Lucy Izon answered your questions about vacationing in Canada, May 18, 2004
Author of "The 10 most incredible National Parks of Canada" in the May issue of Budget Travel, Izon chatted on Tuesday, May 18, 2004, at noon Eastern time.
Whether you are looking for advice and sources of information on exploring Canada, or backpacking budget travel, she'll be here to help to steer you in the right direction.
For 25 years Lucy Izon has written a syndicated youth/budget travel column, which appears in leading Canadian and American newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. She is the author of Izon's Backpacker Journal (Ten Speed Press) co-author of Thomas Cook's Touring Eastern Canada, and a contributor to Chicken Soup for the Traveler's Soul. She has served as the Canadian Chapter Chair, and Vice President of the Society of American Travel Writers.
Lucy recently launched greatlearningvacations.com/ - an ezine focusing on experiential learning for travelers. Stories and listings highlight intriguing international opportunities ranging from photography tours with award-winning experts, to working on an archaeological dig.
Read the transcript below.
Lucy Izon: Hi, I'm Lucy and I'm sitting in Toronto and happy to answer your questions.
Portland, OR: Travel in Montreal, Canada: is it friendly for Americans who do not speak French?
Lucy Izon: I was in Montreal just a week ago and it was a good experience. Montreal needs tourists, so visitors should find the people working in that industry are very welcoming. It's novel to be in a North American city where English is not the first language, but that's part of the reason we travel -- to experience differences. Take advantage of what Montreal does especially well -- which is throw a good party! Try to schedule your visit for one of the major festivals. Two of the most popular are: The Montreal International Jazz Festival (montrealjazzfest.com/), which opens with by Diana Krall on June 29th and run until July 11 (there are 150 indoor concerts, and 350 free outdoor events); and the another great event, which draws top North American Comedians, is the annual Just for Laughs Festival (hahaha.com/). This year it runs July 15 to 25. Visit the websites, or Tourism Montreal (tourism-montreal.org/) for details on special event tickets & accommodation packages.
Oshkosh, WI: What are the "must sees" in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island? We'll be there for two weeks in late June. Thanks!
Lucy Izon: For Nova Scotia definitely Lunenburg, a wonderful village with a shipbuilding heritage. Stop on your way in Chester, a beautiful vacation spot popular with Canadians and Americans for decades. Schedule time for one of the best drives in the world - the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton Island. In PEI my favorite is to be in Charlottetown on July 1 for the Canada Day celebrations. It's a great 'family-style' event at the birthplace of Canada's Confederation.
Worcester, MA: I am interested in taking a hiking vacation for 2 weeks in Cape Breton Highlands and Gros Morne Parks this July. However, I'm not a big fan of humid weather. I've seen that the average temperature in July in Nova Scotia is about the same for Massachusetts - what's the humidity factor? Would early September be better to avoid the humidity? Thanks!
Lucy Izon: Can't tell for sure what mother nature is going to do, but in Atlantic Canada you have to be prepared for rain. I'd contact Nova Scotia Tourism novascotia.com/ and Newfoundland Tourism gov.nl.ca/tourism for their weather recommendations. I was actually in NFLD in the winter this year, beside Gros Morne, and was surprised to find that there is a good ski centre, with wonderful accommodation in luxury houses in the woods. Maxxim vacations maxximvacations.com/ has some very well-priced packages.
Milwaukee, WI: Hi Lucy, Thanks so much for answering our questions on traveling Canada! My fiance and I are planning a honeymoon in Vancouver/Victoria Sept 20-27, 2004. What are some good places to stay, eat, and see? How would you recommend that we split our time? Any information you can provide would be great! Thanks again!
Lucy Izon: One of the things I love most about Vancouver is that you stand on the main street of a major city, look up and see forest and mountains. It's a treat. There are lots of sunny days, but just in case, do pack an umbrella or rain jacket. A popular place to stay in Vancouver is the Pacific Palisades Hotel. It's fun, favoured by film crews, has the popular Zin Restaurant and Bar (with a great tasting menu) and conveniently located on Robson St, in the heart of the shopping district. This hotel even has a complementary evening wine reception for guests, and offers yoga packages and soft adventure packages, such as kayaking. Check it out online pacificpalisadeshotel.com/. You can get more background on Vancouver at tourismvancouver.com/.
If you are heading for Victoria, keep in mind that one of the big special events this year is the Eternal Egypt exhibit at the Royal BC Museum. It runs July 9 to October 31. If you go on the Tourism Victoria website hourismvictoria.com/, you''l find details on special packages including tickets for the exhibit and accommodation at a wide range of hotels. I saw the show in Toronto earlier this year and it was wonderful. It features 144 artifacts from the British Museum. Some of the packages also include the option of entry for one of Victoria's most popular sites ---the 55-acre Butchart Gardens. With its mild climate, the city is known for its flowers, although I'm not sure what is featured in late September.
Alexandria, VA: I'm going to Toronto, Canada next week. I'm wondering what are some favorite local places to eat/see.
