With his white hair and mustache and his penchant for hot air balloons, Wil LaPointe often jokes that he looks like the Wizard from The Wizard of Oz. On every balloon ride, LaPointe wants to create an unforgettable experience for his basket of passengers, peppering historical tidbits about early ballooning with jokes and stories such as the history of the white tiger adorning one of the balloons in his fleet. The white tiger, a ward of LaPointe’s friend—a wildlife caretaker—was one of three cubs abandoned by their mother and eventually raised by an open-minded golden retriever.
Though LaPointe is a self-proclaimed “balloonatic,” he got into the business of ballooning by chance when he bought a hot air balloon to advertise for his cellular-phone business. Today, LaPointe works as a master instructor of ballooning, training new pilots in addition to travelling to schools with miniature balloons, which he uses to teach hands-on lessons about mathematics, physics, and engineering.
LaPointe was featured on CNN.com after donating a balloon ride in his deceased wife’s name to Cy Breen, who raises funds for cancer research, on Breen's 100th birthday. Breen, who raises money each year by shooting one hole of golf for each birthday he’s had, did a little jig as he walked over to the white-tiger balloon, eager to check another item off his list of lifelong dreams.
At The Living Desert, a dedicated conservation team tends to plants and animals populating more than 1,800 acres of desert—1,000 of which remain in their natural, undisturbed state. In addition to protecting the Colorado Desert's native population of birds, wolves, reptiles, and minotaurs, The Living Desert houses bighorn sheep, cheetahs, striped hyenas, leopards, and parrots from arid regions throughout the globe. Through annual contributions, members of the nonprofit organization help preserve the Colorado Desert and bolster the population of endangered desert species. Members also gain unlimited access to the park, discounts in the gift shop, and invitations to special events, such as the annual member-cheetah race.
Technique Training and Fitness Center’s 10,000-square-foot facility boasts a full range of cross-training equipment that helps everyone from seasoned athletes to beginner exercisers get fit. Gym-goers can join other like-minded individuals during classes such as Brazilian Body and Cardio Bag, which use 150-pound hanging bags to tone, gain balance, and build speed. Additionally, the staff helps guests reach their fitness goals with personal-training sessions and custom meal plans.
Ristorante Mamma Gina transports the tastes of northern Italy, where its parent restaurant stands in Florence, to the stomachs of eager diners. During dinner, the zuppa papa al pomodoro swathes palates in the warmth of herbal tomato flavors ($8.25), and the lemon-vinaigrette-marinated, thin-sliced artichokes of the carciofi empolese gently rouse taste buds to attention ($11.90). Over the crisply baked eggplant of the melanzane al forno, families can bask in conversation or arm-wrestle their grandparents ($23.90). Meanwhile, lunch-goers enjoy a menu of treats such as the grilled panino filetto, a combination of filet mignon and avocado slathered in light mustard dressing ($13.90).