From the rich waters of Mississippi’s Gulf Coast near Biloxi to the sapphire-blue depths off Ketchikan, Alaska, my fishing karma kicked into overdrive this year, combining to create my two best travel moments of 2013.
Both times, my heart raced and my arms shook as I reeled in a feisty 30-pound Jack Crevalle aboard the Miss Hospitality out of Biloxi, and a tasty 18-pound halibut from 220 feet below our fishing boat, the Margarita, in Alaska’s Nichols Passage.
My white-bellied halibut was the ultimate souvenir: we had it shipped home in June and retold my fish tale during several memorable meals. We released my yellow-tailed Jack back into the Gulf in October because our captain said it was a better fighter than an eater.
After each fishing excursion, we toasted our catch in some pretty wonderful places, accounting for more top 2013 travel memories. Pampered by the most genuinely friendly crew ever, we viewed Alaskan glaciers and wilderness scenery on a Disney Wonder cruise. And we enjoyed a stellar meal in Biloxi at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino’s BR Prime Steakhouse. Think mounds of fresh seafood, perfectly-cooked steaks and truly decadent desserts, preceded by a Peartini that arrived in a swirling cloud of liquid nitrogen.
Earlier that convention week, I ducked out of my meetings and into the resort’s spa for a tropical body scrub, wrap and massage after a memorable round of golf at Fallen Oak, a Tom Fazio design reserved for Beau Rivage guests; most arrive in a sleek silver limo. The course prepared us for more amazing golf, at Dancing Rabbit and Old Waverly, as we drove farther north in Mississippi.
A trio of scenic golf courses in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula also made a lasting impression, from the Native American imagery at Sweetgrass near Escanaba and the challenging up-and-down terrain of TimberStone in Iron Mountain to the lunar-like landscape and Lake Superior views at Greywalls in Marquette.
And I had a blast playing in a scramble at Threetops and the Rick Smith Signature courses at Treetops in Gaylord, where one of our foursome, Bill Hobson, host of Michigan Golf Live Radio/TV, made an impromptu video of our on-course antics.
Not surprisingly, we also shared lots of laughs following Louisville’s “Urban Bourbon Trail” and learning firsthand about Kentucky’s signature corn-based drink that’s America’s only native spirit. We got our official bourbon passport stamped at historic spots such as the Old Seelbach Bar and the Brown Hotel Lobby Bar, where we also tasted Louisville’s famous Hot Brown sandwich.
In Kansas City, on another culinary tour, we started the day with delicious sandwiches at The Local Pig, a butcher shop/charcuterie, and moved on to tasty frico (Montasio cheese crisps) and other Italian dishes at TV food star Lidia Bastianich’s restaurant, Lidia’s. In-between, we grazed through a mind-boggling array of small plates at Extra Virgin, sampled artisanal Christopher Elbow Chocolates and washed it all down with a fancy Pimm’s Cup cocktail at the Rieger Hotel. All of which went to show that what happens in Kansas City doesn’t stay in Kansas City: it comes home on your waist, hips and thighs.
But 2013’s travel highlights weren’t all about food, fishing and golf.
In Baltimore, at Fort McHenry, l experienced a stirring moment when the screen went up after a movie about the birth of America’s national anthem and we could see, through a picture window, the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ waving outside.
My most surreal moment came in Bloomington, Ind., while touring the Dalai Lama’s bedroom in the colorful Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center, which was founded in 1979 by his late brother. I learned that the exiled Tibetan leader stays there on visits to the U.S. from India – and satisfies his sweet tooth from the candy bowl near his bed. And it was a thrill to see the Dalai Lama in person several months later, in May, when he spoke at Louisville’s Yum Center.
I experienced a natural thrill in January watching the roseate spoonbills gathering at dusk in the J. N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Fla.
And I can still remember the bright pink umbrellas on the patio below our balcony-room at the Chippewa Hotel while watching ferries slip in and out of the Mackinac Island dock. The clip-clop of horses’ hooves provided a rhythmic backdrop to the ‘Pure Michigan’ scene.
Here’s to more memorable travel moments in 2014!