MARCO ISLAND — Of all the thrills Marco Island provided to Dan and JoAnne Schaub, one came straight from the Marco Eagle.
As the two judges in Rand McNally’s national “Best of the Road” contest stepped out of their deluxe accommodations in the Marriott on their way out early Wednesday morning, there they were – a photo of themselves, smiling back at them from the front page of the newspaper, sitting by the door to each room in the hotel.
“We’re walking down the hallway, and it’s our faces on all the papers,” said Dan Schaub. “Thanks for a great morning.”
It was just one of many highlights from their visit to Marco Island, said Dan and JoAnne, reached by cellphone as they headed toward Franklin, Tennessee, the next contestant they are visiting. The two had a whirlwind tour of the sights in and around Marco, arriving at noon on Monday and back on the road by 7:30 Wednesday morning.
They cruised on JetSkis through the 10,000 Islands, got the big picture with a helicopter ride around the area, and took a sailboat to the beach on Keewaydin for some shelling. In between, there was lunch at CJ’s on the Bay, a dinner aboard the Marco Island Princess, and a feast on the beach where they received the key to the city and watched a dramatic performance by fire dancers.
Like many vacations, this one is likely to need the pair in need of a vacation to recover from the nonstop action. While the Marco Island boosters worked hard to fill the Schaubs’ schedule with fun, that seems to be the norm for the towns under consideration.
The competition’s website, www.bestoftheroad.com, encourages towns to go all out, and even suggests the municipalities consider hosting a parade for the judges. By the end of their tour, Dan and Joanne might want to give top honors to a town that hands them a hotel room key and says “get some sleep.”
“It is more work than a typical vacation, but also over the top extravagant,” said Joanne Schaub. “We’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
The judges are expected not only to do all the activities, and take in all the sights, but also to blog, tweet, and post photos and videos of their travels. And they have a strong incentive to do so – one of the teams of judges will win a $10,000 cash prize for turning in the best journal of their travels.
At the beachside dinner extravaganza on Monday, Marco’s fire chief Mike Murphy, a camera buff himself, was helping out by shooting photos with Dan’s camera to give them some shots with themselves, and allow the judges to enjoy the evening.
That evening, asked what was the most memorable feature from Coral Gables, their first stop, Dan drew a blank, and needed time to think about it, before praising the town’s historical preservation. Asked the same question for Marco after their visit, he had no hesitation.
“I just found it to be really laid back and welcoming,” he said. “It’s definitely a great escape.” He and JoAnne also praised the natural surroundings of Marco, mentioning Rookery Bay, the beaches and unspoiled mangrove islands.
“We feel so lucky to be doing this,” said JoAnne. The two won a contest to be judges for the event. In real life, she is a self-employed empowerment coach, and Dan is an auto mechanic, at their home near Raleigh, NC.
“I help people live the life they want, and this is kind of my own testimony,” said JoAnne. She practices what she preaches; two years ago the two quit their jobs and headed out, touring cross country in the U.S., and driving up and down the east coast of Australia.
Dan’s mechanical skills could also come in handy on the roughly 6,000 miles the couple expects to log before they finish their tour in Pacifica, CA, but they are driving a brand new Saab 9-5. They tweeted that they don’t have to worry about checking tire pressure, as the car does it automatically.
Dan is typically the wheelman, while JoAnne handles the posting, accommodations, and coordinating with their destinations. With all the driving, they will be well-qualified by the end of their trip to judge an additional contest – best interstate rest stop.