River Cruises & booking early

If you are looking to book a Christmas cruise on the Rhine or a summer 2020 cruise on the Danube, definitely look at booking it in 2019. The earlier you book the better the early booking bonus and the more opportunity you have to choose the sailing you wish for.

Some of the early booking bonuses are outstanding. For example, booking an Avalon River Cruise for Spring break 2020  can be as low as $2646 for an 8 day cruise Amsterdam to Basel.

Also take a good look for Avalon’s Active labels on select tours. These cruises will feature a selection of active excursions, like bike rides. Each Avalon active cruise has at least 16 bikes on board for guest use on excursions.

If you are booking a trip a year ahead, don’t forget to purchase cancellation insurance.  A lot can happen in a year.

 

 

Where have the bargains gone?

I was just about to start writing a column about my frustration in travel bargain hunting lately, and a Westjet Flash Sale popped up in my in box. Great news I thought!  Crisis averted. Something good to write about!

The ad was for 35% off fares of the first 2000 bookings. The sale stared at midnight. My clock read 12:35AM. Excellent! Time to nab a bargain for myself….. but no luck. That code was only good for the first 2000 people and I wasn’t one of them. So, I have to say that was disappointing. Imagine the early risers who think they have a chance at 6am and go through the same frustrating process I did.  Westjet would be more realistic saying it’s a 15 minute sale, not a “flash sale.”

But OKAY, I thought, will use the consolation code for 15% off. So I took a look, absolutely nothing caught my eye. The code is valid for US destinations. Well, frankly the Canadian dollar is worth 65 cents. So, a discount of 35% would be required for it to be a deal at par.  15% discount does NOTHING to bring a trip to the US into favour. Never mind, the political issues.

So, I’m another hour invested in bargain hunting and nothing to report.

This winter has been harsh in Manitoba and more people than ever are travelling. The increased demand for vacations has seen many flights and routes, and resorts sold out. Never mind a deal, there’s nothing “in stock” to buy. A last minute hot vacation is almost akin to a Cabbage Patch Doll at Christmas in the 80s or a Fury in the 1990s.  Elusive and if you spy one, you should grab it.

What’s left is Cuba, lots of Cuba.

Maybe time to turn our eyes to Europe and start planning Spring and Summer vacations?

Did you know?

Did you know that …..you can mix Westjet flights and all-inclusive resorts from Sunwing?

How?

  1. Purchase flights only, from Brandon or your airport of choice.
  2. Purchase hotel separately from Sunwing or another provider.  Yes, all-inclusive resorts can be purchased just as easily as booking a Holiday Inn down the street.
  3. Purchase transfers from hotel to airport, OR plan to take a cab once you arrive.This way you can fly the airline your prefer AND stay at Sunwing owned properties like the brand new, adults only Riu Baja California in Los Cabos, Mexico.

From Brandon to the Bahamas

If you pick the right day, this can be pretty easy. Here’s a fun hint, from me to you, …. the right day is Saturday.

The reason Saturday is “the one” is that there is a direct flight from Calgary to Nassau on Saturdays. The Brandon flight gets there in time to make this connection, so this is completely fabulous! Get to Brandon airport at 5am, catch the 6:15 flight and then make the switch to the Nassau flight about an hour and a half later. No rushing. No drive to Winnipeg.

Right now, if you book before Feb 7th, for April flights, you can save 15% off your fare with this code T20VL35.

This means the Brandon to Nassau flight and back, taxes incl is $514 per person. WOW!!

Next up, you’ll want to book a resort.

There are very few all-inclusive resorts in the Bahamas.  Most are European Plan – meaning you source and pay for your food and drinks as you go. The hotel room booking, is just the hotel room booking. Just like booking a hotel room at home, or in Europe.

The iconic Atlantis resort is in the Bahamas. It’s the one with the fabulous waterslides in the pyramids. You’ve probably seen it on tv or on the Amazing Race. There are water slides that go through (a protective tube inside)  the shark tank. Atlantis can be a reasonable price to book, but beware the high resort fees that they want you to pay at the front desk.

The newest resort is the Baha Mar complex. It’s set on stunningly gorgeous Cable Beach, and only about 15 minutes from the airport. This one tops my dream list of places to stay.

The all inclusive resorts are older, smaller and less than what you would get in Mexico.  The resorts are Breezes, Melia, Riu and the Warwick. There is also a high end Sandals resort for Adults in love.

I’ve stayed at the Melia (back when it was a Sheraton) and in the Coral Towers of Atlantis. The benefit of staying at Atlantis is the access to the waterpark. You can stay off-site, but I believe day passes are about $150US per person. Atlantis is pretty fantastic, but I don’t think I’d ever pay $600 per family of 4 (plus food and drink) to use a waterpark for 6-8 hours. But this certainly is a selling point for staying on site and having the waterpark access included in your room rate.

Nassau is not a place I’d recommend an Airbnb. There are some travel cautions set by the government for this area. And, some cruise lines have warned passengers not to go downtown when they are in port. Based on this, and my own personal experience, I’d stick to the resorts.

Definitely a place I would love to visit again and given the chance for an easy flight, at a bargain price, I’d leap at that chance to go.

 

Saint Martin/St. Maarten on sale

Both Air Canada and Westjet are offering 15% off flights to this Caribbean hot spot, when you book before January 30th.  The Air Canada code is Stmaarten2019. Westjet’s code is A56MD56 as shown below

Choose mid-week departures for the best value on flights.

Westjet exclusive code
sample dates

 

When paired with a highly rated Airbnb apartment ($919 CDN) for a week two people could travel for under $1500 per person sharing accommodations and meals.

This French/Dutch island suffered a devastating blow from hurricane Irma in September 2017. However, by August 2018 the cruise port was fully functioning and most tourist sites had been  restored. Some hotels continue to build and renovate, though the island is actively seeking tourist visits.

Visit http://www.stmartinisland.org to start planning!

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