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5 Adventures in Antwerp

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

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

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

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

History with a Quirk

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

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

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

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

Thrillingly Modern

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

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

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

Serious Fashion:

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

And Diamonds:

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

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

And Really Good Taste:

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

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

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

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Travel 'Game-Changer' for Sports Mega-Fans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We tried it and we think it's inspired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Same-Sex Couples Can Get Married on Cunard

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

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

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

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

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

A Cunard Wedding at Sea package includes:

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

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

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A New Place for the Best Views of Old Havana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You Can Take Your Pet On This Cruise

Did you know there's one cruise line in the world that welcomes man's best friend(s)? And it's not a new innovation; instead, it's a long-standing tradition.

The pet-friendly policy dates back to the earliest days of this line's famed Transatlantic Crossings between Southampton (England) and New York. Not only have the British aristocracy and notables long been known for a lifestyle surrounded by beloved dogs, cats, and horses, crossings prior to the invention of refrigeration had milk cows on board to ensure the first-class passengers had fresh milk for their tea.

So, to this day on British luxury line Cunard, your dogs and cats can sail too.

Since the cruise line launched with the maiden voyage of the Britannia in 1840, Cunard ships have given passage to a surprising number of notable pets: Rin-Tin-Tin, Elizabeth Taylor’s pampered pooches, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s beloved pup and even Pudsey, the 2012 winner of Britain’s Got Talent. Cunard even installed a lamppost beside the kennels on Cunard’s former flagship Queen Elizabeth 2 at the request of the Duke of Windsor so his dog would feel at home.

Of course today, not only British, but North Americans are more attached than ever to their pets. To accommodate these furry members of travelers' families, when it re-mastered the Queen Mary 2, Cunard doubled down on pet passengers. (Top image: Richard Meadows, President, Cunard, North America, Captain Christopher Wells, and David Noyes, CEO, Cunard, joined by Cunard Kennel Masters, cut a ribbon to unveil the remastered kennels on the Queen Mary 2, the only passenger liner to carry pets. Above image: Captain Christopher Wells, Cunard Kennel Masters, and friends. (Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Cunard)).

The line added 10 additional kennels to the world’s only transatlantic kennel service, plus a new pet owner’s lounge, a pet playground, and a larger outdoor area with an historic English lamppost and American fire hydrant so canines from both sides of the pond will feel at home and have plenty of space to enjoy the crossing with their owners and with kennel attendants.

The updated Queen Mary 2 honors the Art Deco era of grand ocean liners in design, as well as the cruise line's uniquely British style and service standards. All staff graduate from the line's own White Star Service Academy, and that includes the full-time dog walkers in the kennels.

What's completely new to this pets-at-sea program, now that pets are styled as glamorously as their humans, is that Cunard has partnered with the British sportswear brand Barbour to offer smart accessories onboard such as jackets, collars and leashes.

Ella Bean, a Yorkie mix, enjoys the remastered kennels on the Queen Mary 2, the only passenger liner to carry pets, at Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in New York, its U.S. homeport. (Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Cunard)

Cunard has extended its canine collaboration to sponsoring the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the world's premiere dog competition that takes place annually in New York – a reflection of Cunard and its guests' love for pets as well as the deep connection between British and New York upper class traditional lifestyles.

So if you're inseparable from your pooch even on holiday, Cunard's kennels let you cruise with your pet… in classic British style.

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Paris Landmark Hotel Re-Opens after $200-million Renovation

When you renovate a palatial, historic landmark on one of the most famously elegant squares in one of the most fabled travel destinations in the world, there's a lot at stake.

The Hotel de Crillon has dominated Paris' storied Place de la Concorde since the 1700's. Originally the Parisian home of the illustrious Count de Crillon, the palace has been the site of world-changing events, where Marie Antoinette had music lessons, international treaties were signed (including French recognition of the American Declaration of Independence), and a hotel since 1909 where celebrities, aristocracy, royalty, politicians and artists continued to make history. Now after its 4-year renovation, its latest re-invention has been revealed.

We aren't disappointed. With incredible vision and work by world-renowned architects, designers, artists and artisans - even an artistic director – the Hotel de Crillon is back, a palace reinterpreted for the modern day luxury traveller. Imagine the challenge: to strike a balance between conservation and transformation. But the hotel has emerged as an elegant expression of the spirit of Paris and a celebration of French art de vivre.

The opulence remains. It is awe-inspiring, bridging the 18th and 21st centuries – and still oh so very Parisian: exquisite, elegant and a bit irreverent.

The exquisite Neoclassical façade and grand reception rooms on the second floor are classified heritage landmarks, so designers were working with a heritage building. But everywhere you can discover a fresh and modern twist, even as beloved and unique objects, that are symbols of the hotel’s history, can still be found throughout the property, from the amethyst chandeliers to gold and crystal Baccarat decanters.

Today's Hotel de Crillon features:

124 Guestrooms: 78 Rooms, 36 suites, and 10 signature suites elegantly decorated with bespoke furnishings, beautiful antiques and carefully chosen objets d’art.

  • The hotel’s 10 signature suites are the crown jewels of Hôtel de Crillon, and considered among the very finest in Paris. The Louis XV boasts a stunning private terrace with picture-perfect views of the Eiffel Tower, while the Marie-Antoinette suite reflects a regal, feminine spirit with pearl-gray décor and touches of rosy pink.

  • Karl Lagerfeld, renowned designer of the house of Chanel and a great 18th century admirer, decorated the two exceptional suites on Place de la Concorde which embody his personal vision of French chic and modernity.

3 heritage landmark salons for meetings and functions:

  • The salons are listed heritage landmarks, with soaring six meter ceilings dating from 1775-1776; French interior palace design of adjoining rooms allows them to be opened and joined for larger events.

