Robert Q Travel Byron's Blog

Look Ma, No Hands!  Unmanned Air Taxis to Launch in Singapore
It looks like something out of a science fiction film, but it could be the way you get your very next aerial tour of Singapore.

In a world first, after two years of tests and collaboration with the island city-state and a decade of development of its technology, ‘Volocopter’ is set to make no-pilot air taxi services a reality.

While other cities around the world experiment with driverless cars as a stepping stone to unmanned taxi service, Volocopter has unveiled pioneering ‘Urban Air Mobility’ (UAM) in this South East Asian destination.

Volocopter air taxis are helicopter-like, 2-person craft that take off and land vertically. They are emission-free and, according to the company, a quiet way to take passengers directly to their destination.  With no pilot.

In this video, you can see the historic, Volocopter air taxi demonstration flight in the very heart of Singapore, with the triple towers of the city’s iconic Marina Bay urban resort in the background. It gives you a sense of what UAM will look like flying through the skyline – and can you imagine the view for the two people inside?

Volocopter says it expects its first route in Singapore to be a tour for visitors to the city. The touristic route  of its southern waters would include views of the Marina Bay skyline usually reserved for the elite in their private, piloted helicopters.

While pilots for aircraft file flight plans, unmanned Volocopter flights would be something like train trips, with pre-determined routes and stops or stations.
 
That’s not all. The company envisions routes with terminus stops linking to follow-on connections that could eventually include cross-border flights.  At that volume purely touristic and awe-inspiring UAM crosses over to the realms of business travel and commuting for residents, enhancing regional movement and significantly improving everyone’s travel experience to Singapore's closest economic centers. 
 
Believe it or not, Volocopter says its autonomous air taxis will be operating in the next three years. At launch, it might be a one-of-a-kind, bucket list ride in one of the most spectacular cities and futuristic skylines in the world, a high-tech version of a balloon ride over the other-worldly landscape of Cappadocia, a camel ride in the shadows of the Great Pyramid, or a rickshaw ride through the back lanes and courtyards of historic Beijing.  
 
Ultimately, Volocopters may bring a whole new dimension to the lifestyle and travel experience of urban centers around the world.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon

 
Image: Volocopter GmbH

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Snuggle Up In the World's Largest Log Cabin
It’s made of an astonishing 10,000 western red cedar logs, and ‘logs in’ at a whopping 4-million cubic feet of volume.
Fairmont Le Château Montebello lays claim to being the biggest log building on the planet. A massive lobby and rotunda anchor four wings extending out in a star formation that’s painted dramatic black on the outside, but retains its natural warm shade on the inside.


Phenomenal, 70-foot log rafters support the atrium lobby, with a central, three-story stone fireplace, a mezzanine overlooking the stunning space, and a 3rd-floor balcony with a perspective over the wonders of its pristine, old-growth forest surroundings.

This incredible building is topped by half a million hand-made cedar shakes, and boasts over a hundred miles of carved wooden mouldings.


The best part? It’s not the private, waterfront retreat of a reclusive billionaire. As one of Canada’s iconic, former railway, ‘castle’ hotels, any visitor to the Montebello region of Quebec near the Canadian capital of Ottawa, can experience this riverfront resort in the midst of a 300-acre forest reserve.

Unlike many of its sister historic Fairmont hotels which evoke French chateaux in Canada’s great urban and wilderness destinations, Château Montebello stands alone as a breathtaking example of contrasting castle grandeur in rustic style.

The resort is an incredible architectural and construction feat, and an astounding vision of hospitality, with a rich history.
 

Historic Pedigree

 
The property dates back to the 1600’s, part of the original land grants from the French King to settle ‘New France’.
 
In the late 1920’s, its new owner envisioned an exclusive, private wilderness retreat for the country’s political elite from nearby Ottawa and business leaders from Montreal only a bit farther away. Original club directors included the Premier of Quebec and a host of nation builders: the presidents of the National Bank of Canada, the Bank of Montreal, the Royal Bank of Canada and the Canadian Pacific Railway. 
 
Which may be why, despite the onset of the global economic crash in 1929, the project went ahead. A special spur of the CPR rail line was built to bring deliver the massive logs to the site, and 3500 workers and artisans worked 7 days a week, around the clock using unprecedented electric lighting at night to complete this visionary ‘log cabin’ in a mind-boggling 4 months.  
 
On Canada Day, July 1st, 1930, the private members’ club opened, with a grand masked ball as its spectacular launch on the world’s social scene. 
 
For the next 40 years, the who’s who of the Canadian elite played, networked, dined and celebrated family milestones at the club and its waterfront, wooded 300 acres. Non-Canadian club members included European royalty like the Netherland’s Queen Juliana and Princess Grace of Monaco, and a glitterati of guests included international and Hollywood royalty, even US President Harry Truman who expressed a desire to fish his ‘first Canadian trout’ on his visit to Ottawa in 1947.
 

From Private Club to Luxury Resort

 
In 1970, the club re-opened as a resort and bucket list destination for any discerning traveler. Now, Fairmont Le Château Montebello is known world-wide for its one-of-a-kind setting as well as rustic-chic flair, warm French-Canadian hospitality and cuisine.
 
Other buildings have been added to the resort, including a separate log cabin, accessible by underground tunnel, with a 75-foot indoor pool – the largest in Canada – at the foot of totem poles that support the roof.
 
Vast spa, sauna, and fitness facilities enhance the 40+ on-resort activities surrounding Chateau Montebello. Swim and sunbathe next to the pool or river. Boat in to the marina. Play 18 holes of golf, a match of tennis, or try your hand at iconic Canadian winter activities like dog sledding, curling, ice-skating or cross-country skiing. In the warm spring and summer months, or during vivid autumn colors, you can hike and cycle tranquil woods and paths.

 
The resort brings holiday celebrations to life, too. Imagine a traditional Canadian Christmas within the vast log walls and beams, and the tastes and sights of a Quebecois maple sugar shack experience in early spring.
 

90th Anniversary


Fairmont Le Château Montebello celebrated 90 years as a one-of-a-kind landmark of architecture and hospitality on July 1st, 2020. The pandemic has postponed, but not canceled, celebrations, which have been rescheduled to Canada Day, July 1st, 2021.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon

 
Images courtesy Fairmont Le Château Montebello

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8 New Cruise Ships You Missed in 2020 - And Why to Sail Them Soon
Can we hit the reset button on 2020? Usually, at the beginning of each year, we look forward to new ships guests will be among the first in the world to experience in their inaugural seasons.
 
But in 2020, more than a dozen new cruise ships sailed out of their shipyards only to sit empty, waiting for cruising to resume to welcome guests on new cruising adventures.
 
BestTrip TV’s Lynn Elmhirst provides her list of favorite vessels from the class of 2020 you’ll want to turn back the calendar and add to your ‘new ship’ cruise collection.
 

American Cruise Lines’ Jazz and Melody

 
This cruise line floated out not one, but two ships during COVID, which paused, but didn’t quench travelers’ thirst to rediscover America by water. American Cruise Lines welcomed American Jazz and American Melody in 2020. They are the 3rd and 4th ships in ACL’s ‘Modern Series’.
 
No paddlewheels here. The American Melody and Jazz feature clean lines and contemporary elegance with a grand, multi-story atrium, a patented opening bow and retractable gangway, elevator access to all decks, and sweeping expanses of glass and panoramic views.


175 guests enjoy 100% private balcony, spacious accommodations, indoor and outdoor dining with world-class gastronomy using local ingredients; numerous lounges; several open-air & shaded sundecks; Library; Chart Room; Game Room; Fitness Room & Yoga-Wellness Studio. Not to mention the inclusions like cocktails before dinner, wine and beer with meals, itineraries with complimentary shore excursions, and daily entertainment and destination enrichment.

The ships' inaugural sailings in 2021 are on the fabled Mississippi.
 

Regent Seven Seas Splendor

 
Regent’s Seven Seas Explorer has been called the most luxurious ship ever built – and early in 2020, her sister ship, the Splendor, was set to take on that mantle herself.

Splendor is the second ship in Regent’s ‘Explore Class’ of lavish ships. But after a spectacular naming ceremony by godmother, former supermodel Christie Brinkley, the Splendor’s inaugural season came to a halt.

When it begins a new inaugural season in 2021, the Splendor’s 750 guests will finally get a chance to experience this all-suite, all-balcony ship some have called a ‘work of art’. The ship boasts more than an acre of Italian marble, 500 crystal chandeliers, a multi-million dollar art collection, and among the largest balconies at sea.

Returning Regent guests will enjoy the new iterations of favorite, included restaurants, and Italian restaurant Sette Mari at La Veranda debuts over-water alcove seating that extends over the ocean.


A new gourmet Culinary Arts Kitchen and a first-of-its-kind globally inspired spa for Regent featuring treatments and techniques from across cultures also make their debuts on this Regent ship inaugural season guests have waited a year to experience.
 

Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady

 
It was the first ship of a brand new cruise line, fronted by the famous entrepreneur who added cheeky fun to air travel - and was set to upend the definition of cruising. 
 
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Voyages came out of the gate strong early in 2020 with the launch of its 2800-passenger Scarlet Lady. But only a few media and travel advisors experienced the Scarlet Lady’s ‘rebel luxe’ style of cruising in Europe as the ship was en route to its Miami homeport - before the pandemic brought the ship’s triumphant inaugural season to a halt.


Virgin Voyages expects to re-launch mid 2021, welcoming guests who’ve been waiting over a year to experience the ship’s more than 20 included restaurants, champagne on demand at the push of a button, the first tattoo studio at sea, tables in suites designed to dance on, and ‘detox/retox’ lifestyle Branson has made famous.

The Scarlet Lady sails on shorter, long-weekend-type itineraries that include a late-night call at the cruise line’s new private beach resort in Bimini, the Bahamas, an Ibiza-style/ music festival inspired experience with DJ’s and bonfires on the beach.
 

Celebrity Cruises’ Apex

 
Mid 2020 saw the delivery of the second of Celebrity Cruises’ 3000-passenger Edge-series ships in a virtual ceremony. It then sailed to join other Celebrity ships waiting off America’s coast for cruising to resume.

 
The Edge, and now the Apex, have one of the most unique ship designs at sea. A bright orange, cantilevered venue called the ‘Magic Carpet’ appears to cling to the side of both ships as it travels up and down to different floors, operating as a lounge or dining venue or even a tender launch area at sea level.
 
In addition to the Edge’s trademark ‘Magic Carpet’ re-appearing on the Apex, other Edge features like ‘Infinite Veranda’ staterooms, nearly 30 dining venues, outdoor plunge pools and a luxurious, exclusive ‘Retreat’ lounge, restaurant and outdoor space for suite guests reappear on the Apex.

