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Travel stories Archives - Air Canada Vacations

22 Jan

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Big White Ski Resort Family Vacation

January 22, 2019 | By |

Before kids, I was the kind of person who loved the occasional spontaneous travel experience—booking a flight, maybe a hotel at the destination and figuring out the rest on the fly.

But with demands on my time at a premium and four people to book, pack and get on their way, I revel in the simplicity of one-stop travel shopping.

When Air Canada Vacations launched its 2019 Canada Collection featuring ski vacation packages to resorts such as Mont-Tremblant, Fernie, Whistler and more, I all but begged to get on board to find out what kind of value these almost-all-inclusive trips could offer families.

So Miss Q and I packed our gear and set out on a ski trip to Big White, just outside of Kelowna. Our package included round-trip airfare from Toronto to Kelowna on Air Canada Rouge—and don’t forget that if you’re travelling with kids 12 and under, you can call the airline after you book to ensure you’re seated with your kids at no extra charge—lodging at the Inn at Big White, lift tickets for both of us and round-trip shuttles to get us to and from the resort.

Family Ski Vacation

Why Big White?

First of all, Big White is less than an hour from the airport. You can take a morning flight and catch a couple hours’ worth of runs not long after touching ground.

The resort’s tag line is “It’s The Snow” and ain’t that the truth. Big White’s snow is the best I’ve experienced so far in Canada and rivals the champagne powder in Utah. (Yet you get to stay in Canada. Score.)

It’s the kind of snow that expert skier Powder Matt called “buttery” during our shared visit to the resort. No ice anywhere—not even little granular bits broken up by a groomer—and that’s a gift to those of us from the east where skiing over icy patches is common place!

Skiing at Big White

Better still, Big White caters to families. It’s family-owned and being family-centric is as much a part of the resort’s identity as having killer snow.

Miss Q had no trouble getting on and off chairlifts on her own here, and the on-site Kids’ Centre was outstanding, with small-group lessons tailored to each child’s ability and daily written progress reports by way of a checklist attached to the kids’ ski jackets.

The ski lessons had instructor consistency and my kid was pretty thrilled about having snack-time built into her morning session. Oh, and a half-day (9:15 to 11:45 a.m., with two hours of lessons) is only $74. You can spend your morning in your own ski lesson, shopping or enjoying some me-time in the spa! I may have done all three…

One of the coolest things about Big White is that it feels like two resorts in one thanks to upper and lower areas connected by a free gondola ride. While all of the skiing is done in the upper section, the lower one houses the Happy Valley Day Lodge, skating rink, ice-climbing tower, horse-drawn sleigh rides, tubing and more.

Big White Ski Resort

Our favourite evening activity was tubing. SO FUN, and dare I say the best tubing we’ve ever tried. There are two long channels that run alongside a massive magic carpet, which means you can lazily ride back up to the top with your kid and your tube(s) rather than hoisting them with elbow grease. Single or double tubes await and the guys at the top will gladly give you an extra spin before they push you over the edge. Warning: they don’t mess around.

Tubing at Big White Skit resort

There’s a huge outdoor skating rink, and if you have your own skates, it’s free to use; skate and helmet rentals are available, too. You can hit up ice skating any time of day, but we loved it at night with a bonfire and free hot chocolate on the sidelines.

There are daily and weekly activities built for families, from crafting to live music, with a kid-friendly après-ski event every afternoon. And we simply ran out of time before we could get to the ice tower, dog-sledding, mini-snowmobiling, yoga, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing and so, so much more.

Ski at Big White Ski Resort

And even though meals weren’t part of our package, I have to note how impressed I was with the food at Big White. We made it to the Blarney Stone (have the Irish stew), Kettle Valley Steakhouse (have the wagyu steak), Black Diamond Bar & Grill (have the stuffed French toast), Clocktower Coffee Co. (have the mocha), Globe Café & Tapas Bar (have the quinoa breakfast bowl), Gunbarrel Grill (have the burger and Gunbarrel coffee), Moose Lounge (have the gargantuan nacho board), The Bullwheel (have the lobster chowder) and The Woods (have the short rib)—phew!

