Robert Q Travel Byron's Blog

That’s before its first ship has even launched. 

Virgin Voyages is like all of Sir Richard Branson’s new endeavors: it’s all about making waves. Everyone is talking about Branson’s new take on what it means to cruise and the young-at-heart, hip, and stylish new cruise crowd Virgin Voyages will appeal to.

WATCH VIDEO ABOVE: How Does Sir Richard Branson Do Cruising?

The company’s first ship, the Scarlet Lady, is scheduled to debut in the spring of 2020, sailing fewer than 3000 ‘sailors’/guests from her home port in Miami year round in the Caribbean, including calls at Virgin Voyages’ private island beach resort in the Bahamas.

And before the Scarlet Lady even sets sail, her sister ship has been announced. 


When the Valiant Lady launches in 2021, the ships will share a sleek, modern, yacht-like aesthetic and Virgin’s signature ‘ rebel luxe, Adult-by-Design, lifestyle that feels like a music festival at sea. 

It’s a detox/retox atmosphere that balances health and wellness options like juice bars and sunrise yoga with indulgence in more than twenty dining spaces (all restaurants, no buffets!) champagne at the push of a button on the app, and entertainment that reflects Virgin’s roots in the leading edge of the music industry.

Itineraries to Ibiza and Beyond


But instead of the Caribbean, the Valiant Lady charts a different course. From a homeport of Barcelona, the Valiant Lady will sail week-long voyages in the Mediterranean, calling in ports in some of the region’s hottest destinations from France to Italy to Spain, to savor the world’s best beach clubs, cultural experiences, restorative spas, yacht clubs and nightlife.

Instead of the Ibiza-inspired private island beach resort in the Bahamas, every Virgin Voyages sailing on the Valiant Lady in the Med will have Fridays overnight in thrilling, trend-setting party scene Ibiza itself. Whether it’s a blessed-out beach club, a bohemian market, a serene spa, watching the stunning sunsets, or a late night out, there is no place in the world like Ibiza, and it’s a highlight of the Virgin experience in the Mediterranean.

In addition to Ibiza, the upcoming Valiant Lady’s 3 itineraries feature late night stays in other ports so ‘Sailors’ can make the most of the evening attractions in these destinations:
 
  • The exotic delights of Barcelona, Ibiza, Monte Carlo, Marseille and Olbia
  • A fantastic sampling of the Med featuring Barcelona, Ibiza, Toulon, Ajaccio, Marina di Carrara and Cagliari
  • Spanish immersion, stopping by Barcelona, Ibiza, Palma de Mallorca, Malaga and the British port of Gibraltar at Spain’s southern tip. 

 

Sunday Sail-Aways from the Heart of Barcelona

 
When Valiant Lady launches in 2021, the ship will dock just steps from Las Ramblas in central Barcelona. This prime location, usually reserved by luxury liners and mega-yachts, permits walking access to the dynamic and diverse neighborhoods of Spain’s most popular port town, including the famed urban beach of La Barceloneta. The weekly Sunday sail away was strategically designed to give you maximum flight options and the opportunity to enjoy at least an extra full day pre-cruise in Barcelona.
 
The Valiant Lady is the latest, but not the last, new ship for Virgin Voyages. The Scarlet Lady and Valiant Lady are just the first two of four ships the budding cruise line has on order, proving Sir Richard Branson’s latest lifestyle/ travel brand is determined to make a big splash into the cruise scene.
 

Start your Trip!



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One of the biggest trends in recent years has been ‘Multi-Gen’ travel, where 3 or more generations of the family come together on vacation.

‘Skip Gen’ travel leaves Mum and Dad at home for some much-needed downtime (or house reno’s or a getaway of their own!) while Grandma and Grandpa go on holiday with the grandkids for some fun times and bonding.

As with any trip, everyone involved deserves to have a good time. When grandparents think about taking their grandkids on an escape, it should be a vacation that means something and appeals to them as well as to the younger generation.

BestTrip TV’s Lynn Elmhirst recommends 4 types of trips for ‘skip gen’ travel:

Historical Travel

 
Grandparents often carry the torch of family memories and how real people lived in earlier times, and historical travel can be one of the best ways for them to pass the torch to a new generation. Grandma and Grandpa can share memories and family history on trips retracing family roots to the old country or to places where ancestors lived when they first came to this country.
 
Or the older and younger members of the family can discover together places that changed both family and world history. A Skip-Gen trip to the WW2 Normandy Landing Beaches gives both generations a taste of the spectacular modern French way of life, as well as the chance to walk the actual beaches where Americans, Canadians, British and other Allied countries came together to retake Occupied Europe and change the course of history.
 
Are Battlefield Memorials Appropriate for Kids? Watch the video at the top for insights about why and how destinations like the Juno Beach Centre (Canada’s D-Day Landing Beach in Normandy, France) appeal to families.
 

Resorts with Adult Amenities Plus Kid Attractions 

 
There are some Caribbean or Mexican Riviera resorts that are ALL about the kids with non-stop fun. Or all about grownups (even adults-only lifestyles). But it doesn’t have to be either/or.
 
How about resorts (all-inclusive or otherwise) that have equal appeal to the older and the younger generations? Places where grandparents and kids can alternate quiet relaxation poolside and fine dining with heart pumping thrills, like Barcelo's Maya Grand Resort, a village of multiple resorts where both generations can change it up from formal to casual to poolside dining, places to bask in the sun of the Riviera Maya, and get the blood pumping at a new adventure park, Ventura Fly & Ride, with 8 unique aerial attractions or test driving skills in vehicles from pedal carts to off-road motorized vehicles – all in the protected environment of the resort grounds (pictured below).
 
 
 

Cruise Ships

 
Like a beach resort, sometimes a ship IS the destination, complete with waterparks, go karts, climbing walls and even a sky diving simulator. If you’re traveling with teens, you could consider ships within a ship – if there are teens, grandma and grandpa can enjoy the relaxing grown up environment of Norwegian Cruise Line’s The Haven while the teens have the run of the adventure park and they can meet up before and after. Win-win.
 
Here’s another thought: make it about the cruising destination. Cruising is the best – and most accessible - way to journey in comfort to epic wildlife destinations like Alaska, or the Galapagos. The grandkids will never forget the trip where they meet a thousand-pound, 100-year old tortoise or see a grizzly bear hunting for salmon, or go fishing with their grandparents themselves, on phenomenal shore excursions. 

(Princess Cruises: Alaska Shore Excursion)
 
Even ultra-luxury ships that are normally geared towards adults embrace young guests on itineraries like these. What’s more, these two itineraries are excellent examples where the cruising season happens to accommodate summer holidays. (Alaska sailings are in the summertime, and Galapagos is a year-round destination).

(BestTrip's photo from the Deck of a Regent Cruise to Alaska Sailing Past the Hubbard Glacier.)
 

Soft Adventure

 
Outdoor adventures together can help grandparents and their grandkids to create lifelong bonds and lasting memories and be healthy and active every day. And the world is full of great places to spend time together outdoors.
 
Holidays with daily opportunities to be active, like ranches where you can go riding, lodges and hotels where you can take nearby hikes, cycling or water sports, and land-based safaris with combinations of driving and walking cultivate healthy habits as well as relationships. 

(G Adventures: Family Adventure in Sand Dunes in the Sahara)
 
The more active the grandparents, the more you can ratchet up the physical activity: taking to the ski hills, climbing Kilimanjaro, cycling through Vietnam together.
 
Time spent with the youngest generation is more valuable than ever, and skip-gen trips give kids and their grandparents the priceless gift of travel as well as close ties.
 

Start your Trip!

 
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It was a fabled event in military history and has become etched into popular culture, the subject of movies, documentaries, novels and real stories shared by veterans returning to their homes.

2019 marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day. With every passing year, there are fewer and fewer veterans alive who landed on Canada's Juno Beach, Britain's Sword and Gold Beaches, and America's Omaha and Utah Beaches in the desperate effort to gain a foothold and begin liberating Occupied Europe. 

Their sacrifices and success have become legend, and we can still pay tribute to the power of people and nations banding together to achieve a noble goal. 


HELP THE LANDING BEACHES ACHIEVE UNESCO STATUS


The initiative to list Normandy’s D-Day Landing Beaches as a UNESCO World Heritage Site aims to preserve the Beaches and the stories of the people who fought for freedom and shared values of humanity.

You can join tens of thousands of people who have signed the petition at

normandiepourlapaix.fr/en/liberte-jinscris-ton-nom


The online form asks (in French) for you to add your
  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • Email
  • Country
  • Age
  • City
  • Check that ‘you’re not a robot’, then
  • Click the ‘Valider’ blue button
to register your support.

 

VISIT THE D-DAY LANDING BEACHES


For countless families across Canada and the United States whose fathers, brothers, grandfathers and uncles fought on D-Day or in any battle of World War 2, as well as students, new citizens, community groups and military and veterans' groups, the Landing Beaches in Normandy, France are an essential travel destination to honor, first-hand, the monumental task and tremendous sacrifices of D-Day, and walk in the very footsteps of the soldiers who landed there.

The Landing Beaches are easy to reach for any traveler to Northern Europe. Ask your travel advisor to help you find the perfect pilgrimage Here are some of the options that take you to American Landing Beaches and Canada's Juno Beach Centre.

Independent travelers can take rental car, private tour or train (especially if you get a rail pass) and public transportation from all major Northern European cities including Paris, London, Amsterdam and more.

Or you can join a land tour, shore excursion from a river cruise, or even from an ocean cruise calling in a northern French port.

  • Globus, Collette, Trafalgar and Insight Vacations land tours include the Landing Beaches as part of general-interest tours of France or Northern Europe, as well as war memorial or battlefields tours of the region;

  • Avalon Waterways, AmaWaterways and Uniworld Seine River cruises from Paris offer shore excursions to the Landing Beaches; and

  • Oceania Cruises and Princess Cruises calling in Le Havre offer shore excursions including American and Canadian Landing Beaches.

We often look for meaningful acts of Remembrance. Supporting the UNESCO listing of the D-Day Landing Beaches, and making a once-in-a-lifetime trip to our Landing Beaches in Normandy help keep the history of D-Day alive for us all.


Start your Trip!


 
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There’s a constellation of Michelin stars and celebrity chefs bringing their award-winning dishes, TV show hits and cookbook favorites to guests on cruise ships in all the seven seas. 

Dare we say it? Sometimes, the culinary experience afloat is even better than on land, where you may line up around the block or try to book a table in a decorated chef’s restaurant months in advance. And you might need those extra months to save up for the gastronomic indulgence. 

Cruise guests don’t just have easy access, with chef partnerships making their signature culinary stylings available to all the guests on board. The token fees charged for cruise line specialty restaurants by superstar chefs are a fraction of what you’d pay at any of their restaurants on land.

And in some very special cases, at the luxury level of cruising, whether a chef has consulted on an entire ship’s cuisine, or master-minded a single specialty restaurant, these stellar culinary experiences are included in your cruise!

Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host and Cruise Expert of BestTrip TV, shares her favorite, surcharge-free gastronomic experiences at sea. 

Thomas Keller on Seabourn Cruise Line

The American chef with the most Michelin stars and a string of renowned restaurants including Napa’s The French Laundry and NYC’s Per Se, created The Grill by Thomas Keller for ultra-luxury Seabourn ships. 

You’ll delight in elevated classic and mid-century steakhouse atmosphere and dishes, some you don’t see often any more, like Lobster Thermidor, and Caesar salad prepared tableside, accompanied by choice selections of wines and crafted cocktails. 

