Month May 2018

Month May 2018

East Africa with G Adventures

May 4, 2018 Deals, Excess Baggage
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In February 2014, I had the extreme pleasure of experiencing my ultimate destination vacation – an East African Safari. Over a month, I camped with G Adventures in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

 **home away from home!

First item on the bucket list – baby elephants, baby! I spent part of the afternoon at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust just outside of Nairobi. This wonderful organization takes in orphan elephants and rhinos – whether orphaned due to abandonment or poaching. Not to mention all the veterinary care they provide to wild animals throughout Kenya. We tourists lined up to”adopt” an elephant and have a chance to bed them down that night. We all lined up around the secure area, and then came the green jacketed care takers and their baby elephants. We got to watch these little sweeties drink bottles of milk (which is in fact – infant formula!), play soccer, romp in the water, and wrestle with each other. If they got close enough, we could pat their gorgeous grey skin, temporarily died red from rolling in the dirt to protect from bugs and sunburn. After an hour of observation, it was off for exercise and back to the hotel for us. I was spent from giggling like a child, anyway. 

After 2 nights in Nairobi to acclimatize and get over jet lag, we were off in the then still-to-be updated G Adventures Overland Truck. This truck was everything to us. Transportation, rest stop, phone charger, and safe place. On one particular tour, our local vehicles didn’t arrive for a game drive. So what did our fearless tour guide and driver decide to do? Take the overland truck, of course!

All was well for most of the day, if you didn’t look while climbing rock faces, anyway. All was well…until it wasn’t. We were stuck…aaaand stuck good. All of us piled out of the truck to push and pull. No way, nothing doing. So, we wait while our guide figures out what to do. What does a group of 18 to 30 somethings do while there’s nothing to do? Well this would seem the perfect time to watch “The Lion King” on iPad! So while we watch, our guide arranges several other G Adventures team members to come pick us up in a series of vans (there are 23 of us). It’s dark now, getting quite cold, and we’re in the middle of an open to the wild game reserve. There are lions. Finally, our hero arrives to take us back to the camp site. Only one vehicle of 3 showed up. So now what do we do? We cram 23 fun loving travelers into a 7 seater mini van! No word of a lie. This became a highlight of the trip for me.

We continue our travel over Lake Victoria – the mouth of The Nile river on our way to the Equator and on to the first active experience – a chimpanzee trek! We split into groups. Sadly, mine was the one that managed to only see a chimpanzee arm! Those chimps…they knew we were there. They were playing games with us. One of us would say “Over there!” and we’d head that way, only for the chimps to laugh and rush off again. That night, at our most basic camp ground of the tour, was a group of local children waiting to sing and dance for us. Sadly, these kids were growing up in a local non-profit orphanage as each and everyone had lost their parents due to HIV & AIDS or some other equally sad reason. Of course, we all supplied what we could and enjoyed the performance. Circumstances behind them, the kids were just happy to make new friends.

We continue on to Lake Bunyonyi west of Kabale, the deepest lake in Uganda at approximately 6500 ft deep. This was to be our home for the next few nights while our group broke into smaller groups for the ultimate highlight – Gorilla trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. To my, still to this day, heartbreak, I was not allowed to do this Gorilla trek. I had come down with a cold, and as the numbers of Western Lowland Gorillas are critical, the park wardens are extremely protective of the animals as they can contract the same viruses as humans. So, I had to live through my friends’ camera lens. 

So, I spent my day exploring the village and resort at the entrance to Bwindi while I awaited the happy stories of my compadre’s.

Next came our first safari sightings! Lions, rhino’s, zebra’s, buffalo, and the hippos! Oh, the hippos!

Those sweet little ears and judgy eyes. Slay me. I love hippos.

Finally, we’ve made it to Tanzania! At the border crossing, there are Maasai women selling jewelry and blankets, there are scores of tourists waiting for visa processing, there’s the samosa guy selling his wares to hungry folks hanging out their tour buses, it’s bustling. The heat has hit, it’s like the air conditioning has been turned off and I’ve finally found the Africa I imagined. We head to the Ngorongoro Crater to camp for a night and I’ve found the most beautiful night sky I’ve ever seen in my life. The milky way so amazingly purple and close, more stars than can be possible, and the most crisp, calm night air. Animals below us in the caldera – this is nirvana, this is what I came to Africa for. The temp drops to -7 that night, so I couldn’t have thanked the on site staff enough as they set up our tents and provided us with sleeping mats and extra thick blankets for the low temperatures.

Now, we head into the Serengeti. We meet a mother cheetah on a hilly lookout protecting her cubs in their den; 

a lion family lazing on the rocks with not one but 2 males in the group which is most unusual for a lion pride;

leopards, hyraks, mongeese, jackals, hyenas, ostrich, Egyptian geese, lilac breasted rollers, leopards, baboons, hippos (yay!), and finally – the almighty African elephant!

We camp out in the open tonight. The sun sets over the flat top acacia trees and we settle in for the night. No one can sleep, we can hear lion’s chuffing in the distance, hyena’s buzz past our camp site hot on the heels of the wildebeest stamping by. I’m awake all night, and I love it.

