Thursday, July 31, 2014

Kathy's Trip to Argentina

One of Sanders Travel’s advisors, Kathy, visited Argentina to take part in the BUY Argentina Travel Trade show as well as visiting the wine region of the country, Mendoza.

Kathy’s jam packed trip started in Buenos Aires, where she experienced no jet lag. Buenos Aires is only a two hour difference from Central Standard Time in the US, so she was able to keep her sleep schedule and wake up refreshed. She stayed one night in the Alvear Palace Hotel, a luxury hotel located in the center of the cosmopolitan city. From this hotel you are in walking distance of most everything; shopping, restaurants, even La Recoleta Cemetery, where Eva Peron is buried. Kathy recommends getting a guide to show you this cemetery as there are many famous people and interesting stories in this popular attraction. The hotel has a classic, old style feel with impeccable service and great food. Kathy told us that the bellboy anticipated her departure and before she could call down, he was at her door waiting for her bag.

Her next hotel took her to the Sofitel Cardales. This hotel is best for businessmen and conventions, as it is in the suburbs of Buenos Aires and not near many activities. There she attended BUY Argentina, a weekend of conversing with Argentinean vendors and other travel advisors about the beautiful and extremely diverse country.

From Buenos Aires, Kathy flew one and a half hours to Mendoza, the wine country of Argentina. She stayed at the InterContinental Mendoza, a city hotel with attentive employees, a casino and a great shopping mall across the street. From here Kathy visited many wineries throughout Mendoza and experienced tasting many Malbec wines (Mendoza is the top producer of Malbec wines in the world). She had the pleasure of visiting two hotels in the wine country that she couldn't stop raving about.

The Vines Resort & Spa is in the Uco Valley surrounded by a vineyard and a breathtaking backdrop of the Andes Mountains. You are truly in the middle of nowhere. This small boutique hotel has a restaurant where they cook on seven different fires and keep the wine flowing. Each room is separate from the others, like little casitas giving you the seclusion and peacefulness you desire.

The next hotel was the Cavas Wine Lodge, where literally everywhere you look are grape vines. The pathways are surrounded by vines, you room has vines right outside the door, even the restaurant has vines encompassing it. Each casita has the dark, Spanish feel and look you would expect from this part of the world, giving it the feeling of home.

Kathy had so much fun in Argentina and could not stop raving about it when she returned to the office. We are so glad that she could share her experiences with us and you.

Monday, July 7, 2014

2014 Virtuoso Nominee

We are honored to be nominated for the "Most Hospitable Agency" award for Virtuoso! Thank you to everyone who nominated us!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sarah Takes the Rocky Mountaineer into Canada

At the beginning of June Sarah, our Director of Operations and Group Sales, took a familiarization trip with Rocky Mountaineer. She was fortunate enough to ride the train 2 days and visit Vancouver, Kamloops, Jasper, Banff, Lake Louise & Calgary! Here is a quick overview of this jam-packed trip.

Vancouver Hotel Waterfront – Sarah spent 2 nights here to start off her journey. This property was renovated in 2013 and is absolutely fabulous! The location can’t be beat (just across the street from the cruise terminal with waterfront and city views), and the new, fresh, and more contemporary décor of the hotel is very comfortable. They have a fabulous new restaurant called ARC Restaurant & Bar. Be sure to try the yogurt parfaits at breakfast (who knew something so simple would be so absolutely delicious!) and their honey made by the bees on the hotel rooftop (learn more about Fairmont & their honey bees here).

Give plenty of time in Vancouver to stroll or bike around Stanley Park, explore the treetop adventures (and overcome your fear of heights) at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, munch on some authentic local fare at Granville Island Public Market and get a unique view of the country at FlyOver Canada.

Sarah took the 2-day ‘Journey through the Clouds’ trip on the Rocky Mountaineer. Highlights along this route include the Fraser Canyon, the Albreda Glacier, Pyramid Falls, and Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. Sarah experienced all three classes of service currently offered by Rocky Mountaineer. Regardless of which class you book you are sure to have a fabulous send off and spectacular views as you ride along. The train travels at “Kodak Speed” so guests can take pictures and soak in the spectacular mountain scenery as you roll by. Each car also has an outdoor platform for unobstructed viewing and a breath of fresh air. Here is an overview of the various services so you can see which suits your travel style best.

