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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    (Relaxnews) - If you have a bottomless bank account and a love that goes deeper than the ocean, a British travel outfit has created a package that allows lovers to make their own tsunami waves in a romantic getaway aboard a luxury submarine.

    OK, so it’s not yellow. But for adventurous couples who may have already inducted themselves into the Mile High Club at 35,000 feet, Oliver’s Travels has adapted a leisure submarine with luxury furnishings and “sound-proof living accommodations” as part of their Mile Low Club.

    The underwater marine hotel called “Lovers Deep” can be moored near the coral reef off the coast of St. Lucia or near a sunken battleship in the Red Sea.

    But love at the bottom of the ocean doesn’t come cheap. You’ll need to cough up $292,800 USD per night for a stay on the submarine vessel.

    For the tidy sum of an average, middle-class suburban home, guests get a captain, a private chef and butler, speedboat transfers and optional add-ons that include helicopter transfers, beach landing, two-person shower, and champagne-soaked breakfast.

    For good measure, the agency will throw in a rose petal scattering service.

    Guests who book the submarine accommodations as part of their honeymoon package in 2014 are also being offered a free lovers' dinner menu that includes oysters, caviar and chocolate fondant with essence of pomegranate.

    Lovers Deep is the latest in a new travel trend rising to the surface. In response to the banality of skyscraping properties, more and more hoteliers are plumbing the depths of the ocean for new and innovative lodging experiences.

    The Manta Resort, for instance, offers a striking underwater room off the coast of Tanzania that includes a suite built four meters below the surface of the Indian Ocean, backlit by underwater spotlights.

    Perhaps one of the best existing examples is the Ithaa Undersea Restaurant at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island hotel, which consistently makes it onto travel bucket lists and most-exclusive lists.

    Set five meters below the surface, the fine dining restaurant features 180-degree views of the coral gardens.

    And the blueprints for a futuristic-looking luxury hotel in the Maldives reveal plans to build a spaceship-like edifice seven meters above water on five pillars. The lower deck, meanwhile, will be built up to 30 meters below the surface.

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    (KATHMANDU-AFP) - Nepal will slash climbing fees for Everest and other Himalayan peaks to attract more mountaineers, despite existing concerns of overcrowding during the climbing season, a tourism ministry official said Friday.

    The government will cut licence fees for foreign individuals trying to scale the world's highest peak from $25,000 to $11,000 from next year, Dipendra Paudel said.

    However fees for group expeditions to Everest will go up, in a bid to discourage large numbers climbing together and to reduce tensions on the mountain during peak months, Paudel said.

    Under existing rules, groups of seven climbers pay $70,000 in total, which officials say encourages climbers of varying abilities to club together. But under the new fees, a group of seven pays $77,000.

    "The past rules led to a situation where a team had several members, not all of them equally competent," Paudel told AFP.

    "We also realised that this often resulted in clashes among the mountaineers. This format also hampered the rescue efforts," he said.
    "We hope the new measure would help increase the number of climbers (overall)," Paudel added.

    Everest is a key revenue earner for the impoverished country, with hundreds scaling the mountain every year, but many in the climbing community warn of the dangers of over-commercialisation.

    A brawl last year between three European climbers and Nepalese guides on Everest made global headlines, raising concerns of overcrowding during the climbing months from March to May.

    Photographs showing queues of climbers waiting their turn to reach the 8,850-metre (29,035 feet) high summit, as well as gathering mounds of rubbish, have also highlighted the problems on the "roof of the world".

    The rise in the number of group expeditions with climbers of varying abilities has also raised worries about the risk of accidents.

    Under the new fees, individual climbers tackling other 8,000-metre peaks will be charged $1,800 instead of the existing $5,000.

    Hundreds of climbers scale Nepal's more than 100 peaks every year. Everest, straddling Nepal and China, alone contributes $3 million to the country annually.

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    A hijacked aircraft has landed at Geneva Airport in Switzerland, an airport spokesman told Reuters, but he did not give details on the flight.

    Ethiopian Airlines released a statement saying its flight number ET-702 departing from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at 12:30 a.m. local time was scheduled to land in Rome, Italy at 4:40 a.m. local time. However, it "was forced to proceed to Geneva Airport" where it landed safely.

    The flight is listed as having arrived at 6:10 a.m. local time in Geneva on the airport's website. The airport lists the plane as a Boeing 767-300.

    All passengers and crew are safe, according to Ethiopian Airline's statement.

    Many flights scheduled to arrive at Geneva airport Monday are now showing as either cancelled or diverted on the airport's arrival tracker online.

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    "The Simpsons" has been a part of my life for pretty much all of it. I remember when it was an interstitial short on the "Tracey Ullman Show." I remember when it was a Christmas one-off special. And I remember when it became infamous as the anti-"Cosby Show", with schools suspending kids for wearing "Eat My Shorts" t-shirts. I can't say monorail without singing it three times.

    So to watch my four year old dance to "Everybody Do The Bartman" on the sidewalk in front of Duff Breweries, across the street from Moe's Tavern, Krusty Burger and Comic Book Guy's store and down the block from the statues of Jebediah Springfield and the enormous Lard Lad — well, that was just about the best thing ever.

    No, make that second-best, since I ended our family trip to Universal Studios Orlando's new 30,000 sq. foot Springfield, U.S.A. expansion by closing down Moe's. My wife and son had returned to the hotel while I hunkered down at the bar to quaff a few final Duffs in the theme park's spot-on replica of the animated drinking establishment.

