Canadian Arctic Wildlife Safaris

By Steven Wright

If you are looking to go where few have gone before and to get up close and personal and eye to eye with wildlife in their natural environment then an Arctic Safari is the ideal destination and vacation for you. There are incredible opportunities to touch the Arctic, talk with the Inuit people and even experience snorkeling and diving with Narwal and Beluga. Staying in low impact, mobile safari inspired camps designed with the location in mind, offering all the comforts of home and zero environmental footprint in the “Serengeti of the north”. With gateways from Winnipeg, Ottawa and Montreal there are small group tours to experience the Arctic coming alive March through October. These excursions are amazing opportunities for photographers and wildlife enthusiasts alike, and great for individuals, families and groups.

In March, travelers can experience newly born Polar Bears and amazing Northern Lights in Western Hudson Bay . Although the temperatures are still pretty cold at -15 to -20 with approximately 8 hours of daylight, this is the only time to see the baby Polar Bears. These tours offer accommodations in a rustic lodge setting with travel by heated vans and you will need your Canada Goose Down jackets for optimum enjoyment.

In April through June the Arctic starts warming up with temperatures -7 to +10 offering spring skiing like weather and 24 hours of daylight. During this time tours head to upper Baffin Island to experience wildlife migration, staying in ice based safari camps and travel by Qamutik, a Inuit sled pulled by snowmobile. Travelers are taken to experience the flow edge where numerous Narwal (the unicorn of the sea) and Beluga Wales are waiting for the sea ice to break up. This is the only place in the world to see Narwal and have the opportunity to snorkel in dry suits with both Narwal and Beluga Wales. Here you can see many bird species and Polar Bears crossing the ice, not to worry, the Polar Bears are well fed during this season.

July through September is the warmest season in the Arctic with temperatures of +5 to +22 with 24 hours to 17 hours of daylight, this is the optimum time for family vacations to the Arctic. Tours offer land based safari camps with wooden floors, raised beds and sleeping bags or you can even upgrade your stay to a yurt. During this time there is hiking with Inuit guides, and travel by boat to see icebergs, Walrus, Bow-Back Wales and land based Polar Bears in lower Baffin Island. The tours also include iceberg tea.

The Arctic starts cooling down in October and November with temperatures of -5 to -20 with 10 hours down to 8 hours of daylight. Staying in Polar Bear observation cabins, travelers experience the Polar Bear migration in Western Hudson Bay and have the experience of walking with Polar Bears with Inuit guides. The cabins give you prime viewing as the bears cross literally in front of the observation cabins and offer the most spectacular Northern Lights at night.

There are opportunities to book private group tours of the Arctic including a stay on a 45′ expedition yacht, allowing your own customized experience in the Arctic. For more information or to book your Arctic Safari, please contact me.

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Steve’s Picks for Luxury Stays in Italy & Greece

By Steven Wright

Hotel Castello de Casole
(opening July 1)

Be one of the first to stay in this fabulously restored 10th century castle in the heart of Tuscany between Florence and Sienna in Casole d’Elsa. Located on a 4,200 acre estate, the main hotel offers Junior and1 bedroom suites, spa services, restaurants and a fire baked pizzeria. They feature wines and olive oil made on site, there is a game reserve where you can observe wild bores and even hunt for truffles. The estate also features an outdoor amphitheatre, pools and outdoor terraces. There is great opportunity for mountain biking on any number of trails, or take a cooking class, pottery class and language class on site. The hotel has a personal shopper on site that can bee booked for shopping trips to Florence or Sienna, even the Gucci and other luxury brand outlets. Private transfers can be arranged from Florence or Sienna.

The out buildings on the estate are available for a more intimate experience, they feature 1 bedroom suites with private gardens, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments and 4 and 5 bedroom villas. The Limonaia Suites are 2 story 1 bedroom suites with their own private garden terrace, the contemporary Oliveto Suites are more like a private 1 bedroom apartment overlooking the olive groves and vineyards with their own large private terrace. The apartments and villas have access to all the amenities of the main hotel, but are spread over the property offering a very exclusive experience.

