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Itinerary for 2014 MasterChef Caribbean cruise revealed, season five winner Courtney Lapresi to be aboard

- September 16th, 2014
MasterChef U.S.A. (Courtesy Fox)

MasterChef U.S.A. (Courtesy Fox)

The itinerary for the week-long MasterChef cruise of the Caribbean has been revealed, and it includes plenty of opportunities to interact with fan favourite contestants like Christina Ha and Alexander Weiss, as well as MasterChef judge Graham Elliot.

The seven-day voyage will sail from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Nov. 8, 2014. Elliot, past winners Ha and Luca Manfe, MasterChef Junior victor Weiss, and the newest MasterChef, season five winner Courtney Lapresi, will all be aboard.

Alexander Weiss of MasterChef Junior and Lucas Manfe and Christine Ha of MasterChef. (Courtesy FOX)

Alexander Weiss of MasterChef Junior and Luca Manfe and Christine Ha of MasterChef. (Courtesy FOX)

The luxurious Holland America MS Westerdam will be the vessel for the cruise, which will stop at several ports of call, including Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas. The ship will return to Fort Lauderdale on Nov. 15.

It has now been revealed that guests can look forward to on-board programming that will include Mystery Box challenges, cocktail parties, meet and greets, and demonstrations. Some of the many events include:

  • Christine Ha’s Mac-n-Cheese at Sea Competition – Ha will judge the first-ever Mac-n-Cheese at Sea competition where guests will compete to create their best version of the classic dish.
  • Blind Taste Test with Graham Elliot – A few willing audience members will have the opportunity to test their taste buds with a challenge led by Elliot.
  • Tag Team Sushi – Get a front-row seat to the famous Sushi Tag Team Challenge featuring the MasterChef Stars.
  • Master the Macaroon with Alexander – Learn to master Weiss’ signature dessert.
  • Designer Pasta – Learn how to make authentic, homemade pasta with a demonstration from Luca Manfe.
  • The Finishing Touch – Courtney Lapresi will teach you how to add that extra touch to your dish, using herb oils, aiolis, and purees as smooth as silk.
  • Tricks of the Trade: Lapresi and season four favourite Bri Kozior will demonstrate some of the best tricks used in professional kitchens everywhere.
MasterChef season five winner Courtney Lapresi with judges Joe Bastianich, Gordon Ramsay and Graham Elliot. (Courtesy FOX)

MasterChef season five winner Courtney Lapresi with judges Joe Bastianich, Gordon Ramsay and Graham Elliot. (Courtesy FOX)

“MasterChef fans and food lovers alike are in for an incredible journey with hours of original live programming that both entertains and instructs,” said Vivi Zigler, president of MasterChef’s production company, Shine America, in a statement. “Guests will get to live the MasterChef experience with some of the most skilled and beloved talent from the series, while also honing their own culinary skills.”

Fares for the cruise start at $1,442 per person. For more information or to book your ticket on the MasterChef cruise, visit

Avoid checked luggage fees: Top 3 rules for travelling only with carry-on

- September 16th, 2014


On Monday, WestJet announced plans to begin charging economy-fare passengers $25 for checked luggage on flights within Canada and between Canada and the United States. Air Canada already charges passengers $25 for checked luggage on flights to the U.S., though not within Canada, and many American airlines also charge a fee to check your baggage.

Want to avoid these fees? Just bring carry-on.

Travelling with just a carry-on bag means never having to wait at a luggage carousel after your flight, never losing a piece of luggage in transit and avoiding fees for checked baggage.


Before you board your flight, though, know that there are some carry-on rules fliers need to follow for the benefit and safety of fellow passengers and to ensure quick embarkation.

1. Know your airline’s size limits for carry-on. Each airline has a different size limit for carry-on luggage, due to different sizes of aircraft, space under the seats and size of overhead compartments. Check to see what sizes your airline allows before you go to the airport. If you bring a piece of luggage onto the plane that won’t fit in the overhead compartment, the flight attendants may have to check your luggage, delaying the flight.


2. Don’t bring more than your fair share. Passengers must share the space in the overhead compartments and everyone is entitled to — and paying for — a fair share of the space above their seat. Don’t bring more carry-on or bigger carry-on bags than you are allowed and try to keep your items in the space above your own seat.

3. Know what you can and can’t pack in carry-on. Know what is allowed in carry-on luggage and what isn’t to save yourself time at airport security check points. Prohibited carry-on items include guns, knives, sports bats, work tools and liquids that exceed 100 mL. For a full list of items, visit the Transport Canada website.

Canadian business travellers: Majority enjoy a break from the family, says new poll

- September 11th, 2014


The majority of Canadian business travellers secretly enjoy the break from their families when on the road, according to new data from a national Choice Hotels Canada poll.

In the survey of more than 1,500 Canadians, 55% of business travellers admitted they liked the alone time on the road and 23% said they wouldn’t even consider a job if it didn’t allow them to travel.

Business travellers said they most enjoyed the naughty perks of being away from home, including leaving towels on the floor (34%), eating in bed (34%), leaving clothes laying around (26%) and keeping lights and the TV turned on (23%).

Women were most likely to break out some bad habits when on the road, like eating in bed (32%) and hanging out in a bathrobe (25%).

A former flight attendant’s tips: How to avoid in-flight fights over reclining seats and more

- September 9th, 2014


You’ve heard of road rage, but did you ever think you’d hear of air rage?

In the past two weeks, three different planes have been forced to land because of in-flight fights between passengers over reclining seats and, in one case, use of the Knee Defender gadget, which clips on to the seat ahead of you to keep that passenger from reclining.