Silversea: Silver Origin and Silver Moon

 
A two-fer of new ship deliveries for this 6-star cruise line in 2020, so afficionados of Silversea’s European, ultra-luxury cruising style have lots to look forward to in 2021.
 
Silver Origin is Silversea’s first newbuild specific to a destination, and it will sail year round in the Galapagos.
 
They’re calling it ‘the most elegant ship ever to sail the Galapagos’. It also marks the most environmentally conscious ship the cruise line has ever built, mindful of the uniquely-sensitive Galapagos islands. It’s an ultra-luxury vessel designed for deeply experiential exploration of the Galapagos with a team of Ecuadorian expert guides, an interactive ‘basecamp’, and 8 Zodiacs.

Just 100 privileged guests on Silver Origin will enjoy all-suite accommodations with ‘Horizon Balconies’, its signature butler service for all, 2 restaurants including local Ecuadorian cuisine, and state of the art technology as well as the simple, primal warmth and social interaction of a fire pit in the Explorer Lounge at the end of a thrilling day ashore (pictured, top).  
 
Silver Moon is a sister ship to the Silver Muse, expanding outdoor spaces and re-imagining public spaces including restaurants and guest-favorite indoor gathering space and evening piano bar, Dolce Vita.
 
Understated luxe décor and amenities embrace the Silver Moon’s 600 guests in comfort, and dedicated butlers, stocked in-suite bar, 24-hour in-suite dining make your suite on the Silver Moon feel even better than home.

 
The Silver Moon also debuts the line’s new culinary enrichment programme, S.A.L.T., which is an acronym of ‘Sea and Land Taste’.  It gives guests the opportunity to explore a range of destination-focused gastronomic experiences—both on-board and ashore. Three new venues: a restaurant, test kitchen and bar, form a hub of culinary discovery on Deck 4 of the Silver Moon as part of the S.A.L.T. program.
 

Princess Cruises’ Enchanted Princess

 
Princess Cruises’ 5th Royal-class ship was delivered in a low-key way in the fall. When the Enchanted Princess sails in 2021, 3600 passengers will get to experience all of the cruise line’s latest innovations and amenities, including all of its ‘Medallion’ wearable digital device conveniences as well as the multi-story atrium Piazza, glass ‘SeaWalk’ and 80% balcony staterooms.

 
The Enchanted Princess also boasts some unique features, including a new suite category called Sky Suites with Princess’ largest private balconies, located at the top of the ship and giving their guests a view of the ship’s ‘Movies Under the Stars’ from their suites. 
 
In addition, the new ship has a new concept Sanctuary, with more private cabana capacity, and a Wakeview pool at the aft of the ship. 2021 will also see another sister ship, the Discovery Princess, sailing its own inaugural season.
 

#DreamNowCruiseSoon


Images courtesy of their respective cruise lines.
 
 
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6 Tips for Planning Your Post-COVID Wellness Vacation
This January, two powerful forces for wellness travel converge: yearly New Year's resolutions to become or rediscover our best selves, and this year, the pandemic that's both kept us from traveling, and for many, fostered a lifestyle that may not have kept us at our peak.

In the travel era BC (Before COVID), wellness travel was already one of the most popular, and growing, vacation styles.
Since COVID, the idea of wellness travel has taken on a new dimension – now, ALL travel has a ‘wellness’ element as concerns about staying safe and healthy have already transformed how we travel. 

Wellness travel means many things to many people, from extreme diet or fitness programs, meditation, yoga or other mind and body practice retreats, even a luxury resort with wide-ranging spa treatments that restore and renew and reset us even as we delight in an escape to a beloved destination.

COVID has added to our range of wellness vacations, with interest in programs designed to boost our immunity and elevate our self-care to thrive under the intense pressures of the times. 

And COVID has offered us new ways to approach wellness travel. Work from Home and School at Home have inspired people and families to consider months-long escapes to dream destinations, where they can participate in local activities and resort wellness programs that don’t have to end after a few days, but can become core elements of daily life abroad.

If a wellness retreat or wellness vacation seems like an ideal post-COVID trip for you, here are my top 6 tips for making it a success:

1. Homework:

As in, work with your travel advisor to do yours. It’s really important you find a program that exactly matches what you hope to achieve and how you hope to achieve it. Make sure the program’s goals match your goals, and how they are going to help you achieve them matches how you want to develop yourself – and spend precious vacation time.

And of course, make sure every point of your journey has comprehensive health and safety plans and follows best practices to protect your health – the very foundation of any wellness vacation.

2. Be Open to New:

These times have broken the mold of our daily lives, why not shake it up when it comes to your approach to renewing your mind, body, or spirit? New treatments and ancient therapies are more commonly available and a wellness vacation is an ideal time to try something new as you’re immersed in the charms of a new destination.
  

3. Location:

There are wonderful and interesting health and wellness resorts, retreats, cruises, and spas all over the world, but you should choose a vacation that’s a reward for you in and of itself. Someplace that is a dream for you to travel to, so when your program is getting tough, or your muscles are a little achy, you can interact with your destination and experience that as your reward and boost your spirits to keep up with your wellness program.

4. Check on qualifications:

Verify the qualifications of the wellness practitioners where you’re going, as well as their record of success. You’re putting your health in the hands of people you’ve never met, and almost all fitness or fasting or therapies or treatments come with risks. Make sure you’re in the hands of experts who know what they’re doing and they’ve done it lots of times before.

5. Do your prep work:  

Cold turkey is one approach. But it might be painful. So if there’s prep work you can do to be primed for your wellness program – from starting to cut out sugar, or beginning or increasing your regular fitness or wellness regimen, it can only help you achieve your desired results.

6. Travel with a wellness buddy:

You know you’ll meet great, like-minded people at your wellness retreat, but it’s amazing to have someone with you who you know will be there to support you. It’s not always easy getting to the top of the hill, or maintaining that juice fast, or dealing with overwhelming emotions of a wellness retreat, so it’s nice to know you have someone to lean on and share strengths to achieve the change you’re looking for.

It also means that when you go back home, you have that person who’s had the same experience, and they can help make sure you take all the practices and techniques you’ve learned home with you along with the memories of a travel experience that we’ve all been waiting on for so long.

#DreamNowTravelSoon

 

By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip TV
 
Image: BestTrip TV

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3 Luxurious Ways to Experience the Travel Event of 2021 - the Antarctic Solar Eclipse
A year from now, one of the travel events of our lifetime will be over.
 
Not only will 2021 see the return to travel we’ve all longed for; on December 4th, 2021, a total solar eclipse will take place.

A total solar eclipse, where the moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, completely blocking out the sun for a short period of time, is as mystical and as primal an experience for us modern humans as it has been for all of our ancestors before us through time immemorial.

Antarctic waters are the only place in the world with 100% visibility of this awe-inspiring astronomical event. The remote site also means no ‘light pollution’ from surrounding human population centers will interfere with the full impact of the eclipse.

And luckily for travelers, December is Antarctic summer, when waters are most navigable.

Luxury expedition cruise lines with ice class ships for navigating polar seas have planned sailings to view the Solar Eclipse as no one else in the world will be able to see it, in exclusive, deluxe lifestyle.
 
One life-changing event. 3 ways you can be in the right place at the right time.
(Image: Silversea)

Silversea

 
This ultra-luxury cruise line has three of its polar expedition ships sailing in Antarctic waters for the Solar Eclipse.
 
The Silver Wind sails on November 20th for 22 days from Buenos Aires, Argentina, returning to Ushuaia, Argentina. The Silver Explorer sails 13 days round trip from Ushaia on November 26th, and the Silver Cloud sails round trip from Ushaia for 11 days on November 30th.

Be on deck with fewer than 250 guests as the brilliance of Antarctica is plunged into darkness, and gaze amazed as the changing light and sharpening shadows highlight Antarctica’s beauty.

The line’s onboard Expedition Staff is highly educated in everything from penguin spotting to taking the perfect glacier photo.

Silversea’s one-of-a-kind combination of exploration and ultra-luxury mean air and pre-cruise hotel, gratuities, multiple restaurants, in-suite and ship-wide wine and spirits, butler service and in-suite dining, shore excursions with guided zodiacs and parkas are included.

(Image: Silversea)

It means you’ll be enjoying small group adventures by day, the magnificent Solar Eclipse, and sharing experiences with like-minded new friends in the lap of luxury by night.
 

Atlas Ocean Voyages

 
This new cruise line’s first, luxury, small expedition ship launches in 2021. The Antarctic Solar Eclipse will be part of the World Navigator’s inaugural season. With its ‘new ship’ smell still fresh, and the very latest in environmentally friendly technology that uses less fuel and disturbs the sea floor and wildlife less than other ships, it allows guests to get closer to Nature and protect it, too.

(Rendering: Atlas Ocean Voyages)

During your 12-night voyage round-trip from Ushuaia, departing on November 28th, 2021, you and fewer than 200 guests will be treated to roundtrip airfare, gourmet dining and top beverages, butler service for all suites, enriching classes, and complimentary adventures in select destinations.

Get up close and personal with the masses of seabirds, seals, and whales of the region’s waters and shores. Long, summer days close to the South Pole give you ample time to kayak or paddleboard some of the clearest waters in the world as they reflect the ice-blue sky and glaciers back at you.

On December 4th, you’ll be sailing through icy waters, and be able to see the total solar eclipse against a backdrop of mammoth icebergs.

Ponant

 
This French cruise line’s newest ship is also the first, luxury hybrid electric polar-class vessel. Ponant is known for its refined, French design, onboard ‘art of living’ and commitment to cuisine alongside robust environmental and authentic expedition credentials.
(Image: Ponant)

Your regional flights to and from Argentina’s ‘end of the earth’ jumping off point, Ushuaia are included with your voyage as Le Commandant-Charcot departs on November 30th, 2021 on its 15-day, once-in-a-lifetime expedition sailing to the Antarctic during the total solar eclipse. 
 
Just over 250 guests will make the ‘badge of honor’ sailing from Ushuaia through the Drake Passage en route to the Antarctic’s Weddell Sea ice pack on December 4th. You’ll be able to disembark the ship onto the ice pack where, according to Ponant, “the pristine white creates a high-pressure zone that will allow for clearer skies”, a rare privilege enhanced by naturalist guides and on-board scientists.
 
In addition to viewing the eclipse, guests can participate in expeditions for scientific activities like water sampling and visiting research stations, explore by hovercraft, hot air balloon, and snowmobile and polar diving, and enjoy expert seminars that make their experiences even more meaningful.
(Image: Ponant)

If experiencing the Antarctic was on your bucket list, the Solar Eclipse in December of 2021 will make the trip of a lifetime truly legendary.
 
