as an overnight option.

Another same day booking example in New York is the DoubleTree Times Square. There, it is only $125 for a stay from 8-4 compared to almost twice that for an overnight stay.

Intra-day hotel booking can also be a godsend for a quick nap between long meetings or while travelling, when all you need is a few hours to nap, shower and revitalize. Hotels typically offer flexible time-bands for accommodation, meaning that you can check in for just a few hours, get the necessary R&R and be on your way – without paying for a full night’s accommodation.

Perfect for International Layovers Too!

There are a TON of locations near airports too, so this also makes it a great option when you arrive in the morning after a long flight and would rather explain a hotel stay vs an airline club purchase on your corporate expense account.

Some hotel chains are even offering special last minute discounts as this trend becomes more poplar due to our continued movement towards an on-demand society.

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Sat, 26 Sep 2015 01:40:39 -0700
Wendy's BBQ Pulled Pork is Real Deal Delicious! This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Wendy’s for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.

BBQ is a tough thing and that's why it has taken man thousands of years to perfect it. From the earliest caveman who accidentally got the fire too close to the leg of deer he was eating to the pit masters of the American South that turned meat scraps into a delicacy, BBQ is a form of art. Over the years, various quick serve restaurants have attempted to create BBQ dishes that scale well across thousands of locations. They usually fail but Wendy's is committed to doing it RIGHT and I feel pretty good about saying they did a great job with their new BBQ Pulled Port offerings including the BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich and BBQ Pulled Pork Cheese Fries.

wendys exterior kia soul ev

It isn't by accident that they accomplished this feat. The Wendy's BBQ journey began with a tour that included some of the most notable BBQ joints and festivals in legendary cities such as Nashville, TN. Throughout the journey, they are drawing influence from these pit masters such as the smoky aroma from hickory smoked pork shoulder that is shredded rather than chopped to create authentic, long tasty shreds with great texture and a natural looking visual appeal. 

Any any BBQ aficionado can attest, it's all about the meat and sauce should be a compliment to the flavor vs something that covers up and that's why Wendy's has chosen to drizzle the sauce vs soaking the meat in your choice of Smoky, Spicy, and Sweet BBQ sauce.


So How Does it Taste?

As someone who once lived in North Carolina, I know a little something about pulled pork sandwhiches and I can say that Wendy's has done a GREAT job here. Sure, they are paying me to say that but it's true. While it may be impossible to replicate the atmosphere of a BBQ restaurant, it's admirable how much attention to detail Wendy's has actually done here to "get it right". From the slaw topping the pork and even the toasted brioche bun it sits on, this is a fantastic item that I truly enjoyed eating.

Honestly, the only thing missing is the smell of smoke coming from the back room and a guy in an apron tending the fire.



When you make it a combo with the BBQ Pulled Pork Cheese Fries and a drink it makes it that much better.

While there are plenty of secrets that Wendy's has already shared, they are inviting you to help unlock more of their BBQ secrets through the "Crack the Masters" interactive game on YouTube.

The BBQ Pulled Pork items are available at participating Wendy's for a limited time, so make sure to rush out and grab it while its here. Learn more on the Wendy’s Website

Visit Sponsors Site

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Mon, 05 Oct 2015 14:03:00 -0700
We've Found Your New Home Base: Basecamp Hotel Tahoe South Lake Tahoe is an interesting mixture of high-rise casino resorts, modern ski condos in the Heavenly Village, and old independent motels. There's a relatively new player in the market now and that's Basecamp Hotel. The hotel has taken over the bones of a classic motel, renovated the crap out of it and has even built some all-new buildings too. It's an interesting boutique hotel that somehow actually creates the feeling that you're part of a community when you stay there.

beer garden

It's sort of hard to describe the atmosphere at Basecamp Hotel Tahoe without visiting. Imagine it as though you enjoyed hostels and summer camp when you were younger - but now that you're in your 30's and 40's, you want something very nice but still affordable, unique, hip, and fun. Honestly, I've never cared about having a community in a hotel before but this place does a great job and I enjoyed the social aspect.

basecamp night

In the evening the central courtyard converts into a beer garden complete with craft beer, gourmet hot chocolate, and even s'mores kits creating the perfect atmosphere to make new friends.

basecamp breakfast

While the included breakfast was nothing out of the ordinary (waffles, granola, juice / coffee etc.), I feel that it deserves to be applauded too as it somehow felt "special". Instead of the typical plastic forks and paper plates there were "real". Whether this was done for aesthetics or are an effort to cut down on waste I'm not sure - but it was appreciated.

Last but certainly not least though, the most important aspect of any hotel is the rooms ...

This was absolutely the best part of the whole experience since it was a complete surprise about how nice they were considering the outside looks like a classic motel.

bedroom basecamp

Inside, the rooms were as modern as anything I would find at any resort and they were clean, comfortable beds and very attractively decorated with tapestries, crossly radios, and kitschy artwork. The only negative is that these rooms do NOT have air conditioning. The room we had though did have a ceiling fan as well as a pedestal fan and combined with the cool mountain air we were very comfortable. They also included a microwave and fridge as well as ample open "closet" space for all your gear.

