Leave The City Behind at WESTGATE RIVER RANCH RESORT


A rustic outdoor adventure awaits you…with all the health-protection amenities of your favorite Westgate destinations…

Welcome to part three of my four-part series on post-COVID Westgate Resorts vacations in the greater Orlando area. Click here for an overview, then head to Westgate Lakes Resort and Spa, followed by Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier and Resort.

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After a glorious Friday on the coast, I headed towards Polk County, an hour’s drive south of Orlando in the central part of the state. Unspoiled by urban sprawl, the region is much the same as it was in the early seventies. That’s where you’ll find Westgate River Ranch Resort, a Western-style “dude ranch”, campgrounds and rodeo with its own mile-long private airstrip.

Situated on 1,700 acres of gorgeous terrain, Westgate River Ranch Resort is surrounded by wildlife and close to a half-million acres of government-protected wetlands. It was down here, and not out west, that the great American cowboy became the stuff of legend.

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Early Florida was home to cattle ranchers like those in the untamed west. You’ll still see cows, bulls, and calves roaming across portions of the state, many of them right here on the resort property. They’re joined by friendly creatures like buffalo and sandhill cranes, and not-so-friendly ones, like the Florida alligator.

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Now a part of the Westgate portfolio, River Ranch Resort has managed to create the impossible. Somehow frozen in time, it’s brimming with ADA-accessible features, modern conveniences, and top-level standards. That’s important in this post-pandemic era, where sanitation protocols and social-distancing measures help tourists to make smarter vacation choices.

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It’s also the primary reason that a city slicker from Las Vegas is rolling through the massive property (click here to download the resort map) in a golf cart driven by General Manager (and former rodeo star) Raymond Duncan.

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As we’re about to discuss the measures that Westgate River Ranch Resort has undertaken to protect guests and staff members from COVID-19 transmission, Mr. Duncan (“Just call me “Ray”, he requests) points to a group of people gathered along a picket fence. They’re petting a horse that’s wandered over to them from the field. “Those kids are going to remember this moment. It’s a feeling you can’t get from a video game. Their parents probably came here as kids, and I’ll bet they’ll bring their own kids someday, too.”

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A lifelong cowboy, Ray never imagined being in charge of an operation of this magnitude. Yet, his role here seems almost pre-determined. Years of riding in rodeos had led to injuries, so Duncan eventually found himself taking charge as an announcer. Commanding attention and respect seemed to come naturally for the country gentleman…he still grabs a microphone every Saturday night for the resort’s authentic rodeo. He also presides over their non-denominational church services on Sunday.

Clearly a man of many hats, Ray is a bit of a celebrity here. Longtime guests have no problem recognizing his face, even when obscured by a bandana that serves as his protective face mask. During our afternoon together, visitors would frequently stop Ray to say hello, catch up and express their pleasure at being able to return after the seemingly-endless shutdown.

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Like other Westgate locations that temporarily ceased operations in March, River Ranch Resort added new amenities, refreshed their current offerings, and positioned themselves to reopen in the best possible condition. They also instituted the Westgate CARES safety and health plan everywhere from accommodations and public areas to recreational activities and check-in procedures.

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Not long into our visit, a distinctive “whoosh” announced the return of an airboat tour at the full-service marina. “Do you want to take an airboat ride?”, he asked me. “In the meantime, I’ll make sure things are running smoothly back at the Lodge”. His concern was understandable, as this was only their second day back from hiatus. So I hopped onto a seat next to the captain and donned a face mask and sanitized ear muffs for an invigorating adventure on the Kissimmee River.

As a former resident of south Florida, I’ve been on airboat excursions before. But I’d forgotten just what a rush it is. Our skilled guide described the system of waterway locks and how they made it possible to navigate much of the state by boat. We soared through the marshes at high speeds, then slowed down to observe a herd of cattle and a mama gator with her little ones.

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Ray was waiting by the golf cart when our boat returned. We buzzed past a massive Swamp Buggy departing for its own adventure and headed towards the campgrounds. Recreational vehicles of all sizes were entering their designated area, eager to shake off three months of quarantine. RV Camping provides electrical hookups of varying amps, and each site has a picnic table and access to bathroom/shower facilities.

