Sheila Gallant-Halloran

Made-to-measure travel; please, go away! :-)

Regent Seven Seas Cruises – a luxury you can afford!

[tweetmeme] Regent Cruise Line has a reputation for being the best of the best, and it has won enough awards to prove it (including “Best Mid-Size Cruise Line” – Zagat 2009, “Best by Rooms” – Condé Nast Traveler Gold List 2008, “Best Cabins” – Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards 2008, “Best Rooms” – Forbes Traveler 2009, “Best Value, Ultra-Deluxe Six+ Star Category,” Ocean & Cruise News (1992 – 2009) , “Best Large-Ship Cruise Line” – Virtuoso Performance Awards 2008, “Cruise Line with the Highest Client Satisfaction” – TravelAge West WAVE Awards 2009, “Top 10 Ultra-Luxury Cruise Accommodations” – Luxury Travel magazine 2009, “Ship of the Year” – Ocean & Cruise News 2009, and “Six Plus Stars Rating” – Stern’s Guide to the Cruise Vacation 2009).

Being the best is obviously a terrific honour… but sometimes cruisers think the price point for the luxury is out of their reach. Not so! If you do an apples-to-apples comparision of what Regent includes in its cruise product versus what some larger cruise lines do, you’ll find Regent is right in the mix – or ahead of the game. Plus you get the luxury product with top notch service, much larger cabins, and much smaller ships (around 700 folks sail on Regent, versus 2000 plus folks on Royal Caribbean, etc.)

I recently attended a presentation by Elizabeth Story, director of sales for Encore CruiseEscapes and Andrea McClure, director of sales for Regent Seven Seas. They were giving luxury travel specialists an overview of Regent Seven Seas’ offers, including the latest inclusions, the new ports, the overall experience. What was particularly interesting was the price comparison they gave for 2010 Mediterranean cruises of the Regent Seven Seas Mariner, the Holland American ms Noordam, the Celebrity Equinox, and the Ocean Princess. When you added in the additional fees on the Holland America, Celebrity, and Princess sailings; the price points were very similar!

Regent already includes items such as port charges, air and taxes, airport/ port transfers, shore excursions, gratutities/ service charges, beer/ liquor/ wine, bottle water and soft drinks, and alternative dining (using 3 nights as a guide per cruise). While the base cruise fare (for comparable cabins) on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner APPEARS to be significantly higher ($5550 vs. $1999 on Holland America ms Noordam vs. $3799 on Celebrity Equinox vs. $1999 on Ocean Princess), when you add in all the additional fees, the total costs are pretty similar ($5550 Regent, $5253 HA, $6292 Celebrity, $5142 Princess). The costs per day are also very close ($793 Regent, $750 HA, $899 Celebrity, $735 Princess).

The numbers don’t lie! Regent Seven Seas Cruises is indeed a luxury you can afford!

June 29, 2010 Posted by | Lush Life Cruising, Lush LIfe Top Posts | Leave a comment

Amazing Alaska

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I took an amazing cruise to Alaska aboard the Diamond Princess with my husband, and two children (aged 2 and 8). We were joined onboard by other extended family members, and had a wonderful family reunion that let everyone share time together, while still enabling time to ‘do your own thing.’

We did the 7 night ‘Voyage of the Glaciers’, which sailed one-way, northern bound, from Vancouver, British Columbia to Whittier, Alaska. We had wonderful ports of call in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway; and did two days of scenic cruising through Glacier Bay and College Fjord.

My kids absolutely loved their first cruise experience! While an Alaskan cruise might not be on the top of everyone’s family “wishlist” for travels with young children, it should be (especially now that Disney will cruise to Alaska). We had a wonderful time, and there were plenty of activities for all. Onboard, there were kids’ clubs, swimming pools, dance classes, movie theatres, art auctions, comedians and musical shows – you could do as much or as little as you chose. At port, my children shopped for charm bracelets and Inuit dolls in Ketchikan, rode the tram and collected Big Dipper hats in Juneau, and took a train ride on the White Pass railroad in Skagway.

