Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Two wheel tour of Isla Mujeres, Mexico

When planning my escape to Cancun a day-long detour to a nearby offshore tropical island named Isla Mujeres or “Women’s Island” in Spanish seemed exotic enough and while I failed to return with a female in my carry-on I did enjoy a memorable day on a bike exploring this slender island from north to south.

While lying a scant 8 miles off the Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula Isla Mujeres seems a world away from the country’s mega-tourism capital of Cancun with a far more laid back, low-key lifestyle. The island’s Spanish name was given by 16th century conquistadors due to the many images of the Mayan goddess of childbirth and medicine, Ixchel, a fact I thought of as the Ultramar fast catamaran ferry laboured through some choppy seas to deliver me to the Terminal Marítima at the island’s northern tip.

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Don’t believe the advice from hotel concierges that the best transportation option to the Ultramar ferry terminal at Puerto Juarez is an expensive cab ride when the local bus that runs the length of the resort corridor runs right to the   terminal  USD$1 one-way per person.

While most gringos opt for the ubiquitous golf cart that has become the island’s favored form of transportation I opted to rely on pedal power to wheel me around the barely 4-mile long island. I stopped at a local bike rental shop recommended by the local tourism office and minus USD$12 daily rental fee rode away with a stylish Cape Cod Cruiser sporting under inflated tires but a sturdy frame.

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From the more urban area around the ferry terminal I headed south along the coast and near the airport came upon this sign with a replica whale shark.

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At the southern tip of the island is Punta Sur, an ocean side park sprinkled with modern art.

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On a ledge is a plaque letting visitors know that they are standing at the southernmost spot in all of Mexico.

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The views on three sides of the rough surf pounding against the island are more than worth the small price of admission to the park.

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The skyline of Cancun looms on the horizon.

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Pedaling north from the island’s southern tip takes one along a spectacular stretch of road that skirts the coast for miles.

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The mostly downhill ride from Punta Sur brought me to to the island’s most popular beach, Playa Norte.

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There are a growing number of hotels and resorts in Isla Mujeres and some locals commented that it wasn’t like it used to be however the island still retains that small town atmosphere

Isla Mujeres is a Pueblo Mágico or Magical Village program. a status granted by the Mexican government to 111 towns & villages to recognizes their cultural, historical, and natural interest and beauty and after spending a day cycling around this island soaking up it’s stunning scenery and enjoying its warm & friendly residents the magic of its unique culture was revealed to me and I look forward to my next visit which is hopefully longer.

Resort Review: Secrets The Vine, Cancun

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If it’s true that life’s a beach there could be few worse places to be beached than Secrets the Vine Cancun as this adult-only oasis set on a stunning beach with memorable ocean views from its chic designer guest rooms is a relaxing retreat from the wider world beyond its gates.

Since it’s grand opening in 2012 the 497-room Secrets The Vine Cancun has delivered a wine-focused upscale all-inclusive experience for singles & couples with gourmet  dining and a small but well laid-out resort complex.

I’d confirmed a Deluxe Ocean View room and was assigned #1805 upon check-in, a room with two double beds and a western sunset view over the neighboring Hard Rock Hotel Cancun.

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The room like the entire resort has a very crisp and clean yet warm modern design and a symmetry with two vanities, two beds, two glass enclosed spaces for toilet and shower stall, two closets, two grey wicker chairs on the balcony and matching terracotta tiling on the floor and ceiling in the washroom area that’s between the door to the unit and the bedroom.

The golden brown desk opposite the beds under the wall-mounted flat screen TV has a higher and lower tier with a mini-bar restocked daily under the former with the latter housing a drinks station and Nespresso coffee machine.

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The low-back cappuccino coloured leather chairs completely compliment the room decor but aren’t comfortable for long periods working on a laptop however it’s one of the few things I could find fault with after a week in the room with the other being no light switch in the glass-enclosed toilet as there are three wall-mounted light controls which are between the beds, inside the hallway door and over one vanity.

