Sheila Gallant-Halloran

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

Guest blog: Danny Starr- 5 Tips to Keep Home Safe While on Vacay

It’s guest blog Monday, and today I’m honoured to have my friend Danny Starr write a guest post for me.

Danny is the Director of eCommerce at iWatchLife, a smart video monitoring company based in Ottawa, Ontario. Danny’s contact details are at the end of the blog post.


Whether you are away for a week or a month, there are a few things you can do to be sure that your home is OK while you’re away.  Typically people think about security but it’s not just about being broken into.

Have you ever come home from a holiday in the sun to find your basement flooded? Any number of things can happen but you can be more prepared by following these simple tips.

Appearance Matters

The easiest way to let people know that you’re away is to let the appearance of your property slip.  In the winter, make sure your driveway is being shovelled.  In the summer, make sure your lawn in being cut and your mail and newspapers don’t pile up on your front doorstep.  It is common for thieves to watch properties before they attempt to break in.  If you are leaving cars or if your laneway will empty, have somebody park there to make it look like somebody is visiting. 

It almost goes without saying that you should have some of your lights on timers.  Leaving them on all of the time is an obvious signal that you’re away. 

Take Out the Papers and the Trash

If you have ever returned home to the smell of rotting food or garbage then this one is a no-brainer.  Be sure to throw away any perishable food from your fridge or counter before you leave and take the garbage out.  If you’re in a pinch and can’t do this, then a trick I have used is putting things in the freezer until I get home so that they don’t stink up my house.  Ask a neighbour to take out the trash if you are away on garbage day, but make sure they don’t forget returning the cans to storage after pick-up!

Here’s another bonus tip: flush all of your toilets and make sure they are clean.  A toilet that is even a little bit dirty can get pretty nasty in a week or two. 

Love Thy Neighbour

It is always handy to have a friendly neighbour keep an eye on your place.  If you are worried about your furnace turning off and your pipes freezing, then this is even more important particularly for insurance purposes.  Those of you with sump pumps will be experienced at making sure somebody checks to make sure your basement isn’t flooded.  Just make sure your neighbour can contact you or somebody else that can deal with any issues that may arise. 

Security Company Contact Information

If you have spent the money to get a proper security system installed, make sure you notify them and that they have the contact information for somebody you trust in the event that the alarm goes off.  Let this individual know that they might get a call if the alarm is tripped.  Most companies charge a fee for having the police come to your house and having this sorted out in advance might save you a few hundred dollars.

Use a Webcam for More Than Video Chatting

More and more, people are starting to realize that they can keep an eye on their house with nothing more than a simple webcam on software that gives you access to the camera view from any Internet connected computer.  Some people will point the camera at their thermostat or heat pump while they are away so that they can make sure everything is fine.  It is also worth pointing out that there are some smart video monitoring solutions that include motion detection and email alerts so that you get an email if something happens. 


Your vacation should be about relaxing and enjoying yourself, not worrying about what is happening for your house.  If you follow these simple tips, you reduce the chances that you end up with a surprise when you finally get home. 

Danny Starr is the Director of eCommerce at iWatchLife, a smart video monitoring company based in Ottawa, Ontario.

@iwatchlife on twitter

February 28, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Guest Bloggers | 1 Comment

Comparing the WDW Monorail Hotels

My family has been to Disney 18 times so far… and can’t wait for the next return trip.  We’ve stayed at a lot of the Disney hotels, and visited/ eaten/ done site visits at even more. But we keep returning to the monorail hotels as our preferred spot to stay. Why?  Location, location, location.

We LOVE Magic Kingdom. For us, no day at Disney is complete unless we’re at Magic Kingdom (MK) for at least a little bit. Sure, we pop over to Epcot,  Hollywood Studios, or Animal Kingdom to hit the key rides, catch a parade, watch Fantasmic!, etc., but we usually head over to MK either before or after. For us, it’s “home.”

So, in order to stay close to “home,” we stay at a monorail hotel.  There are 3 – and they are all deluxe hotels.  And they are all equally fabulous in their own ways. And each of my family members seems to have a different favourite (although DD11 changes her mind constantly which one she loves most).

My hubby’s favourite is Contemporary – it’s within 7 minute walking distance of MK (and the first monorail stop home).  A huge plus at the end of the night! (With terrific shopping too. And let’s not forget Chef Mickey’s!)

My DD5’s favourite is Polynesian – she loves the volcano waterslide in the dark. (Course, having easy access to both Epcot and MK monorails is awfully cool too.)