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Across the way, tents were being erected on the grass by do-it-yourself campers with their own equipment. If you’d like to experience tent camping but lack the necessary equipment, brand-new Platform Camping provides a six-person tent already set up on a raised platform beneath the trees. Platform Camping includes electric outlets, a picnic table, access to bathroom/showers, and community water spouts. Just bring your own sleeping bags and enjoy a weekend under the stars.

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You may have heard of Glamping (glamorous camping) on television, where celebrities fly from the city and “rough it” for a few nights. Whether or not you have your own private plane, you can try glamping for yourself. Westgate River Ranch Resort gives the trendy outdoor experience a bit of Floridian flavor. Luxury-style tents are packed with modern amenities while still providing an airy, sub-tropical feeling that no conventional resort could match.

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Enjoy a climate-controlled tent with microwave oven, mini-fridge, ceiling fan, real beds with luxury linens (no dreaded cots here), propane grill, and a private picnic table. Listen to the birds from your screened-in porch as you relax in a pair of rocking chairs. Teach your kids some old-fashioned board games (provided in each tent) and make S’mores (from pre-assembled kits) around the community fire pit when the sun goes down. Each night, your Glamping Concierge will light a campfire, and you’ll awaken each morning to personal coffee service delivered to your tent.

Ray told me that the glamping area has become a runaway success. People often plan their return visits to coincide with those of friends they’ve made on previous stays. Sometimes families will reserve multiple glamping tents at special group rates for reunions and parties. It’s an ongoing tradition, one of many that have developed here through the decades.

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If glamping is still too “outdoorsy” for you, there’s a wide variety of rooms, suites, cabins, and cottages to choose from. They range from their original Lodge Guest Rooms (modernized, of course) to two-bedroom Saddle Club Cabins with full kitchens, electric fireplaces, large screen televisions, and jet tubs. Saddle Club Rail Cars are especially cozy, providing many of the modern comforts of glamping at a budget-friendly price. Military, law enforcement, government employees, teachers, healthcare professionals, and essential workers receive special discounts.

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Our next stop was Takoda Village Luxe Teepee Hotel, a separate and private section within Westgate River Ranch. Featuring top-tier accommodations, Luxe Teepees take glamping to the next level. Each air-conditioned unit sits on an elevated deck and has its own fireplace, bathroom, and walk-in shower. Luxe Teepees sleep up to four and provide all the amenities of glamping, along with the use of a personal golf cart. Resort activities are part of the guest rate as well.

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Speaking of activities, there are almost too many to mention. It’s impossible to get bored with everything there is to see, do, and experience. Try your hand at archery, trap/skeet shooting, rock wall climbing, and horseshoes. Hop on a rental boat, tame a mechanical bull, or spend the afternoon on an actual horse.

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You can hit a few golf balls, practice your tennis swing, toss a fishing line, or perfect your backstroke in the resort’s pool. Try prying the little ones away from the petting farm, pony rides, bungee jumper, and zip lines. Finish off the afternoon with ice cream as a friendly goat sits by your feet and emus, peacocks and llamas stroll by.

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When the sun goes down, adults head to the River Ranch Saloon for live music, dancing, and a full bar (the Saloon is currently awaiting approval to reopen). Saturday nights are when the Westgate Rodeo comes alive. A custom-built 1,200 seat arena hosts the all-ages wild-west spectacle (face masks and social-distance seating are currently enforced). Trick riding, barrel races, and bucking bulls lead to a patriotic salute to the Armed Forces.

Under normal circumstances, the rodeo is following by a hayride and a raucous street party in front of the Saloon. Guests can polish their line-dancing skills, play games, and raise their voices in sing-alongs, all hosted by a professional deejay. Understandably, both the Street Party and hayride are currently on pause until the health crisis is under control.

