A City Girl Camps: Being The World’s Worst Camper In Tofino

Back in June, three weeks before leaving Canada, I made my way out to Vancouver Island to visit a friend in Tofino.

Located on the west side of Vancouver Island, Tofino is known as Canada’s surf Capital. A cute little town with unique eateries and some of the prettiest beaches I have ever seen.

From Whistler, the nearest ferry terminal is Horseshoe Bay. I’d made this route once before in January when visiting Nanaimo for the day. Last time we were foot passengers, this time we were taking a car. There’s two different routes from the highway depending on whether you are driving or just a passenger. Needless to say, the route directions were just as bad this time around and as a result we missed our ferry. Never mind we will just hang out until the next one. We passed the time eating ice cream and enjoying the sun for a while.

As usual I got sea-sick on the ferry, but managed to calm it. We arrived at around 5pm in Nanaimo. After a quick stop for Groceries, beer and a Subway, we were on our way. Passing through some really amazing places. Cameron Lake was beautiful and seeing the sun set on Barkley Sound was just incredible. We even managed to spot a black bear on the side of the road, and a bald eagle flying beside us over Sproat Lake. With one day to travel to Tofino, were weren’t able to stop anywhere on the way, but I’d love to come back and explore more of the Island.

Accommodation

Weeks prior to actually booking my trip I looked up accommodation.

I found nothing.

Well, nothing within my price range anyhow. I looked on Air b ‘n’ b and everything hotel booking website. But all the cheaper cabins/motels had been booked out for weeks.

In other words, I tried really really hard not to camp. I can’t remember the last time I even camped. But camping it was to be. It would be an adventure, right? It always looked cool on Instagram. I’ll be fine.

I ended up booking the Bella Pacifica campsite. The idea of beach front camping sounded awesome, having a view of the beach from my tent? Yes please! Luckily for me, these were all booked out, so I ended up booking a spot just behind. And, thankfully I did. I’d forgotten how windy beaches are, especially at night!

The four days at our campsite Matt spent laughing at me. I brought zero warm clothes, only one hoody and one pair of pants. The rest was tank tops, shorts and dresses. #citygirl

Selfie in the tent

The days were warm in Tofino, after around midday/1pm things really started to heat up. The nights however were really cold. My last night here I slept in two t-shirts (one of them being Matt’s), a hoody, pants and socks. With a comforter and sleeping bag over the top.

World’s Worst Camper

Immediately after arriving at our campsite, I said it would be nice to go watch the sunset over Mckenzie Beach. To which Matt replied, “So you want to put the tent up in the dark?” It was 9pm at this point and sunset happens at 9:30. My reply being “No, I thought there’d be lights” He just chuckled to himself.

We put our 3 person tent up quite quickly and set up camp. In the end we did manage to see the sun setting over the beach. It was beautiful.

Sunsets on McKenzie Beach

We (Matt) made a campfire with wood we’d collected back in Whistler, and grilled hotdogs on sticks. It was starting the get dark. I’d never been anywhere this dark before. So many stars were visible in the night sky.

Nature’s Alarm Clock

Around 5am every day, the birds would wake up. Oh how great it was to be one with nature.

Or not. Our site would get crowded with crows. Now I don’t mind the little birds that song softly of a morning… but crows do not sing softly.

CAW! CAW! CAW! over and over again. It was not soft, it was not quiet. It was annoying. And it woke me up every morning. So, with my early alarm clock, it was time to get up. I made my way to the campsite showers, with my 2 bags and towels in hand.

The showers themselves were $2 for 3 minutes of hot water. In my opinion the water was lukewarm at best. I convinced myself I could shower in 3 minutes. How wrong was I? Because I was so confident in myself I only brought $2 to the washrooms. Halfway through exfoliating my face, the water shut off. Left standing there like a deer in the headlights I just had to use my wet washcloth to rinse it off and be done with it.

I’d soon discover that the hot water from the taps in the sinks was far hotter, so the next morning I had a six minute shower and just washed my face in the sink for free. Much better! I’m also 100% certain I was the only one there with hair straighteners.

Exploring Tofino Town

The actual town of Tofino is relatively small. There are a few shops and eateries but the main attraction here is surfing. There are many places here to rent surfboards, paddle boards or to book a lesson of varying levels. We’d planned on paddle boarding, but due to the colder mornings we’d ran out of time during our short stay.

One of our first stops was the Roy Henry Vickers gallery. A native art gallery, with native carvings and paintings housed within a building made to look like a long house. This was really cool, there are a couple of other native art museums within the area so be sure to check those out too.

Where to eat

Throughout my 3.5 days here, I got to explore Tofino’s many culinary delights. Being the massive foodie that I am, cafes and restaurants were one of the things I did some research on. Apart from our gourmet nightly hot dogs and smore’s treats we checked out a fair few places here.

1) Tofitian

 

2) Rhino Coffee

3) Chocolate Tofino

4) Tacofino

5) The Hatch

6) Common Loaf Bake Shop

Beach Down Time

The Beaches in Tofino are by far some of my favourite I’ve visited. So much character, with trees and rocky islands. I managed to visit four of the beaches Tofino is famous for.

1) Tonquin BeachTrail

This was amazing. Located at the North area of Tofino, the Tonquin Beach trail takes you on a small walk among the trees in order to find this hidden away spot. The beach itself has so much character, trees, rocks and clear cool water. It was relatively quiet too. There were maybe 5 other people at this beach. Definitely the kind of place you can sit and waste time just relaxing.

2) MacKenzie Beach

Another beautiful beach in Tofino, MacKenzie Beach was where our campsite was. We had planned on paddleboarding here as the waves are a lot calmer in comparison to others. We ended up not having the time to do this, instead we spent time throwing a frisbee, drinking beer and enjoying the sun.

3) Chesterman Beach

Chesterman Beach was huge, lots of soft sand, the kind I like. There were a fair few people surfing here, but still calm in comparison to Cox Bay

4) Cox Bay

This is where the waves get big, much more so in comparison to Mackenzie. The wind definitely picks up at Cow Bay, hence the bigger waves. A great beach to chill at just as much, but I definitely fell in love to calm and serene Tonquin.

 

Beautiful end to our weekend away

On our last night in Tofino, we headed down to the marina to watch the sunset. I’d heard it was beautiful from this area but didn’t realise just how beautiful. As the amazing camper that I am, I decided to put shorts on instead of pants. I wasn’t too cold at this point, but sunset is at 9:30pm in the summer and we’d arrived around 8:10pm. It’s fair to say I froze my ass off watching this sunset, but it was definitely more than worth it. This seems to be a really popular thing for locals and visitors as the dock we were watching from was full of people.

I loved the small part of Tofino that I got to see, there is by far so much more to do even though it is a small beach town. We are planning to go back at some point and hopefully explore more of the surrounding areas too.

Have you ever visited Tofino? Where’s your favourite place for camping?

 

How To Visit London’s Top Landmarks In One Day

When a man is tired of London, he’s tired of life.

There was a time when I was at University that I got bored of London, and began to slowly retreat back to my quieter life in Essex. I’ve since fallen back in love with the city, and am starting to really miss it.

Before I moved out to Canada I decided to spend a day in my hometown of London doing bunch of touristy things. I wanted to see my home city for one last time before I flew out the week after.

I’ve seen a lot of London, like I mean a lot. But I still haven’t seen everything.

It took me 25 years to see the inside of Buckingham Palace after saying I’d book the tickets year after year. And last year I saw Number 10 Downing Street for the first time. I must admit, Downing Street has never really held my interest but it was still nice to walk past.

I much prefer walking on foot around cities, I find that this is how you find hidden gems, side streets etc. So everything we did today was on foot (minus one tube ride)

So with just under 24 hours to play with, this is what I ended up doing.

(Keep in mind that I travelled approximately 1.5 hours into London and left much later in the day than I’d planned – meaning if you’re staying in London and get out earlier than I did you can do so much more)

Tower Bridge & The South Bank

I arrived at Tower Hill around 11am and browsed the area around the Tower of London. We gazed at remnants of the original roman wall and the famous views of Tower Bridge.

From here we caught the tube to Blackfriars, and walked across Blackfriars Bridge towards the South Bank. Along here you can see the Oxo Tower, Royal Festival Hall and the London Eye.

If you have more time you can always start further back than I did, adding in Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tate Modern which are both worth a visit while in London.

Just by the London Eye is the County Hall. Where you can visit tourist spots such as Shrek’s Adventure, The London Aquarium and the London Dungeon. These are all great attractions if you are traveling with children.

Westminster Bridge & Palace of Westminster

From the South Bank, you reach Westminster Bridge. This is a great photo spot for the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben. Even more striking at night.

Make sure to check out the statues of important figureheads in Parliament Square

Walking along past Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, we took a right down Whitehall and peaked a glimpse at 10 Downing Street.

Until now, I’ve never had a photo taken with a Horse Guard. I guess there is a first for everything.