What really makes the room feel like a tropical bungalow yards from the beach despite being in a high-rise tower is the white wood print ceramic Italian plank tiling that runs throughout the bedroom and balcony.

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The large shower stall features a ceiling-mounted rainfall shower head as well as a wall-mounted shower head with individual controls of each that make for excellent refreshing showers you won’t want to leave. Note that only the Master Suites and Honeymoon Suites at Secrets The Vine Cancun offer a tub as all other room categories feature a shower only.

The sweeping ocean and lagoon views from the large balcony of room 1805 are another room highlight and was a nice place to watch the sunset every evening before heading to dinner.

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Wall-to-wall sliding glass doors open almost the entire width of the room making the balcony feel like an extension of the bedroom instead of a separate space.

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Worth noting is guest rooms on floors 10 – 20 and are serviced by one bank of elevators just off the main lobby while guests who’ve upgraded to the Preferred Club with its added perks and amenities stay in rooms from the 21 – 28 floors. That isn’t to say however that this is a 28-story building as there are no 1 – 10 levels and no 13th floor due to superstitions with that number so in reality more like a 19-story tower. I noted that curious numbering while lazing by the Terrace Pool and noting that the restaurants, spa and fitness facility were only a few floors up from the lobby level yet are on the 12th floor.

As the weather was cool and windy my first few days, I opted for a spot away from the beach at the Terrace Pool to unwind and swim.

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Despite arriving during high season the loungers by the beach and pool weren’t a problem to find later in the morning, a pleasant surprise for those who’ve  stayed elsewhere and had to reserve a spot early in the morning. The resort actually politely reminds guests not to hold loungers for longer than 30 minutes and I found this request was followed.

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Unlike at other luxury all-inclusive resorts Secrets The Vine Cancun doesn’t offer larger two-person day beds even in the Preferred Club but rather individual loungers with thick pads and section sofas. All loungers throughout the resort however do enjoy regular wait service for cocktails or bottles of water.

The beach in front of the resort is golden brown sand that extends out into the water making it good for swimming with good room between the water’s edge and stairs to the Barefoot Pool.

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The Barefoot Pool steps off the beach.

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My sunrise beach walks are always a favorite morning ritual when I’m in the tropics as it’s a serene way to start my day with few people on the beach. One  morning I came upon a pelican pausing from fishing in the shallows to preen.

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Around the resort there are a number of venues off the main lobby including The Vine Bazaar: The Vine Bar with it’s floor-to-ceiling 4,500 bottle wine cellar which is the largest in Mexico. Wine tasting lessons lead by the resort sommolier are  offered daily and is part of the Unlimited Luxury all-inclusive program.

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Champagne tasting is also offered on a regular basis at The Vine Bazaar for a USD $25 per person supplement for five glasses of champagne.

Steps away is The Vine Lounge which offers a casual venue for drinks during the day and hosts live entertainers most evenings.

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The duo “H & C” offered some funky cover versions of well known songs one evening but guests can consult the daily activities guide Sundial left in each room during the turn-down service as there’s a list of the performers in each venue with show times.

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Other lounges and bars to chose from are outdoor Mantees Bar and Sugar Reef steps from the pools and beach, the Red Vine Piano Lounge and Half Time sports bar which was a popular place among the mainly American guests for the NFL and college football games.

The top-shelf spirits served in all the cocktails at all bars and lounges come without plastic straws as the resort chain has joined with others in Riviera Maya and beyond to end the use of these as they do not decompose and harm marine ecosystems including the sea turtle that for are found along the coast.

As enjoyable as the guest rooms and lounges are it’s the dining that helps make Secrets The Vine Cancun memorable as it’s more than just food, it’s cuisine.

If you have a yen for Asian cuisine Dragons is a mix of Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese delicacies and what I liked most was that a diner could mix-and-match Oriental appetizers and entrées and not be limited to only to one regional specialty.

