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40 New Ways to Score Marriott Rewards in 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pack your bags now for:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's a lot of fun – even for Shaq.

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7 Reasons to Go To Sea on the New MSC Seaside

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

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

1. Her standout silhouette.  

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

2. The waterfront boardwalk. 

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

3. All that Glass.  

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

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

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

4. Entertainment in the Atrium.

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

5. Adrenalin Rushes.

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

6. Family Time.  

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

7. The Luxury Ship within a Ship. 

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

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

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

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

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

Start your Trip!

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start your Trip!

 

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Maybe you've had the fun of a zip line adventure before.  But have you ever taken a zip line over the ocean? 

When Norwegian developed Harvest Caye, its private island beach resort port of call for cruises in the Norwegian family: Norwegian Cruise Lines, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Oceania, it took the concept of a zip line adventure to another level (pardon the pun.)

Standing tall on the island is the 'Flighthouse'.  A tower that looks, no surprise, like a lighthouse.  It's the focal point of the island's air-borne adventures.  Guests depart from the Flighthouse onto ropes courses over the beach and lagoon, and this is where you can take flight on a zip line that sets you sailing over the crescent-shaped beach, then right over the water to a safe landing back on shore.  It was a highlight of our BestTrip.TV visit to the island, and we're sure it will be yours, too.

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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.

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If You Haven't Visited Uluru Yet...

This UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the most recognizable natural landmark symbol of Australia, has banned visitors from climbing.

Uluru/Ayers Rock rises nearly 350 meters (1142 feet) high above the hot, dry, desert in the center of Australia. This monolith is almost 10 km (6 miles) around.  And it isn't just a miracle of survival of the erosion of the rest of the landscape around it. At different times of the year and in the light of dawn and sunset, its sandstone also appears to magically glow red. (Top photo credit)

Cultural and Spiritual Significance

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No wonder it is a place of cultural and spiritual significance for the local Aṉangu people, the traditional local inhabitants. The area also has springs, waterholes, and rock caves with ancestral petroglyphs and paintings.  Members of the aboriginal community lead walking tours to introduce visitors to the local plants and wildlife unique to the area, aboriginal cultural traditions, and their Dreamtime spiritual stories.

But they don't lead treks up the steep slopes to the top.

10,000 Years of Human History

Archaeologists have determined humans inhabited the area more than 10,000 years ago. Europeans arrived in the late 19th century, and tourism to the site began in the first half of the 20th century.  Since the site was given UNESCO World Heritage designation, even more people  - half a million visitors a year - have made the journey to this spectacular site at the heart of Australia.

As interest and visits rose, the challenge to balance conservation, respect for Uluru's spiritual significance, and visitor experience grew.

To Climb or Not to Climb?

The local aboriginal people do not climb the sacred Uluru rock themselves to avoid violating sacred Dreamtime ground.  And they have long requested visitors follow their lead.

Photo Credit

Nonetheless, about a third of visitors to Uluru/ Ayers Rock make the hour-long, steep, 800 m (half-mile) climb to the sometimes dangerously windy summit.  In recent years, unfortunate videos have even popped up of truly disrespectful behavior by tourists at the top.

Those incidents have added to pressure to ban climbing Uluru.  First, Ayers Rock was re-named using its aboriginal designation.  Then, in 1985, ownership of Uluru was returned to the local aboriginal people, who now share decision-making on the management of the National Park where Uluru resides.

New Rules at Uluru

In November 2017, the park board voted unanimously to prohibit climbing Uluru. The new rules take effect in October 2019, coinciding with the 34th anniversary of the return of the site to its aboriginal owners.

If you visit Australia, there are still many ways to experience the awe-inspiring site of Uluru other than climbing.  Since 2009, there have been special viewing areas whose design and construction were supervised by the aboriginal community.  They provide visitors road access, walking trails and views from angles at both sunrise and sunset.

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Remai Modern: A New Player on North America's Modern Art Scene

October 2017 saw the birth of a new destination for modern art lovers.  The nearly $100 million Remai Modern art museum at River Landing in Saskatoon is an ambitious project that puts this Saskatchewan city on the map for culture fans.

And maybe it's OK to be ambitious when your collection includes 8000 works of  'the art of our time', including the world's largest collection of Picasso linocuts, and 23 of that iconic and most recognizable modern artist's ceramic works.

Saskatoon entrepreneur and philanthropist Ellen Remai, for whom the museum is named, donated her collection of 400 Picasso linocuts – valued at $20 million – as well as $16 million towards construction. She was joined by another Saskatchewan-born philanthropist and collector Frederick Mulder, who donated the Picasso ceramics.  Most of the rest of the collection was entrusted to the new museum by the city's former Mendel Art Gallery.