Canaves Oia Hotel & Canaves Oia Suites

Set on the cliffs of Oia Village in Santorini, Greece, overlooking the Caldera and volcano. Canaves offers two properties, the modern and contemporary recently renevated Canaves Oia Hotel and the more traditional Canaves Oia Suites. Most of the rooms and suites have a private veranda, all overlooking the Caldera, some feature outdoor jacuzzi tubs while others have their own private pool. There are Superior Doubles ,Junior Suites and Superior Suites for 2 and 4 people. For the ultimate stay book the Honeymoon Suites that feature their own pool. Both of the properties have their own pools, the Canaves Oia Suites is the only hotel in Santorini to offer elevator service. The hotel features wines from the local vineyards, and the opportunity for room service to be sent to your private terrace. Canaves Oia is an amazing location for destination weddings and offers special packages. The property is open from April-October.

Explore the famous beaches, the volcano and the Caldera on a semi private or private catamaran yacht tours on Santorini’s hot springs and therapeutic waters. Whether you prefer to spend half the day in the sun or opt for a romantic sunset cruise this is a highlight of any trip. If you are looking to explore more of the Greek islands there is a Ferretti Motor yacht “Alexandros” available for your group, family, wedding or private excursion.

Armani Hotel Milano

After the success of the Armani Hotel Dubai in the Berj Kalifa, Georgio Armani opens his second hotel in the heart of Italy’s fashion capital Milan. The building is home to the Armani Privé boutique and Armani/Nobu Japanese restaurant. The hotel features 2 room styles and 5 suites styles, each with the Armani signature style including a neutral palate and items chose for their sculptural, aesthetic and sensual qualities. The Armani/Ristorante offers Italian cuisine, drawing from the rich gastronomy of the country and the Armani/Lounge gives you the opportunity to relax over cocktails while enjoying some great music. Both feature large windows with panoramic views of rooftops and terraces of the great city of Milan.

Armani’s Lifestyle Manager will help you with everything you could possibly need to enjoy your stay on site, and can also help with transfers, tours and other excursions. They can also get you an appointment in the Armani / Spa with its steam and sauna experience, then retreat to the relaxation pool with its louvered windows, roof and walls. Stay in ultimate style with Armani Hotel Milano.

The Haven – 3 Bedroom Garden Villa, Norwegian Jade

See both Italy and Greece aboard the Norwegian Jade in their exclusive The Haven – 3 Bedroom Garden Villa. The suite features 3 bedrooms each with a king or queen sized bed, large living room with a baby grand piano and your own private garden terrace equipped with your own hot tub and private dining area, and 3 1/2 bathrooms. The suite includes 24 hour butler and concierge service, priority boarding and VIP seating at restaurants and entertainment venues on board. The Haven guests have access to the exclusive courtyard, a private enclave at the top of the ship, outside all The Haven suites. The courtyard features areas for lounging, relaxing, and dining, with its own swimming pool, fitness area and hot tubs.

As with all Norwegian Freestyle Cruising, there are a number of restaurants on board and give you the flexibility to dine on your schedule, or order your meals in the exclusive courtyard or indulge in privacy having your meals on your private garden terrace. The concierge will make arrangements for all of your entertainment and shore excursions, and even set you up for a relaxing day at the on board spa. Cruising will never be the same.

Contact me to book your luxury stay in Europe – there has never been a better time to visit!

Chic Outlet Shopping – Europe

By Steven Wright

Without a doubt one of the great things about traveling to Europe is the shopping. You have access to more of the luxury brand offerings and the up and coming designers labels that have yet to have major presence in the Americas. I have recently written about my trip to Outlet City Metzingen and have just discovered Chic Outlet Shopping.

Strategically located close to many tourist destinations, Chic Outlet Shopping is a series of shopping experiences throughout Europe. Each Village offers a unique setting, restaurants and cafes, tourist information and luxury and designer brands offering last season’s genuine merchandise at huge discounts. I say genuine merchandise as many US outlets carry lines that were created exclusively for the outlet stores, where Chic Outlet Shopping boasts last seasons (3-4 months old) lines that were sold on the high streets. The Villages offer Tax-Free shopping for tourists.

