Vancouver & TBEX

Tourism Vancouver provided my airfare to Vancouver since I was one of TBEX’s speakers. They booked me on a 7:30 a.m. Continental nonstop flight from Newark Liberty International Airport. Since I have status on Continental’s partner airline, United, I was able to get a bulkhead seat (or exit row) for nothing. But they don’t make them available for free until 24 hours in advance (they are available to anyone for an extra charge – prices start at $89). To ensure I was comfortable on the 737-900, I set my alarm the day before so I could check in exactly 24 hours in advance. I did and made a rookie mistake. My first choice was an exit-row aisle, but only windows and middle seats were available, so I grabbed the bulkhead aisle since it didn’t have anyone in the middle seat (the flight was wide open). I thought I was going to be chillin’–until bad weather moved in the night before and caused a lot of cancellations, so the flight ended up being full. To make matters worse, a man took the middle seat with his 19-month-old son on his lap. Yikes! I’m glad I didn’t pay for that seat, as I would’ve been livid. The extra space turned out to be the opposite–the kid was all over me. Lesson learned: Don’t choose the bulkhead, because they usually assign those seats to families (there were two more screaming kids across the aisle). Remember: Kids can’t sit in exit rows.

Observations from the Flight
-The view of New York City once you exit the tunnel in New Jersey is spectacular. -When I checked in an upgrade to first class was available for $819.
-You can’t print boarding passes in advance since it’s an international flight.
-I ran into a bunch of friends at Newark airport. Most of them were going to the conference, but I also randomly saw two other friends (not traveling together) on the plane. How crazy is that? FYI: In the photo is @MikeBarish @LostGirlsWorld @Jparkernycpr.
-Continental doesn’t have Internet on its planes (yet), but they do have 600 channels of DirecTV. You can watch it for free (and they give everyone earbuds, unlike most airlines who charge $2 for them) up until the moment the plane takes off. Then you have to slide your credit card. For flights less than two hours it’s $5.99, and for flights more than two hours long it’s $8.99.

Vancouver (YVR) Airport
Vancouver International has to be one of the most beautiful airports in North America. The only problem I have with it is they almost always have a long immigration line. We waited 25 minutes, which doesn’t seem to be bad, but they can do better. Tip: To avoid the long line, apply for the NEXUS Pass. The problem I have with Canada is that their border agents are the least friendly on the planet. And the agent I got this time didn’t do anything to change my opinion.

YVR’s Information Desk
Right outside customs was a cool dude wearing a Canucks jersey and manning the information desk. He told us all our options to get to downtown, and the best turned out to be the train.

Go Canucks Go
We quickly learned how crazed and excited the city of Vancouver was excited about having their team in the Stanley Cup Finals. Not only were airport officials and half the train passengers wearing jerseys, but “Go Canucks Go” banners were hanging from the airport tower, and there were signs and banners on ticket machines, buses, planes, and everywhere else they could stick it. Practically every store sells memorabilia, and even Tim Hortons has a “Game Day” donut.

Train to City
To get into the city we took the city’s new train that was built for the 2010 Olympic Games. From the airport it costs $8.75CAD (US$8.99), but returning it’s only $3.75. There are ticket machines in the stations, and they are easy to use. The train takes 25 minutes to go to the very last stop (Waterfront), and they depart every four to seven minutes. FYI: My buddy Spud took a taxi–it cost him $32CAD from the airport and $29CAD to return and took about 20 minutes with no traffic, but according to the cabbie, at rush hour it can take twice that long. FYI: The train operates basically on the honor system, because they don’t always check to see if you have a ticket. They didn’t on the way into the city, but the police did get on and check on the way back. A woman didn’t have a ticket, and she got pulled off the train and then fined (I think). For more info see CanadaLine.ca or call the Vancouver public transit authority TransLink at 604-953-3333.

Fairmont Hotels in Vancouver
I must’ve come out of the wrong door when I got off at Waterfront, because returning to the airport took me half the time. My hotel (The Fairmont Pacific Rim) is just a short four-block walk to/from the station. But for some crazy reason it took me a lot longer, and I learned the hard way that there are four different Fairmonts all within a few blocks of each other in downtown Vancouver. That’s right; I went to three out of the four to check in. What a fool I am–I know–but that’s why I’m telling you, so you don’t make the same stupid mistake. Lesson learned: Read the hotel’s whole name, not just the brand name, before waiting in line at check-in. For more information on Fairmont Hotels see Fairmont.com.

