It’s Sunday, March 31 and I am exhausted. I’ve just been to my first ever work conference and it was activity and information overload. My husband John went to conferences and conventions way back when. Lots of my friends travel around for conferences. But in my former life in the trenches in politics and press I never had a conference to go to. So it’s been an exciting last few days. I’m so lucky because this year’s conference was held at the Long Beach Hilton, only 45 minutes from my house. Woo-hoo!

My travel partnership is with Uniglobe Travel Center (UTC) and first off this is not only a conference but an official family reunion. It’s the best scenario. They’re so happy to see you, and embrace you like a long lost cousin or newly discovered adult sister from a secret birth (this actually happened in my real extended family). I didn’t witness any sibling rivalry, gossip or back stabbing. These people all know each other and truly care about each other. It was so heart warming. I made lots of new friends everyday.

I was lucky to meet people from California and all corners of the country. The tall gentleman second from the right worked for the Indiana Pacers at one time. Oh I was so impressed! My dream job, working for the NBA, I told him. He said the hours are too long and I could be thankful I didn’t ever go there.

My table mates at breakfast on the first morning. They came from Brooklyn, NY and Ohio.

I realized something these past few days that I didn’t know when I picked Uniglobe as my travel host agency. And that is that the head honcho at UTC, Betsy Geiser, is a heavy hitter in the travel industry. She is a Board Director with the American Society of Travel Advisors. She has been around for decades. She knows a lot of people. And amazingly she is practically my neighbor, on the Peninsula, about a 20 minute bike ride down the boardwalk from me. Betsy has a lot of buying power in the travel industry and lucky for us she pulled her strings this year and brought in some real bigwigs to speak.

To be honest, I can’t really fully appreciate this panel on stage here. To some veterans these people are idols or mentors or celebrities. To me they are people I’m seeing for the first time, with interesting and inspiring things to share. From left to right they are: Keith Lane, VP Sales at Celebrity Cruises; Vicki Freed, Senior VP Sales at Royal Caribbean International; Mike Julius, VP Field Sales at Carnival Cruise Lines; Camille Olivere, Senior VP Sales at Norwegian Cruise Line; Eva Jenner, VP Sales at Holland America & Seabourn; and John Chernesky, VP North American Sales at Princess Cruises. Vicki Freed gave our keynote speech on the first day and she talked about making memorable connections, creating your personal signature, and making gestures, no matter how small, that let people know you’re listening, remembering and appreciating them. She is as cute as a button and she had some good stories.

Thank you Margo and Monique for getting some of us newbies together on the first night. I know being on the road means eating out a lot and even though I wasn’t truly on the road, I still ate and drank indulgently. Another dessert anyone? Drinking makes me feel tired and sluggish the next day, but when you are in the middle of social hour you just can’t say no. No one likes to not drink alone!

My second night’s fancy, steakhouse dinner was hosted by Cheryl Ormond from Crystal Cruises and Dave Ferran and Mario Herrara from Classic Vacations. Now, Dave Ferran, pictured here on the right, second in front, is Head of Sales at Classic. In the chain of command he’s just below the president and he was on one of our executive panels. But he is the most understated executive in a flashy industry full of big personalities. When we were waiting for our Uber I didn’t recognize him and I thought he was someone’s spouse. He was quiet and unassuming. When we got in the car he remarked with sincere wonder on the nice condition of our Uber’s Toyota. He discussed his grapefruit allergy when we talked about the cocktail menu. He told me he’s from Orange County and was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital which is near me. I can’t adequately describe it, but you would never know he was one of our big executives if you didn’t already know. And while the rest of us, our bellies stuffed full, piled in an Uber for the ride back to the hotel, he decided to walk back. I was so charmed!

Another night, another big dinner! This time our gala dinner. John came too. Drinks, appetizer table, fajita fixings with meat, fish, veggies, black beans, rice, chips, salsa, guac, and more. And a big dessert table. I was full of food again. But at least I got to dance some of my food off. And we also celebrated Best Buddies, our charity for this conference.

Here are a couple of the more awesome highlights of the last few days!

Okay, I wasn’t truthful about there being no sibling rivalry. Here are Eva Jenner and Mike Julius proving who is superior. You can see how that turned out. Just before this live action duel, we watched a funny video of Eva, John Chernesky and Adolfo Perez, Senior VP of Sales for Carnival Cruise Lines, having a knockdown fistfight over who loves travel advisors the most.

Ann Chamberlin at the American Society of Travel Advisors relayed a quote by her colleague Eben Peck, “If you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu.” About having your voice heard in Washington, DC when it comes to advocating and representing travel advisors in DC. Love that!

Paula Hayes of the Globus Family of Brands described the feeling of being a new agent as, “It’s like drinking out of a fire hose.” Amen to that.