There is clearly a strong emphasis on food at Big White, because there wasn’t a bad meal to be had across the entire resort. That said, there are still nine or 10 other eateries we didn’t get to in the time we had.

Is a ski vacation package worth it?

All Air Canada Vacations ski packages come with round-trip flights from various Canadian cities operated by Air Canada or Air Canada Rouge, as well as hotel accommodations, lift tickets and airport shuttles.

If you think about all-inclusive travel, the only thing missing here is food. The convenience of having everything planned together—especially when you’ve got a million and one other things going on at the same time—cannot be understated. It’s brilliant.

Look at it this way: if you booked everything separately, and you have a flight delay, your shuttle driver might be completely unaware and you’ll risk having no one waiting for you when you arrive. Lift ticket deals are usually priced better in a package deal, too. And having ONE bill for everything with an itemized list and one set of taxes is a lot easier for a busy brain to manage, in my opinion.

Air Canada Vacations travelers can also benefit from free seat selection, a $100 future travel credit and 2,000 bonus Aeroplan® Miles per couple. Canadians can book on aircanadavacations.com, by calling 1-866-529-2079, or through your local travel agent.

How much is a ski vacation to Big White?

That’s a tough one because prices change all the time and depend on where you’re travelling from, how many people are in your party, how long you stay and a whole whack of other factors.

However, to give you an idea, I priced out the Inn at Big White in a superior room for five nights with four days of lift tickets. Again, this also includes return transfers from the Kelowna Airport to Big White and airfare (flying from Toronto direct to Kelowna). As of January 4 (when I wrote this), departing on March 15, 2019, it’s priced at $1,179 per adult including all taxes (and around $810 for kids).

That means a 5-night ski vacation, for a family of four with two kids around the 6-11 age range, comes to $3,969 all in. That’s a very, very good price. By comparison, we have done ski trips by car that cost about the same.

Bottom line: I’m already saving for an Air Canada Vacations ski trip for all four of us next season!

This blog post was written by Andrea Traynor, Blogger from Mommy Gearest. To see what Andrea has been up to recently, visit her website.

23 Oct

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Things to Do in Puerto Plata

October 23, 2018 | By |

Get ready for care-free floats in the pool with cocktails in hand, snorkelling off idyllic islands, and adrenaline-inducing exploration! The northern province of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic has become an increasingly popular vacation destination, because of its gorgeous beaches and laidback lifestyle. There are beach resorts all along the coastline where you can enjoy luxurious amenities and find the relaxation you deserve.

But don’t be fooled, there’s also a multitude of different experiences waiting for you in this lush Dominican paradise, including historic sites and immersive cultural opportunities. Consider a longer stay so you’ll have time to complete your growing list of things to do in Puerto Plata.

The balance of activities available to us was a nice surprise. As a result, we’ve compiled our recommendations into the top 5 things to do in Puerto Plata.

The Vacation Couple in Puerto Plata

Visit Paradise Island

On the border of the province, just off the coast of Punta Rucia, you’ll find one of the smallest islands in the world, Cayo Arena, aptly nicknamed Paradise Island.  You can spend the afternoon lounging, eating, drinking, swimming or snorkelling around this 2,000 square foot slice of paradise.

Visiting Cayo Arena is part of an all-day excursion available through Air Canada Vacations. Our tour included a VIP boat ride with unlimited drinks, coffee, and fresh fruit, as well as a delicious buffet lunch with lobster. Our day started with great music, friendly staff, and a floating champagne bar.

Once we arrived at the main attraction, Cayo Arena, we all found an area to ourselves. The sand was so soft that in certain places, it actually felt like walking in Jell-O! While we snorkelled, the fish were out in abundance and unabashedly swam by us in their natural habitat. No visit to Puerto Plata would be complete without a visit to Cayo Arena, an idyllic slice of paradise!

