Budget Travel Warehouse Inc. London Ontario's Blog

Discover Your Inner Highlander At These 3 Scottish Castles

A lot of people's favorite TV viewing these days involves tartans and time travel against a backdrop of essential Scottish scenery: misty lochs, craggy mountains, and castles that are among the most iconic and recognized in the world.

Fiction meets historic fact at Scotland's castles. An estimated 3000 castles were once part of the landscape of Scotland.  That's nearly one castle every 100 square miles. 

Many ancient castles still remain to remind us of Scotland's turbulent history of powerful men in kilts wielding broadswords, and women who were just as tough.  You can tap into your own inner highlander at these must-see Scottish castles.

Edinburgh Castle

Imposing and massive, Edinburgh Castle looms from its perch on an outcropping of volcanic rock 260 feet (80 m) above the Scottish capital.   Scotland's most urban castle dominates the city skyline spectacularly.  As the Eiffel Tower is the symbol of Paris, Edinburgh Castle is the symbol of the Scottish capital.  It's the most-visited attraction in Scotland.

(Photo credit)

Castle Rock, with such obvious defensive advantages of the sheer cliffs on three sides, has been occupied since the Iron Age.  A royal castle has stood there since the 1100's.  Edinburgh castle is magnificent, seeming to grow out of the volcanic rock. But it's no fairy tale. Researchers have identified 26 attacks on the fortress in its history, making it one of the most besieged places in the world. 

(Photo Credit)

Edinburgh Castle retains its military and regal connections, housing the Scottish National War Memorial and National War Museum, as well as the Scottish regalia, known as the Honours of Scotland: royal crown, sword and scepter.

The only approach to Edinburgh Castle is from the sloping side.  It's a scenic walk up the Royal Mile through Edinburgh's Old Town to the castle.  Don't miss the daily (except Sunday) firing of the 'One O'Clock Gun'.

Three special times of the year to visit Edinburgh Castle include:  The Edinburgh Military Tattoo in August, a spell-binding and evocative series of performances of fife and drum and Scottish regiments in traditional regalia; and the fireworks marking the end of the summer Edinburgh Festival as well as Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year.

Eilean Donan Castle

This is one of the most photographed and filmed castles in the world.  (And one of the most popular backdrops to wedding photos in the U.K.)

Where Edinburgh Castle's defenses came from the cliffs surrounding it, Eilean Donan's protection was water.  Eilean Donan means 'the island of Donnán'. (Top Photo Credit). It's a small tidal island at the point where three great sea lochs meet in the western Highlands of Scotland.

(Photo Credit)

And while romantic-looking now, there's evidence the island was fortified from the Iron Age.  The current castle was restored from ruins in the early 1900's, when a footbridge connected the island to the mainland. Until then, it was only water accessible, and a clan stronghold that was repeatedly attacked.

(Photo Credit)

Don't miss among the rare artifacts on display a sword said to have been wielded at the fateful battle of Culloden.

A Gaelic inscription above the door reads: "As long as there is a MacRae inside, there will never be a Fraser outside", referring to a bond of kinship between the two clans, similar to one which adorned the Fraser clan's Beaufort Castle. The MacRae clan are still Constables of Eilean Donan Castle today.

Eilean Donan Castle is even more spectacular in real life than in the many photos and films that feature it, where the magnificent Highland landscape almost dwarfs the castle. When you are there in person, it is much larger and imposing than it seems in pictures.  Standing on the footbridge with winds from the lochs swirling around you, is the moment you'll say to yourself, 'I've arrived in the Highlands'.

Dunnottar Castle

Even more wild and dramatic is Dunnottar Castle on top of an immense rocky cliff over the north east coast of Scotland. The ruins of the castle are surrounded by steep cliffs that drop 160 feet (50m) into the North Sea below. Only a narrow strip of land with a steep path joins the headland to the mainland.

(Photo Credit)

Given the castle's strategic location and impregnable position, it's no wonder the site has been fortified for over 2000 years.  'Dun' is the word for 'fort' in the early Pict's language.  This haunting location was the home of the Keiths and Earls Marischal, once one of the most powerful families in Scotland.  When Oliver Cromwell's army invaded Scotland in the 1600's, the Earl Marischal, as Marischal of Scotland, was responsible for the Honours of Scotland (the Crown Jewels), and had them hidden from Cromwell at Dunnottar Castle. (Brought there by a woman named Katherine Drummond hidden in bags of wool.)

Less than a century later, another Earl lost his titles participating in the Jacobite rebellion, and the castle declined until its restoration 300 years later.  

Romantic, dramatic, and evocative, Scotland's castles aren't just instagrammers' dreams.  A visit to a Scottish castle is your own version of time travel and a way to connect to the essence of this fabled culture.

Start your Trip!

Munich's annual extravaganza of beer halls, buxom girls in dirndls, pretzels and the best of the 'wurst' (pun intended!) is already underway in September.

If you're missing Bavaria's biggest party, you're not out of luck yet:  the world's SECOND largest Oktoberfest might be closer than you imagine.

Start your Trip!

Is Oktoberfest in your future? In Munich or a festival closer to home, you won't be fully into the spirit of the annual harvest celebration of Gemutlichkeit (fellowship), beer, pretzels and Wurst unless you also deck yourself in traditional Bavarian costume.

The good news is: these days it's easy to rock a dirndl for women, or lederhosen for men... or nowadays, women too!

We get the goods on the traditional and the latest trends in bust-enhancing, leg-revealing wardrobes for everyone.

Watch this video to learn how to 'Get your Tracht on!' as they say, and celebrate Oktoberfest in style.

Prost!

Top Souvenirs from Alaska

Alaska's breathtaking scenery and wildlife encounters will be memories that stay with you a lifetime.  But there are one-of-a-kind tangible memories you can take home as well as your photos and close-encounter stories.

Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host of BestTrip.TV, shares her favorite Alaskan souvenirs from her ports of call in Sitka, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Juneau on a recent Regent Seven Seas cruise to Alaska.

Alaskan Kelp Pickles

Food is such a fun souvenir when it's made from one-of-a-kind local ingredients.  I found many flavors of Alaska to take home to treat family and friends. 

One of my favorites I just had to share was the Alaska kelp pickles we discovered in Sitka.  Picturesquely-named Bullwhip kelp is an edible seaweed member of the brown algae family that can grow up to 100 feet long. 

Alaskans harvest the kelp at low tide through the summer. The long hollow stems cut in rings are around the size of the rings of a small cucumber… in other words, perfect for home made pickles.

One of the largest seaweeds, bullwhip kelp is a healthy sea vegetable with potassium, iodine, bromine, and even iron.

But the nutrients of kelp will be the last thing on your mind when you taste old fashioned 'bread and butter pickles' made from Alaskan bullwhip kelp.  Sweet and sour, with mustard and celery seeds, you'll feel transported back to Granny's garden kitchen – with a refreshing, truly Alaskan maritime twist.

