Kariega Game Lodge

Kariega Game Lodge

If you are looking for an awesome Safari experience, malaria free, close to Cape Town, then Kariega is an excellent choice.

Having only 8 days in Cape Town, we were really pressed for time but wanted to experience a Safari. Having grown up in South Africa as a child of a Travel Agent, I have stayed at the best lodges in the Kruger Area including Mala Mala and Sabi Sabi so I was worried how the Kariega trip would go.

IMG_4337Fast Facts:

1 hour flight to Port Elizabeth from Capetown. $100.00 pp CAD each way. (Peak season)

90 minutes transfer from Port Elizabeth to Kariega. $360.00 for all five of us (Return private vehicle)

4 lodges on the game reserve, located in the Eastern Cape. We stayed at Ukhosi, which was stunning. The suites are spacious and the setting gorgeous. I would recommend staying here over the main lodge.

Overall experience

We spent 2 nights at Kariega, this is not enough time. It got pretty hectic because we didn’t want to miss anything. If we go back it will be for a minimum of three nights.

The accommodation was wonderful at Ukhosi, the suites are spacious, the beds comfortable, the bathtub was heavenly. I absolutely loved it.

Game viewing.

IMG_4565 (1)Other than Cape Buffalo, we pretty much saw everything that Kariega had on offer. Lion, Hippo, Elephant, Giraffe, Zebra, White and Black Rhino, buck etc etc. Out Ranger Stef was knowledgeable and patient, showing us everything from Ant Hills, to Dung , to Lions mating, ya, we saw it ALL.

They have a road running through the middle of the game reserve (which to be fair is huge, 10 000 hectares to be precise. IMG_2691.JPG

With Lion and Elephant confined to the one side. I found this a little odd after my many visits to the Kruger area, but for a first time Safari visitor you may not even notice. Seeing the Hippo’s on foot was amazing and the Rhino sightings were spectacular.

Bush Breakfast by the river at the end of a the 5:00AM Game drive.


The food was plentiful as were the drinks. The food was not gourmet and I would have liked a few more game options,for example the Kudu stew was delicious. The staff went out of the way to make the dining experience memorable. Due to poor weather we had to dine in the dining room at the main lodge one night and this was not great, but the boma dinner the first night, and the lunches and bush breakfasts were fantastic.

Kariega was great, an exciting and a fun adventure for my entire family.  If it is your first time to South Africa and you want a Safari experience close to Capetown, this is what you are looking for.

Review of Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton, Jamaica.

Review of Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton, Jamaica.

So it has taken me a while to write this review. My family and I spent Christmas in Jamaica this year and we had a GREAT time, the weather was great, the countryside beautiful, the Jamaican people are incredible, but my review of Grand Palladium is not glowing. The Grand Palladium is made up of two sides, Montego Bay and Lady Hamilton, both sides shares all resources, facilities, beaches etc. There were many problems that we experienced and I wanted to wait before I wrote it all down just to have a bit of a “cooling off period.” So to start on a positive note I will share the Good of Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton.


645Sunset Cove Beach, this is the charming beach that is away from all the main restaurants and pool. The beach is beautiful, there is a fantastic Jerk Hut that makes probably the best food at the resort. The service in the beach bar was excellent. Cool music played on the beach, nice mix of activities, mellow, all good. This would be the absolute selling point of this resort for me, in fact, after speaking with several guests, they all agreed that without this special part of the resort, their holiday just would not have been the same. What is also wonderful about this beach is the plentiful shade and multiple loungers.

People of Palladium, these are the animation staff. They have endless energy and are wonderful. One in particular “Avitar” was just such a spectacular human being, the resort is lucky to have her.

Lifeguards, Groundsmen, cleaning staff, these cool, friendly background workers were not overwhelmed like the serving staff so had the Jamaican hospitality down. When my son stepped on a sea urchin, the lifeguards were professional, helpful and caring. The guy that cleaned Sunset cove each morning is a gem.

