Monthly Archives: August 2008

Rainbow Travel Tips & Tidbits 25 August 2008

The World’s Eyes on China

The world’s eyes were focused on China with the Olympic Games and for at least the near future as well.

One of my clients recently returned from an exciting trip which we helped organize.  Travelers are just beginning to realize that they can explore China on their own rather than following the traditional guided tour.  They have the freedom to do their own thing at their own pace while enjoying a significant cost savings.  With independent travel, we do recommend that travelers have handy the contact numbers for the various services on the detailed service vouchers; these are very useful in the event things do not go as planned.

A good travel agent with their network of contacts can arrange hotel accommodations, sightseeing, and airport transfers based on a client’s budget and desired destinations…not just for the dominant tourist cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Xian but to other major cities across this large country.

Hotel options in China range from 2 to 5 stars with nightly prices going anywhere from just over $30 per night to $500 per night (USD).  In addition to hotels, we can offer over 1600 services for independent travelers to China including 145 sightseeing tours plus guide services, transfers, shows, and other options through our supplier.  These options include half and full day private/group tours to places such as the Great Wall, Chuan Di Xia Village, cooking classes, a foot massage, a traditional meal such as Peking Duck, and cultural shows such as acrobatics and kung fu.

Rainbow Travel Blog - Chuan Di Xia Village

Rainbow Travel Blog - Chuan Di Xia Village

I am pleased to be able to share with you one such itinerary lasting 7 days to Shanghai and Beijing for one of our clients.  On arrival in Shanghai, our clients were met and transferred to the JC Mandarin Hotel.  While the grandiose marble lobby and modern business style rooms were impressive, the best attribute was the hotel’s central location.  Our clients had booked a half day chinese cooking lesson on their first morning.  Promptly at 9am, the chef instructor was waiting in the lobby to whisk our clients off in a cab (at the chef’s expense) to his kitchen classroom.  Together they made oyster mushrooms with baby bok choy, sweet and sour pork with pineapple, and sichuan style chicken with spicy chilies and peanuts.  At the end, our clients were put in a cab to return to their hotel.  For the remaining 2 days in Shanghai, they explored the city on their own with a city map translated in both english and chinese, and a handy business card from the hotel which had their name and directions written on it.

Rainbow Travel Blog - Beijing National Stadium (aka The Bird Nest)

Rainbow Travel Blog - Beijing National Stadium (aka The Bird Nest)

On the third night, our clients flew from Shanghai to Beijing  and were met by private transfer from the airport to the Holiday Inn Temple of Heaven, a very nice 4 star hotel.  They found the only drawback was its location which required taking taxis everywhere.  However for the first 2 of their 4 days in Beijing, they didn’t have to worry about taxis as they had a full day Great Wall and Ming Tombs private tour and a half day Summer Palace private tour scheduled.  Once again their tour guides were promptly downstairs in the lobby at the designated meeting time.  The full day tour was with a young chinese gentleman whose english was adequate and was happy to make any additional stops to places like the Olympic Stadium site.  With a driver, our clients were taken to the Ming Dynasty Tombs and then the Great Wall at Badaling where our clients were allowed to climb on their own for as long as they desired.  They were then driven back to the hotel.  The following morning, another tour guide, a young chinese woman, and her driver took our clients to the Summer Palace.  Both guides were excellent.  As an added surprise, the tour also included a silk factory visit where the actual silkworms process was shown, as well as, the “magic” silk blanket which is cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  The rest of the time in Beijing was spent on their own to do whatever they wanted.

Rainbow Travel Blog - Shanghai at Night

Rainbow Travel Blog - Shanghai at Night

This is just a sample of the many options available for independent travelers to do what they want to do, when they want to do it, at their own pace with as much free time as they want without the crowds.  So why not put together your own China Adventure, with our help you can do it.

Rainbow Travel Tips & Tidbits 13 August 2008

Which is the best airline seat to book?