    There were pennants on the wall for the Isotopes (and, of course, the Ice-o-Topes). The Love Tester was where it should be in the corner (I even scored "Cassanova") as was the "out of service" sign on the jukebox. There were photos of Moe, the show's beloved barkeep, in the army and the Pin Pals. The windows looked hand-drawn, as did the phone that has received so many prank calls, and the taps poured out a couple types of Duff, Buzz Cola and the bar's piece de resistance, The Flaming Moe, which bubbled and boiled and poured white smoke across the bar's counter top.

    Eventually, Moe's closed up, but when I asked if I had to finish up my beer elsewhere, the bartender in his familiar green smock said "regulars" could stay, and poured me another pint while he cleaned up around me. It was, well, kind of moving.

    Universal Studio's Springfield, USA Expansion. Story continues after the gallery.

    This may seem like an overstatement, since it took place in a Floridian theme part, but I'm certainly not alone. The extreme and consistent popularity of the award-winning Simpsons Ride, which launched in 2008, prompted the expansion. And the area was crawling with superfans blissed out to be buying Duff hoodies at the Kwik-E-Mart, or snapping their photo beside Chief Wiggum, or grabbing some seafood from the Frying Dutchman, a slice at Luigi's or a taco at the Bumble Bee Man's stand.

    The later, alongside Cletus' Chicken Shack, was one of the few parts of the park that isn't drawn directly from the show but serves a chicken 'n' waffle sandwich which was the most perfectly cartoonish item I could find on the menu.

    But, really, the whole area is perfectly cartoonish — as it should be — considering "The Simpsons" creators played a pivotal role in the new Springfield, even going so far as having show staffers write the menu copy and the signs.

    "It all had to be very authentic," explained Universal's Mike West, who helmed this expansion as well as the original ride. "The colours of the building, the colours of the graphics, the taste of the food, the kind of food we served, very much had to fit into 'The Simpsons' style and what guests would come to expect if they were in Springfield."

    "We spent a lot of time developing each element of the expansion with Jim Brooks and Matt Groening very specifically," he adds, "the food in 'The Simpsons' is almost as much of a character as Homer and the family so we spent a lot time developing all the foods with the chefs here in Orlando and did taste tests with the folks at Fox and Gracie [Films] and that was one of the most fun parts of the project! We developed a microbrewery for Duff Beer that you can only get here at Universal Orlando," said West.

    Another part of the appeal is that the show crosses age and gender lines. "A lot of times in the parks guests will split up in families because somebody will go on Transformers and it's a bit wild for the younger or the older guests. But this is an area where guests can spend a couple hours together, not separated."

    That's the rub, of course. What makes the Springfield addition to the long-running theme park so special is also what has made Universal's "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" such a hit over at Universal's Islands of Adventure next door. Rather than just throwing up a ride, like the cool new "Transformers: 4D" ride or the popular "Despicable Me" and "Shrek" ones, the expansions create experiences.

    Kids lose their minds wandering Hogsmeade — and will soon get to do the same once the Diagon Alley expansion opens up later this year at the original park — because they'll be physically immersed in the world they've spent so much time watching, reading and fantasizing about. And the same goes for adults in Springfield.

    "The guests pretty much drove it," West said. "They came and they loved The Simpsons ride, they loved everything about 'The Simpsons' and we just thought, 'what better way to bring more of 'The Simpsons' world to the guests than creating an avenue or an area where guests could come with their families, see these iconic characters, places and moments from The Simpsons and have it be a part of your memory?'"

    "The Simpsons" and "Harry Potter" also give the park attractions with legitimate longevity. While Disney is all about its classic creations, Universal stakes its claims on more current pop-cultural hits. But that's a bit risky, as attractions like the one for the 1996 film "Twister" or the long-cancelled reality show "Fear Factor" seem hopelessly dated. "The Simpsons", however, is perfect because it's longevity makes it both current as well as a classic and after so many years it has become an intricate creative construction.

    Some things had to be left out — "Itchy & Scratchy Land was a little heavier than we would do for our guests probably," said West, "but it's certainly a funny episode"— but there is a Krusty Land, complete with a midway where you can win Sideshow Bob or Radioactive Man plushies. There's also a new ride, the amusing and kid-friendly Kodos and Kang Twirl'n'Hurl which joins the "guest-favourite" original Simpsons Ride, but the rides are almost beside the point.

    It's just being there. Well, being there and washing down a pink Lard Lad donut the size of your head with an ice-cold Duff Beer or a Squishee while you daydream about them one day adding a monorail... monorail... monorail!

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    I confess to having something of a complicated relationship with winter.

    I view it as the houseguest that often overstays its welcome. I'm happy to see it when it first gets here, begin to weary after a few weeks of the work it leaves behind for me to do and then wonder if it will ever get the hint and go away.

    This winter has been no different, except that my tolerance level has dropped somewhat, thanks to the seemingly endless round of winter storms and the relentless, double-digit cold.

    It has raised some interesting discussions around the Internet. Like whether or not Niagara Falls froze solid in January (it didn't).

    It also created a pretty cool phenomenon in our area that gave me a new-found appreciation for what those wicked winds and stinging cold can do.

    I live near Lake Erie. Being waterfront-adjacent (not exactly on the water, you understand, but near it), we know snow. Most days, we can look across the river to see Buffalo. Lots of days, the snow falling on the lake makes it impossible to even know where the lake stops and the city begins.

    About 15 minutes down the road is a place called Crystal Beach. It was once quite the bustling little beehive of activity, especially in the summer. Back in the '30s, '40s and '50s, the amusement park and dance hall packed in guests from all over, including thousands who travelled across Lake Erie from Buffalo on The Canadiana to enjoy the amenities of the beach in what was often known as "Buffalo's Playground."

    It's famous for Loganberry juice, sugar waffles, cinnamon suckers and The Comet.

