Friday, September 24, 2010

Fabulous Fall Excursions in Ontario


Ontario is wonderful in the fall. For me, going out on an autumn day is like biting into a crisp apple.

Yesterday was the first day of fall. I was driving from Sudbury to Toronto when I noticed way ahead of me, what looked like a huge black dog coming out of the woods. Despite being far away, I slowed down only to realize that it was a huge moose. By the way he sauntered across the highway and entered the woods, I could tell that he was also enjoying the autumn day.

The leaves are just starting to change but in a few weeks they will be absolutely glorious. Now is the perfect time to plan a day or two to enjoy this spectacular show of nature.

The first place to look is Ontario Parks, Fall Colour Report. Another great site it the Ontario Fall Colours Progression Report.
Here are some of my favourite ways to take in the colours:
1. Go for a walk or take a hike
I always enjoy walking around Belfountain and the Forks of the Credit.
2. Driving
Check out the Tips for Road Trips this Fall in Ontario.
3. Take the train
The Dream Catcher Express offers a fall colour train excursion between North Bay and Temagami on September 24,25,26 and October 1,2, and 3.
4. Biking
Take a tour, or bike on your own. Tie it in with checking out a few wineries on the Niagara Escarpment, now that’s an enjoyable combination.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Terracotta Army Invades the ROM


Recently I visited The Warrior Emperor and China’s Terracotta Army exhibit at Toronto, Ontario’s Royal Ontario Museum. I was not disappointed. This is the largest collection of artefacts relating to the Warrior Emperor ever displayed in North America. Included are ten life sized terracotta figures.

Discovered in 1974, the tomb of Warrior Emperor Ying Zheng is the largest tomb complex in China. Eight thousand full sized terracotta warriors and horses were buried with the first emperor over 2,200 years ago. Each figure is different.

The exhibit is well presented and includes film battle scene re-enactments and explanations by a filmed character of the time. Lighting of the actual terracotta figures adds a feeling of mystery and timelessness to the exhibit.

Check out the ROM’s Warrior Emperor exhibit which runs until January 2, 2011

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Save Money by Leasing a Car in Europe

Looking for the best rate for a car rental in Europe? If you need a car for more than three weeks, a lease may be the more economical option.

You can lease a new car for as short a period as 17 days; however it usually works out better than a rental when you lease for a month or more. These lease options are only available to people who live outside the European Union and visiting (not working) in the Union for more than 185 days in a twelve month period.

Car rentals often have a lot of additional charges added on top of the rental fees whereas leased cars usually include:
• Unlimited kilometres
• Full insurance in 43 countries
• No additional driver charges
• No upper age limit
• 24 hour roadside assistance
• Full factory warranty
• 34 delivery/return centres in Europe.

The two main buy back car leasing options are Peugeot and Renault. Check them out and save some money.

Friday, August 13, 2010

My Favourite Ontario Beach


If you think this beach is on Cape Cod or a tropical island, you’re wrong. This beautiful, sandy beach is Ontario’s own Long Point, a peninsula in Lake Erie, 45 km southwest of Simcoe.

Public beaches and a provincial park are located on this sandy spit. A United Nations recognized biosphere reserve, these sandy dunes and marshes are home to birds, fish, turtles and frogs. They are also rest stops for migrating birds in the spring and fall.

This week, the water was bathtub warm, probably because it’s shallow and you must walk a long way before it reaches your neck; ideal for young kids or just floating around on a blow-up mattress.

Long Point is the perfect place to spend a day or camp for awhile.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Get Packing with Eagle Creek




I enjoy travelling but I hate to pack and unpack. However, I’ve found something that makes the whole process a little easier. I love the Eagle Creek Pack-It system.

There are a number of different products in this system but my favourites are the folders and cubes.

I usually bring two folders on my travels; one for my tops and shorts and another for dresses, skirts and pants. I fold my clothes around the plastic board, so that the clothing is evenly stacked inside the folder, then when I need to take something out, I just slide the board into the stack above the top (or bottoms) I want to wear, and lift up. Your clothing and travel gear remain neatly folded and organized.

I find the cubes handy for my underwear, socks, bathing suits and accessories.

There are other brands available and space systems, but the affordable Pack-It system is my personal favourite.

The best part about using this type of system is that even if your suitcase falls apart, all its contents stay together.

Eagle Creek products can be found in many stores where luggage is sold. For supplier locations and more information, check out Eagle Creek's Web Site.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tea at the White House


A fancy tea makes one feel special. A close friend took me to The White House in Waterdown, Ontario for my birthday, an extravagant gift.

It was delightful to spend the afternoon enjoying this custom in a genteel atmosphere.

The tea shop held many interesting and unique tea related items not to mention a huge selection of premium loose leaf teas. They even had a series of tea house murder mysteries!

We ordered the high tea which included generous portions of delicate crustless cucumber and egg salad sandwiches on freshly baked whole wheat bread and salmon pate appetizers. The sweet portion consisted of English sweet scones served with Devon double cream and preserves, seasonal fruit (including strawberries from their own garden) and a selection of dainty but decadent sweets. I took home what we couldn’t finish.

The tea menu was extensive and included a huge selection of Black, Green, White, Oolong, Herbal, Rooibos and Tisanes. I chose a delicious Sticky Toffee Rooibos. I must admit to being tempted by the Bubblegum Tisane.