The Infinity Bar, groovy live music, good drinks. We hung out here most evenings 315and loved it. Here is a picture of one round of cocktails. The cocktails here are awesome, but if you want wine that doesn’t taste like paint thinner, you are going to pay $30 for a basic bottle of plonk. One night they had a fun “Back to the 80’s” party that was a blast. They fun was greatly due to the work of the Jamaican animation staff who are unbelievable, teaching water aerobics at 0900 and dancing until the wee hours of the morning. Thank you guys.

Grounds,  It is a sprawling estate with lots of tropical 709flowers and fruits, beautiful. The architecture of the resort it lovely. It is extremely visually appealing. Pictured left is the view from our room, not ocean view but still lovely.


Okay, so here we go. Since I am a travel writer I always let a hotel know I am coming. I don’t want to spring a review on a hotel without warning, in my opinion its a professional courtesy. So, these guys knew I was coming. On arrival I was presented with our rooms. We were actually booked in at the Grand Palladium Montego Bay . We were presented with two rooms in block 18 near the main road. I was stunned! I had booked with Air Canada Vacations so we are supposed to get premium rooms, I had requested good rooms that were connecting and got nothing. After much begging, arguing and complaining I paid an additional $40 a night and upgraded to be on the Lady Hamilton side of the resort. This side all the rooms are recently renovated. I had to make do with two rooms with a King Bed and a Pull out coach because no rooms with two beds were available and no connecting rooms were available either. I was not happy but went to the room. (view from balcony picture above)

I asked housekeeping to make up the pull out couch, we returned from Dinner and the bed was made but it was literally as hard as a rock, you might as well sleep on a tile floor. I called reception, complained and they brought padding, it was a bit better but not much. We were exhausted from an early start so went to bed early. As I got into bed, I noticed the sheet was not big enough for the bed (it was a double sheet on a king bed and they had used two to cover the middle of the bed, “what the hell!”, I thought and went to bed


All night I felt the bare mattress sticking to my body! I was up at 6:00 AM and went to reception, explaining the sheets were not big enough for the bed, they looked at me like I was a lunatic. Anyway, they promised they would look into it. I also asked if there was anyway I could get a room for my kids with two beds so my daughter wouldn’t have to sleep on the rock bed, They found rooms for us that were facing the Spa, so if you open your curtains in the morning you will see all the people working out, UGH, no thanks,  just bring more padding for my daughter and please, King size sheets. I also wrote an email to the customer service rep and manager to complain and they basically said, sorry to hear you are not happy, if we can do anything else just let us know…. really?

So guess what, this is my bed after the second night…. I pulled the sheet straight for the picture but I basically spent the night on a bare mattress AGAIN.


I actually took the photos not for the blog but to go show reception what we were dealing with. (my kids room also had this problem) This time she looked at me like I was NOT a lunatic (photos help) and said that a machine was broken and the resort did not have enough sheets. ARE YOU KIDDING ME????

I went back to my room and saw a very official looking lady names Althea, I believe she is somehow a supervisor in housekeeping and begged her, I mean literally begged her to get me sheets from somewhere as I was exhausted from two nights of sleeping on a damn bare mattress!  Althea and my housekeeper did what they could for me, but let me say this. If you want good quality sleep this is not the resort for you. No one should have to beg for sheets, I have stayed in youth hostels, 3 star hotels in Africa, gone camping and never had this problem.

Anyway, enough of the beds. You get it they suck and if you have a problem, good luck with a timely resolution.

Line lines lines, everywhere you go, want breakfast, wait in line to get inside the buffet restaurant, want a drink, wait your turn, need anything? Be ready to wait. I can honestly say that after staying at in excess of 50 All inclusive hotels I have never experienced line ups like the ones at the Grand Palladium. Guest got angry waiting and the vibe was unpleasant. The a la cart situation was actually a horror show, angry people were waiting for hours and it was just an unpleasant thing to see on holiday.  We stayed at the Grand Sirenas, in Mayan Riviera the same period (over New Year) at it was nothing like this.

