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 –http://tinyurl.com/empress101
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…
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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.
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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 www.fairmont.com/whistler. 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…

Yesterday I attended a service at my sister’s church, St. Andrew’s-Wesley United in downtown Vancouver, where I was moved to tears by Rev. Gary Paterson’s sermon about the power of love–divine love, of course, but also the much more prosaic love of marital relationships. 

 

Get away to get closer

Get away to get closer

My husband Brad and I have been married for 28 years–not all of them exactly blissful. In fact we even separated briefly in our 17th year, but we didn’t divorce and today we’re happier and more solid than ever. (If you really want to know how we got through it, read “Staying Together,” the article I wrote for Canadian Living magazine on the occasion of our 25th wedding anniversary in 2005.)

Anyway, I just read a TripAdvisor survey that suggests more people than ever are planning a romantic getaway in 2009–despite the lousy economy. And to that I say: recession be damned, let romance prevail!

Especially when your relationship is under stress, even 24 hours away from home can give you the time and space you need to see your situation more clearly. (Plus there’s something, um, stimulating about bathtubs that don’t need scrubbing and sheets that don’t need changing.) But don’t let the word “romantic” put you off–you don’t have to buy new underwear or spend a fortune on candlelit dinners (although the travel industry would love it if you did).

Book a room, pack along a bottle of wine, and spend a quiet evening with your best beloved away from kids, dogs and deadlines. Together time is not just essential for newlyweds. Us longlyweds need it perhaps even more…

Judging by the huge number of hits on my January post about how to do a home swap, I gather the live-like-a-local trend is real and growing. So for those who aren’t keen on sleeping in cookie-cutter hotel rooms, who think variety is the spice of travel, or who simply need to travel on a shoestring, here are four more suggestions for how to score cheap sleeps in Canada and beyond. (Note: I haven’t used any of these services yet myself, but I’ve heard good buzz from other travellers…so far, no axe murderers it seems…)

Airbed & Breakfast

How it works: This is like bunking at a friend’s house: in return for a small fee, you get a bed for the night–and it might be nothing more than an air mattress–and breakfast in the morning. It can be unbelievably cheap: someone in Calgary was recently offering to host an overnight guest for a mere $10. According to the site, you can currently find a bed in 718 cities in 71 cities.

Good to know: Hosts post photos of their digs at the site, and both hosts and guests can post feedback after a stay. 

Help Exchange

How it works: This free service lets you swap labour for room and board at farms, ranches, lodges, hostels and even sailing boats. You might, for example, give a hand with the planting at an organic farm in Quebec, or help with the housekeeping at a B&B on one of BC’s Gulf Islands.

Good to know: Make no mistake, you’re signing up for a working holiday. But you probably won’t be expected to muck in for more than a few hours each day and you can stay for several months.

Roomorama

How it works: This is so called peer-to-peer rentals: locals in nine North American cities, including Toronto and Vancouver, offer more than 1,000 places to put your head. Rates vary from a few bucks to a couple hundred, depending on whether you’re buying the use of a room, an apartment or an entire house. 

Good to know: You’ll pay a small service charge (around $10 CDN) to the site, but you do get something for that: Roomorama won’t release the rental fee to the host after you’ve checked in. And you can “shout out” your wish-list on the site to request a room in a certain destination on certain days.

Update 2/16/09: Global Freeloaders

How it works: This one came on to my radar while I was clicking through various links on my pal Laura Byrne Paquet’s excellent live-like-a-local blog. It’s a completely free service that’s as easy as: 

1. Sign up.

2. Introduce yourself to, and request accommodation from, the other people registered on the site. (The site collects and forwards your e-mail–sort of like it works with Craigslist.) It’s an international site, so you can search by country and city for listings.

and

3. Sit back and wait for a reply. 

Good to know: This service relies on “a balance of give and take” according to the site–so if you’re not prepared to return the hospitality within six months of signing up, you’re strongly urged to reconsider. When posting, be as specific as possible about what you’re prepared to offer a guest: just a bed for a couple of nights? the grand neighbourhood tour? an open-fridge policy?The goal here is hospitality, not hurt feelings…

And hey, if you’ve had experiences with any of these sites, I’d sure appreciate it if you’d share your comments here…

Had the pleasure and privilege today of a working lunch at Voya, a swank new eatery worthy of Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly, next to the Loden Hotel at Melville and Thurlow in downtown Vancouver.

Voya at Loden Hotel, Vancouver, BC

Voya at Loden Hotel, Vancouver, BC

The lunch menu is a smart two-course prix fixe: $26 buys your choice of any two plates from the small and carefully crafted menu. My organic beet-and-chevre salad was as good or better than the nearly perfect one I enjoyed at L’Express in Montreal recently (high praise indeed), and the poached wild salmon that followed was faultlessly prepared and presented.

This place is a natural to participate in Tourism Vancouver’s Dine Out Vancouver event happening January 14 to February 1–except that they missed the registration deadline. That’s the bad news. The good news: marketing director Barbara Hicks says they’ll go it alone with their own cheekily named Wine Out Vancouver prom0tion–$38 will buy you a three-course dinner, but even better, you can sample any bottle from their sophisticated wine list for just the retail price plus 15 bucks. Heck, you might even want to sample two…

Call or e-mail for details & resos: 604.639.VOYA or info@voyarestaurant.com

(And ps: yes, that was Fresco chef Rod Butters sitting at the bar today…)