Blowes Travel & Cruise Centres Inc.'s Blog

Why Is It Called Easter Island?

That's actually a trick question.  This tiny dot in the eastern South Pacific ocean, but technically territory of Chile, is actually Rapa Nui.

The world over, Easter Island is synonymous with exotic mysteries of an impossibly distant, long-lost civilization and mind-boggling human endeavor.

It may be the most remote inhabited island on the planet.  Only a few thousand people live on this remnant of oceanic volcanoes sticking out of the sea, and that's the first miracle itself.  The closest inhabited island is 1300 miles away (Pitcairn Island with only 50 people) and the nearest continental point is Chile – over 2000 miles away.  Local tales say a 2-canoe Polynesian expedition around AD 700 was the start of Rapa Nui's extraordinary story. 

(Photo Credit)

Today, Easter Island is on the map of global travelers who want to come face to face with the island's nearly 1000 moai at its UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Top photo credit)

These stately, solemn statues were carved during a 500-year period in the island's history, beginning a thousand years ago.  The moai share artistic characteristics with Polynesian carvings, confirming the origin tale of the Rapa Nui people.  Chiseled with only stone tools out of volcanic rock in the 'quarry' of an extinct volcano, each statue took a team of half a dozen artisans about a year to complete.  The largest is over 30 feet long and weighs 90 tons.  They were an incredible feat of creativity and production and organized society.

You probably think of them as 'Easter Island heads'. But the moai actually have torsos and some even have complete lower bodies; just buried up to their necks over the centuries by shifting sands.

(Photo Credit)

These monumental statues represented deceased ancestry. And only about a quarter were originally installed, others left in the quarry or rest en route to their intended locations.  All but 7 faced inland, the spirits of the deceased 'watching over' the living and their lands.  The 7 facing the sea were stood as wayfinders for travelers.  

Many moai toppled after the mysterious collapse of the Rapa Nui society in the 19th century. In recent decades, local and international efforts have restored and re-mounted a number of moai.  This dot on a map in Chilean Polynesia still seems as awe-inspiring with hidden secrets as when explorers first arrived.

Which brings us to: Why is it called Easter Island?  The Dutch explorer who was the island's first-recorded European visitor arrived on Easter Sunday in 1722 – he came upon it while searching for another island. (He must have been pretty lost!) So 'Easter Island' it was dubbed and its current official Spanish name in Chile is still Isla de Pascua, while its Polynesian name is Rapa Nui, in local language: the 'naval of the world'.

(Photo Credit)

There's more to Rapa Nui than the silent witness of the moai to the island's past.  Visitors experience the local version of Polynesian culture, explore pink-sand beaches, caverns, and dive sites, cycle, hike or ride horses across prairies and volcanic hillsides, and even surf on those waves so distant from other shores.

How to get there? You can fly from both Chile and Tahiti, participate in tour packages offered by expedition and exotic travel experts, arrive by small or expedition cruise ship, or by private yacht. 

There may be no where else in the world where a traveler can feel the greatness of human achievement and small in the face of a culture so far across the waves. 

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Now There's Another Louvre Museum

It's the best-known and most-visited museum in the world (and if you've ever spent valuable hours of your trip to Paris waiting to get in, you know just how popular it is).  But now, there's another Louvre.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi opened at the end of 2017 as an outpost of the fabled French museum. It's part of a multi-billion dollar, 30-year cultural agreement between the Emirate and France that includes Louvre art loans, special exhibitions and collaboration on museum management.

Art + Architecture

It's not just an adventure in art. The Louvre Abu Dhabi has a breathtaking home. Its web-patterned dome seems to float over tidal pools within galleries at the edge of the sea.  

(Louvre Abu Dhabi - Photography Roland Halbe)

A layered, engineered aluminum web allows sunlight to filter in a 'rain' of abstract shapes of light onto the plaza below.  The effect is a high-tech, artistic motif of a natural scene in the United Arab Emirates: 'rays of sunlight passing through palms in an oasis'.

Inside, not a duplication of the European landmark museum. Instead, Abu Dhabi's visionaries are dedicated to bringing together the artistic excellence of the West as well as Arabic and global creators.

(Louvre Abu Dhabi - Photography Marc Domage)


The museum showcases works on loan from the original Louvre as well as a dozen other French musuems including the Musee d'Orsay.  They include artists like Matisse, Van Gogh, Monet and other art world heavy weights. (Not the Louvre's centerpiece the Mona Lisa.  She stays in Paris.)


Since the Louvre Abu Dhabi was announced a decade ago, it's been on an artistic shopping spree stocking up. 

That meant the museum launched with a world-class permanent collection. It includes a sculpture of a Bactrian princess from Central Asia, a 9th century Quran, a 'Madonnna and Child' by Bellini, an Ottoman pavement, a 1922 Mondrian, a work by Paul Gauguin, a never-been-displayed work by Picasso, and Salvator Mundi by Leonardo Da Vinci.  With the staggering price tag of $450 million, it was the most expensive painting ever sold at the time the museum acquired it in 2017. 

(Photo Credit)

New Commissions

Although the Louvre Abu Dhabi focuses on historic art and objets, it has also commissioned works from living artists, including Italian sculptor Giuseppe Penone's "Leaves of Light".  The evocative bronze cast of a wild cherry tree interacts with the museum's canopy and is fitted with mirrors in its entwining branches to capture and reflect the light filtering through.

(Photo:  Louvre Abu Dhabi - Photography Roland Halbe)

And A Dedicated Children's Museum

Even a museum with a pedigree like the Louvre Abu Dhabi can be fun for kids.  Exhibits specifically aimed at young visitors aged 6 and older explore shapes and colors through fifteen hundred year old Turkish ceramics, 18th century French vases, and more modern works by the Swiss artist Klee. Plus interactive displays kids can actually touch!

(Photo Above and Top: © Louvre Abu Dhabi, Photography: Mohamed Somji) 

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the largest art museum in the Arabian peninsula. But soon it will have company. It's part of a bigger plan to develop the world's largest single cluster of world-class cultural institutions in a new neighborhood of reclaimed land in the sea.  Coming soon next door: the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, a performing arts center by 'star'chitect Zaha Hadid, a maritime museum, and other arts pavilions.


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Fresh, dry air? Check.  300 sunny days a year? Check.  A minimalist desert landscape framed by mountains? Check. 'Desert Modern' Mid-Century design and architecture and breezy, indoor/outdoor cocktail lifestyle? Check.  Natural hot springs and more golf than anywhere else in California? Check and Check.

It's been a while since BestTrip.TV traveled to a vacation destination that wasn't coastal.  Find out why we've fallen in love with the mountain/desert hangout of the Rat Pack and all the Hollywood cool cats: Palm Springs, California.

Start your Trip!


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Buenos Aires ranks high on travel bucket lists: an exciting, European-influenced city in a remote country, renowned for a passionate history and punching above its weight in contributions to global culture.

Argentina has given the world the breathtaking music and dance of tango, the legendary Eva Peron (immortalized in the timeless musical Evita!), some of the New World's best wines from its vineyards, finest beef from its ranches, not to mention its famed polo players, soccer stars, and rabid soccer fans.

With a European familiarity, but its own uniquely Argentine and Latin sensibility, Buenos Aires is a world capital where you want to make sure you don't miss a beat. So my colleagues and I decided to try Monograms.

It's a hybrid way to travel that cherry picks the best parts of doing it on your own, and combines them with the benefits of groups. Monograms promised all the pleasures of Buenos Aires, with someone else doing the hard work – and a Local Host to provide tips and insights and recommendations. Sounds like the dream way to travel, doesn't it?