Fairmont Pacific Rim
A huge perk of being a speaker at TBEX is being put up in a swanky hotel. I (and a few other speakers) were assigned to the 5-star 377-room Fairmont Pacific Rim, which is the city’s best hotel (according to my local friends). The Fairmont Pacific Rim was built for the 2010 Olympics and is in a perfect location in the historic port and financial district. It’s particularly perfect for those doing business at the convention center, because it’s directly across the street and they even have an indoor path to get to/from in case it’s raining or freezing.

Fairmont Pacific Rim Check-In
Check-in took just a couple of minutes, and a cute, friendly, beautiful English receptionist wearing a stylish Canucks hockey T-shirt checked me in.

Fairmont Hotel Tip
The best tip I learned about Fairmont Hotels this trip is that if you sign up to their Fairmont’s President’s Club (Here’s the link), which takes all of two minutes and costs nothing, you will receive free Internet during your stay, a late check-out, and a whole lot more. Here are some of the other perks:

  • Complimentary local calls and no service charge on toll-free calls
  • Complimentary health-club access (excludes spas)
  • Complimentary shoeshine (city-center hotels)
  • Daily room delivery of local or national newspaper
  • Complimentary use of TaylorMade golf clubs at select hotels
  • Fairmont Fit (in-room delivery of Adidas shoes and apparel, yoga mats, stretch bands, and use of MP3 player)
  • Private reception desk, offering express check-in and check-out

Now who’s your favorite travel writer?

My Room at The Fairmont Pacific Rim
I was in room 1707, and I was kind of shocked when I opened the door for the first time because it basically put me in the center of the room at the foot of the bed. It was cool but different, as that’s not the typical hotel room entrance.

The next three slides are my observations that include the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good at The Fairmont Pacific Rim
-The rooms are beautifully decorated with naturally inspired materials, comfortable furnishings, and state-of-the-art technology.
-I especially loved the white marble bathroom and shower and illuminated art scene above the bed.
-The bed and pillows are super comfortable, and I slept like a champ all three nights.
-I had a killer view of the ocean, mountains, float planes, and the Chevron floating gas station. Every morning I would watch the cruise ships come into port. Very cool.
-Electric curtains, huge flat-screen TV, nightlight in bathroom.
-Each night I had a different turndown treat: my favorite was the milk chocolate cherry truffle made with dried cherries from Okanagan and a splash of cherry liquor.
-I worked off some of the calories in the hotel’s state-of-the-art (Techno Gym machines) on the fifth floor.
-I didn’t visit their outdoor pool with cabanas and fire pits, or their Willow Stream Vancouver spa, but I heard they were great too.
-Each night the maids leave a large glass bottle of water.

The Bad at The Fairmont Pacific Rim
-Initially I had trouble signing on to the Internet. Instead of sending someone up to figure out what was wrong, they transferred me to their outside Internet provider helpline. After hearing the recording in English, French, and Chinese, and being put on hold for a while, I hung up. I figured it out myself–I was trying to register in Safari, and when I tried it in internet Explorer (IE) it worked and was fast. Note: None of my other friends had Internet problems.
-The door rattles when someone else in a nearby room opens their door. It wasn’t just my room, either, as I could hear the neighbor’s door do the same. Solution: Wedge a face towel or your underwear in the door when you shut it–that does the trick.
-The windows are a tad thin. I could hear the planes take off (which is not annoying) and a street party during the day, but didn’t hear a peep at night.
-I loved the fact that I could open and close the blinds electronically, but the different switch pads around the room weren’t uniform, so I had to get up to close or open the blinds (only one side of the bed had the curtain option, but both sides had light functions). I also didn’t like the fact that they have bright lights on them–when I sleep I need a room to be pitch black.
-At night when I would return to my room, the TV would be on with soft music. Every time I turned it off it had a slight high-pitched hum.

The Ugly at The Fairmont Pacific Rim
-The only thing that was a problem was when in-room dining knocked on my door and then called my room even though I had the “Privacy” sign on. I was napping, but I couldn’t really get mad at them because they were delivering a sweet present (a Canucks Jersey to wear to their party). However, what they should’ve done is slid a note under the door alerting me to call the front desk.

Fairmont Gold Lounge
What’s really sweet is that I was given access to the Fairmont Gold Lounge so I could experience it. It’s located on the 20th floor and is for rooms on the 20th and 21st. It’s basically a hotel within a hotel. They serve a complimentary continental breakfast (7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on weekends) and complimentary cocktail canapés each night (5 p.m. to 7 p.m.). The lounge is beautifully decorated with indoor and outdoor seating with throw blankets and incredible views of the North Shore Mountains, Stanley Park, and Coal Harbour. I didn’t have the canapés, but the breakfast was top notch–I loved everything from their fresh fruit and muesli to chicken sausage, fresh-baked muffins, and bread (including chocolate chip banana bread). The only thing that was just OK was the eggs. See here for more details.

