Vegas Again and Again…

The Wynn/Encore sister hotels on the North end of the Vegas strip have been my go-to accommodations when staying in Sin City, dating back to seven years now and they ALWAYS deliver. For this reason, I figured I would write a blog highlighting only them. There is so much to do in Vegas, in addition to Wynn and Encore (like the burlesque/ballet show that is Crazy Horse – sooooo good!) but for this blog’s purpose, I’ll stick to the sister hotels. I’ve been there a handful of times and overall, I highly recommend them, so here it goes:

First of all, let’s establish that these two hotels are side by side, owned by the same company and essentially run as one large hotel, so for simplicity sake, just assume I’m talking about one or the other, or both, unless I specifically note otherwise.

Here are my observations on ….

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Whistler in the Spring

Big Sky Golf in Pemberton, twenty minutes outside Whistler.

The charming ski village Whistler, in British Columbia, Canada, is one of my favourite places in the world. It’s most well known for its epic winter season with its world class mountainous ski terrain, and that’s definitely my number one reason to go there. That said, it’s also become a year round destination with many attractions to suit most needs. I’ve blogged about Whistler before, but today I’m going to focus on springtime in this loveliest of towns.

Let me begin by making clear that skiing/snowboarding in Whistler in early spring is still alive and well, and can sometimes be the best time to go because the lineups disappear and the hot weather comes out to play. If you can get time off during a weekday, it’s especially glorious, as you will often come across runs that are all to yourself.

One of the many runs we had all to ourselves during our April Whistler trip.

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Ice, Ice, Baby! Iceland Top Travel Recommendations

Like many people these days, the small island country of Iceland had been on my list of places to visit for quite some time. Actually, I remember distinctly the first time it made its way on to my radar – I was in my first year of university in England and we were taking advantage of the fact that we were living in Europe to travel to a new country a few times a month. My little group of friends didn’t make it that year, but it was forever marked on my list of “must-see” locations ever since. And a must-see country it is! It is equally barren and alive, and just as magical as everyone makes it out to be.

I eventually made it to Iceland on a work trip, traveling with the Nobis team to model for their Fall/Winter 2017 campaign, in September. The weather was as you’d expect it to be – cool, wet, with sun and rainbows shining through multiple times throughout the day. As I understand it, the key to packing, basically at any time of the year, is layers. Nobis is a high quality outerwear company with the most gorgeous designs and fit, so I was well equipped. Something else to prepare you for is, it is an expensive place to be. Items both big (accommodations, guided tours) and small (groceries and transportation) are significantly and consistently more expensive than most countries. I tend to have expensive taste, but this is one of those places where even the more frugal traveler will find it hard to cut down totally on costs (we literally bought a bag of peanuts, some apples, some crackers, bottles of water and granola bars at a grocery store and it cost the equivalent of almost $150 US.) That said – it’s all worth it. If you visit, it is almost guaranteed to be a memorable trip, with some of the stunning landscapes seared in your memory for life.

One of the dozens of waterfalls we came across in our short four day trip in Iceland.

One of the dozens of waterfalls we came across in our short four day trip in Iceland.

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Mayakoba & Playa del Carmen

I love Mexico. I’ve been to three different parts of the country and I love them all for different reasons. My newest favorite location is an area just south of Cancun, called Mayakoba, which refers to a span of about 5km of resorts and beaches along the Caribbean coastline, as well as the nearest town – Playa del Carmen.

All three luxury resorts in Mayakoba are pretty exceptional – Fairmont Mayakoba (generally the cheapest of the three and the most family friendly); Banyan Tree Mayakoba and ultimately, my absolute favorite, Rosewood Mayakoba.

One of the two main pools at the Fairmont Mayakoba.

One of the two main pools at the Fairmont Mayakoba.

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Niagara-on-the-Lake

The largest wine region in Ontario, Canada – Niagara-on-the-Lake (short form NOTL), is just over an hour drive from downtown Toronto and offers a wide range of wineries and restaurants. If you’re visiting Toronto (or want a fun staycation if you live in South Western Ontario), I’d recommend booking a day of wine touring and spend one night so you don’t have to drive home, or pre-book an SUV or limo from and back to the city.

In the past year, I’ve spent two full days – once in the winter and once in the summer – exploring the NOTL region and I’ve come away with some definite favorites. Here’s my list of the top wineries (and one distillery for good measure):

Five Rows – Five generations in, and the family that cultivates these grapes had still not produced and marketed their own wine. This all changed when the son, Wes Lowrey, decided to take the next step and craft their own wines, while still producing grapes for other wineries. The Lowrey family takes their time in tending to their vineyard with a focus on complex and subtle flavors and the result is really refined wines, with the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir being my favourites. This is a very small family run operation so be sure to make an appointment beforehand.

Between the Lines – Full disclosure: my uncle and dad, Bob & Wayne Izumi, has partnered with BTL for many years now as they produce an Izumi white wine blend, as well as a red blend. Over the years, I’ve had the chance to visit the winery and help choose the blends for our Izumi wine, and get to know the team. Their story is so eloquently laid out on their site, I encourage you to read it here. They just added a new “barn” to house private events and it’s a very charming spot. They also partner with super talented chefs in the area to complete the experience.

