Blowes Travel & Cruise Centres Inc.'s Blog

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
Romance Thrives in the Dominican Republic

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

Celebrate

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

Recharge in a Spa

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

Work on your Swing

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

Experience Colonial Charm

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

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

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Take an Adventure for Two

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

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

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

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

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

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London's New Landmarks

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

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

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Old London: The Tower of London

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

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

New London: The Shard

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

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

Old London: Big Ben

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

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

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

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New London: The London Eye

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

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

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

Old London: Tower Bridge

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

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

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New London: The Millennial Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

By Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip.TV

Hidden in Plain Sight

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

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

All photos: BestTrip.TV

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

Record Breaking – but Humble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Paul Gauguin Cruises Named Top for Honeymooners

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

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

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

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

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

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Look up!  Tips from an Interior Designer to Take Travel Home

The inspiration we get from the new spaces we experience is one of the reasons we travel.  It's even better when we can translate that inspiration from our travels into our own homes.

Karen Sealy is principal designer of Sealy Design Inc. and TV design expert on Cityline.  She's also an avid traveler, who shares her love of travel and design expertise with us.  Here's her take on stunning 'Fifth Walls' and how you can take that travel inspiration into your own home.

Ceilings can create the overall feeling of a space as much as, if not more than, many other decorative details.  Truly inspired design includes ceilings as a 'Fifth Wall'.  Too often, it's more like a 'Forgotten Fifth Wall'.  So many ceilings end up with default crown moulding – not very inspired!    Here are some of the most inspired ‘fifth walls’ I’ve encountered on my travels, and how you can take these uplifting design tips from magnificent places you can visit… into your own home.

Fallingwater, Pennsylvania

Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece Fallingwater was once a private home, but is now a destination preserved for future generations of design lovers to visit.  It is an entire lesson in the use of ceilings to set the atmosphere of a room. 

 

(Photo Credit)

Cathedral ceilings create a sense of grandeur and openness, perfect for great rooms or other large spaces, but used in a smaller space where you might want a cozier appeal it will feel like you are sitting in an elevator shaft. Frank Lloyd Wright famously used ceiling heights to create moods.  It’s not always about lofty ceilings. In many cases, lowering the ceiling to offer a space to rest was a design device he used to make people in the space feel safe and secure.

Frank Llyod Wright’s Fallingwater- Living room, looking south.  Photo: Robert P. Ruschak, courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

As someone who has always been inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s design it struck me how different it felt to be at Fallingwater, rather than to just see it in print.  Even large open rooms had a sense of intimacy and the entire space worked as a cohesive unit as you moved from one space to the next.  I adopted many of these techniques in my own home.  Opening the ceiling in the living room and adding wood clad collar ties, with subtle lighting above created drama and interest and then in the neighbouring dining area, I specifically lowered the ceiling over the wrap around banquette to create an intimate area for lounging and conversation. 

King Edward Hotel, Toronto

There’s been a great revival of the coffered and tray ceiling. We often associate these details with a more traditional aesthetic (which is where these ceilings have their roots) but modern choices, such as linear, less “fussy” details and painted versus natural wood, work in most transitional homes. 

This ceiling (top photo and below)  in the historic King Edward Hotel, in Toronto, is majestic and elegant, and even feels current. By painting it white it has a more reflective quality that bounces light from the both the magnificent, traditional chandeliers and the very modern uplights creating an airy and ethereal feeling. 

It's a great example of achieving the best design by creating tension between elements.  Imagine you’ve bought a lovely century house with beautiful coffered ceilings and while you want to honor the history of the home, your personal taste is more modern.  How do you marry these things successfully?  In broad strokes, my trick is to keep (or even add) more authentic primary components of the house, such as: restoring the original baseboards, doors, ceiling details, architectural features… any part of the house itself.  Then the way you fill the house, such as: lighting details; furniture; cabinetry; plumbing fixtures can be more modern. 

Of course playing with this formula also allows some creative license that can create some very dramatic spaces like the King Eddie ballroom.  Aside from dramatic effect, functionally speaking coffered or tray ceilings can offer some practical purposes to like providing a clever way to hide structural beams, ductwork or plumbing.  These also serve to delineate zones in open concept spaces.  

