Trip Report: The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald Edmonton AB, Canada

I recently completed my 4th stay at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald in the last 3 years. The hotel is located right in the heart of downtown and overlooking the river valley. It’s about a 45 minute drive from YEG airport and about 20 minutes from West Edmonton Mall, the two biggest attractions in Edmonton 😉

Macdonald Hotel

Entrance

Hotel grounds facing the river valley

My plan was to play some golf before checking in to the hotel but time was tight so I passed on the golf and arrived around noon. I wasn’t expecting my room to be ready since I gave them no indication of an early arrival. John greeted me, apologized a few times the room wasn’t ready, offered me a free drink and got on the phone with housekeeping to get me a set of keys asap. He also mentioned a few local arts and culture events happening in Edmonton since this is a Passion my other half selected and the reservation was under her name.

Front Desk

Lobby

I’m not one to refuse a free beverage so I ordered a Stella and got a lot of dirty looks from all the business folks stuck drinking water, working on their laptops and checking out my golf clubs which I proudly displayed in the middle of the confederation lounge. I wasn’t even a quarter through the beer and my room keys were delivered.

Confederation Lounge during the day

Another angle

My better half stays at this hotel regularly so we were upgraded to a nice room overlooking the river valley. The room and furniture were in good shape. The king bed was comfortable and didn’t have any sag. The blue paint on the one wall gave the room a more modern classic vibe which I thought worked very well.

View from our room

Pyramids in Edmonton

I did notice the bathrooms in this hotel need a renovation fairly soon. The bathroom was clean as you’d expect at a hotel like this except the shower head was actually rather disgusting. The towels were of good quality and I think this was the first time I got the entire Le Labo line of bath products.

WC

Since I brought up Le Labo I will share my pennies of wisdom here. I know this fragrance has won some awards but I’m actually quite shocked Fairmont decided to use it chain wide. At least in the past we only had a 1 in 3 chance of getting Fleur du Matin by Miller Harris which is very similar to Rose 31. The Le Labo Rose 31 soap has a nice lather and I think the scent is fainter compared to the shampoos. I tell you when my better half arrives from a Fairmont it invades whatever room she is in at our place if she used Rose 31 shampoo that morning. So in case you sit in similar shoes to me and truly detest floral scented soaps I suggest you request different soap.

The first time I checked into this hotel a few years ago I received an amenity that hasn’t yet been duplicated. It was 3 tiers of desserts and treats including Crème Brulee, chocolates, baklava, shortbreads and more. The bottle of Champagne at Monte Carlo is the other amenity that stands out too. This time around we got a few fruits.

Platinum Amenity, one strawberry missing

As I sat on the couch I noticed the card and opened it up. Inside I found a very nice hand written message and welcome from the concierge. Since she noticed the Arts and Culture passion she dropped off a bunch of extra magazines on this topic for us to enjoy during our stay. Nice touch by the staff here and I guess Fairmont is really noticing our passions and good on them. A free round of golf and lesson at the Banff Springs is an excellent perk for being a platinum member with Presidents club.

Extra reading material

We enjoyed some food and drinks on two nights at the confederation lounge at the hotel. Both nights there was live music which is one thing Fairmont seems to do well in all their hotel lounges I frequent. Colin Bullock I met about 5 years ago at the Mallard lounge at the Chateau Whistler. He also plays at the Pacific Rim so if you are ever at these hotels I suggest you sit down and enjoy his performance.

Lobster mac and cheese, a few bites already taken.

If you haven’t noticed a trend, before the plate even hits our table my better half has her fork ready to indulge. Cheesecake with one bite already taken

Maid service was great during our stay. We did get turndown service on one of our nights but not the other but the only part I miss about turn down is the bottles of water. There are two brothers who work as valet/doormen and they both had a great attitude and gave me rides in the complimentary BMW 7 series within the downtown core.

Floorplan

Weight area of the gym

Pool with a hot tub on the right not pictured and an exit to an outdoor patio with loungers

Store and entrance to pool and gym areas

Empire Ball Room

During check-out I met John once again who I got to know over the weekend. I think he knows my other half fairly well since she stays here more often but we shared a few jokes and he stored my luggage while I went to grab lunch before heading home.

