By Ryan Thomas
Sitting behind a desk for months on end has
its rewards, but it lacks a certain excitement. For some desk
surfers, the chance to take a vacation becomes a chance to
challenge themselves in new and exciting ways. That’s
why in recent years, a new breed of travel companies have redefined
what a vacation can be. These getaways eschew any notion that
R and R means lounging poolside with a Mohito, and offer some
truly memorable adventures for those seeking something different.
Many have heard of fantasy sports camps,
where clients pay to spend a few days alongside their favorite
camps offer training sessions, lectures, and games, and certainly
keep guests active. They are numerous and relatively affordable
(the 2005 Red Sox camp is a mere $800), and can easily be
found on the Internet. However, a bit more adventurous is
baseball in Cuba, France, or Czechoslovakia against former
professionals and Olympic athletes.
This was the brainchild
of Dennis McCroskey, who runs baseballadventures.com. A carpenter
by day, McCroskey sets up baseball games all
over the globe with the help of former athletes who live
baseball seemed a good way to see the world,” he says. “Peter
O’Mally, who owned the Dodgers, had contacts in Europe
and helped us get things going. We also have some players
who live overseas that originally helped organize games.
organize the trips myself. This spring we’re going
McCroskey has taken baseball enthusiasts
to China, Japan, Switzerland, New Zealand, and even Russia
to play against
and professionals. In fact, he says one of his goals is to
play on every continent — he has South America, Africa,
and Antarctica left.
“There are some 140 nations that play
rules are basically the same, and we usually have so much
fun with the locals, partying and hanging out, that by the
of the week the baseball almost gets in the way. Sometimes
they think because we’re American we’re big professionals.
But it’s relaxed; everybody gets to play and have fun.”
baseball, extreme sports aficionados will want to head to
the Dominican Republic and experience Extreme Hotels’ newest
endeavor on Cabaret. The grand opening of the chain’s
X-games-oriented tropical resort takes place this month,
with other locations to open at later dates. Offering a variety
of calorie-burning activities, such as kite surfing, skateboarding,
surfing, snorkeling, and most other water sorts, Extreme
is the first of its kind to cater solely to adrenaline junkies.
Even Tony Hawk would ogle at the large sunken half pipe,
dubbed Six Feet Under, designed by pro skateboarders Helmut
and Hans-Peter Hutter.
The resort was purchased and made over
by Bill Lee, the former CEO of Remarq, a Benchmark Capital-backed
Lee started in his garage by maxing out credit cards. Lee
did what many entrepreneurs only dream of doing. He created
reaped huge profits, and then quit working to become a beach
bum. He settled in Jaco, Costa Rica and took up surfing for
“I always wished there was a brand
synonymous with world-class action sports that had instruction,
gear, nightlife, and
location wrapped in one,” Lee recently told the media. “So
I decided to start my own — sort of how business travelers
know if they stay in a Marriott Hotel around the world, they
know what to expect when they get there. I wanted to create
a similar brand for action sports.”
Extreme Hotels has
already attracted the attention of professional surfers and
skateboarders. The hotel itself is situated only
feet away from its own surf break, which they call Six Feet
Over. Other activities include horseback riding, motorcrossing,
golfing, wakeboarding, and dancing at the hotel’s own
Not all vacations are fun in the sun, some
of them are quite cold — yet just as breathtaking. Such
is the case for Eagles Cry Adventures, owned and operated
by National Geographic
photographer J. Robert Russell. Russell ferries clients to
one of the remotest points on the globe, the North Pole,
where he then entertains them with snowmobile rides across
sky diving over the Arctic, and dog sledding across frozen
tundras. These excursions are complemented by local wildlife
in the form of polar bears, walruses, and whales.
“More people have climbed Mount Everest
than have been to the North Pole,” says Russell. “We
cater to people who are older, have some money and are tired
Clients meet up in the small town of
Longyearbyen, Norway, then ride in helicopters up to the
choicest arctic landmass
available. There, a base camp called Borneo is set up complete
with heated tents, hot food, sleeping amenities, and myriad
safety measures. From there, clients are helicoptered to
the North Pole for pictures and joviality.