Jump Off Waterfalls

The Damajagua Waterfalls are a series of 27 cascading waterfalls in the Dominican jungle made by Mother Nature and the Damajagua River. You’ll strap on your life jacket and helmet before climbing up to the 7th waterfall to begin your adventure of climbing, sliding, or jumping off into the water below. For the faint of heart, there’s the option of taking stairs down, but we recommend taking the more exciting route and JUMPING!

You’ll only cover a quarter of the waterfalls in this 2-3 hour tour, so it won’t take up your entire day.  We recommend going early and enjoying your buffet lunch before carrying on with your day under the Dominican sunshine.  To balance our day, we visited a nearby beach before going back to our resort to indulge in all-inclusive luxuries.  This brings us to our next point, one of the most essential things to do in Puerto Plata…

Relax At an All-Inclusive Resort

The coast of Puerto Plata is filled with views of lush vegetation, rolling mountains and a gorgeous ocean with tons of marine life to explore. Staying at a beach resort ensures you’ll take advantage of all of Puerto Plata’s natural surroundings. We stayed at the Grand Bahia Principe San Juan, a short 10-minute drive from Rio San Juan.

This resort is part of the Spotlight Collection, which elevates your vacation with exclusive added values. I’m talking more à la carte dinners, in-room amenities, and 4,000 bonus Aeroplan® Miles per couple!

The Rooms

With 845 rooms across their grand property, this beautiful pastel community in the jungle feels open and airy.  Besides our beautiful balcony, the mini bar was a feature that we really loved as it had a variety of pop, juices, water, and beer that we could grab at any time.  Our room was located at the centre of the property, which made getting to the beach, pool, lobby, and most restaurants an absolute breeze.

The Food

Although Shadi and I love a sit-down meal at an à la carte restaurant (which we’ll get to soon), our true passion is buffets. And the main restaurant, La Brisa International Buffet, did not disappoint us! We were pleased morning, noon, and night at the selection of fresh foods served. Also, they had an ice cream bar, need we say more?

What to Do

With a swim-up bar and ample room to float around, the main lake-style pool is where the party’s at! We also enjoyed the quieter times at the other pools, as they gave us privacy and had direct access to the beach.

We had over 1.5 km of private beach at our fingertips, surrounded by thick, bright, and beautiful flora. You could wade in the water or take a stroll on the sand, and sunsets were truly magical here.

Take advantage of both the snorkelling and paddle boarding, as both are complimentary with your stay. Or you can go that extra mile and indulge in spa services with facilities that are adorned with Dominican touches. Who doesn’t love having a relaxing massage on the beach while listening to the soothing sounds of the sea?

Go on a City Tour

With a full-day tour of the city, you’ll be able to learn while visiting influential places. Here are our top things to do in Puerto Plata, city edition.

Mount Isabel de Torres

Chris the Redeemer statue

Riding the teleferico was an event on its own. It’s the only cable car in the Caribbean and allows for panoramic views of the city and coastline from 800m above sea level.

As we headed up Mount Isabel de Torres, the breathtaking views slowly presented themselves and the anticipation began to build. Once we reached the top, the large Christ the Redeemer statue was waiting for us with open arms.

During your time up here, we recommend wandering through the Botanical Gardens and taking in the surroundings. This colourful garden covers nearly 7 acres and features 600 varieties of tropical plants.

Brugal Rum Distillery

One of the most memorable experiences we had in Puerto Plata is touring the family-owned Brugal Rum Distillery. The Brugal family is the largest producer of traditionally made rum in the Dominican.

We toured the distillery with Jassil Brugal, a 5th generation brewmaster. Her passion for the process was apparent as she spoke to us. It was fascinating to learn about the aging process and see each step along the way. The tour ended with a rum tasting and a new appreciation for premium rums and the legacy of the distillery.

