Jillian’s Jamaica Fun Run – Part Three

Day 5- Reggae Marathon Day!

This FAM trip that was hosted by Travelweek and The Jamaica Tourist Board is a big supporter of the Yellowbird Foundation. The Yellowbird Foundation is a non profit organization that helps out the behind the scenes tourism in the Carribean. Our team of travel agents all took part in the Reggae Marathon and raised money for this foundation all of which will be going towards a school here in Jamaica!

Today was an early day. The alarm went of at 3:30am so we could get ready for the run’s 5:15am gun time. My tummy was full of butterflies as we walked over to the start line. This was my first half marathon and I had an injured foot all week! The run was a real challenge but after 21.1km as I approached the finish line, my team was there cheering me on and I had the most amazing feeling in the world! After the run we enjoyed and had some much deserved relaxation at the Beaches resort for the rest of the day!

Jill Run

I was feeling very sore, but wanted to make the most of my day. I ate lunch at the a la carte restaurant Arizona’s. The nacho bar here was just what we needed post run, followed by delicious main courses of fish tacos and tilapia!

After lunch it was beach time. The beaches in Negril are amazing! We found some chairs and a shade hut and went in and out of the ocean. Then the kid at heart in us came out and we hit the lazy river and floated around on out tubes! Afterwards we tested out the water slides. It was an amazing day spent lounging around!

Day 6 – Sadly all good things must come to an end. Today we depart Jamaica and the +30 weather for home and the -30 weather. My body is sore head to toe from my run Saturday! I decided upgrading to economy plus on WestJet would be a great idea! Any economy plus seats that are not pre-booked are open for purchase 24hrs prior to flight time. On the flight from Jamaica to Toronto, it cost $50 and from Toronto to Winnipeg it cost $30. Well worth it if you want some extra space. Plus, you receive free food and beverages on board, priority boarding, plus more! On our flight they had no live seat back entertainment but they had tablets for rent at a cost of $5.75 for the flight. In economy plus the tablet rentals were free.

The Montego Bay airport on the Sunday was packed! The security line ups were crazy long. We decided to test out the VIP Club Mobay service. It was definitely worth every penny! The cost at the airport is $35USD per person and they expedite you through security and you get to wait for your flight relaxing in a VIP lounge with free drinks, beer, liquor coffees, juices and sodas! Plus they had a little food buffet that had parties, desserts, sushi, sandwiches and wraps. Doing the VIP Club Mobay saved us about 45 min of standing around in a line for security, gave us a very comfortable area to relax prior to flight and full bellies.

On arrival in Winnipeg, it was after midnight and I had booked myself at the brand new Courtyard Marriott right at the airport. I had a park and fly rate and had left my car there before I left. I highly recommend this hotel if you require an overnight hotel in Winnipeg before or after your flight. Beautiful hotel and rooms and super helpful staff!

And sadly that is the end of my trip! If you are thinking of traveling to Jamaica give me a call or email! Jillian@uniglobecorporate.com or 1306-934-3400.

Czarina’s South America Adventure – Part 3

Yesterday we started off early to begin our one-day Inca Trek. I was nervous and anxious but ready to go!

Our local guide, Ray, would be our guide through the trek which made me more at ease since we knew him quite well by then.

Those doing the one-day trek jumped off the train at the 104km sign. Having our first view of the trail was intimidating since it was straight uphill for the first two hours. Those first two hours were definitely the most difficult. We would walk for about 15 minutes and take two minute breaks to catch our breath. During our trek we would go through two check points where they would check our passports and our permits. This is a great way of keeping track of all the trekkers out there and looking out for their safety.

I doubt I could have done this without the support of my hubby. He was a trooper! About an hour in, he suffered from severe cramping in his quads which Ray attributed to the altitude. He just kept powering through with no complaints. So I did everything I could to keep my mouth shut and to stop the whining in my head. The truth is, this trek is not easy and you must be mentally and physically prepared for this. There were sections of the trail where you are climbing some steep steps upwards and off the sides it’s a sheer drop. I would climb those sections using both my feet and hands on all fours.

Lunch was a welcomed break at what Ray called “mini Machu Picchu”. We sat on these beautiful terraces to enjoy a huge boxed lunch. It took me a second to realize how beautiful it all was around me. I hadn’t paid any attention at all to my surroundings as we were walking; I was too busy watching my feet and praying for my legs not to give up. I was jello by then and could barely eat the sandwiches, snack bars, fruit and juice boxes. I was too worried it would all come back up. Couldn’t believe how much food Ray had carried for the eight of us.