We were so tired of the lines, that we were going to breakfast as it opened at 8:00 AM, in the morning. By 9:00 AM the buffet would have a lineup out the door to get a table. The problem was not the capacity of the resturant but that there was not enough hostess’ to seat guests. We wondered why they didn’t just allow guests to seat themselves, but as it was my holiday I just kept my mouth shut and enjoyed my time with my family.

Slow Service in the a la carte restaurants, consistent with the above comment, once your got into an a la carte restaurant be prepared to wait, wait, wait for your food. We really enjoyed the family time but it took almost an hour for our food to come on Christmas night.

Management? The front line workers did their best, Vanessa, from reception, kept calling me to check on me, as she knew I was not happy with the room/bed situation, but really what could she do about the line ups and overcrowding, this is a Management problem and I was there for some downtime, not to complain about issues that could not be fixed immediately.  It was the same for the poor waitstaff and bar tenders, they were working so hard to keep up with the literally thousands of people that were at the resort but they were totally overwhelmed I don’t think they could have possibly worked any harder.  What annoyed us most of all is that the timeshare sales people and spa sales people literally accosted you every time we walked past, Management had no problem staffing these money makers properly but we couldn’t get anything else with out waiting, waiting, waiting. Please Management, staff the restaurants and bars properly to avoid line ups, particular in the buffet where there were always empty tables and people lining up out the door.

Overall Impression.

I have stayed at well over 10 hotels in Jamaica, all the Sandals except Whitehouse, Iberostar Grand Rose Hall, Couples Sans Souci (where I got married), Holiday Inn Sunsplash, Jamaica Grande and Half Moon, so I know this is not typical for the destination. I would say the Grand Palladium just didn’t deliver on providing a hassle free vacation for my family. There were so many good points but the drama with the rock hard bed, tiny sheets and line ups were enough for me to not recommend this property. To be fair, I wonder what it would be like in a quieter season, but vacation time is so precious, why would you gamble your time for a bad nights sleep and lots of lineups.

I would say that the resort was completely overwhelmed and unable to provide a level of service that is expected in the 4-5 star all-Inclusive space. I write this negative review in hope that Management looks at its delivery of services because the bones of the resort are there.









Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise- Hotel Review

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise- Hotel Review

Blog FL 2In a word,  FABULOUS! This hotel absolutely ranks on my top ten list and I would say is a must do for anyone looking to experience the beauty of Banff National Park in style.

I think there is no doubt that I will be back. There are some small issues, mainly with the fact that you are in a very beautiful part of the world and there are too many people at the hotel in the day time. Here is my breakdown of the resort.
The Rooms

After going on Trip Advisor I was concerned about the rooms. I had read all sorts of negative comments and had pretty low expectations.

Blog LL roomBlog LL room 2

Our one bedroom suite  was simply wonderful, spacious, well ventilated and very nicely appointed. The huge bathtub had spa jets that worked well and were not too noisy and the bed was very comfortable. Despite being located quite close to the elevators There was no noise at night and we slept like babies.  Despite the best attempts of  Alexander in Reservations to secure us a Lake View Room, the hotel was completely sold out. I can only imagine how amazing a lake view would have been…..perhaps next time.

The Public Areas and Restaurants

When we arrived it was raining. The lobby was packed with day tourists that had probably just arrived to view the lake. They were noisy, carrying large amounts of take out from fast food restaurants and generally being unpleasant.

Blog FL 1It was a pretty grim scene and not the first impression I had hoped for. The lobby itself is beautiful and grand and while I understood that this was probably not a normal issue,  I cant help but wonder if the hotel should implement some kind of guests only areas in the hotel.

