Derby Fever

My bucket ran over last year when by husband presented me with Derby tickets for the 143rd Running of the Roses at Churchill Downs. The race has been nicknamed the “Run for the Roses” because the winner is given a garland of more than 400 red roses sewn together, a tradition that dates back to 1932. There is a reason they call it “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports,” as frivolous as it sounds those two minutes didn’t disappoint. Growing up I loved everything to do with horses. I rode and competed in English Style in upstate New York for many years.

The Kentucky Derby held May 5th is the first leg of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, and is followed by the Preakness Stakes on May 19 and the Belmont Stakes on June 9. The 1 1/4-mile race runs on a dirt racetrack at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Last year the dirt turned into mud after a morning deluge but that didn’t stop our fun.

Twenty horses enter the Derby, which is one of the largest fields in horse racing. To qualify for the Derby, horses and their jockeys travel on the road to the Kentucky Derby, a series of 35 races featuring a point system. The top four finishers of those races earn points and the top 20 horses from the 35 races earn a spot in the starting post in the Kentucky Derby race.

Churchill Downs is packed with over 150,000 fans all dressed to the nines with hats and sipping mint juleps hoping for their pick to be the one lucky windfall of the race. In fact, Always Dreaming, last year’s winner, did provide a little pay day for us helping me to recoup the cost of my dress and hat. The whole weekend was a lovely experience full of southern charm and hospitality. You should plan on spending a good amount of money to check this bucket list item off.

Places to Stay

During the Derby you have hotels that are high-end and make their year during Derby weekend and a selection of very nice Bed & Breakfast establishments. The B & B options were less pricey but not by much.

We stayed at a charming bed & breakfast close to Churchill Downs called The Samuel Culbertson Mansion. This was a good plan because the day of the race it rained and we were able to take a quick rickshaw ride right into the stadium. Many visitors were traipsing through the mud, dresses and white slacks ruined and splattered as they fought their way into the Downs. 

Places to Go & Things to See

Louisville can be summed up in three words, bourbon, horses & history. Before the Derby went off, we had a drink at the historic Brown Hotel and toured a couple of the distilleries in downtown Louisville. The Galt House is another well-known stop for a drink or a bite. The Louisville Slugger Museum was a fun and interactive stop. You get to make a bat and take a few swings in a cage. When planning your trip reserve your dinner reservations ahead of time. Most of the restaurants are booked out months in advance. We ate at Bucks and 610 Magnolia.

Expert Insight

I don’t like to be negative but there was one area of dissatisfaction during our visit. Churchill Downs has very poor signage and flow. When we and the other 150,000 people were departing it was a sea of crushing bodies pushing and trampling one another to get out. For a world-class sporting venue like the Derby, I was shocked and disappointed by the experience. People were pinned against the tunnel walls and it was very uncomfortable. There were handicapped people who couldn’t get through and no one was around from the stadium to direct the flow or help. This needs to be improved or someone will get hurt.

The Race

Who will it be this year? The odds makers are abuzz with speculations. Betting is complicated. You have to take into consideration so many details including the horses’ pedigree, breeder, trainer, jockey, race position and past wins. Last year it rained a good amount and some horse are considered good “mudders” while others are not so great. The process of dissecting and selecting can be overwhelming and exhilarating. We were in section 113, Row 3 by the finish line and just under cover enough so we didn’t get wet when the relentless rain kept coming all day. The pomp and circumstance was rich, the Juleps were flowing and they were off. You’re out of your seat cheering as the blaze of horse’s race by. As the field narrows you can barely control your excitement as you see your horse, Always Dreaming, clomping his way to first place. You never know when another Secretariat or American Pharaoh is just around the corner.

Dreams do come true! This year, we’ll be watching from our living room but our memories will keep us smiling for years to come.

Here is to the field for 2018 and it’s off to the races on May 5th at 6:34 post time!

