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Wine, Fashion and Song: Theme Cruises That Will Make You Book a Cunard Luxury Cruise Now
Famous for its 'Three Queens' fleet of iconic ships: the Queen Mary 2, the Queen Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth, Cunard's regal, British lifestyle at sea, with gala evenings, afternoon tea, kennels for pets to travel with you, and epic Transatlantic Crossings from London/Southampton to New York allow you to re-live the age of glamorous ocean liners.

Cunard has also been a trailblazer of 'event' cruises, particularly popular on the Transatlantic Crossings with days at sea for guests to devote themselves to onboard activities. Themes showcase the best of British culture and talent and feature exclusive speakers, guests, onboard events, and one-of-a-kind shore excursions.

Get in-depth, insider insights into your favorite elements of British culture on one of these Cunard event cruises:

Transatlantic Fashion Week

It's become an annual event on a summer Transatlantic Crossing, featuring a line-up of British fashion industry designer and model celebrities. The fourth annual Transatlantic Fashion Week Crossing on Queen Mary 2, July 28 - Aug 4, 2019, features British milliner Stephen Jones, one of the first African-American models, Pat Cleveland, and shoe maven Stuart Weitzman.
 

Badgley Mischka (above) headlines 2020's Transatlantic Fashion Week, debuting their 2021 resort collection in an exclusive runway show on board, and meeting with guests for Q&As.
 

Transatlantic Space Week

The British Royal Astronomical Society joins Cunard celebrating fall's World Space Week with a special space-themed Transatlantic Crossing. Astronauts, scientists and Society members depart from Southampton with guests interested in space and its exploration.

It's a perfect match for a cruise with the world's only Planetarium at Sea, which features new space shows, and on deck in the mid-Atlantic, perhaps the best stargazing venue, away from interfering lights or pollution. And arrival in New York coincides with the beginning of World Space Week for guests to continue the theme, participating in events on shore after disembarking from the cruise.
 

Dance the Atlantic

The renowned English National Ballet has joined Cunard's list of standard-bearers of British culture on a crossing, sharing their performance talents along with insights into their work and choreography. Six ballet dancers also teach ballet workshops, so you can practice your bar work as you sail across the North Atlantic.
 

Voyage Du Vin

Every Cunard sailing offers countless opportunities to enjoy fine wine, but this special round trip, two-week sailing highlights Europe's favorite coastal wine regions for an unparalleled 'Voyage du Vin'. Guests will experience daily wine tastings, pairings and fine dining, and wine talks, featuring over 400 wines from 23 countries while sailing along France, Spain and Italy including calls to Vigo, Mallorca, Livorno (Florence) Cannes, Barcelona and Gibraltar. 

 

Last Night of the Cunard Proms

It's a regular favorite in Cunard's calendar, with the UK's National Symphony Orchestra taking center stage during two spectacular performances of American themed pieces and the 'Last Night of the Cunard Proms in the Royal Court Theater. Conductor Anthony Inglis sits down for a Q&A with guests, who can also live out their fantasies of singing professionally by auditioning for, joining choir practice and a group performance during one evening's show.
 

Literature Festival at Sea

If you've heard about the Cheltenham Literature Festival, The Times and The Sunday Times, you'll know that these heavyweights of the written English word ensure booklovers will enjoy a dream Transatlantic Crossing celebrating British and American literary talent, criticism, journalism and with plenty of time even lounge in luxury enjoying your own favorite books and new recommendations.
 
Participate in workshops with best-selling writers and experienced journalists to discover how to research your own novel, practice your calligraphy, brush up on your public speaking or even write your memoir. And enjoy a special series of film screenings celebrating some of the finest book to film adaptations, with introductions by knowledgeable critics.
 

The Greatest Generations Crossing

Cunard commemorates D-Day by partnering with The Greatest Generations Foundation to pay tribute to the heroes of World War II on a Transatlantic Crossing with onboard programming that allows guests to hear first-hand accounts from WWII veterans as they share their experiences of this momentous period of recent history.
 

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There's no visit to Argentina's capital without experiencing tango. It is both music and an unmistakable dance, perhaps the most sensual dance in the world.

Our Monograms tour of Buenos Aires included an incredible tango dinner show at El Viejo Almacen that took our breath away! A Monograms agenda allows for plenty of free time to explore our own interests (in addition to an orientation tour of the city that includes the world's widest boulevard, the cemetery where Eva Peron (immortalized in the musical Evita, and song 'Don't Cry for me, Argentina!' is interred, and tastes of the country's obsession with soccer as well as its famous way with beef and wine).

And in Buenos Aires, at the top of my personal agenda was a studio/ showroom visit to Comme il Faut, to meet the designer whose glamorous shoes single-handedly elevated tango to being as elegant as it is passionate.

Our Monograms guide gave us helpful, local expert's advice about the best way to get to the tucked-away 'Rue des Artisans' in BA's old neighborhood, where whitewashed buildings, wrought iron trim, black awnings, and jardinières on the street made me feel like I really was in Paris. No wonder Buenos Aires is called 'The Paris of South America'.
 
