Vancouver: Tim Zagat dishes travel tips
In synch with the Winter Olympics, Zagat has released its latest Vancouver guide. The 2010 Vancouver survey covers ratings and reviews for 298 of the area's finest restaurants, hotels, nightspots, and attractions, including locations in Vancouver, Whistler, Vancouver Island, and Victoria. As usual, the guide shows the cost of each establishment, spotlighting the best values. I recently interviewed via e-mail Tim Zagat, cofounder with Nina Zagat of Zagat Survey. He shared the latest travel recommendations for Vancouver.
What's new to eat in Vancouver?
According to surveyors, Maenam, a reasonably-priced Thai restaurant located on the West Side is the top newcomer. Other exciting fresh faces include the affordable French Au Petit Chavignol, Downtown's Cibo, West End's Nook, and Les Faux Bourgeois on the East Side. Vancouver surveyors also report a revival by Spanish-style tapas specialists like Mis Trucos and Café Barcelona.
What are Zagat's top bang for the buck restaurants in Vancouver?
6. Café Medina
10. Gyoza King
Where are the most affordable excellent restaurants in Vancouver?
The West Side has become the focus for not only new restaurants, but for great values. While some top restaurants have opened affordable "siblings" on the West Side—including Trattoria Italian Kitchen (sibling of Italian Kitchen)—meanwhile, Fuel, has scaled back to re-open as refuel, with a more moderately priced menu, joining a trend among some other eateries.
Biggest change in a Zagat rating for any one property/restaurant, that's eye-catching, from a previous edition?
Blue Water Cafe & Raw Bar appears to have made a prominent jump into the Top 10 on our Top Food list and Top 5 on our Most Popular list for Vancouver restaurants.
Has there been any overall trend in how people have been rating restaurants?
The current state of the economy has certainly left surveyors more focused on how to get the best meal at the best value. But, in terms of categories, we've continued to see service as an industry weak-link, with 79 percent of surveyors making it their top restaurant complaint. We've found that more surveyors are voting via their mobile phones, too.
Any other must-see sights in Vancouver, beyond the Olympics? Perhaps some of the Olympic venues post-Olympics?
According to surveyors, the most popular attractions in Vancouver include:
1) Stanley Park
ZAGAT is offering free access to the Vancouver book through the microsite zagat.com/olympics
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St. John: Warm weather escape planner
St. John is the smallest of the US Virgin Islands, but it is considered one of the most beautiful patches of untouched natural beauty in the Caribbean. Almost two-thirds of the island is made up of a national park, where you can go hiking. Off the coast, there are astonishing spots for snorkeling and scuba diving. MUST-SEE Cruz Bay is the capital of St. John, and it is so small that its streets don't have names. The town some restaurants, bars serving delicious rum drinks, and a park. Because cruise ships don't come to Cruz Bay—it is accessible via a 20-minute ferry ride from St. Thomas—crowds are not as huge and unwieldy as they are on other Caribbean islands. White powder sands make Trunk Bay one of the most popular and beautiful beaches in the US Virgin Islands, if not the world. It contains a famed underwater snorkeling trail that stretches for 650 feet and helps you identify the coral and the anemone that you're viewing. Admission to the beach is $4. Annaberg Plantation, part of the National Park, includes the ruins of a sugar plantation that dates from the late 1700s, when sugar, molasses, and rum were produced on the grounds. Cinnamon Bay is the place to go for watersports like snorkeling, windsurfing, and kayaking. The beach has a sports center that rents equipment, and you can arrange day sailing trips and scuba diving lessons. EATS Try Johnny Cakes from a local take-out kiosk. A savory deep-fried flour pouch stuffed with any combination of eggs, cheese or ham, this palm-sized specialty sells for $1–$2 at the local take-out kiosks. These tiny stands also serve delicious lunches. Comfees in downtown Cruz Bay, up the hill from FirstBank, prepares some of the best pates on the island: elliptical rolls of dough filled with ground beef, chicken, salt-fish or conch, a soft Caribbean shell-fish. At just $2-$4 each, patessimilar to Jamaican patties—make a cheap lunch that works well as a beach-side picnic. To get away from Cruz Bay, check out the much smaller town of Coral Bay on the other side of the island, where many locals live. ViTran buses leave every two hours from the ferry dock in Cruz Bay. The 45 minute trip costs $1. Although the commercial area of Coral Bay consists of little more than a recently paved road and a handful of businesses, a casual restaurant on the main drag called Sticky Fingers serves excellent barbecue. Popular with a diverse neighborhood crowd who sit in the gravel front-yard under a baby blue and yellow awning. Order the barbecue chicken, pork ribs, or beef brisket with home-made sauce and two sides for $13 or less. WHERE TO STAY Maho Bay Camps: 114 tent-like cottages are set above a serene stretch of white-sand beach. When owner Stanley Selengut opened Maho Bay Camps on St. John in 1976, he never intended to be a pioneer in the ecotourism movement. After leasing a 14-acre plot above idyllic Maho Bay, the entrepreneurial environmentalist built 114 tent-like cottages with screened windows and open-air terraces set above a glorious stretch of white-sand beach. A few years later he added nearby Harmony Studios, 12 airy apartments with kitchenettes, lofted ceilings, and large decks with water views (for better views, ask for an upper-level unit, which costs about $10 extra) maho.org. MORE Fly Nonstop to the Beach: Check out our interactive trip planner at budgettravel.com/nonstopcarribbean
Valentine's Day travel outlook