Remai and the Frank and Ellen Remai Foundation made additional donations, now totaling over a hundred million dollars, one of the largest donations to the arts in Canadian history.  The donations will ensure 30 years of funding for international exhibitions, plus a million dollars annually for a quarter of a century towards acquisitions, as well as dedicated funds to match other donations up to another million dollars annually.

(Photos by Adrien Williams)

There's no doubt the Remai Modern reshapes this Canadian Prairie city.  The striking building cantilevered at the river side likely gives you a sense of déjà vu.  That might be because it pays homage to the 20th century's most iconic modern North American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, and his masterpiece Fallingwater.

Its 130,000 square feet on four levels is a treasure worthy of the art and the community, with a balcony overlooking the river, a show-stopping interior staircase, magnificent galleries, terraces and a seasonal roof top.  The space is designed for community and public events as much as to showcase the art inside.  The region's First Nations art is also home in the museum, which includes inscriptions in six indigenous and Metis languages.

Finding new ways to redefine how museums engage the community in the 21st century has also lead to ground-breaking programs at Remai Modern.

Intergenerational artmaking programs happen every Sunday; a Modern Art Caravan brings art supplies and the opportunity to create to community festivals and events; programs facilitate art in schools and life-long learning, creative communities in First Nations, support young and emerging artists, and ensure the museum's collections are accessible with admission-free days throughout the year.

The Remai Modern is a direction-setting art museum – for Saskatoon as a destination, for the arts community in North America, and all of us who should put the Remai Modern on our travel bucket lists.

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This is a cruise line private island experience we haven't seen before.  Our Caribbean cruise on Regent Seven Seas Cruises included a day at Harvest Caye, and it turned out to be one of the most memorable days of our cruise. And when you watch the video you'll see why.

Harvest Caye is an island a mile offshore mainland Belize.  Like other cruise line private islands, Harvest Caye was developed as a beach port of call in the Caribbean for its guests by parent company Norwegian for its Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Oceania guests.

It's a spectacular, resort-style experience. There's a 7-acre pristine beach. You can relax in clamshell tents or even better, in one of the luxury beach villas with porches over the water, hammocks, dining and beverage options and dedicated concierge service.

Or head to the pool.  This extravagant 15,000 square foot oasis has a swim-up bar and tables in the water, elegant lounges and canopy pool cabanas with beverage service.

A 130 foot tall 'Flighthouse' looks a lot like a lighthouse, but gets its name as the island's point of departure for adventure:  an over water zipline or ropes course. There are also eco/ water sports like kayaking, paddle boarding, and canoeing in the lagoon alongside the wildlife.

Authentic and Sustainable

The Shopping Village, with its outdoor art festival, local musicians and dancers, high-quality local retailers of locally made chocolates, spirits and artwork including local woodwork, features street-style Belizean cuisine for that truly authentic local flavor.

The development preserves and improves the local eco system, uses indigenous, responsible hardwoods in the buildings, and is creating 500 direct and 1500 indirect jobs for the local economy.

All those things you might expect from a well-planned cruise line private island that also wants to support and authentically reflect its host community, Belize.

But Harvest Caye takes that responsible approach one step further with a Wildlife and Conservation program.

Wildlife and Conservation:

The development of Harvest Caye has boosted local environmental conservation. More than 15,000 new mangroves have been planted to increase the natural estuary habitat for birds, fish and other marine species.

Conservation programs and education efforts have been developed by award winning author and wildlife expert Tony Garel, Harvest Caye's Chief Naturalist, who supervised a wildlife interaction program so you can actually meet and learn about local wildlife.  Tony is on the island daily to lead tours of the wildlife experience. 

Tony's love for and commitment to Belize's plant and animal life were the highlight of our visit, and meeting Tony will be the highlight of your visit to Harvest Caye, too.  (And his friends, Belize's National bird, the toucans.) 

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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

There's everyday luxury on Regent Seven Seas Cruises: where your airfare, transfers, on board wine and spirits, tips, specialty dining and even shore excursions and wifi are all included in a relaxed country club atmosphere on beautiful mid-sized ships. 

Then there's another level of all-inclusive luxury on Regent: the butler suites.

BestTrip.TV got a behind-the-scenes experience of Regent's most spectacular suite, the 'most luxurious address at sea', and a glimpse into the life of the butlers who make the suite life on Regent's all-inclusive luxury ships even sweeter.

