Category: What to do

Toronto’s Castle – Casa Loma

98 rooms, secret passages, towers overlooking the city... and maybe even a couple of ghosts!? Jon and I are a little obsessed with ghost stories and ghost hunting "reality" shows that somehow never end up finding any ghosts. (Sad!) When it came time to take our CityPASS adventure to Casa Loma, we were ready to do our own ghost hunting. 

I mean, it's a little difficult to do ghost hunting in a tourist attraction, that was hosting a Beauty and the Beast week with about a million (few hundred, I like to exaggerate) kids running around, but we definitely had fun doing it. 

We learned that Casa Loma means "Hill House" in Spanish. It was built for $3.5 million from 1911-1914 for financier, Sir Henry Mill Pellatt. Sir Henry Pellatt is one of the rumoured ghosts that roams the hallways. Ghosts said to be roaming along with Sir Pellatt are his wife Lady Mary, and the most often seen ghost - the lady in white. The lady in white is believed to be a maid who once worked at Casa Loma. Staff and visitors alike have reported strange sightings over the years, noises and even felt grabbing hands. We didn't experience any of this, but we'll be back at Hallowe'en when Casa Loma hosts their haunted castle, to try again! One thing we like more than laughing, is scaring the crap out of ourselves!

Other than ghosts (or no ghosts), there is a Great Hall, a beautiful conservatory where weddings are hosted, The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada Regimental Museum for history enthusiasts, a potting shed, a vinatge car collection and soon there will be a steak restaurant run by Liberty Group. Casa Loma also hosts events such as the aforementioned Hallowe'en haunted house called Legends of Horror, they are currently hosting an Escape to Casa Loma series, there will be the upcoming Mother's Day brunch, they've hosted a Symphony in the Garden music series & Soul in the City concert series in the summers and so much more. 

If you have never been to this stunning mansion, you may also recognize Casa Loma from the movies. She's famous in Hollywood for playing the part of Guru Pitka's Ashram in the Love Guru, she made an appearance as a battle ground in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, she was in Cocktail, The Vow, Chicago... just to name a few.  

For the 4th installment of our CityPASS adventure, come with us up to the top of Spadina Avenue, where you find Toronto's castle, Casa Loma. 

What to do in Toronto – May 2017

It's almost May and spring will be officially in full bloom. Now that the weather is beginning to warm up, our city is coming to life. 

We've compiled a calendar of our favourite events to give you some ideas of how you can explore the city during the month of May.
(Psst, many of the events are even FREE!)

For more information on each event, click on the orange links.  

MAY 1:
Hot Docs Canada's International Documentary Festival starts April 27 and comes to a close on May 7. The event schedule is up, check out the link! 

Scotiabank Contact Festival This yearly photography festival runs throughout the entire month of May. You will find exhibitions and events, meant to provide a forum for education and conversation, strewn throughout the city. The list and map of where to find exhibitions can be found in the orange link.

AGO's Georgia O'Keefe exhibition The Art Gallery of Ontario is running a major retrospective on the pioneering American painter until July 30. This exhibition is an extra $5.50 for adults above the regular admission price. If you happen to be an AGO member, it's free!

Toronto Raptors - Eastern conference semi-finals begin against King James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Game 1 will be in Cleveland. This is going to be great. #WeTheNorth (Update: WE LOST.)

High Park is predicting that their cherry blossoms will be in full bloom by the start of May. This only happens once a year, so see it while you can. And visit the High Park zoo while you're there, it's FREE!
(Or judging by our Instagram feed of cherry blossoms this weekend, head down to Trinity Bellwoods Park, NOW!)


MAY 4:
AGO's First Thursday

Loud bands, DJs, performance pieces and art, a lot of art. One Thursday a month, the party happens after the gallery closes, 7pm - 11:30pm. The May First Thursday is titled, "Gender Trouble" as an ode to Georgia O'Keefe who declared, "I am not a WOMAN painter!"
Advance tickets can be purchased for $23 via the link. Cash bar.

Light vs. Dark on May the fourth. An ode to Star Wars, Drink Inc. is hosting a tasting event at the Berkeley Church on Queen Street East. Beer, wine, spirit and cider vendors will produce a light and a dark beverage for you to sample. Which side will win? $25 tickets (includes 3 sample tickets). May the 4th be with you. 

MAY 5:
ROM's Friday Night Live - Splash
The ROM's Friday Night Live happens only in the spring and summer, so come and get it. The first event of the season is called "Splash", to celebrate the Blue Whale that you will be able to view in wonder while you attend a FNL session. You can purchase tickets online for $17. Cash bar.