My favourite is the Grand Floridian – I LOVE the Victorian feel, the clean white and pastel environment, and the terrific ambiance. (And the canyon themed waterslide and pool is the prettiest there is.)

Check out the specifics – which hotel do you prefer?

i compare monorail

February 26, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Disney, Lush Life Hotels | Leave a comment

Premium Cars of Southern Germany

Air Canada Vacations has a new vacation package offering this year – premium cars of Southern Germany.

See the tour details here—9-days–7-nights/

Drive the cars that have made Southern Germany famous – Mercedes, Porsche, Audi and BMW.
Discover the cities of Munich, Stuttgart and Ingolstadt and enjoy exclusive tours. Countryside and culture, towns and castles, gastronomy and luxury cars await. Let’s hit the road!



DAY 1 Depart Canada

      Board your Air Canada non-stop flight to Munich, Germany.

Day 2 Munich City Tour & BMW World (BMW 5 Series)

      Upon arrival at the Munich airport, be welcomed by your personal assistant and escorted to your selected hotel. Your BMW 5 Series will be there ready
      for you. Begin your experience of the Bavarian city with an afternoon half-day sightseeing tour of the historic old centre of Munich and the BMW World.
      Overnight in Munich (2 nights)

Day 3 Munich
Breakfast included
The day is yours to discover more of this fine city or enjoy an exclusive optional tour: Full-day city tour and BMW Museum with a private guide.

Day 4 Munich – Stuttgart (Mercedes C Class)
Breakfast included
After breakfast, check out of your hotel and take to the road through the charming landscapes of Allgau. Meet your personal assistant at one of the selected restaurants in the towns of Friedrichshafen, Lindau or Meersburg and exchange the BMW 5er Series for a Mercedes C Class. After lunch, zoom along the picturesque coastline before arriving in Stuttgart, at the heart of the largest wine producing region of Germany.
Overnight in Stuttgart (3 nights)

Day 5 Stuttgart – Mercedes Benz and Porsche Museum
Breakfast included
The big draws for visitors to Stuttgart are the sensational Mercedes-Benz World and the magnificent Porsche Museum. Discover the mythology of these world-famous cars on a guided tour. The tour continues through the city as you walk past splendid palaces and buildings in a wide range of architectural styles.

Day 6 Stuttgart
Breakfast included
The day is yours to discover more of this fine city or take an exclusive optional tour: Metzingen Outlets and Vineyard Experience.

Day 7 Stuttgart – Ingolstadt (Porsche Panamera)

Breakfast included
Before checking out of your hotel, exchange your Mercedes C Class for a Porsche Panamera. Enroute to Ingolstadt pass through the beautiful Remstal region. It is worthwhile to make a stop at Schorndorf to visit the house where Gottlieb Daimler was born. The drive continues past the medieval city Nordlingen, the pearl of Danube Donauworth before arriving in Ingolstadt.
Enjoy a three-hour guided city tour through the old city centre.
Overnight in Ingolstadt (2 nights)

Day 8 Ingolstadt (Audi A4)

Breakfast included
Meet your personal assistant in the morning at your hotel to exchange the Mercedes C class for the Audi A4. The day is yours to discover this fine city or enjoy an exclusive optional tour: Audi Forum Ingolstadt.  

Day 9 Ingolstadt – Munich – Home
Breakfast included
After breakfast, drive your Audi to the airport in Munich where your personal assistant is waiting. Return home aboard your Air Canada flight back to Canada.

Round-trip, non-stop flight Toronto – Munich
7 nights of accommodation in 4 or 5-star hotel with breakfast daily
8-day usage of 4 luxury cars: BMW 5 Series, Mercedes C Class, Porsche Panamera, Audi A4*
Half-day city tour and tour of BMW World in Munich on Day 2
Full-day city tour and Mercedez-Benz World and Porsche Museum in Stuttgart on Day 5
3-hour city tour in Ingolstadt on Day 7
Airport transfer on the arrival day
Personal assistant for vehicle pick ups and returns

 May 16, 2011 $6589 CDN plus taxes & other fees: $417
Based on availability at time of booking.
Price is per person, based on double occupancy.
Call me to book this bucket list trip!

February 25, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Planes, Trains, & Automobiles | Leave a comment

I am a “travel advisor”… not a “travel agent”

My greatest business treasure is my existing client base. They continually reward me with repeat business, and they give me the greatest compliment when they refer me to their friends and family. I honour that trust.