Our server was friendly and attentive.

This is the perfect location for an afternoon escape or a special treat to share with your family.

It is strongly suggested that you reserve ahead. The tea room is open Monday-Sunday from 11am-5pm. For prices, location and more information, check out The White House web site.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Writer's Holiday



I’m basking in the after glow of a fabulous week. No, I haven’t just returned from Paris, Hawaii or Prague. Instead, I’ve just completed a jam-packed week of seminars, critiques and classes with The Humber School for Writers.
This annual seven day program is described as “Jet fuel for the literary mind.” It didn’t disappoint. With prominent writers such as Elizabeth Abbott, David Bezmozgis, Wayson Choy, Anthony DeSa, Bruce Jay Friedman, Mary Gaitskill, Annabel Lyon, Alistair MacLeod, Richard Scrimger, Olive Senior, Marsha Skrypuch, Miriam Toews and M. G. Vassanji, an enlightening week was guaranteed. Sessions by successful agents and publishers were also extremely helpful. Pictured above is Anne Collins from Random House Canada and author Annabel Lyon.

It didn’t hurt that the included lunches were nutritional and delicious.

The combination of great teachers, a beautiful campus, fabulous food and kindred spirits, made this the perfect writers vacation. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bon Echo Provincial Park



This year we booked our Bon Echo campsite along with a large group of friends back in February. The camping trip is an annual group getaway which has a twenty year history, so it’s always important that we book our preferred campsites during the first few hours they are available. With Ontario Provincial Parks that’s five months in advance.

Bon Echo Provincial Park is located on Highway 41, 30km north of Kaladar. It’s the largest provincial park in eastern Ontario.

Located on Mazinaw Lake, Bon Echo has been a favourite of artists for well over a hundred years. It is also a big hit with rock climbers.

One of the park's highlights is the dramatic Mazinaw Rock which rises a hundred metres above the water and displays over 260 Aboriginal pictographs. Stunted trees, many over a hundred years old,vicariously grow out of the cliff side. Renting a canoe to check out the trees and rock paintings is a delightful way to spend an afternoon. You can even take a guided boat tour to learn more about these drawings. Nearby, a poem to Walt Whitman was carved into the rock decades ago by some of his friends and admirers.

There are many enjoyable hikes through the lush forests or cliff walks or you can relax on the beaches. If you’re lucky you may even see the five-lined skink which is Ontario’s only wild lizard.

Bon Echo has great facilities including boat launches, a shuttle ferry to the rock, showers, laundry facilities, a really interesting and often interactive visitor’s centre (I loved the match the poop to the animal activity), a well stocked store and most importantly, many flush toilets.

Whether you go for a day or stay a few nights, Bon Echo is truly an Ontario jewel.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Camping Anyone?

If you want a real budget vacation, try camping. Watch the blog for my latest camping advice and adventures.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Final Experiences of a Grade 8 Chaperone-Quebec City



EVENING OF DAY 3

5:15pm- We board the bus to a buffet restaurant. The girls look very sweet in their dresses. You can tell they spent much time and effort on their appearances…The boys look similar to how they did this morning. My son changed his shorts but that was only because he’d spilt a slushy on them during the day.

6:00pm- Supper time! The kids are pretty quiet, too busy munching I guess.

7:00pm- We arrive into the lower town. We have a free hour. Quebec City is so romantic…that is if you’re there without the 200 teenagers.

8:15pm- We board the boat. There are a number of schools on the boat for the dance, probably a good 800 kids, maybe more. Once again, the boat supplies a lot of uniformed chaperones. You’d have to be Tom Cruise to get into mischief with that many security staff watching. The teachers and parents have a private lounge they can go to when not walking around the dance floors.

We pull away from the dock and the DJ plays the Black Eyed Peas, “I’ve got a feeling, that tonight’s going to be a good night…” Everyone starts dancing, (except parents and teachers because that would be too weird).

The lights of Quebec City pass us as we glide down the St. Lawrence. The Chateau Frontenac looks amazing, almost magical at night.

10:30pm- Too soon it’s over. We pile onto school buses and head back to the hotel. It’s a full moon. We all check Montmorency (spelling???) Falls to try and see the ghost of the dancing bride. She’s supposed to be there when the moon’s full. No luck. I wonder if I would be able to see her after a few glasses of wine…something to try next time I’m in the area.

11:15pm- People crash awfully quickly. At least I did.

DAY 4

7:00am- The alarm goes. Everyone packs and we’re down to breakfast by 8:00am

9:00am- On the road again. It’s a pretty subdued group. Some of the kids watch movies, some sleep and others take pictures of the ones that are sleeping.

7:15pm- After a few food and bathroom breaks, we roll into the school parking lot. Tired but happy kids get off and head home.

The kids were well behaved. My son informed me that I behaved appropriately as well.

So, was the free trip worth the effort? Would I do it again?

You betcha! In a heartbeat!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Even More Experiences of a Grade 8 Chaperone- Quebec City




Day 3

6:45am- I wake to an overcast, rainy day.

7:45am- Everyone behaves in a civilized manner at breakfast.

8:45am- We board the bus and visit Chez Marie for some fresh baked bread and delicious maple butter.

