Vantage Deluxe World Tours AKA DisadVANTAGE DisasTOURS

This is my first (and only) trip with "Vantage Deluxe World Travel". I cancelled out of the originally planned "Danube and the Black Sea" river cruise trip due to Iraqi war and SARS worries (and, as it turned out, a good decision since there was almost no water in the Danube River!). This is a substitute trip. This is also my first trip ever to this part of Canada. Note: It is 2 hours later there than in Houston when in the Maritime Provinces. Newfoundland is another (unusual) 30 minutes later. 43 people in the tour group.

Day 1, Sunday, August 10. Depart Home - Halifax, Nova Scotia
Early flight - I take my car to the airport since the shuttle is on a very limited schedule early in the mornings, and even though parking fees will run up, they will be only a bit more than a taxi round trip.

1Air Canada 579Houston - Toronto8:00 - 12:07PM3:073:13
2Air Canada 632Toronto - Halifax3:20 - 6:21PM2:018:21

Running late, then an 1:10 delay at the airport as we stand around waiting and waiting and waiting and ... for our luggage. Air Canada had just recently laid off many workers (they are in "bankruptcy proceedings") and there wasn't anyone to unload the luggage onto the luggage "carousel." Also, Air Canada has implemented a policy of for all (in-Canada) flights of 1:45 or longer, if we want to have something to eat, we have to buy it - I didn't. Tonight's Welcome Dinner had to be delayed until tomorrow since some on the people weren't arriving until VERY late thanks to Air Canada. First-Class (Hah!) Four Points Sheraton (no D, and not to the hotel until late due to the luggage - go to bed sorta hungry - I chose no food option on the plane thinking we were to have dinner tonight, then that got changed.)

Day 2, Monday, August 11 Halifax
Awake to salty sea air and a hearty (someone forgot to tell the hotel ) breakfast. Our guided tour of Halifax begins in Spring Garden Road then continues to the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, where we enjoy the pageantry of the kilted 78th Royal Highlanders (so said the brochure, but we didn't see them - the first of many "oopsies."). In the afternoon, enjoy a (great!) excursion to the picturesque fishing village of Peggy's Cove. Then back to Halifax for more sightseeing. About the time the bus was supposed to pick us up to go back to the hotel, it broke down. Long wait for a replacement bus. Evening was to have been at leisure but instead we have the (un-)welcome dinner. One of the worst meals of the trip (agrees the tour director). The hotel can't even manage to count places at the tables - a half dozen have to eat in a different room. The hotel is NOT up to Sheraton standards. Then there is the supposed buffet breakfast = tray of eggs, overdone bacon, (commercial loaf of) bread and one toaster. Quickly ran out of fruit juice. Still have that seating problem. Had to "beg" for water. At least the room is satisfactory, and the location is good. (BB, D)

Day 3, Tuesday, August 12 Halifax - Saint John, New Brunswick
After another non-buffet breakfast, today we're off by (our third) coach to Grand-Pré National Historic Site, the restored Acadian village (church yes, Village ??? - more oopsies!) that was the setting of Evangeline, Longfellow's romantic poem. Later catch the ferry (90 minutes) from Digby to New Brunswick. . Evening at leisure and dinner on my own. Superior (!! - much better than that "Sheraton??") First-Class Delta Brunswick (BB-such as it wasn't)

