Blowes Travel & Cruise Centres Inc.'s Blog

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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3 Greek Islands You Must Visit Before You Die

Greece is famous as the cradle of Western civilization. It's the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, literature and drama, marathons, the Olympics, plus some of your favorite math principles.

Modern Greece consists of a mountainous mainland and hundreds of islands surrounded by the Aegean, Ionian, Cretan and Mediterranean Seas.  Over two hundred of the islands are inhabited, many of them rich in history and mythology, as well as the Mediterranean culture, cuisine, maritime and beach lifestyle that makes Greece one of the top bucket list travel destinations.

Some travelers in the know take holidays to Greece year after year, and Greek islands are a highlight of Eastern Mediterranean cruises.  If you've never visited Greece, here are the islands you just can't miss.

Photo (Credit)

Santorini

Santorini inspired the title of this article.  It's continuously named the 'best island in the world' and the 'Greek Island you must visit before you die'. (But we think all the islands in this list merit the title). (Top Photo Credit)

When you hear 'Greek island', chances are that the sight that pops into your head is one of the iconic pictures of Santorini. The island's sky blue domed church roofs, white washed buildings on the edges of cliffs, and steep, narrow cobbled streets overlooking brilliant blue seas stand in to represent the iconic Greek island vista of everyone's travel dreams. 

Santorini is what remains of an island after the eruption of an ancient volcano. Now, a giant lagoon is encircled by the 300 m (980 ft) high cliffs of a crescent shaped island and a much smaller island opposite where the remaining volcano rim is still above the sea. Visiting ships, yachts and local fishing boats approaching the shelter of the curve are afloat in the crater of the volcano.  Inside the caldera, the water is so deep - over 400m - that only the largest ships can anchor.    Santorini's capital, Fira (Thira) clings to the top of the cliff over the lagoon.

Photo (Credit)

Don't Miss:  volcanic-sand beaches in unique black or red sands, brilliant sunsets, a traditional and a growing modern food culture.  Santorini's micro-climate nurtures tomatoes and capers of famously exquisite flavor, and an indigenous grape varietal that local vintners turn into celebrated crisp, dry white and amber-toned wines.

 

Photo (Credit)

Mykonos

Mykonos is the Greek island where Ibiza party and French Riviera beach lifestyles meet.  Cosmopolitan and glamorous, Mykonos may be Greece's most fashionable holiday destination.  Luxury hotels, stylish bars, clubs and parties where beautiful people come to see and be seen until dawn, then sleep it off on magnificent beaches or private yachts… if that is your style of travel, Mykonos is for you.  It's also known for being an LGBT-friendly destination and party central.

(Photo Credit)

Mykonos is both the island and its main town, which is also called Chora (meaning 'town', in the Greek style of towns with the same name as their islands).  Picturesque local architecture, sunsets, people watching and shopping appeal to visitors of all ages.

(Photo Credit) 

The island's nickname is 'the Island of Winds'. Windmills are one of the defining and unique features of the Mykonos landscape, built by Venetians in the 16th century to grind flour and used until electricity took over only a few decades ago.

(Photo Credit)

Don't Miss:  Romantic, artistic Little Venice, where rows of 18th century colorful fishing houses with overhanging balconies line the seaside, many of them shops, cafes, and galleries.  And Petros the Pelican, the mascot of Chora's waterfront.    

(Photo Credit)

Rhodes

Rhodes' nickname is The Island of the Knights.  Its Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the best-preserved medieval towns in the world.  Walking its Street of Knights, you feel transported back to the Middle Ages, when conquering Crusaders built fortifications, the Palace of the Grand Masters, towers, inns and rest of the medieval city and streets that remain today.

(Photo Credit)

But Rhodes' history pre-dates mediaeval knights by thousands of years, when the island's strategic position made it central to ancient history.  One of Rhodes' lasting claims to fame is a landmark that no longer exists.

(Photo Credit)

  (Photo Credit)

The Colossus of Rhodes was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Erected in 280 B.C. at the Mandraki harbor to mark a battle victory, the Colossus was a bronze statue of extraordinary size - about the same as the Statue of Liberty!  Rhodes' Colossus stood for less than a century before an earthquake toppled it. Even then, for another 800 years, its remains lying on the ground drew travelers to Rhodes to marvel at and write about its size. Today the statues of deer on pillars at the entrance to the harbor mark where the Colossus' feet were said to stand and allow ships to pass beneath this feat of design and engineering.

  (Photo Credit)

Don't Miss: The beaches.  Don't be so distracted by the history you miss its stunning beaches. The wine. Rhodes is said to have been the first island in the Aegean to cultivate vineyards for wine; that tradition continues today.  The lush, green interior and emerald fresh waters inland from the beaches.

When to go

In most of the Greek islands, the sun shines 300 magical days a year.  Summers are high season for travelers arriving by air and cruise ship, but April- June and September- October are blessed with lovely weather.  Looking for mild weather, quiet exploration – and a bargain?  More and more people are discovering Greece in early and late winter months too.

Start your Trip!

 

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A New Marine Reserve in Mexico is the 'Galapagos of North America'

Giant manta rays, sharks, whales, turtles, sea lizards and hundreds of other species are now protected in Mexico's vast new Revillagigedo marine reserve in the Pacific Ocean off the Baja Peninsula.

There are four Revillagiegedo Islands about 240 miles (390 km) southwest of Baja California.  They are small, uninhabited volcanic islands, but uniquely positioned where two ocean currents converge.  (Top photo credit).  That makes the islands and the waters around them a hub for hundreds of species of marine plants, birds and animals that live there or migrate there especially for breeding.

Previously, only the waters 6 miles around the islands were protected, leaving vital feeding, breeding and migration areas open for fishing.  But in 2016 the area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its biodiversity and in November 2017, the Mexican government created an immense marine reserve 57,000 square miles (148,000 square km) surrounding the islands.  That's a protected area the size of the entire state of Illinois, and the largest marine protected area in North America.

(Photo Credit)

All fishing is now banned inside the reserve – a move that will actually support the fishery. Protecting breeding grounds of commercial fish like tuna will allow hard-hit fish populations recover to the benefit of local fisheries outside the reserve. (Other marine reserves around the world have seen the local fisheries benefit from the conservation of breeding grounds).

Mining, resource extraction and hotel development will also be prohibited. Plans for active protection are now in place. The Mexican Environment Ministry and Navy “will carry out surveillance, equipment and training activities that will include remote monitoring in real time, environmental education directed at fishermen and sanctions against offenders".

Already, conservationists are celebrating and calling it 'the Galapagos of North America'.  The Revillagigedo islands are considered one of the wildest places remaining in tropical North America, where you can see the most giant manta rays and sharks and large fish in the world as well as soft coral gardens with sea fans, sponges and crabs.  