Shopping Tip:  Also check out the spruce tip jelly (more floral than you think!) and the other grown-in-Alaska preserves, jellies and pickles.

Serving Tip: Take them home to entertain your friends, alongside your favorite aged hard cheese (like old cheddar or gouda) and French bread.

Make it a cocktail party! Pair them with…

Vodka or Gin made from Alaskan Glacier Water

When it comes to food, wine, and spirits, the best ingredients produce the finest results.  The base of any spirit is the water used to make it.  And nothing can beat the purity of water sourced from Alaska's glaciers.

So imagine how thrilled we were to discover Skagway Spirits.  And it happened in the best way of great discoveries when you travel. 

The shore excursions expert on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner told us we just couldn't miss the (formerly infamous) Red Onion Saloon in the historic, Klondike-era downtown of Skagway.   Naturally, a visit turned into a drink at the bar.  I always look for a local flavor on the menu, and there it was: A spruce-tip cocktail made with local Skagway Spirits gin.  The perfect toast to local flavor; we needed to find the source! The bar chef drew us a map on the back of a napkin, and off we went on an adventure.

The map led us to an old hangar at Skagway's local airport, where Skagway Spirits has its small-batch distillery and charming tasting room.  

This is a do-not-miss experience, meeting the members of this family owned- and operated distillery.  Their passion and love for what they do is apparent with every fantastic sip of their vodka and gin.

They even make home-made local juices from berries and blooms.  Their Fireweed Cosmopolitan or Rhubarb Collins will change your life.   Ryan doesn't even like rhubarb and he was sidling up to the bar for another!

Shopping and Travel Tip: Skagway Spirits is used to packing up spirits for cruise guests' safe return home. Some cruise lines will have your purchase of wine or spirits stored until you leave the ship at the end of your cruise.

Alaska Jade

Alaska's state gem… isn't technically 'jade'.  But don't let that stop you from bringing home a gleaming piece of Alaska's most famous stone.

To the naked eye, the green gemstone you see in shops throughout Alaska looks a lot like the Chinese semiprecious gem.  They are actually different stones. Chinese jade is a lighter green and much harder than the softer, usually rich green Alaskan gem, which isn't technically the same 'jade'.  

But polished into luminescent jewelry, figurines, knives and art objects that evoke the vivid greens of Alaska's unforgettable forests, Alaskan jade is a glowing and cherished emblem of the state's history, natural resources and craftsmanship of its indigenous people.  The earliest Alaskans used pieces of Alaskan jade they found in rivers to make tools, jewelry and even weapons.  

Large deposits still exist in Alaska – in fact, there's an entire mountain of jade in Alaska - British Columbia, and even parts of California.  In addition to the identifying dark green, it's sometimes found in lighter yellower shades, red, black, white and even very rare and valuable lavender.

Shopping Tip:  Unlike some other gems, Alaskan jade seems to appeal equally to men and women. Look for jewelry made in a wide variety of rustic/ native Alaskan styles and symbols, to nature and decorative themes.  It's the kind of souvenir you'll wear forever, reminding you of your journey to Alaska.

Ulu

From as early as 2500 BCE, Ulu were an essential part of indigenous households throughout the Arctic, from Greenland to Canada to Alaska.  Ulu means 'women's knife', and was an all-purpose tool for skinning animals, slicing animal skins, carving blocks of snow and ice for shelter, cutting food and even hair. It was a cherished tool passed down through generations with care. 

Ulu are composed of a curved blade with a bone, antler or wood handle.  Its unique shape centers force over the middle of the blade more than a knife shape we are used to, making it easier to cut bone, or use rocking motions that pin down food to cut easily one-handed.

Don't let your Ulu sit on a mantle as a conversation piece.  Women and men will find infinite uses for an Ulu. I was given an Ulu by a friend who's a fellow travel journalist, and it's already indispensable. I don't cut my own hair with it, but it's great to have in the kitchen, where rocking motions on a cutting board make short work of mincing herbs, or in the garden, slicing the tops off root vegetables.

Travel Tip:  check airline regulations to travel with blades; a souvenir Ulu most certainly needs to be safely stowed in your checked, not carry on luggage.

Shopping Tip: avoid cheap factory made Ulu and instead, look for crafted Ulu to support indigenous and individual artisans keeping Northern heritage alive.

Start your Trip!

It's only 20 miles from Skagway, Alaska's deepwater port on the coast, to the border of Canada's Yukon.  But what a 20 miles they are! 

The White Pass & Yukon Route railway ride is one of the most dramatic scenic experiences in the Alaska Panhandle.  No wonder it's an all-time favorite experience for cruise travelers arriving in the preserved, Wild (North)West town of Skagway.  The tracks go right onto the dock, so we stepped off the Regent Seven Seas Mariner right onto the train.  And from there, on an incredible climb to the Continental Divide and the border with Canada.

It's an epic journey of breathtaking scenery and Klondike Goldrush tales  - in vintage train cars that take you back to the days of prospectors and adventurers. 

Meet the train conductor and hear his stories of this fabled train - one of the world's most scenic and historic rail journeys.

Start your Trip!

Where in the World is This?  For September 15th, 2017

You're probably thinking somewhere in the Wild West. Good for you if you guessed the Wild North-West.

We walked off our Regent Seven Seas cruise to Alaska and felt like we were walking back in time.  Specifically, to 1896 when gold was found in the Klondike in Canada's Yukon.

There are a hundred preserved Gold Rush era buildings in downtown Skagway, Alaska, complete with wooden boardwalks and costumed 'Good Time Girls' in the formerly infamous Red Onion saloon. 

Skagway, in the Alaska Panhandle on the Pacific coast, provided the most direct route for the masses of aspiring gold miners to reach the Klondike.  With its deepwater port, large ships from the West Coast of the US or Canada could dock in Skagway to disgorge their loads of miners, pack animals and supplies.  From there, it got harder: a grueling, 500-mile trek to the gold fields in Canada.

Overnight, the city swelled with prospectors and shops and services for prospectors, styled after other towns in the North American West with false-front buildings opening onto wooden boardwalks lining a grid of broad streets.  The population ballooned, with 8000 people in town and 30,000 souls in the greater Skagway area.

It was the largest city in Alaska, where only the strong and the lucky survived.  And it seemed every swindler, con artist and criminal in the land converged on Skagway.  For the next two years, Skagway was lawless, and Canada's North West Mounted Police called it 'little better than a hell on earth'.

Like every boom, the bust must come.  The dreams of striking it rich had started to fade just a year later and by 1900 – just when a railway to the Canadian border had been completed  – it was all over.  (That top image is the train station that's still used today.) The same year, Skagway was incorporated as the first city in Alaska.

Skagway might have been destined to become a ghost town, reincorporated by Nature like other stops along the way to the gold fields that have now disappeared into the forests that have grown back where towns once stood.  But it survived – with its well-preserved and colorful historic downtown and just 1000 citizens, only a fraction of its Gold Rush heyday.  Survived in both legend and reality.

