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A sweet reprise in Windjammer Landing, St. Lucia

Imagine lying on a beach, completely isolated from your busy life back home. Armed with a book and a strawberry daiquiri, you walk down the hillside from your private villa towards the oceans, the sweet smell of salt water rushing over you.

Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort is located in St. Lucia, along the coast of Labrelotte Bay. The resort is made of stunning villas with ocean and hillside views, complete with kitchens for when your family doesn’t feel like restaurant dining, Wi-Fi for reaching your loved ones back home, and upgraded bath amenities for absolute relaxation.

What makes Windjammer Landing unique? According to Scott Seger, managing director of Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort, “it starts and ends with the staff. Having lived in several Caribbean islands, the people of St Lucia are, in my opinion, the friendliest and genuine.”

Seger describes the resort as a boutique-resort feel, meaning it’s large enough that guests never run out of things to do, but small enough that individual needs are met. Groups and families are welcome to stay in personalized villas with staff available to help book adventure tours, spa visits, and reserve space in one the numerous restaurants available on the resort.

“All travellers are different so finding what works best for one is tough,” Seger said. “The great thing about Windjammer Landing is we can be a great fit for couples and families. We can help create your perfect holiday. Beach dinners for two and five restaurants designed for families with dietary concerns. Our villas can provide the setting for romance with special touches with you in mind. We can customize your time here to get the most your holiday.”

This customization is what guests remember the most. Tripadvisor reviews show staff were incredibly accommodating and customer service was top notch. Travellers marvelled at how the resort was perfectly populated so the beaches weren’t overcrowded, even with the number of families visiting. Cleanliness was another common theme, as well as the quality of food on the premises.

The resort is all-inclusive, which means travellers can participate in complimentary windsurfing, snorkeling, kayaking, and paddle boarding. Guests will enjoy Mediterranean-style architecture, over 64,000 square feet of pristine beaches, nightly entertainment, and of course, fine dining.

“Our most popular event is our Friday night “Fish Fry,” said Seger. “Don’t let the words fool you, the fish is freshly prepared several different ways. I.e. grilled, Cajun, jerk. The setting is right on the beach next to Embers restaurant with a DJ or band playing local music and creating a street party right on the beach. So much fun!!!”

Seger said Windjammer Landing was lucky enough to not be hit by hurricane Maria, but the storms have presented new challenges for the business. “This hurricane season was one for the record books,” he said. “Many of our neighbouring islands were affected greatly and will take several months or years to fully recover. St Lucia and Windjammer Landing missed all effects of the winds and rain associated with the hurricanes. Getting the word out to the world stating we’re open for business is our big challenge.”

Seger was thrown into the position of managing director a year ago under unfortunate circumstances, after the former managing director passed away. He said the last year was bitter-sweet, but he has tried to honour his predecessor’s direction while still infusing his own personal style into the job.

“I thinks it’s important to not forget the people that make Windjammer, Windjammer.”

Windjammer Landing is having a winter special at the moment, with 40 per cent off all room types. There is also a special on the all-inclusive “Romance Package“, with sparkling wine, flowers, and a couples massage.

What is a boutique hotel?

I’m currently looking for hotels in New York and I saw this term “boutique hotel” listed. To me, a boutique is a small, independent shop often found in a quaint neighbourhood that sell handmade items you can’t find anywhere else.

A boutique hotel is similar in a fashion. It is not operated by a large chain or brand. Instead, it is independently owned that provides individualized and custom service. Most have less than 100 rooms, meaning the experience can be quite intimate. At the same time, boutique hotels usually have a lot of character. The building may have a theme that seeps into every room.

Don’t be fooled though. This doesn’t mean the hotel is tacky. Most boutique hotels are actually quite luxurious. Because they are smaller than the typical hotel, it means more care is taken in the decor. Designer furnishings and unique pieces of art are common in each room. The best part is that, unlike your typical hotel, no two rooms are alike. Some rooms may have a quirky sense of humour while others may have a warm and cozy ambiance.

Because of the size of boutique hotels, owners are usually able to find prime locations to build upon.. This can result in some truly breathtaking views.