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Sea Salt is steps from the beach with an ocean view and serves a seafood inspired menu al fresco or on a patio outdoors.

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The night of my visit was a Caribbean-themed buffet night but the weather wasn’t cooperating with gusty winds strong enough to blow napkins off the table. Luckily however staff was always nearby to catch whatever fell and with almost as many staff as guests when I dined  the service was impeccable.

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Olio is an outdoor à la carte Mediterranean restaurant open to all guests after 6 PM but reserved for Preferred Club guests during the day.

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Nebbiolo Ristorante is a classic Italian upscale dining restaurant on the 12th floor steps from the Spa, fitness center and Olio. The lasagna I ordered on my arrival night was a little cold and the portion size smaller than expected so wandered down and enjoyed some hearty Mexican food and the Mariachi band performing during Mexican night at the Market Café.


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Being low maintenance and an early riser I skipped room service and usually made my way down to Market Café buffet restaurant shortly after it opened at 7 AM after a refreshing beach walk or early work out.

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For a buffet restaurant the quality was very high and  the champagne chilled for a morning Mimosa or two.

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Next to Nebbiolo on the 12th floor is my favorite restaurant, the Bluewater Grill, which serves amazing steaks and grilled fare that had me making a repeat visit.

As with all restaurants at Secrets The Vine Cancun reservations are not required and no limits on specialty restaurant visits as is the case at some all-inclusive resorts. I found being seated as a solo traveler never an issue and wait times fairly short even at peak times.

Should all these varies dining venues not be enough, guests of Secrets The Vine Cancun may opt to take advantage of the Sip, Savor & See program which allows complimentary dinner and drinks and live evening entertainment at nearby participating resorts from 6 PM to 1 AM. The resort concierge needs to make the arrangements and transportation isn’t included but it’s a yet another option open to guests.

To work out the calories consumed at any of the resort restaurants the well-equipped fitness center is open daily 6 AM – 9 PM with stunning ocean views.

I enjoyed a morning run on the treadmill while watching the sunrise and the pelicans fish offshore.

Secrets The Vine Cancun more than lived up to its accolades as a luxury retreat and I very much enjoyed my week-long holiday from the moment I arrived and the front desk staff greeted me with a “welcome home” to the moment I left for the airport. The superior service, fine dining that’s better than any I’ve had at an all-inclusive resort, and ultra-comfortable  guest rooms make this adult-only a new favorite of mine especially while enduring a snowy Edmonton Winter.

There are panoramic 360-degree view of the rooms, beach, restaurants and public areas here.

Fowl play; robotic birds could make air travel safer at Edmonton International Airport

Edmonton International Airport has many stories to tell but most aren’t readily apparent to the average user boarding aircraft at its gates or awaiting luggage at its carousels. Some are stories about man-made marvels that manage baggage or the million of passengers that pass through its doors every year but this story is about the role nature plays at Canada’s fifth busiest airport.

After it became apparent in 1955 that the propeller age of air travel was passing and that the bigger jet airliners required longer runways than Edmonton’s original city center airfield could accommodate 7,600 acres or rural farmland near Leduc was purchased by Transport Canada for $1,469,000 and plans begun for a new airport which would eventually open 5-years later. By an informal and unwritten “gentleman’s agreement” the original landowners were allowed to lease back and continue to farm unused tracts of land which some still do as Edmonton International Airport remains Canada’s largest airport in area with more than half of its land still under cultivation.

It’s this farmland and natural areas that attracts wildlife including birds which  puts them on a collision course with aircraft creating the potential for a catastrophic air crash.  Edmonton International Airport staff have employed a number of scare tactics to alter birds entry into airport airspace but in 2017 became one of the first airports in the world to add a new and all-natural tool to its arsenal: robotic birds.

 

Aircraft Tour: Lufthansa 747 Jumbo Jet

While U.S.-based  Delta Airlines and United are bidding goodbye to their beloved Boeing 747 “Jumbo Jets” Germany’s Lufthansa is hanging on to their stalwarts of the skies which I walked through on a recent tour at Vancouver International Airport (YVR).