9:45am- We arrive at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre. We are instructed to be very quiet when in the Basilica because mass is going on in the sanctuary. You can tell the adults are a little concerned about keeping a large group of fourteen year olds quiet.

The kids were wonderful. Respectful and soft spoken. The church was beautiful.

11:00am- Lunch time.

12:15 pm- We stop at the house that was the inspiration/replica for the Adam’s Family home and take some great pictures. It’s actually up for sale!

Next we visit Atelier Pare where we learn a bit about the French Canadian sculptor and legends.

The rain actually stopped for our visit to St.-Anne Canyon. The canyon and waterfalls were beautiful. They reminded me of Athabaska Falls in the Rockies. The kids enjoyed the suspension bridges.

2:15pm- We returned to hotel to rest and clean up for our big final night. We go to a Chinese buffet for supper, then on to the big dance on the boat. I can hear the girls busily getting dressed and putting on their make-up; brings back memories.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Adventures of a Grade 8 Chaperon-Quebec City



Day 2

6:00am- Alarm rings. I slept through the night but there had been one disturbance at about 1:15am. A group of boys had been making crank calls to the front desk.

7:00am- My son refuses to make eye contact at breakfast. That’s ok, he’s acting like a typical 14 year old.
The hot and cold buffet is quite good. There’s a choice of many items including crepes, yogurt, cereal, bacon, sausages, home fries, scrambled eggs, pain au chocolat, juice and lots of fruit.
I sighted our bus driver at breakfast. Hopefully this means our bus is fixed or else it will be an extra long walking tour of Quebec City.

8:00am- We head out to Quebec City. It’s overcast but warm. We tour the Citadel. After a re-enactment (without weapons) of the battle on the Plains of Abraham, we meet our local tour guide. As she begins her tour some of the girls notice a used condom on the street and start to squeal. Some of the boys kick it which makes them squeal even more….We move the tour to another location.

Noon: After touring the upper and lower city we have free time. I grab a quick bite and savour the atmosphere in the lower town and check out the inside (and ghost stories) of the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

2:00pm-We meet up to tour Chateau Frontenac. The students are tired and some of the guys are restless. My son informs me that I have been well behaved so far.

3:00pm-Free time again. I walk the Chateau boardwalk, taking in the views and return to the old town. I discover a shop selling French linens. The prices are a lot higher than they were in France. I guess to save money, I should go back to France to purchase my linens….hmmm, I wonder if my husband would buy that viewpoint.

4:30pm-We take the bus to the Sugar Shack. It’s an hour and a half drive. Many of the kids (and I) fall asleep.

6:00pm- We arrive at La Cabane a Pierre (the Sugar Shack). After a short tour and explanation of the maple syrup process we head into the cedar log cabin hall for supper. A band performs lively French Canadian tunes while students play on the spoons.
Supper is served family style at the tables. Our feast included pea soup, sausages, ham, potatoes, eggs, baked beans, tourtiere which we drizzle with maple syrup. Yum.
Soon everyone was up and dancing to the chicken dance, Makarena and YMCA. What a hoot!
We all had maple syrup toffee served from troughs of snow before driving back to our hotel.

10:43pm- It’s pretty quiet in the halls. I think their pooped. What a fabulous day.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Experiences of a Grade 8 Chaperone-Quebec City



As mentioned in the last post, my summer holiday budget was eaten up by the purchase of a new roof. Desperate for a holiday, I’ve offered my services as a chaperone for my son’s grade 8 school trip to Quebec City.

DAY 1

6:35am- My son gives last minute instructions on appropriate parental chaperoning behaviour: Don’t talk to him unless it’s to offer the use of my Visa card, Don’t sit anywhere near him, Don’t relate any childhood stories, Keep my mouth shut if I plan to doze on the bus…heaven forbid that I should drool or something.

6:40am-We arrive at the parking lot. My son grabs his luggage and jumps out of the car before my husband and I can demonstrate any form of affection. After kissing my husband goodbye, I notice four buses lined up, ready for the twelve hour drive. A teacher informs me that there are 200 students on the trip.

7:10am I see it as a good sign that after doing sooooo many of these school trips, the bus drivers and tour guides are still smiling and friendly. The kids name the bus, The Bat Mobile.

10:25am- I’m pleasantly surprised. The 47 fourteen year olds on my bus are really well behaved. I actually manage to enjoy a conversation with the vice principal and to read three trashy magazines

10:30am- We stop for a 20 minute snack and bathroom break. Deciding which fine dining establishment to eat at was a tough choice. McDonald’s is inundated with at least 100 kids. The others disperse to a few of the alternative restaurants.

11:00am- Seven buses are lined up in the parking lot. I’m about to get on one before I notice that none of the students look familiar. I take my place in the bus beside it.

11:10am- Refreshed by our 20 minute break, we hit the road again.

5:55pm- We stop three more times for food and washroom breaks. I enjoy more reading, snoozing (with my mouth firmly shut), and movie watching. I notice a dinging sound coming from the bus dashboard. We are half an hour away from our hotel.

6:00pm- The bus breaks down. We pull over to the side of the highway. Everyone stays calm and the bus driver goes out to check up on the Bat Mobile. I continue to read a few more chapters of my book.

6:30pm- We’re on the road again.