Parts of Buenos Aires may evoke Paris, but the soundtrack is all tango.And for me, the chance to meet Comme il Faut's designer and founder, Alicia Muñiz, whose limited edition shoes are wearable trophies for tango dancers and women of elegance around the world, was a personal highlight of Buenos Aires.

In this video, I share her passion for tango, her inspiration, hard work and entrepreneurial spirit that transformed tango shoes for a new generation of professional and everyday dancers, and built a creative business… from the 'foot' up.

By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip TV

Start your Trip!

 
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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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4 Royal Family Hangouts in London
The latest Royal news has us all abuzz and reminds us it's time to book a trip to England's capital and home of the British Royal Family. We may not be invited to the latest gathering, but here are 4 places we can immerse ourselves in Royal history and put into context the images we see of the ceremonial events and appearances of the most famous family in the world.

 

Windsor Castle


Windsor Castle is outside of central London, but this thousand-year-old royal residence has been at the center of royal-lovers' attention recently. This is where the world was introduced to the new baby Archie of Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex, as well as the location (in the stunning gothic St. George's Chapel, pictured) of their marriage a year previously, as well as the wedding of Prince Harry's cousin (daughter of Prince Andrew) Princess Eugenie.


Windsor Castle is considered one of the few remaining 'working palaces' left in the world. It was built as a fortress in the 11th century after William the Conqueror successfully led the Norman invasion of England. You may think of Buckingham Palace as the premiere home of kings and queens, but Windsor Castle is the longest-occupied palace in Europe.  It's the Queen's weekend home when she's in London - said to be her favorite – and a venue for hosting state visits.

Don't miss: the view of Windsor Castle from the 3-mile, tree-lined Long Walk, giving you a real sense of the scope and grandeur of Windsor Castle and Great Park, as well as the chance to see some of the friendly members of a 500-strong herd of Red Deer in Deer Park.

 

Buckingham Palace

When anyone says 'Buckingham Palace', chances are the picture that pops into your head is a scene on 'that' balcony. It's one of the best opportunities to see members of the Royal Family together in public, for the annual Trooping of the Colour (celebrating the Queen's symbolic birthday) or for less-frequent events like Royal Weddings – the last one balcony wedding kiss was between Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge on their wedding day. 
With 775 rooms, Buckingham Palace is the Sovereign's London residence and headquarters (the 'offices' of 800 people!), the center of state occasions, like visits from foreign heads of state, as well as national celebrations and mourning. Within the grounds are the largest private gardens in London, which are the venue for the Queen's famous Garden Parties. They are the largest functions at the Palace, where up to 8000 people are invited to attend each of three every summer.


The State Rooms are open to visitors for most of August and September and occasionally at other times of the year. Even if you are not able to tour the inside of Buckingham Palace, or snag an invitation to a Garden Party, you can still get a glimpse of the façade and that famous balcony on the East Front.

Don't miss: The Changing of the Guard in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. The Queen's personal Guard maintains a formal presence around the Palace in their unmistakable scarlet uniforms, and 'shift change' is equally elaborate. The ceremony is held at 11:00 am every day from April to July and four times a week in the winter.
 

Kensington Palace


Or 'K.P.' is the least impressive from the outside of the London royal residences, with its low, red-brick 17th century architecture. But it's in a fantastic location off Kensington High Street's shops, and is surrounded by a fabulous garden. Kensington Palace's black, wrought-iron gates are seared into the memories of many of us as the site where over a million bouquets of flowers were left outside the London home of Diana, Princess of Wales in tribute following her death.


Now, some apartments in Kensington Palace are the official London residences of Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and their children, as well as other members of the royal family. Others are offices for royal charities. The State Rooms are open to the public, which display paintings and objects from the Royal Collection. 

Don't Miss: There are four themed routes to follow, including one displaying iconic pieces of Diana's wardrobe, including the blue velvet gown the princess wore when she danced with John Travolta in the White House in 1981.
 

The Tower of London


The Tower of London is not currently a royal residence but its official name is Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London. Like Windsor Castle, the Tower dates back a thousand years to William the Conqueror. It was built as a feared stronghold of the monarch, and in its early years, did serve as a sovereign's home. With its name-sake Tower, turrets, moats and pivotal location on the Thames river, the Tower of London serves up the picture of the iconic 'castle' of our imaginations. The Tower also served as a prison – right up until 1952! Famous prisoners were executed at the Tower, and naturally ghost stories abound.


The Tower has served as an armoury, treasury, menagerie (zoo), as the Royal Mint, and still today houses and guards the Crown Jewels of England, including the orb, scepter and crown only used during the coronation of a new monarch as well as jewels worn by the Queen and family members on formal occasions on a more regular basis. You'll recognize many of them. They are on public display at the Jewel House.

Don't miss:  some of the most famous jewels in the world. The regalia contain 23, 578 gemstones, including the largest clear cut diamond in the world (Cullinan I) and the Koh-i-Noor, at an inimaginable 105 carats.
 