The familiar air frame of the Boeing 747-400 model appeared behind the Plexiglas windows with its distinctive second deck bubble housing a comfortable business class and a far less spacious cockpit I’d soon get to visit.

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Lufthansa staff on hand hinted the 747-400 would be flying the Vancouver – Frankfurt route for the next 1 – 2 years before eventually being replaced either with the newest generation Jumbo Jet, the 747-800, already operating on Frankfurt routes from major U.S. gateways or the Airbus A350 which the airline took delivery of its first aircraft in December 2016 and operates on mainly Asian and Indian routes.

There are the a main deck business class seats at the nose of the aircraft that offer the coveted row 1 with its generous legroom and a quiet location for those wanting some solid sleep on overnight flights.

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The Lufthansa business class seats aren’t quite the personal pods found on many airlines but rather a side-by-side seat that transforms into an almost 2-metre-long, fully flat bed.

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The stairs at back of the main deck business class lead to the exclusive upper deck business class cabin.

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One of the perks of these upper deck seats I’ve always appreciated is a storage space below the window that’s handy for hiding smaller items like books, iPod’s or cameras.

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Lufthansa has ended its trolley food service in business class in favor of a what it calls restaurant service with personal choice ordered from a menu, setting tables with ceramic crockery, and serving meals directly from the galley.

The Premium Economy seats feature up to 50 per cent more space than in economy altogether on all sides, two complimentary checked bags, a dedicated menu and meals served on fine china tableware.

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Premium Economy guests can also access the Lufthansa Business Lounge for a small fee.

Ahead of the upper deck business class cabin is a  space where the pilots operate this Jumbo Jet and I was able to shoehorn myself into this small space for a photo-op.

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Open a 360-degree view of the Lufthansa 747-400 cockpit by clicking the picture below.

There are some cockpit insights from a Lufthansa captain flying the Boeing 747-400 here.

An excellent video walk-through of the Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 cabins is available in the following video which starts on the upper deck and works its way down and through the different classes of service.

The Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 is a familiar friend flying the skies between  Canada and Germany and I want to thank the airline staff who were present to share their insights and lets us walk through an aircraft being groomed during a short 45 minute turn-around at Vancouver International.

Vancouver vistas

For a prairie boy who grew up without proximity to any appreciable bodies of water save for the North Saskatchewan River I’ve found in adult life I’m drawn to the ocean by some invisible force so wasn’t surprised a few spare hours during a recent business trip top Vancouver found me wandering the waterfront  walkways around Canada Place stopping to watch a float plane take off or land at the Coal Harbour with Stanley Park in the background.

 

To Vancouverites these views must be very commonplace and to some degree taken for granted or at least not viewed with quite the same awe as someone from out-of-town but they still are enough to get me to watch all day long were I able.

Everything is relative I suppose as  I remember one Autumn day a few years ago when some young interns from the Hawaiian Tourism Bureau visited Edmonton as a stop one a western Canadian trade show tour and marvelled at the vibrant valley colours which they’d never seen before but to me was just a normal seasonal cycle. Seeing our cityscapes through a visitors eye helps us appreciate how amazing our hometowns really are regardless of whether they are on the coast or inland.

Aircraft tour: Air Canada Boeing 787 “Dreamliner”

I was fortunate to have toured Air Canada’s newest aircraft, the 787 “Dreamliner“, in between flights recently at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and was impressed by the comfort and features of this advanced aircraft.

When the Dreamliner concept was announced in 2003 it was a radical departure both from Boeing’s 747 Jumbo Jet design and rival Airbus A380 “Super Jumbo” as it was a smaller, midsize twinjet aircraft with innovative design elements such as the extensive use of composite materials such as layered carbon fibre in the wings which help deliver a 20% fuel reduction over Boeing older 767 model. A smaller midsize aircraft that would allow airlines to open up point-to-point routes instead of relying on the “hub-and-spoke” model has, it turns out, been proven correct in the last 15 years as the future of the A380 is uncertain according to recent news articles such as this one in Forbes as  demand for really big airplanes plummets.