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CT Takes Off -Destination Key Largo

Keys4     Key Largo’s Newest Hotel

It’s just a Flip Flop Away From Miami

Where to Stay

Discover Playa Largo, Key Largo’s newest destination resort perched on the Bay in the Florida Keys. We recently made an impromptu getaway and our GPS was set on Key Largo’s newest resort, Playa Largo. This mini-sanctuary is just a short jog from the mainland but you feel like you’ve left the hustle and bustle behind; the local’s call it Key’s Time. The resort offers a unique vantage point from the lobby with a glimpse of the pool and bay beckoning you in.  Ah, a deep breath and a rush of relaxation flowed over us as we are met with warm hospitality and a resort associate who remotely checks us in with iPads. Libations are offered as we assess our surroundings. Keys6

Playa Largo was once a pineapple plantation and the resort gives a nod to its history with fresh pineapple water in the lobby and bright colors throughout. If you feel the need for some pampering, Ocean Spa offers a citrus twist on services and the therapists couldn’t be more welcoming. The lobby has a swanky feel with a Ceviche Bar, hanging swings and blown glass fixtures, dangling about catching the suns rays.

Playa Largo Pool

Playa Largo Pool

We decided to head to the pool and enjoy a frozen drink and some light cuisine. The pool is a playground for guests in need of relaxation. There are numbers of cabanas and beach side hammocks to help you fully relax, Keys’ style. This Florida paradise atop a vibrant archipelago awakens your senses to become present in the moment. As we sway carelessly in the hammock overlooking the bay we spot jumping fish. The sky turns orange then a deep red as natures masterpiece unfolds before our eyes and we realize why we’ve come to this serene spot in Florida.

Where to Play

Keys7While in Keys, immerse yourself in the local culture, in particular the underwater playground is not to be missed. The Florida Keys offers world-class snorkeling, diving, deep sea fishing and many other water sports all set upon a canopy of a sapphire blue water. Exploring in John Pennekamp State Park reveals the iconic underwater Christ Statue, an awe inspiring moment to be remembered along with more than 23 other man made and artificial reefs. If you feel lazy, which does happen in the Keys, you can opt to just lounge about in a hammock or hang out in a pool cabana. Key Largo is the longest key with 30 + miles to explore. You’ll find kitschy T-shirt shops and restaurants serving all varieties of fresh seafood, along with Artisan Villages selling local bounty.

There is so much more than just T-shirt shops and key lime pie stands. Playa Largo is a much needed haven and an upscale alternative to the sometimes scruffy Keys experience. This is one secret you won’t want to keep to yourself. Learn more

Expert Tip

Take the road less traveled by driving Card Sound instead of US 1. There are only two ways to get in and out of the Keys, the traffic can be brutal especially on holiday weekends.

Jodi Cross is a marketing strategist, travel blogger and speaker and may be reached at or

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New York City Girl

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Having grown up in New York State and spent my formative years as a New Yorker it occurred to me, I had never actually considered myself to be a tourist in Manhattan. New York City has over 50 million foreign and American tourists a year. Recently, I joined the ranks and visited Ellis Island, took in a show off Broadway, garnered a bird’s eye view from the World Trade Center and had a moment of silence at the 911 memorial.

When I moved to Florida one of my first jobs brought me to New York City as a sales manager. Throughout the years I would go to the city for meetings and events but I honestly had never done the attractions. I always hit Fifth Avenue for a little wardrobe refresh, if you consider that an attraction.

This year we went to New York City for spring break. Some of the highlights included; visiting Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty and the 911 memorial. We also dined at the newly renovated Tavern on the Green and ate Dim Sum in Chinatown.

We met up with my step daughter and the three grand kids who had never been to New York. Seeing the sites of the City through their eyes was interesting. I found myself wondering if they thought all New Yorkers’ were used to seeing a naked cowboy singing in the street, a dancing grown up baby and a number of furry characters roaming Time Square at all hours of the night.

Places to Go & Things to Do


New York City has a plethora of great attractions, museums and things to do. For us, we had a mixed crowd of young kids and adults so we needed to strike a balance. When choosing your hit list, pick things that cater to the majority of the crowd. The kids were interested in the Natural History Museum, some gaming attractions, Times Square and some of the more traditional landmarks such as Ellis Island and the 911 Memorial.

