Destinations

Souvenir Sunday – from Fort Lauderdale

I joined JetBlue and Greater Fort Lauderdale as a guest for the inaugural Mint flight from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale last week and a day and a half on the ground.

Here are some snaps – and souvenirs – from the adventure:

Inaugural Mint passengers received a tote bag filled with JetBlue-themed items – including sunglasses.

In addition to the lie-flat seats, Mint service features a multi-course menu that includes a choice of three mini-entrees. I found three veggie choices – yay!

While staying at the beach is always a treat, I lucked out with a stay right downtown at the historic Riverside Hotel on Los Olas Blvd., which provided easy access to the water taxi route, the beach and the Norton Museum of Art.

I got scolded for trying to take this photo of this woman who seemed like she could be part of an installation to match the painting.

Flamingo Gardens is a popular, ‘old-style’ attraction with a tram ride, museum, extensive botanical garden and wildlife ranging from flamingos (of course), an alligator lagoon and other wildlife.

And a gift shop for only-in-Florida souvenirs:

 

 

Canada is looking very good right now.

Bow Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

While global travel to the United States may be dipping due to recent actions by President Donald Trump’s administration, tourism numbers for Canada are climbing.

And it’s not just because Canada has the most donut shops in the world (per capita).

There are plenty of other reasons the tourism spotlight is pointing north right now, as I outlined for this story on NBC News:

The Lists

Both the New York Times and Lonely Planet put the second-largest country in the world (by area) at the top of their list of places to visit in 2017.

The Dollar

One U.S. dollar is currently worth about 1.30 Canadian dollars, making dining, shopping, lodging and admissions to attractions great deals for Americans taking their travel dollars north of the border.

The Parties

2017 is Canada’s 150th birthday and there are sesquicentennialcelebrations and events taking place across the country. Consider planning a trip around some of the highlights, or time your trip to one of the activities in Canada’s handy (and constantly updated) Passport 2017 app.

Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, has some serious celebrations in store, from a four-day NHL Stanley Cup 125th Tribute (March 15-18) that will feature a hockey-themed concert, to La Machine — enormous mechanical creatures including a spider and a dragon that will do battle on the streets of downtown Ottawa July 27-30, to an underground multimedia experience (Kontinuum) from the end of June through September; and, on August 27, Canada’s Table, an open-air dinner for 1000 that will be set up right in front of the Parliament Buildings.

La Machine will bring fierce, gigantic mechanical creatures to downtown Ottawa July 27-30 to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. Jean Dominique Billaud

Nationwide, Parks Canada is offering free admission for the entire year to all the national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas it operates.

That includes Alberta’s Banff National Park, which is Canada’s first national park, and the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Nova Scotia.

Quebec City’s Winter Carnival is underway through February 12, with more than 200 activities, including snow sculpture contests, night parades, ice-skating, an ice palace and, for the very hardy, an end-of-festival snow bath.

When temperatures are warmer, between June 29 and August 20, about forty tall ships will be visiting coastal cities in Quebec to mark Canada’s 150th anniversary. The flotilla convenes in Quebec City July 18 to 23 for a celebration including ship tours and maritime activities.

Located at a National Historic Site that served as the gateway to Canada for one million immigrants between 1928 and 1971, the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, will be presenting an expanded version of “Canada: Day 1,” an exhibition about immigrants’ experiences on their first day in the country, from April through October, 2017.

2017 marks Montreal’s 375th anniversary and the city is celebrating with a year’s worth of events and celebrations, including Cité Mémoire, featuring a nightly display of characters from the city’s history projected on the walls, streets and trees of Old Montreal. Montréal Avudo, a multimedia program honoring the St. Lawrence River, includes installations and giant projections and will be performed 100 times between May 17 and September 2 in the Old Port of Montreal.

With its To Canada with Love line-up, Toronto is marking Canada’s 150th anniversary with a year-long schedule of celebrations, commemorations, horticultural installations, and exhibitions, including Doors Open Toronto (May 27 & 28), when about 150 architecturally, historically, culturally and socially significant buildings across the city open their doors and back rooms for tours and special events — all for free.

Canada Place in Vancouver hosts a major Canada Day (July 1) celebration each year and is planning an extended three-day celebration from July 1-3 with a fireworks show and other highlights to mark the country’s 150th year.

And from June 21 to July 1 Victoria, B.C. will present Spirit of 150 Victoria, which will include 11 days of free outdoor events in the Inner Harbor topped off on July 1 with a grand finale main stage programming and a giant fireworks display.

Ready to Head North?

The data crunchers at Priceline found that for weekends through the end of March (depending on your originating city) it’s possible to take a weekend trip to one of Canada’s major cities for under $500, including roundtrip airfare and 4-star hotel rates.

