Saturday, November 2, 2013

What's in your passport?

I got my first job in travel in March 1990. Yes, for 23 years I have been in the travel business.

The very first thing my uncle told me was, "now that you are in the business, you have to get a passport. If they come to you and offer you a free trip to and you don't have a passport, you can't go." He was (and still is) very right about that.

In our post 9/11 world we can't even go to the US now without a passport. Thankfully this summer our government has finally gotten up to speed with our US, British and I am sure many other countries, to finally be issuing 10 year passports.

I was travelling this past week and while sitting at the airport and waiting for the flight to leave, I was looking through my passport stamps and how they bring back memories of the trips that were taken.

A lot of stamps are from Department of Homeland Security - US Customs and Border Protection. I always ask for my passport to get stamped when I am flying through the US. Some customs officers are not as nice as others about it saying they are 'not allowed' to stamp Canadians passport.

This is my fifth passport - 1 every 5 years (well 4.5 years, but that's another story).

While my pages are not as filled as other people I work with, I have fond memories of the 'stamps in my passport'.

May 12, 2011 - US homeland security - my 40th birthday trip to California. It was supposed to be a drive up the coast from LA to San Fransisco and back. Plans had to be changed and it turned out to be 3 days Vegas - 4 days LA area. One of the best parts of the trip was being at the Sahara hotel on the last night it was open with B whom I had met there at the same hotel.

Aug 11, 2011 - US Homeland security - celebrating my mom's retirement in Vegas! Neon Museum Las Vegas and Celine Dion were the highlights of that trip to Vegas. 

June 4, 2012 - Ben Gurion Border Patrol - My life changing incredible trip with JWRP to Israel. Ten days of touring, learning, growing and exploring our amazing homeland. It is true, when you are there, you feel like home. The friendship connections that were made there are still in my life today and I think that our common bond that brought us together was just one part of our continuing connection to each other.

May 9, 2013 - US homeland security - my cousin Josh and Anna's wedding in Chicago. It was a cold, but beautiful weekend with our family in Chicago. The wedding was outdoors in a beautiful park. We had a great time seeing the sights, the architecture boat tour, Shedd aquarium, hop on hop off trolley tour, RPM Italian and of course breakfast at the American Girl store with my nieces and Rebecca and Gwen (their dolls).

Feb 14, 2013 - US Homeland security - another amazing visit to sunny SoCal! Great meals, an afternoon at the beach, seeing the space shuttle Endeavour at the California Science Center, and an amazing afternoon tea at the Langham hotel in Pasadena to celebrate my birthday.

Sharing just a few of the memories of the stamps in my passport. This one expires in 2015 and I will be getting a 10 year passport when it is time to renew.

Sidebar about passport renewals: a lot of countries require that your passports are valid for at least six months after period of travel. That means if you want to travel in January, your passport needs to be valid until at least July. Just keep that in mind and when you are about six months from your expiry date (give or take) it is time to get a new one.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A room with a view

Cruising is big business. I have heard many stories about people that were coming from Europe to North America in search of a better life and what 'ship' life was like. That is not what we would call cruising, that was called survival. Today, the ships are floating cities, with a combined crew and guests of more than a small city.

Here are the statistics from Florida - Caribbean Cruise Association:
The 2012 year-end passenger forecast is that a record 20.3 million passengers cruised globally during the year, with 17.182 million sailing from North America, including 11.684 million who live in the U.S. and Canada. Coupled with an annual occupancy percentage that exceeded 102%, this annual passenger growth for 2012 shows continued consumer interest in cruising and an industry where demand continues to outstrip supply.

I recently returned from a cruise to Alaska. When we booked, we booked a 'room with a view' a window. I have cruised many times, but actually never had a balcony. I have had inside cabins, cabins with a porthole (round) window, and years ago, went on a very old ship and had a full floor to ceiling picture window, but it over looked the walking track and the deck - so we didn't keep it open much!

We had originally booked an outside cabin. As the time to leave was approaching I realized that if you were ever going to have a balcony on a cruise - Alaska would be the time. After some back and forth with the cruise line, we finally were able to secure a balcony cabin for our cruise.

I know that people spend hours on their balconies when they cruise. They order room service and eat their meals outside on their balcony. Alaska isn't really the place to necessarily eat outside on your balcony, but the view is priceless.

