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Fuji Instax SP-2 & The Changing Meaning of Capturing Memories

We’ve both loved cameras and taking photos since we were young. Back then though, we took photos, had them developed and kept them because they meant something. They brought to life, in some tangible way, the memory of people, places and things we loved. We kept them and cherished them but they have become as much of a memory of the past as the images themselves.

Past Photos, Presently Forgotten

old black and white photos

The two of us have a different experience with photos and our families. On one side there is an overabundance of photo albums (seriously, it’s a bit ridiculous) and a desire to document, record and treasure the events and people in our lives. On the other there is a more moderate approach with important photos of loved ones decorating the walls and fewer albums at the ready. Both of us have found a strong link to our past through these photos and a disparate situation in the present when it comes to how we capture and preserve our memories and experiences.

Sure we’ve got a whole lot of photos… and we mean A LOT. We’ve got terabytes worth of photos stored actually. Digital storage – the photo albums of the modern world… except, it’s not really a photo album, is it?

We probably see a tiny fraction of these photos ever again and we’re almost desensitized to the feelings of nostalgia they create should we decide to flick through the endless quantities we’ve amassed.

And we know we’re not alone.

Log onto any social media platform, snoop through anyone’s phone or just ask how many people need to store their photos online with a third-party. Photos are plentiful in the digital universe.

All this accessible photography makes it seem as though the way we collect memories and photos today is emotionless and sterile and seemingly lacking a human component. We post on Instagram for likes, we share on Facebook with a simple ‘post and forget’ attitude. We experience the world behind a lens, behind a phone, behind a screen. Wherever you are in the world, whether at home or abroad, we often have experiences that are void of a true connection.

The goal is to snap a photo, but to what end?

Capturing More Than Pictures

Instax SP-2 Printing Time

That’s why when we heard about the Fuji Instax, and had the opportunity to try it out thanks to FujiFilm, we were absolutely ecstatic. After trying it out, and having a ton of fun while we did, we’re upset we didn’t get in on the action when Fuji released their first Instax printer.

Here, finally, is a way to preserve those memories and digital photos in a tangible and enjoyable way. A way to bring that enthusiasm and connection back to the moments in our lives we choose to document, capture and preserve. Here, is a way to bring back what a photo used to represent – a connection to the past, a cherishing of memories and a joy of all things photography.

We’ve already written our review of the Fuji Instax SP-2 Printer but what it comes down to for us is not just how easy the app is to use (and it’s pretty darn user friendly) or how quickly we can print a photo (10 seconds to be exact) but how the printer has given us back something we didn’t acknowledge we had lost – the ability to bring back meaning to the way we capture our memories and a way to keep them visible and tangible in our minds and hearts.

Disclosure: I am participating in the FujiFilm campaign managed by SJ Consulting. I received compensation in exchange for my participation in this campaign. The opinions on this blog are my own.

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the-changing-meaning

Bringing Photos To Life With The Fujifilm Instax SP-2

Why The Fuji Instax SP-2 Has Topped Our Must-Have Gift List

It’s the holiday season and there isn’t a better time to think about creating, and capturing, wonderful memories. It’s what the season is all about. Add to that a strong gift-giving component and you’ll find the Instax SP-2 pretty much screams “the perfect gift” for this time of year. It’s with this printer that people can make tangible, those memories locked away on cameras, phones and memory cards and preserve them in a very real way.

It’s now become a piece of our travel story as well. We’ve created a collage with Instax photos of some of our favourite moments: dancing on the Swarovski stairs of a cruise ship in the Caribbean, meeting up with a friend in Germany after not seeing her for a year, making ‘snowballs’ of sand while on a beach in Thailand in the middle of December. All of these most likely to have lived out their lives on a timeline on social media channels and in a folder on the computer to be brought up when the memory struck or when we accidentally passed it by. Now, we’ve been able to take those important and happy memories, print the moment we’ve captured and be reminded of them often.

Instax SP-2 Printer REview

The printer also brings back something we seem to have lost somewhere amidst this whirlwind of technological advancement – the joy and wonder of photos. Sure a smile blooms on our faces when we sort through the photos on our phone to choose which one to print, it makes us happy to see those images, but when you click print and watch as the photo comes out of the printer and then get to stare in fascination as the picture materializes on the film before you, the level of excitement and joy is taken to new levels. This is what was meant to be experienced when George Eastman strove to make the camera accessible to the masses. It’s the exhilaration of taking an instance in your life that you feel is valuable and preserving it for all time that the Instax SP-2 offers and it’s that exhilaration that is ultimately the gift you are giving.

As George Eastman said:

“Photography is thus brought within reach of every human being who desires to preserve a record of what he sees and enables the fortunate possessor to go back by the light of his own fireside to scenes which would otherwise fade from memory and be lost.”

Instax SHARE SP-2 Printer & Features

We are a bit obsessed with the Instax SHARE SP-2 and haven’t stopped printing photos since we got it, but not only does it bring us joy to use, it is also a pretty fantastic product on the whole.

Instax Share SP-2 Printer REview

The Printer

The printer itself is lightweight, sleek and compact. Not only is it easy to handle and can sit pretty much anywhere you want it to, it’s also extremely easy to pack up and travel with. Between the printer, the film and the charging cord, you’ll hardly be using up any space and it will allow you to print and share photos with whomever you meet, wherever you go.

reprint on INstax SP-2

The reprint button on the printer itself is also great for this, as you can print multiple copies of a photo to share with however many people you need without having to resend a photo to the printer. There’s also an easy to see power light and lights to notify you of battery levels. The style of the printer itself is classy and modern and with two different colours to choose from- gold or silver – you can coordinate with your decor, tech gear or anything you want!

Instax Power and battery lights

The printer uses WiFi connectivity to connect to your phone which is turned on at the same time the printer is. This provides a seamless and easy way to transfer the photos you want directly to the Instax Sp-2 where it will immediately be printed. Quick and easy.

The Film

Back in the day, a camera required you to shoot a whole roll of film. Taking this roll to be developed meant you’d pay for the whole gamut and hope for the best in terms of what you got and how good the shots were. Printing photos on your computer printer usually means full-size paper, glossy if you want a nice look, and a whole lot of ink that really doesn’t ever sit right no matter the paper used.

How to load film for Instax SP-2

With the Instax, you can choose what photo you’ve taken to develop and it prints on film – it’s a wonderful modern way to capture and share a photo, easily and attractively. All you have to do is press a button on the printer to open a door in the back, pop in the film (be careful to only open it for the loading as opening it with unused film still inside will expose them and render them useless) and you’re ready to print. One of our favourite parts of the whole process is choosing a photo, watching the film print and then waiting for the image to fully develop!

The film can also be purchased with a variety of different themes in addition to the familiar white border. For instance, since it’s the holiday season, we’ve got some holiday themed film that really makes our photos fun!

If you’re really up for some spontaneous photo taking, the Fuji Mini 8 will give you all the excitement of snapping and printing a photo in the moment and the surprise of seeing what results!

The App

We knew as soon as we downloaded the app that we would like using the printer – it was easy to download and easy to use which is something we value on any additional app we put on our phones.

The first thing we noticed was that there weren’t (and still haven’t been) any issues connecting the phone to the printer through WiFi. It’s a strong connection that hasn’t failed which is a huge positive for us as we’re used to signals dropping regularly from products and WiFi providers.

Instax Share App

The app is also easy to navigate and very user friendly. On the main screen, you’ll see very clearly all the options you have – select a photo from your gallery, take a new photo, edit settings, etc. It allows you to follow through the process naturally and we’ve yet to find any issues or have any confusion result due to the app.

The capabilities of the app are amazing which brings us to the photo editing possibilities of the SP-2,

Photo Editing Abilities

This is one thing we absolutely love about the printer and the app. Not only are you able to print out already edited photos, you can also do some editing and filtering straight from the app itself and get pretty creative with what you are printing.

The template options are great with different collage layouts to choose from that are easy to edit and select. There’s also some unique features like the Limited template which creates limited edition style prints with title, caption and the number designation (1 of 3, 2 of 3, etc). If you’re looking to create something for a special occasion but don’t have corresponding film for it, you can select a seasonal design for various holidays and events and add a little extra to the photo! There’s one feature we’ve yet to use but are excited to do so – the split image option where you can take one image and create two halves – it looks really neat and there are so many landscape shots that would look fantastic in our collage as two parts!

 screenshot_2016-12-08-14-31-29screenshot_2016-12-08-14-53-24  screenshot_2016-12-08-14-52-17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since much of our photo sharing occurs online on social media platforms, having the ability to pull photos directly from those channels would be fantastic… and it’s possible with the Instax SP-2. You can easily print Facebook or Instagram photos with a corresponding caption, date stamp and even likes! Although sometimes spontaneity and originality is desired and so a real time feature enables you to capture a photo through the app and print immediately with the date, location. weather and temperature details right on the photo – there’ll only ever be one like it and we are already thinking of how many cool destinations we can date stamp our visit with using this feature.

