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Travel tips Archives - Air Canada Vacations

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.

 

12 Oct

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Things To Do In Kauai

October 12, 2018 | By |

Film fans might instantly recognize the awe-inducing landscapes of the so-called “Garden Island.” Kauai’s emerald-hued mountains and verdant valleys have played co-starring roles in many big-budget flicks, from Jurassic Park and Avatar to Godzilla and Raiders of the Lost Ark. But don’t be intimated by the island’s Hollywood good looks—it offers tons to do for every type of traveller.

For the nature lover

Outdoor explorers, buckle up. Kauai’s nickname is somewhat misleading, unless your garden also includes a rugged coastline of sea cliffs, or a canyon carved out of lava rock. The Napali Coast Wilderness State Park invites you to admire its most beautiful sights. Trek its winding trail, cruise by in a kayak, or see it all from above in a helicopter. Next, meet Kauai’s version of the Grand Canyon, the spectacular Waimea Canyon with its rocky terrain tinged in shades of red, orange and green. Hike to the park’s lookouts to take in its gorgeous gorges and dense forests.

For the foodie

Of course, gardens also provide produce, and Kauai uses its resources in a wealth of ways, from healthy vegan meals to deep-fried delights.  With Hawaii’s multicultural heritage, the island’s food is globally inspired—its dishes borrow from Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Filipino cuisine. For fresh ingredients, stop at Kauai’s Sunshine Markets (farmer’s markets) in towns like Lihue, or Hanalei. Try originals like spam musubi, a sushi snack found in most grocery stores, or Koloa’s Puka dog, a hot dog in Hawaiian sweet bread, topped with a spicy sauce and tropical fruit relish. No visit would be complete without enjoying the country’s colourful dessert: cold and delicious shave ice, served up perfectly at Wailua Shave Ice in Kapaa.

For the aquaphile

Kauai is not all insurmountable peaks and intimidating vistas. It’s also secluded stretches of white sand and jungle-bound beaches perfect for rest and relaxation. Opt for the golden shores of Kauai’s East Side, nicknamed the Coconut Coast. Near the navigable Wailua River and its famous waterfalls, swim, snorkel and spot all types of underwater dwellers off Lydgate Beach, with its two rock-enclosed lagoons. Crescent-shaped Poipu Beach, on the island’s southern coast, is a popular pick for families and those looking for all types of nautical activities. Forest-rimmed and idyllic, Kauai’s beaches are your window to the Pacific’s crystal-clear waters.

What’s next

Answer the call of Kauai! We make it easy for you to discover Hawaii’s greenest island with packages and flights from Canadian cities, including our new, direct flights from Vancouver. Hot travel tip: Book by November 4 to enjoy Flight & Hotel packages to Hawaii for under $999.

11 Oct

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OOOOOH, CANADA

October 11, 2018 | By |

From see to shining see 

At once untamed, refined, and culturally captivating, Canada lays out vast, virgin wilderness as easily as it does vibrant metropolitan hubs.

Morning mist floating over the foothills of the Rockies. Frosty Yukon tundra under the glimmer of midday. Colourful fishing boats lapped by wavelets as the sun melts into the Atlantic. A night of pristine cuisine, cutting-edge art shows, and tasty cocktails spilling over into dawn. From good morning to bonsoir, Canada stays eternally compelling.

A land of impressive extremes, its seasonal cold of legend is effortlessly matched by the warmth of its people. Still, there’s just some stuff that Canada does better than any place on the planet.

Here’s why the Great White North is so great right now.

Winter. Wonderland.

Winter activitiesRustic accommodations in comfy log cabins, dogsledding through the Yukon (mush!), Tundra Buggy rides across ice-white landscapes for a world-class feast in an 18th century fort, hanging out on an ice shelf with adorable harp seal pups in Îles-de-la-Madeleine after a wildlife heli-tour, proper 5-star luxury at a pristinely refurbished chateau—literally and figuratively—Canada is the coolest playground around. And it never closes for cold weather.

Of course, should your perfect cold-weather getaway involve carving up double black diamond trails (or sipping hot cocoa back at the lodge after a few hours on the bunny hill), Canada delivers nothing but downhill dreams of packed powder in some of the best ski resorts on earth.

