My Guide to Budapest, Hungary

Visiting Hungary for the first time was another dream fulfilled for me. I’ve been wanting to visit Hungary since I was quite young as that where my grandparents on my Mother’s side are originally from. They fled the country in 1956 to Switzerland where my Aunt and Mother were born before coming to Canada in 1960. I really had no expectations, other than to wander the sights of Budapest, see and experience the city where my Grandmother (Nagymama) once lived, eat some amazing cakes, enjoy some much needed Hungarian comfort food and visit a few quaint wineries. 

Budapest stole my heart. It’s actually now one of my top favourite places I’ve visited. It’s no wonder that this city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I honestly believe that Budapest is the most beautiful city I’ve seen at night. Definitely make sure that you wander the Danube River’s edge from the “Pest” side looking over to the “Buda” side of the river, also don’t miss taking a cruise along the Danube River at night, it’s a magical experience.

Arriving into Budapest

When I arrived into Budapest at Ferenc Liszt Airport, there were a couple planes that had arrived at the same time, so getting through customs took a little longer than expected as they didn’t have many passport control officers working. Once through EU customs, I picked up my bags and headed out and looked for my name on a sign for my private transfer. I chose to book a private transfer instead of dealing with a taxi this trip for ease, and it was much appreciated after the very long travel day I had (never take the cheapest option with three layovers, it’s not worth losing your sanity haha). The driver I had was very nice and before you knew it I was at my hotel for this visit, The Continental Hotel Budapest. 

Where to Stay

The Continental Hotel Budapest (mid range/luxury accommodations) – I chose The Continental Hotel Budapest for my trip due to it’s location within the Jewish Quarter and a rooftop pool with a stunning view over the city. The top floor also has an amazing wellness area which includes an indoor pool, hot tub, saunas and steam rooms. The building that the hotel is located in was originally a bath (Hungaria Furdo), which the moment you step into the lobby, the architecture shows a glimpse into the hotel’s past as a bathhouse. It’s a medium size hotel with 272 rooms. When I arrived, my room wasn’t quite ready, so I left my luggage with the concierge, went out and walked a couple blocks to the New York Cafe and caught the hop on hop off from there. Some room rates do include breakfast, which is a great buffet spread with multiple hot and cold options.

Hilton Budapest (luxury accommodations) – The next time I visit Budapest, this is a strong contender for the next hotel I stay at. It’s perched on the Buda Hill, located beside the Matthias Church, near the stunning Fisherman’s Bastion. The views from some of these hotel rooms overlooks the beautiful Danube River with the Parliament across the river, a stunning view at night. This hotel is also built into the remnants of an 13th century monastery (very neat views from a courtyard from inside the hotel) and boasts Faust Wine Cellar located in the ruins of the monastery, truly a hidden gem!

Corinthia Hotel Budapest (luxury accommodations) – Formerly known as the “Grand Royal Hotel”, the five star rated Corinthia Hotel Budapest is one of the landmark historical hotels, with a gorgeous spa area (Royal Spa) and indoor pool. The lobby is stunning and opulent.

Boat Hotel Fortuna (basic/mid range accommodations) – For something a little different, you can book a stay on a former river boat. Accommodations are quite basic, however you can’t beat the location, floating on the Danube River. It’s located very near to Margitszigeti (Margaret Island), past the Parliament Building on the Pest side.

Four Seasons Gresham Palace Hotel (luxury accommodations) – Another strong contender for the next time I visit Budapest. This hotel was once a palace and had amazing views of the “Chain Bridge”, Buda Castle and the Danube River. Hotel rooms are impeccably designed and of course with the advantage of the amazing service that the Four Seasons brand brings. This was one of the most stunning lobbies I’ve seen, the chandelier is incredible. One of my favourite restaurants is also located at this hotel, Kollazs (see my review in “where to eat” below). Other amenities at this hotel include an indoor infinity edge pool on the top floor, state of the art gym, sauna and relaxation area. It’s located at the start of the pedestrian area in front of the St. Stephen’s Basilica, which is lined with great shops and restaurants, perfect for an evening stroll and take in the romantic beauty that this city offers.

Sofitel Budapest Chain Bridge (mid range/luxury accommodations) – I sell this hotel quite a bit to clients looking for a great middle ground hotel between ultra luxury and mid range. With unobstructed views of Buda Castle, the Danube River and Chain Bridge, splurge for a “room with a view” here and you won’t be disappointed.

The Ritz Carleton Budapest (luxury accommodations) – Located in the historical centre on the Pest side, The Ritz Carleton Budapest is another amazing ultra luxurious option in Budapest. Rooms are traditional with a modern, contemporary flair, along with the impeccable service that Ritz Carleton in known for. A few blocks away from the Danube River, Gerbeaud Cuzraszda (Cafe) and the St. Stephen’s Basilica. 

Aria Hotel Budapest by Library Hotel Collection (luxury accommodations) – Gorgeous rooftop patio area, the High Note Roof Bar is something to check out even if you don’t stay here, I had a wonderful cocktail up here at sunset with a stunning view. Located right near the St. Stephen’s Basilica and the pedestrianized area. Great amenities when staying at this property which include a complementary breakfast, afternoon wine and cheese, pool, fitness centre, steam bath, sauna and whirlpool.

Getting Around Budapest

Getting around Budapest is so easy. It’s such a walkable city and the transit systems here are great and efficient. If you’re here for multiple days like I was you’ve got a few options. You can buy a transit pass, which is great value, just be sure to validate your ticket (stamp your tickets in one of the machines when you start using it or you can be subjected to some pretty hefty fines, the transit police do watch tourists carefully here, so please be aware of this, I came across so many complaints online). Click here to visit a blog I used when planning my trip, it explains the transit system in Budapest so well.

I used the metro (the underground subway system) a few times myself, so easy to get to places like the Szechenyi Baths, Szell Kalman (station on the Buda side, transfer here to a “Castle Bus” which will take you up the hill into the Buda Castle area). An interesting fact about the iconic “Line 1”, it was completed in 1896, which makes it the oldest electrified underground railway system in continental Europe.

Another favourite way to see Budapest is also a hop on hop off bus. I did a 48 hour hop on hop off with two river cruises included (a day cruise and a night cruise). Honestly, you need to cruise the Danube River at night, so whether you do it by a river cruise ship that you are taking from Budapest or by a tour boat, it’s a must see. As I mentioned before, Budapest is probably the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen at night.

Taxis aren’t highly recommended, I’ve heard plenty of scams and tourists being ripped off, so I just avoided them. I arranged a private transfer from the airport to my hotel, which I love doing after a long flight.

Where to Eat in Budapest

Hungarian food is the ultimate comfort food. From Langos (a fried dough served with sour cream and cheese), Chicken Paprikash, Goulash to some of the most amazing cakes and pastries you’ve ever had. Here are some of the restaurants I’ve personally tried. These places to eat are in no particular order, I’ve linked the websites if they have one.

Vintage Garden – One of the most prettiest cafes I’ve seen in a long time. I found this cafe on Instagram (no surprise here), and fell in love. In person, it didn’t disappoint. This place will get busy, especially for brunch. Make a reservation or go right when it opens to make sure you get a table. The menu is very reasonable for the setting, I had the french toast, a coffee melange and a glass of sparkling Hungaria Rose. 

Nagycsarnok (Great Market Hall) – The Great Market Hall is one of the historical markets in central Budapest. Located on the Pest side of the Danube River, it was first built in 1897. It’s honestly a great place to grab some lunch (grab a Langos from upstairs at the last food stall on the west side) and buy some souvenirs, locally made goods and wines. I did a bit of shopping here on the first day I arrived, it’s a great place to explore.

Ruszwurm Cukraszda – Located in the historic Buda Castle area and near the Matthias Church, I highly recommend this historic Cukraszda (Bakery/Cafe), especially on a beautiful day in the summer. It’s a very popular spot with limited seating, but it’s well worth the wait for some of the best cakes and baked treats you will ever have. Ruszwurm Cukraszda was founded in 1827 and a favourite of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria (known to the locals as Sissi). She actually took baked goods from this bakery to her home in Vienna when she was leaving Budapest and would even have items shipped to her, this is actually the rumoured start of the traditional Dobos Torta, a cake with a caramel “crust” on top to preserve the freshness of the cake. I tried and loved the Dobos Torta, the Ruzswurm Kremes (Cream Cake) and a Rose froccs (rose wine with sparking water). I came here a couple times during my stay as the prices were so reasonable and the cakes were so delicious.