Here are 6 Reasons to Take a Monograms Tour of Buenos Aires:

The Local Host

The Local Host is the hero of any Monograms story. Our guide Analia is a local who loves her city and is passionate about sharing it with guests. Even when she wasn't with us, she was available by phone. It's like visiting a friend in another city: they take you to and from the airport, help you with logistics, provide you with essential insider tips like the coolest restaurants and local tipping practices, take you to some places and recommend other places for you to explore on your own in your free time.

The Airport:

Independent travelers are used to that moment in Arrivals. You're tired after that long flight, you haul your bags off the belt, go through Immigration… then you're in Arrivals and you have to rally again to figure out the lay of the land as you longingly file past the signs being held up to greet other new arrivals that promise a warm welcome and assistance.

That VIP treatment is yours on a Monograms tour. Our guide Analia was waiting for us, her Monograms sign a welcome beacon in a busy airport. It's not like a large group tour either. No waiting for 30 other people to join us; our group of 3 was whisked off to a waiting mini van.

Luggage and Tipping:

Lugging luggage is the least fun part of any trip. Our bags were taken from us, loaded into the van, and at our hotel, unloaded, and handed to bellmen to take care of from there. A seamless hand-off with no fuss for us. We breezed into our hotel, all without lifting a finger. Or opening a wallet and fumbling with local currency. Tipping had already been taken care of.


Monograms tours include hotels, but you still get to customize your Buenos Aires experience. You can choose among different hotels at different price points and different neighborhoods to suit your own budget and interests in the city. Breakfast is included, so you can start your day off right and without having to figure that out.

In Buenos Aires, the breakfast buffet was so much more than a generic, 'international' meal. It was hard to resist delicious local dulce de leche (how do you make fresh pastries even better? Adding the local caramel sauce) and some of Argentina's famous meat in the form of thinly sliced cold cuts and sausages.

Our guide Analia escorted us in; the hotel staff knew her, and while our bags were being taken from the van to the lobby to our rooms, she smoothly arranged a late check out for us to accommodate our travel schedule. Our hotel was in a busy neighborhood, steps from local shops and cafes and on our first evening, we found the best restaurant around the corner, full of locals and only local dishes and wines – fantastic!

The Private Tour

What a wonderful way to get the lay of the land. And a private tour of the city with your guide is part of every Monograms tour.

Essential Buenos Aires includes the world's widest avenue (which Analia explained to us as we drove in from the airport), the famously and fabulously European architecture, the colorful and eccentric La Boca neighborhood, and even the cemetery in the Recoleta neighborhood, where Eva Peron's final resting place still draws fans and floral tributes. When we were chatting with Analia and she learned of my foodie side, she offered to change the private tour to include the wonderful local market. Although there are 'must see's' in every new city, we were so thrilled our Local Host and the tour was responsive and customizable to our own interests.

The Customization

Some of the customization, like changing up the private city tour to swing by the market, is spontaneous, but other ways to make the Monograms tour your own are baked in so you can put your own mark on your holiday.

Your choice of a selection of vetted hotels, your choice of additional, curated experiences that range from a hands-on culinary experience where you learn to make the famous beef empanadas, a tango show, or even exploring outside the city – a cruise on the Tigre river, or a visit to a real Argentine ranch where you can see 'gauchos' in action.

Plus, of course, plenty of non-programmed free time so we could do exactly what we wanted. I'd heard about the woman who makes the world's most famous tango shoes, so one free afternoon, we went on our own to the atelier of Comme il Faut for an extravaganza of extravagant, limited edition tango/party shoes. Wow!

Our Verdict:

Even in our short stay, we discovered the best of Buenos aires with Monograms. We loved having a 'back up team' even while we did our own thing, taking the inconveniences of travel off our hands, and providing us the that local contact during our tour and transfers in person, but available by phone throughout our stay who gave us that private, insiders' experience of the 'Paris of Latin America'.

By Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip.TV

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Film Set Fantasy: Go On Location in Ireland

The Emerald Isle is Hollywood gold! Lovers of green beer and big parties may dream of visiting Ireland for St. Patrick's Day festivities. But if cinematic drama is more your style, Ireland is where your fantasy of standing in the spectacular natural setting of some your favorite movies can come true.

Ireland's dramatic scenery has been the backdrop of some of the world's biggest film and video sensations. (All images courtesy It’s where Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and Star Wars fantastical settings were brought to film life, where Braveheart and the Vikings battled for glory in places that appear to have changed little from the ancient times they depict, and where many other iconic movies and TV series played out in the perfect backdrop.

It's amazingly easy to get behind the scenes at Ireland’s top film locations. You can take guided tours or travel on your own to places you'll experience some movie déjà vu.

Ireland's island of Skellig Michael off the coast of County Kerry is much closer than a galaxy far, far away. Its ancient monastery, as well as and Malin Head in the rugged north-west, are locations where Star Wars fans can feel the Force.

Film locations are just one reason to visit the spectacular Wild Atlantic Way. Harry Potter’s horcrux cave is at the foot of the famous Cliffs of Moher. Or remember The Quiet Man? See his home the pretty village of Cong.

In Ireland’s Ancient East, set-jetters can stroll along the golden expanse of Curracloe Beach in County Wexford, which featured in both Brooklyn and Saving Private Ryan. Plus more scenery for Vikings fans, who can follow in their heroes' footsteps through the beautiful Wicklow Mountains.

Wicklow is also home to the magnificent Powerscourt Estate. It was the elegant setting for Ella Enchanted and The Tudors.

And fans of epic Braveheart will recognize Trim Castle in County Meath, which looks much more peaceful when you visit than it did in the movie.

In Dublin, bustling Grafton St provided the urban setting for Once and historic Kilmainham Gaol put stars behind bars in Michael Collins and The Italian Job.

To see the location for Educating Rita, movie buffs can visit Trinity College, famous for the Book of Kells. Are you a Bollywood buff? It's also the location of the Indian blockbuster, Ek The Tiger.

Northern Ireland stars brightly on screen too. TV shows like The Fall and Line of Duty and big-screen blockbusters like Dracula Untold were shot there.

But these days, it's most known worldwide as the ‘Home of Thrones’.

A number of tours visit beautiful Game of Thrones shoot locations, including Castle Ward (Winterfell) in County Down, the Dark Hedges (Kingsroad) and Ballintoy (Pyke Harbour) in County Antrim, and Downhill Strand (Dragonstone) in County Londonderry.

There's more to do than take a selfie (no judgment if you pack a costume to get into the moment). Fans can enjoy a taste of Westeros at a medieval banquet, meet the direwolves, and shoot arrows on the set where Robb Stark taught Bran archery.

Ireland's dramatic scenery isn't the only way to immerse yourself in the island's movie magic. Time your location tour to coincide with one of Ireland's film festivals. Among the choices are the six-day Galway Film Fleadh (July) and the Oscar-affiliated Foyle Film Festival (November) in Derry~Londonderry.

If you're a 'die hard' fan of film, making Ireland your go-to movie location destination puts you in good company with many of the world's most famous movie-makers.

Start your Trip!

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Great memories and stories are wonderful mementos of your Caribbean vacation, even photos to share with your friends. Even better if you can share those memories at home along with some flavor of the islands.  Here are some tips to help you shop.


Where to buy: Barbados, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Cayman Islands and more

If the taste of the tropics for you is a rum cocktail, you won't want to miss a tasting in the islands, and the opportunity to bring home a bottle you might not be able to find at home. 

Many, many islands grow their own sugar cane and produce their own brands of rum, each claiming subtle variations in flavor, color and strength as a result of local growing conditions, production, and ageing techniques.   Tradition holds that the first rum in the islands was produced in Barbados, so if you're a purist planning a rum odyssey, put a rum tour of Barbados on your bucket list.

Another rum experience not to be missed is the tasting tour of the world's largest, family-owned producer of spirits, Bacardi, in Puerto Rico.   Watch our BestTrip.TV video, above, where we meet the head of the Bacardi family today, and learn how to make a classic rum cocktail.

