Travel Blog with tips, guides, reviews and inspiration for family travel

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Favourite Travel Websites


So today I had planned to sit down and finish up my last post on Panama. Yes - another one! But then I checked my email (duh!) and had found Air Canada had gifted me with an email for a one day sale! Oh, Air Canada - you know me so well!

Normally, this wouldn't be so tempting, but as it is -76 degrees outside with the Polar Vortex making itself cozy here in Toronto for the next 3 months, and apparently it is also 'National Plan for a Vacation Day' (oh I see you marketing department at Air Canada!).

I've spent a sold 5 hours on my 'research"without booking any trips, so I thought I'd put together a post (so I can claim some productivity today), about my favourite go to sites that I use when helping me plan (or dream) travel.

Air Fare:

Google Flights - guys! Why didn't I know about this before?? It's my new favourite! In the past I've looked at Kayak to help narrow down flights, but now openly declare my preference for my favourite child - Google Flights. It makes looking into flights super easy with its user friendly format and filters. I find it especially helpful when I am flexible with dates and locations and I can look on a map with prices! Oh I am going to be in so much trouble...thanks Google!

https://www.google.com/flights?

Air Canada - they have me locked down because of the privileges, status and benefits we can earn as frequent flyers. Hello free checked bag! Plus, as someone who just wants to get where I want to go, they have the most direct flights out of Toronto. And those timely email offers.....oh I see you AC - I see you!

https://www.aircanada.com

West Jet: I'm sorry Canada's younger airline sister, but I promise I check your emails too. You too are tempting with great prices and sometimes more accommodating departure times. Plus we love the West Jet customer service.

https://www.westjet.com

Expedia: The OG for airline comparisons, I like being able to narrow down the best prices and last minute fares using expedia's easy format.

https://www.expedia.ca

Travel planning never ends does it?

Accommodations:

Sleeps 5 - Any parent with more than 2 kids will tell you about their challenges of finding accommodations that work for the 5 + of them. Sleeps 5 makes it easy to help narrow down your choices https://sleeps5.com/

Family Vacation Critic - they have a TON of great ideas for travelling with kids of all ages, as well as an easy search engine with up to date prices and helpful reviews. https://www.familyvacationcritic.com

booking.com - Love the flexibility of booking.com where many reservations don't have cancellation fees so I can keep buyers guilt at bay (one form of guilt is enough to deal with anyways - ahem mom guilt!). Also I love that that I can find a variety of resorts, hotels, villas, houses, and apartments. The user reviews have been accurate and reassuring.

https://www.booking.com/

Trip Advisor - as someone who likes to post reviews on this site, I love using it to get a general understanding of the hotel that I am considering staying at. Make sure to read several reviews to get a good overall picture.

https://www.tripadvisor.ca/

VRBO - longer trips with the kids means we prefer a home away from home. I feel reassured with their Confidence Guarantee in case we change our mind or anything goes wrong. Read more about it here:

https://www.vrbo.com/

Panama City planned by Ciao Bambino
Other Favourites:

My new favourite is Ciao Bambino, who seems to just get me. Their personalized service and itinerary building that is family friendly and filled with luxury takes away all of the guess work. It's when I need someone to take care of this mama https://ciaobambino.com/




I also love reading up on new destinations, reviews of hotels and amazing travel experiences so both CN Traveller and Travel + Leisure inspire me!

CN Traveller  https://www.cntraveller.com/

Travel + Leisure https://www.cntraveller.com/

Fellow Bloggers : I LOVE finding travel tips from fellow travel bloggers and have been using the amazing communities on social media to help me connect!

The Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra 
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Monday, January 28, 2019

Panama City




I just might be a really cool hip, in-the-know kind of mom. Or maybe I've got special psychic powers that I need to foster for world domination. Or maybe I'm just clueless and a little lucky? Yeah that's probably the most accurate one. Panama has been in pretty much EVERY 2019 travel list from Vogue to the New York Times. And lookey here kids - this mama took ya'll already.

We ended 2018 with a trip to Panama - one to be completely honest that I wasn't excited about. The hubs lived there waaayyyy back before it was cool and has raved about it for the last 167 years (ok maybe not that long). But honestly Panama? I. LOVE. YOU.

Our original itinerary was supposed to be city - sea - mountains, but some unforeseeable changes had to be made and we ended up exploring Panama City, flying to the Bocas Del Toro islands in the Caribbean Sea and then driving across the continent(!)to the Pacific Side.

You'd think having a former Panamanian Resident in house would mean I wouldn't need to research anything right? That I'd have all the details of what to see, do, eat and where to stay right? Nah. So I decided to enlist the help of Ciao Bambino, an award winning global family travel agency to help us plan our 10 day epic Panamanian family trip.
Our experience with our travel advisor at Ciao Bambino was amazing! 