Terv Presszo – Located about a block from the main pedestrianized streets near St. Stephen’s Basilica, Terv Presszo is a great mid range option for a home cooked Hungarian meal. I had the Chicken Paprikas here with Nokedli (a Hungarian Dumpling) and it was really good, paired with a glass of local Rose wine. The atmosphere is quite funky but speaks to the experience. All the dishes are quite generous in regards to portion size, the desserts are massive! Highly recommend this place as I visited here with a friend from Budapest.

Gelarto Rosa – Again, found this gem on Instagram and so glad I did. They do many different flavours of gelato and even have some pretty interesting flavours including vegan ones. The best part, they form your ice cream cone into a rose by forming petals. You can build in a few different flavours and it’s amazing gelato! Located right near the St. Stephen’s Basilica, it’s a must try. Be prepared that in the summer the lines can get long and make sure you have cash (Hungarian Forint). 

Kek Rozsa Etterem (Blue Rose Restaurant) – A very “local” and simple restaurant located in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest. I had the Beef Goulash with herb potatoes with a local red wine from Villanyi. Good meal for the price, portions again are quite substantial.

Cat Cafe – Pay a set fee, enjoy cake, a drink and socialize with some cute cats.

DiVino Borbar – Wine bar near St. Stephen’s Basilica with a great location with seating in the square. More than 140 wines served with a great selection of wines from local wineries, including a selection of wines from local vintners who are under the age of 35.

Gerbeaud Cuzraszda (Cafe) – Founded in 1858, this is a must. I have a personal connection to this cafe as I have family members who have served at this Budapest staple. Try the Gerbeaud Cake (Zserbo Szelet) a layered cake with apricot jam, walnuts and chocolate. Also try the Gerbeaud Coffee (black coffee with apricot sauce, apricot liqueur, hot chocolate, vanilla foam and walnut linzer sprinkles) or the Sissi Coffee (black coffee, Grand Marnier liqueur, cinnamon, clove, cardamon, honey and whipped cream).

Kollazs – Located in the Four Seasons Gresham Palace Hotel, this stunning restaurant and bar is a must visit when you’re visiting Budapest. Atmosphere is a nod to the traditional but the comfort, coziness and glamour of an upscale brasserie. Menu here is Hungarian and French, with food looking like art (and tastes amazing) but affordable. Bar favourites was the “Hendrick’s and Me” cocktail, with notes of rose, aloe vera, bergamot and elderflower. For lunch they do have a 3 course meal for 3800 HUF (about $16 CAD per person) or a 4 course option for 4300 HUF (about $19 CAD per person). I highly recommend the Chicken Paprikash! Dinner menu is just as decadent (came here twice in my 5 days in Budapest), I had the Foie Gras Terrine to start and the Beef Bourguignon. All the desserts are amazing, so be sure to save room for dessert here, you won’t regret it!

Tigris – Located a block from the Four Seasons Gresham Palace Hotel, this restaurant is listed in the prestigious Michelin Guide and it didn’t disappoint. By far the best meal I had in Budapest, I went here for my “birthday dinner”. The Foie Gras Specialities menu was both delightful and exciting to the palate, along with my main course of Duck Breast with Sweet Potato, Mangalica Bacon and Brussels Sprouts with Paprika. The Dobos Torta was also lovely and the local wines the sommelier recommended were on point. They offer a 5+1 course meal as well, which looked amazing, something I’ll try next time!

Faust Wine Cellar – Located within the cave ruins of the monastery beneath the Hilton Budapest, this is a stunning and intimate restaurant. Try local wines from Hungary along with Palinka tastings (a traditional fruit brandy) paired with an incredible meal.

Barack & Szilva – A very cute bistro owned by a husband and wife, serving traditional Hungarian food. This was located about a block from the Continental Hotel Budapest, and came highly recommended by a foodie friend. The “Chef’s Offer” is an amazing dinner options for the price which includes local wine pairings from 14,600 HUF (about $64 CAD per person). A great restaurant, I’ll definitely be back to this one, it’s a favourite for sure! They even have a patio which is great for the summer evenings.

Szimpla Kert – Even if you don’t drink, Szimpla Kert is an experience. I went on my own to check it out during an afternoon and it’s very different. This is one of the first “ruin bars” to pop up in Budapest. It’s definitely an experience, very eclectic and funky vibes are felt throughout the old warehouse-turned-bar/club. 

Karavan – A few doors down from Szimpla Kert, located inside the remnants of a bombed out warehouse sits a collection of food trucks serving up all types of cuisine. Open from 11:30am onwards (feeding those on a hunt for late night munchies after a visit to Szimpla, etc). It’s a cute concept and did grab a Langos from one of the trucks here.

Things to Do and See in Budapest

There are honestly so many things to do and see in Budapest (and surrounding areas), I was here for five full days/six nights and was unable to do everything I wanted. I’ve highlighted some of the most popular things to do and see and linked some of my favourite tours.

Hungarian Baths in Budapest

Budapest is fairly unique in regards to being one of the very few cities in the world that is rich with thermal waters. It’s obviously known as the “city of spas” and the level of baths are both beautiful and impressive. Here is my guide to the five most popular baths in Budapest:

Szechenyi Thermal Baths – Located in the City Park in Budapest (on the Pest side, at the end of Andrassy Avenue), this bath was opened in 1913 and is a stunning complex. They’ve kept it up in pretty good condition considering the age and the usage levels. Most people think the baths open at 9am, however they do actually open at 6am. I was there at opening (6am) and pretty well had all the pools to myself. Once 9:30am/10am hit, it definitely got more busy with all the tourists pouring in. I paid for a ticket that included a locker, you can also pay an upgrade and use a “cabin” (a lockable, private change room). Make sure you bring sandals/flip flops (these are mandatory in most baths you’ll visit in Hungary) and a towel (you can rent towels, I just brought my travel towel, some hotels will actually provide you with “bath” towels to take as well). This place can be like a maze, so take a map when buying your ticket (tip: take a photo of it on your phone, so you don’t have to walk around with a soggy map). Szechenyi Baths is the largest thermal bath complex in Budapest, it has 3 outdoor pools (the lap pool you do need to wear a bathing/swim cap, again something that is a necessity when visiting the baths, the hot pools didn’t require them) and 15 indoor pools with various saunas and steam rooms, some with aromatherapy. They also have a cafe onsite which also serves alcohol. You can also upgrade your visit and include a massage treatment as well. A fun, unique experience which they also offer here is the Beer Spa, yes, a Beer Spa. I spent the morning here until around 11:00am, trying all the different pools (there is a sulphur element in some of them) but I can honestly say I slept so well the night after visiting and my skin was so soft. This is a strong favourite and can’t wait until I return!

Kiraly Thermal Baths – Besides the fact that my family shares this as their last name, Kiraly (meaning “King”), this Thermal Bath is a small Turkish bath that were built in 1565. Whilst being one of the smaller Thermal Baths in Budapest, this place is a gem. It has a total of 4 pools ranging in temperatures from 26C to 40C. The lighting in the main bath is almost cathedral like with the coloured block glass in the dome letting light filter through. Definitely a Thermal Bath to check out. 

Rudas Thermal Baths – The Rudas Thermal Baths are located on the Buda side under the Citadel, along the banks of the Danube River. Also built in the 16th century during the Turkish occupation, the traditional pool is still operational but it does operate as a gender specific bath on certain days (The vapor bath section is open each day from 6am until 8pm, on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday gentlemen are welcome, and on Tuesdays ladies can enjoy the vapor bath; on Saturday and Sunday groups are welcome, during which time bathing suits are compulsory). Double check these days and times by calling the Bath directly. A very unique aspect to this bath is the rooftop bath with unobstructed views of the Danube River.

Gellert Thermal Baths – Part of the Gellert Hotel on the Buda side, Gellert Thermal Baths opened in 1918 and has 5 indoor thermal baths, 1 indoor pool with an Art Nouveau Hall, a few outdoor pools including a wave pool in the summer months and a few more thermal baths. Again, make sure you bring your towel, sandals and swimming cap, these are definitely essentials when visiting the Thermal Baths in Budapest.

