Happy to present Melanie Fine of Excellent Vacations Ideas
1) Who are you?
My name is Melanie Fine; I am a wife, step mother, perpetual traveler, business partner, webmaster and a certified public accountant that really doesnâ€™t like accounting. My main business is with my husband â€“ Complete Systems â€“ a local IT consulting for small and medium sized businesses. I am also the creator of 2 websites Excellent Vacations Ideas and Transform Your Money.
We live just outside of Toronto, Canada. I have always had a passion for traveling. Growing up my parents made sure we travelled every year while we were young, even if money was tight. This put the travel bug in me and I was hooked. When I married my husband I infected him with the travel bug which has led us to traveling at least 5-6 times a year together as a family or as a couple.
I myself have visited all of the worldâ€™s continents except for Antarctica (but will get there!) and always have stories to tell. That is what inspired my website and travel journal.
We spend a lot of time in Florida and Las Vegas, and at least once a year we take a longer international trip. Last year was a 4 week family trip to Australia and Hawaii. This year will be a romantic 3 weeks in Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia. We also enjoy cruising as we can experience a variety of places and choose which ones we would like to go back to, without packing and unpacking at each destination.
2) What do you like about what you do?
This is the easiest question to answer. I get to travel and then share my adventures on my website, twitter and blog and live it all over again. In my travels I get to learn about new cultures, destinations and adventures everyday, what could be better than that?
Through my website and online conversations I love to inspire others to live life outside their box. I try to inspire them to experience the world by getting away together. I get to inspire couples to take time away together and nurture their relationship or families to get away and enjoy each other! Our motto is a family that plays together stays together!
3) What don’t you like about what you do?
Iâ€™m sure you hear this from a lot of people but I hate that there is not enough time to do it all â€“ I wish I could write more content everyday â€“ but then I would need at least 4 extra hours in the day. Between the day to day activities of our computer consulting business, being a wife and step mother, and working on my websites, I find that I am always feeling like I am falling behind with something.
Sometimes itâ€™s tough to keep up with all the information out there. I get excited about one destination or sharing one of our experiences and start to write about it, then something else comes along that is just as exciting. The secret is to prioritize and stick to it.
4) Please tell us all about your blog and your aims with it.
My goal with my blog and website is to inspire families and couples with great vacation ideas to enhance their bonding as a family or couple. I hope that by sharing our travel experiences or something that I find in my internet travels, I will inspire them to spend time exploring this amazing world together.
I find that traveling as a family really bonds us together. Not only does it create an opportunity for us to spend a lot of time together, it also shows Montana (my 13 year old step daughter) that there is more to life then the everyday. She has learned to appreciate what she has and patience, tolerance and love for other cultures and types of people.
I also want to show how travelling without the kids is just as important as travelling with the kids. It gives couple a chance to nurture and enrich their relationship. I have found that as a couple we have learned how to solve challenges together while traveling and enrich our relationship while traveling then by doing anything else together â€“ well except for maybe hanging wallpaper together (something we have learned not to do together!)
So by sharing our experiences I hope that others will see the value in traveling together. And maybe step outside their normal â€œvacationsâ€ and try something new and different.
5) Your top 3 destination experiences youâ€™ve ever stayed to date and why?
I love to travel anywhere â€“ even somewhere close like Niagara Falls. I find it hard to think of 3 specific experiences, in fact I had to go to my â€œWhere I have been mapâ€ for inspiration to try to figure out 3 of my top destination experiences because they are all AMAZING experiences. I always find the best in every destination.
One of my top destinations is Kenya. I was fortunate enough to travel to Kenya when I was 21. It not only changed my view of the world, taught me to appreciate the world and the absolute beauty there is in the world. The animals and safaris were incredible, and even over 15 years later I can still remember the majority of the trip as if it happened last year. We were fortunate enough to be invited to a local village for dinner just outside of Mombasa. The people that lived in the village were incredibly generous and kind and opened their homes to us even though they had very little. That experience changed the way that I thought about the world, and for the first time I really got how privileged I am to live in Canada and to have the life I live.
While in university I spent a semester in Melbourne, Australia. I then returned with my family in the summer of 2008. I love Australia for its diversity and its people. There are so many things to see and do; dining in the amazing restaurants in cosmopolitan Melbourne, watching the penguins at Philip Island, diving the Great Barrier Reef, sand tobogganing on Moreton Island, whale watching off of Brisbane, to staying in an Aboriginal village and camping out under the stars.
As we visit there often there must be a reason, so I will also include Las Vegas, in the USA. Warren and I enjoy at least 2 weekends a year in Las Vegas. We love it as we take this time to reconnect and enjoy the sun, food and resort hotels. We enjoy the service and we like to play. Warren loves Baccarat and I play poker. We find it a great way to unwind from our busy and hectic lives. We have done most activities, from taking a helicopter to the Grand Canyon, to skydiving, to seeing the shows. I find that some people donâ€™t like Las Vegas because of the â€œtackinessâ€ etc. but to be honest there is so much more to Las Vegas than the lights and over the top feeling of it.