5 distinct dining and drinking venues including:

  • Gastronomic restaurant L’Ecrin, where you can savour bold, unexpected, creative dishes of the young and Michelin-starred chef in the intimate 18th century décor of the Salon des Citronniers;

  • La Cave's intimate wine room;
  • Brasserie d’Aumont with an eclectic, quintessentially Parisian atmosphere complemented by revisited brasserie classics;
  • Jardin d’Hiver, casual garden-style gathering place, one of the hotel's most historic spaces, where you can relax at teatime, sip post-shopping champagne, or indulge in exquisite sweets;

  • Les Ambassadeurs, the chic 60-seat bar that is the new place to see and be seen in Paris. A festive vibe animates the heritage setting (the ceiling is a registered landmark) thanks to live music nightly, meticulously crafted cocktails, and an exclusive carte of prestigious champagnes.

Whimsical courtyards by a renowned French landscape architect.

A newly created swimming pool graced by a mural by a noted ceramic artist, fitness studio, and full-service Sense, A Rosewood Spa for wellness-conscious and stylish guests.

Sophisticated style and grooming venues for men and women, including Hair Salon by David Lucas, Barber by La Barbière de Paris, and Shoecare by Devoirdecourt.

Hôtel de Crillon has long since secured its iconic status as a one-of-a-kind hotel destination, a living testament to the very best way of life France has to offer. Its rebirth radiates timeless, chic contemporary French lifestyle in an undeniably luxuriant historic setting.

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With its ancient seafaring history and traditions, the most natural and authentic way to explore the Mediterranean and to take in its most magnificent vistas is by sea.

And as BestTrip.TV discovered, the luxury small-ship experience of Silversea cruises brings the best of the Mediterranean to life. Here's why.

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Putting on the Ritz... At Sea

The Ritz-Carlton is the first luxury hotel chain to take to the seas with its new yacht collection.

The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection launches in 2019 with the first of three cruising yachts. If you're already a fan of the Ritz-Carlton hotel experience, you'll feel right at home: legendary service, luxury amenities and beautifully designed spaces… now on board a specially designed, small capacity ship. It makes parent company Marriott International the only luxury hotelier on both land and sea.

Each of the three custom-built yachts in the fleet features 149 suites, each with its own private balcony, several lavish duplexes, a spa, a signature restaurant and a bar with on-board entertainment. Mirroring the hotels, the yachts feature modern craftsmanship and style; the interior finishes are being jointly designed by The Ritz-Carlton and a leading cruise ship design firm to achieve the best of both worlds.

At 190 meters (623 feet), Ritz-Carlton yachts will be able to call at ports not accessible to larger ships, from Capri and Portofino to St. Barths and the old town of Cartagena. The first ship will cruise a wide variety of destinations depending on the season, including the intimate and signature ports of call in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America. Upcoming 7- and 10- day itineraries aim to combine the lifestyle of The Ritz-Carlton’s luxury resorts and the casual freedom of a yachting vacation.

Expect a relaxed pace that includes both daytime and overnight ports of call, as well as one-of-a-kind, uniquely-curated, customizable destination experiences through collaborations with local chefs, musicians and artists, allowing you to experience the locations in unique and personal ways, both onboard and ashore.

Throughout your journey, you'll enjoy a cruising style that sets a new standard for ultra-luxury cruise and private yachting. The Ritz-Carlton yachts feature a restaurant by Sven Elverfeld of Aqua, the three Michelin-starred restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Wolfsburg; a signature Ritz-Carlton Spa; and a Panorama Lounge and wine bar, offering a wide variety of on-board entertainment.

It's these amenities that tip the scales in favor of the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection experience even over private yachting options, ideal for independent travelers, small groups, or a full-ship group charter to celebrate one of life's milestones.

We're excited about a development that blurs the lines between yachting and cruising. We think the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection ushers in a whole new way of luxury travel and global discovery: a relaxed, casually elegant and comfortable atmosphere with the highest level of personalized service. The Ritz-Carlton hotel branding also naturally lends itself to pre-and post-cruise stays at ports of embarkation/debarkation in one of the 90 Ritz-Carlton hotels in 30 countries to seamlessly extend your trip under one beloved brand umbrella.

But we also see these intimate, 300-guest yachts as a boon to corporate travel, too. Imagine company sales / incentives aboard a Ritz-Carlton chartered yacht!

It's a cruise/ travel innovation that is both ground-breaking, but at the same time an obvious evolution in shaping the way we experience luxury travel.

Reservations open May, 2018, but no surprise! there have already been charter inquiries.

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Falling for Small-Batch Spirits in Niagara

Plan a trip to Ontario’s Niagara region, and your list may include the iconic Falls (top photo credit), world-class theater at the Shaw Festival, fine dining inspired by the region’s orchards, most definitely a wine tasting, especially Niagara's famous ice-wine.

Visitors have another way to taste the fruit of those vines in a most unexpected way. BestTrip.TV's Lynn Elmhirst Meets the Maker: Master Distiller Geoff Dillon.

Local small-batch distiller Dillon’s Unfiltered Gin 22 is a true product of Niagara: grape-based, and enhanced by the flavors of 22 other botanicals. Silky smooth, intriguingly complex, using it, my simple gin and tonic was reborn as a sophisticated summer sipper.

But wait… a grape based gin?

Unfiltered Gin 22 is one of three signature spirits Dillon’s launched when they opened their Niagara-region distillery in 2012, along with their Method 95 Vodka, White Rye, and a line of 6 bitters.

Only a year after opening, all three spirits were awarded medals (bronze, silver, and gold respectively) at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, ‘the highest you can go’ says proud Master Distiller Geoff Dillon, who seems bashful about such rapid success.

Dillon’s is riding the concurrent waves of a cocktail revolution and the local and crafted food movement. But Geoff attributes innovation – a willingness to experiment to make unique products, like gin from grapes instead of grains – to the attention their spirits and bitters are attracting.