Hawksworth Restaurant and Bar, Rosewood Hotel Georgia, Vancouver

The ceiling at Hawksworth cocktail bar feels like a sculptural piece that might have well been inspired by 'starchitect' Frank Gehry.  Its organic flow has a feminine appeal that plays well against the very structured masculine clad walls and dark wood floor.  But what makes this ceiling really sing, is the use of lighting to accentuate its sensuous folds.

The Pearl Room at the Hawksworth, which is adjacent to the cocktail bar, employs an entirely different ceiling technique.  The linear lines created by the applied moulding acts to frame the enormous contemporary crystal chandelier.  The color palette in both rooms is the same – rich chocolate brown and cream, so the flow between the rooms works, but the experience is each is unique in large part due to the ceiling design.  

We are experiential beings interacting with our built environment.  Inspiration is all around us. When you travel around the world or around the block, look around – and up! – for inspired design.

(A version of this article was published previously;  Cruise and Travel Lifestyles Magazine).

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Video: Man vs. Jetstream and other things you didn't know about St. Maarten

From the outrageous antics on Maho Beach at the end of the airport runway, to the hidden gems (literally!) of the island, this BestTrip.TV travel video shares our favorite - and most unique - things about the island.

So is it St. Maarten or St. Martin?  If you don't know why both of those names are correct, you need to watch this video!

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Video: Culinary School in Provence, France

Has it been your dream to go to a cooking school in Europe? Immerse yourself in local produce, ingredients and culinary secrets shared by a chef in a scenic destination?

BestTrip.TV traveled to Provence in the South of France, a region famous for its sun, breathtaking vistas, vineyards, beaches and cuisine. Our culinary school experience was learning to make aioli, which you sometimes see on menus called 'garlic mayonnaise'. But silky, mellow, aioli, made by your own hand - a glass of ice-chilled local rose wine in the other - as part of a Provencal meal on the terrace of an historic manor house? Incomparable.

A memorable way to experience hands-on the cuisine of one of the legendary destinations in Europe for couples, a group of friends, even a girlfriend getaway.

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Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Makes 5-Star Award History

Business, leisure luxury hotel brand earns more Forbes 5-Star Ratings in a single year than any other hotel brand. 

2017 is a banner year for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.  It marks the second consecutive year the hotel brand, loved by fans of luxury travel, has topped Forbes Travel Guide ratings with a record number of Five-Star Properties.  How many have you stayed at?

Forbes Travel Guide has awarded a Five-Star rating – its highest honor – to 30 Four Seasons properties worldwide. The recognition marks the largest number of Five-Star ratings awarded to a hotel brand in a single year in the list’s nearly 60-year history.  

Star ratings are awarded by a team of professional inspectors, who anonymously evaluate properties against up to 800 rigorous and objective standards. The guides' goal is to provide consumers like you the insight to make better-informed business and leisure travel decisions.

In the words of Forbes Travel Guide, its inspectors “travel the world to assess hotels, restaurants and spas against up to 800 objective standards.” Star ratings ultimately emphasize quality of service. Five-Star properties are defined as “outstanding, often iconic properties with virtually flawless service and amazing facilities.”

Forbes Travel Guide rates properties in 42 countries throughout the Americas, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, with plans to add the Middle East and Africa for 2018.

4 Four Seasons properties earned their first Five-Star designation this year, including Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay (pictured top of page), Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan (pictured above), Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest (pictured below) and Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, A Four Seasons Hotel (pictured second from top).

The 30 Four Seasons properties that earned Five Stars in 2017 are:

  • Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta
  • Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay
  • Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan
  • Four Seasons Hotel Boston
  • Four Seasons Hotel Chicago
  • Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo
  • Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva
  • Four Seasons Hotel Firenze
  • Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris
  • Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest
  • Four Seasons Hotel Guangzhou
  • Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake
  • Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong
  • Four Seasons Resort Hualalai
  • Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole
  • Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills
  • Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane
  • Four Seasons Hotel Macao, Cotai Strip
  • Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
  • Four Seasons Hotel New York
  • Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach
  • Four Seasons Hotel Pudong, Shanghai
  • Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, Mexico
  • Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco
  • Four Seasons Hotel Seattle
  • Four Seasons Hotel Toronto
  • Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver
  • Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC
  • Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler
  • Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, A Four Seasons Hotel

Forbes Travel Guide formally bestows the ratings at a Five-Star Awards Ceremony and Banquet in New York City on March 1, 2017.