Central Park

Found in the centre of Puerto Plata city, Parque Central welcomes you with its surrounding palms and colourful pastel architecture. The main square is a beautiful place where locals relax and spend time with friends and family. You’ll find a café, and restaurant around the square, as well as bakeries, street art, souvenir shops, museums and the Atlantic Ocean just a couple of blocks away. Wandering these gorgeous streets should be at the top of your list of things to do in Puerto Plata.

Go Beach Hopping

Puerto Plata beachesWith over 100 km of beautiful beaches to choose from, it’s easy to find a spot to enjoy. We visited as many beaches as we possibly could which resulted in time at Playa Sosua, Cabarete, Playa Dorada, and the stunning beach at the Grand Bahia Principe San Juan.

Each beach seemed to have its own distinct personality, with Kite beach in Cabarete being one of the most memorable. We wandered along the shore admiring all the kiteboarders slicing through the water. One surfer stood out from the rest, and locals shared that he was a world champion kitesurfer. Watching him cut through the waves and do flips in the air is an experience we’ll never forget!

Why You Should Visit Puerto Plata

There are many more things to do in Puerto Plata, but these are our absolute favourites. It’s truly an experience like no other, with such a rich diversity of activities for you to choose from.  With so many different options for food, activities, and accommodations, you can craft the perfect combination for you.

Air Canada Vacations offers flights from Toronto to Puerto Plata weekly during the summer months and four times per week during the winter months. Plus, you’ll be receiving 1 checked bag per person plus all transfers from the airport to your hotel in your package price.

This blog post was written by The Vacation Couple, ambassadors for Air Canada Vacations. See what the Vacation Couple has been up to.

 

17 Jul

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The Beauty of St. John’s

July 17, 2018 | By |

I’m super excited to share the details of my Urban Getaway to the Alt Hotel in St. John’s, Newfoundland with Air Canada Vacations!

Visiting Canada’s East Coast and particularly Newfoundland has been on my bucket list since I moved from Vancouver to Montreal. It just seems the coast doesn’t get the love it merits…and that became even more evident after I discovered what St. John’s has to offer!

We rented a car with Budget on arrival and made our way to downtown St. John’s, which was a 15-20 minute ride from the airport, an easy route to the Alt Hotel St. John’s.

The Alt Hotel St. John’s is part of the same family as the Germain hotels and I immediately felt right at home. The incredibly friendly staff were definitely a highlight, particularly one lady who patiently answered my 2 billion questions about the city and what to do. In fact, the people of St. John’s were generally just so nice, so warm and so polite! Our room was perfect, with the most comfortable beds and comforters. I definitely fell in slow-motion on the white fluff of a duvet as soon as I got in!
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Our first stop: CAPE SPEAR! On a cliff located a 15-minute drive outside the downtown centre, Cape Spear is home to Newfoundland’s oldest surviving lighthouse. The drive up was majestic. After cruising down a forest-lined road, you find yourself driving on top of what I can only describe as a massive rock, with ocean waves crashing against the cliff. We parked, walked towards the lighthouse and, despite the cold and the fog (ok, it was, like, 3 degrees…we were COLD), we were blown away by the beauty around us. For me, personally, the thought that, beyond that point, the closest piece of land would be Europe, was really cool.
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After trotting around there for a bit, snapping pics and making new friends (everyone was so friendly! We met a group of breast cancer survivors who were on a trip together. I won’t get into it, but it was inspiring to meet such amazing women), we headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

Our first night, we dined at The Merchant Tavern, a lovely and modern restaurant with really good cocktails and incredible food. If you go to St. John’s, it’s definitely a must. The night was young when we finished, so we headed to George Street for some live music at O’Reilly’s. Live music in this town is serious; it’s a totally authentic representation of Newfoundland. Pub dancing and enjoying live music are how people party and I am not opposed at all! So. Much. Fun! An early night was in the books though, as we had a day of exploring ahead of us.

The following two days were spent exploring–the highlights were definitely finding the Jellybean Row Houses that define St. John’s architectural landscape. The homes, so brightly coloured, popped against the cloudy and foggy atmosphere. Green, blue, pink, yellow–you name it, there’s likely a house painted in it! So cute!