Day 4, Wednesday, August 13 Saint John - Moncton
We follow the Fundy Trail today on an eco-experience that's rewarded with views of the sparkling Bay of Fundy, one of the "Marine Wonders of the World." At the Fundy Trail's Big Salmon Interpretive Centre, we learn about a 19th-century logging community. It's really nice and we have a fantastic local guide here! Next, we find ourselves at Hopewell Rocks, a tidal phenomenon that exists nowhere else. Here, we can walk on the sea floor among fantastic towers and cliffs carved by the world's highest tides. Wow! Very interesting shapes. There are 100 (I counted) steps down to the beach to walk on the ocean floor, then 100 steps back up. Local guide here is good but not like the one on the Fundy Trail. Lunch at the visitor center at Hopewell Rocks: (soup and sandwich which I think is the best meal of the trip until our very last day!) is included here. In Shediac, "Lobster Capital of the World," some (not me) will enjoy at tasty lobster dinner cruise. I took the cruise, had a *lousy* chicken salad (handful of very wilted lettuce and 2, count them, 2, totally dried out small pieces of chicken - inedible) alternate meal. The seating is on benches without backs. I stood up as much as possible, but even the short time I tried to sit wrecked my back for several days. DisadVantage DisasTours should have warned us, and given us a voucher for a meal at the hotel as an option. Rating: minus 50. Awful!!! Worst experience of the trip. Much "ranting and raving about this on my trip write-up at the end.) First-Class Delta Beauséjour (BB-decent, L-Wonderful, D-awful!!)

Day 5, Thursday, August 14 Moncton - Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Another "Oopsie'" as the driver drives off without our tour director. She had started towards the back of the bus doing the on-board count. The driver thought she had called out to go, so he did. Instead, she had gone out the back door of the bus and back into the hotel to turn in some forgotten room keys. We got two or three blocks before he realized that he was missing someone - someone sorta important.

Today we cross the eight-mile Confederation Bridge that connects Prince Edward Island to the mainland. Unscheduled stop just after crossing at the visitor information center. Two very delightful young ladies outside doing Celtic dancing to raise money for their dance groups. Never mind the info center - watch them. Definitely one of my favorite memories from the trip!!!!!

On arrival in Summerside, we learn about P.E.I.'s Celtic roots during a visit to the College of Piping with Celtic dance and bagpipe demonstration - short but quite nice. Stop at Summerside for lunch on my own (many of our "own our own" lunch stops are pre-planned by the tour director - we choose in advance from a menu selection and lunch is ready to be served when we arrive. This is the tour director's planning, not DisadVantage DisasTours. Great idea!). Check into the hotel in historic Charlottetown, then step out for so-so dinner and theater (another oopsie - theater will be tomorrow, not tonight) at the acclaimed Confederation Centre for the Arts. (Very) Superior First-Class Delta Prince Edward (BB-good, D-poor) Hotel is in a great location. One of my top choices for the trip! (Big power outage in northeast US and parts of Canada didn't affect us at all.)

Day 6, Friday, August 15 Charlottetown
After one of the two best breakfast buffets of the trip, begin with a tour (with a good local guide) of Charlottetown (early start to get out of the way of a parade scheduled for the morning), a gracious capital with a beautiful waterfront, green parks, and Victorian homes. Visit "Founders Hall" (nice) and the very interesting (!!) "Time Travel Tunnel." Next, visit the Anne of Green Gables House (good) and the Green Gables Museum (ho-hum), where we enjoy a carriage ride (about 500 feet around the yard - and help with the potato planting (a DisadVantage exclusive which could easily be skipped)! Lunch (box, but good) at the museum is included. Afternoon a (non-)stop at an Inuit (Indian) Art Gallery. (another oopsie, but after checking later, no loss). While checking out the local sights, run over by a skateboarder (he fell off his board, fell into me, and we both ended up on the hood of a parked car). Evening (not) at leisure since we have to see the play: "Anne of Green Gables" comedy which we were supposed to have seen last night, and dinner on my own. Now if the schedule by DisadVantage had only worked out (hah!!) I could have taken a taxi back to Summerside (not far) and seen the full Celtic music/dance presentation which, by all reports, is great. DisadVantage DisasTours struck out again! (BB-great!!!, L-so-so)

Day 7, Saturday, August 16 Charlottetown - Baddeck, Novia Scotia
After another super buffet breakfast (I'm sorry to leave this place!) and a leisurely (?) morning, board the ferry (3 hours) back to Caribou, Nova Scotia. We go on a scenic drive to Baddeck (something about that name "bad" portends (correctly) our hotel), which overlooks the Bras d'Or Lakes. Afternoon visit to the Alexander Graham Bell Historic Site (very interesting, extremely well done museum, but not long enough to see all we wanted to see). Unfortunately, dinner is included at the hotel. Without telling us (or the tour director), they moved up the time of the dinner, so we arrived well after they had it "ready." Result, cold dinner, poor service. Not good at all. (sub-)Moderate First (??)-Class Giselle's Country Inn (BB-super!!, D-bad!)