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Video: When is a Cruise not a Cruise?

Crystal Cruises has deconstructed luxury cruise travel and put it back together again, re-imagined.

In addition to the luxury, small ships that put Crystal on the map, the new, 'All Things Crystal' includes river cruises, yachting, expedition cruises, and most breathtakingly: air cruises.

Imagine, a whole 777 aircraft made over as a 'cruise' for only 44 couples - that's 88 passengers!

BestTrip.TV enjoyed a conversation with All Things Crystal President & CEO Edie Rodriguez, who shared with us the exciting evolution of legendary luxury travel.

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Spelunking in Jamaica

It might be the most polar opposite activity to a day on the beach in Jamaica. Escaping from the sunny, hot, breeze of the beaches, to explore one of the island's networks of cool, dark, damp cave systems.

Jamaica is one of the special places in the world with 'Karst' topography, where flowing water has carved paths through soluble limestone terrain, resulting in spectacular underwater rivers and caves.

Exploring caves is irresistible. Our earliest ancestors used caves for protection, a place for worship, where they created art, stored their treasures, even buried their dead. There's something about being in a cave that taps our most primal instincts, returning to the refuge of Mother Earth. Feeling just for a little while that we're exploring the unknown.

It's a magical environment inside caves. Like entering another world, transitioning from sunlight, heat, and breeze, to dark, damp, stillness, with the Earth encompassing you, not just beneath your feet. Where light does leak in through openings from the world above, it's filtered and bounced off the limestone walls, dancing off particles in the air, creating a mystical ambiance.

Jamaica has long been on the map for the global community of experienced cavers drawn to the wild highlands of the island where some claim are a thousand cave systems, some descending hundreds of feet into the bowels of the Earth. Now, Jamaica is also a destination for spelunking – amateur caving – where travelers with no caving experience at all can work with guides who have intimate knowledge of the maze of caves, and can provide safety equipment and instruction so you, too, can discover a completely different world in Jamaica.

If you are not part of a very experienced, well-equipped caving team who has safety training for these conditions, working with a reputable cave tour company is the only safe and responsible way to experience Jamaica's caves. First, you don't want your actions to damage the cave or its wildlife inhabitants. Then there's your own wellbeing. Cave interiors are dark and can be muddy with difficult footing, low ceilings, and twists and turns that can make you lose your way.

You need more than flip flops, a camera phone and enthusiasm! Spelunking tours in Jamaica provide you with everything you need to become an explorer of this fascinating, underground side of the island. You'll discover not just new scenery, but perhaps also a new, mystical relationship with the earth that might be one of your best memories of a trip to Jamaica.

Cockpit Country Adventure Tours offers half and full-day caving trips. Their experienced guides lead trips of all levels of difficulty. Whether you're a first-timer, or an experienced spelunker, you'll have an unforgettable adventure. For more information, or to book a trip, click here.

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5 Destination Wedding Sites in Mexico... that aren't the Beach

A dream wedding on the beach in Mexico… or not.

For some couples planning to get married or renew vows in coveted destinations in Mexico, it's just not their style to have sandy feet and sea salt-crusted hems of gowns on that special day.  Even if you love a beach vacation, you might want a different venue for the ceremony itself.

We've got you covered with 5 spectacular, fairytale venues that aren't on the beach - although 4 are in beach resorts. 

Bonus: all of these hotels/resorts are terrific  for the friends and family of all ages traveling with you.

Mayan Ruins

Where: The Occidental at Xcaret, Mayan Riviera

What we Love: Mayan archeological ruins (pictured above) are the star destination wedding or vow renewal location of the Occidental at Xcaret. This exclusive area offers a beautiful setting that looks out onto the Caribbean from a rock outcrop, fine white sand, and the ruins of a Mayan temple. The combination of nature, culture and Mexican tradition in a setting of great beauty and ecological value, nestled in an unbelievably beautiful cove.

And not only can you have a civil ceremony or a symbolic ceremony, you can also celebrate in the Mayan tradition.

Crystal-Clear Cenote

Where: Sandos Caracol Eco Resort in Playa del Carmen

What we Love: A secluded, immersed-in-nature venue is the cornerstone of its 'Green Wedding': a wooden deck over a cenote (say-NO-tay) – a natural, fresh-water-filled limestone sink hole. Live Mayan drum music, organization of donations to the less fortunate, a tree planting, and even a Temazcal ritual for the couple at the Spa can be arranged.