Need more?

Check out our Canadian winter adventures

Taste lives here.

Best food in CanadaAn eclectic and culturally rich history can’t help but inform all things culinary here. Every urban cityscape is a true foodie promised land. And it’s not all fries, curd cheese and gravy…

You can’t throw a dumpling without hitting a tasty, traditional Asian eatery in Van City—Vancouver is home to Canada’s largest Chinatown. Delivering contemporary edibles, authentic flavours and innovative cocktails, Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie is a preferred way to get your night started, or wind it down.

If you’re going to try poutine, try it in Montreal—no city does it better. For less humble fare and no-fail, upscale gustatory pleasure, tuck in at Liverpool House from the folks that spawned Joe Beef.

Still hungry? St. John’s plates some of the choicest seafood in Eastern Canada. If it has fins, feathers, fur or foliage and it’s local, Raymonds knows how to serve it so that it elicits eye-rolling ecstasy.

Wild. Life.

Canada wildlifePeppered with hidden geographic gems only a local could find and conspicuous mountain ranges looming larger than life, Canada is nirvana for the nature set.

With jutting, snowcapped peaks aching for an Instagram pic and freshwater lakes begging for a dip, Alberta’s provincially protected Kananaskis Country offers a rarefied glimpse of raw wilderness you simply couldn’t get elsewhere. Cue elk lumbering through a secret stream looking for the leaves to lunch on.

Unspoiled forests are hard to top, but a day kayaking the Johnstone Strait as a pod of humpbacks crest the surface to spray summer air with blowhole mist comes pretty close. Keep an eye out for the tell-tale two-tone of Orcas—the gentle giants are also known to loll about playfully in these waters.

Need more?

Check out our Canadian summer adventures

Open road. Open heart.

Road trip CanadaGet pulled into the sky by gondola over Sulphur Mountain after parking by the Rockies for a view that will stay with you. Always. Steer your wheels towards the glacier-fed, turquoise waters of Lake Louise, crowned by cloud-scraping mountains and then on to Okanagan wine country. Keep on rolling to the First Nations totem poles of Stanley Park and the whistling Steamclock of Gastown—all waiting for you, your road bud and your camera as you pull into Vancouver.

Got some wanderlust left in the tank? The heart of Montreal’s buzzing metropolis is Mount Royal Park—its mountain paths and sprawling green spaces were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead who designed Central Park in NYC. Do make time for the cafés and cachet of the Mile End: it’s the coolest neighbourhood in the world, ranked.
Need more?
Check out our Fly & Drive adventures

14 Sep

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The Best Time to Visit Portugal

September 14, 2018 | By |

It’s impossible to resist the many charms of Spain’s friendly coastal neighbour. Perpetually sunny, rich in culture and history and naturally breathtaking, Portugal paints a pretty picture year-round. Check out our breakdown of the best times to go to Portugal.

Spring & Summer

It’s no secret that hotter days and warmer waters bring in bigger crowds. That being said, the numerous outdoor festivals and balmy beach weather welcoming you between May and July deter shrugging off a spring or summer Portugal vacation.

Festival Frenzy

Portuguese people honour their saints in very interesting ways. Case in point: the Festa de Santo Antonio in Lisbon. It pays homage to Lisbon’s patron saint with feasts of grilled fish, street parties to rhythmic fado music and…free weddings! Meanwhile, you might want a hard hat for Porto’s Festa de São João, an eccentric tribute to Saint John the Baptist. Festivities include the odd tradition of banging revellers on the head with colourful plastic mallets, as well as more typical goings-on like fireworks and dancing.

If you worship a more modern set of idols, Portugal attracts some of the best musicians and bands in the world with top-notch summer music festivals cropping up near its main cities, from the indie sounds of NOS Primavera Sound to the rockin’ rythms of Super Bock Super Rock and the eclectic star-fueled lineup of NOS Alive.

The Portugal’s Delightful Duo rail tour brings you to Lisbon and Porto during any of these events!