Trafalgar Square

The end of Whitehall brings you out to the Magnificent Trafalgar Square. Looking up you’ll see Lord Horatio Nelson, keeping guard over the city. The beautiful building in the background is The National Gallery, my favourite art museum. It’s extensive collection feature’s paintings such as Sunflowers by Van Gogh and Water-lillies by Monet.

Trafalgar Square is a nice place to take a breather. Enjoy the fountains, climb the lions and take a moment from the busy city to embrace it all.

Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly Circus

From Trafalgar square, we then decided to take a walk down the Mall, towards Buckingham Palace. This is a beautiful walk and the sides of the road leading up to the Palace will sometimes be lined with British flags.

On the right side of Buckingham Palace you will find Green Park, a great place for a leisurely stroll all year round. Here you’ll find the Princess Diana Memorial fountain.

Heading out of Green Park and taking a right is Piccadilly. A long road featuring, De Beers, The Ritz hotel and the Wolseley.

Everything in London is at your finger tips. At the end of Piccadilly, we reached Piccadilly Circus. Similar to New York’s Times Square and a very busy intersection. From here, you can access, Regent Street, Liecester Square and Shaftesbury Avenue. We took Shaftesbury Avenue as we needed to make our way in that direction for our Afternoon Tea reservation.

Covent Garden & Theatreland

A short walk away from Piccadilly Circus is Covent Garden. Covent Garden is one of my favourite places in London. I find it to be much calmer during the daytime and it comes alive at night. Covent Garden is home to many quaint unique shops and market stalls. You’ll find cute little bars and restaurants adorning the side streets.

Covent Garden is in the heart of Theatreland and many restaurants and cafes offer a pre-theatre menu.

Here we browsed in the Moomin shop, which is a relatively new addition to the shop. I believe this used to be David & Goliath?

There is now a Laduree patisserie in Covent Garden too. There used to only be the Harrod’s and Burlington Arcade shops. I popped into the Laduree and already saw what I’d come for – the Caramel Cat! As a lover of pretty boxes and macarons, I bought 6 macarons presented in a box featuring a cat. Everything I love in one.

You can be sure to see many street performers in Covent Garden, we watched an Opera singer for a little while in the main market square. He was incredible.

British Museum

It was now time for us to head to the British Museum, another one of London’s gems. Situated in the Holborn area of London, it was only a short walk away.

We had a reservation booked for afternoon tea here, we checked in and chose our tea of choice. English Breakfast all the way for me.

A variety of finger sandwiches, mini bagels and quiches. Sweet and savoury scones in the middle, topped off with an array of sweet treats. Finally accompanied by a glass of champagne.

I’ve been visiting this museum since I was a small child. It’s always fascinated me. Me and my sister are really into ancient Egyptian history, so we spent a while checking out the real-life mummies on display. Here is where they also display the original Rosetta Stone.

One of the West-End’s best attractions is the Theatre. I was lucky enough to see one of the previews for School of Rock thanks to my sister’s friend who works on the show. Even Andrew Lloyd Webber was attending that night. How exciting!

There is so much more to do in London, further afield. But with one day to play with this route hit some of London’s biggest landmarks and some of my favourite places.

Have you ever visited London? What are you favourite London landmarks? 

 

Disney’s Cultural Representative Program: Flights, Housing and Insurance

Disney Program Housing

When applying for housing, there are four complexes to choose from:

  • Chatham Square
  • Vista Way
  • Patterson Court
  • The commons

Housing was a big decision for me. I mean, all of Disney’s housing properties looks really nice and have lots of amenities. But I wanted to make sure I wasn’t put in bunk beds. The only up-side to having bunk beds is that rent is slightly cheaper.

Prior to making my final decision I googled other blogs on information about what the differences were between the complexes.

The things that stood out for me were:

Vista Way is the oldest, while Patterson Court is the newest and has slightly bigger rooms.

Vista Way is the only complex without Bunk Beds.

Chatham, Patterson and the Commons are all next to each other, while Vista Way is further out.

The commons has dryers in the apartments, instead of having coin operated machines.

The commons is the closest the outlets (a girl’s gotta shop!)

There are far more pros and cons per complex, ultimately I’d be happy in any. Even bunk beds! I’m moving to Florida after all to work for Disney. But, I did have my preference.

I was very tempted by Vista Way, it has so many amenities compared to the other three, a guarantee of no bunk beds and super close to shops and restaurants. Not to mention that it has the best bus service.

I’d made my decision. It was to be the commons!

Based on the fact it’s close to the outlets, a publix, has a onsite convenience store and your own washer and dryer. The last time I used a coin operated washer and dryer it was $5 per load. I see it as a saving!

The weekly rent will differ per unit, number of people and complex type. The prices quoted below are accurate as of June 2017:

Chatham Square:

1 Bedroom 2 Person – $126.00

1 Bedroom 3 Person – $111.00

2 Bedroom 6 Person – $99.00

3 Bedroom 6 Person – $113.00

4 Bedroom 8 Person – $112.00

 

Patterson Court:

1 Bedroom 2 Person – $126.00

1 Bedroom 3 Person – $111.00

2 Bedroom 5 Person – $106.00

3 Bedroom 6 Person – $113.00

 

The Commons:

1 Bedroom 2 Person – $130.00

1 Bedroom 3 Person – $115.00

2 Bedroom 4 Person – $128.00

2 Bedroom 5 Person – $108.00

3 Bedroom 6 Person – $116.00

4 Bedroom 8 Person – $115.00

 

Vista Way:

2 Bedroom 4 Person – $116.00

3 Bedroom 6 Person – $107.00

Booking your flight

After having accepted your offer from Disney, you can then start booking travel. Some people booked their flights immediately. I booked mine 2 months prior to arrival. I was worried my visa would be denied (for some strange reason). In fact, my parents had booked their flights and hotel to visit me long before I’d even booked my flight. Eager Beavers.

If you are travelling from the UK you’ll be going back in time (hopefully not in a Delorean). So you have an advantage in that you’ll gain back some time. You can of course book your flight for the same day you check in. But I’d advise against this as with flight times and the immigration lines that we all love there’s a very slim chance you will out of the airport in time to get to check in.

Check in times are typically between 12:00pm – 3:00pm.

Why flying from Vancouver is a pain

Not only is it expensive to fly in, out and anywhere near Vancouver but there are very few direct flights that don’t connect on the east coast. I had a little look at flight prices months in advance and they seemed reasonable, I kept an eye on them and at one point they were around £100 one way. But of course I decided not to book. Once I’d decided to book, flight prices were now £300 and up. Wonderful!

£300 isn’t a bad price at all, especially when you can expect to pay £450 and up from the UK. But I knew I could get it cheaper. None of the flights I looked at got me there on time, unless I paid £500+

My specifics were

  • Can’t be any longer than 15 hours.
  • If it’s not a direct flight it can only have one layover
  • If the layover is in Canada, then it has to be 2 hours or less
  • If the layover is in the U.S it has to be approx a 3 hour layover
  • Must arrive on the 9th and before 10pm

So, not that fussy then? I wanted a flight on the 9th so I could spend as much time as I could with Matt. But eventually I settled on the 8th. I’m flying the red-eye from Vancouver-Toronto-Orlando. I board my flight in Vancouver at 22:30pm and leave Toronto at 8:00am. Praying there is a Tim Horton’s in my terminal.

My flight was booked! yay!

Insurance

When you get your offer email, yummy jobs will email you with information regarding what to do next. Under the insurance section they recommend two companies to use. One is STA Travel and one is Seven Corners. I used Seven Corners before when I did my J1 summer in the states so I decided to use them again.

You have two options on insurance. You can either buy your insurance for the entire year you are in Disney or, you can opt to only buy 4 months insurance and then move onto Disney’s insurance. I decided to go with the second option. Not only does it save me money right now, but it’s around $10 a week and comes out of your pay check. I’ve also heard from previous participants that you can see an onsite doctor once you have insurance with Disney.

My top 20 things to do in Whistler, Canada

I’ve been living in Whistler for almost 8 months now. And despite being here that long, I’ve really only scratched the surface. I’m lucky enough to have my own personal tour guide however. My boyfriend Matt has been living here for 15 years and has shown me some of the less visited/touristy places. Here are some of my favourite places that I’ve visited so far. I’ve split this into Winter and Summer activities, as they really do depend on the season.

Whistler has lots to offer year round, as a non-skier, this list is great for both skiers and non-skiers. I did take a few skiing lessons on the Mountain when I had my ski pass, and I’d highly recommend taking some as snow school were fantastic.

Winter/Autumn (Fall)

I must admit I’m not a huge fan of winter, I hoped Whistler would change my mind. And it did, the snow was great. It was a winter wonderland, a truly magical place unlike anywhere I’ve been before. Here are some of my favourite activities this past winter.

1)Tubing

The Whistler Coca-Cola tube park is located on Blackcomb and really good for groups or families. On rainy days they will close some of the lanes, mostly the ones where you can go down as a group. But if you can go on a good snow day it is so much fun! There are also smaller tubes and lanes for little people.