There were two very surprising things I wasn’t expecting: Firstly, there is only one “official” bathroom on this portion of the trail and secondly, the bugs along the way were horrible! The only bathroom break was in the first couple hours and you are using a squatter. Once I learned this was the only “bathroom”, I instantly had to go again. But there is almost nowhere to hide. For the guys, this clearly wasn’t a problem. For the girls, on the other hand, we all held it in. Not fun! The bug bites I noticed after I was done the trek but they really got all of us all over our exposed legs. Apparently these tiny bugs are only around Machu Picchu and the nearby town of Aguas Calientes.

Reaching the Sun Gate after six hours was so powerful. With Ray leading the way and empowering us with his words those last few steps, he embraced all of us one by one and told us to enjoy the view and that we should be proud. I felt like crying even before I caught my first glimpse of the mystical Machu Picchu. Such a great time to arrive since the mist was just rising off the site that afternoon. Too amazing for words and too overwhelmed with a mini victory in my chest. We did it!

Czar holding a goat  Czar Machu Pichu

Jillian’s Jamaica Fun Run – Part Two

Day 3 – Today we visited 3 wonderful resorts. We started out at the Royalton Whitesands, a Sunwing owned and exclusive property. This resort was one of my favorites! It’s the former Starfish Trelawny, and it has done a total 360!! The Royalton Whitesands is a stunning resort!

Royalton Whitesands

Royalton Whitesands

Royalton Whitesands

Royalton Whitesands

We then headed over the the Hilton Rose Hall. This resort has more of a hotel feel inside…. But when you get out to the water park area that feeling totally changes!

Hilton Rose Hall

Hilton Rose Hall

And our last visit was to the 2 new Hyatt resorts scheduled to open on December 10th. The new Hyatt is the former Ritz, and again, a complete transformation. One side is a family friendly resort and the other is an exclusive adults only resort!

Hyatt 1

In the evening we did a frightful night tour at the Rose Hall Plantation. I highly recommend this tour at night – It had our entire group on edge the entire time!

Day 4 – today we checked out of our resort in Montego Bay and headed to Negril. If you want pristine beach, then Negril is where you want to go! Here we visited the Sandals Negril. This resort was exactly what one would expect: Adults only, beautiful, ultra all inclusive with so many activities to do here and a la carte dining options!

Sandals Negril

Sandals Negril

We then visited the Grand Pineapple. This is a Sandals opened resort, but family friendly and no frills. This resort is perfect for someone on a budget looking to stay in Negril for the beautiful beaches. It’s only has one small buffet and bar. This resort has a very high repeat clientele.

Grand Pineapple

Grand Pineapple

And last but not least…. We arrived at the Beaches Negril, our home for two nights! Beaches is a Sandals property also, but an altar all inclusive family version! There is nothing I don’t like about this resort!

And tonight…. The Reggae Marathon Pasta Party!!! A huge gathering event with different pasta stations serving up diner with great music getting the runners all pumped up!

Czarina’s South America Adventure – Part 2

After spending the past few days touring around the Sacred Valley, it’s now apparent to me why this is a “must see” destination for all travellers. Pisac, Moray and Ollantaytambo are all evidence that the Incans were ahead of the game in terms of astrology, farming, architecture and so on. The Incan ruins are stunning and we couldn’t have asked for better weather to tour them. We’ve had some pretty sketchy drives along some narrow cliffside roads where it’s just a sheer drop. I kept my Gravol close and my eyes shut tight on those ones… Yikes!

Our local guide, Ray, is very knowledgeable on this beautiful country he calls home. G Adventures has given back so much to the people of Peru and in turn, Peru is thriving from tourism. Although this is a slower time of year, almost all tours are booked full with G Adventures for the next couple of months.

As part of the tour, we were taken to two different projects that G Adventures have been a part of: a women’s weaving initiative and a Peruvian restaurant set in the Sacred Valley that opened in March. I’m thankful that we selected “G” as our guide. Can’t imagine doing all this on my own. I feel safe and the inclusions have been great.

Altitude was a little bit of an issue on our first day touring Pisac. Mainly I noticed I was out of breath after walking a short distance uphill. Sometimes, I felt a little disoriented and Kathy mentioned that was common when you travel from sea level to 3700m high. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one. It’s a great bonding experience for the wonderful group of people we are travelling with to exchange stories about how nauseous we all felt that first day! As our days go on, I’ve acclimatized and I’m feeling a lot better.

Tomorrow we start our hike to Machu Picchu. Wish me luck!

Jillian’s Jamaica Fun Run – Part One

Travel is what Jamaic of it!