That innovation is at the heart of the Dillon’s distillery. Geoff’s father, Peter, is the botanical expert and experimenter. It’s a natural extension for the environmental chemist and life-long ‘foodie’.

Geoff started a career in finance, but then took a fork in the road to attend the esteemed Artisan Distilling Program at Michigan State University and study with whisky distillers in Scotland in preparation for launching Dillon’s.

‘The science of distilling is pretty easy. The art is hard. Every day is an experiment.’

To craft their award-winning spirits, the father-son team combines the benefits of old school pot stills with modern technology – and source the best ingredients.

Niagara – best known for its wine -- was the ‘ideal’ place to launch a small-batch distillery. Fruit, grapes and botanicals can all be sourced locally.

The grapes they distill come from growers who have surplus. Dillon’s and local vintners are mutually supportive in other ways too. There's long-established wine tourism in the Niagara region. Existing local wineries have embraced the 'new kid on the block'. Dillon's and wineries send visitors to each other, and the result is an even richer Niagara wine and spirits experience.

Tasting

With its stylishly designed tasting room and stacks of ageing barrels, Dillon's is right at home among the area’s scenic vineyards. If you drop by for a distillery tour and tasting, you may well get to meet Geoff yourself. He often conducts the tours.

‘I love the tours, having so much fun with people, educating them… most people don’t even truly know what a distillery IS! It blows people away every time!

‘This opens a whole new world for them.’

Dillon's shared a couple of their favorite cocktail recipes. I added my own tips and serving recommendations to complete your taste-of-Niagara cocktail party.

Dillon’s Spiced Pear Collins

For each drink:

• 1 ½ oz Dillon’s Unfiltered Gin 22
• 1 ½ oz pear puree
• ¾ oz rosemary & clove simple syrup
• ¾ oz lemon juice
• Soda water
• Sprig rosemary

Over ice, combine Dillon’s Unfiltered Gin 22, pear puree, simple syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Shake until chilled. Pour into a highball or rocks glass. Top with a small splash of sparkling wine or soda water and garnish with rosemary.

Rosemary and Clove Simple Syrup

• ½ c sugar
• ½ c water
• 1 oz whole cloves
• 3 sprigs rosemary

Combine in a saucepan over low heat. When it reaches a boil, remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain into a jar and store in the refrigerator. Should make enough for approximately 5 cocktails.

Pear Puree

• 2 pears, peeled and pitted

• 1 ½ oz lemon juice
• 1 ½ t fresh rosemary

Slice the pears and combine with lemon juice and rosemary in a blender. Blend until smooth; gently strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and discard any solids. You will have roughly 1 cup of puree, which makes about 5 cocktails.

Tip: the puree can be frozen in an ice cube tray and then stored in an airtight contained in the freezer to be used for individual cocktails in the future.

Serve this cocktail with room temperature brie and toasted walnuts drizzled with local honey; a magical combination with pear!

Dillon’s Mulled Rye Cider

For 4 Servings:

  • 30 oz apple cider
  • 24 dashes Dillon’s DSB bitters
  • ½ T whole allspice
  • ½ T whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Zest of ½ orange
  • 1 ½ inch thick slice peeled fresh ginger
  • 6 oz Dillon’s White Rye
  • Fresh apple for garnish

Combine cider, bitters, and spices in a pot on the stove; bring to a simmer and keep on low.
Pour 1 ½ oz Dillon’s White Rye per serving into 4 favorite mugs or cocktail glasses and fill with the mulled cider. Garnish with an apple slice and serve.

Tip: Cut thin discs of apples through the center – equator – of an apple. The resulting slice features the lovely star shaped centre of the apple core.

Serve on game night with a casual supper of ribbons of ham, sliced apples, and Vidalia onions all sauteed together with salt and pepper on fresh buns smeared with coarse mustard.

Cheers!

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Video: Fogo Island Inn: Daring Design meets Ancient Fishing Community

In colorful Newfoundland turn of phrase, you might say that Fogo Island is far away from far away. The island is remote; only accessible by ferries and helicopter flights that defy dramatic weather and waves to drop visitors on a a rocky outpost in the North Atlantic that until recently was a centuries-old, declining fishing community. This is not where you might expect to find a hotel that has won world-wide acclaim for its architecture, experience, social responsibility, and design.

Designer Karen Sealy and BestTrip.TV visited the extraordinary Fogo Island Inn to see what happens when local maritime craftsmanship meets 21st century global design.

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The 'Height' of Luxury: Train and Stay in Peru's Andes

South America has its first luxury sleeper train. The Belmond Andean Explorer pioneers a new way to discover Peru on its two-night journeys at altitudes of up to 4,800 metres climbing in the Andes en route from Cusco to Arequipa.

It's one of the world's highest rail routes, and you'll be glued to the large picture windows as the elegant carriages take you through some of the most breathtaking scenery on our planet. Expect to see vast, uninterrupted views of snow-capped mountains, never-ending skies, majestic lakes and herds of alpacas, llamas and vicunas grazing on the altiplano.

Peruvian Touches

The design of the sleeper cars reflects Peruvian culture, mixing vibrant colors with natural tones and large picture windows offering the perfect vantage point of the ever-changing scenery as the train winds its way through the Andes.

The observation car with an outdoor terrace becomes the social hub of the train by night; a place for the train's up to 48 guests to enjoy a pisco sour and dance to live Latin music.

Culinary Heights

Peru's famous chef and culinary ambassador, Executive Chef Diego Muñoz, has been tapped to develop menus. His cuisine takes guests as they travel through the mountains on a simultaneous culinary journey of discovery of Peru’s abundant traditional natural ingredients: fresh fish from the Moquegua coast, trout from Lake Arapa (located in the Puno region), broad beans and lemons from Cusco, mushrooms, beets and corn from the Sacred Valley, Peruvian native potatoes, and quinoa from the Altiplano.