Overall the service at the Fairmont Macdonald during this stay was personable and excellent in many regards. The hotel obviously has a very classy and old school feel so if you prefer a contemporary hotel I would look elsewhere such as the neighbouring Westin. Edmonton doesn’t really have much choice in higher end hotels.

If the Fairmont Macdonald continues this level of service and renovates their bathrooms in the near future I think they should have no problems keeping and gaining a loyal clientele and being the place to stay in Edmonton.

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Food worthy of a detour: Mercato West in Calgary, Canada

It was a cold winter day in 2007, I worked at an auto body shop and an older gentlemen walked in to fix the damage on his new SUV. While I was working on his quote he gave me his business card and I noticed he was the owner of Mercato. Soon enough we were on the topic of food and I could tell this gent was passionate about it.

Imagine my surprise earlier this year when I went to Fergus and Bix for a friends birthday party to see the Mercato sign. At first I thought this can’t be the same Mercato, the Mercato I knew was a cozy affair, how can they pull it off in this space which you could open a decent sized auto repair business.

Well with my curiosity and the lack of worthwhile fine dining on this side of town besides Le Villa I was looking forward to the experience. But I hit a bit of roadblock, even though it has only been opened for 3 months I couldn’t make a reservation on a weekend between 6:30-8:00, they were booked for a few weeks out.

Open kitchen with bar seating around it and tables on one side of the restaurant

Market and lunch counter on the other side of the restaurant

As we arrived the hostess approached us immediately and we were seated right away. We each had a small bowl of olives already on the table. Water was offered and on the table in a timely manner. While browsing through the menu I noticed it’s nearly identical to their Mission location.

Our waiter was very personable but even too much so. After taking our drink orders he went into a schpeel about how people in North America eat backwards and the salad should be the last course to help with digestion.

For our first course we ordered the Carpaccio. It was topped with parmesan cheese shavings, arugula, lemon jiuce, thin red onions, kosher salt and was drizzled with olive oil. A perfect way to start off the meal. About halfway through the waiter came by and asked us if we’ve ever had the beef appetizer at another restaurant called Zen 8. He couldn’t remember the name of the dish but after he described it I mentioned Tataki and he replied “Yeah that’s it!” I found it odd that he was mentioning food from other restaurants.

Next up we had the gnocchi and tagliatelle. They serve the pastas in two sizes and even the small is fairly substantial bordering on the size of a main pasta in many sit down franchises. The handmade gnocchi were a large size and had mascarpone sauce with crunchy walnuts on top. I still prefer the mushroom gnocchi at Il Sogno but this dish I will order again. I’ve had it served with lamb and goat at the Mission Mercato before so thought I may miss my meat intake but didn’t.

The tagliatelle is the most popular pasta according to our waiter. It’s very basic but it’s the simplicity where a really good chef shines. The pasta was homemade and came in a spicy tomato sauce, it was delicious.

Tagliatelle on the right after helping ourselves

For our main we shared the Bistecca with mushrooms. We also wanted to have our tagliatelle served with the meat but our waiter said the timing just won’t work. We just let it go but it would have been nice to have some red sauce pasta with our main. The Bistecca is a very popular dish at Mercato, when it was served we were told “We serve about 200 of them a night.” They let the meat rest and then the chef cuts it with impressive precision to nice slabs of goodness. It’s wasn’t as seasoned compared to my memories of the Mission location but was still a good main.

The mushrooms were nicely sautéed and a good addition to the slices of beef.

A few spoonfuls already eaten

I’m looking forward to our next dinner here and the reservation is already made. Overall if you are looking for a nice dining experience on the west side of Calgary I highly suggest you check out Mercato West.