For example, New Yorkers can fly to Toronto for an average $183 roundtrip and stay at a 4-star hotel for $85 per night (total cost $438). Chicago-based travelers can fly to Montreal for about $300 and stay in numerous 4-star (and some 4.5 star hotels) for under $100 a night.

Considering Cuba?

The best restored vintage cars serve as taxis for tourists in Havana. Photo: Harriet Baskas

In early January I joined Alaska Airlines for the first scheduled flight to Havana from a west coast city – Los Angeles – in over 50 years. Here’s the CNBC story that came from that adventure.

Photo by Harriet Baskas

Last week, the newly inaugurated Trump administration warned it was in the middle of a “full review” of U.S. policy toward Cuba—prompting new questions about how committed President Donald Trump will be to the political and cultural thaw began under his predecessor.

However, uncertainty over Trump’s Cuba policy did not prevent American Airlines from opening a ticket office in Havana this week, a mere two months after the carrier flew the first scheduled commercial flight from the U.S. to Havana since 1961.

American’s new outpost in Cuba underscores how both U.S. fliers and air carriers are rushing to make the most of the first real opening between the two countries in decades—despite lingering questions about whether that thaw will continue in the Trump era.

 “We cannot speculate about what [Trump’s] next step will be, but I can assure you that we are moving our machine forward,” said Galo Beltran, Cuba manager for American Airlines told the Associated Press, “You are a witness to the investment and how important Cuba is to American as a U.S. entity doing business.”

American began flying to Havana from Miami and Charlotte in late November, and from Miami to five other Cuban cities in September. After a mid-February ‘schedule adjustment’ that drops one of two daily flights between Miami and three cities (Holguin, Santa Clara and Varadero), American will be operating 10 daily flights to six Cuban cities.

Other U.S. airlines competed for the go-ahead to offer service to Havana and other Cuban cities. These include Delta (which in November was the first U.S. airline to open a ticket office in Havana), Spirit, United, Alaska, JetBlue and Southwest, all of which are sticking with their original flight schedules.

“Myriad external forces govern the climate in which we operate – prices of energy, labor,” said Brad Hawkins, spokesman for Southwest Airlines, which currently operates a dozen daily roundtrips between Cuba and the U.S.. As of right now, “Our Cuba flights are performing in-line with our expectations.”

JetBlue reported the same.

“Cuba routes are performing as expected,” said JetBlue spokesman Philip Stewart, “As has been the case since we completed all of our route launches last fall, we continue to operate nearly 50 roundtrips between the U.S. and Cuba every week on six unique routes.”

Photo by Harriet Baskas

 

As one would expect from tourists prohibited from visiting a cultural Mecca for decades, many U.S. visitors who now fly to Havana join walking tours through the city’s old quarters, take rides in restored vintage cars and visit the Presidential Palace (home of the Revolutionary Museum), Hemingway’s House and the studios of local artists.

Members of a 50-person delegation of political, business and cultural leaders who joined Seattle-based Alaska Airlines in January, as part of the first regularly scheduled flight between Los Angeles and Havana, indulged in the same.

At the same time, they engaged with their Cuban counterparts, exchanging ideas and business links.

Stephanie Bowman and other commissioners from the Port of Seattle, which operates Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and an assortment of cruise and marine terminals, met with the Cuban Minister of Trade and Foreign Investment and the Cuban Port Authority.

“We learned that with the lessening of trade restrictions and the increase in tourism they have huge challenges in infrastructure development, everything from roads and hotels to being able to provide enough food for everyone,” said Bowman. She suggested the Port of Seattle host some Cuban executives in Seattle “so they can observe our cruise and airport business and take some best practices back.”

Photo courtesy Tom Norwalk

Kevin Mather, president & COO of the Seattle Mariners, didn’t meet with Cuban baseball officials or players while in Havana. However, he did bring a suitcase full of t-shirts, whiffle balls and other Mariners promotional items to hand out to baseball fans in a downtown Havana plaza.

Mather recognized that scouting for potential players in Cuba is a touchy subject right now, but he’s confident that eventually Cuban baseball leagues and the American Major League Baseball will have an understanding.

“And when the gate opens and the race starts, I want to have a horse to ride,” said Mather. He instructed his office to retain scouts and people well-versed in the Cuban economy “so that when the day comes we can react.”

That “hurry up and wait” lesson is being learned by members of cultural, business, tourism and trade missions heading to Cuba from a variety of U.S cities, said Janet Moore, president of Distant Horizons, which organizes the on-the-ground details for many delegations.

Once in Cuba, “They quickly realize that it’s not quite so straight-forward and that until the Trade Embargo is lifted, doing business with Cuba comes with an enormous set of regulations,” said Moore.

“So feelers are being put out there and relationships forged, but at this point concrete steps are more difficult,” she added.