SNS Instax SHARE SP-2

If you’re looking to keep things as they are but would like to filter for colour, you also have the option of choosing between colour, black and white or sepia filters. We usually shoot and share colour photos but there’s something to be said for the emotion a good black and white photo can evoke.

filters on Instax SP-2

Though many people edit photos on their phone or computer and have them already fixed before they sstore it, the SHARE app allows you some editing capabilities whether it’s your first round or just a final tweak.  We found we could easily change brightness, contrast and saturation or just allow the app to do it for us with the Intelligence Filter.

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Image Quality

This is something that really surprised us. We remember back in the day when instant photos had a faded and duller appearance to them. Not the case with the Instax Sp-2. The photos are clear and crisp, the colours are bright and vibrant and with the editing on the app, nevermind on your own, the images are quite stellar.

Image quality of the Instax Sp-2

Within seconds the image can be seen on the film and it doesn’t take long for the full picture to be visible and, if in colour, bright. It’s fantastic quality and really impressive when compared to the images on your phone screen as the resolution of the photos is great.

Battery

The battery is not only rechargeable, it lasts a long time. We mean really long. We’ve printed out a ton of photos already and haven’t yet needed to recharge it.

Instax SP-2 Battery Charging

According to the product specs, we shouldn’t need to do so until we’ve printed roughly 100 photos! That’s quite a lot of power and with lights on the front display to indicate battery levels, it’s got everything you need to keep it primed and ready to print.

Printing & Developing Time

It is amazing how fast the printing takes. Roughly 10 seconds by our count. That’s 10 seconds from the time you send the photo to the printer to the time it finishes printing and it’s also 10 seconds you get to experience that exhilaration and joy we were mentioning before.

Instax SP-2 Printing Time

Once it’s printed you can almost immediately start to see the image developing on the film. It’s not much longer after this that a full image is displayed and within a minute or so, you’ll have a strongly developed, clear photo to save or share.

Travelling & Sharing With The Instax SP-2

Though we’ve been using the printer to bring back to life our old photos, we can definitely see ourselves travelling with it too. It may sound strange as we’re not ones to overpack, but even in our 13 months of straight travel we can think back on times we wish we had this printer with us. Friends we’ve met along the way would have been perfect recipients of these photos and it would have been a wonderful piece of ourselves and our time with them to leave behind. Then too, there are those random encounters and connections made that have not extended to a long-term friendship, like people we’ve met in more secluded areas of the world. Having something tangible to offer them in memory of that moment of friendship forged would have been lovely.

Though it may not be feasible to bring along with us for all trips, we’re certain this printer is going to be a huge part of how we save and share memories and moments at home and abroad. It’s compact, light and rechargeable and it’s an addition to our tech equipment and gear that connects us more deeply with the experiences we have and the memories we cherish.

instax sp-2 printer with photos

The Instax SP-2 is not only a fantastic gift idea for the holidays, it’s a great gift idea anytime of the year and is something we’d recommend as a purchase for anyone looking to do more with their photos than store them away to get “dusty” in whatever online storage they’ve purchased. It’s easy and fun, it’s personal and interactive and it’s a way to get creative with the moments you capture.

Fuji talks about creating “a photo renaissance that reintroduces the joy of photography in all aspects of peoples’ lives”, and with products like the Instax SP-2, we can see that it promises to be a modern movement – one that is part revival of the past and part original creations of the present – to increase the enjoyment of photography. One we’re only happy to be a part of!

Disclosure: I am participating in the FujiFilm campaign managed by SJ Consulting. I received compensation in exchange for my participation in this campaign. The opinions on this blog are my own.

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instax sp-2 printer review pin A perfect holiday gift idea pin

 

A Day At The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Thailand

With bunches of bananas in hand, we walked slowly up the hill through the trees and into a clearing. It was there I encountered my first elephant, up close and personal. There were three of them actually, happily chomping away at the sugar cane that littered the ground around them. The group we came with jumped in without hesitation joining in with the mahouts to feed the three large creatures now turning their attention to the bananas offered. I stopped at the edge of the clearing and watched for a moment. I wanted to take it all in, this incredibly odd and surreal experience. It was somehow nothing like I’d expected and at the same time, more. Perhaps I expected a larger than life, life-altering experience when what I actually got was a calm and peaceful sense of being, in that moment, complete. I had finally found my elephants.

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

elephant jungle sanctuary chiang mai

We spent the night before our trip to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary at Baan Kuhn hostel, also run by Mamma Noi and where we had to go to purchase tickets to the sanctuary. As we had mentioned in our last post on The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, it was through the efforts of Mamma Noi and the Karen Hill Tribe, with whom she is working, that the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was established and we thought it fitting that we stay, at least the one night, at the hostel.

The group of us heading to the elephant sanctuary were all guests of the hostel which meant we left straight from the accommodation with no detours to pick anyone up. With a final goodbye, and a bottle of water for each of us from Mama Noi, we set off in the “minibus”. If you’ve ever ridden in a minibus in Thailand you’ll know that it is really more of a pickup with a few seats in the cab and a covered trailer lined with rows of benches on either side. It can make for a bumpy ride if you are going over unpaved roads…and we were definitely were! Fortunately for us, we somehow got put into the cab and had a little less of a rocky ride – less being the operative word.

The ride was not bad until we hit the mountains. It was here that the road turned to a narrow, rut-covered, dirt road – it would be futile to pave the road, our driver told us, as the monsoon season brings large rains that flood and cause landslides that wash out the roads each year. Lucky for us, the road was dry and our driver was experienced. We made our way to the hill tribe village and were greeted by several people, including Robert, one of the instrumental people in organizing and creating this sanctuary.



Hopping out of the truck, we all grabbed our backpacks as the bunches of bananas and cases of water were distributed among us to carry. The excitement was building. We could feel it vibrating, see it clearly on each others’ faces as we started out, on foot, through the rice fields and forest.

Meeting With Elephants of Thailand

visiting the elephant jungle sanctuary

We chose The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary because we had wanted to visit elephants in a more natural setting, knowing they were not being abused, forced to take riders, chained, or mistreated. We wanted to see the elephants roaming free. And roaming free these elephants certainly were!

After a hike through rice paddy fields and some hilly paths, we found our way to a clearing where we were able to put down our bags and take a moment to don the traditionally mahout garb before heading to find the elephants. That was the beauty of the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The elephants weren’t just brought to you… you had to go find them, in the forest, where they roamed with the mahouts (their keepers) in as natural a setting as was manageable.

We took the bunches of bananas and were led up a hill to a forested area where we were told we would most likely find the elephants. After a short climb up a gentle hill, the trees gave way to a small clearing. It was here that we had our first glimpse of them. Three elephants stood chewing happily on sugarcane under the shade of the tall trees. A bursting energy seemed to erupt from the entire group – a silent excitement that bubbled up in uncontrollable smiles and quickened steps. THIS was why we wanted to visit Thailand. This experience of coming face to face with a creature so magnificent and incredible, of looking into its intelligent eyes with depths we’ll never fully understand, and for one moment sharing a connection.

visiting elephants at the elephant jungle sanctuary

Taking turns, we handed bananas over to the two adult females and one baby elephant, taking time to stroke their trunks and sides. The baby was incredibly playful. Head butting the mahouts and some of the group, reaching its trunk around bodies and attempting to sneak in some extra bananas. He was cheeky and he was happy. Having been born and raised in a sanctuary, he was unaware of any other way of life. Unfortunately, for the two older females, life had been harder for them until they were taken in by the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.

mahout at elephant jungle sanctuary

One of the men of the village explained to us the circumstances in which the older two were found. He went through the techniques used to break them, to train them and to keep them in line. It was devastating but also heartwarming to know that they would no longer be subjected to this treatment again, especially as the younger of the two females was pregnant.