The culinary team transforms them into sensational mouthwatering dishes that carry Muñoz’s signature style, like Alpaca Tortellini, Banana and Pisco Tatin, Arequipean Paw Paw Mostarda and Lima Bean Cappuccino. All enjoyed from the comfort of elegant dining carriages overlooking the region's spectacular scenery.

Exclusive Exploration

The train takes guests from Cusco to Arequipa via Lake Titicaca, on a two night/three day ‘Peruvian Highlands’ itinerary, priced fully inclusive of all meals, an open bar and scheduled excursions, including visits to the archaeological Inca site of Raqchi and the ancient Sumbay Caves.

Stepping off the train, experiences include a private tour of the floating islands on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable water in the world, and lunch on a private beach with views across to the glacial peaks of La Paz, Bolivia, truly one of the most exceptional locations on earth.

Train and Stay in Peru

In addition to the Belmond Andean Explorer, the company has also opened another hotel in Peru: Belmond Las Casitas, a 20-room property located in the Arequipa region of Southern Peru is set amongst the tranquil beauty of the Andes.

Blending effortlessly with the natural environment, and nestled amongst lush gardens, each individual casita features a private terrace with a heated plunge pool and sweeping views across the canyon. The Samay Spa, built around the energy of the canyon rock, offers treatments using natural ingredients from the hotel’s kitchen garden and hypnotic views of the surrounding canyon, inspiring deep relaxation. Belmond Las Casitas also offers one of the most unique guest experiences in the world – a chance to view the flight of the Andean condors in their natural environment.


Belmond Las Casitas and Belmond Andean Explorer further enhance Belmond’s luxury travel experiences in Peru, now with six hotels and two luxury trains: Belmond Miraflores Park, the stylish city hotel in the quiet neighborhood of the bustling city; Belmond Palacio Nazarenas and Belmond Hotel Monasterio in the heart of ancient Cusco; Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel at the entrance of the Citadel of Machu Picchu and Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado, a complete escape in the Sacred Valley. Plus, Belmond Hiram Bingham taking guests from Cusco to Machu Picchu with typical lively Peruvian hospitality.


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Paul Gauguin Cruises Named Top for Honeymooners

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

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

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

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

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

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Polish your Green Thumb on Cunard's First Festival of Flowers Voyage

Feature Film Florist Jenny Tobin Joins Queen Victoria’s Festival of Flowers Voyage; takes guests around the Atlantic Isles, exploring six iconic floral destinations including UNESCO World Heritage site.

Flower arranging and gardening are more popular than ever.  If you love touring the world's most beautiful gardens, in your home town or on your travels, you're not alone.  Experts estimate more people tour gardens every year in the US than go to both of the US's biggest theme parks combined! 

And of course, both gardening and floral arranging are icons of an upscale British lifestyle that luxury cruise brand Cunard is so expert at bringing to life for its guests.   

Leading film and TV floral designer Jenny Tobin will join Cunard cruise line's first-ever Festival of Flowers voyage this summer on Cunard's Queen Victoria, giving guests the opportunity to explore some of the Atlantic Isles’ most awe-inspiring gardens and floral landscapes.

Jenny Tobin is an award-winning florist renowned for her work on blockbuster films such as “Allied” and “Fantastic Beasts, and Where to Find Them,” as well as for her floral arrangements at the most sought-after hotels around the world and even for the British Royal Family. Jenny will be imparting her knowledge, tips and insight into her career to fortunate guests during the voyage, which departs following Queen Victoria’s refurbishment this June.

To mark the voyage, Jenny has created a bespoke bouquet inspired by the tradition and luxury of Cunard, with a bounty of exotic and much-loved flowers. Her choices and reasons for selecting these blooms and greens include:

-          Colored Ranunculus, to add a taste of the exotic and color, inspired by the loveliest of gardens from around the world

-          Scented Genista Flower, for a soft, sweet smell

-          One Garden Rose, to reflect the timeless luxury of Cunard

-          Umbrella Fern for a little pizazz

 “Cunard is known for its commitment to excellence, so I wanted to create a bouquet that reflects its premium nature, beauty from across the world and sense of luxury that runs through everything the brand does. I’m excited to be joining the first Festival of Flowers voyage on Queen Victoria and can’t wait to help inspire those traveling on board, exploring the extraordinary gardens the globe has to offer.”

The Festival of Flowers themed voyage, taking place this year in June, visits six iconic floral destinations, including La Palma, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Lisbon, as well as an overnight stay in the floral paradise of Madeira, an island renowned for its endemic fauna, flora and UNESCO World Heritage site-classified landscape.

Additional speakers on the voyage include Gay Search, one of England’s best-known gardening presenters, writers and lecturers, and Christine Wright, National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies demonstrator and Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medallist.

Prior to departure, guests will also be invited to enjoy the floral delights that surround Southampton with an optional pre-voyage stay at luxury hotel Chewton Glen, on the edge of the New Forest National Park.

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Gentlemen Prefer... Barbers: London Shopping Icon Becomes Destination for Men

The iconic Fortnum and Mason department store in London's Picadilly is an essential shopping stop if you have an evening off of business meetings in the City, a half-day of 'bleisure', or a relaxed schedule of pleasure in one of the world's top travel destinations. 

Originally a purveyor of fine foods, 'Fortnum's' is any discerning traveler's go-to department store to procure its house blends of tea, original-recipe biscuits (cookies), jams and more.  If it's good enough to earn a 'by appointment to' seal of approval from senior members of the Royal Family, it must be good enough for even your excellent taste.  

Show that good taste by ordering one of their coveted hampers to thank your London hosts, or dropping by to get a gift for your dog sitter at home. (One of the best things about doing favors for friends traveling to London is seeing them return holding a Fortnum's signature pale green bag out to you!)