The Shopping Express, a round-trip luxury coach bus service with WIFI from many major centres in Europe offers a great way to have a girl’s shopping day or even take the whole family. Shopping Day Experiences give you the VIP treatment with round-trip luxury coach bus service with WIFI, a VIP Day Card, lunch and a 50€ Gift Card. Currently available at La Vallée, Fidenza and Maasmechelen Villages. Or even create your own shopping experiences including chauffeur driven transfers from your hotel, a personal shopper who will shop with you all day, provide feedback and their expertise to help you make the most of your day, and meals at the restaurants and cafes on site. A travel agent like myself can help you make those arrangements before you depart.

There are a variety of luxury and designer brands across the Villages, but each village is unique in their offering. Some of the brands include Alexander McQueen, Armani, Bvlgari, Burberry, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Mathew Williamson, Paul Smith, Polo, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Valentino, Versace, Yves St Laurent and much much more. Check each Village for their offering.

Contact me to book your escape to Chic Outlet Shopping

London · Bicester Village
Dublin · Kildare Village
Paris · La Vallée Village
Madrid · Las Rozas Village
Barcelona · La Roca Village
Milan / Bologna · Fidenza Village
Brussels / Antwerp / Cologne · Maasmechelen Village
Frankfurt · Wertheim Village
Munich · Ingolstadt Village

Other Shopping Posts:
Outlet City Metzingen
Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!
Finding Karl, Jean-Paul and Christian in Paris
La Rambla is just a warm up to shopping in Barcelona

Explore the Canadian Rockies and more on Rocky Mountaineer

By Steven Wright

Travel the route that united East and West on Rocky Mountaineer, the only passenger service on the Canadian Pacific Railway. If you are a history buff this voyage from Banff to Vancouver is a must do. Traveling through legendary Spiral Tunnels and having endless views of the mountains and canyons along the way. There is opportunity to see lots of wildlife as the train travel is done all during the day. Breakfast and lunch are served on board stopping for dinner and lodging in the evening. There are guides on board to provide information to passengers about the sites they are seeing and their historic relevance. There is lots of opportunity to socialize and mingle with other passengers, most are couples 40+ and some with their families.

The First Passage to the West is the most popular route on Rocky Mountaineer the train portion is from Banff to Kamloops the first day and Kamloops to Vancouver on the second day, start the trip with a day and city tour in Calgary and an overnight in Lake Louise. Journey Through The Sky includes travel from Vancouver to Kamloops then to Jasper. Rainforest to Goldrush features Whistler, Quesnel and Jasper. There are also Circle Rail Packages to customize your experience with two or more of these trips, even include a cross Canada train trip. Or you can have the whole west coast experience finishing your Rocky Mountaineer journey with an Alaskan Cruise departing from Vancouver.

Rocky Mountaineer gives you the opportunity to customize your trip from 3 to 25 days including train travel with meals on board, hotels, and some transfers. There are tonnes of excursion activities to customize your trip, everything from helicopter tours, city tours, adventure excursions, additional meal plans, additional hotel nights and more. Rocky Mountaineer is partnered with a number of great hotel properties in all of the destination stops, giving you the opportunity to enjoy your trip and let Rocky Mountaineer do the rest. While you are on the train you will receive your nightly hotel keys allowing you to go directly to your suite, you are already checked in! Your luggage will be taken to your room and picked up the next morning.

There are 4 levels of service while on board Rocky Mountaineer, the level of service determines which type of rail car you will ride in during your trip, the breakfast and lunch options on the train, and the hotels you stay in at destinations.

The RedLeaf Service includes train travel on a traditional single level passenger rail car with picture windows and reclining seats, chilled breakfast and lunch are served at your seat, as well as complimentary non-alcoholic beverages and snacks. The SilverLeaf Service is on a custom dome roofed single level passenger car with over sized windows, the seats are roomier and can rotate if your in a group of 4. You have a choice of hot breakfast and lunch entrees served at your seat, as well as complimentary non-alcoholic beverages and snacks and beer or wine with lunch. Overnight accommodation at for both RedLeaf and SilverLeaf Service is at popular hotels.