Day 8, Sunday, August 17 Baddeck (Cape Breton Highlands)
There is supposed to be a buffet breakfast (according to DisadVantage DisasTours) but Giselle's doesn't serve such. Instead we have to choose from a VERY limited menu (4 choices: Continental/roll, 1 egg, 2 eggs, Hot(?) cakes - almost inedible - I made the mistake of trying this). 2 oz juice (no refills allowed) and despite many requests, no water served. After surviving (barely) that, set off in the rain on a tour of the famous Cabot Trail, with magnificent coastal views (of fog). Along the way visit Cheticamp and see St' Peter's waterfront Church (not just waterfront - rained out). Another semi-planned lunch on our own (good). Then visit spectacular(ly foggy) Cape Breton Highlands National Park; see a demonstration of rug-hooking and an audiovisual show. Later, fortunately the weather clears a bit when we visit the fishing ports of Ingonish and Neil's Harbor. Dinner (unfortunately) included at the hotel. (BB-bad, D-poor) We were supposed to be staying at a different Inn, but DisadVantage DisasTours moved us to this place instead. Worst place to stay on the trip!

Day 9, Monday, August 18 Baddeck - Corner Brook, Newfoundland
Up at 4 for a 5 o'clock breakfast (such as it was - or wasn't) leave at 6 on the coach transfer to North Sydney, then board a ferry bound for Newfoundland's Port Aux Basques - departure at 8. After a 6-hour-plus ferry ride (nice seating lounge, thank you!!) we get to "The Rock" (and an unusual 30-minute time zone change) and that's what it looks like as it starts to get dark. Lots of rock and some scrub brush. Not promising. Fortunately this soon changes. There's only one major highway (Trans-Canada Highway - 850km) on the Island. Due to wildlife (Moose - up to 1900 pounds) it's VERY dangerous to drive at night and the inhabitants avoid it when possible. Moose are nocturnal and there are many moose-car collisions, almost always making moose-meat of the car and quite often killing the moose as well. We saw two dead moose (meese??) along the highway, but no live ones. At our (very) charming inn, it's time to "crash." Evening entertainment and dinner postponed to tomorrow. This turns out to be my very favorite non-chain hotel on the entire trip! Glynmill Inn (BB)

Day 10, Tuesday, August 19 Corner Brook (Gros Morne National Park)
Nice breakfast. Not huge selection, but very good. On today's excursion, explore (the wonderful!) Gros Morne National Park, a geological wonderland and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We see fjords, waterfalls, and other magnificent glacial scenery. Super scenery. Some of the best of the trip. After a walk along the beach at Trout River (nice selection of rocks to pick up - tour director had 'warned' us to bring a plastic bag or some-such) lunch included at a local restaurant. Service is VERY slow but the lunch is excellent and the (short) staff really tried. No complaints. Afternoon visit to Tablelands to watch for whales and eagles! Back in Corner Brook, talk with a geologist who makes jewelry from the Gros Morne rocks. Tonight enjoy a so-so dinner and a rousing welcome - a "Newfoundland Screech-In" with a local storyteller. The storyteller / stand-up comic (??!??) fortunately asked a young friend who is a magician to join him for the evening - best part of the evening) (BB-good, L-good, D-fair)