Beach Time

Praia de Rocha

A spring or summer trip to Portugal calls for soaking up the sun along the country’s dreamy coastline. A prime place to do so is the sunny southern region of The Algarve where spectacular rocky cliffs surround golden beaches varying in size and popularity:

  • Praia de Rocha buzzes with high-rise beach resorts and lively bars and restaurants to entertain the hotels’ inhabitants.
  • The smaller, secluded Praia do Camilo serves up a postcard-perfect setting with the gorgeous Ponte da Piedade also just a short walk away.
  • Don’t skip out on iconic Praia da Marinha, aptly named one of the best beaches in Europe and located down a dramatic cliff side.

We could keep listing our favourites, but taking a tour of the Algarve, like our Portugal City & Coast rail tour, will let you discover yours, from the surfing paradise Praia do Amado to the adventurous Praia de Benagil and its sea cave.

Fall

We love fall travel to Portugal: cooler climate, quieter cities and…wine harvest season! Sure, the Atlantic isn’t as sizzling, but it’s often still warm enough for a dip, plus all popular sights have cleared of their summertime crowds.

Take a Hike

Sintra

A drop in temperature makes this season perfect for hiking Portugal’s many trails without breaking a sweat.

Near Lisbon, the fairy tale-like, UNESCO-listed village of Sintra sits a day-trip away. Wander up romantic forest paths leading from the town’s Moorish Castle to the colourful, Disney-like Pena Palace, surrounded by gardens and the rugged landscape of the Serra Mountains. Take on the coastal trails of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, home to continental Europe’s most westernly point, Cabo da Roca, and mystical monuments like the Convent of Capuchos or the Hermitage of Peninha.

Turn your trek into a pilgrimage by climbing up all 686 steps leading to the Nossa Senhora dos Remedios sanctuary in Lamego. Shrouded by dense woodland, it offers quite the view of the town and surrounding hills once you’ve made it to the top. Elevate the experience by timing your visit with the Festival of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios, the annual pilgrimage to the sanctuary’s shrine. Join thousands of religious devotees in pious processions, including one that carries the statue of Our Lady of the Remedies on an oxen-lead cart.

Wine & Dine

Douro River

We kept the best for last: food and wine!

The scenic and charming Douro Valley lures you in with its rolling green hills and aromatic vineyards, including those specializing in the region’s famous Port wine. Douro’s a breathtaking sight any time of the year, but wine harvest season really steals the show with its landscape coloured in autumnal shades. Many of the area’s wineries will invite you to participate in the harvest, from grape picking to stomping and the inevitable taste testing. That glass of vinho tastes even better once you’ve worked for it.

Fall’s cooler nights prompt heading indoors and trying all of the country’s culinary delights. Savour everything from traditional bacalhau to pork-based dishes, spicy piri-piri chicken and creamy Serra da Estrela cheese. Of course, complete any meal with one of their famous (and delicious!) custard tarts, pastéis de nata. For a seasonal treat, hunt for sweet Portuguese Rocha pears, freshly picked from the Oeste region.

For a fall trip, Lisbon Your Way or Porto Your Way tours lead you to the best of both cities and their surrounding regions, including the Douro Valley and Sintra.

What’s Next

Keep an eye out for all our tours to Portugal! They run from spring to fall and are the best way to take in all the sights or experiences mentioned. Hot travel tip: while some of our tours, like the Fly & Rail tour Sunny Portugal or our Fly & Drive tour Highlights of Portugal, operate as early as April or May, others like Portugal North to South only take off in June. This might influence when and how you decide to travel to Portugal! You can always opt for our year-round option, the Lisbon Your Way Urban Getaway.

02 Aug

By

Best Reason to Visit Jamaica: Jamaican Food!

August 2, 2018 | By |

Vacations often leave you looking slimmer, from all that on-the-go action and exploration. A trip to Jamaica might not be so kind to your waistline, considering the country serves up some of the best dishes in the Caribbean. Here are our picks of the Jamaican cuisine you need to try!

Jerk around

Jamaican allspice, Scotch bonnet peppers, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg–these are just a few of the ingredients found in the jerk seasoning that defines one of Jamaica’s most iconic dishes: jerk chicken. Sweet and spicy, perfectly grilled, the flavourful meat is traditionally served with rice and beans or bammies, a tasty fried flat bread of sorts. Of course, you can also get jerk pork, jerk fish, jerk…lobster (!). Find jerk dishes anywhere, from street vendors to your resort’s restaurant.