Sarah’s personal favorite was the Gold Leaf service (no surprise there).  This luxury car offers incredible views all around with their domed windows. These cars are two stories with a dining room on the first level and guest seating on the upper level. This higher vantage point also allows you to see more as you ride above many of the trees. Best of all they had the first Gold Leaf car on the train so Sarah & her fellow travelers could see straight out along the tops of the other cars and the engine (very cool perspective on the tunnels). Having the separate dining room below is a great opportunity to stretch your legs and have a change of scenery, something Sarah much appreciated as her journey consisted of about 10 hours on the train each day (length of time varies depending on traffic on the rail lines). The food in the dining room is fabulous! You have a menu with at least 3 hot entrées to choose from, a salad/soup course and dessert! You will not go hungry or thirsty in Gold Leaf as snacks are served throughout the journey and alcoholic & non-alcoholic beverages are complimentary. They are also able to accommodate any dietary or allergy restrictions (just let Rocky Mountaineer know 7 days in advance of your departure).  Gold Leaf service also includes the most staff members of all the cars so your every need is attended to and wonderful personal narratives and commentary on the scenery are told as you ride along. When you step off the train the exceptional service continues as your bags are delivered to your hotel room in advance of your train’s arrival. Like magic all your belongings are there without you having to lift a finger. When booking the Gold Leaf service train you also get the top off the line hotels, which consist mostly of Fairmont properties.

Silver Leaf Service is the premium category and is a great value for all you get. These cars still have domed windows (just not quite as overhead or large as Gold Leaf) and very comfortable seating. Hot meals are served at your seat, but alcoholic beverages are only included at lunch time (although available for purchase throughout the day). There are 3 crewmembers for each Silver Leaf car and luggage is still transferred to your hotel room like in Gold Leaf.

Red Leaf is the economy cabin and comes with an entry-level price point. They are going away with this service by 2016 so if Red Leaf is your style book your trip soon. These cars do not have any domed windows as they have overhead storage for luggage. All meals are served at your seat and are cold. Alcoholic beverages must be purchased. This class of service has the least amount of crew and no luggage service. In fact, you are required to bring on an overnight bag for your stop in Kamloops as you will not see your checked suitcase until your final stop in Jasper. Still the scenery is the same no matter which car you’re in and you will visit the same destinations.

Sarah’s Tips for the Train
You will not go hungry although breakfast is served late (9 am) so if you’re starving when you wake up at 6 am (like I am) you’ll want a granola bar or fruit from the hotel

Dress warm – the cars are quite cool. Blankets are available, but there is a limited number.

Pillows are offered in each seat. It’s hard not to fall asleep to the lull of the rocking car. When you are first pulling out of Vancouver is the best time to nap as most of what you see is industrial until you get well out of the city.

Have a party of 4? Book seats two in front of the other and one row can be swiveled around so you all face each other. Great for card games and conversation. A little tight on leg room though.

Wifi is not available on board so if you’re addicted to email or social media make sure you have an international data plan, although service can be spotty in the mountains.

Don’t book this if you are an active traveler. Even though you can walk around the car and outdoor platform, it is a lot of sitting.

Bring ginger tablets if you are prone to motion sickness. The movement is not bad (this coming from someone very prone to motion sickness in cars and on boats), but just in case the ginger is enough to ward off butterflies without putting you to sleep.

This is not for smokers as all train cars and outdoor vestibules are non-smoking, although Nicorette gum and hugs are available to get you through the 10 hour day.

On the ‘Journey through the Clouds’ route everyone overnights in Kamloops. There is not much to the town and the accommodations there are pretty basic. This is the only stop where Gold Leaf guests do not stay in a Fairmont. Sarah stayed at the Gold Leaf hotel, Hotel 540, a modern a playful property in the heart of town. Be on the look out for the new Sandman Signature Kamloops to open up. Sarah took a sneak peak and thinks this property will soon be on the Gold Leaf hotel list.