Each room will also have some luxury, hand-made and unique items available for use, like organic soaps, bath pillows, or even a linen selection. Prepare to enjoy some locally-grown foods as well as some art by local artisans.

There are also a few different kinds of boutique hotels. Historic or country boutiques, for example, offer accommodations with rustic charm — think stone walls, big fireplaces, detailed wood carvings, and homemade comfort food.  These buildings often have some sort of historic significance and rooms are designed to feel homey, yet still rich in culture and comfort.

Urban boutique hotels are often found in a city’s centre and caters too younger travelers looking for a tech-savvy and comfortable place to stay. They are generally located in neighbourhoods with lots of culture and nightlife. The rooms themselves use Smart technology and there are common areas for people to mingle.

Then there are the luxury boutiques. The rooms in this accommodation use high-quality materials and exclusive designer furnishings. They may have infinity pools, skylights, or even spa services available. Luxury boutiques pride themselves on personalizing your vacation experience, and ensuring you have the most fine wining and dining available.

Check out these boutique hotels in Toronto: Thompson Hotel, Le Germain, or The Drake (Nook room featured in photo above).

Luxury boutique hotel Barcelona Duquesa de Cardon
Boutique Hotel Bali

How to travel solo like a local

It takes a lot for some people to become comfortable with themselves, much less travel alone. It’s a task that few can handle, but it is becoming increasingly convenient and popular for solo- travellers to find special deals on vacations. Some brands like Norwegian Cruise Lines offer top-class studio styled suites for their guests at a lower price. The ship designs the studios to have exclusive key card access and a studio complex lounge to mingle with other solo travellers, so you will never feel alone, unless you want to be. Here are some tips from Women’s Post on solo- travel and how to act like a local.

Be prepared

If you’re not in the mood to stand out as a tourist while on vacation, do your research and explore the country/countries you are visiting as a local. Try going to the popular bar around town or even make friends with a local and ask for tips on the area where you plan to explore. Most residents will have a list of places you should visit that may not be on a map.

Skip the tourist traps

Bus tours, boat tours, guided tours, pfft those are for amateurs. The best way to get to know the local streets is to walk around and take note of your own landmarks. There is no harm in renting a mode of transportation to make your way around town as well, A car can get you there faster and save you a lot of unnecessary tourist expenses and cheap souvenirs. Use your phone as your trusted GPS or simply make use of public transportation — most train and bus operators will be able to help you reach your destination.

Stay at a boutique hotel

Boutique hotels are so much fun compared to the big chain and brand named places that you’re used to . Staying at a boutique hotel may be more intimate and gives you a chance to interact with locals and the staff on site. As another option, you can also choose to stay at a local Air BnB or hostel.

Pick the right time to travel

Solo- travel can be overwhelming if you’re not ready for it, but one way to avoid the rush of the season is to travel…well, off-season. Don’t go for spring break or summer vacation. Instead, use your vacation days at a less peak time (like October-November, or April-May) and you will avoid so many lines and you get insight into the way locals live year round.

No schedules here

Don’t tie yourself down to a full schedule like you would on any regular vacation. The agenda is yours to fill with the memories of your choosing, It’s your own personal journey with no expectations or limitations. You can still see all the places and famous landmarks you want to see, but just on your own terms.

Know the lingo

If you are going to a country with a language that you are unfamiliar with, it may be time to dust off the old phrase book and use it while exploring your new temporary home. Eventually you will also find yourself picking up a few terms from the locals you interact with. I’m not saying enrol in language classes, but just make yourself aware of basic greetings and manners.

Enjoy these tips on traveling solo and blending in or check out Like a Local Guide, which offers insider tips and tours by real locals for hundreds of cities around the world.

Happy Journeys and let us know your travel tips and plans below !

3 ways to experience underwater tourism

Is water your life? Do your vacations often consist of snorkling or surfing? Are you the kind of person that spends 90 per cent of their time on the beach? If so, then maybe you are ready for a more unique kind of vacation — something a little more remote, quiet, and truly close to the water?

Let me present underwater tourism, one of the newest (albeit most expensive) types of vacation. These hotels, restaurants, clubs, and museums are all set under the water, meaning that participants get a spectacular view of sea life while enjoying all the luxury of a resort.