Patty cake, patty cake

What’s not to love about the Jamaican patty? It’s perfectly golden, flaky and filled with delicious, seasoned meat (or vegetables). This sublime snack is actually a product of colonialism: a derivative of the Cornish pasty brought over by the Brits, spiced by Indians with cumin and curry and kicked up by Africans with cayenne pepper. While awesome on its own, you can try it like a local and stuff a patty in some sweet coco bread for a unique Jamaican sandwich.

Feeling fruity

It’s not all starch and meats. Being a tropical island, Jamaica is ripe with exotic fruits you might have never heard of. Most often eaten with saltfish, ackee is the island’s national fruit, an alien-like cluster of black seeds and spongy yellow flesh. Kind of like a tropical potato, breadfruit can be roasted, steamed, mashed or fried and makes for a superb side-dish. There are countless others that sound as colourful as they look: the grape-like, gelatinous guinep, the juicy June plum, heart-shaped sweetsop, spiky soursop, and something called the Stinking Toe. Okay, we haven’t tried that last one, but you can do the honours!

Liquid lunch

You’ll need something refreshing to wash all that down. Try sorrel, a red drink brewed from hibiscus blossoms, often spiced with cinnamon and ginger, or punched up with some of that famous Jamaican rum, if you fancy an extra kick. Savour the soda suited for the sun: Ting, offering just the right amount of grapefruit-flavoured fizz to cool you down. Finally, you really can’t leave Jamaica without trying a hot cup of Blue Mountain coffee, one of the world’s best brews from Jamaica’s highest mountain.

What’s next

Yum, all this is Jamaican me hungry! Any of these dishes can be tasted in the Jamaican destination of your choice. Montego Bay, or “MoBay,” is a hip city and a popular spot for dreamy, waterfront hotels. It’s a great base to explore the spectacular shores and paradisiacal settings of the idyllic resort town of Negril or former fishing village of Ochos Rios. Meanwhile, Kingston is the cultural heartbeat of Jamaica, sitting at the foot of the dramatic Blue Mountains. Hot travel tip: Book your winter vacation to Jamaica with us by September 9 to get $600 off per family and 8 days of free airport parking!

Savour the flavours of Jamaica! 

17 Jul

By

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!
2-view-from-signal-hill
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.
3-signal-hill
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!
4-fish-and-chips
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.
5-st-john's
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.
6-getting-screeched
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.

09 Jul

By

A Big New Way to Play: Toy Story Land!

July 9, 2018 | By |

The wait is finally over – Toy Story Land at Walt Disney World Resort, inspired by Pixar Animation Studios’ Toy Story films, is now open!

Toy Story Land dedication

Become an “honorary toy” as you discover the whimsical workings of Andy’s backyard. Here, you’ll be surrounded by giant building blocks, Tinkertoys, board game pieces and more– all while encountering your favourite Toy Story characters. Fun!

“With set pieces, staging, attractions and experiences, Toy Story Land represents the best of Walt Disney Imagineering’s collaboration with our storytelling partners at Pixar Animation Studios,” said Bob Chapek, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products. “This new land will place guests inside the wondrous world of Woody, Buzz and their pals – and invite everyone to experience the joy of being a toy.”

Visit Toy Story Land

Here’s everything you need to know about Toy Story Land at Walt Disney World Resort. (Psst! Read on for a very special promo from Air Canada Vacations – Kids Fly FREE!)
Where is Toy Story Land?

Located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the new land spans 11 acres. It’s part of a multi-year reimagining of the park, and, is the largest expansion in the theme park’s history! The entrance is located at the very back of the park; stroll down Hollywood Boulevard, curve a right at the Chinese Theatre and make a sharp right just before Pixar Place. When you see a larger-than-life Woody, you know you’re at the right place!

Toy Story Land Entrance

What are the new rides and attractions?