We even get an answer to the question: What do butlers do in their spare time (if they even have any)?

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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

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Discover Your Inner Highlander At These 3 Scottish Castles

A lot of people's favorite TV viewing these days involves tartans and time travel against a backdrop of essential Scottish scenery: misty lochs, craggy mountains, and castles that are among the most iconic and recognized in the world.

Fiction meets historic fact at Scotland's castles. An estimated 3000 castles were once part of the landscape of Scotland. That's nearly one castle every 100 square miles.

Many ancient castles still remain to remind us of Scotland's turbulent history of powerful men in kilts wielding broadswords, and women who were just as tough. You can tap into your own inner highlander at these must-see Scottish castles.

Edinburgh Castle

Imposing and massive, Edinburgh Castle looms from its perch on an outcropping of volcanic rock 260 feet (80 m) above the Scottish capital. Scotland's most urban castle dominates the city skyline spectacularly. As the Eiffel Tower is the symbol of Paris, Edinburgh Castle is the symbol of the Scottish capital. It's the most-visited attraction in Scotland.

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Castle Rock, with such obvious defensive advantages of the sheer cliffs on three sides, has been occupied since the Iron Age. A royal castle has stood there since the 1100's. Edinburgh castle is magnificent, seeming to grow out of the volcanic rock. But it's no fairy tale. Researchers have identified 26 attacks on the fortress in its history, making it one of the most besieged places in the world.

(Photo Credit)

Edinburgh Castle retains its military and regal connections, housing the Scottish National War Memorial and National War Museum, as well as the Scottish regalia, known as the Honours of Scotland: royal crown, sword and scepter.

The only approach to Edinburgh Castle is from the sloping side. It's a scenic walk up the Royal Mile through Edinburgh's Old Town to the castle. Don't miss the daily (except Sunday) firing of the 'One O'Clock Gun'.

Three special times of the year to visit Edinburgh Castle include: The Edinburgh Military Tattoo in August, a spell-binding and evocative series of performances of fife and drum and Scottish regiments in traditional regalia; and the fireworks marking the end of the summer Edinburgh Festival as well as Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year.

Eilean Donan Castle

This is one of the most photographed and filmed castles in the world. (And one of the most popular backdrops to wedding photos in the U.K.)

Where Edinburgh Castle's defenses came from the cliffs surrounding it, Eilean Donan's protection was water. Eilean Donan means 'the island of Donnán'. (Top Photo Credit). It's a small tidal island at the point where three great sea lochs meet in the western Highlands of Scotland.

(Photo Credit)

And while romantic-looking now, there's evidence the island was fortified from the Iron Age. The current castle was restored from ruins in the early 1900's, when a footbridge connected the island to the mainland. Until then, it was only water accessible, and a clan stronghold that was repeatedly attacked.

(Photo Credit)

Don't miss among the rare artifacts on display a sword said to have been wielded at the fateful battle of Culloden.

A Gaelic inscription above the door reads: "As long as there is a MacRae inside, there will never be a Fraser outside", referring to a bond of kinship between the two clans, similar to one which adorned the Fraser clan's Beaufort Castle. The MacRae clan are still Constables of Eilean Donan Castle today.

Eilean Donan Castle is even more spectacular in real life than in the many photos and films that feature it, where the magnificent Highland landscape almost dwarfs the castle. When you are there in person, it is much larger and imposing than it seems in pictures. Standing on the footbridge with winds from the lochs swirling around you, is the moment you'll say to yourself, 'I've arrived in the Highlands'.

Dunnottar Castle

Even more wild and dramatic is Dunnottar Castle on top of an immense rocky cliff over the north east coast of Scotland. The ruins of the castle are surrounded by steep cliffs that drop 160 feet (50m) into the North Sea below. Only a narrow strip of land with a steep path joins the headland to the mainland.

(Photo Credit)

Given the castle's strategic location and impregnable position, it's no wonder the site has been fortified for over 2000 years. 'Dun' is the word for 'fort' in the early Pict's language. This haunting location was the home of the Keiths and Earls Marischal, once one of the most powerful families in Scotland. When Oliver Cromwell's army invaded Scotland in the 1600's, the Earl Marischal, as Marischal of Scotland, was responsible for the Honours of Scotland (the Crown Jewels), and had them hidden from Cromwell at Dunnottar Castle. (Brought there by a woman named Katherine Drummond hidden in bags of wool.)

Less than a century later, another Earl lost his titles participating in the Jacobite rebellion, and the castle declined until its restoration 300 years later.