ORU Restaurant
The Fairmont Pacific Rim also has three different dining options: ORU, an authentic Pan-Asian bistro; Giovane, an Italian-inspired deli and café; and the Lobby Lounge, which has live music seven nights a week. I went to ORU for lunch with the folks from Vail Resorts, and although the food was good (I had butter chicken), the service was slow. Fairmont Pacific Rim, 1038 Canada Place, Vancouver, BC, Canada; Tel.: +1 604-695-5445.

TBEX
As I mentioned, I was in town for TBEX, which is the world’s largest annual gathering of travel bloggers, writers, influencers, and content creators. It was started three years ago by Kim Mance as an informal get together, and it’s turned into the go-to travel blogger convention. I spoke at last year’s New York and Copenhagen conferences and was happy to be back this year. My panel was on “Who Are These People? ” – With an ever-changing new media landscape and focus on influencer-personalities, it can be hard to verify who’s legit.

FYI: Next year’s TBEX will be in Keystone, Colorado, on June 15-17, 2012 (better register early, since the last two have sold out months in advance). There’s also going to be a TBEX meetup at TMS in Oklahoma City in September, and the European TBEX will be in Prague in November.

Speakers’ Dinner
Basically, here’s how the weekend went. The first night the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver (7 blocks from the Fairmont Pacific Rim) hosted the speakers’ dinner, and they made it a Canucks theme at the last minute since it was coinciding with Game 5 of the Stanley Cup playoffs and the Vancouver Canucks were in it. They haven’t ever won the cup in their 40-year history, and a Canadian team hasn’t won the cup since 1993. That’s why they sent jerseys to everyone’s rooms, and they had big-screen TVs, Styrofoam #1 hands, rally towels, pucks, and scarves flowing abundantly just like the alcohol. As if that wasn’t enough, they had four of their chefs–one from each nearby Fairmont hotel–making and teaching (for those that wanted) us how to create their different treats like pork belly and scallops, shrimp, lamb over mashed potatoes and beans, cheese with honey… it was so good! The party went from 6 to 8 p.m.

Vancouver Street Party
The speakers’ dinner ended at the same time as the game, so the streets were literally filled with pumped-up fans (the Canucks won 1-0). There were tens of thousands of fans watching it on the big screen just four blocks away, so by the time we got out there was a river of people. Probably 99.9 percent of them were high-fiving passersby, screaming, honking horns, and taking pictures with cops… From afar I saw a dorky 15-year-old yelling and pushing down newspaper boxes, but he was followed by a few girls who picked up after him. FYI: Everyone was chanting “We want the cup!,” and most people were wearing Canucks jerseys or T-shirts. Side note: That night and the following days, I smelled a lot of marijuana–people were smoking it freely out in the open. I don’t think it’s legal, but the cops must turn their heads?

TBEX Kick-Off Party at the ArtShow
After partaking in the street party, I headed to the Vancouver Art Gallery, which was hosting the TBEX ’11 Kick-Off Party (sponsored by Canadian Tourism Commission, Tourism BC, and Tourism Vancouver). The place was filled with almost all 600 attendees and had three rooms of food and open bar. It was great to catch up with old friends and meet new ones I only knew from Twitter.

Good Morning, Beautiful British Columbia
When I woke up wide awake at 5 a.m. (I was on East Coast time), I pressed the “open blinds” button and voilà–I was treated to gorgeous views of British Columbia. It got light quick, and then the cruise ships started to roll in. Between 7 and 8 a.m. the float planes started taking off.

Vancouver Convention Centre
TBEX was held at the Vancouver Convention Centre (that’s the correct spelling in Canada). There are East and West buildings, and we were in West, which has a grass roof. It’s supposedly one of the most eco-friendly convention centers in the world, but they could make it even more so by eliminating the paper towels in the bathrooms and replacing them with those high-powered hand dryers. What I loved, besides the views, is that in the lobby of the West building they have a lovely gigantic illuminated globe that hangs proudly from the ceiling.

TBEX Seminars
I won’t write about all the TBEX seminars, but they had some really good ones. I enjoyed Evelyn Hannon’s (JourneyWoman.com) inspiring opening speech, Sean Keener‘s (from Bootsnall), and Gary Arndt‘s (Everything-everywhere.com) “State of the Travel Blogging Union address,” just to name a few. What was also interesting is the Lottery Panel, where they drew from a pool of topics and a barrel of names of experts in the field that were submitted by attendees. The moderator for whatever topic was Chris Christensen, and he jokingly said to make it even more difficult (like it wasn’t hard enough to moderate already), “I will blindfold myself.” He did, and it was hilarious–he finally took it off about 15 minutes in when he realized he couldn’t see people in the audience asking questions.

