Originally published Aug 2018 in The Globe & Mail
If you’re one of those sad souls who have been gazing longingly at other people’s summer vacation Instagram posts while chained to your desk (You know what, Pam? Europe doesn’t look nice at all!) there’s still hope for you. We may be hurtling toward fall with the accumulated speed of so many sunscreen-slicked water slides, but there are still good getaways to be had for the final few weeks of August.
“It’s always exciting to fly by the seat of your pants,” said Ilana Valo, owner of Twil Travel in Toronto. “With a last-minute trip, I think you’re more open to adventure, because you know your options are limited, so we can have a bit more fun with it. But summer is still peak season everywhere, so even if you get that last-minute flight and hotel, you’re going to have a harder time with things like finding guides and getting into the best restaurants. At the end of the day, you really have to be open minded and flexible.”
We asked travel advisers – who have access to inside information and exclusive deals or upgrades that Google doesn’t – for some of their top picks for a last-minute getaway.
Can’t bear it
The end of August kicks off prime grizzly viewing season in northern British Columbia, so Jane Patrick, a Virtuoso adviser and adventure-travel specialist at North South Travel in Vancouver, suggests a grizzly bear safari at the posh, all-inclusive Tweedsmuir Park Lodge.
“It’s a real gem,” she said of the boutique property, located in the jaw-dropping Great Bear Rainforest. “The accommodations are these beautiful, lovely log wood cabins that have all the amenities and the meals are just out of this world. It’s fabulous and people really don’t know about it.”
While Tweedsmuir is remote, you can catch a 70-minute morning flight to the nearby town of Bella Coola from Vancouver on Pacific Coastal Airlines and be polishing your binoculars in front of the fire by lunch. The lodge offers various packages ranging from three to seven nights that include food and daily activities such as leisurely boat rides down the Atnarko River to catch bears scooping a little salmon poke out of the water, horseback riding on Icelandic horses or tours by local Indigenous guides to First Nations’ landmarks. Alcohol and heli-hiking or heli-sightseeing – where a helicopter whisks you deep into the Coast Mountains – are available for additional costs. Shhh, don’t tell Goldilocks. From $1,575 for children (11-18), $3,150 for adults for three nights.
It’s low season for many of the popular Caribbean and Mexican destinations, which means attractive prices at even the higher-end beach properties.
“A beach all-inclusive vacation isn’t usually top of mind at this time of year,” said Rachel Goldrick, senior corporate communications manager for the Sunwing Travel Group, “but it should be. The value you get for a family when you think of the price of renting a cottage or even doing a staycation and visiting a lot of attractions where your kid wants a Coke or an ice cream every two minutes – it’s amazing how quickly those costs add up.”
For families, Goldrick recommends the Hotel Riu Dunamar, a newish all-inclusive five-star in the up-and-coming Playa Mujeres area near Cancun. (From about $4,400 for a family of four for seven nights, including taxes, flights and hotel transfers.) The resort features a water park and a stay includes the kids’ club – buh-bye, summer camp fees – and the use of kayaks, snorkelling equipment and pedal boats. “It’s a gorgeous piece of beachfront,” Goldrick said, “and the island of Mujeres, which has a sweet little village, is just opposite the resort, so it’s easy to do an excursion.”
But what about hurricane season? Nobody wants their beach getaway completely rained out.
“I’ve travelled during hurricane season a lot,” said Michele Smith, the owner of MLS Travel in Toronto and a member of Travel Professionals International and the Virtuoso network. “It happens, but I always tell my clients it really doesn’t happen every day. And you should always 100 per cent buy travel insurance. That way, if there’s an advisory, you can usually cancel your trip.”
For families in search of a trip with great value, Smith recommends the Melia Jardines Del Rey in Cayo Coco, Cuba, where a family of four can snag a seven-night stay for about $2,700, including flights. Bonus? It’s only 15 minutes from the airport.
Summer is a great time for a cruise to Alaska, especially for anyone who enjoys sunshine and adventure travel but isn’t a fan of super-hot weather. Couples and families with older children – often travelling in multi-generational groups – love this stunning destination that offers opportunities for everything from white-water rafting and hiking to fjord gazing and wildlife spotting.
For the luxury-loving Alaskan adventurer, Valo suggests the Regent Seven Seas Mariner, sailing from Vancouver to Anchorage. While the price – starting around $8,500 a person for seven nights, including round-trip flights or cruise credit in lieu – might provide an initial zap of sticker shock, Valo said she’s a fan of Regent because things that cost extra on most ships, such as shore excursions, transfers, premium alcohol, gratuities, specialty dining and WiFi, are all included.
“If you actually start adding up the cost of all those items, you’d be very surprised to see it’s actually not that far off in terms of apples-to-apples pricing” Valo said. “For someone who is like, ‘I want to leave tomorrow, I don’t want to think, I just want to show up, know what I’m getting into and enjoy,’ this is perfect.”
For a less dear Alaskan option, Smith suggests Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas for a seven-night cruise from Seward to Vancouver, starting at around $3,800 a person, including taxes.
Love is in the air
Couples looking to splurge might want to consider a romantic romp at the incredibly exclusive Amanyara resort in the Turks and Caicos.
“Aman is that sort of bucket-list aspirational hotel that people want to go to,” said Valo, who suggests the season of discovery package for US$1350 a night, based on double occupancy if you stay for six nights or more. It includes all your meals at this usually à la carte spot. “Amans don’t discount their rates, but they will occasionally provide these value-added promotions. So it’s a great opportunity for people to get their foot in the door and try these amazing properties they’ve heard so much about that at other times of year would normally be out of reach.”
Trip prices and availability were accurate at the time of reporting.
Special to The Globe and Mail