Incorporated into the pioneering design of the Dreamliner is passenger-friendly features such as larger windows, less cabin pressurization and higher cabin humidity which help reduce the effects of jetlag.

The Air Canada aircraft I toured is a Boeing 787-900 model deliver to the airline in May 2017 and painted in the newest livery with a more black, white and red colour scheme in contrast to the more minty green colour of the Boeing 777 in the background.

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While far from spacious the cockpit of the Dreamliner is by comparison larger than the Boeing 747 cockpit I’ve visited on a few occasions.

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Air Canada has configured the 787 with 247 seats in Economy, 21 in Premium Economy and 30 in International Business Class.

The Executive Pods feature an 18-inch touch-screen, large stowaway tray table, power ports for electronic devices and lie-flat bed that stretches out to 6 feet 7 inches in length.

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Premium Economy is in its own separate cabin behind International Business Class and offering passengers an upgraded flying experience with wider seats by 2 inches,  greater seat pitch (the distance between rows of seats) by 8 inches and an extra 2 inches in seat recline than Economy seats.  Other Premium Economy perks include an 11-inch touchscreen TV, power ports for portable devices in each seat, amenity kits and boarding in Zone 2 ahead Economy passengers. Depending upon airfares at times the upgrade in price to Premium Economy is relatively small making it a great value for the extra in-flight creature comforts.


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Take in the Dreamliner economy cabin in 360 degree view but note it only works in newer browsers such as Google Chrome.

All windows on the Dreamliner are 40% larger than the average aircraft window and don’t have the normal plastic window shades but are instead dimmed electronically using a button below the window.

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One advantage of these high-tech windows is the flight attendants can control the dimming leaving the cabin dark during overnight flights and preventing any  one passenger from affecting others by leaving their window shade up allowing light to flood in.

For those more interested in the engineering of the Dreamliner and other aircraft windows there’s an excellent video by Real Engineering.

Those of us on the tour stepped around groomers who were readying the plane for its next overseas flight and so I stepped out onto the catering truck to snap this picture of the Dreamliner’s “shark fin” tail with the familiar Air Canada red  Rondelle logo.

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The Air Canada sponsored tour of the Dreamliner was very much appreciated as I was able to try out the hard product like seats but also peek into areas normally off limits to the flying public like the cockpit and pilot rest cabin and see this aircraft from many different angles.

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Hotel Review: Fairmont Vancouver Airport

The Fairmont Vancouver Airport offers 386 well appointed and fully soundproofed accommodations spread over 14 floors that is a short walk away from airport gates as it is the only hotel located within Vancouver International Airport. It is also among my most favorite hotels, airport or otherwise, for its exceptional service that perfectly compliments its understated luxury rooms and quality amenities.

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I was reminded of that high level of service upon check-in when the staff member welcomed me back and noted the date of my last visit which had been several years earlier.

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I was assigned room 818, a 400-sq. ft. Fairmont Room with one king bed, an easy chair by the window and a desk with enough plus-ins for a number of devices. The desk proved quite useful in working from a laptop with the complimentary in-room Wi-Fi.

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The room boasts a large bathroom enclosed with two sliding doors, one at the room door with another near the bed and a big vanity with no drawers but enough counter space for toiletries. A wall hook for hanging a toiletries bag would be handy but probably somewhat out of place in a luxury hotel bathroom.

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A deep soaker tub which had to measure seven feet long filled quickly with good water pressure and ample hot water for a soak after a long day of travelling.

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There is also a large shower stall with big rainfall shower head should you not have enough time to linger with a long bath. The Le Labo bath amenities completed the bathroom features.

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There is an in-room safe but it’s mounted on a side wall of the closet and is a wide but shallow shape which may not fit all sizes of laptops.