Ever got to the check-in desk and the agent asks you what seat you would like to reserve, what an agonizing question, you probably feel that whichever one you choose is going to be the wrong choice. I feel for you, I have been in that same position myself so I would like to share with you some of my experiences, as well as, my clients’ recommendations from their trips to minimize your frustration of this decision.
British Airways: Boeing 747-400 World Traveller
My Local Airport Vancouver, B.C. Canada to London U.K.
Window A/K seats in row 29 on some 747-400 configurations offer great legroom and easy access to the aisle. It is the second row behind a door; there is no window seat in row 28 due to the size of the emergency slide. This allows you to stretch your legs out as there is no seat in front of you, plus you don’t have to deal with the discomfort of the infamous 31″ economy seat pitch. You have the window and an easy way to get out of your seat and stand up without climbing over passengers.
Lufthansa Economy Class: Airbus A340
My Local Airport Vancouver, B.C. Canada to Frankfurt
Row 34 A/B/C and opposite side has plenty of legroom because of the location of the Exit.
Zoom Premium Economy Class: Boeing 767-300ER
My Local Airport Vancouver, B.C. Canada to Paris, London U.K., Manchester U.K
Watch the seats at the very front of the aircraft. Although they (theoretically) have a bit more legroom than even the regular Premium Economy seats, people of medium height cannot stretch out their legs because of the proximity to the wall. Also, attendants bang on things in the galley. The noise and vibration from this is directly transmitted via the bulkhead wall. It can be very disconcerting.
Thomas Cook Premium Economy Class: Airbus A330 (2-class configuration)
My Local Airport Vancouver, B.C. Canada to London U.K., Manchester U.K (Seasonal)

Seats 1A and 1B in Premium Economy have a huge space in front, up to the bulkhead. Row 14 in Economy has no window (same as Row 10 in the Emirates A330 with same configuration).

Cathay Pacific
My Local Airport Vancouver, B.C. Canada to Hong Kong
Economy Class: Boeing 747-400
In Coach, row 55 (bulkhead) tends to be the roomiest. The bonus of having the bulkhead that serves as a “foot rest” makes a long flight a bit more bearable.
Economy Class: Airbus A330
Row 33 in Economy has no window directly beside the seat. Most window seats seem to have the video box under the seat in front, seriously hampering the legroom so you can’t stretch out your legs. It’s tolerable for a short regional hop but not for a long one.
China Airlines Premium Economy: Boeing 747-400
My Local Airport Vancouver, B.C. Canada to Taipai.
Upper Deck  – Row 10 upper deck window seat either side. There is a single crew seat that you can pull down and it makes a great bed.
Air Canada
My Local Airport Vancouver, B.C. Canada to Various Destinations
Economy Class – B777-200LR
Row 41 is slightly out of alignment with rows 40 downwards because the fuselage starts to taper, so trolleys often hit 40 C & H. This also impacts the TV and tables for row 41 A/B/C & H/J/K. They are uncomfortably off-centre to the normal sitting position because they are on the back of row 40.
Economy Class – B767-300
On the international Boeing 767-300ER (210/212 seats) emergency exit Row 17 and 18 both offer about 3x the normal legroom.
Economy Class – A330-300
Seats 31 A/C/H/K are good because they are at the emergency exit and have unlimited legroom.
Air Transat Economy Class: Airbus A321
My Local Airport Vancouver, B.C. Canada to Various Charter Destinations
Row 25 is the exit row with more than double the leg room of other Y seats
If you can choose your seats, recommend any seats from 25A/B to 30A/B or 25J/K to 30J/K. As the aircraft narrows, it goes from 3 to 2 so the seats are bigger – and you are close to the toilets – 4 of the 5 economy toilets are in this area.
Eva Air Economy Class: Boeing 747-400
My Local Airport Vancouver, B.C. Canada to Taipei
Row 35 Seats C/D are right next to a cooling unit in the galley that is noisier than the aircraft engines.
Japan Airlines Economy Class: Boeing 747-400
My Local Airport Vancouver, B.C. Canada to Tokyo
Row 77 H/C are aisle seats on the upper deck exit row. They off lots of legroom. Row 77 A/K are window seats in that exit row which are also good since they offer extra storage in the window compartments. Sitting in any of the other rows on the upper deck especially window seats feel somewhat claustrophobic with the tight legroom and narrow seats. On the Main Deck – 51C or 51H exit row by the galley are great for legroom. AVOID 51A and 51K since the bump at the bottom of the exit door seriously cuts reduces your legroom. Note: JAL seats are narrow and the seat cushion is not the most comfortable. I recommend bringing some kind of padding, especially on those longer flights like NRT-JFK.
WestJet Economy Class: Boeing 737-800
My Local Airport Vancouver, B.C. Canada to Various Destinations
The best seats for extra legroom are 13A/B/C and 13D/E/F however, they do not recline. If you are traveling as a couple then consider row 14; it offers just two seats on either side instead of 3.  This gives abit of privacy and a little bit of extra legroom but again these seats do not recline. Seats 15A and 15F offer the best extra legroom on the aircraft AND these seats do recline.  They are ideal seats for single travellers.
Singapore Airlines
My Local Airport Vancouver, B.C. Canada to Singapore
Economy Class: Boeing 777-200 (2-class configuration)
I would recommend row 31 as it is at the front of the Economy cabin and it is also adjacent to the exit (which gives ample legroom). The configuration is 2-3-2, therefore the window seats are ideal if traveling with a partner. The toilets are located right in front of you but the flight staff frequently spray sweet-smelling air freshener.
Economy Class: Boeing 777-200
Row 31 is a bassinet row and has extra legroom. However, you run the risk of sitting near babies.
Row 51 is the emergency exit row on this aircraft. If you are unable to obtain the above mentioned seats, seats 52C and 52H do not have seats in front of them so there is extra legroom.
If you would like to sit with just one other person, the two-seaters are 63A/C, 63H/K, 64A/C and 64H/K.
Economy Class: Boeing 747-400
Seats B/C and J/K in row 49. They are the exit seats near the galley but there is no toilet behind them.  The flight staff are very quiet so you won’t be disturbed. They have lots of leg space and you have your personal screen which is even more adjustable to your needs since it is attached to your own seat, not to the one in front of you.