Palatinus Thermal Baths – Located on Margit-sziget (Margaret Island), within the park, it’s a beautiful setting. These were actually the first Thermal Baths in Budapest where you could bathe outdoors. These baths have 10 different pools including  giant slides and a wave pool in the summer. Great place for families visiting Budapest as Margit-sziget (Margaret Island) is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. Take a bike ride around the island from one of the bike rental stands and enjoy the beautiful gardens as you enjoy this oasis in the center of Budapest.

Castle District (Buda)

A beautiful district on the Buda side (West side) of the Danube River which includes Buda Hill and where the Buda Castle is located. There are a few ways to get to the top. If you start at the Chain Bridge, you will see a funicular that can take you to the top, the lines during the summer can be quite long and the ride up isn’t cheap. If you walk along the road (Lanchid Road) to the Castle Gardens, you’ll find a free escalator that will take you up to a quieter area of Buda Castle. The other option is to take a left at the funicular and walk up Hunyadi Janos Avenue up to Fisherman’s Bastion then walk over to the Castle from there. You can also take the metro to Szell Kalman, station on the Buda side, transfer here to a “Castle Bus” which will take you up the hill into the Buda Castle area.

The Buda Castle District is so beautiful and really a great place to wander. I actually did an Urban Adventures tour called the “Total Budapest Discovery Tour” which is a blend of their “Buda Castle Explorer” and a local tour on the Pest side in the afternoon ending at a Cuzraszda for coffee and cake.

The Royal Palace (Buda Castle) is now the Hungarian National Gallery, I was able to explore the outside of Buda Castle, however did not have time this last trip to explore the inside of the now gallery.

Exploring Pest

Head over to Pest from Buda using the popular Szechenyi “Chain” Bridge, then take a stroll up the Danube River bank to the Parliament building. Along the way, pay your respects at the memorial called “Shoes on the Danube Bank”. In World War II, 3,500 people, including 800 Jewish people were lined up along the banks of the Danube River at this spot, ordered to take off their shoes, then were unfortunately shot into the river. It’s a very powerful, sculptural memorial. 

Once at the Parliament if you do decide to go in Hungary’s largest building built in 1902, don’t miss taking a peek at the Crown of St. Stephen. Once you’ve had a history lesson there, go back to the center of Pest and explore the St. Stephen’s Basilica. The Basilica was completed in 1905, the views from the top of the dome are stunning and can be reached there by a lift and stairs, which offers an amazing view of the city.

There are other points of interest such as the Great Synagogue (which is the largest Synagogue outside of New York City), House of Terror (my Grandfather was unfortunately interrogated in this building), the Budapest Opera House, Heroes Square and City Park.

What ever you choose to do in Budapest, there are so many interesting things to do and see, even if it’s just to sit outside, order a coffee or a glass of wine with a cake at a Cukraszda and watch the world go by.

Wine Regions Near Budapest

Budapest has some amazing wine regions located very close by which can make great half day or full day trips outside the city. I did an afternoon tour to Etyek, about a 45 minute drive outside the city and visited three unique wineries. Etyek is a climate where white and rose wines thrive. The vineyards in the Etyek-Buda region are graced with rolling hills layered with natural limestone and rich soils. Long ago, a family from the Champagne region of France settled here because the Etyek-Buda area closely resembled “home”. After the Turks were expelled in the 18th century, German wine growers were also invited to settle in this area which makes for a vibrant and eclectic history of the wineries. There were at one point over 1000 wineries in the Etkey-Buda region alone, now there are approximately 125 wineries operating, some of which are run by vintners under the age of 35.

I honestly LOVED visiting Budapest. I hope you found this guide to be helpful with some useful recommendations. If you’re looking for help planning your next vacation to Budapest, I’d love to help you out and be your personal travel advisor. Please click here to connect with me.

If you have any other questions about Budapest, please don’t hesitate to contact me or connect with me on Instagram.

Until next time! Safe travels friends xoxo

Ariane

Cruising 101: Planning the Perfect Cruise

As a travel advisor who specializes in cruises I get asked so many questions in regards to planning for and booking the perfect cruise for my clients. So I thought I would chat about some of what I go through with my clients to help best pick a cruise that fits them and what preparing for a cruise looks like. Whether you are looking at an ocean or river cruise, to planning which destination and cruise line is best for you and your budget, I’m going to cover it all, including some of my tips and tricks when it comes to planning your cruise.

Why I love to cruise

Cruising is honestly one of my personal favourite ways to travel. It makes travel so stress free and relaxing. I get to arrive onto a ship (or floating hotel), unpack once and wake up in a new destination pretty well everyday. Cruising also offers a great way to “test” out destinations, to see where you would love to travel back to and spend more time. It can also give you the opportunity to visit places that you might not have thought to otherwise (example: St. Petersburg, Russia can be harder to visit due to visas to Russia, etc, cruising can make visiting places like Russia easier). Sea days are a nice relaxing break, sometimes the ships can be destinations on their own with plenty to do and see onboard.

Planning your cruise

First step is to contact someone who is a specialist when it comes to cruises. Certain travel advisors have access to offers or onboard extras that you might not as a consumer. Myself, I hold specialist certifications with all the major cruise lines, I’m a travel advisor member of Virtuoso, an exclusive membership for travel advisors and have personal relationships with many within the cruise industry. I offer my clients exclusive benefits when they book their cruise with me, so if you’d like to have a chat about your own cruise, please contact me. I’d love to personally have a chat about cruising and help you find the perfect cruise for you.

Picking a cruise

There are many factors to think of when it comes to picking which cruise would be best for you. Here are some of the topics I bring up with my clients when helping them select a cruise:

Destination/Itinerary – This is actually one of the main things I personally consider when planning a cruise. Cruises are now available to all seven continents, so there is an itinerary for everyone. Things to consider with destinations are what time of year is best to visit, if there is a shoulder season, and the length of time you’re in each port (some cruise lines offer overnights in certain ports, or even longer days to spend time to visit nearby cities). What is the weather like? For instance, cruising the Mediterranean in the Winter months, if that’s when you have vacation time is not really an option, however cruises to South America, Tahiti, Australia, Caribbean, etc are in season during that time. Other things I look for is unique destinations when cruising. We are seeing the return of Turkey to cruise itineraries and new and unique cruises such as the Black Sea, cruises from Africa to Australia and more options to Antartica. 

Choosing which cruise line is best for you – There is definitely a cruise line for everyone. I have my personal favourites based on my personal experiences with certain companies in the past. It really depends on what you are looking for and what your budget is. There are also other factors to select a cruise line such as if an “adults only” cruise is important to you, if so you might want to look at Viking Cruises or Virgin Voyages. Is food your thing? You might want to try Oceania, Crystal, Windstar or Seabourn. Are you looking for something family friendly? Norwegian Cruise Line or Royal Caribbean might be good options for you. Are you looking for a cruise line that has a solid reputation for certain itineraries? Holland America is amazing for Alaska, Azamara has unique AzAmazing events, Paul Gauguin does amazing itineraries of Tahiti and the South Pacific and Silversea offers weekends with special access to the Monaco Grand Prix. Are you wanting a small ship experience? Windstar, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, Silversea, Oceania, Seabourn, Paul Gauguin and Ponant might be great options. Many of these brands have great onboard amenities, but it truly is based on what is important to you and what you’re looking to get out of your cruise. 