Bob Ford with AIG Travel Guard, our travel insurance partner, gave a presentation. He talked about new features being added to Travel Guard’s signature Gold Policy. Here is the slide I was most interested in.

Do you see the first item listed here. It says, PET. What? Wait, what?!? They’re adding a pet upgrade to include insuring your pet in your travel policy. As someone who brought my two cats from California to Japan and back again, my interest was peaked! I think he even said it covers pet illness before you travel. So if your dog thinks he’s superman and can leap tall buildings in a single bound, as happened with our friends’ dog, and it turns out your doggie cannot actually bungee jump without a bungee, then you could be covered for canceling a trip due to pet emergency! Oh wow. I can just see the Travel Guard execs sitting around a table dreaming up new ways to create coverage. Kudos to them for recognizing that pets are family too. People are willing to shell out large sums of money on behalf of their furry, feathery or scale-y friends. I don’t know if “scaley” is a word. But I learned that “funner” is now a word, according to Shaq.

Shaq made an appearance during Drew Santiago’s Carnival Cruises’ presentation. I’m a Lakers fan so I love it! He’s talking about the expanded water activities on Carnival’s newest ships. In this video Shaq keeps getting sprayed with water so he’s putting on the face mask you see on his head. He is one of Carnival’s Ambassadors of Fun. Mike Julius announced that Shaq will bring “Shaq’s Chicken Shack” to their latest ships.

Time for a cookie break during the trade show with all of our preferred suppliers. I made my way around the room, checking out what each vendor had to say, what they had to offer and asked questions of my own. I made new friends or put faces to names with people I’ve been talking to on the phone. There are a lot of vendors in the travel world, and Betsy has done a great job of offering variety in our partners. I feel that I am partnered with special people who have amazing access in Europe, Asia, Southeast Asia, New York City, Africa, Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean, Las Vegas, Latin America, the Arctic. There are partners focused on group travel, individual travel, ocean cruises, river cruises, travel by rail, Americana, luxury market folks and adventure and wildlife travel. There’s even a partnership for travelers with special needs. I have amazing access with Uniglobe!

My new friends from Buffalo Tours helped me plan an incredible trip to Japan for my clients and friends Alyssa and John. I’m here with Vasilios and Nick from their Los Angeles office. Since I lived in Japan and traveled all around Southeast Asia over the past few years, I expect to be calling them for more help. I love that Buffalo Tours is focused on responsible travel, sustainable tourism development and animal welfare. When my family went to Cambodia, our guide told us that there are only a handful of elephants left in his country. Many of them have been killed by land mines. And as he said this we watched a tired, old elephant parade tourists around Angkor Wat like a circus animal. It was heartbreaking. Promoting responsible travel is definitely something I am interested in.

Here’s another company focused on sustainable tourism and taking care of our environment. There’s no question cruise ships leave a large footprint wherever they go. They generate a lot of trash. They move a lot of people at one time. Hurtigruten has introduced new hybrid cruise ships that will make their maiden voyages this year. They are electric so they are quiet. They are smaller so they hold less people. They’ve gotten rid of single use plastic on their ships. They are truly aware of where they are and where they are going. I am dying to book a trip to the Arctic with Hurtigruten. Someone, please call me and book with this company! They also offer National Geographic itineraries. My friend Debbie told me she and her son have only one continent left to go, and it’s Antarctica. I hope she’ll consider Hurtigruten, but Debbie loves Tauck so we’ll see.

I can’t fail to mention my new friend, Frank from Disney Destinations. Of course Disney is here. Disneyland is in our backyard. Everyone says Disney sells itself, which I think is so true, but Frank tries to tell us that no, Disney needs help selling some of its lesser known products. Disney now offers family river cruises in partnership with Ama Waterways and they have their own, amazing land tours called Adventures by Disney. So okay, let’s sell some Disney travel packages to new places. I want to take an Adventures by Disney trip to Wyoming in winter and go snowshoeing.

The grand finale, big announcement for our conference is that next year’s family reunion will be in Orlando. So you know what that means… Disney World, Epcot and Mickey, here we come! Frank is going to be very busy!

We finished the conference off with a fun lunch aboard the Carnival Splendor cruise ship which was docked in Long Beach Harbor. The Long Beach Cruise Terminal is in the gigantic dome that was originally built to display Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose aircraft when it used to be displayed here next to the Queen Mary.

Good-bye new friends. See you next year in Orlando!

#epicawaytravel #epicaway #utcagents #travelagentsrock #utcconference #myadventureabroad

If you’re thinking about taking a trip somewhere in the wide world, send me an e-mail. I’ve got a boatload of resources and contacts and I’m a specialist in Japan and Southeast Asia, as well as big bucket list travel. Want to go to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games? Well let’s go then!