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Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria Resort Review: Everything You Need To Know

The first thing you’ll notice about Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria is that it is actually located on Cayo las Brujas, an island close to Cayo Santa Maria. While it is a different island it still has the same stunning coastline for which Cayo Santa Maria is best known and the Dhawa is located on an interesting part of that coast – managing to be at times both rugged and sandy – with blue water and long stretches of beach.

We recently stayed at this all-inclusive resort for a week thanks to tripcentral.ca and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. If you’re looking to go yourself, we’ve put together an overview of the resort along with some highlights and suggestions of things you won’t want to miss while you’re there!

Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria Resort Overview

As one of the newer resorts in the area (as of June 2017) it offers a more modern atmosphere for those travelling to Cuba and a more intimate all-inclusive experience. We found the resort to be incredibly well-maintained with fantastic service and friendly staff.

dhawa cayo santa maria lobby

Though the property is smaller in size than some of the resorts that we’ve seen, you’ve got some options for spending your day in the resort including 2 large connected pools and one smaller, wading pool, tennis courts, a fitness centre, a spa and, of course, the beach.

At night, you can find your way to one of three a la carte restaurants, enjoy the nightly entertainment, head to the disco, listen to live music by the lobby bar or grab a snack at the 24-hour snack bar overlooking the pool.

The Standard Room at Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria

The standard room comes with either one king bed or two queen beds in a bright, island-vibe space that has either a garden, pool or ocean view. We found the necessary amenities like a safe, mini-fridge, iron and ironing board, hairdryer and toiletries and appreciated that the water and beverages were replaced daily in the fridge.

Since we’re not ones to stay in our room and are always out and about, a room with a view is nice but not always a priority for us. If it is for you, we’d recommend getting a premium package that includes a oceanview or request pool view as garden view will probably not be what you’re looking for.

Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria Deluxe Room

Other than that, the room is clean and spacious, welcoming and comfortable and we didn’t find any of the accommodation buildings to be too far out of the way from the major features of the resort.

If you did want to upgrade further, you can always choose a junior or one-bedroom suite which will upgrade you to VIP status and offers a whole array of additional amenities and resort extras.

The Beach

We had mentioned that the beach manages to be both sandy and rugged and this is something we loved about the area of the shore that the Dhawa is located. When first walking onto the beach, a rocky outcrop greets you from the end of the resort’s beach, it’s natural and pretty and a great contrast to the white sand, blue skies and water. It really is only a small section off to the side as the beach extends from it and is a long stretch of soft sand with lots of beach loungers and shaded cabanas to use.

dhawa cayo santa maria resort beach

On the beach is also a bar and restaurant which means you really don’t have to leave until they close! We found that it was a great spot to watch the sunrise, soak in some rays on a lounger, cool down and relax in the water and just enjoy the fact that you’re on a beautiful island. They also have non-motorized sports available for free to resort guests such as catamaran rides which makes for new experiences each day.

The Food & Service

Cuban resorts have long been criticized for their food but we’ve been fortunate to have stayed at resorts in Cuba that have pretty decent food and we’ve yet to have any complaints. The Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria is no exception. Their breakfast buffet was our absolute favourite. While it had a decent variety in general, it was their crepe station (pancake station) that had us up in time each day to make sure we didn’t miss out. Freshly made to order, with a variety of fruit toppings and sauces, they were an incredibly delicious and sumptuous way to spend each morning while on vacation.

The lunch and dinner buffet was also good with changing items daily but we found some favourites and tended to gravitate to them. One of those was the fresh fish section for dinner where the cooked prawns sauteed with garlic were spectacular.

dhawa french restaurant

The a la carte restaurants were also a pretty good change from the regular and offered us a bit of a romantic setting. We tried both the French restaurant (Maison Gourmet) and the seafood restaurant (Fuego del Mar) and though we liked them both, our favourite was the French restaurant. Each guest is able to book each of the 3 a la carte restaurants for one evening.

There was one place in particular that we could often be found: The 24 hour snack bar. Since it was open all the time, we found ourselves there for lunch, for snacks, for late-night second dinners and everything in between. It was definitely a great place to go if you’re hungry no matter what time of day.

Overall, the service was great. The staff was incredibly friendly and attentive and we found ourselves becoming regulars at a particular bar, section of the buffet and the snack bar. The staff at each one made a point to know what we liked and to make us feel welcome at all times.

The Entertainment & Other Amenities

We had fun on the resort and some of that had to do with the entertainment team. Always around during the day starting activities by the pool or beach and performing every night, they were fun and engaging.

The nightly entertainment was performed on stage in the resort theatre (with the exception of one night) and was different each night of the week. The performances varied from musical performances to dancing to shows involving audience participation and were lively ways to spend some time in the evening.

Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria Entertainment

After the shows, the disco started offering a club/lounge-like atmosphere that continued into the late hours of the evening.

If you’re not relaxed after watching a show or participating in one of the games or activities, there’s always the spa area where you can get a massage under a cabana overlooking the water. Though you may want to save that massage until after you give it a go on their tennis courts or burn off some energy in their fitness centre – both areas are great if you’re looking to add a bit of fitness to your vacation.

Our Tips For The Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria:

There are a few things we think you should know if you are planning a trip to Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria resort. For starters, you are not going to want to miss checking out the catamaran rides as they are a complimentary service of the resort and is a great experience  (do remember that tips are very much appreciated by those that will be taking you out on the water). If you enjoy the entertainment portion of all-inclusive resorts, the evening with the entertainment by the pool was by far one of our favourites and truly impressive and may just be something you’ll want to be sure to see.

We said that we were often at the snack bar and that means that we tried the entire menu. What we kept coming back for though were the chicken fingers. They were so good and the interesting mixture of bbq sauce, mustard and ketchup (we’re actually not sure what the sauce that comes with them is made of) was surprisingly delicious on them though you can ask for them without sauce if you’d prefer. If you’re not sure what to eat, or you’re hungry late, we’d definitely recommend heading over to the 24-hour snack bar by the pool for some!

 

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An Ontario Getaway At Long Point Eco Adventures

We’re always looking for great new places to visit in Ontario, especially ones that promise unique experiences, opportunities to challenge ourselves, and pretty much anything to do with good food. So, we were especially excited when Attractions Ontario told us  about Long Point Eco Adventures, a place that offers all three of these in one destination and that makes for a fantastic getaway in Ontario.

Long Point Eco Adventures is located in Norfolk County, an easy 2 hour drive from Toronto and is a destination all in itself, even though the surrounding area is also quite a beautiful and interesting place to discover with Turkey Point Provincial Park, Long Point National Wildlife Area, a whole bunch of waterfront activities and small town charm along Lake Erie.

Whether you choose to spend some time sightseeing or not, you’ll find that pretty much everything you need, from accommodation to recreation, can be found at Long Point Eco Adventure. Our time there was spent enjoying nature while camping in style, overcoming fears while participating in exhilarating activities and dining on some delicious food after sipping on great wine from the vineyard right across the street.

Here’s a little look at what there is to do at, and why we love, Long Point Eco Adventures:

Luxury Glamping

You’ll find three types of accommodation at Long Point Eco Adventures and while one is rustic, the other two take camping from roughing it to living in luxury.

Long Point Eco Adventures Cabins

For those who prefer a more comfortable camping experience, the wilderness pods are a great alternative that will have you feeling like you’re still camping in the wilderness but without any hint of ‘roughing it’. These pods have a comfortable queen bed, a mini-fridge, couch and table with chairs. It also has a deck with chairs, a washroom with a flush toilet and running hot and cold water, though you will be using shared shower facilities. Since there are electrical outlets and wifi as well, you’ll have everything you need to disconnect and relax or connect if needed. You’ll also find a hot complimentary buffet breakfast in the morning.

long point eco adventure wilderness pod

If you want to step up the luxury factor even more, there are wilderness suites that will help you do just that. Spacious long tented structures, queen or king-size beds, all the amenities of the wilderness pods with the addition of a ceilingless shower allowing you the incredible experience of showering under the stars. It’s an incredible glamping experience and perfect for a weekend getaway or longer.

Of course, if you’re more into an authentic wilderness vibe, you can try one of their camping pods which are cabins with twin or queen beds, none of the interior amenities of the other options and shared outhouses and showers.

Eco Adventures & Outdoor Recreation

From the ground to the sky, it’s an incredibly fascinating destination that offers so much to do. You can tailor your visit to whatever you enjoy doing as much, or as little as you want, tapping into their eco adventures and outdoor recreational activities.

long point eco adventure ziplining ontario

For us, the huge draw was the ziplining and canopy tour which had us zipping through tree tops, catching great views of Long Point Bay and Turkey Point and completing a 40 ft rappel. It’s an exciting experience that can be done during the day or at night with 8 ziplines and 2 suspension bridges. We found it an amazing first ziplining experience and those on the tour with us said it was a great ziplining course even for experienced zipliners.

It was also an opportunity to challenge ourselves as Carolann managed to face her fears and push her boundaries. She fell in love after the first zipline and had a smile on her face until the very end.

We also got a chance to join in on axe throwing in the evening which had us learning some new axe throwing techniques by an expert and teaming up to compete in one epic axe throwing competition (we can’t help but brag, et, mention that our team won both games). It really offered the best axe throwing instruction we’ve had and was a ton of fun.

long point eco adventure axe throwing ontario

For those spending more than one evening at Long Point Eco Adventure, you’ll probably want to get involved in some more of the activities they offer. Between their zodiac boat tours, kayaking, fishing tours and mountain biking, you’ll be hard pressed to find a dull moment during the day. Later at night you can take a peek at the sky in the observatory where you’ll get a full astronomy experience and then sit by the campfire, with the bright stars above, before heading to bed.

