Ottawa to ring in 2017 with style

In 2017 Canada marks its 150th birthday, with holidaymakers invited to join in the countywide, year-long celebrations. The main focus for national events will be the capital city Ottawa, where 12 epic months of big, bold, immersive and moving experiences will be on offer. 2017 is set to kick off in style with city organisers planning a huge New Year’s Eve party that will light up Ottawa on a scale to surpass all previous years.

Events on 31 December will begin in the early evening with a vast family-friendly New Year’s Eve party that will see the lighting of a symbolic and spectacular gas-powered cauldron in Marion Dewar Plaza in downtown Ottawa. The cauldron, which runs on clean energy, is approximately 16 feet high and 13 feet wide and will burn continuously throughout 2017. The tri-sided installation – an artistic adaption of the Ottawa 2017 logo, will be located in a garden bed that lines the city’s memorial fountain next to the historic Laurier Avenue. Ahead of the lighting, students will form a human chain through Ottawa’s downtown core to symbolise youthful optimism.

Later that evening, official proceedings will move to Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, where a series of special events to welcome in the New Year will take place. ‘Canada 150 Kick Off’ will see crowds gather on the Hill for live music and entertainment that will be broadcast live across Canada. Then at precisely 8.17pm; or on a 24 hour clock 2017, a 20 minute long a pyromusical fireworks display will light up both sides of the Ottawa River.

Canada Day fireworks at Parliament Hill

Also planned is a free Scottish themed New Year’s Eve Hogmanay party, set to take place at Ottawa’s Lansdowne’s Aberdeen Pavilion. It will feature traditional and modern Scottish music, Highland dancing, Scotch tasting sessions, outdoor skating and a fireworks display at midnight. Or for those in search of a black tie event, the Ottawa New Year’s Charity Ball at the Ottawa Conference and Event Centre will offer dancing and an elegant four course meal.

 Plan your trip to Ottawa: www.ottawatourism.ca

#myottawa

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Ottawa diners to reach for the sky in 2017

Next year Canada will celebrate its 150th birthday in style with a vast programme of events taking place across the country. As the capital city, Ottawa is set to be the main focus with 12 full months of big, bold, immersive and moving experiences that will complement national celebrations and annual events and festivals. The latest addition to the programme is a thrilling ‘Dinner in the Sky’ experience that will see diners hoisted 150 feet above the Ottawa skyline.

The sky high dining concept was launched in Brussels in 2006 and has since been featured in 55 other destinations including Paris, Las Vegas and Dubai. It works using amusement park technology that pulls a long 22-seat table into the air by crane, then guests are served dinner in the clouds by fearless waiters. Diners are strapped safely and firmly into their seats throughout and the entire contraption is covered by a canopy to protect against rain and even birds.

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Ottawa’s Sky Lounge will be located in the city’s downtown core and will be operated by the Québec-based company Dîner Entre Ciel et Terre. Guests will get to enjoy unparalleled views of the capital, including stunning vistas of the Ottawa River, Parliament Buildings and historic Rideau Canal.  There will be multiple sittings on offer over the course of a week in August 2017, with five dinners and six tapas-cocktail events every day.

The Ottawa 2017 organising committee has invited local restaurants to take part in the high flying, fine dining project, with more than 30 establishments having registered an interest. Location details and ticket information will be announced shortly with tickets expected to go on sale next month. For more information about Ottawa 2017 and the programme of events scheduled please visit www.ottawa2017.ca .

To plan your trip to Ottawa visit www.ottawatourism.ca

 

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Ottawa Tourism Set to Make WTM Debut

Ottawa Tourism is delighted to announce that it will be exhibiting for the first time at the World Travel Market (WTM) at London’s ExCel Centre 7 – 9 November. Their presence at the UK’s largest travel trade show comes ahead of a momentous anniversary year in 2017, when the capital city will play centre stage for Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations.

Founded in 1971, Ottawa Tourism has been bringing visitors, media and conventions to Ottawa and Canada’s Capital Region for 45 years. The not-for-profit, membership-based organisation, works together with more than 370 tourism-related member businesses to showcase the city’s superb cultural offering, world class accommodation and cutting edge dining and entertainment options.

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Now in its 37th year, WTM attracts more than 50,000 travel professionals from 182 countries spanning 38 sectors. At the show, Ottawa Tourism will have a dedicated section on the Destination Canada stand (Canada’s national tourist board) and will be promoting the capital’s diverse visitor offering to UK media and travel trade. In addition Ottawa Tourism will look to capitalise on the huge programme of events set to take place in the city next year as part of Canada’s sesquicentennial anniversary celebrations.

