WHAT TO DO | Prince of Whales | Half-Day Whale Watching Adventures by Jenn Chan

Prince of Whales, Salish Sea Dream


If you’ve visited or live in Vancouver chances are good that you have checked out some of the iconic attractions around town: Stanley Park, Capilano Suspension Bridge, Granville Island.  Perhaps you’ve gone for a harbour cruise, too.  I’ve done a harbour cruise and it was lovely but slow, sedate even.  If you want to kick up the excitement factor by a thousand percent I suggest a whale watching trip.  When Jenn suggested we try the half day trip with Prince of Whales Whale Watching I immediately said yes!  I don’t have a bucket list of adventures to tick off but if I did whale watching would be a must do.

Check in time is half an hour before departure time.  The office for Prince of Whales is in the Westin Bayshore Hotel right on the waterfront in downtown Vancouver.  After picking up our boarding cards we congregated outside with about ninety other passengers.  Our splendid boat was the Salish Sea Dream, a purpose built 78 foot catamaran.  It cost 3.5 million dollars and entered service just last year.  Top speed is 35 knots, it has four jets rather than propellers, and it is very stable at all speeds.  Boarding was quick and efficient and we left the dock a few minutes early with everyone aboard.  There is enclosed seating on the main deck, semi-enclosed and open seating on the upper deck.  A snack bar and washrooms are located on the main deck.


One of the benefits of starting the trip from the Westin Bayshore is seeing the sparkling Vancouver skyline from the water as we depart. A safety briefing is conducted as we leave port.  Rounding Stanley Park and passing under the Lions Gate Bridge is worth several photos, and like everyone else aboard we could not resist these photo ops.  Once out of the harbour the speed picks up and it becomes apparent why it was suggested we dress warmly.  Blankets are passed out for the comfort of those who prefer to remain in the open air seating.  Baseball style hats are susceptible to being lost overboard because of the wind so you are forewarned to stow them away before regretting your choice of headwear.


Vancouver Skyline
Windy on Prince of Whales


In less time than it takes me to drive to Ikea the Salish Sea Dream has arrived at a large yellow buoy not far from Bowen Island with half a dozen Steller Sea Lions on it seemingly yearning for their photos to be taken.  The captain announced over the loudspeakers that he would position the boat so the buoy would be on the left side.  Even with everybody rushing to the port side the catamaran was rock steady!  It was thrilling to watch the sea lions.  They are huge!  One of them drew a few laughs as it tried and failed to climb aboard the buoy from the water.


Sea Lions on Buoy
Sea Lions



Our course continued westward towards Nanaimo.  The route taken by the boat varies daily depending on best estimates as to where whales might be located.  A humpback whale had been found yesterday and we were in search of its location today.  After a short while some arms raised, fingers pointing to a spot on the water in the distance.  Nobody shouted “Thar she blows!” but the electric feeling of the sighting excited all aboard.  We approached slowly, trying to anticipate where the whale would surface next.  Humpback whales can stay underwater for up to half an hour but normally surface much more frequently.  When they exhale a large plume of spray from the two blowholes can be spotted from a great distance.  Once we sighted the whale again we moved closer for a better look.  Guidelines stipulate being no closer than 100 meters to a humpback whale.  Had we spotted an orca the closest we could have approached would be 200 meters.  I think we rapturously watched this whale for about half an hour, its movements becoming more familiar to us with time: a few breaths, a deep dive that exposed the tail fluke, a few minutes of waiting for the whale to resurface.  Humpback whales don’t really have a hump on their backs, they just arch their backs into a hump-like shape as they start a dive.  The well informed staff aboard the Salish Sea Dream were eager to share information about this whale and also everything we saw and experienced while aboard.  This particular humpback whale is known as Ghost.  Identification is made by the distinctive markings on the tail fluke.  We didn’t get to see Ghost breach or slap the water with its flippers or tail but it was incredible to see this huge creature of the ocean so close to us.


 Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale


Closer to Nanaimo we saw multitudes of Harbour Seals, some of them picturesquely posing by Entrance Island.  The whole area around Gabriola Island is gorgeous from the water.  This trip could be renamed a Seal Watching Expedition as we saw so many Harbour Seals and Stellar Sea Lions.  We even caught sight of a huge eagle resting on some rocks before flying off.  The return crossing of the Strait of Georgia back to Vancouver gave staff an opportunity to show us on a map exactly where we had wildlife sightings.  I would suggest you take the opportunity to chat for a while with the friendly staff.  They have seen and experienced wonderful things and have some great stories to tell.  Kids in particular were very keen to learn all about the whales.  Jenn and I compared our photos from the day and relaxed for a while, rousing ourselves again for the always impressive entrance to Vancouver under the Lions Gate Bridge.  This was a great day on the water.


Seals
Seals
Islands
Lions Gate Bridge
Vancouver Skyline


Prince of Whales Whale Watching season is from late April to the first few days of November.  From early June to the first week of September there are two excursions per day, one at 8:30 a.m. and the other at 2:30 p.m.  The rest of the season there is one trip per day at 12 noon.  A long lens will be great if you are a photographer, binoculars will be handy for those without cameras.  Dress for strong winds, it is rather cool out on the water.  You might want to bring some food and water with you.  On sunny days you will want sunglasses and sunscreen.  The website for Prince of Whales is https://princeofwhales.com/ 

Prince of Whales
Prince of Whales
 

Words: Steve McConnell
Photos: 
Jenn Chan

Kwilt Shoebox Plus by Jenn Chan

Kwilt Shoebox Plus
Kwilt Shoebox Plus

The Kwilt Shoebox Plus has JUST launched, and is a device that creates a private, personal cloud where you can offload photos and videos to clear off space from your smartphones securely. You can easily access your files anytime, and anywhere via the app.

I was lucky enough to be able to test out one of the units, and I’ve got to say, after all the set up and registration, it was a breeze to use and upload files off my iphone to the device. Seeing as I snap lots of photos and videos daily, I’m so thankful to be able to clear off some space instead of having to make the hard decision of what to delete! (we have all been there!) The part I like most is knowing that all my files are secured and only able to be accessed by me.

All you have to do for set up is:

  1. Power up your Shoebox device, and connect to your WIFI connection

  2. Connect your USB Memory Card (it comes with a 64GB drive)

  3. Download the Kwilt mobile app (sign up for an account & log in)

The Kwilt Shoebox Plus is priced at $119. The Kwilt Shoebox Plus is platform agnostic and includes all of the great features of its sister product, the Kwilt Shoebox Mini, plus even faster processing speeds thanks to its Quad-Core CPU, 5 GHz Wireless-AC network and the ability to connect directly to your router through fast Ethernet. Photos are uploaded in seconds, and its additional USB ports allow up to 4 storage devices to be connected simultaneously. With the Plus, consumers can:

 

  • Offload mobile photos and videos seamlessly at faster speeds

  • Enjoy unlimited mobile storage by connecting up to 4 USB storage devices to the Kwilt Shoebox

  • Maintain original, full-resolution photos and videos

  • Access photos and videos from anywhere, on any mobile platform

  • No longer pay monthly storage subscription fees

  • Maintain complete privacy with a personal cloud accessible only by the consumer

More specs & purchase information can be found at https://www.kwiltshoebox.com/. The Kwilt app is available for free on the Android and iTunes app stores.

Kwilt Shoebox Plus App
Kwilt Shoebox Plus App
Kwilt Shoebox Plus App
 

New Fall Drinks at Starbucks starting September 6, 2018 by Jenn Chan

IMG_4973.JPG

 

If you're like 80% of people in Vancouver, you're probably happy to see the Pumpkin Spice Latte back on the menu at Starbucks. #PSLseason It's what most people look forward to come Fall, and despite me wishing summer would stay forever, I have come to terms that fall is upon us. With the return of PSL, Starbucks has come up with another handcrafted drink to add to the Starbucks Fall line up. NEW Cardamom Latte is a new Canadian exclusive beverage with a robust, aromatic taste.  Designated as a ‘food trend to watch for’ this year, cardamom spice is blended harmoniously with Starbucks® signature espresso to create a unique and delicious latte experience that will be available only in Canadian cafes starting Thursday, September 6th.