IMG_8195We started our first day with a trip to Ellis Island. Our ancestry traces back to Ireland and Germany and it was interesting to see the names and photos of boats that carried our forefathers to this country. Once we arrived we spent time in the great hall and looked at all the amazing images and faces of the immigrants who came to the United States so long ago. The thought of traversing continents and oceans in hopes of a better life or in some cases to escape dire circumstances is a central theme of our great and welcoming country. There are samples lining the entrance walls of exams immigrants had to pass, photos of new comers suspected of being sick showing bright white chalk marks on their lapels and desperate faces of women and children carrying all their worldly possessions.


The Ellis Island Ferry takes you to the Statue of Liberty. Be sure to reserve early or you won’t be able to go to the top. We went to the base and the views were inspirational looking up at Liberatas and seeing the broken chains at her feet. This flamboyant gift from France is a symbol of our liberty and the ties that bind all those who enter. After 911, the Statue of Liberty once again became a renewed symbol of hope and her true identity and meaning were a poignant reminder to us all, “Liberty Enlightening the World”.

After leaving Ellis Island we headed to the 911 memorial. This is a must see! There is no other event in my life and the life of many in my generation like 911. Staring into the reflection pools representing the two towers is truly a cathartic experience. Many memories come flooding back as I thought of where I was on that horrific day. Off in the distance one tree survived the attacks and was in full bloom on the day we visited. This symbol of life blossoming anew is truly touching.



When in New York City, bring your wallet! There are plenty of choices including some wonderful and reasonable Deli’s. We choose Tavern on the Green for a special dinner, the Moonstruck Diner for a more casual lunch and Chinatown for some amazing Dim Sum at the Nom Wah Tea Parlor. Other mentionable include The Oyster Bar and Cipriani’s near Grand Central Station.

The Tavern was fabulous! As we arrived and entered the bar area a swanky 40’s style band was playing. The lead singer was in character complete with a vintage dress and oversized microphone belting out classics such as Fly Me to the Moon and Mack the Knife. The dinner was amazing from both a taste and a service perspective. The ambiance was polished and harkened back to a flamboyant Mad Men era. We had a variety of dishes but the Coq Au Vin and the Rack of Lamb would be considered no less than divine. Don’t miss the Truffle Caesar Salad. You’ll want to beg for the recipe. Fun cocktails such as the Queens, Bronx and the Manhattan have you sipping and savoring every minute. There is even a kids menu with mini yummy cuisine for the smallest pallet.

Moonstruck has a great late night dessert menu and offers a quick breakfast option for all to enjoy. There are multiple locations and we never had a problem being seated even with a party of eight.

FullSizeRenderIf your feeling adventurous, head to Chinatown and try some Dim Sum. Be fair warned, you will be approached to buy every kind of souvenir and fake watch known to mankind. Be careful not to go into the back alleys. Our final destination was the Nom Wah Tea Parlor. This iconic restaurant has been family owned since 1920. Everything was delicious and plentiful. The sampler platter, original egg rolls and spare ribs top the list of delectable. The wait was over 30 minutes so be prepared to stand on the corner for a bit but the wait was worth it once inside.

Expert Insight

I am usually a big planner but this trip was much more flexible. There are some great apps that help you plan at the last minute and still get good deals. Instead of waiting in line in the rain for tickets to a show, try Today Tix. This app lets you peruse shows of interest, order tickets and has a red shirt representative meet you outside the theater at show time. We saw a great show called “Fully Committed” with Jessie Tyler Ferguson from “Modern Family.” He plays nearly 40 characters complete with voice accents and attitudes. The premise entails a struggling actor who works taking reservations at a fancy restaurant in New York. The show is hysterical and plays at the Lyceum Theater.

My Uber app crashed during our visit but my husband was able to load his up. This is a great benefit as they now have an Uber XL which can accommodate bigger parties for a ride. Of course the subway offers an easy, less time consuming and efficient way to get around the city.

We did encounter a bit of a snag at the hotel. Apparently, when you are between seasons some older hotels do not convert from a heating system to an air conditioning system. This caused a stifling few nights and very little sleep. To avoid the whole hot mess, ask some questions before booking with a follow up question about having in-room fans or windows that actually open.