Basecamp was very dog friendly and Niki was welcomed as a guest by staff that saw her. Since this is a motel it was also very convenient to take her to go potty and at night she enjoyed hanging out in the beer garden making new friends too.

the great indoors

While we had a standard king room, Basecamp also offers a really cool "themed room" option. No, not a adult fantasy suites - but it is perfect for anyone who likes the idea of glamping ... but wants to do it inside of a hotel room.  The Great Indoors suite features a tent, faux fire pit, and glowing stars on the ceiling to give you the feeling of camping ... but still having wifi, a walk-in shower, and your own bathroom :) 

Even though the Basecamp Hotel is not "on the slope" or "on the lake" it sits very convenient to both the Heavenly village as well as a quick walk to the beach (admission is normally charged but a pass is included for guests of the hotel). Additionally, for entertainment at Harvey's and Harrah's you are less than a 5 minute walk from the hotel.

During our stay we enjoyed walking over to a variety of restaurants as well as others that were just a short drive away. Of these, two really stood out that I recommend you checking out during your stay ...

sampler plate latin soul

Latin Soul

Located down the road in Nevada, Latin Soul is inside of the Lakeside Inn Casino this gem is located right next to the sports book. That's a bad thing if you are looking for something quiet and romantic but if you want to gorge on meat while watching football for brunch this is the place to be. At night it turns from a pan-latin breakfast / brunch joint into a Brazilian Steakhouse.

I had the Argentinean Asado Mix Grill, which included: Broiled beef steak, chorizo, smoked sausage, chicken breast, one sunny side up egg, grilled provolone cheese, chimichurri, guacamole verde, roasted vegetables, and garlic toast. Needless to say, I was NOT hungry for the rest of the day!

teps interior

Tep's Villa Roma

Tep's Villa Roma is a step back in time to when Italian Restaurants were about big portions and friendly service. That's what Tep's is about - and they have an antipasto bar with soup and salad too, so that was pretty awesome. While it isn't the fanciest place (it actually is pretty dated inside), the prices are VERY reasonable and the food is good and plentiful.

Basecamp Hotel Tahoe truly is your home base for having a great time in Tahoe and we can't wait to return again in winter to see a totally different side of the town! Prices range from just under $200 in the winter / summer and significantly less during the fall.

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Mon, 05 Oct 2015 06:10:25 -0700
A Visit to Washington State's Columbia Crest Winery Columbia Crest winery has been in operation for just over 30 years and in that time it has helped transform the Columbia River area of Washington State into one of the top wine producers in the world. It's a little strange maybe that when you think of the West Coast and wine, it's typically California and specifically Napa, Sonoma, or even Santa Barbara area. No one told these guys though, but through scientific research winemakers here discovered that the soils and environmental conditions had world class potential.

grapes on vine

While there were small wineries in the state as early as the 1825 when the first wine grapes were planted at Fort Vancouver by the Hudson Bay Company, prohibition put a damper on the industry and it wasn't until the 1960's and 1970's when the commercial wine industry in Washington State really took off following professor Walter Clore's research and advocacy to change some of the laws that the state had enacted that prevents certain types of grapes from being cultivated commercially. 

walter clore private reserve

In the 1980's, Columbia Crest emerged as one of the leaders of the industry in Washington State and still pays homage to the work of Walter Clore through their Walter Clore Private Reserve.

By the 1990's the winery received several national honors including 1990 one of 24 "Best Value Wineries" in the world, in 2994, the 1990 Estate Series Cabernet Sauvignon is the ONLY US wine awarded a gold medal at the "Challenge du Vin" in Bordeaux, France. Then in 1997, Wine Spectator named Columbia Crest one of the "Top 100 Wines of the Year" for the 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1995 Estate Series Chardonnay.

This tradition of excellence continued in 2009 when the 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was rated at 95 points and presented as the #1 Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator.

crowdsourced cabernet

Not content to simply continue turning out award winning wines by themselves. In 2014 they turned to the community of passionate wine lovers and launched Crowdsourced Cabernet to give the community an opportunity to create a wine. As part of the program, Columbia Crest set aside 5 acres of grapes for the community to guide.

The program is a great resource for anyone who's ever wondered about the process of wine making as they allow you to vote on the process from harvesting the grapes to how much oak should be used to age the wine. Ultimately this even includes the blending process to achieve exactly the flavor profile that the community desires.

It will be very interesting to see how the community votes on both the 2014 that is currently in the process of being blended and bottled, as well as the 2015 that is nearing harvest.

river view from vineyard

Short of actually visiting the vineyard in person this is an amazing experience that you have to check out. Since I got back, I've actually found myself watching the "Vineyard Cam" wishing I was back there exploring some of the more than 2,500 acres of grapes that surround the tasting room. 

bottles prices

While wine is affected by soil and weather, the other factor that shapes a great wine is the people. Everyone I met during our visit was amazing from Jaun Munoz-Oca, their head winemaker to the people that poured our samples. Columbia Crest has some of the finest wines that I've had the privilege to taste, but they are fun, affordable, and approachable.

While I am sure there are those of you who can defend why a $200 bottle is better than a $20 bottle, for most of us "taste" is the deciding factor and high prices can be scary.

I found that most of the wines we tasted were between $15-$40 and while that may be a LONG way from "2 buck chuck" and the discount aisle at the grocery store, we're talking about world class wines here such as their 2012 Reserve Malbec that I am absolutely in love with ($35) and their 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that got 91 points from Wine Spectator and 90 points from The Wine Advocate ($45).

