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Winnipeg, Manitoba – Top 6 Downtown Hotels

Just back from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Having visited there over a dozen times, I’ve found that most travellers journey to Winnipeg more for business than sightseeing. Because of its central location in Canada, it’s a popular city for conferences and meetings so book your lodging early. If you’re heading to “The Peg” for business downtown, here are my top six hotel picks:

1) Place Louis Riel Suite Hotel
An “Insiders’ Select 2010 Winner” on Expedia and one of two hotels Frommer’s guidebooks chose as the best in town,  this hotel is where we had a very enjoyable stay. All rooms come equipped with a full-size fridge and stove AND, you get free internet and local phone calls. Other features include spacious rooms, great bath products, and contemporary décor with a Manitoba twist. On the premises are a restaurant (which served so-so breakfasts), small grocery store and fitness room. Be prepared to run into some interesting characters when walking around the neighborhood. But, I’m told by locals that this is one of the safer areas in the downtown core. Be sure to ask for a renovated room.

2) Humphry Inn & Suites
While the rooms here are your standard blah neutral ones, I’ve listed this as my second choice because of the great selection of amenities it offers. The Humphry’s perks include: complimentary parking, phone calls, hot/cold breakfast and internet access in the 24-hour business center. Rooms have microwaves, mini-fridges and you have access to their pool, hot tub, steam room and workout facility. It’s located on one of Winnipeg’s busiest and most famous streets so do ask for a quiet room that doesn’t face Main Street.

3) Inn at the Forks
This stylish, eco-conscious boutique hotel has received excellent reviews from several websites and guidebooks I consulted. It’s located at “The Forks” (see photo at right) which is one of the city’s best tourist attractions but the hotel is not as convenient to downtown as the others on this list. On offer are a spa, restaurant, workout facility and complimentary in-room internet. If you want a mini-fridge, you’ll need to request that one be delivered to your room. 

4) Fairmont Winnipeg
While I didn’t have an opportunity to do a site inspection of this property, it was either recommended or ranked high on the list of the websites and guidebooks I used during my research. Fairmont is an excellent brand of hotels but from reviews I read, this one is not quite on par with others in the chain which I’ve stayed at or rated when I was a hotel inspector. Guest services include two restaurants, a business centre, spa and health club. Sign up for the complimentary Fairmont President’s Club loyalty program (http://www.fairmont.com/fpc/) and you’ll get such privileges as complimentary in-room internet, free local calls, free health club access, complimentary use of TaylorMade golf clubs and more. 

5) Delta Winnipeg
This is another lodging option with uninspiring room décor but a great selection of amenities and is connected by an indoor skywalk to the Winnipeg Convention Centre. Their health club is the largest in Manitoba and includes indoor and outdoor pools as well as a whirlpool, sauna and workout area. They have a small gift shop, Elephant and Castle pub and a restaurant which combines “prairie fare with a global flair”. Rooms have free internet and local calls. Having grown up on the Canadian Prairies, I was captivated by the Manitoba landscapes (see photo at left) in the lobby and restaurant created by Romanian artist Gabriela Diaconu, who is based in Canada. Check out her work at http://artshock.com/category/image-galleries/prairie-landscapes.

6) Mariaggi’s Theme Suite Hotels
Although this property is geared towards couples rather than businesspeople, it’s such a unique hotel that I wanted to include it on the list. Ranked #1 on Trip Advisor‘s list of Winnipeg 53 hotels, Mariaggi’s is so popular because of its eight globally themed rooms – i.e. India, Rome, China, Indonesia, etc. Each room has a hot tub, steam unit, microwave and fridge. And, many have fireplaces while some even have pool tables and waterfall hot tubs. There are none of the amenities offered up by the above hotels (including telephones!) but with rates starting at $200+/night, there is obviously a demand!

10 Ways to Sleep Well on the Road

Being well-rested while travelling helps you not only better enjoy the whole experience of being in a foreign land but it also helps you stay healthy, be clear-minded and better able to handle challenges you come up against along the way.  After all, who wants to be sleepless in Spain, Singapore or South Africa?! Here are 10 ways to get your ZZZs on the road:

What to Pack

1)  Pack Earplugs – Bring a few pairs and use them not only where you’re lodging but also on the plane as the plugs help drown out the sound of engines, crying babies and so on.

2)  BYOP (Bring Your Own Pillow) –  This makes a world of difference to someone I often travel with. Save mega space in your luggage by packing it in a compression bag.

3)  Take an Eye Mask – When I was a flight attendant, this was one of my must-pack items for hotels and when flying to meet up with a flight. I still put a lot of miles on my eye mask as I use it when travelling by plane, train, bus or car.  

4) Get Some Noise – One professional speaker I met told me that he always travels with a white noise machine which helps him sleep soundly as it blocks out sounds from the street, hallway and neighboring rooms. Since these machines can be bulky and pricey, using the fan in your room is an alternative.