Imagine seeing the total Solar Eclipse over the pure, clear skies of the most remote continent, experiencing rare wildlife and epic scenery, and raising a glass to your life-changing journey embraced in luxury and comfort.
 

#DontMissThis

 

Top, Solar Eclipse Image by Jan Haerer from Pixabay
 
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In BC (Before COVID) times, viral airline safety videos had fun with things like fastening seatbelts. Times have changed. 
Alaska Airlines gave the COVID travel era the new type of safety video we really needed right now.

The video above is a send-up of the 80’s music classic Men Without Hats’ ‘Safety Dance’. If you want to compare it and get a real blast from the past, here’s the original 1982 new-wave Men Without Hats’ classic.

Alaska Airlines’ version was released just before the holidays, and it’s already racked up more than half a million views.
Already aptly-named, the airline parody’s ‘Safety Dance’ lyrics speak to new safety protocols in the post-COVID age of travel.

“We can fly where you want to. We can leave your house behind,” sings a man with a British accent, just like Men Without Hats, “But if your friends don’t mask and why don’t they mask, well they won’t fly this airline.'
 
In addition to announcing their requirement for passengers to mask up, the airline safety video touts its own extra efforts to keep fliers safe, like hand-washing, and 'air that's clean and disinfectant machines zapping germs like an arcade space fight.'

80’s lifestyle references to arcades and first generation video games are matched with 80’s-style choreography. Actual, Alaska Airlines employees, including members of Alaska Flight Attendant Drill Team, who the company explains dance through the streets of Seattle for the city’s Torchlight Parade and other events around the country, rehearsed at home to participate in the (safe) video shoot in one of the airline’s hangars in Seattle.

Alaska Airlines’ ‘Safety Dance’ hits all the right notes of high school nostalgia for Gen X, who is the natural audience of 80’s music, as well as new fans among new generations of Millennials and Gen Z, right down to the masked pilot playing the keytar deadpan.


Until now, our favorite thing about Alaska airlines has been the ‘wine flies free’ policy that encourages visitors to the West Coast’s famous and up-and-coming wine regions to buy whole cases of local wine. We also love their charity work this winter, handing out free hockey sticks and balls to families in the Seattle area to get kids outdoors playing street hockey.

Wine flies free, hockey sticks for kids, PLUS a sing-along, 80’s nostalgia safety video that helps make us all feel safe to begin traveling again?

More and more, Alaska Airlines seems to be not just an airline, but a lifestyle. And our kind of people.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon

 
 
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Christmas in July On A Holiday Do-Over River Cruise
If this year’s altered holiday celebrations left you wistful and nostalgic for full-bore Christmas festivities, there’s a river cruise that gives you a chance for a re-do.

Christmas in July on the Danube comes without snow – but it does come with plenty of seasonal cheer on Uniworld’s S.S. Maria Theresea.

 
On two sailings in July, the Maria Theresea will have her halls decked out in full holiday splendor as she sails between Passau, Germany and Budapest, Hungary, calling in popular Christmas destinations like Vienna, Linz, and Bratislava. 
 
You’ll even have the opportunity for an excursion to magical Salzburg, the location of the iconic holiday movie The Sound of Music.
 
In addition to elegant festive trimmings, Uniworld has planned a program of events to re-live the holidays. 

 
The region’s famous Christmas markets will be re-created on board for you to stock up on the souvenirs and holiday treats. Guests can also experience Christmas cheer during gingerbread house decorating and ornament making workshops. Uniworld says holiday movies will be playing on the in-room entertainment systems, and Santa himself will make a summer trip from the North Pole to the Maria Theresea for photos that may be the best holiday card ever. And who wouldn’t get into the Christmas ‘spirit’ during a holiday cocktail class? 
 
The ship’s chefs will be crafting menus of holiday cuisine, and you’ll be toasting your brilliance at your seasonal do-over with summer versions of winter favorites, like frozen hot chocolate and chilled egg nog.
 
You’ll feel transported not just to some of the favorite ports of call on a Danube river cruise, but also back to the holidays. 
 
It’s an inspired way for families to re-live the best of the holidays in Europe, together aboard one of the most beloved river cruise ships on the Danube.

 
Uniworld’s Christmas in July sailings coincide with school holidays and also feature the cruise line’s Generations Program, with savings and exclusive activities for kids as well as dedicated Family Hosts. We assume the Family Hosts will have plenty of fun things for the kids to do so the grownups can linger during festive cocktail making classes, just for starters!
 
Family singletons may also be able to take advantage of Uniworld zero supplement offers so they can join the whole family for this European river cruise do-over of the holidays, too.
 

 

#ChristmasInJuly

 

#DreamNowTravelSoon

 
Images courtesy Uniworld.


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The Best Celebrations Around the World For You To Ring In the New Year
At long last, 2020 is wrapping up, and a New Year full of hope is just around the corner.

This feels like the kind of year you’d toast the year past as early as possible, then call it a night, hoping when you wake up in the New Year, we will have turned the page on the disappointments, challenges, cancelled travels and special events missed during the past year.

No need to wait for the clock at home to strike midnight on December 31st. The global pandemic means that this year more than ever, countdowns have gone virtual, giving you several opportunities throughout the day to enjoy other cities’ New Year’s celebrations and kiss 2020 goodbye.

Dropping the Ball in New York

For many in North America, NYC’s glittering, Swarovski New Year’s Eve Ball drop is the definitive countdown and hallmark of the New Year. The tradition dates back a century to a ban on fireworks in New York City, and is now immortalized in popular culture with a televised show and one of the biggest crowds of the night. Usually, millions watch on TV, and billions also watch around the world as a million people fill Times Square to join together in bidding farewell to the departing year and celebrate collective hope for the year ahead.

This year, organizers are live streaming the Times Square Ball drop at the stroke of 12 to capture the same spirit in an online global community.

Futuristic Neon in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Time in North America, meaning you could be drinking mimosas for brunch in Florida, New York or Toronto on December 31st as the New Year strikes in Hong Kong.

(Above and top renderings courtesy of Hong Kong Tourism Board)

For the first time ever, the pandemic is sending Hong Kong’s New Year Countdown Celebrations online. To share its world-famous neon artistry against ultra modern architecture framing historic Victoria Harbour and its belief in a hopeful and resilient future, the Hong Kong Tourism Board is showing a live countdown clock on its website beginning at 11 pm local time. As the clock strikes midnight, video featuring the glorious illuminations above Victoria Harbour and other landmarks, plus greetings and blessings to the world, will play.

Fireworks and Laser Show in Dubai

Midnight in Dubai on December 31st is 3 pm that afternoon Eastern time, easily justifying popping a champagne cork for the live streaming of one of the world’s most spectacular New Year’s celebrations: fireworks and a laser show at one of the architectural marvels of the Middle East.


Already breathtaking at 2722 feet, the Burj Khalifa is even more wondrous on New Year’s Eve. People are also welcome to share 35-character New Year’s wishes to display on the world’s tallest building during the show by sending a message to Burj Khalifa’s social media accounts using the hashtag #BurjWishes2021.

 

Ringing in the New Year – Old School

Maybe the Year of COVID is the year to revert to ushering in the New Year using traditions that pre-date fireworks, laser, or ball-dropping extravaganzas.

For centuries, cultures around the world have developed traditions to bring health, happiness, hope, and good fortune to celebrants – and we need those blessings now more than ever.

Here are some of our favorite ways to start the New Year right, and you can do them all while in the safety of the self-isolation at home we’ve been asked to observe this holiday season. 

Eating Grapes - Spain
It’s simple and delicious. Spaniards ring in the New Year by consuming a grape for every chime of the clock at midnight. Those 12 grapes also happen to correspond to the upcoming 12 months, bringing good luck for the entire year ahead. Wine makers are said to be at the root of this tasty tradition.

Ringing in the New Year - Japan
Buddhists try to avoid the 108 earthly temptations on earth to achieve nirvana. So on the last day of the year, Japanese go to their local temple – many at the peaks of mountains of this volcanic nation – to ring the temple bell. Monks ring the bell all 108 times, and members of the public file past the bell, ringing it once to cast away bad deeds and bad fortune to be pure and receptive to all things good in the year to come.

Welcoming a Guest in Scotland
After religious Christmas was suppressed in Scotland, New Year’s – or Hogmanay - became the Scots’ primary winter celebration to banish the dark months, and welcome new light, warmth, and wellness. In addition to the lighting of bonfires and toasts of whisky, Hogmanay’s signature tradition includes ‘first footing’.

The first person to cross your threshold in the New Year brings you good luck for the year ahead. For a culture fearful of marauding blond and red-haired Vikings, a dark-haired man was the best luck for a ‘first footer’. Even someone already in your home can exit to come back in as a first-footer, bearing salt ‘for the tears every life brings’, bread or shortbread ‘to soak up your tears’, or coal ‘to warm your hearth’. 

Luggage to go in Columbia
This South American country may be home to our favorite of all the world’s New Years traditions. To bring prosperity and good fortune, Columbians carry money and lentils, both symbols of wealth and luck, with them on New Year’s. That’s easily understood. It’s another tradition – picking up empty suitcases at midnight and running around the block to help a year full of travel to materialize – that gets us really excited, especially for 2021.
 
Wishing you a happy and healthy year of good fortune and inspiring travels!

#HappyNewYear

#DreamNowTravelSoon

 
 Image credits as noted above.

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'Escape' on a Luxury Cruise This Season Without Leaving Home: Meryl Streep Stars in New Movie Filmed at Sea
We can’t travel on a luxury cruise ourselves right now– or do many of the other things we love to do around the holidays - but “Let Them All Talk” lets us take an armchair escape during the break, and imagine ourselves along for a ride on one of the most famous ships afloat.

We couldn’t ask for better company for our silver screen journey. Starring three-time Academy Award® winner Meryl Streep, Academy Award® nominee and multiple Emmy® Award winner Candice Bergen and two-time Academy Award® winner Dianne Wiest with Oscar®-nominated Lucas Hedges (“Manchester By The Sea”) and Gemma Chan (“Crazy Rich Asians”), “Let Them All Talk” is directed by another famous Academy Award® alum, filmmaker Steven Soderbergh of “Ocean’s Eleven” series and “Erin Brokovich” fame.
 
Even with this host of Hollywood royalty, for a luxury cruise lover, the real ‘star’ of the film may be the Queen Mary 2. “Let Them All Talk” was filmed on board one of British luxury line Cunard’s epic ‘Three Queens’ ships on a single, actual Transatlantic crossing from New York to England last summer before COVID.



WATCH the movie trailer here.

