Fort Lauderdale Beach

My Twitter profile says that I’m happiest on a beach. That’s true.

It wasn’t that long ago that I found myself unhappy, beaten and burdened by the cold late winter/lousy spring weather. That led me to plan a spontaneous trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

At first, the trip wasn’t to Florida. It wasn’t to anywhere in particular. My whole goal was to get to a beach, any hot sunny beach and fast.

I googled the driving distances from airports to oceans. Fort Lauderdale Beach was noted as being less than 5 miles from the International Airport, FLL.  After a quick check through California airports, and then looking for prices, it became crystal clear that a direct flight from Winnipeg (YWG) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) was the ticket I was after.

IMG_9515

Saturday morning flights, with Westjet are non-stop to FLL. So, we left at sunrise and were actually, physically on the beach by 1:15pm local time. That was fabulous. I paid just over $200 can for that part of the flight.

As soon as my toes hit the sand, I felt a wave of calm hit my body. I was suddenly relaxed. The ocean waves crashing in were music to my ears. Though the bliss was pretty quickly interrupted by my 10 year old son, who was my travel buddy for this ocean adventure.

“Mom, I need a bathing suit.”

“Okay, I replied, we’ll head up to the hotel and change.”

“Mom, I forgot to pack one.”

Suddenly, my vague packing instructions were coming back to haunt me, and just 30 minutes into the vacation. I had said, “pack your bags and grab a new toothbrush, we’re heading to Florida in the morning.” I guess I could have been more specific. Maybe he’d packed for Mickey Mouse or alligator wrestling. Maybe I didn’t actually tell him we were heading to a beach. Oops.

The next 30 minutes were spend at beach shops along the street, looking for something in his size. Then he wanted a water toy. So $50 later, we were back on the sand, and ready for a swim.

This reminds me of 2 of my best beach packing tips:

  • Bring 2 swimsuits per person. When one is uncomfortably sandy, wet or drying, wear the alternate.
  • Buy and pack inflatable toys from the dollar store. They pack flat and save you so much time and money. A $1 beach ball from home is as much fun as a $7 beach ball you bought on site.

Pittsburgh in the 2016 NHL Playoffs

Mere hours ago the dates and times were announced for the Eastern Finals in the 2016 NHL Playoffs. It will be the Pittsburgh Penguins versus the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 11.34.52 PM

Game 1 will be hosted in Pittsburgh on Friday, May 13th. Flights from Winnipeg, with either Delta or United are still sitting under $600 (tax in, return).

There are several hotels near the Consol Energy Centre in Pittsburgh. You can’t get much closer than the Hilton DoubleTree.

I’ve priced out a trip for game 5, on the Canadian long weekend, through Expedia.ca.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 11.00.26 PM Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 10.59.08 PM

Tickets to the Eastern Finals are about $160US each, from Stubhub.com

If you go for game 5, you will be able to go to a Pirates’ baseball game as well. They play just after lunch, and hockey starts at 7pm. If you have time to linger an extra day, and fly home on the 24th, you will then fly with United Airlines for the best bargain price. This “extra” day can raise your total package price per person, as little as $25. This is, indeed, staying at the same hotel. So, for an additional $25 would you stay and see a little more of the city? I think so!

You’ll have to act quickly and decisively when booking, as seats on flights and to the games will be snapped up by eager fans wanting to do the very same trip.

If you have Air Miles, or Aeroplan points, do check for flights on your respective sites. Sometimes you can get a free, last minute flight. This worked for me in last year’s playoffs when the Jets were playing Anaheim.

Exclusive Pool Access – Vegas

If you love the heat and want to spend a little time just relaxing by the pool, may I suggest the Laurel Collection rooms at Caesar’s Palace.

The Laurel section of the hotel has its own exclusive check-in desk (around the side, not the front entrance),  its own elevators, its own security, a Starbucks location near the check in desk and very best of all, its own pool.

Access to the Laurel pool is by room card and check in with an attendant. The area has attentive service, complimentary treats (water coolers, and we were offered freezies) and great quality lounge chairs and towels.

The main pool area can be packed. Of course, in 30C weather, it SHOULD be packed. But for just a few extra dollars you can get an upgraded room and access to the exclusive pool. In my mind, it is WELL WORTH IT.

To find these rooms, simply look on your preferred booking site for “room types” and make sure you book a “Laurel room.” I found it here with Westjet for less than $100 more, per couple, over 4 nights.

Thinking about Caesar’s Palace and my favourite tips, may I also suggest that you eat at Bobby Flay’s restaurant on site there. Excellent! Everything we tried was simply excellent.

Screenshot, May 2nd, 2016
Screenshot, May 2nd, 2016 Westjet Vacations

Cheap Vegas – Last Minute

Here’s a sweet deal from Winnipeg, to Vegas. The estimated totals as shown are for two people, taxes, hotel and flights included. May 9th to 12th.

The first three hotels are centrally located on the strip. The last three shown are more exclusive and have fabulous pools, but only the Cromwell is on the centre strip.

It’d make a nice mother’s day gift. Just saying.  (Westjet Vacations. www.westjet.com)

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 7.08.06 PM Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 7.07.23 PM

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.

IMG_1743

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. 

IMG_1750

 

 

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 10.54.47 AM

“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.

IMG_8200

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.

IMG_8198
Just a lovely bit of architecture on our walkabout

Better stories start with travel.