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Views from the room are over the hotel’s terminal entrance, Canada Line Sky Train metro rail line to the downtown and south runway.

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Rooms on the north side of the Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel offer North Shore Mountain and airport terminal views.

Higher floors house Deluxe and Signature rooms while Fairmont  Gold occupies the 14th and top floor and comes with a host of extra perks such as private lounge with continental breakfast and snacks during the day, free North American calling and a dedicated concierge.

With a soaring wall of window the Jetside Bar offers a scenic space to relax with a cocktail and features live entertainment nightly so it’s common to walk back into the hotel lobby in the evening and hear some the crowd singing along to the performers.

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The Globe @YVR offers a more formal dining option with its signature Pacific Northwest cuisine.

All hotel guests have access to an on-site fitness facility within the Health Club which and also includes a sauna, whirlpool, children’s wading pool and lap pool for swimmers to swim against an adjustable current.

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The Absolute Spa offers over 130 treatments including facials, massage, manicures and pedicures.

There are virtual tours of the hotel rooms and public spaces here and a hotel fact sheet here.

Sadly my stays at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport are all too short and infrequent but when I am able to enjoy its warm hospitality and stare out at the scenic views from its rooms I appreciate every moment. This isn’t just a great airport hotel, this is a great hotel. Period.

A very Vegas wedding

There’s nothing that screams old school Las Vegas like an Elvis wedding chapel wedding ceremony so it was my pleasure to have a front row seat for a friend’s wedding at the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel which bills it self as the largest freestanding chapel on the Las Vegas Strip.

Arriving a little early I watch another happy couple customize their ceremony with the full Elvis add-on although the King isn’t the only themed wedding option as the chapel’s slogan is “if you can dream it, we can theme it!” as everything from Star Trek to Zombie is possible.

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While fun-filled these wedding ceremonies are completely legal as the groom, David, explained about obtaining the marriage licence from the Clark County Marriage Licence Bureau in downtown Las Vegas near Freemont Street as proper identification, a completed application and $77 are the requirements to obtain a wedding licence. Bureau statistics show the number of licences issued has dropped by as much as one third in the last decade but tourism officials hope adding gay marriages and more advertising will help reverse the trend.

David and bride Karen welcome our small group before they were whisked away and guests were  invited into the wedding chapel were we chatted until the 2001: A Space Odyssey Theme Song (Also sprach Zarathustra)   music swelled, lights dimmed and dry ice fog built the excitement which climaxed with the opening of large double doors at the rear of the chapel to reveal the happy couple seated in the back of a pink convertible Cadillac driven by a sequined jumpsuit 70’s Elvis who breaks into That’s All Right. Talk about an entrance!

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After the formal vows were exchanged and Elvis sang “Can’t Help Falling in Love” the 10-minute ceremony ended with fun promises from Elvis song titled and lyrics for David to always love Karen tender and never leave her at Heartbreak Hotel while Karen pledge to never return him to sender and never step on his blue suede shoes followed by the signature Elvis song Viva Las Vegas song.

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The wedding reception was held at another classic Las Vegas venue, the Peppermill Restaurant and Fireside Lounge whose chrome, neon and velour interior is a throwback to 1972 when it opened its doors.

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The Peppermill, which features a sunken fireside lounge, has been used as the setting in a number of movies and TV shows including Casino, CSI Las Vegas and Showgirls.

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The night ended with a few cocktails and wishes for a long and happy marriage for David & Karen and thanks for having included guests in their fun-filled ceremony which was the highlight of my Vegas trip.

Flight review: Air Canada Rouge Boeing 767

Thanks to an Air Canada travel credit earned by accepting a voluntary bump I was able to parlay part of it into a  quick trip to Las Vegas for a friend’s wedding and made my virgin voyage on Air Canada Rouge, a charter airline-like subsidiary Air Canada launched on Canada Day 2013, whom I’d heard much feedback about with very little of it being complimentary. Happily for me however my luck in picking seats on Rouge was far better than my luck at picking numbers at the roulette table and so came away with a more positive impression of the airline-within-an-airline.

