CruiseWorld 2014, November 8, 2014 - DAY THREE

And now, it's Friday...the moment I've all been waiting for. Up and running again at the crack of dawn, running over to the Convention Center to test my equipment, make sure I had all the right plugs and adapters. Everything looked good, so I headed to another breakfast, this time sponsored by Mexico Tourism, who hooked everyone up with a nice juice pack to charge devices. And then the General Session with my personal favorite CEO, Kevin Sheehan. He is such a regular and sincere guy, with a sense of humour, it's hard to believe he was an Economics professor.

After breakfast I did a panel with 4 colleagues on Social Media Success Stories. I don't know how I did, but I was impressed with the others. In particular, Jennifer Doncsecz (sp) impressed me, and I was disappointed to find out she was doing a break out session at the same time as mine. I wanted to hear more of what she had to say about Pinterest.

Then, off to lunch where I was invited to sit at Andy Stuart's table, and had a fun conversation with Hall of Fame travel agent, Joanie Ogg, while poor Andy had to go up on stage and repeat everything Kevin Sheehan had just said over breakfast.

Then it was time for my big breakout session on Facebook Groups. Sadly, the folks who had threatened to show up en masse and heckle wussed out (as keyboard cowboy-type bullies usually do). So, without that distraction, I was forced to actually do my presentation, complete with powerpoints I slaved over for 3 months, etc. I choose to accept the positive feedback I got as sincere. But I wasn't impressed. ;-) I missed a few points, and I always have a tendency to talk too fast, so I finished earlier than intended. However, the audience was AWESOME. And since we had plenty of time after, I got some great questions, and an opportunity to answer them fully. Which, frankly, is okay with me. I think I am better at extemporaneous Q & A than I am at preparing. And I think that ability is a better sign someone has truly mastered a subject, than the ability to read a speech. Like I said, I got a good bit of positive feedback, so I am thinking I did okay. I did receive some negative comments about some of the others, and I think all I can say to that is...if you ain't willing to get up there and put it on the line, be a little charitable to those who are. Taking potshots is easy. Standing up and making yourself a target requires a tad more.

Personally, I think the concept Mary Pat Sullivan came up with, of having Friday's panels and breakouts done mostly by "amateurs", people who are experienced experts in various areas of travel, but not as public speakers is brilliant. It does make for a less consistent product than a line up of people whose primary job is public speaking. On the flip side, actual front line agents, speaking from real world experience sometimes have more valuable information than people who are good at speaking, but may not have worked in the field for years, if ever. Just My Humble Opinion.

So, all in all, I am happy with how it all turned out. I can't tell you what a relief it was to be done, though, and I do want to thank those who told me afterwards they enjoyed it, and/or learned something. It's always gratifying to know you reached someone.

And that, for me, was basically the end of CruiseWorld. I hung around for a while as my friend Craig was using my laptop for his presentation, then collected up my goodies and went home.

That's when Friday really started. Gretchen and my agent Dillon had already managed to reach the bar and pickup a lovely lady from my neck of the woods, who had just flown in to catch a -dam ship Saturday for a Master Chef cruise. I got there, said hi to everyone, went to the room to take off those hateful shoes and clothes I was forced to wear all day, ran back down and joined in the fun. We all decided since the previous nights dinner was moved from tacky tourist side of A1A to the somewhat respectable Shula's, we needed a do-over. So with our new friend in tow, we promptly jumped on the wrong water taxi and a 10 minute ride became a 1 hour round trip. Listening to the slightly resentful pilot recite the owners name, net worth and property value of every water front home in Fort Lauderdale has a certain charm. For the first 15 minutes. Sadly, there are more than an hours worth of billionaires with homes there...

Anyway, we finally got on the right boat, going in the right direction, and got ourselves down to A1A, and the Casa Del Mar, a nice Mediterranean restaurant between the Rock Bar and the Funky Taco. There was an awesome guitar player/dancer combo that ran the gamut from Flamenco and Middle Eastern to Stairway To Heaven. And a giant slab of a ribeye steak that was every bit as good as Shula's. And Trish, our new best friend had to share her life story, and endure ours until the wee hours when her friends flight finally landed, so we all Uber'd back to the hotel together, which ended with a group selfie in the driveway as Gretchen, Trish and Dillon had all developed a crush on him during our 8 minute ride. I think alcohol may have had something to do with that, seeing as how I was the only one sober, and the only one that didn't fall in love with the driver.

And then we all got to meet Trish's friend Debz. And go home and pack for the beginning of my Amtrak Adventure from Fort Lauderdale to Victorville, Ca, with stops in D.C. and Chicago. I'll get to that in the morning . Promise!