Sarah’s train journey ended in Jasper where she stayed at the lovely Fairmont Jasper Lodge. This property feels like you’re on the set of Dirty Dancing with its camp-like bungalows throughout a pristine mountain setting. The lake and surrounding trails offers ample activity for guests, but take note you are about 20 minutes from town (you will eat at the hotel & it will be pricey, but there are ample dining outlets to choose from). Sarah’s suggested itinerary would include two nights here.

Rocky Mountaineer’s itineraries don’t stop where the train does. Guests can continue to explore the great Pacific Northwest by motor coach tour, private car rental (with Gypsie GPS preprogrammed with sites and narration along your route) or even an Alaskan cruise. Sarah’s trip took them by motor coach through the Jasper National Park where she saw black bears, elk and bald eagles. Her tour stopped at the Columbia Ice Fields where she rode a snow coach to the Athabasca Glacier. During this stop they also saw a herd of big horn sheep. The newest attraction coming to Jasper National Park is the Glacier Skywalk, which will probably be added to Rocky Mountaineer itineraries for next year.

The tour stops at Lake Louise and then continues on to Banff. You can stay at either location. Sarah went straight on to Fairmont Banff Springs, as the Fairmont Lake Louise was sold out. Banff is an awesome little town with country flair. Texans will fit right in with the local’s cowboy apparel and western décor. Give yourself time to wander the shops and enjoy local restaurants. The Fairmont Banff Springs is an incredible hotel. Towering over the valley below, this hotel looks like a grand castle. The rooms are all unique so be very specific with your travel advisor about what is most important to you (view, accessibility, size of bathrooms, etc). This property is very large and offers a lot of dining outlets, bars, shops and even a bowling alley! Ample activities are available for children and families, but be sure to ask about the extra costs incurred for many of the activities.

The next day Sarah and the new best friends she had made on the tour headed back to Lake Louise. While this is not something Rocky Mountaineer guests would do (no need to back track!), the group of travel advisors went to tour the Fairmont Lake Louise. During their drive they toured Yoho National Park where they saw beautiful waterfalls, more snow-capped mountains and wildlife (elk & brown bears). Upon arrival at Fairmont Lake Louise you will notice this towering hotel is a bit more modern in appearance on the exterior. The inside has touches of present day design as it was recently renovated, but the overall décor is still very traditional with unique architectural details throughout. If you are staying here splurge for a room with a lake view! That’s what you’re here for. The Fairmont has the best location as it is RIGHT on the lake. Of course be warned its beauty is most appreciated in the summer months and that starts much later in Alberta than most Texans are accustomed to. When Sarah was there most of the lake was still frozen! The water is typically a gorgeous turquoise blue with stunning reflects of the surrounding mountains.

The journey ended with an overnight in Calgary. There Sarah stayed at the Fairmont Palliser, a historic palace-like hotel in the city center. Again these historic rooms come in all shapes and sizes so be sure to find the room best suited to your needs. To be honest this is a big city and is not worth a lot of time on your leisure itinerary, but should business ever call you to Calgary the Fairmont Palliser is the place to stay.

Nonstop flights are available to/from Vancouver and Calgary making a Rocky Mountaineer itinerary like this easy for DFW residents. Sarah suggests all guests staying in multiple Fairmont properties be sure to sign up for the Fairmont President’s Club so you can get free WiFi and VIP treatment at every property. Also the Rocky Mountaineer packages offer optional meal plans. Since most hotels are set in the natural surrounds, not the cities, Sarah highly recommends you at least include breakfast with your package (if not dinner as well). Sarah would also recommend that active travelers and families do the self-drive tour option with your own rental car so you can set your own pace and partake in more activities along the way. The motor coach option is best for travelers with limited mobility or individuals wanting to join a group.

If the Canadian Rockies are on your bucket list contact your Sanders Travel Centre advisor today to customize the perfect journey for you!