 

Above Photo Credit  All other images courtesy Fortnum & Mason

Though Fortnum's has a renowned Men's Department on the 3rd floor, until now, Fortnum's may have been seen as more of a 'girlfriend getaway' or a Mother/ Daughter destination. Some men dash in to find a perfect, or emergency tie or an essential souvenir / gift. Others just get to hold the ladies' shopping bags.

No more.  Now you or the gentleman in your life is going to want to stay a while. Fortnum & Mason has 'beefed up' the 3rd Floor with the introduction of services that let any man channel his inner James Bond or Lord Grantham by…

Getting a Proper Cut and Shave from the Barber

After a hiatus of over 50 years (since 1963) Fortnum's Gentlemen's Department is once again home to an in-house Master Barber.  Now you can experience a cut above Piccadilly with The Barber.

A one-stop shop for the discerning gentleman, The Barber at Fortnum & Mason offers everything from haircuts and hot towel head massages, to bespoke beard styling (where your inner Gentleman meets your inner Hipster), wet shaves and hair treatments. 

A beautiful blend of the traditional and the contemporary, visitors to The Barber can expect first-class service that aims to put a little of the ceremony back into the art of male grooming.

There is a fully stocked (and fully complimentary) drinks cabinet in place too, should the need for a mid-snip sip of Martini arise. (And why wouldn't it?)


 

On one wall of The Barber are the ‘Keeps’ - beautiful wooden lockers designed to hold a gentleman’s personal grooming accessories - which are available to purchase for an annual fee of £850 which includes twenty haircuts and shaves throughout the year.

We think this is going to become a new ritual for any man lucky enough to regularly travel to London.

Ordering a Cocktail from the Barman

Set in the heart of the 3rd floor Gentlemen's Department, the newest bar at Fortnum's is a relaxed, intimate spot for all visitors to enjoy.  The '3 and 6 Bar' is for gentlemen and ladies alike who want to enjoy the perfect cocktail and bask in the height of British bar service.

And in typical Fortnum's fashion, its name hides a fascinating story you'll love. In the 1930s, customers could pay to have Fortnum's throw a cocktail party in their home. (How divine!) The price per guest (for everything excluding the alcohol, unfortunately) was three shilling and sixpence - written as 3'6 in old money and pronounced '3 and 6'. The current bar stands near the location you'd go to order your home cocktail party.  Converted into modern money, 3'6 is almost exactly £11 - which far from coincidentally, is the price of the most iconic cocktails on the menu too.

A huge range of spirits, from cognacs to whiskies and all points between, are also available. So too, Fortnum's famous tea. Also boasting a delicious food menu of light bites and sweets - including Steak Tartare, Potted Rabbit, Welsh Rarebit, Raspberry Trifle and Treacle Tart - 3 and 6 Bar combines Fortnum's signature sense of luxurious British comfort with a home-from-home, snug-bar atmosphere.   It's open from noon seven days a week.  

Outfitting your Travels like a Gentleman

While you're on the 3rd Floor Gentlemen's Department, treat yourself to your own souvenirs in the form of the ultimate British gentlemen's travel essentials. 

Perhaps a Fortnum's travel tag or Atlas.  A travel shaving brush to keep your new shave its best.  A Ghurka vintage leather travel tray that packs flat and snaps up quickly, making the perfect place to store your keys, spare change, jewellery, and valuables in your hotel room.  You know, when you've left your valet, or 'gentlemen's gentleman' at home.  Or an air-safe manicure kit that's hand-made in Germany, and has everything a modern man needs to put his best hand forward to close that deal. 

We're excited there's a new place for every man to discover his inner British gentleman in London.

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Vegan meets Michelin-star Dining on Hapag-Lloyd Luxury Cruises

If you associate modern German culture with a focus on health and world-leading quality, it will be no surprise to learn that small-ship German cruise line Hapag-Lloyd now has a first-class vegetarian and vegan dining option.

Its Europa 2 is the height of small-ship casual luxury (no ties!).  Only 500 guests share a yachting / exclusive resort atmosphere that's been awarded 5+ stars by Berlitz' Cruise Guide 2017.

With flexible mealtimes, no fixed seating plans and plenty of tables for two, gastronomy on board the EUROPA 2 is all about variety and flexibility. For only 500 guests, there are an astonishing seven restaurants to choose from, including the main Weltmeere restaurant, a sushi bar and three specialty restaurants offering French, Mediterranean and Asian cuisine.

Now, as more luxury cruise travelers than ever - both Europeans and North Americans - are looking for ways to stay healthy and follow wellness lifestyles even when traveling, dining on the premiere ship Europa 2' has expanded vegetarian and vegan offerings:

·       New: Expansion of the vegetarian menu

·       More than 80 diverse dishes

·       Partnership with Michelin-starred chef Michael Hoffmann

Working alongside Europa 2’s own chef de cuisine, top chef Michael Hoffmann developed a menu exclusively for the 5-stars-plus luxury ship, inspired by his own vegetarian cuisine. Thanks to high demand, the selection has now been expanded to give Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ guests an even wider choice of vegetarian dishes.

First-class Vegetarian and Vegan menus:

For those passengers who like to eat vegetarian food, each restaurant offers a special menu to reflect the restaurant’s culinary style.

There is also a changing menu of vegetarian dishes served at lunchtime and in the evenings at the Yacht Club, the popular, buffet-style restaurant on board the luxury ship.

These have been developed together with Michael Hoffmann. Best known as the former CEO and proprietor of the Michelin-starred Margaux restaurant in Berlin (from 2003 to 2014), Hoffmann set new standards in terms of the sustainability and ethics of cooking with his vegetarian cuisine.

The high level of demand on board the Europa 2 is proof that his vegetarian dishes are very popular with guests who can't always find premium quality vegan and vegetarian cuisine when they travel. With more than 80 different dishes, discerning vegan and vegetarian cruise guests can now enjoy even more variety on their culinary voyage of discovery.

