Monday, February 23, 2015

Where To Stay In Vancouver?

In the last month I have had the opportunity to stay int two of Vancouver's finest hotel properties.

On each trip these properties made my stay more enjoyable by both the service and quality of accommodation.

Vancouver has hundreds of hotels to chose from so finding two properties as I did, with the positive experience that was offered by both of them was bonus.

Sheraton Wall Centre

This is a first class hotel on Burrard Street in the heart of Vancouver's business and shopping district. Just a short walk and you are on Robson Street where you can buy and dine to your heart's content.

The hotel itself and its surrounding buildings present an imposing impression.  They are situated on the highest ground in the city and from the top floors you can gain an excellent view of the city.

But I would also underscore another feature. Its Cafe One restaurant is exceptional.

Most often when I travel I seek out other restaurants, thinking perhaps that hotel restaurant may not be a destination for local diners.

If this one isn't, it should be.  The menu was really varied and unique.

You have to try the Pan Roasted Queen Charlotte Sablefish served with
jade bamboo rice and yuzu miso sauce.

this proved to be one of the best fish meals I have ever had and the pan seared crab cakes were not far off.

The hotel is going through a massive renovation of its rooms at this time, although from what I lived in for a room seemed like it really did not need any attention.

But I did manage to do a quick walk through of one of the new rooms and man, this hotel will end up getting loads of press for its unique design.

The hotel is so much in the heart of things that you may never need to take a taxi, and the Skytrain is near at hand.

I had extra time during my stay and was able to catch a movie in a multiplex theatre less than 5 minutes away.

Front desk service...perfect.  Concierge....excellent rate.  Amazing servers with a sense of humour and a sense of perfection from one end to the other.   What a great stay.

Westin Bayshore Hotel

For decades this is an icon hotel property in Vancouver that has been the home to business and tourists who visit British Columbia and Vancouver.

Place on the Gold List of the Conde Nast Traveler magazine, it is an award well worth the giving.

Situated near Stanley Park and over-viewing Coal Harbour, there are few hotel properties anywhere that offer the views, the exercise opportunities, the quality of accommodations, and the amenities of a full resort.

This is a hotel whose guests have come from the highest echelons of society in business and politics. but is also a place that families chose because it has everything for everyone, and while in the heart of Vancouver seems somewhat removed from it because of its location on the harbour.

Escape to the 5000 square foot Vida Spa while your family enjoys the pool or fitness centre.

On this trip I chose not to dine in the restaurant as it was undergoing renovations but I had the full mix and much of the amazing selection of appetizers and small plates in the bar, and ended up going back to my room full as could be, not needing to go find the restaurant I was considering earlier.

I did take the time to go to the north shore for a bit of an excursion and it was a fun ferry trip with lots on the other side. But one really does not have to go far from the Westin Bayshore to find just about all one needs on a journey.

I had  stayed in this hotel many years ago and was totally impressed then. But after all these years would it still pass muster?

Believe me this property is as good as the day it was launched and is still one of the leading properties, not just in Vancouver, but in the country.

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posted by That Travel Guy @ 4:40 PM  |  0 Comments

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Nothing Greater Than Greater Palm Springs

In my previous blog column I covered some of the history and activities in and around Palm Springs.

On a recent visit to the area with my son Carey, we tried to do it all and to some extent succeeded, but really not possible to do with all the options available.

This first visit to the area was part of our annual father/son adventure. On these trips we always always include trying to include experiencing the range of tourist draws in the regions we visit, even though our primary motivation is always to test our skills, or lack of thereof, on the golf tracks.

This column will focus mostly on that activity in this unique region of California.

While the region is most often identified with downtown Palm Springs proper, the area is actually comprised of nine separate but inter-connected communities that also include Desert Hot Springs,
 Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, and Coachella. 

Most of these communities are in the 50,000 population range, and travelling between them is easy and stress free.

 Each city offers any number of courses from which to choose.

Between mid-September and late November, fully one-third to a half of golf courses in the Greater Palm Springs area are closed for overseeding. This is done annually at this time to insure that when the majority of tourists arrive for the prime winter months, they will be playing on the finest conditions that can be found on golf tracks anywhere.

While our trip to Palm Springs occurred during the fall time frame, there was no problem in finding golf courses to play on. It is part of a deliberate strategy employed here to make sure those tourists who visit during shoulder season periods, still have plenty of options for quality golf.

The schedule of overseeding by golf course is also published online. We don’t hear of overseeding in the same manner as undertaken in desert areas, but the process is an important one.