    Today, it's an area in need of gentrification. The beach is still a fantastic hotspot in the summer, emphasis on the hot. But you'd almost never venture out to Crystal Beach in the winter. The restaurants and shops tend to be either closed for the season or on limited winter hours, and if you can't be at the beach, there's really no reason to go there.

    Until this week.

    That's when the ice caves - massive piles of hollowed-out ice formed over the winter due to high winds and bitter cold - first came to the attention of folks in town. My Facebook feed offered a few sporadic photos of the phenomenon, peppered with a couple of stories from the TV news, which travelled down to Niagara for something other than to cover a business closing or a by-election promise.

    This weekend, interest in the ice caves has exploded, and Crystal Beach has been as busy as any sweltering Saturday in July as curiosity-seekers from Western New York and Southern Ontario have travelled to the beach to check out Mother Nature's incredible artwork.

    The ice caves began to take shape early in the winter, when the shoreline along the beachfront began to freeze and the ice was moved on shore by the open water further off-shore. As the temperature dropped and the winds picked up, more ice formed and was pushed ashore, giving it the term "shove ice." There's usually shove ice along the shoreline, but nothing like what's there today; a massive, natural system of icy catacombs - some caves tall enough for a six-foot man to stand up in - creating a fantastic natural playground for winter-weary folks to enjoy.

    No-one I've talked to here in Fort Erie, including people who have lived here their entire lives and whose parents grew up here, can ever remember seeing something like this happen before. And because it takes a confluence of perfect weather conditions to create these massive snow-castles, it may never happen again in our lifetime.

    I'm still more of a summer girl than a winter one. But it's nice to get such a spectacular gift - albeit, a temporary one - in the midst of a long, cold winter.

    This is what the shoreline of Lake Erie at Crystal Beach looked like on January 4, 2014. There's ice there, but it's certainly not strong enough for crowds of people to walk on safely.


    This is how the shoreline looked on February 18, 2014. Yes, those are people walking what would likely be more than a kilometre off shore.


    The view of the ice cave - and the crowds - from approximately 500 feet onto Lake Erie.


    Some perspective on the layers and layers of ice that came together to form one of the Crystal Beach Ice Caves.


    A massive piece of ice inside one of the Crystal Beach Ice Caves, taken February 16, 2014.


    A little girl holds her mother's hand as she walks through the Crystal Beach Ice Caves on February 15, 2014.


    A bright blue sky seen through the ice in Crystal Beach, Ontario, on February 15, 2014.


    A visitor records this natural phenomenon with his phone on February 16, 2014. Thousands of visitors have travelled to Crystal Beach throughout the Family Day weekend to check out the extremely rare ice caves that formed after weeks of high winds, snow and bitter cold in Southern Ontario.



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    MEXICO CITY - Mexico simply doesn't meet the federal government's requirements for visa free travel to Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday.

    Harper addressed the thorny issue that has threatened to overshadow his trip here. But both he and his host, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, appeared to take steps — in public, at least — to play down any tension.

    The two leaders presided over the signing of an agreement to expand air travel between the two countries and renewed their vows to foster mutual economic growth.

    The two countries also renewed their long-standing "joint action plan" to foster economic growth, security, immigration and trade.

    Standing next to Harper in his country's resplendent National Palace, Pena Nieto did not appear to display any outward dissatisfaction over the visa irritant, saying his country has "a very open mind" and wants to work with Canada to eventually lift it.

    However, the Mexican president cancelled a plan to answer questions after the joint statement, leaving Harper to address the travelling Canadian media by himself.

    Canada has "clear criteria" for why it requires some countries to have a visa based on "national and public security and illegal migration," and Mexico currently meets those criteria, he said.

    "Under the current circumstances we should have a visa with Mexico," Harper said.

    "We remain always ready to discuss those criteria, what Mexico could do to address some of those issues and also what possibilities exist between us to facilitate legitimate travel."

    Air Canada said in a release Tuesday that it welcomes the signing of the air transit agreement.

    "Mexico is an important market for Air Canada and this expanded agreement will further strengthen air linkages between Canada and our NAFTA partner," said Derek Vanstone, Air Canada's vice president of corporate strategy, industry and government affairs.

    "We encourage the federal government to take the next step to build travel and tourism between Canada and Mexico and relax visa requirements for Mexican citizens visiting Canada," Vanstone added.

    Harper's meeting with Pena Nieto was the warm-up for Wednesday's Three Amigos summit, when they will be joined by U.S. President Barack Obama in Toluca, a town about an hour outside the capital, where Pena Nieto grew up.

    Harper said he planned to raise the Keystone XL pipeline with Obama, in private, and that his message would be "very similar" to what he has been saying in public in recent years: that the pipeline, which would carry Alberta oilsands bitumen to the U.S., would be good for the economies of both countries.

    "I'll raise the issue in private as I've done every time I've met him over the past couple of years," Harper said.

    Earlier in the day, as he met with Mexican business leaders, Harper said Canada needs to do more to close its trade deficit with Mexico while attracting more investment from its southern neighbour.

    While the 20-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement has fostered commercial growth between the two countries, there are still wrinkles to iron out, he suggested.

    "It's a very unbalanced relationship," Harper said.

    "Trade flows have gone up enormously, but mostly on the Mexican side. Investment flows have gone up enormously, but almost entirely on the Canadian side. So we probably want to take a look at what we can do to grow some of those things more in a more balanced way."

    In 2012, Canada imported $25.5 billion from Mexico while Canada exported about $5.4 billion to Mexico, the Prime Minister's Office said.

    Mexico is hopeful the expanded air access agreement, meanwhile, proves a precursor to the Conservative government eventually lifting the visa requirement, which was imposed in 2009 to combat an increase of bogus asylum seekers.

