Blowes Travel & Cruise Centres Inc.'s Blog

Visit This: Underwater Winery in Croatia

Drinking and diving don't mix, but we've found one exception.  At the Edivo Vina winery about an hour north of the Croatian seaside town of Dubrovnik, you need to slip into a wet suit for a cellar tour.

That's because this winery stores and ages their – aptly named – 'Navis Mysterium' or 'Sea Mystery' wine – 20 meters (66 feet) under water.

Sea Mystery wine begins life above ground as other wines do.  The regional grapes are harvested, pressed and bottled, then aged for three months on land.

Then it gets interesting. Cork and two layers of rubber seal the bottles which are then enclosed in amphorae – locally made clay vessels like the ones used in ancient Greece with a narrow neck and double handles.  To make them water-proof, they are lined with a thin layer of resin, just like the ancient Greeks did. Then the amphorae are submerged underwater in steel cages for two more years of aging.  Divers visit the 'cellar' to check on them regularly to ensure they remain sea-proof.

When they emerge from the 'cellar', the amphorae are covered in sea life: shells, barnacles, coral and seaweed.  Just like a storybook treasure you might discover on a sunken ship.  And not one is exactly like any other.

But the sunken treasure look wasn't the winemakers' motivation for this unique cellar location. They believe the depths of the Adriatic Sea provide ideal cool and consistent temperatures as well as silence that improve the wine's quality.

You don't have to take their word for it, though.  If you have diving credentials, you can go on a supervised dive to one of their underwater wine cellars in a sunken boat. On dry land, you – and any non-diving visitor – can enjoy a ceremonial opening of an amphorae-enclosed bottle and this one-of-a-kind wine in a spectacular seaside setting.   You can even order them in pine gift boxes.

It took the vintners 3 years to perfect the process and to source entirely local materials.  The grapes, clay, wrought iron, pine, glass and cork used in the making of 'Sea Mystery' wine are all products of Croatia – a true taste of the ancient Adriatic.

With a price tag in the hundreds of dollars, a bottle of 'Sea Mystery' wine won't be the least expensive bottle of wine you acquire on a trip to Croatia, but it will definitely give you the best story to tell while you're drinking it with your friends at home.

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You Can Take Your Pet On This Cruise

Did you know there's one cruise line in the world that welcomes man's best friend(s)?  And it's not a new innovation; instead, it's a long-standing tradition.

The pet-friendly policy dates back to the earliest days of this line's famed Transatlantic Crossings between Southampton (England) and New York. Not only have the British aristocracy and notables long been known for a lifestyle surrounded by beloved dogs, cats, and horses, crossings prior to the invention of refrigeration had milk cows on board to ensure the first-class passengers had fresh milk for their tea.

So, to this day on British luxury line Cunard, your dogs and cats can sail too. 

Since the cruise line launched with the maiden voyage of the Britannia in 1840, Cunard ships have given passage to a surprising number of notable pets: Rin-Tin-Tin, Elizabeth Taylor’s pampered pooches, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s beloved pup and even Pudsey, the 2012 winner of Britain’s Got Talent.  Cunard even installed a lamppost beside the kennels on Cunard’s former flagship Queen Elizabeth 2 at the request of the Duke of Windsor so his dog would feel at home.

Of course today, not only British, but North Americans are more attached than ever to their pets.  To accommodate these furry members of travelers' families, when it re-mastered the Queen Mary 2, Cunard doubled down on pet passengers. (Top image: Richard Meadows, President, Cunard, North America, Captain Christopher Wells, and David Noyes, CEO, Cunard, joined by Cunard Kennel Masters, cut a ribbon to unveil the remastered kennels on the Queen Mary 2, the only passenger liner to carry pets. Above image: Captain Christopher Wells, Cunard Kennel Masters, and friends. (Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Cunard)).

The line added 10 additional kennels to the world’s only transatlantic kennel service, plus a new pet owner’s lounge, a pet playground, and a larger outdoor area with an historic English lamppost and American fire hydrant so canines from both sides of the pond will feel at home and have plenty of space to enjoy the crossing with their owners and with kennel attendants.

The updated Queen Mary 2 honors the Art Deco era of grand ocean liners in design, as well as the cruise line's uniquely British style and service standards. All staff graduate from the line's own White Star Service Academy, and that includes the full-time dog walkers in the kennels. And – this part is a new feature – now that pets are styled as glamorously as their humans, Cunard has partnered with the British sportswear brand Barbour to offer smart accessories onboard such as jackets, collars and leashes.

Ella Bean, a Yorkie mix, enjoys the remastered kennels on the Queen Mary 2, the only passenger liner to carry pets, at Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in New York, its U.S. homeport. (Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Cunard)

Cunard has extended its canine collaboration to sponsoring the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the world's premiere dog competition that takes place annually in New York – a reflection of Cunard and its guests' love for pets as well as the deep connection between British and New York upper class traditional lifestyles.

So if you're inseparable from your pooch even on holiday, Cunard's kennels let you cruise with your pet… in classic British style.

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Re-Living the Summer of Love in San Francisco - 50 Years Later

Dust off your fringed vest and tie-dye T-shirt.  

It's been 50 years since 100,000 young people converged on San Francisco in the summer of 1967.  The celebration of 1960's counterculture music, fashion, art and anti-establishment rebellion in hippy Haight-Ashbury neighborhood that year became the epicenter of the cultural phenomenon that became known as the Summer of Love. 

Photo Credit

The peace and love code of the 'beat generation' echoed the psychedelic rock ballads seizing the airwaves. The song 'San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)' became a hit that year, and local Haight bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin joined in the utopian experiment and gave it a celebrity face.  They provided the soundtrack of the social revolution that spread in popularity across America and around the world and cemented San Francisco's Haight Ashbury in counterculture history.   

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For the beat generation, it was about more than just the Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll.  They were the fuel for the questioning of authority, and a search for awareness, social justice, equality, civil rights, sexual liberation, freedom, anti-materialism and environmentalism that still resonates for us today. 

There are still hippies in the neighborhood, and their sons and daughters fly the flag of the generation that followed Timothy Leary's call to 'Turn on, Tune in, Drop out'.

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The Summer of Love never left San Francisco, where the spirit of openness and innovation it called for lives on ironically – or inevitably? – next to the extraordinary wealth and full-throttle capitalism of nearby Silicon Valley.

Haight-Ashbury is in the process of receiving city landmark status recognizing its significance during the counterculture movement of the 1960’s as the epicenter for hippies and the anti-establishment lifestyle.

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The neighborhood and the entire city are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the transformative Summer of Love with a year-long calendar: exhibitions, lively festivals, special events and music and dance performances looking back at the summer of 1967 and exploring what that period meant then and now. Plus a range of service and volunteerism events inspired by the original Summer of Love. 

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Check out San Francisco Travel's special website, www.summeroflove2017.com, for a guide to the whole groovy scene, plus tours that follow the footsteps of great musicians like Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

Some highlight exhibitions and events include:  (Top Photo Credit)

Dec. 9, 2016-Fall 2017 Monterey Regional Airport: “Feeling Groovy,” Art at the Airport

April 8-Aug. 20, 2017 de Young Museum; Summer of Love: Art, Fashion and Rock & Roll

April 26-Aug. 27, 2017 “Summer of Love: Jimi Hendrix” at the Museum of the African Diaspora
May 12-Sept. 10, 2017 California Historical Society; “On the Road to the Summer of Love
June 24-Oct. 1, 2017 Asian Art Museum: Flower Power 
July 2017-Sept 2017 San Francisco Public Library: 50th Anniversary of Love and Haight
June 8-Aug. 10, 2017  Psychedelic Soul: Black Cultural Awakening during the Summer of Love in San Francisco, 1965-1969
July 27-29, 2017 Revisiting the Summer of Love, Rethinking the Counterculture: A Conference on the 50th Anniversary of the Summer of Love

Photo Credit

Load up your hand-painted micro-bus (or book a flight) to re-live the Summer of Love this year, but don't forget, 'if you're going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair'. What a trip!

