Blowes Travel & Cruise Centres Inc.'s Blog

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

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

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

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

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

The Local Host

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

The Airport:

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

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

Luggage and Tipping:

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


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

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

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

The Private Tour

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

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

The Customization

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

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

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

Our Verdict:

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

By Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip.TV

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Film Set Fantasy: Go On Location in Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start your Trip!

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Coffee Plantation in Puerto Rico. Photo Credit

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


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

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

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

Cigar tobacco field in Cuba. Photo Credit

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

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

Start your Trip!

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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.

Start your Trip!


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