Day 11, Wednesday, August 20 Corner Brook - Grand Falls - Windsor, Newfoundland
Motorcoach to Newfoundland's largest town, Grand Falls-Windsor. Check into the hotel for (poor) lunch (staff can't understand simple requests such as 'no mayonaise'). Then DisadVantage DisasTours overloads the afternoon with too much to see in too short a time. Three stops, each with effectively only about 30 minutes each. Very bad planning. All three stops are quite interesting with good guide/interpreters, and we end up feeling short-changed and frustrated. (Bad Dog!! Very BAD Dog!! ) First get an underwater view of Atlantic salmon going upstream at a fish ladder at the Salmonid Interpretation Centre. Also visit the Mary March Regional Museum (with demonstration - of what?? Another oopsie??), and Loggers' Life Museum (with a very abbreviated discussion / demonstration). Dinner on our own - not in THIS hotel - walk about 1 mile (each way) with many others to get some "fast food". We had a 'local guide' from noon on, but she didn't do anything - just left it to the individual site guides. Moderate First-Class Mount Peyton Hotel (BB, L-duh!)

Day 12, Thursday, August 21 Grand Falls - Clarenville, Newfoundland
This morning we have the same guide, but at least she does something today. We visit the Women's Institute Craft Shop & Museum in Lewisporte (ho-hum) and enjoy a traditional "Mug Up" (toast) with the local women (and a chance to get some 'neat' "Newfy" joke items), then visit Twillingate (excellent stop!), where we may (probably not) see icebergs, whales, and puffins. Also see Long Point Fish House (????), (another) St. Peter's Church, Back Harbour, and root cellars (??? - a bunch of 'oopsies' today) with very good lunch included. Evening and dinner on our own (in the only place to eat, but it's quite good), then later enjoy a truly excellent young (only 16) local singer at the hotel. This place is really 'out in the middle of nowhere,' but the staff is really nice and very friendly. Moderate First-Class St. Jude Hotel (BB, L)

Day 13, Friday, August 22 Clarenville
We have a different local guide today - excellent. We delve into the history of this remote province during today's guided sightseeing, including the early settlement sites of Trinity (and their St. Paul's Church) and Bonavista and "Ryan Premises". Another semi-included lunch here. Good. Get a guided tour of the Bonavista Light House -oops, closed for repairs. Also ride to Dungeon Provincial Park - a remarkable collapsed sea cave. Look out to sea for birds, seals, and (no) gleaming icebergs this time of year. Nice day today. Same dinner and evening entertainment. I hadn't expected to enjoy this stop, but thanks to the local people, it was quite nice. Much, much better than that so-called first-class hotel in Baddeck. (BB)

Day 14, Saturday, August 23 Clarenville - St. John's
First stop in the St. John's area is Spear Point, the easternmost point in Canada. (They claim easternmost point in North America but that's not true.) This afternoon, embark on a guided tour of St. John's, oldest city in North America. Unfortunately a couple (only 2) of the elderly people said something about being tired so the local guide cut the tour VERY short. Bad! See South Harbour, Signal Hill National Historic Site, Quidi Vidi Battery Provincial House (oops), Government House, and Memorial University Campus. Enjoy an EXCELLENT Farewell Dinner at the hotel. Best hotel and best meals of the entire trip. Six-Star rating. (Very) First-Class Fairmont Newfoundland (BB, D)

Day 15, Sunday, August 24 St. John's
Rather than head for home like some of the others, I'm taking a two day extension here. A full day to explore St. John's. Originally DisadVantage DisasTours (in mailings) indicated an extensive local tour as an option … but then cancelled out. Fortunately the tour director stayed around to help us make some arrangements: First plans were for a cruise to see (maybe) a whale, and some puffins, but the weather in that area was extremely foggy, so delayed until tomorrow. Instead, take a walking tour with a local guide (dressed in 18th century attire) to discuss the local history. Then in the afternoon, at trip to the local "Eco Center" (super nice and interesting). Taxi up-hill, walk back - not far. Then wander the town seeing the sights (lots) along George Street (Irish pub row) Local meals - Tim Horton's, etc. At first St. John's had seemed a significant disappointment, but thanks to the guide on the walking tour, we learned that there was lot's more there than we first thought. Not quite the "old town" as in Europe, but nice nonetheless. Some of the museums (Train, Gardens, etc. were a definite disappointment.) (BB-super)