We then took our fish and chips craving over the Chafe’s Landing, a place the late and wonderful Anthony Bourdain ate at so we knew it was going to be a truly delicious feast. See picture below for the most perfect piece of fried cod I have ever had!
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Signal Hill was another must-see, of course! Overlooking St. John’s, the views were incredible. Fortifications were built here in the 17th century and served as harbour defences until the Second World War. You can see anyone coming by boat up there! While the site itself is the most popular landmark of St. John’s, my friend and I still talk about the Newfoundland Chocolate Company, a small café located halfway up to Signal Hill. Here, you can choose a fun hot chocolate from a mouth-watering menu or opt for a delicious mocha. This was hands-down the BEST mocha I’ve ever had and I still dream about it daily! NEED. MORE. If you go to St. John’s, you MUST go there. The warm beverage was much needed, as the cold gusts of wind up on Signal Hill were chilly enough to wake the dead! (Side note: it was unseasonably cold for the month of June).

We finished the day eating a delicious lentil soup at the uber-cool Mallard Cottage located in Quidi Vidi Village, home to the province’s largest microbrewery, the Quidi Vidi Brewery. Mallard Cottage is a must if you like the vibe of places like Joe Beef and Liverpool House, aka brimming with cool locals.
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I want to finish with my FAVOURITE part of this trip: getting SCREECHED in at Christian’s Pub! Screech is Newfoundland’s rum. Back in the day, they used to trade this deep, dark rum with the Jamaicans, who, in exchange, took loads of cod off their hands. In order to become an honorary Newfoundlander, you must participate in a Screeching Ceremony, during which you learn some awesome Newfoundland slang, take a shot of Screech…and….kiss a cod. Yes, an actual cod. It happened. We laughed. We learnt. We drank. We got a certificate. True story! It was hilarious! Best part? Christian’s Pub is where Anthony Bourdain got “screeched in” when he spent 2 weeks in Newfoundland.
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Our Sunday night was spent celebrating our honorary titles: we had an insanely delicious dinner at Adelaide’s, made some awesome new friends (and perhaps, just perhaps, a few more drinks than I care to remember) with dancing back at Christian’s. Let’s just say that we were in no hurry to get up and at ‘em the next day!

Our last night was spent with a lovely group, hailing from Toronto and Montreal. We had dinner at Mussels On The Corner, which has a long menu of mussels cooked in ways you couldn’t even imagine. Not into mussels? You can try something else off their delicious menu and if you’re adventurous enough…maybe sample a seal meat poutine.

I feel truly lucky to have visited this adorable city, full of history, great food (read: chocolate), great people and great music. It’s the perfect Urban Getaway that actually feels more country-meets-small-town. In fact, St. John’s would be a great place to fly into for a few days before spending some time exploring the rest of Newfoundland…something I absolutely will do one day.

If you’re looking to get away to St. John’s, Newfoundland for a few days, check out the new Urban-Chic getaways in Canada with Air Canada Vacations. These packages include your flight, hotel and you can check out whenever you like!

This post was written by photographer and content creator, Karolina Jez. To learn more about Karolina, you can visit her website www.nineblonde.com.

21 Apr

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ANTIGUA’S Best Beaches by Amanda Urcullu

April 21, 2014 | By |

A full mile of soft sugar-white sand that gently clung to my toes I could have stayed in Antigua an entire year. With 365 beaches speckled across its shimmering coastline, I’d never have tired of the magnificent scenery. Though each stretch of sand has its charms, I was on the quest for the perfect beach one that was truly spellbinding.

