Christmas Day Masai Mara

Christmas Day Masai Mara
visiting with the Masai women

Welcome to my world!

i love to travel and i love to help others do the same.

whether it's a quick trip to Anguilla for sun and sand, a honeymoon in Tahiti, a safari on the Serengeti, a small ship luxury or expedition cruise to a remote corner of the world - I am here to help you realize your dream vacation!

what a wonderful world we live in and I am so lucky to be working in a field that let's me explore it.

why not come along with me?



Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Shangri-La Hotel Vancouver

Shangri-La Hotel -  Vancouver 

Earlier in the Spring I had the opportunity to stay at the two Shangri-La properties in Canada. My first stay was in March at the Shangri-La Vancouver and I must say I was very impressed. The hotel is stunning and it sits in the heart of the city accessible to pretty much everything. It is a shared building - 15 floors of hotel topped with privately owned condominiums.

The staff is professional and discreet - always there when you need them but never obviously waiting for you or on you. When arriving by car the access is not straightforward and there is some construction in the area, facts that can be annoying to some.  A quick call ahead can help alleviate any potential confusion. The hotel provides Mercedes car service for guests within a certain radius of the hotel – I love this amenity and am glad to see more luxury hotels offering it.

There are nine categories of  the 119 rooms and suites. Even the entry level rooms are large at 400 s.f. and some come with balconies. They are comfortable with subdued d├ęcor and provide everything a business or leisure traveller needs in a hotel room and some things often forgotten – like a toothbrush. Heat, air conditioning, lighting and drapery is controlled at the door and bedside and is designed to be energy efficient- operates with your key card and shuts off when you leave the room. There are thoughtful design features like individual lights on the headboard, so one person can read without waking their partner.

The rooms have a large main TV and one in the mirror in the bathroom. The desk is large, well lighted and equipped. The plugs are plentiful and accessible. The hotel incorporated many environmental design features in the building to lessen their carbon footprint and although they currently provide individual plastic water and bath amenity bottles they are working on a water filtration system and biodegradable packaging for amenities.

The bathrooms are luxurious marble rooms with private toilet, rain shower, a large tub and vanity with double sinks. In the closet there is a laptop size safe, umbrellas, shoeshine kit, iron and board and lots of good hangers. There is a Nespresso coffee machine with three coffee roast options and good quality teas – cream/milk is in the bar fridge which is not the kind that charges you as soon as you move something!

The hotel offers a well-equipped fitness room (open 24 hours) with a certified trainer on staff and a variety of daily classes for guests at no charge. There is a small outdoor pool and whirlpool with deck and chairs; the change rooms are large and comfortable with sauna, steam and shower facilities. There is also a snack and juice bar.

I did not get a chance to try the spa – Chi - open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. It looked and smelled heavenly; I think there will have to be a visit next time!

The hotel entrance and check-in is on the lower level where you would drive in. It is a small, subdued comfortable space. I entered one level above this from the street – this is where the main lobby and concierge desk are and up a few stairs is the bar and restaurant ‘Market’ by Jean Georges. It is all very beautiful space - unfortunately, I did not have time to linger and enjoy the food and service.

I would highly recommend this Virtuoso hotel to my clients for their next stay in Vancouver.

Toronto review coming.

Ultimate Girl's Getaway - Fairmont Montebello, April 2014

Finally figured out how to get this posted to my blog - YAY! The countdown has begun - the time to book is now! 

Monday, May 20, 2013

My guest comments on Un-Cruise Adventures

I never thought I could like a cruise, much less one in the Hawaiian Islands.  However, after a week with Un-Cruise Adventures travelling from Hawaii to Molokai, Maui and Lanai, I stand corrected.  I loved this cruise.

Notes From a Convert.

First of all this is a small ship - it is built on a human scale.  You could happily jump overboard without repercussion. When the whales come in close - they are right there, you think you could touch them.  The ship is comfortable, intimate and efficient; but, if you tire of your fellow passengers, there are lots of spots to get away and be on your own.