WATCH VIDEO ABOVE FOR A TASTE OF THE GRILL BY THOMAS KELLER ON SEABOURN

Keller also presents popular, family-style set menus some evenings in the casual Colonnade. What’s more, there’s no additional cost for Keller cuisine on Seabourn. 

Nobu on Crystal Cruises

Japanese meets Peruvian cuisine in the kitchens of Japanese celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa, who has a host of acclaimed restaurants in major gastronomic cities around the world… and on the two exquisite Crystal ocean cruising ships. 

(Photo: Crystal Cruises)

Umi Uma & The Sushi Bar serve the only Nobu cuisine at sea, and they are included in your cruise fare once each for every week-long cruise. Delectable sushi and sashimi are offered, along with fusion dishes like Nobu-style Lobster with Truffle-Yuzu sauce, or a bento box of chocolate souffle cake with shiso syrup and sesame ice cream. 

Jacques Pépin on Oceania Cruises

He’s been with Oceania since its first ship sailed, and shaped the culinary signature of what Oceania bills as ‘the finest cuisine at sea’. The French Legion of Honor member, whose resume includes a long-running, beloved PBS TV series, cookbooks and time spent as the personal chef of multiple French presidents including Charles de Gaulle, brings his mastery of exhalted French cuisine to the Oceania fleet, where all dining, including specialty restaurants, is complimentary.  

(Photo: Oceania)

In addition, on the Marina and Riviera, the restaurant Jacques re-creates an authentic, relaxed Parisian bistro dinner experience. Decorated with heirloom antiques and art from the chef’s personal collection, it’s an escape to the streets of Paris, with rotisserie turning fragrant roasts and seafood is served in classic French style. 

Alain Ducasse on Ponant 

French luxury cruise line Ponant turned to another French culinary legend to ensure the excellence of the cuisine and a ‘French touch’ on its fleet of small jewels of ships. Alain Ducasse remains one of the most decorated chefs ever, with restaurants in Europe and the Americas making him the first chef to have 3 restaurants awarded 3 Michelin stars at the same time.


(Photo: Ponant)

On Ponant’s intimate ships, dining takes place in one or two restaurants (some Ponant ships have both a ‘Gastronomic’ restaurant and an casual, al fresco style Grill). Ducasse ensures the French focus on cuisine thrives on Ponant ships with refined dishes that speak to the shared French heritage, as well as dining inspired by local ports of call.

Jean-Pierre Vigato on Paul Gauguin


(Photo: Paul Gauguin)

The ship Paul Gauguin epitomizes French Polynesia, famous for sailing exclusively in the South Seas. The ship’s namesake French artist, the French Polynesian itineraries… and a French chef raised in the French countryside and rising to the level of having his own, Michelin-starred restaurant on Paris’ Champs-Elysees.  

(Photo: Paul Gauguin)

In addition to L’Etoile,the ship’s main, fine dining room,and Le Grill, alfresco casual dining, the Paul Gauguin has a third dining venue, and all are included in your cruise fare. La Veranda, the third venue, is transformed in the evenings into a gourmet restaurant serving Vigato’s gourmet cuisine. 

James Beard Foundation Chefs on Windstar Cruises


Rather than partnering with a single - or multiple individual chefs, Windstar has partnered with America's most beloved and prestigious culinary institution, the James Beard Foundation. Windstar has formalized its relationship as the Official Cruise Line of the foundation, whose annual awards are referred to as the Oscars of America's culinary scene.

(Photo: Windstar Cruises)

Together, they bring some of the country's most talented chefs and sommeliers on themed Windstar cruises, where they shape the onboard dining program. Imagine dining on dishes created by not just one celebrity chef, but a list of all-stars with the likes of Maxime Bilet (The Cooking Lab), Evan Hanzcor (Egg), and Jose Mendin (Pubbelly Noodle Bar, Habitat, Baja Bao). Windstar's themed cruises featuring James Beard Foundation chefs and beverage experts are a foodie’s dream, with chef demos, special beverage pairings, and market tours.

From classic or modern or destination-inspired French cuisine, to elegant Japanese and creative fusion, to elevated cuisine from across America.  

Of the countless reasons to treat yourself to a luxury cruise, one of the best must be the gastronomic delights by some of the world’s most acclaimed chefs - that are already included features of your cruise.

Start your Trip!



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Virgin Voyages' 'Save Water, Drink Champagne' Easy Button
Oh, and there’s a caviar bar, too.

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Voyages says it’s committed to ‘disrupting’ cruise travel, and that means a twist on one of the luxury cruise standards: champagne and caviar.

The cruise line has already shared its ‘ship tease’, with the slogan ‘Save Water, Drink Champagne’ proudly displayed on an outdoor lounge.


Now, it’s revealed what that slogan really means to guests, or ‘sailors’ on the Scarlet Lady when she sets sail in Spring 2020. 

In the rebellious luxe/ music festival at sea atmosphere of Virgin Voyages, it’s never too early for champagne and there’s always something to celebrate.  To help every guest feel like a rock star, they’re offering a one-of-a-kind champagne service: Shake for Champagne.

Virgin Voyages sailors have an app to facilitate their on board experience. When you shake the app, a secret ‘Save Water, Drink Champagne’ button appears, and at the press of the button, you’ll have a bottle of Moet & Chandon Imperial instantly delivered in an eye-popping, glamorous Virgin red champagne bucket… anywhere you are on the ship.


In addition to on-demand champagne delivery to your side, the Scarlet Lady introduces the first dedicated champagne lounge and caviar bar, with the fun and cheeky name Sip.

So you can go find champagne in effervescent surroundings when you don’t feel like having the champagne come to you.  The rose, gold and marble of the bar are not only perfectly on-trend in fashion and design, they echo the delicate tones of the champagnes served.


Circling the bar, deep ocean blue banquettes and cool, Carrara marble tables anchor your experience of luxury any time, day or night you visit.

Not only will you discover caviars and a range of champagnes from single glasses to a $1000 vintage bottle, in a nod to Virgin’s quintessential British heritage and eccentricity, Sip offers its own deluxe and eccentric version of a signature afternoon tea. On the Scarlet Lady, you know it’s not going to be your grandmother’s tea!


Start your Trip!


Images courtesy Virgin Voyages.

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3 Reasons to Book Off-Season Travel
Experienced travelers know there’s a code when it comes to travel seasons. High season, low season, shoulder season and off season – your choice of travel season can make a big difference to your travel experience. 

Is there a perfect time to travel? Well, there are at least 3 good reasons to take ‘off’ season trips. Here’s why.

By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer / Host, BestTrip TV

Do you find yourself always heading out of town during ‘high’ season?

‘High’ season is when everyone is traveling.  High seasons are the busiest, most expensive, ‘prime-time’ travel periods.

Some ‘high’ seasons are due to ‘non-negotiable’ travel events. Think: the ones scheduled around school breaks and essential family holidays like Thanksgiving. Whether or not you want to fight the crowds, risk delays caused by disruptive snowstorms, and pay through the nose, you’ll be at your parents’ table in time for turkey.

Others are due to weather. The very best kind of weather. Sometimes you’re aiming for opposite weather, like traveling from the chilly North in the winter to warm up in the sunny islands in the Caribbean. And sometimes, you’re heading towards your ideal conditions of what you already have, like leaving the dirty snow of the city for the perfect powder on the slopes.

‘Low’ season is generally due to sub-optimal to quite bad local weather conditions. No one’s traveling to get there, and no one’s there when you arrive. The perfect weather or main attractions or signature local experiences may be completely missing during low season. In extreme cases, some hotels or resorts are closed, the locals have all gone on their own ideal vacations, and it’s a ghost town. 

The main attractions of a new destination during ‘low’ season are quiet and solitude. It could be worse than just 'quiet' too. In the case of the height of the Atlantic hurricane season in the US South-East and the Caribbean, or typhoon season in South-East Asia, you could end up spending your holiday navigating a serious weather event.

'Shoulder' season is right on the edge between high and low seasons. It’s not the height of perfect weather or timing, but it isn't the worst, either, and for the right travelers, it could be perfect. That's the 'off'-season sweet spot.

Here are the best reasons to consider booking off-season travel:

Lower Prices and More Perks


Everything is less expensive in the off-season, from flights and hotels, to packaged tours and cruises. On top of lower prices, you can also score perks that can allow you to stay longer, take more of your favorite people with you, or get freebie inclusions. 

Book early or last minute, and you could multiply the savings. (Booking early is best for people who like the most choice, but if spontaneity is your thing, last minute off-season travel can be very rewarding.)

You can pocket your savings, or use them to upgrade to a more luxurious experience, or book special treats, like spa treatments, special dining experiences, even a pricier locally-made souvenir than you might otherwise indulge in.
 
Off-season Cruise Travel Bonus: in the off-season, when storms head your way, a cruise ship can navigate to fairer skies. Although your itinerary may change and the skies may be cloudy, your cruise will likely not endure the worst of any bad weather.

Flexibility is always the key to enjoying off-season travel.

Fewer People


If you’re the kind of person who hates line ups and crowds, off-season is the one for you. Why spend your time waiting in line to go up the Eiffel Tower, when you could be having your second café au lait while people-watching at a picturesque sidewalk café?

Locals unwind once high season is over, too. They have more time to spend with the guests who do arrive. The relaxed pace of off-season can give you some of the most memorable exchanges with the people you meet on your journey.

Special Events


There’s only one harvest season in a vineyard. A short window of time when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. And a few short weeks when the Christmas markets are open. That's what high season is all about.

But more and more destinations are creating local events to extend their tourism seasons - events that are not contingent upon Mother Nature or long-standing cultural traditions. In many places, shoulder seasons are becoming the most exciting times to visit. Culinary and wine tasting and music festivals, races and marathons and yoga retreats, art shows and film festivals. No matter what your interest, there’s likely a fascinating destination with an off-season event celebrating it.
 
Some travel timing is unavoidable. But if you have flexibility about when you travel, a travel advisor can help you design the best vacation during the season less-traveled.

Start your Trip!


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There are more ways to explore the earth than overseas and overland. And the new Scenic Eclipse takes you there. 
With 2 helicopters for ‘flight-seeing’ and a submarine to reveal vast beauty of underwater realms, this luxury expedition ship covers all the bases – and with its top Polar Class-rated hull, it can sail in any of the world’s seven seas.

What’s more, Scenic’s sleek, sophisticated style makes the Eclipse feel like a billionaire’s yacht… with fewer than 200 fortunate guests at a time sharing an adventure of a lifetime.

BestTrip TV got a tour of the Scenic Eclipse on her inaugural voyage and discovered there’s more than billionaire’s toys to the first ocean cruising vessel for a company that’s already made its mark on luxury land tours and river cruises.
The Scenic Eclipse echoes the luxury of its river cruises and land tours. For all the head-turning design and deluxe amenities and experiences you’ll find on board, as an expedition ship, the focus of any Scenic Eclipse voyage is outdoors.

An expedition team and local guides take guests on hikes, kayak excursions, and a host of ship to shore zodiac landings in remote coasts of the world – and that’s even before you step foot on the submarine launch deck or the helipad.

The Eclipse’s itineraries take her around the globe, from the Northwest Passage across Canada’s Arctic coast, through tropical adventures in the Caribbean and Central America, to the remote wilds of Patagonia and epic Antarctica, the storied coasts of North and South America, the maritime cradle of Western civilization in the Mediterranean, and north to the fjords of Scandinavia and the volcanic landscapes of Iceland.
 

Start your Trip!


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The Real Downton Abbey and 3 Other Majestic English Manor Houses That Star in Films
If the Downton Abbey movie and TV series has you fantasizing about life in the elegant and storied surroundings of England’s stately homes, you are not alone. The stories and history made in these estates are legendary.