Smart, Witty Comedy…


Meryl Streep plays a best-selling author invited to accept an award in England, but she can’t fly. Her new agent, played by Gemma Chan, persuades her to cross the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2 as a ship’s lecturer, which will also give Streep’s character time to work on her much-anticipated new book. She insists on bringing her nephew (played by Lucas Hedges) as an assistant, and two best friends from her college days (Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest), along for the cruise.


Things get complicated with competing agendas and comic twists and turns of relationships old and new. One friend hasn’t spoken to the author in years, believing her to have based the plot of her biggest best-seller on her own marriage break up, while the other, a grand-motherly free-spirit, tries to make peace between the old friends. Meanwhile, the literary agent is along on the Transatlantic crossing to find out what’s happening with the author’s next book, while the nephew struggles to juggle his author aunt’s needs with her friends’ demands – at the same time falling in love with the literary agent who’s trying to entice him into sharing what his aunt is writing.

A stellar cast like this can do no wrong – and all of this acting superpower in a witty, ‘comedy of manners’, is set against the backdrop of the legendary ship and its lifestyle.


Meets a Luxury Crossing


Most of the film takes place on board the ship. Watch for the grandness of the Queen Mary 2 when the characters arrive at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal on departure day, as well such loved on board locations as the Commodore Club, Queens Grill dining room, Queens Grill suites, the library, the Royal Court Theatre, and the decks outdoors with the genuine – computer-generated! - North Atlantic seascape beyond the rail. 


Even the ‘extras’ who appear behind the main characters are genuine guests on the sailing who opted in to being part of the filming on board.

The film showcases the Cunard flagship's elegance, sophistication and style, and provides the viewer a real sense of the leisurely pace and beautiful setting of an iconic sailing and Cunard’s signature itinerary: the Transatlantic Crossing.

Sailing with the Stars

 
Meryl Streep: “There’s a lot to see and hear in this movie, and a lot that’s funny. And like midnight on the Mid-Atlantic-- just misty mysterious.”
 
Dianne Wiest: “The weather on the crossing was a wonderful thing. A day might begin with dense fog, so dense you could see nothing, neither the sea nor others. Then, the fog would lift and there would be a silver gray, the gray that filmmakers would do anything for, and then rays of sun would streak down and a brilliant blue appear and bits of light sparkling everywhere you turned.”
 
Candice Bergen: “The crossing on the Queen Mary 2 was heaven. It is a magnificent ship, beautifully maintained and elegantly designed. It was a perfect experience.”
 
Director Steven Soderbergh: “The ship looks as good on camera as it looks in person. It’s not like when you get up close and the camera has eroticized the ship. It really is that nice!”
 
Gemma Chan: “There is definitely a feeling of being away from the wider world, from city life and all its
distractions which I think you couldn't replicate in a studio. Every day had a rhythm to it that I think we all settled into - watching the sunset each evening and dolphin spotting were highlights.
 
“During the crossing, my character interacts the most with Lucas Hedges' character. It was fun to get to explore the ship and build a relationship whilst mingling with real passengers in the planetarium and, most amusingly, in the late-night disco.”
 

Perfect Timing

 
“Let Them All Talk” is being released just when we most need a reminder of what we’re missing while cruising is shut down – and a mood-booster for an altered holiday season.

HBO Max begins streaming “Let Them All Talk” on December 10th.
 

 

#WatchNowCruiseSoon

 
All Photographs by HBO Max
 
 
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One’s in Austria, and the other in America. But they are bound together in the pop culture celebrations of the season.
Have you figured it out yet? The hint is in film and music.
 
Both Salzburg and Stowe are destinations tied to the Trapp Family legend. You likely know it as: The Sound of Music, a movie that’s become essential holiday family viewing – and singing - for every generation since the early 60’s.

The film is the – very fictionalized – story of Maria von Trapp, who, while deciding whether to become a nun, became governess to the unruly children of Austrian nobleman and naval officer Captain von Trapp. As Nazi Germany threatens expansion into Austria and demands the services of the unwilling Captain von Trapp, Maria bonds with the children, teaches them to sing, and falls in love with their father.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: CNNTRAVEL'S INTERVIEW WITH THE CURRENT GENERATION OF THE TRAPP FAMILY

Dirndls and warm welcomes in Salzburg today
© Austrian National Tourist Office / SalzburgerLand Tourismus / Andreas Hechenberger

A Story Beginning in Salzburg…


Against the backdrop of the Alps, the cobblestoned, historic city of Salzburg, home to the birthplace of Mozart and a famous music festival, and the family’s stately home in the countryside, the Trapp family sings their way to family harmony, wedded bliss between the Captain and Maria, and ultimately, a dramatic escape from the Nazis.

The movie, and its music by legendary duo Rodgers and Hammerstein, swept the Oscars won 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and cemented the image in 20th century popular culture of Julie Andrews singing the title song while frolicking in the Alpine meadows with the children. You can probably sing along to any of the movie’s songs that have become standards in addition to the title song. Admit it: right now, you’re humming the tune of Edelweiss, Do-Re-Mi, or My Favorite Things.

…and Continuing in Stowe


In real life, the Trapp family’s departure from Salzburg was not so dramatic – or hand-in-hand, singing while hiking over the mountains. It made for a great movie ending, but in fact, ‘over the mountains’ from Austria was Germany! So the family headed by train to Italy, and ultimately, the States.

The singing part was true, though. In the early 40’s, the Trapp Family Singers toured the US performing. Ultimately, the family settled in Stowe, Vermont, “on an enchanted farm with sweeping mountain vistas reminiscent of their beloved Austria.”

Soon, the family was welcoming guests at a 27-room family home/ lodge, which has evolved into today’s Alpine-inspired Trapp Family Lodge. 

Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, courtesy Vermont Tourism


While the town of Stowe has only a few thousand citizens, it’s a destination powerhouse, known as the ‘Ski Capital of the East’ due to the 117-ski run Stowe Mountain Resort, and there’s even the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum nearby.

Situated on 2500 acres of mostly wooded, hilly Vermont that changes with the seasons between Winter wonderland, verdant springs and summers, and stunning New England fall colors, the Trapp Family Lodge offers country resort living along with cross-country skiing and mountain biking trails, as well as the best of rural Vermont with wagon and sleigh rides, a working farm that also produces the state’s famous maple syrup as well as its in-house, German and Austrian-style beers.

A beer hall, servers in dirndls, an ongoing commitment to live music, and tours by current family members and memorabilia help to keep the Trapp Family Singers’ story – and connection to the family’s origins in Salzburg – alive.

But Why Christmas?


At no point in the film is Christmas mentioned or represented. The scenes all take place in the summer, on green meadows or on sunny streets of Salzburg and gardens of the family villa. But to this day, The Sound of Music is tied to the holidays.

Soon after its release, TV broadcasters capitalized on families together indoors in the holidays by airing beloved, family-themed films, and the award-winning, sing-along The Sound of Music became a feature of the holiday season.

The movie even got a resounding endorsement of a new generation in 2013 when it was rebooted as a live, holiday TV musical starring Carrie Underwood.

And the wish-list song “My Favorite Things” early on became a Christmas standard you’ll hear repeatedly on Christmas music stations. 

It regularly also gets repurposed and re-worded in other productions and even commercials. Again this year, you’ll find millennial Anna Kendrick singing about her favorite things for a Frito Lay commercial.

Proving that not only is The Sound of Music timely for the holidays… it also seems to retain perennial appeal.

And that planning a trip to either Salzburg, Austria… or Stowe, Vermont, is the perfect pilgrimage for lovers of any age or generation of The Sound of Music.


#SingNowTravelSoon




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2 Travel-Inspired Beverages to get you in the Holiday Spirit
You may not be celebrating the holidays as usual this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create some new holiday entertaining traditions.

While we wait to travel and celebrate again, here are two recipes for ‘spirited’ holiday drinks from favorite destinations to warm your heart and remind you of better times ahead.

Perfect for a virtual holiday cocktail party, long winter evenings binge-watching holiday movies, or trimming your tree, these recipes can be made for one or more to share.
 

Gluhwein

Warm wine makes winter better. All the iconic Christmas tastes, sights and sounds of Germany’s Christmas markets, from the fir trees and handmade toys, fires roasted nuts and sausages, are enhanced by its warm and aromatic signature drink. Warm, often spiced, wine, can be found throughout Europe, like mulled wine in England, or vin chaud in France.

Gluhwein is Germany’s version. While the combination of citrus, fruit juices, spices – and even color of wine! – varies, one thing stays the same. Gluhwein translates roughly to ‘glowing wine’, referring to the red hot irons from the fires that were originally stuck into the wine to heat it up. That should give you a sense of the long history of Gluhwein. There’s a gold-plated Gluhwein tankard dating from the early 1400’s that’s attributed to the German aristocrat who was the first grower of Riesling grapes.

Cologne Christmas Market, Germany © GNTB/Wojciech Grabowski

Although most gluhweins you’ll see at Christmas markets in Germany involve red wine, this recipe, from AmaWaterways, uses regional white wines you’ll get to try on one of the river cruise line’s Danube or Rhine cruises during the summer or during a magical Christmas market cruise.

Ingredients
  • 3 cups of white wine (Silvaner or Müller-Thurgau)
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 1/4 cup Franconian plum brandy (optional but recommended, as a little of the alcohol cooks out of the wine)
  • 4 slices of orange
  • 2 slices of lemon
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 1 star anise
  • 5 allspice seeds
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 pinch of aniseed
  • 1 tsp. honey (if you prefer it sweeter, add a bit more)
  • Extra slices of fruit for garnish, if desired
Preparation
  1. In a medium-sized stock pot with a tight-fitting lid, combine all of the ingredients, except for the honey. Stir to combine.
  2. Cover and bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer, keeping the lid on, for 10 minutes. Be careful not to let it come to a boil again; if it boils too long all of the alcohol will be cooked out.
  3. After 10 minutes, immediately remove from the heat. Strain the mixture with a fine mesh sieve; discard the aromatics. Return the mixture to the pot and taste-test. Stir in honey, tasting as you go until you reach your desired sweetness.
  4. Ladle into desired serving glasses. Garnish with sliced fruit, cinnamon sticks, cloves, or star anise pods, if desired. Serve immediately.
 
Pair your Gluhwein with authentic German standards like hot sausages and pretzels, or seasonal festive sweets like stollen, fruit bread; gingerbread or lebkuchen; and glorious marzipan. 
 

Rompope

The clue to this festive Costa Rican drink is also in its name. But it’s not like a rum punch found in the Caribbean. Rompope is Costa Rica’s answer to British egg nog or Dutch advocaat, composed of egg yolk, milk, sugar, cinammon and rum. Unlike egg nog, it’s cooked like a hot, boozy custard. Variations made with coconut milk, coffee, almonds or other nuts are popular in other parts of Latin America.