Hubby enjoyed learning about the gold rush days, and marvelled at the engineering feat of building a railroad through treacherous terrain. And on formal nights, I enjoyed watching my children pretend to be grown ups (getting dressed up) – and was amazed to see them “grow into” their act (behaving wonderfully, and sampling both old favourites and new adventurous entrees).

We all were thrilled by the majestic mountain views and glimpses of wildlife. We saw whales breach, walked past a sea lion sunning itself close to our ship, viewed a bald eagle up close, and waved to a brown bear just outside our train window.

 

The ports of call were very welcoming and cozy, and the way the land cut into the sea was very reminiscent of my hometown on the west coast of Newfoundland. As the ship continued northward, though, I knew we weren’t “home.” We began to see little chunks of ice floating in the water as we entered Glacier Bay, and began the absolute best part of the cruise – the scenic cruising through Glacier Bay and College Fjord.

The glaciers were breathtaking. The ice itself appeared both very blue, but also “dirty” (from the collection of silt from avalanches, movement, etc.) We learned how icebergs were born by the process of “calving” from a glacier, and were awed by the movement of tidewater glaciers. We also enjoyed a balcony cabin, so our wee ones could play inside if they needed a minor distraction.

It was a wonderful family vacation, and one that I would highly recommend.

June 28, 2010 Posted by | Lush Life Cruising, Lush Life Kids | Leave a comment

Only a spider trusts the web…

[tweetmeme] The vast majority of my new clients are internet savvy. Many of them are social media junkies. A number of them are very well-travelled folks, and they are quite used to researching their own trips. But something happens – life gets busy, the mass of info gets overwhelming, and they just don’t have time to take the break they so desperately need. A trusted friend gives them my card, or they find me on the internet… and they call. But they still have a healthy sceptism that I can provide any value. I love building these relationships! And the first message I give them is… only a spider trusts the web!

Of course, you CAN book your own trip. Just as you CAN sell you own home, take your own wedding photos, and do your own accupuncture :-). You can scan the web. You can ask your Aunt Martha how she’d do it. You can amass a stockpile of information about “how to” do accupuncture, say. But, unless that’s your trade, it’s going to take a lot of effort, a lot of luck, and a lot of reliance on the advice of amateurs to get the job done. And there’s quite the risk of getting the job done wrong.

If you rely on your effort, luck, and the advice of amateurs to book your vacation, you’re sticking yourself with needles. Or asking Aunt Martha to stick you with them. (ouch!)

Your vacation dollars and hours are precious commodities. It’s a simple fact that I have knowledge, experience and resources that you, and Aunt Martha, do not. Travel is my chosen career. It’s not my hobby. I’m passionate about it. And while I certainly scan consumer rating sites to see what information the Aunt Marthas of the world are reading and putting out there, I do not rely on that information in making my recommendations. I take it in, surely, and “put it in the mix,” just as I would encourage you to do. But, consumer sites, or user-generated sites, do not give unbiased and objective information. I do.

When I’m recommending a holiday, or a particular hotel, for example, I review my client’s previous experiences. I consider that against my own personal experience, as well as that of my travel agent colleagues. I review travel industry reports, and ratings given by travel journalists. I rely on the advice of those who are travel savvy, those who rate hotels according to objective criteria, and those who are not being paid to give a positive review.

When consumer sites, or user-generated sites, are recommending hotels, “put it in the mix” – but, consider the source. Here are some things for you to think about:

1. Transparency, openness, and disclosure are good. But, not all info is good info.

2. There is little (or no) oversight on the veracity/ quality/ and quantity of reviews posted on consumer sites. There are no objective criteria being used in ratings.

3. Everything is subjective, and everyone has an opinion. If you give Aunt Martha a bullhorn, she will use it. Occasionally, Aunt Martha will speak a kernel of truth, but her every utterance is not gospel.

4. There is a tendency for reviews on consumer sites to be extreme…. overly positive, and overly negative. The vast majority of people with good experiences will not bother to post anything at all.