Culinary Exploration & Excellence

If you like the idea of glamping and want to pair it with more laidback and low-key activities, or add some culinary pursuits to your already adventurous itinerary, Long Point Eco Adventure has got you covered. In fact, there’s a lot to do outside of the high-energy recreational activities they provide.

After our thrilling canopy tour and ziplining, we wound down by heading across the street to Burning Kiln Winery for a tour and tasting. Staying true to the area’s history in the tobacco industry, the Burning Kiln has incorporated architectural elements like the tobacco barn and even uses tobacco kilns as part of an innovative winemaking process.

We found it an incredibly interesting tour with some truly unique elements and discovered some great Ontario wines in the process.

The Burning Kiln Winery Norfolk County

For dinner, we headed to the restaurant on site. The Burning Kiln Restaurant welcomes David’s Restaurant on Tour for lunch and dinner from May to September and has some spectacular dishes to choose from. We had cauliflower bites to start and chose the beef tenderloin and the burger of the week as our mains and thoroughly enjoyed each one. It was a great way to end the tour of the winery and a fantastic meal to remember

The Burning Kiln Winery Restaurant

If you’re looking for more culinary adventures, Long Point Eco Adventures offers an apiary tour where you can don a beekeeping suit and learn all about the hives, honey bees and beekeeping. You’ll also get a chance to taste what the bees are all fussing over – the honey!

Taking a day to explore the forest and learn how to find and pick wild, edible mushrooms is another option. The guided tour will have you collecting mushrooms along the way which will later be used to prepare a meal for you and paired with wines from the Burning Kiln Winery.

 

Whether you’re looking to relax in style in your accommodation the whole time and venture only for food and wine or are interested in a full-adventure experience, Long Point Eco Adventure has something for everyone and makes it one of the best destinations in Ontario for a getaway.

 

A huge thanks to Attractions Ontario for making our stay at the Long Point Eco Adventure possible. If you’re looking for other amazing things to do in Ontario, head over to the Attractions Ontario website!

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4 Cayo Santa Maria Resorts You Should Know About

Cuba holds a special place in our hearts. Not only is it the scene of our very first vacation together, it is also one of our favourite countries to visit with incredibly friendly people, beautiful culture and amazing beaches. Though we mostly enjoy delving into the local scene when we travel, we also love to vacation and that means taking a break from it all, sitting back and letting someone else take care of everything.

So when we needed some time to relax and reenergize, we figured an all-inclusive resort would be perfect and decided to head back to the scene of our first vacation as a couple. To do that, we popped over to tripcentral.ca and looked up resorts in Cayo Santa Maria, the island in Cuba where our travels as a couple began!

All-Inclusive Resorts For A Vacation in Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba

What we found were a lot more options than were available years ago. With all of these choices we decided to not only stay in one resort for the week, but also visit several others while we were there. This gave us the opportunity to see what was else available for those looking for a getaway, romantic or not, on an island with some of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever seen.

Here are four great options for an all-inclusive vacation in Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba.

Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria

We stayed at the Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria Resort for the whole week. It was relatively new when we visited and we thought that its modern design and decor was an intriguing contrast to the tropical setting typical of an all-inclusive resort in Cuba.

The Dhawa is actually on Cayo Las Brujas, a neighbouring island to Cayo Santa Maria, but the drive is similar in distance from the airport and you really won’t notice the difference if you’re venturing off the resort for any of the excursions or attractions. In fact, you’ll find yourself closer to the Marina Gaviota Las Brujas where you can go scuba diving, fishing or sailing.

The resort itself is family-friendly with everything from a kids club for the little ones, to a disco at night for the party-goers. We found the food to be above average for what is commonly found at resorts in Cuba and even discovered some favourites at the buffet and the 24 hour snack bar that had us returning for more! With three a la carte restaurants, there’s also decent variety of food to choose from.

Dhawa Cayo Santa Maria Cuba Resort

We loved the pool area as it had two pools, semi-attached, and a separate wading pool nearby. There’s also daily and nightly entertainment and activities with an incredibly talented, friendly and enthusiastic entertainment team.

Our favourite part of the resort was, as is for any resort in Cuba, the beach. This stretch of beach may be a bit unexpected as it has a beautiful rugged natural rocky area to start before it extends to a long strip of sandy coastline. With a bar, food service and tons of loungers either in the sun or in the shade, it makes for a great place to enjoy the sun, sand and water.

It’s a great resort, with a more intimate vibe, that is perfect for a family, a group of friends, a couple or just an individual looking for a more relaxed vacation in the sun.