    The Mexican government has complained loudly and publicly about the visa, which it says is invasive, time-consuming and to blame for a major decline in Mexican visitors to Canada.

    The powerful Canadian Council of Chief Executives has urged Harper to lift the visa, or at least simplify it with a less onerous on-line process that would be similar to the standard to which the United States subjects Mexican applicants.

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    (Relaxnews) - A World Heritage city synonymous with port wine has been crowned the best European destination of 2014 for its “postcard-perfect views,” friendly locals and gastronomy.

    In a poll of 228,690 respondents organized by the Brussels-based, the coastal town of Porto, Portugal -- the second biggest Portuguese city after Lisbon -- received the largest consensus and the most number of votes at 15 percent.

    The digital campaign was launched via social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and Flickr and attracted the greatest number of votes since the competition began in 2009.

    Average voters were between 20 and 40 years of age and nearly evenly split, with 56 percent female voters and 44 percent male votes.
    The top 10 cities were chosen from a pool of 20 destinations.

    Porto was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 for having preserved its 2,000-year-old historical and architectural heritage.
    And voters in the online campaign agreed, praising its character, the city’s rich traditions, friendly locals, and flowing port.

    According to Portugal’s official tourism website, the best time to visit the city is in June, when “sardines start to get fat,” days stretch longer and the city prepares to throw the biggest festival of the year honoring its patron St. John the Baptist on June 23 to 24.

    The hundred-year-old tradition is also known as the longest night of the year in Porto and includes street festivals, fireworks and barbecued sardines and meats.

    Meanwhile, Porto took the top spot, beating other nominees like Zagreb, Vienna, Nicosia, and Budapest.

    Here are the top 10 European destinations for 2014:

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    Packing properly for your family vacation can make or break your trip. We aren't talking about a monumental monstrosity that can't be remedied, but, it's always great to be prepared for anything. Whether you travel often or travel occasionally, if you have a game plan, you'll do just fine.

    Often times, when you are packing for yourself and your children, it can be overwhelming. But, packing doesn't have to be you sitting on your suitcase while your partner zips it shut.

    1. Plan ahead.
    If you have small children, it's best to do all laundry at least one week ahead. If you have older kids, they can help by picking, sorting and washing the clothes they will need. For smaller children, it's best to have more than less. Avoid light colors that get soiled easily and always pack plenty of socks and undies. Bring a warm set of pajamas, as well as a cool one. Sometimes it can get really hot or really cold in hotel rooms.

    Make sure your child has two outfits for every day that you are staying. Unless your child is older and can interchange items to use them more than once. With smaller kids, spills and accidents happen and it's always best to have what you need. Choose clothes that are versatile, comfortable and can be worn more than once.

    For shoes, wear your bulkier pair and place a pair of sandals/flip-flops/water shoes in your front pocket of your luggage. If you need formal shoes, pack them in your luggage and stuff your socks into the shoes to save space.

    If you are traveling to colder climates, bring clothes that can be layered, like fleece. Wear or carry your coat, hat, scarves and gloves or place them in your carry on. Most importantly, be sure to have travel insurance that will cover you in the event of cancelled flights, lost luggage and (knock on wood) any health issue that may arise.

    2. Choose your luggage.
    Lay out all the luggage you will be taking in advance. This is for the purpose so you won't be looking for it last minute. Choose the carry-on bags you will be using and set them aside as well. Choose a unique ribbon or string that you can attach to all of your luggages' front zippers. This way, you can pick out your luggage from the wide array of luggages that all look the same as they go around the carousel.

    Place all of your ID, reservations and documents in a safe place where you will be able to access it. Preferably your carry-on or purse/satchel that you will have on you at all times. You have the option of wearing a travel belt that goes underneath your clothes as well. Depending where you are travelling to, take copies of your passports and place them with your ID. That way, when you venture out at your destination, you can leave your passports in a safe at your hotel room and take a copy of your ID and have it with you at all times.

    3. Cross pack.
    If you are checking your bags, consider cross-packing. Put a few essential items/outfits in your luggage for your partner and some of your kids in yours. And vice versa. That way, for some reason, your luggages are lost and don't arrive with you to your destination, you will have at least one outfit to hold you over until you get your bags or buy new items.

    4. Roll your clothes.
    If you are travelling to somewhere warm, I always make it a point to pack a light sweater and long pants. In the case you arrive and your sunny skies are nowhere to be seen and you are met with below season temperatures. Even sunny Florida gets chilly during cooler months and believe me, Disney isn't fun when you're shivering. Pack your favorite Mickey sweater and roll it up. In fact, roll as many items of clothes that you can to make room in your luggage. Pack jeans, they wrinkle less easily or tights (for the ladies/girls) that are light and take up less space. What makes your luggage bulky is trapped air, when you roll as many items as you can, you can take more and use less space.

    5. Itsy Bitsy, Teenie Weenie Polka Dot Bikini? Bring two.
    If you are traveling somewhere tropical, make sure to bring at least two bathing suits or swim trunks. That way one can dry while you wear the other. For kids, this is especially true because they will be in their bathing suits a lot. Don't forget sun hats, sunglasses and swim goggles. Make sure to pack plenty of sun screen for the length of your trip. If you have full-size ones, you will have to pack them in your checked bags. If you will be outdoors and depending on the season or destination, be sure to bring plenty of insect repellent.

    6. Think Small for Toiletries.
    If you are planning to stay at a vacation home that will require a shopping trip to stock up on essentials. Leave the shampoo and conditioners at home. Purchase them there. If it that isn't an option, travel size is your friend. Remember, all hotels and resorts will provide you with these essentials. Even toothpaste and toothbrushes, if you forget. As well as towels, so leave them at home. Most department stores sell TSA-approved clear bags with containers that you can fill with the products you already use at home. They are inexpensive and help you to take all of your essentials with you in the proper amounts.