Ripley's Aquarium of Canada - Splash
A 5 part SPECIAL EVENT series is coming to us also called, Splash. It begins on Friday May 5 and it will pop up throughout the entire year. The theme for the first event is The 90's. Sharpen up your Jenga skills and iron those jean overalls to wear! $30.97 admission + food & drink extra. 

Cinco de Mayo - A day to commemorate the Mexican Army's victory over France in The Battle of Puebla, 1862. It has also become synonymous with celebrating Mexican-American culture. Hot spots to celebrate while eating tacos and drinking margaritas across the city are: El Catrin in the Distillery District, El Caballito in the Entertainment District, Fonda Lola in West Queen West, Playa Cabana in the Annex, and of course our friend Andrew's La Carnita Uptown, College Street, Leslieville or Central, just to name a few. 

MAY 6:
Cinco de Mayo doesn't have to end on May 5th. And it's doesn't in Toronto. Baro & El Cabalitto are partnering up for CincoFestTO and is sponsored by none other than our favourite tequila company, Tromba! $25 admission.

MAY 8 - 10:

The Blue Jays host a 3 game series with the Cleveland Indians (and welcome Edwin Encarnacion on his first visit back to the Rogers Centre!)
Tickets are going for as little as $6 USD (plus fees) on the Blue Jays official re-seller, Stub Hub.


MAY 11 - 14:
The Blue Jays host the Seattle Mariners for a 4 game series.

MAY 12:
ROM Friday Night Live - Fashion 
Celebrate the fabulous world of fashion in the second installment of the ROM's Friday Night Live aptly called 'Fashion." 

Ripley's Aquarium Friday Night Jazz - Ivory and the Sugar Daddies
The second Friday of every month the Aquarium hosts live jazz music. $25.98 admission to enjoy the live music throughout the Aquarium while hobnobbing with the sharks. Cash Bar.

MAY 13:
Color Me Rad All those fun photos of people doing a 5k run, covered in colour? That's Color Me Rad. The runs happen all across North America and Toronto's turn falls on May 13. Your outlook on running WILL be brighter. That can be guaranteed.
 

Toronto Comic Art Festival
Do you like Comics? Graphic Novels? Then TCAF may be worth checking out. This 2 day event is hosted at the Toronto Reference Library, only the coolest (and quite possibly the largest) library we've ever been to. And you won't believe this, it's FREE to attend!

Spring into Parkdale
There will be many all spring and summer long, but the first neighbourhood festival of the season happens in Parkdale. It's a day sidewalk festival and a night market that surges summer life into this west end neighbourhood. Queen West from Dufferin to Roncesvalles is where you'll want to be. When you're there, get your ice cream fix at our friend Mel's Boreal Gelato. 

MAY 15 - 16:
The Blue Jays host the Atlanta Braves for 2 games.

MAY 18:
National Caesar Day. And not the salad.

MAY 19:
ROM Friday Night Live - Get Out of Town 
If you aren't "getting out of town", begin your Victoria Day long weekend with the third Friday Night Live of the Month, celebrating the British invasion!

MAY 20 & 21:
**J&C's choice**  Toronto's Festival of Beer - Spring Sessions
The spring sessions are the slightly less expensive and less busy baby sister to Toronto's Festival of Beer that normally happens mid summer. It is a little bit smaller, with maybe a few less beers to sample, but the fun is still supersized! Garrison Common (Fort York) - $30 admission 

MAY 22:
Victoria Day (It's Queen Victoria's birthday but you may know it by the name we do, Firecracker Day!)
You can catch fireworks display at our favourites: Ashbridges Bay (free, you only have to deal with the traffic) or Canada's Wonderland (free with price of admission).        

Electric Island Nothing says summer is here more than music festivals. One of the first of the summer happens on Centre Island. 2 stages of electronic music, food trucks & BBQ, games & activities and the views... that skyline. Bring a blanket! (To sit on... or it works in the case that it's a bit chilly. It is May and you never know.) (*Update - Due to Toronto Island being unsafe for visitors, Electric Island has relocated to Woodbine Park for this event.)

MAY 26: 
ROM Friday Night Live - Flash
Photography is in the air at the final affair for Friday Night Live in May. The new ROM exhibition 'The Family Camera,' will be front and centre on this night. 

MAY 26 - 28:
Blue Jays host the Texas Rangers for a 3 day stint.

MAY 27 & 28:
**J&C's choice**  Doors Open One weekend a year, the City of Toronto opens it's doors at a slew of different, normally off limits, buildings. In honour of Canada's 150th birthday this year, the theme is "15 Decades of Canadian Architecture." Plan your route and see as much as you can. Last year we were able to see inside the Sony Centre, Osgoode Hall, City Hall, Redpath Sugar Building, the Toronto Police Marine Unit,  Railway Museum just to name a few. And the price of admission? FREE!