Most of the courses here have Bermuda grass on them during the hot summer months. The nature of Bermuda grass is such that it will go dormant during the cooler winter months. So ryegrass is seeded over the Burmuda, then covered by a layer of sand that makes the courses unplayable until the new seeds root, and get strong. 

Depending upon who you talk with, there are between 110 and 125 golf courses in the Greater Palm Springs region, many designed by the top names in the industry, from Arnold Palmer, to Pete Dye, Jack Nicholas and more.

Many of the resorts will have two courses, each developed by a different designer, giving their guests no reason to look further than the property where they choose to stay.

With the desert and mountains as a backdrop, it is no wonder so many of the courses stand out as much for the scenery they offer, as the challenge of the holes.

When I asked Michael Walker, a Regina Saskatchewan native and now Club Director at the Omni Rancho Los Palmas, why Palm Springs has become such a major golf destination, his answer was simple, “For seven months of the year we have the world’s best weather. From the middle of October to after the end of April there is no place you’d rather be for golf.”

Maxing out at 6500 yards, the Rancho Los Palmas course was created to be challenging but enjoyable, and affordable, for the mid and higher handicap golfer.

For those who want the wide open spaces with few houses bordering the fairways, the Weston Mission Hills Palmer course, the J.W. Marriot Palm Desert tracks, and the Indian Wells Resort courses are exceptional.

Millions of dollars have been invested in creating rapids and waterfalls on these desert courses, in addition to as many man-made lakes as you are likely to find anywhere. This makes them beauties to behold and a challenge to play. But these are challenges that are fair, with numbers of tee options from which to play.

For a taste of real desert golf, framed by the nearby mountains of Palm Springs, is one of the regions newest courses, only minutes away from downtown Palm Springs. The Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort offers two interesting choices.

The new Resort Course offers rolling terrain, loads of target making shot challenges, lots of water and memorable mountain views.

The older Legends Course was designed more than half a century ago, with narrow tree lined fairways, over 40 bunkers, and severely sloped greens that make putting a mixture of celebration and chagrin.

There are PGA golf courses nearby, and two annual golf events are hosted in the area every year. The Humana Challenge in support of the Clinton Foundation will be played in La Quinta in just a few weeks, from January 15-19. In 2015 the LPGA Kraft Nabisco tournament will be hosted in Rancho Mirage from April 2-5.

While golf was our primary focus during this trip, the quality and variety of unique restaurant choices made it much more interesting than many other places. And the options of things to do, from resort water parks, to aerial trams, mountain and valley hiking, along with many other choices, made for an enjoyable vacation.

To find out more about the courses in this prime golf destination area, along with a list of others things to do, contact the Greater Palm Springs & Visitors Bureau at

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posted by That Travel Guy @ 1:17 PM  |  0 Comments

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Palm Springs...Something For Everyone!

It may seem long ago, but really not so, when it was the playground for movies stars who could escape the smog and problems associated with Los Angeles and still report for a film call within a couple of hours.

Spotting a movie star of the 50’s and 60’s in Palm Springs was not difficult. So it should not be surprising that thousands of others from around the world would arrive to discover what this small region had to offer.

It was the perfect climate, in an area that seemed protected from the rest of the world by a small mountain range that offered scenery and escapes of their own.

The main street or Palm Springs, Palm Canyon Drive, still honors the movie people of the past and present with sidewalk plaques literally every few feet.

With high production costs, the production of movies left Hollywood. And when they did, so went the movie stars. 

But not the tourists.

They discovered what I did on my very first chance to explore Palm Springs and its surrounding communities.

While the region for a period of time  built upon its reputation as a retirement destination, today’s Palm Springs has moved far beyond those days.

Notwithstanding its attraction as one of the major golf destinations in the United States, it has become a place that hikers and campers also put near the top of their lists.

The canyons and mountains around Palm Springs have been developed for both the casual explorer and the fittest of those who love to trek the valleys and major hillsides that meander through the area.

While our prime objective was to continue long standing inter generational travel experience of a week of father/son golf with my son Carey, as we have always done on these trips, we make sure we participate as much as possible in whatever other attractions the region has to offer.

So without hesitation we grabbed the opportunity to partake in one of the Red Jeep tours that took us to the Andreas and Palm Canyons for an afternoon of education and interpretation of the Agua Caliente Cahuilla native culture that formed the foundation of most of this area of California.
It can be hot in Palm Springs in the early fall, with midday temperatures hovering around the 30C mark.

