Ditch the school bus
Special to Okanagan Edge - Oct 22 - Think Local

Image: Contributed

Getting kids from one place to the next can be a massive undertaking, made even more overwhelming when you’ve got a large group of them to deal with.

Pack those kids into a traditional school bus, with its sticky vinyl seats and stomach-churning suspension, and it usually doesn’t take long for things to get out of hand.

But for schoolteachers, there’s no avoiding large group trips. Sports teams need to get to their games; bands to their recitals; and elementary classes to the Vernon Science Centre for their field trips.

One Kelowna company has a solution to teachers’ school bus blues, and it appears to be catching on.

Corinne Underwood is the director of business development at BlueStar Coachlines. She says that, with their on-board perks and relative affordability, coach companies like BlueStar are beginning to emerge as an alternative to the traditional school trip transportation methods.

Underwood explains that, unlike school buses, motorcoaches foster a calm and comfortable environment, with on-board perks like complimentary wifi, reclining seats, fully equipped entertainment systems, iPhone jacks, and onboard washrooms.

She also points out that school groups won’t necessarily have to pay out their ears to charter one, especially when compared to other school-bus alternatives.

She calls BlueStar’s fleet of motorcoaches “the next generation of travel,” and says school groups are beginning to recognize their advantages.

In an effort to avoid the bus, school clubs or sports teams will sometimes pass the buck to parents, splitting the kids into small groups to be ferried away in their moms’ minivans.

But Underwood says there are some serious drawbacks to that strategy.

For one, putting a group of noisy, excited kids in a fleet of separate cars is trying for the parents behind the wheel. Plus, having that many more vehicles on the road increases the chance of an accident–especially in winter driving conditions.

Underwood says BlueStar’s drivers are expertly trained to handle anything B.C roads throw at them, and the company’s sterling safety record reflects that.

Why not, she says, keep all the kids together in a warm and comfortable motorcoach, avoiding straggling travellers and bolstering the excitement?

She says there’s a real benefit to keeping everyone together, because it can add to the excitement of the trip, or help the build the camaraderie needed for a sports team to gel.

Underwood points out that BlueStar has a fleet of coaches–ranging from an-11 seat sprinter, through to a 27-seat executive class motorcoach, a 48-seat motorcoach, and more than 20 56-seat coaches–so it can handle groups of virtually any size.

“BlueStar understands what school groups are looking for when they’re planning group trips. The professionalism of our uniformed drivers and the convenience of our coaches is leading many to try our service,” Underwood says.

For more information on motorcoaches, or for a closer look at BlueStar Coachline’s fleet, check out the company online.

Music on the high seas
Special to Okanagan Edge - Oct 07 - Think Local

Image: Contributed

Holland America Line cruises have always offered the promise of salty sea air, crisp rays of sunlight warming your skin, and scrumptious meals prepared by world-class chefs.

“But recently the cruise line has upped the ante” says Brenda Sbrozzi of Travel Time Inc. You can now take a break from the sun-dappled ship decks and step into a world ringing with musical performances and mind-blowing interactive entertainment experiences.

Gone are the quiet lounge entertainers and one-person piano shows. Instead, nights onboard most Holland America voyages are filled with an abundance of world-class entertainment options.

The new Lincoln Center Stage, Billboard Onboard and the BB King’s Blues Club are all part of their new “Music Walk” experience.

Image: Contributed

Coming direct from Beale Street, the eight-piece BB Kings All-Star Band delivers fast, funky, soulful and smooth entertainment, bringing the best of Memphis music to the sea.

But it doesn’t stop there. With a two-story, 270-degree wraparound LED screen the World Stage surrounds guests in a high-definition, dazzling theater where innovation meets entertainment. Sourced from around the globe, you’ll experience mind-boggling magic, dazzling Cirque-du- Soleil-style performances and visual experiences into the breathtaking world of BBC Earth Experiences.

Prefer something different? Through a variety of exclusive new partnerships, Holland America has created additional entertainment options.