At one time, there were tens of thousands of country houses owned by Britain’s noble families. The English countryside is still dotted with breathtaking architectural marvels punctuating sweeping landscapes, as well as smaller, more humble versions. Some are still homes to lords and ladies of the manor; others are grand museums, hotels, event spaces. Some are both. 

All are fascinating windows into a history and lifestyle brought to life in countless favorite novels, TV series and films. 

If you feel you were ‘to the manor born’, you’ll feel quite at home at the real ‘Downton Abbey’ and these three other, splendid examples of British stately homes that have been on the big and small screen.

HIGHCLERE CASTLE


The stately home at the end of a sweeping drive, framed by majestic ancient trees in the hero shots of every Downton Abbey show, is the real-life Highclere Castle in Berkshire (pictured, top).  

The perfect proportions and striking Jacobean architectural style are enhanced by the surrounding gardens designed by maestro landscape architect ‘Capability’ Brown.

Rather than the fictional Crawley family, it’s been the real ‘seat’ of the Earls of Carnarvon since the 1600’s, with the current Earl and Countess still in residence today.

In addition to standing in as the Earl of Grantham’s ‘Downton Abbey’, Highclere Castle welcomes visitors through its now-famous front doors. So you really can wander through some of the rooms featured in Downton Abbey and imagine yourself at a dinner party, tea, or even a ball with the Crawleys.

Downton Abbey is not the first time Highclere has been at the centre of media attention and the public imagination. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon was involved in the discovery of the epic riches of the Tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt in 1922. When he ‘mysteriously’ died a short time later, it fueled tabloid stories of the ‘Curse of King Tut’. He actually died of blood poisoning from an infected insect bite, so visit Highclere Castle without fear of ancient curses lingering today!

 

BLENHEIM PALACE


Anyone with an interest in English or WW2 history must put Blenheim Palace on their travel bucket list.  

The sprawling, rare example of English Baroque architecture is woven into British history. A grateful Queen Anne gave the land in Oxfordshire, an immense sum of money, and the highest non-royal title, 1st Duke of Marlborough, to the victor for Britain in the War of Spanish Succession at the beginning of the 1700’s. It’s the only non-royal and non-Church country house bearing the name ‘Palace’.  

The descendents of that 1st Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, have eclipsed his fame and impact on world history. It was at Blenheim Palace that Winston Churchill was born, and the name of the Marlborough family now is Spencer-Churchill, related to Lady Diana Spencer, who became Princess of Wales. 
 
Blenheim Palace and its 2000-acre signature gardens by the very busy Capability Brown have even been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The vast country house continues to be the home of the Dukes of Marlborough. 

Film fans recognize Blenheim Palace from scenes in wildly diverse films including Transformers: The Last Knight, James Bond’s Spectre, MIssion Impossible: Rogue Nation, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, The Young Victoria, and even the TV show the Amazing Race. 


CHATSWORTH HOUSE


You catch your breath the first time you see Chatsworth House, the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire since the 1500’s. It’s regularly voted Britain’s favorite country house, and it’s easy to see why. Built on the banks of a river, surrounded by exquisite parkland and backed by wooded, rocky hills, it’s a stunning building in a dramatic setting.

16 generations of the Cavendish family have been born and died at Chatsworth, including recent generations. The recently-deceased Dowager Duchess was one of the famed Mitford sisters (that included renowned novelist Nancy Mitford), the upper-class ‘Kardashians’ of their day.

Chatsworth House today still houses a remarkable collection of paintings, Old Master works, neoclassical sculpture, books and artefacts. 

If it looks familiar, Chatsworth too has been the real-life setting for famous fiction. It was named in the original 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice as one of the estates Elizabeth Bennet visits before arriving at Mr. Darcy’s home Pemberley; and that fiction came full circle as Chatsworth stood in as fictional Pemberley itself in the 2005 movie adaptation of the novel starring Keira Knightley. Another Knightley film, The Duchess, was filmed at Chatsworth, as were scenes of The Crown. 


LYME PARK


Lyme Park has the largest house in Cheshire, and it’s the only property on this list that is not still used as a family home. It was handed over to Britain’s National Trust, which preserves its history, architecture, and park lands for the public to appreciate and enjoy.

From the 1300's until after the Second World War, the estate was owned by the Leghs of Lyme, with the house dating back to the late 1600’s, and including both Palladian and Baroque styles. The lavish house interiors reflect its Regency-era rejuvenation. 

In addition to the mansion, Lyme Park is famous for its tree-lined avenues, formal gardens and park with an immense herd of red deer dating back to the 14th century. The views are tremendous, and include a building called ‘The Cage’ on a nearby hilltop that was originally a hunting lodge and later became a park-keeper’s cottage and prisoner lockup. 

Fans of British period dramas will also recognize the reflecting lake as the setting of the famous scene where Mr. Darcy met Miss Bennet in the BBC production of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. 

Start your Trip!


Images Courtesy Visit Britain.

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How This Cruise is Breaking a World Record

245 days. 6 continents. 51 countries. 111 ports. 


Imagine spending August 2019 until May 2020 on a cruise circumnavigating the world. This phenomenal cruise sailing around the world, beginning and ending in London, England, is setting a Guinness World Record for 'longest continuous passenger cruise'.


Viking Cruise's 'Ultimate World Cruise' takes over 900 guests on a journey of a lifetime, and one that is attempting to set a world record. Already underway, when the Viking Sun makes a triumphant return to London next spring in 2020, a Guinness World Record adjudicator will be waiting, ready to confirm the record-breaking journey with a certificate presentation. 

It will be icing on the cake of a nearly 9-month voyage to the world's most legendary cities, iconic landmarks, and remote destinations. That's more than double the length of Viking's previous world cruise itineraries.


For a select few who can devote the time (and budget) to such an ambitious journey, their Ultimate World Cruise explores Scandinavia, the Caribbean and destinations throughout South America before calling on the remote tropical islands of the South Pacific. Viking Sun will then continue its journey along the coast of Australia and through Asia before returning to the Mediterranean and Europe.


Highlights of this months-long voyage include:
  • Greenwich: London at Your Door – Dock in the historic Royal Borough of Greenwich, London, which allows guests easy access to the regal capital’s iconic sights, including the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace.
  • Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: One of the 23 overnight stays let guests enjoy the larger-than-life Christ the Redeemer statue, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and the legendary nightlife of Rio.
  • Ushuaia, Argentina: Commonly referred to as the “End of the World,” guests will visit Ushuaia, a city perched on a steep hill on the southernmost tip of South America.
  • Hobart, Tasmania: The capitol of Australia’s island state of Tasmania, Hobart offers guests the chance to explore its unique wilderness at the southern-most point of the continent.
  • Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Formerly known as Saigon, and now home to a mix of modern skyscrapers, French colonial buildings and ornate palaces, guests can explore the Vietnam-War era Cu Chi Tunnels, the War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Reunification Palace.     
  • Mumbai, India: The financial, commercial and entertainment capital of India gives guests the opportunity to learn about iconic activist Gandhi and visit the Hanging Gardens.
  • Luxor, Egypt: The site of the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes, Luxor is dense with historical monuments for guests to explore, including the Temple of Karnak and the Valley of the Kings & Valley of the Queens.
 
A reflection of Viking's appeal to travelers with interests in history, art, music and cuisine, there's an included excursion in each of the 111 ports, and overnight stays in 23 cities so guests can enjoy the nightlife and cultural experiences of more destinations, including VIP access to cultural institutions.


On board Viking Sky's airy, Scandinavian-designed staterooms and public spaces, guests can participate in cultural enrichment related to ports of call, Viking's 'Resident Historian' program, regional entertainment coming on board, and even free Wi Fi to post stories and images of their life-changing trip to social media to share with friends, family and the travel world.

 

Start your World Cruise or Other Cruise Trip!

 
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These 3 Latin American Cities Turn 500 This Year
In 14 hundred and 92, Columbus sailed the ocean blue (as the rhyme we learned in school goes), and unwittingly unleashed a tsunami of Europeans heading west to explore the Americas.

That was half a millennium ago, and now, some of the earliest European settlements in the Caribbean and Latin America are marking 500 years of European settlement.


In the years since the 500th anniversary of Columbus' first sailing, the world has gained greater awareness. This new round of anniversaries do more to acknowledge that European settlement and exploitation of the Americas left a negative legacy even as it established some beautiful colonial architecture, districts, culture and history that make these citiies such irresistible travel destinations today.


As a result, many cities reaching a 500-year milestone this year are marking the anniversary in ways like cultural festivals and historical exhibits and commemorations that acknowledge the good and the bad of history. Or make investments that leave a tangible legacy like infrastructure and civic improvements that benefit all the residents of these remarkable cities: 

Panama City, Panama


Panama City calls itself the 'cradle of the New World'. Established in August 1519 by the Spanish conquistador Davila, it is the oldest European city on the Pacific coast of the Americas.

 
Panama City became the launching pad for Spanish expeditions to the Inca Empire in South America, as well as a key landmark in trade routes. Most of the gold and silver plundered from the Americas transited through the town on its way to Europe.



Today, Panama City is the very modern capital city of Panama. It's also where you'll find the Pacific entrance/ exit of the Panama Canal, the nearly 50-mile long waterway that now connects the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. Miraflores Visitor Centre allows travelers by land to learn about and watch ships pass through this engineering wonder of the world.


Panama's history is still there to see.  The original city – known as Panama la Vieja (Old Panama) – was attacked, looted, and burned by the British in the 17th century. You can still visit those ruins, only 5 miles from where the city was rebuilt, which is now called the 'Old Quarter' (Casco Viejo) of Panama City. 


Surrounded by a modern skyline of high-rises, Casco, as the Old Quarter is called (pictured, top), features architecture from the city's Spanish colonial times, to French and island buildings that date to the late 19th and early 20th century during the building of the Canal. Locals mingle with international visitors in the charming, walkable district, known for restaurants, cafes, clubs, boutiques, galleries, museums, street art and local color.  

Don't miss the chance to try Ceviche from the local seafood market at the terminus of the fantastic pedestrian beltway Cinta Costera.
 

Havana, Cuba


Spanish conquistadors struggled to establish a number of settlements on the island in the years leading up to 1519. The site of what's now Havana (originally San Cristobal de La Habana) won out with the bay that became the city's natural harbor. It was the third – and final – capital of the island. Believe it or not, the city was founded in November 1519 under a ceiba tree that's still growing. You'll find it near the El Templete church on Plaza de Armas.


Havana's modern history has been as tumultuous as its early years. With US government restrictions on its citizens to travel to the island off again and on again, it's not easy (but not impossible) for Americans to experience Havana in its 500th year.    


Canadians, Europeans and citizens of other countries can still easily travel to Havana, where reportedly thousands of renovations and civic improvements are underway to mark the city's 500th anniversary.


 
Classic Havana is still there, though, where you can walk the ocean boardwalk – now with some new architecture replacing some rundown buildings- enjoy the historic downtown, with its plazas, hidden street scenes, the stunning Kempinski hotel (the only luxury hotel) with the best view of the city from its rooftop bar with an authentic mojito or daiquiri in hand, re-live the city made famous by Hemingway, Castro and Guevera, and of course, test your memory of classic American car models in all their pastel glory.

 

Veracruz, Mexico


Veracruz is one of Mexico's oldest and largest ports. The legendary Cortes himself, sailing the Gulf of Mexico, landed here in the spring of 1519 to found the first Spanish city on the Mexican mainland.


The port played a vital role in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, as well as colonial immigration and trade. Vast quantities of silver, natural (and rare) red dye, chocolate, vanilla, chili and also African slaves transited through Veracruz. 