On our first full day heading south to Kailua Kona a pod of pilot whales makes a rare appearance, their dorsal fins shaped like French curves.  Captain Jeff scotches our pace, letting us know we will hang with these guys for a while.  And here I learn the first of many great things about the Un-Cruise crew – they are flexible.

Okay, also, Captain Jeff is some kind of a whale nut.   An expert on the subject, he keeps an open bridge and will happily share his knowledge with any interested company.  You could spend the entire cruise on the bridge if you like and emerge a mini- Wikipedia of whaledom.

There is a nice amount of people on the ship, kind of like an extra-large family but less annoying.  Our particular group was full of character and if any one of them were to show up at my door, I would invite them in, no question.  

Then there’s THE CREW.
They all looked about twelve years old to me, but they are seriously professional. 
And busy. If they aren’t teaching yoga or educating on wildlife and snorkel gear, they’re kayaking at your side so you can swim back to the boat (instead of riding in the zodiac) or naming all the fish and pointing out the sea turtles.

They mix killer cocktails and manhandle you across boulders and high water because you-have-got-to-see-the-waterfall. And they never let any conversation with their local friends, our tour guides or any of us, twist in the wind. They are funny and happy and attentive, irreverent, approachable and available; somehow always there if you need them and yet never in the way.  Like magic!

The daily itinerary occasionally included something called “down” time, but I personally never experienced it. There is a lot to do and see in and around the warm Hawaiian waters.   We take a zodiac, piloted by the comedy team of Sean and Buddha, off to a special select aquatic haven where we snorkel around with the spinner dolphins (!) and a bazillion fish.  Here is marine life in every color and shape imaginable including something that looks a lot like my high school math teacher.

We kayak with the humpback whales. We crew outrigger canoes into the surf at sunset - paddle down, count 15 and change!  Synchronization suffers a bit - counting to 15 is not so easy for everyone.

One breezy starry night, we hang in the ocean off the edges of a surfboard, splayed out like the tentacles of a flattened sea anemone. We are waiting for the mighty manta rays to shoot up from below and “kiss’ us.  The ocean floor is lit up like an underwater fireworks as the divers below us move through the depths placing lights to attract plankton – ray food.  It is dazzling.

Our trips onto land turn out to be just as special due in no small part to excellent relationships cultivated with the local residents.  We are guided and entertained by these local friends, most of whom could play Comedy Central, no problem.

Upon arrival on Molokai we are greeted by Auntie - she of the cryptic smile and even more cryptic philosophy.  Our tour guide on the island is Thadd - he has seven children, five he delivered himself.  True story.  Every time we pass a car it is driven by one of his relatives. The adored Anakala Pilipo welcomes us to into the sacred Halawa Valley, greeting us solemnly in the traditional manner and then joshing us for being so serious.  I get the feeling we are an ongoing source of amusement to these people.  Pilipo teaches us how to make poi. There’s a vegetable I can live without. 
We attend a Pa’ina one evening at the cultural center with music and dance and food so different it must be genuine.  The young daughter of our hostess starts to sing, is shy, laughs and then starts again.  Her voice is astonishing.

Danny Akaka makes a surprise lunch hour visit, along with his wife who dances hula while he plays the ukulele and sings.  He speaks of his father, Daniel Akaka, the first senator of native Hawaiian ancestry.  This informal sharing of conversation is called “talk story”.

One evening, dessert arrives by way of a stellar and goofball piece of performance art, a histrionic accounting of war between goddess Pele and her sister - related by passenger Joe with visual effects courtesy of Alyse, our pastry chef, abusing an oversize chocolate cake volcano with a bottomless supply of raspberry lava.

On our last evening - in a move that would be rejected by any decent Hollywood scriptwriter - nature comes through big time and just as the sun sinks past the edge of the horizon, offersup a neon green blip – the green flash.  Nice timing, Un-Cruise! 

Throughout all the activity and the quiet times, flows this great vibe – warm, enveloping and encouraging.  I’ve been to Hawaii five times, I even lived there for a little while, but this felt like a first time.  What more could a person ask?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Island of Hawaii - Marriott and Four Seasons hotels

I was on the island of Hawaii at the end of January. During that time I had the pleasure of staying at and inspecting a few hotel properties. Here are some details.