Jantine Van Kregten will be Ottawa Tourism’s lead delegate during WTM, where she will conduct a series of high-profile journalist interviews and tour operator meetings.  Van Kregten has lived and worked in Ottawa for more than 25 years and has served as the Director of Communications for Ottawa Tourism since November 2003. For the last three years she has played a crucial role as a member of the ‘Ottawa 2017’ planning team.

Created by Ottawa Tourism and supported by a number of community partners, the Ottawa 2017 Bureau is planning 12 full months of big, bold, immersive and moving experiences that will complement national celebrations and annual events and festivals.  Van Kregten will be on hand at WTM to provide all the latest news about this special anniversary year and Ottawa’s extensive programme of events.

To request a WTM on stand interview with Ottawa Tourism, please contact Tim Blostone on tim@axistravelmarketing.co.uk or call +44 (0)208 6862300

This year Ottawa Tourism makes its WTM debut. Visit us on the Destination Canada Stand: NA400

For more information about Ottawa visit: www.ottawatourism.ca

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The Great Tee Off vs Cook Off

I recently attended the Travel 2 & Gold Medal ‘Great Tee off vs Cook Off’ day in Cheshire on behalf of the Axis client Florida Keys and Key West. Held at the Carden Park luxury golf resort on 21 July, the annual event has become a highlight on the UK travel trade calendar. Set in more than 1,000 acres of rolling countryside and overlooking Welsh hills in the distance, the hotel was the perfect setting for the some 200 guests. This was the first time that I had attended the event, and given Travel 2’s and Gold Medal’s reputation for throwing a party, I knew I was in for a great day.

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Around two thirds of attendees opted to play golf while the other guests had signed up to take part in what was billed as a ‘Cook Off’. Thankfully it was forecast to be a beautiful day with warm temperatures, little change of rain and a light wind….the perfect weather for a round! The day kicked off early with the first golfers out on the course before 8am. Every hole was sponsored by an airline, hotel group or tourist board; each of which provided golfers with a different drink and snack. Players had to pace themselves with wines, cocktails, beers and shots as they made their way round the stunning 18 hole course. What’s more there were some pretty incredible prizes on offer for the best golfers, ranging from champagne, hampers, flights, vouchers and even a holiday.

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The Florida Keys and Key West were sponsors of the Cook Off. Situated in a large marque in the resort grounds, about 60 attendees took part in a fast pace cooking competition. Each team was made up four or five participants and were set a series of canopy making challenges. Thankfully my team mates included Karan Hopkins and Marie Vaughan, two travel agents that were not only very skilful cooks but also very forgiving of my abysmal sushi rolling attempts! Rushing against the clock (but still finding time to enjoy a few ice cold ciders) we raced to prepare five different canopy types before arranging our food in the most innovative and presentable way possible. It was a really fun experience but sadly my team were not declared the overall winners on the day. However, while our food may have lost marks for presentation; we could not be faulted for our effort!

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After the Cook Off we enjoyed a fantastic BBQ out on the golf course courtesy of the lovely people at Etihad Airways. And when I say ‘on the golf course’ I literally mean tables and chairs set up on the green! During the lunch I took the opportunity to speak with attendees about the fantastic tourism product on offer in the Florida Keys and Key West. It was a great chance to provide information about the tropical destination’s world-class accommodation, shopping, cultural attractions and buzzing dinning and nightlife scenes.

That evening all of the guests attended a wonderful gala dinner at the hotel where prizes were presented to participants for either their golfing prowess or for their cooking ability. Organisers also took the opportunity to thank attendees for a great day and for all the support they give to Travel 2 & Gold Medal throughout the year. After a delicious three course meal, entrainment was laid on, with a DJ and dancing well in to the early hours!

 

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Selena Gomez is the latest act to rock Ottawa

Chart topper Selena Gomez is the latest in a series of world class acts to perform in Canada’s capital city Ottawa. It has been announced that Gomez will play to a packed crowd at the 20,000-seat Canadian Tire Centre on 25 May as part of her 2016 Revival Tour. Fans can expect the 23-year-old to perform her most popular tracks including A Year Without Rain, Who Says, and Naturally.