2) The Peak to Peak Gondola

The Peak to Peak Gondola connects Whistler Mountain’s Roundhouse Lodge to Blackcomb’s Rendezvous Lodge. It holds the Guinness World Record for:

  • World’s longest unsupported span for a lift of this kind at 3.024km/1.88miles
  • World’s highest lift of its kind at 436m/1,427ft above the valley floor.

The Peak to Peak gives you a 360 degree view. Several of the gondolas even have a glass bottom, meaning you can view the mountain below you. Pretty rad, no?

3) Snowmobiling!

Snowmobiling was one of the funnest things I did this past winter. I was lucky enough to go on a 3 hour snowmobile tour with a friend through Canadian Wilderness Adventures. There are two options for this, single or double riders. We did the double and I think it was much more fun with two people on one snowmobile. Our guide was fantastic, she took us to some frozen over lakes where we had to snowmobile down some rather big drops. It was scary, but so so much fun! I have never screamed so much in my life. I’d highly recommend a tour through this company. They take you through the Callaghan Valley and will pick you up and drop you off at Skiers Plaza or a hotel location.

Alternatively, if you have a boyfriend with a snowmobile he can take you for free *wink wink* Although Matt’s snowmobile was much bigger for me and far more powerful. Hence flying off of it. Be careful out there!

4) Hike to the Train Wreck

The Whistler Train Wreck is one of the more famous places to visit. This can be done during Winter or Summer, depending on the snow fall. I did this in early winter before the snow came. The train wreck displays lots of local graffiti. There are several different train cars surrounding this area, some in worse condition than others. A great place to hike and mountain bike during the summer months too.

5) Eagle Watching in Brackendale

Heading south into Squamish, a 35 minute drive from Whistler, is the town of Brackendale: The winter home of the Bald Eagle. I visited here in the winter and if you’re in the area this is a really cool place to see. In the winter months, Bald eagles flock to this area of BC.  You can spot many of these amazing birds in the Eagle run section.

6) Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre

The Squamish Lil’Wat Cultural Centre can be visited all year round. On the day I visited it was a heavy snow day. The inside of the museum has a very calming atmosphere, when coupled with soft snowflakes outside it’s a pretty magical experience.

The town of Whistler is situated where the native territories of Squamish nation and Lil’Wat nation overlap. Both cultures very similar but different from each other, came together to build this centre to educate people on first nations culture. I find Native American/First nations history very interesting and thoroughly enjoyed my time here. We joined a free guided tour through the museum, which started with our guides singing a native song for us. We also learned about the different meanings of totem poles. A very insightful visit and highly recommended.

7) Apres!

If you’re visiting a ski resort town and not joining in the apres, you’re doing it wrong! Here are some of Whistler’s most popular apres:

Merlins – Located at the base of Blackcomb mountain, Merlins is the home of endless apres.

Longhorns – one of the more popular places for Apres as Longhorns is located right at the base of the Whistler Gondola

Swedish Apres @ Cinnamon Bear – The Swedish Apres happens every Tuesday. Located inside the Hilton Hotel at the Cinnamon Bear.

Monster Energy Apres @ GLC – The Monster Energy Apres at the GLC (Garibaldi Lift Company) happens once every month, so make sure you check your calendar ad check it out! They have drinks special and a DJ booth on the patio, this event gets full pretty quickly and you do get a stamp for leaving/re-entering.

Summer/Spring

My favourite! Who doesn’t love summer? Here are my favourite things to do in the spring and summer months in Whistler

Visit a Waterfall

So far this season I’ve visited a grand total of… six waterfalls. That doesn’t sound like that many but I feel like I’ve seen way more.

8) Brandywine Falls

Brandywine is one of the more famous waterfalls around Whistler. The falls can be visited quite easily during summer, it freezes over in the winter but is just as pretty. There is a viewing deck from the top which gets you some pretty good views. Or if like me that’s just not good enough, you can always opt to hike your way down to the falls. It’s not too difficult once you find your way. We walked around the forest for a while before finding the trail.

9) Nairn Falls

Located north of Whistler in Pemberton is Nairn Falls Provincial Park. The hike into here is really easy and there is a viewing platform here. I’m sure there is a way to hike beyond the viewing deck boundary but on this occasion I wasn’t prepared to try it. There is also some great places to hike down to the river on the way to the falls.

10) Alexander Falls

Located in the Callaghan Valley, just before you get to Whistler Olympic Park is Alexander Falls. To get here is really easy and there is no walk to get to the actual falls. It’s right at the doorstep of the parking lot. Great for days when you want to see a waterfall but don’t fancy the hiking!

11) Shannon Falls

Another one located in Squamish. This area is really good for recreational activities. The Shannon Falls Provincial Park has several hiking trails and places to stop and have a picnic. A really beautiful area. You can also access the trail for the Stawamus Chief trail as well as the Sea to Sky gondola. Just up the road from here is also Alice Lake.

12) Rainbow Falls

This little waterfall isn’t as impressive as some of the others. But if you’re hiking up to rainbow lake or in the area and want an easy hike, this is a neat little place to see.

13) Miscellaneous

You’ll find that you sometimes come across waterfalls while hiking to other places. While hiking through the Whistler Interpretive Forest a few weeks back, we came across this small waterfall (Yes, this is a small one) Apparently is has adopted the name “balls falls” by kayakers.

This is a tiny waterfall we found while hiking this past week to the Ancient Cedars. It’s tiny, but just as beautiful.

14) Sea to Sky Gondola

The Sea to Sky Gondola is located in Squamish. I was lucky enough to do this for free, having been given a Vancouver tourism passport through my employer (thanks Four Seasons!) I’d waited months and months to do this, If you’re thinking of going up, make sure you get that good blue sky. At $41.95 per person, I wouldn’t want to waste such a good view on a cloudy day. Whistler gets some amazing bluebird days during the winter, so whatever season you’re visiting you’ll get a breathtaking view. The viewing decks as you arrive at the top overlook the amazing fjord that is howe sound. A similar view can be found at the top of the chief.

Once at the top of the Gondola they have a mountain-top restaurant and gift shop, several hiking trails and a suspension bridge. We took the easiest route which was the panorama trail. Along this trail you’ll find a variety of lookouts, one featuring Olsen falls.

15) Hike to the ghost town of Parkhurst

Last month I hiked to the ghost town of Parkhurst, previously a small logging town that was abandoned in the 1950’s. In order to get here there is more than one trail. The trail that we took was along the railway tracks on the backside of green lake. Most of the houses in this area have now unfortunately fallen down. But there is one house that still stands with a few old trucks and cars. A pretty surreal place to be.

16) Hiking the Ancient Cedars Trail

Before setting off on this hiking trail, I will recommend bringing one thing. BUG SPRAY. I’m currently sat typing this while scratching every inch of my body. The hike into the actual Cedars was fine, but once in, it was mosquito heaven (AKA hell). We passed some hikers leaving the trail who asked if we had insect repellent, after replying with a no, they both hand me a tree branch and tell me I’ll need it. I trusted their judgement and yes, it did actually help. Still got eaten alive, but less so I imagine. Getting to see the the biggest and oldest trees in whistler was still a great experience and one I’d recommended.

17) Audain Art Museum

A great place to visit, rain or shine, is the Audain Art Museum. Located in the heart of Whistler, this museum houses lots of native art and exhibitions. I was recently here for the opening reception of the Chili Thom Experience. Chili Thom was a renowned local artist in Whistler who recently passed away. As a lover of surreal art, I think his artwork captures the essence of Whistler and mountain life. I first heard of him shortly after I arrived in Whistler. Some of his work is still on Display in places like Sushi Village. If you are in Whistler while this exhibition is running I’d recommend checking it out.

18) Spot a Black Bear!

During the spring time the bears of Whistler start waking up, and during the summer you’re very likely to see one. Just recently I spotted Bjorn the Black Bear while he was outside a block of apartments eating. It was crazy to think how close we were to him. I think this fella is due to be relocated as he is too accustomed to people now. Whistler offers several bear watching tours.

I managed to see these three guys on the road up to Olympic park.

19) Fairmont Fridays

Fairmont Fridays happens every Friday in The Mallard Lounge at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. From 5:30pm to 6:30pm they have a happy hour with free appetisers. As well as deals on wine, beer and half price cocktails. Try the Sangria! This runs year-round so no matter which time of year you visit be sure to check it out.

20) Visit the City/See a hockey Game

Take a day trip and visit the city of Vancouver. A 1 hour 40 minute bus ride from Whistler, you can get a return trip for $35 through Epic Rides.

Enjoy Canada’s favourite sport and watch the Canucks play at Rogers Arena. Located near to Yale Town, and China Town there are some interesting neighbourhoods to discover.

Have you visited Whistler yet? What are your favourite things to do here?

Disney Cultural Representative Program: Applying for your Q1 Visa

Applying for your Q1 Visa for Disney’s Cultural Representative Program

After getting that wonderful email and having paid your housing fees, the next step is applying for your Q1 visa. You’ll get an email from Disney themselves with your I-797. You will need this for your visa interview and to fill out your DS-160 so make sure you save and print as soon as you can. The I-797 is your petition for your visa from the Walt Disney company. At first this confused me as I didn’t realise this was a group petition. So it will have your name listed as well as others doing the program with you and others from different pavilions. Also, don’t panic (like I did!) if the embassy listed isn’t the one you stated on the DOC website. Mine said Berlin, this makes no different. You can apply for your visa at any U.S Embassy or Consulate outside of the U.S.

