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How the Whole Family can Savor a Disney Vacation: At its Food & Wine Fest

Sometimes grownups need to trade spinning teacups for grownup culinary experiences. How do celebrity chefs, winemaker dinners, beer tasting seminars and irresistible cuisine sound?

All photos: Disney California Adventure

If you think you might want to balance kids' Goofy with your inner foodie, one of the best times of year to visit Disney might be during its Food & Wine Festival, when you can enjoy the park and culinary experiences for kids and adults alike.

The Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival jump-starts spring with hundreds of gastronomic adventures and delicious flavors from across the Golden State. It runs this year from March 10th til April 16th (the Florida park has a similar festival later in the year.)

Highlights for the whole, multi-generational family trip include more than a dozen marketplaces open every day, an entire menu of daily culinary demonstrations and tastings, plus beer, wine and spirits seminars, music everywhere, delicious food, and fun crafts created especially for younger guests.

Celebrity chefs scheduled to appear during the Festival include Guy Fieri, Robert Irvine, Cat Cora, Duff Goldman, Emily Ellyn and Keegan Gerhard.

Children ages 3 to 11 may join in the fun with the popular complimentary Junior Chef experience (led by Chef Goofy, and available on a first-come, first-seated basis), and the Jammin’ Chefs, who serve up tasty rhythms with pots and pans that really get cooking with the help of sous chefs Chip ‘n Dale.

Many of the Festival events are included with admission to Disney California Adventure. Guests who want to add the Signature Events may purchase separate tickets at an additional fee for:

  • “In the Kitchen with …” on Saturdays from 6-7 pm: Each Celebrity Chef will lead a 60-minute culinary demonstration and Q&A followed by an autograph session. The experience includes a tasting of some of the prepared dishes.
  • Sweet Sundays on select Sundays from 10:30- noon: A 90-minute culinary demonstration focuses on the sweet side of the culinary arts. Following a light breakfast and a sparkling toast, the Guest Chef for that day will demonstrate up to three recipes. Guests will enjoy samples from the chefs.
  • Winemaker Dinners and Brewmaster Dinners on Thursdays from 6:30 to 9 pm: A four-course dinner features wines and winemakers or beers and brewmasters. Wine or beer selections will be paired with courses created by the Disney Executive Chef Team and each winemaker or brewmaster will speak on the libation and the pairing.

Additional ticketed programs include:

  • Culinary Demonstrations (presented daily throughout the Festival) – Guests will enjoy 30-minute culinary demonstrations presented by local, visiting and Disney chefs. Each demo will focus on a single recipe, ingredient or cooking style. Guests will receive a tasting sample of the dish prepared.
  • Wine, Beer or Spirits Education and Tasting Seminars (presented daily throughout the Festival) – Beverage seminars presented by industry experts will enlighten guests who want to learn more about their favorite spirits. Each 30- to 45-minute seminar will focus on a specific beverage type, region or label, and guests will enjoy tasting samples of some of the beverages discussed.

We think the food festival might be the best way to create delectable memories for the whole family on a Disney vacation.

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See Stars in Utah during Dark Sky Week at the World's First International Dark Sky Park

We often think of our travels as an 'escape' - have you thought of them as an escape from ... light? Or do you simply love gazing up into the mysteries of the universe, in a clear, clear night sky, unpolluted by man-made lighting?  Utah is one of the best places for avid stargazers to celebrate International Dark Sky Week 2017, April 22-28th.

The state is home to seven of the world’s 42 International Dark Sky Parks as well as Natural Bridges National Monument, the world’s first International Dark Sky Park, as certified by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) . A Dark Sky Park is an area defined by the IDA where the night sky can be viewed clearly without any "light pollution.”