The day in Glacier bay I opted to go up on deck and view the glaciers, but I know that the view from our cabin was equally as beautiful. the bonus to being on the deck is that the ship turns around so that everyone can have a view of the glaciers. When you on your balcony, you have to wait until the ship comes around again for the view. When you are up on deck, you can just walk to the other side to see the view continuously.

For me, my best balcony day was our last day in Alaska in the port of Ketchikan. It was a beautiful day, and we opted not to take any excursions, and we did our own walking tour.

We walked to an ancient totem pole exhibit, which took us through the residential area of town, where there were great places to take pictures of houses, old cars, and of course the salmon spawning. Watching them swim in the creek, and then jump out of the water and fight the currents of the small waterfalls in the creek was incredible. You could spend hours just watching the salmon.

 By the time we got back to the ship it was lunch time and all I could think about was room service on the balcony. That is exactly what we did.

It was a very busy port, both in the water and in the air. There were three maybe four ships in port that day and taking a seaplane excursion seemed to be the thing to do. They were landing and taking off constantly while we were sitting on our balcony. The picture you see here of the houses right on the water was our view from the balcony in Ketchikan.

Now that I have experience balcony life on a cruise, it will be hard to cruise again any other way. That is what I tell my clients. I also try to break down the cost difference between a picture window vs. a balcony. If you are cruising in a destination that will allow you to really reap the benefits of the balcony, like sitting out and watching a sunset, ordering room service and enjoying the view in a port or just being able to wake up in the morning and step outside to your private view of the sea, it is all worth it.

Alaska really is a beautiful destination, with unique ports and excursions...stay tuned for more about Alaska!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Reality eating

If you follow my blog posts (which I am hoping you do by now), you know that when I travel I like to get recommendations for restaurants and have amazing food experiences that I can come home and share with my friends, and post here on my blog for others to check out when they travel to amazing cities.

In addition to being a foodie and trying new things, I am a fan of reality TV (yes, I am). I am a fan of Giulana and Bill Rancic and followed their reality show last year as they gave birth to the idea of opening a restaurant in Bill's hometown Chicago.

So, back in January when we were invited to my cousin's wedding in Chicago, what was the first thing I did after we booked our tickets - that's right....made a dinner reservation at RPM Italian! It may sound crazy to you, but it isn't really....if you have a limited time to be in a place, and you don't want to miss out on something you want to do - book in EARLY!!  If you read my previous post about my Hawaii dinner reservations, I booked Mama's Fish house five months in advance!

Before we left the hotel (in the rain) to go to the restaurant, I asked the girl at the front desk how far it was from the hotel. She replied, "Oh I was just there for my birthday on Tuesday, it is amazing"...and you have to try this and this and this. Were Bill and Giuliana there (eat a great meal AND have a star sighting). No, she replied, but Howard Stern was there! (Pretty cool).

We arrived at the restaurant promptly for our 7:30 reservation, and taken right away to the table. I asked if there were any "special guests" tonight. The host said B and G weren't there, but you never know. I also wanted to meet Chef Doug (Head Chef and also on the show). He wasn't there either. Oh well, a great meal was still in store for us minus the celebrity sightings!

From the show I knew that Giuliana had a salad that she created and her mother "Mama DiPandi" had created some pasta dishes. We order the salad and this amazing truffle garlic bread.
For our main dishes my mother ordered the spaghetti with 'mamas' meatball. Not meatballs, but one really large (and very tasty) meatball.

I ordered lobster ravioli, and my father ordered the fish special of the day, with a side of garlic whipped potatoes "gorganzola piccate" is what it said on the menu. AMAZEBALLS!

Throughout the meal I was telling my parents about the show, about the uniforms that the staff wore and that they were created on the show, the building that they bought, how they decided on the decor. Every time that our server came to the table, I was talking about the show. He was impressed that I was such a fan.

Before we ordered dessert, he came to the table, and said, "you are such a fan, I think you would really enjoy this (if you don't already have it). He gave me Bill and Giuliana's book! It was such a nice thing to do, which I am sure isn't done for every 'star struck' fan that comes to dinner.

And it gets even better....

 We ordered two desserts to share. One was the special dessert that the girl at the hotel told us to order and then we ordered tartufu which simply put, was like eating a ferrero roche,!

When the runner came with our desserts, he brought three to the table. Our waiter, Gianni, came over said that since we were such fans of the show, that we had to try Bill's special dessert - chocolate buccotini (the middle photo). So amazing.