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Group activities and events have become really popular on the Ranch. Weddings, corporate retreats, team-building exercises, and convention gatherings can all be accommodated. A new outdoor pavilion joins the resort’s collection of halls, meeting rooms, and conference centers. Click here for more info.

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Covering nearly all of Westgate River Ranch Resort in a few hours had gotten me ravenous. Fortunately, Ray suggested that we head to Westgate Smokehouse Grill for some authentic barbeque and fixings (click here for the menu). Along the way, we passed a small village selling anything you could need or want during your stay.

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There’s a General Store (groceries, take-out foods, deli, oven-hot pizza, firewood, and an ice-cream counter), Western Store (hats, boots, clothing), laundromat, kids’ center, and a fitness facility. Ray told me that Westgate River Ranch has its very own zip code, which is why the smalltown street includes a post office. Towering overhead is the ranch’s water tower, a functioning symbol of the private universe that’s been created here.

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It was already well past lunchtime, so the Smokehouse Grill team was cleaning and preparing for the evening’s dinner guests. Randy Shaffer, the resort’s Food and Beverage Director and a veteran of Sea World Orlando, joined us at the table. The three of us shared awesome food, stories, and laughter…just like when my father took me camping many years ago. Earlier in the day, Randy had proudly shown me his favorite toy – the restaurant’s outdoor smoker grill.

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Soon it was time to bid farewell to my new friends and return to modern-day Orlando. As I got on the highway, the innocent pleasures of the American dude ranch disappeared in the rear-view mirror. There they would remain, untainted by the madness of early 2020 and eager for the next group of COVID-weary souls to arrive.

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In the final chapter, join me at Westgate Vacation Villas, the birthplace of Westgate Resorts. What began as two small structures is now the epic granddaddy of them all, boasting a two-story waterpark and even a luxury movie theater.

Disclaimer – this is not a paid endorsement for Westgate Resorts. My opinions are my own. As the Vegas Unfiltered Blog slogan states, “Probably biased. Definitely honest”. 

Photos and airboat video by Sam Novak, other videos via YouTube

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Virtual Hosting’ – Workshops and Conferences With Sin City Flair


Vegas entertainers transform your online events from drab to fab with professional results…

If you’ve participated in online meetings at sites like ZOOM, Skype and Messenger Desktop, you know that they can sometimes be dry and clunky affairs. If that’s the case, perhaps you or your employers should consider a professional host.

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Virtual meetings are a burgeoning field that will continue to grow in this era of social distancing. Fortunately, two entertainers with Sin City backgrounds have already mastered the techniques of this platform and can transform your conference into a fun-filled yet productive affair.

Jeff Civillico

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Jeff Civillico has been thrilling Las Vegas audiences for about a decade. Energetic and charismatic, the “action comic” has been a staple at corporate functions for the majority of his career. Quick-witted and gifted with flawless audience interaction, he knows how to capture and hold your attention.

Civillico’s experience on the Vegas stage has given him a unique perspective when it comes to emceeing. He’s hosted his own Vegas-based talk show and a pilot for Travel Channel. Throw in some tech-savvy ingenuity and it’s clear that Jeff is already at the forefront of virtual hosting.

 

Initially, I was skeptical of virtual events, thinking “so much of what I do is based on connecting with the audience… how could this possibly work?” I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the virtual events I’ve hosted so far. There’s emotion, laughter, spontaneity, even real applause… you just have to unmute everyone to get it! Is it the same? No. Is it as good? If we’re being honest, no. But does it still work in a different way? Yes, I believe so. – Jeff Ciillico

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So how does having a host boost the success of web-based meetings? It’s all in the flow. As Jeff explains it:

A professional host has gone from being a nice add-on feature for your in-person event to an ESSENTIAL piece of your virtual event. Virtual meetings are going to be a little bumpy and potentially disjointed, especially in the short term. It’s going to be more difficult to get and keep attendees’ attention. You need someone who can pull all the event elements together to create a cohesive conference experience that is still engaging and impactful. You need a professional.