Or put on your scuba gear to discover the one place in the world it might be ok to 'drink and dive' (not really).  Seven Fathoms Rum, a distiller in the Cayman Islands ages its rum in casks in a secret location underwater off the coast – at exactly seven fathoms deep - where they say there are perfect, consistent ageing temperatures for out of this world rum.  But you'll have to taste it to decide.


Where to buy: Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti.

If the best part of your day is your first cup of coffee, you won't want to miss the local coffee on some of your favorite Caribbean islands.

Jamaica's Blue Mountain coffee is the best known Caribbean coffee, with a history dating back hundreds of years, and an ideal climate on the steep, shaded slopes of the country's Blue Mountains at elevations between 1500 and 5000 feet.  Slow-ripening in the shade, picked by hand on the steep, treed slopes, Blue Mountain coffee isn't cheap.  But it's considered one of the world's most premium coffee varieties, its name protected by government regulation like wine regions are protected elsewhere. Many plantations keep their operations private, but a few offer tours and tastings.  Plus you'll enjoy the cool air high in the mountains, in contrast to the heat on the beaches.

Extend your Blue Mountain coffee drinking well into the evening with a sip of Tia Maria liqueur, made from Blue Mountain coffee.  

Coffee Plantation in Puerto Rico. Photo Credit

There are other coffee producing islands, too. Puerto Rico is a leading world producer of coffee, especially in the South-Western mountains. And both countries on the island of Hispaniola: the Dominican Republic and Haiti, also produce their own uniquely-flavored coffees.  In the Dominican Republic, most coffee growing takes place in the mountainous region above Jarabacoa.  While Haiti is a less-developed tourist destination, visitors to Royal Caribbean's port of call at its Labadee resort can support local co-op coffee growers by purchasing local coffee on your cruise.


Where to buy: Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Barbados

There's no better way to make a relaxing vacation linger than a souvenir box of cigars.  It's been said the real luxury of cigars is not so much the cost of even the priciest cohiba.  It's the time it takes to properly, leisurely smoke a lengthy cigar.  In a world where time is increasingly money, investing the time to smoke a cigar may be the ultimate luxury.

The image of sultry young women rolling cigars on their thighs in days of yore in Cuba is still a part of the mystique of cigar culture.  When Cuba became cut off from the rest of the world, other Caribbean producers had their chance to shine. 

Cigar tobacco field in Cuba. Photo Credit

Aficionados consider cigars to be like fine wine: each tobacco region has its own 'terroir'.  In cigar 'tasting's, you are introduced to the subtleties contributed by the unique soil, minerals, light and variety to the unique flavor of cigars from different Caribbean islands.

You can tour tobacco plantations and cigar factories (where, advance warning, attractive young women do NOT roll cigars on their thighs) in rural areas of the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Barbados and yes, still Cuba.

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Love Your Wine? You'll Love This Airline Perk

Alaska Airlines is giving wine the VIP treatment.  If you're a Mileage Plan member departing from West Coast wine destinations including airports in California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington states, you can – get this – check an entire case, yes a case of up to 12 bottles, of wine for free.

Wine Flies Free from 29 West Coast cities on Alaska Airlines. The program debuted in 2007 to enable passengers to transport wine from Sonoma/Santa Rosa, and Alaska Airlines has now nearly doubled participating departure airports.

Participating Wine Flies Free Cities:













Los Angeles*
















Orange County*



Walla Walla

Palm Springs*








San Diego*




San Francisco*




San Jose*




San Luis Obispo




Santa Barbara*




Santa Rosa








*Indicates new cities being added to the program.

And it's spreading the word with local wineries and regional winemaker associations as well as wine country destinations. So you can indulge yourself in the rich wine and culinary experiences all along the West Coast, and take home a whole case of terrific memories. Without having to figure out costly shipping.

Instead, your wine flies with you.  There's no charge to become a member of Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan, and anyone who's signed up can take advantage of the Wine Flies Free program.  Wine bottles have to be sealed and packed properly in a protective shipping container.  But customer service agents help make sure your wine is ready for take off.

How far can your wine fly?  Don't let the name Alaska Airlines deceive you. Together with Virgin America and its regional partners, Alaska Airlines flies to more than 115 destinations across the United States and to Mexico, Canada and Costa Rica.

So you and your new favorite West Coast wine can go far together.

Start your Trip!


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Two of South America's most fabled cities and a week-long cruise in luxury. That's our BestTrip.TV experience sailing on Silversea's Silver Muse from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

With overnights in both exciting ports, and sunny days at sea on Silversea's intimate 600-passenger ship, it's the South American sailing of your dreams.  Spacious and yacht-like, with more restaurants than we can experience in a week, the personal attention of an all-butler suite ship, and niceties of Italian hospitality and lifestyle that are the hallmarks of a Silversea cruise... we can't imagine a more ideal way to sample the delights of two destinations on everyone's travel bucket list. 

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France's largest port town, on the magical Mediterranean, has been transformed in recent years. 

You'll still find the charms of its Old Port, the oldest neighborhood in France, the maritime culture... but there's been a wave of revitalization and stunning builds that make this seaside city spectacular. 

On our latest visit, we fell in love with Marseille, and here are at least 3 reasons we think you'll love it too.

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5 Things You Must Do At Mardi Gras

New Orleans is home to one of the world's greatest parties. 

Like other Carnival celebrations, Mardi Gras grew from the Christian practice of feasting and celebrating on 'Mardi Gras' – which means 'Fat' Tuesday - on Shrove Tuesday, just before the solemn fasting of the 40-day pre-Easter season of Lent. 

The actual dates differ every year.  Shrove Tuesday can happen during February or early March, and Carnival season begins immediately after the 12th day of Christmas, continuing up to the Eve of Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. 

Other places in the world celebrate pre-Lent, too; you've probably heard of famous Carnivals in Venice, the Caribbean, in Rio and elsewhere.  But New Orleans' Mardi Gras has its own unique character.  The city's French-Creole heritage and culture and cuisine, steamy Southern climate - and oh, that famous local jazz!  - make Mardi Gras one-of-a-kind.

Thousands of people from North America and around the world flock to Mardi Gras. Here's how to celebrate in true N'awlins style:

Feast on Fat Tuesday Food

Fat Tuesday is the one day of the year when eating fried foods is a virtue. No dieting on Mardi Gras! Sink your teeth into some of the best Creole dishes New Orleans offers. To get that local flavor, order anything on the menu with crawfish – a classic crawfish boil, crawfish bisque, or the iconic crawfish etouffee, which means 'smothered', with the local crustacean coated in a rich creamy Louisiana-seasoned sauce served over rice.   

Iconic Creole stews gumbo or jumbalaya are a must while you are in Louisiana.  For feasting on the run, a local muffuletta sandwich is the best best on the menu: where the special ingredient, olive salad, binds cured meats and cheeses in sesame dinner rolls.

Indulge your sweet tooth with the local version of beignet – or as you might call it: a traditional-recipe donut.

A Mardi Gras special sweet treat is King Cakes, often a brioche/raisin bread type ring topped in official Mardi Gras colors of green, gold and purple, and with a hidden bean or even baby Jesus statue inside. Whoever gets the bean, becomes the next Mardi Gras 'king', or party host.

Have a Ball

Krewes are social clubs of New Orleans' residents that date back to the 19th century, established to organize the famous Carnival parades and masked balls. Most major krewes follow the same parades schedule and route annually.  These days parades are too oversized to take place inside the famous French Quarter.  But they still rouse up enthusiastic spectators and toss trinkets into the crowds, including 'doubloons' – replica coins often stamped with a krewe logo – and of course beads, the symbol of New Orleans Mardi Gras decadence.