    7. Stock up on essentials.
    If you have a baby that is still in diapers, make sure you bring as many as you will need. I never take the chance so, I pack enough diapers in our diaper bag and have enough diapers in both my partner and I's luggage. A good rule to follow is to pack double of what you normally use. For a baby or toddler's diaper bag, pack enough diapers you will need for the length of your flight and add 2.

    Snacks for kids are also something to consider because most times, kids do not want to wait for their small complimentary snack from the airline. Snacks that are easy to bring are sandwiches, puffs or cereal and dried fruit or granola bars. I like using the containers that your child can reach inside to get their snack but can be tipped without making a mess. If you have a small baby, bring baby food if your destination does not offer them.

    Make sure to make use of the side pockets for empty sippy cups or bottles, you will use these a lot during your whole trip. I like the Take N' Toss sippy cups because they are simple and can be stacked inside one another. If you need to bring breast milk or formula, bring it. I've brought it in bottles and the TSA screen it and I've never been given a problem.

    If you are traveling with breast milk, bring an ice pack to make sure it doesn't spoil. If you are planning to pump, consider purchasing a travel pump that you can easily stow away in your carry-on. If you formula feed, you can opt for single pre-measured powdered formula packets and you do not need to declare it. Buy a bottle of water after you've passed the security check point and you will be set. Bring any diaper cream you will need, plastic bags for diaper disposal or if you have soiled clothes. Pack baby wipes, I usually bring a whole package of wipes in the diaper bag and pack another in a checked bag. That is usually enough for a 2 week vacation.

    Bring a change of clothes for your child just in case of an accident and an extra shirt for you. Pack small toys to keep them busy and that can be stored away easily when they get bored. Lastly, I always pack one of their soft blankets for when they fall asleep or get chilly on a long plane ride.

    8. Stay entertained.
    Bring your gadgets and don't forget to pack your chargers. I use a cable wrap and neatly store everyone's cables and plugs in one central area. Don't forget an adapter if you are traveling to countries that use different outlets. Pack your camera in a travel bag, you can use this as a personal item and take it with you onto the plane with your carry-on. Don't forget extra batteries and camera cards. If you use film, bring extra, some countries don't have it readily available and it can get really pricey. I bring headphones for each family member and have my littlest use her iPad to watch a movie, read a book or play games and it makes the time pass. Headphones are also great to have to take advantage of any of the flight's entertainment or to purchase a movie for an older child.

    9. Remember -- YOU.
    As a parent, we often worry so much about getting our kids packed and prepared for what we hope will be a stress-free vacation. Don't forget about your essentials. Will you need a hair straightener? If so, consider bringing it and using a hair straightener travel case to minimize space use. Keep in mind that most hotels have hair dryers at your disposal.

    Pack only the make-up you will use. I only pack one versatile eye shadow palette (one you can use for day time/night-time looks), eyeliner, eyebrow liner, waterproof mascara, foundation with SPF, blush, lip gloss and make-up remover wipes. Place all of your liquids in your clear TSA-approved bag. Your make-up brushes and pressed powders can be placed in a separate make-up bag along with cotton pads and q-tips. Pack your hair essentials such as bobby pins and elastics in a ziploc bag. If you have daughters, pack theirs with yours. For the gents, don't forget your combs/brushes, gels or hair glue and travel grooming kit.

    Pack light clothes, t-shirts, tank tops, shorts and pants. Bring a formal outfit or two, in the case that there is a dress code at your resort or cruise. Choose a pair of shoes that are stylish and practical. I love using ballet flats or a lower strappy wedge because they are easy to pack and can be used both formally or casually. Men can bring polo shirts or tropical shirts with long pants. Unless you are traveling to a special event that requires heels, don't bring them. Same goes for the gents, don't bring your dress shoes unless you need to. If you are traveling to colder climates, layer your clothes and choose warm fabrics.

    Don't forget your contact lenses and solution, any feminine hygiene items you may need, shaving gear, deodorant, perfume/cologne, lip balm, ear plugs, nail clippers and tweezers. Bring your journal or e-reader for down times. Pack a plastic poncho for each of your family members. These ponchos fold almost paper-thin and can be placed in the front pockets of your luggage and not take up any room inside your luggage. These are great for when you are at theme parks or on a hiking a trail and will allow you to walk around in the rain.

    And definitely do not, I repeat, do not forget your bathing suit and camera!

    10. Pack medicine.
    If you are traveling with children or without, it's always best to prepare for anything. Bring travel-sized anti-nausea and anti-diarrheal medicine, pain and fever relief medicine and a small first-aid kit. Mole skin is a life saver when you will be doing a lot of walking and are at risk of blisters. Bring antibacterial wipes to wipe down anything questionable, I found that using these help to avoid getting sick during travel. Pack a travel size hand sanitizer to use whenever you need. Also, pack any prescription medication you need and leave them in their original packaging. Make sure to bring enough for the entire duration of your trip.

    Last tip: If you are planning to stay at a vacation home, try to make time throughout your stay and as you go, to do your laundry. That way, at the end of your trip, all of your clothes will be clean and folded and packed away in your luggage. When you get home, unpacking will be super easy since your clothes is already laundered and folded. If this isn't an option, opt for a laundering service at your resort or hotel if your budget allows.

    Ultimately, relax and roll with the punches. Accept that sometimes, if not a lot of the time, things that are out of our control happen. Things don't go as planned, luggages get lost, flights get cancelled or odd weather comes out of nowhere. Whatever it may be, just make sure you make the best of it.