Melia Las Dunas

The Melia Las Dunas was the resort we stayed at on our first visit to Cayo Santa Maria together and we found it as fantastic during this visit as it was the last time. It’s by far our choice for a romantic getaway for couples in Cuba even though it is not an adults-only resort.

What you will find is two areas of the resort – each one with its own pool and buildings with rooms, but one side geared towards families and kids and the other for adults. While the sides can mix and mingle, there are activities for the kids available only at the family pool (and also the separate kid pool) and most of the guests that are adult-only will find they are given a room at the other side of the resort.

Melia Las Dunas Cayo Santa Maria Cuba Resort

The Melia Las Dunas also has some great dining options. In addition to the buffet, there is a pizzeria serving food at lunch and while it was one of our favourite places to eat, their 8 a la carte restaurants are also great choices for dinner.

There are quite a number of bar and snack options, entertainment throughout the day and evening and impeccable staff and service. Of course, nothing beats a resort that not only has a stunning beach but also an ice cream parlor. One of our favourite things to do when we were planning to spend some time in the sun and sand was to grab an ice cream on our way!

It’s a beautiful resort with a tropical atmosphere and is perfect for a little romance, even if you bring the kids!

Warwick Cayo Santa Maria

The Warwick Cayo Santa Maria is one of the hotels on the island that we were able to visit with a day pass. Since we did not get to stay as guests, our opinions are from what we saw during our time exploring the resort. For us, this resort was simply stunning. Being only two years old, it is similar to the Dhawa in that it felt like a modern tropical paradise.

While the gorgeous, giant pool was definitely something to enjoy (and we did), we really liked the beach with the multiple access points and varied terrain. When we first stepped foot on the one end of the beach we were greeted with a rocky outcrop before it gave way to pure sand.  To us, the contrast between the natural, more rugged looking shore and the pristine, sandy stretch of beach was simply beautiful. Having a bar at each of the main beach access points is also a great touch!

Warwick Cayo Santa Maria Cuba Resort

The hotel rooms we saw were also modern with great decor and added touches.  The one thing we didn’t get to try much of was the food. During the low season, the main buffet was closed for renovations and we were only able to try the mini buffet which was decent but obviously not indicative of the regular food options or any of their a la carte restaurants.

With many bars, a lush tropical property to explore and tons of waterfront space, whether at the pool or on the beach, and lots of activities to choose from, the Warwick is definitely a resort that adds some 5-star Cuban luxury for the whole family!

Valentin Perla Blanca

Multiple pools, beautiful landscaping, different activities and entertainment throughout the day and into the night and, something we’ve yet to experience in our travels, adults only access. The Valentin Perla Blanca was a whole different resort from the ones we visited. As with the Warwick this was only a day pass, so we only got to explore some of what the resort had to offer.

As is with many of the larger resorts on the island, low season means that some of the areas are closed off. For us, that meant we focused our time on the pool that was open and the beach. There are some great vibes at this resort, with the music and the relaxed atmosphere, and we enjoyed slipping into the 24 hour restaurant to test out some of their food (the chicken fingers were definitely our favourite).

Valentin Perla Blanca Resort Cayo Santa Maria Cuba

What stood out the most to us about this resort was the option to upgrade to the Privilege Club. By doing this you would get an exclusive concierge which means quicker check-in and check-out, a special lobster dinner, 20 min massage, discounts on additional spa treatments, premium brand liquors, a special buffet area as well as more benefits and extras in the a la carte restaurants. It also means access to the “Privilege Lounge” which has AC, those premium liquors we mentioned and a relatively quiet space to get away and relax.

We really loved that part of the Valentin resort and knew as we were walking around that it would be a great way to experience a stay there. It’s definitely a great place to get away from it all, pamper yourself and leave the kids at home!

A huge thanks to tripcentral.ca for making these experiences possible. If you’re looking for vacation packages or looking to book a trip, check them out! As with everything, reviews and opinions are our own.

 

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Top Features Of The 2017 Chevy Volt For Road Trips

For us, a car means more than a means of daily transportation. It’s also often one of our preferred methods of travel, whether it’s a road trip to get to a particular destination or whether the road trip itself is the point of our travels. We’ve taken long as well as spontaneous drives (like the long weekend road trip to New Brunswick) and through all of them we’ve learned some pretty important tips for taking a road trip. What always ends up being the most important factor is the car we’re driving so whenever we’re looking for a new car, there are some key features we tend to focus on that guarantee the vehicle will suit our everyday needs and beyond. Lately, we’ve been intrigued by a variety of different options for vehicles from fuel-efficient hybrids to RVs as we always have a diverse set of needs when we own or rent a car.