However you can also get the 2013 Cabernet Franc-based red wine for only $12!

seattle sounders partnership

If you are a soccer fan, they've even got a special blend for supporters of the Seattle Sounders MLS team though I didn't have a chance to try that.

Truthfully, everything I tasted there was worth trying again and I can't wait to return again soon ...

tasting room columbia crest

The Columbia Crest tasting room is open daily from 10 am till 5:30 pm. Self guided tours are available daily from 10 am till 3:30 pm and guided tours are available on weekends during those same hours. Both are complimentary. We also recommend the Wine and Food Pairing Experience which provides an opportunity to learn more about the flavors and pairing opportunities for their wines. Cost is $25 pp or $15 pp for wine club members.

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Sun, 04 Oct 2015 23:00:28 -0700
Our Epic Disney California Adventure With Choice Hotels A few weeks ago I shared with you that I was going to be heading up to Disney California Adventure to explore it from an adult perspective and thanks to Choice Hotels we had a great hotel to stay at that was affordable and very close to the park. NOTE: our stay was complimentary but normal rates start at about $109, a price I found extremely reasonable.

mobile app image

the Choice Hotels brand includes an assortment of hotel names you are probably more familiar with including: Comfort Inn, Clarion, Sleep Inn, and Quality Inn. All of them are extremely easy to book via the website as well as mobile app and you can use Choice Privileges points earned at one to get a free night at another.

james jason selfie

After checking in, I met up with Jason from and trust me, anyone who think's they've explored Disneyland on their own needs to visit his site, tweet him, or stalk him in the park. He knows more about park secrets than anyone else I've ever met. He's also a good friend and an awesome guy.

Unfortunately, we are both extremely busy and so don't get to meet up in person. Thanks to Choice Hotels though we were able to get some Real Face Time in and catch up.

comfort inn anaheim

The Comfort Inn & Suites we stayed at is located at 300 East Katella Avenue in Anaheim, just a few minutes from the park in one direction and Angels field in the other.

breakfast area

Breakfast in the morning was surprisingly good and the lobby and other parts of the hotel appeared recently renovated as well. This is a great place to meet before heading off on our California Adventure ...

cars land racers

Inside the park, it was time to explore Disney California Adventure. For anyone who dismisses Disneyland as being "just for kids" simply hasn't been here. While it's true that the main Disneyland "Magic Kingdom" park doesn't allow alcohol and caters more to kids, on the other side of the property it's a completely different story.

While there are certainly exhibits like Cars Land that are based on the movie popular with kids, you'll also find that Disney California Adventure hosts beer gardens and wine flights, cocktails, and craft brews are served at the restaurants.

dog on duty

Plus, frankly fun is what you make of it, so it's a good thing I brought Jason with me!

joes italian ice

If there's one thing that is better than visiting Disney California Adventure or a great bed to sleep in after walking through the park, it's an old-style ice cream shop like Joe's. Located a mile or so down the road, it's a great way to wrap up an incredible adventure with a good friend.

For more great travel ideas, you can follow Choice Hotels on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Choice Hotels. The opinions and text are all mine.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Thu, 17 Sep 2015 05:30:05 -0700
Hotel Secrets You Need to Know To Have a Great Stay I stay in a lot of hotels. For better or worse it's the way I roll these days and while some are better than others - they all fundamentally work the same way. So, let's look at some of the tips and tricks to help make sure you have an awesome experience on your next trip.

Wrapped Plastic Cups vs Glasses

This is disappointing but the reality is that if you have glassware in your room it probably hasn't seen an actual dishwasher in a LONG time. Typically it will have been rinsed with a sanitizing rag or dunked in a bucket of cleaning detergent but that's far from the same thing. On the other hand, while less "classy" those plastic wrapped cups are typically going to be more clean than the glasses. It's up to you though - chances are you aren't going to have a problem but those aren't odds I generally like to play.

razor bathroom

Replacement Toiletries

Hotels somewhat expect that guests will frequently forget to pack toiletries such as a toothbrush, razor, or comb so they either stock cheap replacements for housekeeping to provide upon request or they have overpriced amenities available similar to how a minibar works. Either way, I think it's a MUCH better idea to bring your own toothbrush and especially to bring your Schick® Xtreme 3® razor. Even better is what I generally do - keep spares in your backpack since you never know when you might need it. A good shave is just one of those indisposable comforts that will make your day so much more enjoyable.

Tips for Your Maid

I might be an ogre here but I really don't think you should tip housekeeping unless they do something extraordinary for you. Regardless though, that decision is up to you. However, make sure to put it in the marked envelope that some hotels are providing, clearly mark it as being for them, or even leave it with the clerk at checkout and if they did something great make sure to mention it then too. Hotels definitely listen to comments, but if you leave a $20 bill on the desk by itself they are going to treat it like a lost item and your housekeeper may never actually see the money.

corner of bed

Watch out for Bed Bugs!!!

This is still a problem in some hotels though the situation is better than it was a few years ago when there was all sorts of hysteria in the New York hotel scene. However, it's still a problem and probably always will be since these guys are tough to completely get rid of.

While I will never be able to rid a room of bed bugs, what I do is check the corners of the bed for markings that there has been something there. This includes looking for black dots and red marks. If you see something it doesn't necessarily mean something is up but you should probably investigate further. You might even want to check the Bed Bug Registry before choosing a hotel as well.