At the Hotel
(Check out my post 5 Ways to Get a Quiet Hotel Room.)

5)  Check the Bed – Before settling into your room, test the bed for comfort. I learned this the hard way a few years ago after staying at a resort in Mexico where I only caught a few winks the first night because the bed was akin to a stone slab.

6)  Prep a Blanket – If you happen to wake up feeling chilled, having a blanket already at the foot of the bed means you’ll be able to fall back asleep faster than if you needed to go to the closet or call the front desk for one.

Before Bed

7) Deparch Yourself – Airplanes and hotel rooms can be dry as deserts. Before bed, take a few sips of water so that you don’t wake up in the middle of the night because you’re parched. Have a bottle of water by your bed for that late night swig.

8) Set the Thermostat to What You Have at Home – During layovers with the airline, I often used to forget to do this and would wake up in the middle of the night either in need of cool air or sssssshivering.

9) Relax – Turn off the TV and spend some time doing deep breathing exercises or relaxation techniques which will help you wind down for the night.

10) Nix the Caffeine – Refrain from caffeine such as coffee, tea, pop and even chocolate several hours before you hit the sack as it can disrupt sleep.

Ensuring you’ll be able to sleep well on the road is well worth the time, money and effort. Sweet dreams y’all!

Victoria, Canada – Top Hotel Picks

Just back from Victoria…British Columbia’s scenic capital. I highly recommend a visit to this coastal gem. Having visited Victoria over a dozen times for business and pleasure, I’ve stayed in a wide variety of accommodation. For maximum convenience and enjoyment, I recommend that you overnight it in the Inner Harbour area. As there is such a diverse lodging selection to choose from, let me save you time by providing you with my top hotel picks. Check kayak.com and hotelscombined.com for deals.

1)  Oswego Hotel
Tucked away in a residential neighbourhood, this cozy, contemporary boutique hotel has lovely West Coast-inspired décor, rooms with large windows and kitchens that include stainless steel appliances, slate floors and granite countertops. Be sure to drop by their O Bistro for beautifully presented dishes.

2)  Abigail’s Hotel
Housed in a 1930′s Heritage Tudor Mansion, this elegant small hotel has been recognized over the years for its outstanding service and gourmet breakfasts. Aside from its Old World charm, you’ll enjoy complimentary evening hors d’oeuvres, spa services and free parking.

3)  Empress Hotel  
This majestic Victorian style property showcases its turn-of-the-century grandeur. Condé Nast magazine’s 2010 Reader Choice Awards ranked it number one for hotels on Vancouver Island. Tea at the Empress has been a long-standing tradition (although many will say it’s overpriced) and their relaxing Willow Stream Spa was chosen by Condé Nast as one of the top five spas in Canada.

4)  Magnolia Hotel & Spa
Infused with European elegance, the Magnolia is blossoming into a popular boutique hotel. Frommer’s rated it the best choice for business travellers and noted its reasonable rates. Aveda products, in-room fruit and a complimentary continental breakfast are just a few of the extras on offer.

5)  Hotel Grand Pacific
The modern Hotel Grand Pacific offers rooms with panoramic vistas of the Inner Harbour. Its wide range of services and amenities including a fitness centre with yoga and Pilates classes, pool, steam room, sauna, spa and several dining options.

6)  Victoria Marriott Inner Harbour Hotel
Yet another strong showing in the Marriott chain, this highrise has tastefully decorated rooms, free high speed internet, a pool, whirlpool, fitness room and restaurant, among other amenities. And, it’s developed a solid reputation for friendly service and clean rooms.

7)  Inn at Laurel Point
Although not as conveniently located as the above properties, it has picturesque views of the harbor and elegant Japanese-inspired décor. Its restaurant, Aura, was recommended in 2009 by the restaurant reviewers of two of Victoria’s top newspapers as one of their favorite spots.

8)  Royal Scot Suite Hotel  
What this place lacks in design sense, it makes up for in many other ways. Situated on a quiet street, rooms are clean, spacious and have well-stocked kitchenettes. There is also a laundry room, games room, restaurant, pool, whirlpool, sauna, fitness room and courtesy shuttle. It won a Trip Advisor 2010 Travelers’ Choice Award and Frommer’s chose it as a best bet for families.

9)  Best Western Inner Harbour
Currently ranked #1 on Trip Advisor out of 74 Victoria hotels, this is a basic but decent place. Ya gotta love that they offer free parking, complimentary full breakfasts, a superb location on a quiet street, a fridge, microwave, balcony and outdoor pool…all for a reasonable rate.