Today, Veracruz isn't the beach destination other coastal Mexican cities may be. But it's a lower key destination for visitors interested in exploring nearby ruins, and in the city, taking trolleys through the historic center of Veracruz, absorbing the atmosphere of the vibrant main square, exploring the colonial fortress and museum on an island overlooking the harbor, and indulging in Veracruz's signature cuisine, including its most famous dish, tamales: corn dough enclosing a savory filling, wrapped in banana leaves, steamed and served with piquant sauces.


2019 may be the 500th anniversaries of these 3 unique Latin American cities, but they're memorable anytime you visit.

Start your Trip!


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Flying High to Your Next Cruise with Seabourn Private Air To and From Cruise Ports World-Wide
It's hard to imagine what luxury could possibly improve on a Seabourn cruise, where they've perfected ultra-luxury service that anticipates your needs and surprises you with delights every day… but now the cruise line has discovered something more to offer.

Guests can now reserve Seabourn Private Air – a private chartered jet service to transport you to and from ports of embarkation or debarkation, ports of call, and mid-voyage overland optional journeys – for Seabourn cruises all over the world.

The service uses a global network of private jet operators who meet the highest US FAA standards and also Seabourn's service expectations. Seabourn Private Air service employs a wide range of jet models, and accommodates groups of any size upon request. Available aircraft include light charter jets capable of carrying 5-8 passengers; mid-size jets sized for 7-8 passengers; and heavy private jets with capacity for 9-16 passengers.
 
Designed for guests who prefer the luxuries and conveniences of private jet travel over commercial airline carriers, Seabourn Private Air is also unique from currently available jet card or fractional jet options available on the market.
Seabourn Private Air is designed to provide a guest up-front, comprehensive pricing for the private jet package that you can book along with your Seabourn cruise. That sets a similar standard to a Seabourn cruise itself, where all dining venues are complimentary, as are selections of fine wines and premium spirits.

Amenities and services of the comprehensive Seabourn Private Air package reflect the onboard Seabourn cruising experience devoted fans of the cruise line have come to expect. And, just like those enjoyed by Seabourn guests at sea, comforts and conveniences they've come to associate with the Seabourn experience are included in the Seabourn Private Air experience and price, including:

  • Access to thousands of airports, large and small, that serve private aviation, as well as to most major international airports
  • WiFi internet capability
  • Private Valet luggage service
  • Seabourn-standard catering options
  • Seabourn-brand food & beverages on every flight, including Regiis Ova caviar, K+M Chocolates, Montaudon champagne, and a range of complementary spirits
  • Amenities by Seabourn’s signature fragrance partner, Molton Brown
  • Complimentary transfers to-and-from home to the nearest airport and onward to Seabourn’s cruise port (with some mileage limitations)
  • Cabin attendants, required on some aircraft, or available upon request at additional cost if not required by aircraft
  • Next port protection up to 1,000 miles from original destination.
 
The cost of the Private Air package is offered in addition to the cruise fare and varies by model and itinerary. Guests pay for the aircraft rather than by the seat, so the more passengers onboard, the lower the cost per person. 

Imagine a milestone celebration with a group of family or friends, whisked to your Seabourn cruise in ultimate style, ease, convenience and comfort on Seabourn Private Air!
 

Start your Trip!


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G Adventures Introduces New Yacht Custom-Built for Galapagos Exploration
The new Reina Silvia Voyager is the tour company's 6th yacht, designed for immersive touring of the Galápagos.
 
The 103-foot, high-end yacht sets sail in July, 2020. With 10 cabins, the custom-built, intimate-sized catamaran offers its 16 guests the most comfortable passenger touring experiences among ships of its size in the Galápagos, and a sense of deeply personal exploration of one of the most wondrous, remote regions of the world.

 
In keeping with the ecological destination, the ship and voyage experience also reflect the company’s commitment to responsible tourism.
 
Intimate Touring Yacht


The Reina Silvia Voyager touring vessel's 10 cabins are situated on two decks. Eight of those cabins are designed for twin/double stays, and two are dedicated to solo travelers who prefer their own space at a good value. Eight rooms offer private balconies, and all rooms have panoramic windows for optimal ocean viewing, plus bright, contemporary furnishings, artwork by local naturalist photographers, and energy-saving LED lighting. 

 
An expansive 3rd deck has common areas with lounge chairs for sunbathing, covered cocktail bar, grill station and an outdoor jacuzzi tub for relaxing under the sun or stars.
 
An indoor, air-conditioned salon with large video screen facilitates visual presentations by specially trained naturalists, who guide each group’s tour and help guests learn about the iconic wildlife and culture of the Galápagos Islands’ inhabitants.
 
Built-in Adventure

The Reina Silvia Voyager’s nine on-board kayaks and two zodiacs for guests’ guided use for landings and exploration of the region’s remote ports and wild, rocky coasts. Wetsuits and snorkeling gear will also be freely available for passengers’ enjoyment.

 
All meals on board are included and accommodate vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and allergy-sensitive diets. A crew of nine, including a dedicated chef and G Adventures signature tour leader, a Chief Experience Officer, serve guests daily.
 
Eco- and Socially Conscious Galapagos Exploration
 
To comply with the Galápagos Islands’ trailblazing ban on single-use plastic bottles, straws and bags, G Adventures is giving each passenger a reusable stainless steel bottle and will offer unlimited access to filtered drinking water on board.
 
Toiletries onboard all of G Adventures’ boats are also provided in refillable containers. In partnership with the nonprofit Planeterra Foundation, G Adventures additionally supports an Ocean Health Fund with investments in numerous marine initiatives, including the United Nations Environment Program’s Clean Seas campaign and the Marine Megafauna Foundation’s Galápagos Whale Shark Project.
 
The Reina Silvia Voyager is purpose-built to enable nimble, immersive moments in and under the water, then welcome guests back on board in ultimate comfort. 
 
Guests will thrill at the once in a lifetime Galapagos islands' experience of making eye contact with a curious sea lion, gentle sea turtle, tiny seahorse, or prehistoric iguana in a place where Darwin himself studied evolution. The Reina Silvia Voyager carries guests to countless Galapagos adventure experiences and return on board to maritime luxury.
 

Start your Trip!

 
Photos: G Adventures
 
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Everyone experiences travel differently, and this may be most true of historic sites. Standing on the spot where history was made is a profound experience that transcends any amount of studying, reading, watching documentaries or films. When you are actually there, the sights, sounds, perspective and your historic imagination all combine for a more meaningful understanding of moments that changed our world.

The Juno Beach Centre provides visitors today with the opportunity to visualize first-hand the WW2 DDay Landings in June, 1944, from a Canadian point of view. No matter what you thought you knew or understood coming to the Juno Beach Centre, its interactive displays, stories, interpretive tours of the restored bunkers and beaches themselves speak to each visitor differently.

It's a pilgrimage all Canadians should undertake.

BestTrip asked staff and visitors which aspect of visiting the Juno Beach Centre impacts them the most. You'll have your own favorite experience after you visit Juno Beach, too.

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River Cruising has Changed Forever - The AmaMagna Sets Sail
A new river cruise ship has embarked on the Danube, and it's unlike anything else on the rivers of Europe. The word 'revolutionized' gets overused, but AmaWaterways' AmaMagna has overturned how we have come to think of river cruising.

It's all about size. If you've ever taken a European river cruise, you've seen your own cruise ship, plus ships from other companies docked side by side in port. Except for paint and branding, they're all pretty comparable.

To borrow a trailer park turn of phrase – maybe not elegant, but it completely paints the picture for you – the AmaMagna is a 'double-wide'. 

River cruise ships are all designed to fit into Europe's system of river locks. That limits the length, and until now, that has made all the ships more or less the same.

AmaMagna is twice the width of traditional river cruise ships, a genius innovation just in design and engineering. 
 
But it also changes the shipboard experience. Even though the AmaMagna is 200% wider than other ships, with 98 staterooms, it accommodates only 20% more guests. The public and personal space is vastly changed. Over half of the rooms are suites – from 355 all the way up to an – until now on river cruise ships – unheard of 710 square feet! 

 
Design and aesthetics follow suit with other AmaWaterways ships and still with a signature style for the AmaMagna. The plus décor is highlighted in staterooms and suites with natural wood accents. suites feature full outside balconies, open seating areas and spacious bathrooms, complete with double sinks and walk-in showers. Grand Suites ( there are 6 on the AmaMagna, and they measure 474 sq. ft.) and the one Owner’s Suite (at a whopping 710 sq. ft.) take the new space available and put it to good use with separate seating areas and spa-like bathtubs in the bathrooms.

 
The extra space is put to good use in public areas, too. There's an onboard cinema! And a multi-level lounge and multiple dining venues (river cruise ships generally have no more than two). Guests can choose the Main Restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows, The Chef's Table, the Al Fresco Restaurant and Jimmy's (named after an AmaWaterways founder).



 
There's an expansive Wellness Studio that includes an exercise area spacious enough for group classes. A professionally-trained Wellness Host leads stretching, cardio, core strengthening and spin classes. There's also a juice bar and two massage rooms as well as the usual mani/pedi and hair services. Even a large boutique much more like you would find on an ocean ship.

 
Outdoors, the double width of space on the top deck seems extravagant! The sundeck has a large heated pool, a whirlpool and a sky bar. And another innovation: a pop-up elevator that serves all four public decks of the ship.
 
If you're a seasoned river cruise traveler, you won't want to miss experiencing this incredible new ship. If you've never taken a river cruise, we might suggest you try another AmaWaterways cruise first, as a trip on the AmaMagna might spoil you for standard-sized river cruise ships!
 
The AmaMagna sails the Danube, on itineraries including the Romantic Danube, Melodies of the Danube and Christmas Markets on the Danube.
 

Start Your Trip!


Images: AmaWaterways
 
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10 Amazing Facts about the Tasmanian Devil
Move over, cuddly koalas and cute kangaroos. Meet the Tasmanian Devil. 

No, not the Looney Tunes cartoon character that travels like a spinning top, drooling, snarling and terrorizing Bugs Bunny's friends. The real animal, found in the wild only in one state Down Under.

In Australia's collection of one-of-a-kind creatures, the Tasmanian Devil is a stand out member. So between photo ops with koalas, and watching kangaroos hopping through wildlife parks, head to Australia's southern, island state, to get to know the Tasmanian Devil.

It's a keystone species in Tasmania and the symbol of many organizations in the state. We visited a wildlife sanctuary only a half-hour's drive from Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, and discovered amazing things about Tasmanian 'Devils'.


By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip TV
 
1. Cute and cuddly they are not. Tasmanian Devils look a bit like bear cubs, or like a big-boned small-ish dog at under 30 pounds fully grown. When they're not aggressive, they look a bit sweet. But I had a chance to touch a baby being raised at the sanctuary, and even so young, its fur was like coarse bristles. And they are not sociable or friendly, living alone and coming out at night. 
 
2. They smell bad, too. Tasmanian Devils have a 'scent gland' used to mark territory with very strong and repulsive scent.
 
3. They have a great naming story. Tasmanian Devils are aggressive if they feel threatened or are competing for food. They bare teeth, lunge, and emit loud, blood-curdling shrieks in the dark hours that made early settlers imagine demons had surrounded them in the wilderness. That's how they were dubbed Tasmanian 'devils'. (Check out this video to hear Tasmanian Devils screeching).
 