Interested in learning more? Here are three types of things you can do underwater during your next holiday:

Sleep underwater

People are spending thousands of dollars to sleep hanging from cliffs or in glass igloos in the middle of a remote forest in winter. Staying in a normal hotel is considered tame. If you are going to travel, why not do something truly unique? There are numerous companies that actually offer luxury suites on submarines. For example, Oliver’s Travel launched “Lovers Deep”, a submarine that plays host to couples looking for a remote and isolated, romantic, adventure.

Cost for a night in Lovers Deep is £175,000 (Euro). 

There are also resorts that specialize in underwater hospitality. The Manta Resort in Pemba, a remote island off the coast of Africa, offers an Underwater Room accessible only by boat. The room, or more accurately the floating island, has three levels and is situated 250m from shore. Underwater spotlights draw fish and squid towards the room, so that you can witness the magical and mysterious life under the sea. Meals will be brought to you by boat at pre-arranged times, and a kayak, fins, and a snorkel will be provided.

Cost for a night is $1 500 (US).

Most of these accomodations offer eco-friendly resources so as not to harm the wildlife. This includes advanced marine toilet systems, hand-wash basins, and biodegradable shower products. It’s less about the luxury of a resort and more about the serenity of isolation. There will be concierges or staff on hand to answer questions, arrange meals, and re-stock the minibar; however, there is little access to technology or outside civilizations. Perfect to get away from the craziness of downtown living.

Eat underwater

For those who may be nervous about spending an entire night underwater, an evening with fine dining may be the perfect compromise. Ithaa, located in the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island in the Maldives, is the most popular of underwater restaurants. It was also the first to open in 2005. The food is prepared and cooked above water, and then brought down by servers. The restaurant serves European fare, offering six-course meals for dinner, four-course lunches, and cocktail or brunch options. Guests are surrounded by clear acrylic walls that allow them to see fish and sharks swim past.

Europe is joining the trend with a restaurant set to open in Norway in 2019. The restaurant will have three levels and a capacity of 100 people. A champagne bar will mark the transition between shoreline and ocean. The building will also double as a marine biology research centre.

Party underwater

Yes, you don’t have to commit to a meal or an overnight stay if you want to try the underwater experience. Instead, sip cocktails and be entertained at an underwater club with live music and dancing. There aren’t as many of these (as I imagine the movement of dancing requires quite the archeological reinforcement.

For those who want something a little more mellow, why not visit an underwater museums that allows you to either scuba dive or be transported using an underwater vessel to see ruins. There are also underwater spas and game rooms that allow tourists to play Jenga or have a bubble fight while wearing oxygen helmets!

As a general tip: make sure that you go to an underwater experience in the sea or ocean and not a river or lake. There are some restaurants and clubs taking adventave of this trend and setting up facilities in dirty water with little wildlife.

The best part is that the possibilities for underwater tourism is endless — as long as it is safe for both the participants and the fish in the sea!

Would you ever consider one of these vacation spots? Let us know in the comments below!

Harrison Hot Springs: favourite getaway for locals and tourists

“Country roads take me home…” this song by John Denver could have been inspired by the route to Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia. Just substitute Lillooet Ranges for Blue Ridge Mountains and the mighty Fraser for Shenandoah River. There could be no more appropriate song running through my head while driving to Agassiz, a small community located in the Upper Fraser Valley region. With picturesque mountain views, wide open vistas of farmlands with rolling hills and the smell of country fresh air, it was almost heaven, and the serenity reminded me of growing up on a hobby farm in the Eastern Townships, in Richmond, Quebec.

Outdoor Activities: Agassiz, B.C.

About 5km outside Harrison Hot Springs we made a couple of stops, firstly at Farm House Natural Cheeses. Featuring a country style store with seemingly every kind of exotic cheeses you could desire, including hand made artisan cheese produced on site. My partner and I enjoyed the company of goats and dairy cows at some of the large and tidy barns. At our next mini tour, we visited the Back Porch Coffee Roastery, where the owners, Dan and Lynda welcomed us into their studio. We noticed an antique coffee roaster dating back to 1919, as well as other collectibles and antiques. Their expansive property was immaculately kept, with manicured lawns surrounding heritage buildings loaded with character, to go with a million dollar view.