All the blog posts I have seen for UK participants have had their visa appointments at the Embassy in London. The same information and rules apply in a different country. I searched and searched the internet months prior to my visa interview, for information on applying for a U.S visa outside of your home country. And I found very little. So, for anyone who may be living abroad or doing a working holiday, it can be done!

Yes, I know I need to delete some emails…

Filling in your DS-160

I was worried my visa wouldn’t get accepted because I’d seen online that “it’s easier/quicker to get accepted in your home country”. Maybe they’d want to see my previous J1 visa in my old passport that’s back home in London. Or they’d ask for my social security number/card which is also “in a safe place”. Luckily for me, I brought my old iPhone5 to Canada with me, and I knew I had photos of both, my old visa and social security number from when I last worked in the states. This helped immensely when filling out my DS-160 (visa application). It means that I won’t have to waste time getting a brand new social security number and can just get a replacement. Hoo-ray!

One thing to remember when filling out your DS-160 is that it doesn’t save itself. So if it times out and you log back in without saving you will have to fill everything in again. I usually fill one page out then save each time.

In order to fill out the DS-160 you will need:

Your Passport

Previous U.S visas

Social Security Number

The dates of your 5 last visits to the United States

Your parents details (DOB etc)

The name of the person sponsoring you (listed on the I-797)

The address you’ll be living at (Vista Way is the default address)

The address of the location you’ll be working along with the phone number

And finally how much you’ll be earning per month

Once you have completed your DS-160 you will get a confirmation page with your photo and a barcode on it. Print this right away. I’d recommend printing everything twice and keeping them in separate places in case you happen to lose one. (surprisingly this happens to me a lot)

Booking your appointment

Once you have completed your DS-160 you can then book your visa appointment. I did mine on a different site to what most people applying from the UK do, because I’m currently living in a different country. Once you have filled in your details, the website will give you the nearest Embassy dates. I had a few pop up from Montreal and Ottawa but I needed Vancouver, so selected the next available date for that Consulate. The timing of this happened to be the same day that I was staying in Vancouver for a few days, so I was really happy I didn’t have to do more than one trip there.

You now pay for your visa online, which years ago when I got my J1, was all done at the Embassy on the day. The visa itself was $190.00 USD and the delivery fee to my house was $20.00 USD. The fee will always be in U.S dollars no matter where you are applying from. I’d highly recommend paying for the courier, getting to Vancouver alone is $35 here at the cheapest for a return. So worth it in the long run.

The Visa Appointment

I booked my visa appointment for 8:00am the other option is 8:30am. I left my air b’n’b with Matt at around 7:am and we walked to the Consulate. Upon arrival there was a fairly big line outside . I got in line and handed over my documents, they put a sticker on my passport then I joined the second line. There are no phones allowed in the Vancouver U.S  consulate, but you can now take them into the London U.S embassy. They do however, have lockers here, which I would recommend using. I came with minimal things. My documents and phone. This was later going to prove a bad decision. I handed my phone to my boyfriend and he went to get coffee to wait for me.

The line itself is quite slow, they only let 5 people at a time in. Once inside you line up for security. Here I had a good conversation with one of the security officers about what I was going to be doing in the states. I got to the first window relatively quickly, and thought I’d be out sooner than I thought. Here’s where not bringing a purse became a bad idea. The lady at the first desk was super nice but informed me that my photo wasn’t going to work. And that I could just use the photo booth in the room and come right back to her.

I had no money. I asked if it would be possible to go get some money from my boyfriend and then come back into the building. She said yes and that I could skip the line outside and just go through to security. So I left the building, and went to the Starbucks that I thought Matt would be in. I couldn’t find him anywhere and I had no phone to call him. I asked several coffee shops if I could use their phone to which they all replied no it’s not for customers (You’d be fucked then if reporting a crime! Not impressed)

At a nearby hotel, a lovely lady in reception let me use the phone. I tried to call my phone as I don’t even know Matt’s number but it just kept telling me it was long distance. I was about ready to cry at this point. It was pissing rain outside so I started making my way back to the air b’n’b when I spotted Matt outside the consulate.

Explained to him that I needed money for a photo and he gave me $20. Yay! So, once again I go through security. I put my $20 note into the machine only to be told it only accepts $10 notes.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

I asked several people after me if they’d had any change for a $20. None of them did. So back out I go, about to get into the Elevator when I decide to ask a family next to me if they have two $10 they give me two $5 and a $10. I thank them over and over and tell them they’re life savers!

Panic Over!

As security was literally next to the elevator, the security officers let me bypass it to return to the first room. I go back to the first window. Finally! The lady hands back my documents and then I go to the next window. This was just for hand prints. A fairly quick process. We then have to wait a few minutes, as the interview room is currently full. While waiting I get chatting to a few people. Everyone was so curious as to why I was applying for a visa if I’m from the UK. I explained to them the reason I was there and the room filled with “ooooohhhh”s.

I finally get called to go to the interview room, another long line and more waiting. Oce at the window the woman interviewing me looks at my DS-160 and has no idea what a Q1 visa is and has never had to process one before. She giggles to herself while processing my information and asks me about where I’ve lived before Canada, what I’ll be doing in Orlando and what my job will be. She tells me Q1’s are like unicorns and checks with her manager that she has processed everything correctly. Then she says “Your visa has been approved” and hands me a piece of paper to track its shipping.

Wooooo!!! Approved!

I left the building a whole TWO hours later! Poor Matt had been hanging around all day for me, while it poured rain. But it was done. We didn’t need to do anything else now. And I was happy that I was actually, for real, going to Walt Disney World!

If you are applying for your visa, please please do NOT go cheap on the photo and take your own. Just pay the $10! It is so worth it in the long run.

Disney Cultural Representative Program: Final Interviews

Disney’s Cultural Representative Program: Final Interviews (UK)

Following on from my last post, this one will detail the final interviews. held at Disney HQ. I can’t give accurate numbers but I can give you a good guestimate of how many people from Pre-Screens got given final interviews. I would say around 70 people get through to finals. This can obviously change, it can be more or less. And at this stage, you can safely say that you have a very good chance of getting the job. But, there is still a small chance you may get a no. Very few people from what I’ve seen get no’s but still be prepared to give it your all in these interviews.

Receiving That email

29th September, emails started coming in. Facebook notifications galore. People posting that they’d gotten through to final interviews. I was at work this day, so I wasn’t able to read through the posts or check my emails until my break time. I got an email. However it wasn’t the one I was hoping for.

But, it wasn’t the email I didn’t want either!

 

I had gotten put on a waiting list, something that if I recall correctly was a relatively new thing that started a couple of rounds ago. I was happy, it wasn’t a no! Two other people posted that they had gotten the same, I’m not sure if others were on there too so no idea if this was a big waiting list.

I had to wait a long time. Yep… A whole day. Longest wait of my life!

Then, it happened

I GOT IT!!! I could not believe it! I was going to the Walt Disney European head office in London to attend an interview to work at Walt Disney World!! Now I knew this wasn’t the final decision but this was the furthest I’ve ever gotten, and was an achievement in itself!

Erm.. didn’t I book my flight to Canada for the 1st November? Oops!

The next few weeks were spent calling lastminute.com to change the date of my flight. This took about a week after they kept saying they’d call me back but didn’t. Eventually it was done, and I was flying out on Sunday the 6th now instead of the 1st. I had to cancel the bus I’d booked and lost money on, booked the greyhound instead and booked my hostel. All in all I was out around £110 but it was more than worth it and my flight was super cheap.

After getting the email inviting you to face-to-face interviews, you will then receive an invitation from Disney themselves to fill in an online application/CV. You will also need to have your documents upload to the DOC. This would include personal information, passport information and social security number or previous visa if applicable. If you don’t have this information to hand do not worry as you won’t need it until you are actually offered the job.

The week before

I had a busy couple of months ahead of me. I had a trip booked to Budapest, two jobs, a savings goal, one job interview and a move to Canada.All I had to do now, was pick out an outfit for my interview and prepare for the day. I ended up going with a pale pink dress from H&M and back tights and shoes. Black is always a good colour, but I wanted to add some colour to my outfit too.

The Monday before my interview was halloween, I was working my last shift at the pub I worked for. Dressed as a skeleton. It felt so weird, closing down the bar for the last time. I’d only been here since June but I’d already made so many memories here. On the Thursday I’d end up doing the same again. Leaving my job at the airport. I was quite emotional, having to leave behind two jobs I loved. Friends and family, and I hadn’t even gotten to my interview yet.