Rompope’s roots are believed to be Spanish colonial, with stories told of Spanish nuns making the New World’s first batches. Today, families often make two bottles ahead of celebrations, a grown-up version with the rum, and a non-alcoholic version for the younger members of the family. The kids’ version is also used for making cookies, cakes, ice cream and jellies. And the adult rompope can be strong; the rum is added at the end so the alcohol doesn’t cook off.

Courtesy Visit Costa Rica

It’s the sweet and strong traditional beverage of Christmas gatherings. And Visit Costa Rica has sent this rompope recipe for us to share in its celebration of the joys of the season.

Ingredients (4 servings)
•           4 cups milk
•           1 cups sugar
•           2 cinnamon sticks
•           6 egg yolks
•           1 Tbsp. cornstarch
•           Rum to taste
•           Nutmeg to taste

Preparation
Place 3 cups of milk, the sugar and cinnamon in a pot. Heat. Apart, dissolve the cornstarch and the egg yolks in the rest of the milk and add to the pot. Cook over low heat for several minutes. Cool and add rum to taste. Sprinkle with nutmeg and cinnamon before serving.
 

#HolidayCheers


#SipNowTravelSoon


Top Image: Nuremberg Christmas Market; copyright German National Tourism Board/ Jens Wegener
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Celebrating the Holiday Spirit of Travel... at Home
Here we are at the holidays at last. It’s been a year of challenges and disappointments, with canceled or postponed trips that normally give us the relaxation, escape from the everyday… and something to look forward to.
 
But the holiday spirit of travel is still out there to lift our spirits this season and give us inspiration for travels to come.

We’ve assembled some of the best seasonal experiences you can enjoy at home this year, and even share virtually with friends and loved ones.
 

The Nutcracker


Long before Toy Story, the ballet with Tchaikovsky’s memorable score and a magical story line in the Land of the Sweets that has toys and treats and mice coming to life in exquisite choreography was entrenched as a global holiday phenomenon. Even people who aren’t interested in ballet make it a must-do holiday event. It’s most children’s first – and only – exposure to classical dance, and has inspired many a budding ballerina.

Screen capture from clip of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker - New York City Ballet. WATCH IT HERE.

With cultural institutions struggling even before COVID, The Nutcracker has become essential to the survival of local ballet companies. For some, holiday performances of The Nutcracker represent as much as 75% of their annual revenues!

This year, almost all productions have been cancelled due to COVID. But the show must go on. Across the country and around the world, ballet companies are offering streaming versions of their performances to replace live stage productions. Some even include additional, virtual experiences.

Ideal to curl up and watch – together or virtually – with the young ones in your life, here’s a list of US-based ballet companies you can support by buying tickets to their streamed performances.

Canada’s National Ballet has partnered with Cineplex to present an acclaimed version filmed in 2008 featuring principal dancers Sonia Rodriguez and Piotr Stanczyk as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Peter/the Nutcracker, along with 233 performers including 50 dancers, 98 children from Canada’s National Ballet School and high schools from across Toronto, 65 musicians and 20 singers from the VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto.

The production will be screened at more than 50 theatres across Canada where theaters are still open, or you can stream it online through the Cineplex Store until Jan. 2.
 
Too hip for ballet?
Don’t miss The Hip Hop Nutcracker – a holiday mash up for cool kids of any age. Set to Tchaikovsky’s classic score, it’s a spellbinding contemporary dance spectacle with a cast of a dozen all-star dancers, a DJ, a violinist, and MC Kurtis Blow, one of hip hopʼs founding fathers, re-telling the lessons of love and the holiday season against a modern, urban backdrop. 

KICK IT WITH THE ROCKETTES

 
Another staple of holiday season trips to New York, The Rockettes’ Radio City Christmas Spectacular has also been canceled.

(Screen capture from Promo for 2019’s Christmas Spectacular Starring The Radio City Rockettes; WATCH IT HERE.)

Well, you can’t keep The Rockettes down. They’ve decided to offer free, virtual dance classes to keep spirits up, share some of the secrets of their famous, leggy moves and dance numbers like the 'Parade of the Wooden Soldiers'… and even help you work off some of those COVID/ Christmas extra pounds.

The 50-60-minute classes are on The Rockettes’ Instagram Live weekly through to December 23rd, but will also be posted on their Instagram and Facebook pages if you miss the live class.
 
 

ANDREA BOCELLI 'S CHRISTMAS CONCERT


Andrea Bocelli’s Easter concert “Music for Hope” performance from Milan’s Duomo drew nearly 3 million simultaneous viewers, setting a record for classical performance on YouTube. Made available afterwards, it has now been viewed over 40 million times.

The world’s beloved Italian tenor is hoping to lift up the world’s spirits again at Christmas. “Believe in Christmas” will be live streamed from Parma’s stunning opera house Teatro Regio di Parma, modeled after La Scala, on December 12th.

The performance will include full-orchestra accompaniment to Christmas favorites and songs from the tenor’s latest album, 'Believe'. Surprise guest performances have also been teased.

Screen capture from Andrea Bocelli – Believe – Official Album Trailer. WATCH IT HERE.

Unlike his free Easter performance, Bocelli’s “Believe in Christmas” is only available on a single day, with tickets available at Ticketmaster.
 
 

SANTA TRACKER


Santa may be the ultimate Christmas traveler these days, logging more miles than anyone - and we know even COVID won’t slow Santa down! 

As it has for over 60 years, the joint Canada/US North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and its US predecessor, have tracked Santa’s ‘flight’. It has become the ‘official’ source of Santa’s current position around the world.

Screen Capture from https://www.noradsanta.org/

It all began with a mistake: a local Colorado store ad misprinting the phone number for children to call Santa. It was actually the number of the Commander-in-Chief of NORAD’s predecessor’s hotline. In full Christmas spirit, Colonel Harry Shoup ran with it, having his staff ‘check the radar’ for Santa’s current position, and relaying the information to children who called.

The tradition continues today, with NORAD staff, family and friends volunteering to reply to calls and emails from children around the world.

Perfect for a shared screen video call with the special children in your life, you can go to NORAD’s online Santa tracker and follow his magical Christmas Eve journey together.
 

Wishing you the very best of the holiday season, and a joyful, better year to come, when we can all travel again.


 

#CelebrateNowTravelSoon

 
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Wish Away the Worst of 2020, Give Thanks, and Plant Hope - Tourism New Zealand's Forest Initiative
When the sun rises on the New Year, New Zealand’s location on the globe makes it the first country in the world to welcome 2021.

To get next year started on the right foot for the whole planet, Tourism New Zealand is launching a holiday initiative that generates hope, turns the disappointments of this year into something positive, and launches on Giving Tuesday, December 1st.

For the month of December, Tourism New Zealand will be planting a ‘Forest of Hope’ for 2021.
 
2020 has been a tough year, with cancellations, postponements, missed travels and weddings, graduations, birthdays and celebrations.

People from all over the world can submit their disappointments from the past year and New Zealand will transform them into hope, planting a native Kiwi tree for every entry.
 
The program is based on trees as Nature’s symbol of life and growth. New Zealand’s famously green islands are over 30% forest – that’s more than 8 million hectares of wooded land. Some native trees are found nowhere else in the world, including Kauri trees (pictured below), among the oldest trees on the planet, some estimated to have been alive over 4000 years!

(Kauri Trees, courtesy Trees That Count)
 
To take advantage of this symbol of renewal, readers can share their disappointments from the year on the Tourism New Zealand website’s 'Forest of Hope' page.
 
For every disappointment shared with Tourism New Zealand between December 1 and December 31, 2020, a native Kiwi tree will be planted along the iconic Queenstown bike trail in the Southland, or among the Wiapoua Forest in the Northland.
 
You can also give a gift of a tree this year to a friend or loved one, give back to yourself, or simply give back to the environment by purchasing another tree to be planted for a nominal donation.

(Trees That Count: Planting at Queenstown)
 
And once the country’s borders open for travel and New Zealand is able to welcome visitors again, people will be able to visit the tree they helped grow.
 
Tourism New Zealand is partnering with Trees That Count. It’s a local non-profit with a goal of planting 200 million native trees across the country. They are over 30 million trees towards that goal now, and estimate in the next half-century, the new native trees will cleanse the earth’s atmosphere of more than 5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

(Tane Mahuta; photo David Kirkland)
 
It’s a wonderful way for us to feel connected to the earth and people on the other side of the world even as we dream of travelling again soon. 
 
And Tourism New Zealand’s Forest of Hope is also and mindful - and thankful - way to say goodbye to this year’s disappointments and plant a seed of hope to look forward to better times ahead in 2021.

 

#HappyHolidays



Top Photo: Eastwoodhill Arboretum, Eastland, courtesy Tourism Eastland Inc



How This New American River Cruise Ship May Surprise You
When you think of ships that cruise American rivers, you might picture paddlewheels, riverboat gamblers, and ladies with parasols.

But while some cruise ships exploring the United States by river pay homage to 19th-century American history, American river cruising doesn’t have to be an escape into a Mark Twain novel.

When American Cruise Lines launched its latest river cruise ship, the American Melody, this month, it became the 4th – and the second ship for the cruise line during COVID – in its acclaimed ‘Modern Series’.

No paddlewheels here. Instead, the kind of clean lines and contemporary elegance you might associate with upscale cruise ships anywhere in the world.


The American Melody and her sister ships feature 5 decks of eye-catching architectural details like a grand, multi-story glass atrium at the center of the ship, a patented opening bow and retractable gangway, elevator access to all decks for accessibility and ease, and sweeping expanses of glass throughout with unparalleled panoramic views both inside and out.


175 guests enjoy 100% private balcony, extremely spacious accommodations. And you’ll spend daytimes between a casual outdoor café; a signature Grand Dining Room with river views from every table; numerous spacious sky-lit lounges; several open-air & shaded sundecks; Library; Chart Room; Game Room; Fitness Room & Yoga-Wellness Studio.


American Melody and her sister ships redefine American river cruising from a design and architecture point of view. The American Melody, and sister ship American Jazz (its predecessor that was completed in 2020 but delayed its cruising launch due to the pandemic) provide a fresh, modern experience as they cruise the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers beginning in the summer of 2021.


The Modern Series joins the historic-style paddlewheelers and coastal ships in American Cruise Line’s fleet, and continues the same traditions of world-class gastronomic offerings that include local ingredients and regional cuisine, personalized service inclusive of daily pre-dinner cocktails, wine and beer with meals, itineraries with complimentary shore excursions, and daily entertainment that includes music, local culture, history and nature experts.

