Sheila Gallant-Halloran

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

Lush Life Travel: Building Memories, One Travel Dream at a Time

Hi – I’ve loved my blog home here at www.sheila0gh.wordpress.com – but I’m moving!  Please check out my revamped blog at www.lushlife.ca !

Introducing my new personal brand:  Lush Life Travel!

Don’t worry – I still run my own business as an independent contractor with the Vision 2000 Travel Group. When I orchestrate your travel dreams, you get me as your personal travel advisor – but you also get the resources and power of Canada’s largest independently owned travel company behind me.

Vision 2000 Travel Group has been selling travel to Canadians for 50 years. Obviously, you benefit from dealing with an established travel company that is TICO-regulated, a Top Ten Virtuoso Agency, and a preferred partner with Four Seasons. Vision 2000 has industry recognition and clout; and extensive experience with every facet of travel from Cruises & Vacations, to Group & Escorted Tours, to Domestic Travel.  http://www.vision2000.ca/

Under the umbrella of Stephanie Anevich’s Cruises & Vacations department, I am a proud member of Lynda Sinclair’s travel @home team. 

And – I’m still a proud member of Virtuoso.

But, while those important partnerships remain, and my contact details are unchanged (sheila.gh@vision2000.ca and www.vision2000.ca/sheilagh and 613-837-0699 )… I’m also thrilled to begin a new chapter…. my new brand! Welcome to Lush Life Travel!

I’ve decided to move to a hosted website for my blog as my old site (www.sheila0gh.wordpress.com) was running into some obstacles (e.g., couldn’t add video, analytics were limited, etc…) . And, when it became obvious that a hosted website was key, I took the opportunity to revamp my personal brand with a new logo.

I came up with “Lush Life Travel.”  I drew the name initially from a favourite jazz song (perhaps you know it? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUSCYOR3qMk and lyrics here http://www.asklyrics.com/display/ella-fitzgerald/lush-life-lyrics.htm ) – I wanted a “brand” that would invoke specialness, connection, magic, luxury, etc.  So, I sat down with my business networking partner, Carl Poirier, of Cayenne Creative, and we chatted about my ideas. Carl and his team brainstormed, and went to work – they then came back with this wonderfully inspired logo for me, and helped me migrate my old blog to this new platform and website.

What do you think of it? LushLifeTravel-inspiration

LLT_businesscard

Advertisements

October 11, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Other Items, Lush Life Partners, Lush LIfe Top Posts, Lush Life Travel TIps & Advice | 2 Comments

Proud to be Four Seasons Preferred Partner

Besides my affiliation with Vision 2000 Travel Group, and being a proud member of Virtuoso, I am also thrilled of V2K’s additional partnership with the Four Seasons chain.

In addition to membership in Virtuoso, Vision 2000 Travel Group is a preferred partner with Four Seasons. There are only 3 preferred partners in Canada, and only 101 around the globe. Not only is Vision 2000 in rare company, we are also the largest seller of Four Seasons in Canada – which gives us terrific negotiating power for our clients.

The Four Seasons Preferred Partner programme is an exclusive, invitation-only network of high-end travel consultants from around the world.

As a preferred partner programme member, V2K has proven our dedication to providing our clients with a premium level of service, and, so, we share in the Four Seasons commitment to exceptional quality.

There are terrific benefits to V2K and me from this partnership – Four Seasons shows the value it places on the business I bring by doing everything they can to make my job easier – from streamlining the booking process, to ensuring that my clients are always treated with the utmost care and attention.

But, in addition to the Preferred Partner website, there are tremendous benefits and services that I can offer my clients. This includes a preferred partner amenity programme (where I can negotiate tremendous amenities on my clients behalf), to simplified booking process, to consistent communication, to support.

Of course, my clients benefit greatly from the Preferred Partner Amenity Programme. Thanks to my status as a Four Seasons Preferred Partner, my clients can enjoy special value-added benefits at all Four Seasons hotels and resorts worldwide. These benefits have been standardised across all properties to make the elements easy to remember — and also make it easier for me to promote the benefits to my clients.