Day 1- my journey began with an evening flight on Westjet to Toronto. I lucked out and got an emergency exit seat – so much leg room! Just as much as the economy plus seats! I decided to head to Toronto the night prior to my flight to Jamaica just to be on the safe side. I did not want weather to interfere with my trip! My flight was departing Toronto at 1015am the next day. I could have flown out on an early morning flight to Toronto the same day but if there was any delays then I would not have made my connection. So I didn’t want to chance it!

On arrival after I collected my bag, I made my way down to the ground transport level to catch my hotel shuttle. I had called my hotel once we landed to be sure it was going to come for me. I stayed at the Park Inn Radisson. There are a few hotels right at the airport, but I wanted something a bit less expensive so booked one a little out. It was about a 15min drive to my hotel in the evening. The check in counter was so friendly! And the Park Inn pleasantly surprised me; Inside it actually had a classic old Fairmont Royal York feel! Very impressed!

The rooms are all suited… And massive! I could have made this place home for a few days!

Park Inn Toronto

Park Inn Toronto

Day 2- my flight to Jamaica was at 1015am. I knew with rush hour traffic the drive would be longer. I arranged for the shuttle to pick me up at 8am but I would recommend an earlier pick up time! I took almost an hour to get to the airport with traffic and construction. Flight to Jamaica went by quick.

Westjet had a great choice of movies to watch. I recommend picking up some food in the airport for your flight meal. I was only in row 13 and when they got to me all the had was 1 ham and cheese sandwich left. Lots of people missed out of ordering a sandwich. Even a few people who pre-paid for the vouchers got nothing because they ran out.

On arrival into Montego Bay Jamaica, the customs line was very long as two planes landed at the same time. They do move pretty quick though! Once through, we met with our transfer bus and off to our first resort: Iberostar Rose Hall Beach Resort in Montego Bay! On arrival we were taken on a tour of the three Iberostar resorts, the Beach, Suites and Grand.

All three resorts were beautiful. The Beach is the lead in of the three and is a family resort. The rooms are a good size with a large bathroom. The balconies are also a good size and have a table and chairs. The room had all the basic amenities, plus more! All rooms have a mini fridge stocked with lots of water and a few beers and sodas. My one recommendation is, if you use a hair dryer, pack yours from home! They do have them in each bathroom but they are not very good.

The Iberostar Suites is also a family resort but the rooms are much larger with a sitting area. When you stay at the Suites, you have full access to the beach resort.

Iberostar Suites Room

Iberostar Suites Room

Iberostar Suites Pools

Iberostar Suites Pools

The third Iberostar is the Grand. This is an adults only resort. The rooms are also all suites and very large. At this resort you have full access to all three properties! I would stay and recommend the Iberostar Resorts 100%.

Iberostar Grand Room

Iberostar Grand Room

Iberostar Grand Pool

Iberostar Grand Pool

For dinner on our first night, we dined at the Gourmet Restaurant in the Suites resort. Dinner and atmosphere were excellent! This is one of the a la carte restaurants so reservations are required. These can be made at guest services in the lobby and are unlimited at the Suites and Grand. At the beach you ate limited to four a la cartes during your stay.

Day 3- started our day with a breakfast of champions at the buffet! Best all inclusive breakfast buffet I have had! I ordered a custom omelette from one of the two omelette stations and topped with a delicious home made salsa. The Blue Mountain coffee was perfection!

We were then off to tour the two Jewel resorts in Runaway Bay.

We started out at the Jewel Runaway Bay. This resort was previously the Breezes Runaway Bay and just opened as the Jewel in 2012. It is a family oriented resort. I was super impressed with this resort! The lead in premier rooms were great! The layout is very good also. It is a smaller resort in comparison to some of the mega resorts. They are currently working on building a big water park at this resort scheduled to open at the end of January 2015.

Jewel Runaway Bay Room

Jewel Runaway Bay Room

Jewel Runaway Bay Pool

Jewel Runaway Bay Pool

We then hopped over to the adults only, Jewel Paradise Cove. This is a large resort and even when at full capacity, has the feeling of privacy and not being crowded. There are three different pool areas at this resort. I personally loved the small pool that had the pool view rooms. That pool seemed like it was very private and quiet. If you are a beach person though, this resort is not for you. It has two small man made beaches only that are in small coves. If you enjoy just lounging at the pools then this is a winner!

After our two tours of the Jewel Resorts we stopped and visited the Green Grotto Caves. The cost for admission is $20USD. These are old underground caves that are have a great story and history. Here you are guiding down through the caves to a pristine underground lake! The total tour is about an hour. Great tour to do in the Runaway Bay Area.

On arrival back to our hotel we had some free time. First thing on my list was to get in the beautiful infinity pool!