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When describing Rouge to others I’m always careful not to use the term ‘low cost airline’ because it really is only low cost to Air Canada as it operates without unionized flight crew enabling it to better compete with real ‘no frills’ and charter airlines on mainly leisure routes. Passengers flying on Rouge will notice some big differences compared to mainline Air Canada aircraft such as no seat back in-flight entertainment screens (iPads can be rented for $10 but availability is limited), older aircraft and at 30 inches a much tighter seat pitch by 3 – 4 inches.

It was because of the compressed economy seats that I opted to spend $30 to assign a roomier Rouge Plus  Preferred Seat on the Boeing 767 for the Vancouver – Las Vegas flight but  this investment is well worth it as these seats at the front of the economy cabin deliver an extra 5 inches of legroom as well as boarding in zone 3 ahead of other economy passengers. This is window seat 14A on the Boeing 767 which features two seats on either side of a center section of three seats.

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Note the green light of the shared power port between the seats.

For my return flight I opted for the Rouge Plus bulkhead window seat 12A which offers as much legroom as the other Preferred seats however the seat itself is a little narrower because the tray table is tucked away in the armrest.

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I purchased my Rouge Plus seat assignment months in advance on the outbound flight but it was only while in Vegas that I opted to upgrade my seat on the return flight for the following day being unable to convince myself to try Rouge economy seats in the name of travel research and I was lucky the upgraded seats were still available for purchase as they can fill up well in advance. I would definitely recommend securing these seats on longer overseas flights as while I would’ve survived a 2.5 hour Vancouver – Las Vegas Rouge economy flight am less sure how I’d fare on a 7+ hour journey in a tight Rouge economy seat.

The Rouge stewards  – all trained by Disney and sporting hip Canadian-made uniforms – were universally polite in making the rounds with food & beverage service. The Air Canada Bistro menu offers a selection of hot foods and snack items but having had an early morning big breakfast at an Edmonton Airport eatery opted for the bag of cashews and a large 475 ml can of Mill Street Organic Beer which at $9.50 for the combo didn’t strike me as overly expensive compared to airport pricing or even pricing around Edmonton.

I’ve always preferred a window seat for the views and enjoyed watching the lush greenery of the Pacific Northwest give way to the arid brown landscape of the Nevada desert.

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The pilot and first officer on the Vancouver – Las Vegas flight was all female which was another travel first for me.

While my preference would’ve been to fly non-stop from Edmonton – Las Vegas instead of connecting through Vancouver my first experience flying Air Canada Rouge was far from horrible as the flight was on time, the in-flight service efficient and the Rouge Plus seats comfortable so there was little for me to dislike. Whether I’d fly on Rouge again would depend on a number of factors including cost, destination, alternate airline options and availability of Rouge Plus seats but wouldn’t rule out a future flight.

Hotel review: Four Points by Sheraton Las Vegas East Flamingo

Hotel loyalty programs can be a safety net for those rare times when it makes sense to spend your hard-earned  points to avoid having to pay out of pocket for a hotel stay and a recent two-night escape to Las Vegas was one such case as I was able to avoid a hefty hotel bill by blowing some banked Starwood Preferred Guest points for the Four Points by Sheraton Las Vegas East Flamingo, a moderate hotel off Las Vegas Boulevard aka “The Strip”.

Scanning the online reviews in the months leading up to my stay had me a little concerned as the picture many  painted was of, well, a dump in an unsafe neighborhood but happily can report those reviewers were a long Vegas block off the mark as the 129- room hotel deserves to be seen for what it is rather than what it isn’t. Yes, this hotel is a mile off the strip and yes, it’s an older, moderate hotel and yes, I did notice some transients nearby but if that’s all that makes some people consider an area unsafe the same could be said for many, many urban hotels throughout the U.S. and Canada. The walk from the hotel to The Strip on a warm October Saturday afternoon was a casual 25-minutes but guests not feel like walking there’s always Uber which arrives quickly and costs around $6 for a one-way ride so it isn’t so isolated a location as to be even a small problem.