Southern Utah offers remote areas where 15,000 or more stars are visible in the night-sky (astronomers believe people who live in urban areas can see fewer than 500 stars). During International Dark Sky Week 2017 and throughout the year, visitors to these Utah Dark Sky Parks offer outstanding quality night skies:

  • Canyonlands National Park is known for its dramatic desert landscape carved by the Colorado River.During the spring and fall, Park rangers offer programming on a rotating basis with other Parks with the ultimate goal being to introduce visitors to the wonders of the night sky. Stargazing and telescope viewing follow ranger programming
  • Dead Horse Point State Park: This Park has partnered with Canyonlands National Park to host dark-skies programming. This state park overlooks the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park, covering 5,362 acres of high desert at an altitude of 5,900 feet. Even if you've never been, you've probably seen it already; it was used in the iconic final ‘Grand Canyon’ scene of the film Thelma & Louise
  • Capitol Reef National Park: This Park has some of the best night sky viewing opportunities of the western national parks. The park is famous for its layers of golden sandstone, canyons and striking rock formations, including Chimney Rock pillar, the Hickman Bridge arch, and Capitol Reef white sandstone domes, and the towering monoliths of Cathedral Valley. Past summer stargazing programs have included Night Sky Tours by visiting astronomers
  • Goblin Valley State Park: In addition to its claim to fame (and name), its thousands of hoodoos and hoodoo rocks, referred to locally as "goblins", which are formations of mushroom-shaped rock pinnacles, some as high as several meters, the National Park Service’s Night Sky Team determined this park to have some of the darkest night skies on Earth.     Here you'll find unparalleled views of the Milky Way. Visitors can experience a variety of ranger-led monthly moonlit hikes and telescope tours
  • Hovenweep National Monument: Until recently best-known for the six groups of ancestral Puebloan villages, there is evidence of occupation from 8,000 to 6,000 B.C. The Monument’s night sky remains about as dark as it was 800 years ago due to its geographic isolation. The Monument’s Rangers offer visitors stargazing programs throughout spring and summer so you can literally see the stars like North America's first peoples did.
  • Natural Bridges National Monument: Named for its primary feature, the thirteenth largest natural bridge in the world, carved from the white sandstone, the park was designated the world's first dark-sky park in 2006. Here you can gaze at the very same stars the ancestral Pueblo people observed 800 years ago.  Park rangers will offer astronomy programs beginning May 2017
  • Weber County North Fork Park: Unlike the majority of International Dark Sky Parks, North Fork Park sets itself apart from the others because of its adjacency to urban areas and its innovative public art incorporating dark skies themes.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) is a United States-based non-profit organization incorporated in 1988 by founders David Crawford, a professional astronomer, and Tim Hunter, a physician/amateur astronomer. The mission of the IDA is "to preserve and protect the night time environment and our heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting". To promote awareness about the issues about the disappearing darkness in the world and its effect on human and wildlife wellness, the IDA has an International Dark Sky Places program that aims "to protect locations of exceptional nighttime visages for future generations".  Since 2006, it has been designating International Dark-Sky Parks, International Dark-Sky Reserves, and even International Dark-Sky Communities for star gazers and our global natural heritage.

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Hanami Tips: View Cherry Blossoms Like the Japanese

Springtime cherry blossom viewing has become one of the best-known Japanese festivals around the world.

BestTrip.TV's Producer and Host Lynn Elmhirst shares her experience of 'Hanami', and some tips if you are lucky enough to travel to Japan during those magical few weeks every spring.

I'm a tree hugger.  I love nature, woods walks, gardens and flower shows, making fresh bouquets for my home… I've even studied Japanese flower arranging (ikebana). So imagine how excited I was to be in Japan during the season when their famous cherry blossoms are in bloom.  And to be invited to join a 'Hanami' party. (Top image credit).

'Hana' means flower in Japanese, and in this context, means almost exclusively cherry blossoms (sakura), although it can also mean other flowering fruit trees, especially plum (ume). 'Mi' is from the verb to see or view.

So Hanami is just a simple Japanese word 'Flower blossom viewing', but it has become one of the most revered Japanese traditions.

Hanami as a custom is believed to go back over a thousand years, even as far back as the 700's, during a time of tremendous cultural growth in Japan.

At that time, the practice was more closely related to agricultural and divining purposes, to announce the rice-planting season and predict the harvest.  Naturally, offerings were made to the spirits in the fruit trees.  This eventually evolved into including sake drinking in the offering.

Well you know where it went from there.  Parties.