 

Inspired by the craft of the Starbucks ReserveTM Roastery in Seattle, the Cardamom Latte was adapted specifically for Canadians, as customers gravitate towards elevated taste experiences that reflect our global appetite, in a way that only Starbucks and our skilled baristas can offer. The latte delivers a rich, complex spice through earthy, floral, citrus and vanilla notes to perfectly complement Starbucks signature Espresso Roast.

 

Along with the new Cardamom Latte, they’ve also rolled out some new snacks: Maple Peacan Muffin, Pumpkin Scone, Fox Iced Sugar Cookie and my new personal favourite, the Classic Coffee Cake.

 

Starbucks Cardamom Latte
Starbucks NEW Maple Pecan Muffin
Starbucks Salted Caramel Mocha
Starbucks Fox Iced Sugar Cookie
Starbucks NEW Cold Foam Dark Cocoa Nitro
 
 

PRESS RELEASE | Top 10 things to see at IDS Vancouver 2018 by Jenn Chan

The Interior Design Show will return to Vancouver for its 14th year. The week-long design show will kick off on Tuesday, September 18 with a series of offsite events running until Sunday, September 23. IDS is the Pacific platform for all things design and is the premier showcase of new products and furniture, superstar designers and avantgarde concepts from North America and beyond

Here are top 10 things not to be missed this year:
 

IDS Vancouver 2018
IDS Vancouver 2018
IDS Vancouver 2018
IDS Vancouver 2018

 

IDS Vancouver will take place at Vancouver Convention Centre West from September 20-23, 2018

For tickets and information: http://vancouver.interiordesignshow.com/

 

 

TRAVEL | Fairmont YVR Gold Lounge Launch by Jenn Chan

 

There are times when I’ve flown across an ocean or a continent and had a long layover before my next flight.  The airport hotels I’ve stayed in have been a welcome respite on a long journey.  Some are basic; a shower and a bed for a few hours.  Others are more luxurious.  The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel definitely fits the latter category.  The crème de la crème of the rooms available in the hotel are on the Gold Floor, essentially a hotel within a hotel.  Fairmont has recently renovated and updated all the Gold rooms and the results are impressive.

 

The hotel access is via escalator (or elevator) next to the USA Check In area on Level 3, the departures level.  From the escalator to the main lobby is a walkway with a great view over the concourse.  A horizontal chandelier the length of the walkway signals that you have left the hustle and bustle of the airport behind and you are now entering a zone of elegance.  Elevators from the main hotel lobby take you to the 14th floor, the Gold Floor.  The redesigned Gold Floor reception desk has changed from an enclosed office to a more friendly open desk.  The styling is West Coast inspired.  Aeronautical, streamlined, efficiently luxurious.

 

Fairmont YVR
Fairmont YVR

 

There are 37 Gold Rooms (36 of them on the 14th floor) and the first one we checked out was room 1422.  Talk about a room with a view!  Each and every room has mesmerizing views through the large windows.  A plane spotting guide and an optically excellent spotting scope (Olivon brand) are standard features in every Gold room.  1422 has two queen beds; rooms with a single king bed are also available.  The feeling is residential with furnishings carefully chosen to not impede the view.  Even from the soaker tub there is a clear view out the window if the privacy doors are opened.  The sleek aeronautical design of the headboards is reminiscent of a sleeping pod on a First Class long haul flight.

 

Connected travelers will be happy to see USB charging ports are plentiful and integrated with the regular electrical outlets.  Rooms have nice wall mounted large flat screen televisions, Nespresso machines, and cool wall switches by the beds to control lights and drapes.  I should mention that the sound proofing is excellent.  I did not notice any noise from outside and there were jet airplanes taking off and landing frequently.