One more early morning game drive at the Ngorongoro Crater, before we head to Zanzibar – the spice island! After 24 nights of camping, a bit of luxury was needed. We stayed at the beautiful Amaan Beach Bungalows in Nungwi for 3 nights – we relaxed in the Indian Ocean, had a beach barbeque, and had drinks at a rooftop bar to watch sunset, it was gorgeous. Finally, we spent one last night in Stonetown – the town Freddie Mercury of Queen was born in. A town once pivotal to the slave trade, we toured humbling exhibits to this sad past. The maze of alley ways forces you to get off the beaten path, especially if you’ve forgotten your map in your hotel. The Arab history of Zanzibar comes to life in Stonetown with the great number of Mosques and heavy doors reminiscent of a different time.


The carvings around the door tell each families story, as each door is carved with a different yet equally as intricate pattern.

This has been a short going over of a deep loved destination of mine. I would love the opportunity to help each and every one of you with your East African dreams, and I’m confident that G Adventures can get you there safely, responsibly, and show you a good time when you’re there!

Viva Las Vegas!

May 4, 2018 Deals, Excess Baggage

Our office loves Las Vegas – one of us even owns a home there! We’ve stayed everywhere from the Excalibur, Tropicana, MGM Grand, Bellagio, Cosmopolitan, The Venetian, The Linq, Rio All Suites and so many more! Here are our experiences at some of them:

Excalibur – one of the first resorts after you leave the airport. Rooms have been fully renovated with modern decor and a great new pool area! The resort has a large food court on site with restaurants from Krispy Kreme, Popeye’s, Starbucks and much more. Not to mention sit down restaurants including Dick’s Last Resort, Johnny Rockets, the buffet and others. Live entertainment here consists of Thunder From Down Under, the Tournament of Kings (a family favourite!), and other rotating shows. The Deuce stops across the street in front of Tropicana so it’s a great location for hopping a cheap ride.

The Linq – a new favourite! Formerly the Imperial Palace, this resort was completed gutted and rebuilt about 2 years ago. Now ultra modern and perfectly located in the centre of the strip, it’s hard to pass this one for value! Experience the all new High Roller for the best views of Vegas, and stop at Hash House Ago for a full day fill up! Perfect options for those looking for value in the middle of the strip!

Cosmopolitan – Gorgeous resort! This is one of the only resorts in Las Vegas that have rooms with balconies – many over looking the fountains at Bellagio! Posh resort frequented by the Kardashians – perfect for when you want glamour on the strip!

The Venetian – Towards the North end of the strip with one of the most beautiful and authentic plaza spaces in front of the resort, The Venetian can’t be beat! Music pours out from the speakers while gondoliers propel their guests along the canals of Las Vegas, it’s like being in Italy! Beautifully decorated rooms and a beyond grand resort entrance and casino.

 

Riu Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit, Mexico

May 4, 2018 Deals
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In April 2016, I was lucky enough to take my little family to the 4.5 star Riu Vallarta for a week’s holiday. We were a party of 2 adults and a 1.5 year old. We flew with Westjet on non-stop direct flights. Private transfers were non-stop and took about 20 minutes from the airport in each direction.

Check in at the resort was quick as there were 4 agents at the desk. We had requested a room with king bed and crib. This was accommodated – though we did have to ask a few times for the crib to arrive. We were upgraded to a partial-ocean view room. I personally would have preferred a garden view room on the back side of the resort because as we found out, with our room overlooking the courtyard, the night time entertainment did make it hard for a young toddler to sleep. That said, the night time entertainment I managed to catch was great! Each night beginning with a performance from the kids in the kids club, then on to live music, acrobats, dancers, etc. I enjoy the night time shows at resorts.

Admittedly – the bed was the hardest bed I have ever slept on in my life! So to note, please request a mattress topper when staying at the Riu Vallarta.

The kids club is for kids aged 4+, my son was only 1.5 at the time, but I was allowed to bring him in for some play time, coloring, music and cartoons in the air conditioning. There is a very small round children’s pool in the kids club which would be perfect for parents with infants. We did have full access to the Riu Jalisco next door, which is known to have a wonderful kids pool so we spent quite a few afternoons here. The staff at both kids clubs were fantastic. There are 2 pools at the Riu Vallarta, one is adults only with a swim up bar and the other is family friendly with 2 small water slides for older kids.

Food at the resort was great! Tons of variety as the buffet area is huge, plenty of seating, and lots of great staff. Even if there was something not out that I wanted (such as peanut butter for a toddler who lives off the stuff!) at dinner time, I only had to ask and it was provided. There are no longer reservations that need to be made for a la carte restaurants at Riu resorts.

Resort staff were constantly cleaning. The resort was immaculate, and I loved the grandeur of the lobby with the beautiful, large flower arrangement. Regarding wifi – we paid to have it throughout the resort and it was wonderful. Fast and no buffer time.  

One thing I did find was the courtyard bar, even with 2 or 3 servers, can be fairly slow as it is the place to be at night. Please be patient, folks!
The beach – well, the beach is incredible. Long and wide and you can walk forever! All the way up to Bucerias and back. Plenty of space and chairs for guests.

Room attendants were very sweet ladies. At check out, it turned out we had forgotten our son’s blanket. Before we left the resort, our room attendant came running to find us with the blanket. I was so grateful for to her and as any parent knows, a kid without their a blankie is a kid that doesn’t sleep.

Overall, I enjoyed this resort. I especially loved the beach and dining options. I would recommend a garden view room or ocean front suite as I find the partial ocean view far too “partial” and loud. The view from the picture below is hanging out and looking around our balcony.

I saw several weddings while I was here, and having planned weddings at Riu’s, I know the staff are top notch. The resort is great for budget minded groups looking for a beautiful sunset wedding!