My existing client base already knows and trusts in the value I provide… else they wouldn’t be repeat customers! 🙂 

 But, obviously, as a thriving small business owner, I still cultivate new client relationships. This past week has reminded me of the need to hone the conversation I have with new folks, because some don’t immediately “get” what I’m about.

First up – I am a “travel advisor.”  I am not a “travel agent.”

What’s the difference?

Well… I still have the same technical skills that a “travel agent” has. I deliver information, and can transact the sale of travel services. But a “travel agent” focuses only on the single transaction. I don’t. I will work with you to meet your family’s travel needs far beyond any single transaction.

A “travel agent” is a person/ order taker/ internet booking engine with a very limited scope of activities they complete.  As a “travel advisor,” I offer much more. I am your specialist problem-solver. I am your VIP consultant. And I am your trusted advisor. I am here to look at the specifics of your family’s vacation needs.  I bring the breadth of my knowledge, training, and experiences (as well as that of my colleagues, and the resources and connections I can draw upon from my company) to the table to help craft your family’s memories.

Think of a “travel agent” as the MacDonalds of the travel world. 

You may really need to eat something fast. Maybe you drive up to the take-out window, give the fast food order, pay your money, and get a brown bag of pre-cooked (some would say unwholesome) food in return.  Maybe you don’t mind queuing up for your food, and you even enjoy the atmosphere of eating out of boxes and paper bags. Perhaps you don’t even mind cleaning your own table (or car) after you’ve paid for the food served. Then, you would probably really enjoy a Big Mac. Go for it.


Your taste buds might want something more than a pre-cooked and pre-assembled meal. Maybe you’re looking for a little individual attention, and don’t want to feel like a number. Maybe you want someone to prepare your burger a particular way, and to talk to you about what your palette desires. Perhaps you want the finest cut of beef with all the Michelin star-foodie trimmings, or perhaps you just want an old-fashioned mom-and-pop burger that tastes terrific and was just grilled especially for you. Then, you probably shouldn’t go to MacDonald’s.  

If you’re looking for the lowest possible cost holiday, and nothing more, than I’m probably not your gal. Stick to the travel agent/ order taker/ internet booking engine.  Order the Big Mac – it’ll be cheap, you don’t expect service, and you also know how it sits in your tummy afterwards.

But, if you’re looking for something … more… If you want a holiday you will remember, then, I’m your “go to” gal. Get the meal you will savour.

You never get to recapture your personal time, so your vacation has to be right the first time. Extraordinary travel experiences don’t just happen – they are created through collaborative effort.  So, if you’re thinking about the kind of memories you’d like to take away from your next vacation, give me a call.

February 24, 2011 Posted by | Lush LIfe Top Posts, Lush Life Value - Why Use a Travel Advisor | 3 Comments

Guest blog: Client Natalie Schleyer shares her Disney experiences (and photos!)

Today is Guest Blog Monday, and I’m honoured to have my client, Natalie Schleyer, write about her family’s recent visit to Walt Disney World in Orlando.

Natalie is also a talented photographer. She is kindly sharing some of her terrific photos for the blog post. As you can see, Natalie has a keen eye for capturing memories. Her contact details at the end.


This past January, I woke my three children at 3:30 in the morning. It was finally time. I had a surprise that I had been keeping for the past month and a half and I was bursting at the seams to share. We were going to Orlando, FL and in a matter of hours we would be at Disney World!

Their reaction was what I was expecting, considering it was the middle of the night. The news was received with groans and hands in the face but within minutes of being told, as the realization of what they had just heard kicked in, I heard their squeals of excitement. We were heading to the airport and would soon be landing in Florida! Eeeeek!

For their age, I think my kids have traveled pretty extensively and those trips were fun and they were a great experience but this trip… 

Disney really is where dreams come true and the memories created will truly last a lifetime. When we stepped onto the Disney grounds, I felt like we were stepping into another world. It was a world where every single square meter was meticulously designed and perfectly laid out for everyone’s enjoyment.

We have so many favourite memories but the ones that seem to stand out to my kids are when my youngest son got to hug Woody and be an honorary train conductor, his twin sister got to meet Rapunzel and see the Lion King on stage and my oldest son, who is extremely afraid of heights, was able to go outside of his comfort zone and enjoy rides he never thought he would be able to conquer.

At Animal Kingdom we saw lions, hippos, giraffes and elephants and enjoyed the amazing shows by the uber talented Disney performers. A Bug’s Life, the Jingle Jungle Parade and Lion King were amazing and a definite must see. The Tree of Life was jaw dropping in its beauty.