Viva Las Vegas – Part II

Getting Around Las Vegas

For our first few days in Las Vegas, we walked everywhere despite the summer heat (it reached a high of 111 degrees while we were there)…from Terribles Hotel Casino, up and down the Strip, and to the Liberace Museum.  Don’t forget distances between blocks in Las Vegas are huge and what just looks to be around the corner can be a half hour walk. It’s a dry heat so you don’t notice it as much but we were prepared with large bottles of water in our knap sack that we kept handy at ALL TIMES. 

When our feet started getting sore…we tried taking public transit and found out it’s very easy.  The Deuce is an air-conditioned double decker bus service that travels up and down the Las Vegas Strip.  The fare is $5 and it’s valid all day and night for a 24 hour period plus you can use your transfer on the regular transit system as well.  That’s what makes the transit system so attractive.  These Alexander Dennis double decker buses were made in Great Britain;  there is always lots of sitting / standing room and the super efficient air conditioning system is a welcome cooldown.  We used it to get to the shopping outlets which we’ll talk about it below and to dine at a Red Lobster restaurant.

Shopping in Vegas

No trip to Las Vegas would be complete without going shopping.  You are spoilt for choice.  Several hotel casinos have their own shopping mall.  Underneath the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino lies the Miracle Mile Shops.  One mile of shops selling everything from leatherware to electronic gadgets.  The Forum Shops is part of Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino.  The interior resembles ancient rome with its streets, columns, and arches.  What stood at most to me were the talking statues that are part of the Atlantis laser show and the ceiling which resembles a sky that slowly changes from day to night and back again.  The Grand Canal Shops are part of the Venetian Resort Hotel and Casino. The concept of having gondolas and a winding series of canal’s through the mall and outside the hotel is an incredible engineering feat. You could almost be in St Mark’s Square. 

If you’re looking for a mall with all the major department stores, check out the Fashion Show Mall. It contains a variety of unique clothing, cosmetic, accessories, and gadget stores.

If you want to visit the shopping outlets, there are a couple of choices: the Las Vegas Outlet Centre (indoor) and the Las Vegas Premium Outlets (outdoor).  We encountered the best deals at the former, the stores are slightly lower end but definitely worth a visit.  The latter has higher end stores but we weren’t particularly impressed with the sale items.

Liberace Museum

Even those of you who found the musician, Liberace, too much to bear, you would be fascinated by his legacy he left behind in his museum. From the outside, the building looks abit non-descript but you’ll be surprised.   It consists of 2 parts.  The first shows Liberace’s family exodus from Europe to America with archival photographic material and a partial collection of his outrageous vehicles.   Several of his pianos that were made famous from his TV appearances are also there.  

A short walk away will take you to the second building which displays a sample of the outrageous costumes he wore for his performances.  Outwardly Liberace might have seemed a bit sissy but don’t let that fool you.  He was a strong fit man, he worked out regularly in order to fit into his costumes…some of which weighed over 200 pounds. The famous outlandish rings that he wore are also on display here.  They update the items displayed regularly from their warehouse so there won’t always be the same things.  We recommend taking a tour with the docent to get the full history of this colourful performer.  His museum is not to be missed.

Time Shares

Most of the hotels along the Strip have sales people promoting timeshares. They will attempt to pre-qualify you by asking some questions and then offer you incentives to attend a short seminar in exchange for things like vouchers for free meals, tickets to shows, etc.  Be forewarned that these seminars start out very low key but the pressure to buy into the timeshare escalates.  It invariably takes up more time than they originally tell you during the pre-qualification, especially if the presentations are off-site. You have to decide for yourself if it’s worth your while to go through with it.  