Play Dress Up

There is no Mardi Gras without the costumes. This is not a time for subtlety.  Sparkles and matching headgear and masks are the order of the day, especially in Mardi Gras' traditional colors of purple, gold and green. New Orleans Mardi Gras may lack the baroque elegance of Venice or the throbbing sensuality of bikinis and samba in Rio, but dress up you must. Mardi Gras costumes span everything from black tie at private balls, to mutant octopus costumes and Elvis impersonators, jokers and mythological figures in a surreal whirlwind of excitement.

And Dress Down

It's easy to blame the current younger generation and TV shows featuring bad behavior for the decadence of topless party-goers at Mardi Gras. But semi-nudity and even cross-dressing have a long history with the Carnival in New Orleans, at least back to the 19th century.  Women flashing from balconies in the French Quarter have long been documented crowd stoppers. The beads-for-baring-them motif is all part of the unrestrained party ambiance of Mardi Gras.

Feel the Music

Any time of the year, New Orleans is one of the greatest music capitals of the world, the birthplace and home of jazz.  Mardi Gras takes music to another level in the city, and even more than usual to the streets, where jazz music and brass instruments are joined by the latest beats and rhythms.  You won't be able to resist dancing in the streets, at parties, in hotel lobbies, at of course at any ball you are lucky enough to be invited to attend.

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40 New Ways to Score Marriott Rewards in 2018

If you're collecting Marriott Rewards points, 2018 is a very fine year.

Marriott International is launching 40 hotels across its 8 luxury hotel brands in 2018.  That's 40 new places around the world to accumulate points towards Marriott's loyalty program, from Savannah to Tel Aviv to Hobart, Tasmania.  

It's all part of a busy couple of years for the world's largest hotelier, which is opening at least one hotel every 14 hours! in a three-year period.

2018's new luxury hotels span your favorite places to see the world in the ultimate comfort with the most supreme travel experiences: The Ritz-Carlton, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, St. Regis, W Hotels, The Luxury Collection, EDITION and JW Marriott. 

The group of hotels and resorts already has a footprint in 60 countries, and with 200 more hotels in the pipeline, it's expanding to include 25 more countries, from Iceland to Cuba, from Nepal to the Philippines.

Whether you're traveling for business, leisure, or 'bleisure', a stay in one of Marriott's luxury hotels or resorts is an experience in living your best life. That may be creating a signature dish at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s Culinary Studio, prioritizing wellness tapping into on-demand fitness with JW Marriott’s Behind the Barre program, recharging in an over-water villa at The St. Regis Maldives or exploring one of the world’s most energetic cities through a W Insider.  The hotels occupy remodeled palaces, skyscrapers, and breezy beachfront escapes.

Pack your bags now for:

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel de La Paix, Geneva as well as China’s scenic Jiuzhaigou Valley, plus renovations of key properties including The Ritz-Carlton, Berlin and The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul.

The debut of the Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Los Cabos, distinguished from the Ritz-Carlton brand by an intimate, culturally immersive experience with a caring, human touch.

St. Regis Hotels & Resorts celebrates the opening of St. Regis Rome in 2018, as well as openings in destinations such as Cairo and Amman.

W Hotels, the 'luxury rebel' brand, has an unprecedented year of openings in 2018, from Tel Aviv, and Dubai to Brisbane and Panama City. (W Hotel Singapore pictured below).

EDITION – the collaboration between Marriott and boutique hotel innovator Ian Schrager – sees 7 new hotels across 3 continents in 2018. The hotel brand's timeless design, uncompromising quality, true originality and impeccable modern service, expands with two additional properties in Shanghai and Bangkok in Asia, Bodrum and Barcelona in Europe, its first outpost in the Middle East in Abu Dhabi, plus two more US properties in Times Square and West Hollywood.

The Luxury Collection's more than 100 hotels take you to some of the world's most inspiring places.  Authentic and indigenous experiences are the hallmark of the brand, which sees 10 new hotels in 2018 around the globe, including Los Cabos, Savannah, Vail and Okinawa.

JW Marriott's modern luxury finds new homes in Nashville and the Maldives, and renovates more than half of its 79 hotels and resorts, including Bangkok and Grosvenor House. (JW Marriott Venice pictured, top)

So if you have a taste for luxury, 2018 gives you 40 more ways to pad your Marriott Rewards points tally and get that much closer to indulging in more travel with the authentic, immersive, local access these luxury hotels and resorts offer their guests.


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Local markets are one of the greatest delights of trips to the South of France.  The glorious town of Avignon (perhaps best known for the song about its famous bridge) also has a renowned market.  In addition to exquisite regional foods and food products, the charming locals are out in full force.  Particularly the character behind the chicken counter, who's known for breaking out into the French national anthem while plucking a chicken! 

Whether you visit Avignon by land or on a Rhone river cruise, don't miss the market.  And when you go, say 'bonjour' to the poultry vendor like BestTripTV did on our trip to Avignon... and see if he'll sing you the Marseillaise too!

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Shaq is the 'Chief Fun Officer' of this Cruise Line

It's not the normal career path of a company CFO.  But when CFO stands for Chief Fun Officer, it takes a unique resume to fill the role. 

For Carnival Cruise Line, Shaquille O'Neal's credentials as an NBA Hall of Famer and TV commentator - one with a famously fun outlook and larger-than-life personality – fit the bill.

The beloved former basketball star is Carnival's ambassador for its new motto 'Choose Fun'.  Shaq's already having fun, touring some of Carnival's 25 mega ships that focus on non-stop fun times and great value. Although the cruise line sails on world-wide itineraries, Carnival is most famous for sun-filled cruise vacations to the Caribbean, the Bahamas and the Mexican Riviera.

Shaq's huge popularity mirrors Carnival's.  If the sports personality is the fun face of basketball, then Carnival is the face of non-stop fun cruise travel.

Carnival Cruise Line lays claim to the title of world's most popular cruise line.  More than five million cruise travelers each year take a Carnival cruise in search of its particular brand of round-the-clock fun. It's a top choice for families and couples as well as seniors, solo travelers and multi-generation travelers.  The line carries more kids and more military personnel than any other cruise line. 

We're not sure how many play basketball, but a lot of new and returning Carnival cruisers will be inspired by Shaq's career and irresistible, playful zest for life. As Carnival's ambassador, he's already toured the Carnival Vista's attractions and experiences, including of course the basketball court.

Stay tuned for more Shaq at sea.  And stay tuned for more Carnival cruise ships.  The colossal, 133, 500-ton, Vista-class Carnival Horizon launches in Spring 2018 as Carnival's 26th ship.  And the fleet keeps getting bigger.  Another Vista-class ship, the Carnival Panorama, is due in 2019, followed by two more, even bigger ships a couple of years later.

That's a lot of fun – even for Shaq.

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7 Reasons to Go To Sea on the New MSC Seaside

MSC Cruises' new flagship launched at the end of 2017 and it's really making waves.  Designers of the MSC Seaside had a goal: to bring guests on a big ship closer to the sea.  They threw out the playbook and started fresh, creating the Seaside, a new prototype for a class of ships inspired by an elegant Miami beach condo.

Here are 7 reasons by you'll want to get onboard this new concept ship:

1. Her standout silhouette.  

It's all part of getting back to the sea.  You'll never be far from a view of the ocean on the Seaside. Three-quarters of the staterooms are ocean-facing. They include beach condo-inspired, chic aft corner suites, exclusive balcony staterooms whose private terraces overlook the ship's promenade and even modular, extended family staterooms that can be configured for groups of up to ten.

2. The waterfront boardwalk. 

It's one of the widest on any ship ever built. This extravagant, wrap-around public space takes guests strolling past al fresco bars and restaurants in an experience reminiscent of – no surprise - a chic seaside town.