(Photo Credit)

What does this mean for us travel lovers?  In addition to knowing some of the Earth's biodiversity and natural marine beauty are being protected, Mexico's creation and protection of the new Revillagigedo marine reserve is expected to increase the opportunity for dive tourism in the area.  Boats currently often depart for the Revillagigedo islands from the popular resort destination Cabo San Lucas.  Not a diver? It's anticipated that carefully monitored wildlife adventure cruises, like trips travelers can take to the Galapagos Islands in the waters of Ecuador, will also allow travelers to experience the biggest marine reserve in North America.

Start your Trip!

A night time market in the grounds of a castle.  Fires and torches and twinkling lights, the smell of evergreen boughs, the best German Christmas culinary treats and artisans selling authentic German arts and crafts, Christmas decorations and cozy winter woolens. 

Whether you're the person who always knows exactly how many days it is until Christmas, or the 'Bah, Humbug' type...  Even a die-hard Scrooge gets into the spirit of Christmas at a traditional Christmas market in Germany.  And Regensburg's Romantic Christmas market might be the most magical of them all. 

You can explore a number of Germany's best Christmas markets on itineraries of seasonal river cruises as BestTrip.TV did.  Escorted tours also offer special Christmas market itineraries.  We know families who have made a trip to a famous Christmas market a family gift.  All members of a family, from grandparents, parents, single aunts and uncles and every kid ever!  find joyful memories together at a European Christmas market. We love the idea of celebrating the season with travel, and Regensburg's Romantic Christmas Market will warm anyone's heart.

Start your Trip!

 

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Maybe it's your first sight of a palm tree in the sea breeze. Or the feel of sand between your toes. Even your first tropical cocktail in the warmth of the sun. But for some people, it's the taste of any of these iconic flavors that makes you feel like you're finally on vacation in the Caribbean. read more
Is a World Cruise Right for You?

Cruising is a storied way of travel, full of unique traditions and experiences you'll never enjoy any other way than on a cruise ship.  The World Cruise is one of those time-honored cruising traditions, dating back to the Golden Age of steam ships and a new approach to travel by the most stylish people on both sides of the Atlantic.

The first World Cruise sailed a century ago, pioneered by British luxury line Cunard, who still sets the standard of world cruising.   There are still 'world cruises' that actually circumnavigate the globe, setting sail from Southampton (London), Los Angeles or south Florida in the New Year, cruising around the world, and making a triumphant return to your port of embarkation a few months later with a lifetime of memories. (Photo Credit: BestTrip.TV)

That is a traditional World Cruise.  But not every world cruise circles the planet. Some explore a hemisphere or a couple of continents, sailing into ports not normally accessible by shorter cruise itineraries.  

January departures are not the only choice; some world cruises sail twice a year or from regions where the seasons dictate different timing.

World Cruises often have extended stays in some of the best ports of call: overnights as well as extended periods off-ship for a land extension then a return to the ship so you really feel you have an in-depth travel experience.

You probably imagine all your fellow guests will be quite senior  - and they are the likeliest travelers to have the time and money to commit to the most epic of cruise itineraries.  But cruise lines are changing with the times to appeal to new generations – and multi-generations – of travelers, and world cruises may have families with children taking a term or more off school to explore the world, as well as younger couples on 'sabbatical' breaks.

So… is a world cruise right for you? 

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you have 3 months or more to devote to travel? 90 days is an entry-level commitment to a world cruise. Some are 180 days or more, especially cruises that actually circle the world.
  2. Do you 'collect' ports, looking for ways to visit cruise destinations in far-flung corners of the world other itineraries don't reach?Cruising around the world is going to take you to oceans and seas and continents shorter cruises simply can't reach.
  3. Do you love days at sea?Between these off-the-beaten-track ports of call, ships cross bodies of water and that can take days.If what you love about a Caribbean or Mediterranean cruise is that there's another port every day, a world cruise will be a big change of pace.
  4. Is ship-board life appealing to you? Over that period of time, the ship becomes your home, not an entertaining 'floating hotel'. Strolling on deck, enjoying a sunset from your veranda, or the camaraderie of your fellow guests in the ship's restaurants, bars, lounges and fitness centers, and activities like onboard enrichment programs will be your lifestyle for weeks and months.

If you answered 'yes' to these questions, you might want to consider a world cruise. 

What if you answered 'no'?

If you don't have 3 months or want to cruise for so many weeks, you can often book segments of a world cruise on your favorite cruise line that give you the opportunity to see a unique part of the world at sea.

'Grand Voyages', itineraries of less than 3 months but with much of the lavishness and off-the-beaten path ports of full 'World Cruises' are increasingly popular.

Consider the cruise line that would make a dream World Cruise the best experience for you.  Small luxury ships, mid-size contemporary ships, British style cruising… the onboard lifestyle you would enjoy for a quarter of a year or more at sea should help you focus on what cruise line would be the best fit for your World Cruise.  Smaller ships can also sail into smaller, more boutique ports as well, so if truly unique destinations are important to you, smaller ships will have itineraries to match those cruise travel dreams.

Cruise lines that offer World Cruises or their younger sisters, Grand Voyages, include:

  • Cunard
  • Holland America Line
  • Silversea
  • Crystal Cruises
  • Azamara Club Cruises
  • Regent Seven Seas Cruises,
  • Princess Cruises
  • Seabourn
  • Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Costa Cruises

Start your Trip!

 

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Travel like a Rock Star: W Hotels' Sound Suites

You know it's something you've always wanted to say: "I'm with the band".

You and your friends may have never realized your high school dream to be famous recording artists. But it's not just actual rock stars, indie bands and electronic music creators who can have the ultimate 'destination recording experience'.

W Hotels' Sound Suites allow anyone to go on vacation, and lay down some tracks as well as work on your tan. Four W Hotels around the world: Bali, Barcelona, Seattle and Hollywood, all have the one-of-a-kind Sound Suites.

It's just the type of development we'd expect from the hotel chain that set the bar for modern, stylish, artistic lifestyles. W Hotels feel more like independent design hotels, but as a chain, they have celebrated, empowered and integrated the works of creators of music and the arts, with a global music director and advisors, signature music experiences and an immersive experience of the local creative scene in each hotel.

Their North American Music Director, Chicago-based producer DJ White Shadow, known for his work with Lady Gaga, came up with the idea for W Sound Suites, and the brand has run with his concept, implementing W Sound Suites with professional grade sound equipment and top technology for audio production. You'll find Native Instruments and Shure state of the art sound equipment like a keyboard, DJ system, professional-grade headphones and microphones, as well as Yamaha acoustic guitar and Fender bass for professional musicians and aspiring guests to use in music sessions.

The professional sound studio set up lives in W Hotel signature style. The W Hotel Barcelona, for example, which has Europe's first W Sound Suite, features murals from local visual artist Ricardo Cavolo. A 'fire' for music and design come together in the original art that inspires Sound Suite musicians. W Sound Suites have space to accommodate your entourage with a lounge, a living room, as well as soundproof recording and mixing space, so you can raise the roof with your sound.