I decided to book a hotel as lots of others were doing the same and I felt it would be a nice build up to the day. On the Thursday after work, I packed my bag and made my way to London via a stop at Westfield. I needed some retail therapy to calm my nerves (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it)

The Presentation

Booking a hotel turned out to be a great idea as I got a better nights sleep and met with another girl who was staying at the same place. Everybody was meeting at Starbucks just before interviews. It was probably the tiniest Starbucks in Hammersmith filled with around 20 Disney geeks (The best kind of Starbucks). It was so nice to see some familiar faces from my interview group and to also meet some new ones.

We all started to head over to Disney HQ at around 8:30 if I remember correctly. The presentation before-hand was due to start at 9:00am? We checked in at reception, got given our guest passes for the day and got the obligatory photo with Sparkly Mickey. Eventually we were led upstairs to the auditorium where they played the same presentation as the one you get shown at Pre-Screens. It’s a great video and I never tire of seeing it. I watched it before pre-screens and have seen it a few times after f2f. If you’d like to watch said video you can do so right here:

The presentation consisted of a couple of Managers at Disney who talked about the company, a little bit about their jobs and what the program entails.

The first lot of interviews will then take place and everybody else will need to leave the building and come back at their scheduled time. I spend the few hours with other applicants in a pub a short walk away from HQ. This really helped to ease my nerves, we just chatted about everything.

Face-to-Face Interviews

About an hour before my interview slot, we decided to head back and wait with the other applicants. Disney were slightly behind so we did end up waiting a bit longer. We got to chill on the couches just outside the interview room with the people who were before/after us. They interview in twos, but it’s still one on one, and in the same room.

I was the last in my group to be called. Here we go, time to shine!

The interview was short, like 10 minutes short. Maybe it was longer, I’m not sure. I had so much more I wanted to say, and was prepared for more questions. But it was over in a flash. I had finished my interview earlier than the other person, which made me somewhat anxious that I hadn’t said enough.

My interviewer was awesome and made me feel really comfortable. I actually can’t remember what he asked me now. The last question that he asked me was “tell me something about you” and I’m not even sure what my answer was. I think I mentioned my love of travel, my aspirations and that I was moving to Canada in two days time. Whatever I said it must have worked! He also asked me if I have any questions for him. I had a few about my visa, when we’d hear back and some other things. I’d say it’s good to have a few questions prepared that you’d like to ask as it shows an interest and can also lead onto further conversation.

And just like that, I was back in the waiting room. Anna and Luke from yummy jobs asked me how it went and I thought it went okay, but as it was so quick I really didn’t know how to feel. I said my goodbyes and a few of us went for drinks after.

I really enjoyed the whole day and it made me realise how much I want this and how close I was to getting it. I felt at home just being with others who I could talk Disney with! And the possibility of getting to work with them was exciting.

And once more, we had to wait again.

Wait list

A whole nine days after interviewing, I got an email. I didn’t expect them to be sending out job offer emails just yet. It stated that they’d put me on the wait list. I was pretty happy about that! I know some people wait for months and months before they get any kind of offer. But as long as it wasn’t a no I was happy. I did state in my interview that as I’m moving to Canada and would like some extra time there, my availability was from August, so this is probably the reason I was put on wait list. Lots of other people had open availability which meant they could take any date.

I think it was about a week later that other people started getting dates. I was so happy to see so many people getting job dates.

If you get put on the waiting list Disney will email you once a month to ask if you still want to be on the list. All you have to do is click the link to confirm. I did this once in December and then once in January…

January 27th came around and then it happened. I got the job! 

I couldn’t believe it, I’d dreamt about Disney that night. And something prompted me to wake up and check my emails. I couldn’t have been happier. I was also amazed I only waited two months for a date. Some people can wait up to 8 months, just to get a date. I was feeling pretty lucky at this point!

Next up: flights, housing , Insurance and visas!

Disney Cultural Representative Program: Applying & Pre Screens

Applying for the Disney Cultural Representative Program (CRP) for the UK Pavilion

What is the Disney Cultural Representative Program? (CRP)

The Cultural Representative Program is a one year program offered by Disney to certain nationalities. Disney employs people from all over the world to come and work at the World Showcase in it’s Epcot theme Park. The World Showcase is a section that is made up of eleven pavilions themed to different countries. They are:

Mexico

Norway

China

Germany

Italy

United States

Japan

Morocco

France

United Kingdom

Canada

There are other countries that Disney offers programs to in addition to this, to see if you qualify for one of their programs, you can visit there site here.

If you’re from the UK and want to apply for the Cultural Representative Program at Walt Disney World, you first have to submit your application.

In order to do this and check out further information about the program you can visit the yummy jobs website. This is the agency that deals with all the Disney international programs for applicants within the UK and some of Canada

http://www.yummyjobs.com

Application Stage

I applied for the Cultural Representative program last year in August, the 24th to be exact! This was my fourth time applying. I’d made it through to the Pre-Screen stage the previous year and this was my fourth attempt at applying.

I wasn’t planning on applying this round, as I’d applied 3 times already and wondered if it was worth it. I’m sure many others have this feeling when applying again. I’ve heard of some applying 7/8 times before they got accepted onto the program. Which, just goes to show that it can happen at any time! Part of me applied this time on a wim, I’d already gotten through to Pre-Screens before, so why couldn’t I do it again? I refused to accept no as the answer, this was my dream job and I wasn’t going to give up!

Putting together my CV

Before applications opened, I was in the process of looking for a new job, and as I’d love to work in the travel and hospitality business I started to look for local jobs that A) help me do this in the future and B) be good experience for the CRP. At this point I knew I’d be going to Canada in November, so if I’d gotten a no I still had something else planned and it just meant I’d apply next round and enjoy Canada for longer.

Not long after applications opened, I got offered my job at Whistler Blackcomb. Being North America’s biggest ski resort, I thought this would be a great addition to my application. I ended up getting a job at my local airport in Duty Free, which I loved and I learned a lot from it and it gave me that international experience for my CV. At weekends, I’d work my other job at a local pub, this gave me experience in food & beverage. So I really tried to gear my CV towards something they were looking for.

I started putting together my CV and cover letter. I’ve made lots of cover letter drafts for this program. And this one was by far the best. In the past I’ve overthought the whole thing, and rewritten my cover letter 20 times and it stressed me out. I tried to Disney-fy it but I think I went overboard at one stage. This time I still “disneyfied” my CV but I made it very subtle, as to keep it professional at the same time.

Writing My Cover Letter

I wrote my cover letter in two or three drafts. I wrote what I felt they needed to know about me and how my experience would be beneficial to Disney, specifically the UK pavilion. I also mentioned a bit about what I’d get out of the program, but I made this part a little more specific. In terms of work experience, I mentioned my current jobs and previous jobs and how they related back to the international nature of the program. Things I could bring from my current and previous jobs to represent the UK, for example, serving British branded beers and British baked goods. (I used to work for a large UK chain of bakeries) I also mentioned what my next “adventure” would be, AKA moving to and working in Canada.

After deciding that my CV and cover letter mentioned everything I wanted it to, I uploaded my documents and submitted them. For the next few days I didn’t really think about the application. I had a feeling of hope but was also prepared for the rejection. Anyone who has applied more than once will know the feeling I’m talking about! But slowly, the feeling of excitement crept back. What if I did make it through to Pre-Screens? I mean I have done it before, and if I’ve done it before surely I could do it again? And I did!

Pre Screens! AKA Best feeling ever

On the 6th of September, the email came through. One of the best emails of my life! I hadn’t bothered checking my emails because I just didn’t think I’d get it. So a day later when I finally did, I jumped out of my chair. Eyes widened. It was the best feeling in the world. Last time around I didn’t tell anyone I’d applied or what the interview was for until a week before Pre-Screens, thinking that doing so would jinx it! Well, it didn’t make any difference in the end, so this time around I just mentioned that I’d applied to my family and when I got offered Pre-Screens I told them right away!

As I’d done pre-screens the year before, I knew how the day would roughly go. Last year I definitely overthought the whole thing and as a result I was far too nervous. I’ve had a lot of interviews and they don’t make me nervous, but this was DISNEY! A dream job! How could I not be nervous!? I was still nervous this time around, but much less so. Having experienced this part of the application once already it helped calm my nerves and therefore enjoy the day much more.

I’d booked a hotel for the night before, as last time I traveled down on the day and as a result was tired the whole time. It was much nicer to get a good nights sleeps and meet some other applicants prior to the interview. The hotel that I stayed at was called the Bell Hotel, which isn’t the greatest place I’ve ever stayed but for one night it was adequate and was also the cheapest. If you are thinking of traveling down on the day I’d highly recommend looking into staying the night as it really helped to calm my nerves as I knew the office was only a short walk away.

The day was very similar to last time but as usual they change little things each time. This year there were three dates instead of two, and less groups. I’m not sure how many people they interviewed or if there were less people at this stage than last year, but at a guess I’d say there were 150 applicants. This time around we were interviewed as a group and then individually. Usually at the this stage, it is only a group interview. I think this way is a much nicer way because sometimes in a group you don’t always get that time to ask questions, say what you need to. And if there’s something specific you’d like to say and forget you do get that second chance.