It didn’t take long for the elephants to demolish the banana offering we brought and decide that it was time to leave. Since this was about them, no effort was made to stop them. Instead, they were followed by the mahouts and we made our way back down to where we had left our bags to enjoy some lunch.

lunch at the elephant jungle sanctuary

Food in Thailand is amazing and is one of our favourite cuisines. The food that they cooked and served for lunch could compete for one of the best meals we’ve had while in Thailand, and even abroad. Freshly prepared chicken, veggies and noodle dishes, rice and fresh fruits were laid out for the entire group to enjoy. It was a wonderful time to reflect on our first meeting with the elephants as well and to get to know the rest of the group.

After lunch we were told we could change into clothes we didn’t mind getting dirty or wet. For the majority of us, that meant bathing suits. This time, the elephants were led to us for what appeared to be one of their favourite activities of the day – a mud bath.

With everyone joining in, we helped the elephants play in the mud. And when we say play, we mean play. They rolled around, they threw it on their backs, they threw it at each other… and they threw it at us! If it wasn’t enjoyment, we don’t know what it was!

elephant mud bath at elephant jungle sanctuary

Following the incredibly fun (and messy) mud spa, we headed to the nearby stream to meet back up with the elephants and help them bathe. This was another incredible up-close experience. Standing close to them and cleaning off the mud, we had yet another chance to really appreciate these animals. Large and powerful, yet gentle and timid. We knew a lot of their calm had to do with their upbringing and treatment, but seeing the playfulness of the baby and looking into all their eyes again, we could tell it’s also a part of their basic nature.

After the elephants were finished bathing and we’d all had a swim of our own in the stream, we headed back to dry off. The rest of the group would be returning to the hostel, while we had booked an overnight stay with the hill tribe. Knowing we’d be seeing the elephants again, we happily went on our way to learn more about the people who opened their lands to us and the elephants.

A Night With The Karen Hill Tribe

As we had mentioned in our last post, it is through the help and efforts of the Karen Hill Tribe Village and Mamma Noi that the sanctuary was created. Bringing in tourists to visit the elephants for the day became only one part of the experience. Staying within the village for a night, or two, was another part and we decided to stay a night to better understand the program and the people of the village.

staying at the elephant jungle sanctuary with the karen hill tribe

After the rest of the group left, we were brought back to the main part of the village by Robert who, as mentioned, was one of the integral members of the sanctuary’s creation and a cornerstone of the program itself. We sat for a while, chatting with him about the village and its history, the sanctuary and its origins and the hopes his people have for the future.

We learned of the struggles to keep the land. The struggles to acclimate to a changing cultural landscape where development and advancement occurs around them and without them. The government, he said, provided them with a handful of solar power panels… years ago. Most of them are now no longer working so they are stuck with even more limited power options and little by way of means to improve their way of life.

It’s become a controversial topic. We discussed it and he acknowledged it. Greater society would prefer to keep these more isolated and primitive cultures untouched, “untainted” by the hands of tourism and technology. But Robert told us, that’s not what he and his family want. The people of his village believe they deserve a chance to advance as well. Why shouldn’t they be able to better themselves and their situation, he asked us. We couldn’t argue his point.

With this in mind, and the connection to Mamma Noi with her desire to help elephants, the sanctuary and the stay in his village was born. Hoping to provide more for the village and the elephants of the country, it was established and open up to tourists. Hopefully, we were told, the worries of poor rice harvests and the necessity to partake in backbreaking work simply to produce and collect food, would lessen.
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary CHiang Mai Hill Tribe Village

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with Robert and members of his family. We took a tour of the area, helped feed the livestock, prepared a meal on an open fire and made our way to our room in one of Robert’s siblings’ houses who was visiting in-laws in a another village. We spent the day and evening without electricity, cut off from the world and, in the process, deepened our understanding of a culture struggling to retain their identity while at the same time, attempting to advance and integrate with the rest of society.

baby elephant at the elephant jungle sanctuary chiang mai

The next day brought a new group of visitors to the sanctuary and we were able to participate as we had the day before. We woke up for breakfast with Robert and headed to meet the new arrivals. Walking behind them, we watched their faces as they approached the elephants for the first time and saw the same awe-filled expressions we knew were wore the previous day. To our surprise, the awe of seeing the elephants up close was still as strong for us.

This time though, we got to take in the experience with an eye to all that they were looking to achieve at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and this time, when we looked into the eyes of the elephants, we also saw a glimmer of recognition.

An Unforgettable Experience At The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

If you are looking to visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, tickets for 1-, 2- and 3-day visits can be purchased at Baan Kuhn Hostel in Chiang Mai – 119/10 Thapae Rd, Chang Klan, Chiang Mai, 50100 tel: 053-273415. More information for visits or volunteering can be found on their site at www.elephantjunglesanctuary.com.

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Famous PEOPLE Players Theatre – Where to go in Toronto to Find Happiness

Happiness. At times elusive, at times all-encompassing. It’s what we all chase and yet it’s what many of us can’t seem to find. In Toronto however, there is one place where happiness isn’t just found… it’s the norm.

Famous People Players Front Entrance

Finding a Treasure – One of the Most Unique Things To Do in Toronto

We didn’t know what to expect when we pulled into the commercial lot in an area outside downtown Toronto. The nondescript multi-unit building is not what typically comes to mind when the term “dinner-theatre” is used but we threw aside our first impressions and parked the car. What we didn’t know in those moments from the time we turned into the lot until we opened the front doors, was that hidden within the unprepossessing exterior, was a pearl of a treasure.

As we stepped through the doors and took our place in line to enter the dining area, we were greeted with a friendly ‘hello’ and directions to the washrooms, should we need. Already we were smiling in reaction to the warmth of the greeting. Those smiles seemed to reappear frequently throughout the entire evening. As the line continued to move, we took a look around the entrance. What we saw spoke of an amazing history and a profound impact on the community.

From the ceiling hung large stars adorned with the photos and names of former and current employees, and a description of all that Famous PEOPLE Players Theatre meant to them, in their own words. Along the wall, photos of performers and performances throughout the years were displayed along with pictures of famous personalities who have attended one of their shows around the world at one time or another.

It was, in fact, Liberace who discovered this spectacular show, bringing it to Vegas as his opening act for years where it captured the hearts of stars and audiences alike. Touring the world, collecting experiences and fans, the show settled back in Toronto and delivers the same kind of sensational performances for which it was first recognized.

What we hadn’t fully realized was the profound impact it has, and has had, on the performers and staff as well as the community as a whole. That is, until we were seated for dinner and had the privilege of talking to the staff themselves.

Famous People Players Dining Room

It’s More Than Dinner & A Show… It’s Where Special Happens

The slogan of Famous PEOPLE Players Theatre, “Where Special Happens”, hints at something deeper than just a spectacular show of dazzling talent and entertaining puppetry. It breaks down, into three words, what is at the very core of the company, its history and its purpose.

Diane Dupuy, the founder of Famous PEOPLE Players, began working with individuals with learning disabilities over 40 years ago when she started the theatre. She herself had struggled in school failing to find an outlet for her creativity and suffering from difficulties with attention that, at that time, were not regularly identified or aided in the school system. Identifying a need to remove limits and offer hope she developed a much sought after production that impressed audiences and saw them heading to Broadway, Las Vegas, and many countries around the world. At the same time, she provided a creative outlet and a unique form of expression for herself and those involved.

The staff and performers are still largely comprised of people with learning disabilities who have found a home with Famous PEOPLE Players and whose stories are a testament to the amazing impact and work of Diane as well as an inspiration to all who hear them.

Diane Dupuy Famous People Players Theatre Toronto

While we ate our dinner, we were fortunate to have been able to start up conversations with many of the waiters and staff who were busily working around us. Each one had a unique story. Each one changed because of Famous PEOPLE Players. Each one brightening as they spoke, eyes shining with happiness.

There was Nastasha, the girl who refreshed our water. In fact, we don’t remember when our water was ever empty over the entire course of our meal and each time our glasses were refilled, a smile was on her face. We were told when she first came to the theatre she was so shy she didn’t want to let go of her mother, her chin tightly hugging her chest in an attempt to avoid eye contact. It didn’t take long before she found her place and became the talkative, smiling girl we met.

Then there was Michael, one of the kitchen staff, who we spoke to as he passed. He’d worked at other places, he said, but none of them understood him or what he needed, When we asked him what it was that he needed he said simply, “patience”. That is what he has found at Famous PEOPLE Players and he said that he is now happy every day he comes to work.