Support for music creativity goes beyond the space to hold your own private recording session with amenities like stylish restaurants, room service, pools and gyms and spas and bars of the hotels. Musicians booking a W Hotel Sound Suite may also have access to Master Classes, sound engineers and other local experts through the hotel's Music Curator.

W Hotels Sound Suites bring out – or resurrect - the music creator in us all. We love the idea of booking Sound Suites for guy and girlfriend getaways or bachelor parties… for the musically-inclined, it's a once in a lifetime blast! W Hotels see the suites as not just for recording artists on creative retreats, but as a way to support amateur and emerging talent – all within the artistic, creative vibe of the signature W Hotels environment.

Start your Trip!

It's only 20 miles from Skagway, Alaska's deepwater port on the coast, to the border of Canada's Yukon. But what a 20 miles they are!

The White Pass & Yukon Route railway ride is one of the most dramatic scenic experiences in the Alaska Panhandle. No wonder it's an all-time favorite experience for cruise travelers arriving in the preserved, Wild (North)West town of Skagway. The tracks go right onto the dock, so we stepped off the Regent Seven Seas Mariner right onto the train. And from there, on an incredible climb to the Continental Divide and the border with Canada.

It's an epic journey of breathtaking scenery and Klondike Goldrush tales - in vintage train cars that take you back to the days of prospectors and adventurers.

Meet the train conductor and hear his stories of this fabled train - one of the world's most scenic and historic rail journeys.

Start your Trip!

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Romance Thrives in the Dominican Republic

One of the Caribbean's most popular island destinations is more than sandy beaches, clear aqua waters, family all-inclusives and tropical forest backdrops. Couples will find the perfect way to celebrate a milestone engagement, wedding or vow renewal, honeymoon, or a private getaway to rekindle the romance.

Celebrate

For couples looking to get married or renew their vows in Dominican Republic, Punta Cana’s all-inclusive hotels and resorts make wedding planning a breeze, with packages to fit any budget. On-site wedding planners take care of all the details, from menus to centerpieces, so you can relax and soak in every moment of your big day.

Recharge in a Spa

A spa visit to Punta Cana and Bávaro’s all-inclusive luxury resorts and spa facilities is an ideal way to decompress with your loved one. The East Coast’s world-class destinations boast some of the best spas in the Caribbean and specialize in some of today’s most popular and on-trend spa services. Outside or indoors, individually or as a couple, for an hour or an entire day, spa professionals customize treatments to relax or energize you and help you reset your relationship.

Work on your Swing

Nothing like a friendly challenge to spark some romance. On the southeast coast of Dominican Republic, La Romana is a golfer’s dream, featuring breathtaking courses including the Pete Dye-designed Teeth of the Dog course—one of the Caribbean’s best, and one of the top 100 courses worldwide. Golfing couples will fall in love all over again on the breathtaking greens of Casa de Campo’s three designer, seaside courses.

Experience Colonial Charm

Casa de Campo's Altos de Chavón is a must-see, cliff-side old-world village – that is also the perfect backdrop for romantic photos you'll cherish forever.

The Dominican Republic's capital city of Santo Domingo is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the Caribbean – that also evokes old-world grace and style. The Colonial city (below) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a walkable grid of romantic cobblestone streets, iron street lamps, open terrace restaurants where you can drink in the atmosphere over wine and a Dominican cigar, and visit the oldest cathedral in the Americas, dating back to the 15th century.

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Take an Adventure for Two

Are watersports your style? Sosúa and Cabarete are world-famous for windsurfing and kiteboarding—perfect for adrenaline-seeking couples eager to conquer the waves.

Samaná on the northeast coast is an eco-paradise known for magnificent beauty and quiet, unspoiled beaches. Plan a honeymoon or getaway between January and March to have the chance to spot humpback whales mating and breeding in Dominican Republic’s protected waters.

Travel by boat to Los Haitises National Park (pictured below), to enjoy its magnificent series of limestone caves and excursions through the exotic vegetation to spot wildlife.

Cool down in the emerald mountain heights of Jarabacoa or Constanza, the 'Switzerland of the Caribbean'. Four large national parks offer panoramic views, river rafting, mountain biking, canyoning, paragliding, rappelling and mountain trail horse riding for active couples who love the outdoors.

Nearby Pico Duarte is the highest peak in the Caribbean, and worth the grueling hike to the top for couples to get a magnificent view and a sense of achievement that will bring you even closer together.

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Travel 'Game-Changer' for Sports Mega-Fans

How far are you willing to go to support your team and get your professional sports fix? Do you plan your free time around your team's schedule, paint your face, wear your team's jersey, or drive crazy distances to see the game live?

There are a lot of ways to support your team, but we've found the ultimate mega-fan travel experience.

Chicago-based Big Game Air provides same-day round-trip travel on private jets to major sporting events across the USA.

Its tarmac-to-stadium transfers and same-day returns mean no luggage, no hassle, no parking, no hotels, just a day rather than an extended long weekend of navigating crowds, and all the adrenaline of being at the game – plus all the perks of private aviation.

Like many innovations, the idea arose to solve a problem: one of the company founders didn't want to miss a big game – but also didn't want to leave his wife and newborn overnight. With help from his co-founder, they put their aviation and hospitality backgrounds to work, roped in some buddies, booked a private jet, left in the morning for the game… and arrived home 12 hours later - with a new luxury sports travel business plan.

Pardon the pun, but we think this is a 'game changer' for sports experiences and sports travel.

If you can get yourself a game ticket, they can get you there in style.

  • Fans can purchase individual seats on 8-30 seat flights scheduled to the highest-demand games throughout the year - up to 24 hours in advance of the game date. (So if you score a last-minute ticket, you can still make the game).
  • There are no membership fees required (unlike some other private jet programs).
  • Ground transportation is included to and from the sporting event.
  • You'll have all the amenities and conveniences of private air travel, plus
  • Group and charter options, including:
  • Ways to really celebrate a corporate team win, a bachelor party, or any other group event with add-on perks including custom jet hangar parties, tailgate parties in the sporting destination, professional athlete- or celebrity-hosted flights and premium onboard catering.

In its first year, Big Game Air flights flies from Chicago, New York, Columbus, and Detroit; in 2018, the company adds Dallas and Atlanta as originating cities; and in 2019, you can depart from Los Angeles and San Francisco to join your team's big day.

Flights are already scheduled to marquee sports events like the SuperBowl and major NFL games, College Football championships, NHL, the Masters Tournament, the Kentucky Derby, as well as major game dates on the calendar that run the gamut of team sport in the USA.

The company subcontracts a fleet of private jets, making the ultimate game day trip more affordable than other private options. Flights still cost in the $1200 – 2200 USD range for a round trip, so it's not the cheapest way to get to the game. (But it still might be less expensive than your seats at center field).