For escape we took the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the top of nearby Chino Canyon. At almost 9000 feet above sea level, temperatures are dramatically cooler. So much so that wearing long trousers and sleeved shirts is advised.

Here too the hiking opportunities abounds with over 50 miles of trails available for every fitness level.

Billed as the world’s largest rotating tramcar, the journey up the side of the sheer cliffs is enhanced by the 360 views as the floor rotates twice during both the ascent and descent.

Once you reach the top the view is breathtaking. From the mountains in the distance to the view of the city below it is easy to understand why so many choose to remain on the peak for hours.

Back in Palm Springs the atmosphere is one of relaxed comfort as shoppers wonder in and out of the retail outlets that range from high end art shops to tee-shirt purveyors who seem to offer 2-for-1 bargains on just about everything in store.

At night there is a dramatic change as streets come alive with the buzz of activity as more and more people begin to populate the dozens of bars and restaurants whose lights and outdoor patios signal invitations to enjoyment.

 One of the most unique attractions you will ever find on a main thoroughfare of any city takes place at the core of Palm Canyon drive.

Every Thursday, several blocks of the street along Palm Canyon Drive are closed to traffic so shoppers and revelers have the space and comfort to search out their take -home treasures or culinary delights.

Culinary and beverage options are immense.

This area was once the home to the Beachcomer/Tiki Bar craze of a few decades ago when the producers, directors, and movie stars of occupied the most expensive homes.

The Tonga Hut, following the revivalist trend in this style bar, offers alcohol loaded drinks with names like Rose’s First Date, Cucumber Caliente, and the Scorpion Bowl.

For upscale dining there will be no better place in the area than the French restaurant Le Vallauris.
This restaurant has been a Palm Springs tradition for over forty years. If star gazing is on your agenda you are most likely to still spot them here.

If not there when you are, you can still look up beyond the trees that shelter patrons under this outdoor patio, to the real galaxies that twinkle above you.

There is a decided small community feel to Palm Springs and its closely connected cities that make up greater Palm Springs. Easy to navigate from one to the other, surprising doors of discovery seem to open as you travel between them.

But in the end this journey was above all meant to be about the golf experiences in an area where golf is king and thousands of people come here every year for those opportunities.

Golf we did. A lot of it on excellent tracks throughout the area.

In my next blog I will focus on that part of our trip as well as other experiences we encountered beyond downtown Palm Springs.

If you would like more information on Palm Springs contact the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism at or call them at 1 (800) 347-7746.

For great travel products for any trip you may be contemplating go to www.jour 

posted by That Travel Guy @ 10:50 AM  |  0 Comments

Monday, December 8, 2014

Where to Buy Cuban Currency?

It is a question a receive every year at this time as travellers prepare for their first visit to Cuba.

There is ample reason for the confusion. Cuba is not like most other foreign destination. 

While many will find Canadian banks and other currency exchanges to convert our dollar to other country’s notes before departure, this cannot be done when travelling to Cuba.

 Cuban currency is not traded internationally so you are unable to purchase it in advance. You buy it when you arrive in Cuba.

The major legal tender for travelers to Cuba is the Cuban Convertible Peso, or CUC as it is most often referred. The CUC is pegged to the international value of the United States dollar.

Many believe it might be better to bring along US dollars for CUC conversion. In fact, they would be penalized 10% plus a 3% currency exchange fee.

Seldom used by tourists is the second legal currency of the country, the not so valuable Cuban Peso (CUP).

On small purchases the CUP can be handy, since there is no conversion to an inexpensive purchase of 10 CUP as example. For such purchases in CUC you will pay approximately 50 cents, for what is essentially a 10 cent cost.

The most recent information I could find on the CUP was an exchange value of 24 CUP for one CUC. Even though this currency can be handy, considering the impoverished state of the many economically low level people you will be dealing with locally, considering their conversion bonus as a tip may make you both feel good.

Forward your travel questions to . Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. More  columns,  tips, and stories can be found on 

posted by That Travel Guy @ 8:53 PM  |  0 Comments

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Don't Lose Your VAT Dollars by Waiting to Get Home to Claim.

Many people believe they can spend a great holiday in Europe, buying loads of things and thinking they can claim the VAT then.

I get these questions often, "I forgot to apply for VAT before I left.  I do still have all of my receipts.  Is it possible to still collect VAT?"

My answer is always the same.  There is nothing that will offer you the opportunity  to collect your Value Added Tax (VAT) refunds after leaving Europe.  In fact the opposite is true.

In order for those who live outside the EU to collect refunds they must actually show customs officials the goods, the receipts that apply to them, and a completed VAT refund document.