Bonus Tip: Expensive Isn't Necessarily Better ...

Here's one last tip! Just like with your razors, more expensive isn't always better. It's about comfort and style; those are the indisposable things that really matter in life. Think about it, unless you are going to be staying at the hotel as your destination, you really don't need to go fancy and who cares about those features you're never going to use if the bed isn't fabulous.

It's more about your style and how you like to travel that's most important. For instance, a more expensive hotel might have fancier sheets and amenities but I've stayed at expensive hotels in rooms that certainly had seen better days and I've stayed at budget hotels where the room was impeccable. Make sure you pack what you need and save your money by exploring the local area through the beer selection at the bar down the street instead.

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Sat, 26 Sep 2015 08:46:38 -0700
How I Stay Sane and Pass Time on Long Flights I fly a lot and while on-board entertainment is a lot better than it used to be, flying still is a long boring activity with lots of time and not much to do to fill it. One of my biggest challenges is that being trapped in a metal tube jammed into seats that are more suitable to a 12 year old boy than a nearly 40 year old man is the fact that you can't really move around. For me, that means that my legs get restless and my belly gets rumbly ... that unfortunately only makes the situation worse and god help the person in front of me if they steal my space by reclining their seat into my lap!

Luckily though, flying doesn't have to be all bad. Over the years I've managed to develop a handful of ways to cope with the inconvenience so I'm going to share my tips for staying sane and passing time on a long flight.

chocolate candy aisle

Get Snacks Ahead of Time:

The easiest thing to fix here is to make sure to get a good snack or two to help make sure you don't get too hungry. While airlines used to give out peanuts it seems like most don't these days. Peanuts are a fantastic snack since they have protein, taste great, and have a satisfying crunch when you bite into them but they are OH SO MUCH BETTER when combined with milk chocolate, caramel and nougat! Yeah, that's right I'm talking about a SNICKERS® bar and luckily you can find it at your local Walmart a LOT cheaper than what you'll find in the airport by the gate.

Load Your Phone / Tablet With Movies:

This is an easy thing to do these days since there are so many places to get movies on to your mobile devices that I've found many airlines have simply stopped showing video entertainment except on very long flights. Make sure you aren't at the whim of watching a rom-com by packing your screen with your favorite action, sci-fi, or comedy shows and that will absolutely help you kill a couple hours.

Wear a Good Headset to Dampen the Noise:

Even if you aren't going to watch a movie or listen to music that wearing a good pair of headphones makes flying a lot more enjoyable. While it won't eliminate all outside noise it will dampen the roar of the engines, the crying babies, and the chatter of the people in back of you. 


back of the pane

Play Some Mental Games:

Mental games are going to be your friend here and it's even better if you have a buddy with you to play against. Some examples would include a challenge hunt - "find someone with red hair" or "find someone wearing a baseball hat". Others ideas would include simply counting games. For example: how many people are on the flight, how many window shades are open, how long does it take to have the call light answered. These might sound insane but it's a good way to keep the mind busy rather than focusing on how cramped and hungry you are sitting in your seat.

whiny irritable goofball

Be Nice to the Flight Crew:

While I find that it's always nice to treat people well the crew on your flight isn't always treated as well as they deserve. Many people have told me that the trick to having a GREAT flight is often the mood of your flight crew, so let's play the odds and make sure that YOU are an object of their affection for the next 5 hours. It's not that hard, simply bring something tasty on board to give to them like oh ... a few SNICKERS® bars. After all, your flight crew gets hungry too. Trust me, you'd MUCH rather have them satisfied rather than hangry :) 

While you may never know how far it actually can get you, I've found that this works especially good on shorter regional flights but it's really never a bad idea and you'll find that there are extra cookies, a snack box left over, free drinks, or even an option to move to an empty row. SNICKERS® or no, it's always good to treat your flight crew well though, so please make sure to greet them with a "good morning" when you board the plane and thank them for things they do for you during the flight.

Do In-Seat Exercises:

While you can't do much in the plane, there are some things that you can do. While seated, this includes rotating your feet to keep blood flowing as well as occasionally twisting your torso and neck so that blood continues to flow easily. Additionally, I recommend that on any flight over 3 hours that you should stand up and take a walk to the bathroom at least once. Even if you don't have to pee, this is a chance to kill 5-10 minutes and stretch. 


hangry face

 I know that I'm a bit of a Whiny Irritable Goofball when it comes to being hangry but let's play this little quiz to find out who you are when you're hungry?

whiny irritable


]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Mon, 28 Sep 2015 16:47:54 -0700
Up Up and Away at the Great Reno Balloon Races There aren't many things that could convince me to wake up at 3 a.m. but I think I found one and that's the Great Reno Balloon Race. This year, the event featured nearly 100 balloons ranging from simple round ones to ornate ones shaped like stagecoaches, sea horses and even Darth Vader's mask. The event is the largest free hot-air ballooning event in the world and it is held every September in Reno, Nevada.

balloon flame small

While you can certainly show up after dawn but you're going to miss the best part - the Balloon Glow. It is an almost spiritual experience that hopefully I can convey the awesomeness of with these photos and the video below, but it is almost spiritual.

Imagine being in a giant open field as these giant balloons are unrolled then inflated. It's as if you are standing next to a 5-7 story building that is erected in just a matter of minutes. Truly this is an extraordinary experience that you really have to visit in person to fully appreciate.