WHAT IS THE KNEE DEFENDER? Read the blog on the device here

Diverting from a planned flight route is a costly detour for airlines, an inconvenience to other passengers and, depending on how far the on-board altercation goes, can lead to the offending flyer being charged by police once back on the ground.

So, how can air travellers keep their cool when flying, no matter what the situation?

Former flight attendant and internationally renowned etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore is sharing her tips for smooth, stress-free flights in light of the recent bad behaviour in the skies. Be prepared, be patient and follow her tips to make the skies a little bit friendlier and your trip that much easier.

Jacqueline Whitemore. (Handout)

Jacqueline Whitmore. (Handout)

Tips for avoiding on-board altercations – Courtesy Jacqueline Whitmore

- Don’t pack more than you can lift. The number one pet peeve of flight attendants is passengers who bring carry-on luggage too heavy for them to lift. Don’t expect the flight attendant to lift your bag into the overhead bin. If you pack it, you stack it. Research the rules of your particular airline to find out what luggage requirements they have.

- Check before you recline. Airline seats recline to allow passengers to sleep and relax, but it may cause discomfort for the person behind you. If you intend to recline your seat, do it gently or better yet, turn around and make sure you don’t inconvenience the person behind you. Raise your seat during mealtime so the person behind you can enjoy his or her meal.

- Be respectful of those around you. Airplane seating is tight and interaction with your seatmates is inevitable. Keep the volume of your headphones at an appropriate level and lower the light on your electronic devices so you don’t disturb or distract the person next to you. Many people are sensitive to strong scents including garlic and onions so be mindful of what you eat on the plane.

- Allow those in front of you to disembark first. Rather than grab your luggage and make a run for the door, follow protocol. If you need to make a connection or know you’ll be in a rush, try to arrange to be seated near the front of the plane.

- Hold your tongue. If you have a complaint about another passenger, don’t take matters into your own hands and don’t demand that the plane land at the nearest airport. Alert the flight attendant.

- Parents, be prepared. When babies cry uncontrollably in flight it’s probably because their ears hurt from the air pressure. It’s a good idea for parents to be prepared with a bottle or a pacifier or something to make their children swallow and relieve ear pressure.  Also, parents should not wait until the plane takes off to change their baby’s diaper. Change your child’s diaper in the lavatory – not on the tray table.

Ontario’s Downton Abbey: Visiting Hamilton’s Dundurn Castle

- August 18th, 2014
Dundurn Castle, Hamilton, Ont. (Nicole Feenstra/QMI Agency)

Dundurn Castle, Hamilton, Ont. (Nicole Feenstra/QMI Agency)

“It’s just like Downton Abbey!” I kept exclaiming as I explored the many lavish rooms of Hamilton’s Dundurn Castle.

Having been completed just four years before construction started on the present-day incarnation of Highclere Castle — the real-life English estate that houses the fictional Crawley family and their servants, in the hit ITV/PBS period drama Downton Abbey — in an era when the grandeur of such stately residences was in fashion, the two buildings share many of the same features and functionality.

But, though Dundurn does have connections to British aristocracy — Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, is patron of the Ontario castle, which was home to her great, great, great grandfather — it has a place all to itself in the story of Canada’s past.

PHOTOS: See more photos of Dundurn Castle here

The house was built from 1832 to 1835 by Sir Allan Napier MacNab. Named for his ancestral home in Scotland, MacNab built the 72 room mansion in what was then the countryside of Hamilton for $175,000, incorporating the latest technologies in gas lighting and running water.

MacNab was a veteran of the 1812 war and built his home over an existing military encampment on the site. He entered politics after a successful career as a lawyer, serving as the Prime Minister of the Province of Canada from 1854 to 1856. The family welcomed Sir John A. Macdonald and King Edward VII to Dundurn Castle during its most prominent phase.

After most of the family passed or moved to England, the City of Hamilton purchased Dundurn in 1900 for $50,000 and began restoring it as a tourist attraction. A functioning vegetable garden still exists today and the Hamilton Military Museum is also located on the property.

Just like Highclere Castle, Dundurn has a number of opulently decorated rooms serving a variety of functions, such as the family room, where the MacNab daughters would gather to play piano or games with their parents, a pink formal sitting area for the ladies, a grand dining hall with space for a lavish dessert table, and a library, smoking room and study where the master of the house could host male guests or retreat to do business.

In each room is a handle that, when turned, causes a bell to chime in the downstairs servants’ quarters, just like the ringing bell in the opening credits of Downton Abbey. Each bell chimes a different note, which let servants know where in the house they were needed.

There is also a magnificent wood staircase on the ground level, likely descended by MacNab’s daughter, Sophia, during her wedding at Dundurn. It is very reminiscent of the third season scene in Downton Abbey when Lady Mary descends Downton’s staircase on her way to her own wedding.

The décor at Dundurn is either original to the house, artwork from the same period or an accurate duplication. The wallpaper in MacNab’s bedroom, for example, was created to match the original wallpaper, which was discovered under the carpet during the restoration process.

Where the upstairs is built to be a fantastical showpiece, the downstairs is much more functional. Rooms for storing preserves, bottles of wine and making beer line a hallway leading to the servants’ dining room, where they gathered for three meals daily, consisting mainly of stews.

The cook’s bedroom is next to the kitchen, where, in addition to the three meals she would prepare for the servants, she would cook the family’s four daily meals, including afternoon tea, and transfer them to a small elevator for the butler to collect upstairs and serve to the family.

Rooms for laundry, firewood and an ice pit can also be found downstairs.

This National Historic Site of Canada is a fascinating step back to a very different time and a very different way of living, whether you are a southern Ontario resident who wants to experience a little bit of Downton Abbey close to home or a history buff who just wants to take in a piece of Canadian history.

Dundurn Castle is open year-round to visitors, with guided tours Tuesday through Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, visit