Memories will be made at every park and there will be many. There is something for every age and seeing the look on your child’s face when they first see Mickey or Cinderella’s castle is priceless. This was my first time to a Disney park and the emotions I felt were not only indescribable, the magic was just as wondrous for me at 34 as I think it would have been had I been 7 years old. If you haven’t been, go, if you have, go again. I know we will be!

A huge thank you to Sheila. Being a Disney specialist with 18 trips to Disney under her belt, she guided me through the process with tips and advice and was there to answer the many questions I had. I couldn’t of planned this surprise without her and can not thank her enough for all of her time and assistance.

February 21, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Disney, Lush Life Guest Bloggers | 1 Comment

Your opinion? Ottawa’s top 10 “must see/ do” things?

I’ve been asked to guest blog for a US travel blog, Got Saga , about the top 10 things to do and see in Ottawa.  I started putting a list together very quickly – I certainly knew my favourite spots. But then I wondered – would others around the city come up with the same list? Would our fave spots differ widely? 

I knew there were likely treasure troves specific to a region of the city …So, I put the question out to my friends on facebook, linked in, and twitter – and the responses I received were plentiful and varied. I was unfamiliar with some of the parks suggested – I personally didn’t know Mud Lake or Remic Rapids until a tweep/ fb friend mentioned them (so, I have new haunts to discover – remember, I’m a Newfoundlander, and Ottawa is my adopted home…)

This might help if you don’t know some spots off the bat…  

How was I going to narrow the list? 

First up, I decided to focus on more than just strict city limits. This list might possible entice folks to visit Ottawa – and no visit of Ottawa should exclude the Gats.

Second up, I couldn’t restrict it to a particular season – the canal offers terrific activities for all seasons, but the RCMP musical ride doesn’t offer much excitement in the dead of February.

Third up, I’ve left 24 Sussex off the list – because you can’t really go in to browse around (but if you like drive-bys, we could add too). 

Fourth up, I grouped items. Some expressed preferences for specific components – such as the East Block on Parliament Hill, Pink Lake in Gatineau Park, a food tour of the Byward Market, the locks along the canal with a mandatory visit to get a beavertail, etc.. – but I couldn’t have a list of 100…  

I quickly realized I still had way more than 10 things that were “must see/ do” for Ottawa, and would be challenged to come up with a ranking…

Please help!  Vote using the poll.  Comment and tell me your favourite, and why. 

If you had an afternoon free in the city, what would you do? Where would you bring a visitor?


February 20, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Destinations | 7 Comments

A sweetheart deal with Azamara Cruises

 Looking for a special cruise? How about Azamara.

If you book an Oceanview Stateroom (or higher) between February 14 -17 with Azamara, you’ll get this sweetheart of a  deal.

$500/ stateroom onboard credit,

Bottle of Champagne,

Gourmet Chocolate Covered Strawberries,

an Intimate Dinner for 2 at a Specialty Restaurant –






See htt…p://

Jun 25 | 7 Nights | Lisbon, Portugal
to Paris (Rouen), France
Jul 21 | 7 Nights | Stockholm, Sweden Roundtrip
Sep 17 | 7 Nights | Nice, France Roundtrip
Sep 24 | 10 Nights | Nice, France
to Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy
Oct 4 | 11 Nights | Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy
to Lisbon, Portugal
Aug 6 | 7 Nights | Venice, Italy Roundtrip
Aug 13 | 7 Nights | Venice, Italy
to Athens (Piraeus), Greece
Oct 8 | 7 Nights | Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy
to Athens (Piraeus), Greece
Oct 15 | 11 Nights | Athens (Piraeus),
Greece Roundtrip
Nov 6 | 11 Nights | Athens (Piraeus), Greece
to Suez (Sokhna), Egypt


Give me a call if you’d like to check it out!

February 15, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Cruising | Leave a comment

Guest blog from Deborah Peniuk – Loving yourself first

Hi – it’s guest blog Monday, and I’m fortunate today to have a post from my friend, and fellow Virtuoso travel advisor, Deborah Peniuk.  Deborah has a terrific outlook on life, and runs her travel business that focuses on health and wellness – AYA Life: Aspiration, Yearning, and Adventure. Her post is about the importance of loving yourself first.  Deborah’s contact details are at the end.


Loving yourself first…

When Valentine’s Day is upon us its like the world goes on a serious tilt…those that love the day rejoice and those who don’t suffer in silence or send out the bitter energy of those unhappy and alone.

