No budget Napa!

Napa is not a budget trip. There are ways to cut corners, however, you can’t cut the pie in half. It would be my recommendation to postpone the trip, and save more money rather than thinking you could go and just pinch pennies.

If budget is not a worry, stay at the Napa River Inn. What an incredible location! You will have amazing dining, and even the Wine Train just steps from your hotel.

If you want to cut back, try the Best Western at the Vines. It’s still $200USD+ (weeknights)/ $300USD+ (weekends)  it’s 10 minutes from the town and will require a rental car.

On the Napa River boardwalk, in town, you will find restaurants like Napa General Store and Celadon.  $200 per couple would get you a lovely meal in a gorgeous setting.

Open air restaurant, Celadon, on the river walk in the town of Napa.

If you want to cut back I would suggest going at happy hour between 4 and 6 PM. There are a few restaurants and pubs along that strip with $6 glasses of wine and $10 appetizers. We popped into Celadon and watched the mixologist at work. That’s right, not bartender, mixologist!

Napa Valley itself, is warm. In San Francisco and the bay area I wore long pants and a jacket and still shivered. Mere hours later in Napa,on the same day, I wore a sleeveless blouse and skirt and was very warm. The difference was “quite normal” said the locals and you can expect the Napa/Sonoma area up about 15°C warmer.

When it comes to paying for things in Napa/Sonoma area I would recommend cash or a credit card. Debit cards with chip or tap were effectively useless. Any of the counter machines I tried to use did not recognize a Royal Bank card. “Tap” is not a thing in this area. Ultimately I found an ATM and withdrew more cash.

In the USA when you say “debit” they think Visa-debit. Which is a completely different thing than our Interac system. Canadian cards are certainly not as useable as I thought they were.

Realistically, I think a couple could spend $400-$500 a day in the area, without even buying souvenirs.

Downtown Napa riverwalk.

If you would like more experiences, there are also two National Parks in the Napa area where you could go hiking and find waterfalls or even camp! Expect to pay entry fee to the park and of course, a fee for your camping site. If you want to see the Petrified Forest,  (only about 20 minutes away) it is on private land and entry is $26 a person. There is also a gift shop.

 The one thing I will say about Napa is the experience is as close to Italy as you can get without being in Italy.   I think it would make the most amazing anniversary trip if you were celebrating 25 or 30 or 40 years together.

Cheers!

 

Napa, California

Napa.

Yes! Wonderful Napa, where the roads are winding and the wine stops are plentiful.

Bus tour is a must! Enjoy the ride and leave the driving to someone else. This way you can fully experience the offerings.  There are literally wineries on both sides of the road and every 5 minutes or so. Plan to spend at least a full day touring this way. 3 nights/days in the region would be better.

You could stay in the town of Napa itself. (Yes!! Do it, if it’s in budget.)  Then, in my order of opinion, American Canyon (because it’s super easy and just minutes from Napa on the right highway), Calistoga because it’s quaint & in the centre of many wineries, Fulton, Santa Rosa, or Novato. Planning to go in/out of San Francisco or the Bay Area will cost you 2 hours in each direction, plus bridge tolls.

There are wine tastings in castles, in (former) gas stations, in cellars, a former National Bank,  in mini-mall settings, and everywhere in between.

We did a self-guided tour of Castello di Amorosa. An Italian style renaissance castle just about 5 minutes east of Calistoga.

Calistoga itself is a beautiful, quaint town. A former bank on Main Street has been turned into a fabulous wine tasting venue.

In terms of wine tasting cost, if you are just popping in (not part of a prepaid tour) expect to pay at least $20+ per person per flight of wines. More for premium selections. More for a tour plus tasting. For example Castello di Amorosa in the self-guided version was $30 & tax. ($32.73). Entry for children ages 5-20 were $20 & tax.  The guided tour was $65 & up.

There is a wine train that leaves the town of Napa itself. I think it was about $200 a person. Definitely look it up. If it fits your schedule it would be an enviable way to travel & fully enjoy the region.

By the riverwalk in the town of Napa. Gorgeous cobblestone streets public gardens and quaint shops among first class restaurants & eateries.