Step into America’s Test Kitchen, where you’ll learn foolproof techniques from top-notch chefs and make delectable dishes alongside them at hands-on cooking workshops.

If you’d rather just watch and sample, opt instead to attend a live cooking demonstration. The programs have been designed exclusively for guests, and promise enticing feasts for both the eyes and taste buds.

Recently, an exciting new initiative onboard Holland America pairs the life-changing wonder of travel with the soulful, inspiring content found in every issue of O, The Oprah Magazine. Take part in numerous, O-inspired activities that allow you to open your mind, change your perspective and uncover your potential.

Find your centre daily with “Just Breathe” yoga sessions; acquire fashion advice from O’s creative director Adam Glassman; or share your insights and connect with other readers at O’s Reading Room Book Club.

“This is a completely different Holland America Line” says Sbrozzi and encourages travellers to contact a Travel Time advisor for more information about the NEW Holland America Line voyages.

New trend in corporate travel
Special to Okanagan Edge - Oct 01 - Think Local

Image: Contributed

As the air grows crisper and the end of the year looms, business owners are already beginning to contemplate how they will shuttle their staff around during the holiday party season.

Anyone who’s tried organizing transport to or from a party knows getting large groups of people from one place to another is often a logistical nightmare.

But many business owners have grown wise to the potential headaches, and those on the cutting edge are increasingly turning to a surprising place to alleviate them.

Motorcoaches have always been a staple for corporate clients, but with luxury coach companies beginning to step up their game, more and more are companies are going back to the bus.

Corinne Underwood is the director of business development at BlueStar Coachlines.

She says these days motorcoaches are so luxurious and well-equipped that terms like “bus” hardly even apply.

BlueStar’s coaches, for example, come chalked full of options like complimentary wifi, reclining seats, fully equipped entertainment systems and onboard washrooms.

She says these luxuries, combined with the convenience of getting a whole group of people to the same place together, are catching the eye of corporate clients who have shied away from coach travel in the past.

“We are the next generation of travel,” Underwood explains. “Our comfort and executive-style fleet of coaches are changing the way people think about getting around.”

On top of the comfort and convenience motorcoaches provide, Underwood says corporate clients appreciate companies that are familiar with, and fully appreciate, their specific needs.

“Often the corporate markets wants their transportation here and now; they’re on a tight schedule, they want to move a large volume of people, and they want it done without any logistical issues,” she explains.

Many have realized that organizing and paying for a swarm of taxis to move people around usually means more headaches, conflicts and expenses.

Underwood points out that BlueStar has a fleet of coaches–ranging from an-11 seat sprinter, through to a 27-seat executive class motorcoach, a 48-seat motorcoach, and more than 20 56-seat coaches–so it can handle groups of virtually any size.

“BlueStar understands the needs of the corporate market, and paired with the local knowledge and professionalism of our uniformed drivers, it makes sense to me why we’re seeing corporate clients come back to coaches,” Underwood says.

For more information on motorcoaches, or for a closer look at BlueStar Coachline’s fleet, check out the company online.


No more floor destruction
Special to Okanagan Edge - Sep 27 - Think Local

Image: Contributed

There are so many ways to ruin a floor.

Heavy machinery schlepped across a showroom will damage most surfaces; engine grease can gum up a garage floor; saline relentlessly eats away at pool walls and bottoms; the sun and rain can pick your deck to pieces.

Especially when they’re not properly protected, the floors in our homes, yards and businesses are basically at the mercy of anything they come into contact with.

Fluids like grease and water seep into porous concrete, while wood sucks them up like a sponge. This weakens the material and can lead to near-constant replacement.

Meanwhile, surfaces like vinyl can rip and tear, exposing the vulnerable sub-floor to even more destruction.

But a newly arrived company in Kelowna is doing everything it can to prevent that destruction.

Kelowna’s Shamus Arnold has teamed up with John Beselt to bring the nationally-recognized Okanagan Zone Garage into the city.

Through Okanagan Zone Garage, Arnold is decking out the city’s floors with a patented polyurea coating that he says can protect floors from the many horrors visited upon them.