Weddings can also be held in a gazebo on the white sand beach and on the chic rooftop terrace.  The resort is affiliated with the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association and welcomes and supports the community.

Sunset Colonial Rooftop

Where: Rosewood San Miguel de Allende

What we Love: In the mountains of Mexico, UNESCO World Heritage site San Miguel de Allende is an enchanting, preserved colonial town with cobblestone streets, colorful facades, red rooftops, an ornate Gothic church surrounded by a traditional Mexican plaza. The 'stepping back in time' feel is balanced by a famously thriving cultural scene; the town is an artists' colony inhabited by ex-pats from around the world.

Rosewood San Miguel de Allende is a fairytale destination wedding hotel. Couples can marry or renew vows in historic churches and chapels in town, or at the hotel's lush gardens, lavender lawn or the spectacular rooftop terrace.  A sunset wedding on one of the 'hottest rooftop terraces in the world' would be unforgettable.  An animated, and truly Mexican callejoneada can accompany your guests to the venue with live music (Mariachi or estudinatina) and toast with tequila for the happy couple.

Rock Gazebo

Where: Dreams Huatulco Resort & Spa

What we Love: located on Tangolunda Bay, Dreams Huatulco Resort & Spa overlooks the dazzling golden beaches and the sapphire blue waters of the coast of Oaxaca.  Set among lush jungle, soaring mountains and coral reefs, there's a perfect ceremony venue everywhere you look. But we love the gazebo set against the rocks next to the sea for its rustic, almost primeval and earthy feel. 

The resort's Waterford Yours Truly toasting flutes program provides you with a premium memento of your day, and Free Anniversary Nights programs give you an excuse to re-visit the happy day year after year. We also love that the Dreams Huatalco Resort & Spa is Rainforest Alliance Certified.

Sky Terrace

Where: Azul Beach Resort by Karisma, Mayan Riviera

What we Love: The Sky Wedding takes your destination wedding ceremony to the next level - literally! Imagine saying vows overlooking stunning 360-degree views from the private rooftop terrace that makes you feel on top of the world.  Sky Weddings are available at a number of this family of resorts in Mexico: Azul Beach, Azul Sensatori Mexico, Generations Riviera Maya.

Gourmet Inclusive® restaurants and bars combine a selection of mouthwatering à la carte menus and exotic drinks in a variety of settings. And there's a Romance Experience Menu and the personal service of resident 'Romance Maître D's' who help you plan the perfect romantic getaway uniquely designed for your love story.

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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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What European River Cruise is the Most Romantic?

It's the time of year when we celebrate love - and love of travel. We've hand-picked our favorite travel experiences for treats, pampering, romance, the good life, and celebrating traveling with everyone in our lives we love.

Beginning with... the most Romantic river cruise in Europe: Castles and wine and lovers' legends, oh my!

Lynn Elmhirst, producer/ host and cruise expert of BestTrip.TV, explains how 'The Romantic Rhine' weaves a perfect romance of Northern European culture for river cruise travelers to watch, listen, and taste.

Castles to Watch

Image: BestTrip.TV

40 castles in 40 miles. There's a castle or fortress, those ultimate symbols of the Middle Ages celebrated in fantasy literature, nearly every mile. That stretch of river known as the Middle Rhine has a higher density of castles than any other river valley in the world. Since the 19th century, it's been known as 'The Romantic Rhine' and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For two millennia, the Rhine was one of the most important routes connecting Southern with Northern Europe. Castles for security and to control the river commerce were built on hilltops facing the river, and now, a river cruise is really the best and most authentic way to immerse yourself in the Romance of some of the best historic scenery in Europe.

Image: BestTrip.TV

Travel Tip: during the ship's passage along this stretch, make sure you find yourself a central position so you don't miss the castles on both sides of the banks.

Wine to Taste

Then you add wine. The gorges rising on either side of the Middle Rhine are lined by some of the steepest vineyards in the world. Over a thousand acres of vineyards thrive in a microclimate shaped by the river's topography (in fact, most of the wine regions of Europe line its rivers). In other wine regions and wineries, hand-picking grapes is preserved for only elite wines. On the nose-bleed-steep banks of the Middle Rhine, handpicking is the usual – and only practical - practice. And yet the famous white wines – predominantly Rieslings, both dry and sweeter versions - of the Middle Rhine are still very affordable. Tastings are one of the best activities in the picturesque towns that line the narrow river banks.