The Interview

The day started with the same videos they showed us last time, and even though I’ve watched these several times on youtube too, I never get tired of seeing them. Anna and Luke were awesome, they really lifted the mood throughout the whole thing. We were all given a name tag sticker, which had our group name on and the time in which we’d be interviewing and also our individual interview times.

Prior to the interview, they ask you to bring with you something that represents your hometown. I really overthought this last year. So this year I decided to go simple and just print out photos of things that I could talk about. A lot of people take this approach. It doesn’t have to be the world’s most interesting object as long as you can talk about a place and be passionate about it. Teach people something that they didn’t know before.

My interview time (if I remember correctly) was about 11:30. I was team Bruce! It was really nice to hang out and get to know people in my group.

The group interview was really chilled, and as a group I think we really clicked and bounced off each other which was a nice feeling. Some ice breakers were to chat to the person sitting next to you and find out 3 things about them. They were: Your name and where you’re from, your favourite Disney memory, and an interesting fact about you. They also gave us a few fun activities to do as a team. We had to create a British themed party event. We came up with a game called “Bru Pong” in which you take the game of beer pong and replace it with mini scotch eggs and Irn Bru. Sounds pretty disgusting eh? And lastly another activity involving a bamboo stick. I’ll leave you curious with that one.

Then, more waiting. Our group left the office and joined the other groups over at Starbucks and filled the time by playing heads up – Disney version.

I ended up being able to get an earlier interview which was nice as I had work early the next day. In the one on one interview they ask you the general questions like availability and why you want to do the program, your experience etc. They end it with asking what Disney character you are most like. This isn’t a guaranteed question, I’ve prepared for this in the past and it never came up until now. So have your answer ready just in case!

After my interview I said my goodbyes to everyone and wished them luck, gave them some info on the questions I got asked and went on my merry way. I didn’t feel overly confident at this point. I thought my individual interview let me down but I’d done all that I could do.

Then, the waiting began. Again.

 

10 must-see places along California’s Pacific coast highway

10 must see places along California’s Pacific Coast Highway

The Golden State, known for it’s sandy beaches in the south and its sequoia’s in the north. California has a vast variety of sights along its golden coast. Here are my top 10 places to see along California’s pacific coast highway/Highway 1.

1) San Francisco

Spend a few days in this hilly city with it’s famous Golden Gate Bridge, take a cable car ride and see the resident sea lions at Pier 39

2) Monterey Bay Aquarium

This iconic Aquarium located on the site of an old sardine cannery on Cannery Row,  houses more than 600 species. Some of the more popular exhibits include, Sea Otter feeding, several Jellyfish species and Seahorses.

3) Bixby Bridge

Located on the coast of Big Sur, Bixby Bridge is one of the most photographed bridges in California. Spend a few moments enjoying this magnificent view.

4) Pfeiffer Beach

This hidden gem is located within Julia Pfeiffer Burns State park. Somewhat difficult to find without a map or GPS as there are no road signs. There is a car park however camper vans are not permitted. The road down is a little long, I ended up walking it but the end result was so worth it. Don’t forget to look down and check out the purple sand!

5) McWay Falls

One of my biggest bucket list ticks, McWay Falls is just south of Pfeiffer beach and every bit as beautiful. This beach is home to rare fauna and flora and therefore no foot route is available, hence preserving it’s natural beauty.

 

6) San Simeon – Hearst Castle/Elephant Seal Lookout

San Simeon itself is very flat with very little around, but it does have it’s own charm. Tucked away in the mountains is Hearst Castle, built by William Randolph Hearst and now a National Historic Landmark. Hearst would entertain the rich and famous here including Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and Winston Churchill. Keep an eye out for the zebras!

Just North of the Hearst Ranch is Elephant Seal lookout. If you’ve ever wanted to witness wild Elephant seals this would be the place to do it. The entirety of this beach is occupied by the seals and if you listen closely you can even spot who’s having the fight!

 

7) Pismo Beach – Butterfly Grove

“clam capital of the world” Pismo Beach is home to some stunning beaches and wildlife. If visiting from October through to February check out the Monarch butterfly grove, which is home to Monarch butterflies seeking shelter from the northern winters.

 

8) Malibu – Malibu Pier/Paradise Cove

One of the most famous sections of the Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu is home to not only some of the biggest celebrities but the most famous beaches too. Two of my favourite spots in Malibu are the pier, where you can get amazing views of the coastline. The other, Paradise Cove Beach. Paradise Cove Cafe is a little spot north of the pier, and a great place to grab breakfast or lunch while relaxing in the California sunshine.

9) Santa Monica

Santa Monica has a lot to offer, whether it be shopping, beaches or restaurants. Check out the famous Santa Monica pier and take a ride on the big wheel or stand where the Route 66 officially ends. The pier offers several dining options with a view, for more dining choices check out the 3rd Street Promenade.

10) San Diego

With so much to explore in San Diego you’ll need to spend your time wisely. I was here for 3 days and only scratched the surface of what this beautiful city offers. In my three days here I experienced some things that even money can’t buy. My favourite? Watching the most incredible sunset I think I’ve ever witnessed!

This amazing sunset made for a great backdrop for the tall ships along San Diego’s harbour. These tall ships and the soviet submarine make up the Maritime Museum of San Diego, the biggest collection of historic sea vessels within the United States.

Chilling in a Soviet Submarine

Further up along the Harbour is the Iconic “Unconditional Surrender” statue, based on the famous photo taken of a sailor and nurse after the surrender of Japan during the Pacific War.

What are your favourite places to visit along the California coast?

Hopping across the border: Two days in Seattle

I finally made it to Seattle!

After putting it on my 2017 goals, I managed to make a quick trip across the border to the rainy state of Washington. I made it to Seattle!

I spent my two days off road tripping down to Washington State with four friends. With only two days to play with we made a simple itinerary, ticking off Seattle’s most popular tourist spots. We hired a car and left early morning, the drive down was actually quite relaxing, with some awesome views along the way.

There is only one place in Whistler to hire a car from – Avis at the Cascade Lodge. We arrived before they opened and were the first to get our car. Yay!

Before leaving to get the car, I nearly forgot my passport – oops! I did however, forget my IEC visa, which was fine but you really should staple or always keep it in your passport (which I have since done) because you will need it to re-enter the country.

Once we were on the road we stopped in Squamish for a coffee at Tim’s, I also got a donut and bagel. Me eating became the theme of this trip.

It didn’t take us long to reach the border, the longest part of our journey was trying to get through Vancouver. Once we reached the border, we were asked for passports and then had to park up and go get our visas from inside the building. This took a while, but it was a relatively smooth process and costed $4 each.

Border crossing selfie

We were then back on the road. Washington is beautiful, lots of mountains and trees on the way over. I could tell we were getting close when the first radio station we put on had Nirvana playing. One of my favourite songs too. The drive in total took us 6 hours and we arrived just after 3pm.

Checked into the Travelodge by the Space Needle on 6th Avenue. This was a very basic hotel but fine for one night and a very comfy bed!

Once at the hotel we dropped off our bags and went exploring! Downtown is approximately 15 minutes walk from where we stayed. And it was a nice walk too. Lots off cool little coffee shops and cafes along the way.

Naturally our first stop was the Public Market at Pike Place. I was pretty stoked to see this. It quickly became my favourite part of Seattle. Why? Because there was food vendor after food vendor!

Pike Place Market

This little piggy went to Pike Place market

The Original

I got in some touristy snaps of the world’s first Starbucks, as an avid Starbucks lover and basic white girl this was pretty cool to see.

Then it hit me. The smell of cinnamon and everything yummy. I stood there sniffing and asking where it was coming from. This was the start of my downfall. I spotted it, a piroshsky shop. The only time I have ever heard of a piroshsky shop was in Orange is the new black when Red mentions she owns one. I was amazed, everything looked SO good! I ended up choosing a cinnamon twist and a raspberry and white chocolate piroshsky.

What is a Piroshsky you ask? It’s a Russian pastry/bun that’s filled with either sweet of savoury fillings. I was in here for a while. Everything looked SO good. The place I went to was called “Piroshsky Piroshsky” and since googling, I’ve found they’re very famous, and now deliver. Oh, to live in Seattle!

Piroshky Piroshky. Cinnamon goodness

Along this little stretch of shops we popped our heads in and out trying free samples. Cheese, olive oil, jams, truffle oils, pesto, greek yoghurt. This place has everything.

After my piroshsky binge, I then purchased a raspberry and white chocolate individual cheese cake. This was just amazing. I did save this for my pre-bedtime snack though, just as a disclaimer!

Mmmm cheesecake!

We finished up at the market and headed to the gum wall to make our mark. I have no idea who came up with this idea, and it’s a little bit gross but I kinda love it.

Here’s a snippet from Wikipedia to give you an idea of it’s origins “The wall is by the box office for the Market Theater, and the tradition began around 1993 when patrons of Unexpected Productions’ Seattle Theatresports stuck gum to the wall and placed coins in the gum blobs. Theater workers scraped the gum away twice, but eventually gave up after market officials deemed the gum wall a tourist attraction around 1999. Some people created small works of art out of gum.”