Gomez, who ended her fiery relationship with Justin Bieber last year, is embarking on a 50-date arena tour with nine dates planned for Canada. Visiting fans from the UK can expect to pay as little as $50 CAD (£25) for a ticket to the Ottawa show, and with no tour dates yet planned for Europe, it will make for a truly memorable evening.

Ottawa’s live music scene is as eclectic as it is entertaining. To date this year, Ottawa has welcomed Kanye West, Deep Purple, Van Morrison, UB40 and Shania Twain, to name but a few stars. Big festivals have drawn global acts and hundreds of thousands of revellers to the city with the likes of the annual Royal Bank Bluesfest, TD Ottawa Jazz Festival and the CityFolk Festival. 2016 is already shaping up to be another dazzling year for music with Pearl Jam amongst those being rumoured to play the capital.

For those less interested in big-name pop acts there is plenty more live music to be enjoyed on a holiday to Ottawa. Be sure to head to the city’s bohemian ByWard Market district. Littered with independent shops, boutiques, pubs and restaurants, the area is a mecca for buskers and unsigned acts. Expect to find singer-songwriters and cover bands playing to holidaymakers and locals alike at any number of the ByWard Market bars each evening. Or, for those is search of something a little more refined, outstanding orchestra, dance and theatre performances are regularly held at the city’s National Arts Centre between Elgin Street and the Rideau Canal.

However you like to be entertained on your holiday, Ottawa truly offers something for everyone.

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Ottawa turns red and white for Canada Day

For all three of us it was our first trip to Canada, and what better introduction to this beautiful country than a visit to the capital city Ottawa. I would be travelling with Rachael and Mike, two seasoned travel journalists that I clicked with from the off. Rachael was writing a piece for the consumer lifestyle magazine Woman, while Mike was representing the regional giant Trinity Mirror. What excited us most was that we were set to be in Ottawa for Canada Day.

After a swift check in at Heathrow’s recently refurbed terminal 2, we took to the skies with Air Canada at the very manageable time of 12.35pm. A pleasant lunch, the latest sci-fi flick and an afternoon tea later, and we touched down at 3.15pm local time. The team at Ottawa Tourism had advised me that they expected us to disembark the plane, clear passport control, collect our luggage, catch a cab and make the transfer to our city centre hotel all within 45 minutes. I seriously doubted that this would be possible, and I was right. We in fact did all of this in just 40 minutes, if only all airport arrivals could be that easy!

Our accommodation during the five night stay would be the 429 room Fairmont Chateau Laurier. Built at the turn of the century in a French neo-gothic style, the hotel dominates the Ottawa skyline. The building is truly stunning and we could have been forgiven for thinking we had just arrived on the set of an elaborate fantasy film. My room was luxurious and comfortable and kitted out with the latest state of the art facilities. However, like the building throughout out it maintained a sense of Edwardian charm and elegance, as though we could have been aboard the first class decks of the Titanic. The sad irony is that Charles Melville Hays, who commissioned the original hotel, never got to see the finished hotel because he was one of unfortunate souls to go down with the Titanic.

Fairmont Chateau Laurier

For dinner that night we headed to the Courtyard restaurant where we met our fantastic host Jantine from Ottawa Tourism. The Courtyard restaurant was a stone’s throw from our hotel and tucked away in a lovely nineteenth century cobbled square surrounded by delightful pubs and restaurants. Over a delicious French meal we discussed our plans with Jantine for the big day ahead; with so much happening on Canada Day it seemed that our biggest challenge would be deciding what not to do!

The next morning I was up early and headed straight downstairs to Wilfred’s restaurant where I met Rachael and Mike for a hearty breakfast of fried eggs, toast, waffles and maple syrup.  All three of us were dressed from head to toe in red and white and were sporting temporary maple leaf tattoos. To my relief the first thing I noticed when we left our hotel was that everyone else was dressed like us, and I mean everyone! Even at 9am the streets of Ottawa were buzzing with crowds of good natured revellers out to have a good time. We, along with what seemed like everyone else in Canada were making the short walk to Parliament Hill for the start of the official proceedings.

Parliament Hill is home to Ottawa’s impressive Parliament buildings. In the large space that occupies the area directly in front of them a huge stage had been put up complete with enormous screens. It was here that we were treated to a stirring and address by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper before watching a live concert involving some of Canada’s best known rock, pop and country artists. Next we made the short walk to Confederation Park to soak up some of the family friendly atmosphere and to catch a couple of acts that were performing at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival.

