Category Archives: United States

Key West Is Closer Than You Think

Key West is an incredibly diverse tropical island. It is America’s most talked-about resort.

My first experience of the island of Key West was a port stop on my Norwegian Cruise Line Caribbean adventure, like the other 660,000 cruise ship passengers who visit Key West every year to experience the beauty & zaniness that makes this island community truly unique.

The first thing I noticed was an off-beat, laid-back atmosphere. The beauty of the place is that within walking distance of the port, you discover historic homes, tropical gardens, art galleries, shops, gourmet dining, funky bars & of course fishing, diving & swimming.

As we didn’t have much time in port the best place to start was a ride on one of the tour trolleys; the conductor related stories with local color and it gives you an idea of places you will want to revisit to learn more. As we passed through the winding streets the friendly locals waved as we passed by, relaxing on their decks sipping cocktails, what a way to pass away the day!

When nighttime descends the pier comes alive with street entertainers, my highlight being the fire eaters, with lots of local craft stores selling locally made merchandise it was a fitting end to our action packed day in Key West.

This tropical island is a Mecca for writers and artists, celebrities and people who just want to get away from it all. A flourishing Restoration Movement and a cosmopolitan mix of people give the feel of a foreign country with all the amenities of the United States.

If you’re a cruise ship day tripper like me you will want to return and stay for longer. Key West has lodging places, shops and restaurants to provide you with a variety of accommodations, unusual clothing and gifts, and international cuisine. Guesthouses range from the quiet and relaxed (Laid-back) to the wild disco beat. The local shops carry everything from tropical to punk clothes and gifts. Nowhere else can offer such a variety of restaurants offering everything from authentic Cuban fare to eating in a tree house. The bars are open late and the crowd usually doesn’t hit full swing until after the bewitching hour. Most bars are open until 4 am.

With these bargain flights available from major gatweays how can you say no:

New York-Key West Return Flight USD $327.00*

Los Angeles- Key West Return Flight USD $420*

Vancouver- Key West Return Flight CAD $610*

*Taxes extra

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New trend for hotels?

Came across a couple of  articles in a travel journal recently about a “pay what you want”  experiments. 

The Rancho Bernardo Inn Golf Resort and Spa is offering a promotion called the “Survivior Package“.  Basically, you decide your price by deciding what amenities you can do without.  For $219  per night you get deluxe accommodations plus breakfast for two.  However, if you can do without breakfast, it’s $199; without honor bar, it’s $179; without heat or air condition, it’s $159; etc. It’s a great way to attract budget conscious travellers.  Contact them for more details. 

A village in Austria’s Alps, Langenfeld, is offering tourists to test their hotels, restaurants, and leisure facilities in return for completing a survey paying what they think their stay was worth.  They are accepting up to 200 people to participate in this event.  The local tourism organization is looking to find out their strengths and weaknesses so they can improve for the future.

This actually reminds of me of another hotel that also offered a “Pay What You Want” promotion. In March 2009, the Ibis Singapore on Bencoolen Hotel allowed guests to choose the rate they wanted to pay. For a designated number of hours each day during the promotion, potential guests could bid on a price they would like to pay.  If they were one of the first to bid, they could win a night at the hotel for the price they bid.

Not sure if this could be a new trend but it definitely provides insightful information for the companies involved on the quality of their services and their current pricing strategy during these challenging economic times.

Rainbow Travel Tips & Tidbits 03 January 2009

United and Fedex Offer Door to Door Shipping

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Like to have your bags guaranteed to arrive where and when you want without having to drag your baggage to the airport only to find that when you arrive at the check-in counter that your bags are overweight and you get slapped with those outrageous overweight charges. Now United and Fedex have gotten together to offer Door-to-Door Baggage which enables customers in the continental U.S. to ship suitcases and other items, such as skis or golf clubs, overnight from their home or office directly to their destination within the lower 48 states.

The cost is $149 per item, one way, for flights less than 1,000 miles and $179 for longer flights. That’s between $50-100 cheaper than other baggage-shipping services. Up to 10 days prior to travel, customers can go online to united.com/doortodoor where the appropriate trip is selected and paid for. The document is printed and the bag tags are applied by the shipping company. On the scheduled day the bags are collected from the customers home/office between noon and 6 PM. By 4.30 PM the next day the bags are delivered to your destination.

The most cost effective option is to ship your baggage via FedEx Ground for about a third of the price of overnight and the price even includes the pick-up fee.

Why is the Ocean Cold in California But Warm in Florida?

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Blame it on something called the Cariolis effect. This controls the oceans currents. It’s complicated but usually ocean waters on the West side of any continent will be cooler at the same lattitude than those on the East side.

