36 Hours in Miami’s South Beach – Miami Travel Guide

I’m so excited to be on my next adventure to Miami to board the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady. I’ve never been to Miami before (I know, shocking), so I was really looking forward to exploring this city.

Ocean Drive in Miami has some amazing Art Deco architecture

Day 1/2 – Travel Day to Miami

My flight out of Vancouver with Air Canada was the red eye, therefore I landed the next morning into to Toronto during a bit of a snowstorm. Because of this, I always recommend my clients to book a longer connection, especially in the winter as you never know what the weather can bring. On landing we did slide a bit as the runway was pretty well snow covered. Once through USA customs pre-clearance, I headed to the Plaza Premium Lounge in the US departures area for breakfast. I was actually surprised by how busy the lounge was, but there aren’t many lounges open right now, I guess still due to the pandemic. About an hour later it was time to head to my gate to board my flight to Miami.

After some delays with de-icing the plane, I finally landed at Miami International Airport around 2:00pm. Most of us had to check our carry on baggage as the plane we flew on was quite small and no one’s bags would fit up in the overhead compartment. Once I collected my bag, I exited the airport and used Lyft to get to my hotel, The Berkeley Park Hotel by M Gallery, which is part of Accor. My Lyft ride took about 25 minutes from the Miami Airport to the hotel as the traffic was pretty good and we had no delays.

I stayed at the Berkeley Park Hotel by M Gallery, which has been recently opened

Once checked in, I headed to my room which was a “Classic Queen Room”. It was very well appointed with a very comfortable queen bed, a Keurig coffee maker, mini fridge, bathroom amenities and a lovely welcome note and a bottle of Champagne from the hotel’s general manager.

Classic Queen Room at the Berkeley Park Hotel MGallery
I loved the rainfall shower in my room. The bathroom amenities citrus scent was very refreshing.

The Berkeley Park Hotel is located only a couple blocks from Miami Beach on 20th Street and they do provide you with beach chairs, towel and umbrellas if you do want to have a beach day. They also have an amazing rooftop pool area that I used a couple times during my stay. It was a great little oasis in the city.

Rooftop pool at the Berkeley Park Hotel

I was so exhausted from my travel day to get to Miami, that I decided to have a relaxing evening and wake up early in the morning to explore.

South Beach

The following morning I woke up quite early around 5:00am, as I had such an early night to try to catch up on some much needed sleep. I headed out just after sunrise for a walk just before 7:00am. I absolutely loved walking around Miami’s South Beach area. I walked down Collins Ave to the heart of South Beach. Ocean Drive was a short fifteen minute walk from my hotel. I love architecture, so seeing all the perfectly kept Art Deco buildings was a highlight for me. As I walked along Ocean Drive, I saw landmarks such as Gianni Versace’s former mansion which is now a restaurant.

Miami’s Ocean Drive
Ocean Drive in Miami is known as the Art Deco District
Gianni Versace’s former mansion now turned into a restaurant.

I’m actually a bit sad I only had one full day here. I’d love to come back, check out some of the other areas of Miami and see Miami’s South Beach at night when all the neon lights are lit up.

I stopped in at “Bacon Bitch” for breakfast. It’s a pretty interesting place and it’s a vibe for sure. They greet you with “Hey Bitch!” as you walk in haha. I ordered one of their “Main Bitches” which was a “Queens” croissant sandwich. Unfortunately I forgot to film it, however the breakfast sandwiches they offer are really good, definitely check this place out.

I then started to walk back towards my hotel stopping in at a Starbucks to buy a “Florida” Starbucks Mug. I then walked along Miami Beach to see all the different and uniquely coloured lifeguard stations.

It’s a great walk and I highly suggest walking Miami Beach in the morning when it’s not too hot and there are less people on the beach.

Miami Beach is known for it’s colourful lifeguard stations
Another lifeguard station on Miami Beach

It was a bit early for the bustle of Esplanade Way, so I continued back towards my hotel, stopping in at Rosetta Bakery on Collins Ave as I had already walked off my earlier breakfast. The food here was really good. I had a sandwich and a cake for dinner from here last night and returned for a Nutella filled croissant today.

Esplanade Way
I highly recommend Rosetta Bakery on Collins Ave.

1 Hotel South Beach

I had an appointment with the sales manager at 1 Hotel South Beach, to check it out for future client stays, for this blog and YouTube. I really admire what 1 Hotels stand for as a brand in the ways of sustainability.

They don’t have cut florals in the lobby or the hotel rooms, but living terrariums and living walls.

1 Hotel South Beach has many sustainability initiatives including: reclaimed wood from a pair that was damaged in a hurricane, compressed paper hangers in the room made from “love notes”, “homework” and “maps”, the room keys are made of wood, the bathroom amenities are by Bamford Wellness, and the “Do Not Disturb” signs on the doors are made from cardboard from deliveries to the 1 Hotel.

This art installation of a whale was made solely of garbage that was washed up on the ocean shores:

The lobby at 1 Hotel South Beach
Lobby bar at 1 Hotel South Beach

The hotel also offers a great fitness and wellness program onsite. Anatomy is their 12,000 square foot gym. There are seven restaurants, including Plnthouse which is plant based and Watr at 1 Rooftop which is obviously on the rooftop, has amazing views of Miami Beach and is a Peruvian-Japanese inspired menu. The rooftop pool is amazing and is reserved for adults only.

Rooftop Pool at 1 Hotel South Beach which is adults only.

Also, the 1 Hotel South Beach offers a free Audi electric drop-off car service for guests to use within a three mile (about five kilometres) area. I was able to view a few categories of rooms here.

They also offer suites with full kitchens which you’ll find in their “Home Collection”.

I show you room tours of 1 Hotel South Beach’s Ocean Front One Bedroom Suite with Balcony, followed by a Junior Suite King with Balcony, a One Bedroom Home Ocean View with Balcony and a Two Bedroom Ocean View Penthouse with Balcony. Check out the YouTube video at the end of this travel guide to Miami or click here to watch.

A piece that was hosted here at 1 Hotel South Beach for Art Basel

After my site inspection, I headed back to my hotel and got changed into my swimsuit. I relaxed at my hotel’s rooftop pool for an hour or so, then headed out for another walk around South Beach. This time I headed towards Lincoln Ave, which is a pedestrianized shopping street. 

It was then time to grab an early dinner, so I walked over to a highly recommended taco place called Bodega Taqueria y Tequila. The tacos here were probably the best I’ve ever had, no joke. I ordered the “Clasico” tacos, a “Al Pastor” taco and a “Carne Asada” taco. It’s a very unassuming place, and I really like the laid back vibe. The mostly inappropriate sign apparently changes every month or so. Your order you food from an Airstream trailer inside this low key eatery. There is a speakeasy or night club of sorts in the back, however it wasn’t open when I was there.

Bodega Taqueria y Tequila
Bodega Taqueria y Tequila Menu – Dec 2021

Right around the corner from Bodega is Yardbird, another restaurant I really wanted to check out but unfortunately didn’t have time this trip. Yardbird was started here in Miami Beach and is a James Beard Award-nominated restaurant concept. It is the brainchild of 50 Eggs Hospitality Group founder, John Kunkel. There have been Yardbird chefs who have made appearances on Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen and other Food Network shows. I’ll be making a reservation here more in advance next time I visit Miami.

I then headed back to my hotel, The Berkeley Park Hotel by MGallery, making a pit stop at Trader Joes for some wine for my cruise tomorrow. With Virgin Voyages, we can take two bottles of wine or Champagne onboard per cabin. to take in the sunset from the rooftop pool. The pool hours are quite decent, it’s open from 8:00am to 11:00pm at the time of my stay. With the “resort fee” you pay, you do have a beach chair, towel and umbrella “kit” that they can lend you to take out to Miami Beach for the day. 

I did call it an earlier night again, I’m so excited to be boarding my cruise and you can read my cruise review of the Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady by clicking here.

In Conclusion

I loved Miami’s South Beach area and had no where enough time to really dive into everything I wanted to check out this trip. I can’t wait to plan my next adventure here and will be planning to spend more time exploring the other areas of Miami and diving deeper into more of the South Beach are of Miami.

As a luxury travel advisor my clients typically receive added benefits when booking vacations, hotel stays and cruises through me. I’d love to work with you as your travel advisor, click here to contact me for more information.

Here’s my YouTube video featuring my 36 Hours Exploring Miami’s South Beach:

My Travel Guide to Costa Rica

Hello country number twenty seven!

I was supposed to come to Costa Rica with the Costa Rica Tourism Board back in October 2020, then it was rescheduled to January 2021, that date was cancelled last minute and finally, we touched down in San Jose, Costa Rica on November 11th, 2021. Travel has been really unpredictable the past couple years, especially travelling internationally. But I made it. I made it to the land of “Pura Vida”.

This trip was hosted by the Costa Rica Tourism Board, however this is my very honest opinion and review of the places I stayed and activities I did in this trip. I did not receive any compensation for this hosted trip and therefore I wasn’t required to post or film, however I chose to do so. 

To get to San Jose from Vancouver at the time I travelled, the flights with Air Canada took me first to Toronto, then a direct flight from Toronto to Costa Rica. I’m sure as travel gets more popular, more flight options will be added in the coming months. Currently to board your flight to Costa Rica, you do need to fill out an online health declaration or a “Pase de Salud”, which needs to be completed within 72 hours of entering Costa Rica (click here for link to the official declaration website). This service on the Costa Rica Government’s website is free. If you visit a website that wants to charge you to fill out this form, you aren’t on the correct website. You do need to be fully vaccinated or show proof of travel insurance that covers for Covid-19 in case you do catch it while in Costa Rica. They are checking for the QR code and pass to board your flight to Costa Rica and once in Costa Rica I was asked for it at immigration. I saved the full screen shot of the QR code onto my phone in my favourites for ease.

As of January 8, 2022; hotels, restaurants, bars, casinos, shops, museums, art and dance academies, gyms, resorts, and adventure tourism will only admit people fully vaccinated with the country-approved vaccines (Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, and Janssen). Proof of vaccination will be verified using a QR code (attached to the Health Pass/Pase de Salud) or the printed vaccination certificate. This requirement applies to everyone 12 years of age and older. Essential services such as supermarkets and pharmacies will not require proof of vaccination.

Day 1 – Arrival into San Jose

We touched down slightly behind schedule as we had some delays leaving Toronto. We arrived at the San Jose International Airport at 12:46pm. After we went through customs (which unfortunately took over two and a half hours, so pack your patience) and collected our luggage we met with our group leader Ronald. There were approximately 46 travel advisors invited to attend this familiarization tour, however once at the airport we were broken into smaller groups of 8-10 travel advisors and we were on totally different tour itineraries (also to not overcrowd the different areas and we could stay at boutique hotel properties). Ronald would be leading us around Costa Rica for the week, guiding us on our journey to share the best aspects of Pura Vida, however he not only shared “the light of Costa Rica”, but also shared with us some of the “shadows”, more on this later. The weather was very wet when we got out of the airport, like downpour of rain, oh how I missed the tropics. November is the “start” of the “dry season” in Costa Rica, the rain didn’t last long. Once we finally boarded our transfer, we headed to our hotel for the next two nights, Grano de Oro Hotel.