With its ancient seafaring history and traditions, the most natural and authentic way to explore the Mediterranean and to take in its most magnificent vistas is by sea.

And as BestTrip.TV discovered, the luxury small-ship experience of Silversea cruises brings the best of the Mediterranean to life.  Here's why.

Think of it as the digital generation's version of flair bar tending. 

The bartender gives you a great show making your drink.  But instead of bartenders flipping and juggling glasses and bottles, in Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's 'Bionic Bars', you are entertained by two robotic arms making the cocktails.  The Bionic Bar debuted on Quantum of the Seas, and now, four Royal Caribbean ships: Harmony of the Seas, Quantum of the Seas, Anthem of the Seas, and Ovation of the Seas, all give you the opportunity to sidle up to a Bionic Bar.

It's not quite as impersonal as you think.  Although you do place your order on a tablet, each robot bartender has a name - and they have different names on each ship.  A bonus? If you are in the habit of pouring out your secrets to the bartender, you know these robots won't tell a soul.

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Canada's Northwest Passage: An Epic Arctic Journey with Adventure Canada

Following a route less traveled in the footsteps of intrepid explorers and today's First Nations in one of the last frontiers: the Arctic.

Story and Photographs by travel and sailing journalist Elizabeth Kerr

Knowing that I was setting out on the same route that Franklin took in 1845 somewhat intimidated me. After all, he didn’t make it home. However, once aboard Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavor expedition ship surrounded by 110 like-minded adventurers, 30 experts in every field and a crew that went above and beyond, intimidation quickly transformed into exhilaration.

Needless to say, Franklin did not have access to advanced navigational equipment, cool linens, hot showers, three delicious meals and a variety of entertaining and educational distractions to battle the cold, the boredom, the frustration, the mutiny and his inevitable doom. But I did.

Ocean Endeavour anchored outside Ilulissat.

Finding Our Arctic Footing in Greenland

Franklin started in England. Our adventure started in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, where, en route to our ship, I saw my first musk ox!

Although cold and somewhat damp throughout our walk on our first stop, Sisimuit, the sight of Arctic huskies – chained to rocks – and this town of 6,000 quickly reminded me how far I was away from my reality. Striped and polka-dotted dog sleds leaned against porches and dilapidated shacks waiting for passengers.

Ilulissat offered a completely different perspective. Its wooden boardwalk – built to protect the wetlands – provided spectacular views at every turn – and led us to the Icefjord, now a UNESCO World Heritage site and the fastest moving glacier in the world.

This is a view from the boardwalk that takes us to the Ilulissat Icefjord

On an afternoon jaunt, I just happened to turn my head at the right time to cathch this humpback whale entertaining the town of Ilulissat.

Although the trip so far was awe-inspiring, it was Karrat Fjord that welcomed me into its embrace. I felt at peace here and could have happily lingered all day looking out to sea for humpbacked whales or inland to the garden of icebergs that reminded me of a gallery Lauren Harris paintings.

Karrat Fjord reminded me of visiting a live Lauren Harris gallery.

Sightings of Arctic hares at both Kap York and Etah pleased John Houston, a member of the expedition crew, but my takeaway that day was the memory of our singer/songwriter/zodiac driver Kevin Closs singing a sea chanty to distract us from the bitterly cold wind and waves.

It’s been quite a while since we had seen the sun but it certainly boasted it glow on this iceberg somewhere near Etah.

Here we are in Foulks Fjord, lead by John Houston, determined to spot an Arctic hare.

We depart Greenland with its Craylola-coloured houses and majestic icebergs to cross Baffin Bay and head back to Canada.

Following in Franklin’s Footsteps 70 Degrees North

It’s Day 8. We are halfway through the Northwest Passage; there are still lessons to learn and stories to tell. Bad weather prevented a visit to Aujuittuq – Canada’s northernmost civilian community – so we ventured on with a revised itinerary thanks to Denise Landeau, our tireless expedition leader. And so it goes in the Arctic. Expect the best, prepare for the worst. It is an expedition after all.

Over the next few days, I learned more about Canada’s north than any high school history class could offer.

Dundas Harbour, on the south coast of Devon Island, housed one of four abandoned RCMP detachments. For three years, RCMP officers lived with no radio contact and a yearly delivery of provisions. Today, the dilapitated building remains standing along with three graves.

Beechey Island was living proof of Franklin’s demise. The four graves there brought an uncommon silence among us that was thankfully broken by the voice of Ken McGoogan regaling his story of the Northwest Passage.

I can’t begin to describe the emotional wave that comes over you as you stand quietly at the foot of these three graves of Franklin’s crew (Petty Officer John Torrington, Royal Marine Private William Braine, and Able Seaman John Hartnell) on Beechey Island.

After a rather sombre walk through snowflakes and a bitter breeze, we reloaded ourselves into the Zodiacs, ready to go home. Ree Brennin-Houston had other ideas. Heading away from the ship (where warmth, a cup of hot tea and biscuits were waiting), many of us found ourselves surrounded by a flote of beluga whales, disguised so well as to be confused with the low-lying icebergs around them. At one point, we counted 13.

It was hard to tell the difference between the icebergs and the belugas.

Fort Ross was home to the last Hudson’s Bay Trading Post built in the Arctic. After 11 years, it was closed due to ice restricting travel and trade. The main building still stands and is sometimes used as base camp for research scientists and some very brave sailors.

Oh Where, Oh Where are the Polar Bears

It felt important to cross off my Arctic’s Big Five (polar bear, humpback whale, Arctic hare, muskox and beluga) and compare it to my Africa’s Big Five (which I accomplished in 2009). There were high expectations of seeing a polar bear, but they were few and far between, however in the end, we did spot 12, mostly from afar. Check!

This trip also offered sightings of several other mammals including minke whales, harbor seals and a single lemming. Bird-lovers on board spotted nearly 40 species from Arctic terns to Thayer’s gulls. Check, check!

Fort Ross was home to the last Hudson’s Bay Trading Post built in the Arctic.

A Gem from our Past. Hope for the Future.

Every day, geologists, zoologists, naturalists, historians, photographers, documentarians, authors, biologists, and scientists would teach us with immeasurable passion about the region we were so very blessed to explore.

A leader and political activist, a culturalist, an educator, a musician, and two archaeological mentees, all from Nunavit were also present to share their stories and teach us more about the way of life as it is today at 70 degrees north of the equator. Their stories came to life during day visits to Uqsuqtuuq (Gjøa Haven) and Cambridge Bay.

Our visits to Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay were history lessons in themselves. It is truly hard to imagine how people can live, let alone thrive, in these desolate places so far from the many services we take for granted on a daily basis.

Our 17-day itinerary with Adventure Canada was designed to maximize our Arctic experience, jam-packed with knowledge-sharing, story-telling and entertainment. This journey is not for the faint of heart, however for anyone who cares to dare, it will expand your horizons, warm your heart and leave a lasting impact on Nunavit and on you.