Image Credit

Once an Emperor in the Heian period started holding flower-viewing parties with sake and feasting beneath the blossoming trees, he set the scene for centuries to come.  Poetry was written about the lacy, delicate flowers, seen as a symbol of the short-lived beauty of life itself.  Masses of plantings in full bloom appear from a distance like fluffy pale pink clouds, inspiring generations of artists. Paintings, wood block prints, and tapestries celebrated the barely-pink blossoms and their increasing meaning to Japanese society.  Where royalty and artists set a trend, the rest of society follows.  Soon, even common people were planting cherry trees and taking picnic meals and drinking sake under the boughs of blossoming cherry trees.

Fast-forward to today, and that custom remains.  I had some vague notion in my head that we'd stroll in awe under bowers of blossoms in the castle grounds, perhaps ending the uplifting Nature experience with some tea.

Instead, one member of our group went out at 6 am that morning with plastic picnic sheeting to lay out and stake a claim to a prime picnic spot under a particularly beautiful tree with a broader view over the park. By the time we joined him late afternoon, other parties had clearly been going on for hours.  And the sake, beer, and shochu (sometimes called 'Japanese vodka') had been flowing. 

The blossoms were breathtaking, but they didn't seem to be the star of the show.  Cherry blossoms were just the set. It was all about the party.  Barbecues, drinks, portable karaoke machines created a raucous scene – in an admittedly pretty magical atmosphere.  In many places, hanami viewing starts after work – is even a work /colleague event – and continues late into the night. Some parks hang paper lanterns to light the trees. 

Night Hanami. Image credit

The contrast between the charm of the blossoms and trees and twinkling lights and the noisy parties below is shocking to a first timer like me.   I found myself trying to block out the noise to find a sense of the wonder and spirituality of the earliest Hanami participants.

And for all the seeming irreverence, the Japanese take viewing very seriously.  People past the age of enjoying raucous parties still do hanami, often more in temples, where they follow prayer rituals.  TV news and papers forecast the 'cherry blossom front', following the season from the warmer south to the cooler north, only a couple of weeks in each place, and only a few days of truly prime viewing.   In the big cities of Osaka and Tokyo and the ancient capital Kyoto, cherry blossom season normally takes place at the end of March and early April.

A blossom forecast with the predicted dates of blossoms. The numbers are for dates (3.22 is March 22). Note the "cherry blossom front" moves from South to North. Image credit.

If you are traveling to Japan on pleasure or business any time near cherry blossom season, find a way to participate in a party.  If you do 'hanami', there are some etiquette rules to follow:

Tips for Hanami in Japan:

  • Be respectful of the mass of blossom admirers and the cherry trees themselves; don't shake branches, step on roots, or pick blossoms.
  • Many blossom parties and venues can be rowdy, but not always. If most admirers are in prayer or quiet contemplation, a loud foreigner can wreck that experience for them AND the reputation of foreigners in Japan. Don't be that guy.
  • Although parties with sake, beer, shochu (sometimes called 'Japanese vodka') are part of the modern ritual, be warned that not all parks permit alcohol; hopefully, you're going with Japanese friends, a guide, or colleagues, and they'll know if you can toast the blossoms with spirits.
  • Similarly, not all parks permit barbecues, so your packed Hanami picnic may have to be cold and pre-prepared.
  • Some parks don't have garbage collection capacity for the huge flow of Hanami traffic; be prepared to dispose of your garbage in your own bags.

The Japanese National Tourism Organization publishes a list of the best places to view cherry blossoms. You can find it here:  http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/interests/cherry.html

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Video: Man vs. Jetstream and other things you didn't know about St. Maarten

From the outrageous antics on Maho Beach at the end of the airport runway, to the hidden gems (literally!) of the island, this BestTrip.TV travel video shares our favorite - and most unique - things about the island.

So is it St. Maarten or St. Martin?  If you don't know why both of those names are correct, you need to watch this video!

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What European River Cruise is the Most Romantic?

It's the time of year when we celebrate love - and love of travel. We've hand-picked our favorite travel experiences for treats, pampering, romance, the good life, and celebrating traveling with everyone in our lives we love.

Beginning with... the most Romantic river cruise in Europe: Castles and wine and lovers' legends, oh my!

Lynn Elmhirst, producer/ host and cruise expert of BestTrip.TV, explains how 'The Romantic Rhine' weaves a perfect romance of Northern European culture for river cruise travelers to watch, listen, and taste.