Hotel Grano de Oro in San Jose, Costa Rica

We arrived to the Grano de Oro Hotel with a refreshing welcome drink and our rooms ready for us to check in. I was assigned a lovely Garden View Suite with a small terrace and fountain.

My room at the Grano de Oro Hotel in San Jose

It was lovely. Before our site inspection, we met with the General Manager, Marco and he officially welcomed us with a “Tico Sour”, a twist on a Pisco Sour but instead made with Costa Rica’s Guaro liquor. He then gave us some history of the hotel and the original historical house. Grano de Oro Hotel was a private family residence belonging to the Pozuelo family, built at the turn of the 20th century. The hallways are lined with old photographs of Costa Rica in the time period the house was built, which I found to be really interesting. It’s a five star boutique hotel located in San Jose, Costa Rica. It has a historic hotel feel and has 40 rooms. The hotel is now owned by a Canadian family, who also donate the proceeds from the onsite restaurant (which the food is amazing) to a local women’s shelter.

Grano de Oro Hotel in San Jose, Costa Rica

The hotel also features a small gym and two rooftop whirlpools/hot tubs to relax and enjoy after a busy day exploring. The restaurant serves European and Costa Rican cuisine and is on the upscale side. Many say that the Grano de Oro Restaurant is the best restaurant in San Jose.

After we settled in and completed our site inspection of the hotel, we headed out for a driving tour of San Jose and ate at Cafe Mundo, which I highly recommend.

Day 2 – Costa Rica Tourism Board Trade Show, Hacienda Alsacia

I headed down for breakfast at 6:45am as we had to be on our transfer to the Costa Rica Travel Trade Show at 7:30am. Breakfast at the Grano de Oro Hotel is served in the restaurant and was served a la carte. I had the “Tico Breakfast” which was scrambled eggs, beans with rice, tortillas, local cheese, pico de gallo, sour cream and plantains.

“Tico Breakfast” at Grano de Oro Hotel

Afterwards it was time to head to the Hilton DoubleTree Cariari for the trade show. The trade show lasted for about six hours and unfortunately ran quite overtime. I still very much enjoyed it as we met various tourism suppliers and hotels. It feels good to be doing in person events again. I did feel very safe as all our presentations were done behind plexiglass (a plastic barrier).

After the trade show our group was transferred to Hacienda Alsacia (which I was extremely excited to visit, as it’s the only coffee farm that Starbucks owns).

Starbucks Coffee Farm, Hacienda Alsacia
Starbucks Coffee Farm, Hacienda Alsacia

We started off with a very late lunch (we all had a chicken pesto sandwich with a “dragon fruit mango refresher”) then we were given a tour of the coffee farm. We had the most stunning sunset over the coffee plantation as we started our tour.

Sunset at Starbucks Coffee Farm, Hacienda Alsacia

It was so interesting to learn how Starbucks is leading the way in sustainability and their research. It’s great to know that they pay a fair wage and support the families of the staff with child care, etc. It was also interesting to learn how they are reusing water and limiting their waste. 

Starbucks Coffee Farm, Hacienda Alsacia
Starbucks Coffee Farm, Hacienda Alsacia

Afterwards we headed back to San Jose, I decided to skip dinner as we had a very late lunch at Hacienda Alsacia and relaxed in Grano de Oro’s hot tub for a while before getting caught up on a few emails before bed.

You can check out my YouTube video on my travel day to Costa Rica and my visit to Starbucks Coffee Farm, Hacienda Alsacia here:

Day 3 – Travelling to Monteverde

It was another early start as we had a big travel day ahead of us. I packed up, brought my luggage to the reception desk and headed to breakfast. I had the Tico Breakfast again with a mango juice. We then boarded our mini bus for Grecia, our first stop of the day to stretch our legs. Grecia had a beautiful centre square with a church.

After a bit of a break, we continued on to Sarchi which is a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site for Intangible Goods. Here in Sarchi they are known for the ox carts, which are a national symbol of Costa Rica. We stopped in at Fabrica de Carretas Eloy Alfaro, an ox cart factory in Sarchi.

Colourful oxcarts in Sarchi, Costa Rica

They have a selection of beautiful hand made and hand painted souvenirs and also a mix of the typical Costa Rica souvenirs (aka “Made in China” stuff). The tour was interesting, all the machinery is still operated by a water wheel which was really neat to see. We then were able to see one of the artists at work, painting some glassware.

Colourful oxcarts in Sarchi, Costa Rica

After some time to peruse the gift shop, we headed to El Jardin for a Costa Rica lunch. I had a heart of palm casserole, chicken with beans and rice, a beef taquitos and a mango juice. The meals at these types of restaurants are very local and reasonable, my meal would have costed about $6-7 USD or around $10 Canadian Dollars. After lunch we had a “tailgate” outside, our group had an Imperiale beer and continued on to Monteverde.

On our way to Monteverde we stopped along the road to see a group of Howler Monkeys in a tree and a bit further up the road for some amazing views of the Nicoya Peninsula in the distance.

Two “Howler Monkeys”, the one on the left is a baby.
View towards the Nicoya Peninsula

It was quite an elevation gain, Monteverde sits at around 4,662 feet (1,440 m) above sea level. Once we arrived at our hotel, El Establo Mountain Hotel in Monteverde, we had the most incredible sunset and a visit from a very curious Coati.

A very curious “coati”
Sunset in Monteverde, Costa Rica

We had dinner at the restaurant on the hotel’s property, which was right across from our hotel block as we were in the “500’s”. Dinner was good. I had the Argentinian Steak followed by a “milk sponge cake” for dessert. The El Establo Mountain Hotel is a bit dated unfortunately. This hotel has so much potential. In my room (room 518), the blinds are very strange and don’t meet up so there is about an inch and a half gap in the center of the window. I actually caught someone looking into my room (from another tour group) which was a bit off putting. They need to install proper curtains that can close. The rooms also have no heating or air conditioning and smelled very stuffy. The glass panels open in the main hotel area and have screens, however the open glass panels in the bathroom have no screens, so with even keeping the bathroom door closed, my room was constantly full of little bugs. The wifi in my room didn’t work, when it did work it was very frustratingly slow. The furnishings are also a bit tired and the carpets need to be replaced. There is a mini fridge, Nespresso machine and “safe” (which is a safe box with a key, if you lose the key we were warned there would be a $35 USD charge). Again the location is stunning, but the rooms need to be upgraded in my opinion. 

Here is my YouTube video for our travel day through Sarchi to Monteverde, Costa Rica:

Day 4 – Adventures in Monteverde

We had a somewhat early start to the day, we headed down to breakfast at 6:30am. Breakfast was at the restaurant at the entrance to El Establo Hotel in Monteverde, at the bottom of the hill. The breakfast was a somewhat served buffet (they served you the hot items however you served yourself the cold items such as fruit, pastries and cold cuts) and was quite basic. Something didn’t agree with me and my stomach was unfortunately a bit off for the rest of the day. We then made our way to the Extremo Adventure Park.

Monteverde Extremo Park is a very active zip lining experience. The tour I did was their “Canopy Tour”. It was a series of zip lines, two of which can be done in the “Superman” position (head first and feet behind you) and a “Tarzan Swing”. I did all the ziplines in the traditional seated position as I wanted to film the tour.

Ziplining at Monteverde Extremo Park

There was quite a bit of hiking between the zip lines at times. With the altitude (we were at over 7,000 ft (2,134 m) above sea level at one point, the hiking was a bit more challenging, especially as I live at sea level. There are other zipline companies in Monteverde that you start at the top and biplane down such as Sky Adventures, they have an aerial tram that takes you to the top of the mountain and you zipline down. My adventure with Monteverde Extremo Park was still great and I really enjoyed it. After our tour we had lunch at the restaurant. I had the beef “fajitas” with rice, beans and salad. Funny enough it didn’t come with tortillas, but its was still good. We had the opportunity to see a Scarlet Macaw and a South American Golden Macaw in one of the trees.

We then headed back into Monteverde (Santa Elena) for a site inspection of the Poco a Poco Hotel. It’s a solid four star property in Monteverde at does have air-conditioning in some of their rooms. They also have a beautiful garden, pool, whirlpool, sunken fire pit and they are building a yoga area.

A refreshing welcome drink at Poco a Poco Hotel in Monteverde, Costa Rica

After the site inspection my stomach really didn’t feel any better so I did skip out on the walk in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Bio-reserve. We were driving right by our hotel so I did ask to be dropped off. One of the other people in my group decided to do the same. El Establo Mountain Hotel does have a shuttle serve for guests as it is situated on quite a steep hill. Once back in my room, I took something for my stomach and felt better within minutes. I then decided to try out the pool that was just below our hotel room block. The pool area was lovely. I really liked the suspended lounge chairs. This is also where there is a very small outdoor gym. The hotel is missing a public hot tub area, the only hot tub is located in the spa apparently and you can only use it if you have a treatment booked. The pool itself was very cold, we were warned that they only had it heated to a couple degrees above the ambient temperature, so it was only around 26C (about 78F), which to me was definitely on the cooler side. The pool was also full of bugs, which made for a very quick dip.

Pool at El Establo Mountain Hotel

I headed back up to my room and was looking forward to a nice warm shower as there wasn’t anyone back from their tours except a couple of us I believe. Unfortunately, I ran out of hot water in the shower after about two minutes, with shampoo still in my hair. This was very annoying as I know I was really the only one in our room block at the time, so it didn’t make sense. Also, each room had a large soaker tub, so again, it was a very frustrating situation to have run out of hot water in such a short amount of time. After waiting fifteen minutes in hopes the hot water would arrive, I quickly rinsed my hair in the lukewarm water and gave up, thank goodness for leave in conditioner. I then had a much needed nap after the busy morning we had. When I woke up it was time to start getting ready for dinner as we were heading back to the Poco a Poco Hotel and eating at their restaurant called Otocuma. The food was so good! I had the “Tomatoes with Fresh Local Mozzarella” to start which was so delicious, followed by the “Grilled Beef Tenderloin” for my main course.

We were then invited to eat dessert down at the sunken fire pit, so we relaxed there and all got to know each other in our group a bit more.

After a few hours had passed, we unfortunately had to say goodbye to the Poco a Poco Hotel and head back for our own hotel to go to bed. Monteverde is a great place if you’re interested in adventure and nature. In the Monteverde area you can do zip lining, mountain biking, hiking, nature walks, “night walks” (a walk to see all the creepy crawlies and animals who are nocturnal at night), waterfalls and hanging bridges.

Watch my highlights of my ziplining experience at Monteverde Extremo Park here on YouTube:

Day 5 – Travel to Isla Chiquita

I woke up at 5:00am, as we had to be packed and ready to go by 6:25am. We were heading to Isla Chiquita today on the Nicoya Peninsula and we had to catch a ferry to get there. We made a stop in Santa Elena for a few people to use the ATM, so I used the opportunity to take some photos and videos of the town. It really reminded me of Bali. Some of the little cafes here are really good and very cute. The Treehouse Restaurant is really highly recommended. The other cafes I would recommend in Santa Elena are Zuccaro Coffee and Bakery, The Open Kitchen and Cafe Monteverde. There is also a chocolate shop called Coco Cafe and Restaurant that you can visit.