    Hopefully planning ahead will help a bit and most times spontaneity makes for great memories. With practice, packing gets easier and easier and results in a successful trip. Traveling doesn't have to be stressful, after all, family vacations are meant for incessant amounts of fun. Get out there and make memories and explore the world!

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    Call it the ultimate pursuit of happiness.

    hadaka matsuri

    While some Canadians and Americans were enjoying a long weekend, 9,000 men in Japan were battling against each other in the hope of claiming two wooden sticks. Now, that might seem like an oversimplification of Hadaka Matsuri, Japan's "Naked Festival", but you could say those were just the bare facts.

    hadaka matsuri

    Also bare were the chest, arms, legs and backs of the 9,000 participants, covered in nothing but a loin cloth as their bodies were doused in cold water at the Saidaiji Temple in Okayama, Japan. While some aspects of Hadaka Matsuri seem like they might belong on a game show, the event draws on 500 years of tradition.

    hadaka matsuri

    hadaka matsuri

    On the third Saturday of February, men compete against each other for shingi, two pairs of lucky wooden sticks smaller than a grade-school ruler, tossed into the crowd by a priest. It's said the man who's able to reclaim both shingi and lock them up in a wooden box will have an entire year of good luck, the U.K.'s Metro News reports.

    hadaka matsuri

    hadaka matsuri

    There's even a version of the event for kids, where children compete for good luck charms, only instead of wooden sticks, they're replaced with rice cakes or octagonal-shaped tubes, Lonely Planet points out.

    hadaka matsuri

    The festival is one of Japan's most vibrant but not the only one to ask patrons to show a little skin. In January, men gather across the country to take part in the Shinto festival of Kanchu Misogi. Participants crouch in freezing water while hugging a block of ice while dressed in just a loin cloth.

    The festival is meant to purify the body and soul so men can become closer with their spiritual world and attain success, according to the Daily Mail.

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    (Relaxnews) - Starting this summer, travellers using the Germany flag carrier will be able to watch films and even order drinks via their smartphones and tablets.

    The airline is in the process of installing BoardConnect servers on its planes and when the work is finished, all passengers will need to do is download the free app in order to access a selection of in-flight movies and other content which will be wirelessly streamed to their devices.

    But as well as films, music and even publications, the app will allow travellers to attract a flight attendant's attention, pre-order the vegetarian option or ask politely for a drinks refill.

    Lufthansa says that it will also be using the service to provide travellers with information about destinations and to help them make duty-free purchases.

    Virgin Australia and El Al Israel Airlines already use BoardConnect servers on many of their flights for this very purpose, and a number of other airlines are reportedly in discussions about adopting the technology too.

    When the service goes live on Lufthansa this summer, the app will be available for Android, iOS and Windows Phone devices and will also work with notebook computers running Windows 8.

    And although the introduction of the service will eventually enable airlines to start removing their own screens, Lufthansa says that for the time being, the service will be accessible on in-seat screens and on devices that the airline provides for passengers.

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    You may have a well-established "no food in the bed" rule in your home, but hopefully that goes out the window when you're travelling — or at least, when you're staying in this boutique hotel's food-inspired room.

    Located in Toronto's Gladstone Hotel, the "Surreal Gourmet Room" was designed by Food Network host Bob Blumer, and is showcased in all its splendour in the video above. While relying heavily on kitsch (this was created by the man who hosts "The World's Weirdest Restaurants" after all), there's a definite charm here for anyone who holds a special place in their heart for kids' cereals.

    We particularly love the utilitarian nature of the kitchenette in the room, which will allow visitors to go well beyond making panini with their irons or crafting tuna melts with hairdryers (both awesome suggestions for other hotel rooms, though).

    If food decor is your scene, there are a few ways to incorporate it into your home — like a vase that looks like a banana, stunning drawings of Hershey Kisses, or for the less committed, cute tea towels.

    And in case you're wondering, those food-related movies he mentions? They are: The French Chef: Julia Child's Dinner Party Favorites; Eat Drink Man Woman; The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover; Babette's Feast; Like Water for Chocolate; John Cleese Wine for the Confused; Big Night; Jiro Dreams Of Sushi; Tampopo and Sideways.

    Check out more images of the hotel room here:

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    We all know cruising has gotten a bad rap lately. The years 2012-13 seemed like records for wrecks, fires and shoddy maintenance. But should one Carnival Corporation represent them all? Probably not.
    Before we completely sideline an entire segment of the travel trade, all because of two or three extreme events, let's consider the industry that not only has been going strong since the 1840s, but also gives back and provides countless jobs around the globe.

    My very first cruise, on the Island Princess in January of 2012, was as an assistant to a good friend who was providing on-board entertainment as (yes, believe it) a hypnotist. This 10-day pass provided the best of both worlds as Asad and I could hang out with the staff and enjoy discounts on spa services, as well as lounge by the pools and eat in the restaurants like regular passengers.

    Cruising from Aruba through the Panama Canal was an experience I'll never forget. However, the IP is a big ship, with almost 1,000 passenger cabins and almost as many staff. If there is ever a next time, I think I'd like to downsize my order. Less than a week on the high seas would be perfect for me. The other thing about this particular cruise route was that we saw bits of the Caribbean, but totally skipped the Bahamas. Bummer.

    So if it were up to me to plan things, I might go with Holiday Cruise Line. HCL specializes in Grand Bahama Island (aka The Jewel of the Bahamas) and offers an affordable two-day sail-away that departs from Palm Beach, Florida -- another place I've wanted to check out. A former co-worker got married at The Breakers Hotel last November and the Facebook photos have been burned in my memory. The oceanfront resort just looks like heaven.