Castles to Watch

Image: BestTrip.TV

40 castles in 40 miles. There's a castle or fortress, those ultimate symbols of the Middle Ages celebrated in fantasy literature, nearly every mile. That stretch of river known as the Middle Rhine has a higher density of castles than any other river valley in the world. Since the 19th century, it's been known as 'The Romantic Rhine' and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For two millennia, the Rhine was one of the most important routes connecting Southern with Northern Europe. Castles for security and to control the river commerce were built on hilltops facing the river, and now, a river cruise is really the best and most authentic way to immerse yourself in the Romance of some of the best historic scenery in Europe.

Image: BestTrip.TV

Travel Tip: during the ship's passage along this stretch, make sure you find yourself a central position so you don't miss the castles on both sides of the banks.

Wine to Taste

Then you add wine. The gorges rising on either side of the Middle Rhine are lined by some of the steepest vineyards in the world. Over a thousand acres of vineyards thrive in a microclimate shaped by the river's topography (in fact, most of the wine regions of Europe line its rivers). In other wine regions and wineries, hand-picking grapes is preserved for only elite wines. On the nose-bleed-steep banks of the Middle Rhine, handpicking is the usual – and only practical - practice. And yet the famous white wines – predominantly Rieslings, both dry and sweeter versions - of the Middle Rhine are still very affordable. Tastings are one of the best activities in the picturesque towns that line the narrow river banks.

Image credit

Travel Tip: buy your favorite to take back to your river cruise ship to fully immerse yourself in the joys of the Rhine as you sip on the top deck as you sail past the scenery.

A 'Murmuring Rock' to Listen to


A 433-foot, steep slate rock formation on the very edge of the river bank of the Rhine Gorge has been the source of legend for centuries. The Lorelai's name is ancient, coming from the old German word 'lureln' for 'murmuring', and the Celtic word 'ley' meaning 'rock. The combination of heavy currents swirling round the bend, a small waterfall (up until the early 19th century) and an echo effect of the rock itself amplifying those sounds made Lorelai an actual auditory experience (til development nearby in modern times drowned it out.) No wonder the myths began: dwarfs living inside the rock, a murmuring siren luring sailors onto rocks… But the story that stuck came from a poem telling the tragic lover's tale of the beautiful Lorelai being taken away to a nunnery, and, thinking she sees her lover in the Rhine below, throws herself into river to her death, where to this day, the looming rock murmurs an echo of her calls.

Travel Tip: pay homage to the Rhine's 'murmuring rock' by downloading the compositions by Schumann, Mendelssohn or Strauss that immortalize Lorelai in music to listen to on your magnificent Romantic Rhine river cruise.

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Did you know there are more bicycles than people in Amsterdam? 

It's one of the original and influential cycling cultures that helped set the trend towards urban cycling and our love for touring new destinations by bike.

The Dutch bicycle - the original workhorse urban bike for entire families - sets the bar in style, function and cool factor.  BestTrip.TV discovers cycling culture in legendary Amsterdam, and meets the maker of custom Dutch bikes.

If there's anything better than cycling through the streets of one of the world's favorite cities, it's a souvenir custom bike that will be the envy of all your cycling friends at home.

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Time To Get Back to the Caribbean! Escape To One of These Unique Beaches

You don't really want to try to tough out this tough winter without a beach escape.  And luckily, it's not too late to book a break from winter weather.

After the destruction of recent hurricanes, communities have pulled together, and many beach destinations are ready to welcome travelers again. Booking a cruise or a land trip and supporting the local economy is one of the best ways you can help affected destinations that rely on tourism to continue to recover.

And even if your favorite winter beach isn't quite ready for visitors again, that's a great motivation to discover a new beach this year.  Here are some of our favorite under-the-radar beaches to try in your quest for sun and sand this winter.

1. Crane Beach, Barbados

Crane Beach was originally a harbor, is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with its dramatic cliffs and surrounding vegetation. If you think 'Crane' beach means it's best for birdwatchers, you're wrong: it refers to the large crane that once sat on the top of the cliff loading and unloading ships in the harbor. The waves in this area make the Crane beach a great spot for body surfing and boogie boarding, and the famous hotel (said to be the oldest in the islands) perching above the beach is a gem of Caribbean hospitality. (Photo Credit)

2. Trunk Bay, St. John, US Virgin Islands

This white sand beach has been a showpiece of the US National Park Service since it was donated by a Rockefeller family member to the Virgin Islands National Park. A one-of-a-kind, 650-foot underwater snorkeling trail provides terrific viewing of colorful fish and corals, including the rare, indigo-blue tunicates – in less than 20′ of water, perfect for every member of the family.