3. All that Glass.  

Take a deep breath and keep strolling, over the hundred-foot long, glass-floored 'Bridge of Sighs' projecting out from the ship on the top deck 131 feet high.  You'll feel like you're walking in the air - part of the sea breeze wafting around you.

From walking on ocean breezes to walking on water.  Two, 131-foot-long catwalks with glass floors continue the theme of connecting you with the surrounding marine environment.

And there's still more panoramic glass: elevators that whisk you up and down with yet more stunning views of the sea.

4. Entertainment in the Atrium.

On most ships, a place to pass through.  On the MSC Seaside, the magnificent, three-story atrium isn't just the stylish heart of the ship. It's also an impromptu, multi-media, multi-level 'stage'.  Who knows what you'll discover: dancers and acrobats? Music? Game shows? Flash Mobs? Karaoke? Or light shows?  If you like spontaneous delight, make sure to keep the atrium on your Seaside agenda.

5. Adrenalin Rushes.

Race a friend side-by-side on two of the longest zip lines at sea, nearly 350 feet to the finish line at the back of the ship. Or spend your day super-soaked in the vast water park with 5 interactive aquatic adventures.

6. Family Time.  

Infants right through teens have their own programs that entertain the kids and free up Mum and Dad's time for much-needed grown-up relaxation.  Plus MSC has a Lego partnership that makes kids sorry to leave when the holiday is over. The Doremi Family lounge and program is where families can play together during their vacation.

7. The Luxury Ship within a Ship. 

The MSC Yacht Club is MSC's version of a 'ship within a ship' is where you can enjoy a private luxury yacht lifestyle within all the extensive choices of a 5000-passenger ship.   We love this especially for extended families; those looking for a prestigious and pampered cruise with a private sun deck, lounge and restaurant, can also join other family members or take advantage of the dining, bars, views and activities in the main part of the ship when the mood strikes.

They call the MSC Seaside the 'ship that follows the sun'.  We think this innovative new concept ship is going to gain a lot of followers itself.

Check out even more wow facts and figures about the MSC Seaside.  And check with us for MSC Seaside Caribbean sailings from Miami.

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Montreal's marquee hotel in the heart of the city has been restored to its 50's and 60's roots in a stunning makeover that marries the sexiest elements of sleek mid-century design - with some modern interpretations that take this landmark hotel to the forefront as a travel and lifestyle destination.

Pick up a dry martini and join us on a tour of the very sexy, redesigned hotel with our friend, Ulya Jensen, principal designer of Ulya Jensen Interiors.  She shares with us her favorite spaces in the newly-renovated Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel.

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Viva Versace: 4 Travel Destinations to Commemorate the Fashion Legend

Gianni Versace's dramatic and random murder over 20 years ago on the steps of his Miami home continues to capture public attention in continuous movie, TV and pop culture references.

The Italian fashion impresario changed the face of high fashion and became a symbol of popular culture, dressing 90's icons like Diana, Princess of Wales, linking the music and fashion worlds in his association with Cher, Sting, and Elton John, as well as breaking new ground as openly gay, accompanied by his partner on the international party scene.

The fashion house Gianni Versace founded became synonymous with opulent designs and vivid color, and the Greek mythological Medusa head symbol of Versace is unmistakable. Following his 1997 death, Gianni Versace's sister Donatella famously took over as the face and creative force behind Versace, so her brother's vision lives on for us to experience today.

Versace Flagship Boutique, Milan. Photo Credit

Of course you can make your way to the Versace flagship store in Milan, or other high-fashion global capitals.   But Versace is not just about shopping.  Here are 4 travel destinations where you can live the opulent Versace lifestyle.


Photo Credit

Miami, Florida: The Villa Casa Casuarina


Gianni Versace was killed on the doorstep of his Miami residence: a Mediterranean Revival mansion surrounded by the Art Deco pastel buildings on Ocean Drive in the heart of South Beach.

Before his death, Versace had added an entire new wing and a pool, restored the property, and undertook a redesign in true Versace style. After his death, the Versace Mansion was sold, and today, it's a luxury boutique hotel.

The name reflects its original identity when it was built in the 1930's – but guests at today's Villa Casa Casuarina discover many elements from Gianni Versace's restoration and redesign. It's a unique experience of the fashion figure's personal and private expression of style.

If you stay at the Villa Casa Casuarina, you can swim in the Million Mosaic Pool that Versace had lined with thousands of 24 carat gold tiles. The villa's Mediterranean Revival style dovetailed with Versace's famous Greek mythology inspiration; the pool he designed features the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon. And of course, the fashion house's Medusa emblem also makes appearances. The new owners take their stewardship of Versace's vision seriously, securing a resident artist to maintain the mosaics and frescos Versace created for the villa.

Photo Credit

Versace's former dining room is now a celebrated restaurant 'Gianni's', and the rooftop views of the ocean on the across iconic Ocean Drive are the same the designer would have enjoyed during his stays.

Gold Coast, Australia: Palazzo Versace

There are two Versace branded hotels in the world, and a third on the way.  The first Versace hotel is on Australia's beach holiday destination, the Gold Coast.  Its founders call it the world's first fashion-inspired hotel.

The concept was proposed in 1997 and was inspired by Gianni Versace's well-known love of architecture, plus the fact that Versace  - alone at that time – was the only fashion house with a home collection that covered all hotel needs from dinnerware to linens to upholstery fabric. Of course, it also had an unmistakable aesthetic synonymous with over-the-top luxury.

Since 2000, the Palazzo Versace has been a beacon of style and decadence on the Gold Coast.  The architecture pays homage to Versace's fascination with ancient Greece: a postmodern building interpreting neoclassical architecture, on an exclusive waterfront setting.

Inside, it's all Versace with bespoke furnishings, décor, ambiance, and Italian craftsmanship that respects the couture roots of the Versace brand. Award-winning restaurants, spa and wellness center, a private marina, the country's first water salon cabana lifestyle… and of course a Versace Boutique are all part of the Palazzo Versace experience.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Palazzo Versace

Dubai's epic extravagance mirrors the Versace opulence, so it's no wonder that the second Palazzo Versace was built in this extraordinary city.

Neoclassical architecture meets elegant regional Arab influences in the building's design. Three pools showcase elaborate mosaics, and landscaped gardens have glorious views of the surreal Dubai skyline.  The iconic Versace Medusa head is a constant reminder of the fashion house's influence.

Donatella Versace personally designed exclusive interior bespoke furniture, fabrics, wallpaper and décor items for the hotel, its 215 rooms and suites, and 8 restaurants and bars, each of which has an alfresco terrace, reflecting the classical, Mediterranean inspiration of the hotel, as does the internal courtyard.  Versace design is even reflected in the kids' areas.

Hand-crafted is almost an understatement: Nearly a dozen Italian artists were brought in to hand-paint designs on walls, and 1.5 million marble tiles were hand-laid to form the extraordinary lobby floor mosaic (top image).

At Sea: Regent Seven Seas Cruises

The Regent Seven Seas Explorer has been called The Most Luxurious Ship at sea, and its designers also tapped into Versace's unmistakable iconic style for the ship's signature restaurant, Compass Rose.

Photo: BestTrip.TV

As you dine on European-inspired Continental cuisine in the elegant, glittering setting, you'll be dining from Versace porcelain. Four hundred specially-designed Versace place settings are featured in Compass Rose on the Explorer, with other ships in the fleet featuring different Versace dinnerware designs and their signature Medusa head symbol.

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What is the Top Golf Travel Destination in the Asia Pacific Region?

Twice in a row, the International Association of Golf Tour Operators has named New Zealand the golf destination in Asia Pacific with the best experience for golf travelers.