Part of a Holistic, European Approach to Wellness:

Vegan and vegetarian gastronomy is complemented by a disproportionately vast spa/health space on the Europa 2.

Over 800 square meters/8600 square feet of health center and spa on one deck of the ship.

And so that you never forget where you are, you'll always have a fantastic view of the open sea.

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Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Makes 5-Star Award History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Video: When is a Cruise not a Cruise?

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

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

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

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

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Spoiling you at Sea: Lifestyle Brands on the World's most Luxurious Ships

If you've never sailed on a small, luxury cruise, you don't know what you're missing.  

It feels like being on a large, private yacht that can sail right into the heart of a destination, allowing you to stroll on and off the ship at your leisure. Imagine an all-suite environment that includes walk-in closets, butlers, exquisite dining and breezy, never-crowded decks with attendants who anticipate your every want and need.  

These cruise lines partner with some of the most premium lifestyle brands in the world to create a signature experience at sea you won't soon forget. BestTrip.TV's cruise expert, producer/host Lynn Elmhirst, shares her favorites from Crystal, Silversea, and Seabourn.

Seabourn:

Sterling Caviar: Seabourn’s culinary excellence demands quality ingredients produced by methods that are sustainable and environmentally responsible. Sterling supplies Seabourn with hand-crafted caviar harvested from native California white sturgeon raised in carefully controlled conditions. It's been compared to the finest imported Osetra. In the time-honored tradition of the Caspian Sea fishery, Sterling adds nothing but salt, and then ages the caviar to attain the perfect buttery texture and flavor.

Caviar is center stage for one of Seabourn's signature experiences 'Caviar in the Surf', where uniformed staff plunge into the water during a private shore beach barbecue to serve up – you guessed it – caviar and champagne in the waves (pictured above).

Moulton Brown: This London-based fragrance pioneer has partnered with Seabourn not just to supply sumptuous bath amenities in all suites. It has used its expertise at blending rare ingredients in collaboration with Seabourn's marine spirit and the coastlines it explores to create two Seabourn Signature Scents exclusively for guests on all its ships.

Immersive Samphire & Eucalyptus brings to life the uplifting aromas of fresh samphire from the rocky, salt-sprayed Atlantic coast of France and enlivening eucalyptus from China, balanced with cardamom, cedarwood, violet and mint for a captivating finish in the fresh, revitalizing body lotion and bath & shower gel. Inspiring Basil & Vetiver blend Vietnamese basil oil and aromatic vetiver from Haiti with cardamom, bergamot, cedar wood and petitgrain for a relaxing, sophisticated shampoo and conditioner.

I guarantee these scents will forever evoke memories of your Seabourn cruise.

Hublot: the renowned Swiss watchmaker is the Official Timekeeper of Seabourn. Guests enjoying voyages on any Seabourn ships are kept abreast of the current ship's time by means of handsome Hublot wall clocks, designed and finished with the same flair and elegance that have made Hublot's wristwatches icons of an unparalleled watchmaking tradition.  And of course, they help your ship to arrive in port on time!

Silversea

Pierre Marcolini Chocolates: You know when you sometimes find yourself in your suite in need of a little sweet something mid afternoon, or after an evening of fine dining, cocktails and entertainment?  On Silversea ships, you'll be reaching for a Pierre Marcolini chocolate.  All guests receive an assortment of these Belgian chocolate confections in their suites. This master chocolatier was named World Champion of Pastry in 1995 and is known in fine chocolate circles for fantastic creativity that marries chocolate with apple, pear, blackcurrent and melon, but also ingredients such as pepper, chestnut, tonka beans and even patchouli, sandalwood and oak.

They will melt in your mouth and melt your heart!

Pratesi Fine Bed Linens: Silversea guests will find your sleep experience elevated to a new level of comfort and luxury with Pratesi custom-made bed linens. The legendary Italian linens firm known for creating masterpieces for European aristocracy brings its high-quality and stylish creations to the beds in every Silversea suite. 240 thread count, 100% Egyptian cotton satin sheets, duvet covers and pillowcases… if it weren't for arriving in an amazing port of call every day, you might not want to get out of bed!

Etro Bathrobes and Slippers: After you gaze in wonder at the spaciousness of the walk-in closet in your suite, you'll probably be tempted to wrap yourself in the plush Etro Bathrobe and slippers you'll find there. 

The Italian fashion label remains a family business, producing menswear and womenswear lines, in addition to accessories, fragrances, and other home products.  They will be as hard to say goodbye to as your suite butler.

Crystal Cruises

Frette: This Italian fine linen company's superb wares make an appearance for Crystal guests in staterooms and suites, and also in dining rooms and restaurants.  Since its beginnings in France, Frette has supplied legendary grand hotels – and more recently, Crystal cruise ships - with the finest, softest bed and dining linens.   So legendary has Frette quality become, it is the answer most people would provide if asked to name a luxury bath, bedroom and dining room linen brand.

Frette terry cloth robes, Villeroy & Boch china, and the ultimate in stemware, Riedel crystal adorn staterooms or suites on Crystal cruises.

And dining experiences are no less glamorously appointed, with table linens by Frette as well as Garnier Thiebaut, Schott-Zwiesel crystal, Villeroy & Boch and Wedgewood china, Royal Doulton dishware, Sheffield and Sambonet flatware as you sink your feet into Axminster wool carpets beneath your table.

TaylorMade: More concerned about your swing? This Californian-born company (now owned by Germany's Adidas) is the exclusive golf equipment provider on Crystal's golfing facilities.  If your game isn't improved by the spectacular view from the top deck of a Crystal ship, maybe TaylorMade's 'No. 1 Driver in Golf, No. 1 Fairway in Golf and No. 1 Irons in Golf' clubs will help!

 

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Video: Tree-Top Champagne Bar in Champagne, France

It's the elixir of lovers and those who love the good life.  Champagne is perfection, and how do you improve on perfection?