Available on most rates and promotions, I can negotiate the following amenities on my clients’ behalf:

  • Daily full American breakfast for two people per bedroom, served through In-Room Dining or in the hotel restaurant (including buffets).
  • Extra value-added amenity, such as: Spa credit of USD100 once during stay (not applicable to products); golf credit of USD100 once during stay (not applicable to pro shop purchases); or lunch for two once during stay (up to USD85, excluding gratuity and alcohol). (Each hotel’s specific extra amenity is specified by the individual property.)
  • Upgrade of one category, based on availability at time of check-in (excluding signature suites and villas).
  • Welcome note at check-in .
  • Complimentary high-speed Internet access for all suite bookings.

And, the power of one-to-one gives me access to the top-level managers at each Four Seasons. This means that not only can I get my clients preferred partner amenities, but that I can also get them enhanced recognition and personal welcome from on-property management, access to the best guest room inventory, and have priority access to wait-list clearance.

Why aren’t you staying at a Four Seasons for your next holiday? Give me a call, and let me take advantage of the Four Seasons Preferred Partner status to “VIP” you!

September 23, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Destinations, Lush Life Hotels, Lush Life Other Items, Lush Life Partners, Lush LIfe Top Posts, Lush Life Travel TIps & Advice | Leave a comment

The Re-emergence of the Travel Advisor & the Power of One-to-One

I just returned from Virtuoso’s Travel Mart at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. I was one of over 3700 people from 90 countries around the globe who had gathered to learn what’s new in luxury travel. This was my first time attending Travel Mart, and I went to Vegas with many newbies on Vision 2000’s @home team with our GM, Lynda Sinclair, and our Exec VP, Stephanie Anevich. But 2011 marked the 23rd such gathering of Virtuoso advisors and suppliers, and it was the 11th straight time the luxury trade show was held at the Bellagio.

Travel Mart’s theme this year was the “Power of One-to-One.”  And I saw how that worked, up close and in person. I had my “aha” moment when I met the representative of Four Seasons San Francisco 24 hours before my client was to check into that hotel. Parul Kaushal of the FS San Francisco”vip’ed” my client, and had a special amenity waiting for her in her room.  That was the power of one-to-one. I could immediately see the value of the connections I was making in Vegas.

Obviously, the power of making those one-to-one connections will be felt by my clients, and will help them develop a strong preference for the Virtuoso brand.

At Travel Mart, I had 312 four-minute “speed dating” sessions scheduled with suppliers over the four days. (Those meetings were supplemented by a dozen or more ten-minute detailed sales meetings. I also attended various luncheons, dinners, and cocktail parties; meeting suppliers, one-to-one). And, since I had a list of whom I would meet in advance of going to Vegas, I was able to contact my important clients, and share the details with them. “Collaborative commerce” was indeed enabled – I met suppliers with my clients’ specific needs in mind. I asked questions related to my clients’ families, and their vacation needs. I often had a photo snapped with a supplier so I could send it back to the client – just to let the client know I was hard at work, planning their next dream getaway. I had a couple going to the Clift in San Francisco on their honeymoon, a mother and daughter wanting to go to the Carlyle in NYC, and another family hoping to go to the Il San Pietro di Positano in Italy. I was busy representing their interests, and had their holidays in mind, as I made connections.

Virtuoso chair, Matthew Upchurch, gave an interview about this year’s Travel Mart with Travel Press. In it, he talked about the bifurcation between the do-it-yourselfers, and those who see the value of using a travel advisor. 

http://www.youtube.com/user/sheila0gh?feature=mhee#p/f/6/_g9FgykIa8g

It’s definitely true that many consumers have a do-it-yourself mentality (the DIY’ers).  They believe they can get all the info they need to plan the perfect vacation just by spending a few hours on the internet searching. Those same people also could research how to do their own accupuncture just by spending a few hours on the internet searching, but for some reason, I bet they won’t entrust their personal well-being into their own unskilled hands. They don’t want to poke themselves with needles. Yet, they will often entrust another precious (and limited) asset into their own hands – their valuable vacation time. They will risk their family memories… and be oblivious to the pain they are inviting, but more importantly, the pleasure they are missing.

The DIY’ers do not have the resources, the experience, nor the skills to do what professional travel advisors do. They don’t have the booking engines, the tools, nor the clout to wield influence should issues ever arise. It’s hard to act as your own advocate if you’re stuck with 1000’s of other people in some airport terminal. (Talk about poking yourself with needles!)

