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Travel & Escape

A taste of Canada in the Florida sun



HOLLYWOOD, FLA.—A warm breeze swept in off the Atlantic and sent gentle waves washing up on one of America’s finest beaches.

But, it was all too much for thousands of Canadians who fled inland seeking the shelter of tall buildings, dense trees and urban structures.

So the 36th annual Canada Fest, the largest French language musical festival in the United States, has moved off Hollywood Beach Boardwalk this year to a 10-acre park in the middle of U.S. Highway 1 as its cuts through downtown Hollywood.

Those lovely breezes moderated the hot tropical sun, but played havoc with the microphones and recording equipment that play a vital role in the operations at the Canada Fest Musical Festival, which Louis St. Laurent launched on the beach in 1983.

Louis St. Laurent, the 77-year-old grandson of Canada’s 12th prime minister, has been a mover & shaker in Southern Florida since he arrived in Fort Lauderdale by accident in the mid 1950s.

When complaining one day as a teenager about how cold it was in his hometown of Quebec City, a high school classmate told him there is no winter in Florida where it’s warm year round.

“I didn’t believe him,” St. Laurent told this reporter in an interview 10 years ago. “I assumed it was cold and winter everywhere in the world in those days.” So the two teenagers decided to go to Florida during Christmas break and find out for themselves.

That’s when St. Laurent said he discovered paradise.

After two weeks his classmate and travel companion said it was time to go home. “No way was I going

back to those freezing temperatures and high snow banks,” said St. Laurent. He stayed in Florida for months and in the fall registered for classes at Tampa Bay University.

Rules and regulations were pretty lax in the mid-’50s, but it wasn’t long into the school year before the FBI came pounding on his dormitory door asking to see his immigration papers. He had none.

“Pack your bags, boy; we’ll be back in the morning to put you on a bus bound for Canada,” said he FBI agents.

That night St. Laurent phoned his grandpa at the Prime Minister’s Office on Parliament Hill. Grandpa phoned his friend Ike (Dwight Eisenhower) in the White House.

The next morning the FBI agents were back at his dorm. “Sign here,” they said. He did. They left and life went on.

St. Laurent graduated from law school and became a crusading state prosecutor in Broward County heading a staff of 40 prosecuting attorneys and a large team of investigators. He is now a prominent real estate lawyer in Fort Lauderdale.

St. Laurent also launched Le Soleil de la Florida — a French-language newspaper published weekly in Hollywood from October to May and monthly in the summer time. His newspaper has a circulation of 20,000.

Hollywood — just south of Fort Lauderdale on the Atlantic Coast — is a popular winter getaway for French-speaking Canadians.

Le Soleil de la Florida is the prime sponsor of Canada Fest, which has attracted up to 250,000 revelers to Hollywood Beach in the past. Denise Dumont, editor-in-chief at Le Soleil de la Florida said there were a variety of reasons the festival has moved off the beach to the 10-acre Arts Park two kilometres inland from the ocean.

“The wind was certainly a big factor. The artists didn’t like competing with it. Parking was a big problem because we draw huge crowds for two and a half days, which overwhelm the facilities, such as washrooms and the performing artists had no change rooms and other facilities they expect.”

“And we’ve had heavy rains late in January for the past couple of years, so we’ve changed the dates now to Feb. 8, 9 and 10 for better weather.”

Some of Quebec’s best-known entertainers, such as Marie-Elaine Thebert, perform at Canada Fest, but there are also American performers playing, rock, folk, country and jazz music. David Morin, an award-winning Elvis impersonator, will be on stage.

Among the entertainers at Canada Fest will be the student choir from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the scene of America’s worst school shooting tragedy last February, where 17 students and staff were killed and another 17 injured. Parkland is 50 kilometres from Hollywood and is the school St. Laurent’s children attended.

There is no cost to attend the festival, but there are large profits from the dozens of kiosks set up for food, music and entertainment sales. The profits will be donated to a mental health program at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and to Operation Enfant Soleil, a Quebec-based charity that raises funds for high-quality pediatric projects.