Here is my breakdown of cruise lines with my own star rating. These ratings are my own opinion and is based on my own personal experiences in regards to food, customer service, inclusions, value for money, etc:

Three Stars and Under:

  • Carnival (Ocean)
  • Costa (Ocean)
  • P & O Cruises (Ocean)
  • Royal Caribbean (Ocean)
  • Princess Cruises (Ocean)
  • Celestyal Cruises (Ocean)
  • MSC Cruises (Ocean)
  • Viking (River)

Four Stars:

  • Norwegian Cruise Line (Ocean)
  • Holland America (Ocean)
  • Celebrity (Ocean)
  • Disney Cruise Line (Ocean)
  • Cunard (Ocean)
  • Virgin Voyages (Ocean)
  • Emerald Waterways (River)
  • Avalon Waterways (River)
  • AMAWaterways (River)

Five Stars:

  • Azamara (Ocean)
  • Viking (Ocean)
  • Oceania Cruises (Ocean)
  • Windstar Cruises (Ocean)
  • Paul Gauguin (Ocean)
  • Silversea (Ocean)
  • Crystal Cruises (Ocean, Yacht and River)
  • Seabourn (Ocean)
  • Ponant (Ocean)
  • Regent Seven Seas (Ocean)
  • Scenic (River and Yacht)
  • UniWorld (River)

Expedition:

  • Hurtigruten
  • Quark Expeditions
  • G Adventures
  • Intrepid Travel

Selecting the right cabin type – Yes, interior cabins are the cheapest, but there are some things to consider when looking at selecting the right cabin type for you. I personally love cruising in a Balcony. I can open the window and enjoy fresh air, while interior and ocean view cabins rely on circulated air. Yes, if you’re hardly in the room an interior room can be a good economical option if you’re looking to just use your room to sleep, change and shower. I have cruised in an inside cabin before, and relied on my “Aroma Roam” from Saje (a travel diffuser), to make sure that I had fresh air with the Immune oil. If you’re looking for more room a suite can offer extra perks and more space. I would suggest picking your cabin based on your itinerary. For example, a balcony whilst cruising the Mediterranean, Tahiti or Alaska is amazing to have as you do get quite a bit of use out of it, it’s nice to have that private viewing space. When working with your travel agent, make sure any of your needs are covered such as if you’re a family getting a proper family room, if you have accessibility needs, making sure you’re in a correct accessible cabin, etc. Is your cabin below the gym or a kitchen? Are you aware of what a “guarantee” is? These are some of the things I go through with my clients to make sure we are selecting the best cabin for them and that there are no surprises. On river cruise ships, are you okay with “Swan View”, or the lower level on the ship. Some people don’t like the idea of sleeping below the waterline. Using a travel professional to help you select the best cabin style for you is key to your enjoyment of your cruise.

Loyalty to a cruise line – If you are loyal to a brand, you are typically rewarded with offers and gifts as you increase in loyalty levels. Things to keep in mind is that sometimes it is worth moving up and graduating to a new cruise line as “free laundry” and “bottled water” can already be an inclusion on another cruise line and not just a loyalty perk. If you’re a cruise away from your free one, then by all means, but really look at what your cruise loyalty gets you.

Shore Excursions – When it comes to shore excursions, really do your research on the ports you are visiting before selecting which tours you are going to do, if any. Depending on the cruise line you booked with, ocean cruise shore excursions might already be included (another reason that sometimes booking a more all inclusive style cruise can be a better option). Typically with river cruises most of you basic excursions are already included, you just have to pay for additional or upgraded experiences. Keep in mind, for most main line ocean cruise lines shore excursions are not included. So back to selecting shore excursions, going through the ship can be easy options for many people, they offer a guarantee that the ship will wait for you or the cruise line is responsible for you. They usually offer a money back guarantee as well to make sure you do enjoy yourself. However the downside is that most of the time you will be on a tour with 40-60 people. In all my cruises, I’ve done a grand total of one tour through any of the main stream cruise lines. I typically explore some ports I visit on my own, again this is where a bit of research comes in, or help and recommendations from your travel agent. For example, for my upcoming Baltic Cruise in July, I’m planning to visit Berlin, St.Petersburg, and Helsinki and Porvoo with tours, and see Tallin, Stockholm and Copenhagen on my own. I usually personally use a third party company that specializes in shore excursions worldwide and has the same guarantees that a cruise line has, money back guarantee and will get you back to the ship on time or they pay to catch you up. I love the tours I’ve done through them and have had many happy clients with these excursions as well. Usually the groups are a lot smaller, about 8-30 people per tour, depending on the tour and the cost is quite a bit less than the cruise lines. Chat with a travel agent who specializes in cruises for extra tips and tricks depending on your itinerary and cruise company. I typically give my clients tips for shopping, sights and restaurants for ports I’ve personally visited in the past. We also know the ins and outs of visa requirements in regards to the countries you will be visiting on your cruise, which can impact you boarding the ship or being able to get off the ship. An example is Russia, for a Canadian, getting a Russian visa can be expensive, however if you book your excursions through the ship or the third party company I use for myself and my clients, they take care of your Russian visa for you. It’s certain things like these that a travel professional can help you get the most out of your cruise. 

Dining onboard – There are usually many dining choices onboard a cruise ship. Most cruise ships have main dining rooms, a buffet style restaurant, fast snack/pool side options, a cafe and specialty restaurants. If food is important to you, speak with your travel agent to make sure that the cruise you’re looking at is the best option for your needs. Cruises can accommodate most dietary needs and requirements, but again this should be chatted about when you are booking the cruise so your travel agent can notate your file and make sure the cruise line is aware of your requests. Some cruise lines do have an additional charge for specialty restaurants onboard. Wether the cruise line you are sailing with charges or not, you can make some reservations for specialty restaurants usually now online before your cruise to make sure you get to dine where you like. I remember once being on a cruise and meeting a couple who finally showed up for their last meal in the dining room on the last night of the cruise. The wife was so excited that they were finally splurging on a meal and asked where the prices were on the menu of what the charge was, well it was the main dining room we were in which meant there was none, they had apparently been eating at the buffet the entire cruise! She was not impressed at all and had no idea they could have been having sit down service meals the whole week. 

Gratuities – Gratuities can sometimes be included depending on the promotion you book, or it is an additional charge that you can add on before you sail (depending on the cruise line) or it’s paid onboard at the end of your sailing. Gratuities depend on cruise line and stateroom category, suites pay more than an inside, etc. The reason I’m a fan of gratuities is that everyone benefits, yes you can tip you room steward and server, but they aren’t the dishwashers, people doing laundry or the entertainment onboard. It makes it fair so you don’t have to worry about tipping. If you are using a butler or concierge, please do consider tipping them extra for good service as they do typically go above and beyond in my experience. 

Drink Packages – Most cruise lines offer drink packages for purchase or part of a perk when booking. Some cruise lines (especially river cruises) offer wine and beer with lunch and dinner. Speak to your travel agent to find out what type of a drink package is best for you. I typically don’t buy a drink package, sometimes I buy a non-alcohol drink package, so I can have specialty coffees etc. Depending on the cruise line you cruise with you can bring a certain amount of wine onboard per cabin without a corkage fee. What is a corkage fee? So some cruise lines charge this to bring wine onboard, wether you drink it in your stateroom or in any of the dining rooms. I typically go for this option (I prefer to bring my own wine onboard to enjoy in my stateroom). 

Internet on cruise ships – Cruise ships do have wi-fi onboard. Keep in mind that it is satellite internet, so it is much slower and less reliable than what you are probably used to at home. Some cruise lines include internet, some you can choose it as a perk or you can purchase it onboard. 

How do you find the best deal? Use a travel agent who specializes in cruises. Again, I’m a cruise expert myself and a Virtuoso Travel Agent so I do have extra perks I can offer my clients depending on the cruise booked. This could be extra onboard credits or special onboard surprises from me. I also now offer a service that I can track your sailing to make sure you booked at the best price or best promotion. If there is a better deal that comes along, I can work with the cruise line to make sure you get an upgrade, onboard credits or extra perks to get the most of what you paid. I also get notifications on all the latest sales and promotions from each cruise line every week. As I’ve been in the industry for a little while now, I have experience when it comes to knowing the best times of year to book a cruise (best cruise offers are normally in January and February) and the best cruise line for your budget, itinerary, etc.

Deposits and Final Payments – Again the depends on the cruise line and the promotion booked as to what the deposit will be. Sometimes the deposits are refundable, sometimes they aren’t. Again one of the benefits of booking with a travel agent, I’ll make sure that everything is extremely clear so you know what to expect and send you reminders before your final payment is due. Typically final payments are due 90 to 120 days prior to departure date of your cruise.

