I Hate Yearend Reviews, but …

December 30, 2013

As we approach the end of another year and the beginning of a new one, the “year-end lists” are already circulating. I’ve never been a fan of Top 10 best/worst, most/least, good/bad lists, especially at this time of year.

However, this year is a bit different for me

 as I’ve had a lot of amazing, great opportunities both personal and professional. It got me thinking that I should probably create my own personal highlights list so I don’t forget each of these amazing experiences. So … I’ve pulled together my best-of 2013

Enjoying Ponte Vedra BeachWhat Nexts?
This started at the tail end of 2012, but I made it a personal goal to try to free myself up for those last-minute, spontaneous trips. This required a bit of financial wiggle room on my part, as you have to be able to not only pack a bag in a few days or less, but have enough liquidity to ensure you’re not stretching yourself too thin.

I focused on my finances and was able to enjoy several quickly planned trips allowing me to catch some amazing music in St. Augustine at the Gentleman of the Road tour (Mumford and Sons was crazy awesome), and even a road trip with a good friend (see later in the list). I hope I’ll be able to continue my flexibility into the new year and enjoy the spontaneity of life.

Running My First 5K
Okay, this seems pretty small, but for me this was kind of a big personal win. In 2011, I made it my goal to lose weight as I was borderline obese/overweight. Within a year I’d lost nearly 50 pounds and now the challenge has been keeping it off (another goal into 2014 is to lose the 10 pounds I’ve gained back).

However, I’ve been overweight my entire life and never really was athletic or healthy prior to the weight loss. When the opportunity at work came up to participate in the annual Reindeer Run 5K, I signed up with the personal goal of running most of it, as I’d only ever walked in a 5K. A few weeks ago, this became a reality and I finished with a 35 minute run-most-of-the-way race. A small victory, but one that’s been on my short list for a long time. Now I just have to beat this time next year.

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Howl-O-ScreamBusch Gardens Williamsburg
I’m very fortunate to work for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment in Orlando. Additionally, I grew up visiting every spring Busch Gardens Tampa. In fact, when I first started in my current job, I knew more of the Busch Gardens brand than that of SeaWorld.

Because of my own personal history, I’d always wanted to visit Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Va. My family never went, but this fall I booked a weekend trip and spent nearly an entire day enjoying the park both during the day and their version of Howl-O-Scream at night. It’s such an amazing park and before you’re even in the parking lot, you can understand why it’s the most beautiful theme park in the world for 20+ years. Now I need to check out the other two SeaWorlds. Here I come San Diego and San Antonio!


Road Trip

First Non-stop Road Trip
This might seem weird as an accomplishment, but I’d never really been on a true “road trip,” and depending on your definition, I still may not have been. But, a buddy of mine was flying home to southern Illinois to drive back his mom’s red camaro which she wasn’t driving that much. He and his wife needed a second car and he was going to make the 14 hour drive back to Florida by himself.

I had never really gone on an 800+ mile straight through road trip, so I offered to ride shotgun and trade-off driving to make it easier for him, which is exactly what we did. I had about a week’s notice (see top item above about last minute travels) and purchased a one-way ticket. I met his mom and what seemed like half of the town he grew up in, as the entire population is less than 800.

What was even cooler was a mutual friend of ours who now lives in St. Louis drove over (no short drive for him, either) and we were able to go hiking, have a backyard fire, drink until late in the night, and then get up early to make the trek. It was a long drive with great company and was definitely a highlight of the year. I’ve now driven through all of Georgia and need to head west and drive out to Louisiana, Texas and beyond.

30th Birthday/Week
Yep, I turned 30 this year, particular this summer. Unlike some of my friends who also hit the decade mark, I embraced my age and transformed the day into a near week of festivities with family, friends, food and fun. Somehow, I managed to hit all my favorite hot spots in Central Florida and see many of my friends, which was a challenge growing up given the inherent summer break.

Now into my 31st year of life, I’m not stopping any time soon. Life is too short to wallow or to waste away. Therefore, I’m keeping spirits high, friends and family nearby, and look forward to 2023 and my 40th!

Boston after the 2013 Blizzard

My First Snow (and Blizzard)
Haha, yes, I experienced my first REAL snow this year. I’m a Florida boy who grew up on an island less than 100 miles from Cuba. Snow wasn’t exactly in the winter forecast.

For those that have seen the pictures, or were fortunate to be with me, the story goes something like this. We traveled to Boston in February for a sales show to promote Antarctica. Three days before the show, we get news a nor'easter was moving in which might have four to eight inches of snow. Okay, that seemed manageable. I’d only seen snow on the ground and through a window on a plane, so still a few inches seemed an added bonus to a work trip, right? Well, by the time I went to catch my flight to Logan, the forecast had changed drastically; biggest storm of the season, perhaps the century, don’t travel unless you have too, and all that other hyperbole.