The DIY’ers also cannot get the value-adds which my Virtuoso traveler clients can get (special amenities, such as breakfast for two daily; a complimentary room upgrade, if available at check in; early check in, and late check out; and another resort specific amenity, such as a $100 food and beverage credit).  And no matter how hard they try, and how  many hours they may spend on the internet searching, the DIY’ers simply do not have the connections that I have. They do not have the business card of the representative of the Four Seasons San Francisco in their rolladex. They have not experienced the power of one-to-one. They cannot pick up the phone to call Parul, and say, “Hey, remember we met at Travel Mart? My vip client is coming to see you tomorrow. Can you please take good care of her?” 

I was an actuary in my former life. I was a specialist in financial risk management. I ensured people were prepared for the worst possible events in their life (e.g., premature death, marriage breakdown, or debilitating personal injury).  Obviously, I still have those risk management skills, and have honed some business savvy. But I also now have the training and experience of being a Virtuoso travel advisor. And, if I can take the liberty of recycling Matthew Upchurch’s interview words, I can truly say that instead of handling people’s nightmares, now I really do orchestrate people’s dreams.

Let me be your advocate. Call me to get my help to orchestrate your dreams. I can call upon my Virtuoso connections, and the power I’ve experienced with the one-to-one, to “vip” you, and give your family the travel memories that will last a lifetime.  (And, go ahead – tell a few “DIY’ers” what they are missing. It’d be good to spare them poking themselves with needles.)

August 26, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Partners, Lush LIfe Top Posts, Lush Life Value - Why Use a Travel Advisor | 10 Comments

The Balancing Act – Picking a Disney Hotel

I always recommend staying onsite at a Disney hotel. There are so many terrific perks you get staying at an official Disney onsite hotel:

a. you get a free shuttle to and from the airport to your hotel (and have your bags delivered)

b. you’re surrounded by Disney magic 24 hrs

c. you can use Disney transportation around resorts, parks

d. you can make purchases throughout the “world”, charge to your room key, and have delivered back to your hotel

e. you can add the Disney dining plan, and

f. the primo benefit – you get access to the EXTRA MAGIC HOURS – which means you can get into a park an hour early, and stay at another up to 3 hours longer than non-onsite guests

Choosing a hotel requires you to consult with your travel advisor.  Price is a factor, but it is not the only factor.  You have to consider what kind of vacation your family wants to have, the style of hotel you normally like to vacation at, and how much time you want to spend commuting each day.  In my conversations with new clients, we focus on 8 factors/ parameters in choosing between the 22 onsite hotels:

1. the level of service you like from your hotel (are you a Best Western or a Four Seasons kinda gal?)

2. the price point you’d prefer (cheap as long as clean, vs. willing to pay for luxury?)

3. the room size you’d like (and bedding size – more budget-oriented hotels are smaller w double beds)

4. the amenities you’d like at your hotel (e.g., do you want a waterslide, kids’ club, etc.)

5. the dining options you’d like at your hotel (e.g. do you want just takeaway kiosk or character meals or fine dining choices)

6. the location you prefer (e.g. do you want the closest to the parks and higher price, or happy with lower price but also accepting they are the furthest away and have longer commute times), and

7. the convenience you prefer (e.g. what ease and speed of access to the parks do you want, and how about ease of getting to your hotel room once you get back to your resort – e.g., a standard room at a value resort could have a 15 minute walk back to your hotel room vs. a preferred room being 5 minutes walk)

8. the recreational activities you prefer at your resort (e.g., do you want the ability to rent water craft, do you want access to pool activities, etc.)

If you’re thinking about a trip to Disney, give me a call and let’s chat about what’s most important to your family.  Balancing all the factors/ parameters is all about matching your family to the perfect resort for you!

Sheila 613-837-0699

July 27, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Disney, Lush Life Hotels, Lush LIfe Top Posts, Lush Life Travel TIps & Advice | 2 Comments

Concierge at Disney’s Grand Floridian – Pampering to Die For!

I often will recommend to my clients that they stay at a Disney monorail hotel.  The benefits of the location, and the convenience of access to Magic Kingdom,  just can’t be beat. Last month, we visited WDW for the 19th time, and we again stayed at a WDW monorail hotel. We stayed at the Grand Floridian, Disney’s flagship hotel. And we splurged, and upgraded to the concierge category. Was the pampering good?  To die for!

First of all, continental breakfast each morning makes it easy to get up, grab some food, and hit the park.  Anyone who’s travelled to Disney with kids knows that something fast to satiate the morning appetite works well – kids don’t want to waste a lot of time eating before they hit the rides. So, having a continental breakfast just outside your room door works great!