3. Eagle Beach, Aruba

Aruba is as far south as you can go in the Caribbean before you hit South America, and its uniquely dry, sunny, almost dessert-like environment, so different from elsewhere in the Caribbean, is worth a few more minutes in the air. Wide and white, Eagle Beach (above photo credit)  is home to two of the most photographed and renowned divi divi trees in Aruba (pictured top, credit) with their trademark silhouette shaped by the constant, refreshing trade winds. Low rise resorts line the beach, which is also a famous turtle nesting and hatching site.

4. Mosquito Bioluminscent Bay, Puerto Rico

This might be the only beach in the Caribbean best seen at night! Tiny micro-organisms, up to 160,000 of them in every liter of water - give off a supernatural, blue-white glow year round. It's the most luminous bioluminescent display in the world - and makes this the beach experience on Puerto Rico's Vieques island unforgettable!  Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on the island, interrupting the bioluminescent bay's ecosystem.  For weeks after the hurricanes, the bay was dark. But happily, the water is starting to glow again as the water chemistry recovers.  Don't miss the opportunity for the nighttime kayak of a lifetime.

5. Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda

This is the most famous beach in Bermuda, and one of the top-rated in the world. A very popular tourist spot, it lies on the main island's south (Atlantic) coast, shaped in, you guessed it, a horseshoe. Fringed by limestone rocks, the pink sand and turquoise water are mirrored by the British Caribbean island's pastel architecture.  (Photo Credit)

Don't miss an island escape from the winter weather. Discover a new favorite beach in the Caribbean.

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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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Eataly's $106 Million Italian Culinary Destination in Bologna

They don't want you to call it a 'theme park'. But if you're one of the foodies around the world who love the wildly popular, celebrity-chef Mario Batali-backed Eataly, the field-to-fork destination that opens this fall in Italy is the culinary 'theme park' of your dreams.

Batali has described the Eataly phenomenon as a premium Italian grocery store 'with tasting rooms'. You shop, you eat, you love; authentic, from-the-source Italian food and food products.  When it launched in New York City, there were lineups around the block, and it's still packed.  There are dozens of other Eataly outlets worldwide, including a dining venue on the MSC Divina at sea.

FICO Eataly World outside Italy's culinary capital of Bologna will be a whole new level of interactive culinary experience. FICO stands for Fabbrica Italiana Contadina - Italian Farming Factory. It's the culmination of Eataly's food 2.0 vision; a game changer for Eataly and global food culture. 

The 20-acre complex is a hub connecting an expected six million annual visitors to Italian agriculture and gastronomy: food production, education, dining, tastings, and retail, all in one eco-responsible space powered by 44,000 solar panels, said to be the largest solar property in Europe.

The numbers show the awesome scale and scope of  FICO Eataly World:

EARTH AND FARMS

  • 2.5 acres of fields, stables, pastures, gardens and farms, where all of Italy’s best-known crops will be cultivated and prime livestock breeds raised.

PRODUCERS

  • 40 areas of fresh production with raw ingredients managed by the best Italian companies
  • 2000 Italian companies will participate in the project, sharing their crafts, innovations and passion for the food they produce.

MARKET:

  • 97,000 square feet of retail marketplace selling iconic 'Made in Italy' seasonal food products

RESTAURANTS: a paradise for gourmands looking discover the best of Italian gastronomic biodiversity.

  • 25 restaurants, including themed restaurants and street food stalls including:
    • Meat
    • Cured meat and cheese restaurant
    • Pasta
    • Vegetable restaurant
    • Winery
    • Fish
    • Regional restaurant
    • Piadina bistro
    • Smoothie street food stall
    • Potato street food stall
    • Prosciutteria
    • Pastries
    • And more…

EDUCATION

  • 1,000 courses for adults per year
  • 40 workshops, where visitors can learn Italian culinary skills like pasta and cheese production first-hand.
  • 5,000 educational activities for schools
  • 500 internships per year for aspiring young people and adults who wish to master food production, learning from on site experts

EVENTS

  • 500 cultural events per year related to food, wine, and agriculture

FICO Eataly World is an extraordinary destination we can't wait to open in October.  A vision come to life of a hands-on, for-the-people celebration Italy's rich culinary heritage and groundwork for its future, educating the next generation of food producers, diners and home cooks, and engaging in environmental best practices. 

