Category: Helpful Tips

Sep 10

Excursion Trip

How blessed are we who get to travel in our course of life? Recently, I wrote about extending your trip to include a separate stop at no cost to you if you are using travelling from most of the major point programs.

Flying over the Rocky's

Flying over the Rockies on my way to LAX


I was travelling on AeroPlan for that trip and instead of just heading to Vancouver, I booked a multi-leg trip to include a weekend stopover, flying into LAX with no other cost other than the hotel for two nights and incidental costs that most people incur while travelling.

Hotel in LA

Hotel in LA

Since this was my first trip to this end of the country, I was not sure where to stay. The choices are many and so I headed over to TripAdvisor to make my choice. I was looking for something different. I wanted to be fairly close to the Airport district as I thought many of my readers would be selecting this area for a short stop over and yet close enough to several attractions so I can see the area while I was there.

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier — The end of Highway 66

I have to say, I had an awesome time. Between the charter local bus service for the hotels in the area, the local bus service was second to none. I was shocked that for a very low fee, compared to my local city, I was on a bus that whisked me straight over to Santa Monica Pier. It was a doubly great since I was travelling on the Memorial Day Weekend.

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier

Now I know some may be saying that it would be too busy and if you were to travel by car, I would agree with you 100% as parking looked to be a little tight, but arriving by local transit was no problem and the areas to explore were all fine. On the pier itself, you had families sharing food, laughter on the rides and fishing from the pier. It was really nice to see.

Fishing at Santa Monica Pier

Fishing at Santa Monica Pier

Down on the beach, we had the celebrations to honour the fallen which was touching to see. A large display of crosses were arranged on the beach with several to represent other religions of the soldiers that gave their lives for the freedom, not only in the USA but for everyone that enjoys the democracy we have and the freedom to travel around the world.

Memorial Day at Santa Monica Pier

Memorial Day at Santa Monica Pier

One nice touch was the shop out at the end of the pier that marks the end of highway Route 66. Such a famous iconic place to say “we were there” On your next trip I can only urge you to take that extra step and explore the many choices you have for stop over or multi-leg trips. I am sure you will find it a pure pleasure.

Permanent link to this article: http://stevestravelblog.com/?p=521

Jul 27

Travel as far as you can

How Far Can You Fly?

How Far Can You Fly?

When you travel, are you taking full advantage of the connections that you have to take? Have you considered extending that business trip by a few days and taking in the sights of one of your stops?

Pacific Coast

Pacific Coast

Why not do this on purpose and take full advantage of the possible stops along the way.

Recently I had to take a business trip from the East coast of Canada to the West coast. As I thought about stopping off in Toronto or Calgary for a few days, I thought, “I wonder how far I can travel on the same number of points.

For this particular trip, I was travelling on AeroPlan points. They have an option on booking that you can plan a “Multi-Leg” journey where you can pick an extra stop along the way and chose different dates. This allow you to select the path of your journey and the duration of each segment stopover.

Yes, there are limits to how far you can journey but it is very flexible and well worth the time to investigate this great option. It seems that if the extra leg is within a short-haul flight of the farthest destination, you can easily book it at no extra points.

My flight would have seen me leave New Brunswick, fly through Toronto and on to Vancouver. But, as I looked at my options, I went from my home base, and selected LAX as my first stop. This still took me up to Toronto and then a direct flight down to LA for an awesome Memorial Day weekend at the end of Highway 66. Some of you will know this as the Santa Monica Pier.

Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Pier — The end of Highway 66

From there, I selected my second leg that went from LAX up to Vancouver and after my work was complete, I flew from Vancouver back to the east coast as my third leg of my trip.  You do have to love the adventure of travel and you can even make the flight more enjoyable by selecting the best craft type for your journey.

I chose to fly business class for several reasons. Most are the usual ones that have to do with comfort but this time, I selected the flights that had the most modern seating arrangements. When I booked my segments, I first looked at the craft type and then confirmed this on the SeatGuru site. I like this site because they give you tips on the best to the worst seats to select on the flights.