I stayed in a moderately priced, clean, comfortable and central hotel: the Courtyard Marriott King Kamehameha. The room rate included free wifi - there is a business centre with computers if you forgot yours, eco-conscious bath amenities and room cleaning options and some added value bonus offers. The rooms are nicely decorated - the decor is bright and fresh with Polynesian accents. There is a small beach between the wharf on one side and a sacred Hawaiian site on the other, an oceanfront pool and restaurant/bar. the hotel Luau's are set up on the grassy area next to beach. There is a great little coffee (expresso) and smoothie shop located in the building - bonus!

As we were traveling for a month we had to watch our costs and so this place was a good choice. It is close to the airport (7 miles) in the heart of Kailua-Kona. This is something worth considering if you will arrive in the evening, because it is so dark on the island and the signage on the highway is hopeless. Also, as it is centrally located, you can walk to many restaurants and shops as well as the main historical sites. It is easy access to the highway to drive around the island to all the sites of interest as well. I would recommend this for a few nights starting in Kailua-Kona area.

Next I did a site inspection of, but did not stay at, the Four Seasons Hualalai. It is in a completely different ballpark from a price and luxury standpoint, but it offers so much in added value and amenities for those who can afford it. This is a lovely property with everything you could possibly want in a vacation resort and as a Four Seasons preferred partner agent you will get VIP treatment and added amenities.
It was recently voted #1 hotel in Hawaii by in Conde Nast and #1 in the world on Trip Advisor lists.

It is impossible to list everything about the property here, but I hope I have captured the main highlights.
It is located within the Hualalai Golf and Residence resort area which offers extensive fitness and golf facilities: eight tennis courts (2 night lit); a basketball court with 2 hoops; a rock climbing structure; a 25 metre lap pool; indoor and outdoor fitness rooms and cardio machines; a weight room, and a snack shop. A varied schedule of free and for fee classes is on offer. All are available for Four Seasons guest use.

The hotel is made up of four ocean view crescents - each with their own character built around a water feature.
The King's Pond Crescent is a unique area where all the luxury and comforts of Four Seasons are offered, but which incorporate important environmental initiatives which reduce the carbon footprint of your stay. The pond is filled with reef fish, a few sharks and rays - snorkel with them if you dare.
King's Pond Lagoon

The Seashell Crescent is good for families - there is an adult as well as a kiddy pool with surrounding man made beach, water and beach toys and kiddie size beach chairs (although I spotted some Dad's making use of them). Baby swim diapers are supplied. There is a children's program offered daily from 8 am to 5 pm
year round (ages 5 to 12 years). There is also a teen activity and games room.

Adult Pool
Kiddy pool and beach

The Beach Tree Crescent has a large contemporary style pool - this is the quiet pool -children are allowed but no toys.
The Palm Grove Crescent pool with a swim up bar . This is the adults only area and in this location only, the Bali beds may be pre-reserved and are rented at a cost for half or full day use.

Palm Grove Pool
The Ul'u Crescent is a crescent of four buildings around the 18th green of the golf course.

There are several different room and suite categories which can be combined for families or couples sharing. Suites come with complementary transfers from and to the airport.

one bedroom connector can be combined to make 2 or 3 bedroom suite

Palm Grove ocean view from room
There is a 28,000 sf spa with 21 indoor and outdoor treatment rooms, showers and relaxation rooms; hot and cold plunge pools; wet and dry saunas, an apothecary and boutique.

Although the beach access is next door at the Kona Village Resort (all ocean sports go out from here), there is an onsite beach activity centre and surf shack (drinks and snacks) between the SeaShell and BeachTree Crescents.

There is a large swimming area in front of the main restaurant. This is a large saltwater pool blocked off from the surf to make for safe swimming.

There are several shops onsite, a cultural centre where you can learn about the Hawaiian history, culture and language through various activities and tours, and an artist in residence program. An amphitheatre is used to show outdoor movies and host weddings and group events. Full laundry rooms with top quality machines, sinks and ice machines are located in each crescent.