Image credit

Travel Tip: buy your favorite to take back to your river cruise ship to fully immerse yourself in the joys of the Rhine as you sip on the top deck as you sail past the scenery.

A 'Murmuring Rock' to Listen to


A 433-foot, steep slate rock formation on the very edge of the river bank of the Rhine Gorge has been the source of legend for centuries. The Lorelai's name is ancient, coming from the old German word 'lureln' for 'murmuring', and the Celtic word 'ley' meaning 'rock. The combination of heavy currents swirling round the bend, a small waterfall (up until the early 19th century) and an echo effect of the rock itself amplifying those sounds made Lorelai an actual auditory experience (til development nearby in modern times drowned it out.) No wonder the myths began: dwarfs living inside the rock, a murmuring siren luring sailors onto rocks… But the story that stuck came from a poem telling the tragic lover's tale of the beautiful Lorelai being taken away to a nunnery, and, thinking she sees her lover in the Rhine below, throws herself into river to her death, where to this day, the looming rock murmurs an echo of her calls.

Travel Tip: pay homage to the Rhine's 'murmuring rock' by downloading the compositions by Schumann, Mendelssohn or Strauss that immortalize Lorelai in music to listen to on your magnificent Romantic Rhine river cruise.

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Top Caribbean Beaches for a Winter Escape

Maybe you thought you could tough this winter out in the cold. Or maybe you've been planning a break in the sun all along. Well, if you haven't booked a winter escape to the warm embrace of the Caribbean yet, here are our favorite, more under-the-radar beaches to inspire you to try a new island, a new beach in this year's travel plans:

1. Crane Beach, Barbados

Crane Beach was originally a harbor, is considered one of the most beautiful in the world with its dramatic cliffs and surrounding vegetation. If you think 'Crane' beach is just for birdwatchers, you're wrong: it refers to the large crane that once sat on the top of the cliff loading and unloading ships. The waves in this area make the Crane beach a great spot for body surfing.

2. Trunk Bay, St. John, US Virgin Islands

This white sand beach has been a showpiece of the US National Park Service since it was donated by a Rockefeller family member to the Virgin Islands National Park. A one-of-a-kind, 650-foot underwater snorkeling trail provides terrific viewing of colorful fish and corals, including the rare, indigo-blue tunicates – in less than 20′ of water, perfect for every member of the family.

3. Eagle Beach, Aruba

Aruba is as far south as you can go in the Caribbean before you hit South America, and its uniquely dry, sunny, almost dessert-like environment, so different from elsewhere in the Caribbean, is worth a few more minutes in the air. Wide and white, Eagle Beach is home to two of the most photographed and renowned divi divi trees in Aruba (pictured), with their trademark silhouette shaped by the constant, refreshing trade winds. Low rise resorts line the beach, which is also a famous turtle nesting and hatching site.

4. Mosquito Bioluminscent Bay, Puerto Rico

This might be the only beach in the Caribbean best seen at night! Tiny micro-organisms, up to 160,000 of them in every liter of water - give off a supernatural, blue-white glow year round. It's the most luminous bioluminescent display in the world - and makes this the beach experience on Puerto Rico's Vieques island unforgettable!

5. Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda

This is the most famous beach in Bermuda, and one of the top-rated in the world. A very popular tourist spot, it lies on the main island's south (Atlantic) coast, shaped in, you guessed it, a horseshoe. Fringed by limestone rocks, the pink sand and turquoise water are mirrored by the British Caribbean island's pastel architecture.

This year, don't let your winter escape be the 'same old, same old' island experience. Discover a new favorite beach in the Caribbean.

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Go Island Hopping in the South Pacific

The very word 'Tahiti' evokes the mystique of one of the most remote and romantic island destinations in the world.

An island hopping escape to even a few of the 118 islands and atolls in this South Pacific paradise is not only the ultimate escape from northern winters, it's the trip of a lifetime.