Skagway has been immortalized in literature like Jack London's 'The Call of the Wild' and even as the set of the John Wayne film 'North to Alaska'.

And, as one of the few Alaskan panhandle towns connected to the road system East into the Yukon and South into British Columbia and the Lower 48, it's a vital stop on Alaska's ferry system: the Alaska Marine Highway. 

The deepwater port that unloaded hapless prospectors now accommodates cruise ships that bring about a million cruise passengers every year to this town that now homes just 1000 citizens. 

There's no gold left in those distant Yukon hills, but a walk back in time to the Wild North-West in Skagway is a pretty rich cruise experience.

Start your Trip!

The Hubbard Glacier has quite a pedigree.

And being named after Gardiner Hubbard, the man who founded or co-founded the National Geographic Society, Bell Telephone and the journal 'Science', puts a lot of pressure on a glacier. 

Luckily, the Hubbard Glacier is used to pressure, and guaranteed to impress, even awe. This 'river of ice' is a natural wonder of pressurized snow in that magnificent iceberg blue.  A trip to the incredible wall of ice that forms the face of the Hubbard Glacier where it meets Alaska's Disenchantment Bay is one of our most memorable moments of our cruise to Alaska on Regent Seven Seas Cruises. 

We know you'll find it breathtaking too.

Start your Trip!

You'll notice we aren't using a photo for this story.  That's because there's not much good to see. Hurricane Irma is possibly the most destructive natural event ever to strike certain parts of the Caribbean. 

What about Travel?

Information is trickling in, but here's the best available information we have today from 3rd party sources about the situation:

  • Tourists are barred indefinitely from the Florida Keys although they have begun to let residents back in.
  • South Florida's airports are operating although they are working back up to full service.
  • Cruises from Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale and Miami are resuming this week – but most with modified and/ or abbreviated itineraries.
  • The islands worst hit include Barbuda (where the entire island's population has now been evacuated to sister Antigua), St. Maarten/ St. Martin, parts of Cuba, St. Thomas, Turks and Caicos, Anguilla, St. Barth's, and the damage in some is overwhelming.St. Maarten and St. Thomas in particular are among the most popular cruise ports in the Eastern Caribbean.It's unknown at this point when any cruise or other tourists may be able to visit.
  • Some cruise lines are canceling Eastern Caribbean itineraries and changing them to Western – or even Southern Caribbean – itineraries for the next few weeks.

Good News

Already, though, there is some good news we want to share, as rays of hope during this terrible time:

  • We have been so heartened by how many cruise lines – in astonishing feats of logistics – quickly re-routed and dedicated ships to transporting people away from danger and hazardous conditions and bringing vital supplies and assistance to communities affected.
  • Similarly, airlines and charter companies made heroic evacuations before the hurricane made landfall, and some have returned with assistance where they can land.
  • We are even starting to see 'assistance tourism' – people choosing to take their holidays in devastated areas to contribute to local economies and help clean up and get communities back to functioning.
  • And even in affected areas, not all hotels, resorts and activities have been destroyed.Some are still functioning or will be soon.

Just a few examples:

  • Our friends at St. Maarten's 12- metre Challenge racing yacht experience report they'll be back in business by December.The heavily damaged airport has restored enough service to land flights with needed supplies and assistance.
  • So, too, Sandals says its Beaches Turks and Caicos property will be restored and 'better than ever' before Christmas.For booked travelers, they offer to"re-accommodate your stay at one of our Beaches Resorts located in Jamaica or to any available Sandals Resort, or reschedule your travel dates for Beaches Turks & Caicos"
  •  St. Barth's airport re-opened Thursday morning.

What Can You Do?

The affected areas are facing estimated lost tourism revenues this year in the billions.  And in the worst-affected locations where tourism is the largest or only industry, almost all jobs are gone indefinitely until tourists return.

Our hearts go out to everyone affected by Hurricane Irma.  And we hope you join us in supporting recovery efforts.

One of the best ways to support recovery in the region is to continue to travel.  High season from December to March is vital for the economies of tourism-dependent Caribbean countries.

If you have booked travel plans, check with us or the travel supplier to see if you can complete those plans.  The Caribbean Tourism Organization and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association are other excellent sources of information.

And if you are thinking of a sun or beach vacation, let us help you book a trip to the Caribbean.  There are many places unaffected or that will be ready by December to provide you with a memorable holiday that also helps economies recover from Hurricane Irma. 

 

You Need This Suitcase For Your Next Trip to Wine Country

What's the only downside of finding that perfect wine abroad?  Getting it home. 

If your dream is traveling to vineyards and stocking your cellar with those one-of-a-kind bottles you can't get from your local wine seller, this is the suitcase for you.  Unless you like wrapping wine bottles in sweaters in your luggage and hoping for the best, that is.

The VinGardeValise sounds impressively French for a viticulture travel accessory but is actually developed and made by an American company.  From the outside, it looks like an ordinary, premium hard sided suitcase.  Complete with details like spinning wheels, bumpers on the edges, telescoping padded handles, heavy duty zippers and extenders, you've got luggage that has both maximum durability and user friendliness.

It's when you open it that you see the real magic.  Durable foam inserts safely cradle wine bottles  - up to an entire case.

The best part is that the interior is modular and customizable to hold 2 to 12 bottles of wine.  The designers seem to have thought of every bottle of wine you might fall in love with. In addition to regular wine bottles, inserts accommodate champagne, magnums and there's even an insert for two large Bordeaux wine glasses.  We like the looks of that picnic! 

And if you carry less than 12 bottles, you'll even have room left over for your clothes.

The VinGardeValise comes in two sizes: Grande and Petite.  Fully loaded with a dozen standard bottles, the Grande still comes in at under 50 pounds (22 kg) to save you from airline overweight luggage fees.  The Petite fully loaded holds 8 bottles and is less than 38 pounds.  And the case complies with aviation and airline policies and procedures, so you're safe from hassles as well as spillage and extra fees.

Since they launched in 2014, the makers have seen many travel uses for the suitcase; taking wine from your own cellar on a cruise, to a get together, or on vacation where good wine is scarce, transporting wine to a tasting, business or a corporate retreat… all in addition to avid enotourists taking wine home from wine country.

Now you can book your dream trips to the wine regions of Europe, South Africa, Australia, South America and North America with confidence you'll get your treasured new tastes in wine home safely.

And we think we can all toast to that. Santé!

 

 

There's a New Tallest Building West of the Mississippi

With a hotel.  And the highest open-air bar in the Western Hemisphere.  

The Wilshire Grand Center on famous Wilshire Boulevard towers 73 stories over downtown Los Angeles' historic, entertainment, financial, arts, and sports districts and added new texture to the city skyline.

The tower is spectacular.  A glass-clad skyscraper topped with a spire that makes it 1099 feet (335 meters) tall, more than 80 feet higher than the US Bank Tower it has overtaken for top spot in the West. (But nowhere near the height of America's tallest building, One World Trade Center in New York, that's a U.S. record-breaking, symbolic 1776 feet (541 meters) tall).