“We have a champagne celebration,” Russell
we’ll head back to base camp for three days for some
dog sledding and some snowmobiling on the glaciers. We’ll
even build igloos. And this year we’re bringing hot
How cold does it get at the North Pole?
Minus 60 degrees according to Russell, who has been there
without heat. But
a steady supply
of heated food — even the snowmobiles have heated compartments
for food — and specially designed clothing ensure nobody
ever gets too cold.
When Russell is not ferrying clients
to the North Pole, he is taking them on three-week trips
aboard Russian icebreakers.
The Russians have opened themselves to the travel industry,
and have converted their icebreakers into roving hotels,
complete with expert chefs and comfortable guest rooms. Clients
to go ashore each day (via helicopter), as well as take in
brief lectures on the local geology and wildlife.
“The cost of the trip compared to
what you get to see,” says
Russell, “makes it the best dollar value in expedition
On the cutting-edge of such adventurous
travel deals, there exists the thrill-seeker genre. People
to these companies
to truly test their resolve and strength, involving themselves
in daring situations that would make Evil Knievel cringe.
From base jumping to car wrecking to mountain climbing, these
packages are not for the faint of heart.
Thrill Seekers Unlimited
is perhaps the most well known of these companies. Based
out of Las Vegas, they are a professional
stunt production company that has worked on numerous film
and television programs, such as the blockbuster hits 2 Fast
Furious and Point Break. But when they’re not wowing
cameras and keeping Hollywood’s elite safe, they’re
taking willing groups on extreme getaways.
President and veteran
stuntman, Rich Hopkins grew up surfing in Del Mar before
heading to Los Angeles and finding his
calling in the stunt industry. It was while looking for his
vacation that he got the idea for a stunt vacation company.
“My girlfriend and I wanted to go
on vacation and do it all — sky
diving, rock climbing, that kind of thing. We hit all the
travel magazines and nobody offered what we were looking
offered skydiving, and others rock climbing, but none offered
everything in one package. Not knowing about the travel industry,
I said, ‘let me give this a shot.’ I started
the company with $5,000. Since then it’s been an overwhelming
Thrill Seekers Unlimited has had featured
segments on Extra and the Travel Channel. Hopkins made history
soon after as
the first man to successfully attempt a bungee jump while
on fire. Because Hopkins knows how to be safe, clients can
themselves in some unique situations. Activities are numerous
and adrenaline inducing, including mountain boarding, skydiving,
fire walking, hovercraft racing, NASCAR racing, street luging,
paragliding, bi-plane flying, high falling, and heavy weapons
training, among a list of others.
“We just finished with a group yesterday,” says
defense consulting firm. We strapped them in racecars and
taught them how to flip 180s and navigate a slalom course.
they’d never done anything like that before.”
warts can relax knowing that Thrill Seekers’ 13
years of service has not had a single blemish — a record
that has made them the only fully insured stunt travel company
in the nation. But then again, if you’re putting your
life in the hands of Hopkins’ outfit, “concern” is
probably not your middle name.
A final note: a recent study
conducted by professor of medical and clinical psychology
at Uniformed Services University
of the Health Sciences, William Kop, concluded that 84 percent
of vacationers engage in activities that increase the risk
of heart attack. That alarming statistic can certainly apply
to most of the vacations mentioned here. What it doesn’t
conclude is how satisfying it is to watch a Vin Diesel action
film, turn to your friends, and say, “Big deal, I’ve
Like Helen Keller said, “Life is
either a daring adventure or nothing.”
Dennis McCroskey’s baseball adventure trips are usually
seven days long, with a game each day, then sightseeing and
hanging with locals the rest of the time. Package prices
are nominal, ranging from $1,500 to $2,200 depending on location.
This summer’s trips include France, Czechoslovakia,
and Greece. (www.baseballadventures.com).
Extreme Hotels’ rates
depend on the season, but average about $60 a night, and
include locker storage and breakfasts.
Prices for Eagles Cry Adventures
tours to the North Pole range from $10,000-$15,000 (www.eaglescry.com).
Thrill Seekers Unlimited clients can opt for three- or
five-day packages, or create a custom weekend by choosing
long list of activities. Prices average about $2,500 per