Picture your arrival, welcomed by Tahitian music and fragrant Tiare flowers… and use these highlights of some of the key islands to start planning your island hopping fantasy escape:

They call the island of Tahiti 'The Queen of the Pacific'. It's the largest and most populated island, and is the starting point for travelers, who fly into the capital city Papeete. Don't miss Marae Arahurahu, an ancient Tahitian outdoor temple, or, in the centre of town, the market with tropical produce and fresh local fish and Tahitian arts and crafts, including the biggest selection of pareus (sarongs) in the country. Outside the city, Tahiti boasts spectacular scenery: lush green peaks tower over cascading waterfalls and rippling pools in the interior, and black- and white-sand beaches and turquoise lagoons at the sea.

Photos: Chris McLennan

Moorea is a mere 11 miles across the Sea of the Moon from Tahiti. If that doesn't already sound like a fairytale, consider Moorea's nickname: 'The Magical Island'. It is even said to be the inspiration for the mythical island of Bali Hai. You've seen it in the movies, from Mutiny on the Bounty to Love Affair. But film can never do full justice to the dramatic beauty of the island. Make sure you go to Belvedere Lookout, with its breathtaking views of Moorea’s twin bays, Cook’s and Opunohu. Look on Moorea's hillsides for its signature produce, pineapples, and visit a local distillery to sample exotic liqueurs from pineapple, mango, coconut, vanilla and other Tahitian flavors.

Here's another magical nickname: the 'Garden of Eden'. Huahine is 110 miles northwest of Tahiti, and actually consists of two islands joined by a bridge. Its main town, Maeva, means 'welcome' in Tahitian! Drive into the hills for spectacular views over white-sand beaches and brilliant turquoise lagoons, and visit restored Tahitian marae (temples), centuries-old stone fish traps, and plantations of melons, vanilla, coffee, taro, mango, and flowers. Do you surf? There are world-class waves at Avamoa Pass, and the world’s largest outrigger canoe race begins here each October.

Bora Bora is a tiny island with a big reputation. 'The Romantic Island' has been called the most beautiful island in the world. It's only 18 miles around, circled by a necklace of coral. Lush mountains provide a dramatic backdrop for the indescribable turquoise, lapis and aquamarine of the famous, sheltered lagoon. Bora Bora is home to world-class resorts and quaint continental restaurants, where celebrity A-listers vacation in luxurious seclusion.

The Tuamotu Atolls are the largest of the Polynesian archipelagos, Tahiti’s 'Strand of Pearls' with 76 islands and atolls spread over more than 7500 square miles. Four of these atolls – Rangiroa, Manihi, Tikehau, Fakarava – offer world-class scuba diving, horseback riding, shark feeding and deep-sea fishing. In addition, the ecosystem in the Fakarava atoll is a UNESCO biosphere reserve. And Manihi is 'the Pearl Island', the site of the first of many pearl farms that have made Tahiti famous for prized, cultivated black pearls.

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Snuggle in an Igloo in the Alps in Switzerland

Igloos aren't a central feature of Switzerland's picturesquely traditional alpine culture. Scenic, snow-capped mountains, check.  Sophisticated ski chalets, check. Meadows with dairy cattle, check.  The famous cheeses and milk chocolate they produce, check and check.

But a mountain in central Switzerland also has the unique atmosphere of high-design 'igloos' as part of its winter experience.

Stockhorn mountain towers seven thousand feet high, with a restaurant near the peak reached by cablecar, hiking trails, and views of the surrounding Alps and lakes below. On the shores of one of the lakes, an 'igloo village' springs up, just for the winter months: December through March.

Three thousand working hours of muscle power, snow plowing, balloons and enthusiasm go into the ice hotel/ 'iglus' as they call them.  Igloos are interconnected and themed, with elaborate, fantastical ice/snow carvings by international artists, and warmly rustic chic décor.

Up to 14 people can stay at the hotel – imagine booking the whole place for a group of friends or even a company retreat!

Nothing says 'team building'  or 'family fun' like an igloo building workshop. 

 But there's also the family igloo and even the romantic igloo.  Snuggling under the covers is bound to cement feelings of warmth.

Yes, that's a wedding proposal made out of ice. How romantic is that?

Cocktails at the bar, fondu dinners, mulled wine, mini film festivals, they'll all keep you warm indoors.