5. Posters are faceless. Do you know anyone who has ever posted a review on a consumer rating site? Odds are you don’t. And if you do, would you ever loan that person a large sum of cash? Would you pass Aunt Martha your vacation funds and say “invest as you see fit?”

6. Did that last review sound like it was written by Aunt Martha? Hard to tell? It shouldn’t be, right? Aunt Martha never travels. She just visited Sleazoid XYZ Hotel, and was p.o.’ed that she didn’t get a 5* hotel, even though she only paid 2* prices. She’s got a bullhorn.

7. Did that last review sound like it was written by the GM of Sleazoid XYZ Hotel? Hard to tell? It shouldn’t be, right? He’s got a bullhorn too. The GM posted a 5* review of his 2* property. When he was done, he went to his 5* competitor properties and gave them some 2* reviews.

8. When faceless reviewers post negative reviews, hotels have little recourse. They can either remain silent (stay above the fray) or engage in debate (jump in the mud). Reputations are hard earned. Defamation is easy.

9. Consumer sites are rarely not-for-profit sites. They don’t exist for the sole purpose of giving you unbiased information. They are businesses, have sponsors, and sell advertising. They may recommend hotels, and then drive you to a booking engine. Open your eyes, and pay attention to linkages.

So – take all the information in, “put it in the mix,” and don’t stick yourself with needles!

And remember: only a spider trusts the web… trust your personal travel counsellor instead!

June 23, 2010 Posted by | Lush LIfe Top Posts, Lush Life Travel TIps & Advice, Lush Life Value - Why Use a Travel Advisor | 1 Comment

Ste. Anne’s Spa – Canada’s #1 Spa

[tweetmeme] Does the quick step dance of your life leave you feeling exhausted? Does taking care of work and family often leave your daily dance card too full for you? Think it’s time to learn a new dance?

Here’s a cool two-step. Come “dance” at Ste. Anne’s Spa – bring a friend, loved one, or business associate if you need to – combine it however you need to give yourself the gift of a Diva Day!

At Ste. Anne’s Spa, located in the picturesque setting of the rolling Northumberland Hills, time seems to stand still. Located only 3 hours from Ottawa, there’s no need to even worry about driving; the comfort of VIA and a transfer upon arrival is included. Your care-free journey begins the minute you leave home. The extensive facilities at Ste. Anne’s include saunas, hot tubs, steam rooms, pools, fitness centre, hiking trails, tennis courts and more.

Ste. Anne’s Spa has been rated Canada’s #1 Spa for four years running. And it’s no wonder. As soon as you enter the grounds, you are asked to turn off all cell phones and blackberries. This is your chance to recharge, and be away from responsibilities such as families, parenthood, and jobs.

It is definitely a sedate location – peaceful, and wonderful. Ste. Anne’s made an exception for my daughter to come with me for an unusually adult treat for her birthday.
We had a fantastic mom-and-daughter bonding day. As soon as we entered the manicured grounds and beautiful gardens, we changed into our robes. We moved between the gorgeous Eucalyptus sauna, the hot tubs, and the plunge/current/ and larger outdoor pool. We ate a sumptuous three-course lunch prepared by Chef Christopher Ennew, relaxed and enjoyed some glorious spa treatments, walked around the grounds, and then had high tea. What a glorious day!

I’d be happy to create a custom getaway for you that would enable you to savour all that Ste. Anne’s has to offer. Come try a new “dance”!

June 21, 2010 Posted by | Lush Life Destinations, Lush Life Food, WIne & Spas, Lush Life Hotels | Leave a comment

A Recipe for some Disney Vacation Magic

[tweetmeme] Take:
a.) 47 square-miles of Orlando swamp; drain well;
b.) add four theme parks, two water parks, golf courses and recreational activities galore;
c.) stir in dollops of families;
d.) blend in their hard-earned dollars; and
e.) bake, all together, under the intense Florida sun.

Sound like a recipe for disaster?