I, for one, say love yourself first and take the time to add some personal health and wellness care to your year instead of dreading a day that is one of the most commercial of them all. How do you start the journey?

“I have an everyday religion that works for me. Love yourself first, and everything else falls into line.”–Lucile Ball, 1911-1989, Comedienne and Actress

Loving yourself first is self-responsible. It is true that everything else falls into line when you take care of yourself first. Far from being selfish, it is actually the opposite of selfish.

How about taking a wonderful weekend of mind, body, spirit, a healing ambience, friendly atmosphere, with or without helpful speakers and workshops, lively energizing entertainment, and superb retail therapy to make you feel well and treasured. Many well organized retreats can help facilitate this as well as just taking yourself to a new destination near or far to remove yourself from life’s stresses and reconnect with yourself and if you are in a relationship – to assist in reconnecting with each other.

Incorporate a love or interest that you have and get away from it all, such as a foodie tour/retreat, a yoga or spiritual retreat for a weekend or longer, a photography tour with real instruction so that you are learning as well as enjoying along the way in your favourite city. For some parking themselves by a pool, or sweating it out on a beautiful beach is enough and for them I applaud the simplicity or be bold and go on a real adventure and push yourself to new limits like Zip-lining or being part of a sailing crew on the open ocean! Go for the destination that will give you the greatest personal rewards and satisfaction but be realistic with budget and expectations (especially those of yourself/partner).

I put myself through the utmost tests sometimes as I currently challenge myself with making sure I am loving myself as I am part of long-distance love with my current partner. Everyday is a check-in, every moment has me wanting the next “CHECK IN” “Boarding pass please moment” but I know that I always have to hold myself accountable.

Start Today – It’s never too late to rekindle love and romance in a stale long-term relationship whether with yourself or with a partner. Start from where you are, and begin doing things together that emphasize and celebrate you/your relationship as a couple so why not take a little vacay and indulge in life’s splendor.


Author: Deborah Peniuk, Owner & Travel Writer of AYA Life

© Deborah Peniuk 2011



February 14, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Guest Bloggers | 1 Comment

Winterlude in Ottawa – Ice Sculptures & Beavertails

February can be a dreary month in Ottawa.

Thankfully, the nation’s capital has an annual festival that urges folks to have some winter fun. So, a grey snowy day didn’t discourage us from taking in a little Winterlude.

We headed to Confederation Park in downtown Ottawa to see the ice sculptures.



If you’ve ever seen the sculptures, you’ll know that Ottawa’s winter fest draws competitors from around the world.

How these masters of ice honed their craft is a wonder, but their works of art are beautiful.

But none is as beautiful as a bit of deep fried dough called a “Beavertail.”

Whether you like it with lemon, or just cinnamon and sugar.

Or are a little more adventuresome for maple butter….

there’s no disputing the joy of eating a sugar-topped beaver-tail shaped pastry.

If you haven’t taken in some of Winterlude yet, or had a beavertail, what are you waiting for?

February 14, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Destinations | Leave a comment

Are you fantasizing about the new Disney Fantasy?

I’ve set up a promo group for the new ship coming next year – the Disney Fantasy. I have a 7 night Eastern Caribbean cruise Apr.21.12 group set up, with prices locked down for the next couple of weeks only.

What does a promo group mean? No – there isn’t forced interaction with a bunch of people you don’t know (although you can do that if you’d like) – you’re not forced to eat with these folks, or go on shore excursions with them. A promo group is just a way for me to secure pricing for a select time, and hopefully be able to secure some terrific group amenities for those inside the group (such as onboard credits).

I have 10 category 5C balcony cabins (quad cabins – so suitable for family of 4, although we can request lower numbers) on hold – and have sold 2 already.  I have the remaining 8 until Mar.2.11 – so if you’re interested in sailing on this brand new ship (that is still being built) let me know!

Note: prices outside the group have already gone up by $200 – and, as with all ships, as they fill the price continues to rise.  This will be the cheapest you will get this sailing at, and demand for the new ship is only going to continue to rise. (And, as with the Dream’s inaugural sailing, once the Fantasy sails it’s first cruise, prices will skyrocket.)

See  for product description, but for sample pricing for a family of 4 with 2 kids aged 7 and 10  (with vacation insurance protection added in, no air, no transfers) , would be $5441.40 USD.  A deposit of $250 USD pp would be required by Mar.2.11 to secure, with balance due Feb.6.12. 

Let me know if you want a quote!

February 13, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Cruising, Lush Life Disney | Leave a comment