Mike, Tim & Rachael on Parliament Hill

Despite only having met Jantine the night before she invited us to her house for her traditional Canada Day BBQ. Over mountains of delicious food and refreshing local craft beer we were introduced to her friends and family who were undoubtedly some of the most welcoming people I have ever met. After lunch we made the short walk across the Ottawa River into Quebec and headed for Jacques-Cartier Park. Here there was a great atmosphere with another music stage, huge inflatables and stalls selling every kind of sweet treats imaginable. Everywhere people would wish us Happy Canada Day and complete strangers seemed genuinely interested in speaking to us. Very quickly I was getting a sense that it wasn’t just Jantine’s friends that were super friendly; it was everyone in Ottawa.

After returning to Parliament Hill for more live music and a fantastic flyby by the Canadian RAF Snowbirds, we headed back to our hotel to watch the Canada Day fireworks. We were lucky enough to have privileged access to the roof of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier which provided one of the best vantage points in the city. The firework show didn’t disappoint, it was a real spectacle to see the whole of downtown Ottawa lit-up, choreographed perfectly to classical and rock music. As we had a final drink in Zoe’s (the hotel lounge and bar) we looked out the window to watch the crowds of red and white flow past into the night. It was clear that the atmosphere was still buzzing with partying set carry on until the early hours.

Fireworks as seen from the roof of our hotel

In the days that followed Rachael, Mike and I loved exploring Ottawa and the outskirts of the city. Mike’s highlights included the fascinating Canadian War Museum, the Canadian Museum of History National and a self-guided craft beer tour of the lively Byward Market. Rachael meanwhile enjoyed a scenic cycling tour of the city with Escape Bicycle Tours, a gastronomic walking tour of Little Italy with C’est Bon Epicurean Adventure and visit to the very impressive National Gallery. Some of my favourite activities included a stroll through the beautiful Gatineau Park, a spooky ghost walk with company Haunted Walk and a captivating tour of the historic Parliament buildings. However we all loved the Nordik Spa, which is North America’s largest spa. After all that celebrating and site seeing it provided the perfect opportunity to unwind.

Totem Pole at the Canadian Museum of History

All three of us were blown away with the food on offer throughout. From local street food such as sweet ‘BeaverTails’ to high end dinning, Ottawa caters for every taste. Play Food and Wine was one of our favourite restaurants, it serves a huge variety of excellent tapas style dishes each paired with a recommended wine. Another fantastic meal was had at The Albion Rooms in downtown Ottawa. We had rustic yet contemporary dishes washed down with delicious signature cocktails.

Tim tucks into a BeaverTail

All too soon our time in Ottawa was up. We had only just touched the surface of the attractions and activities on offer in this vibrant city. What we all agreed that Ottawa is one of the most welcoming places that we had ever been to. It isn’t just the fantastic museums, galleries, architecture, food and nightlife that make Ottawa great, above all it is its people.

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Making a splash in Cancun

It was the first time that Lucy or I had been to Cancun and we couldn’t wait. In typical British style it had rained the whole week before hand so all we could think about was getting on that plane and leaving grey old London far behind.

We flew from Gatwick with Virgin Atlantic departing at the civilised time of midday. A quick check on the weather app for Cancun before boarding and I could see that it would be 28C and sunny every day, perfect! Two in-flight movies, a tasty lunch and a quick power nap later and we touched down in Mexico at 4pm local time. After a painless whisk through passport control we jumped into a taxi and headed for the Hotel Zone, just 25 minutes from the airport.

Our home for the next 7 nights would be the uber cool Melia all-inclusive resort ME Cancun. From the moment our taxi pulled up to the entrance we were made to feel like VIP’s with beautiful members of staff in designer gear beckoning us in. The whole place had an artsy European feel about it with marble floors and water features at every turn; but the property also had an unmistakably Mexican charm about it.

ME Cancun

ME Cancun

Our room was a very stylish ‘Aura’ suite. Kitted out with state of the art mod cons and an unbelievably comfortable king size bed, it was the perfect base for our holiday. One of the things I loved most about it was the seriously generous mini bar; over flowing with cold beers, wine and just about every type of spirit you could imagine; and not just miniatures, I am talking full size tequila bottles!