Romantic, dramatic, and evocative, Scotland's castles aren't just instagrammers' dreams. A visit to a Scottish castle is your own version of time travel and a way to connect to the essence of this fabled culture.

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Munich's annual extravaganza of beer halls, buxom girls in dirndls, pretzels and the best of the 'wurst' (pun intended!) is already underway in September.

If you're missing Bavaria's biggest party, you're not out of luck yet: the world's SECOND largest Oktoberfest might be closer than you imagine.

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Is Oktoberfest in your future? In Munich or a festival closer to home, you won't be fully into the spirit of the annual harvest celebration of Gemutlichkeit (fellowship), beer, pretzels and Wurst unless you also deck yourself in traditional Bavarian costume.

The good news is: these days it's easy to rock a dirndl for women, or lederhosen for men... or nowadays, women too!

We get the goods on the traditional and the latest trends in bust-enhancing, leg-revealing wardrobes for everyone.

Watch this video to learn how to 'Get your Tracht on!' as they say, and celebrate Oktoberfest in style.

Prost!

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Top Souvenirs from Alaska

Alaska's breathtaking scenery and wildlife encounters will be memories that stay with you a lifetime. But there are one-of-a-kind tangible memories you can take home as well as your photos and close-encounter stories.

Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host of BestTrip.TV, shares her favorite Alaskan souvenirs from her ports of call in Sitka, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Juneau on a recent Regent Seven Seas cruise to Alaska.

Alaskan Kelp Pickles

Food is such a fun souvenir when it's made from one-of-a-kind local ingredients. I found many flavors of Alaska to take home to treat family and friends.

One of my favorites I just had to share was the Alaska kelp pickles we discovered in Sitka. Picturesquely-named Bullwhip kelp is an edible seaweed member of the brown algae family that can grow up to 100 feet long.

Alaskans harvest the kelp at low tide through the summer. The long hollow stems cut in rings are around the size of the rings of a small cucumber… in other words, perfect for home made pickles.

One of the largest seaweeds, bullwhip kelp is a healthy sea vegetable with potassium, iodine, bromine, and even iron.

But the nutrients of kelp will be the last thing on your mind when you taste old fashioned 'bread and butter pickles' made from Alaskan bullwhip kelp. Sweet and sour, with mustard and celery seeds, you'll feel transported back to Granny's garden kitchen – with a refreshing, truly Alaskan maritime twist.

Shopping Tip: Also check out the spruce tip jelly (more floral than you think!) and the other grown-in-Alaska preserves, jellies and pickles.

Serving Tip: Take them home to entertain your friends, alongside your favorite aged hard cheese (like old cheddar or gouda) and French bread.

Make it a cocktail party! Pair them with…

Vodka or Gin made from Alaskan Glacier Water

When it comes to food, wine, and spirits, the best ingredients produce the finest results. The base of any spirit is the water used to make it. And nothing can beat the purity of water sourced from Alaska's glaciers.

So imagine how thrilled we were to discover Skagway Spirits. And it happened in the best way of great discoveries when you travel.

The shore excursions expert on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner told us we just couldn't miss the (formerly infamous) Red Onion Saloon in the historic, Klondike-era downtown of Skagway. Naturally, a visit turned into a drink at the bar. I always look for a local flavor on the menu, and there it was: A spruce-tip cocktail made with local Skagway Spirits gin. The perfect toast to local flavor; we needed to find the source! The bar chef drew us a map on the back of a napkin, and off we went on an adventure.

The map led us to an old hangar at Skagway's local airport, where Skagway Spirits has its small-batch distillery and charming tasting room.

This is a do-not-miss experience, meeting the members of this family owned- and operated distillery. Their passion and love for what they do is apparent with every fantastic sip of their vodka and gin.

They even make home-made local juices from berries and blooms. Their Fireweed Cosmopolitan or Rhubarb Collins will change your life. Ryan doesn't even like rhubarb and he was sidling up to the bar for another!

Shopping and Travel Tip: Skagway Spirits is used to packing up spirits for cruise guests' safe return home. Some cruise lines will have your purchase of wine or spirits stored until you leave the ship at the end of your cruise.

Alaska Jade

Alaska's state gem… isn't technically 'jade'. But don't let that stop you from bringing home a gleaming piece of Alaska's most famous stone.

To the naked eye, the green gemstone you see in shops throughout Alaska looks a lot like the Chinese semiprecious gem. They are actually different stones. Chinese jade is a lighter green and much harder than the softer, usually rich green Alaskan gem, which isn't technically the same 'jade'.

