Tag: travel

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

Mar 08

The Casa Magna Marriott Puerto Vallarta

The Casa Magna Marriott Puerto Vallarta

Posted by Laura Snow on March 7, 2015 1


Nestled in the Puerto Vallarta Marina beach strip, the Casa Magna Marriott is a beautiful beachfront resort, with a full conference center, five restaurants, three pools and a fantastic fitness centre. The tropical grounds of the resort are covered in cacti, palm trees, flowering vines and lush gardens. The moment we walked through the front entrance, I immediately felt like I was in a tropical paradise. When you walk up the front steps you can see straight through the other side of the building to the pool and beach!

The hotel is very close to the airport, which is amazing when you just want to get to your hotel and put on cooler clothes on your arrival. It’s set outside of the downtown area, but still only a 10-15 minute bus or taxi ride to the city center or hotel zone. We had no trouble getting around Puerto Vallarta during our stay, and greatly enjoyed the quiet atmosphere of the area. The Casa Magna is not an all-inclusive hotel so has fewer people who just came to drink and party.  Even though we left our kids at home we appreciated the family atmosphere. There are three golf courses near-by, the hotel has a five star spa and you can do many water activities right from the beach in front of the hotel.

The marina is only a five-minute walk from the hotel, and has many shops, services, restaurants, boat charters and dive shops. We spent a lot of time there since we took a scuba diving trip from PV Scuba in the marina. The marina has a totally different feel at night with many open air restaurants and boats all lit up.

The grounds, pool areas, and guest areas at the hotel were kept very clean. Our bed was extremely comfortable and the room had everything we needed. You have to pay for internet in the room but wifi is free and very fast in the lobby and pool area.

All of the staff at the hotel were very friendly, and helpful especially the bellhops at the front door of the hotel. They helped us get taxis, let us know where we could walk to and remembered us when we came back.

There are many locals selling their hats, jewellery, blankets and souvenirs on the beach in front of the hotel every day. They are very nice people. Talk to them. If you don’t want to buy anything just tell them no a few times and then start a conversation. They love to talk and often have questions about where you’re from!

We ate at three of the restaurants on site and I would highly recommend any of the Mexican dishes from any of them. The buffet was excellent with many, made to order, items including a local specialty: Chicadiles. This breakfast plate is made with taco chips, eggs, shredded chicken, ranchero sauce and cheese. My husband highly recommends it! There were also made to order omelettes and breakfast fajitas! My favourite drink at the Casa Magna was a fresh juice made from cactus, celery, orange juice and some other veggies/fruits I can’t remember. It was delicious and I had it almost every day. I would not recommend getting the american style food at the resort – the “american” cheese isn’t what we’re used to. It’s a much better idea to order the local food, and try new things!

The hotel has a fantastic view of the ocean, and city, especially at night. I was also lucky enough to see a humpback whale, in the ocean, from the hotel on my last day. The rooms all seem to have a wonderful view, but we really liked ours, with the sun setting over the ocean, directly in front of the balcony.

The beach was a little rough, at times, to swim in, but clean and warm. My husband did not hesitate to play in the waves, more than once! I stuck to the pool, which was warm and had a pool bar!

While we were at the Casa Magna, Marriott Hotels had a program going on with Go Pro where you could test drive a Go Pro Hero 4 camera. This was such a fun opportunity! We took the Go Pro with us on our scuba dive to Los Arcos and are so happy we have a video to remember it by!

via The Casa Magna Marriott Puerto Vallarta.

Permanent link to this article: http://stevestravelblog.com/?p=494

Jan 04

Is Cancellation Insurance worth the cost?

Is Cancellation Insurance worth the cost?

phpThumb_generated_thumbnailBefore today, I would have questioned on how to answer this question. Being in Canada, the inexpensive  flyer to the islands is Sunwing. I have had great and not so great, vacations in the past,  but the price being so far below the commercial carriers, it is hard to complain too much.

This time around, I was booking a trip to Cuba. Now I wanted the great prices of Sunwing, but I also wanted the 24 equal interest free payments  from Sears Travel offered there.  This meant I has to book through Signature Travel, owned by Sunwing, Through Sears Travel. Isn’t booking fun here in Canada.

To make matters worse, Cancellation Insurance from Sears was over $200, but I was able to get the same from Sunwing for $50.00. Go figure that one out. I decided to take it at that price and also ordered the Privilege upgrade for extra leg room and pre-boarding etc. on the flight. Not giving this part a second thought.

I went ahead with the booking at my hotel, a new one in that was just opening and I thought that it would make for a nice series  of articles to be at a resort that very few had been at.  This might have been great except, two months after the grand opening, the bad reviews started coming in. To make matters worse, others, that stayed earlier, started writing in stating that they also had a bad trip but did not want to write about it since it was so soon after the opening.

iberostar-ensenachos[1]They hoped that things would get better as staff training progressed, however, people reporting later showed things were getting worse and not better. This led them to the more reviews of what they experienced.

Now I wanted to have an experience where I could write about it, but I did want it to be positive so for the first time I decided to change hotels. Here is where I was surprised by Sunwing.  Because I bought the privilege upgrade package, it turns out there was an undisclosed benefit where they would allow me to change my plans once and only pay the difference between my current hotel’s rate and the hotel of my choice’s posted rated.  This did not affect my cancellation insurance so it was a great deal for me and saved my vacation.

For those following my posts, I am now booked into the Iberostar Ensenachos. Still flying into Santa Maria on the same flight but,  at a resort that has almost 1,400 5 out of 5 star reviews. Not to shabby.

More on this resort soon….


Permanent link to this article: http://stevestravelblog.com/?p=479

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

Load more