Compass

A travel pro’s tips, with pirate ships

Compass

(Photo: Courtesy St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum)

Road Warrior. It’s a title earned by many day-to-day travelers. A member of that throng is Pat Croce. Keeping him on the road three weeks out of every month is a career that’s been eclectic, from president of the Philadelphia 76ers to a turn in the tourism industry with two attractions in St. Augustine, Fla. – the Pirate & Treasure Museum and Colonial Spanish Quarter, a living history experience.

Between running these endeavors, as well as six restaurant/bar/entertainment venues in Key West and motivational speaking, Croce racks up miles. During a “layover” aboard a 16th-century replica Spanish Galleon, Croce, shared some of his rules for the road with Yahoo! Travel.

Plan Ahead

As with all successful pursuits, Croce says planning is essential for smooth travels. “I don’t have this day to do over,” he says. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone.” Checking out a destination in advance is imperative for Croce. He uses websites like TripAdvisor, Yahoo! Travel and Yelp to get reviews on everything from accommodations to dining.

Occasionally, Croce checks the destination’s visitor bureau website, but he warns they’re sometimes obligated to direct travelers towards members or advertisers. Taking things a step further, Croce reaches out via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, alerting contacts where he’s going to be and asking for recommendations.

Pat Croce. (Photo: ABC Networks)

Like many road warriors, Croce has packing down to a science. “To make sure my attention deficit disorder is always taken care of, I have my iPad, a book and a healthy snack,” he says of his carry-on luggage. The same approach is used during twice-yearly vacations with his wife, two children, their spouses and six grandchildren. “Anticipation is part of the vacation,” he says of prepping with little ones. “Make it an adventure – from planning what coloring books, toys and munchies we’re packing to what games we’re going to play in the airport.”

Transportation

In Croce’s book, catching the first flight out for a destination is key. “It’s your best guarantee for making a flight, especially when factoring in occurrences like weather changes.” Unforeseen obstacles are always on Croce’s radar. “I plan leeway in my schedule for things like not landing on time, or the rental car not being there,” he says. How he views a potential mishap. “Accept it, embrace it.”

Accommodations

All too familiar with hotels, Croce’s learned exactly what he requires for a comfortable stay. Vital are amenities like online check-in/check-out. Beyond that, “The hotel has to have a gym. I need endorphins to stay normal and regular,” he says. “And don’t put me near an elevator or in a smoking room.”

Balanced Travel

As with exercise, Croce has found commuter life runs more smoothly when it’s lived just like life at home. “I stick to a normal routine: wake up, work out, go to breakfast, read emails, make business calls … The only thing I’m missing on the road is hugging my wife of 35 years.”

Attractions

Being the owner of attractions himself, Croce has a view from both sides of the fence when it comes to leisure pursuits on vacation. As with all things Croce, vacation attractions should be researched in advance to avoid tourist traps. Croce turns to TripAdvisor for its one- to five-star ratings. “Rating systems ensure owners of attractions, restaurants and bars kick their games up a notch.” Added to Croce’s resources are the opinions of locals. “I ask cab drivers, maître d's, concierges … Their opinions have to meld, especially when I’m looking for things off the beaten path that are safe, clean and service-oriented.”

Another Croce rule of thumb: “You want to make sure, whether they’re age 5 or 75, all members of your group leave with a memory,” he says. What he’s found that does the trick? “Engaging and immersive experiences,” says Croce. “When you tie in education, entertainment and emotion to a vacation, it leaves an indelible memory.”

Croce’s Tips For St. Augustine:

St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum – Croce’s personal collection of artifacts are among those on display in the museum. His favorite? “A treasure chest. It’s the only one like it in the world.” He points kids towards cannons, which they can “fire,” and parents to artifacts with a rich history. For ages young and old – “A treasure hunt through the museum’s discovery drawers.”

Nearby: Castillo de San Marcos – a national monument and part of Florida’s National Park Service on the shore of Matanzas Bay. Built in 1672, Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States.

Colonial Quarter – In St. Augustine’s downtown historic district, Croce calls this living history experience a “mini-Williamsburg” with its two acres of interactive activities and demonstrations like musket drills and keeping watch from atop a 17th-century watchtower replica.

Favorite activity off the beaten path: “Scouring the beaches for prehistoric shark’s teeth.”

Best for strolling – “Aviles Street. One of the oldest streets in our great country, it’s seen a renaissance in the last few years with the addition of great little cafes and elevated ambience.”

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