Once we were all back on board the bus, we started our journey towards Puntarenas. The roads in Costa Rica are a bit hit and miss. I was told the roads were terrible, however the roads we travelled on were not that bad, however they all had spots were you did need to be careful for sure (potholes, gravel sections, etc). Now that I’ve seen and travelled on the Costa Rica roads, I would feel very confident renting a car and driving around the country myself (more on renting a car down below under my “Costa Rica Travel Tips”). Once we arrived to the ferry, we boarded the “Tambor II” for the Nicoya Peninsula.

At the time of my visit (in November 2021), you did have to pre-purchase ferry tickets on the ferry’s website. For a car and driver it costs around $25 USD and for a single walk on passenger it costs about $1.50 USD.

The ferry crossing from Puntarenas to Paquera takes about 70 minutes and is quite scenic.

We then drove about 45 minutes to Tango Mar Beach Resort, a hotel near Tambor. It is a family run hotel with some beautiful rooms right on the ocean. We were welcomed by a lovely drink and some stunning ocean views below.

The owner has really put her heart and soul into the property and it shows. The pool area is lovely. I would recommend having your own car when visiting, as there are minimal activities on the property (they don’t really have a daily program, just paid day tours that did look quite nice). As we were finishing up our lunch we were visited by a family of “White-Faced Capuchins”, which are a medium sized monkey. They were so cute and full of personality! After enjoying photographing the monkeys for a bit, we did a site inspection of the Tango Mar property and we were able to see a few of the different room categories.

We then headed back towards the ferry at Paquera to Isla Chiquita. If you come to Isla Chiquita there are a few ways to get there. You can hire a private boat from Puntarenas (which takes about 45 minutes), if you take the ferry to Paquera, you can take an included water taxi to Isla Chiquita from the ferry which take s about 10 minutes, or if you have a vehicle, you can park at their “parking area” (you take a direct left after departing the ferry down the first gravel road you see, it’s about two kilometres (or 1.25 miles) down this road) and take the water taxi from there which takes about five minutes. As we were crossing we had the most amazing sunset as we arrive to Isla Chiquita.

Once we were shuttled over to the Island on a traditional Costa Rican boat, we washed our hands and were welcomed with a very refreshing welcome drink of mint and lime juice, which was very nice, it almost tasted like a fresh mojito. I took some more footage of the sunset, it was just so spectacular. After the sun went down, we were officially welcomed by Jason, the General Manager of Isla Chiquita, who then gave us a tour of our tents and how to lock up the tent so the critters couldn’t get in (raccoons and monkeys typically try to break in for the mini bar items).

I was in tent number three, which was closer to the bottom. I had a peek a boo view of the ocean and the remnants of the sunset.

We had time to freshen up a bit, have a shower and get a little settled before our hosted dinner at “Harry’s Restaurant”. I had the bruschetta with guacamole as an “amuse bouche”, followed by a garden salad as my appetizer. I had the chicken with “Caribbean rice and vegetables and it was so good. For dessert I had a coconut, chocolate brownie with artisanal ice cream made right here at Isla Chiquita. It was then time to call it a night, so I headed back to my tent and went to bed.

Day 6 – Glamping in Costa Rica and Bio Luminescence Tour

We got to “sleep in a bit”, however I still woke up very early to the sounds of the birds. The bed was extremely comfortable and it did cool down overnight to a comfortable temperature with the fans running. I took this time to get some photos and videos of room in the daylight and to catch up on writing this blog. The tents are really well appointed. The tents have either two queen size beds or a king bed (with a “day bed” which can sleep another person).

The tents also have a Nespresso machine, fridge with mini bar setup, safe, two umbrellas, two yoga mats, a full bathroom with two sinks, amazing bath amenities, shower with a rainfall showerhead and an actual toilet (also, tip about Costa Rica, most toilets around the country you can’t flush anything including toilet paper down them, always put the toilet paper in the wastebasket beside).

They also offer a golf cart “shuttle” service as the hike up to the tents can be a bit much for some, this is a great service, especially when checking in and out with luggage. My tent was relatively near the bottom, so I only used it during our “site inspection” of the property. There isn’t a television in the room, however you don’t miss it. The wifi was great, even in my tent, I did watch some YouTube and had no issues with buffering, etc.

There are also ceiling fans in the tent as well as a standing fan, which was more than sufficient to keep me cool at night and during the day. The coffee in the tent is included, however the mini bar in my tent category was not. Due to the fact that the racoons and monkeys can unzip the tent, they have a system that you lock your tent with a “carabiner clip” to keep the wildlife from entering your tent during the day and at night to take your goodies. I headed down to the “lobby” area to take some photos and videos of the beach and pool areas. Isla Chiquita has first come, first serve beach loungers, hammocks and cabanas. I absolutely loved this area and really wish we had more time to enjoy it, however I’ll definitely be back!

It was then time for breakfast followed by our PCR Covid tests to get back into Canada. The tests were a bit on the pricier side if I’ll be honest, however they did come to us here at Isla Chiquita, so it was very convenient. Our price was $155 USD for a PCR test each, however this could be a different price than typical due to us being a group. Some of the other groups had different testing costs as they were in less remote areas. I’ll go into testing a bit more later. After our tests, we did a bit of a site inspection and learned more about what Isla Chiquita Glamping had to offer. There are hiking and walking trails around the island, a yoga pavilion, an outdoor, secluded spa which has a stunning view over the water and of course their beach areas.

They do have two restaurants onsite and the food here at Isla Chiquita is so delicious. They were also very accommodating to my dietary needs and allergies. The food portions are also huge, most of the time, we couldn’t finish our meals as they were so big, but it’s great value. The fresh juices and hand-crafted cocktails were also delicious. I highly recommend staying at Isla Chiquita, if you’d like more information on how to book this property, you can contact me by clicking here. After our site inspection of Isla Chiquita, we then headed out on their private boat for a tour of the islands around Isla Chiquita including a visit to Isla Tortuga, a popular snorkeling and beach spot. Along the way there, Christian our guide on the boat, pointed out the tuna that were jumping out of the water and hunting. So we stopped for him to try to fish some out of the water. The boat we were on can be rented from Isla Chiquita for guided fishing charters (they also have a “local” style boat for a more traditional fishing tour), half day or full day snorkeling/boat tours and private boat transfers to and from Puntarenas. It’s a beautiful boat, with an air conditioned seating area underneath with comfortable seating. All of us however preferred sitting out on deck, enjoying the sunshine. We arrived at a rock near Isla Tortuga for snorkeling, however the visibility in the water wasn’t great. Apparently as we were still close to rainy season this was the reason why the water wasn’t very clear, in mid-December into January the water around these areas get very clear, however it also depends on how many other boats with tours are in the area.

We then went to one of the more quieter beaches near Isla Tortuga and had it all to ourselves.

It was then time to head back to Isla Chiquita, so we got back onboard the boat and they took us to view “Rainbow Rock” and Curu Wildlife Refuge (which apparently is an amazing place to see Scarlet Macaws, monkeys, many other animals and birds).

Once back at Isla Chiquita we had a group lunch at Donde Tía Nora Restaurant. I had the “tropical ceviche” for a starter, “chicken tacos” for my main and again I had the “coconut brownie” for dessert.

I then when back up to my tent, showered and washed my hair. The hot water for the tents is all solar hot water! During the day they also draw power from solar panels on the property (they do have power from the mainland as a back up). It’s such a sustainable little resort, I love it. I then relaxed in my tent, took some content photos and reviewed some of the photos that I took to post to my instagram. Afterwards, I got changed and ready for our Bioluminescence tour and headed down to the main area for sunset.

Sunsets here are absolutely stunning.

It was then time to gather and head off on our “Bioluminescence tour”. We all put on life jackets and headed to the dock and boarded one of the boats. Christian was our guide again and explained what Bioluminescence was and how it occurs. We went to the other side of the island to a cove where we were able to see the Bioluminescence, however it was extremely faint, the water basically “sparkled” a bit blue when we put our hands in it. The best time to see the Bioluminescence is during the new moon or on a very cloudy night. You really need no moonlight coming through or it will be very hard to see. Unfortunately as we were almost at a full moon we barely saw it and none of my cameras could catch the bright blue glow. We did the tour with Isla Chiquita, however there is another tour you can do near Curu Wildlife Reserve which actually lets you off onto the beach to really see the Bioluminescence crash against the shoreline (I’m personally going to try this one next time). Our tour continued with seeing some of the fish illuminated in the water including a “puffer fish” and a few “needle fish”. The tour was about an hour in length and I did find it very interesting. I learned a lot about the local sea life here around Isla Chiquita.

Once back at Isla Chiquita it was time for dinner again outside, under the stars at Donde Tía Nora Restaurant. I had the amuse bouche of a heart of palm with salad, followed by grilled tomatoes with mozzarella cheese and herbs as my appetizer. My main course was grilled chicken “puttanesca” and turned potatoes. The food here at Isla Chiquita is AMAZING. They can cater to many different types of dietary requirements (with advance notice), and I was blown away by the quality of food. The portion sizes were actually a bit large for my liking, but it’s great value for the money. For dessert I had the coconut chocolate brownie again, however this time I had the homemade coconut ice cream on top. It was the best.

During dinner I did get my results that my Covid test came back “negative”! Always the best test to “fail”. It was unfortunately time for bed afterwards, so I headed back to my tent, got ready for bed and watched some YouTube before officially calling it a night.

Watch the next part of my Costa Rica Travel Series featuring Isla Chiquita here:

Day 7 – Leaving Isla Chiquita, Travelling to Puntarenas and Los Suenos

The next morning I woke up early to a thunderstorm. It was so soothing and relaxing hearing the rain on the tent and the thunder in the distance. I enjoyed coffee on my deck then rolled out one of the yoga mats, did some yoga, journaling and meditation to start the day in a much needed way.

I had another wonderful shower and started to pack up as we were leaving this morning for our last night at the Marriott Los Suenos. After I was all packed, I said “good bye” to my tent and headed down to meet everyone for breakfast. For breakfast I had fresh fruit with a drizzle of yogurt to start, followed by a fresh baked bun with guava jam (so good) and a traditional “Tico” breakfast of pico de gallo, sour cream, beans with rice, scrambled eggs and tortillas with local cheese.

After breakfast, we said farewell to Isla Chiquita and took the included water taxi over to their parking area, where we boarded our bus.

We then drove back over to the ferry from Paquera to Puntarenas. It was a smooth crossing, I chose to sit inside this crossing in the air conditioned comfort and work a bit on this blog post. This ferry boat seemed to have better air conditioning inside than the last one. Once in Puntarenas we boarded our bus again and made our way to the Fiesta Resort for a site inspection and lunch. The Fiesta Resort is a three star resort in my experience and right on the water. To be honest the resort is in a dire need of a major overhaul (they are doing some upgrades by the looks of things). If you’re looking for a very cheap getaway, this could be the resort for you, however most of the rooms that we saw were quite musty and not in the best condition. After our visit to the Fiesta Resort, we went to the Doka Tarcoles Crocodile River Cruise and got to experience this great tour! The tour was just over an hour long, however we got to see some HUGE crocodiles up close, like, REALLY up close and even saw one catch a bird mid flight (unfortunately I’ll never forget that crunch).

It was like a safari and highly recommend it. In addition to seeing some of the crocodiles, we were able to see so many species of birds. If you’re a birder, I wasn’t and was still so into photographing the different types, you’ll really love this experience.