6:55pm- Our hotel is on a hill. We notice the bus moving slower and slower as cars continue to speed past us. I start to question whether we’ll make it to the top or not. The group chants, I think I can, I think I can….

7:00pm- We arrive. I quietly hum The Wheels on the Bus as I go to my room and clean up for supper.

8:00pm- After a buffet meal, my chaperone duties continue at the dance.

9:30pm- The kids all head up to their rooms. Everyone seems to be too pooped to boogie.

So far, so good.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Off to Quebec City


Tough times call for creative measures.

Recently my family had to spring for a new roof which ate up the summer vacation budget. Being a travel addict, I knew I needed to think out of the box to get a trip fix.

Next week, I’ll be a volunteer chaperone on my son’s grade 8 school trip to Quebec City. I’m pretty excited. The agenda is action packed, the teachers are fun and interesting people, the students are a relatively well behaved group and I love Quebec City.

If you too are trying to come up with a way to travel on the smallest of budgets, let me recommend a great book called You Can Travel Free by Robert William Kirk. The book was written twelve years ago but still is great for helping you come up with current free travel opportunities. Kirk’s ideas open the doors to unique and innovative ways to see the world. Flexibility and an open mind are required if you take this route.

To order the book, you need to go on line. Try Amazon.com.

In the mean-time, watch for my next posts from Quebec City.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lavender Boutique in Niagara-on-the-Lake



Sometimes stopping somewhere on a whim can lead to a really neat discovery.

Recently, when travelling with friends to Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada we spotted a sign for Neob Lavender Boutique. We hit the brakes, pulled a u-ey and made a stop.

Not only did we find a lovely boutique filled with lavender products and foods, but were also offered a free tour of the growing area.

We were introduced to a number of different lavender plants and shown the distillery. Neob also grows different plants which they use in their products including calendula, lemongrass, luffah and more.

The free tour was an educational and fun experience and the boutique had many tempting products. This was a great way to spend a half hour.

For more information check out Neob Lavender Boutique's web site.

If you want to find out some really interesting facts about the history of lavender, check out travellingrubberchicken.com.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Multi-Purpose Plastic Ties to the Rescue


We all know not to lock our luggage when travelling by plane, just in case security needs to check it.

This makes me feel a tad vulnerable because it would be so quick and easy for someone to zip open my bag and grab something.

My sister gave me a suggestion for a cheap and simple deterrent: multipurpose self-locking plastic ties.

Wrap these around the suitcase zipper heads to keep them closed. If security decides to search your luggage, they can cut the ties. It does however, make it just a little more difficult for a thief to get in.

You can find these ties for under $3.00 in most hardware stores.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wine Country for a Special Anniversary



It feels like summer in Southern Ontario. The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming and the air is hot. Perfect weather for celebrating my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary!

We rented a stretch limo and took the family for a tour of the wineries around the Niagara Escarpment. My sister and I had scouted out the area and chose three beautiful locations: Angels Gate Winery, Stoney Ridge Estate Winery and Vineland Estates.

We had chosen Angels Gate because of its beautiful landscape and pond. The pond was filled with frogs and animals which we knew would keep the kids interested while the adults sipped their wine. The estate also had a lovely patio overlooking the vines. Unfortunately, due to traffic, we had to miss this stop in order to keep to our schedule.

TIP: If you’re on a schedule, always build in extra time for QEW traffic.

Our first stop was the privately owned Stoney Ridge Estate Winery which just happened to have a complimentary chocolate, cheese and wine sampling weekend event scheduled. We called ahead to make a reservation for our group of ten. The gardens were lovely and the friendly staff outdid themselves. Three umbrella covered tables in one of the gardens were prepared for us. Mike, our knowledgeable host, paired our wines with three different types of cheese and chocolate. He instructed us on the best way to enjoy the qualities of the white, rose, red and ice wine. Delicious!

Our next stop was the elegant restaurant of The Inn on the Twenty in the town of Jordan. The lush escarpment view from the restaurant added to the pleasure of a good meal.

Our last stop was Vineland Estates Winery where for $3.00 per person you can sample four different wines. Once again, we were surrounded by breath-taking views of the vines and countryside.

One can easily spend a whole weekend in this winery filled area. It’s the perfect place for a romantic weekend or to celebrate a special occasion. For more information check out the Wines of Ontario web site.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Eiffel Tower or Awful Tower: You Decide


When in Paris, you can’t miss the Eiffel Tower. However, there’s more than one way to see this famous landmark and not all of them are enjoyable.

Take our trip for example. My husband and I were visiting the City of Light with our then seven and ten year old boys. Of course they wanted to go to the top of the Tower. It was July and we knew there would be line-ups but a web site suggested going either in the early morning or at night for shorter waits.

At 8:30pm we stood in a long line-up to buy tickets. Over an hour later, we finally purchased tickets to go all the way to the top floor. The kids were already restless.

Packed like sardines, we waited in line again to catch the elevator to go to the second floor. The view was great from the second floor but our enjoyment was spoilt by people butting in line and shoving to get to the top floor. By 11:00pm the whole family were downright cranky and we hadn’t made it to the top. I looked at my husband and said, “Why are we standing here. This isn’t fun anymore. Let’s go home.”

To add insult to injury, we had to stand in line for the elevator to take us down!

That night we dubbed the tower, The Awful Tower.