Making my mark in Seattle

It was around 5:30/6pm now so we decided to go get some drinks as most places had happy hour until 7pm. We discussed going to the Hard Rock Cafe when a local woman overheard and suggested we go to a locals place by the post alley called The Alibi Room. We tried, it was packed, and a 30 minute wait. So back to HRC we went. Keen to get a drink, but alas, it wasn’t to be. In Washington state it’s the law that you have to have a passport as I.D. We did end up going back to the Alibi Room, this time with passports in tow. I ordered their Irish coffee. But it was probably one of the worst things I’ve tasted. I’ll stick to beer next time.

Dinner tonight was at the crab pot along the waterfront. This was an incredible experience. Especially if you like seafood like me. They place a long piece of paper along your table, then throw down a mix of crab legs, mussels, clams, shrimp, corn & potatoes. You’re given a wooden block, a fork and wooden hammer. Then your free to bash away. This was such a fun experience. I loved wearing the bib, it was great. The food itself was really fresh and the crab just tasted so good.

Before

And after!

We ended the nights with drinks and a slow walk back to the hotel via a hotdog van.

Seattle at night

Day Two

Day 2 consisted of making our way straight to the Space Needle. About a 5 minute walk from our hotel, we managed to get an entry time of 10:30 – 11am. The views from u here were really nice, despite the wind and rain. You get a 360 view of the whole city, right out into the pacific.

Space Needle admission prices are $22 for general adult admission.

Right next to the Space Needle is the museum of pop culture, which actually looked really cool. We only browsed the outside and lobby. This museum isn’t free and we didn’t have time to do this but if I were to return to Seattle, this is something I’d love to see for sure.

Next up, was the monorail. I was having a bit of a Disney moment at this point. The Space Needle and monorail just reminded me of Disneyland so much! As well as Epcot, a lot of Disney attractions were designed in the 60s during the space age. the monorail was around $2 for one way and was pretty cool ride. We were like big kids sitting at the front so we could “drive”

Monoraaaaaiiiil…

We departed the monorail and my first stop had to be H&M. For an emergency pair of jeans. The night before, my jeans had ripped open and every time I sat down it kept getting bigger and bigger. I had to walk around the whole day with my jeans ripped on the butt cheek, luckily I was wearing a relatively long coat!

Too much good stuff

On the way to H&M we passed a square with several food trucks and having seen what everyone else was eating we just had to try something. Two of the girls got fish and chips – and this looked like GOOD fish and chips. I opted for the middle eastern food truck and went with a chicken gyro. And it was good. SO good. The food trucks were very popular with the locals too. I’m assuming this happens every Friday, but I’ve not been able to find any information online. So if you’re in Seattle on a Friday, check out this place.

Once in H&M I found my emergency pair of jeans, popped into some other stores. Forever 21, hell yes! Refused to buy anything because my Canadian dollars wouldn’t stretch (Just like my jeans) and we made our way back down to Pike Place market.

Pike Place at night

Here’s where I bought… More food! I couldn’t leave Seattle without trying the Baklava. It was my treat for on the way home. Well, one of them anyway. My roomate bought some fancy olive oil that she’ll probably never use. We stopped and got some last minute souvenirs – starbucks city mugs anyone? Then started the 5/6 hour journey back home to Whistler. On the way to the Canadian/US boarder we stopped at an outlet mall. It was glorious. I wish there was something similar near Vancouver. I only bought a few things, that will save me money in the long term (isn;t that what every girl says?) On the way back it rained. And rained. But it was kind of nice. We arrived back in Whistler at a very early 11pm.

I really enjoyed my short time in Seattle, and would love to explore Washington state a bit more in the future. Thats state number 7 ticked off the bucket list!

Canadian Working Holiday – Guide to working a season in Whistler

Thinking about doing a working holiday in Canada? Always wanted to do a season in Whistler? Here are some of my tips I’ve learnt since being here. I’m sure there are many many more, so if you have any advice for me, please let me know.

Chilling on Rainbow Mountain

Where to Start

When I first decided I was going to do the Working Holiday in Canada, I had no idea where to start. There are so many resources online for moving and working in Australia, but very little in comparison for Canada. So, not knowing where to start or what to do, I decided I was going to go through an agency. Then I had the dilemma of which one to choose? Where do I start? The two main ones I looked into were, BUNAC and The Working Holiday Club. Eventually I decided to go with TWHC, mostly based on the fact they were a smaller company and therefore I felt that maybe I’d get a more personalised service.

TWHC were great, from the very beginning right through to getting to Canada. They took me through everything from how to apply for my visa, to interviews, questions I might get asked, and what documents to print for immigration. The whole process was really smooth, long but smooth.

One of the reasons I went through TWHC too, was to go work for a tourist/resort area. As mentioned before I’d never skied before coming to Canada, so that wasn’t the appeal for me. But the chance to try and do something new. Plus Whistler is a hub for international people who love to travel. This is a great town to meet people from all over the world. If you’re looking at doing a working holiday in Canada, you don’t have to come to Whistler or go through an agency. There are many other places to try out. Some people I work with actually started out in Banff, which is another very popular area for working holiday participants.

To find out more visit www.theworkingholidayclub.com they work with people from the UK, New Zealand and Australia.

What does it cost?

Getting here was not cheap, think about all the things you’ll need to buy/book before you get here and give yourself a budget. Every time I saved, I had to pay out for something.

Here’s a rundown of my costs

TWHC fee – £699

Visa fee – $230 (£143)

Insurance fee – £676 (for two years)

Flight – £300

Housing deposit – £320 approx

ski jackets and pants – £175 approx

toiletries to take with me – £50 approx

Hostel stay in Vancouver – 1 night free with TWHC + £35 for extra night

Greyhound & extra luggage fees – $19 + $30 for overweight luggage (£30)

These were all my fees before I arrived in Canada/Whistler.

Total cost: £2428

Yes, it’s a lot of money but over the space of the year it wasn’t too bad as it was all done gradually. Keep in mind that the Housing deposit you get back once you check out of staff housing, and part of it will also go towards your first months rent. Apart from the TWHC fee, all of these were essential things that I needed to purchase anyway. I have friends who didn’t go through any agency to get here and paid around 2k to live in a hostel until they were offered staff housing. In the long run I saved money by doing it this way, and had the reassurance that everything was done for when I got here.

Gas Town, Vancouver

How long does it take?

The process of going through this was very long, I didn’t mind this so much because it gave me a while to save more money, which I’m very glad I did! While saving to move to Whistler, I also did weekends away in Europe every so often, to cure my wanderlust. After you receive your work permit through CIC, you can enter the country at any time after the approval date. So I could have entered Canada way back in January or February last year.

Here is a rough timeline of the process I went through.

13th December 2015 – Sent in my application for the visa pool

16th December 2015 – The first round of invitations were sent out

22rd December 2015 – I received my invite to apply

I can’t remember the date that I actually sent in my application but I think it was around the 28th and I had to update some information after that

14th January 2016 – Application approved!

I then had a phone interview with TWHC around Jan time, to see which roles I’d be interested in.

July 26th 2016 – Had my interview with Whistler Blackcomb in London

12th August 2016 – Got offered the job!

6th November 2016 – Flew to Canada

24th November 2016 – the mountain opened and work started

For more information on whether you are eligible to apply for the IEC visit the CIC website here

What to bring with you

Before you start packing you should have a list of the important documents that you might need to bring over with you. I printed out everything just in case immigration officers would want to see them, but also when getting a second job you will also need these documents.

Passport – the most important! Don’t forget it

POE – point of entry letter. This is your work permit, you need this on arrival into the country in order to get your visa. It is valid for one year from the date of issue

Police certificate

Copy of your travel insurance policy

Before I came out to Whistler, I’d heard that everything here is expensive, and it really is. Expect alcohol (go figure). Everything in the supermarkets is bumped up in price. $15 for cheese. Yup.

So with this in mind, and wanting to save as much money as I could, I decided to stock up. Throughout the year I would buy extra toiletries and just put them away in my “Canada stash”. This way I wouldn’t feel like I was spending as much as buying it all in one. Maybe I went a little overboard with it, but the upside is that I’ve had to buy very little while being here. The main thing I’ve had to buy is shampoo.

Here’s what I brought out with me (no wonder I was so overweight)

  • shampoo x 4
  • conditioners x 3
  • face washes x 2
  • face exfoliator x 1
  • packs of razors x 4
  • toothpastes x 2
  • toothbrushes x 2
  • cough syrups x 2
  • sore throat lozenges x 1
  • packs of paracetamol x 2
  • packs of tampons and pads x 2
  • shower gels x 2
  • deodorants x 4
  • bottle of perfume x 1
  • body spray x 1
  • pair of ear plugs x 1
  • shower loufer x 1
  • bottle of micellar water x 1
  • pack of micellar water face wipes x 1
  • pack of plasters/band-aids x 1
  • face moisturisers x 2
  • pack of cotton buds x 1
  • pack of cotton pads x 1
  • makeup bags – too much to detail but this was very little makeup for me.
  • hair dryer x 1
  • hair straightener x 1
  • 2 hairbrushes – 1 round, 1 flat
  • Snowboard or skiis!! If you have your own equipment already then bring it. You can always opt to buy out here but it might not be cheaper if you want to buy brand new. Many people don’t ski or snowboard before they arrive so opt for second hand while they’re still learning.