Cruising Solo – Cruising solo is becoming so popular. Recent statistics from Stats Canada are that 52% of Canadians are Single, Widowed or Divorced. Lonely Planet did a poll in which 67% of respondents in a 2019 survey said their next trip would be solo. 48% of Baby Boomers say they took a solo trip in 2018. It’s so nice to see that many cruise lines have realized the market needs and have started adding solo cabins onboard, some cruise lines even waive the single supplement. Some cruise lines have even implemented Solo Traveller meetups onboard, usually on the first day when you board the ship which can be very well attended. The solo groups onboard usually meet everyday and arrange group dinners and events. My aunt just got back from a 17 day cruise from Dubai to Singapore back in December and had a great time with her solo traveller group on her cruise, there was a pretty large group and she made some great friendships which they keep in contact and have been chatting amongst themselves about other cruises they are booking in the future. You can also join one of my favourite resources, Cruise Critic for free. They have a message board that normally has “Roll Calls” for each cruise departure. It’s a great place to make connections before your cruise and see who else is sailing on your sailing. You can also see if there is a local Solo Travellers Group near you. I actually run two in the Vancouver/Lower Mainland area, you can always send me a message for information if your in the area and want to attend. Solo Travellers Groups are great to meet other solo travellers and see what group opportunities there are. I know in the groups I run some of the ladies have become great friends and travel together, or we have put a cruise group together and travel as a group. Cruising alone shouldn’t put you off of cruising, it can be such a great way to explore this world and because of the ease of travel, much less daunting than a group tour or doing it on your own hopping from city to city.

Groups – Do you have a potential group of 10 passengers or more? Wether you have a corporate group, a retreat group, a family reunion, a group of friends travelling, a special interest group (such as photography, artists, wine, book clubs, etc), retirement party, anniversary celebration or a wedding, groups onboard a cruise can be rewarding for everyone. Again, speak with a travel agent who has experience in booking a cruise group, as they can help you get the best rates and extra perks for your group. 

Sustainability and the Environment – Cruising is quite controversial when it comes to being environmentally friendly or sustainable. There are some cruise lines out there that are doing their best to try to help the environment. Some of the ultra luxury companies have launched clean energy ships, some of the bigger lines are starting to follow suit. Some cruise lines have eliminated single use plastics onboard, others are committing to do so bit by bit (such as eliminating straws onboard, getting rid of towel animals (yes they were cute, but it does add quite a bit of extra laundry) and using boxed water). However, it comes down to you being a sustainable traveller. I bring a reusable water bottle (fill that up with a lemon and water before leaving the ship and even when waling around the ship on a sea day) and travel cup with a straw. I also travel with reusable straws, so if I do order a pina colada I can enjoy it without the paper straw disintegrating. Try to reuse your towels a couple times before requesting new ones and hold on to your beach/pool towel for a few uses as well. I also order “small portions” in the dining rooms so as to not waste any food. I mean come on, I want to try a couple of those amazing appetizers anyways right? *wink wink*

Wheelchairs and Accessibility – Again this is where a cruise specialist comes in. We can suggest itineraries that would better suit someone that has a wheelchair or accessibility needs. For instance, if you are someone with a wheelchair, I would suggest avoiding an itinerary that requires a lot of tenders. Tendering off the ship can be pretty well impossible in some ports and off some ships, so there are very strict guidelines that need to be met. In regards to cabins, there are many different types of accessible cabins and there are forms that need to be filled out to make sure you are allocated a specific cabin type depending on your needs. This can be a cabin for someone who might be deaf, in a wheelchair or blind. There was an instance I saw in a travel forum recently that someone had booked a family getaway on their own and the grandparents unfortunately could not access the balcony or the washroom facilities in the cabin as the wheelchair could not fit through the bathroom door! Once onboard, of course the cruise was sold out and they could not be moved. If they had a travel agent to help them out, this would have never happened and a correct cabin would have been assigned to them. Travel agents can also arrange scooter and wheelchair rentals onboard as well, again this is something that I chat about with my clients in regards to their needs.

Travel Insurance – Things happen. Get insurance. I’ve honestly seen it all. I’ve had a client slip and break her jaw three days before departing for her 14 day river cruise and couldn’t travel. Insurance made sure she got 100% back. I’ve had clients miss flights due to an accident in the tunnel on the way to the airport. I’ve had clients miss the first day of their cruise due to a delay in a flight which caused them to land too late (in this situation, always arrive the day before, I’m even doing this in April for my own cruise out of San Diego). Travel insurance can also help if your baggage gets delayed and you need to go shopping for items at the ship’s shops (this unfortunately happens more than you think). I’ve also had clients needing to seek medical attention onboard a ship before, if you don’t have insurance it’s not cheap. I’ve heard of people needing to be medically evacuated off ships, it’s happened on my ship a couple times over the years. A cruise (or any trip) is an investment. Make sure that if 24 hours prior to departure you need to cancel, you’re protected to get 100% back. Cruise lines do offer their own insurance, however sometimes it’s only just a cruise credit for a future cruise not actually cash back, so make sure you read the fine print. Bottom line, make sure you get insurance.

Next week I’m going to be chatting about preparing and getting the most out of your cruise whilst onboard.

To listen to this episode of the Wanderlust Journey Travel Podcast or past episodes, visit one of these links (click on which platform you use to listen):

Thanks again for listening and reading, as always if you’d like to get in touch to work with me as a client, be a guest on my podcast or to give an idea on an upcoming episode topic, please contact me.

2019 ~ A Year (and Decade) in Review

Looking back at this past year (and decade), I summed it up during my New Year meditation and intention ceremony down to one word… Overwhelming.

2019 and this past decade has been so hard but so f*@&ing necessary.

This past decade I dealt with the fallout of my father’s death on my family, I left a controlling religion that held me back since childhood, my marriage falling apart because my husband cheated, restarting my life from two suitcases, loss of fur babies due to old age, divorce, started a proper career in travel, traveled to 22 new countries, started to go hiking, skiing, downhill mountain biking and enjoying other things that make me happy again, climbing the corporate ladder very quickly to have my own shop, closure of my shop, growing my travel influencer/business coaching/marketing business, launched a podcast to landing on my feet finally on the ground floor of a brand new premium travel agency brand.

Reading back this list, I can’t help but feel proud. It’s been overwhelming, but so amazing at the same time. I found my authentic self.

I grew as a person so much over this past 10 years. I gained so much strength from within to deal with everything. I didn’t let my situations define me. I learned what I want and what I didn’t in my relationships (for love and in friends and family), and I won’t settle. I learned so many valuable lessons in life this past year and decade and also in business.

So now let’s dial in how this past year was for me.

What did 2019 teach me overall about myself? It taught me to be open, trust the path I’m on, manifestations do come true. I needed to see the value of me, my health and put myself first. I felt feelings of failure and vulnerability. I realized that there are always ebbs and flows to life and it’s how we react to situations that determines if we’ve grown or taken a step backwards.

In 2019, what are you most grateful for? I’m grateful for all the lessons learned, positive and negative. I’m grateful for my friends (old and new), my family and my clients. I made some great new connections in my business this year. I’m grateful for my travels, being able to recharge and the ability to see five new countries this year (Netherlands, Spain, Hungary, Austria and Slovakia). I’m grateful that I believed in myself and had the courage to start and launch a podcast (The Wanderlust Journey Travel Podcast).

My biggest accomplishments in 2019 was being a store manager for a Flight Centre store and all the learnings that came from that. Also, focusing on my business coaching, targeted growth on my social media platforms, working on my own business projects and launching a podcast this year all by myself. Landing a position in a new brand of Flight Centre, the first one in Western Canada, a new premium travel agency called Laurier Du Vallon.

2020 and this upcoming decade is a blank canvas for me.

During my intention setting and meditation ceremony I ended with how I want 2020 and beyond to look. I got very specific in my goals and set metrics for them. I even did a few exercises to come up with my “words” and “mantra” for this new year. So I’m going into this next year with a positive outlook and a mantra of “I am worthy of love, peace, balance and abundance”. I’ve set my new goals personally and in my career using SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based) goals. The words that I chose for this year are Success, Abundance, Love, Health, Wealth and Positivity. I summed it down to “I am worthy” of these things – so my one word for 2020 is Worth.

I’ve got so much planned for 2020 already. In travel, I’m heading to Norway, Germany, France and England in May. In July, I’m heading back to England to take in the British Formula One Grand Prix, then flying to Denmark to do a Baltic Cruise and visit Germany, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Sweden. My last trip on the books as of right now for this year is in September, I’m leading a river cruise from Switzerland through France, Germany, Luxembourg and finally ending in the Netherlands. If you’re interested in joining me on this cruise please contact me. I do still have cabins available on this sailing through the Rhine Gorge. It’s going to be a great year, I’ll be adding a minimum of eight new countries to my list! I’ve got some great guests coming up on my podcast this year and excited to see where this goes and takes me.