Second of all, besides staying at a 5* hotel, with the attendant wonderful service, terrific amenities, fine dining and character options, recreational options, as well as great rooms; you get pampered by staff.  There’s a concierge staff (who are set up right across from the food and drink) to help with your dining, other reservations, and/or other needs. So – you can grab a soft drink or snack while they assist you. The snacks are there throughout the day, for rest time – when you come back from a swim and need to get refreshed.

Third of all, there are hot h’or d’oeuvres from 5-7 that will give you a little boost after a long day park hopping… (all with your choice of alcoholic or other beverage).

And then there is the dessert buffet from 8:30 to 10:00 pm, so you can grab a chocolatey snack, with a Grand Marnier, and then head out to see the fireworks.

Is the pampering good at the Grand Floridian?  To die for!

July 17, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Destinations, Lush Life Disney, Lush Life Hotels, Lush LIfe Top Posts, Lush Life Travel TIps & Advice | Leave a comment

Returning to My Happy Place – Disney’s Grand Floridian

My family was lucky enough to return to the Grand Floridian for our 5th visit recently (and our #19 visit to Disney in total). I returned to my happy place!

Let’s be clear…. I LOVE the Grand Floridian. 

I love the Victorian elegance. I love the white buildings, and pastel shading. I love the service, the amenities, the pools, the dining, being so close to Magic Kingdom, and the convenience of being on property and at such a terrific resort.

How could you not like the beautiful sand beach, the canyon-themed waterslide, and being within walking distance of some terrific restaurants – and we’re not even talking about the monorail access to Magic Kingdom!

Seriously – look at the photos. How could you not want to stay here?

July 14, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Destinations, Lush Life Disney, Lush Life Hotels, Lush LIfe Top Posts | 2 Comments

Some Pros & Cons – Staying at a Moderate – Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort

For visit #19 to WDW last week, my family spent 3 nights at the Caribbean Beach moderate resort, and 3 nights at the Grand Floridian deluxe resort. I’d stayed at the Grand Floridian 4 times previously, so I knew I loved it, and knew what to expect. However, this was my first time staying at the Caribbean Beach Resort (CBR), and I was looking forward to getting a “fuller” appreciation than my previous onsite visits and training could capture.

First up, the pros :

a.) The CBR is a beautifully laid out resort, and it takes its design and theming inspiration from an actual place (like all moderate hotels) – you feel like you’re in the Caribbean. The resort is composed of 6 villages/islands of Aruba, Barbados, Martinique, Jamaica, Trinidad North, and Trinidad South; and each has its own Caribbean vibe. I’d done a blog previously that is relevant here. https://sheila0gh.wordpress.com/2011/07/06/first-impressions-disneys-caribbean-beach-resort/

b.) The Disney bus transportation can whisk you from the CBR, which is in the Epcot resort area, to the various Disney parks and Downtown Disney.  Like all Disney hotels, you have free transportation onsite, plus have Disney service, are surrounded by the magic 24 hours a day, can purchase the dining plan, can use the free shuttle to and from the airport, and have access to the Extra Magic Hours.

c.) The CBR offers onsite recreation including a pool with a waterslide. There are quiet pools in each village/island, in addition to a large pool by Old Port Royale. The quiet pools give you lots of opportunity to get away from the bustling crowds, if you’d rather a more sedate swim time. But if you want to be around a lot of folks, the waterslide area of the main pool will certainly fill your needs!  See earlier blog post here: https://sheila0gh.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/chillaxin-at-disneys-caribbean-beach-resort/

d.) The CBR is one of Disney’s moderate hotels, and it offers a good balance between amenities and price. It offers great value for folks looking for stays longer than a couple of days. It can also serve as an appealing move up from a value hotel for repeat Disney guests (especially if they think they might spend more time around the pool). There are lots of accommodation options for multi-generational families to gather (so each can have their own space, but still be close enough to visit back and forth as well).  Staying at the CBR, you will be aware that you are vacationing with many other young families, and there will be raucous laughter and fun aplenty happening on the hotel grounds.

e.) There are plenty of quick service dining options in Old Port Royale and the Marketplace (pizza, sandwiches, burgers, salads, beverages, etc), as well as shopping opportunities. And there is also a sit down, or table service restaurant onsite, called Shutters.

f.) The CBR has perhaps the largest rooms in the moderate category hotel.