Woofstock 
The first festival that let's us celebrate DOGS! There will be a kid zone too, so it's family fun. This year it will be all weekend at Woodbine Park in the Beaches. Buy tickets online, $10 for the entire weekend. 

May 28:
**J&C's choice**  Kensington Market - Pedestrian Sunday 
The 14th season of this very popular neighbourhood street festival happens the last Sunday of the month, from May until October. You won't find Dr. Oetker handing out free pizza or the drink out of a fruit that seems to find it's way into every festival in Toronto. You will find a celebration of the unique community with different foods to try, performers to watch and art to admire. In our opinion, it's a do not miss. 

MAY 29 - MAY 31:
Blue Jays host the Cincinnati Reds in the final series in May.  

 

 

Captivated by The Royal Ontario Museum

We continue on our CityPASS adventure series, bringing you the Royal Ontario Museum (otherwise known as, "The ROM".)

The Royal Ontario Museum is not one to be missed and you literally cannot miss it. If you can't remember if you have seen the building before or not, you most likely haven't. The Daniel Libeskind architecture and the polarizing facade known as the Michael Lee-Chin crystal, has an undeniable unique identity that could best be described as unforgettable. Those who know it generally love it... or hate it. Jon and I personally love that such a provocative and innovative building exists in our city and is now synonymous with Toronto architecture. Makes for great photo opportunities too! 

Enough about the outside, let's get back to the BIG, beautiful INSIDE of the building. (And by big, we mean biggest museum in Canada and 5th largest in North America!)

While we were visiting the ROM we learned that the experience is part art, part culture and part natural history. Oh, and part fun! (I think we have found quite the balance of this entertainment AND education thing as we've been wandering around our city.) 

Like our previous CityPASS installment the Ripley's Aquarium, the ROM offers so much more than meets the eye. For example, they host ROM sleepovers for the little kids and Friday Night Live for after-hours fun with the big kids (a.k.a. adults). Unlike Ripley's Aquarium though, the ROM may take multiple visits to be able to fully experience everything that it has to offer. There is just too much to see and do and feel and interact with. 

Trying to think of how to sum up the museum and all of the fun you can have while exploring this attraction, I think may be best left to our video below:

There you have it - The Royal Ontario Museum. (It's really not just for kid's school field trips!)

A Love Letter to the Toronto Blue Jays – #LetsRise

Let’s Go Blue Jays! (Clap Clap ClapClapClap)

Early 1980’s at the CNE Grandstand. Where it all began. Where I became a hardcore baseball fan. Correction, where I became a hardcore Toronto Blue Jays fan.

My parents would take my sister and I to games. We would usually sit in the bleachers. Those “cheap seats” behind the outfield. My sister has memories of hating every minute of being forced to watch a sport she didn’t understand. For me, it had the exact opposite effect. These trips to the ball games created the monster (of a fan) that I am today.

I was a young and impressionable 17 year old when the Toronto Blue Jays made it to (and won) their first World Series. I watched that final game on the JumboTron in the SkyDome with 50,000 other fans. The Blue Jays made history that night with the first time the World Series went north of the border! I was so proud to be a Jays fan.

Then I was 18 and living in downtown Toronto while attending university when the Blue Jays completed their BACK TO BACK World Series win. Anyone who knows baseball knows how we won the World Series in this year. The iconic Joe Carter home run. Myself and my 4 roommates watched the incredible moment on my 13” TV (the only TV in our apartment).

The excitement and electricity that surrounded those seasons were enough to make anyone a fan.

 

And then we had a few not so great decades.

 

Following these record breaking years, I stuck with my Blue Jays. I still took tickets whenever someone would offer them and had a few different friends who knew to think of me when they went to a game.

Most thought I was crazy for my loyal love of the Jays. Many Toronto sports fans sound like this; “I love basketball and the Raptors” or “I love hockey and the Maple Leafs”. In response to their declarations I would say, “I love baseball!!” I would often get strange looks and a response that was something to this effect, “but baseball is boring” or “the Blue Jays suck.” Yeah yeah okay, you’re right. Sometimes baseball IS boring and the Jays did kind of suck, but I didn’t care! I just loved them!

2015 the tides began to change and we made the playoffs. Jon and I were working on cruise ships and away from home at the time. Being away from Toronto for the 2015 season was breaking my heart though. I wanted to be home to feel that excitement again.

We watched one of the playoff games on TV, while we were in Vancouver that year. That’s when we began to realize that the Blue Jays weren’t just Toronto’s team, they really felt like Canada’s team. Their slogan for the 2015 season was “Come Together” and it felt like one team was pulling our country closer together. Over baseball! Everybody’s favourite major league sport to hate!