For dinner this night we dined at the Cajun Jambalaya restaurant at The Beach Resort. If you like Jambalaya and shrimp, this is a must!

After diner we checked out the nightly entertainment on the beach. The entertainment was a Pirate Beach Party. They had different games set up and a DJ pumping the tunes! It was a lot of fun. Jamaica so far is really great!

Czarina’s South America Adventure – Part 1

My first visit to South America has left a new found taste for adventure! So begins our G Adventure trip through Peru with our 1 day trek to Machu Picchu.

We arrived a day ahead to spend our first day touring Lima. The city itself is massive with about 13 million people living in the city and surrounding areas. First impressions left me feeling like I was back in Mexico.

We spent the first couple nights in the tourist friendly beach town of Miraflores, which is about 30 minutes away from the airport. Everywhere you look there are tourist walking around, lots of shops and restaurants. Our hotel, Hotel San Agustin, is small but is just off the main drag and location is great.

Day 1 was about seeing as much of Lima as we could. We hopped in a cab in front of our hotel to Centro Lima where you can find the main square, the Presidential Palace and St Francis Church. The cab cost $25 Peruvian Soles which works out to be $10USD and it took about 20 minutes to get there. I was most excited to see St Francis and tour the Catacombs below ($7 Sol – 1 hour tour). The crypt is home to about 25,000 deceased Franciscan beginning in the early 1800s. It’s exactly what you except… super creepy, but you can’t look away. The amount of skulls and bones left me feeling very uneasy and I stayed tight to the group for fear one of these power outages that I heard so much about would happen right then and there. Thankfully that didn’t occur.

That evening we had the opportunity to meet our group at the orientation provided by our G Adventures Tour Guide, Katy. There are 14 of us and the majority of us are Canadians or Aussies. I think the biggest thing we took away from the orientation is the importance of water to combat altitude sickness. Katy is from Cuzco and says a trick they suggest is to drink pop. Apparently the sugar helps. I’ve heard so many different suggestions but I’m willing to try anything to avoid being “that girl”…

Right now, I’m flying over the snow capped Andes on my way to Cuzco with my group. Looking forward to getting to know our group and checking out Pisac tomorrow!

Stephanie’s Vegas Trip

I was lucky enough to have spent 3 nights with Westjet and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) and getting to see all this fantastic city has to offer. Over 100 agents from across Canada had been invited to join, which is the largest agent trip I’ve ever had a chance to participate in. It was a total whirlwind of a trip!

 

I started this journey with a 6 am flight from Saskatoon to Vegas, through Calgary, with Westjet. Everything was on time, and ran without incident. I was greeted at the airport by a Westjet and LVCVA rep, and then shuttled to my hotel. There are 4 different hotels we were split up into, and lucky me, I got to stay at The Venetian. I’ve never stayed at such a beautiful hotel – grand frescos painted everywhere, crystal chandeliers and marble floors. I was wowed once again in my suite, which was over 700 sq ft with a sunken living room, luscious king size bed, double vanity, soaker tub and 3 TVs. It almost felt like too much room for just one person.

 

Vegas Suite 1

Vegas Suite 2

 

After settling in, my afternoon was free so I head out shopping. I planned to take the bus up to the north premium outlets. You can buy a 24 hour pass for $8, or a 3 day pass for $20. This will get you unlimited travel on The Deuce and the express lines. It’s the SDX line that takes you to the outlets, as the Deuce only goes as far as Freemont Street. It took about 30 minutes from the stop in front of the Wynn (there is a stop in front of the Venetian, but I missed the bus and decided to walk a little further.)

 

Group activities were planned for 5:30 on the first night, so after shopping I made my way back to the hotel to change. My group from the Venetian walked to the Wynn for a great reception hosted by the hotel management. Oh my, the Wynn is beautiful! The flowers in the lobby are flown in from Holland every 3 weeks or so, and they have a Ferrari dealership on site. I was blown away. During the reception we mingled with agents from across Canada, Westjet members, and tourist board staff. The food was amazing; I had a fantastic mushroom risotto, and an absolutely delicious Peking duck rice bun. The balance of the evening was free, but since I had been up since 4 am, all I could manage was a walk to Harrah’s before I had to turn around and head to bed.

 

The next two days were full of events hosted by the hotels, Westjet and the tourist board. Tuesday we started out at Stoney’s Rockin’ Country bar with breakfast and a day of networking with different suppliers – hoteliers, attractions, golf, weddings and shows. There are so many things to do in Vegas besides gambling, it’s impossible to fit them all in with just one visit. We ended the afternoon with a few beers and bull riding; however I was not brave enough to give it a go. A few people were, and I’m sure it’s a lot harder than it looks. I have poor balance on flat ground, so I had a feeling the bull and I wouldn’t get along.