Now, for the cons:

a.) The CBR is beautifully laid out, but it is really spread out. The CBR is so large that it has its own internal bus system. If you’re not staying in a preferred room, you will spend a long time walking to get to Old Port Royale to the dining and main pool areas. 

b.) Part of choosing a resort is balancing what works for your family in terms of amenities and price. Staying at a moderate (instead of a deluxe hotel) means you save on price, but sacrifice location and convenience of access. At CBR, my family stayed in a preferred room in Trinidad North, so we were at the prime location at this resort for being close to transportation and dining options. However, we hadn’t appreciated how different the convenience factor would be from a monorail hotel.

Let me give you an example in terms of travel time to Magic Kingdom (MK) by bus. The first night at CBR, we lined up to catch the bus in Trinidad North at 7:00 pm, boarded the bus at 7:10pm, and at 7:25 pm, our bus was exiting the CBR grounds. (Did I say the resort is spread out?) We finally arrived at the bus station at MK park gates at 7:45 pm. So, it took us 20 minutes to get to Magic Kingdom, once we had left the CBR grounds, but it had taken 35 minutes from the time we’d boarded the bus, and 45 minutes from the time we stood in line in terms of wait and transport time.

Managing expectations may be key, of course, because if you know about this upfront, you can plan around it; and if the balance of convenience and price makes this the right resort for you, then you can definitely make it work. However, the wait and transport time is significantly more than the 5-10 minute period I know from staying at a deluxe monorail hotel.

A bus trip home to CBR from MK later that night had us boarding at 12:18 am, and back at the resort at 12:40… so 20 minutes seems to be pretty standard ride time (with a 10 minute or so wait at the front end). Being a preferred building, our Trinidad North was one of the first stops coming home, which was nice. 

However, the ride home from MK had also involved a much longer walk to get to the CBR bus station than I’d anticipated. Having previously stayed many times at the Contemporary, I knew well the walk home from MK. So, I was surprised that we had to walk almost back to the Contemporary from MK to catch our CBR bus, as this shaky photo from our CBR stop line shows. 

Bus transportation from CBR to Epcot and Hollywood Studios was about 10 minutes faster, as the CBR is located closer to those parks than it is to MK, but we found MK transport usually took longer than a half hour. 

The location and bus transport time also meant we didn’t zip back and forth between our hotel and a park, as we would often do at a monorail hotel – once we left the CBR, we were usually gone for longer periods of time. (It isn’t as easy to head back to your hotel for a swim, and then go out again.)

c.) As with any vacation choice, you make a decision about resort based on the level of service, price, amenities, location, etc…. and the CBR does offer a good balance of price and amenities. However, if you are a power internet user while on vacation (as I am), it’s possible that the CBR may not be the resort for you. My time there had been plagued by connectivity and intermittent access issues (even after replacing the cable, and dealing with their onsite help desk). At one point, the onsite help desk advised me to step down my internet connection speed to 10 megabits/second half duplex, which, for a travel agent needing fast access, was awfully slow. I was also hampered by the fact that the internet plug in was behind the bed, and the cord wasn’t long enough to reach the desk (and no extensions were available), which meant that the work I did do on vacation had me plunked on the bed (which wasn’t ideal for me or my family).  

I had been assured by onsite staff that my connection issues were most unusual, and perhaps I just had a bad port/ area of the hotel. They apologetically refunded the $9.95/day connection fee I’d been charged to access the internet. However, it’s worth  noting that I had none of these connection issues when we later moved over to the Grand Floridian (and there, we had extremely fast, and free, wireless access during my stay in the concierge area). If you don’t need internet access on holiday, this isn’t an issue, of course, but if you need to work, even a little, this access can put a damper on your stay.

d.) While the main pool area of the CBR is terrific, my heart lies with the canyon-themed waterslide and beach of the Grand Floridian (GF).  My own personal preference is for the finer dining options of the GF, the queen beds (rather than the doubles at a moderate), more sedate surroundings, the gorgeous pastel shading and Victorian surroundings of the GF, more room service options, having access to the character meals and even childcare (if needed), a different level of service, and more spacious rooms (deluxe rooms are much larger). But these are the differences between a moderate and deluxe hotel category, rather than cons of the CBR per se. 