Here is a continuation of my impression of the other major Las Vegas hotels:

HOOTERS CASINO HOTEL: This casino hotel has country music theme and it’s located behind the Tropicana Hotel. It’s location makes it central to the MGM Grand, Excalibur, and New York New York. The casino area has wooden floors and is abit smaller compared to the other Las Vegas Strip hotels. 

BALLY’S HOTEL & CASINO: Bally’s is an older hotel.  I didn’t find anything architecturally unique about it.  It has a very good central location on the strip amongst all the other hotels, bars, and restaurants. You reach the reception area from the Strip through a covered semi-circular walkway which is illuminated at night with neon lights.

CAESARS PALACE HOTEL & CASINO: This is a beautiful opulent hotel which connects to the Forum Shops. The hotel features roman style statues and fountains in beautifully landscaped gardens.  Look out for Bette Midler, Cher, and Elton John, these performers alternate their performances throughout the year.

VENETIAN RESORT HOTEL & CASINO:  This is one of the best hotels in my opinion. The Grand Canal Shoppes and Madame Tussauds are part of the hotel. If you don’t like the smell of cigarette / cigar smoke, the Venetian make the best effort to mask the smell.  I have been to the “real Venice” and I tell you it’s very close to the real thing. 

PALAZZO RESORT HOTEL & CASINO: The Palazzo is an extension of the Venetian Hotel and is located between the Wynn and the Venetian.  It is just as luxurious as the just mentioned hotels. The theme is of course sicilian and they have used marble extensively throughout.  If you’ve never been to Barneys New York, you have your chance now since they have a store on site. 

WYNN LAS VEGAS HOTEL: This hotel is very distinct from the outside with its sleek semi circular structure clad in dark red glass.  There is a lush garden dome in the middle of the hotel with a few high end shops around the perimeter.  If you’re in the mood to shop, the Fashion Show Mall is across the street.

RIVIERA HOTEL & CASINO: This is an older hotel and doesn’t appear to be undergoing any renovations.   When we walked into to explore the facility there weren’t many people around or in the hotel casino.  Have people given up on this place??? There is a Walgreens nearby and a few souvenir shops as well. 

CIRCUS CIRCUS HOTEL: This hotel was better than I expected in terms of cleanliness and popularity.  If you’re a doughnut fan, the hotel offers a Krispy Kreme Doughnut store. The hotel’s steak house advertises a $14 steak dinner.  Down the street is Bonanza’s Gifts, the largest souvenir shop in Las Vegas. At the nearby Slots-A-Fun, they offer a .99 cent Shrimp Cocktail.

PARIS HOTEL & CASINO: This french themed hotel feature it’s own Eiffel Tower.  The casino is built under the base of the Tower with cobble stone streets around it with a variety of shops and restaurants.  They have an open stage area beside the casino for live performances.  The ceiling is painted blue to resemble a faux sky giving the impression of being outside.  The restaurant, Mon Ami Gabi, is cute bistro with patio seating along the Strip.  The bistro’s exterior balustrade features cool jets of water mist providing a cooling effect to pedestrians walking by.  

FLAMINGO HOTEL & CASINO: Great location one of the oldest hotels on the strip but very well maintained. There is a funky restaurant called Margaritaville for which the food is good value but the Margaritas are a little pricy.

STRATOSPHERE HOTEL & CASINO: This popular hotel at the north end of the strip is located between the downtown’s Freemont Street and the more popular hotel casinos at the other end of the Strip. At the top of the tower there is an observation deck and a restaurant with incredible views of the city.  It offers a small mall with lower end shops.

HARRAH’S HOTEL & CASINO: A huge jester statue welcomes you above the main entrance to this hotel casino. It has a central location along the Strip adjacent to the Imperial Palace, across from Caesars Palace.  

MGM GRAND: This decadent hotel has a striking emerald green exterior which dates back to its Wizard of Oz theme back in the early 1990’s.  It features a large MGM Lion outside as well as a smaller one inside by the cavernous reception area. A popular attraction at the hotel is the Lions Habitat.  A glass tunnel runs through the habitat allowing visitors a close up view of the lions.  

SAHARA HOTEL & CASINO: This hotel has seen recent renovations inside and out.  It offers a large pool area with nice landscaping.  From the outside you can see part of their roller coaster ride which runs throughout the day.  The food court area has a Nascar theme.

IMPERIAL PALACE HOTEL & CASINO: It’s one of the older hotels along the Strip. It’s located across from Caesars Palace adjacent to the Flamingo.  The hotel offers a variety of asian restaurants.