Last year, 2016 and we were finally off ships and back at home in Toronto. I was convinced the Jays had lost in the playoffs the previous year because they wanted to wait until I was home to win. Lo and behold, we made it to the playoffs for the second year in a row! “History is Now” was the team’s slogan. We fought hard to get there but ultimately lost and never made it past those playoffs.

Bring on 2017. “Let’s Rise” is the slogan for the team this year. My wonderful mother gave the gift of baseball. She gifted Jon and I a “20 pack” of Jays tickets. WE ARE GOING TO 20 GAMES THIS SEASON!! (Correction - 21, my mom’s never even been to a game at the Dome so we are also taking her to a separate game.) Now I’m convinced that’s why we just missed conquering the World Series last year. Our team was waiting for this year while Jon and I are breaking our own records with number of games we’ll be going to!

This brings me to the point of this long winded story.

We’ve decided to vlog (video blog) our way through that 20 pack.

So stay tuned… the adventure starts in two days.
AT THE HOME OPENER!

(Tuesday April 11, 2017)

#LetsRise

For the 20 game Blog

click HERE.

Under the Sea – Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada

5.7 million litres of water, 16,000 species of marine animals with two very happy adults wandering around wide eyed with big smiles (and their cameras). 

(⬆︎ That was a description of Jon and I in Ripley's Aquarium of Canada.)

Who said you have to travel to tropical locales to get a peek at what swims beneath the sea? If you are in Toronto you don't have to splurge on the flight south, you can find almost every type of sea life imaginable right in the city, at Ripley's Aquarium! 

We took on the great task of conquering the Ripley's Aquarium as part of our CityPASS experience that we thrust on to ourselves. (For more information on the Toronto CityPASS, you can read our blog HERE.) We were NOT disappointed. And this wasn't even our first visit to the Aquarium!

Ripley's offers so much more than just "fish." It's an interactive experience. Education and Entertainment. With capital E's. 

Interactive with touch pools (I pet a hard shelled crab... it was hard. You can also pet a stingray or a shark, we passed). Education with dive shows. There are viewing "bubbles" where you can watch Nemo swim by feeling like you are swimming with him. Then there is the moving walkway that moves through North American's longest underwater viewing tunnel, as you watch the sharks swim around you. There's a kids play area, a cafeteria. But wait there's more - Friday Night Jazz on the second Friday of every month, they host birthday parties (for kids OR adults), yoga classes, Paint-Nites and SLEEPOVERS! Seriously, you can sleepover as a family, a group or a school trip for $99/person. For more information on the Aquarium and all that it offers, click HERE

Now immerse yourself in a thrilling underwater adventure with us:

Need advice on where to park? When are best times to go? If you have any questions at all, please feel free to ask. We're here to help!

Toronto’s Top 5 Attractions and CityPASS

If you are reading this, I probably don't have to remind you --> WE LOVE TORONTO! We love Toronto in the day and in the night, in the hot and in the cold, in the good and in the bad. It's our favourite city in the world. 

Although Toronto flourishes in the summer, you aren't "out in the cold" in the winter. I grew up in Toronto surrounded by the idea that you were supposed to hibernate in the winter. In adulthood both Jon and I disagree with this, fully and completely. 

So far on our website we've covered some of the outdoor fun you can take advantage of in the city during the winter months, but for those of you who really do prefer to stay indoors, there is so much for you to see and do too!

Enter CityPASS - A pass that allows you to see 5 of Toronto's top attractions, for 42% off the regular admission price. I know that sounds like there's a catch, but there really isn't. You buy it, you use it and then brag about how much fun you had!

Attractions included (site links in orange):

CN Tower
Casa Loma
Ripley's Aquarium of Canada
Royal Ontario Museum
Ontario Science Centre (OR) The Toronto Zoo

Regular admission price: $126 + tax
CityPASS: $72 + tax 
CityPASS Children: $46 + tax
(please don't make me do the math tax, just add our ridiculous HST of 13%)

Even if you don't visit all 5 attractions, you can still be saving money. Wait there's more - once you have your CityPASS booklet, you skip most lines for entry! And let's not forget that you get to visit 5 of the top attractions in the city! 

You have 9 days to use the CityPASS.
(We took all 9 days to use it. We probably could have used it even quicker but we didn't in order to avoid crowds over the long weekend. Although 9 days seems like a long time, it goes by quickly. Especially if you will be using CityPASS with your children, so please be prepared. *Note* You will need a full day for almost all of the attractions.) 

If you are from Toronto, you may be thinking, 'Oh I've been there on a school trip in elementary school, I don't need to go again.' If I may be so bold as to say - YES, YOU DO. I have been to all of these attractions dozens of times in my lifetime. I have enjoyed them every single time and exhibits are always changing too, so there is always something new and exciting to check out. Jon and I had SO MUCH fun at all of the attractions. We learned a lot - about history, about science, about Toronto. Educational AND entertaining!