The differences between hotel categories should be discussed and considered before choosing your Disney resort. It’s obviously important that we match your family’s needs and expectations to the proper resort. Disney has over 22 onsite hotels, so we should talk to discover what’s most important to you. I’m here to ensure your family can create the memories that will matter most to you!

Give me a call!  Sheila 613-837-0699 or email me sheila.gh@vision2000.ca

July 8, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Disney, Lush Life Hotels, Lush LIfe Top Posts, Lush Life Travel TIps & Advice | 4 Comments

Stay Onsite for Disney’s Extra Magic Hours

Why would anyone go to Disney and not stay at an onsite hotel? Staying at an onsite Disney hotel has many advantages. It gives you the ability to take the Disney’s Magical Express shuttle, the option to purchase the dining plan, the thrill of being surrounded by the Disney magic 24 hours a day, the choice to purchase things throughout the parks and hotels and charge back to your room key (and even have items delivered back to your room) – but the greatest advantage of all that you get by staying at an onsite Disney hotel: extra magic hours!

The extra magic hours are the primo perk of staying at an onsite hotel. The perk alternates between the 4 major parks of Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Extra magic hours give you either early admission mornings, or late evenings. One day, you might be able to enter Magic Kingdom early (an hour earlier than regular guests who aren’t staying at a Disney onsite hotel), and the next day, you might be able to stay at Epcot late (up to 3 hours later than regular guests).  During peak volume times, there will be both early admission and late evenings on the same day.

This past Friday night, Magic Kingdom had extra magic hours in the evening. Magic Kingdom closed to regular guests (not staying at an onsite Disney hotel) at midnight. Giving you plenty of time to play at the park, one would think. But, if you were staying at an onsite Disney hotel, there were late evening extra magic hours- which meant that onsite hotel guests could stay until 3 am in the morning.

Yup – I said 3 am!  And no, I don’t need to have my head examined (although my mom may disagree with you on that – she’s not so big into the Disney magic…)

Before becoming Disney regulars, I would never have dreamed about keeping kids out until 3 am to go around a theme park. That was before I was a Disney regular. Coincidentally, it was also before I had kids.

When Disney adrenalin kicks it, kids (and adults) will go until they drop. And there’s nothing like being able to walk onto rides to get everyone hyped up more. Plus, you’re surrounded by other families (and wee kiddies) doing the same thing – so you don’t feel out of place at all. Extra magic hours work like a charm!

We went to Magic Kingdom from 11 pm-3 am (closing) and had a blast.  (We had a late start because we’d spent the day lounging at the pool before hitting Hollywood Studios for a couple of rides before that park’s closing. Then we hit Ohana’s for supper at the Polynesian.) 

Arriving at 11 pm, we saw the tail end of the Electrical Magic Parade, and then rode many more rides in 4 hours than would have been possible in a 2 day period at peak time – even with strategic planning and multiple use of fast passes. You just can’t do what we did in those 4 hours.

With 2 kids who are 6 years apart, we sometimes now have to separate – one parent with each child. DD11 will still ride the kiddie rides with her sis, but she’s a roller coaster junkie, and DD5 is too small for the big roller coasters.

Friday night, DD11 rode space mountain 3x, DD5 rode Peter Pan 3x (and we all rode another time together), the family of 4 all rode Speed Track Raceway 4x, DD11 rode Big Thunder 2x (1x with all of us), all 4 of us rode Carousel (my favourite ride – a classic!) several times – plus we rode Pirates of the Caribbean, Aladdin, Dumbo, Winnie-the-Pooh, It’s a Small World and more.  (If you’ve ever been to Disney, you know that all of these rides are fast pass rides, save Small World and Carousel, and all usually have wait times of >1 hr each).

The characters (Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale, Donald, etc) all came to the Sorcerer’s sword for closing at 3am, and the girls got to play with several of them.(Chip and Dale had a great time with DD5’s lais from dinner at Ohana’s.)

We stayed until the bitter end at 3 am, and had a great time. (Although we slept mighty late the next morning.)

Stay at an onsite Disney hotel. The extra magic hours alone are worth it!  You’re getting extra access, and during the busy summer months, that is like gold. Why wait 90 minutes in the 106 degree sun to ride one ride, when you can go after dark, and ride as many (and as often) as you want?