Lucy Izon: One of the great things about Toronto is its many neighbourhoods, each with its own history, style and often ethnic background. Be sure to take in the new Distillery District, which has been used as a location for many feature films, including Chicago. Other neighbours you might want to visit include Bloor West Village, trendy Queen Street West, upscale Yorkville, the Danforth for its Greek restaurants, the Beaches with its great board walk. And, take a break and a $2 cruise to Toronto's Islands, you'll feel like you're a world away from the city, and there are even some B & B's there. Be sure to visit the CN Tower and consider that if you reserve for a meal in the 360 restaurant, your ride up the elevator is free. For more details log onto torontotourism.com/.
Atlanta, TX: How hard or easy is it to travel to Canada via Amtrak and get around without the expense of renting a car?
Lucy Izon: In Canada the national rail service is VIA Rail (viarail.ca/). Go online and take a look at the map of the route. You'll find it links the major cities and takes you through some wonderful countryside, stopping at key resort areas, such as Jasper in the Rockies. It is limited, but you can use it and then rent a car or take local tours in the areas where you stop. If this works for you, there is a North America Rail Pass that gives 30 days of travel in Canada and on AMTRAK in the United States. A minimum of once connection to/from the United States is required, and the remainder of the time can be spent exploring Canada. You can find rates on the VIA website.
There are two other VIA deals operating this summer that are well worth knowing about. Here are the details from VIA:
Kids Travel Free --this summer you can get free tickets for your children. Purchase a ticket for someone 18 years of age or over (at the best available senior, student or adult fare), and you will receive one free ticket for a child 11 years of age or under for the same trip. This is even helpful for tiny tots. Normally, children aged under two travel free as long as they are sitting on your lap, but this promotion lets them enjoy a seat at no extra cost. It's for travel in economy only (Comfort Class), and for travel between May 29 and August 29, 2004. The deal is, you must purchase a ticket for a passenger of at least 18 years of age. It is not possible to get a free ticket by purchasing a ticket for a passenger 17 years of age or less, and there is a maximum of one free ticket per paying passenger. Tickets must be purchased together at least five days prior to departure and must be for travel on the same trains, dates and between the same stations.
Seniors, aged 60 + can bring a friend for FREE! You get a free ticket for the person traveling with you. In all other classes you get a 75% discount for the person traveling with you. This offer expires on February 28, 2005. To benefit from it, your ticket must be purchased at the full senior's fare (which already includes an automatic 10% discount on the full adult's fare). There are no restrictions on the age of your travel companion: so you can take your spouse, a friend, or a grandchild. For more details on either program and VIA services log onto: httrail.ca/
Cadiz, OH: Lucy, we are looking for a great place to go for honeymoon in late October. We are early 50s and not looking for the resort scene. More scenic and adventure-oriented. Thought about Lake Louise but didn't know about the weather. Any suggestions? Thanks.
Lucy Izon: Late October is an iffy time. If you're lucky you could still get colour in the trees. In Ontario (ontariotravel.net/), when the trees turn (usually, late September till mid-Oct) it's spectacular - my favorite time here. You get wonderful colours reflected in the beautiful blue lakes of Ontario. So, you're into adventure? Well, one really fascinating event that goes on in October is the polar bear migration through Churchill Manitoba. No, kidding. The bears want to get back out on Hudson Bay to feed on seals for the winter and the little town is right in the middle of their route. It's one of the most unique tourism opportunities you can have. Get details through Manitoba Tourism travelmanitoba.com/. Usually it's quite expensive but there were special budget packages available last year. Memorable, to say the least.
Washington, DC: Hi Lucy. My boyfriend and I are planning a trip to Vancouver in early August, and we want to stop by Victoria as well. What's the best way to combine these two areas--will a day trip do Victoria justice, or is it more appropriate to stay a night (or two!) instead?
Lucy Izon: You can make the trip in a day, but I'd take my time and spend at least one night. The ferry leaves from Tsawwassen, about 24 miles /38 km south of Vancouver (a 40-minute drive). The crossing takes 1 hr 35 min, and it arrives at Swartz Bay, about 20 miles/32 km north of Victoria (about a 30 minute drive). Depending on the weather, it's a nice trip through the Gulf Islands and if you're lucky you could see dolphins, etc. For more details on the ferries in BC, fares, etc., log onto BC Ferries website at bcferries.bc.ca/.
Westland, MI: I have visited almost all of the provinces in Canada except for Labrador, Newfoundland and the territories. Can you give me some idea as to which one I should visit first, second and third. Thanks!
Lucy Izon: Technically, it's now the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and it makes the most sense to visit them on the same trip. I'd probably do this first. One of the most fascinating sites in Newfoundland is near Labrador, L'Anse aux Meadows, where Viking ruins have been found. The site has an orientation centre operated by Parks Canada. Again, Maxxim Vacations has good self-drive packages that would enable you to combine key sites in Newfoundland and Labrador maxximvacations.com/. For info on the Northwest Territories go to explorenwt.com/.