Afterwards, the rain started really coming down and we made our way back to the bus and to our final destination of the night, the Marriott Los Suenos. The Marriott Los Suenos is beautiful.

We were welcomed with a refreshing welcome drink as we were checked in. I was assigned an Ocean View King with Balcony. All rooms are really well equipped with a closet, robes, safe, Nespresso machine, mini fridge, desk area, sitting area and hammock right in the room. The hammock is a sustainability partnership with a women’s weaving program in Mexico which was a great touch.

In my room category I also had a table and chairs set out on my balcony and another hammock overlooking the extensive pool area and ocean in the distance. I had a lovely welcome note and sweets platter from the General Manager of the hotel, Florencia. It was time to do a quick outfit change and head downstairs to the “Hacienda Kitchen” restaurant for a lovely dinner served “family style”. It was all the “Chef’s choice” and it was an amazing spread!

It was such a nice way to end our time here in Costa Rica and I am so very grateful. After dinner, I headed back upstairs and had an early night, it was a busy day of travelling.

Day 8 – Marriott Los Suenos and My Travel Day Home

I slept so good. The beds that Marriott uses are so comfortable. I did wake up early to create some content, but also to relax, enjoy my coffee and meditate out in the hammock on my balcony. We really unfortunately didn’t have enough time here, however I’ll be back for sure. I had my shower, got ready and packed up for the last time. I dropped my luggage with the bell desk and checked out. We then all met up for our last breakfast at Hacienda Kitchen. Hacienda Kitchen has an amazing breakfast buffet in the mornings. It is all served, you simply let them know what you would like and someone will serve it to you.

The food was so fresh and tasted really good. Afterwards we did a site inspection of the Marriott Los Suenos and I was able to see a couple more room categories, including one of the brand new “Swim Up King Rooms”.

We also did a quick tour around the gold course to try one last time to see a sloth. We got to see some iguanas, however we didn’t get to see a sloth this trip. Guess I’ll be coming back to Costa Rica again one day! We sadly had to board our bus for the last time and start our way back towards the San Jose International Airport for our flight back to Toronto (then onwards to Vancouver). From Marriott Los Suenos to the San Jose International Airport it did take about an hour and a half using the new toll highway. This was also on a Thursday and apparently on the weekends it can be a lot busier. So give yourself more time as needed.

Once at the airport, we said our “good byes” to Ronald and Aiden our driver. Ronald, our guide for the week was so amazing. He was so honest and educated us on the “lights and shadows” of Costa Rica. I will be booking him for my clients who are looking for a guided experience of Costa Rica in the future. He also does active tours, such as biking tours of Costa Rica as well.

Watch the last part of my Costa Rica video series on YouTube here:

Costa Rica Travel Tips:

Best Time to Visit Costa Rica

You can visit Costa Rica year rounds, however keep in mind there is a “Dry Season” and a “Rainy Season”. Typically the dry season is from mid-November to April and the rainy season is from May to November. It also depends where in Costa Rica you are visiting as there are so many micro-climates within the country. On my trip for instance, it was very warm in San Jose and on the Nicoya Peninsula, however I did need a wrap or my jacket in Monteverde as we were quite high up.

Renting a Car in Costa Rica

Renting a car can be very frustrating if you’re not prepared. Some people see a great deal online, book the car, only to find out at pickup there is an extra insurance charge and a pretty hefty deposit they take on your credit card (sometimes car rental companies block a deposit of $2000-$5000 USD, depending on the type of vehicle rented, on your credit card). So it’s really important to hire a travel advisor such as myself to help you clarify things or really look into the terms and conditions of the rental car company you’re planning on booking through. Some companies will accept the extra insurance through your credit card, however you need to bring proof from the credit card that you’re covered and you’ll still have a damage deposit “block” on your credit card. If you take the full insurance through the car rental company, some companies take a smaller damage deposit ($250 to $750 USD, again depending on the type of vehicle rented and the rental company used). Gas stations in Costa Rica are also “full service”, meaning someone will fill your gas tank for you with gas/petrol/diesel.

Currency

The currency in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican Colon. Most places however charge in US Dollars, which as a Canadian I was a bit frustrated by. If you use US Dollars to purchase something, you will typically get your change back in Costa Rican Colons, not USD. It is worth having some Colons if you are renting a car, especially for the toll roads, etc. At the time of this blog’s publishing date it was about $1 USD to 650 Costa Rican Colons or $1 CDN to 500 Costa Rican Colons.

Toilets

Yes, “toilets” is a Costa Rica travel tip. In most toilets around the country you can’t flush anything including toilet paper down them, always put the toilet paper in the wastebasket beside. In most places, you will see this reminder, but just a heads up that this is something to watch for when you visit Costa Rica.

Safety

Costa Rica is generally a pretty safe country, however as with any country you visit, you should be aware of petty crime (pickpockets, cell phone thefts, etc) in busy areas such as the Central Market in San Jose, local and regional bus stops, airports, beaches, etc. There have also been reports of traffic police pulling people over for bribes.

Solo Travel

I did travel on this particular trip to Costa Rica with a FAM tour group, however I typically travel as a solo female. I would feel quite safe travelling around Costa Rica as a solo female and plan to do so on my next trip there. That being said, I don’t typically stay in hostels or Airbnb’s, but opt to stay in higher rated hotel accommodations. I also don’t go to clubs or bars at night, unless I’m travelling with close friends.

Language

The primary language in Costa Rica spoken is Spanish, however most tourism businesses (hotels, restaurants, car rentals, transfer services, attractions and day tours) typically speak English as well. It is worth practicing some basic Spanish while in Costa Rica, even just to be polite.

Covid Protocols in Costa Rica

I felt very safe while travelling in Costa Rica. Currently at the time of my trip, we did have to wear masks inside businesses and restaurants (until you were seated). As of January 8, 2022; hotels, restaurants, bars, casinos, shops, museums, art and dance academies, gyms, resorts, and adventure tourism will only admit people fully vaccinated with the country-approved vaccines (Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, and Janssen). Proof of vaccination will be verified using a QR code (attached to the Health Pass/Pase de Salud) or the printed vaccination certificate. This requirement applies to everyone 12 years of age and older. Essential services such as supermarkets and pharmacies will not require proof of vaccination.

As mentioned earlier in this guide, currently to board your flight to Costa Rica, you do need to fill out an online health declaration or a “Pase de Salud”, which needs to be completed within 72 hours of entering Costa Rica (click here for link to the official declaration website). This service on the Costa Rica Government’s website is free. If you visit a website that wants to charge you to fill out this form, you aren’t on the correct website. You do need to be fully vaccinated or show proof of travel insurance that covers for Covid-19 in case you do catch it while in Costa Rica. They are checking for the QR code and pass to board your flight to Costa Rica and once in Costa Rica I was asked for it at immigration. I saved the full screen shot of the QR code onto my phone in my favourites for ease.

Covid Testing in Costa Rica

There are many options for testing in Costa Rica available. Please be sure to check what type of test you need to re-enter your country of origin and what time frame you need to be tested within. Most hotels and resorts in Costa Rica can arrange testing for you, either directly at the property or at a recommended testing site nearby. I’m going to be trying a few home testing kits that I can bring along with me when I travel for future trips. With the home testing kits they’re available in both antigen or as a LAMP-PCR, you simply do a tele-health appointment from where you are, upload your results and your certificate is emailed to you. This way you just need access to wi-fi for the test and is usually a more affordable option.

Things to Pack for Costa Rica

Some items I suggest to bring to Costa Rica are:

  • Bug spray (dengue fever and zika virus are very much a thing in Costa Rica)
  • Rain coat/weatherproof jacket (if you’re planning on visiting the mountains or in rainy season, something that is very useful)
  • Snorkeling gear (I’m a bit of a germaphobe, so this is just a personal preference)
  • Water shoes (if you plan on visiting some of the hot springs or go canyoning, water shoes can make things a bit more comfortable for you)
  • Reef safe sunscreen (it’s just the right thing to use and start purchasing if you already don’t for sustainability purposes)
  • Travel insurance (not really a thing to pack, but more of a strong suggestion to make sure you are covered in case of any emergencies)

In Conclusion…

I have full intentions and plans to go back to Costa Rica. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but I loved my visit to Costa Rica. There are so many other places I’d now love to see including more of San Jose (to check out the markets and some of the other areas during the day), more of the Nicoya Peninsula (Montezuma, Mal Pais, Santa Teresa), more to the south along the Pacific Coast to the area around Manuel Antonio National Park, some of the northern areas around Arenal for the hot springs and finally, Guanacaste. I’ll be updating this blog post again on my next visit, which I really hope won’t be too far away.

Thank you again so much to the Costa Rican Tourism Board and their partners in Canada for hosting me. It was truly an epic experience.

Safe Travels,

Ariane

As a Virtuoso Travel Advisor my clients typically receive added benefits when booking vacations such as trips to Costa Rica through me. I’d love to work with you as your travel advisor, to contact me for more information click here.

Fairmont Chateau Whistler – Hotel Review

Updated: July 2021

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler is one of my favourite hotels to stay at whilst visiting Whistler, Canada. It’s perfect location, slope side on Blackcomb Mountain (Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort) is so convenient for both Summer and Winter activities.

The service you receive at the Fairmont Whistler is also impeccable and very unassuming, everyone is so friendly. It feels like a relaxing lodge from the moment you walk in. Even the scent they use inside smells of the woods and sets the mood for your getaway.

When you arrive to the Whistler Fairmont by car, the valet staff at the front door greet you and help with your bags and deliver them to your room for you. In the winter they take your skis to the storage area for you as well. They offer both self park and valet services for your vehicle.

Hotel Rooms:

The hotel rooms at the Fairmont Whistler are really well appointed and were updated (bathrooms were fully renovated) a couple years ago, however they still have the traditional decor that they are famous for. The Fairmont Gold Rooms and Suites have just been completely renovated and look amazing, more on that soon. Every room features either a very comfortable king size bed or two queens (depending on room booked), Le Labo bath amenities, mini bar (extra charges), coffee and tea making station (Keurig coffee machine (some rooms on the “Gold” floor have Nespresso machines and a hot water kettle), fluffy robes and slippers, in room safe, umbrellas (for use during your stay) and informational magazines on Whistler. I would definitely recommend the rooms that face the mountain (and overlook the pool) as it’s a gorgeous view, well worth the upgrade. This hotel also has a smoke-free policy.

King Room at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler
2 Queen Bed Room at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler

Fairmont One Bedroom Valley View Suite

If you’re looking for a bit more room for a family or just for a romantic getaway, I highly suggest booking one of the One Bedroom Valley View Suites. It features two bathrooms, a living room with dining area and fireplace, the bedroom has either two queen beds or one king. The bathroom off the bedroom features a double sink, a jacuzzi bathtub and a separate large shower with rainfall showerhead.

Fairmont One Bedroom Valley View Suite
Fairmont One Bedroom Valley View Suite
Fairmont One Bedroom Valley View Suite
Fairmont One Bedroom Valley View Suite

The bath amenities as I mentioned are Le Labo, the Fairmont Hotels here in Canada use the Rose 31 formulation which smells heavenly.

With Covid-19, there was also a “stay healthy kit” provided on the desk with antibacterial wipes, face masks, gloves and hand sanitizer. Also due to the pandemic, the tea and coffee was in a “kit” and is packed up for each guest.