Perhaps one of the most memorable of the staff was Benny. With Famous PEOPLE Players almost from the start, he leaves an impression on all who have the chance to meet him. It was his story that really stuck with us. Joining the theatre at age 16, Benny still had yet to speak. Not one single word. Though he was uncommunicative verbally he was still able to participate as a performer. Unfortunately, he struggled on stage, missing cues during practice and twice during performances. Diane reminded him that three mistakes on stage meant he would be reassigned to a job off-stage. After making that third mistake, knowing that he would be removed from the show and his mother would be present for a performance that day, Benny looked at Diane and spoke his first words…ever: “I have to perform because my mother will be watching!”

Stories like these abound and showed us that the experience was more than just a dinner and a show… it really is where special happens.

famous people players toronto black light show

A Truly Entertaining Black Light Show

It is true that the history and purpose of Famous PEOPLE Players is extraordinary. It made us especially happy to be present for the evening. But beyond its inspirational story is an internationally-renowned, simply entertaining performance using puppets and black lighting, music and humour. The magic produced on stage is often spell-binding. Performers are not seen but instead, illuminated objects are brought to life by the cast dressed from head-to-toe in black. Then there are the puppets. Some of the show includes songs performed by, often life-sized, puppet-versions of the original artists. The movements so life-like that you often forget you’re watching an imitation of the real thing.

As the puppets and bright shapes and objects floated and danced across the stage, our smile that had carried on from the beginning of the evening grew wider, our laughter a common occurrence. At the end of the show, when they turned up the lights and provided the audience with a behind the scenes glimpse as to how the puppets are brought to life by the cast, our appreciation for the talent and hard work only grew. It is a show unlike anything we’ve seen before.

famous people players dinner

Where To Go In Toronto For An Unexpected Fine Dining Experience

The evening started with a meal in the dining room before we were lead to the theatre to watch the performance. It was during this meal that we were able to speak to so many of the staff whose stories touched us deeply. It was also here that we enjoyed one of the best fine dining meals we’ve had in Toronto.

Our culinary experience started with a fresh salad and some entertainment by a phenomenal jazz quartet. While they are not present every evening, we were lucky to have them there to enhance our dining experience. When the main came out we were pleasantly surprised. Though we knew celebrity Chef Christopher Woods created the menu, we weren’t expecting the exceedingly high level of fine dining fare. Between us we had a perfectly cooked steak and a deliciously seasoned salmon, served on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes with a side of veggies.

dessert at famous people players theatre

With happily sated appetites, and equally full hearts after speaking to so many happy staff, we moved onto the theatre before returning for dessert. The dessert was a special treat by Chef Dufflet and for those who are familiar with Toronto’s food scene, the name Dufflet Pastries will ring a salivating bell. We were treated to a mini cake each for dessert – one black and white mousse mini and one lemon raspberry mascarpone mini – and without leaving a single crumb, we finished both while being serenaded by an Elvis impersonator.

Though the mealtime entertainments change, we can’t imagine the quality of the culinary experience doing so as well!

A Night In Toronto That Leaves You… Happy

From the minute we walked into Famous PEOPLE Players theatre in Toronto, when we were greeted by that first smile and the rotating stars hanging overhead, to the exquisite meal we enjoyed over conversation about the incredible impact the theatre has had on its members. From the one-of-a-kind performance of lights and music, to the 5 star dessert we gobbled up. The night started with a smile that held throughout and it ended with us realizing that, for several hours, in a theatre just outside of Toronto, we felt simply and purely, happy.

 

Heading to, or in, the Toronto area? Find out more information about Famous PEOPLE Players, their showtimes and their not-for-profit work by visiting FamousPeoplePlayers.com or calling 416-532-1137 / 1-888-453-3385.

 

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Romance & Wine: Riverbend Inn in Niagara-On-The-Lake

From our first visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake, in Ontario, Canada, we understood why people claim this region as one of the best for a romantic getaway. The area offers incredible scenery of seemingly endless stretches of vineyards and natural beauty with wineries offering tours, views and festivals and hotels with luxury, character and history. Add to that a close proximity to the many attractions of Niagara Falls and you’ve got a pretty fantastic destination overall.

The Niagara Region wine festivals are a huge draw for us and we often find ourselves heading that way when we can. We love what the festivals mean: a series of wineries providing wine tastings, and often food and wine pairings, on given dates with passes that allow you to hop from winery to winery (with a designated driver of course) tasting the very best the area has to offer. It’s an amazing time, with some incredible flavours, and becomes a romantic outing for us each and every time as we explore the wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara on the whole.

Driveway to Riverbend Inn & Vineyard Romantic Getaway in Ontario

What we’ve had difficulty doing however, is pinpointing which of the many accommodations would be perfect to turn our outing to a romantic getaway. That is until we discovered Riverbend Inn & Vineyard, one of the best hotels in Niagara-on-the-Lake for just that purpose, and combined it with one of the wine festivals of the region.

Riverbend Inn: The Perfect Setting For Romance & Wine

Riverbend Inn & Vineyard Niagara-On-The-Lake

Though it was winter, there was no decrease in the beauty of the Niagara wine country. We drove through frozen countryside, sunlight sparkling off the snow and ice that clung to the branches reaching up from the vineyards on either side of us. Our final turn had us following one of the most scenic roads, the Niagara River Parkway, with views of the Niagara River and more beautiful landscape. When we reached the sign for the Riverbend Inn & Vineyard we were greeted with a view of a Georgian mansion surrounded by acres of lawn, garden and vineyards.

Riverbend Inn & Vineyard Niagara-on-The-Lake

This was definitely a place to enjoy a weekend together, with privacy for acres surrounding the property, stunning views over the vineyard and a stay in an intimate historic hotel. In fact, the history of Riverbend Inn & Vineyard can be traced back to 1809 and has changed from farmhouse and farmland to schoolhouse to art gallery and, eventually, to the 21 room Georgian-style inn that it is today. With so much history, charm and character, it is no wonder we felt so enchanted with the place.

We found the location perfect for making our way to the wineries that often participate in the festivals and is only a short drive from Niagara Falls, a romance destination of the world. Even in winter, with the falls frozen over and the coloured lights creating a rainbow over the solid white mass of previously free-flowing water, Niagara Falls remains an awe-inspiring sight. We passed by to take a look and headed to a nearby restaurant with window seating that faced the Falls to enjoy a candlelight dinner before returning to the hotel for the night.

Find out more information about Riverbend Inn & Vineyard and their prices!

The Property: A Unique & Scenic Experience

view from Riverbend Inn over the vineyard

Though we realized the property was special when we first arrived, it only became more interesting as we explored. The stunning views were found from all directions and the history of the hotel was reflected from the front lobby to the original front entrance of the mansion. Photos, artwork and pieces of furniture and decor paid homage to its origins, while new additions and friendly service added to its luxury.

Riverbend Inn is also home to a restaurant serving meals in the elegant dining room. There is an antique bar where some of the vineyards own wine is served and offers a patio to enjoy both food and drink during the warmer months. Regardless of when you go though, we’re pretty sure that view never gets old.

gazebo for weddings at the Riverbend Inn Niagara-On-The-Lake

We noticed the gazebo and were told that weddings take place outside and that it is one of the only hotels in the Niagara region that has views of the vineyards for an extra special ceremonial backdrop. Though that’s not quite the romantic escape we had in mind when we went, we could definitely see it as being a perfect venue for a wedding in the Niagara region and having a bridal suite doesn’t hurt either!

The Room: Comfort & Luxury In A Historic Setting

Room at RIverbend Inn NIagara-on-the-Lake

It wouldn’t be one of the historic hotels in Niagara-on-the-Lake if the rooms didn’t live up to the promise of the exterior. Twenty-one uniquely decorated rooms provide a cozy and comfortable experience with some added luxuries. We absolutely loved the fireplace, especially in the winter, and snuggled up to enjoy the warmth as it permeated the spacious room.

fireplace in the room at RIverbend Inn Niagara-on-the-lake

When we weren’t out hopping from winery to winery for the festival, we spent a large amount of time in the comfort of the room. The flat screen TV offered entertainment, the in-room refreshments kept us going and we found ourselves lulled into a relaxed state over the course of the weekend.

Added to that was the incredible view from the balcony that overlooked the vineyard. It was a pleasure to wake up every morning, slide open the curtains and have such a stunning view waiting… especially after a solid sleep on a bed that was so comfortable it was difficult to pull ourselves from in the mornings.