2019 and this past decade were so f%$ing necessary. It’s set me up to absolutely slay in 2020 and this decade to come.

2020, I’m ready.

Ariane

Ep. 5 Surviving the Holiday Travel Season

Aloha from The Big Island of Hawai’i! Today on the podcast I’m chatting about Holiday Season travel tips.

I’m diving into my own recent flight woes and how to prepare yourself and your family for a busy travel season. Stresses are high and tempers are short, but there are ways you can alleviate some anxieties while travelling during the Christmas Holidays.

Here is the link to find out your rights when it comes to compensation from the airlines due to delays, cancellations, etc with flights departing to, from and within Canada: https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/air-passenger-protection-regulations-highlights

To listen to this episode of the Wanderlust Journey Travel Podcast or past episodes, visit one of these links (click on which platform you use to listen):

Let me know what you thought of the episode on Instagram! Find me @WanderlustJourney.ca Share a screenshot of you enjoying the episode to your Instagram and Facebook with your instant thoughts! Also be sure to subscribe which ever platform you use listen to your podcasts (Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Anchor, etc), leave a five star rating and review.

Thanks again for listening, as always if you’d like to get in touch to be a guest on my podcast or to give an idea on an upcoming episode topic, please contact me.

Ep. 4 Travel Safety Tips and Tricks with David

I chat again with a really good friend David about travel safety tips and tricks. We chat about muggings, natural disasters and travel scams we’ve seen on our travels and how to do your best to prepare yourself. Knowledge and preparation empowers you to be a more confident traveller.

The Government of Canada has a great travel information website: https://www.travel.gc.ca On this website you can find travel warnings, safety information, visa entry requirements and health information.

Follow David on Instagram at @attraversiamoinsieme

To listen to this episode of the Wanderlust Journey Travel Podcast or past episodes, visit one of these links (click on which platform you use to listen):

Let me know what you thought of the episode on Instagram! Find me @WanderlustJourney.ca Share a screenshot of you enjoying the episode to your Instagram and Facebook with your instant thoughts! Also be sure to subscribe which ever platform you use listen to your podcasts (Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Anchor, etc), leave a five star rating and review.

Thanks again for listening, as always if you’d like to get in touch to be a guest on my podcast or to give an idea on an upcoming episode topic, please contact me.

Ep. 3 Solo Travel Questions Answered

In this episode I’m solo answering some solo travel questions that I received through Instagram and Facebook.

I answer questions such as “Isn’t is weird to eat alone?” to “Do you find it lonely travelling by yourself?”. I discuss why I personally love to travel solo to some of the challenges faced when travelling alone. The biggest takeaway is that solo travel should not hold you back! It’s so rewarding if you’re prepared.

A great resource for cruising (especially if your travelling alone) is Cruise Critic, you can join roll calls for cruises you are travelling on, etc – https://boards.cruisecritic.com

The Government of Canada has a great travel information website: https://www.travel.gc.ca On this website you can find travel warnings, safety information, visa entry requirements and health information.

Some of the apps that I use when I travel are: Google Translate (make sure to download the languages so you can use while off data, etc), Google Maps/Streetview, WhatsApp/Facebook Messenger (to stay connected to home), Airline apps (Air Canada, WestJet, etc, whomever I am flying as some planes don’t have in seat entertainment, they require that you have the app to watch movies, etc), Various Hotel apps (Marriott Bonvoy, etc), the Weather Network (to get up to date weather information to plan your days) and of course Uber/Lyft.

To listen to this episode of the Wanderlust Journey Travel Podcast or past episodes, visit one of these links (click on which platform you use to listen):

Let me know what you thought of the episode on Instagram! Find me @WanderlustJourney.ca Share a screenshot of you enjoying the episode to your Instagram and Facebook with your instant thoughts! Also be sure to subscribe which ever platform you use listen to your podcasts (Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Anchor, etc), leave a five star rating and review.

Thanks again for listening, as always if you’d like to get in touch to be a guest on my podcast or to give an idea on an upcoming episode topic, please contact me.

Ep. 2 Talking Travel Anxieties with David

I chat with a really good friend David about travel anxieties that we’ve experienced with planning our last trips to Brazil and Italy. We also cover anxieties in the airport, flying and once you arrive in a new destination. We share our tips and tricks to help you prepare and manage stress while travelling.

For information on what you can and can’t bring through security check points in your carry on or personal item, visit the CATSA website: https://www.catsa-acsta.gc.ca/en

Did you know YVR (the Vancouver International Airport) has a “quiet area” to meditate and relax prior to your flight: http://www.yvr.ca/en/passengers/navigate-yvr/quiet-area

YVR also has some great Autism Travel Resources found here for families: http://www.yvr.ca/en/passengers/navigate-yvr/accessibility-at-yvr/autism-travel-resources

A great app for travelling (or just even for relaxation at home after work, etc) is the Calm app. You can find it in your Apple App Store, Google Play or where ever you download your apps.

Follow David on Instagram at @attraversiamoinsieme

To listen to this episode of the Wanderlust Journey Travel Podcast or past episodes, visit one of these links (click on which platform you use to listen):

Let me know what you thought of the episode on Instagram! Find me @WanderlustJourney.ca Share a screenshot of you enjoying the episode to your Instagram and Facebook with your instant thoughts! Also be sure to subscribe which ever platform you use listen to your podcasts (Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Anchor, etc), leave a five star rating and review.

Thanks again for listening, as always if you’d like to get in touch to be a guest on my podcast or to give an idea on an upcoming episode topic, please contact me.

It’s Podcast Launch Day! ~ Ep.1 Hello From Italy!

I’m so excited to be launching my Wanderlust Journey Travel Podcast today!

My first episode is called “Hello From Italy!” and I recorded it from beautiful Minori, Italy on the stunning Amalfi Coast. It’s a glimpse into what my podcast will be all about and you’ll get to know me a little more through questions I’ll be asking some of my guests in upcoming episodes!Here’s where you can find my podcast (click on which platform you use to listen):

Let me know what you thought of the episode on Instagram! Find me @WanderlustJourney.ca Share a screenshot of you enjoying the episode to your Instagram and Facebook with your instant thoughts! Also be sure to subscribe which ever platform you use listen to your podcasts (Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Anchor, etc), leave a five star rating and review.

Interested in being a guest or advertising on my podcast, please contact me for more info.

 

My Guide to Rome, Italy

Rome is one of my favourite cities hands down.

The Eternal City has a draw to it that I can’t quite put my finger on. It might be that I’ve made so many amazing memories here, or simply that to me it feels like “home”. So with my recent trips here and heading back yet again I thought I would update this blog post as there are so many new experiences and places to see and do I’ve been recommending to clients and friends.

Arriving into Rome

The Fiumicino airport is easy to navigate, customs was a breeze, the tricky part is trying to make it to the taxi stand. I did plenty of research, arriving into Rome for a single traveller you have a few options, pre arrange a transfer in a shared vehicle, take the Leonardo Express (the train) into Termini Station or get a taxi. Taxis (white cabs, in the taxi line) do have a fixed fare of €48 to get you into the walled city of Rome. My suggestion if you arrive at night is to take a taxi, it’s safe, gets you directly where you are going and the drivers can be very polite and willing to chat. As I mentioned it’s just getting to the taxi stand that can be a bit of an issue, you will have people approach you for a transfer, just ignore them and keep walking. Black cabs in Rome aren’t legal (you will find them just as overpriced on Uber), they are private transfer companies they aren’t supposed to be taking extra travellers.

Where to Stay

Jet lag to Europe is somewhat easier than jet lag to Asia, still not fun, but more tolerable and has it’s benefits. I typically wake up bright and early at 4:30am local time in Rome and venture out of my hotel room by 5:30/6:00am depending on the time of year. Venture out early. You see how the locals live, enjoy Rome’s busiest sights without any tourists to be found and take some pretty amazing photos with the soft warm sunrise lighting. Down side streets that normally look like cattle herding gates with all the crowds and are shoulder to shoulder with tourists come 2:00pm, you’ll find are empty and peaceful. You see the local deliveries to restaurants and hotels, the true bustle of local life in Roma. “Buongiorno!” echos down the streets. It’s a magical time to explore Rome in my opinion.

I typically stay in the vicinity of the Trevi Fountain & Spanish Steps. I just find it’s a great spot to stay as that’s where most of my favourite restaurants are.