Fairmont Gold Experience:

If you ever get the chance to experience one of their Fairmont Gold rooms, the added amenities you receive are awesome. These newly renovated rooms and suites are amazing. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing it quite a few times myself and you can upgrade upon check in if they have availability. The rooms are larger, bright and feature fireplaces. Gold rooms also have “essential oil capsules” for your shower. When you stay in a Fairmont Gold room or suite, you have access to the newly redesigned Fairmont Gold Lounge. It offers a concierge service that is dedicated to the Fairmont Gold guests, an included breakfast (similar to what they serve in The Wildflower downstairs), included appetizers in the afternoon, honour bar, dessert service in the evening and coffee and tea available throughout the day (the coffee/espresso machine is so worth it, especially for that afternoon pick-me-up). Please note however these offerings might have changed due recently due to Covid-19, so check with the Fairmont’s website for up to date Fairmont Gold Lounge offerings.

Newly Renovated Fairmont Gold Rooms – Love the new design, light and luxurious
The new, totally resigned Fairmont Gold Lounge
The new, totally resigned Fairmont Gold Lounge
Essential Oil Shower Capsules in the Fairmont Gold Rooms
Views from a Mountain View Room at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler

Dining:

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler has some amazing dining experiences on-property and near by. Even if I’m not staying at the hotel, I tend to come to either The Mallard Lounge (especially if it’s “Fairmont Fridays” in the winter) or Portobello for their gourmet donuts and “carving station”.

The Wildflower:

A great option for breakfast in the morning. Typically they offer an amazing traditional brunch (buffet style breakfast with made to order items including an omelet station and carving station), however due to Covid-19 they are currently only offering an a la carte menu at the time of this travel guide being released. My go to breakfast here is usually the Eggs Benedict, it’s so delicious! They also have an amazing dinner menu. During my most recent stay, The Wildflower at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler was offering a 3 Course Dinner Menu (starter, main course and dessert) for $49.00.

A La Carte Breakfast at The Wildflower in the Fairmont Chateau Whistler
Bison Carpaccio to start, part of The Wildflower’s $49 – 3 Course Tasting Menu
Chicken Breast for my main course, part of The Wildflower’s $49 – 3 Course Tasting Menu
Carrot Cake for dessert, part of The Wildflower’s $49 – 3 Course Tasting Menu

The Grill Room:

Located within The Wildflower (at the back of the restaurant in it’s own elevated section) this is as it’s named, the steakhouse at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. The Grill Room is only open for dinner and features an amazing menu. They use many locally sourced ingredients and are a participant in the “Ocean wise” program. The Grill Room offers a great, intimate atmosphere perfect for a special dinner for two, or even some fun (think sabring a bottle of Champagne) if you’re visiting Whistler with a group of friends. You won’t leave disappointed. I’ve had a few amazing meals here. However, unfortunately due to Covid-19 they have temporarily closed The Grill Room (I’ll update this post once it’s been reopened).

The Mallard Lounge:

I usually have a “night cap” at the Mallard Lounge in the Fairmont Whistler. It’s a relaxed lounge atmosphere but with that touch of class. Hand-crafted cocktails, great food, wood burning fireplaces, comfy chairs, live music on select evenings, what more could you ask for? They also have a heated patio area with the “fire pit tables” which is also a nice touch for cooler evenings. In the winter months they also have their version of “Happy Hour” but they call it “Fairmont Fridays”. During Fairmont Fridays they offer free nibbles along with some great drink specials. My favourite drink to order here is an “Empress 1908 Gin and Tonic”. Also, the nachos are really good and a massive portion.

Empress 1908 Gin and Tonic

Portobello:

Portobello is a great dine in or grab and go option even if you’re not staying at the Fairmont Whistler. They’re open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and have some great offerings including; delicious gourmet donuts (they change everyday and usually sell out before lunch, so get there early for the best selections), carving station (try the mac and cheese, it’s so yummy!), full bar with local brews on tap, a cafe (all the espresso drinks you could ever need to fuel your day) then take your meal, treat or beverage outside to relax by a fire pit.

Try the gourmet donuts at Portobello at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler
Outdoor, relaxed seating at Portobello at Fairmont Chateau Whistler

The Woodlands Rooftop:

Typically this is the Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s garden rooftop event space (for weddings, corporate events, yoga retreats and more), during this past Summer in 2020 (due to event cancellations because of Covid-19) they offered an amazing range of safe, socially distanced, pop up restaurant experiences. From a Summer BBQ series to Oktoberfest, be sure to ask the concierge if they are hosting any pop up restaurant events during your stay.

The Clubhouse:

Located at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club, The Clubhouse is another great dining option in Whistler, although not attached to the hotel. In the summer months, it is open for lunch and dinner. Dinner during the winter months however, this is transformed into “The Chalet”, a fondue dining experience, again something I highly recommend. They also offer a complementary car service to the Golf Club for dining reservations.

Snow Globes at Fairmont Chateau Whistler:

This new experience introduced this past Winter 2021 season looks incredible! Each dome is themed with a partner (this winter’s sponsors were Fever-Tree, Stella Artois, Blasted Church Vineyards and Roche Wines). Each dome can accommodate six guests and features a “5 Course Dining Experience”.

Snow Globes at Fairmont Chateau Whistler

Amenities at The Fairmont Chateau Whistler:

The amenities at this world-class resort are amazing. This hotel truly does cater to everyone and any age. From the health club, yoga and included activities such as local guided walks, there’s something for everyone. Please note, amenities can change without notice, so it’s always good to check the Fairmont Whistler’s website for the most up to date information (however I do try to keep this as up to date as possible). Also, check the “daily newsletter” which you can pick up at the concierge desk or you’ll have it delivered to your room every morning of your stay for all the activities, dining hours, etc that the Fairmont Chateau Whistler offers.

Health Club and Pools:

Probably my favourite pool in Whistler. They’ve recently upgraded the deck chairs and furniture this summer (2020) and it’s got a great vibe. It offers a large indoor/outdoor heated pool, an outdoor dedicated lap/activity pool (they offer AquaFit classes on certain days), three hot tub/whirlpools (one is always reserved as “Adults Only”), in the winter months they also add two barrel style cedar saunas and a fire pit. There is also full bar service available which is so nice year round. Either a glass of Prosecco after a hike in the summer poolside or even a Bailey’s and Coffee in the winter, the poolside menu is pretty decent for its offerings. Inside in the Health Club, you’ll find an additional whirlpool/hot tub, a fixed sauna year round and both change rooms (men and women) features its own eucalyptus steam room. The gym is also located in this area with lots of top of the line cardio equipment (they even have Peleton bikes), TRX and weights and also offers an area for stretching. You will also find a few flavoured waters, tea and coffee station inside the Health Club as well.

Tea and Coffee Station in the Health Club
Water Station at the Health Club
The pools at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s Health Club

Also, even if you can’t check into your room, or if you need to check out (check out time currently is at 11:00am), you can still book access to the Health Club and Pool. They have great change rooms with lockers, so it makes it easy to relax and not need to rush.

If you are someone who does work out, but you don’t necessarily want to pack your gym outfit (or you just forgot one), you can sign up for Fairmont’s Fit Gear program. When you have the information filled out in your Accor profile (your size for clothing and shoes), they will have a t-shirt, capris for women (shorts for men), a pair of socks and shoes delivered to your room. It’s an awesome program and I take advantage of it frequently.

Fairmont’s Fit Gear Kit that you will find in your room upon arrival

Yoga:

They also offer included yoga classes in their yoga room, usually classes are twice a day (they used to have a morning stretch class and an afternoon restorative class, however on my last visit this was changed to two morning classes). Check the “daily newsletter” which you can pick up at the concierge desk or you’ll have it delivered to your room every morning of your stay.

Village Shuttle/Car Service:

They offer a free village shuttle with four different stops throughout Whistler Village (a foot saver if you wanted to wear a nice pair of heels to dinner). They also have a few Fairmont Whistler BMW’s that they can also help get you to the Golf Clubhouse, or to dinner reservations if you do miss the shuttle (based on availability). Shuttle usually runs between 7am and 10pm.

“Whistler Experience Guide”:

Again, check the “daily newsletter” for all the daily offerings, however this is where the Whistler Fairmont is a step above most hotels in Whistler. They offer some amazing included activities that are also very family friendly. From a guided Lost Lake Hiking experience, a guided Whistler Museum walk, visiting Brandywine Falls, biking around Green Lake and even a guided walk to Train Wreck. The activities available do change daily, also obviously are based on the time of year and weather permitting.

My version of a “steamy morning” at the Whistler Fairmont – Pool Deck in the Winter Feature “Barrel Saunas”

Winter:

Located within walking distance of the new Blackcomb Gondola on Blackcomb Mountain (part of the Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort), Fairmont Chateau Whistler offers a great ski in/out accessibility and an included Ski Valet service with your stay (they usually also provide much needed hot chocolate after a long day skiing the slopes at the tent in the afternoon).

Summer:

Again, being so close to the Blackcomb Gondola, Fairmont Whistler’s accessibility to the mountain for sightseeing and hiking is perfect. The “Whistler Experience Guide” also offers guided tours of Whistler Blackcomb (however you do need to purchase your own day pass or have a summer pass, it’s not included in the tour).

Golf:

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club is located nearby and is a 18-hole Audubon-certified course. It’s so beautiful and welcomes all levels to play. The Clubhouse is a great place for a meal and has a full pro shop available as well.

In Conclusion:

I just wanted to end this hotel review by saying that this guide is not sponsored by Fairmont Chateau Whistler in any way. This is just my honest review and opinion of a hotel that I frequently visit personally in Whistler, British Columbia and that I love. It’s definitely one of my top two favourite hotels in Whistler to stay at and it feels like a second home to me. Again, I can’t say enough about the service, everyone is so friendly and truly wants to make your stay special and unique.

If you are looking to book your next “staycation” in Whistler, I’d love to help you out! As I am a Virtuoso Travel Advisor Member, my clients receive additional benefits when booking through me. These benefits range from upgrades on arrival (subject to availability), daily full breakfast for two (per room, served in the restaurant), a welcome amenity, $100 USD equivalent Food and Beverage credit to be used during your stay, early check-in/late check-out (subject to availability) and complementary Wi-Fi.

Please contact me for more details to book your next vacation or getaway to Whistler or please reach out if you have any further questions about staying at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

If you’re looking at what to do or where to eat in Whistler, you can read my Whistler Travel Guide here.

Safe Travels!

Ariane

Westin Resort and Spa Whistler – Hotel Review

The Westin Resort and Spa Whistler is a beautiful, family friendly hotel in Whistler, Canada. It was even named one of the Best Resorts in Canada by Conde Nast Traveler in 2019. It’s located slope side on Whistler Mountain (Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort) which is so convenient for both Summer and Winter activities.

I personally have been staying at this hotel for quite a few years now and the two features that this hotel has that I absolutely love is a full kitchenette and fireplace in every room. So if you’re a family looking for a great hotel for your next Whistler vacation, I highly suggest looking into the Westin Resort & Spa Whistler.

Hotel Rooms:

The hotel rooms at the Westin Resort and Spa Whistler are really well furnished and rooms were fully renovated within the last year to two years. Every room features a full kitchenette with stainless steel Whirlpool appliances. Yes, a fridge with a freezer, oven, microwave, stovetop and dishwasher in every hotel room. Some rooms even have in-suite laundry (or laundry facilities can be found on every floor).