This modern twist on American river cruising is soon to become a common sight on America’s rivers, with a 5th American Cruise Line modern ship due in 2022, and 1 or 2 more each year in a rapid-expansion plan to meet a growing demand to rediscover America by water.

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images courtesy American Cruise Lines
Top Image: American Melody being launched into the Wicomico River at Chesapeake Shipbuilding, Salisbury, MD


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Italy Names Its First 'City of Wine'
Wine lovers have one more reason to get traveling again next year. In celebration of one of its oldest and most beloved products, Italy has declared its first-ever ‘City of Wine’.

The Italian association of communities that collaborate to protect and promote their regional wine designations held a competition for the new honor. 

Barolo - the town with the famous red wine of the same name – was crowned ‘City of Wine’ for the award’s inaugural year in 2021.

Nestled between Genoa on Italy’s north-western coast, and the Alps to the north, the picturesque Langhe hills surrounding Barolo in Piedmont are nearly entirely covered by vineyards and have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The nebbiolo grape grown there is made into Barolo wine – so highly esteemed, it’s been dubbed the ‘King of Wines’.
Barolo wine is considered the most famous regional designation in all of wine-rich Italy. Not only does the wine have to originate only in the Barolo zone – that’s only 5 miles across at its widest point – wine must also go through a particular process. That includes a minimum of 3 years of ageing – half of that in wooden casks. Barolo is famously a wine high in tannin and much better aged, with some connoisseurs waiting more than 10 years for Barolo wines to develop the best flavor.

That’s put some modernizers – who favor a fruitier, quicker, less fermented version that appeals to modern and international tastes – at odds with die hard traditionalists.

You can decide for yourself at the abundance of wineries and wine shops that form the core of any visit to Barolo, and pair the wine with some of the region’s famous dishes at local restaurants. (Don't miss braised beef Barolo - in Barolo red wine sauce, with carrots, an iconic example of Piedmontese cuisine.)

To beat out half a dozen other competitors for the new title ‘City of Wine’, Barolo proposed an entire 2021 calendar of events, exhibitions, seminars, tastings and installations. They’ll celebrate the wine traditions, history of Barolo wine, and the natural cycle of the seasons.

City of Wine celebrations only enhance Barolo’s permanent features: the Langhe hills, Barolo vineyards, wineries, and wine shops. Add Barolo castle and its wine museum, the nearby, quirky Corkscrew Museum, and Barolo chapel standing in the middle of vineyards with its historic sanctuary for vineyard workers-meets-modern art installation to your essential 2021 pilgrimage to Italy’s first designated City of Wine.

 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images: Getty
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Canadian Luxury Train Tours' First USA Journey - Rockies to the Red Rocks
They are the essential train trips in Western Canada. Three rail routes that provide travelers a window onto the Rockies like no other way of travel.

Rocky Mountaineer operates bucket list rail journeys between Vancouver and the iconic Canadian Rockies towns of Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper. 

They are train trips featuring a multitude of luxuries in the heart of the West’s greatest wilderness, from plush, glass-domed, railcars that reveal a 360 degree view of mountains, lakes and forests – some of which Technicolor scenery is only visible from the tracks – to fine dining and personalized service.

 
And beginning in 2021, travelers who love riding the rails can connect with some of the American West’s most iconic landscapes the same way.

Rocky Mountaineer is launching a new route in the heart of the American Rockies. Its ‘Rockies to the Red Rocks’ train trip is a 2-day journey between Denver, Colorado, and Moab, Utah.

Rockies to the Red Rocks route showcases scenic views that are unique to the Southwest United States. Between Denver and Glenwood Springs, train guests journey alongside the Colorado River and through a series of canyons with steep, rugged rock walls. The scenery along the route between Glenwood Springs and Moab includes mountain vistas, desert cliffs and rock formations.

Like its Canadian Rockies trips, the company's first U.S. rail journey features daytime spent on the tracks in custom-designed glass-domed coaches so you don’t miss any view of the incredible scenery.

This new route is also a rail journey that is both luxurious and local. Onboard storytelling, a social atmosphere and the Rocky Mountaineer's renowned culinary experience round out your train experience. It features cuisine and ingredients local to the Southwestern U.S., which will be complemented with beverage service, all served at your first-class seat, so you can enjoy the scenery as you dine.

And the overnight midway is spent in a hotel that’s included as part of your trip. 


Rocky Mountaineer says it’s been working for years on the new route, looking for a ‘special location with many of the same features we have in Western Canada – incredible scenery, iconic destinations, and the option for an all-daytime, multi-day journey that is best experienced by train.’

Calling its Rockies to the Red Rocks route between Denver and Moab ‘historic’, the company says, ‘now we are opening our newest train experience in the region where train travel history began.’

The company is working with local tourism organizations, hotels and tour operators to curate custom pre- and post-train journey packages that feature tours, activities, and stays in Denver and Moab, to make the most of your journey by rail.

If you love train travel, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to cross this historic train route off your travel wish list as there are 40 of these 2-day journeys on Rocky Mountaineer’s calendar from August to October in its 2021 preview season.

What would be even better? Making Rocky Mounaineer’s ‘Rockies to the Red Rocks’ train trip the core of a longer journey exploring the iconic sites and unforgettable scenery, history and National Parks of the American Rockies.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon



Images courtesy Rocky Mountaineer


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A New 'Species' of Extreme Thrill Ride: the 'VelociCoaster' Takes 'Flight' in Orlando
Florida’s fastest and tallest coaster – along with a pack of fierce Velociraptors – will be unleashed at Universal Orlando Resort in 2021.

If you – or the kids in your life – have seen all the movies and fantasize about visiting Jurassic Park and its fierce dinosaurs, the Jurassic World VelociCoaster will bring the movies to life in a coaster ride that will take your breath away.

It’s a new ‘species’ of roller coaster, with a series of intense maneuvers that will send you and your family catapulting up to 70 mph and more than 150 feet in the air with the swiftest of prehistoric predators.
 
The Jurassic World VelociCoaster is the world’s first roller coaster based on the blockbuster dino movie series. It features its own original story that spins off from the creatures, thrills and environments on the big screen. You’ll join the original cast – Chris Pratt as Owen Grady, Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing and BD Wong as Dr. Henry Wu – as you embark on a high-speed chase and feel the rush of the hunt while racing alongside a darting pack of Velociraptors.

Opening at Orlando’s Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, the Jurassic World VelociCoaster soars to new heights in extreme roller coaster design.
 
Coasting over more than 4,700 feet of track and reaching heights of up to 155 feet, the coaster’s one-of-a-kind maneuvers will have you twisting and soaring above land, barrel rolling just inches above water, speeding through near-misses and launches in the paddock, and more first-ever maneuvers. All within a Jurassic World environment. You’ll:

  • Accelerate through two pulse-pounding launches, the fastest reaching 70 mph in 2.4 seconds
  • Take a 360-degree barrel roll right above the Islands of Adventure lagoon
  • Experience a zero-gravity inverted stall that will send you upside down across 100 feet of track in a jaw-dropping, first-of-its-kind maneuver
  • Go airborne during the towering “Top Hat,” which propels riders 155 feet in the air and then immediately plummets into an 80 degree drop – it’s the steepest Universal drop to date
  • Brace for a total of 12 heart-pounding seconds of airtime – with the thrilling sensation of weightlessness lifted from your seat – throughout the adventure.
 

This edge-of-your-seat, dino-engineering marvel is the latest addition to Jurassic Park at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Only in this immersive land can the Jurassic fans in your life come face-to-face with life-size dinosaurs in incredible theme park experiences, including Jurassic Park River Adventure, where a leisure raft ride turns into a daring eight-story plunge to escape a ferocious T. Rex; and Raptor Encounter, where you can get up-close to Velociraptor Blue and the newest additions to the paddock – baby raptors – while learning more about the clever carnivores.

If immersion into the world of this epic film franchise – or an extreme roller coaster experience – fits your family’s vacation dreams, Jurassic Park at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure should jump to the top of your travel list.
Other members of the family will find their own thrills in one of the other two theme parks in the trio of Universal Orlando destinations. Universal Studios Florida is home to the technologically-advanced stunt show, The Bourne Stuntacular; and Universal’s Volcano Bay is a tropical oasis that features an actual beach right in the middle of Orlando. 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images courtesy Universal Orlando

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There's a New Moon on the Horizon - a Silver Moon
October was an extraordinary month for stargazers and amateur astronomers. One single month saw two full moons: a Harvest moon and a rare, second full moon – a blue moon.

But one other moon appeared in October too – Silversea’s Silver Moon. 

Sister ship to the ultra-luxury cruise line’s Silver Muse, it’s the 9th vessel for Silversea, and its second new ship to overcome the unprecedented challenges of 2020 to launch this year.

Over 1,000 craftspeople labored in Italy to bring the Silver Moon to life. The 600-guest ship follows in the lines of her sister ship the Silver Muse, celebrating small-ship intimacy and understated, modern Italian luxury that’s loved by sophisticated North American guests.


Expanding the Indoors Outdoors, and Re-imagining Favorite Public Spaces


The Silver Moon builds on the successes of the Muse in her public spaces, in many cases incorporating new outdoor spaces to maximize guests’ true maritime experience.

·     Guest-favorite indoor gathering space, Dolce Vita, (above) has an updated layout – with the bar repositioned to the center of the space and focal point of shipboard social life: a sophisticated bar by day and atmospheric piano bar in the evenings.
 
·     Silversea’s signature restaurant and salute to classic French cuisine, La Dame has been enlarged on the Silver Moon and enriched with custom-designed Lalique crystal panels, as well as an option for lovers of fine dining to indulge outdoors in the sea air.
 
·     Kaiseki, where guests enjoy the spectacle of expert sushi chefs in action preparing delectable, seasonally-inspired Japanese and Asian cuisine, has elevated, while still minimalist design on the Moon.
 
·     Those who enjoy a cigar and a snifter will find a new Wintergarden area in Connoisseur’s Corner that extends the sophisticated club atmosphere into a sheltered and inviting outdoor space.


Suite Life – Silversea Style


Spacious all-suite, all-butler-serviced accommodations are hallmarks of the Silversea experience. Soothing luxe décor, materials and amenities embrace guests in comfort, and dedicated butlers, stocked in-suite bar, 24-hour in-suite dining make your suite on the Silver Moon feel even better than home.
 

S.A.L.T. Program: Immersive Culinary Enrichment

 
One tremendous innovation in the Silversea cruising lifestyle is debuting aboard Silver Moon. The line’s new culinary enrichment programme S.A.L.T. is an acronym of ‘Sea and Land Taste’, and it gives guests the opportunity to explore a range of destination-focused gastronomic experiences—both on-board and ashore.
 