The three-layer application sees two coats of watertight seal cover the floor, with a beautiful vinyl fleck layered in between. The end result is a visually appealing floor protected by a barrier against even the most persistent fluids, UV rays and other destruction.

“It’s one of those items that not only has a great aesthetic to it, but it serves a really strong purpose,” Arnold says.

Arnold says the waterproof protection not only makes cleaning up potentially dangerous fluids a quick and easy process, the seal can even keep bacteria from growing in the floor.

Already, Okanagan Zone Garage is getting interest from businesses as diverse as tattoo parlours, wineries, veterinary clinics, home garages and man caves.

He says they’re often woo’d by the fact that installation generally only takes a day, and that the product is guaranteed for decades.

“We can be in and out in a day, and you’re back to swimming or parking your car in your garage, or whatever,” Arnold says.

A major headache for many in the Okanagan is the destruction salt water can reap on their pools, and Arnold says his product is a perfect fix.

“Without having to rip everything out we can repair it and we can make it smooth and basically make it look like we put a granite coat on it when we’re done,” he says.

Zone Garage also offers wall cabinet systems for the ultimate storage and organization of your space.

For more information, check out Okanagan Zone Garage online.

Kelowna’s will experts
Special to Okanagan Edge - Sep 21 - Think Local

Katy Williams

Even today, Tricia still thanks her lucky stars she met Katy Williams.

Her mother had passed away, and things were getting messy with her estate. Lawyers had been brought into the mix, and none of them were particularly kind or helpful.

But then Tricia turned to Katy Williams, of Wills and Estate Law Group, and everything changed.

“Once Katy got involved there was a totally different tone,” Tricia recalls. Suddenly, other lawyers were much more accommodating, and things began to smooth out.

Tricia says Williams’ compassion and intelligence helped her get through a very tough time, so when the estate was settled she returned to Williams to get her will looked after too.

Through Wills and Estates Law Group, Williams brings her impressive skills to bear helping individuals and families set up their wills simply and easily, in a relaxed and comfortable environment.

Tricia says she was so happy with how Williams handled her estate and will planning she even convinced her kids to go.

Tricia’s children are still fairly young, but Williams points out that it’s still incredibly important for young families to get their wills and estates in order.

Williams says she’s more than busy enough looking after her own young kids, “so to think about meeting with a lawyer to get paperwork done is kind of the bottom of the list a lot of the time.”

However, it’s precisely because of her boys that she has made sure her affairs are all in order.

One of the things you specify in a will is guardianship, and she says she finds peace of mind knowing the exact person she wants caring for her kids is clearly laid out.

Likewise, she knows it’s incredibly important to lay out exactly how her assets will be divvied up should tragedy strike, to make sure her children are provided for.

Tricia says she felt so much better after talking to Williams, not only because she was “an incredibly sincere person who really listened to me,” but also because Williams was so good at helping her untangle the very best way to ensure her kids and grandkids are best supported once she’s gone.

“I feel like I was very fortunate that I found Katy,” Tricia says. “Her customers are damn lucky, and certainly I am so thankful.”

Williams says part of the reason Tricia and her other clients have had such positive experiences is because she does everything she can to make the wills and estates process as simple and stress-free as possible.

She meets with clients to go over exactly what their assets and liabilities are, and guide them through the best way to organize those assets in a will.

She jokes there’s always a little “homework,” but that she keeps her clients’ extra legwork to the absolute minimum.

She even offers a basic estate planning package, where she helps clients get all the documents they need “to get things done right” squared away at once.

“The process of getting your will and estate plan in place is not really a hard thing to do.  In fact, we are focused on making sure it is a straightforward process for clients.  But you do need to make sure you get that expert advice so it’s done correctly,” she says.

Having a professional like her take the reigns, she says, can cut down significantly on after-death taxes and process time, “so your assets can get to the people you want faster, and with fewer legal costs.”

For more information, visit Wills and Estates Law Group online.