Why Are Most Hotels in Hawaii on the West Side of the Island?

hawaii

The prevailing, tropical, moisture bearing trade winds usually blow from East to West and therefore most of the moisture then gets “squeezed out” as the humid breezes strike the mountains. This causes rain on the east side of the island but in effect this makes the west side drier. This is usually a general rule of thumb that can be used for most mountainous tropical islands, including those in the Caribbean, South Pacific and Indian Ocean.

YVR Airport Vancouver, British Columbia Voted 2nd in the World

yvr-airport-sign

I am quite proud that the city that I live in was voted second in the list of best airports in the world and was the only airport in North America to place in the Top 10 Airports in the world. More than 2,500 European business travelers completed the Conde Nast Survey rating airports on cleanliness, design and layout, shopping and duty free facilities, clarity of flight information and signage, luggage handling and parking facilities.

Disney Offers Tours in Places Like South Africa, Alaska, China, Australia, and Many

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Adventures by Disney is branching out in 2009 with a total of 23 adventurous holiday options. They are described as dynamic family vacations the Disney programmes cover China, Australia, France, Ireland, Costa Rica and of course the U.S.A. Each vacation includes VIP experiences and unique itineraries specifically designed for families. Some examples include Alpine Magic- Italy and Switzerland, Beantown & The Big Apple-Boston, Rocky Trails and Mountie Tales – Montana and Alberta, Safari to South Africa – Capetown and the Garden Route and many more.

All programs include specially trained adventure guides, along with a host of local experts that allow families to see, hear, touch and taste the history and culture of destinations around the globe and domestically. Sounds exciting and something different for the family to participate in together. To find out more, contact Rainbow Travel for further information.

Rainbow Travel Tips & Tidbits – 5 September 2008

Travel Tidbits from Rainbow Travel Inc:

Air Transat delivers More Room in Economy:

The space between each row of seats has been increased by about 2 inches from 30 to 32 inches. By doing this, Air Transat has reduced the seating on it’s Airbus 310‘s from 259 to 249 seats and on their Airbus 330‘s from 362 to 342 seats. Air Transat operates a fleet of 13 Airbus A310’s and four A330’s.

Toy Story Opens at Two Parks

Disney Park guests are now able to enter a wild and wooly 4-D world, Toy Story, featuring Woody, Buzz and other favourite characters. This exciting new feature is available at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. It’s a high energy adventure that puts guests right in the heart of the action as your game play triggers fun surprises that provide a fourth dimention of fun. Upon entering the attraction, guests are welcomed by Mr Potato Head. More than 5ft tall, this state of the art audio animatronics Mr Potato Head makes two way conversation and asks you to ” step right up” for the incredible Toy Story Experience.

Everyone gets a front row seat when they put on their 3-D specs, shrink to the size of a toy, and board Toy Story Carnival tram ride cars.

Players can pair up and shoot at a variety of targets and because of the 4-D special effects, they can be amongst the action on their exciting journey where objects seem to whirl past as they pop out of the 3-D scenes

Very Affordable Tropical Cruises:

Signature Vacations new Tropical Cruise Programme this winter will feature two itineraries in the Caribbean aboard the 1450 pax Thomson Destiny cruise ship. Thomson Destiny will sail every second Sunday from La Romana in the Dominican Republic visiting Grenada, Dominica, Antigua, St Martin and Tortola before returning to La Romana. The second itinerary will feature The Coral Islands, St Lucia, Barbados, Guadeloupe, St Kitts and Tortola due to Monday and Tuesday flights from Vancouver from Nov 10th onwards.

The Thomson Destiny offers a Kitzone with daily activity programmes, two pools, 24Hr per day buffets, two restaurants, Broadway style shows, library, video, gym and sauna, and all the cruises include port taxes and tipping. There is even an option to pre purchase your alcoholic beverages.

La Machine: The Giant spider, La Princess, brings Liverpool to Standstill

Celebrations for European city of culture continue in my home town, Liverpool (U.K.)

A GIANT spider appeared in Liverpool, Lime Street today. Stunned onlookers stared in amazement as the 37-tonne, 50ft creature dangled high above the street from Concourse Tower. The massive arachnid is the first glimpse of the mysterious La Princess, the mechanical creature at the centre of the La Machine extravaganza. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected on the streets of the city, many of which will be closed off, as the five-day street theatre event unfolds this weekend. The Capital of Culture event will see “scientists” arrive in the city to investigate the creature. The spider, named La Princesse, is the brainchild of François Delarozière and his company La Machine. This is his first spider, and its appearance is part of the city’s capital of culture celebrations. La Princesse is a big girl, weighing 37 tonnes, and a marvel of engineering. She has 50 hydraulic axes of movement, took a year to build, and trundles along the road at two miles an hour.

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.

Viva Las Vegas – Part I

Welcome to another post on my blog that I hope you find useful.