Finding The Right Features In A Road Trip Car

We had heard quite a few things about the 2017 Chevy Volt that made us think it’d be a solid car all around as well as being an environmentally friendly option that had the potential for saving on fuel costs. So, we headed to Hogan Chevrolet to get a closer look at the 2017 Chevy Volt for ourselves.

Since we wanted to see what kind of car it was and whether it was versatile for both everyday driving and road trips, we were looking at it for certain key features that would serve our purposes.

Chevy Volt Interior

5 Key Features in The Chevy Volt

What we found is that the Chevy Volt has quite a few of the features we look for in a car, especially one we’d want to use for frequent road trips. Though small, sleek and part electric, this car surprised us with how much it offers and the following are 5 key features of the 2017 Chevy Volt that were particularly important and relevant to us.

Road Trip Beats: Entertainment System

Chevy Volt Dahsboard

We love having a car with a console that’s packing a punch when it comes to entertainment and with that comes the sound system and phone-charging capabilities. The 2017 Chevy Volt is pretty loaded when it comes to what it offers in those departments – Sirius Satellite Radio, An OnStar Built in WiFi Hotspot option, a myChevy Mobile App which allows you to control the car from anywhere you’ve got a signal, and compatibility with Androids or iphones that allows you to use the touchscreen display to access your phone to play music, make phone calls, use Maps and see messages. The built-in speakers are also great and there’s an option to upgrade to Bose speakers to make it that much better.

While this makes working and staying connected easy while driving the car, especially on longer road trips, the wireless charging capabilities and 2 USB ports also allow us to make sure all our gear is charged and ready to be used wherever we are and however long we are on the road.

Spacious Interior For All Our Gear

Chevy Volt Trunk Space

We can usually travel light but when we driving is our method of transportation, we want to be able to bring whatever we want – all our gear, a cooler for food and drinks and any extras we typically can’t travel with when we’re flying or using other means of travel.

The 2017 Chevy Volt is pretty spacious and would definitely accommodate what we would want to bring with us. The rear seats even fold down to allow for extra storage space.

Accommodation Mode

Chevy Volt Test Drive & Review

A term we’ve coined ourselves, accommodation mode is what we call it when we’ve converted our car into a bed… which we seem to do a lot. Whether it’s a front seat nap while we’re getting where we’re going or a full on sleep in the back with the seats folded down, we like to drive cars that offer us flexibility in how we design our travels and give us the opportunity for spontaneity in where we go and how we get there.

As we already mentioned, the interior is spacious and the rear seats fold all the way down which makes for perfect accommodation mode. The only problem with this is that there’s not that much extra space for the stuff we bring to be piled or shifted. In that case, we could always stick to sleeping in the front as the seats actually recline all the way back and are pretty comfortable!

Guidance & Getting There

Chevy Volt Review

While the 2017 Chevy Volt comes with the option to upgrade for GPS, the cell phone compatibility makes it easy for you to use maps on the dashboard screen as long as you have service on your phone. While we typically get by easily without GPS or an app to guide us, having either makes it so much easier and since we often like to be spontaneous, it helps to have a way to get back on track easily or even look for random places we can stop, places we can eat or even take a rest.

Fuel Efficiency & Cost to Drive

Chevy Volt Electric Fuel Savings

Chevy Volt battery life

 

 

 

 

Unlike your typical hybrid, the Chevy Volt doesn’t run on a combination of electricity and gas at the same time. Instead, it works off the electric power first (to get you to most places you’ll want to go in a day) and then shifts to fuel-powered. We think this is great because you can save on fuel as you drive for everyday errands and even commuting to work and only use fuel for longer trips and destinations.

Chevy Volt Electric Plug Chevy Volt Electric Plug

For road trips, it would mean a bit more planning to confirm you had stops along the way to power up if you didn’t want to keep paying for fuel but as it’s got pretty good fuel-economy, you can still drive solely on gas power if need be.

This combination makes it a great option for saving some money and government incentives drive the price even lower, making it a more manageable cost overall.

 

Overall the Chevy Volt is a pretty impressive little package though the price point is somewhat higher than a comparable car without hybrid capabilities. For us, it’s a great option for a road trip car though the space in back may be tricky to manage a full-blown nap AND our luggage… but to be realistic, how many people really sleep in the back of their cars when they travel? Yep, probably just us!

Keep this post for later or share with others on Pinterest – just hover over the image below & click “Pin it”! If on MOBILE, tap the photo below & click ‘Pin It’ when it appears!

best features of the 2017 chevy volt pinBest Road Trip Features of the Chevy volt pin

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6 Things To Do At Casino Rama Resort Beyond Gaming!