The wine itself, expect to pay a minimum of $30 per bottle for anything in this region, and $300 or so for special bottles, and of course, there will be even more expensive specialty bottles for collectors.

Most wineries seem to have a “Wine Club” with exclusive invitations to specialty tastings, dinners and events. Standard buy in to the club, seemed to be at least the purchase of a case of wine, or $500.

Monthly winery subscriptions were also advertised often. Shipping included, in USA of course. Like a Netflix subscription they’d just keep charging your credit card & sending the wine until you stop payment.

When you’re in Napa, there’s one more thing to do… announce you’re in Napa by taking a photo at the roadside sign! There’s a pull off big enough for 6 tour buses and I expect most bus tours DO stop at the sign for a selfie and fresh air break.

Harley Davidson Museum of Milwaukee

 

The Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee wasn’t my reason for the trip, but it certainly was an added bonus.

We were there to see the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park & add another baseball to our collection.

To get to the museum, we easily walked over the bridge from our downtown Hilton hotel  in less than five minutes.

The museum itself cost $20 for adults and $10 for my teenager. We also opted to stay and have lunch on the property which cost us another $35. The food was excellent! I had mini sliders and Riley had macaroni and cheese which was topped with smoked brisket. I think you could safely recommend any of the smoked meat or barbeque on their menu. Everyone around us seemed to be eating BBQ & loving it.

The museum itself took us about two hours. There were a number of interactive displays including the engine room where you could listen to the different engine models & sounds. Riley Thought that was pretty great. I enjoyed the colour gas tanks on display which showed all of the different years and the paint colours.

The museum had bikes from the past hundred years and a lot of the stories  behind the craftsmanship.

I could see a motorcycle enthusiast spending twice the amount of time that we did and loving every minute.

If you happen to be in Milwaukee visiting the Harley Davidson Museum would be an afternoon well spent .

Different Islands, Different Personalities

I’ve had a lot of people ask about Hawaii lately.  And with good reason, flights have been on sale, and it’s a gorgeous destination.  But not all Hawaiian vacations are created equal.

I want to briefly tell you about my perceptions and my experiences in each of the main islands.

Honolulu 2018

Honolulu: It’s the main city in the island of Oahu. The main tourist area in that city is Waikiki beach. These three names are for the same place, but sometimes people use them in odd context and it sounds like 3 different places. Basically it’s like saying “I’m going to stay in Green Acres, when I go to Brandon Manitoba.” Or, I’m staying on Waikiki Beach, when I go to Honolulu, Oahu.

Honolulu, the city, is full of hi-rise buildings, expensive shops and big city living. It is intensely busy and popular. Waikiki beach area is crowded all year long.  Parking at hotels is so limited, that most charge $30-$40 per night for parking.  You don’t actually need a car if you’re staying in the main tourist area, it’s faster and easier to just walk. Plus, there’s public transportation. Tourist trolleys come by every 10 minutes or so.  If you go to Honolulu, it may be inexpensive to get there (cheap flights) but it’s expensive and oh so crowded once you arrive. Honolulu is where you will find Pearl Harbour and the museum dedicated to it.

Maui is the 2nd largest of the Hawaiian islands. It’s nickname is the Valley Isle. Its population is spread out over the island, and features a few main tourist areas. The areas are like townships. Kihei, Wailea, Ka’anapali are some of the most popular tourist areas. I think of them like Morden, Carmen and Winkler. Each area has everything you need, easy to drive around in and quite similar.  Maui does not have the intensity of Oahu, that’s for sure. There are no great big hi rises all jammed onto one little beach.  In fact there are so many beaches and things are so spread out you really do need a car to get around in Maui and enjoy the scenery. Good news here though, you won’t have to pay for parking. One of the things I like best about Maui is whale watching, and of course, sunset walks on the beach. I felt that stress melted away in Maui. The warm breeze and the tropical laid-back pace made it my favourite Hawaiian vacation. It’s a little more expensive to get to, but I found it less expensive overall once you’re there.