The one thing that I felt was a bit confusing was that this is not a "race" in the traditional sense. Instead, it is a points based competition where the balloon pilots compete to reach a target and then drop their bean bag as close to the center of the X as possible.

 {lightgallery type=local path=images/stories/balloon-race/gallery previewWidth=160}Image From 2015 Great Reno Balloon Race{/lightgallery}

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Sun, 20 Sep 2015 04:19:18 -0700
Margaritas and Music with Don Julio at KAABOO Del Mar! Summer may be over for many of you but the spirit of summer hasn't left us in southern California and so we're celebrating with performances from some of the best bands in the world this weekend including: No Doubt, Zac Brown Band, Killers, Sheryl Crow and tons of others. As KAABOO's official tequila sponsor, Don Julio invited me to hang out in their customized Airstream Speakeasy sipping cocktails and toasting to new friends with glasses of 1942 while hanging out with other VIPs.

Last night's headliner was No Doubt, but we're headed back again tonight for Zac Brown Band. The festival continues tomorrow as well, so if you haven't already gotten KAABOO tickets there's still time.

A full list of performances and schedule is available on their website.

don julio airstream

While hanging out in the trailer I learned that while this is clearly a mass production operation with plans to serve up to 100,000 cocktails this weekend, it is still a craft operation. 

It would be REALLY easy to cheat and simply use processed lime juice, the team actually hand pressed the limes and put a lot of extra effort into making each cocktail keg as high quality as the Don Julio tequila found in it.

Heck, even the limes featured their hashtag! 

kaboo festival

KAABOO bills itself as being everything a typical music festival is not and I found the experience to be very refreshing. While it was certainly hot and sweaty it was also more laid back and fun with plenty of space for the crowds to explore different venues. Additionally, while music is certainly the dominant activity here, they also highlight other artistic endeavors including: craft food and drinks, visual art, culinary artists (chefs), and even comedians like Lewis Black and Joe McHale.

private cabanas

With tickets starting at $125 for a one day pass and going up to $2,499 for a a "Hang 10" VIP pass there's an experience for everyone's budget. 

Plus, if you are wanting the ultimate luxury you can even charter a private cabana and avoid all the crowds entirely.

no doubt stage

Last night's performance of No Doubt was phenomenal! 

For a woman in her 40's, Gwen Stefani is as hot and rockin' as ever. At one point during the performance of "Just a Girl", she even decided to climb up the scaffolding on stage. Other times throughout the performance she invited superfans up on stage including a woman who had her name tattooed on her arm.

It's always refreshing to see a band that may have been out of the spotlight for a while return with a vengeance. It would have been easy to just call things in for this tour and then cash the checks. That's certainly not what they are doing though and while this was the last stop on their current tour I can't wait to see them again soon!

Tonight we're heading back to see Zac Brown Band ... I can't wait!

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Sat, 19 Sep 2015 19:52:52 -0700
It's Important to Connect With Real Face Time - Not Just Social Media There is no shortage of amazing places to visit, but when planning your guys weekend, it should be obvious that it's about more than just the destination. In reality, planning a guys weekend is about just that -- the guys. Choice Hotels agrees and has invited me to join one of my friends recently for our own "California Adventure". While Disneyland might not be the typical destination for a guys weekend, it's an opportunity to hang out with a good friend of mine and get an "insider view" of one of the greatest theme parks in the world.

Choice Hotels includes 11 brands and more than 5,000 locations in the US, so there's a good chance that there will be a perfect property to fit your plans. Lucky for us, there are tons of Choice Hotels locations in Orange County, including a newly renovated Comfort Inn that I found located just outside the gates to the park. 

mobile app image

As a frequent traveler, I've racked up quite a few nights in various hotels so it's nice to know that the Choice Privileges points that I earn in any one of those 5,000 locations can be used to do something fun like a guys weekend to connect with friends for real face time. Even if you don't travel enough to have enough points for a full night, you can buy points online or even gift them to a buddy so he can visit you. In addition to booking on their website, you can also do so through their mobile app for those spur of the moment trips.

sasakitime logo

What's even better than a hotel that is easy to book and a great destination is the person you're headed to see. Over the years I've built up quite a long list of "Facebook Friends" and I chat with them on a daily basis. However, at the end of the day it's great to see them in person for some real face time. One of these people in particular is Jason Sasaki , a fellow blogger who runs While we only live a few hours apart it might as well be different sides of the country and it seems like we only see each other on press trips.

That's what I'm looking forward to doing later this month, so stay tuned for more as Jason and I explore Disneyland together and get some real face time in!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Choice Hotels. The opinions and text are all mine.

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Tue, 25 Aug 2015 03:24:18 -0700
River Rock Casino Resort for an Awesome Vancouver Guys Getaway River Rock Casino Resort is the perfect Vancouver hotel to host a men’s getaway. Not only does it offer five star accommodations, entertainment, a casino, and more, it’s also located close to all of the other action Vancouver has to offer. Which means that whether you want to play a game of craps, or see the city, you’re all set at River Rock Casino Resort. It's also close to the airport so it's super easy to fly into.