Feeling Royal on the River
Special to Okanagan Edge - Sep 18 - Think Local

Image: Contributed

Admittedly, “Boutique” isn’t a word you would normally use to describe a river cruise experience. But Kelowna’s Travel Time Inc. is doing its best to shift that perception, with Uniworld’s Boutique River Cruise Collection.

“This is a completely different kind of river cruise experience, and many travellers are taking notice of it,” says Brenda Sbrozzi, Travel Time’s business development manager.

River cruises are great for travellers who enjoy experiencing the heart of multiple cities, but prefer to unpack once. And for travellers who prefer staying at “boutique hotels,” Uniworld provides a similar experience on the rivers.

Image: Contributed

A sister company to The Red Carnation Hotel Group, each Uniworld ship is a work of art, designed to be as unique and inspiring as their destinations, often likened to castles rather than ships.

Once onboard, Uniworld’s passionate, dedicated and personalized service exceeds guest expectations. Combined with included airport transfers, gratuities, meals, unlimited beverages, carefully curated shore excursions and much more, Uniworld offers the most all-inclusive river cruise experience.

Their culinary experiences are rich, varied and interesting too. Working with the highest quality local ingredients, Uniworld chefs bring their “farm-to- table” philosophy to life, and when paired with local wines, guests are treated to mouth-watering epicurean journeys.

Uniworld’s river cruises also double as social clubs, providing dazzling environments for like-minded travellers. Recently, some new programs have joined Uniworld’s Themed Cruise options.

Image: Contributed

U by Uniworld is a fresh approach to cruising for ages 21- 45. Whether you’re a culture buff, adventurer, solo flyer or romantic, U by Uniworld provides new options for those with a passion for exploring and authentic adventures.

For families, the Generations program provides boatloads of fun including onboard activities, special family excursions and amenities designed to keep the whole family entertained.

Adventure-seekers looking for active and immersive adventures are the perfect candidates for Let’s Go programs. Offering exclusive excursions like golf, kayaking, guided hikes, bike rides and more, it’s a uniquely Uniworld way to explore new destinations.

Sbrozzi admits that there are many things to consider when selecting a river cruise, and encourages travellers to contact a Travel Time advisor for assistance with their next river cruise adventure.

Culture comes alive in Vernon
Special to Okanagan Edge - Sep 16 - Think Local

Image: Facebook

The sweet aroma of maple syrup warning on a stack of buttery pancakes; the mesmerizing swirl of native dancers; the groovy notes of a home-grown soul band sliding through the air.

Vernon will come alive later this month, as RespectFEST takes over the town, showcasing some of the most exciting food, music, art and cultural performances the city has to offer.

The week of events, activities and performances will run from Sept. 18-24, lighting up venues across the city.

Generously funded by the Government of Canada, the festival is a “celebration of respect and diversity” that will open the beautiful, exciting and absurd cultures of the world up to the North Okanagan.

Autrey Bell
Image: Facebook

Opportunities to learn about, and interact with, people from cultures, races, religions and background from around the globe will abound—and everything is free.

The week of events will include blistering live performances from local musicians, art and history walks that will change the way you think about the city, as well as a host of environmental and educational opportunities.

However, the real party will take place Sept. 23, when Civic Plaza and Spirit Square will play host to a massive performance and party, bringing together a superstar collection of cultural performances.

Everyone from the likes of Autrey Bell, an award-winning native dancer originally from the Enderby Splatsin Reserve, to Vernon’s own soul project Chipko Jones will showcase their art.

They will be joined by Barefoot Caravan, who will offer a percussion workshop where participants will learn the root of hand drumming; Jessica Yue, from the City Contemporary Dance Company and Hong Kong Traditional Chinese Dancing University, who will share her craft of traditional Chinese fan dancing; and more.

The show will draw thousands of participants of all ages, backgrounds and abilities to the city. They will have a chance to celebrate the cultural diversity of the community, and have a blast doing it.

“The Downtown Vernon Association and RespectFEST partners are so excited to bring this unique festival to Vernon,” says RespectFest Coordinator Lauren Gilley. “We’re fortunate to have such rich history and unique diversity in the North Okanagan, and September 23 will be a day to celebrate that.”