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The difference between virtual and real conferences is similar to the “movie theater experience” versus watching something on television. It’s easier to be distracted or lose interest when you’re on your own turf. A professional host utilizes his or her unique skills to draw attendees in and capture their focus. For Civillico, team-building exercises and comedy seem to work best:

People are loving these shows/team-building workshop combos! It’s common knowledge that the attention span of a virtual event is shorter than an in-person event… “squirrel!” … so I’ve been combining my clean comedy show with a juggling workshop and it’s proven to be very successful.

One of the basic principals of performance art is “Know Your Audience”. That rule applies to corporate functions as well. Civillico tailors each hosting gig to maximize participation, engagement, and positive response from attendees. That leads to more productive meetings and greater long-term results.

These workshops can be more “corporate” for employees and reinforce themes of connection, trust, and teamwork. Or they can be more “entertainment-based” for families of employees. Regardless of how you want to customize them for your organization, these events are high energy, interactive, and FUN!

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Win-Win Entertainment is a not-for-profit organization that Jeff spearheads. Based in Las Vegas, Win-Win Entertainment creates opportunities for professional performers to share their time and talent with children in need. They’re 100 percent volunteer-based, have no paid staff, and all performers donate their time for every event.

Win-Win has gone virtual during the pandemic, too, making it possible to continue its mission using the power of technology. Click HERE to learn more about how the organization has “pivoted” during the COVID-19 crisis.

We’re not going to let the coronavirus stop us from bringing smiles to children who need them. That’s our mission. That’s what we do. So for the time being instead of our regular in-person talent visits to children’s hospitals, we’re arranging “virtual visits.” After testing these virtual visits with several of our hospital partners, we’re rolling them out to our entire performer community.

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Jeff gave the final performance of his Las Vegas residency last December, but his work with audiences and charities is far from over. Visit jeffcivillico.com or call (702) 777-2782 for more information.

Jay Jay –

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Jay Jay is another virtual host with Sin City DNA. Like Jeff, he’s a high-energy, outrageously funny, and an absurdly handsome dynamo. The Australian entertainer/motivational speaker/model/TV show host has traveled the world, fronting gigs of every size with a level of expertise rarely seen, especially at his young age.

Constantly I hear from clients that a company has been using one of their internal staff to MC their conference. Usually the rationale is that the person
“can talk well on a mic” or “can tell a few jokes”.  This may be true but what clients don’t understand is that being good on the mic or telling a few jokes is far from what a professional MC actually does.

A great MC should be facilitating the event, getting your guests involved, and interacting with each other, plus really pushing the key messages and main themes. So when your guests do leave, it’s an event that they will talk about for years to come. – Jay Jay

Jay also draws his hosting skills from the world of entertainment. His comedy and crowd engagement abilities are unforgettable. He’s also quite a magician, as you can see from this clip:

Sin City audiences were stunned when Jay stepped up to the mic last year for an interim hosting gig at Aussie Heat. Not only did he whip the crowd into a frenzy, but he got into the act and ripped off his shirt to flaunt a stunning set of abs.

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Jay is at the top of his game when it comes to emceeing your function. Better yet, he can turn the reins over to you…AFTER teaching you how to become a more powerful public speaker. And what that boils down to is having a plan of action for when the pandemic shutdown passes.

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I work with people who are in control of their own boat. What are we doing now? And what are we doing post-COVID? What’s your plan? This is the time to deal with it because there are no distractions now. It’s my plan to get you out of your head and give you accountability.

I never care about what level you’re at. I care that you listen, you take action and you get your “wins”. When you get your “wins’ it feels amazing. I’ve heard all the excuses – I’ve made half of them. But it’s not about me. Most people have never had anyone in their corner. I want to speak to your soul and move you straightaway.

What Jay promises is a guaranteed success for you and your business. His methods are targeted at booking more clients, achieving greater financial opportunities, and delivering highly-impactful messages. To help, he’s offered free online motivational-speaking classes that emphasize support for COVID-19-affected individuals. Once you see what Jay can do, you’ll want to be a regular client, too.