5 Ways to Get a Quiet Hotel Room

Tired of sleepless nights on the road? I hear ya. Having stayed in dozens of hotels dotting the globe during personal travels and through my positions as a flight attendant and cruise line crew member, I’ve learned how to score rooms where I’ll likely get a good night’s sleep. Here’s what you need to know:

1)      Research! Research! Research!
Invest some time to look around the net before making a hotel reservation. Get the scoop on where the quiet rooms are at higher-end hotels worldwide by visiting www.tripkick.com. Although the offerings on this site are somewhat limited, the info provided is invaluable. And, be sure to read hotel reviews on www.tripadvisor.com and a much smaller but thorough site called www.oyster.com. Thanks to scanning these kinds of reviews, I’ve saved myself from countless sleepless nights because I was tipped off to accommodation situated near popular bars, trains and the like. You may even want to post a question on a forum asking others about noise issues of the hotel you’re looking at staying at.

2)      Avoid the “Noisies”
Contact the property you plan to stay at and ask if there are any renovations, construction projects, major events or other possible “noisies” taking place in or near the property. While you have them on the phone, inquire about where the quietest areas of the hotel are and make note of them for when you place a reservation.

3)      Ask & You (Likely) Shall Receive
When you make a reservation, be sure to ask for a quiet room – especially one away from elevators, ice machines and stairwells. When I book a hotel room on-line, I add that to the “Comments” section of the form and a few days later, I call to confirm they received my reservation and request. A few days before my arrival, I email to follow up on my reservation and request, and upon check-in I gently remind them. The hotel will generally say they can’t guarantee my request will be granted but the only time it wasn’t was when I booked a high end hotel  in Calgary, Alberta through Priceline. When I’ve booked hotels in Orlando and Vegas (twice) through Expedia, I’ve had my requests honored. Don’t forget to ask if there are newly renovated rooms as they may have better soundproofing.

4)      Do a Scan Before You Unpack
After arriving at your room, don’t unpack just yet. Do a little inspecting for potential noise issues. Look out the window. Are you overlooking a busy street, train tracks or a pub? What hotel facilities are you near? The pool, children’s play area, convention centre, restaurant, lobby or bar?  I checked in late one evening to a hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico and loved the salsa music which greeted us. What I didn’t love was that the band played on for several more hours and my room was right above them.

Don’t Be Shy
If your room is located by a noise pit such as those mentioned in #4, go to the front desk as soon as possible and politely outline your concerns. One multi-generational family of eight that I know stayed in a resort in Puerto Vallarta and the first night was a rough one for them. Their rooms were above the main buffet AND within earshot of the open-air lounge where musicians played until 1 am. The next morning, this family approached the front desk staff, expressed their disappointment and were promptly given much better rooms.

Traveling can be stressful and tiring. And, not sleeping well can negatively impact what could be a fun-filled vacation or successful business trip. Keep these tips in mind the next time you’re headed to a hotel. Check out my post, 10 Ways to Sleep Well on the Road.

Vegas Hotel Recommendations

When you think of an “over the top” destination, Vegas likely makes it the top of the list due, in no small part, to its spectacular hotels. If you’re heading to LV, you have a dizzying array of lodging choices so here are my top picks for hotels.   

Stay Central
When I visited this desert oasis two years ago, I opted for the mammoth MGM Grand Hotel, one of the world’s largest. It was fine and the price was right  as I found a great flight + hotel package through  Expedia.ca. But, because it’s on the south end of the Strip, it meant logging more miles walking than if we’d been more centrally located. Unless you prefer to stay in Old Vegas, stick to the Strip hotels and lay your head on a bed between the Encore at Wynn (north end of the Strip) and the Bellagio (south end).       

Bello Bellagio
After visiting oyster.com (an exceptional hotel reviews site with “undoctored photography”), tripadvisor.com, Conde Naste Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards Travel, Leisure’s World’s Best Hotels and Lonely Planet’s Las Vegas City Guide, I decided on the chic Bellagio. I highly recommend it not only for its central location but also for its dreamy beds, excellent customer service, beautifully decorated rooms, spacious bathrooms, lovely pool area, classy ambience…You’ll love this resort! And the free fountain show taking place several times daily/nightly in the man-made lake bordering the Strip is not to be missed. For the best view, get a central spot on the Las Vegas Boulevard side. Ask for a room overlooking the lake! 

Bellagio Hotel

Other Luxe Picks
Other top luxury picks are the Italian-inspired Venetian and its newer sister property, the Palazzo. Wander the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian – gondolas included!There are also two masterpieces by Steve Wynn, who put Vegas on the map. His Wynn and the recently opened Encore at Wynn hotels receive top marks. The only disadvantage to these “Wynners” is that they’re located at the north end of the Strip but you’re closer to Fremont Street in vintage Vegas and about a 15 minute walk to the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Venetian Hotel

Marvellous Mid-Range Megaresorts
If you’re working with a smaller budget, you’ll still get a lot of bang for your buck at two other behemoths. Choose the Mirage, one of Wynn’s earlier creations, and don’t miss their free volcano show “erupting nightly” out front. Caesar’s Palace has been a long-time hit as well and its Forum Shops is something else. Go see it!       

Caesar's Palace

         Hope you have an “over the top” experience during your visit to Vegas!