Leominster, MA: We are planning a trip to Canada this year and we will be taking our dog with us. What, if any restrictions are there for taking pets into Canada? Thank you.
Lucy Izon: According to the Canadian tourist Commission (travelcanada.ca/) Pets must be accompanied by their owners. Cats and dogs from the U.S. are required to have a signed and dated (the previous 36 months) veterinarian vaccination certificate for rabies &. Cats and dogs under three months do not require certification but must be in good health. Seeing-eye dogs face no restrictions.
You can get more information on Customs regulations, sales taxes and visitor tax rebate in Canada online at hcra-adrc.gc.ca/, or hassages.gc.ca/menu-en.asp. This site will give you the waiting times for border crossings: hbsa-asfc.gc.ca/general/times/menu-e.html.
New York, NY: If you can only go to either Montreal or Quebec City, which do you recommend?
Lucy Izon: Although my Montreal friends are going to hate this answer, I'd pick Quebec City first, simply because it is so charming. It's wonderfully historic, and is the only walled city north of Mexico. It's easy to do the core on foot, but be ready for the stairs in the old city. For one section there is a funicular. There's a vibrant arts community, lots of galleries and craft shops, and some of Canada's finest dinning. The fabulous Chateau Frontenac Hotel is the heart of the city, with a splendid view overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Be sure to drop by for a drink even if you're not staying there.
Carson City, NV: Lucy, do you need to have a "Break Away" hitch on a towed vehicle behind an RV when crossing into Canada from the US? We are traveling to Alaska this summer and need to know. Thanks.
Lucy Izon: You've got me on this one. I've never dealt with a Break Away' hitch. But, if I were in your position I'd start with my local automobile association and see if it has a reciprocal arrangement with the Canadian Automobile Association: caa.ca/indexm.asp, so you can get info from them. There are also Canadian RV Clubs which might be able to help you. In British Columbia there's the Good Sam Club, British Columbia, phone: 604-859-5089
Website: hypage.uniserve.ca/~rebel1, and there' s the Recreational Vehicle Owner's Association of BC (RVOABC), phone: 604-857-8828, hvoa.bc.ca/. A list of Canadian RV Clubs is online at: horving.ca/rvclubs.asp#clubs1.
If you are planning a road tour in Canada this summer and you'r' looking for route suggestions, the Canadian Tourist Commission has launched a program called Get Going Canada. It appears to be aimed at Canadians, but US visitors should find the information quite helpful. The focus is a handy booklet covering 13 of Canada's best drive routes, including details on what to see, motoring tips, events, etc. You can find an online version at httgoingcanada.ca/, where can cruise the booklets' information, get details of where you can pick up a free printed copy, or you can download a PDF version.
Washington State: We want to bring our 4-year-old twins and 7-year-old daughter to the Vancouver area for a vacation, either by renting a RV and tooling around for 3-4 days OR staying at a kid-friendly hotel (with a pool) and visiting Dinotown or a waterslide park. What is your suggestion on a fun, low-stress vacation when packing 3 crazy kids? Is a 7-year-old too OLD for Dinotown, and are the waterslide parks too OLD for the 4-year-olds? We are not "set" on any one idea. Thanks for your advice.
Lucy Izon: I haven't done Dinotown, but what I really like there for kids is the Vancouver Aquarium. A baby beluga whale was born there last year and you used to be able to go on the website and watch it from home. They have a special 'behind the scenes' tour that costs a bit more but takes you through the areas where the staff works with the marine life and even allows you to hand feed the seals. Most kids can't wait to get up to their elbows in that kind of yucky stuff. The Aquarium is in Stanley Park where you can also see a collection of wonderful Totem Poles.
Lakeville, MN: What is a good day trip from Vancouver during the month of August?
Lucy Izon: If you really want to push it you could get over to Victoria. You can make the trip in a day. The ferry leaves from Tsawwassen, about 24 miles /38 km south of Vancouver (a 40-minute drive). The crossing takes 1 hr 35 min, and it arrives at Swartz Bay, about 20 miles/32 km north of Victoria (about a 30 minute drive). Depending on the weather, it's a nice trip through the Gulf Islands and if you're lucky you could see dolphins, etc. For more details on the ferries in BC, fares, etc., log onto BC Ferries website at bcferries.bc.ca/.
Pearce, AZ: What options are there for cross-Canada travel by train, where one can get on and off at various stops, perhaps spending a night or two before getting back on?
Lucy Izon: Take a look a VIA Rail's Canrailpass for unlimited travel. Details are online at viarail.ca. You get 12 days of unlimited economy class travel during a 30 day period. This will get you anywhere VIA goes, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Peak season (June 1 to Oct 15) adults $741 Cdn, and kids rates are available. You can stop in major cities including Halifax, Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto (plus Niagara Falls), Winnipeg, Edmonton, Jasper & Vancouver. So there are lots of options depending on time and where you want to begin.
Lucy Izon: Thanks for your questions. I'm sorry I couldn't get to everyone, but wishing you a wonderful Canadian adventure!