4. Their oversized heads have incredible jaws that can open to 80 degrees wide! and deliver the strongest bite for its size of any mammal in the world. They have the power to bite through thick metal wire! The staff at the sanctuary joked to keep fingers away from the babies' mouths; even at that size and age, if they'd bitten onto our hands, 'they wouldn't stop til they reach your elbow'. Possibly a joke to make the point, but it paints a picture of:
 
5. The world's largest carnivorous marsupial. (Marsupials are mammals that carry their newborns in pouches). Tasmanian Devils eat only meat: they hunt birds, snakes, other mammals up to the size of small kangaroos, but they also eat carrion – dead animals. They put those tremendous jaws to good use, eating 'pretty much anything they sink their teeth into', crushing and ravenously ingesting even the bones.  
 
6. Even a Tasmanian Devil's teeth are unique. They have the same number of teeth as a dog - 42 – but unlike dogs, a Devil's teeth grow continuously throughout its life, contributing to its phenomenal ability to consume bones of its prey.
 
7. Like all marsupials, Devils store fat in their tails, which thicken up (like humans' waistlines!).  

8. Although Tasmanian Devils once thrived throughout Australia, now they are native only in the island state of Tasmania. There, they have adapted very well to a variety of environments in Tasmania, from coasts to forests to even suburbs. So rather than environmental change, it's believed their extinction on Australia's mainland can be blamed on the arrival of dingoes – which never spread to Tasmania to threaten the Devils.
 
9. It wasn't all smooth sailing for Tasmanian Devils in Tasmania, either. Those settlers who christened the 'Devils' mistakenly believed they killed livestock (a theory which has now been debunked) and hunted and poisoned them nearly to extinction, until the government stepped in to protect them in the 1940's.

 
10. The Tasmanian Devil population rebounded, but today, they're in danger again. Not from angry farmers. Tasmanian Devils adapted to modern life, with these carrion eaters finding a new food source in the form of roadkill … except these black animals eating roadkill at night are invisible to oncoming traffic, and they, too are killed in great numbers on roads. In addition, a catastrophic facial tumor disease is spreading through the population. The tumors build up in affected animals' mouths and stop them from eating, and they eventually starve to death. Tens of thousands of Tasmanian Devils have died since the disease appeared in the late 90's. 
 
Since 2008, Tasmanian Devils have been listed as endangered. Wildlife sanctuaries attempt to save and raise young in the pouches of mothers killed on the roads, and programs are isolating and breeding populations unaffected by disease. 
 
Devils are also being sent abroad to partner international zoos to contribute to population insurance programs for Tasmanian Devils too.
 
You can see Tasmanian Devils in some zoos – but better yet, by visiting and supporting a sanctuary on their home turf in Tasmania.
 

Start your Trip!

 
(Images: Getty)
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Cooler climes are some of today's hottest cruise destinations. 

Add the warmth of Seabourn's ultra-luxury service, boutique-hotel inspired ships, world-class dining and insightful, intriguing shore excursions like Ventures' active explorations, and you've got the perfect formula for discovering gateway northern destinations like Alaska, as well as the uniquely northern-most destinations in Europe.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE FOR A SHIP TOUR AND HIGLIGHTS OF OUR CRUISE.

And here are three essential experiences I discovered you won't want to miss on a cruise of Nordic and Scottish destinations on the Seabourn Ovation. 

By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip TV

1. Follow in the Footsteps of the Vikings


Scandinavia's maritime warriors/traders/ marauders are legendary even today. 

A thousand years ago, from their coastal bases in today's Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, Vikings launched expeditions in their wooden ships, eventually crossing the unpredictable North Sea to the British Isles, skirting the Arctic Circle and hop-scotching to landfalls in Iceland, Greenland, and eventually even making it to Newfoundland (preceding Columbus by centuries as the first Europeans to set foot in the Americas).

Our cruise evoked these epic Viking voyages.

We set sail from Denmark's capital and global lifestyle and culinary hotspot Copenhagen, wound our way to Sweden, where we toured the rugged, rocky coastline, onwards to Norway's capital Oslo and coastal towns, then sailed across the North Sea to northern England and Scotland, calling in the cultural and architectural gem of Edinburgh, then at storied, remote Scottish isles that rarely see cruise ships, and never the larger ships at all.

Don't miss the intact Viking ships at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo

Throughout the voyage and half a dozen countries, the land and sea-scape shared a common, North Atlantic / North Sea theme that reminds you – you're exploring Viking territory. Dark blue, cold North Atlantic seas lapping against craggy granite coasts and cliffs with hardy northern trees and plants, dotted here and there with hardy homes and farms and fishing villages.  

Like a cruise of the countries along the Mediterranean Sea reveals shared landscapes and history, so too does a cruise of the North Sea portion of the North Atlantic. 

In fact, an Australian couple standing next to me at the rail in one Nordic port said they'd sailed with Seabourn to Canada the previous summer – and the Nordic coastline to them looked identical to Atlantic Canada.


But unlike the brave Vikings crossing these chill waters in their wooden longships, on Seabourn, you're wrapped in the warmth of attentive service, cocktails and champagne and caviar service throughout the ship, top-shelf restaurants including one by a Michelin-starred chef, and peak 21st century hospitality.


2. Set your alarm to enjoy some of the world's most beautiful sail in arrivals.


On this cruise, sailing into Nordic ports like Oslo, Arendal, and Scotland's Highland port Inverness as well as the isles of Shetland and Orkney will be experiences you never forget. The sparsely populated shores approaching these North Sea ports are epic viewed from the ship.


And on Seabourn, where all suites (unlike a land-based hotel) are ocean view, the ships are small enough that even suites on the top deck are still close enough to the water you can hear the waves lapping and smell the sea air, and the exceptional service includes in-room dining in your living /dining room or on your veranda - from dawn until the ship is docked is an unparalleled experience of enjoying morning tea and breakfast while exceptional scenery sails past.

3. Experience the Great Outdoors, Seabourn-Style


A scenic morning sail-in isn't the only way to appreciate the outdoors in these essential outdoor North Sea destinations.  

With multiple hot tubs in vantage points on forward and aft decks, there's always a hot tub with a view in these cool-weather ports.

Seabourn's Ventures shore excursions that immerse you in Nature, expedition-style. Expert guides take small groups of guests on hikes, treks, kayak or zodiak explorations that let you get up close to the sea, the land, and the wildlife in a magical and active experience.

Back on the ship, Seabourn's staff go to extraordinary lengths to charm guests with pop-up events – those famous 'Seabourn Moments' - on deck that allow you to enjoy Seabourn service along with the views. 
You might return from shore to find a champagne/vodka and caviar party (in the tropics, they have 'Caviar in the Surf' parties served from surfboards at the beach!) or warming 'hot chocolate with a twist', all with live music and camaraderie with delighted fellow guests.


I love being outdoors, and Seabourn's new restaurant concept Earth and Ocean transforms the pool deck in the evenings with an alfresco dining experience that pairs rustic ceramics and textured linen with exquisite cuisine that taps into the elements with smoke boxes, sea scents and tagines. 

It's all heightened by the sea air and the views you can still enjoy late into the evening with the Far North's summertime late sunsets.

Start your Trip!

 
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See the World's Tallest Indoor Waterfall at this New Airport

It's one of the world's top ten busiest airports, with a flight every 80 seconds. A hundred airlines transport over 60 million passengers yearly to and from Singapore's Changi airport. So millions of travelers are already familiar with the breathtaking Nature features in the airport that's the gateway to Asia's 'City in a Garden'. 


But 2019's new Jewel Changi Airport brings the natural world into an airport environment in a whole new, spectacular way that makes Singapore's airport a destination itself.

The Rain Vortex was inspired by Singapore's tropical rains. It's a 7-story feat of design and engineering that astounds you the moment you walk in the door. At over 130 feet high, it's the tallest indoor waterfall in the world, cascading dramatically through an oculus in the glass and steel dome.


The experience of the Rain Vortex changes depending what time of day you are at Jewel Changi Airport. Every evening, the flowing water, along with mist and music, becomes the centerpiece of an hourly, magical Light & Sound show designed by the same company responsible for the fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and hundreds of other water, fire, light, fog and music installations around the world.

Jewel's indoor waterfall is surrounded by 5 acres of lush gardens and greenery – 2000 trees and 100,000 shrubs from 120 species in different 'parks' that make Jewel Changi Airport a lifestyle destination for visitors and locals too.

Areas like Forest Valley and Canopy Park are shopping and dining neighborhoods in a whimsical green wonderland, with cobblestone walking trails, indoor clouds, play attractions like Sky Nets, Hedge Maze, Mirror Maze and Discovery Slides that flow through themed gardens - all in climate-controlled comfort. In a man-made environment, you can enjoy tropical gardens without tropical weather!
 
With all the world-class shopping, dining and entertainment, Jewel is still a functioning airport that anticipates travelers' needs and offers conveniences that are a breath of relief, even for travelers with only a brief stopover in Singapore. 
 
Thoughtful airport facilities that have been added in Jewel include early check-in counters and kiosks, a baggage storage service and the Changi Lounge, a 150-seat lounge with shower facilities, offering seamless transfers for passengers connecting to and from cruise and ferry services
 
Jewel also has the first YOTELAIR in Asia. The tech-savvy, smart-design, space-efficient cabin hotel concept has 130 cabin-units in Jewel in three categories. The Premium, Accessible and Family cabins can be booked for as little as four hours. They are a game changer for travelers with short daytime layovers, a very early arrival in Singapore, even an extra half day to spend time exploring all that the airport has to offer before you fly out of Singapore - even overnight stays. Hotel check-in / check-out is seamless, with time-saving, airline-style self-check-in kiosks.
 
Jewel also adds capacity to accommodate increasing numbers of travelers at Changi Airport. Another 3 million passengers will now be able to be accommodated annually, bringing the airport's total capacity to 85 million. And it's going to be needed with an airport that's enough reason alone to visit Singapore.
 
The multi-faceted innovation at Jewel gives local residents a new destination where lush Nature meets Singapore's urban energy. And it gives a renewed sense of novelty and wonder at the experience of air transportation to everyone traveling to or from Singapore. 
 

Start your Trip!


Photos: Jewel Changi Airport Devt.

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Why Travelers in the Know are Booking A Douro River Cruise in Portugal
Have you taken a river cruise in Europe yet? The 'Big Three' river cruises are the Rhine, the Danube and the Rhone/Saone. You may have heard about cruising on the Seine, even Main and Moselle cruises.

But for a little 'off the beaten track' river cruising in Europe, Portugal's Douro river is enjoying its day in the sun. Warm-weather Portugal, in the heart of the Porto wine region's, scenic villages, history and picture-perfect vineyards, is an idyllic spring, summer and fall river cruising destination.

Here's why we love river cruising on the Douro:

The Route:

 
The Douro river flows from Spain in the east, across northern Portugal to the western city of Porto on the Atlantic coast. Bookended by two UNESCO World Heritage cities, a river cruise on the scenic Douro Valley passes through mainly rural landscapes with historic villages, dramatic cliffs, famous vineyards, and for many people, the heart of Portugal's Latin culture.

 
(Image: Getty/Pietro Faccioli)

Even early and late in the season, the weather in Portugal is warmer and drier than in other popular river cruising destinations in Northern Europe, so if basking in pleasant summer weather is how you picture a river cruise, the Douro is for you.
 

The Highlights:

 
At the eastern end of the Douro: Spain. Most itineraries include nearby, renowned Salamanca, a UNESCO World Heritage city, with a 13th century university where Christopher Columbus once studied, and whose signature golden sandstone architecture glows in the summer sun.
 
At the western end of the route, the port city of Porto (pictured top; image: Getty/Mirifada) is the second largest in Portugal (behind Lisbon), and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If its famous bridge reminds you of the Eiffel Tower, you are not crazy; its architect studied under Eiffel. It was a small world, even in the 19th century.
 