Start your Trip!


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Quark Expeditions Makes an Earth Day 'Polar Promise'
Quark Expeditions, a leader in polar adventures, marked Earth Day by revealing its 'Polar Promise' sustainability plan.
 
The polar adventure tour company already takes actions to protect and improve environment and societies in these regions. The Polar Promise brings together existing and new efforts that put words into action, measure success, and set goals to achieve by 2025.
 
It's about more than reducing the footprint of the tours it operates in the world's most remote and pristine places. Quark has been operating for nearly 30 years, and from the beginning has assumed a responsibility to work with other industry leaders, as well as guests on tours to achieve truly sustainable tourism to protect the world's polar ecosystem, wildlife, and way of life.
 
Even Small Efforts Make a Big Difference

The tour operator was one of the earliest adopters of a ban on single use plastics, and provides guests instead with reusable water bottles. You'll also find your cabin outfitted with refillable soap and shampoo dispensers.  And, showing how guests are also part of the solution, when Quark Expeditions bar and restaurant staff started supplying straws only on request, during a 131-day period, only 35 straws were requested from over 2000 guests.

Additionally, by eliminating unnecessary plastic packaging from supplied parkas, Quark Expeditions eliminates nearly 10,000 plastic bags. Quark Expeditions has also changed the liners in the exclusive Quark Expedition Parkas from fleece to a more environmentally responsible “puffy” liner that eliminates polluting micro-beads from entering the water systems every time a fleece liner is washed.
 
Quark Expeditions is also one of 22 founding cruise operators in the SeaGreen recycling pilot program.  In the first half of the Antarctic 2019 season alone, it diverted plastic, papers and glass garbage the size of the size of 2 ½ humpback whales as part of the SeaGreen initiative.
 
Quark Expeditions has worked with and contributed to the South Georgia Heritage Trust since 2011 to deliver a multi-year, multi-million-dollar project to eradicate millions of introduced rodents that were consuming the eggs and chicks of seabirds and endemic birds of South Georgia.
 

4-Part Polar Promise


Building on its experiences to date, Quark's “Polar Promise” is a holistic strategy to address the greatest impacts of visiting the polar regions and also recognizes the power of the polar regions to transform those who experience them. There are four focus areas:
 
Embedding responsible business practices:
  • Building on a culture of sustainability to empower staff and business partners to continually find ways to improve the way they do business
  • Embedding sustainability goals and targets into business strategy and staff incentives
  • Measuring and reporting success
  • Helping the company’s supply chain to engage with sustainable practices and policies
  • Continued leadership and active membership of the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) and the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO).

Reducing tours' footprint and building resilience:
  • Measuring, reporting and reducing carbon emissions
  • Partnering to develop waste solutions in communities and ports where Quark Expeditions operate
  • Developing a zero waste roadmap that builds on plastic reduction programs
  • Deploying new technologies to reduce waste in Quark Expedition’s fleet, such as the MAGS waste system.

Outreach and impact in polar environments:
  • Collaborating on training and employment opportunities in the Arctic, such as the Inuit Cruise Training Initiative
  • Continuing to invest in research partnerships and citizen science projects in the Arctic and Antarctic, in-kind and direct support of groups such as Polar Bears International and Penguin Watch
  • Continued support to UN Clean Seas and close liaison with the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) and the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) to find opportunities to advance their mission and find new collaboration opportunities.

The Polar Legacy - making positive impact exponential:
  • Understanding the transformational power of the polar regions to build advocacy with Quark Expedition guests
  • Understanding that the positive benefits of bringing people to the polar regions outweigh any impact of taking people there – “that we put in more than we take out”.
 
 
About Quark Expeditions:
Specializing in expeditions to the Antarctic and the Arctic, Quark Expeditions® has been the leading provider of polar adventure travel for three decades. With a diverse fleet of specially equipped small-expedition vessels, icebreakers, and unique land-based adventures, Quark Expeditions offers travelers unparalleled access to the most remote places on earth. Led by passionate and seasoned expedition teams, including scientists, naturalists and researchers, Quark Expeditions’ onboard program focuses on guest interaction to educate and enrich the passenger experience.
 

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Photo: Quark Expeditions; Credit: David-Merron

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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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It may not be the most joyful travel experience you have in Northern France, but for families of veterans, and any grateful citizen, a visit to the World War 2 Landing Beaches in Normandy creates a lifetime of memories.
BestTrip.TV journeyed to the shores on a stormy English Channel to remember the brave souls from the UK, the US, and Canada who stormed those beaches in a last-ditch effort to free Europe and end the war. Along the Normandy coast, remnants of battlefield sites, moving war monuments and memorials and Canada's Juno Beach Centre are essential visits for families of veterans and soldiers who gave their lives, students and history buffs and anyone who understands the importance of keeping humankind's tragic lessons alive.
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Veterans, their families, anyone interested in history, or the sacrifices of ordinary young men on an extraordinary moment for the world, all Canadians as well as citizens of all the nations who fought or were affected by these momentous times... all should make a pilgrimage to the Juno Beach Centre and the other DDay sites along the Normandy coast.
Many things have changed since that fateful day. Here's what you can expect on a visit to the Juno Beach Centre today.