Definitely one of the most exciting culinary experiences for anyone planning to visit Italy.

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Cruise to Cuba? Yes You Can!

10 ways you can cruise to Cuba this year.

One of the biggest travel stories of the past year has to be the renewing of relations between Cuba and the US and the rise of Cuba as a destination for American travelers. Cuba has long been a favorite sun and culture destination for Canadians and Europeans. Only US citizens were prevented from traveling to the Caribbean's largest island.

Now American cruise ships are permitted to sail to Cuba, and late in 2016, Cuba approved a number of US cruise lines' applications to make port calls.  A few international cruise lines could always go, and they have increased sailings and itineraries.  So cruising to Cuba is one of the biggest travel stories this year.

Canadians and Europeans now have a lot more choices to cruise to Cuba, and Americans now have that cruise option, although they still need a visa. US cruise lines now sailing to Cuba generally facilitate a 'people-to-people' visa for American guests.

BestTrip.TV's cruise expert Lynn Elmhirst rounds up 10 ways you can cruise to Cuba this year.

From single days in port in Havana, to a week or more exploring the island, cruises to Cuba allow you to get a taste or immerse yourself in Cuba's culture, history, and natural wonders.

ALL-CUBA CRUISES

Celestyal Crystal

This Greek line claims to offer the only true circumnavigation of Cuba on 7-day, all-inclusive cruises departing every Monday from Havana, and every Friday from Montego Bay, Jamaica.  

Formerly known as Cuba Cruise, this cruise began sailing 3 years ago, and now sails year-round in Cuba on a 1200 passenger ship that was renovated in 2016. They offer the p2p program visa for American citizens.

Itineraries include two days in Havana and various calls including Maria La Gorda, known for its impeccable beachfront and underwater marine life, the perfect destination for scuba divers, snorkeling enthusiasts and beach lovers, Punta Frances on the Isle of Youth, Cienfuegos, an 18th-century fortress, and historic Santiago de Cuba, 16th century capital of the Spanish colony of Cuba.

Ports and shore excursions provide city tours, history, adventure, cultural walking tours, hiking, beach days and snorkeling to passengers of all ages and tastes.  This cruise is family-friendly, with a supervised children's program for 4-12 year olds.

National Geographic - Lindblad Expeditions

Lindblad Expedition cruises' partnership with National Geographic means these cruises are for travelers serious about in-depth expertise: photographers, naturalists and cultural specialists join guests on the 11-day trips. These land and sea tours are an extension of Nat Geo's existing land tour programs, and they fulfill the p2p visa requirements for Americans.

Trips begin with a flight from Miami, and include several days in Havana, as well as stops in Trinidad, Cienfuegos, the historic Bay of Pigs, Isle of Youth, and Cayo Largo.

Fewer than 50 guests are on board the Panorama II, a small expedition ship, as it makes ports of call that highlight Cuba's marine and natural wonders and culture, highlighting music, history, and interacting with locals like artists, mechanics who inventively keep those classic US cars running, members of Cuba's renowned medical community, and naturalists protecting endangered species.

Natural highlights include searching for the smallest bird in the world, the bee hummingbird, a visit to a sea turtle breeding center, diving, and lots of wildlife and scenic photography.

G Adventures

Canadian tour operator G Adventures provides a less intense/ serious, and more youthful and affordable version of a Cuba expedition cruise on its 8-day 'marine tour' of Cuba's Canarreos archipelago in a catamaran with only 14 people on the tour. This cruise option is one of several types of trips to Cuba the company offers.  Americans are welcome, but need to arrange their own visas.

Cruises start and finish in Havana, and spend 5 low-key, soft-adventure days exploring off-the-beaten-path islands and island communities, with relaxed days of snorkeling, kayaking, sailing, easy exploring, visiting lighthouses, enjoying seafood dinners, and lazing on deck or on the beach. 