In a nod to its status as a landmark of America's West, the skyscraper's silhouette is inspired by Yosemite’s Half Dome, with an iconic sail for the West's pre-eminent oceanfront city.  (Top Photo Credit). Programmable LED lighting illuminates the peak and down the spine of the building for a riveting and changeable evening cityscape.

Inside, take a high-speed, double-decker elevator for a 50-second ride, and you're transported into the breathtaking setting of the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown's Sky Lobby on the 70th floor.

Magnificent panoramic views and L.A. –inspired design in the Sky Lobby set the scene for your visit to the 900-room hotel, restaurants, bars, open-air observation deck and rooftop pool where global travelers and locals can mingle amongst some of the city’s new and most coveted venues – with the best view in town.

Each hotel room has floor-to-ceiling windows for panoramas of the West Coast sunsets and the City of Angels.

Restaurants make the most of the one-of-a-kind scenics, with VIP booths, floor-to-ceiling privacy screens and private views of the L.A. skyline – as well as foodie features like a cheese atelier, a charcuterie cave and a 1200-label curated wine list.

And at the very top of the tower, imagined as a 'city in the sky', the highest outdoor perch in the country and even the hemisphere.  On top of the 73rd floor is Spire 73 – the tallest open-air bar in the Western Hemisphere. This rooftop lounge offers surreal views of the entire city, chic fire pits, signature cocktails and a wide selection of whiskey, and culinary experiences to rival the view.

Plus, in eco-friendly California, sustainability take center-stage, and the building is LEED Gold certified. It was constructed using recycled, locally sourced materials, hotel guest room pods were fabricated off site to reduce waste materials, and on an ongoing basis, building orientation, lighting and thermal energy storage reduce energy use, water-efficient landscaping and storm water collection used for cooling ensure the smallest environmental footprint for the tallest building in the West.

Ideally located in the heart of a revitalized, dynamic downtown, the Wilshire Grand Center and InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown have added a new and spectacular way to experience the United States' second-largest city.

Start your Trip!

Crystal Strikes a Chord with a New Rhine Class of River Cruise Ships

Instead of river cruises, they're calling them river yachts.  Crystal has translated its uber-luxury sea experience to the rivers of Europe with a new, 'Rhine' class of river yachts, evoking the great music icons of the region.

Four Crystal Rhine Class river yachts launch in 2017-2018. In creating a new, signature Crystal experience on the waterways of Europe, the company was inspired by some of the classical music heavy-hitters who made some of the most popular cities in its itineraries long-lasting cultural centers of Europe. The Crystal Bach has made her debut, and the Crystal Mahler, Crystal Debussy, and Crystal Ravel follow. 

But if the classical music associations make you concerned the experience is too formal for your tastes, think again.  The Crystal river yachting experience, night and day, is about comfort and style ('Crystal Casual'), and immersion into the best of the destination.

Here's what excites us about Crystal's Rhine Class ships and European river itineraries:

Ships:

  • Only 110 guests, making the ships feel expansive as well as intimate.
  • The only all-suite, all panoramic French balcony river cruise ships  - with king-sized beds and Crystal's renowned personal butler service. 

  • Walk-in closets and dual-vanities in bathrooms that defy the feeling of limited space on river cruise ships.
  • Crystal's farm-to-table, Michelin-inspired cuisine in more dining venues than you thought could exist on a river cruise, and open-seating so your day can flow at your own pace.

  • Hydraulic Sun-Deck Bar as well as panoramic interior lounges for enjoying the scenery indoors or out.

  • In-suite USB ports, and customized interactive digital bedside iPad tablet and directory.
  • The luxury is all in, so you don't have to fuss with tips and checks: Unlimited fine wines, spirits and non-alcoholic beverages, 24-hour room service including a restaurant menu, transfers and gratuities for ship and shore.

Shore

  • At least 2 'Crystal Adventures' in every port: included cultural, active or overland excursions, and others for purchase.
  • E-bike excursions to allow nearly everyone to be a little bit active enjoying vineyards and scenic villages on shore.
  • A 'Crystal Signature Event' every itinerary, like a private concert in a palace.
  • Plenty of overnights in port, so you can enjoy the full destination experience including evenings on the town.
  • Even Michelin restaurant dining experiences in ports of call you can book ahead as shore excursions.

If you're already a Crystal cruise lover, expanding your horizons to the Crystal experience on the rivers of Europe is just what you've been waiting for.  And the Rhine Class ships and Crystal experience are a marvelous way for new cruisers to discover Crystal on an intimate river itinerary in the heart of Europe.

Start your Trip!

Do You Know Your ABCs? Islands, that is.

They're as far south as you can go in the Caribbean Sea.  A stone's throw north of Venezuela, the 'ABC' Islands are blessed with a location outside the Caribbean's hurricane zone… and on the radar of travelers in the know.

Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao were part of what was formerly known as the Netherlands Antilles, and they are still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  Colorful Dutch colonial and West Indies heritage, unique climates, landscapes and ecosystems much different from the rest of the Caribbean, and that slightly more remote location, make the ABC Islands a haven for travelers looking for a new kind of island experience.

ARUBA

The closest of the ABC islands to Venezuela, only 15 miles off its coast, Aruba is still only a 2½ hour flight from Miami, and has the most standard 'Caribbean' tourist development.

But instead of the tropical humidity and frequent rain you associate with the Caribbean, Aruba's climate is a dessert-like dream: dry, sunny, and breezy with constant trade winds crossing the flat surface of the island.  

Photo Credit

The western and southern coasts are known for their white, sandy beaches, ideal locations for the majority of the island's hotels and resorts. Palm Beach, Eagle Beach, and nearby capital of Oranjestad are home to the island's international restaurants, shopping, casinos, golf and other international travel amenities.

Photo Credit

But make sure to get off Aruba's beaten track. The famous trade winds shape one of the most famous symbols of Aruba: the divi divi tree, bent into fantastical, bonsai shapes. 

The arid landscape is also dotted with cactus and aloe vera plants; a tour in Arikok National Park, which covers nearly 1/5th of the island, is a great way to see this unusual Caribbean landscape, as well as caves and archeological remains of original inhabitants, and the dramatic rocky eastern coast of the island.

Photo Credit

Don't miss San/Sint Nicolaas, and up-and-coming 'second city' for all that is young, hip and artistic in Aruba. Public murals painted by artists from around the world, an early fall art festival, and trendy hipster bar and restaurant scene make it worth your while to explore farther afield from the capital.

BONAIRE

The smallest of the ABC Islands, Bonaire is essentially a coral reef pushed out of the sea and surrounded by one of the world's most celebrated coral reef systems. The reefs start from the very shoreline and have made Bonaire a bucket list destination for divers who considered it one of, if not the very best shore diving destinations in the world.

Photo Credit

Bonaire has led the Caribbean in nature conservation and eco-tourism. The entire coastline, from the high-water mark on land to a depth of 200 feet offshore, was designated a marine sanctuary in 1979. It protects the 350 species of fish, 60 species of coral and 4 species of sea turtle in its reefs.