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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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 Whether you love Old Havana colonial style, rhythms and cocktails, Mid-Century modern tropical, Rat Pack vibes, or contemporary luxury urban resort on a world's top beach... Puerto Rico's El San Juan Hotel fits the bill.


Following a post-hurricane, $65-million reno, this grande dame of Puerto Rico society and must-visit destination for visitors to Puerto Rico's capital is back - in spectacular style combining all three eras and captivating your travel imagination.
The El San Juan Hotel alone is worth the trip to this US island territory! 

It's ideal as a destination tropical resort for your whole vacation or destination wedding/ vow renewal / business event, or as an extension before or after your Caribbean cruise embarking or disembarking from Puerto Rico; the El San Juan Hotel is 5 minutes from the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport, 10 minutes from San Juan Cruise Port… and 15 minutes from historic Old San Juan, on 2 miles of Isla Verde Beach that's been voted the Best Urban Beach.

Start your Trip!


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5 Reasons to Get Excited About Booking an Expedition Cruise This Year
Leave your evening gown at home and pack your hiking shoes instead. For more and more travelers, an expedition cruise is on the horizon.

Expedition cruises speak to our inner adventurers. Smaller ships, more remote and tiny ports, untouched destinations, natural beauty, deep cultural interaction.

They're perfect for travelers who want to explore the world's natural wonders and the most distant reaches of the planet in an active way: out of a zodiac, in a kayak, hiking to the tops of peaks, gazing in awe at human masterpieces and photographing rare creatures.

Instead of a cruise director and onboard entertainment team, expedition cruises have teams of experts in the nature, science and human experience of the region. In early days, paying guests joined teams of working researchers in 'roughing it' conditions. 

Nowadays, expedition cruising is much more comfortable, but still ranges from a basic onboard experience where you can wear cargo pants all day, all the way to luxury expedition cruising, where you enjoy the finest hospitality, cuisine and service onboard in a relaxed atmosphere, and once-in-a-lifetime adventures on shore.

Whatever your cruising style, if active, in-depth exploration of destinations less-traveled is what piques your travel imagination, expedition cruising is for you.

BestTripTV's Lynn Elmhirst shares her favorite developments that make this the best year yet to book that expedition cruise of your dreams.
 

CELEBRITY FLORA


Spring 2019 marks the debut of the Celebrity Flora (pictured, top), bringing the total number of the cruise line's 'modern luxury' ships devoted to sailing expeditions of the legendary Galapagos Islands up to 4. Celebrity Cruises has been sailing expedition cruises in the Galapagos for over a dozen years, and their destination expertise means they understand everyone's dream experience of the Galapagos is different, and the Celebrity Flora is the perfect vessel for the modern explorer. The 100-guest Celebrity Flora's mega-yacht sleek curves are breathtaking. Her design is intended to immerse, not separate guests from this bucket-list destination. 


It's an all-inclusive experience where every stateroom is a suite, dining is curated by a Michelin-starred chef, and they even offer a 'Glamping' experience where guests can sleep one night under the Galapagos' magnificent stars in a cabana, with campfire themed dinner, cocktails, star gazing and private breakfast served in the morning of one of the most memorable nights of your life.

MYSTIC CRUISES


 
A new expedition cruise company has launched with the spring 2019 christening of 200-guest luxury ship, World Explorer, by singer/songwriter and former French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy in Portugal. Mystic Cruises joins the small 'club' of five-star cruise lines with ice class ships and advanced technology able to navigate rivers, iceberg fields including Antarctica, Northern Europe, Iceland and Greenland.

It's the first ocean cruise ship for this hospitality company that already provides river cruises, hotels and resorts, museums and helicopter tours. The World Explorer is chartered by Quark Expeditions for breathtaking Antarctica sailings in winter 2019-2020. Mystic Cruises adds two more ships in the next two years, so you'll be seeing and hearing more about this new entry into the luxury expedition cruise space.

SEABOURN VENTURE



Ultra-luxury cruise line Seabourn is no stranger to expedition cruising, but this is its first purpose-built expedition ship. The 260-guest Seabourn Venture sails in June 2021 for an inaugural season in the Arctic, then a summer season in Antarctica. With polar class engineering and advanced technology, the Seabourn Venture also includes the exceptional design, service and destination-unique experiences Seabourn guests have come to expect from the official cruise partner of UNESCO.


Design icon Adam Thihany, who has designed other boutique-hotel-like Seabourn ship spaces, lends his touch and taste to the Seabourn Venture's interiors as well. The ship will carry two custom-built submarines, zodiacs and kayaks to launch from the ship's marina, for guests to step seamlessly from Seabourn luxury to be immersed into the natural wonders around the ship.