Though Casino Rama Resort offers an extensive gambling floor with over 2500 slot machines, including some of the latest technology, 100 table games and a room dedicated to poker, there’s a whole lot more to do beyond the casino once you are there. In fact, there’s an entire property offering many things to do whether you’re there for the day, a weekend or longer. “Casino” may be the first word in the name but the “resort” component shouldn’t be overlooked and after staying at Casino Rama Resort on two separate occasions and visiting the property for day trips several additional times, we’ve seen what a fantastic entertainment destination it is for visitors.

What To Do At Casino Rama Resort If You Aren’t Gambling

Please gamble responsibly. If you think you, or someone you know, may need help with a gambling problem, please visit the Responsible Gaming Council Site for more information & to find help if you are in Canada. In the USA? Visit the site for the National Council on Problem Gambling

With a location not far from the Toronto area, it’s definitely a fantastic option for a getaway or day trip, whether you’re headed to the casino area or not. To give you a better idea of all there is to do at Casino Rama off of the gambling floor, we’ve put together 6 things to do there that make it a destination in itself and a resort you’ll be excited to visit!

1. Watch A Show

Casino Rama Stage Entertainment Centre

There’s nothing that showcases Casino Rama Resort as an entertainment destination more than the 5000-seat entertainment centre where world-famous comedians, musicians and performers grace the stage. Whether you’re staying at the resort or just dropping in for a performance, watching a show is a great way to enjoy your time at Rama.

In fact, it’s an experience all on it’s own and we’ve had the chance to see several shows there between the two of us. From comedy acts by Russell Peters and Whoopi Goldberg to concerts by various artists from around the world, we’ve seen some incredible shows on their stage. What is especially great is that no matter where your seats are, you’ll find you have a fantastic view.

It’s definitely one of the parts of the resort that makes it stand out and is a huge draw when visiting the hotel, the casino and the area.

2. Enjoy Delicious Food

St Germain's Casino Rama Meal

With eight dining options, you definitely won’t be going hungry and each restaurant offers a different atmosphere and fare. It’s here that you can explore the culinary side of the resort and enjoy some truly great cuisine.

There’s St. Germain’s a steakhouse with absolutely phenomenal service and delicious, beautifully plated meal. They have superb cuts of meat, a variety of seafood and a dessert menu by an award winning pastry chef. It’s one of our favourites and we know we will always find a dining experience to remember.

There are also a variety of options for more casual dining like Simcoe Yard House, a sports bar and restaurant where we love to eat whenever we’re at Casino Rama. Their Ultimate Hot Dog – a half yard in size – is a fun and tasty meal to try. The Weir’s restaurant and Cedar are alternately open and also offer casual dining and a many menu options. For us, we tend to head to The Weir’s for breakfast and Cedar for a late night snack.

From the Noodle Bar to The Willow, serving Chinese cuisine, the Firestarter Lounge by the lobby to the Couchiching Court buffet, you’ll definitely not go hungry nor will you run out of options or variety.

The best part of it all? The food is exceptional at all of the restaurants so you really can’t go wrong with your choices!

3. Have A Spa Day

Casino Rama Spa

Casino Rama Resort has an entire oasis for anyone looking to get away and get pampered for a day… or longer! Their Balance in Life Spa offers massages, manicures, pedicures, facials and other treatments and it’s a great place for a little relaxation.

We both recently enjoyed a massage and can honestly say it was one of the best we’ve had. Though we went individually, there are packages for couples as well and we may just be looking into those the next time we go!

The other great thing is that even if you aren’t a hotel guest, spa guests have access to the pool and amenities and as you’ll see below, they’re pretty fantastic on their own!

4. Enjoy The Pool & Amenities

Casino Rama Pool

For guests of the hotel, there are additional amenities that are available. The pool area has long been a highlight for those we’ve talked to who have stayed at Casino Rama Resort. Their indoor salt water pool and hot tub are a draw for those looking to unwind during the day or get a few gentle laps in while feeling the incredible effects of the salt water on their skin. We especially love the patio connecting the pool to the outdoors. When the weather is nice, it’s a great place to go to dry off and enjoy some sun.

The eucalyptus steam room is also an amazing amenity and a great place to start before a spa session or after a workout in their adult-only fitness room.

It’s really a great space to spend some time while at the resort and a definite attraction for those who want to book a room and stay at the hotel.

5. Relax In Your Spacious Room

Casino Rama Hotel Room

The rooms at Casino Rama Resort are a destination on their own. They offer an inviting and spacious sanctuary with comfortable beds and a great sitting area with a large screen TV. It really is a fantastic place to relax and unwind, get cozy and spend some time.

The gas fireplace is a great touch in the cooler months and can add to the romance of the room if you’re there with a special someone.

No matter what you’re at Casino Rama for, you’ll want to spend some time in the room – ordering in room service, enjoying a bath in the Jacuzzi tub, watching some TV in the living space, and you may not want to leave at all!