A river cruise on the Douro is even more charming passing through the undisturbed countryside between the ports at either end. The Douro is far less traveled than the major European river cruise routes. You may rarely even see other river cruise boats or guests in the small villages where you can wander in a truly local, authentic, un-hurried rhythm and un-touristy environment. 
 

The Wine:

 
The name of the city of Porto suggests its long-lasting claim to fame. This is the home of port wine as you may have guessed, and also other delectable Portuguese wines like Muscatel. It's one of the world's oldest wine producing regions, with two millennia of viticulture traditions. 
 
When it comes to port wine, a Douro river cruise brings you to the doorstep of some of the region's best places to experience a rich and storied wine that has become less commonly served. (These days, it's mostly in British costume dramas where we see men retreating to their studies and clubs for 'port and cigars').
 
You can sip your way along the Douro river with expert, hosted wine tastings in famous and out of the way wineries, including the UNESCO World Heritage Vinhateiro wine region, the scenic Varosa Valley, the beautiful vineyards of Regua that produce the best range of port wine in the country, Casa de Mateus, the castle made famous on the labels of Portugal’s renowned Mateus wine, and other viticulture treats.
 

Start your Trip!


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3 New Cruise Line Private Islands
It used to be that private islands were the playgrounds of the ridiculously rich and fabulously famous. Then cruise lines got into the game. Now, cruise lines are competing with each other to build exclusive tropical enclaves in the Caribbean for their guests to experience not just a day on the beach, but create travel memories they can't get anywhere else.

Most of the actual private cruise line islands are small, uninhabited islands ('cays', pronounced 'keys') among the hundreds of islands in the Bahamas, like the very first cruise line private island in the Caribbean, Norwegian's Great Stirrup Cay, Holland America's Half Moon Cay (WATCH VIDEO OF HALF MOON CAY HERE), and Disney's Castaway Cay.



Harvest Caye is a private island off coast of Belize. It's for guests of sister cruise lines Norwegian, Oceania and Regent.


But the term 'private islands' has also expanded to include private cruise line day resorts developed on larger, inhabited islands, like Labadee on Haiti for guests of Royal Caribbean, and Princess Cay on Eleuthera in the Bahamas.

And cruise lines continue to acquire real estate to up the ante on the ultimate resort experience for a day ashore on the beach.

Whether you've never stepped foot on a cruise line private island, or you've got a favorite you cruise to over and over again… check out these new private island destinations you can only reach by cruise ship.

They're all in the Bahamas, but designed by three very different cruise lines, and offer three very different private island experiences. Find your cruise line private island match!


 
The Cruise Line: Virgin Voyages
The Destination: The Beach Club at Bimini, the Bahamas
The Experience: High-Style Island Beach Club/ Music Festival on the Beach

As Sir Richard Branson launches his new, adults-only cruise line, Virgin Voyages, and its first flagship, the Scarlet Lady, he also launches a private island destination just for Virgin Voyages guests.


No, not HIS private island. But The Beach Club on the Bahamian island of Bimini takes its cues from Sir Richard's famously high-living, party-loving, music industry persona. Along with exquisite beach and turquoise water, The Beach Club provides an atmosphere like beach party destinations Ibiza and St. Tropez.


A detox/retox formula starts with beach yoga and meditation to the sounds of the sea earlier in the day, chilling in hammock groves and cabanas, snacking on complimentary, locally-sourced island cuisine and sipping cocktails from 6 bars, playing on the beach and taking part in watersports, leading up to in-demand DJ-led pool and flotilla parties in the evening, and finally winding down late at night with a beach bonfire and acoustic music before a very late night ship departure.

The Cruise Line: MSC Cruises
The Destination: Ocean Cay Marine Reserve, the Bahamas
The Experience: Soft Adventure Meets Nature on the Beach


Only 65 miles off Miami, MSC will also be able to offer late night departures from its new private island (pictured, top).

7 beaches, each with its own atmosphere and experiences, ranging from shallow paddling for small children to water sports. Dining includes food trucks that incorporate local flavors, and multiple bars including one inspired by Hemmingway's famous taste for rum cocktails overlooking the ocean. MSC's Aurea Spa treatments are available on shore at Ocean Cay. And shopping includes vendors of local arts and crafts as well as branded items.


In addition to the usual beach-side water sports, Ocean Cay offers eco-friendly soft adventure experiences like kayak tours and snorkel safaris highlighting the natural beauty of the island and its seas.

Ocean Cay is surrounded by dozens of square miles of protected seas, and that's the point. The development protects the local wildlife and ecosystem, and there are plans for a coral nursery to actively contribute to the region's environment.
 
The Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
The Destination: Cococay, the Bahamas
The Experience: 'The Perfect Day at CocoCay' / Over-the-top Theme Park on a Beach

Royal Caribbean ships are whirlwind experiences of ice skating rinks, climbing walls, theme park type rides, restaurants and shopping… more than you could hope to ever do in a single week of cruising. Its new concept, 'Perfect Day', is a collection of private islands around the world that take 'thrill and chill' to a new level, beginning in the Bahamas with 'The Perfect Day at CocoCay'.


Perfect Day at CocoCay is a shopping list of record-breaking builds, adrenaline-charged activities, and unexpected firsts: The tallest waterslide in North America. The largest wave pool in the Caribbean. The first overwater cabanas in the Bahamas. The Up, Up and Away helium balloon ride that takes you 450 feet up to the highest viewpoint in the Bahamas. A soaking by 30 water cannons on a shipwrecked galleon, and an 82-foot geyser. A 1,600-foot zip line – ending with the only splash water landing in the region. A freshwater infinity edge pool and bar, spanning a whopping 2,600-plus feet. And a whole host of other dining, drinking, and shopping activities to pack a full day even fuller.




Royal Caribbean believes Perfect Day at CocoCay will live up to its name – and set the scene for more Perfect Day Island Collection destinations in the Caribbean as well as Asia and Australia.
 
These 3 wildly diverse new cruise line private islands prove: there's a perfect new cruise – and a new cruise line private island - just waiting for you to discover.

Start your Trip!


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If you're like me, Spring can never come too soon. And nothing says Spring like new flower blossoms.

This year, treat yourself to an abundance of Spring in one of these famous floral travel destinations.


By: Lynn Elmhirst, Host/Producer, BestTrip TV
 

Tulips in the Netherlands

Where: Keukenhof Gardens and surrounding tulip fields
When: April

It's the world's largest spring flower garden. The Keukenhof Gardens are a showcase for the Netherlands' biggest agricultural export: flowers and bulbs. The tulip is the ultimate symbol of a Dutch spring, and there are an astounding 7 million bulbs – tulips and other spring flowers - bursting into bloom on the 80 acres of castle grounds at Keukenhof. Open just a few weeks every spring, Keukenhof is a gardener's dream: themed garden plots and pavilions, an windmill you can climb for a viewpoint over acres of surrounding tulip fields in bloom, boat rides in canals lined with never-ending blossoms.

You can also order bulbs of the blooms you can see at Keukenhof; they'll be shipped to you ready for planting in the fall.

WATCH VIDEO, TOP: THE WORLD'S LARGEST SPRING FLOWER GARDEN ON AN AVALON RIVER CRUISE
 
Also Find Tulips at:

The Ottawa Tulip Festival, Canada


There's a Dutch connection to this flower festival in Canada's National Capital. During the Second World War, the Dutch Royal Family took refuge in Canada's capital, and a royal baby was even born on Canadian soil, as overseas, Canadian soldiers led the liberation of the Netherlands. In thanks, after the war, the Dutch sent tulips. 100,000 tulips, and tens of thousands more each year since. The mid-May Ottawa Tulip Festival is not only a symbol of Spring, it's a symbol of peace and cooperation between nations.
 

Chelsea Flower Show

Where: London, England
When: 5 Days Late May

(getty/ BethAmber)

This might be the most famous flower and landscaped garden show in the world. Members of the British Royal Family join garden lovers from around the world at the 11-acre site of the Royal Horticultural Society's annual love-in of traditional, trend-setting and even avante-garde flowers and gardening. You'll see glorious displays of beautiful and also rare spring flowers, floral exhibits and cutting edge design as well as traditional English gardening that is loved and imitated the world over. 

The Chelsea Flower Show is the perfect place to buy English gardening tools and gifts for yourself or your friends at home.
 

Japanese Cherry Blossoms

Where: Japan
When: Peak season on Japan's main island is early-mid April

(Getty/ Torsakarin)

The Japanese don't just have a word for cherry blossoms: 'sakura'. The also have a word 'hanami' that means to view the cherry blossoms. It's a tradition that dates back a thousand years or more, originating with the Imperial Family and continuing today for all Japanese. It's one of the most festive times of the year, when Japanese gather with friends, family and colleagues under cherry blossom trees filling parks, surrounding historic castles, temples and shrines, and lining riverbanks, drinking sake and picnicking under the trees long into the twinkling evening hours.

It's not just the stunning beauty of clouds of white and pale pink blossoms hovering overhead; the Japanese also view short-lived cherry blossoms as a poetic symbol of the fleeting nature of life itself.

Also Find Cherry Blossoms in:

Vancouver, British Columbia
An estimated 50,000 blossoming cherry trees line streets and grace parks from February all the way through April, including the city's famous urban Stanley Park.  The Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival is held every year for most of the month of April.

Washington DC

(Getty/ zrfphoto)

America's capital has a glorious annual reminder of the thousands of cherry blossom trees given by Japan to the US in the early 1900's as a sign of friendship. Famously lining the shore of the Tidal Basin, DC's cherry blossoms are celebrated annually during the National Cherry Blossom Festival from mid-March to mid-April. 
 

Texas Bluebonnets

Where: Throughout the state, especially the City of Ennis and its 'Texas Bluebonnet Trail'
When: April

(Getty / leekris)

This wildflower is the state flower of Texas and believed to be named from its resemblance to a pioneer sunbonnet. Bluebonnets are actually several varieties of lupins. They thrive in lesser soil and so line roadways as well as fill public lands and pastures. 

The city of Ennis, south-east of Dallas-Fort Worth, is the official home of the bluebonnet, with over 40 miles of flower-bedecked roadsides, as well as an annual Festival. The Texas highway department not only delays roadside trimming so people can enjoy the spring bloom, its early officials were instrumental in encouraging these wildflowers to thrive. Today, they still plant about 30,000 pounds of wildflower seed each year, contributing to the preservation of Texas' native vegetation.
 
Also Find Lupins:

In Canada's maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

 (Getty / bilbowden)

The lupins you'll find growing wild in Canada's eastern provinces are a larger variety than Texas bluebonnets, and although they're more purple-y blue as well as pink and white, they're an equally cheerful sign of spring. Well, actually early summer. The cooler climate means peak lupin season here is late June – early July.
 
 

Azaleas in America's South-East

Where: Gardens throughout the region and especially: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, South Carolina
When: Throughout April

(Getty/MargaretW)
 
Azalea shrubs originated in Asia and were successfully taken to many places in the world. But in America's south-east, they've gained a special place as an iconic garden favorite and symbol of gracious Southern living. Unlike other spring blooms, they're quite long lasting, spreading joy for weeks of the season.

Many public and private gardens have a spectacular spring showing of azaleas, but special mention goes to Charleston's Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. The former rice plantation dates from the 1600's, and is the oldest public gardens in the U.S, opening its doors in 1870 to visitors who wanted to enjoy its thousands of cultivated flowers and plants. The less-formal, 'Romantic' style garden is not only on the list of one of 'America's Most Beautiful Gardens'. Magnolia was also the first garden in the country to plant azaleas outdoors, in the 1840's.
 
Today, hundreds of thousands of azaleas bloom in flame pinks, oranges and reds, lining paths and lakes in a breathtaking spring bloom.