Rooms have very comfortable Westin branded “Heavenly Beds”, either a queen or king size bed or two queens (depending on room booked), fireplace, Westin bath amenities, coffee and tea making in the kitchenette (coffee machine (with Starbucks coffee) and hot water kettle with Tazo teas), robes and slippers and an in room safe. This hotel also has a smoke-free policy.

2 Queen Room at the Westin Resort and Spa Whistler
2 Queen Room Bathroom at the Westin Resort & Spa Whistler
Kitchenettes in every hotel room at the Westin Whistler
1 Bedroom Suite at the Westin Resort and Spa Whistler
1 Bedroom Suite – Sitting Room and Dining Area at the Westin Resort and Spa Whistler

I love sitting in front of the fireplace with a cup of coffee or a glass or wine after a long hike or a day skiing on Whistler Blackcomb.

Some of the hotel rooms also feature a small balcony, which is perfect for morning coffee and enjoying the fresh mountain air.

Dining:

The Westin Resort and Spa Whistler has some great dining choices on-property and especially near by, as it’s located in the heart of Whistler Village.

Grill & Vine:

A great option for breakfast in the morning. Typically they offer a buffet style breakfast, however due to Covid-19 they are currently only offering an a la carte menu at the time of this travel guide being released. Dinner here is casual and very focused on west coast cuisine. Some of my personal favourites are the Beef Tenderloin and the Wild Mushroom Ravioli, highly recommend. Unfortunately due to Covid-19, Grill & Vine at this time is temporarily closed for dinner service.

FireRock Lounge:

FireRock typically has awesome daily drink specials. One of my favs here are the Avocado Fries served with a sriracha mayo, so delicious. In the summer they have a huge patio which gets the late afternoon/evening sun and in the winter the inside fireplace is a cozy place to enjoy apres ski.

The Grill & Vine Grab and Go:

It’s as it’s named, a grab & go with yogurts, cookies, muffins, sandwiches and other snacks. They also serve Starbucks Coffee (though not an official Starbucks). It’s great to grab something early in the morning or a few items for a packed lunch for your hike or bike ride. With Covid-19, they are offering a more limited menu here than normal as well.

Main Lobby of the Westin Resort and Spa

Amenities at The Westin Resort & Spa Whistler:

The amenities at this hotel are great and family friendly. Please note, amenities can change without notice, so it’s always good to check the Westin Whistler’s website for the most up to date information (however I do try to keep this as up to date as possible).

Pool Area at the Westin Resort and Spa Whistler

Westin Workout (Gym) and Pools:

It offers a large indoor/outdoor heated pool and two hot tub/whirlpools (one is inside). Inside in the wellness centre, you’ll find a sauna and both change rooms (men and women) features its own eucalyptus steam room. The gym is also located in this area with really good quality cardio equipment, weights and also offers an area for stretching. Usually you will also find a water station inside the wellness centre as well, however due to Covid-19, I noticed this was removed for the time being. You can ask for a bottle of water and they will provide one to you at no charge. They also limited the amount of time and number of people using the wellness centre and pool areas, I go into a deeper explanation later in this guide.

Outdoor Pool Area of the Westin Whistler
Outdoor Pool and Hot Tub at the Westin Resort and Spa Whistler

Winter:

Located within walking distance of the Whistler Gondola on Whistler Mountain (Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort) and easy access to Excalibur Gondola (to Blackcomb Mountain), the Westin Resort & Spa Whistler offers an included Ski Valet service with your stay. If you are a family coming to Whistler to ski, the Westin Whistler is very convenient as Whistler Kids (Whistler Blackcomb’s Kids Club) runs some of the kids programs from one of the rooms in the Westin Whistler’s Convention Centre.

Summer:

Again, being so close to the Whistler Gondola and Fitzsimmons Express Chairlift, Westin Whistler’s accessibility to Whistler Blackcomb for downhill mountain biking, sightseeing and hiking is perfect.

Current Covid-19 Protocols:

There are a few new protocols in place due to Covid-19. This information is correct at time of posting this guide, however please be sure to adhere to the information on their website as this information can change. Also, please only travel if it’s still advised/safe to do so.

I did also stay after the Covid-19 protocols were in place, the following is based on my most recent experience. Once you arrive at the hotel, you are strongly encouraged to wear a mask upon entry to the hotel, if you don’t have one, the Valet at the door will provide you with one (masks are required in public places at time of posting of this guide) and you check in at the reception desks with full plexiglass barriers installed in the lobby.

Reception desks have full plexiglass barriers installed
Masks are required to be worn inside the Westin Whistler

Due to social distancing, they do have a restriction on the number of guests in the pool area, so there is a current allowance of one hour for the pool and a maximum of 25 guests. I did visit the hotel mid-week, so I was able to stay longer than the hour as they didn’t reach the 25 person limit. I was also able to use the wellness centre multiple time in the day without any issues (again, this might differ if you were to visit on a weekend, this was just my experience).

Elevators at the Whistler Westin have social distancing stickers on the floor and a very convenient hand sanitizing on the wall inside

Check in is at 4:00pm right now due to extra deep cleaning protocols between guests (they don’t have a resting time between guest stays as they use an electrostatic spray during cleaning), I was still able to check in at 11:00am and my room was ready (again, my stay was mid-week), which I was able to drop my luggage and get settled into my room. Also, even if you can’t check into your room, or if you need to check out (check out time currently is at 10:00am), you can still access the wellness centre and pool. They have great change rooms with lockers, so it makes it easy to relax and not need to rush.

In Conclusion:

I just wanted to end this hotel review by saying that this guide is just my honest review and opinion of a hotel that I frequently visit personally in Whistler, British Columbia and I always enjoy my stay. I’m a member of Marriott’s Bonvoy rewards program, so I do stay here a couple times per year to help with retaining my status. It’s definitely one of my top three favourite hotels in Whistler to stay at.

I hope you enjoyed this review, if you’re looking to book a getaway to Whistler or if you have any questions at all about the Whistler Westin please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Also, check out my full Travel Guide to Whistler here.

Safe Travels!

Ariane

My Travel Guide to Santorini, Greece

Santorini is one of my all time favourite destinations to visit. I absolutely LOVE this island. I love it so much, I’ve already travelled here twice in the course of just over a year. It’s more than just romantic, it feels like another world. The sunsets here are incredible, and the charming towns that line the clifftops are beyond beautiful.

You can get to the Cyclades island of Santorini a few ways. Located in the Aegean Sea, most people visit Santorini for the day via cruise ship. You can also fly in (airport code JTR) and even arrive by ferry from Athens (or from many of the other Greek Islands) for longer stays.

If you’re visiting by cruise ship, you will have to tender (your cruise ship anchors out in the caldera and you are ferried onto the bottom of the cliff of Thira (Fira). You will then have a few choices. You can take a gondola/cable car to the top of the cliff side, a boat to Oia (sounds like EE YA), walk up the stairs or ride a donkey up. I’m going to be very honest, please, please, please do not ride the donkeys up the hill. They are overworked, working in very hot conditions and getting injured. Conde Nast Traveller wrote an article on the donkeys of Santorini that you can find here. Please keep in mind being a socially responsible traveller, especially when it comes to animal welfare. The cable car up is €6 per person, per direction, so €12 per person round trip. I recently did the boat to Oia option on my last trip, taking a boat from where the cruise ship tenders drop off. This option was €15 per person which includes the boat to Oia, bus ride up the hill into Oia and then the bus ride back to Thira.

Getting Around Santorini:

If you decide to check out Thira first, once at the top of the hill, you can’t help but take in the magnificent views. This island is just beautiful everywhere. Thira is one of the main towns on Santorini. It’s where you will find the main bus terminal (public bus system run by KTEL). A bus ticket to most areas on the island is around a €1.80 to €2.50 per direction, honestly it’s a great deal and the public buses are coach style buses. A bus from Thira to Oia will cost you €1.80 per direction.

Here’s how to get to the bus station from the cable car (red dot is the cable car, yellow dot is the bus depot, it’s about a 10 minute walk):

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Taxis on Santorini are limited and can be expensive. Renting a car, motorbike and/or ATV is the other option most visitors opt for. Rough costs for this depend on the depot and rental company used.

Things to see and do:

There are so many things to see and experience on Santorini. It’s a place to take in the beauty, relax and unwind. I’ve broke down some of the top sights and things to do based on each town.

Oia – Probably the most iconic town that tourists flock to. Here in Oia, my favourite thing to do is just to wander the streets and enjoy the sights. I love photographing the whitewashed homes, clinging to the cliffside. It’s just an incredible view. If you’re here for the day, visit early in the morning before the cruise ship crowds descend on this small village. Once 11:00am rolls around it can be very busy here as it is such a popular destination. Crowds don’t dissipate until later in the afternoon depending on the cruise ship schedules. Sunsets are absolutely amazing, however Oia can still feel quite busy if there is still a ship in port. There are several restaurants that have stunning sunset views, where you can order a bottle of prosecco or champagne and enjoy the experience. Oia is a tourist town, however there are a few locals shops here offering some beautiful unique products and gifts (don’t miss the Atlantis Books Store and a store called Nama). Oia to me it’s one of those places to explore, take amazing photos, grab a seat at a restaurant, enjoy a glass of wine with some amazing Greek food and ponder life while taking in the view over the caldera.

Thira – Thira is a place that most tourists arrive, it’s where the cable car brings thousands of tourists almost everyday in the busy season. There are a few local shops here, however it can also be a great starting point to exploring the island of Santorini. Santorini has some amazing wineries and breweries. One wine tour in particular is with Santorini Wine Adventures, they offer a great half day tour visiting three local wineries on Santorini learning about how the volcanic earth here help creates some great wines.

Red Beach (Akrotiri) – One of the most scenic beaches on Santorini, within walking distance from the Akrotiri Archaeological Site, a site not to miss. The site is covered and  enclosed to protect the discovered and very well preserved ruins from the Minoan Bronze Age. Red Beach itself can be a bit tricky to get onto depending on the level of erosion, but it’s a beautiful and unique beach.

Where to eat on Santorini:

Oia – My favourite place to eat in Oia is Lotza Restaurant. The food here is fresh, home cooked and just delicious. It’s a very quaint restaurant with amazing views overlooking the caldera.

Other restaurant options in Oia are Karma and 1800, for something sweet try Lolita’s Gelato on a hot day and Melenio Cafe for an amazing dessert.

Thira – Located a short walk from the Thira cable car, Volkan On The Rocks serves up amazing locally sourced food, their very own wines and beer called Volkan Beer.

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Other restaurant options in Thira are Fanari and Theoni’s Kitchen.

Whatever you see and experience on Santorini, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a beautiful island to discover and is full of history. Santorini is one of my favourite places I’ve ever travelled to and has a very special place in my heart.

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If you have any questions about travelling to Santorini, leave me a message!

Until next time, happy travels!

Ariane

PS – Did you enjoy reading this travel guide? Please consider joining my Wanderlust Journey Community as a Patron supporter. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month (my community membership tiers start at $2 per month), you can help support me create more content! Click here for more details.

My Travel Guide to Venice, Italy

I heard a quote once about Venice:  “Visiting Venice is like eating a box of chocolate liqueurs in one go…” (author unknown).