It can be – especially if you’ve ever exited Magic Kingdom Park after the fireworks, lugged a snoozing five-year-old on your back, joined the throngs of tantrum-throwing, overtired toddlers and their exasperated and totally-spent parents, and queued up for the hour-long bus ride, weaving in and out of Disney’s hotel strip, until you’ve finally arrived back at your resort and crawled into bed. But there is one sure-fire way to avert disaster and combine this recipe’s ingredients into vacation magic … stay at a monorail resort!

Remember that the Walt Disney World Resort (WDW) is huge. No matter how fit, excited, or good-natured your family is, if you try to squeeze every minute out of a park pass by being the first in and last out, you’ll get tired. Bone tired. But if you stay at a resort serviced by the monorail, you can regroup when Fantasyland starts to look like “La-La land.”

It’d be my pleasure to help you book a vacation at Disney; and I’d highly recommend a stay at one of the 3 monorail hotels that are on property – the Contemporary Resort, the Polynesian Resort, or the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa (my absolute favourite onsite property). Why not stay in centre of things, and in the heart of WDW? You deserve the best, right? Pamper yourself with the deluxe hotel amenities, and fantastic pools and water slides. Treat yourself to the ultimate vacation time-saver – the perfect location!

The best vacation experience comes when you stay where you play, and that is never more true than at WDW! Staying at an onsite monorail hotel will allow you to zip over to the Magic Kingdom Park early in the morning, zip away from the heat and crowds to a refreshing noon swim at your hotel, and then zip out again to Epcot in late-afternoon. No line ups or long bus rides for you – give yourself convenience and luxury, and time to still have some rest and relaxation built in too!

Here is some other information to think about concerning the monorails themselves:

o There are three different monorail lines running from the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) – the Express Line runs between Magic Kingdom Park and the TTC, the Epcot Line runs between Epcot and the TTC, and the Resort Line connects the monorail resorts to Magic Kingdom® Park and the TTC.

o The Resort Line runs clockwise, and leaves Magic Kingdom Park en route to the Contemporary, the TTC, the Polynesian, and the Grand Floridian.

o Disney’s Contemporary Resort is the best location for enthusiasts as the monorail runs right through the building’s A-frame. This resort is the closest to Magic Kingdom Park (even small kids can walk to the main gates in seven minutes). It’s also the first stop coming back. (Whereas staying at the Grand Floridian gets you first to Magic Kingdom riding the monorail.)

o Right now, safety issues are preventing upfront rides… but I keep hoping that will revert back, and we can again ask a monorail Cast Member if there’s room to ride up front with the pilot. It’s great to get a bird’s-eye view, as well as that souvenir co-pilot license.

o Just remember, each monorail journey starts with the words, “Please stand clear of the doors; por favor mantenganse alejado de las puertas.”
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June 17, 2010 Posted by | Lush Life Disney, Lush Life Kids | 2 Comments

Anguilla – 1st Caribbean island alphabetically, 1st in my heart

[tweetmeme] I just came back from my first trip to Anguilla. I can promise you one thing – it will not be my last.

What a gorgeous island! It is first in any alphabetical list of Caribbean islands, but it is now also first in my heart. I have a new favourite Caribbean island! Absolutely stunning.

What makes Anguilla so special? Here are some things in the “no” list to think about:

1. No cruise ships
2. No chain hotels
3. No high rises
4. No all-inclusives
5. No fast food outlets
6. No jet skis
7. No crowds
8. No attitude

And
===> here are some special things in the “yes” list to think about:
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a. YES – the best beaches in the world (ranked by the Travel Channel)
b. YES – some of the top resorts in the world (Cap Juluca and CuisinArt are on Conde Nast’s gold list, ranked top in Caribbean – http://www.concierge.com/tools/travelawards/goldlist/2010/regions/caribbean/anguilla/)
c. YES – a variety of accommodations – from 2.5* beach resorts to ultra supreme 5*+
d. YES – more restaurants per capita than NYC or Montreal (who needs all inclusives that tie you down?)
e. YES – it is a British Overseas Territory – so English is spoken everywhere
f. YES – free wifi everywhere that I toured on island (from small hotels to big ones)
g. YES – same electrical voltage as North America – no adapters needed
h. YES – the island is becoming well known amongst the rich and famous who escape there for the beauty and the quiet – so you might just hob nob with them (just don’t ask for an autograph – Anguillans do not bother folks)
i. YES – prices are extremely reasonable over summer months (1/3rd of prices from Christmas week) – it’s a steal of a deal if you go now!