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You’re itching to get back out on stage so you can impact millions! But hey – remember your stage isn’t only physical. You can now be on stage virtually. Want to be BOOKED out on virtual stages globally? I’ve made my chess move, it’s your turn. DM me and we can set up a call and make that happen for you! – Your Success Wingman

Contact Jay Jay by following this link

Photos, Jeff Civillico, Win-Win Entertainment, Jay Jay

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Reasons To Visit Rio’s ‘Star Trek Convention’


Official event returns to Las Vegas for the tenth big year…

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This summer, Rio Hotel Casino is once again playing host to the world’s largest Official Star Trek Convention. Celebrating a decade in Sin City, the annual gathering is expected to lure over 15,000 fans from around the globe. Packed with attractions, concerts, meet-and-greet’s, celebrity panels and a massive vendor hall, this year’s Trek Con promises to be the biggest and best yet.

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There are plenty of great reasons for you to freshen your Starfleet uniform and head to Rio’s Convention Hall. Here are the top five:

  1. Meet Celebrities Face to Face – Star Trek conventions bring famous actors up close and personal. Aside from panel discussions and Q & A’s, celebrities pose for photo ops, sign autographs and have personal conversations with you. In addition to cast members from all of the Trek movies and series, you can hobnob with actors like  Corbin Bernsen (L.A. Law), Wesley Eure and Kathy Coleman (Land of the Lost), Jeffrey Combs (the Re-Animator films), Doug Jones (Hellboy, The Shape of Water) Clint Howard (Austin Powers, Apollo 13) and dozens more.  Attra_004-large
  2. Cosplay is Halloween for Grown-ups – You don’t have to wait until the end of October to dress up and have a blast. Trek Con fans are famous for their elaborate get-ups. Keep in mind that this isn’t limited to Starfleet attire. Fantasy characters from Mad Max to Chewbacca, Captain America to Frodo Baggins are likely to make appearances. So make sure to bring your camera (or an back-up charger for your smartphone) and snap away. Better yet, join in on the fun and enter the official Costume Contest and Parade. Emergency costume repairs will be available to all participants for free.Attra_029-large
  3. Memorabilia of Every Kind – In 2019, it’s absolutely cool to collect those lunchboxes, posters, comic books and trading cards that you so desperately wanted as a child. Better yet, add to your existing collection or replace something you lost through the years. The Vendor Hall is massive, and the celebrities will be right there with you, scanning through collectibles or manning their own booths of merchandise and photos. Bring the kids and share your love for science fiction with them. n-event_005-large
  4. The Fun Carries On Well Into The Evening – Fans will be entertained long after the stars come out. Eccentric actor Brent Spiner (Independence Day and its sequel) will present a concert with his band on Saturday. There are fan gathering, dinners, wedding packages, “Klingon Karaoke”, a Star Trek Rat Pack show and after-hours dance hosted by ST: Voyager actor Tim Russ. Attra_001-large.jpg

Click HERE to continue reading this article as BestOfVegas.com.

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The Official Star Trek Convention takes place at Rio Las Vegas July 31st through August 4th. The event is family-friendly. Tickets are available at www.creationent.com or at the door. Hours are Wednesday and Thursday 10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. – 7 p.m., Saturday 8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

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Images/banner by Creation Entertainment, used with permission

2018’s Star Trek Convention is a Galaxy of Discovery and Thrills


Bold adventures await those who attend Creation Entertainment’s annual event at Rio Las Vegas…

Not all Sin City conventions are stately affairs with sport coats, lanyards and clipboards. Freewheeling gatherings like the Mr. Olympia Competition and Fitness Expo appeal to thrill-seeking tourists and locals alike, amping up the fun with excitement, merchandise opportunities and celebrity encounters.

One of my favorites is the official Star Trek Convention by Creation Entertainment, held annually at Rio Las Vegas. This star-packed weekend draws thousand of fans from all over the world and is always well worth the …er, trek.

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This year’s takes place from August 1st-5th. Here’s their official announcement:

After the unqualified success of our 2017 show we couldn’t be more excited to announce and open up The Official Star Trek Convention Las Vegas 2018!