Start your Trip!


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Top 10 Souvenirs from a Trip to Hawaii

You'll come home with a million sun-drenched memories of a holiday in Hawaii. Here are 10 mementos you can take with you.

 

ANYTHING PINEAPPLE



They may be the most common symbol of Hawaii, and you'll find pineapples, pineapple products, and pineapple motifs everywhere. Pineapples are actually native to South America, and their Hawaiian name 'halakahiki' means 'foreign fruit'.  They arrived in Hawaii in the 1500's, but it wasn't until James Dole, the 'Pineapple King' came to the islands in 1899, that Hawaii became synonymous the world over with pineapples.


At one time, Hawaii produced 75% of the world's supply. Hawaii is no longer the world's big kahuna of pineapple production. But the second most visited attraction in Hawaii is the Dole Pineapple Plantation Experience. Roadside stands sell delicious, perfectly ripe pineapples you'll enjoy during your stay, and that's where they'll have to stay. You can't take fresh fruits off the islands. But you can take candied and chocolate versions of pineapple with you – as well as an unlimited selection of items with pineapple motifs that will remind you of lazy days in the Hawaiian sun. 
 

OTHER TROPICAL FRUIT

The Hawaiian islands are America's tropical paradise, with market and roadside fresh guavas, papayas, mangos, bananas, lychees, passionfruit as well as pineapples. Like pineapples, they are not native to the islands, although bananas were one of the dozen staple crops brought on the first journey to Hawaii by Polynesians. Other tropical fruit came later and many have even gone wild, even becoming invasive in the wilderness. 


The same no-fresh-fruit in your luggage rule applies. Fresh tropical fruit juices make delicious toppings on Hawaii's favorite refreshing treat: shaved ice. And look for tropical fruit preserves to take home to relive your vacation every morning with your breakfast toast.
 

LOCAL WOOD



Sustainable local woods, especially local, fast growing and immense acacia koa are turned in the hands of artisans into both beautiful and useful memorabilia of your Hawaiian vacation. From salad tongs and bowls, fruit and nut bowls, platters, yes, even in ubiquitous pineapple styling, Hawaiian tropical wood products make a warm and heart-warming souvenir for yourself or family and friends.
 

ANYTHING TIKI



Much of the world associates tiki culture with the Hawaiian islands. Tiki culture is not actually a real 'thing', in fact, it's a mash up of elements, some real and some imaginary, of stylized elements of the Pacific tropics, like statues, sweet and complex cocktails, tropical décor including bamboo, flaming torches, brightly patterned fabrics (see: Hawaiian shirts), rattan furniture, and bead curtains. Tiki culture developed in the mid-1900's, and picked up speed with a post-war fascination with the romantic and exotic - brought home by returning US troops from the Pacific war theater and exaggerated by Hollywood. 


Now, tiki has a fun, retro vibe, and is a perfect theme for a back yard barbecue, complete with mai tai's garnished with fresh fruit and tiny umbrellas.
 

HULA GIRLS - OR GUYS

The adorably kitschy, wiggling, dash-top décor is a fun and retro memento of one of Hawaii's most powerful, unique and authentic traditions: the hula dance. Accompanied since the 19th century by western-influenced instruments like the ukulele, Hawaii's hula is a complex and ancient dance tradition, where hand movements can represent the swaying of a tree or wave in the ocean, even an emotion, along with unmistakable foot and hip movements. 


Hopefully, you'll experience a hula performance live in Hawaii. The hula girl (or guy) on your dashboard gives you fond memories and a little hipster credibility.
 

HAWAIIAN SHIRT



Channel your inner 'Magnum' or Don Ho with the modern man's loudest item of clothing, worn un-tucked and cool in the tropical heat of Hawaii. Traditional and local Aloha shirts are more muted in tones and style, and are considered formal wear locally, equivalent to shirt, tie and jacket in all except the most formal of scenarios, perfect for the local climate. The Aloha shirt is the top textile export from the islands, so you'll be in good company if you add one to your wardrobe at home.
 

ALOHA ACCESSORIES



Not everyone can pull off an Hawaiian shirt. The rest of us may have to make do with more subtle expressions of Aloha style: plumeria/ frangipani flower hair clips, and shell or silk flower leis. The custom of lei floral and leaf garlands was brought to the islands of Hawaii by settlers who made the incredible journey from Polynesia in canoes.  They've become the symbol around the world of welcome to America's 50th state.
 

MORNING JOE AND AFTERNOON TEA

The word in coffee in Hawaii is 'Kona'. Various efforts on the islands in the 19th century to grow coffee failed, but the slopes of the Kona or west side of the island of Hawaii, where sugarcane was unsuccessful, is ideally suited to coffee production. The Kona district became the center of coffee production in Hawaii and is Hawaii's coffee designation of origin; it must be grown in a two-mile-wide belt of terrain at 700-2000 feet of elevation to be labeled Hawaii's most prestigious coffee.


Kona coffee grows on west side slopes, and the opposite, east side has conditions conducive to growing tea. Tea production in Hawaii is much more recent, and growers are experimenting with black, green, oolong teas, scented with local flowers and fruits, so tea drinkers also have a local hot beverage to enjoy on island or to take home.

GET NUTTY



The pale, round and incredibly rich macadamia nut – sometimes even called the Hawaii nut - is also associated with classic Hawaiian snacks and cooking. But it, like the pineapple, originates elsewhere. Macadamia was introduced to Hawaii from Australia in the 1800's, and a local macadamia nut plantation just after WW2 helped spread the popularity of Hawaiian macadamia nuts through the US.  Enjoy them freshly roasted and take them home in cans, made into brittle, chocolates and countless other reminders of the flavor of Hawaii.

SALT



Hawaiians have been living off the land since their brave Polynesian ancestors made their way by celestial navigation thousands of miles across the Pacific. Harvesting sea salt has always been a fundamental part of island tradition, and continues today, with varieties of sea salt highlighting different flavors and unique characteristics of the areas they are harvested. The perfect foodie souvenir!
 

UKULELE

The soundtrack of any trip to Hawaii is the one-of-a-kind tunes of a ukulele. Looking like a miniature guitar, the ukulele is a Hawaiian adaptation of string instruments brought to the islands by Portuguese immigrants in the 19th century. The word has a whimsical meaning: 'jumping flea', thought to reflect the movement of a player's fingers. Ukulele music was popularized by the patronage of King Kalakaua in Hawaii, and it spread to the US and the rest of the world in the early and mid-20th century, along with post-war fascination with the South Seas and 'tiki' culture. Even Elvis famously played the ukulele in Hawaiian-themed performances.


You too can buy a ukulele in Hawaii, even visit an artisan workshop where they're made from traditional acacia koa, and take lessons, to liven up your next summer barbecue with the ultimate sounds of the Hawaiian tropics.
 

START YOUR TRIP!


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If you close your eyes and picture 'Italy', chances are, it's the rows of vineyards and cypress trees, villas and farmhouses, fabled towns and household-name works of art of Tuscany that come to mind.


There are a million reasons why Tuscany is the setting of so many escapist novels, movies and life-changing travels. Here are our favorites:

FLORENCE

The red rooftops of Florence are the symbol of Tuscany's capital and epic Italian Renaissance magic. Wandering the alleys and cobblestoned streets, the Boboli Gardens and the Ponte Vecchio lets you drink in Firenze's one-of-a-kind atmosphere. 


But its greatest attractions are indoors. Italy's greatest collection of art is housed in Florence's Uffizi Gallery. The richness of its collection is unparalleled; so many Renaissance masterpieces – recognizable even if you weren't an art history student - you'll hit Botticelli sensory overload quickly, so you'll want to break up your visit into multiple days. Michelangelo's statue of David at the Galleria dell'Accademia makes visitors gasp in awe at the 17-foot marble nude – as does its replica placed in its original 1504 setting outside the Palazzo Vecchio.

SIENA

Art lovers may argue whether it's Renaissance Florence or Gothic Siena that is the most breathtaking Tuscan city for art and architecture. Luckily, you don't have to choose, immerse yourself in the cathedrals and squares and museums in both. In a part of the world teeming with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Siena's Piazza del Campo stands out in its majesty cradled at the foot of three hills surrounding it. Work off some of that extraordinary Tuscan cuisine climbing the Torre del Mangia, a tower at the Palazzo Pubblico. Your reward is a breathtaking viewpoint over Siena.

 

THE PALIO

Time your visit to Siena right, and you can be a part of one of the world's most famous and storied sports/ cultural historic events. The Palio di Siena is a bareback horse race that feels like a Gothic time capsule. The 10 horses and riders are decked out like, knights of yore, in the medieval colors representing city wards; flags hang from the balconies and buildings in the city.

It's one of the most exciting 90 seconds in sport/ pageantry. The riders cling desperately to their horses for three laps of Siena's packed Piazza del Campo, and often, a few are thrown especially at the tight turns along the way, with riderless horses running into the crowds in the middle of the square or crossing the finish line with the other horses. The Palio is run twice a summer, on July 2nd and August 16th, and the Corteo Storico, a boisterous pageant, precedes the race.  Tip: arrange your visit to Siena's Palio through a tour operator that has balcony access overlooking the Piazza for the best view above the throngs.
 

CINQUE TERRE

'Five Villages' sounds quite humble, but in Tuscany, it's magic. Clinging to the sides of the cliffs overlooking the sea, these five colorful villages are among the most recognizable images of Italy. The area is a national park and also protected by UNESCO World Heritage status that attempts to shield these seaside jewels from excessive tourism/ commercialism.  


It's an epic view from the sea, if you're lucky enough to be on a Mediterranean cruise that sails along the Ligurian coast; smaller ships especially may sail close enough. On land, hiking trails provide both a wonderful outdoor activity and spectacular views of the different villages. There is also a coastal train that stops in each town. 
 

PISA

Pisa's 12th century Leaning Tower has been touristy since there were tourists in Italy – and that's a long time. You too will join the millions of people on Instagram in a photo of yourself 'propping up' the 180-foot tower that is about 4 degrees off a perfect vertical. That doesn't sound like much, but it means the top is 13 feet off center! 

The tower began leaning during construction due to poor foundations. In recent years, hundreds of millions have been spent re-stabilizing the bell tower. Unbelievably, it is safe enough you can even climb 300 steps to the top in a medieval version of a funhouse.

VESPAS

Tuscany is the home of the original, and world's favorite scooter. The Vespa isn't just quaint, retro memorabilia. It was designed (its name means 'wasp' for the insect its shape and handlebars evoke) to lead a transportation revolution: vehicles that are inexpensive and easily parked and maneuvered in urban areas.
 
Vespas are still made at the Piaggio factory in the Tuscan city of Pontedera, not far from Pisa, which has a museum displaying the Vespa customized by Salvador Dali.  They have a cult following around the world. Renting one to tour around Tuscany may be one of the most authentic, fun, and heartwarming local experiences.

WATCH VIDEO AT THE TOP: MEETING A VESPA COLLECTOR/ RESTORER IN TUSCANY


WINE AND DINE IN THE COUNTRYSIDE

As captivating are Tuscany's cities, the iconic scenery of region's rural areas are transformative. Chianti vineyards, white truffle farms, olive groves along country lanes lines with sculpted-looking cypress trees, with villas, farmhouses, and chapels integrated by the centuries into the gently rolling landscape.

To visit Tuscany is to spend time, by vespa or bicycle or on foot, in the countryside, and even better, to stay in a rural castello or villa with its own vineyard and restaurant to treat all of your senses to a taste of Tuscany.
 

Start your Trip!