Qakuguttauq (See you again soon!)

Video: Fogo Island Inn: Daring Design meets Ancient Fishing Community

In colorful Newfoundland turn of phrase, you might say that Fogo Island is far away from far away.  The island is remote; only accessible by ferries and helicopter flights that defy dramatic weather and waves to drop visitors on a a rocky outpost in the North Atlantic that until recently was a centuries-old, declining fishing community.  This is not where you might expect to find a hotel that has won world-wide acclaim for its architecture, experience, social responsibility, and design.

Designer Karen Sealy and BestTrip.TV visited the extraordinary Fogo Island Inn to see what happens when local maritime craftsmanship meets 21st century global design.

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The 'Height' of Luxury: Train and Stay in Peru's Andes

South America has its first luxury sleeper train. The Belmond Andean Explorer pioneers a new way to discover Peru on its two-night journeys at altitudes of up to 4,800 metres climbing in the Andes en route from Cusco to Arequipa.

It's one of the world's highest rail routes, and you'll be glued to the large picture windows as the elegant carriages take you through some of the most breathtaking scenery on our planet.  Expect to see vast, uninterrupted views of snow-capped mountains, never-ending skies, majestic lakes and herds of alpacas, llamas and vicunas grazing on the altiplano.

Peruvian Touches

The design of the sleeper cars reflects Peruvian culture, mixing vibrant colors with natural tones and large picture windows offering the perfect vantage point of the ever-changing scenery as the train winds its way through the Andes.

The observation car with an outdoor terrace becomes the social hub of the train by night; a place for the train's up to 48 guests to enjoy a pisco sour and dance to live Latin music.

Culinary Heights

Peru's famous chef and culinary ambassador, Executive Chef Diego Muñoz, has been tapped to develop menus. His cuisine takes guests as they travel through the mountains on a simultaneous culinary journey of discovery of Peru’s abundant traditional natural ingredients: fresh fish from the Moquegua coast, trout from Lake Arapa (located in the Puno region), broad beans and lemons from Cusco, mushrooms, beets and corn from the Sacred Valley, Peruvian native potatoes, and quinoa from the Altiplano.

The culinary team transforms them into sensational mouthwatering dishes that carry Muñoz’s signature style, like Alpaca Tortellini, Banana and Pisco Tatin, Arequipean Paw Paw Mostarda and Lima Bean Cappuccino.  All enjoyed from the comfort of elegant dining carriages overlooking the region's spectacular scenery.

Exclusive Exploration

The train takes guests from Cusco to Arequipa via Lake Titicaca, on a two night/three day ‘Peruvian Highlands’ itinerary, priced fully inclusive of all meals, an open bar and scheduled excursions, including visits to the archaeological Inca site of Raqchi and the ancient Sumbay Caves.

Stepping off the train, experiences include a private tour of the floating islands on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable water in the world, and lunch on a private beach with views across to the glacial peaks of La Paz, Bolivia, truly one of the most exceptional locations on earth.

Train and Stay in Peru

In addition to the Belmond Andean Explorer, the company has also opened another hotel in Peru: Belmond Las Casitas, a 20-room property located in the Arequipa region of Southern Peru is set amongst the tranquil beauty of the Andes.

Blending effortlessly with the natural environment, and nestled amongst lush gardens, each individual casita features a private terrace with a heated plunge pool and sweeping views across the canyon. The Samay Spa, built around the energy of the canyon rock, offers treatments using natural ingredients from the hotel’s kitchen garden and hypnotic views of the surrounding canyon, inspiring deep relaxation. Belmond Las Casitas also offers one of the most unique guest experiences in the world – a chance to view the flight of the Andean condors in their natural environment.


Belmond Las Casitas and Belmond Andean Explorer further enhance Belmond’s luxury travel experiences in Peru, now with six hotels and two luxury trains: Belmond Miraflores Park, the stylish city hotel in the quiet neighborhood of the bustling city; Belmond Palacio Nazarenas and Belmond Hotel Monasterio in the heart of ancient Cusco; Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel at the entrance of the Citadel of Machu Picchu and Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado, a complete escape in the Sacred Valley. Plus, Belmond Hiram Bingham taking guests from Cusco to Machu Picchu with typical lively Peruvian hospitality.


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The Bicycle's Big Birthday

This month marks a big milestone for the bicycle. We've had two hundred years of two-wheeled travel. 

On June 12, 1817, German inventor Karl von Drais took a little ride on his new invention, the 'Laufsmaschine'. His first reported trip, from a castle courtyard in Mannheim to a coaching inn 5 miles away on Baden's best road, took a little over an hour – and changed travel forever.

Reproducing Karl von Drais' First Ride.  Image courtesy of City of Mannheim

Von Drais' 'Laufsmaschine' was heavy, awkward, had no pedals, and riders moved it with uncomfortable running/ skating motions of their feet. Laufsmaschine even means 'running machine'.

This does not look fun to ride.  (Photo credit)

Travel Game Changer

But it was the start of something that literally moved the world.  The patent that Drais filed in 1817 for the earliest form of the bicycle fulfilled the saying 'Necessity is the Mother of Invention'.  A volcanic eruption in Asia in 1815 had sent so much ash into the skies that the following year the sun in Europe was blocked, causing crops to fail, and widespread famine.  People were forced to slaughter their oxen and horses to feed their families, leaving them with no form of transportation. 

In this sad scenario, the earliest form of the bicycle was a game changer.  For the first time, humans were their own form of faster-than-walking propulsion. It was the first form of land transportation without using an animal, and set the stage for all future mechanized personal transportation. It not only increased the speed at which humans could travel on their own, it was even faster than available transportation!  Drais' first, 5-mile, one-hour trip in Mannheim was twice as fast as it would have taken a traditional horse-drawn coach.

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

Happily, Drais' invention evolved through the 19th century and the bicycle spread from Germany across Europe and overseas.  There were some bumps along the way – literally.  Terrible rutted dirt and cobbled roads sent early cyclists onto crowded sidewalks (a controversy that continues today), endangering pedestrians.  That resulted in bans of bicycles in its birthplace, Germany, as well as Great Britain, the US, and even cities in India!

Hard to imagine, when today, the bicycle has become such a fundamental part of the local culture and lifestyles of people around the world.  The bicycle is the answer to the need for inexpensive, effective transportation in some of the most fascinating, densely populated cities in Asia, where seas of bicycles have become the very image of local lifestyle. And Northern Europe's health and eco-friendly culture is symbolized by city bikes.

The Netherlands has more bicycles than people!  Photo: BestTrip.TV

More and more travelers are also choosing to experience destinations by bicycle.  The relaxed pace, off-the-beaten track, and health features of cycling journeys answer the call for active, authentic travel experiences.

Cycling tour of Peterborough & the Kawarthas, Canada. Photo: BestTrip.TV

And innovations like E-bikes and power-generating bicycles will keep Karl von Drais' invention moving us into the future.

Celebrating 200 Years of Bicycles

Mannheim and the region have a year-long calendar of activities commemorating the bicycle's birthday, with concerts, exhibitions, bicycle tours, shows and much more. Visit Mannheim's Technoseum for a special exhibition, "2 Wheels - 200 Years," which brings to life the technical development of the bicycle since Karl Drais, to the present cycling culture and the future role of the bicycle in cities.  (Top image courtesy Technoseum).