Toy Story Land boasts two new rides and one updated fan favourite. First, you’ll want to jump aboard Slinky Dog Dash. This family-friendly coaster zips up, down and around the entire land, giving riders a birds-eye view of Andy’s backyard. The best part? Slinky Dog Dash features a second launch at its midpoint (a first for a Disney coaster!), adding a thrilling element to the ride.

Toy Story Land Slinky Dog Dash

My take? 5/5! From an intensity standpoint, I’d rank it slightly higher than Seven Dwarfs Mine Train but well below Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith. Admittedly, I was slightly nervous to ride it, but that’s just because I’m not a fan of big drops. If you’re in the same boat, good news: the two drops are winding and super smooth (translation: your tummy will stay intact!).

The second brand new ride is Alien Swirling Saucers. Brace yourself (literally, as you’ll likely smash and crash into your seat mate) as the adorable little green Aliens swirl about in toy rocket ships. The height requirement for this ride is just 32”, ensuring even the littlest Toy Story fans can experience the magic.

If you’ve previously enjoyed Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree in Disney California Adventure Park at the Disneyland Resort, the ride will be very familiar (with all-new theming, of course). However, one major advantage over its predecessor is that Alien Swirling Saucers has shelter from both sun and rain, ensuring there’s no stoppage time in inclement weather.

Finally, Toy Story Mania, arguably one of the most popular rides at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, has been outfitted with a colourful new entrance and a third track, allowing even more guests to enjoy the carnival playset action.

Toy Story Land Toy Story Mania

Who can I meet and greet at Toy Story Land?

Woody, Jessie, Buzz Lightyear and the Green Army Drum Corps appear throughout the land. While you’ll likely have to queue to meet Woody, Jessie and Buzz, don’t be surprised to see Sarge and the Green Army Patrol march through the land, playing games and even challenging guests to drop and give ‘em 10. Bonus: they’re always down for a photo op!

Toy Story Land Buzz Lightyear

Where can I eat?

Grab on-the-go tasty foods and refreshments at Woody’s Lunch Box. Order a grilled three-cheese sandwich, sip an old-fashioned soda float or if it’s been a particularly magical day, grab a “Grown-Up’s Lemonade.” Woody’s Lunch Box features Mini Babybel cheese – the Official Snack Cheese of Walt Disney World Resort.

What’s the must-have merch?

As the land just opened it’s hard to predict if there will be a runaway favourite, but from opening weekend, I can attest that the small scale replica toys of the Alien Swirling Saucers attraction vehicles were flying off shelves, as were the colourful headbands featuring Slinky Dog himself.

Toy Story Land Merchandise

Just outside Toy Story Land, the Little Green Alien Popcorn Buckets can be found at popcorn stands. Fair warning: they’re a hot ticket! They were sold out by 11 a.m. at two stands, so grab ‘em while you can!

When should I head over to Toy Story Land?

At the moment, to be honest, you’re not going to be in the driver’s seat – you’ll need to visit when you have the opportunity (fair warning: there may be a queue to enter Toy Story Land). However, once the initial fanfare has calmed down somewhat, I recommend visiting early morning or late evening, especially during the summer months.

From a comfort standpoint, there is very little shade/ shelter and it’s easy to overheat in the sun. Stay hydrated and wear light, loose clothing! From an entertainment standpoint, the land comes alive at night; the string of Christmas bulbs light up and the tracks on Slinky Dog Dash are illuminated as well. If your FastPass+ is valid after sunset, you’re in for a treat!

 

Toy Story land army men

This post was written by Lena Almeida, family travel expert and Air Canada Vacations Ambassador. To see more from Lena, visit her website.

 

05 Jul

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What to do in Costa Rica

July 5, 2018 | By |

Answer the call of Pura Vida! Inciting a simple way of life, Costa Rica is a hot-spot for adventure and activities. Get inspired for your next getaway with our picks of the best things to do in Costa Rica.

Get Adventurous

Take your trip to new heights by conquering simmering peaks or zipping through treetops. Epic hikes await around the country’s most active volcano, the Arenal Volcano. Walk through former lava fields before unwinding in the national park’s natural hot springs. Take your feet off the ground at the Monteverde Cloud Forest where zip-lining adventures send you flying over the tropical woodland.

