This just in from @fairmont hotels via Twitter (and why YOU should be on Twitter too!):   Twitter Early Access (in advance of Travelzoo launch on 3/18/09) – $101 room rates at The Fairmont Empress –
The Fairmont Empress on Victoria Harbour

The Fairmont Empress on Victoria Harbour

Victoria, BC‘s most-photographed hotel, the venerable Fairmont Empress, celebrates 101 years this year but in this economy she’s the one bearing the gifts: until March 24, you can book a room for any time up to December 23, 2009 for just $101 a night, INCLUDING a 15% discount on food, drink and indulgent Willowstream Spa treatments. It doesn’t get better that that–especially if you’re paying in Euros or US dollars.


If you’re tempted, don’t dither. This special package will hit TravelZoo on Wednesday…

So recession kinda sucks huh? Seems every day it gets a little harder to justify an evening out when the sky is apparently falling. The way I see it, we can either cloister ourselves at home with our favourite depressant (in my case, Bombay Sapphire) and wait the downturn out–or, we can get out there and lift a budget-friendly glass to better times.

Win a Zin gift certificate!

Win a Zin gift certificate!

Think you can’t afford an after-work get-together with friends right now? Not true! Check out the great $2 tapas menu on offer between 4 and 7 pm at Zin on Robson from March 16 to April 30.

Executive chef Karen Gin’s menu of toonie treats includes mac & Jack (with a hit of Jack Daniels), chili lime-glazed chicken wings, naan pizza, braised short rib poutine, and my personal all-time lounge-food fave: truffle popcorn. 

Zin is one of my two favourite martini bars in Vancouver (more about the other one later) and I’ve got a $50 gift certificate to Zin to give away in a random draw on March 27. To enter, just leave a comment answering these three important questions: 

  • shaken or stirred?
  • vodka or gin?
  • one olive or two?

Make sure I can get in touch with you, and good luck! (And if just can’t wait to win, make sure you make Happy Hour reservations: call Zin at 604.408.1700.)

PS: Blog about this contest at your own site with a link back here and you’ll get a second chance to win!

It’s spring break in BC’s Lower Mainland and that pretty much guarantees a gloomy weather forecast. (Old joke: how do you know what the weather’s doing in Vancouver? Easy: if you can’t see the mountains it means it’s raining and if you can see the mountains, it means it’s going to rain.)

You can’t let the wet stuff dampen your holiday spirit. Just grab the Gore-Tex and a sturdy brolly (the cheerful, wind-resistant offerings from Vancouver’s Cheeky Umbrellas are well worth the bucks) and make like a local with some of these recommended rainy-day pastimes:

Vancouver loves a Cheeky Umbrella

Vancouver loves a Cheeky Umbrella

  • Visit Hong Kong without a passport on a trip to Richmond’s Aberdeen Centre, where the city’s sizeable Asian population comes to shop, eat and be entertained. 
  • Cloudy skies only heighten the moody atmosphere of the Museum of Anthropology, a celebrated repository of Northwest Coast Aboriginal art at the University of British Columbia
  • Look up when it’s coming down: head for the snow on the nearby North Shore mountains. Look for specially priced ski-and-snowshoe packages here.
  • Steamy and tropical, the domed Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park blooms with birds, butterflies and lush floral vistas. (It’s the best place for foolproof photos, too.) 
  • Indulge your inner culture-vulture at Tickets Tonight with last-minute, half-price tickets to Vancouver’s primo arts events and wait out the monsoon in a matinée.
  • Rain or shine, the Whistler Mountaineer train between North Vancouver and Whistler is the best way to take in the coastal scenery along the Sea-to-Sky corridor. (The season runs May to October.)
  • Drop your umbrella and your shoulders and say spaaaaaaah. My favourite sanctuary is still (and will likely ever be) the Absolute Spa chain, now with a new location at Park Royal in West Vancouver. 
  • When you’ve exhausted the indoor pleasures of Granville Island Public Market, pop your top and walk the False Creek seawall west to Kitsilano Beach or east to Science World.
  • Like hockey but can’t afford tickets to a game? Head downtown to Vancity Theatre for the Hockey Nights in Film series during spring break.

Where do you like to pass a rainy day in the Lower Mainland? Please share your suggestions!


Aboard BC Ferries' Queen of Capilano

Aboard BC Ferries' Queen of Capilano

Surrounded on three sides by ocean and spattered like a Jackson Pollock painting with crystalline lakes and historic rivers, Canada’s magnificent landscape is perhaps best viewed from its myriad waterways. Sure, you could take in the iconic wilderness scenery on a luxury cruise through British Columbia’s Inside Passage. But if you’re pressed for time or money, there are plenty of other ways to experience Canada at “see”-level. 

Highly recommended day-trips:

  • For the prettiest views of the historic harbour in Halifax, NS, make the 12-minute ferry crossing between Nova Scotia’s capital and the city of Dartmouth. 
  • For centuries, visitors have found respite from the urban bustle of Toronto, ON in the lushly wooded Toronto Islands, just a short hop across Lake Ontario from Canada’s largest metropolis. Year-round ferry service departs from the docks at the foot of Bay Street. The return trip offers great photo opps of the city skyline.
  • At the historic junction of Manitoba’s mighty Red and Assiniboine Rivers is Winnipeg’s premier tourist attraction, The Forks. From May to September, the River Spirit water bus plies the scenic and tranquil riverfront. Or rent a canoe or paddleboat and explore at your own pace.