I wanted to experience the full sleeper seating options and I was able to select three different styles on the longer segments of my itinerary.  For the flight from Toronto Canada down to LAX I was shown the back seat on the single row side had extra space and privacy. This turned out to be an excellent recommendation and made for as close to a perfect flight as I have ever had.

Flying up the Rocky's

Flying up the Rocky’s

For the heavy traffic but shorter flight from LAX to Vancouver, I also had a great seat. This was surprising to me since it was an Air Canada Rouge flight. As many of my readers know I am not fond of Rouge and I would not call myself a fan, but, I have to admit they have really improved things. Still a long ways to go, but it is worth noting that things are getting better. Keeping in mind that my Android device still would not work on the Rouge entertainment system, but, as always, I re-loaded my tablet with a few good movies and a book or two.

I will share more on my LAX side trip later, but for now, I do hope you will consider taking a little more time booking your next flight and take the opportunity to travel to a new place. Experience what is all out there for you to enjoy and live life to the fullest.

Permanent link to this article: http://stevestravelblog.com/?p=513

May 11

Cuban Resorts

Iberostar Ensenachos, Cayo Santa Maria (Isla).
Cayo Ensenachos Santa María Clara, Cuba

Iberostar Ensenachos

Iberostar Ensenachos

Well, I am overdue on my articles but, I am still unsure of what to say about this resort, this area and this Country. It is almost a question of writing about the country to understand the resort.

One one hand, I want to compare this resort to other Caribbean resorts I have stayed at, that were of a comparable price but then on the other hand, I have to look at this and say, ”This is Cuba!”. Read on to understand.

If I were to say all things are equal and I am comparing the rooms, service, restaurant quality, beaches etc. from other resorts to this one I would come up with a different chat to the one I have today. It is almost each area need to be rated. For example, the beaches in this area are among the best in the world. I’m not just saying this, it is a fact in the Cayo Santa Maria area. Much better than the other areas where resorts are allowed in this country and yes, even better than Bavaro or Negril.

On the other hand, we have all the problems of the Cuban Management System to contend with. Up to this point, I really don’t understand this part fully. I know that multiple resorts have pulled the on site upper management and replaced it with experts in the field. However, they were not experts in the local government and improvements did not happen as planned. This seems to be a consistent theme among the resorts.

You may not know what I am referring to here so just as a point or two for reference and there are many. Let’s see; from time to time, you may not have beach towels available. the official excuse for this is that all towels need to be laundered and serviced by a local Cuban company, employing people in the nearby towns and even building these towns to a larger size. At first, this sounds great. As Canadians, we tend to say, it is okay to go multiple days without a clean towel, as long as we know we are sacrificing to save the local economy.

This is a very real problem and will happen to you at some point on a trip to this country. What I do not understand is why the management, knowing that from time to time, this is going to happen, do not stock an extra week’s worth, or even two weeks worth of towels at the resort so they have a supply to draw on as needed? Seems like an easy solution that would be paid for with the saving of one bad review, not to mention 20-30 about this problem.

Another example would be repairs to pool areas, walkways, lighting I.e. Maintenance problems; Honestly, this one happened to me personally. I had a maintenance issue in my room and they were sending someone over as soon as “he” was free. this seemed odd to me so after a few minutes, I used my property management background experience to solve the issue and called and cancelled the request. When i did, I asked how many were on call for issues and i was told that there was one person for this.

I went out and headed for the main lobby and as i was walking along the path, I noticed one person working on the wiring to the path lights. I stopped and chatted to him and between broken Spanish and broken English, it soon became apparent that he was that one person looking after everything. Now, since the resort is supposed to be employing local Cubans for this work, wouldn’t it make sense to hire four or five people to make sure that no one on the resort who has a problem has to wait an excessive amount of time?

Again, I don’t profess to understand the problems with the Cuban government, but I do understand good Hotel Management and from what I could see, many of the problems I have encountered in four trips to this country are never what they seem to be. There just can’t be that many bad managers.

We Canadians are a very mild-mannered people. You can step on our toes as long as it does not hurt too much. I do think that so many of the positive reviews are Canadians defending this cherished little island that we have had as our private playground for far too many years. This is going to change for all of this country over the next several years if relations with the US start to allow tourists from that country to come to Cuba.

