What makes a travel bargain?

In my opinion, a travel bargain worth mentioning has to be the right blend of quality, reliability, and price. 

If the food is of poor quality, it’s no bargain.

If the airline regularly cancels flights or routes or has a reputation for delays, it’s no bargain.

If the discounted price still offers high quality and reliability of service, that’s a bargain. And only when it meets this criteria, do I consider posting it to the She Talks Travel Facebook forum.

What if the price is abnormally low? Then it is important to investigate further. Why is there a deep discount?  To use one recent example, the “NOW Emerald” Resort is priced  about 20% lower than its sister (and similarly named) resorts NOW Sapphire and NOW Jade.

(This is where it’s handy to know a travel professional and can ask this question before you book. “Why is this one cheaper?)

In this case, NOW Emerald is a recently acquired property. AMResorts,  (the parent chain) has purchased this location from Oasis Resorts. So, it was an existing resort that has been purchased and is in the process of renovating and rebranding. During this time of transition, and renovation, they are offering lower introductory rates.  Knowing the high quality of standards and reputation of AMResorts, you can be assured of quality food, accommodations and service. Therefore I believe the introductory price qualifies as a bargain.

Another time a bargain comes up is when there is increased competition. So for example, when Flair started flying to Phoenix, WestJet slashed their prices on the same route.  In this case WestJet was the bargain.

There is almost always a bargain to be found when you move in the opposite direction of a crowd. For example when everyone goes back to work and school in September, if you go out to travel you’ll find a bargain.

What is NOT a bargain?   Anything that is not the right fit for you or your family.   It’s simply not a good idea to force a size 9 foot into a size 6 shoe. You will regret trying or buying that “shoe” or trip, no matter how good it looks in the ads.

 

Calistoga Pottery

So…. we were hanging out in downtown Calistoga, California looking at the tourist map on Main Street.  I see it lists of a number of antique shops, coffee shops, restaurants and a bookstore. Off in the corner a little square on the map says “Calistoga Pottery.”

My eyes lit up! Of course and I had to check it out.

Calistoga Pottery is a little shop behind a home on the highway just before the turn into/out of Calistoga. We had the privilege of chatting with the owner/operator/artists, a husband and wife team. He makes the pottery and she glazes the pottery. Together, Jeff and Sally have been in business almost 40 years.

They make dinnerware for more than a dozen of the local restaurants. A list hangs on the wall by the door. They also sell their pottery to the public out of this working studio, the one pictured here.

Both Jeff and Sally were absolutely lovely to talk to and were particularly enthusiastic when we told them we were from Canada. Sally told us of a time when she lived in British Columbia in the 1970s. She remembers it very fondly. When it came time for me to complete my purchase, she joked that I could even pay in Loonies (Canadian coins) if I had them!

Sally showed me a number of her signature glazes, including one that was made from the ash of grapevines from a local winery.  Such a beautiful effect on clay!

I did also mention to Sally, how much her shop reminded me of the pottery business established in Manitoba by another potter, my friend Jeff Bettle. “Manitoba Jeff” has transformed an old church and made it into his home and studio over the course of the last 20 years. I told her how much I admire people who master their craft and share it with others.  Theoldchurch.ca

Maybe someday the 2 Jeffs and Sally will bump into each other at a clay convention. They can swap stories and tell the tales of life and work aside a highway, and the tourists who stop in. And they’ll have a laugh about that charismatic chatty Cathie who happened to connect over clay, in Calistoga California one July afternoon in 2019.

Park MGM Experience

I have been to Vegas twice this year. Twice I have stayed at the Park MGM.  And twice I have been very happy with the experience .

I went to Vegas in May for the U2 concert. The concert was taking place at the T-Mobile Arena which happens to be right next-door to Park MGM. Literally, a two minute walk from the hotel lobby to the line up to enter the arena.

So, do take note if you’re heading to a hockey game or concert at the T-Mobile arena, the Park MGM is ideal.

From TMobile Arena balcony lounge, looking towards the ParK MGM Hotel & the Park Theatre. (Where Aerosmith, Cher, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars have residency.)

But what is the hotel like?  I really like it. It is modest by my measure of Vegas hotels. It is the old Monte Carlo, but completely redone and rebranded as Park MGM. The rooms are fairly basic (no mini fridge)  but they are modern, the bathroom showers are perfect and they’re nicely decorated.

Think of it as a little sister to Bellagio. It is part of the same hotel chain and even connected by a free tram.  By my estimate it’s 1/5 of the size of Bellagio.  It’s pretty hard to get lost at Park MGM. That’s a good thing.