Do you think of New Zealand as the golf world's hidden gem? In fact, only Scotland has more golf courses per capita in the world. This island nation has 400 golf courses ranging from ocean-front, subtropical courses in the north, to alpine terrain and vistas in the south.  So getting on the tee is never a problem. 

New Zealand loves its golf. And New Zealanders love to share golf with visitors.  Local volunteers run small country courses, and of course the country boasts exceptional world-class championship courses. 

Thinking of a trip to this golfer's paradise?  Here are 5 of New Zealands' most spectacular marquee golf courses for the ultimate golf travel experience.

Kauri Cliffs

Kauri Cliffs ranks in Golf Digest's list of the world's top 50 golf courses. Perched above the bay in New Zealand's Bay of Islands, this championship course has five sets of tees for all levels of golfers.  You'll be challenged by native rough, stands of fern and intimidating forced carries over gorges.  Four of the 18 holes run parallel to the Pacific on the top of dramatic cliffs.

The Lodge at Kauri is famous in its own right, with top-shelf accommodation and the Pacific Rim cuisine that rivals the views over the ocean.

Cape Kidnappers

This poetically-named golf course (Photo Credit: The Farm at Cape Kidnappers) in the country's famous Hawke's Bay wine region will steal any golf lovers' heart.   The course is dramatically perched on a narrow peninsula that juts into the Pacific and ranks in the top 20 of Golf Digest's list of top 50 courses.

The par 71 course is not for the faint-hearted.   Here's one description:  a “stratospheric Pebble Beach, high atop a windswept plateau some 500 feet above the sea”.  Imagine yourself taking challenging tee shots over deep canyons. And its luxury lodge is one of the country's most exclusive and talked-about resort destinations.

The Kinloch Club 

This Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course enhances the Kinloch Club's (Photo by the Kinloch Club) natural environment and is a test of true links golf.  Internationally-renowned,  this par 72 course rivals the panoramic views of New Zealand's largest fresh-water lake, Lake Taupo, and the surrounding rugged rural landscape.

The Lodge at Kinloch is just as known for golf as well as romantic couples' escapes.

Jacks Point

This 18-hole, par 72 championship course with five tee positions to choose from is an unforgettable golf experience only 20 minutes from downtown Queenstown. 

But the view is even more spectacular.  Lake panoramas and the breathtaking 2300 vertical meters of the aptly-named The Remarkables mountain range are the best possible distraction from your game.  

The natural landscape remains as part of the course architecture.  Native tussock grasslands, dramatic rock outcrops and native bush are 'par for the course' at Jacks Point on the edge of Lake Wakatipu.

The Hills

The Hills is a magnificent golf course surrounded by snow-capped mountains near Queenstown providing not only a dramatic landscape but a challenge to all golfers.

The Hills occupies a former deer farm near Arrowtown, Queenstown (image credit: Gary Lisbon). Native plants including native brown top grasses and wild mountain tussocks are preserved in the design. But there's an even more unique course design story here: sculptures crafted by New Zealand artists are integrated into the course’s lakes, waterways and wetland areas.

With a reputation that includes its position as co-host of the New Zealand Open, The Hills is a course that's a destination for both player and spectator.  So on or off the course, this will be a lasting memory of a golf trip to New Zealand.


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Some of the best food travel experiences don't involve white linen or Michelin stars.  A crab feast in Alaska that starts with a boat ride to collect crab pots is one of the most fresh, pure-tasting... and fun dining experiences you'll have anywhwere in the world.

Prepare to get dripping in butter and crab juice in this fun BestTrip.TV video!

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Happy Holidays

Wishing you and your loved ones the best of the season. We hope 2018 brings you happiness and new travel memories.

20 Things You Must Pack For Your Next Trip - and 1 Thing To Skip

Luggage allowances are shrinking and on many airlines, checking a bag comes at an additional cost.  So a savvy traveler only packs what's most important.

Travel Expert and BestTrip.TV Producer/ Host Lynn Elmhirst has packing down to a science. Here's what's in her bag.

The smartest travelers and frequent fliers try to never check a bag.  Not everyone can go that far. But everyone can pack smarter. 

It works both ways. Not only do you want to have everything you need, there's no worse feeling than coming home having lugged something around your whole trip and never used it.

Here's what I've learned you really do need to pack:

  1. Packing Cubes. The first time you use packing cubes, you never travel without them again. They're indispensable to keep things organized and compartmentalized in your suitcase. No random clothes spilling out of your bag if you need to open it en route!  And they save you precious holiday time: you can easily unpack at your destination, just opening up a cube and laying it in a dresser, then closing it up again and putting back in your suitcase when you move on.
  2. 3 Pairs of Shoes – 4 at the most. Believe me. No matter what your type of trip, anyone can travel successfully with 3 pairs of shoes – maximum 4, even though one of the best ways to handle tired feet from exploring all day is to CHANGE shoes so your feet still have support.  Wear your comfortable (and heaviest) shoes on the plane.  (This will keep the weight of your luggage down, too.)  One pair of 'dressier' shoes for dinners/ evenings that go with everything. Another pair of day shoes to switch out sore feet makes 3.  Maybe that 4th pair of shoes for the beach or your workout.
  3. Shoe bags.  Put all your shoes in separate bags.  Fabric shoe bags are kind to your leather shoe finish, but plastic bags will do.  They keep street/beach/jungle dirt or moisture away from your clothes.
  4. Shoe-Shine Wipes. Your shoes usually get dustier when you travel because you are walking around more. Shoe shine wipes (you can also get mini, enclosed, sponge/polish units) for any color of leather will keep you looking, well, polished for meetings or nice evenings out. 
  5. A Large Wrap/ Scarf.  Planes and trains and even hotels get chilly.  Men and women both can need a little extra something even if there are blankets on the plane.  A large, lightweight wool-type (not heavy knit) scarf/ wrap can keep you warm, and double as an evening wrap (for ladies).  Black is almost always useful.  A lightweight black cardigan sweater can do the same trick for men or women.
  6. A Small, Fold-up Umbrella.  It can protect you from both rain and blistering sun. If you get one small enough, you won't even notice it in your bag.  And it will save you the embarrassment of arriving somewhere dripping.
  7. Travel First Aid. Don't waste valuable time on your holiday hunting for solutions for minor issues. Travel with an easily-packable, small pouch containing:
    1. Your preferred over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication;
    2. Bandaids (Tip: get the ones that already contain antibiotic ointment; they help blisters heal faster);
    3. Non-drowsy travel sickness medication. I never get travel sick but I carry it to help travel companions. Preventing people getting sick around you is as much a kindness to yourself as them.
    4. Throat lozenges for dry airplanes and hotels (especially helpful if you are traveling on business and need to make a presentation or speech or... host that travel video);
    5. Help for tummy trouble (constipation or diarrhea) which can strike as a result of strange water, jet lag/different body schedules or new food;
    6. Non-drowsy OTC allergy meds as you never know when something new may trigger an unpleasant allergic reaction, and
    7. OTC sleep aid especially if you have a long, overnight flight (arriving somewhat rested will help you enjoy your travels much better than starting exhausted.)
  8. A Foldable Shopping/ Carry-all Bag.  This is one of the most useful things you can carry with you at all times – not just when you are shopping.  Carry it in your carry-on bag, then if you get to the airport and your carry-on bag ends up needing to be checked, you can pull out the foldable bag and still have something to hold essential carry on items.  Splurge: on a Longchamp Pliage bag.  It has classy leather handles and closure and very sturdy and stylish, water-resistant fabric in multiple colors. It can double as a purse or beach bag as needed but folds up to pack. Priceless.
  9. Plastic Bags. You can use plastic bags to store your wet or dirty clothes or muddy shoes.  I know a savvy traveler who always has a roll of doggy-waste bags in the bottom of their suitcase.  They are heroes to their travel companions in rainy climates.
  10. Multi-tool-plus-knife. Airline regulations still permit you to pack one in your checked luggage (but not carry-on) for emergencies.  If you're like me, you love to check out local markets and food producers.  So most of my travel 'emergencies' involve opening wine bottles and serving cheese. Splurge: on a real Swiss Army knife - it will last your whole life.  It also makes a perfect gift for a traveler in your life.
  11. Pen. It is almost embarrassing to have to remind you.  There's always someone in a line up or on a plane who needs to fill out a form and starts asking around for a pen.  Don't be that guy.
  12. Hard copies of all your travel bookings, confirmation numbers, loyalty program numbers, travel insurance, emergency contacts and local addresses, including your hotels.  The best digital solutions are only as good as the wifi that powers them.  You don't want to be stuck unable to pull up a reservation or even the name of your hotel on your phone for the taxi driver if you can't connect to the local internet.
  13. Notepad – Same thing; never be completely reliant on digital technology when you are traveling.  Names, phone numbers, names of restaurants… if your phone isn’t connected, your essential notes need to go somewhere.
  14. Flash Drive – Keep a back up soft copy of all those travel documents and reservations because paper documents can get lost, too, and your hotel will be able to let you plug into a computer (or your own laptop) to print them out again.
  15. Updated Travel Apps – Make sure you have up-to-date versions of your preferred booking apps, map apps, and language translation apps. Don't use expensive (and possibly slower) local wifi to update your apps.
  16. Smartphone / Device Battery Extender – Even if you are on your phone constantly now, chances are, when you travel you'll use it even more: more photos, more videos, map app running in the background… plus you may well find yourself away from a plug and running out of power.  Carry a battery extender you can charge nightly in your hotel, or a portable solar charger.
  17. Converter - Abroad, an electricity adapter / converter for all your electronics will keep you powered up. Spend once, use forever:  a universal unit that adapts electronics anywhere in the world. If you carry a lot of electronics, you might even want two.
  18. An extended-length smartphone charging cable.  Use your phone as an alarm clock?  Post to social media and reply to emails in bed?  Not all hotels or cruise ships yet have bedside USB charging adapters.  You may need to plug your phone in 10-12 feet from your bed.
  19. Emergency Cash.  A nice number is $250 USD or Euro depending where you're going. Or a number that makes you comfortable to cover yourself if local bank machines are down and you can't get local currency, or a restaurant won't take credit cards, or… any number of little emergencies can come up when you're traveling that cash will solve. Having an emergency stash (hidden but on hand) can save the day.
  20. Contact information of your travel professional - If bad weather or other emergencies interfere with your travel plans, your travel agent/advisor is one of your best advocates to help get you home or your problems resolved smoothly.
  21. PLUS here's a big tip about what NOT to pack:  Your most expensive watch, jewelry or sunglasses. First, many people lose things when they travel, leaving a trail of items in planes, hotels and taxis.  Second, in some destinations, pricey accessories make you a target. That's not the sign of a smart traveler.  