Americans are not Canadians or people from the EU. I can just about guarantee that they will 100% not put up with the poor management that takes place at these resorts currently. I am not just talking about Cayo Santa Maria Resorts, but also Varadero and Cayo Coco as well.

In the past, we Canadians have enjoyed trips to Cuba at one half the cost of Jamaica and about a third less than the Dominican Republic. but, this year, it is changing. I think mainly because of the demand, costs are climbing closer and closer to other Island nations and with that, they will have to compete with some of the best resorts.

Even with a hands down best beach area, they can’t continue to offer terrible service, terrible food, terrible mold filled accommodations. The sad thing about this is that it seems that it is the Cuban Government, according to the resort staff, that have caused this problem. What seems to be missing is the damage it is doing to the reputation of the nation on whole. If there are government regulations that are to be followed, then at the same time the government should have regulations on Minimum standards. resorts should face fines or penalties if they are found to be damaging the image of the Cuban Nation.

Can the Cuban tourist industry be saved? Of course it can, but not by this article. I doubt I will find a buyer for this rant so it will go largely unnoticed short of Social Media. No the solution to all of this will come from an unexpected area. I truly believe that people from the USA will be allowed to visit and spend their money in Cuba in a few years. When this happens, the reviews and hostile response that they will have for problems will force the Cuban government and the Resort Owners to come to a quick solution. Let’s see what happens.

Permanent link to this article: http://stevestravelblog.com/?p=503

Jul 03

The Best Kept Secret of the Canadian Airports!!

Seats in the Maple Leaf Lounge

Seats in the Maple Leaf Lounge

We’ve all been there, the three-hour stop over or worse, the unexpected delay. Whatever the reason, so many people just don’t know what to do in times like this. They end up walking from one area to another and then, they decide to grab a bite and a drink. We all know that without blinking an eye, thirty to fifty dollars can disappear just like that.

I know a lot of people know about lounges, but they have never been in one or have on that rare occasion when they flew business class. Many people think  the only way to get into an Air Canada Maple Leaf  Lounge is either by flying as part of your job and you gain Elite Status, or by having all-powerful business class ticket.

Entrance to the Maple Leaf Lounge

Entrance to the Maple Leaf Lounge

Now granted, that used to be true. But now there are many ways to gain access to either the Airline Lounge or the multitude of third-party lounges like Priority Pass.  I think it because of these new lounges that Air Canada with their Maple Leaf  Lounges relaxed  the ways that you too can enjoy these day saving experiences.

In North America, there are 18 locations where you can relax in an Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge. Since most flights connect at major centers across Canada, the odds are very good there will be on in your next connecting flight.  If you now have the right Credit Card, you can get free access. If you’re traveling on Flex (One up from the bottom in fare tiers) you can now buy a one time pass for either $25 or $50. Is this worth it? Well if your flight is delayed, and you are going to have something to eat and drink, it sure is!

But , if your flight  has a known stopover there is even a better way. All you have to do is join AeroPlan and collect 7,000 points per person, and you can buy a pass no matter what class ticket you are flying in.  So, the question is; Is it worth it?

Bar at the Maple Leaf Lounge

Bar at the Maple Leaf Lounge

Remember I mentioned the stop over and buying some food and a drink? Well in the lounges, they always have a choice of really good soups and a salad bar that is second to none. and a lunch and dinner there are usually several hot dishes in trays. I have never walked away hungry and it is all complimentary.  Not only that the drinks, including coffee, tea, espresso etc and all beer, wine and top shelf spirits are also complimentary.

So, value wise, the price is already covered with what you would have spent outside the lounges in the busy airports. Now picture free Wi-Fi, Cell-Free quiet locations so you can truly relax. Full business centers that are top-notch. The list goes on to Great service, all the latest in Magazines and Newspapers and all the seats are spaced out and comfortable.

Shower in the Maple Leaf Lounge

Shower in the Maple Leaf Lounge

There are also some hidden features that are not really advertised and there are things you can do to make the next connection even better. I have seen more than one lounge that have private shower areas so, if you need to freshen up on a long trip, you can. The drinks and food are help yourself. It is nice that you are already past security so no problem getting some snacks and juice for the plane. This way, you are not at the whim of the busy staff in the air.

