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

For answers to travel questions you may have email me at Listen to my weekly radio travel show live every Sunday at noon CST or CDT depending on the season at 

Also before you travel do check out our travel products selection at

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.

If you have travel questions or travel comment email me at

And if you are looking for travel products be sure to check out the great prices and wide selection at

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.

Check out the comfort and security travel accessories at before you go if you don't mind.

If you have travel questions or travel comments email me at .

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

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Hyatt Palm Springs Hotel Resort Review

We are back after a really enjoyable stay in Palm Springs!

While golfing was the prime motivation we really did a lot more in sight seeing, experiencing, and dining.

But we also stayed at two fine properties worth reviewing.

Hyatt Palm Springs

While there are a number of communities that make up Greater Palm Springs, the traditional heart of Palm Springs draws the most people to its restaurant and shopping laden establishments.

The Hyatt Palm Springs is at the heart of the main shopping and dining area and is an ideal place to stay whether you are travelling with your family or just with your spouse or golf buddy.

It is an all-suite hotel which separates the bedroom from the TV/sitting area. Both sections are well appointed.

The restaurant adjacent to the lobby is handy if you are entering from the rooms but it also extends into an outdoor patio that is adjacent to the pool.

This makes for a unique design element which is very efficient from a operational point of view and extremely convenient from a client perspective.

If you take a room with the pool and mountain view you will find it a investment well worth it. It is a wide open unobstructed photographic opportunity to capture just about all the elements the region has to offer. Pool, golf course, desert and mountain with hiking trails accessible from the hotel itself.

Food-service was a bit slow from the patio when we were there but the breakfasts, and especially the weekend breakfast buffet were excellent with very fast and attentive service.

From beginning to end the staff were very friendly and easy to talk with in finding directions or getting input on things to do.

All parking is valet but the guys do a heck of a job in insuring you don't have to wait, and they are also a lot of fun.

From the Hyatt Palm Springs you have easy walking distances to restaurants starting with those right across the street.

One of the key features of this property that is absolutely captivating is the photographic display that adorns the walls along the main floor hallways.

These are photos taken of the major movie stars and executives during the Palm Springs Film Festival.  I do the photographer a huge disservice by not remembering the names because in many ways these powerful images are not just the highlight of the hotel but the highlight of the region that stays indelible in the mind long after returning home.

I hope someone may add a comment here to identify the photographer and give due credit to the creative genius that captured the essence of her subjects in this gallery.

Find the Hyatt Palm Springs at 

posted by That Travel Guy @ 4:24 PM  |  0 Comments

Dining Around Greater Palm Springs!

Driving around the nine interconnected cities that make up Greater Palm Springs is extremely easy. So much so that often you don't even notice the posted sign that signals your entry into a different community.

However, soon enough you do realize it because each street sign has both the name and logo of the community you are driving through.

With about 50 thousand residents per community that had its own character and development before each expanded with the flow of people into them to touch the neighbouring city at each border.

Each community saw its own evolution of restaurants and bars, along with golf courses and other tourist attractions.

Because of tourist demand for quality there are many quality food outlets from which to choose, and many styles of service to satisfy the tastes of every traveller.

Here is a review of a number of restaurants I dined at during this Greater Palm Springs visit which I recommend with some comments about the atmosphere and menu choices.

 41000 Bob Hope Drive
 Rancho Mirage

The Bluember is the dining room in the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort.

We ended up having a breakfast and dinner at this resort property restaurant.

For breakfast I can say without hesitation that the corn beef has was the best I have ever had. Normally the dish is a mixture of fatty corned beef almost like it came from a can, along with a potpourri of other ingredients.

This dish was served with real corned beef, the kind you might expect at a Montreal smoked meat restaurant.

The dinner was excellent although I think Carey and I were on a beef craving and both selected steak again.

If you want to know about golf just ask for the golf addicted server. I wish I could remember his name but he will give you a run down on every course in Greater Palm Springs if you like as he has already golfed in 65 of them and clearly knows his golf.

VUE Grille and Bar
44500 Indian Wells Ln
Indian Wells

Located right above the club house of the Indian Wells Golf Course it is called the VUE for its obvious outlook directly over the golf track.

For a public golf club venue the menu selection and quality cuisine was definitely a surprise.

I had one of the best servings of rack of lamb that I have had in a very long time. Later in the week, at the conference I was attending, I was back at the restaurant for a cocktail party put on by the golf resort for the travel agency group I was with.

The mixture of appetizer dishes was also impressive and the pulled pork was also as good as I have tasted.

Find out more at .

Mimmo's Italian Restaurant
73540 California Hwy 111
Palm Desert

This was perhaps the best surprise of the trip.

It was well after dark. I had golfed earlier in the day and went back to the room to catch up with work. At some point I got quite hungry and decided to change the venue and not order up or dine in one of the hotel restaurants.

I got in the car and just started to drive down Highway 111, which as you can surmise from above seems to go through most of the Palm Springs cities, or quickly connects to them.

As I passed the Mimmo's lit sign for this strip mall type restaurant, I decided a simple spaghetti, or other Italian style dish was just what this doctor's mind suddenly ordered.

I made the U-turn expecting to find myself in some fast food version of Italian food.

Nothing could have been further from the truth.

This is a tablecloth restaurant, clearly supported by the numbers of patrons that were seated in the restaurant, and who seemed to all have been there before given the interaction between the owners and customers.

I stuck with my original vision of spaghetti and meatballs. The meatballs are all made on site and the sauce was delicious.

Still I wish I had selected something else from the menu.