We got there no problems and the weather in was great. By the next morning (Friday to be exact) it had started to flurry. By noon we were in the midst of decent snowfall and by the afternoon the show for the day was cancelled, public transportation was suspended and it was illegal to be driving on the road. Did I mention I had been driving one of our company vehicles earlier in the day … in the snow the for the first time … shortly after WALKING in the snow for the first time? Yeah!

On Saturday, it was an all-out blizzard so what’s a few coworkers supposed to do, three of us having never seen snow until the day before? Go play in it, of course. Snow angels, an attempt at a snowman, and a few snowball fights later, we were ready to warm up with a cup of coffee … or beer. The show had been cancelled for the day and as evening approached, the frozen hurricane (or blizzard as the locals call it) had pretty much wrapped up.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “but Ross, there’s 24 inches of snowfall in 24 hours and it’s below 20° F, so you must have stayed in your hotel that night, right?” NOPE, we took full advantage, grabbed a private car/suburban to take us to the Boston Commons to have dessert at this amazing restaurant, Finale. Then, we walked the commons or rather hiked through the snow drifts. It was a lot of fun and by Sunday afternoon I caught my regularly scheduled flight out after working the show for four hours and continued my working trip to San Francisco for a conference.

It was such a great experience, a lot of fun, and perhaps once-in-a-lifetime for this Florida Keys Conch.

SeaWorld Orlando's Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin

SeaWorld Orlando’s Antarctica
This is a hard one, as it really encompasses so many professional accomplishments in 2013 related to the opening of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment’s largest attraction opening ever, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin.

Shortly after I started working at SeaWorld, I heard plans to open this attraction. Within a few months, I knew I wanted to be a part of marketing this phenomenal one-of-a-kind experience for our company. I asked to join the project team and spent nearly 18 months preparing for, and executing the marketing of, the new attraction.

From the company’s first attraction-specific smartphone app, to building a comprehensive interactive marketing strategy and plan that not only promised but measured and delivered on results, to the Epic Voyage Tour which allowed me to visit NYC, Boston, and Miami for work, it was incredible.

I got to be inventive, creatively problem solve, collaborate with new departments, learn new technologies, and bring to life an experience so few have ever actually seen. I couldn’t be prouder of my colleagues and what we accomplished. It will truly be a hard effort to rival next year.

SFIMA Thought Leader
Again, this is a hard one to place, but because it’s largely driven by the success of Antarctica, it has to come in at second place.

A few years back, I made it a personal professional goal to become a thought leader within the interactive marketing industry. Not exactly an easy task, as the profession is still evolving within digital, marketing, and advertising. Oh wait, don’t forget about social! Regardless, I made it a goal and I finally accomplished it this summer.

With the activities of Antarctica at SeaWorld Orlando, an executive of the agency we used for the Epic Voyage Tour is on the Board for the South Florida Interactive Marketing Association (SFIMA). He asked me if I would be willing to speak about the digital/interactive activations in marketing our new attraction.

Shortly before Antarctica opened, I was able to put together a presentation that shared some of the lessons learned, ideation, and measures of success. He worked with me to refine it and I was able to present a 45 minute presentation to approximately 100 industry practitioners and leaders in South Florida; my native turf.

It was such a pleasure, honor, and truly an amazing accomplishment for me. What made it even more of a milestone experience was that I was their highest rated speaker/presenter for 2013, even beating out an internationally known interactive marketer, based on attendee survey responses.

This continues to be a goal for me and I look forward to not only learning more and developing my own personal skillsets, but sharing this knowledge with others in the industry and profession.

Ross at the Great Wall of ChinaHiking the Great Wall of China
Without a doubt, my No. 1 experience of 2013!

When the year started, I knew I’d be traveling A LOT! Most of it would be for work. In fact, I had only taken one personal day the first half of year, and that was for the road trip. In August, after Antarctica opened, and we finished 2014 marketing plans, I had some vacation time to use/burn. I’d planned a few long weekends; one at the beach in South Daytona, the other to Williamsburg, but still had a decent amount of time. Then came Labor Day weekend.

Crazy as it sounds, I purchased a Groupon for a 10-day trip to China out of NYC to Beijing and Shanghai. After some other expenses, like visa application, flights to and from NYC, excursions, and trip insurance, my total cost was CRAZY cheap, so I headed to China the week of Thanksgiving, by myself.

There were a ton of highlights of the vacation, but I was able to cross off one of my top three travel goals in life; hike The Great Wall of China. I’ve written about that day in this blog previously, but it made Thanksgiving Day 2013 one I’ll never forget and the best moment of the year.

Okay, so that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. I’ve had an amazing, fantastic, inspiring year that will stay with me hopefully for the rest of my life. I look forward to the exciting adventures in 2014 and with any luck, I’ll find a special someone with which to share these moments.


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2013, Year in Review, Yearend,