This was Jon's first trip to the Science Centre and he said this was his favourite stop in our adventures. As for me, Team CN Tower. Even though I used to work at the CN Tower, I never ever get sick of the views. I mean, #views.

We've put together a video highlight reel of sorts, of all 5 attractions. Either to sell you on the idea of CityPass or just entertain you with our charm.

You can find it here. Right below this writing.
See it? Click play and enjoy!

If you are planning a visit to Toronto or you already live here, we at J & C Toronto can now weigh in with our opinion.
JUST DO IT!

(If anyone has any specific questions about the attractions, how to get there, what's included in each place, etc... please let us know, we're here to help!)

Toronto Light Festival – Distillery District

We really don't like hibernating in the winter. What we are learning coming into our second winter at home is: you really don't have to.
All of the incredible activities that happen around the city, even in the winter, PROVE - we're a city not afraid of the cold! 
(Okay, I'm afraid of the cold. And that's what warm winter jackets & boots are for, people like me who are afraid of the cold.)

This time we bring you to a unique event in the city that it is so wonderful that we have left the house willingly THREE times to enjoy it.
It's called the Toronto Light Festival. And it's happening right now in the Distillery District. It began on January 27 and it will be running until March 12.
Every night 5pm until 11pm the lights turn on and magically illuminate the spaces that are the Distillery District. 

Words I would use to describe this festival: entrancing, imaginative, magnetic, mesmerizing. (If you go check it out, let us know if I've missed any words.) 

The Toronto Light Festival (website link HERE) is coming to you from the team behind the Christmas Market in the Distillery District, so they are well versed on how to make the space spectacular. They said it best when they described it like this: 

1 Big Idea.
45 Days. 13 acres. 44 buildings.
1000s of lights.
$0 to attend.

Did you see that, ZERO dollars to attend!

Watch our video and then get out there and enjoy winter in the city!

Cheryl’s pick – Top 10 Beaches

Now that we are smack in the middle of winter, I was thinking that it may be a good time to daydream for a moment, to when life was a little warmer for us.  

After working on cruise ships for so many years, one of the questions that Jon and I get asked most often is; what have been your favourite beaches around the world?

I've narrowed my list and I now have a Top 10 that I'd like to share with you.

I should preface this list with a few facts on how I rate my beaches.

✼ I'm obsessed with clear water/white sand beaches. My travel list, before I started travelling, was filled with places that looked pristine in travel brochures. 
✼ Weather.

✼ And one of the most important factors for me to enjoy the beach is the temperature of the water. (Being the big baby that I am with the cold, that normally means the water has to be just about the temperature of bath water before I will be able to enjoy it.) 

 

I whittled down my list and we will begin in Europe.

#10: Chiaia Beach, Procida, Italy

After telling you all that I'm obsessed with white sand/clear water beaches, my #10 beach is a black sand beach. 

At first glance it's not as beautiful or striking as some other beaches, but the black sand feels like powder. And that soft powdery sand continues out into the sea, as far as your feet can touch the bottom. It's perfectly clear water as well, although it doesn't seem like it with the dark sand giving a false impression (alternative facts?)

In the summertime the water was almost like bath water and since it is in more of a cove on a protected side of the island, the water is normally very calm.

Your view is Marina Coricella to the north-west and on a clear day the island of Capri (CAH-pree) with the odd cruise ship cruising by is straight ahead. Now top that off with the addition of Italian cuisine (such as pizza Napolitana and gelato), and a day spent on this beach is close to perfect. CLOSE... but we're not there yet.

Oh and the downside to Chiaia Beach - the 180 steps (I counted) that you have to walk down to arrive at the beach (and then walk back up again to return home!)

Chiaia Beach

The view of Chiaia Beach from above

The view of Marina Coricella

The view of Capri and a cruise ship from the beach

The dreaded 180 stairs

We stay in Europe for my next beach pick.

#9: Barcelona, Spain's city beaches - from Sant Sebastian and Barceloneta (with the sail shaped W hotel at the western most edge) to Mar Bella and the nude beaches farther east, and every beach in between. 

There are many great city beaches around the world, but Barcelona is my all-time favourite. This is in part because of how much I loved Barcelona as a city. A lively, modern, cosmopolitan European city that has shopping and nightlife and museums and history, beautiful architecture, famous cuisine AND an incredible beach, all walking distance from one another. Sounds like a perfect spot to vacation or maybe even live.

The 4 km of golden sand beach areas are MASSive. There are all sorts of restaurants and bars that line the beach and there are boardwalks and bike paths too. The beach runs the span of multiple neighbourhoods, so you experience different walks of life as you leisurely explore the waterfront along the coast. 