If you are looking for a first-class Rocky Mountaineer experience then look to GoldLeaf Service. GoldLeaf Service includes a 2 level glass domed passenger rail car. On the upper level relax in your large seats and enjoy your panoramic view of the trip, downstairs, grab a seat on the dining level for gourmet breakfast and lunch options prepared for you by a chef on board. Beverages and snacks are complimentary. If you are a photographer then you will love GoldService and the option to be outside on the covered vestibule to get your best shots, many photographers spend their entire trip out here. Overnight accommodation at 4 & 5 star hotel properties. Add GoldLeaf with Fairmont Deluxe for a deluxe room upgrade and stay at some of the most famous Fairmont properties.

I would suggest talking with a travel counselor like myself to help you plan the perfect Rocky Mountaineer experience and to arrange airfare for your trip.

Rocky Mountaineer Class of Service Video

Stay in style at Armani Hotel Dubai

By Steven Wright

October to early May offers the most reasonable weather and is the best time to travel to Dubai and the UAE. Live the elegance of the Georgio Armani lifestyle during your stay at the Armani Hotel Dubai. Excellently positioned only 15 minutes from the airport and close to most of the major attractions in downtown Dubai.

The Armani Hotel Dubai is part of the Burj Khalifa, which holds the following world records: tallest building, tallest free-standing structure, highest number of stories, highest occupied floor, highest outdoor observation deck, elevator with the longest travel distance, and tallest service elevator.

In the centre of the 30 meter Burj Khalifa Lake you can find the Dubai Fountain, the fountain was designed by WET Design, known for the fountains at the Bellagio Las Vegas. They outdid them selves in Dubai, the fountains climb higher, there are more lights and projectors, and the show is choreographed to music and is a must see.

You are also walking distance to the Dubai Mall, over 12 million square feet, the mall boasts over 750,000 visitors each week. Some of the attractions include the Dubai Aquarium and the Dubai Ice Rink.

The Armani Hotel Dubai and Residences consist of 160 guest rooms and 141 residences on the bottom 39 floors of the Burj Khalifa. Both are designed in Georgio Armani’s classic style in neutral tones of beige, gray and green. The finishes throughout the entire hotel are incredible, some of the suites even feature leather walls.

The entire hotel is designed using the practices of feng shui, you will be hard pressed to find a 90 degree angle in the hotel, as rounded corners allow the energy to circulate the rooms. All of the appliances and electronics are hidden in the suites behind movable walls. Each suite is impeccably designed and continues to use the same colour palate with variations for each suite type. Whether you are in Dubai for vacation or a stop over, the Armani Dubai Hotel has a suite to meet your every need. Some of the suites even overlook the Dubai Fountain.

Enjoy fine dining or more casual atmosphere in the 7 restaurants and lounges, all overlooking the Dubai Fountain. Armani / Hashi offers a variety of Japanese cuisine both traditional and contemporary, you can also enjoy a view of the fountains from the terrace. At Armani / Ristorante, experience fine Italian dining specializing in the best of the  regions. For a more casual experience try Armani / Peck, the famous Peck Deli from Milan transplanted to Dubai. There are 2 more restaurants Armani / Mediterraneo and Armani / Amal with Mediterranean and Indian cuisines respectively. Grab a coffee or a light snack at the Armani / Lounge in the heart of the hotel and not to be missed Armani / Privé lounge and night club with a special entrance for hotel guests. Preference is given in all the restaurants for hotel guests but on weekends I would suggest reservations.

If you missed the Armani Privé haute couture show in Milan, the Armani / Galleria gives you the opportunity to own some of the accessories from this collection, an opportunity that has not been available before and exclusive to Armani Dubai. You can also treat yourself to Italian sweets at the Armani / Dolci, all chocolate is branded with the Armani logo. Georgio Armani personally designed the floral arrangements for sale at Armani / Fiori.

Spend the day at the Armani / Spa, start with a consultation to discuss what you are looking for and then sit back and enjoy a day of relaxation and regeneration. Enjoy the outdoor pool, spa, thermarium, and gym. Spa treatments can be booked through your Travel Counselor with the Lifestyle Manager on site. They can also help you with booking golf tee times, theatre and other excursions.

Book with a Virtuoso® Travel Counselor like myself, to get complimentary upgrades including: free room upgrade if available at check in, complimentary breakfast, and either tickets to the observation deck or $150 food and beverage credit.

The second Armani Hotel is due to open this year in Milan. One of the buildings owned by the House of Armani is being refurbished and renovated to create this next great property.