Seabourn has been sailing expedition cruises to the Antarctic since 2013, which led to the Ventures by Seabourn program featuring outdoor adventures in zodiacs, kayaks, hikes and other ways of exploring the natural wonders of Seabourn destinations around the world. The Ventures by Seabourn program inspired the name of the line's first purpose-built expedition ship. The Seabourn Venture is being joined by a sister ship in 2022.

SILVERSEA'S EXPEDITION WORLD CRUISE



It's the first-ever Expedition World Cruise. 250 guests make expedition cruise history in January 2021, setting sail on the Silver Cloud from Ushuaia at the southern most point of South America, south to Antarctica, up the West coast of South America, making a trans-Pacific crossing via Easter Island and Tahiti to Australia, then sailing to South-East Asia, southern India, the Gulf States, Egypt and the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean, then the UK and the North Sea to Iceland, before finally arriving in Tromso, in Norway's far north, in July. That's 167 days. 6 continents. 30 countries. And 107 incredible Destinations.

It's a 5 ½ month journey of a lifetime, in Silversea's signature ultra-luxury style, enhanced by the expertise of over a dozen feature lecturers including a Garden Designer, Anthropologist, Archeologist, Film-Maker, Explorer, Astronomer, RGS Member and others.

and the SILVER ORIGIN



In 2020, Silversea adds another expedition ship to its fleet, this one destination-specific, for Galapagos. The Silver Origin includes Silversea's signature butler service and all-suite accommodation, and adds Ecuadorian expert guides as well as locally-inspired cuisine for a true destination experience.

PONANT'S LE BOUGAINVILLE



The only French cruise line, Ponant is a world leader in luxury expeditions. Its fleet has expanded with the arrival of Le Bougainville. The 3rd ship in the Ponant Explorers series features the incredible, world's-first 'Blue Eye' lounge, an underwater 'salon' with two portholes that resemble a marine mammal's eye. There are even hydrophones to hear the undersea world.

 

The sleek, elegant design and luxury hotel service are unmistakably French, so Le Bougainville's 200 guests can live the French version of the good life while exploring the Mediterranean in its inaugural season, followed by the Seychelles, Mahe, the Indian Ocean, the Vanilla Islands and everywhere in the world Ponant sails its signature expedition cruises. 4 more new ships join the Ponant fleet by 2021.

Start your Trip!


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You may never have heard of the small Bavarian village of Oberammergau. But every year ending in 0: 2010, 2020, 2030 and so on... Oberammergau becomes synonymous with the Passion Play – the biblical story of Easter – it performs nearly daily for months from Spring to Fall. 

For those with a Christian faith tradition, attending a play that's been performed for hundreds of years in celebration of the most significant Biblical story is a once – maybe twice? – in a lifetime opportunity.

But it's not just Christians who are drawn to Oberammergau. The rarity of the play, its cultural and historic traditions in this little pocket of southern Germany, make it a bucket list, must-see spectacle of community that is updated every cycle to speak to changing times and theatrical styles.  

There are many ways to reach Oberammergau in 2020 or even 2030. Land tour operators have worked a day or two in Oberammergau into tours of Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and also included Oberammergau into faith-based tours of Europe. Oberammergau is even included as a shore excursion from Danube and Rhine river cruises.

It's an experience that groups of friends, extended families and singletons on a mission not to miss this extraordinary event cruise, coach, drive, and fly to experience.

Ask your travel advisor the best way to travel to and enjoy this incredible play - and learn more about the story of the play - in this village nestled at the base of a dramatic mountain landscape that falls off the world's travel consciousness for years – until another Passion Play year is on the horizon.
 
 

Start your Trip!


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Hawaii and Tahiti Added to Holland America Line's FOOD & WINE Shore Excursions
Now guests of the cruise line can choose from nearly 100 culinary-themed shore excursions that allow you to connect with destinations through their food culture while sailing on Holland America Line cruises. 

HAL's partnership with FOOD & WINE already includes exclusive tours in Asia, Australia/New Zealand, Canada & New England, the Mediterranean, and Northern Europe. These shore excursions allow you to take hands-on cooking classes with top local restaurant chefs, culinary walking tours of a destination, taste authentic street food, explore local wine and culinary hideaways and insider access to hot spots.

New FOOD & WINE shore excursions are now available to HAL guests in four Hawaiian ports and Papeete, Tahiti that bring the new culinary excellence and vibrant flavors of the South Pacific to life.
 
Hawaii's melting pot of culinary traditions as well as uniquely local flavors are highlighted in 6 FOOD & WINE tours. Along the way, you'll also visit some of the most scenic sites of Honolulu, Kona, Kauai and Maui:

“Famous Oahu Sites and Bites”

Get a memorable taste of Hawaii’s buzzing food scene at one of star chef Ed Kenney’s hot local restaurants while also taking in Diamond Head, Waimanalo Beach and Pali Lookout in the rugged Ko’olau Mountains.
 

“Princeville, Hanalei & Kilauea Bakery Pizza”

Take in Opaekaa Falls, Hanalei Valley and Hanalei Beach before lunch at Kilauea Bakery & Pizza, a wonderful find on Kauai's north shore.