STAY: Our time in Panama City was spent at the The Bristol Panama, considered to be one of the city's most luxurious hotels, and is centrally located in the heart of the financial district. The Bristol is a lovely boutique hotel with spacious interconnecting rooms that provided comfort in a modern metropolis. Perfect for families and mamas who like their luxury.

We took a tour at The American Trade Hotel in Casco Veijo, and loved the restored old world charm and close proximity to great restaurants and bars. It is a great location if you want to get around by foot and see this historic neighbourhood. 


Lobby at The Bristol


Spacious Rooms at The Bristol


Views inside The American Trade Hotel


The dining room at The American Trade Hotel


Casco Veijo
DO: Honestly - where to start? Ok, how about with the obvious - the Panama Canal. This engineering marvel is truly spectacular. Try to get there early so you can witness a ship going through the locks, and take in all that the museum has to offer. It can be crowded, but lots of interactive exhibits, a movie, drinks and snacks for purchase, a gift shop and air conditioning to make this great for families.





Panama Veijo: A World heritage site, it is the remaining site of the former capital and old Panama City. Easily accessible, and with a museum and some fascinating ruins, it's a look into the rich history of Panama. 



Look kids - old buildings! Middle one isn't so easily impressed


Distant View of a structure in Panama Veijo

Casco Veijo: The Old Quarter that was built after PanamaVeijo was sacked by pirates
(See kids? History is cool!). Over 300 years old, this area has had a recent resurrection with buildings being restored to their original architectural glory  This relatively small area is packed with things to see including The Presidential Palace,  stunning churches such as the Plaza de la Independencia, San Jose Church and Metropolitan Cathedrallots of wonderful cafes, restaurants and bars, as well as colourful alleyways to explore with amazing views of the new modern Panama City across the water.


Casco Viejo










Views of the New City from The Old City

San Jose Church


Metropolitan Cathedral



Portobelo Colon:  We rented a car for the day and drove from Panama City, through the Gamboa Rainforest up to the Atlantic Side. It's a pretty neat thing to be able to say you've been to both sides of the continent in one day! 
We went up to the city of Colon which is also a sea port to the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. It is known as the "second city" in Panama. But it offers a very different landscape from the modern sky scrapers of the first city,
From Colon we drove along the coast to The Fort in Portobelo. For history buffs, this area has so much to share, and for kids its a great place to explore forts up close and first hand. 




City of Colon

Portobelo, perfect for exploration

Accessible history

DO MORE: 

- Shop! Panama City has great shopping including high end malls such as The Multi Plaza and Soho shopping complexes. They are great for a break from the heat with many kid friendly amenities.
- For more authentic souvenirs, check out one of the many craft markets such as the Municipal Handicraft Center Panamenas or Balboa Artisan Market.  Everyone needs a Panama Hat to add to their wardrobe! (Fun Fact: Panama Hats are originally from Ecuador!)
- Grab a cab and head over to the The Amador Causeway where you can rent bikes, roller blade or walk the 3 km stretch along the Pacific ocean. Stop for drinks or food at one of the many restaurants and cafes along there.
- While we didn't get  a chance to visit this time, The Biomuseo looks to be a fun, colourful tribute to Panama's natural history. 
- The Gamboa Rainforest - a jungle only 30 minutes away from the city! So many activities to do here from bird watching, to a boat ride on the Gatun Lake, to visiting a local tribe, to taking an aerial tram over the jungle and much more!

EAT:


Some of the highlights include : - empanadas(at airport!) 
                                                    - coffee from Boquette
                                                    - fresh ceviche (check out the Fresh Fish Market in Panama City)
                                                    - Fonda La Sexta - where they not only serve up delicious eats but 
                                                      they also empower women by helping them learn skill sets for 
                                                      gainful employment.
                                                    - Laboratorio in Casco Veijo, where the food was delicious, 
                                                      and decor was charming!
                                                    

Fresh Fruit Bowl 

Casco Veijo is full of great places such as Laboratorio



Laboratorio


My kids said these empanadas were their favourite meal in Panama! Found at the local airport

If you are thinking of doing some travel (and who isn't?), take a look at Panama - so much to do within the city, and so much to do in the rest of the country. Head over to my post about our time at Isla Palenque and about the Bocas for more travel tips about Panama.




















































































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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Isla Palenque - Pacific Ocean Gem

Isla Palenque- a private island resort that was once home to an ancient Pre-Columbian community, with an idyllic beachfront and stunning rain forest, was the perfect place to foster our inner explorer while also basking in the beauty and luxury of the resort.


The hotel picked up us in Chiriqui, and right away we knew that we were in for a treat with some amazing service. A calm and quick 15 minute boat ride to our own private island! Isla Palenque is situated in the Pacific Ocean in the Gulf of Chiriqui and has 8 gorgeous, private casitas that are furnished with Balinese inspired decor. 

