Sheila Gallant-Halloran

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

Update to New Air Canada Checked Baggage Policy

Air Canada recently announced an update to their checked baggage policy. Be sure you’re aware of changes.

ac Doc1

Any questions, please let me know.

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September 11, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Planes, Trains, & Automobiles | 4 Comments

Air Canada Strike – What to know before you go to the airport!

At 00:01 am on Jun.14.11, 4000 of Air Canada’s staff at call centers and airport customer service agents (check in, and gate agents) started a strike action. Over 1700 of Air Canada’s managers have been trained to fill in for the striking workers. Air Canada advises that they will maintain a full schedule of flights, and all existing bookings will be honoured, and all future bookings will be welcomed.

There are 9 affected airports – the 3 nearest us (Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto), as well as the ones Ottawa folks might travel to most (Vancouver, Halifax, St. Johns, as well as Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg).  Air Canada is reporting that check ins at international and US airports will not be impacted, and all regional airlines (including Jazz) will be fully operational.

Before you go to the airport:

1. call your travel agent – here’s where the established relationship is important (but take the opportunity to build a new relationship too) – I am your advocate. 

2. limit your checked luggage (carry on luggage if you can – ensure you know the checked baggage rules)

3. check your flight status online (should be available up to 3 days in advance)

4. check in online, and/or use your mobile blackberry and iphone apps (available up to 24 hrs in advance)

And – at the airport, please:

5. go EARLY ( the lines will be longer than usual)

6. use the self-service kiosks (there are >500 at the affected airports)

7. use available computers at some check in spots to self-check in

8. if you have to pay for luggage, etc., ensure you have your credit card (cash and debit not accepted)

9. use self-rebooking tools if you can (you or your travel agent can rebook in the event of cancellation. AC is advising about waiving of normal change fees.)

Air Canada wants to get everyone to their destination safely, obviously.  Fingers crossed the strike action is resolved quickly and to the mutual benefit of AC management and the Canadian Auto Workers union representing the striking workers. 

For clients, please establish/ strengthen your relationship with your travel agent.  We’re here to help!

Frequently asked questions at AC: http://www.aircanada.com/en/news/trav_adv/labour_updates_faq.html#13

June 14, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, Lush Life Travel TIps & Advice | 1 Comment

Vegas, baby

It seems when folks are looking for a quick getaway, they look to Vegas. No small feat to get from Ottawa to Vegas. There are few direct flights (although Westjet has two a week now til the end of April – Thursdays and Sundays), and, as expected, the air costs from Ottawa to Nevada can be a little daunting. Driving to Montreal, Toronto, or even Syracuse can sometimes offer savings on air, while sacrificing your precious time.  But the Vegas holiday is one that should be planned and savoured – not just booked without any thought.

My clients are often amazed to learn that many Vegas resorts charge daily resort fees.  This can be an increase of $15-30 dollars per day on your hotel bill, and the amount is collected at destination.  I often recommend that my clients consider the Caesar/ Harrah’s entertainment hotels. Harrah’s Entertainment has eliminated daily resort fees at all of its Las Vegas properties: Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, PH Towers Westgate, Caesars Palace, Harrah’s Las Vegas, Paris Las Vegas, Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino, Flamingo Las Vegas, Bally’s Las Vegas and Imperial Palace. So, you can save the extra $100 or so add on in fees – which will get you a nice meal, or maybe a show. 

Course, the Wynn, Bellagio, Venetian, and Mandalay Bay all offer their own terrific architecture, entertainment, wild landscaping, and charms. A stay at either of those properties is certainly worth the additional resort fees.

After fees, don’t forget there are no all inclusive packages in Vegas. But then again, why would you want there to be?  There are plenty of dining options. Vegas is the mother of all buffets.  I can sign you up for the Buffet of Buffets – $44-49 per person for 24 hours of buffets at all Caesar Properties.  Or you can dine around Vegas, at some of it’s fantastic top notch restaurants, such as at Wynn http://www.wynnlasvegas.com/dining

Shows are key too. I can sign you up for an All Stage Pass  which gives you 48 Hours – 18 Shows $99 (most shows are $50-$80 each), and you book the shows you wish to see yourself at Planet Hollywood.  Included are shows like Smokey Robinson presents Human Nature .  But the primo shows, like http://www.celinedionlasvegas.net/, are not included in this (however, if you buy the pass you get discounts on the big shows). 