The third most popular island that Air Canada and Westjet take Canadians to is The Big island. This is where you will find the city of Kailua-Kona, and “the volcano.”  Mt Kilauea is an active volcano area and part of the island’s National Park system. This active volcano erupted May 2018 consuming thousands of acres and dozens of homes in its path.  The Big Island itself is incredibly diverse.  Lava rock has left some areas looking like Mars – black and barren. Other areas are more like rainforest and are known for growing incredible coffee. (I visited a coffee plantation in Kona area and it was absolutely fabulous! One of the highlights of the trip for sure.)  Beaches are harder to find in the tourist areas of Kailua-Kona, some are small and others have black sand.  The island itself seemed more “American” than Maui and was a blend of modern culture and newer buildings.

Lava rock formations in Kona

My suggestion to anyone planning a trip to Hawaii, is to clearly understand the differences in lifestyle and activities and then choose your vacation accordingly. Find the island that suits you and go for it!

GoHawaii.com

 

 

Oceania Cruises

The thought of sailing away overcomes me in weather like this. I can imagine myself sipping coffee on a balcony, scanning the horizon for dolphins and waiting for the next port.

A cruise is a wonderful way to cross off several destinations (like Caribbean Islands, or Greek Islands) without having the expense to fly to one island at a time.  This is definitely how I hope to do the ABC islands someday soon. (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao)

This week, Oceania (Cruise Line – The luxury division of Norwegian Cruise Lines) caught my eye. They are offering some outstanding deals.  The great thing about these ships is that they are small. 700 passengers or less, feels like a vacation, not like a floating city.

Oceania has just 4 ships in the fleet, and the “Riviera” often makes the top 8 list that Cruise Critic puts out for the Best Luxury Cruises.

The Riviera, does one cruise from Montreal to Miami in late October. It’s a 14 day voyage as shown here.  But, do look at all their European offerings and transatlantic voyages too. Maybe something will catch your eye. (I’m after the Miami to New York cruise that circles the southern Caribbean. I could get my ABCs and more!)

To avoid sticker shock from some of the brochure prices, do look for specials for Canadian Residents, or for particular cruises. Or ask your favourite travel agent for help. There are numerous offers that bring the prices right down, sometimes a 40% discount or more, you just need to know where to look.

Which cruise catches your eye?

 

Please, Take the Wheel

As you know my eyes have been opened to more and more travel opportunities through my new job as a travel consultant. I have been reading and learning about tour companies and things you can experience through guided vacations. I was definitely surprised to learn that it is very affordable to participate in a guided tour rather than trying to do everything on your own.

6 months ago, I did not have any idea you could easily find like minded people and join their well planned excursions, rather than trying to “re-invent the wheel yourself.” I think this would have really benefitted me when I toured Ireland in 2017. Though I had a decent time and saw many things,  I felt like I was missing out and not really experiencing Ireland. I was a casual tourist, and certainly did not  have the full, and the enriching Irish experience I had hoped for.

So this next time, I’m looking at an award winning tour company in Europe called Back Roads Touring as my way to show my son Switzerland.  Rather than putting all the pressure on myself to do months of research and then try to coordinate everything,  I will enlist the experts. It already feels like a relief. I’d love for someone to take the lead so my son & I can both enjoy the adventure to the fullest rather than us both wondering when I’ll make the next wrong turn.

Here are three tour companies, of many, that my travel agency recommends. (I bet these will get you started on thinking about your next adventure!)

G Adventures  A Canadian company well known around the globe.

Back Roads Touring  A Specialist in Europe. Small groups of 18 or fewer.

On The Go Tours  Specializing in 4 & 5 Star Luxury Guided Tours. Often with incredible deals on last minute adventures.

Consider the math if you think that $2000 is too much to pay for a 7 day guided tour.  As an individual you might pay:  7 nights hotel ($1400), plus taxis/uber/shuttles ($300), plus admission tickets to museums/activities/monuments ($250) plus select meals ($300) for a total of $2250 or more. While you could share the hotel and taxi expense with your spouse, that’s true,  the meals and tickets are individually priced regardless. Also consider the value of NOT stressing about planning and research and driving routes. Would that make your vacation more enjoyable?

If you’re interested in any of these tours, track me down at McPhail Travel in Brandon and let’s talk! (Cathie@mcphailtravel.net)

 

On The Go Birthday Celebration Deals October 2018