Once satisfied the customs officer will apply an approved stamp to your customs form(s). To obtain your customs stamp you must present the goods purchased for inspection at the official customs office at your last point of departure. The rules underscore that without the customs stamp your VAT refund cannot be processed.

Literally millions of dollars of refundable sales taxes are unclaimed. 

Yet the tax in many of the EU countries is up to 25% on goods. Understandably the process is a cumbersome one, but why leave bundles of dollars on the table that could be used to help underwrite the cost of the vacation in Europe?

For those yet to travel to Europe here are some sage words of advice.

Get to the airport early. With line-ups and during busy periods it could take some time. Make sure you have all your forms filled properly, and have all your personal documentation ready to present in an organized manner.

Carry your passport with you when shopping for proof of your non-residency. The VAT refund program is a voluntary one so you need to confirm the store where you make your purchases is subscribed to the program.

Many will display a Duty Free sign at the entrance of their premises. To qualify for the refund goods must be above certain values. For more information on the VAT program and its rules go to

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posted by That Travel Guy @ 12:46 PM  |  0 Comments

Saturday, December 6, 2014

What currency to exchange to when Europe Bound?

I received this question from a reader travelling to Europe.

He wrote, " Over the past decade I have converted my Canadian dollars to US currency whenever I travel.  I feel it is the most stable and strongest currency in the world and universally accepted.

Merchants are always happy to get it and I never have hassles in trying to figure out relative values in most Caribbean countries I have tended to visit.

However I am planning my next long trip as a European long-stay over much of the coming winter.

My friends are telling me that I should not use the US dollar as my base.

What is your advice?

I receive many questions like this and the answer can sometimes change with the conditions, but less so in considering what currency to use when travelling to Europe. 

Certainly the American greenback will always be welcomed, and as an instant trading currency it is especially well received in countries like Mexico and the Caribbean.

However since you will be spending quite some time in Europe, and travelling around quite a bit while you are there, I would recommend converting directly to the EURO.

Notwithstanding the ups and downs its levels have faced, the numbers of people who use US dollars for merchant transactions is extremely small compared to the sunspot countries.

You will save the double conversion costs, and I believe doing your day to day business will be much more efficient.

Even in the Caribbean countries, I have noticed that when they accept US dollars, the exchange rate they are giving at restaurants and retail outlets is nowhere what it really should be.

They are quick to accept the dollars because they know they are increasing their profit margin with every transaction.

It does become interesting when moving into boarder European states that still are not using the Euro. Suddenly finding yourself creating a new math formula can be interesting if not frustrating.

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posted by That Travel Guy @ 1:29 PM  |  0 Comments

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort Review

Situated on Bob Hope Drive (41-000) in Rancho Mirage in Great Palm Springs this is truly an exceptional family resort.

While family should be the operative word in many ways the Splashtopia slides and play area are situated in somewhat a separate area so the rooms near that attraction are perfect for those who bring their children, the area nearer the entrance and overlooking the golf course provide an entirely different perspective.

The Embers dining are is well placed with a large outdoor patio near the water hazard that makes the par 3 sixth hole a bit of a challenge.

We dined for both breakfast and a dinner at the Embers and found it to be excellent, with as I wrote in a previous blog, a server who knew about the ins and outs of every glf track in the region.

There are also a number of condos on the golf course that make the development a thriving area, but still a luxury retreat for those looking for something extra special in the Palm Springs area.

It offers the usual spa you would expect in a higher lever resort like this.

What was also interesting about this resort was the fact that all automobiles are parked in a front parking lot. So while the first trip to your room may be a task, no traffic and the absence of noise make it an excellent retreat.

The resort is structured as a series of two story walk-up buildings which also means you are never people crowded.

The only thing you need to take into account, which is true of most resorts, you will have to transport yourself to the pro shop a couple of blocks away since the first tee is not right at the resort even though a couple of resorts go right between the buildings.

The 27 hole course is not long but it is challenging at times. Because of the resort some of the holes near it are more narrow but beyond there are a number of wider fairways as well.

The singular negative seemed to be the lack of attendants to carry luggage to the rooms. In fairness that may be due to when we checked in but we got a sense that the culture was for guest to do it on their own.

There are excellent tennis facilities on site with an ample fitness centre for those who want to work off the desserts available at the Embers.

Like one would expect at an Omni the staff were professional and efficient throughout. and well worth staying at as a couple of family, or as a golf group for that matter.

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posted by That Travel Guy @ 5:29 PM  |  0 Comments