So – go visit Anguilla. She’s a “classy lady” -well worth getting to know!

June 12, 2010 Posted by | Lush Life Destinations, Lush LIfe Top Posts | 8 Comments

You’re never too young for Disney

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My favourite thing in the world is to walk up Main Street USA in Walt Disney World – very slowly! I love to smell the freshly baked chocolate cookies, lick melting ice cream from a Mickey Mouse ears ice cream, watch helium balloons wrapped around a barker’s hand strain to break free, listen to a Dixie Land jazz band, and feel the warm embrace of the Florida sun. My family’s been to Walt Disney World 17 times, and the place never loses its magic. It’s just a terrific, safe, family spot that offers something for everyone – from babes in arms, to those who’ve already ushered in their century birthday.

Yet, I’m always amazed when I hear people say they want to wait until their kids are old “enough” to appreciate Disney. There isn’t any such thing as being too young for Disney. There isn’t any number carved in stone that is the “right” age – because every age is perfect. I’ve been to Disney as part of a honeymooning couple, as an expectant mom, as a mother of a toddler, and now as a mother to a tween – and every time, age, and visit has had it’s special moments. Of course, there are ride restriction/ heights to be considered, and there are some folks that want to wait until their children are old enough to walk into every ride without encumberances; but if you wait until that age, you likely will miss out on the magic of going earlier. And why would you even think that a trip to Disney is not a repeat occurrence? 🙂

Here are some things to consider when you’re deciding whether or not to bring a wee one to Disney:

1. Do you celebrate your kids’ birthdays, holidays, family events in a big way (regardless of whether they are old enough to remember)? Yes? Then, little celebrations and wide-eyed looks of wonder are already important to you! Wouldn’t the magic of Disney offer similar photo ops and memories?

2. Magic is strongest in the young! When little ones look at characters, they see the real Mickey Mouse, and the real Cinderella. Their eyes light up at the possibility of touching the characters. They don’t care about autographs so much (that’s usually mom and dad pushing paper and pens) – the kids want to hug the characters. Minnie Mouse can seem a lot more friendly than even Santa Claus.

3. Kids under 2 can fly for free – that’s a huge savings.

4. Kids under 3 can enter the Disney theme parks for free – that can be an even bigger savings.

5. Kids under 3 don’t usually count in the maximum occupancy for the room at a Disney onsite hotel if they can sleep in a crib/ pack-n-play. (But, I don’t think Mickey does bedchecks…)

6. If mom and dad buy a meal plan, kids under 3 can dine for free by eating off mom and dad’s plates (sharing the meal).

7. Disney is well set up with stroller rentals and/or purchases, diaper and soother purchases, kid play and change centers, and strategically placed bathrooms.

8. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the organization and creativity that goes into maintaining a stroller parking lot in front of rides. (It’s amazing what parents will do to make their stroller stand out from the crowd.)

9. Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom holds a special magic for parents taking wee ones. Older kids become a little more jaded, and although they’ll eventually find their way back to the wonder of riding the carousel, and singing “it’s a small world”, there is nothing like experiencing those rides with a wee one.

So, come on – take the plunge. Take your wee one to Disney. You’ll be glad you did.

June 11, 2010 Posted by | Lush Life Disney, Lush Life Kids, Lush Life Other Items, Lush LIfe Top Posts, Lush Life Travel TIps & Advice | 2 Comments

Road Trip with the Kids – Unplug to Plug In

[tweetmeme] Twice a year, my family of four escapes my adopted city to head “home” to the west coast of Newfoundland.