But polished into luminescent jewelry, figurines, knives and art objects that evoke the vivid greens of Alaska's unforgettable forests, Alaskan jade is a glowing and cherished emblem of the state's history, natural resources and craftsmanship of its indigenous people. The earliest Alaskans used pieces of Alaskan jade they found in rivers to make tools, jewelry and even weapons.

Large deposits still exist in Alaska – in fact, there's an entire mountain of jade in Alaska - British Columbia, and even parts of California. In addition to the identifying dark green, it's sometimes found in lighter yellower shades, red, black, white and even very rare and valuable lavender.

Shopping Tip: Unlike some other gems, Alaskan jade seems to appeal equally to men and women. Look for jewelry made in a wide variety of rustic/ native Alaskan styles and symbols, to nature and decorative themes. It's the kind of souvenir you'll wear forever, reminding you of your journey to Alaska.

Ulu

From as early as 2500 BCE, Ulu were an essential part of indigenous households throughout the Arctic, from Greenland to Canada to Alaska. Ulu means 'women's knife', and was an all-purpose tool for skinning animals, slicing animal skins, carving blocks of snow and ice for shelter, cutting food and even hair. It was a cherished tool passed down through generations with care.

Ulu are composed of a curved blade with a bone, antler or wood handle. Its unique shape centers force over the middle of the blade more than a knife shape we are used to, making it easier to cut bone, or use rocking motions that pin down food to cut easily one-handed.

Don't let your Ulu sit on a mantle as a conversation piece. Women and men will find infinite uses for an Ulu. I was given an Ulu by a friend who's a fellow travel journalist, and it's already indispensable. I don't cut my own hair with it, but it's great to have in the kitchen, where rocking motions on a cutting board make short work of mincing herbs, or in the garden, slicing the tops off root vegetables.

Travel Tip: check airline regulations to travel with blades; a souvenir Ulu most certainly needs to be safely stowed in your checked, not carry on luggage.

Shopping Tip: avoid cheap factory made Ulu and instead, look for crafted Ulu to support indigenous and individual artisans keeping Northern heritage alive.

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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.

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What you Need to Know About: Skagway, Alaska

You're probably thinking somewhere in the Wild West. Good for you if you guessed the Wild North-West.

We walked off our Regent Seven Seas cruise to Alaska and felt like we were walking back in time. Specifically, to 1896 when gold was found in the Klondike in Canada's Yukon.

There are a hundred preserved Gold Rush era buildings in downtown Skagway, Alaska, complete with wooden boardwalks and costumed 'Good Time Girls' in the formerly infamous Red Onion saloon.

Skagway, in the Alaska Panhandle on the Pacific coast, provided the most direct route for the masses of aspiring gold miners to reach the Klondike. With its deepwater port, large ships from the West Coast of the US or Canada could dock in Skagway to disgorge their loads of miners, pack animals and supplies. From there, it got harder: a grueling, 500-mile trek to the gold fields in Canada.

Overnight, the city swelled with prospectors and shops and services for prospectors, styled after other towns in the North American West with false-front buildings opening onto wooden boardwalks lining a grid of broad streets. The population ballooned, with 8000 people in town and 30,000 souls in the greater Skagway area.

It was the largest city in Alaska, where only the strong and the lucky survived. And it seemed every swindler, con artist and criminal in the land converged on Skagway. For the next two years, Skagway was lawless, and Canada's North West Mounted Police called it 'little better than a hell on earth'.

Like every boom, the bust must come. The dreams of striking it rich had started to fade just a year later and by 1900 – just when a railway to the Canadian border had been completed – it was all over. (That top image is the train station that's still used today.) The same year, Skagway was incorporated as the first city in Alaska.

Skagway might have been destined to become a ghost town, reincorporated by Nature like other stops along the way to the gold fields that have now disappeared into the forests that have grown back where towns once stood. But it survived – with its well-preserved and colorful historic downtown and just 1000 citizens, only a fraction of its Gold Rush heyday. Survived in both legend and reality.

Skagway has been immortalized in literature like Jack London's 'The Call of the Wild' and even as the set of the John Wayne film 'North to Alaska'.

And, as one of the few Alaskan panhandle towns connected to the road system East into the Yukon and South into British Columbia and the Lower 48, it's a vital stop on Alaska's ferry system: the Alaska Marine Highway.

The deepwater port that unloaded hapless prospectors now accommodates cruise ships that bring about a million cruise passengers every year to this town that now homes just 1000 citizens.

There's no gold left in those distant Yukon hills, but a walk back in time to the Wild North-West in Skagway is a pretty rich cruise experience.

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