Not wanting to leave Paris on bad terms with the Eiffel’s masterpiece, we decided to try one more time. We packed a picnic snack with a nice bottle of wine and at 9:55pm, went to watch The Eiffel Tower’s light show from Trocadero.

Other people had the same idea and the decks were packed.

About three minutes before the light show began, the sky opened and warm rain pelted down. That cleared the place out fast. Only our family and another couple remained.

Through the downpour, the lights came on and the Iron Lady twinkled like a diamond beacon. Lighting flashed around the tower, adding extra drama. What an intoxicating sight! Although soaked we laughed, sipped wine and the boys danced in the rain. It was magic.

In 2008 almost 14 million people visited the tower. The 10 minute light show takes place once an hour from sunset to 1:00 am, (2:00am in the summer). Check the website for times.

Finally, the Eiffel Tower added the option to buy tickets on line.

Go to the official Eiffel Tower website to check out Tower facts and history, show times, ticket prices and to buy your tickets on line.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lilac Festival at the Royal Botanical Gardens


Lilacs are a sure sign that spring is really here. Who can resist the sweet smell as these bushes show off their beautiful blooms?

One of my favourite places to enjoy the blossoms is at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario. These gardens offer the world’s largest collection of lilacs and this weekend is the beginning of their annual Lilac Festival.

Enjoy entertainment, food and much more as you explore the dell on May 15, 16, 22, 23 and 24th from 10am-5pm. You can purchase tickets at the RBC or buy them on line.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Three Day Air France Sale

For three days only, Air France is offering round-trip flights from Toronto or Montreal to Abu Dhabi, Beirut or Cairo including all taxes starting at $850.00. The best part is, you can even take advantage of a free stop-over in Paris, France.

Travel must be taken between September 10 and December 10, 2010. This offer is only available if booked by May 10, 2010.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Art Gallery of Ontario for Free

Looking for something free and cultural to do in the heart of Toronto? The Art Gallery of Ontario may be just the ticket.

Permanent collections at the gallery are free to the public on Wednesday evenings between 6-8:30pm. If you are an Ontario high school student, with valid ID you can see the permanent collections for free, daily from 3-5:30pm. Ontario Teachers with valid ID are always free.

To find out admission fees, hours of operation, current exhibitions and see gallery layout just go onto the AGO website.

Friday, April 30, 2010

King Tut Exhibition


Yesterday, I went to the King Tut Exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

It was enjoyable and well done. Besides King Tut, the exhibit highlighted artifacts from other pharaohs and queens.

I found paying the extra $6.00 for the audio tour well worth the money. Give yourself at least an hour and a half, preferably two, to give the exhibit justice.

Unfortunately , the exhibit’s only in Toronto until May 2. However, you can still see King Tut Exhibitions in New York City and Denver until January 2, 2011.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bahamas on Sale


Sometimes it’s expensive to live in Canada, especially when it comes to travel.

Here’s a perfect example.

Currently the Bahamas Tourist Board has a special; book a minimum four night package at participating hotels by May 10 for travel ending no later that December 22, 2010 and receive one free companion flight.

There’s a large selection of hotels to choose from including Atlantis. I’d been to Atlantis before and loved it. It’s a wonderful place for both families and couples.

To sweeten the deal, Atlantis has a coinciding special of a fourth night free.

It gets better. Some packages give $650 in free add on activities which include two dolphin interactive programs, two free dinners, sunset martinis and more.

To get the free companion ticket, the whole package including flights needs to be booked through the hotel.

Victor, a friendly agent at Atlantis found me an great deal on a four day package in the Beach Tower section.

This is where it gets expensive for Canadians.

The cost for a family of two adults and two kids under 11, flying on Air Canada out of Toronto is $5935.90. HOWEVER if the same family were to fly out of Buffalo on US Air with the same package it would only cost $2,392.00. That’s less than half price.

Lesson learned: If you live close to the US border, always compare prices on flights from both the Canadian airport and the closest US one. The money saved could be worth the extra hour or two it takes to catch your flight.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Paris Apartments


Is Paris on your mind? I’m not talking about Paris Hilton. Think romantic, exciting Paris, France.

Hotel accommodation in the ‘City of Lights’ can be expensive. Private apartments are the way to go. Many of these rentals are located in the centre of all the action. We’ve rented apartments that were less than a five minute walk from the Louvre or Notre Dame and only paid $800 CAD for the week!

Not only do you save on accommodations, you also save money with a kitchen or kitchenette and usually get more space for your travel dollar.

Residences Paris is a good site to begin your apartment search. For other world-wide
privately rented accommodation sites, check out my February 19th post, Book Privately and Save a Bundle.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Hospitality Exchange


I have always been interested in trip hospitality exchanges but have never done one. From what I see on the internet, exchange visits seem to be geared towards the single traveller.

I love the idea of staying with a resident family. Through conversation and friendship, I believe you get a much richer experience and better understanding of a place.

For this post, I’m going to throw a question out to you. Have you ever heard of an exchange program that is geared towards families? Have you done one? What was it like?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Gatorland


My kids love Gatorland in Orlando, Florida. It’s a great way to spend half a day (or longer) and at $23.00 per adult and $15.00 per child, it’s a real deal.