I hope you’ll come along for my next road trip!

Jodi Cross is a marketing strategist, travel blogger and speaker and may be reached at or

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They Call It… The Journey Through the Clouds


Last month we traveled from Calgary to Vancouver on a trip they call the Journey through the Clouds. We saw majestic mountains, scenic valleys, wildlife and azure lakes. Part of our vacation was aboard a train called the Rocky Mountaineer, which set an enjoyable pace through Western Canada and across the Great Divide.

We started out in Lake Louise at the infamous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. If you ever get to Alberta this resort is not to be missed! The property is a lovely old hotel with vistas overlooking some of the most beautiful mountain scenery, emerald waters and a stunning glacier all surrounded by cool Canadian temperatures, mountain trails and refreshing air.

 Known as the hiking capital of the world, Lake Louise captivates you with meandering paths, sightseeing Gondolas and the adventure you would expect of a national park. In fact, the majority of the trip both by car and train takes you through Canada’s treasure chest of National Parks.

We headed out of Lake Louise and continued on our journey to Jasper to pick up the train. The drive was about three hours long on the Icefields Parkway. Normally driving bores me, but this was the most spectacular drive I have ever been on. The ride takes you through Banff and Jasper National parks. Rugged peaks, turquoise lakes, waterfalls and glaciers peek out at you around ever turn. It is absolutely stunning! There are places to camp, picnic or  hike all along the route. We stopped several times but you could literally spend an entire day on this drive.

We picked up the train in Jasper a sleepy little town of 4,700 people.  The Rocky Mountaineer was top notch. We opted for the Gold Leaf experience which provides meals, beverages and a dome like viewing coach. Meals are served in a dining car below. The over night stop is in a town called Kamloops then you continue for another day heading toward Vancouver. Over bridges, through tunnels, and past rivers we traveled. We saw fisherman and salmon swimming in one of the  biggest salmon runs in 40-years.


We arrived in Vancouver to spend a couple of days in a chic metropolitan city with great restaurants, shopping and nightlife. The city was easy to get around with a bus system that continually loops to all the attractions.  There is a wonderful mix of culture and nature in Vancouver with Stanley Park being a highlight. We walked to Granville Island, breezed through ChinaTown and shopped along Robson Street. This was the perfect mix of scenic landscapes, outdoor activities and big city fun. I feel refreshed and ready for the busy fall season ahead. 


Jodi Cross is a marketing consultant, speaker and freelance writer and may be reached at or

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Who Have You Touched In This Life?

Who Have You Touched In This Life?

By: Jodi Cross 

When I was 11 years old, my family went on a vacation to Hawaii. As my brother, Lee would say, I was never the same after that trip. He was right, that trip opened up a whole to new world for me. A woman by the name of Rebecca Roberts from Robert’s Travel in Rochester, NY led the trip and her passion for what she did was truly inspiring.  I decided from that point on I was going to college for Travel and Hospitality and my passion for travel and adventure blossomed.

I am sure many of you can remember a turning point in your life or a person who touched you in a meaningful way.  Many names and faces flood my mind as I think of this topic. There was my grade school friend, Michelle who invited me to Circle C camp in NY, when I was 14. That camp introduced me a new way to see religion and a passion for horseback riding. I went on to be an accomplished rider and competed in shows. Another high school friend, Wendi, loyally defended me in a school fight when I was about to be beat up by the school bully. Her loyalty has remained true to this day and we still see each other frequently.

In my adult years, there was Paul, who encouraged me to continue my Landmark Forum training. This knowledge unlocked so many mental blocks for me it actually gave me to have the courage to start my own business.  

My husband Rich, continues to inspire me with his kindness, empathy and unconditional love.

It seems in life that everything connects to something else; you never know when a person or a small gesture is going to change your life or someone else’s. When you think about this, you can’t help but wonder, if you have been paying it forward?