With Valentine's Day falling on President's Day weekend, are travelers booking short holiday trips this year? We checked in with Clem Bason, President of the Hotwire Group, for the skinny. Here are the three themes he has noticed. Competition Online travel agencies spent much of the Fall and Winter preparing for the expected travel rebound in 2010. Expedia launched a new series of ads in December. Travelocity as well. Ads from Hotels.com are running now. Priceline, too. And Hotwire of course. Together, we have flooded the airwaves and are all trying to attract the leisure traveler. We all thought that we'd be trying to attract more of them this year, but at the moment it feels like the pie has not grown significantly so far in 2010. As I mentioned earlier, however, we feel strongly that Hotwire will have continued success as compared to the competition in 2010, no matter the environment. Hotel occupancies will remain at record lows this year, which allows Hotwire to offer low prices on 4- and 5-star hotels that consumers simply cannot find anywhere else. And we continue to test and add features that our customers ask for—the ability to upgrade to a specific bed type, customer reviews, and new maps. Last minute bookings Consumers definitely appear to be waiting until the very last minute to book. We saw hotel bookings down 6 percent versus last year in the week leading up to Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Weekend, but then finished the weekend up 19 percent. We're seeing something similar for Valentine's Day at the moment, with hotel bookings down 7 percent versus the same time last year. We expect them to pick up strongly, however, as we get closer. My suspicion is that with the downturn, consumers have been trained that hotels are unlikely to fill up as they approach the date of travel. So they book at the very last minute, knowing they have little to lose (and even perhaps something to gain in terms of a last minute price drop). Optimism I met with hoteliers at the end of December, and there was a sense that the industry would achieve price stability in 2010. We are not yet seeing this in the data at Hotwire, however. For the Valentine's Day weekend, we are seeing Hotel prices down 5 percent (4-star hotels down 8 percent). Hotwire, however, caters to the value-seeking consumer and so we are seeing demand and bookings increase—our hotel purchases are up almost 20 percent so far this year. As for car rentals, prices are currently up only 3 percent for the Valentines Weekend, but are down nearly 8 percent as compared to last January overall. Rental companies have become more financially stable which has allowed them to increase fleet sizes in some locations for the early months of 2010. This means on Hotwire, consumers have more options in more cities at some of the lowest rates in the market. EARLIER Where hotels are hiding their lowest rates now
Facebook oversharing causes trouble for travelers
Facebook is a super way to connect with friends and family, but it can sometimes be tough on relationships. The main issue for travel lovers: When one person in a couple lives their life online while the other doesn't. For some, it's about safety. It may be deeply unnerving when your sweetheart posts on Facebook about upcoming vacations. A spouse might say, "I don't think it should be public knowledge about when we're out of town." Or, more sarcastically, "Why don't you post a giant sign advertising to robbers the best time to break in to our place?" For others, it's about privacy. Consider this story, reported in the Boston Globe: Jared Wilk, 28, has a girlfriend who loves posting pictures to Facebook, a pastime he doesn't mind, except that it's gotten him into "trouble" with friends and relatives who are surprised to see pictures of him visiting their towns when they had no idea he was in the area. After his girlfriend uploaded a picture of him running the "Rocky" steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art—a lifelong dream—cousins who live in the area, but whom he hadn't contacted, were "a little disappointed." College buddies in Washington, D.C., were likewise unhappy to see photos of him at the Lincoln Memorial when they didn't know he was in town. Posting travel updates and videos to Facebook can also upset people who are shy. Some photos that may be cute when shared with your spouse aren't cute when shown to your co-workers and relatives. Does your Aunt Jean back home really need to see photos of you at a resort drinking at a swim-up bar? Of course, the issues are generational. People under 30 generally post their lives online, while those in their 40s typically don't. What are your thoughts? Feel free to sound off in the comments. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Check out Budget Travel's Facebook page Read our story about how one woman visited Istanbul using no guidebooks and no language skills—only social media and mobile apps like Facebook: The Connected Traveler
What happens when the Olympics move on?
This Friday brings Vancouver's turn in the spotlight as the host of the Winter Olympics. But back in August 2008, all eyes were on Beijing for a dazzling opening ceremony that captured China's grand-scale ambitions—and that will be hard to top. We tracked the buildup to the Beijing games and published a slide show documenting the capital's frenzied construction of cutting-edge stadiums, subways, and high-rises. With the athletes and spectators long gone, these stadiums have been left lonely and waiting for new purposes. I was intrigued by a story and photos in the NYT this weekend that captured scenes like a guard dozing off at an empty underpass at the Olympic Green and locals sledding on artificial snow at the Bird's Nest. It now doubles as an amusement park with the goofy name of Happy Ice and Snow Season. The NYT reports that the Bird's Nest may or may not host a celebrity rock concert in April and might become the site of a shopping center. The Water Cube—where swimmer Michael Phelps broke one record after another—went on to stage light shows and a Russian performance of "Swan Lake" before its current, more in-character role as an indoor water park. Every host city has to grapple with repurposing these kinds of venues, and some have run into more trouble than Beijing. Athens, whose Olympics construction was plagued by delays and cost overruns, let 21 of its 22 stadiums fall into disrepair. There were even reports of squatter camps in the fields by Faliro Bay Complex back in fall 2008. Closer to home, Atlanta successfully converted its main Olympic stadium into Turner Field for the Braves baseball team, while Georgia Tech oversees the aquatic center and uses the Olympic Village for student housing. Lake Placid, a two-time host, turned the athletes' village into a correctional facility, but opened the bobsled and luge facilities to the public. You can take to the ice yourself at the outdoor speed-skating rink at Lake Placid's Olympic Center, where would-be medalists still train. If you're feeling inspired, consider this Real Deal that includes tickets to the Olympic Center, a stay at the Mirror Lake Inn, and lift tickets to Whiteface Mountain.
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