Both the Farmhouse Natural Cheeses and the Back Porch Coffee Roastery are ideal tourist stops for the whole family. It was a chance to unwind before heading to Harrison Hot Springs, which was our ultimate destination.

We were excited to visit Harrison Hot Springs, as we always enjoy running the trails or the lakeside pathway and then soaking in the hot springs pool after a workout. Harrison Hot Springs is a small, friendly resort community of about 1,500 people. There are so many outdoors activities, from boating, fishing, golfing, kayaking, etc. It is THE place for a runner’s getaway or just a gorgeous destination to escape from the city, about a 130km drive from Vancouver. Harrison Hot Springs is at the Southern end of Harrison Lake in the Fraser Valley and is world famous for its natural healing hot springs, which attracts tourists and locals alike year round.

Photo by John Moe.

Spirit Mask Trail:

We walked the Spirit Mask Trail, which is a circuitous 1km route through pristine forest lands just a few minutes from the village, though it seemed longer as it was enjoyable not just for the walk through the woods, but because many trees are decorated with carved masks from local artists. Each mask depicts a different mood, creating a thought-provoking setting. The walk is fun for the whole family and is a wonderful photo opportunity.

Spirit Mask Trail. Photo by John Moe.

Health/Wellness – Muddy Waters Café:

After our workout it was time to refuel with some healthy eats at Muddy Waters Café, which is family owned and located in the heart of the village. We could feel a sense of community spirit upon entering the room. Located on the main strip with spectacular mountain and lake views, we were greeted by manager, Richard Fife, who recommended the yogurt plate served with an assortment of fruit along with homemade jam and healthy grain bread, while my partner, John had salmon over scrambled eggs with fresh fruit. Richard says proudly, “we source all of our food locally,” which includes an extensive menu for vegetarians and meat lovers alike. We enjoyed our breakfast in this charming café that also offers specialty coffees, which we couldn’t refuse. Overall, if you are a foodie you will want to try out this place.

 

Black Forest Restaurant:

You can virtually enjoy a slice of Germany – right in the village since 1975 – at the Black Forest Restaurant where naturally, you will find the most delicious black forest cake. This family-run business offers authentic German food, with all spices coming directly from Germany. If you like beer with your bratwurst, the restaurant offers the Krombacher Pilsner, which is an exquisite German brew, served in B.C. exclusively at Black Forest restaurants in Harrison Hot Springs and New Westminster. We enjoyed our meal, which was recommended by owner and chef, Vic Singh. His wife Kamal says, “we also offer vegetarian plates.” The restaurant is in the heart of the village, offering delicious German cuisine, along with breathtaking views from its upstairs patio deck.

Harrison Beach Hotel:

A better view will not be found at Harrison Hot Springs than from our suite at the Harrison Beach Hotel. Stepping onto the huge balcony from the front room, I knew instantly this was what the doctor had ordered. It not only offered stunning vistas of the lakeshore and beyond, closer inspection revealed kitchenette with fridge, separate bedroom, two TVs and coffee. If you thought you’d seen it all when it comes to towel art and design, you’d best make the trip. The design art towels for the bathroom made me feel almost guilty for actually using them. Importantly, the coffee maker, together with Starbucks coffee, was a much-appreciated convenience for runners and writers like us.

Harrison Hot Springs offers something for everyone, from a stroll through the village, to soaking in the hot springs, to running the lakeshore pathway and much more. At just a stone throw from Vancouver, it’s the perfect getaway where you are limited only by your imagination.

Looking for more getaways? Check out Christine Blanchette’s adventure in Abbotsford B.C.

 

By Christine Blanchette and John Moe

Instagram: runwithit_christineblanchette
Twitter @christineruns
runwithit.ca

Mayor John Tory right on the money with revenue tools

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced Thursday that he would be proposing the use of tolls and a hotel tax to create extra revenue for transit and infrastructure projects in the city. Prior to that announcement, a report was released by the Munk School at the University of Toronto indicating the need for a multi-tax system to pay for services. The conclusions of the report back up Tory’s decision to actively search for more revenue tools to help pay for the much-needed transit system being built in the city.