Pearl Mist

Pearl Seas Cruises (a sister company to American Cruise Lines), offers 10-night 'Cuban Cultural Voyages' that fulfill the American p2p visa requirements.  On the 200-passenger Pearl Mist, guests enjoy luxury elements including all private balconies on its 100 staterooms and high-end culinary offerings, but the company also makes sure to point out that there is elevator access to all decks and on board medical for its senior guests. 

These cruises run January through April, 2017, and start up again in November.  There's a packed program of stops on the island beginning with 2 days in Havana, and other ports include Isla de la Juventud, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, El Cobre, Santiago de Cuba and Parque Baconao.

Guests engage first hand with local tradespeople, artists, musicians and historians at museums, national parks, art studios, architecturally significant homes and UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Photos courtesy MSC Cruises

CRUISES THAT OVERNIGHT IN HAVANA

MSC Opera and MSC Armonia

MSC Cruises, a European company, was one of the first major cruise lines to feature Cuba in its itineraries for its European and Canadian guests. The cruises have been so popular, MSC has homeported 2, 2000-passenger ships, the Armonia and the Opera, in Havana.

Guests spend about 2 days in Havana on MSC itineraries. MSC does not design its Cuba itineraries to meet American citizens' requirements for p2p visas, so guests have more flexible options that include not only historic and cultural attractions, but also beach days in Cuba as part of cruises that also include other Caribbean destinations.

Azamara Quest

Royal Caribbean's smaller-ship, sister brand Azamara has just one Cuba port of call this season: it's added an overnight in Havana to one 12- night Caribbean cruise on the Azamara Quest departing March 21st from Miami with stops in Key West, Tampa, New Orleans, and Cozumel, Mexico as well as Havana.

The cruise line says it's planning to introduce more dates and more Cuban ports, but it already offers an impressive line up of 6 of its signature 'Land Discoveries' immersive destination programs, including Hemingway's Havana and Havana by Classic American Car.   The programs fulfill visa requirements for Americans, so this cruise is a destination-focused opportunity for the Azamara Quest's 700 guests to get a taste of Cuba.

Seven Seas Mariner

Regent Seven Seas Cruises is the only North American classic luxury cruise line to sail to Cuba – yet. 

It has added Havana to two Caribbean cruises aboard the 700-guest Seven Seas Mariner on April 11th and 18th.   The itineraries are identical, with an overnight in Havana as part of week-long cruises that also call on Harvest Cay, parent-company Norwegian Cruise Holding's upscale resort destination in Belize.

Regent Seven Seas cruises are all-inclusive, with fares that include airfare, unlimited shore excursions, alcoholic beverages, WiFi, gratuities and more.  Its Cuba tours fulfill US p2p visa requirements and provide guests with authentic Cuban experiences that explore the people, music, art, history and culture of the island.

Norwegian Sky

Norwegian Sky, with 2000 guests, is the largest US vessel sailing to Cuba in 2017.  NCL has scheduled 5, 4-day roundtrip cruises from Miami to Cuba on May 8, 15, 22 and 29th. 

The cruises overnight in Havana, and also spend a day at Norwegian's private island resort in the Bahamas, Great Stirrup Cay. Norwegian Sky's cruises to Cuba, like some of its others in the Caribbean, include an open bar, so overall, these short cruises will have mostly a party atmosphere.

However, guests will be able to go ashore to visit sites in Cuba's capital, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Old Havana, and experience the local art and music scene; engaging with local artists (and fulfilling US p2p visa requirements).

CRUISES WITH ONE PORT DAY IN HAVANA

Marina

Oceania's Marina is the first of the Norwegian family of cruise lines to sail to Cuba. The 1250-guest, upscale ship begins one day or overnight calls in Havana in March, with programming that meets visa requirements for Americans.  These 10 day or two week Caribbean cruises depart from Miami in multiple itineraries that also include NCL's new private island resort Harvest Caye in Belize.

Empress of the Seas

Royal Caribbean recently updated and renovated the 1600-guest Empress of the Seas for its Cuba itineraries. Beginning in April, 4, 5, and 7-night cruises depart from both Miami and Tampa on Western Caribbean itineraries with one day in port in Havana.  Royal Caribbean's Cuba shore programming allows Americans to meet visa requirements while enjoying Royal Caribbean ship experiences like rock climbing, multiple pools, restaurants, nightlife, and even the Cuban-inspired dance club Bolero.