After we checked in, we went immediately to the “Lakeview Lounge” We were told it was an hour wait for a table (no doubt due to the hordes of day tourists on a rainy day) Because we were guests of the hotel, we were put on a fast waitlist. We went up to our room to unpack and by the time we were done the pager was alerting us to the fact that our fabulous table, right at the window overlooking mind-blowing Lake Louise was ready.

The Lakeview Lounge is fabulous restaurant offering incredible views of the lake, a very nice wine selection and some absolutely great food. Chris and I ate here twice during our stay. The staff was attentive, friendly and charming. After some delicious pasta were ready for our first hike.

Here is the link to my Blog posting about the hike: http://wp.me/p3e36V-93

Lake Louise
Blog LL 2014 1

At the end of the day, and first thing in the morning, Lake Louise becomes even more magical.

At this time the day tourists are gone and you have the Lake almost to yourself, this alone is worth staying at the Fairmont. The picture above was taken at 7:30 AM. The lake was absolutely smooth, the reflection of the surrounding mountains was spectacular. This is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I am stunned that I was not truly aware of how beautiful it was, despite the industry I work in.

The Chateau Lake Louise is one of those rare hotels  that offers its guests access to incredible natural beauty right outside its doors. The staff at the hotel does a very nice job making you feel pampered. While we were sitting enjoying a glass of Champagne on the veranda a thunderstorm hit. As guests ran inside to avoid the weather, they were given robes and towels to dry themselves. A very nice touch by the hotel indeed. Overall, I would give the hotel a 9/10 for my stay, its was near perfect.

To Alex, who secured my room at the very last-minute I would like to say thank-you! It is because of you that I am now a HUGE fan of the Chateau Lake Louise. I will be back for sure.

Walt Disney World Swan Resort

This review is based on my experiences at the hotel, for facts and figures I always suggest visiting the hotels website: http://www.swandolphin.com/

The Grounds and Location

Located right between Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood studios, the location is excellent. It is a two-minute walk over a little bridge to Disney’s Boardwalk and you can see the nightly fireworks from both parks at the resort.  Because the resort is 34 years old, the gardens are lovely, there are soaring palm trees and at sunset, it is just a magical place to be. The pools are fantastic too, there is a grotto pool with a waterside and daily activities and there is also a calmer quiet pool, the pools were never too full, there was always, places to sit. There were towels available and very attentive staff. Poolside bar service is prompt and affordable which of course makes me happy.

Swan at nightThe Rooms

I had a fantastic room on the 6th floor overlooking Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the “quiet” pool,  the view at night was simply spectacular and we loved being able to watch the fireworks from our balcony.  I strongly suggest ensuring that you stay in a room with a balcony. Our stay would have been totally different if we were cooped up in a room without access to the outdoors. The room itself was pretty small, 340 sq feet but does have a small fridge, which I loaded up with food and drinks from near-by Wal-Mart, when the fridge gets low, you can visit the General Store at the Boardwalk for supplies. The beds are excellent, it is a hotel managed by Westin and their signature “heavenly beds” never disappoint. The room was a little tired and the bathroom is defiantly cramped, I would say that I would have been pretty disappointed had I not had a balcony, as the awesome view and nightly fireworks show made up for any shortcomings. I do believe the hotel is doing some room renovations soon. It was super quiet in the room at night, which for me is really important.

The Restaurants

Being a foodie I have to admit that this hotel really won me over with their food! Most of you know that I love Sushi more than just about anything, so imagine my delight when I discovered that the hotel had their very own highly rated Sushi restaurant, “Kimonos.” I ate here two out of seven nights. It was incredibly good, the sushi was fresh and beautifully prepared,  the service was excellentsushi and they had an awesome Karaoke party every night which I thoroughly enjoyed. I would probably stay at this resort again, solely based on this great sushi restaurant. Great job, Kimonos you were amazing.

Cabana Grill: We arrived on the 4th of July Weekend, which is one of the busiest times at Disney, our room wasn’t quite ready so we went to the Cabana Grill for a late lunch. The food was amazing and the service very good.  Loved the fish tacos and lets just say the burger was unreal!