I work with destination specialists and can plan your itinerary to perfection. We can get you to the Grand Canyon to tour, or maybe see the Hoover Dam. http://www.touchthesouthwest.com/Where_We_Go.html

Vegas, baby – much to see and do… and we haven’t even touched on the gambling. If you can only go for a few short days, make the most of your vacation, and give me a call to help you plan it right.

April 12, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Destinations, Lush Life Planes, Trains, & Automobiles | 2 Comments

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 http://www.aircanadavacations.com/en/vacation_packages/tours_stays/Germany/Premium-Cars-of-Southern-Germany—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!

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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.

Inclusions
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

Westjet Care-antee – Ceili’s Guarantee

 In July, 2008, my family took our first cruise to Alaska. My kids were 2 and 8 at the time.  It was a terrific reunion for an extended family group that came together across Canada. We all thoroughly enjoyed the cruise vacation, the Alaska glaciers, and the sightseeting together. 

However, our return trip home to Ottawa was more eventful than I  care to ever repeat.

We left Anchorage, Alaska and flew to Vancouver, British Columbia on another airline. No issues, save some unpleasantness from an airline stewardess. We left family members in Vancouver, as they were continuing on to Newfoundland, while we caught a Westjet flight to Calgary that would bring us home to Ottawa. We were still feeling miffed about the stewardess on the other airline, when shortly after take off on the Westjet flight, it became apparent that this was not going to be a routine flight segment.

Thank goodness for Westjet. They made a bad day go as smoothly as it possibly could. And my little 2-year-old Ceili certainly tested their Care-antee program to its fullest.

Here’s what happened.

Mid-flight from Vancouver to Calgary, Ceili started thrashing about, and wailing at a high pitch. This was very uncharacteristic of her. Although only two, she had flown many times, and had never been bothered. But this wasn’t just a bother. She was screaming in pain, and it was nearly impossible to keep her from kicking the seat (and everything else) in front of her. No amount of chocolate, gum, hot compresses, or any other distraction would soothe or console her. It was a brutal flight (one that my fellow passengers did not enjoy, I can ensure you), but the stewardess on the Westjet flight did her best to offer solutions and comfort.

Hearing this agony from the cockpit, the pilot became alarmed that Ceili had ruptured her eardrums. He radioed air traffic control, and as soon as we had landed, he asked everyone to remain seated while us 4 de-planed.  You can imagine the panic of our young family, with me trying to comfort my 8 year old that her sister wasn’t dying, all while trying to calm an almost hysterical 2 year old, and trying to sort through the maze of what was actually happening to the babe.

Ok, perforated ear drum – not so big a deal, I’d figured. What’s the worst that can happen? She’d lose hearing in one ear? Not ideal, but could manage that. At least she was off the plane, and the pressure wasn’t torturing her anymore (despite her continued keening). We could fix and/or handle whatever would follow.

Upon exiting from the aircraft, we watched the baton of care being passed from Westjet’s stewardess and pilot to Westjet’s gate attendents.

Paramedics arrived on bicycle shortly after we had de-planed. (If you ever want to see something surreal, EMS guys riding thru an airport terminal on bikes is definitely it.) After assessing the still-screaming Ceili, the paramedics also surmised that her eardrums had ruptured, and they arranged an ambulance to take us to the new Calgary children’s hospital. The Westjet gate attendents got to work quickly.

The Westjet folks jumped into practicality-mode. They knew we weren’t going to make the red-eye flight on to Ottawa that night, so they put us on a Westjet flight out of Calgary the next morning, arranged a hotel for us for the night (the last night of Stampede – so rooms were pretty scarce in Calgary), and also gave us vouchers for breakfast the next morning. So caring and attentive to detail were the attendents, they even gave us a taxi chit to get from the children’s hospital back to the hotel later that night. I couldn’t believe the service, but I’d been so distracted with soothing my wee one, I didn’t think to take names for later kudos.