In fact, I think the unique thing about Vancouver is that it offers a dual opportunity for a guys getaway. On one side it's a fantastic destination on it's own. On the other side, Vancouver is the perfect gateway to all the exciting adventures that await visitors in the mountains, rivers, and forests of British Columbia.

explorer hauler

For both objectives though, it's important to have a great hotel that is easy to get to and full of all the things needed for a great weekend. That's what I found last week when I visited for an event hosted by Ford to promote their new 2016 Ford Explorer Platinum.

River Rock Casino Resort – Get the Boys Together

Are you planning a weekend getaway with the guys? Rather than hitting Vegas – again – why not take a trip to the Great White North and stay at River Rock Casino Resort? It’s got all of the gaming and amenities you expect from any major casino but with a brand new scene.

progressive penny slots

Casino and Gaming

You're headed to a casino, so of course, you’re going to be gaming. River Rock Casino Resort has some of the best gaming around with all the great table games you know and love, as well as the Racebook and high limit gaming. You’ll have access to:

  • Poker
  • Slots
  • All the table games you love like Craps, Black Jack, and more
  • Racebook – For racing lovers
  • High Limit Gaming – Because fortune favors the bold
  • The Winners Circle – Offering bonuses and more to members

sic bo chinese gambling

Plus, compared to what I find in a typical Vegas casino there were different games that are typically more popular in Asia including Sic Bo which is traditionally a Chinese dice game but here was displayed on a video screen embedded in the table.

river rock bed


At River Rock Casino Resort, you’ll find five star accommodations including posh, luxury rooms and fine dining that’s second to none. We stayed in one of their suites

entertainment marquee


River Rock Casino Resort features entertainment from artists you know and love in every genre from rock and country music to stand up comedy and more.

river rock pool

Great Pool (with Waterslide!)

Ok so it's not huge but the pool is pretty cool and has a nice waterslide so that's alway welcome in the winter when it's cold outside.

River Rock Casino Resort – The Casino is Just the Beginning

We all love the casino, guys. But we all also know that even the most devoted casino lover can only game for so long. We want to get out and see the sights, too. That’s what makes River Rock Casino Resort so great. We can get all of the great entertainment we expect from a casino resort, and we can also get all the sights and sounds of Vancouver. That’s because River Rock Casino Resort is perfectly located for access to just about all of Vancouver’s major attractions.

If you're planning a guys’ trip, Vancouver can't be beat as a year round destination for a mancation or just a quick guys weekend.

This is a city that has great summer activities on the water and awesome skiing in the winter (Whistler is a two hour drive). There are also all sorts of other activities in the area from the Capilano Suspension Bridge to the British Columbia Mining Museum When you stay at River Rock, you can get the best of both worlds. Plus, since it is connected to the sky train you can be downtown in a few minutes to get some of the best dining, bars, and nightlife in North America.

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Thu, 03 Sep 2015 06:21:09 -0700
More than South Beach on a Miami Mancation Are you interested in planning a mancation for you and your guy friends? The vacation will be all about hanging out and having a good time like college kids again. If this is something you are looking forward to, Miami, Florida is an ideal spot to visit and have fun. There are plenty of fun and exciting attractions that all men seem to enjoy. The warm weather and the clean beaches are just added perks of taking a vacation in Miami. All the guys can have fun, enjoy flavorful drinks, smoke cigars, and soak up the sun in a city that seems to never sleep.

Golf In Miami

If you and your friends enjoy a good game of golf, Miami is the place to see. Miami is home to a number of impressive golf courses. Some of these golf courses are among the most challenging courses to have ever been created. In fact, some of the golf courses in Miami are even listed on a top 10 list of golf courses across the country. Whether you are a golfing expert or a beginner, there is a course in Miami for just about everyone. During your stay, make sure to stop by the Normandy Shores golf course and enjoy the challenge. The golf course was designed with all kinds of people in mind, ranging from beginner golfers to professionals. The men truly cannot get enough of this golf course and often enjoy going together just to get out the house and have some relaxing yet fun times.

Fishing with Friends

Most men enjoy what fishing has to offer them, which is an opportunity to sit back, relax, and talk about things without any stress or worry. Fishing is a calming recreational activity that many people enjoy. If you like to go fishing, Miami is a great place to take your friends out for some serious catch. The state of Florida is already known as the Sportfishing Capital. There are so many fish that you can catch in Miami, including the Atlantic Sailfish. People who live in Miami and those who visit for a vacation enjoy the challenge of trying to catch one of these fish, especially since they are known for being a bit difficult to get. The best thing about fishing in Miami is that you can do it at any given time of the year. This means that regardless of the date in which you and your guy friends choose to visit, you all will still be able to try your hand at fishing. It is said that the best time to go fishing if you truly want to catch something, however, is anywhere between the months of November and May.

fairchild miami gardens

Literally Take a Hike

For any nature lover, there is nothing more relaxing than taking a hike with good friends. After all, you can explore what nature has to offer, take pictures of your unique finds, and vent to your friends about any frustrations that you are having in life while enjoying the beautiful scenery. There is so much to see while hiking in Miami, including the beautiful flowers and palm trees. There are a few nature trails in Miami that are also perfect for hiking. Some of the most favorable nature trails include Crandon Park and the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Crandon Park is home to all sorts of wildlife animals. On the other hand, the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is home to a huge variety of plants that thrive in the warm Miami climate. Have your camera ready because there is so much magnificence to capture all in one place.