For time-pressed executives and groups of friends willing to splash out on their sports adventure, Big Game Air seems like a big win for big fans on game day.

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Is the Modern Travel Luxury... Sleep?

You can't enjoy life - even luxury travel - if you don't have sleep. That's the premise of the new ship-board wellness program on Celebrity Cruises in conjunction with its spa and wellness partner Canyon Ranch SpaClub.

It's not just about getting your 'beauty sleep' these days. It's about stressful lifestyles and poor sleeping habits that have left many of us chronically exhausted.

That takes the fun out of even the most amazing travel experience or destination.

So what better time than on vacation to not only catch up on some rest and relaxation – but also to experience new sleep treatments that can help you improve your sleep even after your holiday? Especially after your holiday?

Celebrity Cruises and onboard Canyon Ranch SpaClub now offer cruise travelers a curated program for sleep called Mindful Dreams. The program is available fleet-wide beginning the fall of 2017.

The program takes a 360-degree view of sleep and sleep 'hygiene'. There are so many factors that affect a restorative night's sleep. Celebrity's guests can try new treatments, products and sleeping aids, receive nutrition advice on the best culinary choices to aid in sleep, and enjoy expert lectures and special instructional classes promoting a holistic approach to mindful sleep that will benefit you during your cruise… and back at home.

Mindful Dreams got its name from an existing Canyon Ranch SpaClub relaxation treatment. This sleep-encouraging experience incorporates products specifically designed to soothe, alongside a sleep-inducing cultural massage, and meditation techniques. It's a focused treatment to evoke instant tranquility and foster inner wellbeing, calmness and serenity, transporting guests to the perfect getaway state-of-mind. Now that's a holiday!

Additional sleep-enhancing treatments in the program include:

  • Organic lavender and seaweed sugar glow
  • Age-defying restorative facial
  • Lazy days detox seaweed bath

The program features VOYA luxury products. For centuries, it's been known that lavender can contribute to relaxation and sleep. The lavender body care range, Tranquility, incorporated in many of the Mindful Dreams treatments, helps to ease the stresses of everyday life, leading to a feeling of relaxation and peace. All ingredients are organic and sustainably harvested on the western coast of Ireland.

More and more travelers are planning holidays with self-improvement – especially wellness goals – in mind. We love Mindful Dreams' focus on providing Celebrity's guests with relaxation and sleep during your sailing… and especially a lifetime of wellness habits and techniques for mindfully improving your sleep in your daily routine once your cruise is over.

Your whole life and life outlook feels better with a good night's sleep. What better gift to give yourself with a gift of travel than a whole new approach to restorative sleep?

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London's New Landmarks

Move over Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. Unlike other major world cities that push new buildings and modern architecture to the outskirts of town, London isn't afraid to raise eye-catching new developments in the heart of its most iconic neighbourhoods.

Lynn Elmhirst, producer/host of BestTrip.TV, shares the best places to experience where old meets new in London.

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Old London: The Tower of London

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Dating back to the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Tower of London, officially Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, is a storied castle on the River Thames in central London. It is stereotypically mediaeval-looking, with imposing stone walls and a moat and a history as a jail of famous, even royal prisoners, many of whom literally lost their heads in the Tower yard.

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The Tower has been one of the most popular tourist attractions in London since the 1600's; especially since the monarch's Crown Jewels, guarded by Yeomen, have been on public display since 1669. You can still see them (both the Crown Jewels and the Yeomen) today on a visit to the Tower, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site visited by nearly 3 million people every year. Don't miss the Tower ravens; at least six live there at all times to ward off an ancient superstition that if they are absent, the kingdom will fall. Very Game of Thrones.

New London: The Shard

The name of London's newest landmark tower alludes to a shard of glass it resembles. The glass-clad pyramid-shaped tower is the tallest building in the UK, a 95-storey skyscraper 310 metres (over 1000 feet) tall. Its architect was inspired by the church spires of London in 18th century art and the masts of sailing ships on the Thames, envisioning the Shard as a spire-like sculpture. 11,000 panes of angled glass used as cladding reflect sunlight and the sky above, changing with weather and seasons.

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The Shard opened in 2012 with a viewing gallery and open-air observation deck on the 72nd floor (245 metres/ 800 feet high); 'The Sky Boutique,' on Level 68, with limited edition souvenirs, is the highest shop in London. In 2014, the building was awarded first place in a contest of the world's new skyscrapers. Judges call it 'London's new emblem'.

Old London: Big Ben

Big Ben is actually a nickname for the enormous clock and clock tower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster (Britain's Parliament building). It's a British cultural icon; think of how many times you've seen it as the establishing shot of a film scene to announce: 'here we are in London'. (Top photo Credit)

When it opened over 150 years ago, it was proclaimed the biggest, most accurate timepiece in the world. The clock dials are set in an iron frame 23 feet (7.0 m) in diameter. The hour hand is 9 feet (2.7 m) long and the minute hand is 14 feet (4.3 m) long.

A 2008 survey found Big Ben was the most popular landmark in the UK, and it's one of the world's most famous tourist attractions. But unless you are a UK citizen whose Member of Parliament can arrange it, you can't tour inside the clock tower, even if you're prepared to climb all 344 stairs to the top.

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New London: The London Eye

Instead, take a ride on the nearby London Eye, an even more immense 'face' of the London landscape. Amazingly, this giant, modern Ferris wheel graces the South Bank of the river Thames opposite the Houses of Parliament like it's always been there, even though it opened just before the dawn of the new millennium.

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The wheel is 443 feet (135 m) tall with a diameter of 394 feet (120 m), a circle 20 times bigger than Big Ben's clock face. Unlike the 4-faced clock, the London Eye does not have a tower to support it, only an A-frame on one side, making it 'the world's tallest cantilevered observation wheel'. It's also the second highest public viewing point in London after the Shard.

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32 oval, glass-enclosed capsules carry up to 25 passengers each for a half-hour rotation that offers a magnificent view over London, including Big Ben across the river. The London Eye is officially the most popular paid attraction in the UK; nearly 4 million people ride the gigantic Ferris wheel every year.

Old London: Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge is often confused with the 'London Bridge' that is falling down, falling down, falling down in the children's nursery rhyme. Tower Bridge crosses the river Thames close to the Tower of London, and although it was added to the London landscape relatively recently - in the 19th century - it has become another iconic symbol of historic London. (London Bridge is half a mile upstream, and not nearly as picturesque.)

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Tower Bridge actually has not one, but two, 65 metre (213 foot) towers that are connected near the top by walkways, and two, 1000 ton arms between the towers that lift in a mere 5 minutes to an angle of 86 degrees to allow river traffic to pass. The arms are raised a thousand times a year. Two lanes of vehicle traffic and two pedestrian walkways cross Tower Bridge, but river traffic takes precedence over the crossing road traffic. The bridge arms are raised only just high enough to allow boats to pass unless the Queen is on board, when they must be raised fully in salute to the monarch.