This privately owned, 110 acre theme park has more than just alligators. Besides the Alligator Island, the breeding marsh and the nature swamp walk, there are also entertaining and educational shows, flamingos, a barnyard petting area, snake displays and, my kids favourite, an aviary of friendly Lorikeets. There’s even a splash park.

The boys enjoyed trying gator meat at one of the snack bars.

Gatorland has a fabulous web site with all kinds of information, history and fun facts. They even supply some great educational links but best of all is the live gator cam.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Lakehouse Restaurant at Science North


The Lakehouse Restaurant at Science North in Sudbury is beautifully located on the shores of Lake Ramsey. The view was lovely. If only the same could be said for my meal.

Preferring quality over fast food, we decided to have a late lunch at this restaurant. My father ordered the steak sandwich and I decided on the Pad Thai recommended by the waitress.

Bad choice. The Pad Thai was probably one of the blandest I’ve eaten. There was even a small puddle of soup-like liquid underneath the noodles. Where were the spices, fish sauce, and egg? One positive; the four shrimps in the dish were not over done.

The waitress came by to ask about our meals. My father said his was enjoyable; steak perfectly done and smothered in mushrooms. I said that mine was disappointing and explained why. The waitress apologised and said that she had thought the dish was good because it was the only Pad Thai she’d ever sampled.

Later, I asked if she had told the chef. She said yes but didn’t expand on her answer. There was no attempt to compensate for my meal, (which I couldn’t finish).

A comment card was delivered with our bill. I filled it in with my comments and email address. Four days later, I’ve not had a response. I’m not holding my breath.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Banff for Free


One of the things I love about Banff, Alberta is that many of the best things to do are free.

Go For a Walk or Hike: There are so many trails to choose from all with fabulous scenery. I especially enjoy the trails along the river, on Tunnel Mountain (perfect for viewing the hoodoos) and around the Cave and Basin.

Check out the Banff Springs Hotel: It costs nothing to walk through the beautiful halls and many gorgeous rooms of the historical Banff Springs Hotel. Many of the large windows have tables and chairs just begging you to sit and soak up the view. My sister and I played a few rounds of our favourite board game there.

Enjoy the scenic drives: There are so many to choose from in the area. In the summer, I love to drive through the Banff Springs Golf Course and check out some of the world’s most scenic golf holes.

Browse the shops on Banff Avenue: Ok, if you buy something it’s not free but there are so many neat Canadian Rocky displays including life sized stuffed animals, skeletons, fossils and more. I always enjoy watching the fudge being made (and trying samples) at the Fudgery and can never resist popping into Welch’s Candy Store for their huge selection of old fashioned (and new) sweets.

Banff Natural History Museum: (Small Fee) Both adults and kids would enjoy this small, historical collection of preserved native animals.

Cave and Basin: (Small Fee) An enjoyable exhibit highlighting local Rocky Mountain history. Also includes information and viewing of the Banff Spring Snails found only in this area.

Free Yoga Lessons: Lululemon offers yoga lessons when the store is closed. Although very popular, the class I attended was geared more towards an intermediate level. My version of “Bird of Paradise” was more like “Moulting Crow”. Check the store for schedules.

This is just a short list of Banff offerings. I’d love to hear your tips on things to do for free (or next to free) in the Banff area.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Rocky Mountain Deal



Often people think it’s expensive to stay in Banff but that’s not always the case.

This past weekend my sister and I stayed at the Tunnel Mountain Resort. We had a one bedroom condo with a wood burning fireplace, full kitchen, bathroom, jacuzzi, dining area, pull out couch, balcony and separate bedroom. Despite it being the Alberta public school winter break, we still only paid a total of $184.00 for both Sunday and Monday night.

Although our condo could do with some refurbishing, it was clean and spacious with a comfortable bed. The management even included some extras such as a generous portion of firewood.

Earlier we had checked out their Executive Suite. It was brand spanking new with a steam shower, electric fireplace, microwave and small fridge. Although it was a more luxurious suite, my sister and I chose the more spacious condo with the kitchen.

Resort facilities include a pool, exercise room, bbqs, hot tubs and sauna, not to mention wonderful views. The staff were friendly and accommodating.

My sister found this deal on Expedia.ca.

I’ve left the best to last. On our first night a herd of Elk made an appearance right in front of our balcony. You just gotta love that Rocky Mountain experience.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mingling with Wildlife At Banff National Park


I'm currently visiting Banff National Park. Watch this site for all kinds of Banff tips and activities.

Friday, March 26, 2010

An Evening of Literary Entertainment


Looking for an enjoyable evening with a low price tag? Author reading nights may be just the thing for you.

Traditionally held in a café, up and coming writer’s present excerpts from their works. Often numerous genres are highlighted throughout the evening…all for the price of a coffee.

Two sites that announce Café nights in and around Toronto are Sherry Isaac’s Wildflower and Brian Henry’s Quick Brown Fox. Prana Coffee also holds monthly readings. To find an author’s reading night in your area, just google ‘author cafe reading event’ and the name of your town or city.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Eastern Delight in Oakville


A delicious all you can eat meal, great service, and budget price is what I received at Oakville, Ontario’s Eastern Japanese & Asian Fusion Restaurant.

The staff is charming. Although service is fast and friendly, you never feel rushed. I’ve enjoyed both quick forty minute and leisurely two hour meals here.