The sand is light coloured and the Mediterranean shores are an emerald green. Because this is the Med, you won't find the calmest of waters, or the warmest. But there are too many other pluses++ that make this beach one of my top 10.

Barceloneta Beach facing east

Barceloneta Beach facing west towards the W Hotel

Barceloneta Beach facing south

Panorama of Barceloneta Beach

Jon and I have been so very lucky in our life, exploring and travelling the world. We have been able to visit many beaches all over the world, and especially the Caribbean. It is somewhat true what they say, that once you see one beach, you've seen them all. But you need to see them all in order to know this! When exploring the Caribbean there are so many beautiful beaches in Bahamas, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Grand Cayman, US and British Virgin Islands, Barbados, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Dominica and you can see where I'm going with this. For #8, 7 and 6 I chose different islands and different beaches that belong to the Caribbean. I'm leaving out so many beaches that are equally as beautiful but if I were to name them all this list would be Top 100 not Top 10, and we just don't have time for that!

#8: Palm Beach, Aruba

Many people say Eagle Beach is where it's at on the Dutch island of Aruba. But my heart belongs to the 3 kilometre strip of Palm Beach. The activity, the hustle bustle and the great people watching gets me every time.

The ocean water in Aruba is a beautiful turquoise, but it isn't clear. It may be better described more as a light 'murky' green. Under the water the sand is a soft powdery white and sometimes even pink. And the temperature... like a bath. Just how I like it!

Palm Beach is lined with hotels and piers every so often jetting out into the ocean. On these piers you may find a local run restaurant or bar (such as Bugaloe Beach Bar & Grill, our favourite), where you can buy a cold beer or enjoy a fresh ceviche that will make you want to go back for more. The water is a little calmer than what you may find on Eagle Beach and since I'm not a strong swimmer, this always appeals to me.

The area off the beach is filled with trendy shops and fancy restaurants too, giving the island a feeling of luxury and satisfies the wants and needs of most people visiting this island.

Their slogan: One Happy Island. 

Palm Beach

Aruba

Somewhere between Eagle Beach and Palm Beach

J & C on the beach

The view of Palm Beach from the Radisson

Travel a little north in the Caribbean to find my next choice. 

#7: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

The entire eastern beach coast of Punta Cana is 32 kilometres lined with more than 50 hotels of all shapes and sizes. Some southern parts of the beach are more protected with eco-areas and a calm clear oasis. Other areas in the more northern part of the resort town are less protected and are more of a surfing paradise. All of it in the most beautiful colours of blue, green and turquoise, lined by powdery white sands and palm trees, so many palm trees, that dot the beach areas. 

 

Super Cheryl getting ready to take off from Punta Cana


The northern beaches

The middle beaches

The southern and calmest beaches

Onto my next Caribbean pick.

#6: Antigua & Barbuda - Dickenson Bay

Antigua & Barbuda is an independent commonwealth country and one of the more luxurious islands in the Caribbean. My favourite fact about this island, the 365 powdery white sand beaches. A different beach for every day of the year. I chose Dickenson Bay not because it is necessarily the nicest, there are just too many to choose from. I chose it partly because it is the most accessible beach from the port when you are travelling by cruise ship. I also chose it because it has everything I want in a beach - white sandy beachfront, warm clear waters, restaurants, bars, every type of water sport to take advantage of and a reef for easy snorkelling right off the coast. As well, it's a bay. So the water is generally calm. Win-win-win-win for me!

Dickenson Bay Beach, Antigua & Barbuda

 

 

 

 

 

Dickenson Bay Beach with C & her friend A

C & A on the beach

Moving away from the Atlantic Ocean & the Caribbean sea, we jump into the Pacific Ocean for my next pick. Hawai'i!

#5: Ala Moana Beach Park - Honolulu, O'ahu, Hawai'i

Where do I begin in Hawaii? Ala Moana is just one of SO many great beaches in this chain of islands that makes up America's 50th state. I could do a Top 10 list in Hawaii alone!

My first visit was to Ka'anapali, Maui in 2005 and it was for a 10 day vacation that didn't leave me wowed. I have to be honest, I thought, 'what's so special about Hawaii?' It was after visiting Hawaii a few more times on a cruise ship that the beauty began to overwhelm me. Looking back, I think my company in 2005 may have had something to do with why I was underwhelmed the first time. I began to realize that each island and beach offered something special and unique from the last, for such vastly different reasons. And the people. Hawaiian people and their culture is something that in itself, without any beautiful beaches, could leave you amazed. 

Jon and I have been so fortunate to see all of the islands and have even had a few personal tours from our friend and Hawaiian artist, Walfrido Garcia. Because we've seen so many places, narrowing it down to one beach was so difficult! But I made my choice - Ala Moana Beach Park. 