Three new venues form a hub of culinary discovery on Deck 4 of the Silver Moon as part of the S.A.L.T. program:
 
S.A.L.T. Kitchen is among the largest of eight restaurants aboard Silver Moon. It’s the first large-scale regional restaurant aboard a luxury cruise ship, offering a menu that changes with the destination and a regionally inspired wine list;
S.A.L.T. Lab is a test kitchen where guests learn about local ingredients and artisanal techniques, through insightful workshops, tastings, and demonstrations; and
S.A.L.T. Bar allows guests to sample the most authentic flavours of the destination, through a large selection of regional wines, spirits, and other drinks.

 
Silversea’s newest of its Muse-class ships is both the pinnacle of advances in luxury cruise travel in the 21st century and a symbol of the resilience of the hard-hit cruise industry.
 
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images courtesy Silversea

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The Latest Cruise Line To Go 'All-Inclusive'
Nothing is more luxurious than when things are extra simple and extra special. Now you can have that wonderful feeling that ‘everything is taken care of’ on your next big-ship cruise.
 
Celebrity Cruises has unveiled a new ‘Always Included’ program. Instead of differing promotions and packages, the cruise line is including unlimited drinks, unlimited wi-fi and even daily tips on all new bookings except its Galapagos itineraries.

This new, all-inclusive approach is making waves in cruising.

Travelers have gotten used to all inclusive beach resorts. But in cruising, ‘all inclusive’ has only been found at the very top end of ultra luxury lines with small and mid-sized ships. Silversea, Seabourn, Crystal Cruises, Scenic, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and Atlas Ocean Voyages launching in 2021, are among those ultra-luxury cruise lines that include wine and spirits, gratuities, internet, and in some cases, specialty restaurants, butler service, even flights and shore excursions.

With ‘Always Included’, Celebrity Cruises is knocking on the door of that exclusive club.

In Celebrity’s case, there are additional variations in the all-inclusive experience on the line. ‘Always Included’ is the base level of all-inclusive lifestyle. The ‘Elevate’ package expands to include unlimited premium drinks and adds some shore excursions, while the ‘Indulge’ package tops up ‘Elevate’ even further with unlimited streaming Wi-Fi, as well as onboard spending money. And all guests in the ‘Retreat’ ‘luxury ship within a ship’, all-suite area with private restaurant, lounge, and sundeck, automatically receive ‘Indulge’ level of all-inclusive amenities.

It’s part of Celebrity’s mission to redefine ‘modern luxury’ cruising lifestyle on a big ship level. And it coincides with the launch of the second of its new, 3000-guest ‘Edge’ class of ships. 

The brand-new Celebrity Apex has just arrived in Florida, joining its sister ship the Celebrity Edge. Both are easily recognizable with their distinctive, phenomenal ‘Magic Carpet’ (pictured, top), a cantilevered, bright-orange venue suspended off the side of the ship that travels up and down to different decks, acting as a lounge, restaurant, or even tender embarkation center.

Focus on leading-edge, contemporary design, an upscale, on-trend resort atmosphere and lifestyle that’s now all-inclusive… all combine into Celebrity Cruises’ version of ‘New Luxury’.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Image courtesy Celebrity Cruises.

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30 Years Later: Celebrating One of the Great Monuments to Democracy
This fall, Germany celebrates the 30th anniversary of its reunification. 

It’s hard to believe it was three decades ago that the Cold War came to an end. That from the end of WW2 until 1990, Germany was a divided country, with families and fellow citizens split between democracy in the West and the Soviet Eastern bloc. 

In the heart of Soviet-controlled East Germany, the city of Berlin itself was divided too. The outpost of Western democracy was surrounded on all sides by the East’s barbed wire and armed guards who shot suspected spies or escapees, with the ruthlessly effective – and symbolic - Berlin Wall separating the two sides of the city.

(Top: Historic image from July 1980: A look from West Berlin over the Berlin wall to Brandenburg Gate and East Berlin. Sign with 'Caution: You are leaving West Berlin' in the foreground.)

The Berlin Wall’s photogenic focal point in front of the Brandenburg Gate was where President Reagan gave his historic ‘Tear down this wall’ speech that helped speed the Cold War to an end.

The fall of the Berlin Wall, on November 9, 1989, with unforgettable images and footage of peaceful demonstrations and joyful crowds demolishing the wall by hand, followed by ecstatic reunions across the artificial border ensured the Berlin Wall’s place in legend.

The Brandenburg Gate today. (VisitBerlin/ Dagmar Schwelle)

Within a year – in the fall of 1990 – East and West Germany had disappeared, and one Germany re-united. 
In the 30 years since, historic cities and regions in the formerly cut-off Eastern German states have regained lost ground as tourist attractions – and Berlin has boomed.

Berlin Today


Restored as the capital of a unified Germany, Berlin retains visible memories of its recent and more distant past.
Those interested in WW2 and Cold War history will find a strip of markers in cobblestone that trace the path of the Wall, with one piece remaining at East Side Gallery to remind residents and visitors of its iconic presence. Other chilling history from these world-changing years is preserved in Book Burning Square, the Soviet Memorial, Stasi Museum and Holocaust Memorial (below).

(GNTB /Francesco Carovillano)
3 of Germany’s 41 UNESCO World Heritage Sites are in Berlin, and reflect the layers of Berlin’s many personalities over the centuries:

·      As the name suggests, Museum Island (below) is home to a phenomenal concentration of world-class museums rubbing elbows on an island in the middle of the city. In total, Berlin has 180 museums and more than its share of historic and modern masterpieces.

(GNTB/ Francesco Carovillano)

·      Prussian royalty established their summer palace in Potsdam, where Schloss Sanssouci’s architecture and gardens are awe-inspiring in their elegance, in sharp contrast to downtown Berlin’s urban modernism.

·      Modernist Housing from the 1920’s illustrate Berlin’s role as a leader in global architecture, design, politics and social trends.

Berlin’s tragedies, history of leading new trends, and joyous transition to peaceful reunification in 1990 have all shaped the city you’ll find today.

 (GNTB/Francesco Carovillano)

It has another UNESCO accolade: ‘City of Design’, recognized for creative and tech industries, and its exciting startup culture.
 
Berlin’s celebrated as one of the top cities in the world for innovative electronic music, a wild party and club scene, extravagant street art and pop up installations and sometimes gritty willingness to embrace creativity, innovation and self-expression in virtually any form. 
 
There’s a profound sense of freedom to express and explore new directions in Berlin. The city that completely reinvented itself just 30 years ago continues to invite visitors to discover new facets of themselves.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon

 

 Top image: Getty

All other images courtesy https://www.germany.travel/en/home.html

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KLM has revealed the future of flight. Hint: You'll be sitting IN the wings.
If you’re one of those travelers who always picks a seat over the wing, you’re in luck. In this new-concept aircraft, you – and every other passenger on board – will be flying IN the wings.

They call it the Flying –V. And it’s a whole new vision of passenger flight.

“Tube-and-wing” design has defined planes since the earliest days of passenger flight. Innovative approaches to aircraft design continued in military applications, where flying wing aircraft have established a presence. Now, they’re set to transform commercial passenger flight.

In the Flying-V, the pilots remain in the nose. But behind them, the passenger cabin, cargo hold and fuel tanks are in the wings, resulting in a plane that’s a spectacular V shape. No more tube!

The reason for the Flying –V design is simple: it’s incredibly energy efficient, especially for long-haul flights. KLM, who is partnered with Airbus and the Netherlands’ Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the project, predicts that the improvements in aerodynamics and reduced weight of the design will lower fuel consumption by 20% even over the most fuel-efficient aircraft flying today.

In a further step towards its goal of sustainable flight travel, the company is planning in a further stage to fly the Flying –V on sustainable fuel.


You Could Soon Be Flying On This Futuristic Plane


KLM’s Flying-V represents the most exciting innovation in commercial passenger aircraft design since the now-retired Concorde. That supersonic jet’s distinctive, ‘hawk’s-nose’ design contributed to the ultra-aerodynamic shape that enabled the plane to transport passengers on Trans-Atlantic flights faster than the speed of sound. 

The Flying-V’s design gives it the advantage in distance, not speed. Its fuel efficiency will enable it to fly longer without refuelling. That could mean more ultra-long-haul, non-stop flights.

KLM has now successfully flown a scale model of its Flying-V, but there’s no date for the plane to begin service. Nonetheless, we’ve got some insights about what flying will be like in the Flying-V. 

The innovation partnership compares the Flying-V to Airbus’ current most advanced aircraft, the A350. The Flying-V is not as long as the A350, but it’s the same width, so it fits in existing airport infrastructure like boarding gates and runways and hangars.

The Flying-V will carry the same number of passengers – 314 – as the A350, and the same amount of cargo. But ultimately, it’s a shorter, smaller aircraft. And that contributes to its reduced air resistance and increased fuel efficiency.

The team is taking the opportunity of a new aircraft design to re-imagine the interior of the plane and passenger comfort and on-board experience, too. To maximize the efficiency gains of the outside of the plane, the insides have to be as lightweight as possible. Everything is being re-designed, from the seats and bathrooms to the seating layout in those futuristic wings.

And of course, what’s automatically changed… is the view, from INSIDE the wings.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images courtesy KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
 
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Top 4 Places In The World To Go Hot Air Ballooning
Imagine yourself silently drifting along under colourful silk, cradled in a giant basket. You’re part of the breeze and Nature as you tranquilly float on the air over undisturbed scenery below. Your pilot lets the heat in the balloon drop to silently lower you closer to your birds’ eye view… then lifts you to majestic heights over an unforgettable panorama.
As epic as your photos will be, they will never match the reality of your experience.

If that is your idea of a bucket list trip, here are 4 of the most magical hot air balloon destinations in the world to make that travel dream come true.

 

Cappadocia, Turkey

A hot air balloon ride is so much established as the best way to experience Cappadocia (pictured top), virtually every photo of this region in Turkey features balloons wafting over its legendary chimney rock formations.
 
Millennia past, the limestone rocks near the town of Goreme eroded into a landscape of fairy spires and pillars. Early people carved subterranean villages with homes, churches and monasteries out of the soft stone formations. Possibly inspired by the mystical atmosphere, it became a monastic center 2500 years ago.
 
Extraordinary at ground level, the site is other-worldly from the perspective of a hot air balloon drifting across countless minaret-like formations at sunrise.
 

The Serengeti

Dreaming of an African safari? Make sure to add a hot air balloon ride to your trip of a lifetime to Kenya or Tanzania.
 