Visit a Bar and Enjoy the Locals

Everyone can use a good drink from time to time. The Local Craft Food & Drink is a great bar where you and your friends can enjoy craft beer and tasty food while chatting with locals of the city. The food is constantly raved about at this hot spot. Some of the food items you will find on the menu include hand-cut fries, sweet chili glazed ribs, and the local burger. For good food and fun, this is a great restaurant to check out.

Overall, you can have plenty of fun on your mancation in Miami. There is so much to do and see that the city has to offer to its tourists. This mancation will surely be a memorable one among you and all of your guy friends.

]]> (oldadministrator) Mancation Blog Thu, 20 Aug 2015 09:01:00 -0700
Football, Food & Fun On Barcelona City Breaks Right now, FC Barcelona is the best football team in the world just behind Real Madrid. No team in the major European leagues scores more goals than Barca, it has the most accurate passers in the League and it's home to a certain trio with the names Messi, Neymar and Suarez. While you're in the capital of Catalonia, your ideal Barcelona city breaks should include watching a match, or at least taking a tour around the Camp Nou stadium, going out for good food and beer then getting up the next day to see what else this winning city has to offer.

Image by Tibor Kovacs, used under Creative Commons license


Join the hordes of locals and visitors who fill the 99,786 seats in the colosseum-style stadium. Ticket prices for matches start from a reasonable €45, but you should get yours well in advance of going to avoid disappointment. Alternatively you can book onto the Camp Nou Tour Experience, which includes a trip around the field and ticket into the museum. Have your mobile phones at the ready to get a picture of you and the boys wearing your kit on the pitch or holding onto the winning cups and trophies.

barcelona market


As games tend to take place during the night time in the summer months, grab something to eat before the game, then head out for a few beers and toast victory after it. For a taste of the traditional, try out nearby Boca Grande. Its Spanish menu is a delicious mix of Mediterranean and Catalan cuisine. Sit in the outdoor terrace and let the DJ take you into the night with lively beats. Tickets is a newer establishment that specializes in tapas dishes. It has a youthful vibe inside and serves innovative dishes. For a quieter setting, you’ll find the welcoming Leku in Les Corts. The seasonal menus are put together by chef Sergi Amorprides, who prides himself on using only the very best ingredients

park guell


So you might wake up with a bit of a fuzzy head, but get out there and see as much of this city as you can. Take a tour of Gaudi's work, which includes the impressive Sagrada Família and the outdoor Park Güell. A walk down Las Ramblas will also give you a big injection of the local atmosphere, as you watch street artists and stop off at stalls. Here you should also wander around La Boqueria market and pick up fresh fruit and fish. If you're looking to take it really easy, make your way to the city's Barceloneta beach where you can sip on a cold beer as you sit on the sands.

With a world class football team, famously fresh food and so much to see and do, you're going to wonder why you haven't made a trip to Barcelona before now.

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Thu, 13 Aug 2015 05:24:56 -0700
Give Back To Nature As You Live With Big Cats With the talk of Cecil the Lion recently, the fate of big cats has become even more a topic of discussion. You love cats, big and small. It’s why you volunteer at the local humane society, donate to animal charities, and enjoy the company of a few in your own home. Your love for these furry felines also brings you to read certain distressing news articles about the threatened existence of the larger cats calling Earth their home. If you’ve ever wondered how you could help these cats, then you have a unique opportunity to do so just a mouse click away. A volunteer holiday in South Africa allows you to work side-by-side with the world’s largest cats and make a difference in their lives.

There’s no better way to experience the amazing culture of South Africa and give back to nature by helping these large mammals. Poaching, hunting, and habitat loss are a triumvirate of threats that endanger big cats’ continued existence. Without the help of dedicated organizations, they could very easily slip towards extinction, just as so many other species have done in the past.

The endangerment and possible extinction of lions, tigers, and cheetahs is distressing, but you can contribute towards their welfare. There are volunteer companies that provide eco-friendly opportunities to support the big cats of South Africa. These companies value everything that nature has to offer and they have created projects to help preserve life as best they can. In large sanctuaries in South Africa, these companies deploy compassionate volunteers just like you to help these facilities operate.


A company will provide extensive training and orientation, to provide you with all of the available tools to properly help these cats. Under the guidance of experts, you’ll care for these cats during your stay as a volunteer, seeing the tangible, positive results of your work. At every sanctuary, you’ll enjoy accommodations, meals, training, transportation, orientation, and the opportunity for exciting day trips. With an emphasis on volunteer safety you will be transported to and from the airport and work in a safe and supervised environment. After choosing a project you will be equipped for a fun, unique, and adventurous holiday. Far different from the typical holiday, working as a volunteer with local experts is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You get to experience everything South Africa has to offer while building lasting friendships with fellow volunteers, your guides, and the animals and children you’re helping.

Finding a company that can facilitate this opportunity for you can be simple if you know where to look. Searching online for the company that offers the best projects will lead you to Volunteer Southern Africa. They have 11 projects to choose from, ranging from working with big cats, rhinoceros, great white sharks, and horses to name a few. Each of their projects come highly rated. When you work with animals with Volunteer SA, you know what you’re doing is eco-friendly, secure, and guaranteed to be an exciting and unique adventure.

Volunteering is a fun and unique experience that goes beyond what an average tourist will get. More importantly, you time spent in South Africa will go towards the betterment of these big cats’ lives. You can rest assured that you’ve contributed to an eco- and animal friendly project.