The ambulance ride to the Calgary’s children hospital added another layer of adventure to the trip. The EMS workers hooked young Ceili up to various machines, and a heart monitor – all normal stuff to get details for the hospital. The relief of the ear pressure finally gone, Ceili stopped screaming, and, being laid out on a stretcher (despite sirens blaring and equipment beeping around her), she fell into a deep sleep. Her rest didn’t last. Moments later, the EMS guys noticed that Ceili was experiencing very erratic heart rhythms, and asked me to wake her. My best rousing efforts failed. I struggled to remain calm, but the fear in the young EMS guys’ eyes didn’t alleviate my rising panic. Ceili’s ruptured ear drum faded in concern, and we’re now elevated in priority at the hospital entrance.

You can believe that the “adventure” was not one I’d ever want to repeat. A scary hospital ride turning into expedited triage at the children’s hospital was not the way I’d hoped to end our vacation. Thank  goodness we got an excellent paediatric emergency doctor. After some tests and diagnostics, he quickly sussed out that while Ceili’s heart rhythms would certainly have been alarming in an adult, they were not abnormal in a very young child who’d been under severe stress.  Whew. Bullet dodged. He also told us ruptured ear drums in children often healed quite well. Whew. Another one dodged. And, after a battery of further tests, the doc assured us that Ceili’s ear drums had not, in fact, ruptured at all. Little Miss Ceili had a very severe ear infection – in both ears.

We were, obviously, relieved with this result, while at the same time shocked. How could we have been totally oblivious to such an infection? Nothing in Ceili’s behaviour on the cruise had indicated she’d been feeling poorly – there had been no upset, no fever, nor ear pulling. She had been in high spirits the whole time, and full of merriment. Nor had she shown any discomfort on the earlier flight from Vancouver to Calgary.  But, a double ear infection she did indeed have, and it seemed that the double ear infection had managed to keep itself quite hidden until we hit the mountains above Calgary.  The paediatric ER doc told us that her infection was so severe, it would’ve crippled an adult in flight. The doc wasn’t the least bit surprised that she had been thrashing about and inconsolable on the flight.

Antibiotics and pain meds helped Ceili sleep through the night at the Calgary hotel, and we all caught the Westjet flight home to Ottawa the next morning (plied with sufficient meds for the flight as well).  While thrilled with results, we were also overjoyed we didn’t have to do a more thorough test of the efficacy of the Calgary children’s hospital (especially the cardiac unit). Just sitting on the plane for the ride home, we marvelled at Westjet’s response, and their courteous, generous, and kind treatment of us through the whole situation.

We arrived home in Ottawa that evening, safe and sound. Next morning, our phone rang. Guess who’d called us? Westjet’s guest relations department! They were calling to check how Ceili was doing, and how she had fared on the flight home.

Think I recommend Westjet to my friends, family, and clients? You betcha!

The Westjet Care-antee – you can trust Ceili’s Guarantee. It’s care that goes above and beyond!

December 12, 2010 Posted by | Lush Life Planes, Trains, & Automobiles | Leave a comment

Non-stop to Vegas, baby – direct from Ottawa – it’s in the cards

Yup – Westjet has begun direct flights from Ottawa to Las Vegas. Right now it looks like flights will be Thursday and Sunday.  I just priced out a return flight for a client, Jan6-13th return – $338, taxes in, for direct flights.

With savings and convenience like that on air, you can splurge in other areas. Break the piggy bank, and go stay at the Wynn, the Venetian, or the Bellagio – live it up. Eat at the finest restaurants. Take in some terrific shows.

Why not hit the jackpot?

You can book the flights on my website at www.vision2000.ca/sheilagh  and give me a call to get your hotel stay sorted.

And, if you book by Dec.14th, Westjet has some terrific rates right now too: One way fares from Ottawa to Las Vegas from start at $139 before tax. (Ltd. seats available. See t&c on westjet’s site.)

Vegas, baby – it’s in the cards!