6. Explore Rama First Nation Culture

Rama First Nations Casino Rama

Throughout the resort, you’ll notice architectural and artistic designs that illustrate Rama First Nation culture and history. There’s a lot to see and we’ve learned a lot by delving deeper into what the art and symbols mean and represent. Even the names of some of the resort’s features – like St. Germain’s – hold significance to the Rama First Nation peoples.

You can also stop into one of the shops and browse arts and crafts, gifts and clothing linked to Rama First Nation and beyond.

 

Casino Rama Resort really is an entertainment destination on its own and it only takes a short time there to realize there’s a whole lot to do and that there’s a reason why it’s called “The Great Indoors” – while they have a state-of-the-art casino floor that’s sure to impress, there’s a whole resort to explore and enjoy!

 

A huge thanks to SJ Consulting for the invitation & to Casino Rama Resort for hosting us. As always, all opinions are, and always will be, our own!

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How To Capture More Than Images With The Fuji X-A3 Mirrorless Camera

We’ve travelled for several years now and are always documenting our experiences. Cameras have become the tools we use to capture moments and memories and photos are a portal to revisiting experiences and destinations explored. Because of our profession, our frequent travels and our love of photography, we are always carrying camera gear wherever we go but between the two of us, our arsenal of equipment has always had a void that needed filling.

So when we were given the chance to use and review the Fuji X-A3, we were incredibly surprised and excited to find it very nicely filled that gap.

fuji X-A3 review

What we especially like about the Fuji X-A3 is it is a compact, mirrorless camera that offers both automatic, point-and-shoot options for anyone as well as manual functions for those who are more knowledgeable or are looking to become more proficient with photography.

The camera has so many incredible features above and beyond the basics that we’d advise those who purchase the camera to make the effort to learn the features that are most relevant to them. It will bring a whole new level to your photography and will help with ease of use when you’re looking to capture those images in the moment.

Why We Love The Fuji X-A3

So what exactly does the X-A3 have that we were missing from our other gear? As a couple who travels together, carrying equipment for the both of us can get heavy and bulky so we’ve always tried to minimize what we bring. That’s left us with one DSLR for the photographer of the two of us and camera phones for the other. While camera phones will do the trick for quick captures and posts to social media, they really don’t have the versatility and professional features that our other camera does. With the Fuji X-A3, we’ve found an incredibly lightweight and compact camera with automatic functions for the lesser photographer of the two of us and the ability to improve on those skills while learning the manual functions available.

view in quebec city of chateau frontenac

The other missing piece that this camera fills is a huge one. For us, when we talk about travelling as a family, we generally are referring to the two of us as a unit and because of that, photos often become of the scenery or of one or the other, rather than the two of us together. We often miss opportunities to snap a photo of us together in amazing places because there is no one there to take the photo or the moment is lost when we do find someone. With the 180-degree tiltable LCD monitor, selfies are taken to the next level and we are able to take them, easily, wherever we are. We’re finally snapping photos of the two of us regularly and we love having quality photos of the two of us together.

Fuji X-A3 Review – Why We’ve Added It To Our Gear

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But there is so much more to the camera that makes it a happy addition for our travels and our everyday life in general and we think these are the same reasons it would make a great addition for anyone of any skill level. Here’s a look at the Fuji X-A3 and some of its many features.

Taking Selfies To A New Level

This is perhaps one of the most unique features we’ve seen and has allowed us to capture moments together more easily and frequently.

The LCD screen can be flipped and tilted 180-degrees so you can see the complete screen, and what you are capturing, when taking a selfie. This is a huge help and even inspired us to take a selfie-tour of Quebec City when we travelled there with the camera.

one modern couple selfie quebec city

The camera also has some functions that make it even easier to take amazing selfies. Choosing Portrait Enhancer on the dial, the camera will make adjustments to enhance skin tones automatically. You can also use the touchscreen to choose the level (levels 1-3) of enhancement to decide how much of an adjustment the camera should make.

Though the camera is designed to have a comfortable and good grip while taking selfies, if you’d prefer not to have to press the shutter button, you can change to a Self Timer function which allows you to choose when the photo is taken – when it detects a smile, when two people move close together in the frame, or when a group of a certain number of people move into the frame.

These features assist in creating selfies that look more like portraits and quality photos than haphazardly taken shots.

Incredible Macro Photos

We love getting different perspectives on what we see and that sometimes means getting up close to the object we are photographing.

Though using manual mode means more experience and knowledge, the Fuji X-A3 also offers an Auto Macro function that will automatically switch the camera to macro and focus quickly on the subject up to 7cm away!

sushi macro fuji x-a3

Because focus is usually slower when getting up close and taking macro shots, having faster autofocus, like this camera does, helps for those close-up shots and we definitely notice the difference when we’re working on our food photography!