To check out a complete schedule of RespectFEST events, or learn more about the festival, visit RespectFEST online.

The North Okanagan RespectFEST is funded in part by the Government of Canada. Ce projet est financé en partie par le gouvernement du Canada.

New lights help business shine
Special to Okanagan Edge - Sep 07 - Think Local

Image: Contributed
Judy Banfield of Mountain Baby in Nelson

Judy Banfield never imagined something as simple as switching light bulbs would have such a significant impact on her business.

But when she swapped the lights in her store from old-school CFL bulbs to more energy-efficient LEDs, things changed at Mountain Baby.

Banfield got the upgrades thanks to a FortisBC program created to help small and medium-sized businesses save energy and money through energy-efficient upgrades.

The recently launched Business Direct Install Program hooks businesses up with a local contractor that helps them suss out how they could save more energy.

Once they have a plan, the contractor will then provide on-the-spot rebates of up to 50 per cent on the cost of eligible upgrades they install.

Banfield says taking advantage of the program last year allowed her to save heaps of money operating Mountain Baby, spend less time worrying about maintenance, and make the store more welcoming to customers.

“I have a lot of lights in my store. And probably at least once a week, my staff and I were up there on a big tall ladder changing light bulbs. It was frustrating, dangerous, expensive and time-consuming, and I was just never able to get the lighting that I wanted,” she explains.

Banfield says the contractor FortisBC connected her with showed up promptly and spent significant time with her figuring out exactly what would work best for her business.

“It was very helpful having someone come in and say, ‘I know how to fix that dead spot; I know how we can get it lit up,’” she says.

Now, her store looks brighter, the displays “pop out” in ways they never did before, and she often gets comments from her customers about how nice and bright the store is.

And she said her electricity costs have gone down “significantly.”

According to FortisBC, Banfield’s total rebates through the Business Direct Install Program were worth about $1,500, and have allowed her to save 18,950 kWh of electricity a year.

That’s roughly the equivalent of four window air conditioners running for ten hours a day throughout the entire year.

FortisBC spokesperson Nicole Bogdanovic points out that energy costs are some of the most controllable expenses for businesses, so having an experienced local contractor come in and beef up energy efficiency can mean big savings.

The quotes that contractors hired through the Business Direct Install Program give are calculated to each FortisBC customer’s projected energy savings.

Rebates will vary depending on the project and energy savings, but could be as much as $10,000 per facility.

Upgrades range from high-efficiency lighting and controls, to refrigeration, cooking equipment and water-efficient fixtures.

“We’re here to help. Being aware of energy use and using it efficiently is a sound business practice that can help improve profitability,” Bogdanovic says. “Along with lowering costs while helping preserve natural resources, it also helps keep rates as low as possible by lessening the need for new infrastructure. That’s why we work hard to make sure our programs are effective in helping commercial customers conserve and manage energy use.”

For more information, or to sign up for the Business Direct Install Program, visit FortisBC online.

Win a Studio 9 scholarship
Special to Okanagan Edge - Aug 09 - Think Local

Image: Studio 9

This year, Kelowna’s Studio 9 Independent School of the Arts will give one lucky young person the chance to pursue their artistic dreams.

The school is giving out an enrollment scholarship for upcoming school year, and all any young person has to do to win is tell the school why they want to attend.

Studio 9 is an arts-focused school that allows young people’s artistic talents to flourish in a way they almost never could at a traditional school.

It focuses heavily on arts education, placing students in nine different arts courses each year, while incorporating the arts into a curriculum covering the traditional suite of high school subjects.

“You’re not here just to dance; you’re not here just to act. Taking all of the arts together gives young artists a rock-solid foundation, while allowing them to build on and better understand their strongest arts,” says Studio 9 CEO and teacher Mike Guzzi.

But that doesn’t mean students aren’t getting a robust academic education. Many assume a school like Studio 9 would be easier than a traditional school, but Guzzi says “it’s actually way harder.”