Bonaire's shoreline is dotted with lagoons and inlets that are home to marine birds including one of only four nesting grounds of Caribbean flamingos. Outside of that highly protected area, mangrove forests are popular kayaking and snorkeling destinations for hotel guests and passengers in port from cruise ships.

Photo Credit

Nearby Lac Bay on the windward side of the island is on the map of the world's top wind surfers. With reef protecting the entrance to the bay and consistent trade winds, it's one of the stops of the PWA Windsurfing Freestyle World Cup. In fact, the island's most famous export might be its windsurfers; half of the world's highest-ranked freestyle windsurfers are from Bonaire. So if you have been meaning to take up the sport, this is the place to find both ideal conditions and expert instruction.

In the southern part of the island, Bonaire's unique topography has salt water flowing over low lands, enabling the island to commercially produce salt by evaporating seawater.  One of the more unique – and delicious - souvenirs you can find in the Caribbean.

CURACAO

Larger than Aruba or Bonaire, Curacao is also a more commercial center with financial and oil-refining business. It's a popular cruise port and has direct flights from cities on the Eastern seaboard as well as Miami and the Netherlands.

Photo Credit

The capital Willemstad dates from the first half of the 1600's. Its collection of well-preserved Dutch colonial architecture, cotton-candy and lacy versions of design typical of Netherlands in the 17th century, is the best example of the style in the Dutch Caribbean and has earned UNESCO World Heritage status.

Photo Credit

In addition to the marvelous pastel-perfect streetscape, the Dutch built forts in the 1600's to protect themselves in the age of piracy and European marine warfare.  Six can still be seen today; preserved historic sites, or transformed into hotels, casinos, and even plazas.

The island also has a thrilling geological feature for avid scuba divers: the 'Blue Edge', where the sea shelf drops sharply off only 200 feet from shore.

Photo Credit

Also famously blue, and possibly more famous than the island itself, is its world-famous namesake liqueur. Curacao is the famously peacock blue liqueur that's also a top souvenir of any trip to the island. It's distilled from the island's Laraha fruit, a bitter orange that is the failed result of very early Spanish settlers' attempts to raise Valencia oranges in the dry, poor soil.  Although its fruit is almost inedible, the peel is powerfully aromatic.  And that trademark blue?  It's always just been added color.

With their extraordinary terrain, climate, heritage and lifestyle, the ABC Islands should be on any traveler's list of top Caribbean destinations.

Start your Trip!

Romance Thrives in the Dominican Republic

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

Celebrate

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

Recharge in a Spa

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

Work on your Swing

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

Experience Colonial Charm

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

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

Photo Credit

Take an Adventure for Two

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

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

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

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

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

Start your Trip!

Where in the World is this Picture? August, 2017

This photo isn't playing tricks on your eye.  People really do take a dip in the natural pool at the top of this world-famous, record-breaking falls.

It's the largest falls in the world 1708 meters (5604 feet) across and 108 meters (354 feet) high.  It's not the highest or the widest falls, but that combination results in a sheet of falling water unmatched in size by any other falls.  It's still double the height of Niagara Falls.

Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been called one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.  Named Victoria Falls for the Queen by Scottish explorer David Livingstone when he first came across it in 1855, it's called Mosi-oa-Tunya – The Smoke that Thunders – in local Tonga dialect.

The First Gorge, Zambian Side.  Photo Credit

Upstream from the falls, the Zambezi River flows across a wide, flat plateau with no hills or mountains to channel the flow of water.  So the entire 5600-foot width of the river drops over the edge of a fracture in the landscape, falling into the gorge below, and flowing through the chasm in a zig-zag series of gorges that form the border between the two countries in southern Africa.

Photo Credit

Both issue visas to allow tourists to cross back and forth across the border to see the falls from both vantage points. A million international and local visitors a year come to see the falls and there are concerns about development and environmental management endangering the site.

The Second Gorge (with bridge) and Third Gorge.  Photo Credit

And as for the top picture?  Victoria Falls has a famous natural feature on the Zambian side, an 'armchair' called the 'Devil's Pool' near the edge.  When the water is at a certain level, a rock barrier reduces the current in that spot to relative calm.  Daredevil adventure-seekers risk death to swim only a few feet away from that 350-foot drop.

Start your Trip!

Italy's iconic scooter is the very symbol of stylish, romantic getaways in Europe.

Vespas originated in Tuscany, and on a trip to the Tuscan seaside city of Livorno, BestTrip.TV discovered a local who collects, restores, and displays a collection of colorful vintage Vespas. You can't miss this tour of his showroom and workshop!

If you're looking for a room with a view in Marseille... this is it.

The Hotel Dieu might be the the best piece of real estate in Marseille. Part way up the hill next to the historic harbor, occupying the best vantage point overlooking the iconic view of the old port and the church on the opposite hill, Marseille's Hopital Dieu dates back to the 1700's. 

As a hospital, it served the oldest neighborhood in all of France, where sailors, immigrants from around the Mediterranean, nuns and beggars, artists and artisans thronged.  The care center of the community finally closed its doors, and the building sat empty for years...

Until a city-wide renaissance of style, design and culture included the transformation of the hospital building into a luxury, design hotel where the historic architecture meets stunning contemporary design, and a view without rival in France's largest port city.

Start your Trip!

5 Adventures in Antwerp

Belgium’s unique character and two-language culture makes it a must-see destination in Northern Europe.

But go beyond Brussels.  One of Europe's hidden gems is Belgium's second city.

Just up the estuary from the North Sea, Antwerp's historic port became its claim to fame and source of wealth as a trading capital 500 years ago.  The port is still the second largest in Europe. The wealth of this great trading city financed great art and artists, the world's oldest stock exchange, and an historic core of richly elaborate Flemish buildings.

Photo Credit

BestTrip.TV's producer/host Lynn Elmhirst shares her favorite things about Antwerp.

History with a Quirk

Distinctive historic Flemish architecture reflects Antwerp's power in its heyday, including the magnificent Town Hall, guild halls, and Notre Dame Cathedral. Check out the altarpieces by iconic local artist Rubens here, and the 400-foot spire that makes the cathedral still the tallest building in town.

Photo Credit

Walking through Antwerp's historic streets, you'll start to notice apparent evidence of exceptional devotion to the Virgin Mary.  In addition to Notre Dame cathedral, a surprising number of very ornate Madonna statues stare from the corners of buildings onto the street below.

We were told a number of stories about why street-corner Virgin Mary's abound, and oddly, none were about religious fervor.  One person told us of reduced taxation on 'religious' buildings, another that the city provided free street lighting for religious buildings – and in either of those scenarios, a Virgin Mary statue on the building made it qualify.

Photo Credit

Virgin Mary building statues are one of the most characteristic – and quirky – symbols of Antwerp's historic streetscape. Very instagrammable. #MadonnasofAntwerp.

Thrillingly Modern

Time has not stood still in Antwerp. Nowadays, it has the reputation of one of the most interesting, modernist cities in Europe.