Start your Trip!


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And local fireweed and spruce tips for truly local spirits and craft cocktails.

BestTrip.TV was in port in Skagway, Alaska on our Regent Seven Seas cruise and naturally, we checked out the famous local saloon recommended by Regent's shore expert.  We are always on the hunt for 'local', and there on the bar menu:  cocktails made using local, small-batch gin and vodka. Intrigued, we asked the bartender, who drew us a map on a napkin (those are always the best maps) to find the distillery.

And off we went on a walk through town to find Skagway Spirits. We found them next to Skagway's local airport in a re-imagined hangar, distilling gin and vodka and hand-crafting local ingredient-based juices and cordials to mix with them in their fun tasting room.

The last time we turned down a crafted cocktail using local ingredients and local, hand-crafted spirits made from the first water off the local glacier was... never!  Our little adventure to find the entrepreneurial Heger family and their wonderful airport hangar distillery was one of our best memories of our trip to Alaska. 

The best news?  You don't need a happy accident to discover Skagway Spirits on your next trip to Alaska.  Now you know exactly where to find Gary, Jan and Luke Heger and their delicious spirits and cocktails.

Start your Trip!



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Sink Your Teeth Into This UNESCO Cultural Experience

When is a pizza not just a pizza?  When you're dining on a piece of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Possibly the world's most beloved comfort food, game-day dinner, kids' birthday party treat and party go-to take-out, the humble yet versatile pizza has been given UNESCO Cultural Heritage status.

But not just any pizza.  'Pizzaiuolo' is the art of traditional, Neopolitan pizza-making.  Think of it as the 'way of the pizza'. The original, home-grown-in-Naples technique was given the designation in November 2017. It is meant to safeguard and raise awareness about different forms of cultural heritage and ensure the methods and origins are preserved and passed to future generations.

Naples in Southern Italy's Campania region is the historic and spiritual home of the original pizza, where the word 'pizza' has been traced back to the 10th century. 'Modern' pizza arrived on Naples' local culinary scene about 250 years ago.  If you've been to Naples (which is itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest and most historic cities on the Mediterranean) you've certainly dined upon and heard about the importance of pizza here.  (If you haven't been to Naples and eaten the pizza there, well, add both to your travel list right now.)

Neapolitan pizza already has 'Traditional Specialty Guaranteed' status in Europe, with its own local Association (The Genuine Neapolitan Pizza Association) issuing and enforcing rules for its creation and labeling. 

Mount Vesuvius, Naples and the Mediterranean Sea. (Photo Credit)

A true Neapolitan pizza must be made with San Marzano tomatoes (that only grow on the volcanic plains of nearby Mount Vesuvius) and Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, itself a protected designation of origin cheese from semi-wild water buffalo in the region.  There are additional rules about how the dough must be made, from what flour, and include requirements that the dough be formed by hand to a thickness of no more than 3 mm (.12 inches).  After toppings are added, the pizza must be baked for less than 2 minutes in a stone oven heated by an oak-wood fire.

Pizzeria in Naples, Italy.  (Photo Credit)

The result?  A Neapolitan pizza is soft, elastic, tender and fragrant.  The Association recognizes only two authentic pies: the simple Pizza Margherita (top photo credit) that follows the traditional rules for ingredients with the addition of basil and extra virgin olive oil, and Marinara Pizza with tomato, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and oregano.   Don't even think the words 'Hawaiian' or 'Meat Lovers'.

Pizza Neapolitan joins traditional horse games of Kyrgyzstan, wind mill operations in the Netherlands,  women divers of Korea and dozens of other unique expressions of local culture registered and safeguarded by UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity program.   In other words, another reason #WhyWeTravel.

Buon Appetito!


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Would You Sail on an Adults-Only Cruise Line?

Sir Richard Branson is betting you will. The flamboyant billionaire behind the Virgin brands is doubling down on the reputation Virgin Air gained for uniquely fun, sexy… and grown up travel. His latest venture, Virgin Voyages, will be 'Adult by Design'.

Virgin Voyages will be the very first cruise line to be designated adults-only.  True, some other cruise lines lean towards a grown up, as opposed to kid-friendly lifestyle.  But that tends to be more about mature adults at the luxury price point, where kids are still welcome.  Not for Virgin Voyages.

You get a strong sense of what 'Adult by Design' means at Virgin Voyages when we tell you the announcement was made during what they called a 'Ship Tease'.

Branson and the cruise line CEO were delivered to the stage of the shipyard in Italy in dramatic style via a 200-foot crane drop for the traditional ceremony for the laying of the new ship's keel.  They used the occasion to announce more details about what to expect from the new cruise line and the first of its three ships launching in 2020.

Not only did the pair announce the 'Adult by Design' concept (permitting bookings for only those 18 and older) they also promised the new ship will be the most recognizable design at sea, reminiscent of a super yacht in cruise ship form, with a sleek, silver-gray (as opposed to white) hull with smoked glass and hits of Virgin red especially on its iconic red Virgin funnel. 