Options from either the menu or all you can eat meals are available. The all you can eat lunch or dinner options offer numerous selections from Soup, Salad, Appetiser, Tempura, Teppanyaki and Desert categories. Non-alcoholic beverages are also included in the price.

Customers check off their selections from a pre-printed menu and food is brought to the table at regular intervals. If you’re still hungry after eating your choices, it’s no problem to order more.

Lunch is served daily from 11:00am-3:30pm. The cost is $11.99 per adult (seniors over 65 and children under 9 are $8.99, 2-4 year olds $2.99). Add $2.00 on weekends and public holidays.

An extended menu with even more choice and exotic sushi is offered for Dinner. The cost is $19.99 per adult (senior $17.99, children $10.99 and 2-4 year olds $4.99). Add $2.00 on weekends and public holidays.

Take out options are available.

With its delectable food, enjoyable atmosphere and great price, visiting this restaurant can easily become a habit.

Eastern Japanese & Asian Fusion Restaurant is located on the south/east corner of Ford and Royal Windsor Drives in Oakville. Phone (905)337-8888.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Relaxing at Deerhurst Resort



Over March Break, we spent a few nights at Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, Ontario. We purchased the March Break Maple Sugar Package and stayed in a junior suite.

At over $450.00 for two nights, this was not a budget getaway.

With relaxation as our main objective, the resort filled the bill. The weather was beautiful and despite being off-season, the surroundings were still gorgeous. Summer, fall and winter would be breath-taking. We took full advantage of the views from Algonquin chairs on the pavilion deck.

Our suite was clean and well laid out, however the décor could benefit with some up-dating. The beds were blissfully comfortable, and I appreciated the crisp white sheets and duvet. The gas fireplace was also enjoyed as was the wireless internet.

The Sugar Bush tour included in the package was well done and my kids took full advantage of the unlimited apple cider, muffins and maple taffy offered at the end of the tour.

Activities were pricey.

The pool was large but often crowded as was the hot tub.

My boys enjoyed the large chess board set up in one of the halls. Ping pong tables and a play area, mostly geared to younger kids, were also available.

The spa was everything a spa is supposed to be; relaxing and pampering. My hand treatment and eyebrow shaping were skilfully done. Like the activities, spa services were also pricey.

At the end of the day, Deerhurst provided a relaxing getaway in a beautiful setting.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Going Wild



Today was a perfect day to visit the Toronto Zoo. The sun was out, the air warm and both humans and animals were in high spirits.

The Toronto Zoo never fails to delight and always seems to have some type of upgrade in the works. I’ve never visited and not discovered something new.

Today we were entertained by the Polar Bears along the Tundra Trek, the gorillas including an adorable six month old baby in the African Rainforest Pavilion and the Orang-utans in the Indo-Malayan Pavilion. The Australasia Pavilion had wonderfully revamped aquarium exhibits including seahorses and jelly fish.

It was well worth the cost of just under $80.00 for a family of four, including parking. An even better deal is a one year family membership for $135.00. This membership includes discounts offered at other Zoos and Aquariums.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Choose Your Shoes Carefully


I love shoes. Unfortunately, now I’m paying for years of high heels and cheap but fashionable footwear. Like many middle-agers, I need to be careful about what I wear.

When travelling with airline luggage weight restrictions, you have to choose your shoes carefully. Footwear must be comfortable, have good support and be versatile.

I’ve become a huge fan of Mephisto shoes which carry both women’s and men’s styles. Although they’re not cheap, it's money well spent. In Canada, a pair of sandals usually starts around $170.00 but are often 40-50% less in Europe. This is true for many high-quality, European brand shoes. I always save space in my suitcase to bring back one or two pairs.

If you're going on a trip that includes a lot of walking, don’t cheap out on your shoes. There's nothing like sore feet to ruin a fabulous vacation.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Weigh your Options


Have you ever had your bags weighed at the airport only to find you’re a few pounds over? That happened to me in London and I was given the choice to either get rid of five books or pay 50 pounds sterling (over $100.00 CAD).

Airlines frequently charge baggage overage fees. In the past I’ve gotten around this by moving things to family members with lighter suitcases. However, it’s a bit awkward opening your suitcase in public for all to see as you make the transfer.

I’ve since purchased an inexpensive luggage scale with attached tape measure. Now I weigh baggage and make adjustments in privacy before I’m at the airport. The scale also keeps my desire to buy heavy items in check.

You can find luggage scales in most baggage and travel stores.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

London's Historic Royal Palaces Membership


Do you have a trip planned to London? You may just want to buy the Historic Royal Palaces membership which covers the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace.

These sights are also included in the 55 attractions of the London Pass which costs 82 pounds sterling per adult or 58 pounds per child for a six day period (other periods available).

You could easily spend three to four hours each to properly visit the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace. Depending on how many attractions you can realistically visit in one day, the London Pass might not be your best deal and the Historic Royal Palaces membership may be the way to go.

For example, if you were to stand in line and buy admissions for a family of four to Hampton Court and on another day to the Tower of London, it would cost 85 pounds for a one time visit to both sights. The Royal Palaces family membership (up to two adults and three children) costs 77 pounds and lasts for one year. The pass includes discounts at the gift shops, the privilege of skipping the regular admission line and includes entrance to the other royal palaces.