If you are traveling with children, many locations have a TV room that is separate from the rest that have kid’s shows on. Not only is this a nice touch it keeps the kids quiet and away from the other passengers that are trying to read or catch up on their emails in a quiet atmosphere.

Food in the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge

Food in the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge

Can you tell I really like these lounges? You won’t find these to the south of the border under the star alliance carriers. Yes, they have lounges, but most things inside you have to pay for. So, you tend to get a bunch of business travelers hovering at the bar where you pay and are expected to tip if you want a second drink. No, Air Canada does it best. Help yourself to food, snacks and enjoy. Find that perfect seat and unwind while you wait for that connecting flight. If you want your next trip to include the travel days as a good day, take in a lounge. hosted by Air Canada. One more way I can say I am proud to be a Canadian.

Permanent link to this article: http://stevestravelblog.com/?p=262

May 19

Easy Listening at 35,000 feet

Easy Listening at 35,000 feet.

Easy Listening at 35,000 feet.

I’m not sure which came first, either more people choosing to listen to their own devices while flying or the now growing trend from airlines like Air Canada Rouge to only offer video and audio through passengers devices. Either way, this is now very much the reality, and it presents a new problem for us, the traveler.

I have tested multiple devices with the standard ear-buds that come with them and with the back ground noise and popping ears at cruising altitude, the quality of the sound just disappears. If you are going to travel and want to relax with a movie or you favorite music for three and a half hours while in flight, you need to invest in some good quality noise cancelling/damping headphones. So the question is, which will be best for you?

It’s easy to read the reviews and compare the different qualities that are out there, but that does not mean they will be good for in flight use. So, we looked at multiple brands and after testing on the ground, we narrowed it down to two units that we thought were very good quality and still at a reasonable price. We wanted to also make sure to test the best in-ear and the best over-ear products while in-flight.

Bower & Wilkins C5 In-Ear Headphones.

Bower & Wilkins C5 In-Ear Headphones.

For the in-ear, we choose the “Bower & Wilkins C5 In-Ear Headphones” as our number one product pick. It has several very nice features that will be appealing to many different people. It uses passive technology get rid of that background noise and enhance the sound coming to your ears. We really liked the secure loop that expands to let you loosely wear these is a normal environment or they can be snugly inserted for the noisier environments.

 

able planet Linx Fusion

able planet Linx Fusion

For the over-ear product, we went with the “able planet Linx Fusion” as the number one pick for this category. This unit has a rechargeable battery built in and offers you a truly great listening experience in any environment. It not only blocks out the background noise, but, at the same time, it is enhancing the quality of the to-ear sound through their 4-D technology.

Both of these products are worthwhile purchases and we feel you will be pleased with either choice. But, which one is better for air travel?

For traveling, the compactness of the C5 was great. However, If you are carrying your laptop, tablet and other things in your carry on, then size is not really a factor and we had no problem with the larger Linx Fusion.

Carrying sizes

Carrying sizes

But, the point has to go to the C5 since many travelers would only have their tablet and headphones for on the plane.

During the flight both products worked well. The C5 needed to be firmly in the ear as the environment was noisy. The Linx Fusion has a firm tension and snuggly covered your ear, offering you a very nice sound experience. However, while this was fine for music, when it came to videos and if you wear glasses, the added pressure on the rim area did cause some discomfort over time. This is going to be the case for all over-ear products.

When it came to meal time, it was the Linx Fusion that won the point. The C5 being firmly in the ear, caused that very loud internal sound while eating and drinking. Try eating a potato chip while you have your fingers covering your ear and you will understand. We had to loosen them and then the sound quality went away.

Overall, while there were some things that are noted, both products are the best in their class. If you are a convince person that likes to travel light and pauses the entertainment while you eat, then the “Bower & Wilkins C5 In-Ear Headphones” is a clear choice. If you want the best overall sound quality and power assisted noise cancellation then the “able planet Linx Fusion” would be an excellent choice for you.

Either way, they both pass the In-Flight test and both provide “Easy listening at 35,000 feet”

Permanent link to this article: http://stevestravelblog.com/?p=249

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