Courtesy City of Mannheim

Courtesy City of Mannheim

And get outdoors and bike! SouthWest Germany is a bicycle rider's paradise, with hundreds of bike routes that pass through beautiful landscapes, from vineyards to castles and the Black Forest to Lake Constance. The ADFC (German Bicycle Club) notes and rates cycling routes; don't miss the region's five-star "Liebliches Taubertal - der Klassiker".  The route is one of the oldest in Germany and travels by castles, monasteries and fortresses for 100 beautiful kilometers.

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MSC's 'Wonder' at Sea

There's a new Wonder at Sea.  The MSC Meraviglia.  If your language skills are rusty, that's Italian for 'wonder', and this European cruise line's new flagship is a wondrous destination at sea for five thousand guests. The MSC Meraviglia is the biggest ship to be built by a European ship owner, and also the biggest cruise ship to come into service in 2017.

The 13th addition to the MSC Cruises fleet brought wonder to the northern French port of Le Havre for her christening in a glittering event. Italian screen legend and fleet godmother Sophia Loren, accompanied by a parade of the ship's officers, cut the ceremonial ribbon in a time-honored crescendo of champagne and fireworks.

The MSC Meraviglia is the first of six new ships for MSC's between 2017 and 2020, a massive fleet expansion giving the cruise line the opportunity to introduce innovations in technology, design and experiences. 

Here are a few of the unique features on MSC Cruises’ newest flagship we love most:

Entertainment:

Cirque du Soleil's first cruise line partnership: Cirque du Soleil at Sea.   The world-renowned entertainment company has created two exclusive shows just for MSC Meraviglia.  With two performances six nights a week, guests can enjoy a unique show and dinner or cocktail & show experience.

Design:

The longest LED Sky Screen at Sea in the Meraviglia's Galleria: 262 feet of LED sky creates an awe-inspiring atmosphere in a stunning 315 foot long Mediterranean-style indoor promenade, designed to become the social hub of the ship.  It's a round-the-clock display of stunning visuals and effects.

Technology:

The MSC for Me suite of smart features that enhance your cruise: navigation and geo-located wayfinding, a digital concierge for on board, real-time bookings, planning schedules, and tailor-made recommendations to your preferences.

The Emotions immersive gallery is a tunnel of oversized video and photo walls. As you move through the tunnel, you're surrounded by cruise events and you can interact with the walls, searching for you and your loved ones amongst the imagery and experiences.

Family:

MSC shows its roots as a family-owned company in its commitment to kids’ activities and a dedicated family deck area. Furthermore, the technology that is a signature of the ship extends to its youngest guests too: Kids get to participate in MSC for Me, too, with wristbands that enable parents, crew and staff to locate and monitor their kids as they participate in their own programs and activities on the ship.

Luxury:

The cruise line's 'luxury ship within a ship' MSC Yacht Club formula appears on the Meraviglia too, with new features and premium accommodations spanning three decks, with private facilities, available amenities, and butler service round-the-clock.

Dining:

Widest range of dining options and bars on any MSC Cruises ship to-date with 12 dining venues and 20 bars: you'll be delighted to find an authentic American steakhouse, Teppanyaki and Sushi restaurants, and a continued partnership with Italian eatery Eataly.

Accommodations:

Configurations for every type of cruise traveller, including modular staterooms, accommodations for solo travelers and suites in the MSC Yacht Club.  The Meraviglia is designed for multi-generation family travel where everyone is comfortable and feels at home.
 

Following her christening, the MSC Meraviglia departed on her maiden voyage from Le Havre to Genoa, Italy. She spends the summer of 2017 sailing Mediterranean itineraries, including popular Western Mediterranean ports of call Genoa, Marseille, and Barcelona and as well as more unique ports like Naples, Messina in Sicily and Valetta in Malta.

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Sometimes we think that the best travel experiences can only be found in distant, exotic destinations. And they're waiting for you right in your back yard. 

Kieran Andrews of Wild Rock Outfitters leads cycling tours in some of the most famous and storied locations in the world.   But when BestTrip.TV's Ryan McElroy asked him about one of his favorite places to cycle, it was at home in Canada in Peterborough & the Kawarthas. 

In this BestTrip.TV video, Kieran takes Ryan in a two-day cycling journey across rolling hills and scenic vistas to waterfront in cottage country. Ryan gets an insider's introduction to local cycling community favorite trails, views and 'energy stops' (that is, fabulous restaurants!) as well as its network of passionate, connected cyclists.

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Grocery Delivery Program makes Hotels more like Home... or an Apartment Rental

Imagine a knock on your hotel door. Instead of a voice saying 'Room Service', you hear: 'Grocery Delivery'. Long stays at hotels just got better for families, business road warriors, and anyone who wants the health, comfort, choice, and even cost benefits of cooking in your hotel rather than relying entirely on restaurants or wasting time trying to find a grocery store in an unfamiliar city.

According to research done by Hawthorn Suites, Wyndham Hotels' extended stay hotels, 2/3rds of us want to cook in hotel rooms.  If you're a Millennial, that rises to nearly 90 percent who think it would make hotels feel more like home. 

Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham, Rome, GA

So they've partnered with Instacart, a retail delivery service, and Peapod, the leading online grocer in the U.S., to launch a program delivering groceries straight to you in your hotel through a few easy clicks online or on your mobile. Through the hotel's Homemade@Hawthorn site, you can get someone else to pick up your staple breakfast items, your child's must-have snacks, the energy foods you need to stay up late working on the updates for tomorrow's presentation, the ingredients to cook a meal you know your whole family will eat, that vegan dinner for all your friends, or to stay on your own healthy regimen when you're away from home at one of their long stay hotels.

The handy service – currently piloting at eight Hawthorn Suites hotels in the Chicago, Philadelphia, Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C.; Hartford, Conn.; and Orlando areas – is the brand's newest offering developed to help long-term guests maintain their routines and feel at home away from home.

Grocery delivery is the next and natural step of an in-suite culinary program that started with curated, chef-selected featured recipes on the Homemade@Hawthorn site. It was designed for hotel living, serving up seasonal, home-cooked recipes from award-winning chefs that can be easily prepared in a fully equipped in-suite kitchen.

Acclaimed culinary minds Chef Hari Nayak – a New York-based chef, restaurateur, author and culinary consultant – and Chef James Rigato – former Top Chef competitor and owner of the award-winning The Root Restaurant & Bar and Mabel Gray in Michigan – were tapped to create a new, summer season of exclusive, easy-to-make recipes designed for hotel living.

Each home-cooked dish – like a decadent pub cheese and ham sandwich, colorful summer pasta with vegetables, and a refreshing watermelon salad – was designed to be easily prepared in 30 minutes or less. And although you may be inspired by the recipes on the website for your travels, they will taste just as good when you also make them at home!

This innovation could tip the scales in favor of hotels over 'sharing economy' apartment rentals that come with fewer amenities and more hassles. Grocery delivery gives travelers access to fresh, familiar, healthier and cost effective food you can prepare yourself in an environment that includes the safety, amenities, locations and conveniences of a hotel.

We think this is a winning travel recipe for long term business travelers, groups of friends and families planning extended stays during the summer holidays or throughout the year.

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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.

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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.

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.

 

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.

Get your (Science) Geek on in Switzerland

If you, or someone in your family, has an inner science nerd, Switzerland is where you can feed your appetite for exploring the mysteries of the universe (as well as your appetite for chocolate and cheese  - but you already knew that!)

Did the song 'Rocket Man' immediately jump into your head?  There may be no better sound track to a story about science destinations, so here's a link to Elton John's classic so you can play it while you read on about the best ways to tap into your own inner geek in Switzerland.