Go Wild

Add a couple critters to your clique! Known for its biodiversity, Costa Rica teems with colourful wildlife. Witness the incredible nesting or hatching of sea turtles at Tortuguero National Park, a turtle haven. Keep your eyes peeled up-top at the Manuel Antonio National Park, where capuchin monkeys swing around and three-toed sloths hang loose. Meanwhile, Marino Ballena National Park beckons you to go big or go home with humpback whales and dolphins swimming by its shores.

Catch a Wave

Surf’s up! Set yourself up for a bit of splashing around at one of the country’s best beaches. Bustling Tamarindo Beach calls for surfing and swimming all day and great dining and dancing all night. Explore the nearby, quieter palm tree-lined shores of Carillo Beach where rest and relaxation reign. For a more adventurous swim, you can hike to the Celeste River and its impressive waterfall tinted turquoise thanks to volcanic minerals.

What’s Next

Now that your Costa Rica activities are checked off, you need a hotel or resort to rest in. Try the Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica! Its world-class spa, luxurious rooms and dining options will help you refuel after a jam-packed day. Alternately, you also can’t go wrong with The Westin Golf Resort & Spa or Hotel Villas Playa Samara.

25 Apr

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The Best Greek Islands for Every Type of Traveller

April 25, 2018 | By |

So many islands, so little time!

We found pieces of paradise scattered across the Aegean Sea and we’re here to help you pick the perfect one (or ones! Island hopping, anyone?).  If you’re dreaming of a Greek island vacation, but aren’t sure where to start, keep calm and read on. Here’s our breakdown of our favourite Greek islands for every type of traveller!

Santorini

For Lovers & Sun Seekers: Santorini

If you’re looking up Greek islands, chances are you’ve stumbled on Instagram-worthy images of the island of Santorini, home to one of the most photographed, most spectacular sunsets in the world. If not, picture this: iconic, whitewashed houses overlooking volcanic cliffs, with the sun dipping into the horizon above cerulean waters, painting the sky in sumptuous shades. Shall we go on?

With its sweeping stairways and idyllic hillside villages, there’s no wonder stunning Santorini is a go-to spot for honeymooners and romantic revellers and one of the most popular islands to visit. If you’re not falling in love with the caldera views, then the colourful beaches and historic sites like the Museum of Prehistoric Thera might just seal the deal. Stop in Santorini with this Best of Greece tour!

For Party Animals: Mykonos

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Oh, mythical Mykonos –the place to party in the Aegean since the 1960s! It’s where your sunset cocktails last till sunrise and stylish hotels spruce up a rugged and rocky landscape. Pose for dramatic pictures next to the island’s traditional windmills in Mykonos Town before jetting off to decadent dance clubs or all-night parties on Paradise Beach.

For less glitz and glam, stroll through Little Venice to take in the charming architecture of buildings built right on the waterfront. Occupying its narrow streets are chic shops where you can stock up on breezy island fashion before your next escapade. Alternately, you can opt to redeem yourself within the bright, white walls of the uniquely shaped Church of Panagia Paraportiani. Hop on the Mykonos and the Aegean tour to move it in Mykonos.

For Peace Pursuers: Patmos

Patmos

Here comes your moment of zen! Named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the gorgeous Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, perched atop the island’s central hill, brings a calming spirituality to Patmos, appropriately nicknamed the ‘Holy Island.’ This is where Saint John imagined the end of the world and hey, it might not be the worst spot to find yourself if it does come.

Start at the Cave of the Apocalypse, a strange sacred site hewn into the rock and guarded by a monk to ensure total tranquility. Of course, once you’ve soaked in the spiritual atmosphere, countless beaches welcome you for some much-needed serene swimming. Find peace in Patmos with the Classical Greece & Cruise option.

For History Buffs: Crete

Crete

Time travel? It exists! Or so it seems when you land on the shores of Crete, the cradle of Minoan civilization about 4,000 years ago.  Admire the remnants of one of the first major European societies at the archeological site of Knossos, the former capital of Minoan Crete. Highlights include the countless courtyards and chambers of the palace and the impressive frescoes colouring the ruins.