Call me – I just returned from visit #19 to Disney. I know the ins and outs of converting your family’s dream vacation into your favourite memory!

Sheila

613-837-0699

sheila.gh@vision2000.ca

June 28, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Disney, Lush LIfe Top Posts, Lush Life Travel TIps & Advice | Leave a comment

Pools + Waterslides @ Disney’s monorail hotels: The Grand Floridian

Besides being a quick zip ride away from Magic Kingdom, one of the huge benefits of staying at a Disney monorail hotel in Orlando is that you get all the bells and whistles of staying in a top notch hotel – fine dining, kids clubs, character meals, terrific pools and recreational activities – and a waterslide on property! 

 Course, you can still get the water parks fun and more upgrade on your park tickets, but if you can stay at a hotel that has its own waterslide, why catch a bus and spend a whole day going and coming when you can just cool off at “home” each and every day?

The Grand Floridian hotel is a stunning property, with a terrific Victorian feel. It has a sandy beach around the lake too – with a little kids water play area. 

There are plenty of sunning chaises, and hammocks. And there are lots of activities around the pool to keep everyone happy and having fun.

There are a couple of pools. The big draw, of course, is the canyon pool, with the waterslide.

Stay at the Grand Floridian. You won’t be disappointed.

June 21, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Disney, Lush Life Hotels, Lush LIfe Top Posts | Leave a comment

Doors Open Ottawa – a Cruise thru the Inside of the US Embassy

When I saw on twitter there was the chance to visit the inside of the new US Embassy, I jumped at the invite. My family snagged 4 out of the 1000 invites extended to see the inside.  The tour was part of the Doors Open Ottawa weekend.  (For more info on the 100+ buildings around Ottawa that are participating in Doors Open – many again tomorrow –  see http://ottawa.ca/residents/heritage/doorsopen/pdf/guide_en.pdf

After pre-registering online, we were emailed an invite to bring along. We showed up at the designated time, with photo id’s in hand. (DD11 and DD5 only have passports, so that worked very well to visit the embassy.)

David Childs served as architect on this building that was opened in November 1999. This same architect designed the US Embassy in Bejing, and is working on the new building at the site of the former twin towers in New York City.

What I hadn’t realized before taking the tour was that each exterior side  of the embassy matches (and harmonizes with the existing architecture of) the city area it faces. The side facing the Byward Market is different from the side facing Major’s Hill Park and the Parliament, as are the sides facing the Peacekeeping Monument and the York steps.

No electronics, cameras, phones, etc. were allowed inside, so I couldn’t take any photos to show just how beautiful the interior of the building is.  The images I have inserted here were found on Google. But you can see just how the hallways truly resemble a cruise ship, with the wood railings and open air center. (Talk about making the most out of a former parking lot!) This “ship of state” certainly won the heart of this travel agent – particularly with the Canadian maple and steel everywhere. The space is flooded with natural light, and must just be a wonderful environment to work in. (DD11 asked what she’d have to study in university to get a job there. Most employees had studied international trade or politics.)

Inside the building, the atrium is just gorgeous.  The ceiling tiles reflect the blue diamond shapes that are overlaid on  silver. The compass flooring shown here is also lovely. Apparently, their annual Christmas tree is nearly 3 floors tall, and one could imagine how majestic it would be in that space. 

We were also extremely fortunate to meet Ambassador David Jacobson, and visit his office. He has an exquisite view of Parliament Hill. But we got a chuckle out of his White House model (not sure if it really was stocked with the cigars he said were in there…) A military baseball hat that had “Tim Horton’s” emblazoned on it caught my eye. And one lady on the tour asked about the hockey puck on the ambassador’s desk, and was pleasantly surprised when he gave it to her as a souvenir.

DD5 was thrilled to get an extra pack of commemorative US Embassy M&M’s as we were leaving (not too many 5 year olds traipse through, I guess), but DD11 was a little miffed she was deemed too old for special kiddie treatment. (She really likes M&M’s, and wanted to eat one pack, but save another. Mom obliged by quickly handing over hers!) 

We were all quite excited about getting to tour the inside of the US Embassy. Besides the 9/11 memorial inside, the sight that pulled on the heartstrings most was the John F. Kennedy quote in the atrium. I’m sure you’ll agree it is quite fitting.

“Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies. Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder.”

June 4, 2011 Posted by | Lush Life Destinations, Lush LIfe Top Posts | 2 Comments