The server explained that it was Canadian veal, the other choices looked interesting, and the flow of dishes being passing before me to be set in front of other guests looks appetizing.  Given the accolades the owners were receiving they clearly were.

The restaurant is less than two years old but, to me, clearly here to stay.

See more at

Kings Highway Restaurant
Ace Hotel
701 E Palm Canyon Dr
Palm Springs

This was another surprise in a very different way.

Carey's friend in Winnipeg, who travels to the Palm Springs area on occasion, recommended this restaurant for its great breakfasts.

We decided to find and try it.

The Ace Hotel is not a big property so it did not have the bold facing and private roadway entrances we had come to expect from many of the resorts.

We had to double check if it was the right place since at first we couldn't even figure out the King's Highway restaurant moniker since all Carey got was the Ace Hotel name.

Walking in we almost turned around. What! These floors are not covered and look like they have been that way for decades.

Well, that's because they have.

The Ace Hotel was an old Best Western and the restaurant was an old Denny's.

When the new owners took the property over they decided to keep the look but deliver only fresh quality foods at a fair price.

It will be a excellent place to take your children for the green eggs and ham. or the amazingly large servings of pancakes with a delicate orange flavour built into them.

All the food we had was excellent and would pass on to you, as passed on to us, a worthwhile breakfast visit.

See more at

Fresh Agave Mexican Bar and Grill
73-325 Highway 111
Palm Desert

This is a most difficult review for me.

The restaurant was really busy with loads of servers making sure orders were taken and delivered quickly. From my perspective too quickly as I felt pushed.

But the people patronizing the place suggested quality Mexican cuisine, and other review sites seemed to bear that out when I looked them up later.

I started with a Tortilla soup which truly was excellent. But then I ordered a combination plate. I thought the food was as bland as could be with no hint of spices whatsoever.

There seemed to be no sauces to add on any table. I should have asked for some but was so shocked at the lack of taste I only at about half of the offering.

While I cannot recommend this place, if I were here longer I would do a second try.  I can't believe the numbers of people there and the reviews on the other sites.

Upper Crust Pizza
67-555 Highway 111
Cathedral City

This franchise can be found all over the place but again I wanted a quick evening fill and the idea of a pizza fit my palate.

I had never eaten at a Upper Crust restaurant and knew little about them.

Once seated, do not wait to be served.  You need to walk up to the counter and order from the wall menu or one you go to the counter yourself to pick up.

You will be given a number after you order and the server will drop the food in front of you once it is ready.

You pick up your own beverages from the order counter.

While this does not sound to exciting what is good about the place is the open kitchen where you can see the fresh pizza dough being tossed and turned as well as the rest of the staff behind the counter as they prepare dishes for the clientele.

I have to say I quite enjoyed the pizza and once served was able to appreciate the fact the meals were reasonably priced and all seemed to be a good size and value.

The main franchise website is to find this and other locations

Babes Bar-B-Que
71800 Highway 111
Rancho Mirage

I previously reviewed Babes in a blog last week.

This is a great place for ribs and other pork dishes that are their specialty

It is a busy and noisy environment but definitely kid friendly so an excellent place to take teenagers and younger ones.

They also have a selection of their own beers which were quite tasty.

The Tonga Hut
254 North Canyon Drive
Palm Springs

I referred to this Tiki inspired bar in a previous blog as well.

The servers here are tremendous, knowledgeable about the history and vision of the Tiki concept and make a tremendous mix of drinks.

This is a great place to go for fun and as I said do see the secret room.

But for food I would have to say it just was not the place to eat. However we were told a new menu was on its way and could be in place soon.

The current menu is essentially a mix of appetizers and bar food.  The new menu apparently will be more varied.

There is a new location just opened in Palm Desert, which I believe may also be on Hwy 111.

I have saved this and Le Vallauris to the last, both because I reviewed them in a previous blog, and because we really tried a number of items on the menu and found them all consistently of a very high quality.

The staff at the Kaiser Grille are relaxed and friendly and easy to chat with.

The outdoor patio is on the street but it is at the further end of North Palm Canyon drive and the traffic was not a problem at all, yet the pedestrian traffic was enough to provide a reasonable busy ambiance.

The restaurant was full, yet we received prompt attention with no desire to rush us.

We both had prime rib for our main courses and it was excellent.

 This restaurant could best be described as one of casual luxury.

Le Vallauris
385 W. Tahquitz Canyon Hwy.
Palm Springs

Please look at my previous blog below.

I cannot say enough about this 40 year old icon of a restaurant.

We introduced ourselves to the owners and they really appear to be a class act from beginning to end.  In fact, I made a most interesting observation.

Near the end of the evening they both sat at a table not that far from where Carey and I were dining.

I was able to watch them and their body language.  They clearly enjoyed each others company and at one point actually clinked their wine glasses in a sense of clear satisfaction and friendship.

You just don't see that happen very often and it signaled, for me, something that was the intangible for success in this exceptional restaurant.

Don't miss this place if you are here. It may be on the more expensive side but the ambiance, quality cuisine, and service are all well worth it.

All in all we found the dining in Palm Springs to be really excellent in most places we dined for breakfast lunch or dinner.

I hope I will be back to this area sooner rather than later

posted by That Travel Guy @ 4:21 PM  |  0 Comments

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rising High on the Palm Springs Tram!

As I was reviewing my recent blogs of our Palm Springs experience, I realized I had not posted photos of the great views from our rotating tramway experience.


posted by That Travel Guy @ 8:29 AM  |  0 Comments