“Yes, there’s art in your life every day, and that’s what’s exciting, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to do the work,” he says.

Zoe Marie Welch is one of the Studio 9 students that did do that work.

After putting her nose to the grindstone she graduated from the school this year, a full year early, and is now pursuing a career in acting and music in Vancouver.

She says her years at Studio 9 fundamentally shaped who she is today.

“I definitely felt way more prepared going out into the world because of the school,” she says.

Welch says that, not only are the teachers at the school amazing (“they’re highly credited, they know what they’re doing, and they’re fun, too”), but they went above and beyond for her and her classmates, encouraging them to think critically and express themselves in a way that profoundly affected her.

“If you go to the school, you’re really allowed to express your individuality. It’s really nice to go somewhere and be encouraged to express yourself, and not have to try and conform to what everyone else is doing,” she says.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else, and if I did I wouldn’t feel the same about school. I’m so happy that I went there.”

Guzzi says that, through the essay contest, he hopes to give a young person who might not otherwise be able to attend the school the same kinds of experiences Welch had.

He encourages any kid with a passion for the arts to submit a short writeup outlining why they want to attend Studio 9. Even if you’re not the most talented singer or dancer, he says, you are still welcome.

“That fit is a student that really wants to work hard, but loves the arts. And you don’t have to be the best at them, you just have to love them and appreciate them,” Guzzi says.

For more information on Studio 9 visit the school’s website. For a chance to win the entrance scholarship, click here. The contest closes Aug. 24.

Creativity Day dazzles
Special to Okanagan Edge - Aug 07 - Think Local

Image: Contributed

One of the most dazzling showcases of the Okanagan’s next generation of creatives is only days away.

The Wilden Creativity Day brings together the valley’s most unique and exciting creators for an hours long celebration of art, culture, music and food— all completely free, and open to anyone.

“The Wilden Creativity Day is one way we try and give back to a community that we love so much,” explains Karin Eger-Blenk, the director of marketing at Wilden. “Kelowna has a thriving art scene and we are thrilled to give the young generation of artists wider exposure.”

The Blenk family, the developers of Wilden, Kelowna’s largest master-planned community, have been hosting their Creativity Day since 2015.

It began when the family teamed up with the UBCO Faculty of Critical and Creative Studies to create a $2,500 award for a graduating student that has shown exceptional creativity.

Three years later, the event is a sparkling showcase of local art and culture, honouring the Okanagan’s most exciting emerging creators of music, visual art, culinary experiences and more.

Image: Contributed
Rho Shaw

This year, the recipient of the Wilden Creativity Award is Penticton’s Rho Shaw, whose photography and silkscreen work explores identity and language.

Shaw will exhibit her work at Creativity Day, alongside fellow nominees Pamela Turner and Jackie Deck.

But their award-winning artwork is only the beginning.

Guests will also get the chance to marvel at the 12 best entries in the #WildKelowna photo contest, with the winner being crowned before the afternoon is over.

The Wilden team will also unveil the innovative new homes it has developed for its new “Echo Ridge” neighbourhood, and give out some first-hand information about projects currently on the drawing board.

A trio of local musicians will lay a sonic soundscape throughout the event. Among them will be Michael Huber, the 2017 Okanagan Singer/Songwriter Competition winner; virtuoso guitarist and composer Adam Meacham, and the spellbinding singer and storyteller Nicole Holkestad.

Completing the sensory experience will be a selection of scrumptious, hand-crafted food from small local businesses.

Chocolate, gelato, kombucha, wine and beer will all be available to sample.

The Wilden Creativity Day is a complimentary event, and Eger-Blenk encourages anyone and everyone to come out and enjoy the experience.

“This is a celebration of new ideas in art, music, food and home design. Kelowna’s cultural life has a lot to offer, and we encourage everyone to come and experience it with us,” she says.

The Wilden Creativity Day will be held in the newly opened Wilden Presentation Centre and Showhome, at 1454 Rocky Point Drive, from 2-5 p.m.

For more information visit Wilden online.

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