December 11, 2010 Posted by | Lush Life Destinations, Lush Life Planes, Trains, & Automobiles | Leave a comment

Flying Porter – Chattel, Begone!

In my former life, I was a regular business commuter, and well acquainted with the Otttawa-Toronto flight corridor. In the olden days (yes, I’m that old), a special treat was flying to Toronto on Wardair. Ah. Service with a friendly smile. Assistance with your coat. Champagne and OJ for brekkie. Made the morning financial meetings a little less boring. 🙂

But then Wardair disappeared, and it was AC (or, at one time, Canadian) to either Pearson or the Billy Bishop Island airport for thrice-weekly visits.

AC Jazz and Tango offered fast, inexpensive, and convenient service with multiple flights throughout the day – perfect for business commuters. The island airport was  better than flying into Pearson, as you landed in downtown Toronto.  A quick ferry from the island, and then a bus trip to the Royal York, and you avoided the half hour, one-way, $50 cab ride downtown. You could make an 9:00 meeting quite easily on a 7:00 am flight. Perfect.

But… it wasn’t Wardair.

Sure, it was fast, inexpensive (at times), and convenient – but there was always the hint that business commuters were something akin to chattel.  (A former colleague of mine had less than kind things to say about Tango. He hated the low-cost feel, and to him, Tango was an acronym that stood for “That’s All, Now Get Off” ….)

I did that business commuting between Ottawa and Toronto for several years. In recent times, though, I chucked it, in favour of working as an independent contractor, and telecommuting. I don’t miss the thrice-weekly visits to Toronto, but have been pleasantly surprised by recent trips, and the opportunity to fly Porter from Ottawa to Toronto.

Billy Bishop airport has changed dramatically in the past couple of years. Gone are the barrack-like buildings that housed the terminal and army-style cafeteria. Gone are the wait lounges with vinyl-covered chairs and banquettes that looked like they were stolen from a 1960s hospital waiting room. Gone are the godawful outdoor queues for the ferry ride (just brutal in February wind and snow).

The buildings have been redone, as have the interior waiting areas. Now, Porter has lounges for their guests, free of charge (for everyone – not just for the super elite passengers) – so you can grab a coffee or a soft drink, and maybe check your email on the computers provided. Onboard flights, you’re even offered a free sandwich for lunch, with a glass of wine.  (See a description of their lounges at http://www.flyporter.com/en/experience_tcca_lounge.aspx – here’s their photo of Toronto’s lounge, as my cellphone camera died.)

And you wait inside a building, with a covered walkway to the ferry ride. 

What a treat to not be treated like chattel! It was almost an homage to Wardair, with Porter’s embrace of service.

I’ve flown Porter from Ottawa to Toronto maybe three times this quarter (nowhere near the thrice-weekly visits of old), and their flights have the speed, inexpensive fares, and convenience I remember from my business commuting days … but, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Porter’s efficiency, friendly and gracious service, and the “chattel, begone” feel.

Keep up the great work, Porter!  I love flying with you guys!

November 2, 2010 Posted by | Lush Life Planes, Trains, & Automobiles | Leave a comment

Drive a Ferrari through Tuscany

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What’s on your bucket list?

Ever picture yourself behind the wheel of a Ferrari? How about in control of a Ferrari F430 Spider F1, accelerating it through the steep, windy hills of Tuscany?

I can help you get that feeling of exhiliration and the wind blowing through your hair. A Canadian tour operator I work with (Victours) offers several tours (1, 3, or 5 days in length) that lets you drive different models of Ferraris through Italy. Their self-drive tours offer “absolute luxury combined with the ultimate Gran Turismo experience…  Each tour is a sublime blend of art, fashion, architecture, gastronomy, and spectacular scenery. ”

Their one day tours have you driving a Ferrari for a day, starting in Florence and winding through the country side to San Gimignano, Siena and back. The 1-day Chianti & Mille Miglia Ferrari tour is described in the pdf link below – it is priced at $3450 per person, and the tours run upon request.

Come live la Dolce Vita!

1 Day Chianti

July 31, 2010 Posted by | Lush Life Destinations, Lush Life Planes, Trains, & Automobiles | Leave a comment