Planning a Romantic Getaway in Niagara-On-The-Lake

While a wine festival may not be everyone’s cup of tea, a food and wine festival can be an altogether different matter. Food and wine paired right is a spectacular culinary experience and if you aren’t one for wine or alcohol, buying a designated driver pass enables you to enjoy the amazing food created by some of Niagara regions top restaurants and chefs with water instead of wine. Moving from winery to winery allows you to enjoy the scenery of the area and should you crave something more substantial, many wineries have world class restaurants for a romantic meal together.

If a wine, or food and wine, festival is still not something that interests you, the region boasts so many views, restaurants, and activities and with a short drive to Niagara Falls, you can partake in some popular tourism before heading back to Niagara-on-the-Lake for peaceful nights.

Though where we call home is a short 45 minute drive from Niagara-on-the-Lake, for us staying in the region and making an overnight or weekend vacation out of the visit is something we enjoy. It’s one of our favourite destinations for a weekend trip and now that we know there is accommodation like Riverbend Inn that adds to the romance and experience while being located right in the heart of it all, we’ll be planning many more of them in the near future!

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reverbend inn & vineyard Niagara-on-the-Lake

 

Loews Hotel Vogue – Where To ‘Strike A Pose’ In Montreal

It’s only about six hours by car, five and a half by train or one hour by plane. Though it’s a relatively short distance away from Toronto, and still within Canada, the culture and experience is quite different. While you’ll see all signs are bilingual in Toronto, when you cross that border between Ontario and Quebec, and then head into Montreal, the signs become more French, less English, and the streets look more like a small European city. The history, culture and language are different and after several conversations with locals, you’ll be left with the feeling that you’ve entered another country altogether. It’s a place we love to visit, perhaps for that very reason, yet we struggled for a long time to find the best place to stay in Montreal that would offer a great location with the comfort and luxury we look for while travelling. That is, until we found Loews Hotel Vogue.





We had driven through a late December snowstorm in order to spend a few days in Montreal. We wanted to see the city dressed in holiday spirit, attend a production of the Nutcracker Ballet by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, in which one of Carolann’s best friends would be dancing, and enjoy finding some more of the foodie treasures that are hidden among the many great restaurants in the city.

Though we had stayed at other, less-than-impressive hotels in the past and looked at many accommodation options in Montreal for this more recent trip, none really stood out as much as Loews Hotel Vogue Montreal. Though we hadn’t stayed at a Loews Hotel before, we knew of their reputation for incredible service and luxury. Their only location in Canada, in Montreal, was beckoning us to see if they could really live up to the hype. And with ‘Vogue’ in the name, we were expecting less of the kind sung in a Madonna song and more in the way of a high level of style and service. We were not disappointed!

Loews Hotel Vogue: Luxury in Downtown Montreal

Loews luxury hotels in Montreal

It wasn’t difficult to find and when we got there, the location of the hotel left us with a great first impression. Loews Hotel Vogue is located in an active area of shops and restaurants close to the city centre and in close proximity to the metro station.

It was a short walk, even in the bitter winter cold, to get to any number of restaurants and we found ourselves ducking into an amazing Vietnamese restaurant. We also enjoyed walking the streets as they came to life at night with people passing by and the lights lit against the dark night sky. With access to much of what the city has to offer, the hotel is a prime place to stay when visiting Montreal and the onsite parking is a huge plus though not necessary with the metro station being so close. Valet parking made it even easier to check-in and for us, it was a great way to escape the cold on our way from the car to the front lobby.

Luxury & Comfort From the Moment You Step Inside

Loews Hotel Vogue Room

Entering the lobby, the modern, art deco interior greeted us as we approached the front desk to check-in and we were struck by how the style lent itself to the boutique feel of the hotel. The restaurant in the hotel, La Societe Bistro, promised a relaxing atmosphere and quality food as we passed to head to the elevators and took a glance, and a sniff, from the restaurant’s lobby entrance.

Opening the door to our room only reaffirmed our initial impression that we may have just come across one of the best boutique hotels in Montreal and one of the comfortable, luxury hotels in the city. The room was incredibly spacious with a front entrance and a hallway, complete with a vanity and a large closet, that lead to the bedroom. A large bed drew our immediate attention with its accent pillows and, following the decor of the rest of the hotel, art deco artwork above.

loews hotel vogue best boutique hotels in Montreal

A couch at the end of the bed separated the space and made a comfortable seating area from which to watch the large screen TV situated atop the large desk. With multiple power outlets and ports, it was definitely created with the guest in mind providing for the electronic needs of frequent travellers, business travellers and tourists alike.

Loews hotel coffee station

Between the complimentary 24 hour coffee bar in the lobby and the a tea and coffee station on the desk in our room, we had more than what we required for refreshments. The coffee station also made the space a great area for us to relax in, and we definitely took full advantage of the amenities offered!

Pure Bliss Is A Bubble Bath

loews hotel vogue bathroom

There’s something rather divine about having a large bathtub with bubbles and jets to relax in. But there’s something extra special when that is offered in a gorgeous bathroom with a television for your entertainment. The marble tiles, the large stand-up shower with a rain-shower head and an abundance of toiletries available throughout the washroom was impressive. The bathtub experience was pure luxury. Between the bedroom with the beckoning bed promising comfort and a good night’s sleep, the seating area providing entertainment and relaxation and the bathroom offering pure bliss, we’re not too sure which part of the room was our favourite!

Want to check out Loews Hotel Vogue? See more details about the hotel & their rates.

Best Place to Stay in Montreal? It’s In The Details.

Loews Hotel Bose ipod dock

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, what really makes a hotel stand out to us is the attention to detail and it was this attention to detail that made Loews Hotel Vogue the best place to stay in Montreal. In the hotel you’ll find all you need for an amazing stay in Downtown Montreal. In fact, while access to the rest of the city is a piece of cake from its location, the services and amenities available in-house may have you thinking twice about leaving at all.

Why go out when you have a 24 hour fitness centre, the Lobby Bar to grab a cocktail by the hotel’s own mixologist, a coffee bar for a hot beverage at any time of the day or night, hotel wide, incredible fast Wi-Fi, in-room spa services, a fabulous restaurant and lounge in the lobby and room service for those who choose to keep on those plush bathrobes, as well as a whole list of services for those with kids, teens or pets!

toiletries loews hotel vogue montreal

These extensive services and amenities in addition to small touches in the rooms themselves like a radio-alarm-clock-docking-station, a large variety of toiletries available in the washroom, the TV above the bathtub as an added touch, the convenient coffee station in the room itself and the ultra-comfortable pillows and mattresses all add up to a memorable stay beyond the luxury and comfort of the rest of the hotel.

If you’re looking for the best place to stay in Montreal, whether you are driving in or relying on in-city transportation, there really is no better place to look for comfort and luxury, with a boutique feel, than Loews Hotel Vogue.

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Brody Apartments: The Best Hotel in Budapest Near the Danube

The flight was long, though not the longest we’ve had to endure. Still, between the first 8 hour flight, the layover and the last flight to land in Budapest, we were spent and our jet lag was starting to kick in.

Despite it all, it didn’t dim our excitement. We were anxious to explore Budapest and see the city so many others have raved to us about. Our excitement was only increased by the unique accommodations we knew were waiting for us. Weeks before, we had scoured the hundreds of options of where to stay in Budapest online and were frankly surprised at the huge number of options in the city where you can stay comfortably for a great price like the some of the most amazing hostels in Budapest.

We knew we wanted to choose a hotel near the Danube, as we were to board a boat docked along the river for a Viking River Cruise the following day. We also knew we wanted something different. Something beyond the typical chain hotels that kept popping up.

What we found was not only an incredibly unique accommodation in Budapest, it was also something we had not yet seen during our travels. And so, as we rolled our uncharacteristically large suitcases down the uneven sidewalks of Budapest, we felt a spark of excitement, despite being sleep-deprived, in anticipation of reaching our destination for the evening – Brody Apartments.

Brody Apartments – Boutique Style, Complete Comfort

brody apartments where to stay in budapest

Like much of the building fronts in Budapest, the inconspicuous outside of Brody Apartments opened to an incredible narrow building of fully furnished, serviced apartments. As the door to our apartment opened we realized just how deceptive the building was – the narrow structure and short hallways may have suggested a small building, but the size of the apartment proved that to be completely wrong. The two-bedroom apartment we were staying in was massive.