Chef assembling their 8lb meat platter

Mercato West on Urbanspoon

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Booking a trip can be an adventure itself

A week ago I was putting Google to good use and researching Myanmar (Burma). Let me backtrack even more, it was the night before around 1:00am when I noticed excellent deals out of Rangoon in Myanmar to the US and Canada. At first I wasn’t going to buy tickets but the next morning I realized I had enough miles to fly there and my other half agreed to a trip to Tokyo, Hong Kong or Thailand.

The airfare deals out of Rangoon were still available to my surprise and I found a nice routing with Thai airways in economy to Bangkok and then Korean Air first class to Soeul and continuing with another flight in first to Vancouver. I had a funeral to attend that afternoon so I was pressed for time and didn’t really look at any of the other possibilities.

People bought flights to JFK, Jeddah, Australia, South Africa, LAX, Boston etc and the amount of airlines involved was quite a list. So I’m set to go to Myanmar, a country I never really gave a 2nd thought of in the past. I read online it’s the last untouched place in Asia but I also read about the political unrest. I’ve researched the best golf course and places to stay along with the real attractions in Myanmar.

Bagan in Myanmar

Ngapali Beach in Myanmar

Back to the real goodness, here is our confirmed flight plan for the return trip:

Then I got an email from the travel agent:

So I sent Korean Air an email and this is their response:

So my trip to Myanmar is in major limbo. I’m hoping I can find a way to reinstate it. From what I’ve read and heard, IATA sent a message to airlines to adjust their fares in April for May 1st. The Myanmar currency officially devalued and the airlines were to update their fares, but a few didn‘t.

No one entered these fares improperly from the airline staff so it’s not a mistake fare. I agreed to purchase the ticket but it isn’t being honoured right now. Of course if the scenario was the opposite and the airlines got the edge in currency conversion they wouldn’t notify me but would just take their profits.

In my case I used a major online travel retailer out of Hong Kong. Looking back I realize I should have booked this through American Express travel. I looked at many local online travel agents at the time but not many issue fares out of Myanmar.

Thanks to recent new Department of Transportation regulations issued in the USA customers who purchased these fares with flights into the US may get their tickets reissued since the fines are up to $27,500 per passenger. In Canada I’ve done a bit of research at the Canadian Transportation Agency site but it’s not really helping me yet.

I did file a complaint but you can only do this if you’ve contacted the airline in writing and they have written you back or not responded for over 30 days. So even in the future if I had an issue with ticketing on a flight within 30 days there would be little chance the government here could actually help me.

Either way this has put Myanmar on my radar. I hope the people who bought tickets out of Rangoon during this time have a wonderful trip and for those of us who got cancelled on I wish everyone the best of luck dealing with the airlines and agencies. As of today I know one person who bought tickets out of Rangoon during this deal and has successfully boarded their first flight in RGN!

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Calgary, Canada: Food worthy of a detour

For someone who was born in Calgary, with no ocean nearby, it’s hard to find tasty seafood. Thanks to our mountain fed lakes we do get to enjoy fresh and local trout and pickerel (Walleye). But it’s very rare to enter a place and feel like you are close to a coast with the display of oysters in the middle of the Catch Oyster bar.

Shucking station

I’ve been to Catch a half dozen times in the last year even though they were closed for quite a few months for a remodel. We’ve enjoyed birthday parties, date nights, couple nights out and even taken our parents here to meet for the first time.

To start there are actually two restaurants here, Catch the Oyster bar downstairs and Catch restaurant upstairs. Upstairs is more on the fine dining side of things but the actual room doesn’t give off this vibe. The restaurant has a large private dining table and the whole room has a fun upscale feel to it.

The Oyster Bar downstairs has an open kitchen and fresh oyster bar with bar style seating. There are booths along the windows which are comfortable for two but I would think slightly tight for four people. The menu at Catch Oyster bar isn’t as fine dining as upstairs and this works well for me.

Open kitchen at the Oyster Bar

The prawn tempura is one of their hit starters and I really suggest you order at least a half order on your first visit. I enjoy them but not as much as my dining companions who always order these on their visits. The clam linguine is a hit in my books. The dish has the right amount of spice and just works well together.