CruiseWorld 2014, November 6th, 2014 - DAY TWO

Ah, 7am Thursday! Time for breakfast. You gotta hand it to Northstar Media. When they put on an event, they just know no one wants to waste their time sleeping. So, I rolled out bright and early after zero sleep the day before, and a little restless tossing last night, put on my best positive attitude and ran across to the convention center. More speechifying, this time from Adam Goldstein of Royal Caribbean. Then a couple breakout sessions before retrieving Gretchen for lunch and the big Expo thang. My favorite part of the event, cruising up and down the aisles, the reciprocal schmooze fest with suppliers, etc. And then of course, they top it off with some nice food, and open bar (which is great because the food lines are short until everyone gets tired of standing in the long open bar lines), and DRAWINGS! I finally actually won something! Yay me. A two night stay at the Sheration Suites/Plantation, Fl. Since I somehow end up in Florida at least twice a year, it will not go to waste. Although, I wish I could change my flight plans for the Norwegian Getaway cruise at the end of the month, to add two days on one side or the other. Alas, change fees would probable be as expensive as the rooms.

I did run in to the downside of being blamed for starting The Party At The Quarterdeck. My plan for the evening was a quite dinner with the 3 agents I had attending. A chance for some of that bonding/teambuilding/motivating crap I love so well. Not that I have anything against drunken revelry, but i was trying to change it up a little. And all afternoon, various miscreants kept asking me where "we" were going for dinner. Awkward...

But we did finally manage to get organized and get over to the Westin to pick up the two staying there. I had thought to walk the 1/2 mile or so to the touristy part of A1A and find some patio dining. But when we were all together, it was clear enough walking had been done that day, so I looked over my shoulder and saw Shula's Steakhouse sitting right there and said "What the heck, let's just eat here". Which I probably wouldn't have if I had looked at a menu. Nice place, Shula's. And very proud of their food. But what the hell. I'm calling it a combined sales meeting/Christmas Bonus for the team.

After dinner and a cab back to our hotel, I was ready to turn in, but my plus one (who never had ANY intention of attending a 7am breakfast meetinga) was not. So we went down to the waterfront bar where an unconscionably large number of CruiseWorld staff and attendees were still going strong. So, what the heck. A few chips and salsa at midnite. What could possibly go wrong? They were really tasty the first time. At 2, 3 and 4am, not so much. But, yeah...a little snack, another glass of tea, and I finally decided to try and get some sleep. The plus one decided she needed one or four more drinks, so she could wake me up a couple hours later, tripping over the bathroom threshold, or whatever it is she used.

So, that ended the day before the BIG DAY. The Day I was supposed to be ON, twice, once on a panel, and once all by my lonesome, dispensing my wit and wisdom in an effort to mold and motivate my colleagues. As I fell asleep the 3rd or 4th time, just before I needed to get up, I consoled myself with memories of when I took the SAT's in 10th grade and was in the 99th percentile in both English and Math. With a hangover, and in the same clothes I wore to school the day before.

In any event, tomorrow is another day, and I'll tell you all about it. Soon.

CruiseWorld 2014, November 5th, 2014, DAY ONE

So, Day One begins at midnite aboard an airplane at 40,000 feet. I am liking JetBlue. Between the extra legroom of Even More Space, and the wave thru at security, they appear to be making flying less miserable. They even have attendants that can smile and talk and stuff!

I landed at 7am, in Fort Lauderdale. FLL continues to be a nice airport, with minimal lines and efficient baggage handling etc. I took my first UBER ride from FLL to the hotel. In the next couple days, I took several more. I officially love UBER. For those of you who don't know, Uber is a ride sharing service. Instead of ugly yellow cars, Uber drivers use their own personal vehicles. It's an app-based service, where you put in your pick up and drop off location, the request goes out to all the drivers in the area, and the nearest or quickest driver grabs it and heads to your location. You get a picture of the driver, a description of his car, and sometimes a call from the driver to verify your exact location. During 3 Uber rides in as many days, all the vehicles were clean, the drivers friendly and helpful (most of them, despite Uber's start as an "anti-taxi" operation, are former cabbies who say they make more money with more flexible hours with Uber than they did working for traditional taxi companies). Anyway, so Prosper picked up my agent, Nancy, and myself, took us to the Hilton Ft  Lauderdale Marina, along with our luggage, for $8.80, which included a 20% tip (you can adjust the general tip rate on the app, or increase or decrease it for specific rides). As your Uber account is linked to a credit/debit card, or Google Wallet, the entire transaction is cashless. And awesomely convenient. And cheap. Roughly half the price of a taxi in Fort Lauderdale.