Only a five-minute walk from the Cathedral, for example, is the city’s neo-classical festival hall from 1905. Period restoration on the outside, but inside, jaw-dropping luxury 50-store mall where the neo-classical glass dome, gold leaf, mosaics and oak floors are juxtaposed by sexy ultra-modern design.  I fell in love with the space age champagne bar at the top of a stemmed glass installation (pictured top.  Photo: BestTrip.TV). Like stylish Jetsons.

And if the Jetsons ever had to go to court, the Antwerp Law Courts would be the place.  The building's spectacular roofline mimics a series of sails in full wind.  Today's nod to Antwerp's shipping and maritime heritage.

Serious Fashion:

Hipness is in very 'fabric' of Antwerp, which has cult status in global fashion.  Antwerp is home to one of the most important fashion academies in the world.  The city also produced the famous ‘Antwerp Six’ designers who cut a radical new pattern for European design that still thrives in Antwerp today.  Fashion is thick on the ground in Antwerp, with distinctive styles that are cool and chic all at the same time.  Do any shopping here, and both men and women will have envious friends at home asking, 'Where did you get that?'

And Diamonds:

Antwerp has long been the 'Diamond Capital of the World'.  It has a whole district devoted to the precious gems, where even today, up to 80% of the world's diamonds are still polished and processed.  Diamond houses line the (very secure) streets. Some are open to visitors, where you can learn about the world's hardest stone and watch the most expert diamond cutters in the world polish raw diamonds into sparkling symbols of love and luxury. 

The perfect destination for a one-of-a-kind engagement or romantic getaway with a dazzling souvenir.

And Really Good Taste:

Some people rave about Belgian waffles, but for me, it's Belgian Frites. There are stories of peasants frying potatoes here in the 1600’s and Belgium lays claim to inventing this world-wide fast-food phenomenon – even though they became known as 'French fries'.

Photo Credit

Connoisseurs distinguish between Belgian fries (or frites) and any other ‘fry’: true Belgian frites are thick, irregularly shaped, and DOUBLE fried.  And local tradition doubles down on the artery-clogging snack by dipping them in mayonnaise.

Frites are a must-try treat in Antwerp. Indulge in a paper cone while wandering the streets, or find a restaurant serving ‘moules et frites’, that is, steamed mussels and fries – the Belgian version of ‘fish and chips’.  No fry at home will ever compare.

 

 

Travel 'Game-Changer' for Sports Mega-Fans

How far are you willing to go to support your team and get your professional sports fix?  Do you plan your free time around your team's schedule, paint your face, wear your team's jersey, or drive crazy distances to see the game live?

There are a lot of ways to support your team, but we've found the ultimate mega-fan travel experience.

Chicago-based Big Game Air provides same-day round-trip travel on private jets to major sporting events across the USA.

Its tarmac-to-stadium transfers and same-day returns mean no luggage, no hassle, no parking, no hotels, just a day rather than an extended long weekend of navigating crowds, and all the adrenaline of being at the game – plus all the perks of private aviation.

Like many innovations, the idea arose to solve a problem: one of the company founders didn't want to miss a big game – but also didn't want to leave his wife and newborn overnight.  With help from his co-founder, they put their aviation and hospitality backgrounds to work, roped in some buddies, booked a private jet, left in the morning for the game… and arrived home 12 hours later  - with a new luxury sports travel business plan.

Pardon the pun, but we think this is a 'game changer' for sports experiences and sports travel.  

If you can get yourself a game ticket, they can get you there in style.

  • Fans can purchase individual seats on 8-30 seat flights scheduled to the highest-demand games throughout the year - up to 24 hours in advance of the game date. (So if you score a last-minute ticket, you can still make the game).
  • There are no membership fees required (unlike some other private jet programs).
  • Ground transportation is included to and from the sporting event.
  • You'll have all the amenities and conveniences of private air travel, plus
  • Group and charter options, including:
  • Ways to really celebrate a corporate team win, a bachelor party, or any other group event with add-on perks including custom jet hangar parties, tailgate parties in the sporting destination, professional athlete- or celebrity-hosted flights and premium onboard catering.

In its first year, Big Game Air flights flies from Chicago, New York, Columbus, and Detroit; in 2018, the company adds Dallas and Atlanta as originating cities; and in 2019, you can depart from Los Angeles and San Francisco to join your team's big day.

Flights are already scheduled to marquee sports events like the SuperBowl and major NFL games, College Football championships, NHL, the Masters Tournament, the Kentucky Derby, as well as major game dates on the calendar that run the gamut of team sport in the USA.

The company subcontracts a fleet of private jets, making the ultimate game day trip more affordable than other private options.  Flights still cost in the $1200 – 2200 USD range for a round trip, so it's not the cheapest way to get to the game. (But it still might be less expensive than your seats at center field).

For time-pressed executives and groups of friends willing to splash out on their sports adventure, Big Game Air seems like a big win for big fans on game day.

Is the Modern Travel Luxury... Sleep?

You can't enjoy life - even luxury travel - if you don't have sleep. That's the premise of the new ship-board wellness program on Celebrity Cruises in conjunction with its spa and wellness partner Canyon Ranch SpaClub.

It's not just about getting your 'beauty sleep' these days.  It's about stressful lifestyles and poor sleeping habits that have left many of us chronically exhausted. 

That takes the fun out of even the most amazing travel experience or destination.

So what better time than on vacation to not only catch up on some rest and relaxation – but also to experience new sleep treatments that can help you improve your sleep even after your holiday? Especially after your holiday?

Celebrity Cruises and onboard Canyon Ranch SpaClub now offer cruise travelers a curated program for sleep called Mindful Dreams. The program is available fleet-wide beginning the fall of 2017.

The program takes a 360-degree view of sleep and sleep 'hygiene'.  There are so many factors that affect a restorative night's sleep.  Celebrity's guests can try new treatments, products and sleeping aids, receive nutrition advice on the best culinary choices to aid in sleep, and enjoy expert lectures and special instructional classes promoting a holistic approach to mindful sleep that will benefit you during your cruise… and back at home.

Mindful Dreams got its name from an existing Canyon Ranch SpaClub relaxation treatment. This sleep-encouraging experience incorporates products specifically designed to soothe, alongside a sleep-inducing cultural massage, and meditation techniques. It's a focused treatment to evoke instant tranquility and foster inner wellbeing, calmness and serenity, transporting guests to the perfect getaway state-of-mind.  Now that's a holiday!

Additional sleep-enhancing treatments in the program include:

  • Organic lavender and seaweed sugar glow
  • Age-defying restorative facial
  • Lazy days detox seaweed bath

The program features VOYA luxury products. For centuries, it's been known that lavender can contribute to relaxation and sleep. The lavender body care range, Tranquility, incorporated in many of the Mindful Dreams treatments, helps to ease the stresses of everyday life, leading to a feeling of relaxation and peace. All ingredients are organic and sustainably harvested on the western coast of Ireland.