Now it might not be just like that… It depends if eating an entire box of chocolates makes you sick or not lol. But I do understand the decadence the author might have been referring to…

Venice is luxuriously self-indulgent.

I envy any true Venetian who calls this incredible city “home”. The art scene in Venice rivals any museum, the city itself you could argue is an open-air museum and art gallery on display for the world to admire. Venice captured my heart.

Where to Stay:

Venice is expensive. I’ll be honest though, spend the money, it’s worth it. Some of the hotels you can stay in here are incredible, impeccably pristine and are an experience in themselves. Venice is not as large of an area as you may think. The alleyways and crowds can make getting from point “A” to point “B” a little longer than usual, but wandering the streets of Venice is part of the romance of this place.

Hotel Ca’ d’Oro – 3 Star – Located near the Cannaregio area of Venice, this 3 star property is great value. It’s about 15-20 minutes walk from Piazza San Marco, 7-10 minute walk from the famous Rialto Bridge and Market. Hotel Ca’ d’Oro is clean comfortable and reasonably easy to get to by Vaporetto (nearest station is within 5 minutes).

Santa Chiara Hotel – 4 Star – I booked this hotel solely on location on the way back from my cruise. It’s across the street from the People Mover to the Cruise Ship Terminals and across the bridge from the train station. It’s one of the only hotels on Venice that you can physically drive to. The buses to and from the airport also depart and arrive right behind the hotel, as well as several different vaporetto stops, so for location and ease it’s amazing. The service of the staff and rooms are amazing as well. I booked a Deluxe Canal View room and it didn’t disappoint. It’s been recently renovated, the rooms are very well appointed and a deluxe breakfast buffet was also included.

Hotel Danieli – 5 Star – This hotel is a Venice classic. Featured in so many films, once you stay here, you’ll understand why it’s a must. Part of the Starwood hotel brand, Hotel Danieli has the most perfect of locations, located mere steps from St. Marks Square and the Doge’s Palace. The restaurant here is incredible and overlooks the Grand Canal.

Other hotels to note: The Gritti Palace, Hilton Molino Stucky, JW Marriott Venice and The Westin Europa & Regina.

Where to Eat:

When you visit to visit Venice, “foodie town” is probably not what you are thinking. Sure Venice probably is in the place you want to have certain Italian foods if it’s your only stop in this amazing country, however Venice has amazing gastronomical offerings available to it’s visitors. Venetians have a very different way of living, but they’re definitely doing it right. Typical Venetian breakfast would be your cappuccino and cornetto (as with most of Italy). Lunch could be a slice of pizza at a local bakery, a Panini or even a calzone from one of the small bakeries you’ll find along one of the winding pathways. Remember, any good restaurant doesn’t need to have waiters outside trying to get you to sit down to eat with a “free glass of wine” or a “tourist menu”, all the good places are already busy.

Venice is known for its seafood and still to this day there is a fish market at the Rialto Market every Monday, definitely something to check out. Most cantinas and restaurants send their chefs every day to get local produce, fish and other daily finds for amazing daily creations and specials.

But early evening/late afternoon, is strictly for cicchetti. Cicchetti is similar to tapas, it’s a variety of small bites that you enjoy with a glass of house wine or as Venetians call it “umbra”, which literally translates as a glass of “shade”. Usually when ordering cicchetti, you can have an entire meal with a couple glasses of wine for under €20 per person. For dinner Venice boasts some of Italy’s best restaurants. In Venice you can find several Michelin star restaurants, and several restaurants that cater to the locals which in my opinion are just good. 

The local drink of choice, that depends where you go. As mentioned, house wines in Venice are amazing whether you choose white or red. However with Venice’s location to the DOC and DOCG areas (regionally protected wines) means the prosecco here is super fresh, crisp and reasonable. Check out Al Prosecco to try some amazing local prosecco by the glass in this hip wine bar setting. Also, Venice is the birth place of the real Bellini. Make sure you try this very refreshing cocktail at least once. I enjoyed mine whilst watching people go by near Piazza San Marco.

Some of my favourite restaurants in Venice include Ristorante Wildner which is located on the Grand Canal near San Marcos Piazza, walk along past Hotel Danieli near the San Zaccaria vaporetto stops, you’ll find this amazing restaurant. They had a delicious 3 course meal for €25 including a starter, main and dessert. For Michelin star dining, try Il Ridotto behind Hotel Danieli in a small piazza. I tried their tasting menu and it was INCREDIBLE! They also own a trattoria right across in the piazza, called Aciugheta. I had a pizza, Aperol Spritz and a few glasses of wine here for lunch after trying Il Ridotto for dinner one night. Good atmosphere and great selection of local wines. For cicchetti, favourite of many locals would be Cantina do Spade near Rialto, and Al Timon in Cannareggio.

What to see:

Venice is one of those magical places where you want to get up early to take advantage of the true local life or what’s left there of. Venice at sunrise overlooking the Grand Canal is one the most beautiful moments that I’ve ever experienced. Simply wandering the alleyways of Venice (and getting lost) is something that you definitely need to do. Taking in the sights, the smells, the atmosphere and truly the soul of this place. Sometimes that’s the great part of travelling. While wandering the streets of Venice I turned the corner and came across a gentleman playing the violin on the steps of a church. I stood there, for a few minutes, peering through an archway, whilst the locals went about their daily life. Again, one of those moments I was so happy to have come across. It can be easy to get lost in Venice, however follow the signs to the nearest popular points of interest (yellow signs on most buildings pointing the way down alleys to Rialto, San Marco, and other popular areas of Venice).

For museums, Doge’s Palace, St. Marks Basilica and the Peggy Guggenheim Museum were my favourites. I also wandered the area around the Accademia which is near where the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is located.

I also did trips over to Murano, Burano and Torcello. You can do a guided half day tour, which I did, however I revisited all the islands myself with vaporettos (the ferry system in Venice). Torcello holds most of the history of Venice, as this was the first of the islands in the lagoon that was inhabited when Treviso was invaded (more on Treviso in another post soon). Burano, is know for its beautiful lace making and colourful houses. It’s a stunning fishing village that you want to visit in the early morning or early evening once all the tour groups have left. Murano is the island of world renown glass. True Murano glass is still made here on this island and crafted by amazing artisans. I did purchase a few pieces, just be sure that you are buying from a reputable shop as some do sell glass from China.

Another thing to do whilst in Venice is to try to take in a performance at the opera (or at least try to do a tour of the opera house). It’s one of those things that truly gives you a glimpse of life into Venice’s luxurious and opulent past.

If you’re looking for a great local tour option, check out Urban Adventures. They offer some great small group tour options in Venice. I love Urban Adventures as they are typically food based tours and are also run by in the know locals, so you get a true taste of what local life is like in the place where you take a tour with them. They take you places that not many tourists go, so it’s very well worth it!

How to Get Around:

So as you may know their are no cars on Venice proper.

So getting around involves walking or taking water transport of some sort. There are multiple water transport options. To and from the airport you have the Alilaguna ferries. Around Venice and to the other islands, you have the vaporetto system (run by ACTV), which is very similar to city buses just on water. You can also hire private boats (water taxis) to take you from point A to point B in VIP style. Water taxis are by far the most expensive way to get around Venice when it comes to transport.

Finally, you then have the very touristic water transportation of gondolas. A gondola ride can cost you upwards of €80 for an hour and is not typical a mode of transportation anymore, but really just a tour of the canals. It’s still a beautiful way to enjoy Venice’s past and see the city from a different angle.

I did do a lot of walking around Venice, but found it very nice to use the vaporetto system. I would highly suggest buying the pass for as many days is you feel you need it, as it is a better rate, however you can buy a 24 hour pass (also a pass with the bus transfer to and from the airport). You do need to validate the pass before you get onto the vaporetto, you will see a validation machine, which you just hold the RFID embedded pass in front of until it goes green and beeps. If you failed to validate your vaporetto pass (ACTV pass), you can be fined. The passes are good for all ferries and vaporettos with ACTV, so day trips to the other islands of Murano, Burano, Torcello and Lido are all included.

Honestly I LOVED Venice. Italy to me as a country feels like home, but Venice even more so. My Great Grandfather is from the Veneto area, so I feel a connection to Venice. I can’t wait to come back here.

I know over-tourism is a problem, the “No Grandi Navi” (No Large Ships) debate is still strong, however after visiting, it seems the vaporettos and water taxis create more of a wake and waves than the large ships. Cruise ships at that speed really create no wake, but it’s a big debate. Where I think the true problem lies is the large amount of cruise ship passengers and tour groups that just visit Venice for the day only. I can see the frustration, I myself got frustrated with one tour group in an alleyway, I guided an elderly “nonna” past them whilst they took up the entire space, not being considerate to the passers by. These passengers also don’t necessarily support the true local businesses. The true locals who own restaurants, artisan shops and stores are being left out to the street vendors who hawk products made in China where they buy a magnet or a tacky tourist bag with “Venezia” written across it. I know this is a whole other conversation, but I think it comes down to being a conscious traveller. We do our best to support local at home, we need to strive to do this abroad as well.

I hope you are able to visit Venice for more than a day, it’s truly an amazing, romantic and unique city.

If you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you! Please contact me if you’d like more recommendations.

Happy travels!

Ariane

PS – Did you enjoy reading this travel guide? Please consider joining my Wanderlust Journey Community as a Patron supporter. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month (my community membership tiers start at $2 per month), you can help support me create more content! Click here for more details.

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The Laguna, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Nusa Dua, Bali – A Hotel Review

From the moment I arrived this place was amazing.

Nusa Dua is approximately a 30 minute drive from the Denpasar International Airport. Upon entering the Nusa Dua area, vehicles are inspected and go through a security checkpoint. Arriving at your respective hotel or resort, you go through yet another checkpoint.

Once at the lobby, I was greeted with a “gong”, signalling my arrival. I was seated at a couch in the beautiful open air lobby, served a welcome drink of Jamu (a traditional drink made of orange juice, mint, cloves, star anise and sweetened with honey) and checked into my room on an iPad. To my delight, they upgraded me to a Lagoon Access room!

This resort is so beautiful. You feel like you have arrived in paradise. The property is very lush and very well manicured. The pools around the resort create such an amazing tranquil atmosphere. The room I had direct access to one of the pools with a terrace out onto the pool’s edge. My room was very spacious and had butler service included. It also had a deep bathtub, great bathroom amenities and the beds were so comfortable. There are no coffee makers in the rooms, which was a first for me staying in a Starwood property, however I quickly learned that the butler will bring you a fresh carafe of coffee to enjoy in your room or on your terrace or balcony.

The beach here was well kept and the snorkelling was pretty good, lots of fish. There are many sunbeds and the local vendors don’t bother you too much if you’re firm. They have plenty of cabanas that can be rented through the resort, the most popular ones are near the beach. The resort does offer the option to dine next door at the St. Regis and it’s an amazing experience! The Laguna offers nightly entertainment, a couple nights a week they have a fire show and even a religious ceremony at the temple on their grounds.

The food here was really good. The breakfast was amazing and offered so many choices, from various different cuisines. I did eat dinner one night right on the beach, the ambiance they create is so romantic and magical. They also offered a “happy hour” at certain times and even had fresh coconuts available.