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New London: The Millennial Bridge

The Millennial Bridge is for pedestrians only, engineered to support up to 5000 at a time. It's a steel suspension bridge also across the river Thames that opened in 2000, with the Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern near the southern end, and St. Paul's Cathedral above the other, northern, side.

It was brilliantly designed to align with a clear view (a 'terminating vista') of St. Paul's across the river, framed by the bridge supports. (Photo credit). It is, after all, the Age of Instagram.

The traditional London city skyline and streetscape, with its majestic symbolism and double-decker buses, has been transformed in recent years. New and daring developments now rival centuries-old landmarks, and if you're like me, you'll agree that modern and ancient architecture side by side makes both even more awe-inspiring and dramatic.

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The Writing's on the Wall in Chicago... Literally

American Writers Museum is the newest addition to the city's Cultural Mile. It is the first and only museum of its kind celebrating the US literary scene and the men and women who captured and shaped American culture, point of view, history, lifestyle and language through pen and ink.

From Mark Twain to Harper Lee, John Steinbeck to Jack Kerouac, Dorothy Parker to Dr. Seuss. Authors, poets, songwriters, novelists from the earliest moments of American history articulated a unique American Voice and created the literary masterpieces that reflected generations of America to itself and the world - even its children.

Whether you're a bookworm or aspiring author, or even at the age you're still learning the alphabet, the museum’s galleries, interactive exhibits, educational programs, and special events will delight you. The interactive, high-tech museum showcases the personal stories, creative processes and literary works of America's diverse range of wordsmiths.

You can explore many of America's great writers’ hometowns in Writers Hall. The American Writers Museum has collaborated with dozens of authors’ homes and museums around the U.S. These are now American Writers Museum Affiliates that will support the museum with author-specific knowledge and expertise, and foster an exchange of ideas and experiences to support the preservation and celebration of America's literary history across the country.

How many American writers do you know? And how do you define 'writer'? In a Nation of Writers you can learn about and celebrate authors who are emblematic of a unique American Voice, across history, genre, and mediums, from poets to sportswriters.

How do you write the 'Great American Novel' or pen a song that moves a generation? Exhibits de-mystify famed writers’ works and methodologies and invite you to practice your own verbal creativity with games and other immersive experiences.

The Chicago Gallery delves into the great writers, literary influencers, characters, and groups that shaped the city’s unique literary tradition. And Readers Hall hosts films, talks, readings, workshops, and author signings to school groups, members, and a broad range of audiences.

You won't want just a single visit to Chicago and this new landmark on its rich cultural scene.

Rotating exhibits will keep this celebration of the written word fresh. One of the museum's opening exhibits is The Kerouac Scroll. The writer who brought the 60's beat generation to life in the modern classic On the Road, Jack Kerouac reportedly typed the 120-foot paper scroll in three weeks, after years of planning and early drafts. It's a story not just of the creation of the work, but a symbol of the 60's flower children's characteristic rejection of societal norms.

If you love the written word, you'll love visiting Chicago's new American Writers Museum - and hopefully even be inspired to put pen to paper yourself.

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Go Coastal! 5 Beaches you Can't Miss in Maine this Summer

Summer in Maine defines coastal living. Wood-siding summer homes in nautical colors along miles of beaches begging for you to stroll and dig your toes in the sand, examine shells and driftwood, inhale the cool Atlantic breezes, walk the dog among sandy dunes, and of course, enjoy the sea.

Maine is blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches in the US, and by mid-summer, they've warmed up enough to beckon swimmers off the sand and into the waves. Here are five beaches you just can't miss on a trip to New England.

1. Old Orchard Beach.

Start with this seven-mile strand that has been welcoming visitors for over 170 years. It has the only beachfront amusement park in New England. You can even reach Old Orchard Beach aboard the Amtrak Downeaster, which stops just steps away from the beach. The 500-foot classic pier is a powerhouse of family entertainment with shopping, arcades, dining, nightlife and concerts and even fireworks!

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It's also the point of departure for fishing, whale watching, and birdwatching tours.

2. Scarborough Beach State Park

For those seeking a little more tranquility, Scarborough Beach State Park has waves that attract local surfers and a wide beach that's ideal for families. Scarborough Beach offers some of the best swimming in New England with water temps in the high 60's through out July and August.

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It's also the nesting grounds of endangered Piping Plovers; visitors help protect them by following bans on dogs, bikes and kite flying April through November.

3. Ogunquit Beach

This beach (pictured top) is ranked among the top beaches in the United States, great for swimming, bodysurfing, and searching for shells and driftwood. It's a 3 ½ mile peninsula of sandy beach and grassy dunes; a natural barrier between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ogunquit River. (There's a footbridge across the river at the midsection of the beach).

You can rent chairs, umbrellas and floats, launch a small boat at the boat ramp, and stroll along Marginal Way, a mile-long cliff walk that extends along the ocean, and pass Marginal Way Lighthouse en route.

4. Goose Rocks Beach

The picturesquely-named beach at Kennebunkport is a wide beach with three miles of soft sand and moderate surf. A barrier reef offshore known as Goose Rocks, visible at low tide, helps protect the soft, white sands of the beach.

This is a perfect spot for you to spread out the beach blankets, chairs and umbrellas for a fun day of sunbathing, relaxing, swimming and combing the shore for sand dollars. An ideal relaxed family day at the beach.

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5. Popham Beach

Finally, Popham Beach is a wilder beach in Midcoast Maine. It's part of Popham Beach State Park, one of Maine's rare geologic landforms. The Kennebec and Morse rivers border each end of the long stretch of sandy beach. From the beach, you can see offshore islands, such as Fox and Wood Islands, where you can explore at low tide. You can even get a geologic tour of the beach.

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Canada's Top Travel Treasures

Canada celebrates 150 years of Confederation on July 1, 2017. Of the many celebrations, events and legacy builds taking place in Canada this year, one of our favorites is the free admission to Canada's National Parks and historic sites for the entire year.

Parks Canada is inviting Canadians and visitors from around the world to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary at national treasures from coast to coast to coast with free admission to all Parks Canada locations. You can order your pass online or pick up in person at certain locations.

Here is our curated collection of Canada's National Parks and historic sites and nearby experiences that might help inspire you to include the 'true North, strong and free' in your travel plans this year.

L'Anse aux Meadows

In a clever line on the Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism web site, 'even the Vikings came here to get away'.

If you thought Columbus was the first European to reach the Americas, think again. L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site and UNESCO World Heritage Site on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland contains archeological evidence of a Viking settlement dating back to around the year 1000 – hundreds of years before Columbus and his first 1492 expedition.