Even if you log all of Africa’s ‘Big Five’ list of iconic wildlife that includes the elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and Cape buffalo… as well as other exotic creatures like zebras, giraffes, cheetahs, chimps and gazelles from the back of your guide’s Range Rover, don’t miss the scenes of the Serengeti from the perspective of a hot air balloon.
 
Floating silently – without alerting or disturbing the animals – over the grasslands and canopy gives you the purest way to experience Nature’s wonders below.
 
Take a hot air balloon ride in Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya or the Serengeti National Park across the border in Tanzania between July and October, during the Great migration of gazelles, zebras and wildebeests, and be a witness to the incredible scale of this pre-historic phenomenon.
 

New Mexico

They say it’s the biggest hot air balloon race and festival in the world. For over a week every October, Albuquerque becomes the epicenter of the world of ballooning when it’s taken over by hundreds of hot air balloons during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Whether you’re lucky enough to be in a basket or observing from the ground, you’ll thrill at some of the highlights of the festival. Don’t miss one of the simultaneous ‘mass ascents’ of hundreds of colourful balloons against piercing blue skies. There are even races - although balloons ‘ride the wind’ and therefore travel the same speed as the wind, pilot expertise can influence speed.

Year round, you can hire local hot air balloon pilots for your own ride over the mountain and desert landscape over the Rio Grande Valley.
 

Bagan, Myanmar

Incredibly, there are said to be 5000 temples, monasteries and pagodas built between the 11th and 13th centuries dotting the plains of Bagan. It was the capitol of a number of ancient kingdoms in this South-East Asian country and is a UNESCO World Heritage site today.
 
A sunrise hot air balloon ascent at Bagan gives you a breathtaking vista as the ruins glow golden. 
 
It’s also the best way to get a sense of the astonishing scale of this archaeological wonder and the civilization that created it.

 

#DreamNowTravelSoon

 

Images: Getty

 

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Why This Mexican Mountain Town Keeps Getting Voted 'Best Small City In The World'
When you think of Mexico, famous beach towns may come first to mind.
But Mexico is more than its coasts. And one place, the ‘Heart of Mexico’, half a day’s drive northwest of Mexico City in the Colonial Highlands, has again been named ‘Best Small City in the World’*. It’s just the latest recognition of the charms of San Miguel de Allende. 

6000 feet above sea level in Mexico’s high sierra, with cool, comfortable temperatures and clear mountain air, it’s a far cry from the country’s beach atmosphere – and lifestyle. 

Every winter, Canadians, Americans and Europeans flock to San Miguel. Many have second or permanent homes in the city. And it’s more than climate that draws them. 

World Heritage

Founded in the 1500’s by a Franciscan monk, San Miguel’s core retains its historic streetscape and a sweeping collection of masterpieces of Mexican Baroque architecture – some considered the best in the country.
 
In San Miguel, Spanish colonial, indigenous and Creole influences converged in a melting pot and a truly one-of-a-kind culture that honors both European and Latin American heritage.
 
San Miguel’s colonial center has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More than individual buildings, the entire neighborhood is preserved so that cathedrals and homes, shops, and public buildings are maintained in their original form. The area preserves its heritage status by insisting even commercial signage doesn’t intrude on the historic atmosphere.

History Meets Lifestyle

Part of San Miguel’s charm is that it’s a terrifically walkable city.

Wear sensible shoes to wander cobblestone and flagstone narrow streets lined with tile-roofed homes in brilliant hues of yellows, oranges and reds, the grander architectural marvels that integrate heavy wooden doors, arches and wrought iron, shady parks full of playing children and local food vendors, and plazas that frame architectural delights and provide a gathering place for residents and visitors today.

Cafes and restaurants and vendors line the streets and plazas to fulfill your appetite for a café con leche or simple, inexpensive taco… all the way to inventive international cuisine that caters to the global tastes of San Miguel’s expat community.
Nearly a third of the hotels considered best in Mexico are in San Miguel, including a perennial first place winner, the Rosewood San Miguel with its famous rooftop terrace overlooking the city – especially magical at night when the monuments are lit!

Artists’ Colony

 
It was WW2 that put San Miguel on the map for foreign visitors and residents. After the war, US veterans covered by the GI Bill started coming to the city to study in its noteworthy school of fine arts, the Allende Institute. Artists, musicians, a host of culture creators took root in San Miguel, as well as expats and travelers who supported the growing cultural community.
 
Today, San Miguel still has a famously rich arts scene, based on a critical mass of thriving art galleries, an abundance of live music and theater, and an engaged community that participates and supports the city’s unique creative lifestyle. 
 
That also makes San Miguel a famous shopping destination, especially for modern and folkloric art, so plan ahead with space in your luggage!

Get Out of Town

In the area surrounding San Miguel, you’ll find ranch hacienda wineries and even be able to follow a wine route, discover a village that’s the cradle of Mexican independence and taste its famous ice cream in some unheard-of flavors, relax in natural thermal pools, as well as explore other artists’ colonies and cultural centers with festivals and shows that fill the calendar of residents and visitors to the Mexican Highlands.

 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


*San Miguel de Allende was named “Best Small City in the World” in the 2013, 2017, 2018 and 2020 Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards; over 700,000 readers cast votes pre-COVID to determine 2020's awards.

Images courtesy Visit San Miguel

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3 Hallowe'en Traditions With Roots in Ancient Celtic Ireland
Frightful Hallowe’en is many people’s top holiday of the year – but did you know that we can thank ancient Ireland for our favorite Hallowe’en traditions? 

Travel to Ireland these days, and you’ll still be able to connect with the origins of Celtic culture that still swirl in the mists of time in Ireland’s Ancient East.

Today’s Hallowe’en is the descendent of the Celtic festival of Samhain (Sow-ann). The celebrations included feasting on the harvest and lighting fires to mark the end of the season of light, and welcome the days of darkness.
 
The Irish practice of lighting bonfires began on hilltops in Ireland 3000 years ago, with clans and communities gathering to light huge ceremonial Samhain fires.
One of the biggest Celtic festivals of fire was on a hilltop called Hill of Ward in today’s County Meath. Recent archaeological excavations suggest the hill was used for feasting and celebration over 2,000 years ago. What’s more, it was the grandmother of all fires; old manuscripts reveal that the Celts lit a fire here from which all the fires in Ireland were rekindled.
To this day the area around the Hill of Ward, and the nearby Hill of Tara (pictured above) where the High Kings of Ireland ruled, remains one of the centers of Irish Halloween traditions. Every year, a 21st century celebration of Samhain, called the Púca Festival, is held in the region.

Celebrating Ireland as the birthplace of Halloween, Púca events normally include an impressive re-enactment of the symbolic lighting of the Samhain fire, live music and performance, amazing light installations and more. (This year the celebrations will be virtual, with a broadcast of the lighting of the Samhain fires due to take place on 31 October.)
 

Dress Up

That period of seasonal metamorphosis involved more than changing hours of light and darkness and lighting of fires for the ancient Celts. They believed that the moment of transition allowed the worlds of the living and the dead to interact – and that shape-shifting spirits could move between worlds. Starting to sound familiar?

To avoid being pulled into the netherworld in an untimely way, Celts disguised themselves in costumes. That would create confusion and even scare off any ghosts, fairies, goblins or demons roaming this world.
Hallowe’en dress up today may involve superheroes and video game characters – but its origins lay in deceptive and even frightening disguises.
 

Jack-o-Lanterns

Whatever face you choose to carve into your Hallowe’en pumpkin, you’re following an Irish tradition with New World materials. Before pumpkins existed in Europe, turnips and even large potatoes were hollowed out and carved to serve as lanterns.

Even the name Jack-o-lantern has its origins in and Irish folktale. As the story goes, a man named Stingy Jack played a trick on the Devil, who punished Jack, cursing him to wander all of Eternity with only a burning ember from the everlasting fires of Hell inside a turnip to light his way.

When Irish immigrants brought Hallowe’en traditions, including the jack-o-lantern, with them to North America, they discovered much larger and already-hollowed-out pumpkins and other winter squashes here that made bigger, better and much easier lanterns than turnips! 


Trick or Treat

In old Ireland, it was called ‘souling’. Children and the poor went from door to door, offering songs or prayers for the dead in exchange for money, kindling for fires, or food. The common food treat was a ‘soul cake’: a flatbread that contained fruit.

Today, the Irish celebrate Hallowe’en much like we do, with costumes and visits to neighborhood homes for small gifts of candy, fruit and money.

But as we enjoy activities we see as fun diversions and cute child’s play, we can also remember their mystical origins in ancient Celtic Ireland.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images courtesy Ireland.com

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Explore the Oldest Protected Forest in the Hemisphere
If you haven’t been to the twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, the chance to discover the wonders of the Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve should add it to your Caribbean travel list.

Covering two-thirds of the island, the Reserve dates back to 1776 – the same year as American Independence!

The historic ordinance protecting the tropical rainforest recognized some of the earliest science showing the relationship between abundant trees and the rainfall that contributed to the fertility of the land. It is considered a conservation landmark, with Scientific American noting, “the protection of Tobago's forest was the first act in the modern environmental movement'.

Legacy of Conservation 

Today, the 10,000 acres of prolific tropical rainforest is a dream for naturalists, outdoors enthusiasts and especially bird watchers.  It’s home to dozens of species of mammals, (non-poisonous) reptiles and amphibians, including the ocellated gecko, not found anywhere else in the world.
More than 200 types of birds live in the reserve and you can see many of the colorful winged residents of the rainforest. If you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the White-tailed Sabrewing Hummingbird. It’s one of the world’s rarest hummingbirds and unique to the island of Tobago. Thought at one time to be extinct after a hurricane tore through the region, the species has been recovering since its rediscovery in the 1970’s.

Nature Trails

There are a number of marked trails through the lush and tranquil Reserve. The oldest and most prestigious trail is the Gilpin Trace. Cutting through the heart of the forest, it’s generally flat and accessible to birders, nature lovers and hikers of many levels of fitness. An experienced guide will help you make the most of the sights and sounds of this naturalists’ nirvana.
For more intrepid explorers, turn your sights on the island’s highest point – Pigeon Peak – at the eastern end of the Main Ridge Forest Reserve. In a half-day hike, you can traverse the challenging, overgrown and mostly unmarked trail. The main route follows an old plantation road that cuts along the hillside. Just before a gully, a steep trail leads up into open rainforest towards the summit.
 

Off The Beaten Track

Surprisingly for a nature reserve that’s been voted “World’s Leading Eco-Tourism destination” multiple times, the Main Ridge Forest Reserve still flies under the radar. So it’s the perfect place for an off-the-beaten-track tropical nature holiday.
 

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Images Courtesy Tobago Tourism; Photo credit: Alexa Fernado

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