We had opted for a cost effective all-inclusive package, which I initially had had some reservations about. The 1980’s preconception of tired looking all-inclusive buffets and watered down drinks lurked at the back of my mind but I couldn’t have been more wrong. With 7 stunning restaurants and bars offering a choice of Thai, Mexican, Mediterranean and more, we were truly spoilt for choice. Each restaurant had its own unique style and mouth-watering Al a carte menu offering the best in local and international cuisine. It was clear from the off that ME Cancun sources only the best and freshest ingredients and that there is some serious talent in the kitchens. Lucy’s favourite eatery was Silk, a sophisticated Pan-Asian restaurant serving exquisite fish and meats with a Latin American twist. My favourite was the less formal, but no less charming, Water Grill where I was served lobster and champagne (for a small surcharge) right next to the beach under Caribbean moonlight.

Water Grill

ME Cancun is the perfect resort for just sitting by the pool or lying on the beach under the sun kissed skies. With a swim up pool bar, direct beach access with loungers, onsite water sports and a full waiter service as part of the all-inclusive package, it is easy to see why some guests choose to stay on site for their whole holiday. We opted for parasailing, one of the highlights of our trip. At 300 ft above the sea it is not only an exhilarating experience but it also provides an incredible view overlooking Cancun and the Caribbean Sea. But as tempting as it was to stay at our hotel for the whole week, Lucy insisted that we should go and explore so she went ahead and booked us on two excursions with the help of our delightful hotel concierge.

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Parasailing over the Caribbean Sea

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Tim high up enjoying the view

The Xplor adventure park lies about one hour south of Cancun’s Hotel Zone and is like no theme park I have ever been to. Set in jungle, the park’s main attractions are a series of white-knuckle ziplines. At nearly 100ft above the jungle canopy visitors zip from tree top to tree top at speeds of 30mph; certainly not for the faint hearted! As well as ziplines, Xplor offers a very cool driving experience. With Lucy behind the wheel we raced through caves, over bridges and splashed through water in an open top 4×4’s; it is the closest thing you can get to being in Jurassic park without being chased by a T-Rex! But perhaps our biggest surprise at Xplor was the underground river. Set in ancient caves visitors are able to swim or paddle alongside beautiful rock formations that have taken literally millions of years to form. We chose the rafting option and could have spent hours exploring the winding channels and mysterious passages. With all these activities you would have thought that we would have spent all day queuing, but not a bit of it. What a great day, I could not recommend this place enough!

Xplor adventure

Xplor adventure

Xplor, Una aventura subterranea / An underground adventure

Xplor driving

For something less adrenaline-charged but a little more cultural, the next day we set off on a tour with local company Alltournative. Our driver for the day was Saul, the most enthusiastic and cheerful Mexican I have ever had the pleasure to meet! Saul loved his job and clearly took delight in guiding us to some of the most fascinating sites in the Yucatan Peninsula. Our first stop was Pac-Chen, a traditional Mayan Village about an hour’s drive from our hotel. It was here that we were blessed by an authentic Mayan Shaman before taking a tour of a traditional Mayan home. The villagers could not have made us more welcome and it genuinely felt like we had taken in trip back in time. Next was the village of Chimuch where we learnt Mayan phrases and we were given the opportunity to jump from 15ft into a Cenote (a natural sinkhole surrounded by ancient limestone). Lucy decided to sit this one and instead chose to take a picture of me making the leap. Splashing down into the cool natural waters could not have been more refreshing and is an experience that I will never forget. Then it was time for lunch. Cooked in front of us by a Mayan family we were treated to authentic and delicious dishes of meats, vegetables and spices cooked in traditional ovens. Over lunch Saul told us about Mayan myths and legends and how his company is working with local families to preserve this unique way of life.

Tim swims in a cenote

Tim swims in a cenote

A blessing

A  Mayan blessing

Our final stop that day was Cobá, a majestic archaeological site dating back to the 9th Century. Set in thick jungle, the area is home to some of the oldest and most important Mayan treasures in the region, the most impressive of which is the colossal Nohoch Mul pyramid. Unlike similar nearby structures visitors are permitted to climb to the summit. The ascent to the top is not for those with a nervous disposition or for those that are scared of heights, but it sure is worth it! The view from the top is one of the most impressive I have ever seen, at 138ft high it is possible to see for 20 miles in each direction; truly stunning.

Exlporing Mayan ruins

Exploring Mayan ruins

On top of the world

On top of the world

Cancun really is the ideal destination for those wanting a perfect beach holiday with impeccable service. But what surprised us it just how much there is on offer beyond this. Whether it’s adventure, culture, dinning or nightlife, Cancun has it all. We only scratched the surface so can’t wait to go back!

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