Sod and wood buildings were found, with artifacts that showed the residents involved in smithing iron, knitting, weaving, and carpentry for boat building or repair. It's believed dozens of Viking men and women resided here, but harsh conditions made it unsustainable and the site was abandoned.

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While you're in Newfoundland, don't miss…Cape Spear. The rocky cliffs jutting over the North Atlantic waters make Cape Spear feel like the edge of the world – and it nearly is. This is the eastern-most point of North America. Standing on Cape Spear, you are closer to London, England than you are to Vancouver on the other side of the continent!

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Old Town Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

From the harbor, the almost cartoon-bright painted houses look like an artist's interpretation of an historic town. But it's real. The town is both National Historic Site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's considered the best surviving British colonial town on the continent, with its 18th century planned, gridiron streets, unique shops, restaurants in preserved buildings leading away from the harbor that was the focal point of rich a fishing and shipbuilding economy.

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You can still see majestic and romantic tall ships moored on the town's waterfront, and hear the stories. Especially about the fabled Bluenose. This is the homeport of the Bluenose II, the replica of the original local fishing boat that was undefeated in 18 years as a racing schooner.

While you're in Nova Scotia, don't miss: The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. It's a week-long event held every summer in Halifax celebrating Nova Scotia's Scottish and military traditions. It began to mark the visit of the Queen Mother to Nova Scotia for the first International Gathering of the Clans with bagpipes, highland dancers and military traditions. Hundreds of Canadian and international military and civilian performers makes it the world's largest annual indoor show; granted Royal status by the Queen.

Bay of Fundy National Park

The Bay of Fundy is the site of a record-breaking marine phenomenon, part of the UNESCO Fundy Biosphere Reserve, and a Dark-Sky Reserve. The tides in the Bay of Fundy are the highest in the world – as high as a 5-storey building! Local Mi'kmaq folklore attributed the dramatic tides to a giant whale splashing; it's actually a result of the bay's particular shape. The twice-daily tides see a flow of 115 billion tonnes of water flowing in and out of the bay.

You'll also want to experience local dinosaur fossil finds exposed by the extreme tides, hiking, sea kayaking, tidal rafting, and whale watching, including the rare right whale.

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While you're in New Brunswick, don't miss…Confederation Bridge, part of the Trans Canada highway, connecting mainland New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island since 1997. You'll be driving 13 km across the largest bridge in the world that crosses ice- covered waters.

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Prince Edward Island National Park and Green Gables

Canada's smallest province has one of its most beloved sites. 60 km (37 miles) of Prince Edward Island's signature red rock and sand shoreline. Seven swimming beaches, hiking and cycling trails, and camping grounds join protected white sand dunes, freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, and nesting areas for endangered coastal wildlife.

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While you're there, don't miss... Green Gables, the house that was the childhood inspiration for the internationally beloved Anne of Green Gables stories by local author Lucy Maud Montgomery.

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Quebec City

Many people say walking through Old Quebec is like a visit to Europe without the jet lag. The only walled city in North America and the oldest city north of Mexico, the historic district of Quebec City, dating from 1608, is a National Historic Site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, first city in North America to receive designation.

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Although the magnificent hotel Chateau Frontenac dominates the skyline, perched in Upper Town's 100 meter high cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence, it is a mere hundred or so years old compared with Upper and Lower Towns' 17th century walls, fortifications, Citadel, winding cobbled streets with shops, restaurants, Plains of Abraham.

While you're in Quebec City, don't miss… The Winter Carnival, one of the biggest in the world, and all the more dramatic in snow covered historic streets. There are masquerade balls in the grand ballroom of the Chateau Frontenac, an Ice Palace, snow sculpture parks, a bikini snow bath, day and night parades led by 'Bonhomme' de Neige ('snowman') the ambassador and mascot of the festivities with his red cap and early voyageur knit belt. And plenty of French joie de vivre.

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Rideau Canal, Ontario

This feat of incredible engineering in the early 1800's began with military intent, but nowadays has become a top recreational boating destination. Following the war of 1812 with the United States, British military engineers came up with plans to forge a vital water route for over 200 km (126 miles) from Kingston on Lake Ontario north to Ottawa. Workers labored to carve the waterway through dense wilderness and solid rock of the Canadian Shield. They also built 45 locks to take vessels up and down elevations in the terrain along the way through rivers, lakes and man-made canal.

The Rideau Canal is a glorious boat trip through pastoral plains, cottage communities and remote, sheer rock cliffs all the way to downtown Ottawa and past Canada's majestic Parliament Buildings.

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Don't miss… Boating the length of the canal in the summer months, taking a canoe tour of the Ottawa portion of the canal, or skating on it in the winter. In downtown Ottawa, in the shadow of historic hotel Chateau Laurier and Canada's Parliament buildings, 8 km of the canal becomes the world's longest skating rink every winter.

Wapusk National Park

It's over a 2 hour flight or two days by train from Winnipeg to Churchill, Manitoba, the gateway to Wapusk. For anyone who makes the trip in mid winter, it's worth it to reach one of the last places in the world to see tiny polar bear cubs getting their start in the world.

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Wapusk means 'White Bear', and this part of Canada is known the world over as the polar bear capital. Nearly three million acres of the park are the seasonal home of a thousand polar bears returning from summer roaming through the tundra back to new Arctic ice, joined by moose, wolves, foxes, and herd of thousands of caribou. Polar bears are gorgeous but dangerous; access to the park is only through licensed operators of guided trips to this famous refuge.

While you're in Manitoba, don't miss…Winnipeg's Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Opening in 2014 to national and international attention, the museum is architecturally compelling, with geometry and colors based on images of the Canadian landscape. It's also intellectually challenging, highlighting personal stories and stimulating debate about how to define its subject matter.

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Wood Buffalo National Park

The largest of Canada's National Park straddles both Alberta and the Northwest Territories for nearly 45,000 acres – it's bigger than Switzerland! It needs to be that large – it provides enough territory in its muskeg and tundra for the long term preservation of the world's largest herd of free roaming Bison.

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The park is also a UNESCO world heritage site and the world's largest Dark-Sky Preserve. And in spite of its remote location, the park can be reached and visited by car.

Banff National Park – Alberta

Canada's first National Park dates back to 1885, and scenes of the turquoise waters of Lake Louise surrounded by a distinctly Canadian alpine landscape have been famously depicted on postcards sent around the world ever since. Snow topped mountains, glaciers and icefields, the western resort town of Banff, endless all-season outdoor activities and the hot springs that started in all keep visitors coming back to this park in the Rocky Mountains year round. The breathtaking Icefields Parkway connects Lake Louise to Jasper National Park further north.

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While you're in Banff, don't miss… a cocktail at the Banff Springs Hotel in the lounge with picture windows over Lake Louise. The view really does make a perfect custom cocktail taste even better!