Ala Moana is a Honolulu city beach of warm clear waters, big sandy beaches with ALL of the amenities (including restrooms and showers). If you keep walking along it's shores for a short distance, they will lead you to the famous Waikiki Beach. Although Waikiki is beautiful, Ala Moana offers a less touristy feel and wider sandy beaches, with a better view of Diamond Head! It also doesn't hurt that it's across the street from my favourite shopping mall in the world (Ala Moana Centre)!

 

 

 

Sunsets from Waikiki

Lahaina, Maui - rainbows

Baby Beach, Lahaina

Now we find ourselves in the South Pacific. I have always described the islands that I've visited in the South Pacific as the views screensavers are made of. I remember being in awe and I couldn't stop telling people that it looked exactly like screensavers and it's NOT EVEN PHOTOSHOPPED! 

Like the Caribbean, there are so many beautiful islands and beaches in the South Pacific and I had to fight my natural long windedness to not choose them all. 

#4: Yedjele BeachMaré, New Caledonia

The French territory, New Caledonia is a chain of dozens of islands. The main island is surrounded by a massive barrier reef and includes a 24,000 square foot marine-life-rich lagoon that is one of the largest in the world. Being a French Territory, you will also find Carrefour grocery stores and McDonald's with Le Big Mac and Le Royal Cheese on the menu. 

Yedejele Beach is just a big beautiful beach on the rustic and not as developed island of Maré. If you are visiting by way of cruise ship, you tender into port. Then you can rent a scooter or a bicycle or take a bus to this incredible beach for a day trip to remember. It's perfectly suited as a tourist retreat. The under development of the island gives you an authentic experience and leaves you humbled by the incredible locals.  

Maré, New Caledonia's paradise

J & C

Even the beer thinks Maré's beaches are the best!

Our Kiwi friend knows that you should always wear a hat while spending lots of time in the sun!

We are now into the top 3. 

#3: Champagne Bay, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu 

Many people who have visited this beach have been known to describe it as, heaven on earth. I tend to agree. The crystal clear turquoise water, white sandy beaches, locals grilling fresh lobster, fresh chopped coconuts will have you pinching yourself to make sure you aren't dreaming. 

Chamagne Bay beach gets it's name from a natural phenomenon. At low tide when the water is shallow it fizzles like champagne as it passes through volcanic rocks on the sea floor. The beach is surrounded by lush tropical forest and there are fresh water blue holes close by for swimming.

And if you find yourself in Vanuatu or Fiji, don't forget to drink the kava. 

Beautiful Champagne Bay

#2: Half Moon Cay, Little San Salvador Island, Bahamas

This beach was my #1 for a long time. Although it is in the Caribbean and is an island in the Bahamian chain of islands, it isn't a beach you can get to easily. It is a private island owned by Holland America Cruise Lines and used by HAL and Carnival Cruise Lines exclusively for their passengers. I was able to visit when I was cruising on Carnival ships and felt so lucky I had been able to. 

It's an uninhabited island that is a cruise ship playground. 

It's the perfect port beach. Whiter than white sand and clearer than clear sparkling water. I've only ever visited in summer months and therefore the water was borderline so warm that it was not refreshing. I mean for normal people. I didn't complain. 

The cruise ships unload their own food and beverages into the pre-built area for service, just for the day. There are water sports also run by the cruise ship. Beds and chairs line the beach awaiting the passengers to pile off the ship and onto the sandy oasis. They have activities such as horseback riding and jet skiing to snorkelling and scuba diving excursions .There are volleyball courts in the sand and parasailers all around the cruise ship that will always be anchored at sea. Basically a playground in paradise.


This brings me to my top pick. And we have a tie!

#1: Cayo Santa Maria & Playa Pilar (Cayo Guillermo), Cuba

Both of these beaches are off of a Cayo in northern Cuba. They are the most perfect pristine beaches I have ever experienced. They took my breath away.
Both were similar in that the sand is fine and white and so powdery that it sticks to you. They both have soft sandy bottoms that feel pillowy as you walk and shallow for some time out from shore. The water is so clear that you can even see a clear colourless fish that may swim by. The sun reflects on the water and makes it look like a sparkling diamond. The shades of blue and teal and emerald had me mesmerized. The water was warm enough in the winter months for me to sit and not want to leave. I actually felt sad leaving both these beaches when the time came.

Had I experienced bad weather when I was on these beaches, my opinion may be different. But for both of these picks, the weather was perfect on the days I was there and it was truly bliss for me. These beaches were everything I had hoped all the beaches I wanted to visit looked like. The type of beaches that (my) dreams are made of. 

And they aren't far! Travelling to islands in the South Pacific may take a day long flight and a big bank account to find. Cuba is a 3 hour flight from Toronto, to an island country only 50 miles south of Florida.