Steamworks Brewing Co.
Saturday night was filled with parties. The first one I attended was the Vail Resorts (@VailResortsNews) speakers’ dinner five blocks away at Steamworks Brewing Co. (Steamworks website, 375 Water St.). It’s located in the Historic Gastown section of Vancouver, and their private room on the bottom floor was a lot of fun. The restaurant served taste tests from their microbrewery and a variety of food. Their create-your-own pasta was just OK, but their appetizers–like prosciutto and cheese or pineapple and brie–were off the hook. FYI: Steamworks gets its name from the famous Gastown steam line that runs through the premises.

Men of TBEX
Afterwards I reluctantly headed over to the Hotel Kingston for Diamond PR’s “Men of TBEX” calendar photo shoot party. That’s right–how bizarre is that? When I asked why there wasn’t a “Women of TBEX” instead, they said they wanted something funny, and there’s nothing funny about girls in bikinis. Amen to that. Travel blogger Mike Barish made the party frickin’ hilarious when he busted out his skimpy blue banana hammock with a mustache drawn on the front. They served a bunch of food including dry ribs, which according to my buddy Crai Bower is the trending dish in Vancouver along with the food trucks.

Feastro Food Truck
Speaking of food trucks, the following day a large portion of TBEX attendees hit Feastro’s truck (website), which was parked a couple blocks from the convention center. Usually on Sundays there aren’t any trucks, so we got lucky–or was it the truck owner who was lucky–he made a killing. Check out this line to get their fish, steak, chicken, and pulled-pork tacos. Most also got a side order of sweet potato fries ($5.50CAD) or frites ($3.50CAD). Here’s a link to Feastro’s menu and note that they do take credit cards. FYI: I had the pulled-pork taco–slow smoked, sweet rub, Henry Reed organic greens, guacamole, refried beans, hand-cut salsa ($7CAD). Yum!

Vij’s Restaurant
I didn’t go to TBEX’s closing party because it was on a boat cruise and I didn’t want to be stuck for three hours. It turned out to be only two hours and supposedly was a great time. I would’ve felt like I missed out, but I got to experience one of Vancouver’s best restaurants with a couple friends I haven’t seen in a years and my buddy Spud Hilton. We dined with Catherine Dunwoody and Kasey Wilson, both well-respected travel and food writers.

Vij’s Restaurant is in a residential neighborhood and doesn’t look like it’s anything special from the outside, however it has been called the best Indian restaurant in the WORLD by the New York Times, and there’s always a long wait to get in unless you go real late or early. FYI: What’s cool is Vij doesn’t let anyone jump the line, not even stars, and many have gone–including Martha Stewart.

Vij’s opened in 1994, and for locals to still be willing to sit around their bar waiting for a table for 90 minutes or more says a lot. Vij’s does not serve typical Indian cuisine. They avoid using a tandoor oven, but they keep their spices and cooking techniques Indian—from all regions of India—while using meats, seafood, and produce that are locally available.

We were starving when we arrived at 6:22 p.m., but they wouldn’t let us order apps from their menu until we were seated in the restaurant instead of the bar area. What’s nice, though, is they continuously came around with trays of free snacks that filled us up pretty quickly. The dishes are not cheap–appetizers are around $13 CAD and mains around $28CAD. They do bring you as much naan bread and rice as you like free of charge. We ordered pork belly (naturally raised) sautéed in tamarind ($13.50 CAD), organic cured deviled eggs, and bell pepper fritters with spiced strained yogurt and baked jackfruit ($13 CAD). For our mains we split black pepper-marinated beef tenderloin with cilantro, mint, and creamy curry ($28), beef short ribs braised in yogurt, fenugreek, and cumin curry ($27 CAD), and lemon-ghee marinated and grilled organic chicken breast and thigh with roasted garlic and cashews and tangy tomato curry ($28 CAD). FYI: To get there from my hotel was a 10-minute $12 CAD taxi ride. Vij’s Restaurant, open 7 days a week for dinner only (from 5:30 p.m.), 1480 W. 11th Ave., Vancouver, BC; Tel.: +1 604-736-6664.

Good to Know: If you don’t want to wait, Vij has a more casual (less expensive) restaurant right next door called Rangoli (1488 W. 11th Ave., Vancouver, BC; Tel.: +1 604-736-5711).

More #TBEX Pics & Stories From Other Attendees

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