Outdoors, around Lake Hinterstocken, you can fill your days ice fishing, snow tubing, winter hiking and snowshoeing, playing hockey… or even relaxing and soaking up the winter sun in a lounge chair.

Stockhorn has half a dozen sister 'igloo-villages' throughout the country, so as long as the weather cooperates, you can add a night in an igloo to your winter trip to the Swiss Alps.

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Saying 'I Do' Off-the-Beaten Path in Treasure Beach, Jamaica

With its famous tropical beaches, music and lifestyle, no wonder Jamaica is a favourite Caribbean island for destination weddings.  Most couples who travel to Jamaica to celebrate their special day at one of the remarkable all-inclusive resorts.

But some couples may want to venture off the beaten path to the southwest part of the island, where farming and fishing and a more authentic Jamaican way of life provide a different destination wedding experience far away from tourist crowds.

At Treasure Beach, guests are welcomed into a relaxed atmosphere where community and sustainability are the focus.  It's a different approach to travel that includes local food, farm-to-table dining events, and visitors integrating with the local residents.

If your idea of a dream wedding is a secluded beach at sunset, Treasure Beach can make that dream come true.  Charming local resorts like Jake's and the Sunset Resort and Villas provide wedding planners to help all the details come together, and also the small beach community atmosphere you and your guests will never forget.

Here are the top 10 things for couples and their guests to do while visiting Treasure Beach:

Eat and Drink:

1. The Pelican Bar: This place looks like it belongs in a movie set: a thatched hut on stilts built on a submerged sandbar 1km out to sea. Getting there is half the fun.  You have to hire a local boat captain as your taxi to what may be the most memorable place you'll ever have a drink. Chill with a Red Stripe or rum punch, watch dolphins in the surf, even take a dip yourself.  

2. Smurfs Cafe: The kitschy and fabulous experience you need to feel like a true 'local'. Smurfs Café is an unlikely combination of breeze block construction and Smurf décor that's open all hours serving some of the best breakfasts, can't-miss stove-roasted Blue Mountain coffee and divine key lime pie.

3. Jakes resort's hip, open-sided wooden restaurant that also serves diners on the patio poolside breakfast, lunch and dinner using farm and daily catch-fresh ingredients.  The menu changes with the harvest or the catch and offers modern twists on Jamaican recipes. 

4. The resort also has another, more chill and traditional restaurant, Jack Sprats, where the dishes stay more traditional and you can chill with locals playing dominos.

5. Eggy's Bar: Looking for the perfect drink overlooking the perfect sunset? Eggy's Bar is off the main road by Frenchman’s Bay and the spot locals themselves gather to drink Red Stripe and watch the sun set.

SHOP:

6. Treasure Beach Women's Group will set you up with all the gifts and souvenirs you need, from crafts made from calabash shells and other local materials, batiks, coffee. This shop can also save the day if you forget or misplace swimwear, sandals and other beach necessities.

PLAY AND EXPLORE

7. Beaches:

Frenchman's Beach: This is the most centrally located beach of the community, with the landmark buttonwood tree you see in photos.  The place to find woodcarvers selling their wares, local boat captains arranging trips to the Pelican Bar or Black River and a place to watch the sunsets. 

Jack Spratt Beach: West of Jake’s Place, this is the safest beach for swimming, where brightly painted wooden fishing boats are pulled up on the sand, and local fishers ply their nets.

Great Bay Beach: The least developed area of Treasure Beach,  where the beach and a patchwork of fields provide a rural atmosphere.  The main business here is still the local fishermen's co-op.

Old Wharf Beach: Privacy comes at a price, so it takes some effort to reach the most private beach in the area.

8. Treasure Beach Sports Park:  One of the centers of community life, with tennis courts, soccer pitches and – most uniquely to North Americans – a cricket oval.  Jake's resort has posters and information about upcoming events.

9. Bamboo Avenue:  A stunning, two and a half mile stretch of the main road in the parish lined with giant bamboo that arch over the road and form a green, shaded tunnel.  It was established by owners of an estate to provide shade for travelers and prevent erosion, and remains the longest bamboo road archway of its kind in Jamaica.

10. Black River: The second longest river in Jamaica is home to an incredible wealth of wildlife including over 100 species of wetland birds and the endangered American Alligator.  River fishermen and professional guides offer tours.  Take some time away from the beach to explore one of Jamaica's most colourful ecosystems.

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