J & C Cuban adventures

Somewhere between Playa Pilar and the Iberostar Playa Pilar resort

Clear waters of Cayo Santa Maria

Cayo Santa Maria

Playa Pilar perfection

Playa Pilar shines bright like a diamond

 

Cayo Santa Maria beach

Melia Buenavista lagoon - Cayo Santa Maria

Playa Pilar - Cayo Guillermo

My list is not done yet!

Honourable mentions go to:

◦ South Beach, Miami (another amazing city beach)
◦ Dravuni Island, Fiji (uninhabited paradise)
◦ Isle of Pines, New Caledonia (A+ snorkelling)
◦ Turtle Bay, St. John's, US Virgin Islands
◦ Cane Garden Bay, Tortola

◦ Orient Bay, St. Martin (the French side)

Orient Bay, St. Maarten/St.Martin

Turtle Bay, St. John's, USVI

Cane Garden Bay, Tortola

Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

J&C Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

J&C hiking Dravuni Island, Fiji

Dravuni Island, Fiji

J&C Dravuni Island, Fiji

South Beach, Miami, Florida, USA

I haven't been everywhere and still have many beaches on my bucket list.
I would say it still still reads like a novel. Or maybe a short story.

BUCKET LIST:

◦ (everywhere in) Thailand
◦ (everywhere in) Indonesia
◦ (everywhere in) Philippines
◦ (everywhere in) Vietnam
◦ Seychelles
◦ Maldives
◦ Bora Bora, French Polynesia (of course)
&
◦ the one that got away - Whitsundays, Australia
(We have been to Airlie Beach and Port Douglas multiple times, both being gateway ports for travel to the Whitsundays. Sadly I never was able to get there... One day Whitundays, one day.)

Now back to our regularly scheduled program... Winter. 

WINTER!

Skate Your Winter Blues Away

Winter in Canada.

Many of us do not look forward to this time of year. Some of us like to hibernate and hide throughout the cold winter months. I have joked since I was a teenager that I was adopted and was actually born in Jamaica, I disliked the cold that much. But if you are a Canadian you've probably had to suck it up, buy a warm jacket and get on with it. 

If you have that warm jacket, put it on and go outside. Don't hide inside! There are so many fun adventures waiting for you to experience in this city. 

There are many things to do in Toronto in the winter, but today we will take you along for the ride.... er, skate... to the rink at Nathan Phillips Square. Watch the video below:

If you aren't close to Nathan Phillips Square, there are many places around the city that you will find outdoor skating rinks. Many have change rooms and some rent skates for a minimal charge. Weather depending, they normally will open at the end of November and close in March. Links to some of our picks are below in orange:

Harbourfront Centre Natrel Rink
✽ Evergreen Brick Works
✽ Christie Pits Rink
✽ High Park - both a rink and Grenadier Pond
✽ Dufferin Grove Park
✽ Mel Lastman Square
✽ Trinity Bellwoods Park
✽ Colonel Samuel Smith Skating Trail
✽ Greenwood Park Arena
✽ The Skating Oval - Shops at Don Mills
✽ Sherboune Common Skate Pad

You can also find Narcity Toronto's picks HERE, BlogTO's picks HERE and Indie88's HERE

Now go skate!

Escape to Cuba!

It's that time of year again. That time when, if it is possible, most Canadians try to leave the country for at least a week. Game of Thrones warned us that this time was coming. We call it... WINTER. 

It's also been one full year since Jon & I have been home from working on cruise ships. Which means it's been one full year since we have done any exotic travelling. (We DID travel to Halifax for Thanksgiving and Detroit & Buffalo for summer concerts, none of which really qualifies as, 'exotic'.) 

Before booking, we were searching any and all of the last minute travel websites for the best bang for our buck. We couldn't afford to spend a great deal and we knew we wanted there to be a beautiful beach with water that I (Cheryl) wasn't afraid, or too cold, to go into. (*Note* - I have a preference for warm clear water and powdery sand mainly because I can get a little queasy if I can't see the fish coming for me.)

After much TripAdvisor review reading, the Iberostar Playa Pilar in Cayo Guillermo, Cuba seem to fit the bill.

While we were experiencing winter warmth and sunshine in the wonderful hospitable country (and favourite Canadian beach vacation spot) know as Cuba, we turned our cameras on. 

Come join us as we walk around our resort and show you what the Iberostar Playa Pilar is all about. 

Iberostar Playa Pilar - Cayo, Guillermo, Cuba

We hope you enjoy our video!

If you have any questions at all, about the resort or the travel in general, please feel free to contact us. We're here to help.

(You can find our TripAdvisor review of the property HERE!)

Now back to winter...