6) Your top 3 accommodations youâ€™ve ever stayed to date and why?
Well, before I met my husband, you would have found me in a hostel or cheaper hotel. When I traveled alone, I enjoyed meeting others in these types of environments. After I met Warren and entered my 30â€™s, I started to prefer what I call, luxury value. Luxury value is where you find a luxury hotel and get to experience it for a value. My top 3 are definitely not in any order.
Our first cruise experience with NCL was on the Norwegian Dawn. Through a great booking agent, and some luck, we upgraded to the Ownerâ€™s suite for a week long cruise to Bermuda from New York City. It ruined regular cabins for us forever. We were greeted by our Concierge at the dock in Manhattan and were waited on hand and foot for the rest of the week. The cabin was luxurious and huge by cruise experiences. Including two balconies (one on the front of the ship and one on the side), a living/dining room, and a guest bathroom. The Dawn was one of the best cruise experiences and accommodations we have ever had.
My husband may not agree with my second top accommodation, but I loved it. Many years ago we stayed for a few days at Journeys End Resort in Belize before a live aboard diving trip out of Belize City. My parents and I are scuba divers; my husband is not really a water person. He decided to come with us for the first few days in Belize, and then went home when we went on the live aboard.
It really was at journeyâ€™s end, as we had to fly to Belize City, take a small plane to San Pedro and then a boat to the resort. There had been a hurricane a few months before and was in the process of repairs, although we couldnâ€™t tell other than the phones and TV were not working. We had a beautiful room/cabin right on the ocean. Our deck was over the water, and the view was amazing.
There were a lot of flies, not a lot do, and no internet (hence my husband not really being a fan). We hired a guide to take us into the jungle and to the ruins of Belize. It was an awesome day and I will never forget the feeling of peacefulness in the rainforest. There wasnâ€™t anything spectacular about the resort as it was going through repairs; I just really loved the feel of it. It felt like we were at the end of the world, or in this case at Journeys End.
Finally, I held off submitting this to you as we were about to vacation in Las Vegas. We were invited to stay in the Skylofts at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. We had heard that it was going to be an incredible experience and to be honest incredible canâ€™t begin to describe it. From the moment we were picked up in one of the MGM Maybach limousines, until we were dropped off by one at the airport when we left Las Vegas, we were pampered and tended to for everything we desired. We were met at the Skylofts lobby by one of the 24 hour conciergeâ€™s, and escorted through the VIP lounge to their private elevator. 29 floors later, we were greeted at our suite by our butler.
The Skylofts had 24 hour butler and concierge service, digital controls for the sound and video system (it also controlled the drapes and lights) and was a beautiful 2 level suite. The bathroom had an infinity tub, and a steam room in the beautiful shower, and to top it all off the butler unpacked our suitcases for us! I had never seen our stuff so neat before! I asked if she would come home with me, but she couldnâ€™t. The Skylofts were so beautiful we never wanted to leave. It will be hard to ever stay anywhere else in Las Vegas again!
7) Your top 3 most memorable food / wine experiences to date and why?
Unfortunately I am not a wine drinker. I wish I was, as I love the experience of wine. So I will have to share only my memorable food experiences.
While touring in Brisbane, Australia as a family, we took the ferry to Southbank, a dining, shopping and park area. We were hungry, but because it was winter and getting late most restaurants were closing up. Wang Dynasty Chinese Restaurant right by the water was still open. It looked like a chain type Chinese restaurant, but as we got closer and looked inside we could tell it was a lovely family run Chinese restaurant. We had one of the best Chinese food experiences ever. The food was fresh and tasty. The staff could speak little English, which made it feel more authentic. The Olympics were on the TV and it was fun watching the staff cheer on China! We loved our dinner there and we recommend it to everyone we know going to Brisbane Australia.
Another memorable food experience was this past January in Waikiki, Hawaii. We were there to attend the wedding of our very good friends. They got married at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and had their wedding dinner at the restaurant in the Rainbow Tower, Bali by the Sea. The food was amazing. The Maui Onion Soup had layers of flavor, none of which were onion. The filet mignon melted in our mouth and to top it all off, the chef made a special â€œErupting Diamondheadâ€ for dessert. It was a volcano shaped chocolate truffle structure that was spewing smoke that covered the table, as if the volcano had just erupted. It was fabulous!
While I was studying in Australia, I took an 18-35 tour through the Outback. It was a great experience including staying in Aboriginal Camps and learning how to fend for ourselves in the outback, and dreamtime stories by the fire by the head of the families.