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site

Spearheaded by the Haida Nation to stop destructive logging on their historic lands, Gwaii Haanas now protects an archipelago of 138 (formerly Queen Charlotte) islands off the coast of British Columbia. It totals 5000 square km of land and sea – one of the only places in the world protected from the depths of the ocean in deep fjords to rugged mountain tops. 90% of the land is forest, with mountains draining into dozens of freshwater lakes and salmon-spawning streams. The seas are a 'primary feeding habitat' of humpback whales; Gwaii Haanas is remote and only accessible by boat, sea kayak, or floatplane.

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While you're in British Columbia, don't miss… Victoria Harbour, one of the most picturesque harbors in the country. Originally used by First Nations, the harbor now bustles with recreational vessels and small cruise ships, mooring in the center of this scenic heritage city famous for its continuing British tone. Historic buildings frame the lively waterfront and line the walkable streets. The harbor is the epicenter of thriving eco-tourism and whale watching tour activities.

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Face to Face with the World's Largest Solid Gold Buddha

Most of the time, breaking an historic religious icon does not turn out well. But when workers moving a large and very old but otherwise unremarkable plaster statue of Buddha in Bangkok in 1955 dropped their load, they got lucky. The accident revealed an amazing secret: the plaster with modest inlaid glass decoration was a decoy shell concealing the world's largest solid gold Buddha.

By Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip.TV

Hidden in Plain Sight

The design of the Buddha suggests it dates to the 13th or 14th centuries. It's believed when dangerous times were at hand during Burmese invasions in the 1700's, the solid gold statue was plastered over to cleverly hide the magnificent religious treasure in plain sight. In the confusion, dynastic changes, and moves that followed, the Golden Buddha's secret was lost to time. And so it sat under a simple open air roof in the unremarkable Bangkok temple Wat Traimit for hundreds of years – until it was dropped moving it to an indoor location.

Rather than hiding this phenomenal – and phenomenally valuable – discovery, temple officials have kept the Golden Buddha available for public worship at the temple. In 2010, they even opened a new, gold-leaf trimmed chapel to house this priceless treasure.

All photos: BestTrip.TV

That put Wat Traimit at the top of our film crew's must-visit list among the 400 temples in Thailand's capital city. Gold features prominently in Thailand's vivid national palette and design, but being face to face with the world's largest solid gold Buddha is heart-stopping. In ways we didn't expect.

Record Breaking – but Humble

It weighs 5.5 tons. And it's about 83% pure gold. That makes the gold in the statue alone worth about $250 million. The Golden Buddha's seated figure rises 15 feet above kneeling worshippers.

On arrival at the temple, you climb 4 stories of white marble steps leading to the chapel perched at the top overlooking the Bangkok skyline. Once inside, you might expect bristling guards, high tech security, crowds marched past with barely time to take a quick pic. But for a treasure of its worth and historic significance, the Golden Buddha's existence is almost humble.

The author (left) at Wat Traimit. No bare shoulders, no bare knees, and shoes off. Respecting Thai temple etiquette.

The marble and gold leafed chapel sounds extravagant, but it's quite restrained and no more spectacular than many other temple structures in Thailand. The Golden Buddha may be a tourist attraction, but not a tourist trap. Monks, local worshippers and visitors mingle. Instead of a vast hall to maximize visitor numbers (and revenue), the massive statue occupies a small room.

For visitors, that intensifies the experience. The deep reddish gold almost pulses in the way it catches dim light and warms the nearby cool white marble walls. Only a couple of dozen visitors and worshippers are able to fit inside the chapel at any given time. Worshippers place offerings and visitors can join them on a single carpet only a few feet in front of the Buddha.

It may be solid gold, but the temple monks and fellow worshippers interact with the Golden Buddha as they would any other neighborhood temple Buddha.

That might be the most remarkable part of our visit to Wat Traimit. We were expecting to be – as one of our production team said – 'wowed by the bling'. Instead, we experienced a space of beauty and almost simple serenity. As if the Golden Buddha were still hiding behind its plaster mask. Simplicity and serenity, mainstays of Buddhist practice, in the presence of what might be the most valuable and storied piece of solid gold in existence, might be the real treasure of the statue.

Start your Trip!

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Paul Gauguin Cruises Named Top for Honeymooners

Small ship, South Pacific luxury cruise line specializes in romance.

Brides magazine has named Paul Gauguin Cruises '#1 for Honeymooners'. The cruise line operates the longest continually sailing luxury cruise ship in the South Pacific. The 'Paul Gauguin' is a 5+ star, 332-guest idyllic ship that sails to some of the most exotically romantic locations on any honeymoon couples' list: Tahiti, Fiji, French Polynesia, and other once-in-a-lifetime destinations in the South Pacific.

Honeymooners receive a complimentary honeymoon package when sailing with Paul Gauguin Cruises, which includes a special Polynesian blessing ceremony aboard the ship performed by Les Gauguines and Les Gauguins and hosted by the Cruise Director, an in-stateroom celebratory bottle of Champagne, one 8" x 10" photo portrait, and an exclusive pillow gift.

Why wait for the honeymoon? Would you love an unforgettable vow renewal? Or a cruise wedding? For those celebrating a romantic special occasion, Paul Gauguin Cruises also now offers wedding ceremony and renewal of vows packages in a dreamy setting amid the turquoise lagoons and exotic islands of French Polynesia at Motu Mahana, the cruise line's private islet off the coast of Taha'a, or at the InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa, with tasteful, romantic, and inspiring touches of local French Polynesian culture that ensure a one-of-a-kind ceremony.

The 'Number 1 for Honeymooners' distinction is another in a long list for Paul Gauguin Cruises; other awards for the cruise line include: voted #2 in the category of "Top Small Cruise Lines" in the Condé Nast Traveler 2016 Readers' Choice Awards and recognition on the publication's 2016 "Gold List." In addition, the line was voted by Travel + Leisure readers "#1 Small-Ship Cruise Line" and "#1 Small-Ship Cruise Line for Families" in the Travel + Leisure 2014 World's Best Awards. Recently, readers voted Paul Gauguin Cruises "#1 Midsize-Ship Ocean Cruise Line" in the Travel + Leisure World's Best Awards 2016.

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Carnival Vista 'Taps' into Home Port Flavors for American Craft Beer Week

The first brewery on board a North American-based ship introduces Miami Guava Wheat Beer.

Carnival Vista's RedFrog Pub & Brewery gets into the spirit of American Craft Beer Week with a limited edition brew inspired by its home port.

Miami Guava Wheat Beer is a uniquely local flavor inspired by tropical South Florida. The beer's light body and palate-pleasing notes of tangy pink guava are not only tropical and refreshing, but include the primary ingredient in Miami’s ever-popular guava pastries.