After landing in Antigua, I immediately began my mission. I flung my bags into the back of my taxi and I asked the driver to head straight to the northwest coast. Along this section of the island’s resort-laden stretches of paradise are two of Antigua’s top beaches: Dickenson Bay and Runaway Bay. Runaway Bay is a seemingly endless expanse of soft white sand, and home to many popular resorts, restaurants and bars. It’s a romantic couples’ destination, but I took the opportunity to test out some water sports, like water-skiing and kayaking, before stretching out to relax, suntan and watch other vacationers enjoy the sunshine. A quick stop at nearby Dickenson Bay revealed to me a wide strip of powder-soft sand and tranquil turquoise waters, attracting many young families. I frolicked in the warm waters as the sun set, then dipped into a casual bar for a drink and a snack.

The next morning I arose with the sun, determined to continue my search for Antigua’s best beach. With so many options, I took the logical route of driving west along the coastline, dipping into the bays to investigate popular spots and undiscovered gems. The popular west-coast surf spot of Galley Bay attracts surfers of all levels, and joggers love to comb its sandy shore on warm evenings. A popular nesting hub for turtles, I was lucky enough to witness a rare and wondrous moment as baby sea turtles hatched along the bay’s soft shore. I’d heard the four crescent beaches at Hawksbill are also highly esteemed, so I popped by before dark. I left my bathing suit behind this time; one of these beaches is nudist.

Next up was one of my favourite stops along the west coast Jolly Beach, nestled into Jolly Harbour. It offered me a full mile of soft sugar-white sand that gently clung to my toes after I dipped them in the tranquil waters of the Caribbean Sea. I love the idyllic seaside here, but with plenty of restaurants, water sports, and shopping nearby, I also found it to be a great spot to spend a week. I could have stayed, but I was on a mission and had to keep driving south.

As the car dipped and climbed its way along the hilly southwest pocket of Antigua, I discovered less developed, but equally enjoyable, stretches of sand. Despite the windy roads I had to take to get there, it was entirely worth it to reach Darkwood Bay, where I set my gaze upon the deserted patch of sand and serene crystal blue waters. With its abundant aquatic life for snorkelling and calm, cooling breezes, I grabbed my flippers and mask and set out to discover a stunning underwater world, dense with schools of rainbow-coloured tropical fish. After a quick dip, I towelled off and headed over to Fryes Bay. I was so grateful for the clear weather; there was an idyllic view on the horizon of the island of Monteserrat and its looming volcano.

The next morning, I left the twists and turns of the less-travelled southwest roads, to enjoy a leisurely brunch in the quaint village of Old Road. The real treat was ahead of me, however, and as I approached, I just knew Carlisle Bay was the gem of Antigua’s southern coast. I spent a full day soaking up the sunshine on this expansive beach that boasts velvet sand, coconut groves and a wide variety of fish that swam with me in the clear waters off the coast. I was in a tropical paradise.

After all the beautiful Antiguan beaches I’d seen so far, I was certain no other spot could top the beauty I’d seen, but I’d been told the best was yet to come. I had to see it for myself to believe it. Everything I’d heard was true Half Moon Bay, on the southeast corner of the island, is possibly the most picturesque beach I’d ever laid eyes on (and by this point, I’d become quite the expert!). With its pink sand and active surf, this national park is a treasure. The Atlantic tide can be rough at times, but that didn’t deter me and a constant stream of windsurfers, skimming the water as our colourful sails flapped in the warm Caribbean breeze. What a perfect day. I was at the end of my journey and had a tough decision to make. Which beach was best? What would I recommend? With so many choices, Antigua is really the ultimate beach lover’s opportunity, and the only real response is this: Antigua is a real-life choose-your-ownadventure, and the best beach is the one that best matches your dreams. Dive in and discover it for yourself.

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28 Aug

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To feel at home at Sandals Royal Plantation

August 28, 2012 | By |

I just got back from another incredible experience in Jamaica. It’s my first visit this year and as always I stayed at the remarkable Sandals Royal Plantation boutique resort. The minute I stepped out of the car, I was greeted with a feeling of "welcome home" and instantly a sense of calm and relaxation washed over me. I breezed through check-in, headed to my room, and my favorite drink—a glass of cold ginger beer–was waiting for me!

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