 

Fairmont YVR Gold Room
Fairmont YVR Gold Room
Fairmont YVR Gold Room

 

As wonderful as the Gold rooms are there is another option for the discerning traveler.  The Jade Suite, room 1445, is the type of room that one believes movie stars and royalty would stay in.  The bed is king sized, the bathroom opulent with jade, the bespoke wood furnishings (by a Vancouver Island mill worker) fabulous.  The suite is large with a comfortable relaxed seating area and a dining area.  The expansive windows wrap around two sides of the suite.  I’m almost tempted to describe the suite as splendiferous but that doesn’t really convey the level of relaxed elegance I experienced.

 

Fairmont YVR Jade Suite
Fairmont YVR Jade Suite
Fairmont YVR Jade Suite
Fairmont YVR Jade Suite
Fairmont YVR Jade Suite

 

The Fairmont Gold Lounge, located directly behind the reception desk, serves a Deluxe Continental breakfast buffet between 6:30am and 10am.  There is an option to have breakfast delivered to your room should you have an earlier departure.  The Gold Lounge is like a Business Class or First Class airport lounge, only better and more exclusive.  Snacks are available in the afternoon.  Canapés and desserts are available later in the day.  The honor bar is open noon to 9:30.  I quite enjoyed the food I sampled.  I estimated 36 people could comfortably sit in the lounge.  The style is equal to the Gold rooms with bespoke wood furnishings and, of course, amazing views out the floor to ceiling windows.

 

Fairmont YVR Gold Lounge
Fairmont YVR Gold Lounge
Fairmont YVR Gold Lounge
Fairmont YVR Gold Lounge
Fairmont YVR Gold Lounge
IMG_3565.jpg

 

I was very happy to see the redesigned Fairmont Vancouver Airport Gold Floor.  It already had an excellent reputation and my expectations were exceeded.  The hotel is one of the top 10 airport hotels in the world and the Gold Floor is a fantastic choice for First Class and Business travelers.  I would even recommend it for a staycation if you are looking for a luxury hotel stay near home.  Downtown Vancouver is easily accessible by taxi or skytrain.    As Austin Powers’ villain Goldmember said, I love Gold!  You will too if you stay on the Gold Floor of the Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel.

 

The Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel is located in Vancouver International Airport.

https://www.fairmont.com/vancouver-airport-richmond/accommodations/fairmont-gold/

 

YVR Airport
 
 

FOOD | New Menu items at Tractor Foods by Jenn Chan

Tractor Foods

 

When I was a kid the typical salad on the dinner table was iceberg lettuce with Kraft Ranch Dressing, or maybe Kraft Russian Dressing.  For variety it might be Kraft Zesty Italian Dressing on the lettuce with some added croutons.  As you might have guessed my childhood did not engender a fondness for salads in me.  As an adult I am pleased to say that I have found some excellent salads that have managed to turn my salad opinion around.  I will even go so far as to say that these salads qualify, in my opinion, as comfort foods.  This much needed correction to my salad bias is due largely to Tractor, the Everyday Healthy Food restaurants.  A fifth Vancouver location recently opened at 601 West Broadway and that is where we tried some new additions to the menu.

 

The layout of each Tractor location varies but the premise is the same: fresh, nutritious, delicious, locally sourced healthy foods served in a cafeteria style setting.  The Broadway location has patio seating on the large plaza at the corner of Broadway and Ash.  Once inside the line for food starts to the left.  Seeing all the freshly made food and looking at the menu may make you want to order one of everything, and maybe some wine or a craft beer too.  The soups are hearty and the stews satisfyingly filling.  Sandwiches don’t skimp on the fillings and can be ordered half size or whole.

 

Tractor Foods
Tractor Foods
Tractor Foods Menu
Tractor Foods Menu

 

The Everyday Rice Bowl has a base of rice and power greens.  With one market side and grilled avocado and you’ve got a meal for $9.95.  I loved the grilled avocado!  Should you, for some reason, want something other than avocado you can get the Everyday Rice Bowl with tofu or a hard boiled egg instead of avocado.  For a market side I had a kimchi topping.  If you are concerned about the kimchi being spicy you can rest easy, it is a mild type of kimchi that was enjoyable and not tongue searingly spicy.  There is a good choice of market sides so you could have a different Everyday Rice Bowl each day of the week and still have more options for next week.