Sounds like a deal to me.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Save those Coupons

I have often saved travel dollars by using local coupon books. Generally the best savings are found in the local discount books that you purchase such as the Entertainment Book. Coupon books such as the Entertainment Book are more of a North American thing but you can still search on line to see if there are any available for your international destination. You can also find discount attraction books at airports and travel sights.

In the past, our family even found a buy one flight on Hawaiian Airlines, get the second free. I haven’t seen that deal for awhile, however there are often many other deals. The book often pays for itself with the use of just two or three coupons.

Check on line to see what offerings the book contains. If you have an idea of the sights or services you are interested in, you can evaluate its worth to you.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Save Money with City Passes


I love City Passes. Not only can you can save money on some of the most popular attractions, in many cases you also save valuable holiday time by front of line advancement privileges.

Some cities (such as Paris) have more than one city pass option, so it’s a good idea to check out the benefits and decide which program best suits your family.

Decide first what sights you’re interested in and check out how many are on the city pass. This can also assist you in deciding which duration of the pass to choose. You often have a choice of passes which include different museums and attractions.

Some passes have public transportation built in. Before you buy a program, decide how far apart your preferred attractions are and how often you’ll use public transit. How much walking do you want to do? Certain city’s major sights are in fairly close proximity. Paris, Edinburgh and Prague are great examples of this. Do a little advance research and decide whether you’ll use the transit or not, after all, you don’t want to pay for something you’re not going to use.

Surprisingly, my favourite feature of these passes is not the financial savings but the time savings. There is something beautiful about advancing to the front of the line. In Paris, we saved over an hour of line-up time at both Versailles and the Louvre. Too bad the Eiffel Tower wasn’t on the program…but that’s another story.

You can usually buy the passes on location or ahead of time, on-line.

To research whether your destination city has a pass (or choice of passes), just google the city name with the word ‘pass’.

A city pass is not for everyone so take a few minutes to research it. It may just be your ticket to a more enjoyable and economic visit.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Spend those Reward Points



I am not alone in my love of airline rewards points. Air Canada’s ‘Aeroplan’ program has over 4 million active members.

Many people save their travel rewards points year after year as they fantasize about an exotic future trip. This isn’t a good idea.

Did you know that in certain circumstances you can lose your points? Each reward program is unique so read the fine print of your specific program carefully.

Some programs, have an expiration date. Aeroplan’s expiry is seven years after the points were earned. With Jet Blue’s ‘True Blue’ program, you lose your point balance if you don’t redeem them within a year of your last flight. There are often ways to extend the period such as joining an affiliated credit card program, which in True Blue’s case keeps your points active up to 12 months after your last credit card activity.

Many programs also have a rule that if your account is inactive for a certain period of time, your points are lost. For example, if there is no activity in your Air Canada ‘Aeroplan’ account for 12 months you lose your points. You can easily keep your account going by simply buying juice or something else from a partner and inputting the purchase. Check out the Choose More program.

Depending on the situation, you can sometimes have the points reinstated. It never hurts to ask.

People worry that they’ll lose their points if the airline goes bankrupt. All airlines include a clause in their program agreements stating that they can change or cancel the reward program on short notice.

Many industries don’t want consumers to lose confidence in these programs because reward points are a huge customer incentive with a relatively small airline liability since upwards of 17% of airline points are never claimed. As a matter of fact, most airlines make a nice bundle by selling points to credit card, hotel, car rental and other companies not to mention the banks. These affiliated businesses use the points as their own customer incentives. If a floundering airline is acquired by another airline, the account points are usually also taken over

The greatest danger of losing points happens if an airline liquidates.

My advice is to make the most of your points and use them as soon as you can, thereby saving yourself the worry of expiration or airline liquidation.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Book Privately and Save a Bundle




Our family first booked privately owned accommodations when we discovered that my eldest son had serious food allergies. We needed a kitchen.

Privately owned accommodations can be houses, townhouses, condos, apartments and sometimes timeshares.

It didn’t take long to realize that we had just found one of the best ways to save money on accommodations and food. Not only do we pay less than by booking a hotel room, but we usually get more space and save hundreds of dollars by preparing some of our meals. Instead of sharing two beds with the kids in a one room hotel unit, we can get a one bedroom apartment that sleeps four and has a kitchen and family room for the same or less cost as the hotel.

There are many sites where you can find these accommodations. One of the best known is Vacation Rentals By Owners (VRBO), where we found Carolyn Banfalvi’s apartment that we rented in Budapest. We’ve booked accommodations including Hawaii, Florida and across Europe from this site alone

Other fabulous sites are Home Away, Flipkey, Only-Apartments, OMGtravel and Vacation Rentals to name a few. Once you have chosen a destination, just Google search “Vacation Rentals by Owners and the name of your location”. You’ll find many local sites this way.

Thoroughly read the descriptions and when you send an inquiry for your dates, make sure you ask for the TOTAL cost to rent including all taxes and any extra fees. You can often find reviews of your accommodation on line.

Most private accommodation will rent for as little as 3 nights and you can usually negotiate better prices if you rent for more than a week. If it’s a slow time of year or the renter is trying to fill a period of odd days between rental periods, you can also work out lower prices or get cleaning fees or taxes waived.

Check it out. For our family, it is the way to go.