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Travel & Escape

Dealing with baggage on your trip




(NC)Nothing is more embarrassing than having to unpack your baggage at the airport. It’s common to overpack because you want to make sure you have everything you need for your trip – the right shoes, a jacket in case it’s cold, a bathing suit in case there’s a pool. But you must be mindful of the baggage restrictions. So, how can you be smart with your baggage when travelling?

The first thing to do is talk to your TICO-certified travel agent about the weight restrictions and number of bags you are allowed to take. Some airlines charge per bag, while others may offer one bag for free depending on weight.

You’ll also need to know if there are security requirements for carry-on and checked baggage. For example, there may be prohibited items such as gels and liquids. These limitations vary from airline to airline and depends on if your flight is international or domestic, so you’ll need to check the policy of the airline you’re travelling with.

Naturally, you want to avoid incurring baggage fees, so talk to your travel agent, or contact the airline directly. You can also visit their website to review the luggage policy.

Here are a few more tips to help you manage your baggage when travelling:

  • Clearly label all baggage with your name, home address, and contact information
  • Place an identification tag inside the baggage in case the outside tag is torn off
  • Lock bags with CATSA/ACTSA travel locks
  • Put a colourful ribbon or other identifying marks on your bags so they are easily recognizable
  • Carry valuables in your hand luggage; jewelry, money, medications, important documents, etc.

You can’t carry everything with you, so be smart when you pack. Take only necessary items and focus on your trip.

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Travel & Escape

What travellers need to know if a destination wedding is cancelled




(NC) It’s two weeks before you’re scheduled to attend a destination wedding and then you get the call. The wedding has been called off.

Sure, you’re upset for the couple, but now you’re faced with plane tickets and hotel reservations. So, what can you do?

There’s no reason why you can’t go and enjoy the trip, but bear in mind you may face a price increase, especially if this was part of a group booking. Group bookings often include a minimum number of travellers to get the discounted price, as well as terms and conditions regarding changes or cancellations.

You could ask other travellers to come along to keep the group discount. But name changes often count as cancellations based on the terms of the vacation package and premium charges may apply. If you booked with a TICO-registered travel agency, website or tour company, it’s better to contact them and ask about options before making any decisions.

While it’s devastating for the couple who planned the destination wedding, the fact is that the cancellation affects all the confirmed guests. So, it’s important to know your options so you can salvage an unfortunate situation. Always book with a TICO-registered travel agency, website or tour operator so you can circle back and find out what they can do for you.

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Travel & Escape

Be safe not sorry when booking travel online




(NC) With so many travel websites available these days, many people are choosing to book their vacations from the comfort of their own home. Many travel websites are easy to navigate, and offer great vacation packages, so it seems to make sense.

But before you hit “submit”, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. Here are a few tips that can make you more aware when booking travel online:

  • Look for the TICO registration number or logo. All Ontario travel agencies and websites must be registered with TICO, the provincial travel regulator that provides consumers with protections if they don’t receive travel services. The registration number or logo is usually found in the About Us or Contact sections of the website.
  • Know where your credit card payment is going. Some websites are only search engines or booking agents for other providers.
  • Review the terms and conditions, particularly those that relate to cancellation, changes to bookings and refunds. Know what the travel agent or tour operator’s responsibilities are.
  • Keep a paper copy of your transactions, correspondence and confirmations.
  • Double check which currency the prices are quoted in. You could be paying in Euros instead of Canadian dollars.
  • Keep in mind that tax amounts can vary in travel advertisements. Ontario travel agencies and websites can display their taxes in four different ways:
    • A total price
    • A base price plus total taxes, fees and additional charges
    • A base price with a detailed breakdown
    • All taxes, fees and additional charges.
  • Research your destination to find out if there are any travel advisories, which can be found on the Government of Canada website.
  • Check the online travel agency’s website for a live-chat feature, email address or toll-free number to talk to a travel agent. Travel agents are a great resource to answer any questions you may have to ensure you are making an informed travel purchase.

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