Day 16, Monday, August 25 St. John's
A second try at the cruise: one whale. Cruise around Bird Island to see lots of birds. We all declined the optional lunch at the cruise harbor - McDonalds or KFC looked like a much better deal. The boat crew and office staff seemed more interested in money than usual at tourist locations. Very obvious. Office staff seemed quite unhappy with us for not having lunch there. They probably had figured that they had a "captive audience". My lunch later at "Velma's" in St John's was good. Light supper getting ready to go back home. (BB)

Day 17, Tuesday, August 26 Return Home
I wrote a six-page evaluation of the trip for the tour director to turn in. DisadVantage DisasTours (so referred to in the evaluation) will NOT be happy to read it. Transfer at 11:30 to the airport for the return flight home. An afternoon departure for once so I can actually get another great breakfast, but it means a very, very late arrival home.

3Air Canada 635St Johns - Toronto1:25 - 3:223:273:53
4Air Canada 694Toronto - Houston7:15 - 10:053:5011:10

I thought this awful until it took us about 2 hours to get through US Customs/Immigration due to the very high number of passengers/flights extended another 30 minutes since the crew, even though arriving from the US and returning immediately have to get off the plane, go through Canadian Customs/Immigration, then get back into their (employees only) line to go through US Customs/Immigration. The included supper meal consists of 3 oz of soft drink, 1 oz of something resembling 'trail mix.' About 30 passengers. Home at 11:15 (1:45 AM Newfy time) Its been a long "day." (BB-super)

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge

1Air Canada 579Houston - Toronto8:00 - 12:07PM3:073:13
2Air Canada 632Toronto - Halifax3:20 - 6:21PM2:018:21
3Air Canada 635St Johns - Toronto1:25 - 3:223:273:53
4Air Canada 694Toronto - Houston7:15 - 10:053:5011:10

1) Gros Marne
2) Dancers at Visitor Center, PEI
3) Fundy Trail and Hopewell Rocks
4) Nova Scotia
5) Prince Edward Island

1) Lobster Cruise
2) Giselle's
3) That "Sheraton"
4) Three (!!!) busses

The scenery was anywhere for very good to spectacular. Fortunately we had a very personable tour director (great sense of humor) who did all she could to try to make up for DisadVantage DisasTours messes. Very good driver as well. The hotels all had rooms that at least were quite satisfactory, if not excellent. It was the food quality and service that separated them. The ones in the Maritimes had the advantage of being in larger cities giving us more things to do. Understandably with the smaller cities on Newfoundland, options were often quite limited. The tour director's idea (not a Vantage plan) for pre-arrangement of non-included meals, particularly in small towns, was excellent. We could choose from the menu options, or go off on our own. Very good idea. Thanks, Karen. All in all, despite the worst efforts of DisadVantage DisasTours (planning must have been having someone look through a random selection of brochures, then list some things without checking on actual availability but relying on wishful thinking), the trip was quite enjoyable. The Maritimes (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island) were more enjoyable for me. Due to lower population and much larger size, there was less to see / do in Newfoundland. No complaints, just an observation. Will I go back? Yes to the Maritimes, probably not to Newfoundland. Will I use DisadVantage DisasTours again; definitely not.

Aug 10-11 Halifaz, Nova Scotia. Four Points Sheraton
Aug 12 St. Johns, New Brunswick. Delta Brunswick
Aug 13 Moncton, NB, Delta Beausjour
Aug 14-15 Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island Delta Prince Edward
Aug 16-17 Braddock, NS. Gisele's Country Inn
Aug 18-19 Corner Brook, Newfoundland. Glynmill Inn
Aug 20 Grand Falls, Newfoundland. Mount Payton Hotel
Aug 21-22 Clarenville, Newfoundland. St. Jude Hotel
Aug 23-25 St. Johns, Newfoundland. Fairmont Newfoundland