If you’re mad for mythology, venture to the alleged birthplace of Zeus, king of all Greek gods. Two caves make that claim, including the mysterious and gorgeous Dikteon Cave near the village of Psyhro and the Ideon Cave, located on Mount Psiloritis, the highest mountain on Crete.

We’d be lying if we said Crete is all about the past. Travellers seeking more modern indulgences can always happily convene on sun-soaked sands for happy hour. Our Island Delights tour allows you to take in the best parts, past and present, of Crete, largest of the Greek islands.

For Hikers & Beach Explorers: Naxos

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More beaches, please! With multitudes flocking to famous Santorini or Mykonos, many overlook the smaller, just-as-picturesque, Greek islands, like heavenly Naxos. The island’s mountainous lands and green valleys create all kinds of natural nooks and crannies for you to discover. Various hiking trails take you through this changing scenery, from the village of Filoti to the peak of Mount Zas. Naxos’ agriculture will please the most ardent foodie’s palate with local produce served up every which way in typical tavernas.

What about the beaches, you ask? We’re getting there! The southwest coast of Naxos is basically one long beach leading you to wilder sandy shores that range from secluded havens like Plaka to windy spots ideal for windsurfing like Mikri Vigla. Discover them all during our Cycladic Discovery tour!

What’s next

Map of Greek Islands

Set your watch to island time! Hot travel tip: Air Canada Vacations offers a variety of island hopping tours to take you from Athens to every island we’ve mentioned here and more. These usually last between 10 and 14 days to give you plenty of time to discover Greece’s capital, as well as several of the best Greek islands.  All of these tours stop in the two must-see islands, Mykonos and Santorini, and take place between May and October.

Plan your tour of Greek islands now!

16 Mar

By

Sun, Sand & Solo Travel

March 16, 2018 | By |

It may take two to tango, but solo is the way to go! You might usually picture honeymooning couples and smiling families jetting off on dreamy all-inclusive vacations, but the tides are turning in favour of solo vacationers looking for sunny escapes of their own making. Aside from being the only star in your envy-inducing beach pictures, here’s what we love about going solo in the sun.

Beach? Pool? Wherever!

Forget lengthy arguments about where you should spend the day– you’re the boss of this vacay. Whether you prefer lounging by the pool or catching waves on the beach, your main dilemma will be choosing which book or magazine to bring with you. The best part? No one will be checking their watch and taking you away from your towel to eat or sleep. This trip’s ticking away on your time!

We love the ocean-front option at Dreams Delight Playa Bonita Panama, a great pick for a singles vacation. Surrounded by lush greenery, its idyllic beach even welcomes baby sea turtles from July to December, so you might not always be totally solo! Of course, they also have a gorgeous infinity pool if that’s more your vibe.

Choose your own adventure

Although we’re just fine with lying about in the sun all day, one of the joys of solo travel is being able to get up and go when you choose to. Many all-inclusive resorts offer tons of activities to keep you busy from sun-up to sun-down.

At Secrets Aura Cozumel in Mexico, you can discover the wonders waiting for you under the sea. The resort houses a fully-equipped dive centre where professionals teach you the essentials before you dive off their private pier. With the second largest barrier reef in the world located near Cozumel’s shores, you’re bound to spot colourful coral and unique marine life. If you’re more comfortable on land, the resort can help you plan trips to nearby attractions – from Chichen Itza to Tulum!

Pamper yourself!

Sometimes, a solo trip is the best way to completely unwind. It pulls you away from your day-to-day and lets you focus on you. Why not take this time to really treat yourself?  We’re thinking total spa treatment in a tropical location. Yes, please!

From seaweed wraps to Swedish massages, the Breathless Punta Cana Resort & Spa in Dominican Republic knows how to pamper you. You can pick from spa packages that include facials, full-body treatments and so much more.  The serene setting and complimentary fresh juices will keep bringing you back until you need to fly home, completely rejuvenated.

What’s next

If you’ve set your sights on a solo vacation, make sure to keep an eye out for all-inclusive resorts that don’t charge a single supplement. What’s a single supplement, you ask? It’s a fee charged by many hotels to solo travellers booking a room alone. The resorts mentioned here usually waive this fee for travel between August and December, but make sure to double-check before you book!

Go your own way!