Blowes Travel & Cruise Centres Inc.'s Blog

Do you ever see social media posts of magnificent wildlife photos from someone's trip to Alaska and think: This just can't be real?

But it is.  BestTrip.TV cruised from Vancouver to Seward (near Anchorage) on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner, hoping Nature would be kind and we'd encounter at least a couple of the animals and birds Alaska is famous for:

  • Whales
  • Salmon
  • Crab
  • Bald eagles
  • Puffins
  • Brown (grizzly) bears
  • Sitka deer
  • Sea otters
  • Sea lions

Like you, we were skeptical of shore excursion guides who jokingly promised guests 3 out of 5 of a list of iconic Alaska wildlife 'or your money back'.  For Regent guests, this is truly a joke, because Regent has included shore excursions, so you can take wildlife tours in every port of call without going over your vacation budget.  If you don't see the animal your heart is set on, another day, another port, another excursion just might bring you luck.

The truth is, our shore excursion guides and boat captains really know their corners of an enormous state; where whales feed or sea lions congregate.  Plus we got lucky with weather and time of day...

In the end, over the course of a week-long cruise, we ended up seeing all of these creatures and others we didn't expect, and capturing them on video to share with you.

We think this video is the next best thing to actually being there watching whales come up for air or puffins fly past or a bald eagle swoop down into the water to capture a fish to feed her young in the nest. 

But don't take our word for it.  Add an Alaska cruise to your travel bucket list.

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Why Canadian Gardens Rock

Not all of Canada's natural wonders are wilderness. Communities across Canada have cultivated oases of trees and greens, colorful flowers, fresh air and serenity in the heart of busy urban centers.

Tara Nolan is a garden and travel writer, author of the best-selling book Raised Bed Revolution and co-owner of popular gardening website Savvy Gardening. She shares her list of favorite Canadian gardens, from west to east.

You don't have to be an avid gardener to appreciate Canada's public gardens. Gardens give residents and visitors a different perspective and experience in a city. The popularity of visiting gardens is astonishing: in any given year, more people visit public gardens in America than go to Disneyland and Walt Disney World combined! Canada's gardens are just as appealing, with engaging activities including some special programming for Canada's 150th birthday.

UBC Botanical Garden – British Columbia

Photo Credit

Not only does the UBC Botanical Garden play host to fabulous food and alpine gardens, the GreenHeart TreeWalk, a highlight of my trip to Vancouver last summer, takes visitors through the treetops of 100-year-old trees along canopy walkways, the highest of which is 23 metres above the forest.

The Butchart Gardens – British Columbia

Photo Credit

Magnificent Butchart garden draws a multitude of tourists, but it’s worth the visit to see the lush, colourful displays, from the Sunken Garden, which is beautiful through every season, to the Night Illuminations throughout the summer. I’ve visited in the fall when the dahlia walk was in full bloom.

The International Peace Garden – Manitoba

Photo Credit

Though a little remote, this garden is unique because it straddles the border with the United States—North Dakota on one side, Manitoba on the other. The message of this garden is one of contemplation and peace. You can even book a campsite to stay for longer than a day. This garden is on my list for a more rugged, outdoorsy trip that involves hiking and biking.

University of Alberta Devonian Botanic Garden

This 240-acre gem, 15 minutes from Edmonton, features a lovely Japanese garden and a Tropical Plant and Butterfly Showhouse. I made sure to visit the Herb and Sensory Gardens, as well as the Native Peoples Garden to learn more about what indigenous people foraged for and used for medicine, meals and ornamentation. When you visit this garden, time it so you can lunch at the Patio Café.

Toronto Botanical Garden

Photo Credit

This urban garden, nestled among leafy neighbourhoods, is looking at expansion to up its garden game even further. In the meantime, check the schedule for weekly entertainment, visit the bustling farmers’ market on a Thursday and sign up for a yoga class in the garden—it’s good to de-stress while on vacation, right?

Royal Botanical Garden – Hamilton, Ontario

Photo Credit
Not only does the Royal Botanical Garden have multiple sites (the RBG Centre, The Rock Garden, etc.), it also has multiple hiking trails that take you through the wilderness of Hamilton and Burlington and make you forget you’re in a city. Take the kids to the LEGO exhibit and check the schedule for jazz, blues and country music nights in Hendrie Park.

Gatineau’s Jacques-Cartier Park – Quebec/National Capital

A special exhibit has been built to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial: MosaïCanada 150. Expect massive, living sculptures packed full of plants and flowers. There will be 40 on display, representing the country’s history. And admission is free!