 

A new mocktail, the Tractor Natural, is light and refreshing to drink.  It has sparkling water, grapefruit juice and rosemary.  It looks and tastes summery and I think quite a few of them will be seen on the patio this summer.

 

 New Bowls at Tractor Foods

New Bowls at Tractor Foods

 New Mocktail: Tractor Natural

New Mocktail: Tractor Natural

 Everyday Bowl: Rice + Power Greens + 1 market side + grilled avo

Everyday Bowl: Rice + Power Greens + 1 market side + grilled avo

 

The Short Rib Bowl has certified Angus Beef Short Rib and adds a second market side to the rice and power greens for a price of $14.50.  We tried it with Mediterranean Couscous (couscous, grilled asparagus, basil, Kalamata olives, radicchio, shredded kale, orange thyme dressing) and Artichokes (artichokes, white beans, napa cabbage, watermelon radish, cannellini beans, parsley, orange balsamic vinaigrette) as the two sides.  However the bitterness of radicchio doesn’t appeal to me so I picked it out of the bowl.  To my taste this made the Mediterranean Couscous much better and I would not hesitate to order it again.  The Artichokes market side was quite good, no quibbles from me.  The beef was tender, moist, mouth wateringly delicious.  A great combo bowl, with that one small caveat.

 

 

 Short Rib Bowl

Short Rib Bowl

 

The third new bowl item on the menu we tried was the Wild Coho Salmon Bowl which cost $15.50.  The salmon is Ocean Wise, which means it is an ocean friendly sustainable seafood choice.  The chermoula sauce on the fish was amazing!  Chermoula (aka charmoula, aka charmola) is a marinade that originates in North Africa with variations from Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Morocco.  The market side with the salmon was equally amazing.  Grilled pears, arugula, candied walnuts, blue cheese dressing.  This is the kind of salad that makes friends easily.  The blue cheese dressing alone could make any salad better.  Maybe even a salad with radicchio.  The thin slices of grilled pear compliment the salmon well.  This dish is a winner all round.

 

 Wild Coho Salmon Bowl

Wild Coho Salmon Bowl

 

Tractor has several grab and go items that could be eaten as desert after your meal, while binge watching Netflix, or as a mid day snack at the office.  The Dark Chocolate Bark could be described as a decadent granola bar but without the granola.  It has goji berries, apricot, pumpkin seeds and a slab of marvelous dark chocolate.  The Zucchini Loaf is densely packed with healthy goodness.  I initially compared the density to Christmas cake (which I dislike).  The zucchini loaf won me over and later in the day I found myself wishing I had bought a slice or two to take home.  Since it is a hefty hunk of healthiness you may want to enjoy it with a beverage and my choice is the ginger flavoured Kombucha.  It is a mildly sparkling and tasty cold tea drink, also available in a berry flavour.  Of course the chocolate cookies from Tractor are incredible, and gluten free too.  Jenn’s drink choice was a Matcha Latte, which she loves.

 

 Dark Chocolate Bark, Zucchini Bread, Ginger Kombucha

Dark Chocolate Bark, Zucchini Bread, Ginger Kombucha

Dark Chocolate Bark

 

This location at Broadway and Ash has only been open for a short while.  It is already very popular and every seat was filled at lunch time.  Service is fast, which you would expect from a cafeteria style eatery, and the food was excellent.  Hours are 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. seven days a week.  The other Vancouver locations have different hours, and may have some menu variations.  I’ve never been disappointed when eating at Tractor.  The food tastes great, it’s healthy,  the prices affordable, and take out is available.  There are a wide variety of vegetarian choices.  What more need I say to convince you to go there?  Maybe two words: grilled avocado.

 

Tractor Everyday Healthy Foods

601 West Broadway (Broadway & Ash)