In the latest instalment of Staff Stories, our senior long haul product manager Kathy Vigolo captures each highlight of her Canadian adventure, covering everything from Covid safety to delicious roasts. Take it away, Kathy!
A misty day in Toronto
Our first day in Canada was a misty one, but we were able to spot the skyscrapers of Toronto tucked between the clouds. Our customers loved this beautiful city. Beyond the highlights, we managed to meet the tallest dog on the planet and visited the most unique shoe workshop I have ever seen.
New heights, city lights
We settled into our accommodation nicely. The Westin Harbour Castle was in a fantastic position right on Lake Ontario so there were plenty of lovely walks. It was just a 10-minute stroll from the heart of Toronto, and all the rooms were very spacious with a partial or full view of the lake.
The next day, we had the magical experience of heading up Toronto's CN Tower at night. It was an incredible ascent, reaching 447 metres above the city to see the dazzling lights.
The COVID health and safety necessities
If you’re curious about the COVID health and safety measures over here, we had to wear masks indoors and on public transport (in restaurants and pubs you can take your mask off once seated) and to enter restaurants and pubs we needed to show proof of double vaccination. In general, all venues were open, but some have reduced days. Pre-booking is always recommended!
That bucket-list waterfall...
Niagara Falls was under a two-hour drive from the hotel and of course, it was on everyone’s bucket list!
This was a full-day excursion, beginning at 8.30 am and returning by 5.30 pm, so there was free time in the evening to continue exploring Toronto by night. It was another day filled with very happy customers!
A road trip through Eastern Canada
We made our way from Toronto to Montréal, making a few curious stops. The scenery was magnificent as we entered the province of Québec. I was in love with this part of Canada. The countryside had fall colours dotted everywhere, and a lovely, cosy atmosphere.
The Big Apple, aka the kingdom of apple pies, was the first stop. We enjoyed a well-appointed coffee shop and plenty of delicious pies, then made a lunch stop in the village of Kingston, followed by a lovely break in Ottawa city before we arrived in Montréal.
Our hotel, Le Centre Sheraton Montréal, was impeccable. The customers loved it. All rooms were recently refurbished and it was centrally located, only a 15-minute walk to Montréal’s old town.
The quirks of Québec
Québec City was a beautiful, quirky destination. It was by far my favourite place in Eastern Canada! From wonderful European-style architecture to harp players basking on the streets, to events such as the Best Pumpkin Competition to ring in autumn.
It was another long day, as there was quite a distance to cover, but our tour manager did a fantastic job finding interesting stops along the way. One stop was at The Sugar Shack, a traditional farm and restaurant with responsibly sourced maple syrup. We enjoyed a full introduction to maple syrup methods and interesting facts.
The Rockies and beyond
We left behind the delights of Eastern Canada and jetted to the Rockies. Our customers made new friends, giving parting gifts to tour manager Jeff and driver Wib. After arriving in Calgary, it took under two hours to reach Banff - home for the next two days. We met our new tour manager Sinead at the airport, who I cannot praise enough. Banff was a vibrant town with a variety of activities, restaurants, and shops. Our customers enjoyed a unique evening out, filled with live music and laughter.
The next day was all about Banff National Park. The panoramic scenery atop Sulphur Mountain offered a once-in-a-lifetime view. This was an optional excursion, and only a few didn't join, but I encourage everyone to come along next time! It was so, so worth it.
Afterwards, we explored the delightful nature trails around the town - catching an occasional glimpse of local wildlife. We even spotted a grizzly bear!
Travelling from Banff to Jasper took us to the heart of the Rockies, with spectacular mountains, forests, and blue lakes along the way. It's the kind of drive in which a nap is highly forbidden... there is just too much to miss out on!
The day had four seasons, from sunny and warm Banff to gentle snow on Lake Louise, to snowstorms through the Icefield Park. Whatever the weather, the landscape remains pristine. On the way to the cosy hotel in Jasper, the Whistler’s Inn, I spotted a ranger taking care of a black bear and its two cubs, thoroughly enjoying themselves in a private garden, possibly looking for food and berries before their hibernation period.
The beautiful journey through the Rockies continued, from Jasper National Park to the ski resort of Sun Peaks where we stopped to break the journey overnight. We had the most delicious Canadian roast dinner. The day included some elk sightings. Wildlife is key to a special day on tour, so it’s a welcome reward every time.
The next morning, we continued our road trip towards Vancouver, passing by the town of Hope, where the original Rambo was filmed. Despite some rainy weather, Vancouver did not disappoint... it's a remarkable city with plenty of adventure. Most of us chose to walk the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park situated in a rainforest environment with stunning, looming trees.
Farewell, Great White North
Myself and four customers explored Grouse Mountain independently by cable car to enjoy views of Vancouver, but mostly, to search for more bears… and as you know, we found them! There was no better way to end our tour.
Preparations for our return flight to the UK were easier than on the way over to Canada, with only the passenger locator form to fill in and easy check-in at the airport. I left Canada with a great group of new friends and happy customers!