The past two summers, we’ve foregone the regular flight pattern through Halifax (and/or Montreal) to get into Deer Lake on the west coast, and actually made the long drive home. The drive can be somewhat daunting – it’s a good 2.5 days of travel (that includes an overnight stay in either Quebec City or somewhere in New Brunswick; as well as an overnight ferry from Sydney, NS to Port aux Basques, Nfld). The trip itself covers 2000 kms from Ottawa, Ontario to Corner Brook, Newfoundland; but it’s a wonderful opportunity to see different parts of Canada. Of course, I’m prejudiced – the scenery gets prettier and prettier the further east you go!

That first year, though, I’ll admit that the thought of such a long drive, being several days in the car with my young kids, and taking the ferry was something we approached with mild trepidation. Yet, we jumped in, and embraced the experience – and, surprise, surprise, found out that we liked it very much. So much so, the drive itself is now an important part of our annual summer vacation. The journey there and back truly is a terrific part of the experience.

Here are some tips we found helped make the experience enjoyable:

1. No building a cocoon. No family member is allowed to check out. We all have to engage in conversation, and tell stories. That means no (or very limited use of) personal electronics – no iphones, cellphones, blackberries, etc. that might take you away from the family environment and into your own cocoon.

2. Play some family drive games. I’ll often pull some car bingo games off the net so we can look for Volkswagons (punch buggy, anyone?). We might play a game of “mad, sad, and glad” (which gets especially interesting when my four-year-old has to share tales of things that have made her mad, sad, and glad that day). Or we might get things going with “tell us two things you think no one knows about you”, or “tell us how you’d spend a lottery win”. There’s something about the anonymity of sitting in the backseat that makes kids open up more than when you’re sitting face-to-face, as any parent can tell you. Some of our best conversations have started that way.

3. Stop often. Kids will be kids, after all. In enclosed spaces, the best of friends will get on each other’s nerves. Don’t drive until you hear yourself saying, “if I have to stop this car….” Plan the stops, don’t be rushed, and ensure everyone can get out, stretch their legs, and burn off some energy in a positive way.

4. When the DVD player is dragged out, watch something together as a family. (Since we’re Disney fanatics, we go through our library of classics, and bring along movies we can all enjoy. You can never see enough “Toy Story” or “Mulan.”)

5. Try to appreciate each other’s music selections. (Parents can singalong to a Jonas Brothers song, just as the kiddies can enjoy some classic Beatles.)

6. Stay somewhere with a pool. ‘Nuff said.

So, don’t be afraid of the long road trip. Embrace it. The journey will be fantastic, and with a destination like Newfoundland, you’ll also end up somewhere fantastic. I promise, you’ll be amazed at what you find along the way!

June 10, 2010 Posted by | Lush Life Destinations, Lush Life Kids | 2 Comments

Top 10 reasons – why use a travel agent?


Choose me to Book your Travel Needs:

1. Value for Money: I will provide unbeatable value while offering personalized and professional travel service.

2. Peace of Mind: I will be there to help: before, during, and after each booking. When you are on vacation, I am only a phone call away.

3. Loyalty: I work for you. I will always keep your best interest at heart.

4. Travel Made Simple: I make it my top priority to research every option available to you. You will never need to spend time searching travel websites again!

5. Making your Dreams a Reality: I arrange ALL of your travel plans, whether it is a romantic weekend away or an around-the-world cruise for the family.

6. Travel Must Haves: Not sure what else you may need to make it the perfect vacation? I offer and arrange travel insurance, theme park tickets – even hot ballooning over the Serengeti!

7. TICO protection: I am registered with the Travel Industry Council of Ontario.

8. Passion for Travel: I love what I do and it shows. My personal experience shines through every travel reservation I research and book.

9. Knowledge: I continually strive to be the best. Further education and accreditations keep me ahead of the curve.

10. A Personal Touch at a Great Price: I will provide your dream vacation at a price you will love, with convenience you’ll appreciate, and all with a personal touch that will exceed your expectations.

Sheila Gallant-Halloran

613-837-0699

sheilag@travelcounsellors.ca

June 1, 2010 Posted by | Lush Life Value - Why Use a Travel Advisor | 2 Comments