My “Traditional Room” #343 overlooks the small pool and whirlpool and features a king bed, flat screen TV with DirectTV instead of cable, laptop-friendly safe in the closet and a white noise generating machine in the form of an old AC unit below the window.

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One small upside to the noisy AC unit that runs constantly is that it helps block out the road noise from the busy East Flamingo Road that is a few hundred feet from the hotel.

Despite the warm weather there wasn’t a single swimmer in sight on the pool deck.

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The room was comfortable and the typical chain hotel furniture however lacked a mini-fridge which given how hot Vegas can become in Summer seems an odd omission however there is free bottled water in every room.

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The bathroom was a pleasant surprise and easily the best thing about the room as gone is the dinky short and shallow tub & shower combination found in almost every chain hotel room to be replaced with a large shower stall which I very much prefer.

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Water pressure and availability of hot waster is good and despite the standard shower head I enjoyed having enough elbow room to enjoy a refreshing shower without stepping into a small tub and having the shower curtain clinging to me. Mounted to the wall was a user-friendly rack with hair and body wash products in easy to use dispensers.

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Buffet breakfast is served in PJ’s Bar and Grill from 6:30 – 10AM weekdays and 6:30 – 11AM on weekends. The breakfast is pretty standard fare with hot sausages, scrambled eggs, choice of cereals, bread and pastries, coffee, tea & juice was augmented by a waffle maker for those intrepid morning diners.

photo by author

As I was staying on a hotel loyalty award assumed that  breakfast was included in the room rate however after I was already half way through my meal found out it wasn’t after giving the waiter my room number. After a moment checking with the front desk manager the waiter said they would comp. me the breakfast that morning, a generous goodwill gesture I very much appreciated.

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To one side of the restaurant area is Best Brews, a small lobby bar meant to highlight the many local breweries best beers however I discovered only one local beer on tap, an excellent Porter style dark beer from Henderson, Nevada’s Joseph James Brewing Company.  The large pillar in the middle of the bar is an odd design feature but it’s a comfy enough space to down a point or two while winding down watching some sports on the big screens after a long day in Vegas.

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The hotel has a sort of modern Rec. room décor with leather chairs on the guest room floors and in the lobby.

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 photo by hotel

The lobby features two PC’s for guest use for online airline check in or checking emails but having a laptop I connected to the in-room Wi-Fi to check-in for my Air Canada flight home and select a seat. Just to one side of the front desk is “The Pantry” with sodas and snack food but beware the cost of convenience as a can of Coke and small bag of chips cost $6 much to my dismay which is easily double what the pair would cost off-site.

As I had a very limited amount of free time during my two-night stay I didn’t use the hotel’s fitness facility which features a pair of treadmills, elliptical and stationary bike along with free weights and yoga mats.

The hotel staff helped make my stay a little warmer with a really positive attitude and friendly approachability.

For a moderate hotel that really didn’t stand out as being outstanding in any one area, the Four Points by Sheraton East Flamingo did enough of the little things right and delivered a comfortable enough stay that I would return but probably only under the right set of conditions where it was enough of a value compared to more luxurious accommodation on The Strip.

One of those conditions changed after I confirmed my Starwood Preferred Guest, or SPG for short, hotel loyalty program award stay and this Four Points became less of a value as it had been classed as a category 2 hotel for award redemption requiring only 3,000 points per night for a standard room but has been upgraded to a category 3 hotel which now requires a minimum of 7,000 points per night for a standard room award stay. As with many things in Las Vegas good timing never hurts and in that respect my SPG award redemption timing was in hindsight excellent because I might not chose to spend coveted SPG points if paying out of pocket to stay elsewhere becomes a better bet.

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