Have I missed any? Let me know!

Hockey is a big hairy deal around our house. It’s like a white noise (well, sometimes more like a black noise) that hums along in the background between October and April. And while I myself am not a hockey-head, I cannot escape its influence: since he discovered the sport in Grade 5, my now-teenaged son’s moods have been inextricably linked to his team’s divisional standings. I find Adam’s loyalty to the Canucks rather endearing: he will not abandon them, even though he knows they will inevitably break his heart.

Slap Shot

Slap Shot

So how do I–the woman who once embarrassed her son by cheering for another team’s goal because she didn’t know they switched sides after each period–plan to bond with my hockey patriot this spring break? Easy: we are going to the movies. Hockey movies.

We’ll be heading downtown to the Vancouver International Film Centre to catch a few of the 11 hockey-themed flicks on offer from March 9- 20. The Hockey Nights in Film series runs the gamut from beloved national classics (The Rocket) to Hollywood joyrides (Slap Shot) and cinéma vérité documentaries (Junior). And at just $10 a ticket, it’s way cheaper than a hockey game.


Is hockey a part of your family dynamic too? I’ve got a couple of pairs of tickets to give away, so leave a comment here with a hockey-related family memory and I’ll give the best story-teller a pair of tickets to see either Slap Shot on March 9 at 7 pm, or Junior on Thursday, March 12 at 8:45 pm.  (If you blog and would like to write about this contest or share your memory on your own site, please just leave a short comment below to direct me back to your own post).

Remember to leave your e-dress or blog URL so I can contact the winner. Contest closes Thursday, March 5, 2009 at 8 pm.

Sometimes a press release comes across my desk touting some unbelievably good travel deal and then I read the fine print and discover that’s exactly what it is: unbelievable.
So I went looking for the catch in the “20/20 Celebration Sale” that’s getting underway tomorrow at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler……and I kept looking……but there wasn’t one.

Starting February 25 at 12:01 am Pacific time, the grande dame of Whistler’s hotel scene will offer 20 rooms every day for the rest of 2009 at just $99. And even better: they’re not kidding when they say every day–there are no blacked out dates for this amazing offer: Christmas is included.

I attended the official opening of this toney property 20 years ago and have returned many times over the years–sometimes on their dime but more often on mine. It’s one of those rare hotels that never wavers in quality or customer service; it manages to add new amenities without cutting back on quality somewhere else.

I’m a huge fan of this hotel even though I’m not a skier. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever stayed there in the winter–I usually visit Whistler in the summer or early fall because I like to hike. The resort is a great fit for couples and families with different interests–one likes to golf, for example, the other likes to spa. But let’s be frank: family-friendly doesn’t always equate with budget-friendly. Until now.

Reservations open tomorrow at 12:01 am PST until Tuesday, March 3 at 11:59 pm PST at Rates start at $99 CAD plus taxes for a moderate room and are based on a minimum two-night stay (trust me: one is not enough).  Full prepayment is required at time of booking and is non-refundable.

Now outta my way: I’ve got to get caffeinated so I can stay up ’til midnight…

On a recent not-quite-full flight to Mexico (sorry Canada, but my seasonal affective disorder was reaching epic proportions), I was reminded that the booking of airline seats should not be left to amateurs.

My girlfriend had chosen our seats when she booked the flight, and in an effort to keep us together, she’d sensibly booked an aisle-and-middle combination. The problem, of course, was that the window seat was later claimed by a guy bigger than both of us put together.

It was, as my husband likes to say, a teachable moment, and I explained to my friend the following (almost) never-fail trick for avoiding the sardine can experience on an airplane.

First: use the electronic check-in kiosks whenever possible–even if you’ve already been assigned seats by a travel agent or airline

During the electronic check-in process, you will asked to confirm your seat selection. You will be able to see the location of your pre-assigned seats, as well as any unclaimed seats.

Second: secure a seating arrangement that leaves a middle seat empty

It seems counter-intuitive for people traveling together to split themselves up, but that’s the magic of this system. When you book yourself and your companion into a window and aisle, that leaves a middle seat free–and no one likes to sit in a middle seat.

When the next person comes along to do their seat selection, they will avoid the middle seat and look for a window or aisle somewhere else–even if it means they have to break up their own traveling unit.

Third: be prepared to give up your better seat

Nine times out of 10, using this system I have found myself left with room to spread out. The middle seat is still vacant when the plane starts rolling down the runway. However, sometimes if the flight is full, someone will be forced to claim the dreaded centre seat–and then I simply ask them if they’d like my window or aisle seat so I can still sit next to my travelling companion. They always agree to the switch.

Try it–it really works!

And while you’re at it: beat the bank at

There’s another little travel trick you should know about too. You likely already know that you can save big money by bidding on hotel rooms at But there’s a hitch: if your bid isn’t accepted the first time around, you have to wait for a period of time before you are allowed to try again. There is a way around it though: check out this helpful little post by friend and fellow Vancouver-based travel-writer Randall Shirley.

How about you–any travel-deal workarounds you’d like to share?