Reford Gardens/Jardins de Métis

Photo credit

This inimitable garden above the shores of the St. Lawrence River will appeal to especially arty types because of the International Garden Festival that invites landscape architects from around the world to design spaces based on a theme. The garden also features a fantastic culinary program. Visit the Estevan Lodge Restaurant to see what chef Pierre-Olivier Ferry, Gold Winner of the Canada Good Food Innovation Award, is concocting from his plant collection.

The Halifax Public Gardens

(Pictured, top. Photo credit)

If you’re wandering around Halifax, this is an easy garden to get to on foot for a visit—I strolled through last year for the first time and loved its proximity to shops and restaurants. Like Canada, it’s celebrating its 150th birthday. A special website has been put together—check it out for theatre and music events, special tours and more.

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Vancouver may be Canada's most famously 'outdoorsy' major city. Even in a city that drives Canada's vast Asia-Pacific business, athletic wear is more common than pinstripes! Nature thrives right on the city's doorstep: a gorgeous, picturesque harbor and bay, snow-capped mountains surrounding the city, and breathtaking Stanley Park, one of the world's top urban green spaces. For vacationers and cruise travelers in Vancouver, outdoor activities top the list of things to do. Even if you're traveling to Vancouver on business, if you don't take the opportunity to get outdoors, you've missed essential Vancouver.

Luckily, it's not only one of the most enticing big cities to be outdoors, it's easy to get outdoors and get active on a trip to Vancouver.

BestTrip.TV's Ryan McElroy 'test drives' Vancouver luxury harborfront hotel Westin Bayshore's active travel program. With cycling, run concierge, superfoods, yoga, and fitness equipment loan programs, Ryan discovers there is no excuse to miss enjoying the great Vancouver outdoors.

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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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Nature and Heritage at Jamaica's First UNESCO World Heritage Site

A first for Jamaica and a first for the Caribbean. In 2015, Jamaica's Blue and John Crow Mountains became the country's first UNESCO World Heritage Site, and also the Caribbean's first World Heritage Mixed Site for both natural and cultural riches.

The emerald mountains define the eastern part of the island and cover an area of 480 km2. The UNESCO site is 260 km2 within Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park.

Nature and Biodiversity

It's a rare 'tropical mountain' environment on the steep (nearly 1,000-meter) slopes, with cloud forest, a unique ecosystem that only occurs in 2.5% of the world's tropical forests.

The Blue and John Crow Mountains are a global biodiversity hotspot, one of the world's 78 most irreplaceable protected areas for plant and wildlife species conservation.

The park has 1,357 species of flowering plants; a quarter of them are only found in Jamaica, and 87 are found only within the park.

It is the last of two known habitats of the giant swallowtail butterfly, the largest butterfly in the Western Hemisphere, and the habitat for 200 species of birds including the endangered Jamaican blackbird. It is one of the largest migratory bird habitats in the Caribbean. It's also the home of the Jamaican boa and the threatened rodent hutia.

Culture and Heritage

This is where indigenous Tainos and former slaves fled to escape colonial enslavement. The thickly forested mountains provided the seclusion and natural resources for the Maroons' survival and fight for freedom. They developed a profound knowledge of and spiritual connection to the mountains, creating a cultural legacy that survives in modern Jamaica.

Tangible history of the Maroons' life and resistance in the mountains also remains today. The Nanny Town Heritage Route includes settlements, trails, viewpoints, and hiding places.

The Blue and John Crow Mountains sustained Maroons and supported them as they struggled to survive and achieve recognition and liberation. Their example influenced other slave resistance in the region, and is a powerful story of humanity for all people of the world.

Jamaicans and Visitors

The Blue and John Crow Mountains' designation as a dual UNESCO World Heritage Site was a momentous occasion for Jamaica and Jamaicans.

It was dedicated to the legacy of the Maroons of Jamaica, "strong, cunning and resourceful persons who found ingenious ways to dismantle a system that blighted peoples of the region… They have helped to shape our identity of self, and community."

As a Mixed World Heritage Site, the Blue and John Crow Mountains' one-of-a-kind environment and profound cultural heritage will be preserved for ancestors of the brave Maroons, and for visitors to the country looking for a deeper connection to Jamaica.

To plan your visit, contact  the Office of Park Managers, Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust by email at jamaicaconservation@gmail.com; or by phone at (876) 960-2848-9 or (876) 960-8278-9. Photo Credit - Jamaica Social Investment Fund

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See Stars in Utah during Dark Sky Week at the World's First International Dark Sky Park

We often think of our travels as an 'escape' - have you thought of them as an escape from ... light? Or do you simply love gazing up into the mysteries of the universe, in a clear, clear night sky, unpolluted by man-made lighting?  Utah is one of the best places for avid stargazers to celebrate International Dark Sky Week 2017, April 22-28th.