 

For the evening we had a reception hosted by the Cosmopolitan in the absolutely amazing Chandelier bar. It’s the largest chandelier in the world at 3 stories high, and made with over 2 millions Swarovski crystals. I was in heaven. The service at the Cosmo was top notch, and the reception appetizers were delicious. I wish I had more time to explore the hotel. It’s very modern, and one of the few hotels on the strip where most rooms have a terrace. After the reception, we split into 6 groups to attend different shows or activities. I was with the group to the Cirque du Soliel show Mystere. If you have never seen a Cirque show, I highly recommend it as the acrobatics and athleticism is outstanding. The show was at 9:30, so by time it was over at 11:15, I was pretty exhausted. Since we didn’t have a huge meal prior to the show, I was on a mission for food. I wasn’t really up for sitting in a restaurant for 90 minutes for a full meal, so I went to the Grand Luxe Cafe at the Venetian and got a nice turkey sandwich to go, which I took back up to my room to eat. After a long day, it was nice to just relax in bed and catch some zzzzzz’s.

Vegas Chandelier

 

On Wednesday, the group split up for the morning, and we each went to a different hotel for a site inspection. My group headed to Treasure Island, which luckily is just across the street from the Venetian. Another great hotel, TI is not part of any major chain in Vegas. It’s a “boutique” size hotel for Vegas, though it still has around 3,000 rooms, and most things are compact around the casino floor. They are also building a new shopping complex on the façade of the hotel, which should be opening this fall. We also had breakfast at the buffet here, which was delicious and offered something for everyone – made to order omelets, eggs benedict, hash browns, sushi, fruit, and an assortment of breakfast meats. The hotel was at full occupancy, so we were only able to see one room, a petite suite. It’s a bit larger than the standard room, with a sitting area and split bathroom design, but the decor and general layout are the same.

 

After we were finished at TI, we headed to the Monte Carlo to meet up with the other groups for lunch and games hosted by MGM resorts. Lunch ended up being only about 2 hours after breakfast, so I didn’t have anything but a small sandwich. MGM hosted their own customized version of Scene It, which is trivia game about movies. They gave out prizes with complimentary hotels stays, but I was not a lucky winner. I guess I’m not as good with movies as I thought I was, but it was still loads of fun.

Afterwards we were split into groups again for another activity. I chose a visit to the Mob Museum and a ride on Slotzilla, which is the newly renovated zip line on Freemont. The museum was great, but I definitely could have had more time there. We had just under an hour, and I probably could have spent three. There is everything from Al Capone, Bugsy Siegel, Frank Lucas, and Lucky Luciano, to a piece of the wall from the St Valentine’s Day massacre, history on the mob in Vegas, and different movies based on mobsters. It made me want to go home to watch Casino and American Gangster.

Vegas Mob Museum

With a few free hours that afternoon, I decided to go check out the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood. With over 170 stores, there is something for everyone. If you love to shop, be sure to pick up one of the discount coupon booklets, which are worth over $2,000 in savings. The coupons don’t expire right away, so you can use it again or give leftovers to a friend who is going later.

For the third and final night, we headed to the Flamingo for dinner at their steakhouse, Center Cut. What another great meal! We started out with a seafood platter, which had crab legs, shrimp and oysters. I’d never had an oyster before, so another agent showed me her way to eat one – lemon juice and Tabasco. It wasn’t awful, but I don’t think its top on my list to order again. The rest of the meal however, I could eat every night. A Caesar salad to die for, grilled asparagus, mashed potatoes, and a fillet mignon that melted it my mouth. My mouth is watering just thinking about it again. As dessert was being served, a few speeches were made by Westjet and the LVCVA, when a surprise visitor came by – Donny Osmond! He was just stopping by the restaurant kitchen to get a salad before his show, and decided to come in and say hello. What a great way to end dinner!

For one final activity, we had a ride on the High Roller, which is the newly opened observation wheel. At 90 feet taller than the one in London, it’s the largest observation wheel in the world. The ride is approximately 40 minutes, and the views are amazing. At night you can see all the hotels lit up, the Bellagio fountains, and the city all around you. It’s just breathtaking. Each capsule holds up to 40 people, and they can even be booked for private functions and weddings!

Vegas High Roller

So thus ends the night and now we had to part ways. Unfortunately I had the earliest flight back home the next morning, so I had to miss the breakfast windup. I said my goodbyes to the Westjet reps and the many new friends I’ve made, and made my way back to my room to pack. I can’t wait to go back to experience something new next time. Viva Las Vegas! Until we meet again.