Within the area of Nusa Dua, there is a shopping centre which offers a free shuttle from most hotels and resorts. Yes, it does have a Starbucks, but this is where I was introduced to BaliZen home products. I purchased an off white Balinese umbrella and loved all the prints, colours and products they offered (I found the main store of BaliZen while I was in Ubud, more on the later).

I’m so happy I chose this resort as my starting point for my visit to Bali, it was a great atmosphere to get over the jet lag and admire the beauty of this area of the island. I can’t say enough about how wonderful and friendly the staff are. I honestly can’t wait to come back here!

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Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta ~ December 4th to 8th, 2016

It was an early morning flight on WestJet from the Vancouver International Airport. I definitely was way to excited and got there far to early. In reality for a Mexican bound flight you really only need to arrive two hours ahead of time. I was there, alone, three hours in advance. Thankfully, Starbucks was open. I picked up a much needed coffee, a Cranberry Bliss Bar and a sandwich for the flight. Unfortunately, WestJet doesn’t supply food anymore (cookies and pretzels isn’t food), however the coffee is now McCafe and is pretty good. It was a quick 4 hour flight down, however the in-flight entertainment left much to be desired. I always like to know where I am flying over, geography has always interested me, however as WestJet doesn’t have the screens in the backs of the seats anymore, the app you have to use doesn’t have a map of your location, just a rough idea of your flight duration time left, so I had no idea what town we were flying over, or which sea side city I could see in the distance. I was also very happy I packed my “Pocket Farmacy” from Saje. The two people beside me clearly had the flu, so I was lathering “Immune” under my nose the whole plane ride down (and no, I didn’t get sick!), I totally swear by this stuff travelling. I was able to sleep a bit and woke just before we landed. It was a rough landing into Puerto Vallarta. It was quite stormy, so I actually grabbed the seat in front of me when we were jolted touching down onto the runway.

Once safely on the ground and parked at the gate, we headed through border control and through the gauntlet of timeshare sales people. They are so pushy, even physical! I was so glad to get out of the airport and into the warm air (though extremely humid as it was pouring rain). There were about 16 of us travel agents, huddled under one of the shades, we waited for WestJet to set up our transportation. Once our mini bus arrived, we all piled in and headed to the Hyatt Ziva. On our way through town (about a 25 minute journey), we got to see the Marina areas, the Malecon and Old Puerto Vallarta. About 5 minutes later we arrived at the gates of the Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta. Once we had pulled inside, we parked in front of the beautiful open-air lobby. We were checked in, offered a welcome drink and escorted to our rooms. It was just after 2:00pm, I was ready to refresh and explore the resort. My room number was 1611, an ocean view king room with a juliet style balcony (not really a balcony, but large glass sliding doors with a railing just outside). The waves were so loud. It was so soothing. A few agents and I walked around the resort checking out different areas. David (a good friend from my Flight Centre training class) and I ate lunch at Melanzane. I had a delightful Caprese salad and a much needed Mango Margarita. The rain had stopped and we walked around a bit more taking photos before going back to our rooms and getting ready for our welcome dinner at Casa Grande. The food was so good. It was a great time to meet everyone and talk about our businesses. I think a lot of us were pretty tired, so we retired somewhat early. I went back to my room to find a delightful turndown service. It included a few lush bites (chocolate cake, a Nutella filled macaron and a lemon tart), along with a hand written welcome note from the General Manager.

The next morning I woke to a beautiful sunrise. I ordered room service as I was just happy sitting on the couch in my room listening to the sound of the ocean. My order of “Divorced Eggs” (yes, yes I did haha), a fruit plate and Mexican Coffee (spiced with orange peel and cinnamon). Afterwards I got ready and met the other travel agents in the lobby for our official site tour followed by some training on the Playa Resorts family of hotels. We all had a free afternoon to which a few of us had lunch at Blaze (absolutely love this restaurant, the view is stunning). I then went up to my room, changed into my swimsuit and found a palapa with a lounger in the sun and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon with a few pina coladas and mango margaritas. Our group dinner tonight was at Melanzane. I had a caprese salad followed by a portobello mushroom and spinach pasta. Of course I finished it off with a tiramisu 😉 Tonight’s entertainment was a circus style show, with a clown, dancers, a juggler, an aerial entertainer and a ring gymnast. Some decided to go into town tonight, a few of us stayed behind. I perused the night market that was at the Hyatt Ziva that night. I do think it’s good they go this, however I didn’t buy anything as I was pretty sure prices were better in Puerto Vallarta proper. After a couple more drinks at the Sunset bar, I grabbed a cheesecake and a caramel macchiato from the deli and headed to my room. I can’t say enough how much I loved the sound of the waves. They are loud. There are times I woke up because of them, but I loved it.

The following morning we had breakfast at the buffet and then a few of us went downtown Puerto Vallarta and walked the Malecon. We were dropped off at La Iglesias de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (the beautiful cathedral) in the heart of Old Puerto Vallarta. I did add two Starbucks mugs to my collection, a “Mexico” one and of course a “Puerto Vallarta” mug. I also took my photo of the Puerto Vallarta mug in front of the cathedral. Right after that, I bought a beautiful painting of Puerto Vallarta, it was so colourful just like the colours of the buildings and streets. So it was my first impulse buy. I was on the hunt for a silver ring, similar to a ring I had seen the night before at the night market at the Ziva. I went into several shops, I did buy a pair of earrings and found a few magnets. We arrived back at the place we started from, two of the agents we had wandered with decided to go back to the resort, David and I decided to keep wandering. We walked to the South this time, taking in the beautiful scenery of Puerto Vallarta. We finally reached Olas Altas Road, a cobble stone street where the Malecon board walk ends and the street begins. At that point on the right hand side, there is a thatched roof hut. From what I’ve heard is a very honest silver dealer. Nothing alpaca. His name is Roberto and I actually read about him the night previous on several websites including Fudors, TripAdvisor and many other forums. He was very friendly and offered me a great price on two rings. It wasn’t the ring I was after, but I actually liked it better. The other was a small ring with two white opal stones. Afterwards we continued down the road and found another cute little shop not far down the street called Safari Accents. I bought a beautiful handmade christmas ornament for myself and one as a gift for my aunt and beautiful a small bowl. We went a little further and stumbled across Andales! Ok, I’ll admit it, I watch many of the Real Housewives shows, and I can see why Vikki loves Andales, David and I had to get a margarita (and a few photos of course). Afterwards, it was time for us to head back, so we found a taxi and went back to the Resort. When I got in, I went to the buffet again and had a late lunch. I didn’t know what time I would be eating again as we were going to be going to the Rhythms of the Night by Vallarta Adventures tonight. We left the Resort for the Marina at 5:30pm, at the marina I saw the most heartbreaking thing. A poor sea lion propped up, taking photos with cruise ship tourists. In all honesty I wanted to slap everyone and snap them out that they were supporting the harm to this poor animal. Quite a few of us travel agents did make loud comments on how wrong it was and one mother did come up to me after and thanked me. We took a catamaran out to Las Caletas, it was incredible! It looked like we were walking into a tribal council in Survivor. The entire island was lit by candle light and torches. The Rhythms of the Night tour was very good, although we ate quite late. By the time we ate dinner after the show, it was about 10:30pm. I would suggest eating before you go, or go and eat before the show. It was quite cool on the catamaran ride home, thankfully   Freddie let me borrow his jacket, it does cool down at night here and I wished I would have packed light jackets. We got back to the Hyatt Ziva just after midnight and I went straight to bed.

In the morning, I again woke early. I took advantage and did what most tourists on vacations do, stake out the best palapas and lounge chairs for the day. David and I ate breakfast at Blaze, I had delicious crepes with fresh blueberries and Mexican Coffee. Afterwards, I checked out, said good bye to my beautiful room and stored my carry on in the day use area downstairs. They have lockers available for a $10 USD deposit. The wifi (which I have to say was awesome, worked absolutely everywhere on the resort) was extended until I left as well. I retired back to the palapa, enjoyed a few more pina coladas and enjoyed soaking in the sun. It had been snowing back in Vancouver and this was the first time in two months I had really seen sun. I was going to soak in ever drop of sunshine I could. David and I ate lunch at Blaze again, this time seeing iguanas basking on the rocks below. We also realized there was a monkey face in the cliffs there (no we hadn’t been drinking that much). I went back to enjoying the pool this time, pondering life and why I didn’t want to leave here. I had reservations about Mexico. I never thought I would be an “all inclusive” person. Three nights, although quick, was enough. I enjoy seeing other parts of a country, not to be confined to one area. The Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta was amazing. You see, every employee that works for Playa Resorts believes in “service from the heart”. Whenever you see a staff member the place their hand on their heart as a welcoming gesture, at first I thought it was a bit tacky, but it’s genuine. It’s heartwarming.  The service at this resort is outstanding, I can’t say enough how staff go out of their way for you.

Overall, this resort is amazing! I would come back here in a heartbeat. The food is fresh and delicious. The resort and rooms are very clean. The beds are so lush and I couldn’t get enough of the sound of those waves. Every room faces the ocean, I didn’t miss having a proper balcony, It still felt like I did. The service is incredible and I just can’t say enough good things about it.

We regretfully gathered in the lobby, but not before watching the last sunset. It was the most beautiful one we had yet on this trip. We all packed into the van and headed for the airport. It was a long walk to the gate. Sitting, waiting for the plane, I could’t help but feel blessed. This year has really been a year of transformation, of exploration. Really, karma has been good to me. I’ve built this life from scratch, by myself. Heading home, we boarded the WestJet flight just after 9:00pm and touched down just after midnight. I was thankful I brought my Nexus as it was a quick and seamless entry and was out the arrival gates in no time. It was such a fun trip, and I can’t wait to see where my next journey will take me.

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Keep Calm and Ride the Rocky Mountaineer

Rocky Mountaineer – First Passage to the West – Day 1

I am so unbelievably excited!

To be invited to experience the Rocky Mountaineer is an amazing opportunity. To me this is a bucket list trip. My aunt was actually involved with them and helped develop their first reservation system. So the Rocky Mountaineer fascination for me goes way back. When living in Revelstoke, BC for a time, the train would constantly go through. I always told myself, one day I would be on that train. Well my day has come. Tomorrow morning, along with eleven other travel agents, we will be doing the Rocky Mountaineer First Passage to the West in SilverLeaf from Vancouver, BC to Banff, AB with an excursion extension ending in Calgary, AB.

Tonight we started our familiarization trip at the Sheraton Wall Centre in Vancouver, BC. This is one of the hotels that Rocky Mountaineer uses for guests who are adding pre-hotels in SilverLeaf service. I love the Starwood Brand group of hotels. I am a Starwood Gold Preferred Guest and always love staying at these properties. I am also a member of their “Pro” program which is for travel professionals.

I checked into my room (2352 in the North Tower) and got settled in. The towers are beautiful and the rooms are spacious. The Sheraton Wall Centre is located in the heart of downtown Vancouver and offers amazing views of the city. We did a site tour and viewed a few of the other room categories, the North Tower is definitely more newer and all rooms are larger. South Tower has undergone major renovations, however standard rooms are smaller.

After a great group dinner, a few of us chatted for awhile before heading for a very much needed sleep before a VERY early start tomorrow morning, we are meeting our Rocky Mountaineer Host downstairs at 6:10am!

Click Here to Read –  Rocky Mountaineer – First Passage to the West – Day 2

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