Prawn Tempura; 3 in a half order 6 in a full order. $2 each on Tuesdays

We always get a pot of mussels too. It’s a substantial portion compared to other restaurants in Calgary and you have a choice of 5 different broths. I always start with a few oysters per person while dining here. They have at least a half dozen different types and I’ve enjoyed them all. The oysters are accompanied with some fresh horseradish, lemons and two very tasty sauces. So in case you have any first timers or people who like to dress up their raw oysters these extras do a fine job.

East coast oysters are usually larger then their west coast counterparts because they take longer to mature.

Half order of mussels during their Thursday night Mussels and Fries special

The night before I watched a new episode of Deadliest Catch so I had a crab craving on this visit

A few times we have eaten here right at 5:00pm and the place is usually fairly full so there is a social atmosphere. You can also park underground at the Hyatt hotel and the reception will validate your parking which is a good perk. As for service, every visit has been excellent except once. Otherwise the staff have been terrific and I notice little turnover which is a good sign for us frequent guests.

Overall if you are craving seafood in Calgary head to Catch. Weather you are in the mood for a more casual setting and food or fine dining this place has both options covered and their seafood really is that fresh since it’s flown in daily.

Impressive

Enjoy some live music at Thomsons across the hall from Catch

Plenty of places to grab a drink before or after your meal on Stephen Ave.

Catch Restaurant & Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

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Excellent hotel deal for the Fairmont Kea Lani and Orchid in Hawaii

If you are planning a luxury trip to Maui do not miss this offer. Tomorrow (May 8th) at 1:00pm ET Amex daily getaways is offering 6 nights at the Fairmont Kea Lani or Fairmont Orchid for $1750 or $1600 if you pay with an American Express card. There are NO expiry or blackout dates. Breakfast and all taxes and fees are also included.

This works out to $266.67 all in per night for the Kea Lani if you are paying with an Amex card. This is well under half the average rate. During high season such as Christmas or Spring Break I’ve seen their rooms start at $799 a night plus taxes with no breakfast.

Here is a recent report I did on the Fairmont Kea Lani, it is an all suite hotel too. If you are planning to take advantage of this deal keep in mind they are only selling 10 packages so I would be at my computer clicking buy right when the deal opens because I think it will sell out fast.

Link to this offer

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Get 16,500 Aeroplan points for under $40 with the Aeroplan Star Challenge

Who doesn’t enjoy a good challenge? The Aeroplan Star Challenge is a new promotion where if you attain 70 stars they will reward you with 16,500 bonus Aeroplan miles. This is enough for a roundtrip short haul ticket.

To get stars you will have to purchase items from their partners who give out Aeroplan miles. There are 4 ways to earn these “stars”:

-You get two stars if you shop at Esso, Costco, Sobeys, Rexall and other partner stores. In my case I have a Sobeys and Rexall right next to each other close to home so when passing by I will make an effort to stop and buy something as close to $1 as possible. You are allowed to visit Sobeys 20 times to get 40 stars but you can only do it once a day.

-You get 3 stars if you stay at a partner hotel, rent a car or book a cruise or vacation

-You get 5 points for each segment you fly on Air Canada

-If you have an Aeroplan affiliated financial card you get 5 points. I know the American Express Aeroplan and CIBC Aero cards qualify

Since I already have 5 points thanks to my AMEX I need 65 more by the end off the month. I have no plans to travel or fly Air Canada so have to visit 33 stores to make up the difference. I told you this was a challenge at the beginning 😉

Luckily for me the stores are right next to each other so I only have to park the car 17 times. But I will probably make a few stops at Esso for gas across the street where if I spend $3 I qualify.

If you have a few people in your family you can also multiply your transaction and both enjoy a trip in the future with the Aeroplan point bonus.

Click here for full details at the Aeroplan site

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50% Bonus when you transfer your AMEX membership reward points to British Airways Avios points this month

If you need AVIOS points and have American Express membership reward points now is the time to transfer. Keep in mind it takes up to 5 days to show up in your BA Executive Club account. Avios points can be redeemed on BA flights, their partner airlines including American Airlines and for upgrades.

Link

This may only be offered in Canada right now.

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