“A Taste of the Garden Island”

A second Kauai tour features delicacies from one-of-a-kind specialty stores, well-regarded local restaurants and under-the-radar food trucks that are practically unknown to tourists. You'll meet owners and chefs who proudly introduce their culinary creations.
 

“Scenic Maui and Hona Pizza”

You'll visit Lahaina's 'Valley of the Kings', as well as Maui Tropical Plantation, with 2,000 surreally lush acres of pineapples, sugarcane, plumeria, orchids and more Hawaiian flora. The culinary centerpiece is a stop at Honu Pizza, where the pies are topped with seafood and other local treats.
 

“Big Island History, Landscapes and Food”

This Kona tour features stops at The Painted Church and the Place of Refuge set on the lava fields of Kona’s coast, before a memorable stop at the Royal Kona Coffee Center where you can sample Hawaii's famous java straight from the source. The highlight is lunch at Feeding Leaf, a farm-to-table restaurant serving Japanese-Hawaiian cuisine.
 

“The Big Island: A Farm-to-Fork Experience”

On another Kona tour, visit two farms then enjoy lunch featuring fresh-grown ingredients. At 160-year-old Parker Ranch and family-owned farm, see where organic produce is grown for area restaurants. Then take part in a three-course lunch at Merriman’s Restaurant featuring local farm fresh ingredients.
Exotic Tahitian cuisine features a fusion of flavors on two FOOD & WINE tours in Papeete, Tahiti:

“Papeete Market and Master Chef Lunch at L’O à la Bouche”

Discover the flavors of French Polynesia during a market visit and walking tour with displays of colorful and aromatic pineapples, mangoes, bananas, papayas, guava, ginger, vanilla and coconuts. Then indulge in a gastronomic three-course gourmet lunch at L’O à la Bouche, one of Papeete’s top French restaurants featuring local Tahitian ingredients and flavors.

“The Le Lotus Overwater Dining”

This tour is an exclusive option for guests on Amsterdam’s Grand World Voyage and 51-Day Tales of the South Pacific cruise that circumnavigates the region in October 2019. In an evening to remember, guests experience the artful blending of French culinary techniques and fresh Tahitian flavors during a dining experience at Le Lotus, one of French Polynesia’s premier overwater restaurants (pictured, top).
 
If these FOOD & WINE tours sound tempting, there are even more culinary shore excursions on the way for guests on Holland America Line cruises in the Caribbean, Mexico, South America, Alaska and additional European ports.

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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Think Overwater Villas are the Height of Exotic Luxury Travel? Try This UNDERwater Villa
It puts new meaning into being immersed in the local natural beauty. The pristine waters of the Maldives are epic, surrounding one of the world's most romantic, remote and legendary tropical eco paradise destinations. 

Now you can sleep alongside your sweetheart or family as well as the rich marine life that animates the waters of these tiny islands in the Indian Ocean. Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is a pioneering resort: the first international hotel in the Maldives, the first underwater restaurant, and now, the first undersea residence.


It's called the Muraka, or 'coral' in the local Maldivian language, and it is an extraordinary way for up to 9 guests to experience of one of the world's most breathtaking marine environments. Specialized aquarium technology was used to create the 2-story villa, consisting of above-sea-level space, and a spiral staircase to an underwater suite more than 16 feet below sea level with a king size bedroom, living room, and bathing area under a dome with 180-degree views of the ocean.

Sleeping in an undersea dome is an almost surreal vacation, but the overwater part of the villa above is unforgettable, too. More bedrooms, one with an ocean-facing bathtub, more bathrooms, gym, space for a butler and private security, living room, kitchen, bar and dining area with a deck facing the sunset, and another deck with an infinity pool facing sunrise. 

The Muraka butlers are dedicated 24-7 to hyper-personalized service. They are also ambassadors of the Maldivian island experience for undersea villa guests, sharing their passion for culture, the environment and adventure throughout your custom-crafted stay at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.


The resort is located in the Maldives' best diving and snorkeling locations. It melds harmoniously with the environment, flowing from island, over the ocean, to the overwater/undersea residence.


You can double down on the undersea experience at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island at its trailblazing underwater restaurant. Ithaa Undersea Restaurant is also a world's first, where the fusion local and Western lunch and dinner menus, fine wine pairings, and mid-morning cocktails are accompanied by a panoramic view of coral gardens 16 feet below the surface of the ocean.

 
Ithaa Undersea Restaurant is one of dozen resort restaurants and bars that regularly make 'best of…' lists. Conrad Maldives Rangali Island also features an overwater spa and a Spa Retreat, and experiences inspired by the local environment and culture round out the ultimate island escape. Sunrise and sunset yoga practice. A meditation pavilion. A 5-hour journey to inner tranquility via a unique Zen revelation. A Spa Retreat with over a dozen water villas, its own restaurant, and a selection of therapies including a signature treatment inspired by the beauty practices of Maldivian women, including a heated coconut stick massage and organic, pineapple and papaya body scrub.