The hotel uses about 90% local ingredients from local suppliers in their award winning Pahu i'a restaurant. Wine tastings, coffee tastings, demonstrations, visits to market with chef are some of the food and beverage based activities offered.

With so many great things to see and do on this island I would highly recommend a stay at either of these properties depending on your budget. See my upcoming posts for more on this island and others, hotels and a great all-inclusive small ship cruise option - American Safari Cruises a.k.a the Un-Cruise.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Oscar and Jenny's Tahitian Honeymoon - a success!

Here is the wonderful feedback I recently received from my lovely clients following their Tahitian honeymoon.  Their comments really made my day.
Thank you so much Oscar and Jenny - I can’t wait to help with you plan your next vacation. You are beautiful!  Cheers!

Hi Judi,

As you already know, our honeymoon was extremely important to us.  We had very high expectations and very specific wishes for our Tahiti trip.  You had provided your invaluable experience, knowledge, and advice that far exceeded our expectation.  You were exceptionally professional, going above and beyond your duties in trying to satisfy our special occasion.  We absolutely appreciate every ounce of effort that you demonstrated throughout this process, especially the planning of our photo shoot.  We thought of you daily during our wonderful trip and would like to share several moments with you through our photos in the attachments.  We cannot thank you enough!!!  We will like to put your name in our wedding album for making this dream of ours come into reality!

With deepest sincerity,
Oscar & Jenny

Sunday, April 15, 2012

steaming towards Kumai

On our third day we started to see signs of what we came half way around the world for - Camp Leakey - as we steamed toward the port city of Kumai.  

Entrance to the river which leads to Camp Leakey

We also saw signs of the major threat to the orangutan; removal of the rainforest to make way for palm oil plantations. This is 
not a good photo, but that is a really large barge full of what used to be trees in the rainforest and the lifeblood of the orang utan.
Deforestation on a large scale

We had to hold off for the tide to rise and allow us to cross the sandbar - it is a very narrow window of time. On arrival we heard speakers 
broadcasting the call of, and the natural sound of, hundreds of swiftlets arriving to enter the many large concrete bunkers lining the 
shore. These buildings provide a man-made place for the birds to nest and for those nests to be harvested. Normally these birds 
nest in deep caves which are very hard to get at and as such make for a rare and very expensive ingredient for Chinese bird-nest 
soup. The number of swiflets has dwindled significantly due to the steady harvest of natural nesting sites. As the demand and 
substantial income that can be earned from this commodity is growing some enterprising people came up with this makeshift solution. 
Is this a sustainable solution for the birds? It seems another case of humans messing with nature for profit. This provides a safe and 
accessible income for the people of Borneo, who have lost other sources of income, but it remains to be seen how this will affect the swiflet population and the balance with other species.
makeshift swiflet caves - bird's nest soup

We were warmly greeted by the people of Kumai along with representatives of Orangutan Foundation International. We were then treated to a wonderful performance by local youth of music, dance and martial arts. It was lovely.

local welcome

welcomed by OFI representatives

fruit and coconut treats while watching the show
the musicians

We were then treated to a wonderful performance by local youth of music, dance and martial arts. It was lovely.

and the dancers

and the martial arts

Borneo Expedition continued

Orion II has a multi purpose library/lounge. It is open early for continental breakfast and from 10 a.m. on for your beverage of 
choice. This is a great spot to while the day away: choose something from the wide selection of books; checkout a DVD for your
room; use one of the computers for email catch up; sit and chat with other passengers; order your favorite espresso drink; indulge
in afternoon tea and join in the daily Trivia challenge or just relax and sip cocktails.

meet the expedition team!

The main lounge on deck 3 is where the lectures, daily recaps, slide shows and receptions take place. On our second day we were introduced 
to the expedition team and learned about what to expect at Camp Leakey and that evening we had the Captain’s welcome with complimentary 
champagne and nibbles, followed by the captains dinner. Speaking of dinner - the selection and quality of food particularly at dinner was amazing!

meet the captain!