CERN

Professional scientists, enthusiasts, and even your favorite TV comedy physicists all have Switzerland's CERN (pronounced 'Surn') on their travel bucket lists.  CERN is the world's largest physics laboratory.   The site straddles Switzerland and France outside of Geneva. Thousands of scientists from member European countries work together at CERN on questions of matter, anti-matter, the particles that make up all things in the universe, and the forces that link them.

It's best known for the Large Hadron Collider, a ring 27 kilometres around and 100 metres under the earth's surface.  The LHC accelerates particles into extremely high energies, making them smash into each other.  Scientists use very precise instruments to collect information about what happens during those collisions. 

Visitors can discover the mysteries of the Universe and the work of the world's biggest physics laboratory as a group, with friends, individually, on foot, on your bike, or virtually. CERN's 2 permanent exhibitions are free to visit.

(Above photos courtesy CERN)

CERN's gigantic Globe of Science and Innovation is a symbol of the Earth, and, at 27 metres high and 40 metres in diameter, bigger than the dome of St. Peter's in Rome!  Inside, the 'Universe of Particles' exhibit takes you on a journey of the building blocks of the entire Universe, where those particles come from, how they behave, and the questions of modern physics that scientists are exploring at CERN.  The 'Microcosm' exhibit allows you to discover the wonders of CERN's monumental experiments using the Large Hadron Collider, and meet the people who built and operate it.

(photo credit)

The Sphinx Observatory

From underground to 'The Top of Europe'.  Jungfraujoch is a UNESCO World Heritage Site: a glacier 'saddle' at the top of Europe's largest glacier, connecting two four-thousand meter peaks.

Take the historic Jungfrau railway from Interlaken to Grindelwald, a scenic glacier village that is one of Switzerland's oldest and most popular resort areas at the base of snow-capped mountains.  The view gets even more breathtaking from there to Europe's highest train station at Jungfraujoch.

(Photo credit)

Don't settle for the  spectacular views here.  Do what scientists do and aim higher.  The Sphinx Observatory dates from the early 1900's and is named after the 'Sphinx' peak of a breathtakingly steep ridge where it's perched at a height of 3572 metres (11, 719 feet). The Sphinx Observatory is the highest construction on the continent.  Amazingly, there's an elevator tunneled into that rocky mountain peak connecting the Jungfraujoch railway station to the observatory.  The observatory serves researchers in fields as diverse as glaciology, medicine, cosmic physics and astronomy, with multiple laboratories, weather observation station, a enormous telescope and even electricity, water, phone and internet! 

Check your vertigo at the door and inhale pure mountain air, as well as unmatched views of the Alps, the glacier, the scenery over 11,000 feet below, and sometimes, all the way to Italy and Germany.

Stay in a 'Space Suite' in Zurich

Zurich's Kameha Grand Zurich boutique hotel is in up and coming Glattpark.  The growing neighborhood is a new business center in Switzerland's global city of banking and finance, so business travelers who value lifestyle have a place near their meetings with solid design credentials.  And its proximity to the Zurich airport makes it perfect for a stay on leisure travelers' way into or out of a wider tour of the country.

The hotel's design creativity extends to themed suites.  If you were the little kid who wanted to grow up to be an astronaut, or you're traveling with that little kid, the Kameha Grand Zurich's space suite is the hotel equivalent of sleeping in your favorite space hero pajamas.   The little kid will love the treat.  The little kid inside you will grin at the tongue in cheek design.  It leans on 'space age' without being kitsch.  

Designed by artist Michael Najjar, the Space Suite transports you to the stars with silver, black and moonscape textures, a gravity-defying, sleek. floating bed, pictures of galaxies, hovering astronauts and models of rockets, together with curated selections of literature, music and films about space travel, as well as original works by the artist.   The perfect place for your inner 'Rocket Man' to recharge.

 

 

What is a Music City? Tips for the Best Music Travel Experience

The term ‘Music City’ once meant Nashville, Tennessee. Now, it's so much more than the cradle of country music.  'Music City' is a new worldwide movement of destinations with vibrant – and dedicated - music scenes. 

Dozens of cities globally are getting serious about and collaborating to ensure their music scenes thrive for their residents and visitors using Music City guidelines; and a roadmap has been published to guide local leaders and artists in pursuit of a Music City.

Our friend Amy Terrill, Executive Vice-President of Music Canada, shares her tips to discovering Music Cities when you travel.

The Sydney Opera House, Australia. Photo Credit

If you're a music lover, you know you can find music almost anywhere you go.

Music festivals draw visitors who travel thousands of miles to attend; cruises are themed around music; wineries incorporate it; cities build identities around music.  Who doesn't think of the Beatles when you think of Liverpool? The Fab Four is one of the top reasons people say they visit the city, and in 2013, travelers spent £3.64bn there.  Spizget festival in Budapest, Hungary, attracts almost half a million fans from more than 100 countries.  A Florida company charters cruise lines for music-themed experiences like The Groove Cruise and Shiprocked.

Maybe you travel to marquee events based on artist lineups and unique experiences, to experience iconic spaces like Graceland in Memphis, the Red Rocks natural stone amphitheatre in Colorado, the symbol of the Sydney skyline, the Sydney Opera House, or to make sure you don't miss major events on an artist’s tour schedule.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Colorado. Credit

But Music Cities allow you to immerse yourself in experiences anytime you visit, 365 days a year.  Great Music Cities have: 

  • A critical mass of active artists and musicians;
  • a strong music ecosystem of all the professionals and businesses who support artists in their careers;
  • spaces and places needed for creation, rehearsal, education and performance;
  • a great live music scene with a variety of venues, ranging in sizes to accommodate artists at all stages of their careers;
  • and an appreciative core audience that shows up to live music events large and small.

The Hitsville U.S.A. Motown building, Detroit, MI. Motown's headquarters from 1959 to 1968. Photo Credit

In addition, some Music Cities are blessed with deep historical roots – and ideally if they’ve got remarkable music history, they protect it and promote it as an active music experience to locals and visiting music lovers. (Think of the Opera House in Vienna, original jazz venues in New Orleans, the east-coast music hub of George Street in St.John's, Newfoundland, or Motown's roots in Detroit.)

Are you traveling to one of the world’s Music Cities soon?  Here are some tips about how to experience the best the local music scene has to offer:

Jackson-Triggs Winery Amphitheatre, Niagara, ON

  1. Seek out unusual spaces where live music is performed, not just the advance ticketed events.Look at local wineries, micro-breweries, restaurants, museums, even bowling alleys. Local record stores can be a great way to learn about this type of under the radar gigs.
  2. See what local tastemakers are saying about live events in the city when you are there.Look at local media publications, blogs and portals.  Go where the locals go.  This can be a great way to discover an artist that you wouldn't find in an ordinary 'search' on your computer.
  3. Take the time to sample an artist's music online if you’re unsure of the genre. Listening to local artists as you explore a new city can add a soundtrack to your travel memories.
  4. Take risks – that’s how you’ll find a gem of a musician, band or music experience that you never otherwise would have discovered.
  5. Read up on the music history before you go and look for walking tours or historical society installations.Calgary's new Studio Bell, home of the  National Music Centre includes an unparalleled collection of working music artifacts and instruments, educational elements, and performance spaces as well.

Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, Calgary.  (Photo used with permission from Calgary Municipal Land Corporation)

Top image: Inside the Made in Canada stage. Photo: Leblond Studio Inc

Music Cities, small and large, obvious and hidden, dot the globe.  Chances are, the city you’re next visiting offers some unforgettable musical experiences.  Venture out of the ordinary and you will build more amazing memories with an experiential sound-track of your travels.

Where's the Largest National Monument in the U.S.?

It's one of the biggest protected areas on Earth.  Two times the size of Texas. And you could fit the entire country of France inside more than twice. It's larger than all the US National Parks combined, encompassing 582,578 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

Hawaii's Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is a double dose of global riches: a mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site designated in 2010 for both its natural and cultural significance. It is the first mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site in the United States.

Efforts to preserve the natural and cultural treasures in the remote region northwest of Hawaii have grown incrementally for over a century.  In the early 1900's, conservationist President Theodore Roosevelt sent the Marines to the Midway Atoll to stop the wholesale slaughter of seabirds for eggs and feathers.  Since then, state and national authorities, including several presidents since Roosevelt, have stepped up, increasing the size of the monument and its protections.  In 2016, the official reserve size was quadrupled to its present record-breaking size when its border was expanded to include the exclusive economic zone that had been surrounding the marine monument.

Red Pencil Urchin.  Credit

Natural Heritage

The marine monument includes both land and sea areas.  7000 marine species call Papahānaumokuākea home, and a quarter of these are found only in this region. Extensive coral reefs – which monument experts call 'rainforests of the sea' – as well as islands, deepwater, and shallow water environments are vital – and now that fishing is banned – protected habitats. 

Boobies. Image credit.

The marine monument provides a sanctuary for rare and threatened species like blue whales, green sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, 14 million seabirds representing 22 species including local Laysan finches, Laysan ducks and Laysan albatross, Pritchardia palms, and crustaceans like the spiny lobster.

Cultural Heritage

Remote Papahānaumokuākea has deep significance for living Native Hawaiian culture.  The Hawaiian concept of kinship between people and nature, of life's origins and the return of spirits to the earth after death, is memorialized in the ancestral environments of the protected area. Two of the islands contain significant archaeological remains. One, the island of Mokumanamana, has the highest density of sacred sites in Hawaii, and has spiritual significance in Hawaiian cosmology. (Top image: Mokumanamana. Credit)

Midway Memorial. Image Credit

Later cultural significance now memorialized in Papahānaumokuākea include the history-changing World War Two Battle of Midway, and its earlier position in 19th century commercial whaling industry.

Visiting Papahānaumokuākea

Public access to the distant and restricted marine monument is limited.  All vessels must report entering and leaving the monument.  Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial are only open for visitation if staffing permits. 

You can check on visitation status at www.fws.gov/refuge/Midway_Atoll/.

Try these experiences on your next trip to the main Hawaiin islands to appreciate America's biggest National Monument:

Kaʻena Point
This State Park on the North Shore of Oahu shares similar ecosystem, plant and animal features as Papahānaumokuākea.  It's used as an accessible-to-the-average-visitor interpretive site for the Monument.

Visit:
www.friendsofkaena.org
www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/oahu/index.cfm?park_id=19

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

Interpretive signs provide visitors with information about the geology, ecology and cultural history of Papahānaumokuākea and the origins of the entire Hawaiian archipelago in the context of the same hot spot that continues to produce new land at Kilauea volcano.

Visit: www.nps.gov/havo.

Spinner Dolphins. Credit

Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
This is one of the best places on the main Hawaiian Islands to view wildlife. Visitors have the opportunity to see some of the largest populations of nesting seabirds, spinner dolphins, Hawaiian monk seals, and Hawaii's state bird, the endangered Hawaiian goose.

Visit http://www.fws.gov/kilaueapoint/.

 

Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee... Ahhh

If you were asked to name the top coffees of the world, would Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee be on your list? It should be.

When he brought a few Arabica coffee plants to the island in the early 1700's, it's unlikely that Jamaica's British Governor Sir Nicholas Lawes realized the phenomenon he was starting. The plants, which had been sent originally to Martinique by King Louis XV of France, would in time become a claim to fame for Jamaica. By the early 1800's the beverage they produced had already gained a reputation as one of the world's most coveted gourmet coffees.

Fast-forward to today, and Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee is one of the country's signature, premium, globally-known products. 

What is Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee?

Your morning cup of joe is likely a blend of commodity-grade beans from multiple sources.  When you drink Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, it's not a blend.  It's pure, estate/single origin coffee. 

And like wine, 'terroir' counts.  So does hard work.

In eastern Jamaica, the Blue Mountains rise high into cool, misty air, peaking at 7,402 feet.  Above 5,500 feet, it's Forest Reserve. In a specified zone, from 3,000 feet up to the Forest Reserve, authentic Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee thrives.

The altitude, the reduced sunlight due to forest cover, the cool air, the clouds, the rain, and volcanic soil all combine to make a dense bean that takes almost twice as long as many other regions' beans to mature.  They're hand-picked on steep slopes only at perfect ripeness, requiring pickers to return to the same plants to harvest again and again. Terroir plus high-touch production translates into a smooth, silky, complex, full-bodied, balanced, bright coffee with virtually no bitterness.

The Jamaican government protects the appellation globally, monitoring the growing region, bean quality, single-origin composition and taste before certifying authentic Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee.

Where can you taste real BMC?

Of course you should try Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee at the source.  We recommend traveling into Jamaica's coffee producing areas, where, like wineries, coffee producing houses offer tours and tastings to the public. 

Take some home! Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee makes an excellent souvenir, allowing you to continue to savor your trip to Jamaica long after your tan has faded. (And don't forget gifts for your friends, family, house sitter… bags of BMC will make you everyone's favorite person.)

Rumor has it Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee is the preferred java at Buckingham Palace and even the White House, so if you get invited for coffee at either of those famous homes, you can confirm if it's true.

Or you can buy it online from accredited authentic sellers.

Special mention:  BMC is used to make the liqueur Tia Maria, so, morning, noon, and nighttime, your day can be brightened by a taste of Jamaica's famous Blue Mountains.

 

8 Facts About the Panama Canal

Panama's beaches are drawing more and more resort travelers, and itineraries that take cruise passengers through the Panama Canal are growing in popularity. But how much do you know about this Man-Made Wonder of the World?

1. It's a short cut for ships between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The Panama Canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama in a narrow land bridge between North and South America. Prior, ships had to sail around the tip of South America.  It takes about 8 hours to cross the Canal's 50 miles (77km). That saves days. If a ship had to navigate down and around Cape Horn at the tip of South America and back up the other side, it would have to travel nearly 12,500 miles (20,000 km).

2. It's over 100 years old.

2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal.   Columbia, France, then later, the United States controlled the land surrounding the canal.  In 1999, control passed back to Panama.  In 1881, the French started building the canal, but progress halted due to engineering problems and high worker mortality.  The US took it over in 1904 and completed the project with newly available technology ten years later at a cost of $400 million USD.

3. It also cost over 25,000 lives.

At times, more than 43,000 people were working on the Panama Canal.  Workers had to deal with heat, jungles, swamps - and all the creatures in them, including rats that carried bubonic plague.  Plus mosquito-borne diseases like yellow fever and malaria. Over 20,000 workers died during French building efforts. After the scientific links between the insects and disease had been discovered, Americans undertook intensive anti-mosquito initiatives.  Even so, another more than 5000 workers perished during the American building phase.

4. It's considered one of the Man-Made Wonders of the World

The American Society of Civil Engineers has also dubbed the Panama Canal one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World. It's one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken.

