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Unique Vacations Archives - Air Canada Vacations

20 Jan

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6 Caribbean Carnivals to Kick Off 2015

January 20, 2015 | By |

How do you transform a cold bleak winter into a bustling landscape of tropical delight? We recommend sashaying towards the pulsing Calypso beats and flamboyant dancers that await in these 6 Caribbean destinations. Primed for their best ever Carnival seasons, prepare to be rejuvenated by the grand street parties and passions of the everyday people. But hurry – the celebrations are heating up, so start practicing those savvy dance moves and check out these 6 Caribbean Carnivals before it’s too late.

Curaçao

Boasting one of the longest carnival seasons in the Caribbean, Curaçao knows how to keep the party going. The Dutch island officially jumpstarted its celebrations at the beginning of January and the good times will continue in the coming weeks. First up, local artists will compete during the five-day Tumba Festival (Jan. 26-30), an epic music battle where the winning Tumba (song) is crowned the 2015 Carnival anthem. February ushers in more fun and talent with a jam-packed parade schedule featuring extravagant costumes inspired by folklore, impressive floats and even specially trained horses. Be sure to catch the main daytime parade, “Gran Marcha,” on Feb. 15, and the night-time finale, “Marcha di Despedida,” on Feb. 17, the day before Lent. Locals ceremoniously mark the farewell by setting fire to a straw-filled King Momo, a traditional evil symbol that needs to be cleansed before the fasting period begins. Coupled with fireworks, this is one feast for the eyes that is not to be missed.

Dominican Republic

If you want the ultimate Carnival experience in the Dominican Republic, simply head to La Vega any Sunday this February. Centrally located between Puerto Plata in the north and Santo Domingo in the south, La Vega is a two-hour drive from either coast and home to the country’s most popular Carnival. See if you can spot the city’s famous characters, the “Diablos Cojuelos,” who flood the streets in bright costumes and elaborate devil masks. They may just catch you off guard with a playful whip of their "vejiga" (looks like a balloon) as you nibble on a frío frío (a snow cone).

Guadeloupe

Guadeloupe’s Carnival season started two weeks ago, but it’s full steam ahead until the last street party runs dry on Ash Wednesday (Feb. 18). While festivities can be found in every town, make your way to Pointe-à-Pitre and Basse-Terre for the biggest parades and celebrations. On the last day, expect the streets to be filled with black and white Carnival devils and be prepared for the crowd’s cries when King Carnival “Vaval” is cremated at night. Once he is laid to rest, let the late night dining and dancing begin!

Martinique

Up for a challenge? Test your endurance in Martinique this February when revelry takes over Fort de France. The island’s Carnival is five intense days (Feb. 14-18) of lively street parades, zouk music and indulging joviality. From cross-dressing brides to elected Carnival Queens, there is something new to discover every day.

Panama City

Photo by mashmuzik via Instagram

Photo by mashmuzik via Instagram

If you’re looking for a party that rivals the likes of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro or Mardi Gras in New Orleans, then look no further than Panama City. Taking place from Feb. 14 and culminating in an extraordinary parade on Feb.17, Panama City’s Carnival celebration is one of the largest in the world. Catch all the action at the “Cinta Costera,” the waterfront boulevard next to the city’s busy Avenida Balboa, and you won’t miss a beat…or stay dry for very long. Sure, in true Latin American style, there are live salsa and reggae bands, but there is also at least one tradition unique to this Carnival: the “mojaderas.” By bucket, water balloon or fire hose, be prepared to get soaked in a Caribbean dance party.

St. Martin/St Maarten

One island, two different Carnival affairs. The northern French part, St. Martin, is the first to host the festivities (Jan. 30-Feb. 18) and you can count on glittery costumes, loud drums and dancing processions to take over the streets in Marigot. Sint Maarten, the Dutch southern side, then welcomes partygoers mid-April (April 16-May 4) for its own brand of merrymaking, complete with international concerts and a Carnival Village that offers a wide selection of tasty local treats (Johnny cakes, anyone?). Don’t miss the Grand Carnival Parade on April 30, also known as King’s Day in the Netherlands.

 

Ready to sway your hips and move your feet? Don’t miss a beat! Learn more about these Caribbean destinations now.

 

11 Mar

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Our top diving picks in the Caribbean

March 11, 2014 | By |

by Michael DeFreitas

Amazing, fantastic, spectacular – Caribbean diving

Twenty metres above us, the sunlight danced on the surface like a giant disco ball. Streams of sunbeams pierced the pristine blue water, spotlighting the shallow West Caicos reef. I was trying to photograph a pesky, three-centimetre, spotted cleaning shrimp, wedged amid the tangle of stinging tentacles of a giant Caribbean anemone. Every time I had the frisky critter in my sights it would dart back among the tentacles before I could snap the shot.

I finally managed to get off a few shots when my dive buddy tugged my arm. Turning his way, I found him frantically gesturing and pointing upwards to a creature every diver dreams of but few ever experience. Floating less than five metres above us was a giant manta ray performing an underwater ballet of loops and rolls. Its enormous wings propelling it effortlessly through the water, while its cavernous mouth gathered in a feast of plankton and thimble jellies.