Il Mulino: I picked up some take out from here one night, it was quick and excellent. Really good. Our friends had dinner here the one night and said the side spinach was fantastic. We didn’t have time to stay for full dinner service and wanted a snack of calamari to eat so we got it as take out, it took maybe 10 minutes and then ate it as we watched the fireworks on our balcony.

Java Bar: This is where I got my coffee every morning, it was good coffee, but pretty pricey.

The overall service at the hotel

I had a couple of service issues that I brought to the hotels attention and were quickly remedied. Juan in guest relations did a very nice job, dealing with some of my issues.  Overall I would say that the Swan Resort did a great job ensuring my needs were met. I think that I would definitely stay here again, the close proximity to the parks, reasonable rate, great view from my room and of course, the Sushi made it all magical.

Tips and suggestions

1) On your first day, visit the near by Publix grocery store to stock up on food and beverages for your room. We went to Wal-Mart and it was a bit of a horror show with literally hundreds of people jamming the isles. Publix is a far more sensible place to shop, the prices are almost the same, you just don’t have as much selection. We pretty much ate breakfast everyday in room to save time and money.

2) Bring a small kettle. I bought one at Wal-Mart for $10 to make instant oatmeal and  ramen noodles for the kids as snacks.

3) Bring a wine opener! (Enough said!)

4) Get the room with the balcony, I looked at balcony rooms overlooking the other side of the hotel (looking at Epcot) and they were just as nice as mine.

5) Visit the gym. Even if you don’t want to use the work out equipment, the gym stocks great “walking trail” maps that show everything from 1.6km – 4.8 kms trails through the resort.  I took this photo of it on my phone for quick reference.  Next review….. The Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios Theme parks.Walking trails map




Review of Melia Las Dunas- Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba

Review  of Melia Las Dunas- Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba

cayophoto-4So before I begin I should post a disclaimer.  Last year I did some SERIOUS high end travel, staying at the Grand Hyatt in Kauai and the Westin Moana Surfrider in Oahu. We rented a luxury Condo in Maui for a week, spent a week in fabulous Martha’s Vineyard and had a visit to the Waldorf in Manhattan. (I checked in the day Barrack Obama checked out!) This trip to Cuba was not about high end luxury travel and I will not be comparing this resort to other resorts I have stayed at. I will be giving you a review of my stay here and what I think of the property.

The purpose of this trip was to get away from the 2014 Polar Vortex that we were experiencing in Ontario. I had a limited budget, since I had blown a ton on our Hawaii trip so I was looking for value for money. I expected  great weather and a beautiful beach. Other than that I had NO expectations. Our Budget was CAD$ 1100.00 Per person. That is for flights, accommodation and food and drinks so an All-inclusive package to the Melia Las Dunas was the perfect price.


Transfers from Santa Clara Airport to – Cayo Santa Maria

It is a 1 hour 45 minute drive from the Santa Clara Airport to Cayo Santa Maria. It was quite an enjoyable scenic ride, the roads are excellent, it is pretty much a straight ride so no need to worry about motion sickness. Compared to the bumpy, twisting two hour drive from Cancun to the Mayan Riviera this was a pleasure.

Arrival at Melia Las Dunas

Check in was smooth, no problems there. We were given two rooms in the 21 block of the “family” section.  The resort basically has two sides “Adults only” and “Family” With most of the amenities in the middle. The first impression I had of the rooms were;  spacious, overlooking jungle,  a little tired but clean. I was happy. My room had a king bed and the Kids room had a king and a single. There was an amenity kit in the bathroom which was surprising, as well as a nice bottle of Rum to welcome us. The mini bar was overflowing with Beer, Sodas and Water.