Consciously-designed villas and suites, from ultra-private beach villas nestled amongst the rich tropical landscape with direct beach access, to overwater villas ranging from private and romantic, to expansive for an extended group of family or friends, complete with sundecks, hot tubs steps into the sea, spa treatment rooms and more, provide the iconic Maldives vacation.
 
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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.
 

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7 Castles in Ireland Where You Can Stay
St. Patrick and the Emerald Isle. Dramatic coastline. Historic towns and cobblestone streets. Pubs and parties. Folklore and green pastures… and castles.
 
Hundreds of castles and manor houses dot the Irish countryside. They not only evoke Ireland's storied past. Many allow you to live out your inner fantasy world of warrior kings and legendary princesses during overnight stays.
 
Look for a tour of Ireland that allows you to lay your head at some of these stately homes:

Ashford Castle, County Mayo

 
You'll be joining the illustrious ranks of not only early Irish nobility when you stay at Ashford Castle. British royalty, American presidents and sports and entertainment superstars have all stayed at 800-year-old Ashford Castle. It's a 5-star resort lifestyle in a magnificent French chateau style building on a 26,000 acre estate – complete with is own school of falconry, horseback riding, fishing, archery and clay shooting, as well as more modern pass times like a spa, golf, kayaking, tennis, tree climbing and zip lining.

 
Ashford Castle has been voted the best resort in Ireland and one of the top three in Europe.
 

Bantry House, County Cork

 
Since the 1700's Earls of Bantry have occupied Bantry House overlooking Bantry Bay on Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way on the southern coast. You can stay in one of the finest historic manor houses in the country in luxurious bed and breakfast or self-catering style.  

 
As well as the Wild Atlantic Way, you'll want to explore Bantry House's elegant gardens especially when the azaleas and rhododendrons are in bloom. The design is dramatic with seven terraces – the house is on the third terrace - 100 steps, and a fountain.
 

Drumoland Castle, County Clare

 
 Another magnet for global political figures and celebrities, 5-star Dromoland Castle is the ancestral home of the O'Brien family that traces its roots 1000 years back to the famous High King of Ireland Brian Boru. 

 
400 acres of Irish heaven include a top-rated golf course, walking and cycling trails, tennis, hiking, horse riding and pony carriage rides, traditional archery, falconry, fishing and clay shooting. Deluxe décor and luxury living include a spa, afternoon tea, casual and fine dining that once earned a Michelin star.
 

Ballyfin Demesne, County Laois

 
Your travel imagination may picture your castles with gothic towers, but don't miss Ireland's most celebrated Regency / Georgian mansion. With only 20 guest rooms, you'll feel like you're lord of the manor at this 5-star Georgian country house nestled on 600 acres at the foot of the scenic Slieve Bloom Mountains.

 
It's the ultimate mix of old world charm and modern home and hotel comforts – and perfect to take over for a special, destination family or even business event.
 

Ballynahinch Castle, County Galway

 
Voted #1 Irish luxury castle hotel, Ballynahinch is an elegant 17th century castle with magnificent views over 700 acres of woodland and rivers. Relax indoors by one of six open log fires or dine in elegance at one of Irelands' best restaurants. 

 
Take long walks or cycling tours with backdrops against the 12 Bens Mountain range along the Wild Atlantic Way. Or climb onto a boat for a guided trip of its famous salmon and lobster fishery.
 

Crom Castle, County Fermanagh

 
Lord and Lady Erne still dwell at the historic seat of the Earls of Erne, magnificent Crom Castle in Irelands' beautiful Fermanagh Lakelands (pictured top). But the castle's West Wing can be yours, it's available year round for up to 12, with even a cook provided if you wish. 
 
Nearly 2000 acres at Crom are a unique nature reserve with one of the largest semi-natural woodland remaining in Ireland, the largest surviving area of oak woodland in the country, and one of the largest freshwater habitats in the British Isles. You can see two rare butterflies and pine-marten, the largest heronry in Ireland, wild geese and deer.
 

Lismore Castle, County Waterford

 
Some of the most notable names of Europe and the Americas over the last few centuries have visited and stayed at this 12th century castle of the Dukes of Devonshire. Fewer than 30 guests at a time enjoy truly regal hospitality, with use of the castle and estate facilities, and even the Duke's personal butler and staff. The Castle kitchens create formal, informal, indoor and outdoor meals from local and on-site ingredients.

 
Live like the Irish nobility with salmon fishing, golf, horse riding and racing, kayaking and boat trips, even kite surfing, scuba and hot air balloon rides.
 
Make sure your next vacation to Ireland includes a stay fit for a king on one of the Emerald Isle's historic castles.  

(Images courtesy ireland.com)
 

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New Wellness Cultural Journeys from Abercrombie & Kent Enrich Mind, Body, Spirit
Run and train like a warrior with the Maasai or hike to a vantage point high above Machu Picchu.

Feed your spirit with inspiration at a home for underprivileged girls in India, or a silent alms ceremony in Luang Prabang, and feed your body with healing, Ayurvedic herbs in India, or fresh local produce at a cooking demonstration on Krabey Island. 