The report was written by Harry Kitchen, a professor in the economics department at Trent, and Enid Slack, director of the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance and a professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs. They argue that property taxes, user fees, and transfers from other levels of governments have remained unchanged as large cities continue to grow and expand. This is unsustainable and larger cities in Canada must adapt.

The authors’ argue that decisions on public spending need to be linked with revenue decisions. This is what the mayor was trying to say in his speech on Thursday — that Toronto can’t afford to keep building and providing better service unless there is a way to pay for this growth.

The report also makes mention of services that benefit people across municipal boundaries like roads. While the report suggests transfer of responsibility to the province, sometimes that isn’t possible. Tolls, for example, would be a good compromise, allowing people who often travel into the city on a daily basis to contribute in a way besides property taxes.

In terms of the property tax, something Mayor Tory refuses to increase by more than half a per cent, the authors’ say it’s a good way to raise revenue for infrastructure, but that a mix of taxes is recommended. Property tax is also more expensive to administer compared to income or sales tax. “The property tax is relatively inelastic (it does not grow automatically as the economy grows), highly visible, and politically contentious,” the report reads. “It may therefore be insufficient to fund the complex and increasing demands on local governments.”

“A mix of taxes would give cities more flexibility to respond to local conditions such as changes in the economy, evolving demographics and expenditure needs, changes in the political climate, and other factors.”

The report suggests charging user fees for services as often as possible, as under-pricing can result in over-consumption. Tolls were specifically mentioned as an example of a user fee that can be used on a major highway or arterial road running into a big city. While high-occupancy tolls, which charges vehicles for using a specific lane, can be effective on big highways, it’s much more efficient to toll the entire roadway.

Revenue collected from the tolls in place on the 407 in 2011 earned the provincial government an extra $675 million. The proposal set forth by Tory indicated an extra $200 million in revenues with a $2 toll charge on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway. The other benefit is that it will reduce congestion and unlock gridlock while creating funds that can be dedicated for transit.

Other options presented in the report include a parking charge, an increase in personal income and sales tax, a fuel tax, hotel tax, and vehicle registration fee. The conclusion seems to be by increasing/implementing a number of these revenue tools, it won’t affect a singular demographic to harshly while still generating funding for a large Canadian city to grow.

It looks like our mayor was right on the money, so to speak.

The legacy of the Omni King Edward Hotel

How well do you know your Canadian history?

In 1903, Toronto’s first luxury hotel was built. Touted as fire-proof, the 17-storey hotel (an 18th storey would be added in 1922) was originally set to be named after Queen Victoria but, after her death, it was officially christened the King Edward Hotel.

Over the years, countless famous and infamous figures have walked its halls. “America’s Sweetheart,” Mary Pickford, stayed here with husband Douglas Fairbanks; Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton got engaged in the Sovereign Ballroom; John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged a brief bed-in for peace; and rumour has it that somewhere, hidden now under years of redecoration, there is a message scrawled on the walls by Leonard Cohen.

One of the highlights of the Omni King Edward Hotel is its traditional afternoon tea, served in the Sovereign Ballroom. Guests are served their tea–chosen from a menu which includes many favourites as well as a custom King Edward blend–along with mouth-watering finger sandwiches and an assortment of sweets. Refined and delectable, it will likely make you long for the days when the world stopped for a 2pm tea time.

Of course, the restaurant is also top-notch. At Victoria’s Restaurant, the chef, Daniel Schick, creates culinary delights from local ingredients. In the restaurant, guests are treated to a hint of the Omni King Edward Hotel’s extensive art collection.

Moving with the changing times, recent renovations have seen the rooms expanded, as well as the creation of condo units on unused floors of the building.

Coming in the near future: the reopening of the Crystal Ballroom. Located on the top floor of the hotel, it features breathtaking views of the city, as well as the crystal chandeliers that gave it its name . Once the site of weddings and other formal gatherings, as well as the 1955 announcement of the results of the polio vaccine, it was closed to the public in the 1950s. By 2015, however, visitors will be able to once again marvel at this magnificent hall.

Recently, the Omni King Edward Hotel celebrated its 110th anniversary. Once its renovations are complete, it will stand as an example of luxury living, as well as a great bit of Canadian history.