A system of locks at each end of the Canal lifts ships up 85 feet  (26 meters) above sea level to an artificial lake. Ships traverse the artificial lake, as well as a series of improved and artificial channels, and then are lowered again in more locks to sea level at the other side. 

The locks are 110 feet (33 meters) feet wide and 1000 feet (300 meters) long. About 30-MILLION pounds (1,400,000 kilos) of explosives were used to help clear the land for the canal.

5. Over 1 Million vessels have crossed the canal since it opened.

In 1914, the year it opened, about 1000 ships used the canal. Today, nearly 15,000 ships transit the Isthmus of Panama through the Canal annually. The 1 Millionth ship crossed the canal in 2010, 96 years after it opened.

In 1934 it was estimated that the maximum traffic of the canal would be around 80 million tons of shipping a year, but by 2015, canal traffic exceeded 340 million tons of shipping – over 4 times the original maximum estimate.

6. $2 Billion in tolls are collected annually

Every ship that passes through the canal pays a toll based on its size, type and volume of cargo. Tolls are set by the Panama Canal Authority. Tolls for the largest cargo ships can run about $450,000. Cruise ships pay by berths (number of passengers in beds).  The per-berth fee set in 2016 was $138; a large cruise ship can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to sail through the Canal. 

The smallest toll recorded was paid by American Richard Halliburton in 1928, who paid 36 cents to swim the Canal.

7. The Panama Canal was expanded for bigger ships in 2016

The original canal locks are 110 feet (33 meters) wide and ten times as long. For a century, they accommodated shipping, and the term 'Panamax' ships was used to describe ships built to fit through the canal.  But ships kept getting bigger, and in 2007, work began on a multi-billion dollar expansion of the Canal.  In 2016, a third, wider lane of locks opened for commercial shipping, capable of handling 'Post-Panamax' ships that can carry 14,000 20-foot shipping containers (nearly 3 times Panamax ship capacity).

In spite of that giant leap forward in 2016, the world's largest container ships - that can carry 18,000 shipping containers – can't pass through the Panama Canal.

8. Tourists can visit the Panama Canal by land or water. 

There are 2 options.  Cruise lines offer actual Panama Canal itineraries that sail through the canal in the approximately 8 hour passage to their next destination in the opposite ocean.  But you don't have to sail through the canal.  Whether you're in Panama City, or on a resort / beach vacation in Panama, you can take a land trip to see the canal in action. 

The Miraflores Visitor Center is on the east side of the Miraflores Locks, which are close to the Pacific end of the Canal. Like the canal, the Visitor Center is open daily.  The Visitor Center has large balconies designed for you to get a great view as the lock gates are opened and closed for ships to start or complete their journey through the Panama Canal. 

Engineering buffs and even children will be thrilled at the up-close-to-the-action perspective on this man-made Wonder of the World. 

(Photo credit)

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Top 5 Souvenirs from Newfoundland, Canada

The immense iceberg that's been parked in 'Iceberg Alley' on the coast of Canada's rugged Newfoundland and Labrador has reminded a lot of people it's time to book that trip to North America's eastern-most coast.  

You can only take a picture of an iceberg, but here are 5 unique, interesting souvenirs you can take home that you'll actually use, or give as gifts - and support local artisans and businesses. 

We've given you tips about each one, plus a high/low rating to help you decide where to save or splurge.

Labradorite is magical: moody, blue / grey / green with striations and life, with the appearance that light is playing inside the semi-precious stone - it's easy to see why it's said to be an incarnation of the Northern Lights. Labrador is the mainland part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It was there Europeans first saw and named the stone in the 18th century, although labradorite was part of Inuit lore long before.

(Photos: BestTrip.TV)

Tip: movement of the piece is the key to the mythical play of color in labradorite, so choose jewelry to get the most motion and bring out its best.

High /Low: Pieces set in silver start at around $50, and depending on the setting and the artist, can be worth many times that.

'Trigger Finger' Mittens:  Hunting is a way of life in Newfoundland; just about everyone we met, including 'Townies' (people who live in 'town') fishes, AND hunts. With so much time spent outdoors in any weather, trust some clever Newfoundland knitter to come up with 'Trigger Finger Mittens'. So you don't have to take off your mitts to get the job done. Handy even for people who don't use firearms, too.  Who wants to take off a mitten to use your index finger in cold weather?

Tip: We found lots of big mittens, but searched high and low for trigger finger mittens that would fit women's hands.  A friendly local recommended someone who made them who could supply them in women's and children's sizes.

High/ Low: in the range of $15-20 per pair.

Savoury: Yes, the herb.  No one I spoke to seems to know how savoury became so indispensable to Newfoundland cooking, but it's a staple seasoning.

Savoury is found in bread at restaurants, on iconic Newfoundland cod, and especially, as the key ingredient in dressing (aka 'stuffing'). In Newfoundland, 'dressing' is an everyday food, not just for Thanksgiving.  You'll find it on menus as a side to upscale cuisine and even fish and chips.  It's usually served along with gravy, and called 'D + G'.

Tip: Use Newfoundland savoury in easy-to-bake biscuits. And definitely in dressing! A wonderful gift for a foodie friend.

High/Low: under $10.

Sea Salt: One producer of sea salt in Newfoundland said it best: why should an island surrounded by the briny sea have to import salt?

There are now a couple of businesses in the province who extract salt from the icy North Atlantic waters, and for any traveling foodie, a local sea salt is a treasure.

Tip: use on lightly flavoured items like eggs or fish, where the salt's unique characteristics can stand out.

High/Low: low, perfect for a foodie's stocking stuffer, maybe along with a bottle of Newfoundland savoury.

Newfoundland Music: Perhaps the greatest export from Newfoundland, and contribution to Canadian culture, is its music.

It seems every Newfoundlander you meet is a talented musician, and even casual parties feature live music and singalongs. While you're in Newfoundland, don't miss it: from festivals to kitchen parties to every bar on famous pub-lined George Street, live music is part of the Newfoundland experience. Don't forget to take some one-of-a-kind music home!

Tip: Fred's Record Store on Duckworth Street in St.John's has been selling and supporting Newfoundland artists for nearly 50 years. If you've forgotten what a record store feels like, don't miss it! Fred's also has free live music at times, so drop in and enjoy!

High/Low: Low, $15-25, and what's easier to pack than a few CD's?

Special Places to Shop in Newfoundland:

Duckworth Street, St. John's

Although there are many places to buy Newfoundland souvenirs, Duckworth Street in St.John's is a sure thing. Running parallel and close to the waterfront, Duckworth street is in the heart of downtown. It's not only lined with shops, the streets running up the hill are charming examples of Jellybean Row, the brightly colored 'saltbox' houses that are iconic images of the city.

Quidi Vidi

This impossibly picturesque fishing village just outside St.John's (pictured top) is well worth a visit - for the scenery, its craft brewery, Mallard Cottage which one of the top rated restaurants in Canada, AND the Quidi Vidi Village Plantation. This dockside building houses artisan workshops, where you can meet the artisans, learn about their crafts, and buy souvenirs of your trip to Newfoundland.

- Lynn Elmhirst, BestTrip.TV

We Need This: Recharge App Lets you Book Hotels By the Minute

No, not for that. Well, sure, maybe for that.  If you and your sweetheart get inspired for some spontaneous romance, there's a new app that let's you be that much more spontaneous.

This is not the business of the world's oldest profession booking shady hotel rooms by the hour. 