Our Casita! Tucked away in the jungle







Isla Palenque is a gorgeous, small eco resort that is full on luxury and spectacular customer service. Their attention to their guests is amazing. From arranging thoughtful jungle hikes for our family of 5 to bringing us fresh juices poolside (just because!), to arranging a cooking class for our kids to participate in. 
Cooking Class


Cool patterns left on the beach from the tides
Private path to the beach from our casita

Why Isla Palenque for families?

- History: this island is full of archaeological and anthropological finds and gives an amazing glimpse into a Pre-Columbian community first hand. It's first hand learning experience that the resort and staff help to facilitate

- Nature : howler monkeys, diverse flora and fauna, manta rays and sting rays casually swimming by, a lush rain forest matched by gorgeous beaches - something for everyone

- Service : this resort is so happy to arrange whatever it is that your family wants to do. They had a private hike set up for us that was age appropriate and interesting for our kids and well as a fun cooking class that was perfect for our family. Everyone here is so kind and friendly.


What to do: Almost anything you want! The beauty of this resort is in its customer service.  You can paddle board, swim, take long walks on the beach, sit poolside, nap in a hammock, kayak,  have an island or ocean tours customized for your needs, hike, have their amazing chefs give you a cooking class and anything else you can think of to help you enjoy the beauty of this region.

What to eat: There's no thinking needed as all meals are included with your stay, and the food is  delicious!! There is such a variety of delicious, sustainable and locally sourced choices, and lots of kid pleasing options. Isla Palenque holds up its promise of luxury and environmental sustainability

We can't wait to return one day to this amazing place, hopefully during whale watching season. There is even a stunning beachfront villa estate for large families or groups travelling together that I've got my sights set on!





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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Sedona


Which mama doesn't need a girls trip? It's almost the best type of travel for a tired mom - hubby holds the fort down at home, mom reconnects with her best gal friends and comes home recharged!

This girls trip didn't look anything like it's movie counterpart, but it was the perfect mix of fun, adventure and relaxation.

Stay:
We splurged and stayed at  Enchantment Resort which is nestled between the dramatic red rocks Sedona is known for. The views from every part of this resort are breathtaking.
Added bonus was the amenities made available at Mii Amo, the sister destination spa.  Here we could indulge in another gorgeous pool, take ginger shots at the juice bar, partake in many complimentary classes such as yoga, and meditate in their unique Crystal Grotto.
We each indulged in a treatment at the Mii Amo spa, and being self professed spa connoisseurs, we were all blown away by the amazing treatments here. A unique combination of mind, body and spiritual connections and we were literally forced to sit poolside for the rest of the day (poor us!)

Enchantment Resort surrounded by those red rocks




Stunning red rocks around the property

Prickly Pear Cocktails





Do:  While Enchantment and Mii Amo are perfect to come and do nothing, Sedona offers so much more. Those stunning red rock vistas aren't just there to be observed. Hiking up and around them offered such a spiritual and rewarding experience.

Part of our journey was to go hunting for vortexes. Enchantment Resort is situated in the Boynton Canyon, a spiritual vortex which is said to be cross points between energy fields in the earth's grid system. Personally, I didn't know what a vortex was or how I would identify one or what to expect from one. But I was willing to experience whatever the beauty of this place was.
Boynton Canyon Trail
Tip: Hire a local guide to take you on a guided hike. We hired a guide to pick us up and take us to Cathedral Rock, where she led us into an unforgettable experience of climbing up this steep rock, to the end of the trail to where the most gorgeous views and self satisfaction of having completed our hike. Our guide taught us about the natural landscape around us and was one of the best parts of our trip!

However, our amazing guide who does this hike EVERYDAY, pushed us beyond our own comfort zones and to hike around those rocks to discover views that I could never have imagined. Just look :






Shopping! Well, what is a girls trip really without a little shopping? Tlaquepaque, Sedona's Arts & Crafts Village has it all and is a stunning place to wander and explore. https://www.tlaq.com/










EAT:  Sedona has lots of great places to eat! Some recommendations:

Mii Amo & Enchantment Resort - we enjoyed lunch and breakfast here
L'Auberge de Sedona - an upscale boutique hotel with stunning creekside dining which offers a refreshingly different view of Sedona
Pisa Lisa - a snug, modern place with authentic pizza 
Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill - perhaps the most scenic restaurant in Sedona. Request a table outside or by the windows and at sunset to see the changing colours of the red rocks.
Chocolate Tree Organic Eatery - cute, hippie vibe place with delicious fresh organic food
Elote Cafe - amazing Mexican and Southwest food! Warning: there is ALWAYS a line up to get in and a wait, but it is WELL WORTH IT!

L'Auberge de Sedona


Elegant Creekside dining at L'auberge






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