    Putting all the pieces of this puzzle together in my head, here is how my ideal cruise happens.

    After a night or two at The Breakers, I would hop aboard the Bahamas Celebration to check in, and then indulge in a buffet lunch and a bit of poolside lounging.

    After leaving port at dusk for Grand Bahama Island, the party can go any which way I choose. After dinner, a self-guided tour of the seven decks would be in order. Word is the BC is a modern luxury ship and includes a glass encased adult pool, two Tiki bars and the Fountain of Youth Spa.

    Back to the evening entertainment. There's the glamorous Wynmore Casino with its gaming machines and games of chance-like poker, blackjack and roulette. Then I might listen to a few piano numbers in 437 Pub, or hit The View and get my groove on to a live DJ. Up to deck six for a nightcap in Ocean Breeze Lounge before falling into a sweet sleep in one of the 500 well-appointed cabins.

    The next day is all about the Bahamas.
    An excursion to the 4-star, 372-acre Grand Lucayan Beach and Golf Resort? Yes please!
    While at the resort, I can catch some sun on their pristine sugar-white sand beaches (the definition of relaxation), try swimming with the dolphins, parasail, Jet Ski, or get on horseback for a leisurely ride. Personally I love snorkelling, so I'd probably take advantage of some of the most gorgeous stretches of shoreline in the world.

    There's always the option to stay on-board, of course as there are no end of activities to occupy the hours. If I had kiddies, I'd probably get them hooked on the Caribbean Splash Park and that 180-foot waterslide. There's also a Teen Centre if you've got one of those.

    And what about the food?
    The dining deck is found closest to the ship's bow so I can always enjoy the view at either The Cove, or at the more upscale Crystal Restaurant. Pub 437, Trattoria Di Gerry and Rio Restaurant provide a super casual scene. 24-hour room service is said to be sublime if a late-night nosh is required.

    All said, it all sounds like a quick hit of bliss that singles, couples and families alike can use to escape the everyday. You in?

    What else do you need to know?
    The editor-in-chief of the prestigious Porthole Cruise Magazine has declared HCL's Celebration cruise ship the "Best Bahamas Getaway Cruise" for four consecutive years. A pretty solid recommendation, if you ask me.

    Cruises depart every other day from the Port of Palm Beach, FL. The port is located within an hour of two major international airports and within two hours of four international airports.

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    So you’re off the plane and the adventure has officially begun. You gather your expertly packed backpack and set off for the hostel. It’s your first time staying in one but the reviews seemed okay and you’re up for a new experience. Unfortunately, when you arrive, rather than warm greetings and a useful tour, a heavy-lidded teenager flings a key at you and snarls, “There you go. Goodbye.”

    Cue the golden rule of hostelling: never let anyone just hand you a key.

    Nowadays, review-based websites like Hostelworld and TripAdvisor do much of the heavy-lifting with helpful photos, neat percentage ratings and strongly-worded warnings from astute travellers, but before locating that wicked pizzeria and signing up for the pub crawl, there are a number of things you need to find out the moment you arrive at a hostel.

    Travel blogger Kash Bhattacharya, founder of, has been navigating Europe’s hostels for over a year and recently authored a book on the continent’s luxury variety. He says you may have cast your dice the moment you book, but you still need to check for essentials like Wi-Fi, breakfast and hidden fees when you get to your hostel.

    Giovanna Gentile, senior PR executive for Hostelworld, adds that ensuring unusual practices like late-night curfews aren’t enforced will also come in hand, particularly after that pub crawl.

    While it’s true review portals facilitate trip planning, it’s important not to use them as a crutch. When you get to the hostel, do your own research and make sure you’re getting what you signed up for. Any vigilance on your part will save you money, time and a frigid night on the front steps because you missed curfew.

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    (Relaxnews) - An opulent sandcastle built in the Indian desert has been named the most extraordinary place to stay on the planet by editors of Lonely Planet.

    It’s called Mihir Garh, a palatial boutique hotel built atop a sand dune dedicated to the warrior God near Jodhpur that harkens the decadent life of maharajas.

    And according to editors of Lonely Planet, the mirage-like oasis takes the top spot as the most exceptional and memorable hotel experience in the world, outranking a mountain lodge in Tasmania, a spherical suite in the rainforests of British Columbia, and a treehouse in Laos.

    With each of the nine suites spanning 1,700 square feet (160 sq m), the Mihir Garh also features private terraces, courtyards, plunge pools and a Jacuzzi.

    The fort-like structure took two years to build and showcases the skills and talents of more than 100 area artisans and craftsmen who built the mud walls, sculpted the ramparts and fashioned fireplaces using cow dung and clay, in the local tradition.

    The hotel also offers a unique equestrian program featuring Marwari horses, an ancient and indigenous breed, as well as tented al fresco picnic outings and cooking classes exploring traditional Rajasthan cuisine.

    “Few hotels are created without compromise. Mihir Garh is a rare example," said contributor James Kay. "This is not just a unique place to stay, it’s a shrine to the artistic and architectural traditions of Rajasthan in general and Jodhpur in particular."

    Meanwhile, rounding out the top three extraordinary hotels is the Planet Baobab in Botswana, a thatched hut set in the arid moonscape of Makgadikgadi Pan, the world’s largest network of salt pans; and a stay at the Torre Prendiparte in Bologna, Italy, where guests sleep in a medieval, 900-year-old, 60-meter-high tower that served as a seminary and prison before being converted into a bed and breakfast.

    Here are the top 10 extraordinary hotel stays according to Lonely Planet:

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    (Relaxnews) - Passengers flying with Dutch airline KLM can now pay for their tickets via Facebook and Twitter.

    It’s the latest innovation out of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to tie social media sites into the consumer experience.