]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Wed, 12 Aug 2015 04:38:03 -0700
Yes, You Can Camp in the Padres Outfield! This is the stuff that dreams are made of - the chance to sleep on the outfield grass of a real MLB team! I am constantly impressed by the Padres organization for offering its membership great opportunities to get even closer to the team and this is no exception. My only suggestion is that they should do this event again - but just for adults and pair it with the Padres Beerfest. However, as a family friendly event, the Padres hit a home run and it's something you should consider doing next year if you are a Padres member like I am.

friar photos

Not only do you get to sleep on the field, an awesome experience in itself, but Friar was walking around taking photos too.

pad squad

As were the Pad Squad girls!

bedgear fitting

The Padres Member Campout this year was sponsored by Bedgear and they were giving out free pillows to all the attendees as well as an opportunity to get fitted for a pillow that was perfect for them.

I've never really thought about the importance of having the "right pillow" - much less paid attention to all the materials that a pillow can be made from, but these are some awesome pillows. 

free pillows

Bedgear is positioning itself as the "UnderArmor" of the sleep world right now. They have inked deals with several professional sports teams including the NY Islanders, Detroit Tigers, NY Mets, and the San Diego Padres. 

We're looking forward to giving their pillows a test drive in the future. 

double tent

All I can say though is that with one of these pillows under your head, guests at the Padres Member Campout were sure to have sweet dreams last night. 

... a good thing for dad since they were being kicked out at 6 a.m. the next morning so the Padres could get ready for the game that afternoon!


]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Sun, 09 Aug 2015 15:39:20 -0700
Cherry Poppin' Daddies & Spin Doctors at Rock of Vegas Seeing great bands that bring back memories of highschool are always great, but when they are free and you can enjoy not-overpriced booze, well ... that's even better! I love Fremont Street so much, that I'm going to call it the Fun Side of Vegas from here on out. It's taken some time for Fremont Street to gain traction but it is absolutely on a roll now with some great hotels like The D, Golden Gate, and Golden Nugget as well as great free entertainment virtually every night. To extend things even further, the Fremont Street Experience launched Rock of Vegas Summer Concert series. We were there last week to see the Spin Doctors and Cherry Poppin' Daddies and had a blast!

derek stevens

To kick things off, Derek Stevens - owner of The D and co-owner of Golden Gate introduced the bands.

fremont street experience

For those of you who still aren't familiar with Fremont Street Experience, it is a five-block long entertainment district located in downtown Las Vegas. The centerpiece (or is that head piece?) is Viva Vision, the world's largest video screen ... a whopping 1,500 feet long, 90 feet wide, and 90 feet over the pedestrian mall. By itself, it's a great reason to visit to see the 12.5 million LED lights and hear the sound blasting from the 550,000-watt sound system.

One of the things that makes this an awesome experience is that unlike other concerts you may experience where you are roped in away from places to drink (and forced to use porta-johns), these are right at the mouth of the Fremont Street entrances to the various casinos. This means that there are plenty of toilets and plenty of ice cold beer, daiquiris, and cocktails waiting to be poured.  Your most difficult challenge will be deciding if you want it in a football, a lady's leg, a yard, or just a plain old plastic cup.

cherry poppin daddies

What I found interesting - but fun, about these two performers is that personally I am a big fan of the Spin Doctors and my wife is a fan of Cherry Poppin' Daddies so we were both able to enjoy the show. 

For guys that hit their prime more 20 years  ago, they are still rockin. Lead singer, Steve Perry has moves that are still incredible and at times unbelievably fun to watch. They even set up a blocked off area for people to swing dance to the music.

steve perry cherry poppin daddies

We were in the VIP area - but before the concert began they opened it up to other people, so if you can't score a badge, just hang around the entryway and make nice with the guards!

spin doctors

When the Spin Doctors came on, the mood shifted from "dancing" to hopping up and down and grooving with our heads and shoulders. It's funny to watch a group of 30 and 40 year olds suddenly get transported back to their childhood but this was a lot of fun.

chris barron

Just in case we forgot that we are all older now - Chris Barron now looks like a skinny Santa Claus, sporting a grandpa beard. That didn't stop them from rocking out though!

fremont street audience

This was an awesome experience and truthfully, there is no better way to see a band than live when you can be this close. There is just something special about being this close.

My only disappointment is that I missed some great bands earlier this summer, but there's a great chance that they're going do do something similar in 2016. There's still one more concert coming up featuring Kansas & Blue Oyster Cult on the 3rd Street Stage.

Rock of Vegas Summer Concert Series:

May 23 – KC and The Sunshine Band – 3rd Street Stage
May 30 – Tonic & Vertical Horizon – 1st Street Stage
June 13 – Martha Davis and The Motels, The Tubes & The Smithereens – 3rd Street Stage
June 27 – Smash Mouth & Toad the Wet Sprocket – 1st Street Stage
July 10 – UFC Fight Week Concert (band TBA) – 3rd Street Stage
July 18 – Theory of a Deadman – 1st Street Stage
Aug. 1 – Spin Doctors & Cherry Poppin' Daddies – 1st Street Stage
Sept. 6 – Kansas & Blue Oyster Cult – 3rd Street Stage



]]> (James Hills) Mancation Blog Sat, 08 Aug 2015 23:16:08 -0700