Entering the hallway, we had a glimpse of clean and modern decor before we got our thorough tour of the place. Two bedrooms and two baths, we first took a look at the “guest”, or second bedroom, near the front door before continuing down the hall to the kitchen area. Fully-functioning, the kitchen included a fridge, stove-top, oven, microwave and kettle. Dishes and cookware were provided which made it a completely usable and livable space.

brody apartment budapest Hotel in Budapest Near The Danube

The hallway opened up to the living room. Here was a place to relax and enjoy ourselves after a day of sightseeing in Budapest and walking around some of the many Christmas Markets in the city. The area was bright, modern and spacious with large, comfortable couches in front of a flat-screen TV and to the other end sat a large dining room table.  On the far wall there were tall windows to let in enough natural light to brighten the room during the day and in one corner stood a wood stove, if some added warmth or ambiance was needed.

bedroom in brody apartment budapest

As we brought our suitcases to the master bedroom, we were once again struck not only by the spacious rooms, but also the intriguing artwork that flowed throughout. The white of walls and linens in the room were contrasted beautifully with the dark of the furniture and accented by the colourful paintings that adorned the walls.  The en-suite bathroom was impressive, with a giant tub and multiple shower heads. As in the kitchen, every need was thought of, from toiletries and soaps to a hairdryer and plenty of towels.

As we mentioned, one of the things we absolutely loved was how complete the “full-service” part of the apartments really was. In addition to pretty much any necessity one would need to utilize the kitchen to the fullest, there was even a washer and dryer as well as an iron and ironing board. Then, the artwork too was a part of the full-service experience as some of the many pieces that decorated the large apartment were available for purchase.

To find more information about Brody Apartments, as well as current rates, click here

A Unique Hotel in Budapest Near The Danube

Brody Apartment Hotel in Budapest Near The Danube

While the style and attention to detail was definitely a draw for us to stay at Brody Apartments, the location too was a large part of our decision in where to stay in Budapest. With an upcoming Viking River Cruise we wanted to find the best hotel in Budapest near the Danube so that our trip to board would be as easy as possible. We looked at many different options throughout the city, on both the Buda and Pest side of the river, but when we came across Brody Apartment and saw all it had to offer, we knew we found something unique and special: exactly what we look for when booking our stays. We combined the benefits of the accommodation itself with the amazing location and decided there really wasn’t a better place to stay in Budapest.

And boy were we glad we did! Not only were we able to access the hotel easily from the metro system (and from the airport by taking the metro system), we were able to walk to the port and board our Viking boat in a short amount of time while taking in the city around us. In fact, we liked it so much we’ve already recommended as a great hotel near the Danube for others who are planning a river cruise departing from Budapest. Why not enjoy some luxury and comfort before making your way to do more of the same while cruising down the Danube?

Brody: Where Art Meets Budapest

brody house budapest

What we found at Brody Apartments was much more than serviced accommodation. We found an entire community based around hospitality and art. What started out as a private arts club in a neoclassical townhouse in Budapest, has turned into much more.  The initial meeting space of the arts club was transformed into a boutique hotel as well, called Brody House, allowing members a place to stay after attending arts events and gatherings. Brody House now boasts 11 uniquely designed and decorated rooms, each named and styled after one of the original artists of the club.

brody house boutique hotel budapest

With unique pieces of furniture, refurbished or created from unexpected items, and walls decorated with paintings, photos or unusual items, each room provides guests with a sensory-rich, technology-absent experience. The artwork is the entertainment.  We were fortunate to be able to enjoy breakfast at Brody House one morning and were pleasantly surprised at the spread laid out before us. Granola and yogurt, fruits and breads, cheese, meats, and cereals were part of the breakfast buffet, while hot dishes could be ordered off the available menu.
Brody House Boutique Hotel Budapest

While Brody House is ideal for shorter stays, Brody Apartments is perfect for longer ones, as is Brody Villa, a newly opened restored nineteenth-century villa that can accommodate larger groups of people or for hosting events. Though we’ve not had the opportunity to visit, we’d love to do so and see how the combination of history & art, present in both Brody House and Apartments, is brought together in this heritage listed building. With three accommodations, as well as Brody House Studios which serves as a venue for many of the clubs events, the brand is growing rapidly while leaving a strong impression on both the arts and hospitality communities in Budapest.

What started as a stay in a unique hotel in Budapest near the Danube quickly turned into a foray into the arts scene of the city. When deciding where to stay in Budapest, we know our decision will always include the name ‘Brody’.

 

Villa Caemilla: A Boutique Beachfront Hotel in Boracay

We walk at length through the mayhem that is Boracay beach on our way through station 2 and into station 3, moving through the crowds and activity while surrounded by noise and music. As we get deeper into station 3 however, the crowds start to dwindle. The music becomes a distant beat of bass and the sound of the waves softly rolling against the shore becomes distinguishable. We stop to take in the quiet and look up to the night sky before turning and making our way into our accommodations for the night. Yes, on this chaotic strip of beach we found our peaceful paradise, a beachfront hotel in Boracay,  from which to indulge in the best of both worlds: the excitement of the island and the tranquility promised by the sun, surf and sand.

Excitement & Tranquility Combine At the Best Beachfront Hotel in Boracay

boracay beach view

With an entire 4km long strip of beachfront property, on the longest white beach in Asia, you’re going to find quite the selection when looking for a beachfront hotel in Boracay. Nope, finding a hotel by the beach isn’t the tricky part of looking for accommodation on the island. Finding one of the best hotels in Boracay might be however, as you weigh the options between a louder area on the beach or a more secluded hotel off the strip.

During the day, the beach is quiet but active with kitesurfing, sunbathers and those out for a stroll along the strip of beach, or higher by the many restaurants that line it. Touts are persistent in their offers of goods and services and unless you are on the beach by the water, chances are you encounter someone with almost every step you take. By night, the beach turns into a frenzy of music and dancing, fire shows and entertainment. While foot traffic flows regularly during the day, it becomes a thick crowd at night.

boat on boracay beach in front of villa caemilla

Depending on what you travelled to Boracay for, and what your expectations are, the relentless onslaught can either be a welcome distraction, or an unpleasant overload. We found an incredible compromise when we stayed at Villa Caemilla Beach Boutique Hotel (Click here for the latest prices and more information about Villa Caemilla.. Villa Caemilla offers the best of both worlds on the island: a beachfront hotel on Boracay beach with easy access to activity that comes alive at night while also providing a tranquil escape from the chaos with its quiet location and peaceful surroundings.

Search for hotel options in Boracay below!

A Great Space to Relax or Dine by the Beach

Front desk at the Villa Caemilla - beachfront hotel boracay

When we first arrived at the hotel we were warmly welcomed and as we were being checked in, we were brought welcome shell necklaces and cold scented towels to refresh ourselves after our walk in the sun along the beach to get there. We were also given welcome drink tickets which could be used anytime that day. This was something that immediately caught our attention as most places bring you the drink directly, often before you are ready or while you are still trying to check in and get comfortable. By giving us the tickets, we were able to check-in, put our things away and change before coming back to the bar, grabbing our drink and sitting down to relax and enjoy it… and we did exactly that.

After using our tickets for fruit shakes, we settled at one of the tables where we could look out onto the beach. The restaurant and bar area being so easily accessible and open to the front offered an amazing area to sit, eat, and relax. We chose a few appetizers from their menu and soon found out they not only have an amazing location, but great service and delicious food.

beachfront hotel in Boracay loungers

Just beyond the front of the hotel is the section of beach where they put out beach loungers for their guests from 6am to 6pm to sit in the sun, or the shade under the palm tree, and still receive bar and food service. It didn’t take us long to realize that’s exactly where we wanted to go next!

The Hotel Room at The Villa Caemilla

bed at villa caemilla boutique beach hotel

The hotel itself is stylish but comfortable and this flows from the front lobby and dining area all the way to the rooms that line the back of the property. As we stepped into the room it was pretty clear why they were the winning newcomer boutique hotel in the 2015 World Hotel Awards as well as the winner of the 2015 World Luxury Hotel Awards for best luxury new hotel. The room was spacious and inviting with colours that made you feel like you were in a tropical getaway. Two towel swans greeted us on the bed accompanied by toiletry bags. We would later find out that the large bed was also incredibly comfortable and offered an amazing night’s sleep.

The washroom was clean and luxurious, with luxury fixtures, a rain shower and large, fuzzy bathrobes, which we were quick to use. The attention to detail was noticeable especially when it came to the toiletries. Not only were there a good range of products, the quality was impressive.