Upon arriving to the hotel, of course no rooms were ready before 8am, but I checked in and the front desk took my cell number and said they would call me when the room was ready. Dropped my bags with the bell desk, and headed over to the Westin to meet another of my agents, and help her get checked in there. We then proceeded to the Broward County Convention Center to register for CruiseWorld. I dilly-dallied and shilly-shallied around the speakers lounge setup there, getting my caffeine/blood ratio where it needed to be, talked to a few friends and such until 10 when I got the call, ran back to the Hilton and checked in. Then back over for more meeting and greeting until lunch, which was a self-service affair in the lobby. Amongst the several choices I picked a turkey/mozzarella panini that was, in it's defense, free to me. 'nuff said.

After lunch my friend Gretchen arrived from San Antonio, and I went over to get her settled in and unpacked, at which time the Opening General Session was almost upon me. So, one more hike to the convention center and some speechifying/networking/etc.

The point of all this is just to say...Wednesday was a busy damn day of running around accomplishing little, but in a very focused way. So, finally, it was time to go back to the hotel, take a deep breath, change and go to the Party At The Quarterdeck.

The Party At The Quarterdeck is one of those things that happen from time to time...from a casual comment about "hey, are we getting together at the QD again this year?", referring to some prior years when a few people met there for dinner during a trade show or before a cruise, to turning it into a semi-official event, with it's own Facebook Event page and everything, to getting 80ish RSVP's from people I'd never heard of, to seeing at least 50 actually show up and jam in to an area meant for 30 was quite delightful. I managed to show up just a few minutes after the official 8pm start time (due to the fact I had to stop and pick up a new laptop, the result of a whole different story I am not going to tell here, because A: I don't want to sound all whingy and complainy, and B: It's mostly my own fault and who really needs to be reminded of their inadequacies like that?) and the place was already packed. It took a little doing, but we managed to wedge ourselves in to a booth. It was already full, and people just kept showing up. Awesome. Our poor servers were run ragged for the next couple hours as both dinner and an excess of alcohol was delivered and mostly consumed (some was used to keep the floors and tables lubricated).

As the Party At The Quarterdeck wound down, 5 of us started walking home. As we got close to the hotel, there were several loud thuds, which I first thought was an accident on the causeway. Then I saw the flashes and sparkles, and we realized it was a fireworks show for the brand new Regal Princess which was docked nearby, having just been christened that morning. So we ran under the causeway to the other side and stood and watched the show for a while. It was a lovely and unexpected way to end a busy and fun day.

And with that, we were off to bed. 7am Thursday was looming.

Which I shall tell you about, soon!

CRUISE WORLD 2014, 11/4/2014 - Day 0

Because I am returning home by train, which runs through my backyard, I didn't want to leave my car at LAX. I decided, instead, to give the MetroLink train/Flyaway Bus a shot.

Like most Californians, I have been married to one car or an other since I was 16. Trusting to mass transit is just not something we do. I am happy to report, however, that at least the regional commuter train portion of the Metro system works, for the most part.

I arrived about 45 minutes early to the Rancho Cucamonga station, and with a little help from an incredibly friendly staffer managed to purchase a combined train/bus ticket to get from where I was to LAX, more or less seamlessly. The train was 4 minutes late, and stayed that same 4 minutes late the whole way to LA Union Station. Even though we were going "against the traffic" (a concept that really doesn't apply to Los Angeles' freeways 24/7-every-direction potential for gridlock), heading in to downtown in the evening, there were several times I looked out to see the cars slowing or stopped, as we made our way forward at a steady but relentless 50mph pace. Upon arrival at Union Station, there was pretty easy to decipher signage to the Patsarous Transit Plaza, where I jumped on a bus for the last leg of the trip. Unlike the somwhated dated interior of the Metrolink (though all built in the 90's and early 2000's, the MTA opted for early 70's appliance colors...the avacado green, orange and brown really reminded me of home, when I was 10), the FlyAway busses are completely hip and cool. Leather-like seats, mood lighting, etc. What one would expect for a nice Vegas turnaround, more than a trip from the train station to the airport. Anyway, so the driver flew that bus down the freeway and in about 20 minutes we were at the airport! Which is cool, except that, being the untrusting soul I am, I had allowed 3 hours to take a trip that was done in just over 1.5. So I had lots of time to kill at LAX. Compounded by having "Even More Speed" and TSA precheck courtesy of JetBlue, which turned the 20-30 minute line at security into "Come on down, don't bother to take your electronics out or shoe's off, have a nice flight" 4 minutes!

So, I put that extra time to good use by sitting down for some fish and chips at Gladstones. Passable. I guess, pretty good for airport food. Certainly better than my other choice - Burger King.

After dinner I settled in to the waiting area, got a nice efficient early boarding to my Even More Space seat on JetBlue flt #100, and OFF TO FLORIDA!