Our cook on the trip kept promising that as we got closer to Alice Springs, we would have Witchetty Grubs, the white larvae of the Ghost Moth. She kept telling us it was a delicacy and not to be missed. So as we got closer to the Red Centre, on our last night, we were sleeping under the stars in the desert, and it was time. The cook went out to find them. She came back and prepared them on the fire in aluminum foil.
Some of the girls chickened out, so I decided to try it first. It was dark, and I couldnâ€™t see much which was probably better anyway. I decided to throw it back and whammo, it tasted like banana, then chocolate. I was confused, and then it dawned on me. They were pulling our leg all week. So I went along with the joke. It didnâ€™t take long and the others figured it out to. It was a great tradition to trick the foreigners! The banana and chocolate mixture was amazing! So was the joke!
8) Your 3 worst destination/ accommodation /food experiences to date and why?
We try to find the good in all experiences, so this was really tough. I will say that we arenâ€™t fans of the food in the main dining room on cruise ships. In fact we usually try to avoid the main dining room for dinner, or go in expecting it to be ok to not so great. Once we ordered steak and had to return it 3 times.
One of the worst experiences we have had was staying in a â€œfirst classâ€ cabin while traveling from Rome, Italy to Nice, France. When we arrived at 10 pm for our train, there seemed to be mass panic. We finally found someone that spoke a little English and were told the train staff were about to go on strike. We were a little panicked, as we had no where to stay that night, but took a deep breath and decided to see what would happen.
The people waiting for the train kept running from platform to platform, so we did the same, not realizing that we had a reserved first class cabin and they were all running for seats in the main car. Once we figured it out, we walked into a room that was the size of my closet with a sink in it and 3 bunks. We could barely turn around or do anything but sit on the bed. We were promised a snack and breakfast, turned out breakfast and the snack were the same thing, a couple of crackers and a piece of cheese. We laugh about it now.
Finally, I remember taking a road trip with a girlfriend through upstate New York. We were driving back home and were going to try to drive all the way. We didnâ€™t make it as we were exhausted. We were students and didnâ€™t have much money so we pulled into a motel that was offering a special for the night – $25/night. It fit our budget, but it wasnâ€™t even worth $25. The whole place was clean but run down. The guy that checked us in was really creepy and we were both afraid to go to sleep that night. The walls were made of cinderblock and we felt like we were in jail. We ended up staying up most of the night anyway!
9) Can you offer the readers 3 destination/ food / accommodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?
I live just outside of Toronto, Ontario, Canada and I love this city. I love that there are always things to do, places to eat and awesome places to visit. Toronto is a multi-cultural city and you can see it in the different neighborhoods. You can find just about any type of food as you walk through the different areas of town. So I guess my recommendations are these:
Take a walk around the Distillery District and the St. Lawrence Market area of town â€“ especially on the weekend. The St. Lawrence market is a great place to shop for local produce and have lunch. Make sure you try the apple fritters!
On a clear day, you must take a trip up the CN Tower to see the view. It is a â€œtypicalâ€ tourist attraction, but the view is worth it. They have a glass floor to walk on and an outside observation deck. If you are looking for a unique dining experience they have a revolving restaurant, which revolves once every hour. Itâ€™s quite amazing how you donâ€™tâ€™ really feel the movement and is an experience. The food is ok and a little expensive but the experience really is quite neat.
Spend the day at Centre Island. In the spring, summer and fall you can take a Toronto Harbour ferry to Centre Island. Not only do you have a spectacular view of the cityâ€™s waterfront, you also have a beautiful park on the island. The kids (or kids at heart) can enjoy Centreville, a kidâ€™s amusement park; you can enjoy a picnic in the park, or spend the afternoon on the beach. There are many walking, biking and roller blading trails to enjoy. And if you time it right, you may even find a great festival to partake in.
I am going to add a fourth as it is more of a day trip. Take a day and drive to Niagara Falls (1 Â½ – 2 hours drive from Toronto). Niagara Falls is a great town and the Falls are spectacular. Make sure that you spend some time on Clifton Hill and do the Maid of the Mist (take a boat tour to almost right under the falls).
10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?
Hmmm, maybe where are you off to next? We are spending our 10th wedding anniversary with Montana in New York, and then Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and Thailand in July. Back to Las Vegas in August, and a cruise from Barcelona to Turkey, Italy, Greece and Egypt over Christmas and New Years. Next year we have plans to take a family cruise in March, and South Africa over Christmas. So I guess stay tuned for more stories to shareâ€¦..
Thank you very much for being my guest, Melanie. You have taken a lot of care of this interview. You also have send a couple of very nice photos. Unfortunately placing them all here was a bit too much. It was not easy to make a choice. Am I right in suspecting you are spending way more time on Twitter than on your blog lately?