Re-orient your mind through guided meditation with a local teacher at Kuang Si Falls, or learn about the meaning of tribal beading traditions in Kenya.

Now you can take your commitment to your wellbeing and desire for authentic experiences in global cultures to another level. Luxury tour company Abercrombie & Kent has debuted wellness-inspired journeys that immerse travelers in the local traditions of some of the world's most influential wellness cultures and practices, and provide uplifting visits to philanthropic projects where tourism directly supports local wellbeing.

Groups are limited to only 18 participants, and the pace is slower, with experiences and travel over 9- 13 days to allow you to stretch your mind, body and spirit, and linger in the deeply personal experiences. You'll stay in wellness-focused deluxe hotels, boutique lodges and luxuriously-appointed camps in one-of-a-kind locations. 


The first A&K wellness cultural journeys depart in Fall 2019, and explore the rich cultural traditions of bucket-list destinations Kenya, India, South-East Asia, and Peru. Imagine how enriched you'll feel after these journeys:

Wellness India: Ancient Traditions & Inspiring Icons
Explore India’s rich spiritual heritage, from the temples dedicated to Shiva and Lord Vishnu to the Taj Mahal. Participate in a guided meditation and bike ride through the countryside in Udaipur. Privately consult with an Ayurvedic doctor during a leisurely stay at Amanbagh. Explore the countryside of Rajasthan visiting local artisans. Visit an A&K Philanthropy-supported residential school for young girls. Spend two nights in the spiritual heart of India, Varanasi, where you stay in a former palace on the banks of the sacred Ganges, and take an evening boat ride to experience the pitru tarpana, a moving ceremony that honors the memory of a loved one.
 
Wellness Southeast Asia: Timeless Rituals of Indochina
You won't have to chose among your favorite Southeast Asian country, as the wellness traditions of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are all part of this journey. Take part in inspirational ceremonies such as a baci ceremony in Luang Prabang and tak bat, a silent food offering to local monks. Witness sunrise at Angkor Wat.  Luxuriate on a private tropical island at the new Six Senses Krabey Island. Enjoy a Khmer cooking class, spa treatment or sunset cruise. Discover the difference that clean water makes during a visit to a remote village, where A&K Philanthropy is building wells.

 
Wellness Kenya: Cultures & Wildlife
Discover tribal traditions and learn about conservation efforts on an active safari in the Masai Mara and Tsavo National Park. Hike through the cloud forests of the lush Chyulu Hills and learn about traditional warrior training from the Maasai, and wonder at game drives and your mythical surroundings during sunrise and sunset yoga. Gain a new perspective on giving back at an A&K Philanthropy-supported school and see how sustainable tourism is providing safe drinking water.
 
Wellness Peru: Spirit of the Incas
From the Sacred Valley and Cusco, discover local traditions in remote mountainside villages and working farms. Learn about a traditional Amazonian medicine, and hand-feed llamas and alpacas. Kayak in a secluded lagoon 12,464 feet above sea level and hike up to a birds-eye view of Machu Picchu. Overnight at the only property located on the ancient Incan site to explore the sanctuary at sunrise. Have your coca-leaf fortune read by a shaman.
 

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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What happens when you put three non-painters in a painting workshop? Can you really learn to paint like Van Gogh in an afternoon?  Those were the questions on all our minds as we walked to an art atelier near where our river cruise ship, the Avalon Vista, was docked in the heart of Amsterdam.


I'm creative but I have zero artistic skill. Even my handwriting is famously illegible.  My friends, travel expert Ryan McElroy and travel and gardening journalist Tara Nolan, were no more confident in their own artistic talent.
But we were all game to try to channel our inner Van Gogh.

The afternoon Van Gogh painting workshop is one of Avalon Waterway's "Discovery" shore excursions, included experiences available at different destinations on all Avalon European river cruises. The Van Gogh painting workshop shore excursion is inspired by the Dutch artist and the city that's home to the museum of his works, and it's available to Avalon guests on cruises in port in Amsterdam.

Discovery shore excursions are designed to dig deeper than a Classic tour of sightseeing highlights. Discovery shore excursions allow you to immerse yourself in a particular aspect of local culture and lifestyle.
 
Even if you've never picked up a paintbrush. 

You'll have to decide for yourself if we acquired any painting skill during the workshop. As our artist-teacher, Paul, recommended, we kept open minds and didn't take it too seriously as we went through the process of sketching with pencil and charcoal on paper, then transitioning to canvas and paint for the finale: a still life of sunflowers and iris inspired by Van Gogh's style and two of his most famous paintings.

They won't be hanging in any galleries anytime soon. But it was a lighthearted and illuminating afternoon discussing how art is made, Dutch painters, art in Amsterdam and local life. And we each walked away with the fruits of our efforts: a painting that we all packed in our luggage to take home as a unique memento of our Avalon river cruise.

So that's what happens when you put three non-painters in a painting workshop on an Avalon Discovery shore excursion in Amsterdam!

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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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