This show will continue what makes ST:LV so excellent: Putting fans together with the stars, closer and more personally than anywhere else. With over 130 guests last year, and over 100 already signed on for 2018, we are again set to deliver the unique Creation experience people love. From panels you can’t see anywhere else, like our TNG 30th Anniversary talk with the cast, to demonstrations of the makeup and costuming techniques from the original SFX crews, there is truly something for every fan.

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As any regular attendee will tell you, Star Trek conventions are truly immersive experiences. Devotees prepare all year to create the most impressive and authentic recreations of characters from the movies and shows. It’s almost a competition to see who can “wow” other guests the most. The events are even lovingly spoofed in the hit film Galaxy Quest.

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The Rio Convention Center is packed with facsimiles of sets, ships, transporters, Captains’ chairs and vendor tables. Scheduled events like themed weddings, symphonic performances of the scores from Trek films and series (by the Nevada Pops Orchestra), dance and karaoke parties fill every available hour, sometimes going well into the early mornings.

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       Trek wedding attendee Justin Molnar gives his best “ironic applause”…

But of course the biggest draw is always seeing and meeting the legendary stars who’ve won their places in the hearts of fans. Iconic actors like William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, Kate Mulgrew, James Darren, Joe Piscopo and Denise Crosby top the list of over one hundred stars who are scheduled to appear this year.

The largest conference hall will be filled to overflowing with attendees eager to hear amusing anecdotes of their memories on set. They’ll answer audience questions, banter with each other and sometimes run through the crowd for selfies with fans (Enterprise captain Scott Bakula loves to do that when he attends).

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Along with the familiar, 2018’s gathering should be packed to the brim with stimulating debates. Following the completion of newest TV series Star Trek: Discovery‘s first (and very polarizing) season, talk of another theatrical film to be helmed by Quentin Tarantino AND the recent announcement of yet more series on the horizon, Trekkers will have their tricorders overloading with information and fascinating revelations. There’s even a report that Patrick Stewart will return as Captain Picard in a new show. Wowza!

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             Actress Adrienne Barbeau is interviewed by FOX News…

My personal favorite part of every Trek-con I’ve attended is what’s known as the “Exhibitor Hall”. Far from just a flea market, the vendor area is also where the more approachable celebrities gather, along with fellow actors from other genre classics like Battlestar Galactica, Nightmare on Elm Street and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. And of course there are oodles of collectibles to gawk…and haggle…over.

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        Actors Wesley Eure and Kathy Coleman are attacked by a Sleestak…

This sci-fi/horror geek has gone hog wild schmoozing with beloved actors like Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Escape from New York), Virginia Madsen (Dune, Highlander 2, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh) and Land of the Lost stars Wesley Eure and Kathy Coleman.

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      Myself with dedicated fan Karen Crumley as Spock’s mother “Amanda”…

Check out the official Star Trek Convention Las Vegas 2018 page for a complete list of events, stars, professional photo opportunities and schedules…and to order your tickets. Events and special package deals sell out quickly, so don’t delay. I’ll see you there August first!

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      Yours truly (right) with “Guinan” from Star Trek: The Next Generation…

The Official Star Trek Las Vegas Convention will be held at the Rio Hotel Casino August 1st through the 5th.

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Photos: Sammasseur

Mr. Olympia Fitness Fans Flood Sin City


Annual event makes Vegas the world capital of hot bodies once more…

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The 53rd Mr. Olympia Fitness and Performance Weekend has come and gone, as have the enthusiasts who swarm Las Vegas each year. Physique, fitness and bodybuilding fans from around the world made the journey to Sin City, which is essentially the unofficial Mecca of Muscle.

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The four-day event, taking place at Orleans Hotel Casino and Las Vegas Convention Center, was a hotbed of hot bodies, products and photo ops. Celebs, sponsors, news crews and supplement manufactures swarmed both venues, out-muscling one another for the chance to promote the latest in products, clothing and workout tips.