While the hotel doesn’t have a vast selection of restaurants, the courtyard of the arena does. So all you have to do is walk outside the hotel and you have plenty of choices. Also across the courtyard is the NYNY Hotel & Casino which offers a little more action.

The second best asset of Park MGM is the pool area. There are 3 separate pools, lots of great loungers, the poolside food is excellent and there’s plenty of sun.

The 3rd best feature of the Park MGM is the price. It typically falls in the bottom 1/3 of Vegas Strip hotels, depending on events and time of year. Regardless, of whether it costs $50 or $129 per night,  it will be comparatively less then other hotels of equal quality. Based on this I find it is excellent VALUE.

**not a paid endorsement. I’m in no way affiliated with the hotel or MGM chain. I’m just a frequent Vegas visitor with high regard for this renovated hotel. I hope you find benefit in my review.

 

 

Two areas that could really use your tourism dollars

When we see natural disasters occurring, we often feel helpless.

Take for example the wildfires in British Columbia this summer, or hurricane Maria  that devastated Puerto Rico in 2017.

What can we do?

Once the immediate threat has passed and the community has had a chance to rally and recover one of the things we as outsiders can do to help, is visit.  An injection of new money helps to sustain jobs and provide businesses with the chance to rebuild.

Tourism Victoria is going through a re-branding process. Their new slogan “Oceans apart from Ordinary” focuses on their natural assets.

Victoria is a very convenient WestJet flight from Brandon. On sale you’ll find flights under $400. The same can be said about numerous British Columbia cities.

Puerto Rico requires more than a weekend holiday and might be best used as a cruise port right now. Sale flights can often be found from Winnipeg at that $500 mark. Popular cruise lines that are using Puerto Rico in the fall of 2018 include Royal Caribbean, Disney and Carnival.

 

 

Cooking School in Italy

While on vacation, we signed up for a day session at a cooking school in Italy. It was actually as indulgent as it sounds!

Even though I personally do own a restaurant and cook about 60 hours a week, it was my choice to sign up for this whilst on vacation.

The thought of learning to make pasta and sauce from scratch, in Italy sounded like an authentic and dream-come-true experience. I was right.

It took place in a state-of-the-art kitchen, with two professional instructors. There were overhead cameras at the teacher’s station and big screen TVs for us to watch them on. This enabled us to see the techniques from all angles.

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It seemed like a televised cooking show. Like something you’d see on a Rachel Ray or Martha Stewart episode.

At the end of the day we sat with our classmates for dinner and shared a bottle of wine. A certificate, the recipes and apron were ours to take home. Everyone was all smiles.

I haven’t actually made pasta for my family since the trip, but I have gotten really good at sliding the story into casual conversation. I just love saying “when I was at cooking school in Italy, we…”

I can be a bit of a joker, but in all seriousness, I really treasure having had this experience and I would highly recommend taking a class or pursuing your hobby while on vacation. A fresh perspective and the chance to do something ‘just for fun’ is such a memorable way to spend  a day.

Better stories start with travel. 

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Left turn at Livorno

I was thinking about road trips yesterday and thinking about planning a little something. Then, I was suddenly reminded of my last wrong detour.

Livorno, Italy.

See, I had this idea that, according to the map, we could just take the train (for about 3 Euros and twenty minutes) from Pisa to Livorno and see the coast. It appeared to me… that we were just “that close” to the sea, and coastal greatness.

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“Coastal greatness” was not immediately apparent when we stepped out of the train station. There were beautiful palm trees, but not much else that made a couple of Canadian gals wanted to hang around. The industrial area and a lack of tourist information or people willing/able to speak english to help us out, had me second guessing my “see the coast” plan.

Then, we saw this sign. Didn’t feel like a good sign.

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However, it was daylight, and we were up for adventure, we decided to venture forth and take a quick glance around town, on foot.

We discovered casinos, and casino-like places where one could gamble among a few lovely palm trees. Thinking maybe this could turn out to be a lucky detour, I put a 2Euro coin in a slot machine. Nope… not a winner. That was enough of a sign. We bought our train tickets back to Florence and grabbed snacks for the road.

At the snack shack, I gambled on a little green jar of pear juice. An Italian specialty, it said. Loved it! That juice was amazing. Definitely memorable. Thank you Livorno.

There are no wrong turns. Just experiences.

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Just a lovely bit of architecture on our walkabout

Better stories start with travel.