Who have you touched in this life? Who has witnessed a passion in you that has been so inspiring that they have wanted to get involved in your cause or change their path? Knowing that your actions or attitudes are enough to impact someone’s life in a monumental way is an amazing realization. It is powerful tool that should be used for the good. It seems that being able to impact people has to do with  having a passion that people can witness, expressing the truth in a way people can hear it and doing all this with  love.

I encourage all of you to think about those who have touched your life in some way and reach out to them and let them know how important that was to you. At the same time, when you are in a relationship with others don’t be afraid to show your passion and speak the truth, with love it can make a difference and change the course of someone’s life. ©

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Summers Here…Get Packing

Summers Here… Get Packing

By: Jodi Cross

Summer brings longer days, a slower pace and the opportunity to take a vacation. Last year, we never got a chance to get away and I felt gypped of the right of passage that Summer symbolizes. We work hard all year and by the time summer rolls around we all need a break!  Over Memorial Day, my husband and I visited Prague, Vienna and Budapest. As our trip approached my excitement grew. We toured gothic churches and palaces and walked from one end of the city to the other.

Some of the highlights included; Old Town in Prague, the Clock Tower, and a multitude of beer gardens and open markets. In Austria, we caught a Mozart concert at Schonbrunn Palace and watched the magnificent Lipizzaner Stallions practice their routine. Budapest was spectacular with the Danube dividing Buda and Pest. We visited the Royal Palace, soaked in the thermal baths and took in the art nouveau architecture. We sampled authentic cuisine, enjoyed savory goulash, fresh fish and local favorites like stuffed dumplings.  

Jodi’s Travel Tips

Travel is one of my passions in life and I take trips frequently for both business and pleasure. I have everything from packing to pre-planning down to a science.  For example, you must pack light in Europe if you are using trains and visiting multiple cities. We travel with one carryon roller bag each and a small back pack. We saw folks lugging jumbo bags along cobblestone streets and boarding the trains with bags that couldn’t fit down the aisle. My husband had to help countless people hoist  their burgeoning bags overhead into the stowaway compartments on the train.

Here are some other useful tips if you are planning to traveling here or abroad this summer;

  • Start with a detailed packing list broken down by day, always pack less bottoms and more tops. Work on a color theme so you can mix and match.  Limit your shoes to three pairs. Include; walking shoes-which need to be broken in prior to the start of your trip, dress shoes and sandals. Make sure to pack a couple of converters.  We used our phones as a camera and alarm clock, and noticed our battery depleted quickly.
  • Order a small amount of foreign currency from your bank before you go. On each envelope write the conversion numbers to help you with purchases and exchange rates. One couple we met on a train to Budapest had no currency. The cab driver took them for a ride that lasted 45 minutes and the equivalent to $100 which included a stop at an ATM because they only had Euros which are not accepted in Hungary. We arrived at the hotel in 10-minutes and it only cost us the equivalent of $25.
  • Make a copy of your passport and credit cards and place them in your luggage or room safe. If something gets stolen you will have the numbers to  cancel your cards immediately. Alert your bank, credit card company and phone service that you are traveling out of the country. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a card cut off for suspected fraud because I didn’t call in advance. For your phone, ask for a flat data package and be sure to turn off your roaming and location services so you don’t end up with whopping bill upon your return.
  • Plan on inclement weather. Bring layers, including rain gear and a small folding umbrella. It rained almost everyday on our trip. If I didn’t have a coat with a hood and an umbrella it would have ruined our vacation.
  • Pack airlock shrink bags. Stores like Bed, Bath & Beyond sell bags that you can use to seal and shrink your clothes down to half their size. I use these on my return for dirty laundry. This creates extra space for purchases you make along the way. Bring laundry detergent, there is no reason to pack extra socks and underwear when you can wash as you go. Print out a list  of key phrases in each language that you can use as cheat sheet. Being able to communicate in the native language bodes good will.
  • Use the hotel concierge- upon arrival we always inquire about the best transportation method and local restaurant recommendations.  In Budapest ,we found a bus that took you around the entire city and included a cruise. Not only did this help us get our bearings immediately, it was an excellent and inexpensive way to see all the attractions.

Wherever you go this summer…have fun, savor the adventure and embrace the local culture. Bon Voyage!      

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