More and more travelers are planning holidays with self-improvement – especially wellness goals – in mind.  We love Mindful Dreams' focus on providing Celebrity's guests with relaxation and sleep during your sailing… and especially a lifetime of wellness habits and techniques for mindfully improving your sleep in your daily routine once your cruise is over.

Your whole life and life outlook feels better with a good night's sleep.  What better gift to give yourself with a gift of travel than a whole new approach to restorative sleep?

Start your Trip!

Where's the Coolest Place to do Yoga in Vancouver?

It's where stand up paddleboard meets downward dog – in a South Beach-style pool overlooking Vancouver's seawall and mountains. 

The latest trend in West Coast wellness lifestyle, the stand up paddleboard (SUP), is well established in Vancouver.  And yoga? Well that's a no-brainer. 

But it took local SUP pioneer and yoga instructor Kristy Wright Schell to bring the two together and introduce them to Vancouver.  And the Westin Bayshore's programming team to take notice and make Kristy's 'Liquid Yoga' part of the hotel's pool lifestyle.

The stunning hotel pool gives participants an opportunity to practice yoga in the open sea air, embracing the quintessential experience of Vancouver's West Coast lifestyle but in the security of a pool as an aquatic yoga studio, rather than the open sea like SUP yoga.

We tried it and we think it's inspired.

On a fair summer day in Vancouver, British Columbia, the locals joke it's like 'British California'.  And it seems that somehow, every resident and visitor in town is outdoors or on the water.  

This program gives hotel guests – and the general public – a unique way to be part of the local wellness and outdoor culture, even if you're in town, like we were, with a packed business schedule.

Liquid Yoga sessions take place in the morning, while the pool is still quiet. Kristy, who's the Owner/Founder of Just Add Water Yoga Ltd and Standup Paddle Vancouver, discovered made-in-Canada Aquamats (Kristy's on the center mat below). She and the Westin Bayshore team decided on six, so every session is intimate and there is plenty of space around each mat in the pool.

Photos: Above, Westin Bayshore; Top, BestTrip.TV

Unlike yoga on SUP's, Aquamats have squared corners and are stable left to right, but, here's the 'twist', they do tend to rotate. 

Getting wet can be intentional… or accidental.  Participants either mount pool-side dry, or have the option to swim to their mats, and some of the poses involve options to dip in the water, or even dismount and remount, adding that challenge and direct interaction with water.   Kristy says about 1 in the 6 students every session will end up in the drink without meaning to.  Luckily the pool is warm!

For Liquid Yoga, Kristy uses a lot of Vinyasa 'flow'  - the water environment lends itself quite literally to a fluid practice, where participants need to bridge the gap between effort and surrender to stay balanced on the mat in the water.

As a result, you gain a new awareness of your body in the pose, and new awareness of your yoga practice. Control freaks usually intent on the perfect pose will find they need to let go a little and relax in response to the elasticity of the water.  While yoga slackers will need to bring more consciousness to their practice to literally 'stay afloat'.

Even though Kristy keeps to relatively simple poses. A class that done on the floor in a studio would be quite basic takes on a new challenge in the water, requiring you constantly engage tiny core muscles for balance.

But in case you were thinking it all sounds very serious… it's not.  Let's face it: we are primed for pools as places to play, and Liquid Yoga brings a playfulness to yoga practice too.  We almost wanted to fall in!

It's like taking a 'mini yoga retreat' completely outside a usual yoga environment that reconnects and reinvigorates your yoga practice.

We recommend wearing your bathing suit under layers of yoga or workout wear that will wick water away from you in the open air.  Didn't bring workout wear? We love that guests can take advantage of the Run Westin's gear lending program.

Classes fill up, so we recommend advanced booking through the hotel concierge or Kristy's web site.  The sessions are open to both hotel guests and the general public.

There are two morning sessions of Liquid Yoga at the Westin Bayshore 6 days a week (except Mondays) from May- September whenever the pool is open.  They are considering moving it to the indoor pool once the outdoor pool closes.

Liquid Yoga is a terrific way to enjoy the Westin Bayshore's gorgeous, 'make an entrance' circular pool, with its new South Beach style cabanas and indoor/outdoor terrace restaurant.  But it's also an inspired addition to Westin's wellness cuisine and activity programming, with a uniquely Vancouver spirit, enhanced by the Westin Bayshore's incomparable views of Vancouver's harbor, seawall and mountains. 

By: BestTrip.TV's Lynn Elmhirst with Ryan McElroy

 

 

Same-Sex Couples Can Get Married on Cunard

Many couples dream of getting married at sea.  And now, British luxury cruise line Cunard has welcomed its first wedding booking by a same-sex couple.

Cunard has offered weddings on its ships since 2012 and has married hundreds of couples, but can now also conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies at sea.

Same-sex marriages have been practiced in Britain since 2014. But the Cunard fleet of ships: the Queen Mary2, the Queen Victoria, and the Queen Elizabeth, are registered in Bermuda. A Supreme Court ruling enabling same-sex marriages in Bermuda now enables same-sex couples to be married on board any of the line's 'Three 'Queens' ships.

So in addition to enjoying Cunard's grand scale of British traditional luxury including impeccable White Star Service, gourmet dining and world-class entertainment, perhaps on one of Cunard's legendary, regularly scheduled Transatlantic crossings, same-sex couples can also be joined in marriage during their cruise.

Couples who celebrate their weddings in the romantic, aristocratic British environment of a Cunard cruise will have memories for a lifetime. The wedding ceremony is performed by the ship’s Captain or Deputy Captain, and the marriage license is issued by Bermuda.

A Cunard Wedding at Sea package includes:

  • A romantic ceremony at sea
  • Wedding ceremony venue with floral arrangements
  • Traditional wedding music
  • Services of the on-board Wedding Coordinator
  • Attendance of a professional photographer at the ceremony
  • Commemorative wedding certificate
  • An official copy of the marriage certificate
  • The cost of the license fees
  • A bottle of Champagne in the cabin on arrival
  • Champagne for a toast after the ceremony
  • Invitations and thank you notes
  • Wedding outfit pressing services

Cunard has a history of over 175 years of bringing people together, and welcoming same-sex weddings on its ships marries the best of British luxury traditions with a truly modern sensibility and inclusiveness.

Start your Trip!

Visit This: Underwater Winery in Croatia

Drinking and diving don't mix, but we've found one exception.  At the Edivo Vina winery about an hour north of the Croatian seaside town of Dubrovnik, you need to slip into a wet suit for a cellar tour.

That's because this winery stores and ages their – aptly named – 'Navis Mysterium' or 'Sea Mystery' wine – 20 meters (66 feet) under water.

Sea Mystery wine begins life above ground as other wines do.  The regional grapes are harvested, pressed and bottled, then aged for three months on land.

Then it gets interesting. Cork and two layers of rubber seal the bottles which are then enclosed in amphorae – locally made clay vessels like the ones used in ancient Greece with a narrow neck and double handles.  To make them water-proof, they are lined with a thin layer of resin, just like the ancient Greeks did. Then the amphorae are submerged underwater in steel cages for two more years of aging.  Divers visit the 'cellar' to check on them regularly to ensure they remain sea-proof.