What a Great Beachfront Hotel in Boracay is All About: Location, Location, Location

beachfront hotel in Boracay villa caemilla loungers

As we said, Villa Caemilla offers the best of both worlds as a beachfront hotel in Boracay: the raucous nightlife and the quiet beauty of the island. Of the hotels in Station 3, it is situated in a quieter part of the strip where the loud bass of neighbouring hotels and restaurants doesn’t seem to quite reach the hotel but are also only a short walk away. In fact, walking only a few minutes will have you in the middle of utter chaos and excitement.

At night, this is where we would go. We’d walk from our hotel in station 3 all the way to the end of station 1. Sometimes, we’d stop at a coffee shop and sip our drinks while listening to some live music. Other times we’d walk closer to the shore, taking in the activity from a distance, sinking our toes in the sand and watching the water as it rolled onto the shore. The best part however, was that when we tired of the noise and crowds, we knew we had a quiet place to return to. If we came back early enough, we could even enjoy some live music in the comfort of our own hotel lobby.

sandcastles in Boracay beach

During the day, we parked ourselves on a lounger out front and enjoyed all that Boracay beach has to offer for those that want a vacation in the sun. We ordered our food and drinks to our seat in the sand and ate while watching the palm trees sway in the breeze.

Yes, the location of Villa Caemilla and the quiet luxury of the hotel and its rooms make it a perfect beachfront hotel in Boracay. It was a place where we could enjoy all the beach has to offer in luxury and comfort.

Click here for the latest prices and more information about Villa Caemilla.

Villa Caemilla Beach Boutique Hotel Logo

Villa Caemilla Beach Boutique Hotel

Station 3, Angol,

Barangay Manoc-Manoc, Boracay Island

Philippines, 5608

 

Looking for a different kind of vacation on Boracay? Mandala Spa & Resort Villas offers an alternate island getaway a short distance from the beach!

 

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The Henry Hotel Manila

The black wrought-iron gates of the nondescript entrance opened to reveal the long driveway and lush green interior of the grounds. Our Uber car slowly made it’s way past dark-paneled colonial style buildings with white-trimmed windows towards the main building of the property. As we exited and grabbed our luggage, the trickling of the fountain and the serene, secluded grounds had us relaxing before we even stepped foot into the unexpectedly modern interior and walked up to the reception desk. We were met with three smiling faces donning quirky thick black rimmed glasses and black bow ties over crisp white linen shirts. In just a matter of minutes it became clear to us that The Henry Hotel Manila wasn’t going to be just another typical hotel experience.

A Boutique Hotel “Like No Other” – The Henry Hotel Manila

henry hotel manila sign at front

When we visited Cebu in the Philippines, we had the chance to experience a truly unique boutique hotel – The Henry Hotel Cebu. After such a memorable time, we were excited to see their Manila location which we knew was quite different, yet incredibly interesting in its own way. What ended up surprising us the most was how easy it was to forget where you were when you were staying there. Hidden away from the busy streets and surrounded by trees, we found the hotel to be a place to relax and an escape from the chaos of Manila.

The Rooms: Historical Flare & Local Flavour

the bed at the henry hotel in manila

Our room was in the main building of the complex and offered a colonial historical feel with some local flavour added in through the decor. This ever-present connection to culture and history is one of the most fascinating aspects of The Henry Manila.  Each room at features furniture made by local, and resident, creator Eric Paras and each piece of his is available for purchase. The rooms themselves retain as much of the original design and materials as possible, with restored wood flooring and armoires that were trademarks of the bourgeoisie of the colonial period in the Philippines.

standard room at the henry hotel manila

One of the staff mentioned how significant the large, hardwood antique armoires are to Filippino culture “it’s a piece of our history”, he said, “only the wealthy and politically powerful could afford these so it is a piece of luxury and history”. He said that the style and materials used back then are no longer employed so those pieces that remain are generally passed on through generations.

refreshments in the room at the henry hotel manila

In addition to maintaining as much of the original aesthetics, the incorporation of current local artists and products also brings in that quirky and original flare we came to recognize at the Hotel Henry Cebu. We quickly spotted the unique tissue boxes and garbage bins and were told that they were made by a local NGO – Kamay Krafts – which employ battered and widowed wives to make handmade products using materials native to the Philippines. The local links within the room seem to be endless and almost everything in the room has a story. From the artwork to the furniture, to the snack basket of local treats and coffee, there’s a connection to culture or a link to history and we absolutely loved being immersed in it.

Interested in staying at The Henry Hotel Manila? Just click here for hotel details and information.

Apt 1B – A Boutique Dining Experience

quesadilla at apt 1b at the henry hotel manila

We were pretty hungry when we first arrived at The Henry Hotel Manila and so, after checking in, we made our way back downstairs and through the “hidden” door between the front reception and the hotel’s restaurant – Apt 1B – in search for something to satisfy our now growing appetite. The interior of the restaurant was in keeping with the rest of the property – boutique and trendy in style and decor.

Sitting down in the intimate dining room, we were quickly presented with the menu of gourmet food options. We decided on a soup and salad despite the choices of pastas and breakfast, burgers and sandwiches that sounded equally appetizing and tempting!

We were served quickly and attentively and really enjoyed our meal thoroughly. As we ate, we watched the rest of the customers’ orders flow around us as delicious meal after delicious meal was brought out.

breakfast at the henry hotel manila

The following morning we were excited to head down for breakfast and we definitely weren’t disappointed. Buffet servings of coffee and tea, juice and fruits were available as we ordered our main breakfast: one order of eggs, toast, sausage and homefries and one order of pancakes.

Again, the food was delicious and filling and after several cups of coffee, we were ready to start the day!

The Grounds – A Retreat Outside Busy Manila

the pool at the henry hotel manila

If you’ve been to Manila, you know what a chaotic, hectic place it can be. The cars and the honking, the people and the poverty, the intensity of the city may be tempered by the incredible people you meet and the wonderful Filipino culture, but it is still present in large doses. For us, The Henry Hotel Manila provides the perfect combination of city location and secluded retreat grounds.

front gate to the henry hotel manila

In fact, it does such a great job of being a private refuge from the craziness of the city beyond that it’s easy to forget you are still in the core of Manila until you step outside those wrought-iron gates and reemerge onto the fast-paced, intense city streets.

The property is surrounded by wrought-iron gates and walls, bordered by green foliage and trees, and peppered with interesting features like the art gallery, furniture store, fountain, pool and of course, the main buildings which hold the rooms and suites of the hotel.

pool area at the henry hotel manila

The pool area is peaceful and serene, the trickling water of the nearby fountain still distinguishable and the surrounding trees providing privacy and shade. We took some time to relax by the water, soak in some sun and enjoy the peace and tranquility.

The property is a great place to walk through, along stone paths, past the colonial buildings housing guests and the swimming pool, through the compound and to the other end where the art gallery and houses holding furniture displays are located.

Below: Compare The Henry to other hotels in the area and save!


 

The Furniture Showroom – Local Talent and Design

 

As mentioned, all of the furniture in each of the rooms is made by a local artist and available for purchase. Eric Paras, the resident artist and furniture maker also displays his work in three houses – collectively A-11 –  at one end of the property. As with the furniture in the rooms, the furniture on display in the houses, as well as the artwork and accessories by various other artists and designers, are also for sale making these houses part showroom, part gallery, and part store and entirely unique in concept.

eric paras furniture manila

Each room is designed with various pieces designed by Eric Paras and brought together with added touches like framed work by artist Wataru Sakuma. We were amazed at the talent and variety of pieces by Paras and completely in awe over the artwork by Sakuma like the incredible intricate 3D maps that are created out of paper.

furniture showroom henry hotel manila

From first floor to top floor, from the first house to the third house, the furniture and artwork combine for a wonderful aesthetic appeal and a great showcase of the talent of these artists.

 

Our stay at the Henry Hotel Manila was a wonderful and tranquil escape from the chaos of the city and one memorable experience. From boutique accommodations to tasty cuisine to local artwork, The Henry Hotel showcases the best of history and culture of the Philippines.