I’ve been here just over 3 months now and have only had to restock on shampoo which is awesome. Looking at this list I brought out so much stuff, but it did and has saved me so much money not having to go to the drugs stores here every time I need something. I’ll buy the odd thing here and there when I run out but generally if I’m near a dollar store I’ll stock up on extras anyway so it’s there for when I need it.

To give you an idea of how expensive the prices in Whistler are, for a small bottle of Tresemme is $4.99 and in the dollar store it’s $3 for a bottle twice the size. Yes that is my comparison, not rent, not food but shampoo.

I love you Dollar Store

Arriving in Vancouver

When arriving in Vancouver, you’ll probably spend a couple of days doing paperwork. In your first few days in the country you’ll want to get your SIN number, this can actually be done in Toronto right after getting your visa. If you’re connecting in Toronto like I did, I would recommend doing this as it will free up some of your time in Vancouver, meaning you can explore the city! Just remember that the offices that process the SIN numbers are only open on week days not weekends. I arrived on the Saturday so wasn’t able to get mine until the Monday. Just be conscious of this when booking flights and hostel nights.

The second thing you’ll want to do is get a bank account. Without this Whistler BlackComb can’t pay you. You can do this in Whistler if you want to, but it’s so much easier to just do on the same day as your SIN. When you arrive at Base II to sign in they’ll ask you for all these details including branch/transit number of your bank, so make sure you have this ready. Setting up a bank account was an easy process. Because I went through TWHC the particular branch I went to gave me zero fees for the first year (yes, they charge for bank accounts in North America!) and set me up with a savings account (which I’m getting a lot of use of) and a low limit credit card. I’m very happy to say that I’ve not had to use my credit card yet!

The last thing you might want to think about getting is a phone plan. I use my phone a lot. and I also knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with having to rely on wifi all the time. And I can FaceTime my family whenever I like. Many people don’t get phone plans and end up saving quite a bit of money because of it. But this does mean that you’ll have to rely on wifi all the time. Luckily almost everywhere in Whistler has wifi.

Visiting Nanaimo last month

Arriving in Whistler

Depending on whether you’re new to skiing/snowboarding or have been doing it for years, you might want to think about buying your gear over here. You might already have a board you love back home for example, it might be cheaper just to bring it with you, rather than buying a new one over here. If you intend to travel straight after doing the season here and aren’t returning/going home, you might want to think about picking up something here that you can re-sell.

If like me, you’ve never skied or snowboarded and are looking to do a season in Whistler, you have several options available for equipment. You can chance it and buy in Vancouver before making your way up to Whistler – I didn’t want to do this because I have no idea what I’m buying and I wanted to actually try it out before committing.

Buying ski/snowboard gear

  • Buy new with your brand new WB discount! – Not recommended by a lot of people just because it’s so expensive, especially for ski gear to purchase new. For example, my roommate bought new ski boots for around £700. JUST the boots! She works for snow school teaching lessons, so needs a good pair and it’s probably a good investment for her. But for me, I couldn’t justify spending an insane amount just for boots.
  • Buy second hand/used – This is probably the best option, especially for newbies (and possibly for experienced riders too) simply because everyone is always coming and going from Whistler. They come for the season, buy their equipment and then sell it once they leave. There are many Facebook groups selling boards/skis/boots/clothing so definitely check this out before anything else as you might find exactly what you’re looking for in a good condition for a much cheaper price.
  • WB clearance centre – this is in Squamish, about a 40 minute drive south approximately. But you’ll find that you’ll make at least one visit here, whether you have a friend that has a car or someone has posted a ride share there on one of the Facebook groups. Whistler Blackcomb has a clearance store in Squamish where you can buy all sorts for a discounted price, brand new!
  • The re-use it centre – This is located in Function Junction, I’ve never been here as of yet because I’ve heard it’s very hit and miss. Everything here is second hand/used but you can have days where lots of good stuff comes in or lots of bad stuff does. On the up side, this isn’t a 40 minute ride away, and you can get here by bus which takes approx 15/20 minutes.
  • Ex-rentals – this might be the option I’ll go for, simply because other people I know have done this and gotten good deals out of it. Nearly every shop in Whistler rents skis/snowboards and sometimes they’ll sell off their ex-rentals for a cheap price. Which isn’t too bad as sometimes they have skis that are still in good condition.
  • Staff sales – Every so often certain stores which have a staff sale, where all WB staff can take advantage of a bigger discount. Again, if you want to buy new this is a good option.
  • Renting – this is what I’ve been doing up to now. This is something I would only recommend once or twice. It’s going to burn a hole in your pocket. Even after the staff discount, this works out really pricey. The price does drop by about half after 11am but if you rent overtime you want to ride, you’ll have very few funds left.

Clothing

I have yet to purchase any skis – yes I know, it’s mid February already! I do, however have my helmet and goggles, and gloves. My roommate gets a pro discount at both Smith and Burton and was kind enough to let me use it. This worked out incredibly affordable.

I also managed to buy 2 ski coats and 1 pair of ski pants before arriving. I am so glad I did this because I saved so much money. My two coats are from Billabong and were originally £180 each. I bought the first one for £90 in the sales back in February last year and the second at an outlet for £50. My ski pants were from T K Maxx, for around £35/£40 approx.

Finding Jobs & Housing

I have no experience with finding housing, as this was all set up for me before I arrived. But I do know people who have been on the waiting list for staff housing for while, as people that have lived on the campsite as housing here is just so expensive. Finding housing is not a problem. Finding affordable housing however, is a huge problem! Most people don’t want to travel in, but obviously the further out you go the cheaper it’s going to be. Try to sort out your housing situation at the start of the season, or even before. And make sure you have enough $$ saved for all the deposits etc. The nice thing about Whistler Blackcomb staff housing is that the rent will come straight out of your paycheck, so you hardly notice it. All the money you get paid is then yours to spend (wisely)

Finding jobs on the other hand… is relatively easy. Everywhere is always looking. All the time. As people come and go so often here, there are always vacancies. I just started my new job at the Four Seasons, somewhere I never thought I’d be working. And the hiring process took one week and was very stress-free.

Apres at the GLC

What are the perks of working for Whistler Blackcomb?

Season Pass

You get a season pass! Probably one of the biggest perks for people who are keen snowboarders and skiers. Ski resorts are expensive enough so having this for the entire season is great.

Staff housing

Probably the biggest perk. Rent in Whistler is ridiculous. I’ve heard stories of people who pay $1000 just to sleep in a room with bunk beds and 4 people. Staff housing isn’t great but it’s probably your cheapest option and the Glacier complex is on the side of Backcomb mountain. Not going to lie, it’s awesome saying I live on a mountain. And with that I get to take a Gondola to work.

Discounts

Whistler Blackcomb owns most stores here, like the North Face, Can-Ski, Salamon etc. So it’s a great perk if you want to buy brand new equipment. Some people don’t think the discounts are that great but I managed to get 25% off a pair of sorel boots which I practically live in from the Can-ski store, and it’s better than nothing!

Free skiing and snowboarding lessons

This is a great perk for people like me who have never skied or snowboarded in their life. I can now change that and say I have skied! And I loved it. My instructors were fantastic, and very relaxed and patient. I’m happy to say that by the end of the day I was skiing relatively well and successfully dodging all the fallen over snowboarders. I still have yet to try out snowboarding but it’s going to happen. The season is not over yet.

The cons of working for Whistler Blackcomb?

Hourly Wage

The pay isn’t great. Since finding a second job I’ve come to realise that the biggest employer in this town is also the one that pays the least. Almost everyone I work with has a second job and they all pay more. A lot of places here do also offer housing, for example, the Fairmont Chateau and the Four Seasons but just like WB housing there’s not guarantee that you’ll get in there. Also they don’t offer the season pass or free lessons, which some people aren’t overly bothered about. You can always get a spirit pass instead.

Start Dates

They don’t give you an accurate start date. My start date was supposedly November 9th. But the mountain opened the 23rd November and that’s when we officially started work. So two weeks after they’d told us we’d start work. The two weeks previous were for training, most of which we did;t get paid for and was approx 18 hours total. I couldn’t afford my first two weeks rent due to this and the money you spend during this time is ridiculous.

Visit www.whistlerblackcomb.com for more info on the resort

Merlins Apres

Have fun!

The most important thing to remember when moving to a new country, whether it be Canada or elsewhere is to have fun! Whistler is a popular destination all year round. Some people only come for the winter season then go home. Others stay for the whole two years of their visa. I’ll be staying until July, and I’m excited to see what the summer brings! Waterfalls and hot springs? Yes please!

Have you ever thought of venturing over to Canada to do a working holiday?