    After making their request, customers will be sent a private message on Facebook or Twitter. Flyers can then select their preferred method of payment and complete the transaction. One of 130 dedicated social media service agents then send a confirmation of payment.

    Agents field 35,000 queries on Facebook and Twitter from flyers around the world every week. And recently, the airline gained its 5 millionth Facebook fan making KLM the carrier with the most fans in the world, the airline claims.

    Other popular social media brands include Qatar Airways, which boasts 3.6 million fans and Emirates, which has 2.5 million fans.

    Meanwhile, KLM also recognized the opportunities presented by professional networking site LinkedIn, when they launched a Meet & Seat program allowing flyers to share their LinkedIn and Facebook profiles with fellow passengers.

    Virgin America borrowed a page from KLM’s playbook and launched a similar program in collaboration with geo-locating app Here on Biz this month.

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    Last November, we told you about a spooky Victorian home that was sold in Montreal.

    Now, there's another beautiful, yet chilling property on the market.

    The two-storey home, which is located on Laval Street, in Montreal's Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood, was built in 1875. It is 1,415 square feet in size, plus a little apartment adjacent to the house. It has been listed on the market for $799,000.

    The owner, architecture and antique enthusiast Éric Gil Lanctôt, has taken great pains to preserve the home's historical character in the 33 years that it's belonged to him.

    For more details, visit the blog "De la Ruelle au Salon," where writer Isabelle Clément recounts visiting the property and meeting Lanctôt himself.

    Or, you can check out photos of the home in this slideshow:

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    If you’ve heard you should travel while you’re young, it’s because the time to see the world is in your 20s. They’re a time where you can take advantage of your youth, soak up new experiences and take off on spontaneous adventures. Your 20s are one of the only times you’ll be old enough to make independent decisions and young enough to pick up and go whenever.

    Extended travel can cost a pretty penny, but it’s well worth every cent. Sure, you might incur a little debt in the process but that can’t compare to those pangs of regret from not exploring the world.

    Borders can’t be crossed and explored if you’re staying at home. Getting to know interesting people and indulging in different cultures will alter your attitudes and perspectives. So step out of your comfort zone, test your limits and you might just learn a lesson that’ll shape the rest of your life.

    If you’re still not convinced, here are 20 reasons why you should travel in your 20s:

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    One of the most ridiculed photos from the Sochi Winter Olympics shows two toilets in one stall at a venue. But now a mall bathroom in Victoria, B.C. may top that.

    The renovated men's restroom in Hillside Mall appears to feature two urinals built kitty-corner to each other.

    victoria mall urinals

    As a Reddit user pointed out: "It's hard to tell scale from the picture but if there are two adults in there, butts would touch."

    Ohhh, we smell a new ballad, "Sometimes When Butts Touch..."

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    In yet another sign that dining out is becoming increasingly automated, a Dubai restaurant has installed interactive tables that allow guests to swipe through the menu, update their Facebook status and even order a taxi home.

    At Ebony Interactive Restaurant in Dubai, interaction with wait staff is minimal, as diners can browse the digital menu, place their order, and watch chefs prepare their meal via ‘chef cams’ by using the touchscreen tabletops.
    The interactive tables also allow guests to customize their decor and choose from a range of images and patterns for their desktop ‘tablecloth.’

    While waiting for their meal — anything from tameyya (African falafels) to ratatouille or pasta alfredo — guests can catch up on current news, check in on their Facebook messages or send greetings and virtual cards to diners at other tables.

    The project aligns nicely with the Dubai Smart City initiative which aims to transform the Middle Eastern hub into one of the most connected destinations in the world.

    Ebony isn’t the first restaurant to go high-tech and paperless. London Asian restaurant inamo St. James claims to own that bragging right, when it opened on the pitch of E-Table technology last year.

    Meanwhile, interactive tabletops could also be coming to a household near you, with the recent launch of a 46-inch Android tablet from Ideum that doubles as a coffee table that can respond to 60 touches simultaneously.

    The HD display runs on a 64-bit Intel processor and is designed to bear the brunt of spills and dinner-laden plates.

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    (Relaxnews) - In the design plans for an aircraft billed as the next-generation supersonic jet, passengers would be flown from New York to London in as little as three hours instead of six, and gaze at the sky in windowless cabins.

    spike aerospace top

    The Spike S-512 will reach international destinations faster than any jet on the market and break the sound barrier at 1,100 miles per hour (1,770 km/hr) -- or Mach 1.6 -- roughly halving conventional flight times.

    spike aerospace top 2

    And one of the most innovative features of the luxury jet will be the conspicuous absence of windows. Instead, cameras installed on the outside of the aircraft will livestream images back onto high-definition screens that run the length of the inside passenger cabin.

    spike aerospace mid 1

    When they want some shut-eye, passengers will also be able to dim the screens or choose their own digital wallpaper from images stored in the system.

    All that depends, however, on whether or not the engineers and consultants at Spike Aerospace in Boston can get the project off the ground. The company is hoping to crowdsource $250,000 to fund the second phase of the project, which requires finalizing design details.

    The deadline to reach their crowdsourcing goal is March 14.

    spike aerospace mid 2

    While the removal of airplane windows may have been unthinkable before, the advancements of micro-cameras and flat-screen displays will enable engineers to improve both the flight experience and aircraft efficiency, says Spike: not only will a smooth windowless fuselage reduce aircraft weight, it will also reduce drag.

    spike aerospace end 2

    Royal Caribbean will also become the first in the cruise industry to offer virtual balconies for windowless staterooms on their Navigator of the Seas vessel this year, with real-time views of the ocean projected on floor-to-ceiling screens.

    spike aerospace end

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