Drinking it in the tree tops at the Perching Bar.  BestTrip.TV traveled to the source, the Champagne region of France, and to the National Forest outside its capital of Reims.  The Perching Bar is an eco-tree-house bar at the end of a tree walk.   High concept design has even the seats and champagne buckets suspended from the rafters... floating, just like the bubbles in your glass of effervescent champagne.

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High-Flying Winter Luxury at Whistler Blackcomb

Canada's Whistler Blackcomb ski resort in British Columbia has been rated top in North America for the third year in a row.  The mountain and lifestyle are already legendary for skiers and riders, but Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler is upping the ante this winter with high-flying luxury helicopter mountain adventures that will give you epic memories and stories to share.

Winter "Glamping":

A custom snow hotel experience: A helicopter takes you to the a remote ice cap to explore ice caves before arriving at your own private enclave, for a stay in a luxury "snow hotel." The encampment is custom designed and built with comfort in mind, complete with pre-warmed down duvets, gourmet meals and a hot tub in a remote wilderness setting. This experience incorporates an array of bespoke Four Seasons services, including a natural thermal spa experience with a Four Seasons spa professional and culinary offerings prepared by Four Seasons' chefs.

Wilderness Wellness Hot Springs Experience:

Your journey includes a helicopter ride over a remote ice cap before arriving at a remote natural hot spring, where you are greeted by a master yoga instructor and a Four Seasons spa therapist to enjoy a private yoga session, followed by an aqua massage treatment. The experience includes thermal pool-side cuisine and cocktails prepared by a Four Seasons Chef de Cuisine.

Ice Cap Adventure and Exploration: 

Transportation begins via helicopter over expansive ice fields, after which guests will explore the vast ice caves with a private guide through natural, aqua blue ice sculptures, ice flows and gentle slides transporting you from one cave to the next. The adventure ends with a Four Seasons gourmet mountain-style lunch.

High Altitude Dining:

A private helicopter whisks you to a remote ice cap as you sip on a glass of sparkling Moët Ice Impérial. You're wearing a Canada Goose black label parka and sleek, waterproof Sorel boots, yours to keep, ensuring maximum comfort and warmth for this excursion and years to come.

When you arrive at a glacial peak, you embark on an ice cave exploration, discovering a spectacular 12,000-year old labyrinth of chambers of aqua blue magnificence, where you gather a crucial ingredient for the upcoming cocktail session - pure glacier ice. The resort's Mixologist will shake the ice into one of their signature specialties amid the majestic beauty of Whistler's mountain peaks. 

Once cocktail hour is complete, you re-board the helicopter and take in the alpine scenery before returning to a luxurious Private Residence  featuring panoramic views where the Executive Chef prepares a memorable dinner boasting locally sourced ingredients and premium meat cuts paired with custom cocktails that complement each dish. 

It may be hard to choose which of these one-of-a-kind exploration, culinary and wellness backcountry experiences – all with the brand's renowned style and finesse – will make this winter your best season yet.

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New Cruise Ships in 2017

It will be a full year of breaking champagne bottles against sparkling new ship hulls. Every new cruise ship gives cruise lines the chance to spread their wings and launch design, culinary and entertainment innovations. This year, there are even new-in-class ships never seen before.

Here's what's new at sea in 2017.

Seabourn Encore:


 

First out of the gate, luxury small ship cruise line Seabourn's Encore was christened in Singapore the first week of January and is sailing in Asia, heading to Australia, New Zealand, then back to Dubai and the Mediterranean.

What we love: Curving lines, feel of a sensuous, luxury yacht styled by celebrity hospitality designer Adam Thihany.  All suites, 300 of them, with marble baths, all veranda. The culinary styling’s of 3-Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller in the Grill. An aft water sports marina that opens when the ship anchors, so guests can kayak, windsurf and paddle about in the sea.  The draped Retreat on the top deck, with private cabanas, a spa cabana, bar and the sea breeze.  Seabourn's partnership with UNESCO promoting sustainable tourism at World Heritage sites.

Silver Muse

April brings us the ninth and largest ship for luxury, small ship line Silversea Cruises. The Muse will be the flagship and the largest in the fleet.

What we love: Silversea is calling it a leap forward to 'ultra-luxury ocean cruising'.  600 guests will enjoy 7 levels of suites.  An incredible eight restaurants, three of them outdoors, including the line's signature pool deck Hot Rocks al fresco, table-top meat and seafood grill. Only one involves a fee, La Dame, the Relais & Chateaux French restaurant with local ingredients. A sophisticated indoor/outdoor cigar and whisky bar.

Viking Sky and Viking Sun

Twin sister ships to Viking Star and Viking Sea, Viking's two new ships launch early spring and late fall this year.  Also like their sister ships, Viking Sky and Viking Sun will host 930 guests on cruises that include long calls in port and plenty of overnight calls so guests can immerse themselves in the destination experience.

What we love: Viking's signature 'Nordic' lifestyle: Scandinavian design, a Nordic spa, Finnish sauna, even a 'snow room', plus a cozy and sociable fire pit.  The indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace dining rooms, 'magrodome' pool with glass roof that opens in fair weather, and a main restaurant also transforms from cozy 'hygge' atmosphere to a breezy, open air venue.

MSC Meraviglia

Slated as the biggest ship at sea by passenger capacity when it launches this spring, the MSC Meraviglia means 'wonder', with 3 more ships in its class due by the end of the decade.  MSC Meraviglia will homeport in Europe.

What we love: The two-deck indoor amusement park, three large pools, and massive aqua park. The Mediterranean-style indoor promenade featuring a 262-foot-long LED "sky" that transforms through the day. MSC's wristband technology, for making payments and bookings and keeping track of family members.  And who wouldn't be excited about Cirque du Soleil's first at-sea partnership? Plus the eco-friendly technology to neutralize carbon dioxide emissions and equipment to be water-emission free.