Point-And-Shoot Flexibility

As we had mentioned, this is a compact point-and-shoot camera that is packed with possibilities. If you’re looking to keep the settings on auto, you’ll find you’ve got a range of options to help you take photos in a variety of settings and situations without having to learn the intricacies of aperture and shutter speeds (though you can apply these in any of the manual modes as well!)

icicles quebec city

By simply turning the dial, you can choose between several modes that will automatically adjust the camera settings and enable you to take the best photo for what you are trying to capture. For example, there is portrait mode that will automatically enhance faces, landscape mode that will help take scenic shots clearly, sport mode which will help you snap shots of moving objects and night mode for low light settings.

quebec city terrasse view

Not sure what you should be using or what you may be shooting? The Advanced SR Auto function on the dial means that the camera will make the decision for you. The camera will recognize the scene type and select the appropriate camera settings for you. This means it will switch between scenes as you frame each new photo.

The intelligent flash will also help provide the correct amount of flash for the setting and subject and, should you decide to up your game, there is the ability to attach an external flash if desired.

Easy Touchscreen Options

While you can use the touchscreen to adjust features and even turn on a touch shoot or touch zoom, our favourite use of this screen is the touch autofocus.

fuji x-a3 review touchscreen

We love being able to look at the image we are trying to capture and to choose where we want to focus. It allows us to manipulate the depth of the photo, capture parts of the scene we may want to highlight and ensure that the scene is focused as we want it to be.

Ease Of Use – Even On Manual

We both love photography and for us, learning the manual features and using them to the best of our ability is something we enjoy. For the part of our duo that is less camera-savvy when it comes to adjusting those features, the X-A3 has become the ultimate learning tool.

petit champlain quebec city

It is incredibly easy to use, even on manual as the dials to adjust aperture, shutter speed and the button to adjust ISO are easy to access and easy to remember. There are few actions required to move to manual modes and make those adjustments and it makes the process of capturing photos (and learning how) that much more seamless and enjoyable.

For the half that already knows what they are doing, it’s been a great experience to work with the additional features and advanced functions that the camera offers.

Numerous Advanced Functions

The advanced functions are fantastic. It’s where we go to play and grow our artistic side when it comes to photography. There are a bunch of advanced filters you can use to create some different and fantastic photos like soft focus which reduces definition in the photo and creates a soft look in the image.

advanced features fuji x-A3

Our favourite is the partial colour filter. You can choose between red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple and the camera will pick up only that colour chosen, leaving the rest of the photo black and white. It creates a stunning image and really makes some creative shots.

Other filters include miniature – which blurs the top and bottom of a photo,  toy camera – which adds vignette, or shaded borders, to the photo to make it look as though it was taken by a toy camera, and pop colour – which makes the image high in contrast and saturation.

Fantastic Image Quality

No matter what function you use, whether you add filters or whether you’ve decided to use it on manual or automatic, the camera does one essential thing: It creates high quality images. The photos are crisp and clear and take vibrant, detailed images.

ice hotel

 

When we first played back our images on the LCD screen, it wasn’t completely obvious how great the image quality was but once we got those photos on our computer, we were impressed with the quality of the photos the camera had taken.

The photos are fantastic without any editing and we’ve been able to post straight to social media without any adjustments at all!

Immediate Access With Wifi

When we say we have been able to post straight to social media, we mean pretty much right away. With WiFi capability, the photos can be transferred to your phone or tablet on the spot. You can also transfer photos straight to your PC!

Most of the time we’re on the go and want to post our photos as we take them. So, we just open the FUJIFILM Camera Remote app, connect the camera to WiFi and then select the photos we wanted to send to our phone. We even connect our phone to geotag our photos when we want to remember an exact location that a photo was taken.

FUJIFILM REMOTE APP

The great thing about the app and the WiFi capabilities is when you want to get some more creative photos. Since you can also use the app to control the camera itself, you can use the camera hands free while set up on a tripod and take some amazing nighttime shots (you don’t want a shaky hand), some timelapses (to stay still as well), some long-exposure images that really pop and standout, or from far away should you want to take photos of animals.

The other thing we found handy was that we are able to directly connect our camera to our Instax SP-2 Printer. Taking a selfie and want to send it to social? Not a problem. Want to also print it out to keep or give to someone? That’s not a problem either!

A Permanent Fixture With Our Photo Gear

All these features, and more, have made the Fuji X-A3 a permanent addition to our photo gear. We’re able to do so much with such a compact camera and that’s only with the kit lense! We can only imagine how much more we’ll be able to do once we add some more lenses for it.

fuji x-a3 camera review

Though we always prefer shooting with a viewfinder, and this one does not have one, it really is a versatile camera for all experience levels and has been an incredible asset for taking photos together.  With all it’s features, it’s important to take some time to figure it all out because the options are almost endless for enhancing the photos you want to take.

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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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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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!

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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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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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