When they emerge from the 'cellar', the amphorae are covered in sea life: shells, barnacles, coral and seaweed.  Just like a storybook treasure you might discover on a sunken ship.  And not one is exactly like any other.

But the sunken treasure look wasn't the winemakers' motivation for this unique cellar location. They believe the depths of the Adriatic Sea provide ideal cool and consistent temperatures as well as silence that improve the wine's quality.

You don't have to take their word for it, though.  If you have diving credentials, you can go on a supervised dive to one of their underwater wine cellars in a sunken boat. On dry land, you – and any non-diving visitor – can enjoy a ceremonial opening of an amphorae-enclosed bottle and this one-of-a-kind wine in a spectacular seaside setting.   You can even order them in pine gift boxes.

It took the vintners 3 years to perfect the process and to source entirely local materials.  The grapes, clay, wrought iron, pine, glass and cork used in the making of 'Sea Mystery' wine are all products of Croatia – a true taste of the ancient Adriatic.

With a price tag in the hundreds of dollars, a bottle of 'Sea Mystery' wine won't be the least expensive bottle of wine you acquire on a trip to Croatia, but it will definitely give you the best story to tell while you're drinking it with your friends at home.

Start your Trip!

App-Happy Kids at Heathrow with New Travel-Themed Mr. Men Characters

Remember the delightful Mr. Men and Little Miss book series for kids?  They have two new friends: Little Miss Explorer and Mr. Adventure.  And they live in the digital world of Augmented Reality at London's Heathrow Airport Terminal 2 ready to be discovered on your mobile device. 

The beloved, essential British children's book series has 90+ characters, a TV show, and a book sold every couple of seconds worldwide. For some reason, I was given the Little Miss Naughty book as a child (I can't imagine why!). More recently, a friend who's also in media gave me a 'Little Miss-Communication' - pun intended -  T-shirt.  Now I'm eager to discover my inner Little Miss Explorer. 

More than 45 years after their creation, the Mr. Men and Little Miss characters have vaulted into the digital age, teaming up with Heathrow airport's 'experience' department to bring smiles and fun times waiting for flights to kids and kids at heart.

Mr. Adventure and Little Miss Explorer are the heroes of a new AR app called Around the World with Mr. Adventure that you can use on any iOS or Android device with a camera.  As you (erm.. your kids) explore the airport,  you discover hidden digital badges, then the app plays a 3D animated video.  You (again, uh, your kids) can take a pic with the digital Mr. Adventure or Little Miss Explorer character or another character from the series. 

When you find all 5 digital badges hidden around the terminal, you can trade them in for the real thing; iron-on fabric badges are available from information desks.  Wouldn't that be just the best souvenir from the airport for any kid?

Through early September, 2017, costumed Little Miss Explorer and Mr. Adventure will also be roaming the airport, meeting and helping the kids (most likely helping the grown-ups. The kids have got this). The airport also has kids’ activities and workshops planned for the busy summer travel season, along with continuing to offer perks like free play areas and Kids Eat Free menus.

The Around the World With Mr. Adventure app is available as a free download on the App Store and Google Play.

Not traveling through Heathrow this summer? Don't worry, you (again, I really mean: your kids!) can still join in. Print out your own interactive bookmark at home and scan it using the app to see Mr. Adventure in 3D.  For more information and to get ready to discover the Around the World with Mr. Adventure app, visit Heathrow.com/aroundtheworld

You can also buy an IRL (that's 'In Real Life' as the kids would say) Mr. Men book: Mr. Adventure to add to your kids' library and travel pack.

 

A delightful app to enjoy sharing the world of discovery with a new generation of travelers. Also have some nostalgic fun yourself.  This beats a lot of other ways to kill time at an airport.

By Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip.TV

Start your Trip!

A New Place for the Best Views of Old Havana

The Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana has opened in Havana.  It's the Cuban capital's first five-star luxury hotel, located in the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Old Havana.  And it is the first foray into the Americas for Europe's oldest luxury hotel group Kempinski.

The hotel is a revival of an historic six-story colonnaded building begun in the late 1800's.  It lived through various incarnations as Cuba's first European-style department store, a silent film theater, and later, government offices, slowly decaying like much of the historic architecture in isolated Cuba.  Its re-imagination as a luxury hotel brings the Manzana building back to its glory days… and then some.

Now as a 246-room urban lifestyle hotel, the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana, with its whitewashed façade, is again a landmark and beacon of style in Old Havana. A cool, pale color palette, with vivid tropical hits of pinks, teals and purples, cements its design hotel credentials.

Rooms all have ceilings 4-6.5 meters ( 13-20 feet) in height, contemporary furnishings and many have large French doors/windows perfect for admiring the patio and city views.  Worth mentioning is the air conditioning and wi-fi, which, along with truly luxury levels of service, you can't take for granted in the up-and-coming tourism destination of Cuba.

A 100 square meter (10,000 square foot) spa by Resense, and a business center round out amenities that include six bars and restaurants covering every whim of entertaining around the clock. 

When in Cuba, as they say… so of course there had to be a cigar lounge.  You are guided through a Cuban cigar experience by a cigar sommelier who also suggests a perfect beverage pairing – with Cuban rum, naturally.

And the spectacular roof top bar is the best place in the city for incomparable scenic vistas day or night over Old Havana’s Parque Central, and El Capitolio (a replica of the U.S. Capitol).   The panoramic rooftop views are icing on the cake of this hotel that is at once majestic, high-style, and fun.

The Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski La Habana has reclaimed the building's position as a hub in the centre of the Old Havana.  As Cuba continues its upward trajectory towards full-fledged modern tourism, it provides an international urban lifestyle hotel experience for that luxury group of travelers, visitors to its bars, restaurants and spa. It also sets a high bar for new arrivals on the luxury travel scene in Cuba's capital.

Start your Trip!

They call it Shopping with the Chef, and it's one of the most memorable of our Seabourn Moments. 

The Ben Thanh Market in District 1 is one of the earliest surviving structures and a symbol of Ho Chi Minh City  - formerly Saigon, which is still the name of HCMC's District 1.  A market has been located here in on the river since the early 1600's.

Who better than the executive chef on our Seabourn cruise from Hong Kong to Singapore, Pascal de Portemont, and our local expert, Mr. Anh, to share with us the highlights one of South-East Asia's most famous markets?

This is no tourist market, though any savvy traveler makes sure to visit.  Locals buy and sell produce so fresh it glistens, and seafood so fresh it still squiggles live in the bucket.  Artisan crafts, textiles, baked goods and streetfood are irresistible.

But our quest with the Seabourn chef is ingredients for a seafood dish fit for Seabourn; watch this video for our adventures in the market and the dish we prepare with the chef on the top deck of this luxury cruise ship docked right in the heart of downtown Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Start your Trip!