Just trying to catch up on my weekly blog posts. I recently  returned from a quick trip to Las Vegas using an airline called Allegiant Air.  They fly out of Bellingham which is about 30 minutes south of the Peace Arch border crossing (Canada / US). Bellingham Airport is a breeze to transit through. Minimal lines at check-in and passing through security is a minor inconvenience since you already crossed the border security so all the flights have Domestic Status.

Allegiant Air uses McDonnell Douglas MD83‘s which are an older aircraft but very comfortable (the seating is 5 abreast). Since they are a budget airline, there is a charge for checked baggage so travel light to minimize your expenses.

I arrived the evening of Friday, July 4th.  Hotel accommodations were very expensive on the Las Vegas Strip since it was the American Independence Day long weekend. So the first two nights were spent at a budget hotel casino a few blocks off the Strip called Terribles.

Here are my views from a travel agent’s perspective on all the major hotels I explored.

TERRIBLE’S HOTEL CASINO: This was great value for money. I would rate it approximately “two star plus”, the rooms were very comfortable and ours was furnished with a 42″ plasma TV.  There were complimentary facilities that included parking, the use of a basic fitness centre open 24 hours, and internet access from a computer terminal in the fitness centre. The Bougainvillea Café and Rotisserie offered excellent value for money and was nicely furnished. The hotel is off the strip but well located for bus services and it is approximately a 20 – 30 minute walk to the strip. There is a nice outdoor pool area which is open late. This hotel is a short car ride (or 45 minute walk) from the Liberace Museum.  After the first couple of nights, a relocation to Planet Hollywood was in order.

PLANET HOLLYWOOD RESORT & CASINO:  It offered a nice bit of pampering. This was the former Aladdin Hotel Casino which was transformed over many months into the amazing Planet Hollywood.  The hotel is furnished in contemporary soft brown and purple colour schemes.  Our room contained a large plasma TV as well as authentic movie paraphernalia from “Basic Instinct”. The exterior is just as impressive as the interior, with lots of neon lights and large LCD screens, almost like being at Piccadily Circus in London, U.K. The pool area is on the 6th floor and has a roof type set up with views of the surrounding hotel towers. Inside the hotel is the Miracle Mile Shops, a shopping mall offering a variety of shopping and dining options.  It also has a unique mix of shows in a theatre on site.  

MANDALAY BAY HOTEL & CASINO: The hotel features an outdoor shark reef aquarium and a saltwater aquarium which can only be accessed by paying an admission. There is a huge tropical fish tank in the reception area and beautiful floral displays. The hotel is connected to the Four Seasons Hotel and is only 10 minute drive from the Las Vegas Outlet Centre. It is connected to its sister properties, Luxor and Excalibur, by the free Mandalay Bay Tram.

LUXOR RESORT HOTEL & CASINO: Has an impressive ancient egyptian theme inside and out. The pyramid shaped hotel is clearly visible from the distance, especially at night when the bright beam of light is shown skyward from its apex.  It is undergoing a major interior renovation at the moment in the centre of the pyramid. but nevertheless, still an amazing structure, also a great location too. 

NEW YORK NEW YORK HOTEL & CASINO: It captures the New York city theme by creating the facade of the city skyline with tall skyscrapers, the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, etc.  This 12 year old hotel casino is currently undergoing a significant renovation project…inside you’ll hear the sounds of construction echoing throughout the casino. The inside of the casino has an art deco theme.  There is a shopping restaurant area with cobbled streets with all types of ethnic food available. The hotel houses a huge roller coaster and a Harley Davidson store. 

EXCALIBUR HOTEL: An older hotel based on a Knights of the Round Table theme.  It resembles a castle from both the outside with its many turrets  and the inside too with many of the areas and restaurants having an Arthurian name. 

TROPICANA HOTEL & CASINO: This is an older hotel and was one of the early ones on the Strip. The hotel is located opposite the Excalibur and looks abit worn and tired. The hotel consists of a couple of towers and a low rise building of hotel rooms.  The pool area appears very nice though and has tropical theme. The are two major exhibits at the hotel casino:  Bodies the Exhibition and Titanic – The Artifacts Exhibit.

BELLAGIO HOTEL & CASINO: The Bellagio is a very grand hotel inside and out. It is renown for its large artificial lake between the hotel and the strip that is home to the amazing dancing water fountain synchronized to music.  The dancing water fountain runs throughout the day and most of the evening.  When you walk into the lobby what strikes you right away are the spectacular glass blown flowers hanging from the ceiling by the reception area.  It was created by Dale Chihuly and is called the Fiori di Como.  In the casino area, there are canopies with italian style patterns hanging from the ceiling. Adjacent to the reception area is a garden area with american imagery with a nest of eagles, statues of bears made from what appeared to be shrubs and clothing from actual moss, jumping water fountains, and a miniature train running along tracks across the different sections of the garden.

I’ll continue posting my impressions of the other major Las Vegas hotels and their convenient transportation system in a few days.

So many hotels…so little time. Be patient, part 2 is well worth the wait.