The Beach

sunrise in cayo santa mariaIn a word the beach was PERFECT. This picture shows my  attempt at Yoga at 6:30 AM (what can I say I am an early bird!) The beach is seemingly endless, the sand is like talcum powder, the water absolutely crystal clear. It is one of the most beautiful beaches I have visited. We walked the beach for hours and had to turn around because we were tired, rather than running out of beach. The Melia las Dunas was 100% full when we were there so there was a lot of people on the beach. You had to get up early to “reserve” a spot in the shade, but there were always beds available in the sun and as long as you were up early (as we were) you could always find a great spot.  There is no drinks service on the beach, so you have to get up and walk a few hundred feet to get a cocktail. This is kind of like work, so if you are expecting cocktail service to your loungers you are not going to get it but honestly, what has this world come to if we can’t walk to the beach bar and get our own drinks 🙂

There was a beach grill that did Panini’s and Burgers, it was awesome. I like nothing more than getting to the beach early and spending the day there and this is exactly what I did, all day, everyday. My teenagers were happy as there was beach volleyball, watersports and other activities as well as an area close to the main beach bar that was pretty festive and had beach activities.

Casyo santa maria beach shot.fwShot of my boys, playing ball in the crystal clear water.

The Food

The food was fine. I can’t say it was great but it was fine. You had to know what to get and where to go. Most people who have traveled to Cuba will tell you, the food is different, but there was always grilled fish at the beach bar, and dinner buffets, freshly squeezed orange juice and grapefruit juice at breakfast as-well as great omelets and delicious oven fired pizza at the pizzeria. The espresso in the lobby bar was excellent! There was a ice-cream parlor that the kids would visit several times a day. If you are a picky eater you can eat french fries and burgers 24 hours a day at the snack bar. My only criticism is that other than the grilled fish most of the food is high carb and high fat, not great if you are trying to stay healthy. All that being said, we all ate a lot and enjoyed ourselves.

The Resort

The resort is huge. 900+ rooms. At 100% capacity it didn’t feel too overcrowded because it is so large.  It did feel huge, however! It took about ten minutes to walk from our room to the lobby. If you don’t like walking don’t stay here! Every night at around 7:30 the resort had an open air, live band and dance party under the stars for about an hour. It was quite charming. The music was excellent and the guests were encouraged to dance and enjoy the Cuban rhythms. After this they offered entertainment in a weird amphitheater, we went one night and the entertainment was so bad that we left. So trust me if you are looking for excellent shows etc forget it, it doesn’t happen here. That said, the open air dancing and music 7:30 – 9:00  was awesome and by 9:00 I was ready to retire anyway.  I did not experience nightlife beyond this,  there is a piano bar and night club, we just never made it.

The staff at the resort were lovely, friendly and welcoming. We took a suitcase of old clothes and shoes with us to give out to the staff, they were so thankful as it is really hard to get anything in Cuba. Please, if you ever visit the island, take clothes and shoes with you to give to the local people.

Overall, we had a great time at this resort. Would I go back? At $1100 per person in the middle of winter, yes! I would not go here if I was looking for high-end luxury or anything beyond a beach vacation as there is little to do near to the resort. The Melia Las Dunas is a solid choice for a beautiful beach, great family time and a break from awful winter weather. 

Travel Tips

– Take lots of suntan lotion. If you run out like we did its $22 per bottle to replace. OUCH!

– Take a ball to throw around on the beach. Take your books and magazine from home.   You can’t buy ANYTHING in Cayo Santa Maria.

– Get a cell phone package for email BEFORE YOU GO. I got a $40 plan so that I could check email everyday.  The internet is slow there so if you don’t have a plan the bandwidth used just to check email could cost you a fortune!

– The currency is Convertible Pesos. Don’t bother taking US$ they don’t want it.

– Tipping is not compulsory, but I would suggest you take money to tip. The local staff earns very little and you can really help out by leaving a small tip to your servers, cleaners etc.

– Know why you are going to Cuba, and know what to expect and you will have an amazing vacation…we certainly did.