The whole evening was an amazing experience. I was happy to share it with my parents, because it wasn't something that we get to experience on any kind of regular basis.  

If you go to Chicago, you will find many incredible restaurant experience, and RPM Italian should be on your list!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Be a traveller

I read a great quote on facebook today that I wanted to share with you.

"Please be a traveller, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people and look beyond what's right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in." - Andrew Zimmern

I am lucky, in many ways, but specifically one of my best friends lives in an amazing city - Los Angeles. Because of its size and complexity, you can visit LA many times and never see the same thing twice. That is one of the many things I love about going to visit - always something new to see, do and experience. This past visit was no exception.

One of my days there we went to the California Science Center to see the Space Shuttle Endeavor (separate post to follow). After that, it was such a beautiful day, that we decided to go to the beach for the afternoon. En route to the beach my friend told me we were going to take a detour that there was something he wanted to show me.

We were driving towards LAX airport. We stopped at an In and Out burger for a bite to eat. That was not the attraction, but it was busy enough to be.

There was a park right beside the restaurant, and lo and behold - the park sits right on the flight landing path of all the large planes that land at LAX.

It was a great little parkette area, with the burger place on the left, and the freeway on the right and a billboard on a roof of a strip of stores in front of you. Everyone had their heads turned towards the billboard, because if you were watching, you would see the planes come from what appeared to be out of nowhere, to be right on top of you, over your head, like they were just touching the tops of the trees. I would suspect that the planes are probably flying about the height of my condo building which is about 20 stories in height. Landing gear already down as you can see by the photo below.

There were small planes, like the little Southwest plane that I saw land with ease, or the larger 777 British Airways or even the A380 Air France or Emaretes Airlines jumbo jets.

I think the interesting thing is that it really is something to see, and something that you wouldn't experience every day. If you were a tourist visiting LA, finding the place to watch where the planes land, would not be the first thing you would want to do on your trip to LA, but if you were brought there by a local, you would be really glad that you made the stop.

It was a great place to stop and I am happy that I had the chance to experience it. I have already talked about it with clients planning a trip to LA and I would love to go back there again some day. But...for now, there are more things to see and do in LA and more experiences to be created!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Hawaii 2.0

In 2012 I was lucky enough to go to Hawaii twice - in April for a personal vacation and again in December for work. Everyone I know said "oh, going to Hawaii for work, I would love your job". And yes, of course it was an amazing place to go 'for work', but it was for five days and there was a clear message to what the trip was about.

If you have never been to Hawaii, but you have seen photos of Waikiki beach area, you think that it is busy, high rise buildings, big city...why would I want to go there and spend time when I live in a big city with high rise buildings, traffic, etc. That is the impression I had before I booked my personal vacation to Hawaii. We stayed two nights right smack dab in the heart of Waikiki (beside the International Marketplace). We basically did our own circle island tour, driving to Diamond Head, a very brief stop on the fabled north shore, Pearl Harbour and then we were out of there - on to other islands for the "real" vacation.

What I learned on my second trip to Hawaii was that there is so much more to O'ahu than Waikiki and Honolulu, you would need to go back several more times to really see what the whole island has to offer.

This trip was for O'ahu Master Specialists. What is that you ask? Well, before going on the trip, the agents invited had to complete a series of online courses about the Hawaiian islands, culture, history, geography, and so more much. The learning continued on the island the first day at the Iolani Palace. We learned about Hawaiian history, culture, language and more. We learned how to properly pronounce the tricky words, streets, names of historical Hawaiians that all the streets, sights and buildings are named for. We even had a spelling test at the end of the trip.

While we spent time in Waikiki, the highlights of the trip were what we saw OUTSIDE of Waikiki Beach and Honolulu. Sights like the amazing Kualoa Ranch, the Fabled North Shore, Makaha Valley Riding stables and more.

These will not soon be forgotten and I look forward to sharing my Hawaiian experiences with you. If you have been to Hawaii before, hopefully you were able to take advantage of some of what I saw and did. If you have never been, here is a taste of amazing Hawaii. And if you have need to go again sometime in your future - I know I will.

'A'ohe pau ka 'ike i ka halau ho'okahi - All knowledge is not taught in the same school - 'Olelo No'eau, Hawaiian Proverb. 

Mahalo for reading, and stay tuned for much more!!