Tag: fun in the sun

Oct 15

Sailing delight in Greece and Turkey

This September I boarded a beautiful Turkish gulet, the Muhtesem A, for a week of heaven in the Mediterranean. For someone who’s pretty well travelled, I’ve discovered the beauty of Greece and Turkey late in my travelling life so I’m soaking up…

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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.

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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.

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Nov 18

Catalonia Bavaro Resort

This is a review of the Catalonia Bavaro Beach, Casino & Golf Resort, Dominican Republic. We chose this resort after reading many reviews on Trip Advisor. Here is my review.

Bavaro Beach - This location is further from the pack of resorts to the north. This means less venders!!

Bavaro Beach – This place is further from the pack of resorts to the north. This means less vendors!!

Okay, it’s time to set the story straight on this wonderful resort. Let me start be saying that one of the reasons we chose this resort was the large number of positive reviews versus the other resorts that seemed to have about a 50/50 split. Now that I have been there, I want to comment not only on our trip but I will try to give you a set of pointers to help you have a great trip here as well. I truly believe that many of the small number of negative comments could have been overcome if people had more information before they go.

Looking into the Lobby Area

Looking into the Lobby Area

I think it goes almost without saying that we had a GREAT “holiday”. We went with a very open mind. We have traveled to several other islands and have always enjoyed ourselves in Jamaica. This time, it was a last-minute thing and we just tried the best sounding resort and the best price. Because of some other great reviews, we were ready for several things but many things were not commented on.

Several people suggested that we should try to get villa 1 or 2, but we ended up in villa 20. Don’t be as concerned about this. Most, if not all, of the villas that will be available are great and none of the people we met there had any complaints about their rooms. They are adding some new rooms so try to get rooms towards the beach or on any of the inside rows. I would avoid the rooms on the left away from the beach as these, I would guess, might get some of the sound from the nightly shows. Villa 20 is closest to the beach on the inside row on the right hand side. So, it is just before the pool. We never heard a sound from our room and had great sleeps every night.

As you can guess, when we checked in, I was trying to get villa 2 (based on other reviews)and when I heard we were in villa 20, I spent a few minutes at the desk as the very friendly staff tried to see if they could accommodate our request. Suggestion: If there is any delay at the front desk and you want a good drink after a long day of travel, just have the person you’re traveling with walk 20 feet to the left and get yourselves a couple of cold refreshing drinks. Don’t worry about carrying the glasses out of that area and to the front desk, it is fine. The cocktail was fine, but a nice tropical drink that we took with us to our room was great.

I really don’t understand the need for the colored band they put on your wrist when you check in, but all the resorts do this. Now, I am not saying to do this … but, friends that we met at the pool said theirs “accidentally” broke as they scratched an itch and it was not long after that, that our’s somehow “accidentally” broke and then many of the others in the group of people we met there all had the same accident. We did carry them in our bag, but we were never once, asked to see them. So … hint, hint.

If you arrive in the evening, like we did, remember that the buffet area by the beach is only open in the day time, not at night. In the evening, it is 2 of the specialty restaurants, and you need a reservation. So, remember to either head back to the lobby area for dinner or just send your bags on ahead of you and grab a bite right there.

Although the staff are very friendly and most know enough English to get the job done, please remember that this is a Spanish-speaking country. I found many smiles from the staffs faces as we tried to use their language. They would help me pronounce the words correctly and the instant friendly attitude was there all week. I think many of the complaints about the staff are unfounded. My wife and I found ALL the staff to be extremely friendly, but we treated them as friends as well. The most common but still rare comment I heard about the staff was something like “The staff is not friendly, They don’t even speak English” Well, there were many people at the resort that were from France, Italy, Spain as well as French people from Quebec here in Canada. I think it would be hard to find a large number of waiters and other staff in a Spanish-speaking country that can speak 5 or more languages, right. So I think that if you give the staff a little honour and allow them to take pride in their language, you will have a wonderful experience.

Now while we are on the topic of staff, I want to cover another 2 areas that will greatly help you in you positive vacation experience. We did two things every day that made our experience there like flying first class.

1.We brought gift packs of shampoo, specialty soups, and small things like pencils and candy for kids. We got most of these things with one trip to the dollar store so it was not expensive. We just quickly made up 7 packet’s in sealable baggies and left one each day with $5 for the house cleaner. We had the opportunity to meet the house cleaner and found out she had 3 small children and she was delighted with the gifts. Everyday, we ended up with extra water, beer, towels in many different shapes and fresh flowers everywhere. However, the smile on her face was a treat in itself.