The Recharge app gives you billed-by-the-MINUTE access to a luxury hotel room.  You pay for your room for exactly as long as you need it, and not one minute more. Tested originally in San Francisco, and now expanded to New York, where any luxury hotel room easily rings in at $500 a night, Recharge can make many travelers' experiences better. In New York, Recharge's by-the-minute prices range from $0.83 to $2 a minute.

Whether your goal is to relax or be productive, we (and the app's developers, who worked with JetBlue's tech incubator) think this will change your travel life.

Wardrobe malfunction?  No more stress of struggling to get that stain out of your shirt or deal with a burst diaper in a random coffee shop bathroom.  15 minutes in a private, spacious bathroom with a sink and facecloth and a hand-held hair dryer rings in from $12.45 – $30.

Need a power nap? 20 minutes of a bed better than the one you have at home and silence will cost you between $16.60 and 40 bucks.

Foot sore and weary from pounding the pavement / museum galleries, and no time to go all the way back to your hotel at the other end of town?   60 minutes to deal with those blisters, put your feet up, make a cup of coffee, even take a quick shower for $49.80 to $120 seems worth it.

Two and a half hours in silence to catch up on mission-critical email or update your presentation using reliable WiFi – or put over-stimulated (that is: cranky) kids down for a nap/ quiet time so the whole family gets to truly enjoy the rest of the day – or reset after a red-eye and before your day officially starts?  As they say, priceless.

Once you start thinking about it, you realize you don't know how you ever traveled without an app like this. Nursing moms. A quick change from day to evening business meetings. Who doesn't need on-demand, affordable access to a luxury hotel refuge to make your trip better?

There are other web-based hotel day-use options, but they tend to give you designated morning or afternoon time-slots. This is more like a parking meter app.  You can start any time you pull in, and only pay for as long as you're in that space.

Photos: Recharge

The app will locate the hotel closest to you, and you hit 'book now'.  Your actual billing starts 30 minutes later or once you pick up your key, whichever comes first, then ends when you hit 'check out'.   That minute.  If it's 49 minutes later, you're billed 49 minutes, not an hour.  You don't have to feed or worry about the meter.

At the moment only available in San Francisco and now New York.  But we're looking forward to 'Recharge'ing globally in the future.

Mind, Body, Soul: Wellness on Shore Paired with Spa on Board Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Does the idea of returning from vacation healthier, more centered, spiritually uplifted than when you left appeal to you?   Regent Seven Seas Cruises and its shipboard spa partner Canyon Ranch SpaClub have introduced Seven Seas Wellness, a new collection of wellness-themed shore excursions paired with on-board spa and wellness experiences.

The initiative, that integrates ship and shore, is all about providing guests with one-stop-shop holistic well-being programming for their holidays.   It debuts this summer on sailings of the Regent Seven Seas Voyager in the Mediterranean, a region whose healthy lifestyle sets a global benchmark.

(Tour the Canyon Ranch SpaClub on Regent Seven Seas Explorer in the video above).

Guests who choose a Seven Seas Wellness experience first choose a wellness-themed excursion from a collection of more than 10 options in some of the most exciting Mediterranean destinations.

Seven Seas Wellness Shore Excursions Include:

Marseille, Old Port. Photos: BestTrip.TV

Tai Chi

 

  • Provence (Marseille), France – De-stress and unwind with the ancient Chinese martial arts in a 19th century palace on Tai Chi in the Imperial Garden.
  • Palma De Mallorca, Spain – Enjoy fresh sea air and breathtaking scenery as guests center their chi from either the Illuetta Bay or Can Antoni Pere Beach on Mallorca Meditation in Motion.

 

Yoga

  • Corfu, Greece – Experience Corfiot filoxenia, a concept not adequately defined by the word “hospitality,” and learn about local culture, before practicing yoga and deep meditation in one of Greece’s most beautiful estates on The Generosity of Spirit.
  • Monte Carlo, Monaco – Guests will calm the mind, increase focus, strength, and stamina, in the fast-paced, dance-like style of yoga that synchronizes breathing, while enjoying  the spectacular Mediterranean panorama on Vinyasa Yoga on Monte Carlo.
  • Taormina, Sicily – Guests take in the dramatic and contrasting coastlines, cliffs, and Mount Etna, as they practice poses from a high perch overlooking the charming seaside town on Taormina Terrace Yoga.

Hydrothermal Therapy

  • Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy – Soak in the restorative mineral-rich, thermal springs, which has been visited by Popes and Kings throughout its thousand-year-old history on Thermal Baths of Popes.
  • Sorrento, Italy – Enjoy a sprawling spa complex built on the site of an ancient Roman prototype, consisting of warm and cold thermal springs with rock grottos, mineral baths, pools and genuine Roman sauna rooms on Roman Baths and the Burning Fields.

Aromatherapy

  • Venice, Italy – Visit the exhibition at the palace-turned-museum, where one room recreates a 16th century perfumer’s laboratory and guests can learn how to create their own perfume to take home on Venetian Scents at Palazzo Mocenigo.
  • Amalfi/Positano, Italy– Be inspired and invigorated by the island’s calming presence, inherent spirit, and many natural gifts on a highlights tour, before visiting Carthusia, the famous and exclusive perfume laboratory on this full-day Capri for all Senses.

Walking and Laughing

  • Palma De Mallorca, Spain – Enjoy the benefits of lower-impact, body-toning Nordic walk up the hill to the 14th century Bellver Castle on Nordic Morning Walk.
  • Palamos, Spain – Unlock the many health benefits of this atypical Laughter Therapy session, where guests giggle and laugh for a full-scale workout to release stress-busting endorphins on the Wellness of Laughter.

 

Then, to complete the distinctive, body and soul-enriching experience, you select one of 5 curated Canyon Ranch Spa services on the ship to pair with your shore wellness experience.  

Shipboard Spa Experiences Pairing Menu Includes:

  • World of Relief Body Buff
  • Tangle Me Up Wrap
  • Ocean Scrub
  • Sole Rejuvenation
  • Vitamin Infusion Facial

So you're able to create your own invigorating, and customized, transformative wellness program in the practices that appeal to you most.

Furthermore, you'll be able to enjoy a robust menu of Canyon Ranch SpaClub and Fitness Center activities like

  • Reiki,
  • acupuncture,
  • fitness classes,
  • personal training,
  • educational presentations and workshops and more. 

Plus eat right at a new healthy breakfast bar at the Pool Grill and Canyon Ranch Balanced dinner selections appetizers, mains, and desserts with full flavor, full nutrition, and satisfying portions for maximum health and energy. 

For more and more people, pursuit of well-being is an essential part of a life well-lived, even, or especially, when we take time off to travel.  From eating right and exercising to practicing ways to reduce stress and experience moments that uplift the spirit, wellness is quickly becoming the ultimate luxury.

We know guests are going to love making this innovative Seven Seas Wellness program part of their fulfilling journeys.  

This might be our favorite way to break the ice at the beginning of a cruise.  And it's a long-standing tradition at Regent Seven Seas Cruises. 

When BestTrip.TV sailed on the Regent Seven Seas Explorer, not long after our cruise began, the ship's bell rang out, with the Cruise Director announcing the start of the ship-wide 'Block Party'. 

We love it!  No receiving lines, and a great way to meet the neighbors. The fun and informality are fitting on a cruise line that calls itself the most inclusive cruise line, where the atmosphere is like being member of a relaxed, luxurious country club.  Welcome Aboard!