Click here to check out prices and more information on The Henry Hotel Manila.

the-henry-like-no-other logo

The Henry Hotel Manila

2680 FB Harrison St.

Pasay City, Philippines, 1300

Tel: +63 32 807-8888

Email: reservations.manila@thehenryhotel.com

 

Best Couples Spa & Resort in the Philippines – Mandala Spa & Resort Villas

As the doors opened, the smell of incense, the sound of gentle music and the sight of colourful flower petals elegantly strewn were the first to reach our senses. Stepping into the villa was like entering a tropical paradise with the beautiful canopy bed with artfully placed petals atop the white linens, the warm wood decor and the trail of flowers leading into the modern and spacious bathroom. This hideaway off the streets of Boracay was a welcome oasis away from the busy, tourist filled beaches and was surrounded by trees and tranquility and saturated in luxury and relaxation. We had found a luxury oasis and one of the best couples spa and resorts in the Philippines.

Finding A Luxury Oasis at the Best Couples Spa & Resort in Boracay

mandala spa and resort villas couples spa

Boracay is a beautiful island in the Philippines with many hotels, resorts, spas and activities. It is also a popular tourist destination and as such, the main strip of the beach can get pretty crowded and, in some areas, fairly noisy. Our first night on the island had us staying right on the beach in Station 3 (the strip of the beach is divided into three stations though the borders between each are arbitrary rather than actual physical divisions). Unfortunately, our hotel was right beside a late night bar pumping out high-level bass music into the wee hours of the night, leaving us worried about the rest of our time on Boracay. Though we didn’t know it, we’d have very little to worry about.

After the first night, we made our way off the beach and headed to what would be our accommodation for the next several nights – the award winning Mandala Spa and Resort Villas and what we came to see as the best couples spa and resort in Boracay, Philippines. Situated a short walk away from the beach, nestled away from the streets of Boracay, we found the main entrance to the resort and started down a path covered by an archway of foliage. Pulling our wheeled carry-on sized backpacks down the path, we stopped as the dark green, leafy cover opened up to reveal the resort.

The lush vegetation gave the feel of a secluded tropical paradise as we navigated the path past the spa, to the reception area. Welcomed with warm smiles and an offering of ginger tea and water, we sat and relaxed out of the sun while the check-in process began. We quickly found ourselves being led to our villa along the winding path, with the greenery surrounding us and the occasional butterfly fluttering past.

A Luxury Villa Off The Beach in Boracay

best couples spa and resort philippines mandala spa and resort villas

Tucked off the side of the path, we took in the greenery of the Mandala Spa and Villas and walked up to our own, private getaway. As the doors opened and we took our first look inside, we knew we had found a special resort in the Philippines. The soft sounds of music drifting from the private iPod docking station was the first thing we noticed. Calm and peaceful, it beckoned us further into the villa where we were struck by the gentle smell of incense burning. Olfactory and auditory senses now stimulated, we surveyed our surroundings: warm wood floors and furniture, white flowing curtains on large floor-to-ceiling windows, and accents of red and purple combined to create a room that seemed to radiate luxury and tranquility.

mandala spa and resort villas flowers

The flowers and petals were amazing touches as well and as we followed the trail from the door of the bathroom, across stone tiles, we found ourselves in another haven of comfort. A large tub with petals already floating in the water, plush bathrobes and towels, and an outdoor private rain shower were just some of the amazing features in this spacious en-suite.

couples spa and resort philippines villa bathroom

We were quite surprised with what we found in the room – a kettle with all the fixings for tea and coffee, a private modem for WiFi, a great basket of toiletries, and a large TV that managed to only add to the luxury of the room without taking away from the tropical paradise vibe that had infiltrated our minds from the moment we stepped into what was shaping up to be one of the best resort in Boracay, Philippines.

mandala spa and resort villas philippines

We quickly got ourselves settled, making coffee and tea with our in-room amenities, and headed to the patio outside to enjoy the beautiful weather and the peaceful privacy of our own oasis.

A Focus on Feeding The Body, Mind & Soul

the garden cafe mandala spa and resort villas philippines

The Garden Cafe, an outdoor restaurant pretty much central to all the villas, was a perfect place to enjoy the beautiful weather and the tropical seclusion of this luxury spa resort while grabbing a meal. With the Mandala Spa and Villas’ focus on health and wellness, it was no surprise that the food offered had a variety of healthy choices and ingredients.

breakfast at mandala spa and resort villas best couples spa philippines

On our first morning, we woke up in a haze of contentment, tucked in our comfortable bed with the canopy curtains let down around us. After taking our time to get ready, we headed to the Garden Cafe to grab some food. Sitting at a table overlooking the resort, the birds entertained us with their morning calls as we browsed the menu and made our selections. This was to be the pattern set for the rest of our mornings at the Mandala as we went through their all-day breakfast menu, one dish at a time, trying things like their incredible oatmeal and quinoa pancakes, fresh muesli with homemade organic yogurt and fresh fruit, and perfectly cooked eggs Benedict.

mandala spa and resort villas food

After our first breakfast, we knew we needed to try more of the menu and returned for many meals. We were particularly fond of their roasted pumpkin soup, the surprisingly delicious quinoa burger and their Moroccan chicken wrap, though everything we tried had our taste buds and stomachs feeling satisfied.

the vessel mandala spa and resort villas best couples spa and resort

We had quickly realized that the Mandala Spa and Resort Villas was one of the best couples spa and resorts in the Philippines but what took it to the next level for us was its focus on nourishing the body, mind and soul. The food provided us with healthy, nutritional and amazing tasting food (many ingredients grown in their own greenhouse garden) and their fitness centre, The Vessel, offered classes in the morning and afternoon, like yoga, jazz dance and pole dancing. Add the spa to the mix and it isn’t difficult to see how we could feel completely content and relaxed for our entire stay – our mind, body and soul having been pampered completely.

Enjoying an Award Winning Spa in Boracay

award winning spa philippines mandala spa

Staying at the Mandala meant we were also staying at a luxury spa resort that has won awards for their spa treatments and is easily one of the best couples spas in the Philippines.  Recently winning the Leading Spa Resort in the Philippines for 2015, we knew we couldn’t leave without indulging in their spa services. It didn’t take us long into our first treatment to understand why they were award winners and to decide a second treatment was an absolute must.

We booked a Romantic Mandala Spa Journey for one of our last days at the resort and after months without any successful efforts to ease our tense, travel-weary muscles we were excited for not only the romantic experience but the hopefully healing benefits of the treatment!

mandala best couples spa philippines

Our Romantic Spa Journey was divided into three different treatments starting with a “Royal Footbath” which was the perfect way to begin to completely relax. After the footbath and some tea, we were taken to massage tables, side-by-side. Here we were given their full-body “Asian Signature Massage”. Sinking into pure bliss as our knots and tense muscles were kneaded and released, we let all sense of time or stress melt away. The final treatment was their “Cleopatra Milk Bath” where we both luxuriated in the warm, petal-filled water enjoying fruit shakes and chocolates as the last of our stress evaporated and any remaining muscle tension faded.

After the first treatment we booked our second for the following day, this time going with one of their award winning spa treatment: Mandala Spa’s Hilot Trilogy. We were intrigued to experience an ancient Filipino therapeutic form of massage and traditional healing.

mandala spa experience romantic journey

We first experienced Hihilaan, where banana leaves covered in coconut oil were dragged along our backs in order to determine areas of imbalance. Next, a traditional form of vacuum cupping, Bentosa, followed by a Hilot massage of deep strokes. Finally, there was the foot massage, Dagdagay, where two bamboo sticks are used to massage the soles of the feet. We found each one incredibly interesting to experience, although Macrae got a bit ticklish with the Dagdagay technique!

Again, complete relaxation took over us both and we were left in a state of loose muscles and calm moods. What we noticed most about both spa experiences was the attention to detail. From the flower arrangement underneath our massage tables so we’d have something to look at, other than the floor, if we opened our eyes, to the soft linens and choice of oils, there was great thought and care put into every aspect of the treatments.

Escaping the Chaos & Enjoying Some Tranquility

mandala spa and resort villas boracay

While we always enjoy staying on the beach, finding some tranquility and peace away from busy areas (like many strips along the beach in Boracay) is a respite we also look for often. With free towel rentals from Mandala Spa and Resort Villas and a path that leads out to a shortcut to the beach, the sand and water was only a short walk away and allowed us to enjoy the quiet and relaxing vibe of the spa resort, while still getting as much beach time in as we wanted.

Between the villa, the food, the spa and the overall focus on relaxation and wellness, we knew we had found one of the best couples spa and resort destinations in the Philippines and by the end of our stay, we were dragging our feet, wishing the experience didn’t have to end.

 

 

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mandala spa and resort villas philippines