Hotel de Petris (basic/mid range accommodations) – Staying at Hotel de Petris (or the area) you are so close to quite a few main sights, you are a five minute walk from the Trevi Fountain and about eight minutes walk from the Spanish Steps. Some of the rooms have been updated, the hotel has a beautiful rooftop patio, where they serve breakfast and a beautiful place to relax at night.

NH Collection Roma Centro Hotel (great mid range property) – I stayed here on one of my last trips to Rome. It’s a great location in regards to walkability to many top sights, it’s on the West side of the Tiber River (same side as Vatican City). I woke up quite early and easily got to the Vatican with no one around. Property is in quite good condition, breakfast was very good and lots of choices. The cappuccino/espresso machine I would have loved to have taken home haha. Love the bathrooms at the hotel as well, the bathrooms featured bathtubs, which are so nice at the end of a long day walking around Rome. Rooms are also well furnished, beds are very comfortable and I slept very well.

Hotel Modigliani (mid range accommodations) – I was highly recommended this property by a friend and it’s got great reviews on TripAdvisor. It’s a boutique hotel owned by husband and wife Giulia and Marco. Hotel features an inner garden, an extensive continental breakfast and most rooms feature a small balcony. Breakfast was good and had both hot and cold items.

La Griffe Roma, MGallery by Sofitel (mid range/luxury accommodations) – I recommend this hotel to many of my clients due to location and service level. Great location to Roma Termini (train station) and the hop on hop off routes.

The Westin Excelsior (luxury accommodations) – I stayed here for a night and loved this hotel. It’s so classy and again near the area of Spanish Steps, so close to my favourite part of Rome to wander. Everything and more you would expect at a Westin Hotel. Rooms are more of a traditional style, however to me very respective of Rome.

The St. Regis Rome (luxury accommodations) – Absolutely stunning and beautiful hotel. All the service and amenities you would expect at a St. Regis property. Rooms have been renovated recently and look amazing.

Getting Around Rome

Ok, I enjoy a good quintessential touristy way to get around. The first time I was in Rome, I opted for a hop on, hop off pass with City Sightseeing. Honestly I think they are good value, a great way to get around the city and has the highlights of what to see along it’s routes. I usually ride one loop around so I know exactly where stops are and to listen to the commentary that is provided.

Other ways to get around Rome reasonably are the public buses, it does take a little more figuring out, but is a very cheap way to get around Rome. Taxis line up at taxi stands (orange sign, black lettering), you can find most near main Piazzas. If you do call for a cab from your hotel, etc, they do start their meter when they receive the call to pick you up. Taxis are very reasonable and have found them all to be quite good and honest with the routes taken.

Rome does have Uber now, however the prices are very expensive compared to other places where Uber exists. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rome or Italy in general no longer supports Uber like some cities like Barcelona.

Eating in Rome

Breakfast in Rome (or anywhere else in Italy) is simple, “caffe e cornetto” (espresso and a pastry) are all the words you need to mutter. Be sure to order at the cashier first, then go to the counter with your receipt. Standing at a counter is typical European way, if you sit in for breakfast or just a coffee, you do get charged an extra service fee. A great cafe would be the Antico Caffe Greco, located just down the street from the Spanish Steps, it bears the plaque of a Roma Historical Site and locals argue it’s one of the best places in Rome for a coffee. Another morning drink to try would be a “cappuccino al ginseng”, a cappuccino with ginseng extract which is surprisingly amazing and gives you quite a kick to start your day, try Tazza D’Oro for one of these right near the Pantheon. Asking for your coffee to go is sacrilege in Italian culture. It’s the one time to stop, and literally smell the coffee.

Lunch and Dinner in Rome was for me, street food time. This is a newish concept to Italy, however the bakeries can be centuries old. Forno Campo de’ Fiori has some of the best pizza I have ever tasted. Try the Pizza Bianca with mortadella and figs, absolutely amazing. Near by another bakery serves up pizza by the slice (no, not like you would typically find here in Canada) and the best arancini I’ve ever had, check out Antico Forno Roscioli.

If pasta is more your thing, try “Cacio e pepe”, a traditional Roman pasta dish of butter, fresh cracked pepper and pecorino or parmesan cheese, aka heaven in a bowl. Pastifico Guerra is located on Via della Croce (street connecting to the Piazza di Spagna, or Spanish Steps), this place offers a choice from two pastas for lunch and dinner, a glass of wine for €4. Yes, no joke, €4. They don’t have a place to sit in, they actually make and sell pasta, but offer a “taste” of their labours at this very reasonable price. The choices the night I went was a linguine with arribiata, pecorino and pancetta, or a vegetarian option of linguine with fresh pesto and zucchini.

A few of my favourite restaurants are:

Fiaschetteria Beltramme (near Spanish Steps, 39 Via della Croce) – Honestly the BEST carbonara you will eat on this planet. Period. They also serve up amazing appetizers such as Burrata and Prosciutto, Caprese Salad and other great dishes including a great Cacio e pepe. Glasses of house wine are also really good quality and like the food prices, very reasonable.

Ristorante All’Oro (slightly North of Piazza del Popolo, 23/25 Via Giuseppe Pisanelli) – An intimate Michelin Starred restaurant with the best seven course tasting menu I’ve probably ever had. Staff are incredible, friendly and very good with food preferences and sensitivities. It’s well worth the price to experience the full dinner here, so memorable.

Piccolo Arancio (near Trevi Fountain, Vicolo Scanderbeg 112) – Located very close to the Trevi Fountain but in an alleyway that is very “local Roman”. Try the amazing Ravioli All’Arancia, ravioli pasta filled with ricotta cheese and orange served in a cream sauce. Delicious!

Dessert in Rome is simple, you need to try Pompi’s tiramisu. Literally kitty corner from Pastifico near the Spanish Steps, this is the best tiramisu I’ve ever had. The gelato there is pretty good too.

Roman Fountains

I always travel with a refillable water bottle, you don’t know what each countries rules are for recycling are, so it’s just something that makes me feel better. What I didn’t realize and was so happy to hear that you can drink out of the fountains in Rome. There are specific places to refill your water bottles at each fountain and is completely safe to drink. The water comes from an artisanal well and is looked after and tested daily by the Italian government. Buying bottled water in Rome therefore is really unnecessary. On a hot day, the water is cool and refreshing, and always available.

The Vatican

I’m not a religious person, however the Vatican is still a sight to see. I did a guided tour of the Vatican, while I did enjoy it, I think I would have just enjoyed wandering around on my own. I felt like we were being rushed around (yes, even a 4 hour tour felt rushed) and really only skimmed the surface. If the Vatican interests you, do it on your own, arrive early to beat the crowds and just wander. There is a lot of history held within those walls and some artwork by some fantastic artists. While I was there in one of the courtyards they had an Egyptian exhibit, some of the historical pieces were a delight to see.

So a bit of an update here… I had another amazing experience at the Vatican which I would HIGHLY suggest if you can book a tour that offers it. I had a private after hours tour of the Vatican Museums followed by dinner in the gardens after hours! It was so amazing to see the Vatican again in this way with NO crowds. We could take our time and we were the only ones in the Sistine Chapel! Such an amazing experience!

Other Experiences in Rome

I highly recommend doing an Urban Adventures tour in Rome. I did the “Rome Highlights” tour and it was a great introduction to the city the first time I was here. Tours are very small groups (one paid passenger means the tour is guaranteed to go) and the local guides are amazing! Guides in Rome are very highly trained and especially have PhD’s because of the historical significance of pretty well everything you walk on or look at.

Of course there are so many of the iconic things to see and do such as the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Piazza Navona, the markets (don’t miss the market at Campo de’ Fiore, it’s where I buy my kitchenwares such as ravioli presses, pasta tools, etc, however the flowers here are stunning!). I could go on and on. Rome is full of so much stunning architecture and history. If you do go and see the Colosseum and Roman Forum on your own, buy your ticket at the ticket office located on Via dei Fori Imperiali (the main street near Piazza Venezia). The line was maybe five minutes wait and was stamped with an entrance time to see the Colosseum. The lines to buy tickets at the Colosseum were crazy, I got to basically walk right in (just a small line for security).