MSC Seaside

Launching at the end of the year, the MSC Seaside launches a new class of ships, just for MSC in North America. It will homeport in Miami and sail year-round in the Caribbean.

What we love: An unimaginable nearly half million square feet of public space. See-through glass walkways (top picture) that hang over the ocean and open-air spa. An outdoor promenade that wraps around the whole ship where you can enjoy shops, bars and alfresco dining. Terraced balcony cabins, with both sea views and a view over the promenade below. Five water slides in a huge aqua park, a ropes course, and a zipline. An expanded MSC Yacht Club – the line’s ship-within-a-ship concept so family fun and butler-catered refined luxury are all on the same ship.

National Geographic Quest

When Lindblad Expeditions launches the National Geographic Quest in the summer for sailings in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and Central America, it will be the largest ship in the fleet.  Not your traditional expedition ship.  Half of the 50 cabins will have balconies.  Family-friendly connecting rooms. Even the rarest of expedition cruise ship amenities: a spa!

What we love: The spirit of exploration. Technology that connects you to nature, like remotely operated vehicles (ROV), a hydrophone and bow-cam to hear humpback whales and film dolphins. Being able to get close to Nature with on-board sea kayaks, paddleboards, expedition landing craft, warm and cold water diving gear, and underwater cameras.

American Constellation

This summer, American Cruise Lines launches its first new ship in several years. The American Constellation will be the cruise line's largest ship; a 163-guest coastal cruise ship built to sail itineraries on the US Eastern coastline and inland waterways including Chesapeake Bay, New England, Hudson River, Mid-Atlantic Inland Passage, and the Southern U.S.

What we love: Most staterooms have private balconies and there's even a selection of single rooms for solo travelers. Menus with regional cuisine, sourcing local ingredients at ports.

Flying Clipper

Star Clipper celebrates its silver anniversary not just with a new addition to its fleet of masted sailing ships, but a near-replica of the largest ship of its kind ever built. The 300-passenger, 5-masted Flying Clipper will be powered by 32 sails constituting nearly 40,000 square feet of sail (with backup fuel-efficient engines). 

What we love: Wind-through-your-hair sailing adventure.  Get harnessed into the rigging and climb to the crow's nest for the best views at sea; learn knot-tying, celestial navigation, and sailing techniques. Two nets strung on either side of the bowsprit rock you gently in the sun. Three pools, including one that arcs sunlight through the ship's atrium into the dining room, a dive-training pool descending 18 feet through 2 decks with glass sides so passengers can watch at the Dive Bar, a water sports platform with snorkeling, kayaks, water skiing.

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Introducing the Seabourn Encore

Seabourn's new Encore was introduced to the world at a festive evening ceremony pier side in Singapore January 7th, 2017, and we can't help gushing over the first cruise ship arrival of 2017.

International recording artist and the world's best-selling soprano Sarah Brightman presided over the naming ceremony as Godmother of the new 600-guest ship, the first of two new all-suite vessels for the luxury, small-ship cruise line.

Guests and VIPs joined Seabourn staff to enjoy the vibrant, entertainment-filled launch festivities as a projection screen showed the climactic moment when Brightman sent a bottle of champagne smashing against the bow of the ship, a time-honored ship christening tradition. A host of local musicians and cultural acts, including lion dancers and stilt walkers, energized the event to send the ship and her guests off in style.

The launch of Seabourn Encore marks the start of a new era of ultra-luxury cruising.  It's the fourth all-suite vessel to join the Seabourn fleet and the first of two new ships to be designed by hospitality design icon Adam D. Tihany. The second, Seabourn Ovation, is currently under construction and is scheduled to launch in spring 2018.

All ships maintain some of the signature elements we love most about Seabourn: a high ratio of space per guest, enabling highly personalized service by close to one staff member for each guest on board, all-suite accommodations, Seabourn’s signature water sports Marina, an open-bar policy serving premium wine, champagne and spirits, and renowned menus. With the addition of these two new ships, Seabourn will have the youngest and most modern ultra-luxury fleet in the world.

Intended by Tihany "to feel more like a luxury yacht," Seabourn Encore features modern design elements and innovations. Somehow, they manage to take our breath away, and still stay in keeping with Seabourn's understated elegance. The Encore has an additional deck and newly expanded public areas. New features include The Retreat, a secluded sanctuary for you to stretch out and relax in private cabanas, and Sushi, a one-of-a-kind dining destination found on no other ship in the Seabourn fleet.

With the inaugural voyage, Seabourn Encore is also marking the formal debut of several new onboard partner programs we've written about before: Spa and Wellness with Dr. Andrew Weil offers guests a holistic spa and wellness experience that integrates physical, social, environmental and spiritual well-being; a new production show, 'An Evening with Tim Rice', created exclusively for Seabourn will also have its debut on board in the ship's Grand Salon; and Seabourn Encore will also feature The Grill by Thomas Keller, a restaurant inspired by the classic American chophouse that first opened on Seabourn Quest last year.  If you're not sailing on the Encore, you can still enjoy all three programs on other Seabourn ships; they'll be rolled out across the entire Seabourn fleet by 2018. 

Following the naming ceremony, Seabourn Encore departed on its Inaugural Voyage, the 10-day Gems of the Java Sea cruise, bound for Indonesia. The ship will then move on to Australia and New Zealand voyages, then cruise back to Singapore, on to Dubai, and cruise through the Holy Land before ending her winter season at Athens at the beginning of May.  She will then summer in the Mediterranean, arriving in Barcelona, Spain, on September 13 for the start of her autumn season.  

A busy debut sailing season for one of luxury cruising's most highly anticipated new ships. Wishing the Seabourn Encore, and everyone who sails on her, Happy Voyages!

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Go Island Hopping in the South Pacific

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

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

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

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

Photos: Chris McLennan

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

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

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

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

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