Between the Lines Izumi white wine blend and their latest creation - canned sparkling white wine, called Origin.

Between the Lines Izumi white wine blend and their latest creation – canned sparkling white wine, called Origin.

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Vietnam

Vietnam is like Thailand’s slightly less cool, less popular and less experienced cousin, but with just as many good qualities that you want to hang with her too. Make sense? Let me elaborate –

Before we spent 10 days in Thailand, we spent 6 days in Vietnam and it was such a good time. Because the country as a whole is less developed than Thailand, it made for a sometimes more relaxing experience and at other times a more hectic environment. For example, you generally don’t get the crowds that you do in most places in Thailand so if you have a view of the beach, it tends to be totally secluded and “yours” = relaxing (and beautiful!!). On the other hand, because it’s less touristy, many locals don’t know english and many hotels cater to mostly locals so communication can be tricky and a little trying at times = not so relaxing. That said, it’s all good, and of course, sometimes the beauty of travel is not knowing exactly what is going on, taking it all in, and learning from it.

Gorgeous beach to ourselves = soooo relaxing.

Gorgeous beach to ourselves = soooo relaxing.

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Exploring, learning, eating and relaxing in Thailand

A lot happened in Thailand. As I’m sure is the case for most people who travel to and visit the exotic and slightly mysterious south east asian country. I survived a jelly fish sting, a traditional thai hot coffee spill on my bare legs, and multiple work outs on the beach in 40 degree temperatures. haha!

This man was quick to help me out haha....fresh aloe vera, literally from around the corner, being applied to the burn, and the stinging went down by evening.

One of my best friend’s, Maggie, and I started out in Vietnam (blog on that later) then went on to Phuket, then Koh Samui, then Bangkok.

This order of locations allowed us to party, then relax, then learn and explore which I highly recommend.

PHUKET

The most touristy part of all of Thailand, there are some things I recommend doing just once, to experience it, and there are some activities and places that are not totally expected on such a “party island”.

Photo Left: This man was quick to help me out haha….fresh aloe vera, literally from around the corner, being applied to the burn, and the stinging went down by evening.

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TORONTO

Writing a travel blog about the place you grew up in, is somewhat more difficult than writing about a place you just experienced because of course, you must narrow down a lifetime of living, to your top recommendations.

I don’t live in the city anymore so every time I’m back in the city, I try to get in as much food, drink and play as I can.  I’ve rounded up a good mix of long standing establishments as well as newer hots spots that are sure to add to your time in The 6 (in case you live under a rock – “the six” is the latest nickname for the city, coined by Drake.)

Taking in the sun, and the Toronto skyline.

Taking in the sun, and the Toronto skyline.

To start off, although the city is now pulsing 24/7, all year round, I still recommend coming between April and December. Basically, I’m telling you to avoid the first two to three months of the year when it can be quite cold and “brown” (like the whole eastern part of North America during this time, the trees are without leaves and the ground is grimy). That said, literally all of the things I’m recommending below are still available to you all year round so if your family reunion or work conference or vacation time is January to March, you’ll still have a great time.

 

 

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Winter Travel in Whistler, British Columbia

There are so many positive and intriguing adjectives that can be used to describe the ski/snowboard town of Whistler in British Columbia, Canada – quaint (the village), lively (the atmosphere), breathtaking and sublime (the mountains), heavenly (top of the mountains) and memorable (all of it!). This blog is almost difficult to write because it’s hard to put into words the feelings you get when you spend some time in this magical place. So – the following is a guide to making a fun visit, but you really have to get yourself there in order to truly appreciate what it has to offer (like most places I suppose, but especially so for this one).

This blog features the best things to do in the winter months, however over the years it’s established itself as a great place to adventure all year round. It’s world renowned for it’s mountain biking, and has a bunch of top notch golf courses. Stay tuned for a spring/summer/fall edition of this blog later in the year.

But for now…winter…

My friend and I having fun on Whistler mountain. The three of us were the only ones skiing/snowboarding down this run.

My friend and I having fun on Whistler mountain. The three of us were the only ones skiing/snowboarding down this run.

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Food or Sports? BOTH can be done well in Oregon.

I went to Oregon expecting to come back with lots of memories of the beautiful landscape and outdoors activities, but what really ended up leaving an impression on me was their food scene. Don’t get me wrong, the road trip from Vancouver to Bend, and then back up north to Portland, was a gorgeous one with a variety of mountains and canyons and farmland BUT a good majority of my time was spent eating, and I was impressed.

Our weekend started out in Bend, Oregon where hipsters and outdoors people (often one and the same) roam the town in search of the best lattes and bike trails. To say the city is a popular one these days, is an understatement. It seemed at every turn there was a new townhouse complex, shopping area, restaurant district or hockey arena being built. It’s no wonder why Bend is rated as one of the best places to live in the United States. Everything is relatively easy to get to, it has some of the best hiking and biking trails, ski areas and bodies of water for fishing (Deschutes is a world class fly fishing river), as well as water sports like paddle boarding and kayaking, and there are all sorts of fun little restaurants, bars and bakeries to indulge in. Oh, and let’s not forget, it has one brewery for every 4,500 people, which means a ton of tasty craft beers to choose from.

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