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You Can Celebrate Richard Branson's Birthday With Him on his Adults-Only Cruise Line
With flamboyant Sir Richard Branson at the helm, the 2020 launch of Virgin Voyages is one of the most anticipated events in travel. The party-loving, trend-setting celebrity entrepreneur promised his latest travel venture would do to cruise what Virgin Air did to flying: rediscover a whole new level of tongue-in-cheek, escape-with-your-friends-to-a-private-party fun. 

Only this time, at sea.

Bookings are now open for the inaugural season of the Scarlet Lady, the first Virgin Voyage ship, in April 2020.  The ship's homeport is a splashy and stylish new terminal in Miami. From there, she sails to the Caribbean.

 (Photos: Virgin Voyages)

No typical 7 or even 10-day cruises, though. Intensive, 4 and 5-night itineraries featuring an overnight in Havana, or 5-night voyages to Costa Maya or Dominican Republic.

And we're getting other details about how Virgin Voyages is breaking the mold and re-inventing cruise travel, dare we say it? for more 'millennial' tastes. But we know just about everyone is interested in cruising Richard Branson-style: youthful, fun, non-traditional and high energy.


Virgin Voyages is introducing lots of new cruise experiences. But just as intriguing is what you won't find on a Virgin Voyage:

No Kids

'Adult-by-Design' Virgin Voyages limits its Sailors and lifestyle to the over-18 crowd. It's where 'Party with your friends on a private island or a pal's yacht' meets 'fabulous new music festival', on a yacht-inspired ship with 2700 other young-at-heart 'Sailors'.

No Buffets and No Main Dining Rooms



Rejecting two mainstays of cruise dining, Virgin Voyages instead aims for informal 'discovery' dining. Sailors will find over 20 restaurants, designed and curated to capture the spirit of the dining experience in a world-class city. Restaurants include mid-century martinis and steak, psychedelic-style vegetarian, 'Extra Virgin' modern Italian, Mezze at the Dock, and internationally-inspired food truck fav's, even 24 hour room service.
 

No Restaurant Surcharges

Whether you're dining in a restaurant, a seaside lounge or casual eatery, it's all included in the cruise fare, to allow Sailors the widest freedom to personalize your cruise experience.

No Broadway Shows



Another example of how Virgin Voyages is not your grandparents' – or parents' – cruise line. Richard Branson flexes his music industry background for a completely different set of evening entertainments: a nightclub named after his first music studio The Manor, DJ evenings in the spa, transforming the thermal suite into a one-of-a-kind maritime party, and a festival-like lineup of all-new completely original Events & Gigs developed by some of the world’s most-talked about producers, directors and artists.

No Tipping Required

Gratuities are already baked into the cruise fare, too, for a no-surprises, full-service cruise bill, something normally only offered on the highest end luxury cruise lines.

No Cost for Wifi

Forget unplugging. Virgin Voyages celebrates today's digital lifestyle and facilitates every selfie you could ever hope to post – without an extra bill or counting how many more minutes of internet you have available.

No Plastic and no Bottled Water

From the outset, Virgin Voyages' goal is to have the cleanest fleet at sea. No single-use plastic or packaging, no bottled water or beverages, investments and partnerships in clean technology and an practice of re-useable service items.

Instead, Virgin Voyages boast:

A Detox-Retox Philosophy


 
The good life at sea, Virgin Voyages style, may keep you up late at night partying, and re-setting your body by day at the outdoor Athletic Club complete with boxing ring, the largest daybed at sea, and a yacht-inspired catamaran net lounge, a 'Crow's Nest' sundeck for sunrise and sunset yoga practice, a 'Runway' standalone 'halo' running track over the ship where skaters are welcome, a wellness pool area, even an on-deck adult playground/ fitness apparatus and the 'Gym and Tonic' bar with both cold-pressed juices and craft cocktails.
 

Exclusive Island Experience… Sorry, not Necker


 
All voyages will spend a day at Virgin Voyage's exclusive Beach Club on the island of Bimini in the Bahamas. It's not Richard Branson's own fabled Necker island, but it is designed to rival beach clubs of Ibiza and Saint-Tropez with idyllic lounging and high energy DJ flotilla and pool parties, bonfires on the beach and a final acoustic musical performance before sailaway.
 

The Only Tattoo Parlor at Sea


 
Forget getting your hair set for formal night, but don't throw perfect grooming out the porthole. The Scarlet Lady has salons for men to get that indulgent hot shave or expert beard trim, and for women to get a blow out after a day of swimming, exercise, pool lounging and wind-swept fun on deck. It also introduces the playfully-named tattoo studio 'Squid Ink' - because why wouldn't you want a tattoo or new piercing to commemorate your Virgin Voyage?

 

Richard Branson's Birthday Party

 
Maybe the most memorable Virgin Voyage will be the one with Sir Richard Branson himself! You can join him on board to celebrate his birthday among celebrity friends and fellow Sailors aboard a four-night Havana After Dark voyage departing July 15, 2020.
 

Start your Trip!

 
 
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Everyone wants to try 'real' local food when they travel. But we don't always have a real local to point us in the right direction.
 
That's why we loved our Avalon Waterways' culinary tour of the Jordaan, a walking-sipping-snacking tour of the revitalized neighborhood in Amsterdam. It gets you out of the tourist core and into the heart of the Dutch lifestyle the way the locals in the Netherlands really live. 
 
Want to taste the local beer? And the snack the locals order at the bar? You've heard of pickled/ raw herring but never had the nerve to try on your own? Do you want to sample a Dutch cheese you'd never find in a market at home? Or discover the best Dutch chocolate shop to buy souvenirs for family and friends?

We did it all on our culinary discovery tour of Amsterdam with Martine, our Amsterdam guide who knew every shop keeper and even better: the best tips to get that herring down the hatch – and love it!
 
BestTrip's culinary tour of the Jordaan in Amsterdam is just one of Avalon Waterways' collection of included shore excursions that let you get hands-on in a destination and experience the local lifestyle the way you enjoy.
 
How do you like to explore? With 3 types of included excursions and onboard activities on Avalon Europe cruises you can create your own personalized trip.
 
CLASSIC
A local expert is ready to guide you through the history and heritage of local destinations and the “must see” sites.
 
DISCOVERY
Inspiring and interactive hands-on activities designed to speak to your interests - you spend your day immersing yourself in the destination’s unique culture, from cuisine, to art, to wine and more.
 
ACTIVE
Embark on energetic excursions keeping you in motion and on the go — from a guided jogging tour, to biking, paddling, and hiking your way through scenic locales.
 
Every European river cruise destination has its own special character, and Active, Discovery, and Classic styles of exploration mean that from the Seine to the Danube, the Rhine to the Rhone, you'll be traveling the way you want on your Avalon Waterways River Cruise, and gathering the travel stories that put a smile on your face for years to come. 
 

Start your Trip!

 
 
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6 Reasons We Love Seabourn Cruises to Alaska
America's Last Frontier is a destination everyone should visit at least once in a lifetime of travel. Alaska's vast, untouched waters and shores are rich in breathtaking scenery and abundant land and marine wildlife in an unparalleled spectacle of Nature.

Cruising along the pristine, emerald coast between British Columbia and Alaska is one of the very best perspectives and ways to experience Alaska's riches.

Not just any cruise; here's what makes an Alaska cruise on ultra-luxury Seabourn so special.



Smaller, Spacious Ships:


In a place of natural splendor like Alaska, a smaller ship gives you ample space to feel you are part of your natural surroundings. And it sails into ports that other, larger ships can't access. Seabourn Alaska itineraries include marquee ports like Juneau and Ketchikan, but also ports that are off the beaten cruise ship path, like Misty Fjords, Klemtu, Wrangell, Inian Islands, Chiswell Islands, Aialik Glacier and Holgate Glacier, ports that make your Alaska adventure one-of-a-kind.

You share your Seabourn ship in Alaska with fewer than 500 fellow guests. No crowding on decks, no line ups to shore… during daytime sailing, you can stroll on a deck surrounded by the quiet serenity of the impossibly fresh air and the sounds of the waves passing the ship and the densely-forested shore.


You're Always in a Room with a View:


Every space on a Seabourn ship gives you a feeling of being connected to the sea. All suites are ocean-front, many with verandas, and never far above the waves. 


Imagine waking in a verdant fjord to chunks of icebergs floating on glassy waters seemingly at arms' reach off your teak veranda rail. Or the unforgettable experience of sailing in crisp sub-arctic air while sipping champagne in a one of the toasty hot tubs on decks.

Taste-full:

Dining on Seabourn is always a treat. Everywhere Seabourn sails, chefs onboard plan menus like they are serving guests on a private yacht rather than a cruise ship, personally shopping for ingredients in local ports and featuring field- and farm- and fishing-boat fresh flavors on menus that surprise and delight daily.

In the rich waters of British Columbia and Alaska, that's a bounty of crab, salmon, oysters and other local delicacies that are so exquisitely fresh and beautifully prepared, it will spoil you for dining on them anywhere else in the world.

Seabourn Moments: 


Anyone who has traveled on Seabourn has a story of their favorite Seabourn moment. On every sailing, the ship's crew goes above and beyond to come up with spontaneous experiences that bring you closer together with your fellow guests, with your destination, and with the warm and enthusiastic crew. How do Seabourn moments put a smile on your face in Alaska?

One day, you may return from a wind-swept shore excursion to find 'Hot Chocolate with a Twist' on the Pool deck, where Seabourn bartenders are set up serving everyone's favorite comfort drink – with an optional twist of your liqueur and indulgent toppings that warm you up during your scenic sailaway.


In cooler climates like Alaska, Seabourn's famous 'Caviar in the Surf' becomes caviar on ice. What pairs best: vodka or champagne? Why not both? At the open-air, pop-up party deluxe, vodka and champagne stations, chefs coming out of the kitchens to greet guests at caviar station, opening up super-sized cans of caviar and plating servings for guests, circulating staff, and the live band all come together in the ultimate Seabourn spirit of the moment. 
 

Ventures by Seabourn:


Seabourn's smaller ships can't just sail into Alaska's smaller ports, bays and fjords, they can also launch Zodiacs and kayaks directly from the Marina at the aft of the ship.


Ventures by Seabourn are fun, accessible, active excursions that satisfy your craving to explore hands-on and up-close to Nature.  You can join a small group of like-minded guests and expedition leaders including naturalists, marine biologists, ornithologists, geologists, historians and other experts. If you like exploring the outdoors, these are the Alaska experiences of your dreams: watch whales and eagles in Kenai Fjords from a Zodiac, or kayak up close to wildlife in Misty Fjords, take a photo safari for bears in Wrangell, or hike the Davidson Glacier.
 

Don't Stop at the Shoreline:


You won't want your Seabourn cruise in Alaska to end when you disembark, and luckily, it doesn't have to. Seabourn has introduced pre- and post-cruise Seabourn Journeys, fully-escorted extensions inland from the ports at the beginning and end of its Alaska itineraries.
 
The UNESCO Banff National Park & Rocky Mountaineer Seabourn Journey delivers you to your Seabourn cruise in Vancouver following a 7-day trip that includes one of the world's most famous luxury scenic train journeys and an exploration of Canada's iconic UNESCO World Heritage national park.  
 
In Alaska, a Denali Seabourn Journey takes you by scenic rail to America's highest peak and the spectacular national park surrounding Mount McKinley. It's a 5-day experience that features a flight over Ruth Glacier and a guided tour to spot grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou and other wildlife park residents.
 
Traveling with Seabourn in Alaska gives you a welcoming, ultra-luxury journey to the majestic, sub-arctic 'safari' destination in our backyard.
 

Start your Trip!


(Images not labeled BestTrip.tv are courtesy Seabourn/ Rocky Mountaineer.)
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