Carnival Vista's brewmaster Colin Presby, inspired by Miami's access to tropical fruit and thriving Cuban culinary scene to create the brew, tapped into the first keg in a ceremony to launch the beer. Guests can enjoy their favorite beverage and at the same time celebrate the Vista's home port, as well as the American craft brewing tradition and the latest brewing trends.

If craft beer is the beverage you prefer to whet your whistle, but you miss Miami Guava Wheat Beer's limited run at the Vista's RedFrog Pub & Brewery on your next cruise, you can always try one of its three other craft beers. ThirstyFrog Port Hoppin’ IPA with aromatic, floral and hoppy notes and tropical and citrus overtones; ThirstyFrog Caribbean Wheat, an unfiltered wheat beer with flavors of orange and spices; and FriskyFrog Java Stout, a take on a traditional stout, rich and creamy with hints of coffee, are all brewed only on board the ship.

The craft brewery experience joins the cocktail pharmacy-themed Alchemy Bar, the New England-inspired Seafood Shack, Far Eastern cuisine at JiJi Asian Kitchen, traditional high-end steakhouse dining at Fahrenheit 555, and family-style Italian culinary experiences at the ship's Cucina del Capitano.

The Carnival Vista isn't just breaking ground in at-sea brewing. It's also home to a one-of-a-kind SkyRide airborne bicycle ride and also the first cruise ship IMAX Theatre.

Plenty of new experiences to toast with one of those craft beers.

Start your Trip!

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The Ship that's Changing River Cruising

How do you revolutionize river cruise ships? River cruise ships are limited in length by the navigational requirements of rivers... like the sizes of locks. The design for the AmaMagna, launching in 2019, is game changing. It's twice the width of traditional European river cruise ships.

What makes the double-width river cruise ship a game changer?

The concept has been 'floating' around for a while (pun intended), but AmaWaterways is the first cruise line to pull the trigger on building a double-width river cruise ship.

That opens the doors wide to re-interpret the guests' experience on a river cruise ship. So with the debut of the concept of a double-width ship, AmaWaterways design team has aimed high at maximizing the two times more space available than on a single ship.

The AmaMagna will include:

  • River cruising's first open-water sports platform, complete with zodiac boats, canoes and recreational equipment.
  • Only 194 guests in 97 large staterooms - that's only 30 guests more than single-width ships.
  • Expansive public spaces, including:
  • Dedicated multiple dining spaces including an al fresco, glass-enclosed restaurant.
  • A large heated sundeck swimming pool with whirlpool and sky bar.
  • Expanded spa and fitness area and wellness offerings that will complement AmaWaterways' popular biking and hiking programs.
  • And they're even able to double the ship's width while doubling down on eco-friendly innovation with a more fuel-efficient engine that's also quieter.

Sound familiar? What we're seeing is the best of small-ship/ yacht, luxury ocean cruising... brought to rivers.

Construction on the AmaMagna began in early 2017 and the ship launches in 2019 on Danube itineraries.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017
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TORONTO — You’re not imagining it – you really do pass more wind than usual while flying. But contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with the sub-par airplane food and has everything to do with altitude.

As reported by The Huffington Post, there’s a scientific reason why people often feel bloated and break wind during a flight. It’s because of HAFE, or ‘High Altitude Flatus Expulsion’, a term coined by a pair of researchers in the 1980s to explain why mountain climbers experienced flatulence at high altitudes.

A similar phenomenon is seen among passengers on airplanes. Airplane cabins are pressurized to between 6,000 and 8,000 feet, a dramatic change from sea level that affects your body. As the plane flies higher, the gas in your intestines expands, taking up to 30% more room than usual.

And as biology dictates, all that gas has to go somewhere.

To help curb the stinky problem, experts suggest drinking plenty of water and avoiding salty and fatty foods during your flight. It’s also a good idea to walk around the plane to get the bowels moving.

MSC Cruises, UNICEF Partnership Feeds 67,000 Needy Children and Their Families

We're already pretty passionate about travel.  Then when the company we trust with our valuable vacation time and budget makes the effort to do good in our shared world, well, that makes us love travel even more.

European cruise line MSC Cruises has recently reached an incredible milestone for its partnership with UNICEF, raising €6.5 million (that's about $6.9 million USD) through guest donations onboard to support UNICEF.

Those funds have been put to good use.  More than 2 million sachets of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) have been delivered to children in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Malawi. That translates into helping 67,000 malnourished children and their families since 2014.  In addition, MSC has recently delivered 22,000 essential supplies to relief efforts in Malawi.

Focus on Children and Families

MSC Cruises is a family-run company, so, according to executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago, the UNICEF focus on the wellbeing of children and their families, and the ability to provide life-saving and life-changing food to children around the world where and when it's most needed, strikes a chord. 

If you've sailed on MSC Cruises, you may have seen their 'Get on Board for Children' fund-raising initiative. MSC Cruises and UNICEF have worked in partnership since 2009 and together established the global initiative to assist malnourished children in developing countries and those affected by crises.

Through encouraging MSC Cruises’ guests fleet wide to make contributions to UNICEF, more than 6,300 children have been treated in Somalia, over 9,400 in both South Sudan and Ethiopia and, most recently, over 41,500 in Malawi. With multiple challenges such as food shortages, flooding, stagnant economies and prolonged droughts, the need for food aid in these countries is enormous, especially for children.

Nutrition plus Supplies for Malawi's Crisis

In Malawi, 54,053 cases of severe acute malnutrition have been recorded this year. As the only corporate partner in the country, MSC Cruises has worked tirelessly to support the area, helping UNICEF to reach over 40% of Malawi’s severely malnourished children.

The generosity of MSC Cruises' guests has been magnified by an additional donation of more than 22,000 essential items delivered directly to Malawi, one of the poorest regions served by the relief effort. In recent years, the country has been devastated by drought, then flooding that has wiped out farms and homes. Over 6 million people, half of them children, are in grave danger of survival.

Executive chairman Vago visited Malawi earlier this year and says he returned even more committed to helping UNICEF's programs in the country.

An MSC cargo ship arrives in Malawi this month with essential goods including mattresses and bed sheets, bicycles, cooking pots, bowls and spoons, and farming tools as well as chalkboards, school pencils, drawing books, toys and puppets for the children.

Participate in the UNICEF Program on Board Ships

MSC Cruises’ guests onboard have the opportunity to learn about and participate in the MSC/ UNICEF program. There are “edutainment” activities for children and their parents. Each week, cruise ship programs include activities like a dedicated UNICEF Day with fun games and a children’s parade, where participating kids receive a leaflet to teach them about malnutrition around the world. They also receive a UNICEF World Citizen passport that is stamped after each educational activity is completed, making them an ambassador for the rights of children across the globe.

So thank you to all the guests and fans of MSC Cruises who have participated in the UNICEF programs, and to MSC for giving guests onboard such a meaningful way to spread their own commitment to families to other families in our shared world. 

Travel can do great things, and we love to share success stories like this.

  

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