Rome Overall

I always have an amazing time in Rome, it’s actually a place I could totally see myself living. Everywhere you look and corner you turn there is more and more history. I find the city to be quite safe if you knew what to look out for, I saw a few of the scams I had read up on in the Lonely Planet guide and online on various blogs, but didn’t have any problems personally. I found Rome to be clean and welcoming. Whilst I did find some unfriendliness in the city, many of the locals are chatty and quite nice. Travelling as a single woman in Rome didn’t make me uneasy at all.

My most recent “pinch me moment” was on one of my early morning walks to Vatican City in May 2019, standing in the empty Piazza in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. As I was standing there all alone with the sun rising on this beautiful scene, an all girls children’s choir singing “Ave Maria”, followed by “Hallelujah”. I seriously started to cry as it was such a beautiful moment.

I’ll always be looking forward to the day I come back to Rome. Yes, I always throw my coin over my shoulder at the Trevi Fountain, so it will only be a matter of time…

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Le Blanc Spa Resort Los Cabos

In June I was invited to check out the beautiful Le Blanc Spa Resort in Los Cabos, Mexico. It was stunning. Le Blanc Spa Resort Los Cabos is an adults only, 373 rooms, all inclusive resort. It features 4 heated outdoor pools (1 infinity pool), 2 swim up bars, 2 outdoor hot tubs, daily activities (including TRX, yoga, spinning classes in the pool and BOGA yoga/pilates classes), unlimited (included with your stay) hydrotherapy at the spa, 24 hour room service, 8 restaurants and 6 bars.

I flew with WestJet, a direct flight from Vancouver in just under four hours. It was my first time to Cabo, so I was very excited to see a new part of Mexico. Landing into Cabo I could see why so many people loved it as a destination. It’s dry and not really humid. It reminded me of Arizona or Sicily, cactus lining the mountainsides along with sage brush. Again, also such a quick flight from the West Coast to get some much needed sun. Once I dodged the timeshare representative gauntlet in the Cabo Airport, I found a representative from Le Blanc who met me outside, gave me a cool towel and took me over to the waiting Cadillac Escalade for my private transfer. Once inside the air conditioned vehicle, luggage was loaded, I was given a cold bottle of water and enjoyed the 20-25 minute drive from the airport to Le Blanc Spa Resort Los Cabos.

Once I arrived at the hotel, I was given a welcome drink, a beautiful flower and checked in seamlessly at one of the reception desks. I knew at that point, this was a very different all inclusive resort from others I have stayed at in the past. I really needed food at this point, so I checked out Blanc Ocean, the casual oceanfront restaurant here. The food and service is amazing. I ate at Blanc Ocean a few times, it’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. After a late lunch, it was time to check out my room, and it didn’t disappoint. I was treated to a Royale Deluxe Honeymoon Suite. It was stunning. The room had an amazing, very comfortable king size bed, a soaker tub (with a view of the ocean from the bathroom), separate rainfall shower, BVLGARI bathroom amenities, a Nespresso machine, beach bag for you to use during your stay then keep and of course a bottle of Tequila (which I took home, or you can enjoy in your room).

Every room includes butler service. I would highly recommend downloading the app (yes there is a Le Blanc Resorts app), so that you can manage everything regarding your stay. Using the app you can message your butler, order off the pillow menu, select in room aromatherapy, select which bath salts and handcrafted soap you would like in your bathroom, and you can order room service, then track your order afterwards. My butler came and introduced himself, he also offered to unpack for me and/or iron anything that needed to be, I kindly declined, but the service is there if you wish to use it. They also offer a packing service on the day of check out should you feel inclined.

It was then time to try Blanc Italia for dinner. It was the some of the best Italian food I’ve had outside of Italy. The pasta is made daily, everything was delicious. It was totally worth breaking my keto diet for (another post on this soon). Afterwards, it was time to check out Blanc Fire, one of the beautiful bars here at Le Blanc, looking over the pool area. Comfortable lounge chairs and outdoor chairs create a cozy laid back environment with fire pits lining the space.

Every morning I ordered room service. The Dulce de Leche pastries in the morning were so good. It arrived very promptly and I ate out on my balcony most mornings. The food always arrived hot, which was nice as I find that can be a struggle with room service. I’m an early riser (5:00am), and took advantage of getting the perfect spot at the pool quite early each morning at 7:30am (yes it was already quite sunny and hot). I arrived down to the pool where the pool concierge greeted me and laid out my towels for me on the chair I had selected. He them brought me over a side table with a bucket of ice and a couple bottles of water. Never thought anything of it, he asked for my room number and headed off to greet the next guests. About half hour later my regular butler greeted me at my chair asking if there was anything I needed or had forgot in my room (at this point I was already impressed with the service, but this blew me away). I was all good, so just wished him a good day. This is a spa resort, so the music near the pools reflect that, which I loved. It was mostly quiet, spa style music, in the afternoon a little bit more upbeat however still not loud. If you’re hoping for foam parties and DJ’s by the pool, this resort is not for you. It is a serene place which I was so thankful for and enjoyed thoroughly. I even read two books!

After a site inspection and resort update, I look part in a margarita making and ceviche cooking class. It was so much fun to learn how to make this amazing dish and a proper margarita. They also host tequila tastings so you get to learn a little more about tequila and how each tastes better with different flavours. Who knew dark chocolate truffles with Anejo tequila tastes so good?

I did try a full body toning pilates class followed by yoga on the BOGA boards at the “activity pool”. It was a lot of fun and really suggest getting involved in all the different activities. I also tried the water spinning class, which was challenging but so much fun! Then it was time to enjoy the spa. The hydrotherapy (water journey) is included for everyone at Le Blanc, spa services (facials, massage, etc are at an extra charge). You enter the split hydrotherapy room (one for women, one for men) and are led to the locker room by your spa butler (yes, a spa butler). Your spa butler gives you a robe and sandals to use while taking advantage of the hydrotherapy. I was then led to the Sauna, asked how long I would like to stay here (up to ten minutes), then she applied cucumbers to my eyes with a cool towel on top and sprayed my body with a lime smelling water. I dosed off when she lightly tapped my shoulder and asked if I was ready to continue (I totally lost count of time so I already think having a spa butler is amazing). She then took me to the “Ice Room”, where I was given a pumice full of ice and an aloe vera gel to apply to my body (felt amazing after spending the morning in the sun). I stayed here for five minutes. Then off to the Steam Room. Before entering the Steam Room I was given a lavender and rosemary facial mud to apply and a thermal protectant conditioning treatment for my hair. I applied both and enjoyed the Steam Room for ten minutes. Then it was time for the invigorating shower, a series of showers at different temperatures and intensities. Time to now relax on a tiled heated lounger, where you can sip on hibiscus iced tea or ice water. Again once rehydrated, relaxed here for twenty minutes with another set of cucumbers and a cool towel over my eyes. The time flew by, as again she lightly tapped me on my shoulder asking if I was ready for the therapy pools. From here you are shown to a seat in a private cabana and explained the three pools in this area, the main therapy pool has many different water jets and is a warm temperature, a hot tub and a cold plunge pool (yes it’s cold but very refreshing after doing all the pools). You can then relax in the “Relaxation Room” where they have these amazing nest beds (yes, I had a nap). You can do the water journey and hydrotherapy as many times as you like. I did it at least twice a day!

All the restaurants here are amazing! The food is incredible for an all inclusive resort. The most surprising to me was Mezze, everything was sharable and meant to be shared. It is a Lebanese style restaurant and the food was so delicious! Make sure you order the Turkish Coffee, they make it the traditional way in the sand, table side. The French restaurant “Lumiere” is the only restaurant that requires reservations (you can make this reservation when you check in or from the app) and is a bit more of a formal dress code. Again, can’t say enough about the food, very very good. Blanc Asia has amazing appetizers and sushi, if you’re a seafood fan there are lots of great options on the menu. Poolside, I ordered from Blanc Pizza, actual stone fired pizzas and fresh salads (I love a caprese salad on a hot day). Also ordered from Blanc Ocean poolside, guacamole and pico, and of course amazing tacos! The other poolside attraction is the churro cart every afternoon! They make fresh churros right in front of you and you have the option of getting it stuffed with dolce de leche (yes, so yummy).

Overall, this is definitely my favourite all inclusive resort so far. If you are looking for a relaxing vacation where you are spoiled from the moment you arrive, this is the resort for you. If you have any questions or if your interested in working with me as your travel agent, please send me a message here.

Thanks again for reading and happy travels!

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