2.At the main pool bar, which was the area that we spent most of our time at, I made sure to know the name of the bartender and slipped him $5 every day. That and my wife gave him a flashing pin of a parrot and other pins that he really liked. In fact the pins were a hit and other staff wanted one. We just stuck with the one fellow and I could not get my glass or our friends glasses empty. He always had a smile and was extremely friendly.

Do you have to tip? Of course not. I truly believe that you would get great friendly service anyway. But, All I am suggesting is this: If you were not at an all-inclusive and you went for drinks or dinner, you would, most likely, tip the staff when you paid your bill, right? Well here, you do not have a bill, but you still have staff that, in my opinion, deserves a tip, and with the huge majority of the guests not tipping, you will stand out to them as someone to give special service to.

Several people reported in their reviews that there were a lot of kids at the resort. Well, this is correct, but only for one day. It seems that the staff are allowed to bring family in to the pool area for the 1/2 day on Sunday. I don’t think that this is every Sunday, but the Sunday we were there, they were highly visible. Note, this was the ONLY day we saw a lot of kids that went around together like they were very knowledgeable of the area. All other days, we only saw a few kids with their parents (guests with kids). We just went with the flow and still had a great day, but here is a suggestion, if you are concerned that this will make an unpleasant day for you then, just book one of the great excursions that are available and be out of the resort area for the Sunday morning. I highly recommend the Safari Tour that takes you out into the countryside and the off shore snorkeling – you can actually swim with sharks (remember to bring a disposable underwater camera). Personal tip. If you want to try the snorkeling, I like to pop down to Wal-Mart and pick up a low-cost mask and snorkel kit. I think it is sort of nice to have my own snorkel 🙂 We left ours in the room for the house cleaners kids. Remember for any items like that, leave a note stating that these items are for the house cleaner and you’re giving permission for them to have them.

Now while I mentioned the Safari tour, This is a great way to see the “real” country. You will be visiting places that show the different things in the country. We bought cigars at the cigar factory, pure vanilla at the plantation and a lot of other things. They offer you hats and shirts at the sugarcane area and 85% of the money spent for these items goes to a local school that they support. (Yes, it does go to the school) Another Tip: Schools are provided only until grade 4. the schools are in need of supplies and although it might sound silly to us, it is a great blessing if you bring supplies to give to the school. We brought pencils but we discovered that scribblers/writing pads/books (or even just paper) are in great need. To see these kids is a little heart breaking, but you will leave with a great feeling. As well, a lot of people brought candy to give to kids along the way, but what really got to me was that they all asked for water!!! That was the big treat for them. So, be kind to your maid, ask for extra water. Of course you will not hear them say water, but you will hear them ask for “Agua” (Pronounced A-gua.)

Here is another tip that we discovered as we came back to our country and came through customs. If you bring back the honey or other things that are not labeled, they may not make it through customs. Wood products are iffy but we made it through with the carvings and things like that. Now, on the tour, they will talk about something called Mama-Guana. It is a drink that they take once a day for good health. However you can buy the bottle with 9 different kinds of wood in side ready for the liquid ingredients. We just liked the look of the bottle with the wood inside so we bought it. At the border, it was taken because of the wood. However, they told us that if we had of filled it with the honey and rum, the alcohol would have made sure the wood was clean and we would have been able to keep it, So, if you like this, buy the honey there and mix it back at the resort with free rum before coming home. I can’t say you will pass with success, but I can say that the wood will not make it on it’s own so … with free rum, you have little to lose.

I mentioned that we have been to Jamaica before and we thought we were ready for the sun here. I am not sure what the difference is, but the sun seemed to be more intense. I brought factor 15 with the intent on quickly going to 8 and then a 4, but we ended up buying a factor 30 to protect our shoulders. We still tanned even with the factor 30 on, so, considering the expensive price on the resort stores, be sure to bring some with you.

Here is a quick check list of things to bring.

1.LARGE Insulated coffee mugs (to keep your drinks cold at the pool or on the beach)
2.Disposable underwater camera – hint, even at the beach at the resort, you can snorkel. Take along a few crunched up bread rolls for the fish and take some great pic’s
3.Water shoes – useful for going out beyond the roped area where there is some rock bottom.
4.Inflatable water raft (Buy 2 or more so you will have a spare and leave them with a newly met friends that is staying later then you.)

All in all we:
1.had great weather
2.met new great friends
3.had great service
4.went on a great excursion
5.ate at great restaurants
6.had a great time

We highly recommend this resort.

MiMi -- the best guide at the Bavero Runners safari excursion

MiMi — the best guide at the Bavero Runners safari excursion

We kept in touch with MiMi and if you are doing this tour, we recommend asking for him.

New friends we met and had fun with for the week.

New friends we met and had fun with for the week.

We always meet new friends. Break out and start talking. It makes for some fun times. I think we were up to 12 by the end of the week.

 


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