The state is home to seven of the world’s 42 International Dark Sky Parks as well as Natural Bridges National Monument, the world’s first International Dark Sky Park, as certified by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) . A Dark Sky Park is an area defined by the IDA where the night sky can be viewed clearly without any "light pollution.”

Southern Utah offers remote areas where 15,000 or more stars are visible in the night-sky (astronomers believe people who live in urban areas can see fewer than 500 stars). During International Dark Sky Week 2017 and throughout the year, visitors to these Utah Dark Sky Parks offer outstanding quality night skies:

  • Canyonlands National Park is known for its dramatic desert landscape carved by the Colorado River.During the spring and fall, Park rangers offer programming on a rotating basis with other Parks with the ultimate goal being to introduce visitors to the wonders of the night sky. Stargazing and telescope viewing follow ranger programming
  • Dead Horse Point State Park: This Park has partnered with Canyonlands National Park to host dark-skies programming. This state park overlooks the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park, covering 5,362 acres of high desert at an altitude of 5,900 feet. Even if you've never been, you've probably seen it already; it was used in the iconic final ‘Grand Canyon’ scene of the film Thelma & Louise
  • Capitol Reef National Park: This Park has some of the best night sky viewing opportunities of the western national parks. The park is famous for its layers of golden sandstone, canyons and striking rock formations, including Chimney Rock pillar, the Hickman Bridge arch, and Capitol Reef white sandstone domes, and the towering monoliths of Cathedral Valley. Past summer stargazing programs have included Night Sky Tours by visiting astronomers
  • Goblin Valley State Park: In addition to its claim to fame (and name), its thousands of hoodoos and hoodoo rocks, referred to locally as "goblins", which are formations of mushroom-shaped rock pinnacles, some as high as several meters, the National Park Service’s Night Sky Team determined this park to have some of the darkest night skies on Earth.     Here you'll find unparalleled views of the Milky Way. Visitors can experience a variety of ranger-led monthly moonlit hikes and telescope tours
  • Hovenweep National Monument: Until recently best-known for the six groups of ancestral Puebloan villages, there is evidence of occupation from 8,000 to 6,000 B.C. The Monument’s night sky remains about as dark as it was 800 years ago due to its geographic isolation. The Monument’s Rangers offer visitors stargazing programs throughout spring and summer so you can literally see the stars like North America's first peoples did.
  • Natural Bridges National Monument: Named for its primary feature, the thirteenth largest natural bridge in the world, carved from the white sandstone, the park was designated the world's first dark-sky park in 2006. Here you can gaze at the very same stars the ancestral Pueblo people observed 800 years ago.  Park rangers will offer astronomy programs beginning May 2017
  • Weber County North Fork Park: Unlike the majority of International Dark Sky Parks, North Fork Park sets itself apart from the others because of its adjacency to urban areas and its innovative public art incorporating dark skies themes.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is a United States-based non-profit organization incorporated in 1988 by founders David Crawford, a professional astronomer, and Tim Hunter, a physician/amateur astronomer. The mission of the IDA is "to preserve and protect the night time environment and our heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting". To promote awareness about the issues about the disappearing darkness in the world and its effect on human and wildlife wellness, the IDA has an International Dark Sky Places program that aims "to protect locations of exceptional nighttime visages for future generations".  Since 2006, it has been designating International Dark-Sky Parks, International Dark-Sky Reserves, and even International Dark-Sky Communities for star gazers and our global natural heritage.

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Video: Tree-Top Champagne Bar in Champagne, France

It's the elixir of lovers and those who love the good life.  Champagne is perfection, and how do you improve on perfection?

Drinking it in the tree tops at the Perching Bar.  BestTrip.TV traveled to the source, the Champagne region of France, and to the National Forest outside its capital of Reims.  The Perching Bar is an eco-tree-house bar at the end of a tree walk.   High concept design has even the seats and champagne buckets suspended from the rafters... floating, just like the bubbles in your glass of effervescent champagne.

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Did you know there are more bicycles than people in Amsterdam? 

It's one of the original and influential cycling cultures that helped set the trend towards urban cycling and our love for touring new destinations by bike.

The Dutch bicycle - the original workhorse urban bike for entire families - sets the bar in style, function and cool factor.  BestTrip.TV discovers cycling culture in legendary Amsterdam, and meets the maker of custom Dutch bikes.

If there's anything better than cycling through the streets of one of the world's favorite cities, it's a souvenir custom bike that will be the envy of all your cycling friends at home.

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Laurisilva of Madeira, The Mustn't Miss Destination In Portugal Laurisilva of Madeira comprises of 15,000 hectares and is located in the larger 27,000 hectares Madeira Nature Reserve. The site is made up of primary laurel forest, a vegetation species that is only found in the Azores, Canary Islands and Madeira. read more