I raised my camera, my heart pounding. Then it hit me my first manta sighting and my camera rig was setup for macro instead of wide-angle photography. All I could do was admire the magnificent creature until it disappeared into the blue abyss.

Encounters like this are one of the main reasons scuba diving is becoming one of the fastest growing adventure sports in the world. And when it comes to exciting underwater experiences, few destinations can match the Caribbean. With easy access from Canadian gateways, 25˚ to 30˚C waters, 30-metre visibility and a variety of dive sites, it's no surprise that many Caribbean islands consistently rank in the top ten best destinations in the world.

Cozumel's strong ocean currents create some of the world's best drift diving. Divers pushed along by these fast currents literally ‘fly' over the reef. Zipping through the underwater caverns at Devils Throat is one of the Caribbean's most exciting drift dives.

Aruba's shallow water dive sites team with tropical fish and are ideal for divers of all skill levels. The island's premier dive site is the 135-metre Antilla shipwreck lying in 20 metres of water.

Grand Cayman offers the unique experience of interacting with playful southern stingrays and nurse sharks at their Stingray City dive site. Saint Lucia's incredible Coral Gardens offer a kaleidoscope of colourful sponges, corals and thick clouds of tropical fish.

I have been diving the Caribbean for almost 15 years and still have a few more destinations to cross off my diving list. Later this year, I'll check off a few more entries when I dive into the crystal clear waters of Curaçao.

Over the last 25 years, award-winning freelance writer and photographer Michael DeFreitas has authored and illustrated more than 150 stories and three guidebooks on the Caribbean.

No excuses… It's time to get certified

It's never been easier to get certified. PADI's referral program allows you to start your open-water certification program at a Canadian dive centre and complete the course at an affiliated PADI resort in the Caribbean. This program eliminates the need to make your compulsory open-water dives in cold water. Simply attend the classroom and pool sessions in Canada, then complete your certification dives on your next Caribbean vacation.

Many Caribbean resorts offer scuba-diving introductory courses and tours for certified packages. Check out our full-list of diver-friendly caribbean resorts.

10 Feb

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Romantic vacations – our employees tell all!

February 10, 2014 | By |

The Royal Playa del CarmenThe Royal Playa del Carmen is definitely a resort for couples and honeymooners. Romance starts at the beginning, when they ask you to choose the atmosphere you want to have in your room. There are candles, flowers and wine every night in your room before dinner and when you come back from the restaurant, the jacuzzi with oil massage are ready.

– Marie-Andrée, Marketing Coordinator

El Dorado Casitas RoyaleWhen I think of hot romantic destinations, Karisma's Eldorado Casitas Royale comes top of mind! Adults-only, Gourmet Inclusive, this resort provides the perfect combination of intimacy, modern coziness, friendly service, fine food & wines! Guests are likely to hang in their private pools, so the beach can belong to you. For extra kicks, take a private cooking class, go for a jog around the resort or dance the night away in Playa del Carmen!

– Claudine, Marketing Strategy Manager

The Secrets The Vine is my recommendation to all couples that are looking for a luxurious resort in Cancun. The food is delicious, the wine is delectable, the service is impeccable, and the resort itself is absolutely gorgeous.

– Marie-France, Marketing Project Manager

My most romantic escapade was at The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. After dinner overlooking Lake Louise, we took a walk into the forest on snowshoes to an igloo, where we got engaged under the stars.

– Bryn, Copywriter

Excellence Playa MujeresWhen I was five months pregnant with my son, we stayed for one week at the adults-only Excellence Playa Mujeres in Cancun. The place was beautiful! They had beds on the sand facing the beach which was very romantic and at night the resort had candles outside the lounge. We also had royal concierge service which made it very romantic. They included champagne in the room with fruits and chocolate. Plus everyday, they kept filling the jacuzzi with rose petals and beautiful scents. It was just perfect! The service was amazing, they would do everything just to make sure I got the ice cream I wanted.

– Mariana, Inside Sales Coordinator

One of my most romantic vacations was at the Fairmont Southampton Princess in Bermuda. I still clearly recall the relaxing evenings on the balcony sipping champagne while the sun was setting and then waking up to breakfast in bed in a room fit for royalty. The room was stunning, luxurious mahogany furniture and the ultra cozy bed, we simply did not want to leave our room! After two days, we decided to get out and explore the island. We rented mopeds and rode along the coast to a private beach cove. The sand was soft and pink, the water warm and turquoise and the best of all, we were alone…

– Anonymous romantic

Want to share your own best romantic vacation memories? Sound off below!

20 Dec

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Dive into the Blue Bahamas

December 20, 2012 | By |

Ever since Jacques Cousteau changed the world with his revolutionary Aqualung over 60 years ago, the Bahamas has been at the top of the list of the world’s best dive sites. This archipelago’s 700 islands cover 259,000 square kilometres throughout the Western Atlantic and offer an amazing range of dive adventures, including pristine coral reefs, soaring vertical walls, historic wrecks, tunnels, caverns and blue holes.

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