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The big news was Phil Heath‘s seventh Mr. Olympia win, tying the record of Arnold Schwarzenegger. For those who couldn’t attend (or afford the pricey tickets), sponsor Amazon.com live-streamed the competition. Last year, surprise guest Dwayne Johnson had announced that CBS Sports would air the 2017 event in cooperation with his Seven Bucks Productions, but that seemed to be an unfulfilled promise.

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Instead, Johnson returned to present this year’s trophy. Heath, a seven-time champion, will most likely return with hopes of an eighth win. That would tie him with Lee Haney and Ronnie Coleman for the most Sandow statuettes.

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If all that “competition talk” bores you, fear not. The daytime events at the Convention Center were much more freewheeling…with music, dancing, posing and twerking in the aisles. See for yourself in the video below:

                 Video highlights from the Olympia Fitness Expo…

Ageless physique pro Tobias Young showed me around Optimum Nutrition‘s mobile Gold Standard Zone, an interactive outdoor exhibit. Guests were invited to use computer technology to analyze their diets and map their macros. A “magic mirror” utilized artificial-intelligence cameras to study workout form and correct movements.

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Tobias Young (left) at the Lift Yourself – Lift Others chin-up station…

Best yet, a pull-up station allowed attendees to challenge themselves for charity. Sponsored by the wonderful Amazon Smile, “Lift Yourself – Lift Others” arranges for donations to your charity of choice (this writer directs Amazon Smile donations towards Blind Cat Rescue and Sanctuary).

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Inside, Optimum Nutrition was one of dozens of vendors unveiling new products, services and experiences. Recording star Flo Rida made his first appearance as CELSIUS HEAT Elite, Chief AmbassadorCelsius Heat is a new healthy alternative to conventional pre-workout drinks. Flo greeted fans with photo ops, autographs and full-size product giveaways.

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In every direction, people were jumping, pumping, hopping and climbing. Experts were there to analyze technique, assess conditioning and offer advice. Several vendor booths awarded prizes for push-ups, power punches and other physical challenges.

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On both sides of the massive South Hall, informative lectures vied with group classes and various sports for attendees’ attention. The large rear stage was home to scheduled competitions such as Flex Magazine‘s Bikini and Male Model Search, Classic Physique judging and Men’s/Women’s Physique Olympia.

Tt was the cameras that got the most intense workouts. Vendor reps were eager to show what their products could do. Of course that required a lot of shirt-lifting and flexing, right?

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Scott Mathison (center) and the athletes of Performix…                  

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Tim McComsey (center) and the BANG Energy crew…                

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Big Brother star Mr. PEC-Tacular Jessie Godderz for Vitargo…                

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IFBB Pro David Paterik strikes a double-bicep….          

One of my personal favorites, IFBB Pro Matt Christianer, hammed it up with me for a pic and autograph. Matt can be seen on Netflix in the moving documentary The Perfect Physique. In it, Matt details his emotional journey of recovery from a traumatic auto accident. The newly-engaged Christianer underwent a hip replacement last year but is back in amazing form.

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Matt and fiance Heather Schneider at last year’s Expo…                  

On a side note, while the Olympia press conference was taking place in its new larger home at the Orleans Arena, director Kandice King was across town at City Athletic Club on West Sahara, shooting footage for The Perfect Physique 2: The Road to Pro. Like I said at the lead-in…Vegas is the Mecca of Muscle.

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      Vegas resident and former Chippendale Kris Davis at the MET-Rx booth…   

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Mr. Olympia

Mr. Olympia

Doing his best “Robert Irvine” at the FIT Crunch booth…                       

Mr. Olympia and the Fitness Expo both return to Las Vegas in 2018. Hotels fill up early, especially The Orleans and Westgate Las Vegas, so check out this planner to get up-to-date recommendations and rates.

Plenty of hopefuls will be eyeing the stage, yearning to take the title from Phil Heath and enter into the history books. If you don’t want to miss the showdown, mark your calendar now for the 54th Annual Mr. Olympia Fitness and Performance Weekend Sept. 13th through the 16th. I’ll see you there.

Mr. Olympia

Photos by Sammasseur