They're calling the fleet the 'Lady Ships' in a twist on the British term 'your ladyship', a nod to Branson's nationality and playfulness.  In another twist on tradition, instead of a female figurehead on the bow of the ships, a Virgin mermaid makes a saucy appearance.  Branson also promised Virgin Voyages would be home to the happiest crew afloat. 

In other words, look forward to a big, sexy, fabulous party in established Virgin style  - at sea.

Nearly all staterooms will boast a 'sea terrace' on what Virgin Voyages is calling a 'sophisticated ship and a transformational experience' for cruise travelers where 'rejuvenating day-life meets exciting nightlife and everything in between'.   And they've announced the cruise line is open for business with pre-sale deposits now being accepted for the first season of sailing.

Virgin Voyages vision is taking shape and its 'Ship Tease' was one more step towards reality for this highly anticipated cruise line. 


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7 Tips for Holiday Travel from an Airline Expert

Millions of travelers were stranded this fall when hurricanes Irma and Harvey wreaked havoc on the southern US and Caribbean.  Now, with the holiday season fast approaching along with the possibility of bad winter weather, we thought it would be good to share some tips about how to face the unpredictable.

Andrew Collins, the CEO and President of Sentient Jet, shares his insights with us into best practices when extreme weather interferes with your best –laid travel plans. Whether experiencing unexpected weather, a flight cancellation or delay, here are his tips to ensure you are equipped to handle the situation.

1. Departure time matters. During high traffic periods and days when weather is expected to be poor, give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport (Top Photo Credit).  Work with your travel advisor to look to take the first flight out if you can, as that aircraft has a better chance of already being at the airport and therefore taking off on-time. Delays tend to increase as the day progresses, particularly when inclement weather in one area causes a ripple effect across multiple regions and airports.

2. Become a priority. Inclement weather can increase the amount of time it takes to travel to the airport, and also leads to crowds upon arrival.  Being able to skip the security line could make the difference between catching your flight or getting stuck at the airport. Look into the possibility of bundling priority security line access into your ticket and, if you are a frequent traveler, to sign up for TSA Pre and Global Entry. Have you ever tried a customs concierge? When traveling internationally,  they can assist you with every stage of navigating unfamiliar airports, from providing pick-up service to arranging lounge access.

3. Invest in a travel “Tool Kit.” Does your credit card offer specialized perks or access? Are you a loyalty member of an airline, hotel chain, or car rental service? Most importantly, are you in the know about what your enrollment in these programs can really provide? All too often, people miss out on the benefits of their memberships, such as a room at a sold-out hotel or a seat on a sought-after flight. Take the time to learn about what these services can do for you – and how to access them quickly in a pinch.

4. Know your equipment. Do you feel more comfortable flying on a larger aircraft over a smaller, regional one? Work with your travel advisor to take these preferences into consideration, allowing you to identify the right flight for you based on time, distance, conditions, and plane type. A car upgrade to a larger automobile or SUV can also help you manage your ground transportation needs. When facing the possibility of inclement weather, prioritizing your comfort by selecting more reliable modes of transportation is a must.

Don't let this happen to you.  Photo Credit

5. Consider flying privately or chartering an aircraft. If there is an extreme weather situation, look into booking a private charter. In the event of extreme weather conditions, the nimble nature of private jet companies often means they can fly with fewer hours’ notice and even operate more flights than a commercial operator to get travelers out of harm’s way. Many programs even offer specific aircraft availability guarantees, ensuring you a seat whenever possible, and can fly into smaller hubs – and that can make the difference between getting home for Christmas or spending it on a cot at the airport.

6. Always ask - nicely. If your flight does get canceled due to inclement weather, ask the airline if they can find a flight for you with another carrier as opposed to waiting for them to reschedule. Though airlines do not always announce this option in order to keep revenue in house, this is often something that can be done, and will help you get to your destination faster.

7. And don't forget your travel advisor is a strong partner to help you navigate unexpected travel issues, not just when you're booking your trip, but while you're away.

Whether you're traveling great distances or staying at home to gather with your loved ones in the coming weeks, we wish you a safe and joyful holiday season.



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Indulge Your Love for Luxe in the Dominican Republic

All-inclusive resorts in Puerto Plata and elsewhere on this lush Caribbean island with 1000 miles of coastline put the Dominican Republic on the map for travelers seeking affordable family and couples vacations from winter weather further north. 

But what you may not know is that you can also find experiences that rival deluxe vacations anywhere in the Caribbean. Save or splurge, here's how to add indulgence to your winter holiday in the islands this year.

Lush Lodging

In the Dominican Republic, you can stay in unmatched accommodations that run the gamut from world-renowned boutique hotels to opulent resorts. Punta Cana in the east in particular is home to luxury properties ideal for intimate romantic travel, families and multi-generation travel, and large wedding, vow renewal, or reunion groups, even business conferences.

In addition to stunning beaches and multiple pools, many of these properties offer whirlpools, saunas, and extended wellness programs as well as traditional spa and aesthetic treatments.  Take sunset yoga, healthy cooking, and fitness programs.

And for complete privacy, book a private villa for a secluded, A-list holiday experience.

Gorgeous Golf, Fantastic Fishing and Prestigious Polo

Dominican Republic is a golfer’s dream, with over two dozen meticulously manicured courses set against the backdrop of the country’s most stunning scenery and shoreline. Pete Dye’s seaside “Teeth of the Dog” (below) at the storied Casa de Campo resort put the Dominican Republic on the world golfer’s map.


Here you can play courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Fazio, Nick Price, and Robert Trent Jones. Sculpted bunkers and uneven terrain but let the natural contours of the land dictate the courses’ routing. Tropical breezes on the coastal courses add another layer of challenge to even the best player's game

Sports fishermen flock to Dominican Republic’s coasts in pursuit of the blue marlin, one of the largest fish in the world. Hit the water for a tournament or on a charter boat excursion to fish blue marlin, white marlins, mahi-mahi, wahoo, swordfish and tuna in the Caribbean Sea; while blue marlin, wahoo and barracudas can be found in the Atlantic waters off the North Coast.

Dominican Republic is part of the international circuit of the 'Sport of Kings', with polo facilities available at some of the country’s most exclusive resorts in La Romana, Punta Cana and Santo Domingo. Hire horses for your own tournaments, or head to a polo match to enjoy the action as a spectator for a one-of-a-kind vacation experience.

Serious Shopping

Fashionistas and shopping enthusiasts will be on cloud nine in Dominican Republic, where it’s easy to find couture clothing, unique handmade crafts and stunning precious jewelry all within close proximity.

But we love local best.  Indigenous amber or glassy blue larimar (above) jewelry makes the perfect souvenir, and a piece of local larimar or amber jewelry will definitely start a conversation when your friends at home see it.

Make sure to take tours of local coffee, rum, cigar or jewelry manufactures for an opportunity to meet Makers, learn about local culture, and pick up authentic souvenirs.

Delicious Dining and Next-Level Nightlife

Did you know the Dominican Republic was named the Gastronomic Culture Capital of the Caribbean?  The island is one of the few in the Caribbean with extensive, diverse and abundant local agriculture.  Ingredients are fresh and inspiring.  Try the fusion cuisine of innovative chefs who have taken classic international recipes and given them a Dominican twist with local ingredients.

After dinner, find a terrace with a view or a club outside your hotel, especially in the capital of Santo Domingo, where international performers and DJ's make frequent appearances and you can dance the night away to local merengue music. Wine cellars and cigar clubs also offer exclusive tastings sure to please both connoisseurs and novice cigar aficionados and sommeliers.

If you're looking for luxury, maybe it's time to re-define your Dominican Republic vacation experience. 

Start your Trip!


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