Cuba is a brand-new destination for Americans, and cruising to Cuba is novel even for Canadians.  A travel advisor can help you choose the right ship and itinerary, and navigate the details to ensure your cruise to one of the world's newest cruise destinations is all you dreamed.

 

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Celebrate Music and Modern Architecture in Hamburg

The landmark, modernist Elbphilharmonie, designed by 'starchitects' Herzog & deMeuron, has opened its doors at last this month. The complex adds three world-class concert halls, a hotel, and a public area with a panoramic view to the city famously associated with the music of Mahler, Brahms and the Beatles.

Hamburg is Europe's second largest port.  It handles large, ocean-going ships, so it's considered a seaport, even though it's nearly 70 miles (110 km) inland from the North Sea on the Elbe River at its confluence with 2 other rivers.

The Elbphilharmonie is in a unique location in Hamburg’s historic port.  It's part of Europe’s largest inner-city urban revitalization project, in direct proximity to the Speicherstadt warehouse district UNESCO World Heritage site. 

In location, in design, and in function, the Elbphilharmonie serves as a symbol of the city’s past, present and its future.

Spectacular Architecture

The renowned Swiss architecture firm Herzog & deMeuron designed the exciting structure to perch on top of a brick warehouse that used to store tea, tobacco and cocoa arriving from abroad. 1700 reinforced concrete piles support the modernist, glass structure, whose wave-like roofline rises above the water of the port that surrounds it on three sides.

The Plaza is the area that links the warehouse and the new structure, and it's the central meeting place in the Elbphilharmonie. There's a viewing platform here that's open to the public. Even getting to it is an experience: an 82-metre-long (over 250 foot-long) curved escalator transports visitors through the building. Once you get there, you have a stunning panoramic view over the city and port of Hamburg.


The heart of the Elbphilharmonie is the spectacular, Grand Concert Hall. 2,100 seats are arranged around a centrally located stage, designed to remind you of visits to terraced vineyards. Amazingly, no member of the audience is seated more than 30 metres (about a hundred feet) from the conductor. Being so unusually close to the action turns this new acoustic space into a place of unforgettable musical encounters.

In order to achieve optimum acoustics, the architects developed a special wall and roof structure together with internationally renowned acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota. 10,000 individually shaped fibre panels cut with millimetre precision ensure targeted sound distribution that reaches you in every corner. For the Grand Hall, the German organ builder Klais developed an extraordinary concert hall organ with 4,765 pipes that are located in, next to and even behind the audience stands.

A Boundless Music Experience

In addition to the one-of-a-kind Grand Hall, the complex includes the acoustically outstanding, wood paneled Recital Hall and The 'Kaistudios', the Elbphilharmonie’s interactive music education area for people of all ages. The 'Kaistudios' are also home to the new 'Elbphilharmonie World of Instruments': diverse workshops in which children and adults can try out instruments from all over the world.

Are you thinking this all sounds fantastic, but you really aren't a fan of classical music? Don't fear: there's a line up of concerts and performances that not only include orchestral and operatic performances with the best orchestras in the world; piano, string quartet and German 'lieder'; but also world music, popular, and even electronic music.   Music for every fan, and a reflection of a city that not only supported famous composers, but also has had a world-celebrated club scene since the earliest days of the Fab Four.

They call it 'a perfect symbiosis of architecture and music'.  We agree.  The new Elbphilharmonie highlights Hamburg on the map of must-see global destinations for lovers of music and celebrated modern design.

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Snuggle in an Igloo in the Alps in Switzerland

Igloos aren't a central feature of Switzerland's picturesquely traditional alpine culture. Scenic, snow-capped mountains, check.  Sophisticated ski chalets, check. Meadows with dairy cattle, check.  The famous cheeses and milk chocolate they produce, check and check.

But a mountain in central Switzerland also has the unique atmosphere of high-design 'igloos' as part of its winter experience.

Stockhorn mountain towers seven thousand feet high, with a restaurant near the peak reached by cablecar, hiking trails, and views of the surrounding Alps and lakes below. On the shores of one of the lakes, an 'igloo village' springs up, just for the winter months: December through March.

Three thousand working hours of muscle power, snow plowing, balloons and enthusiasm go into the ice hotel/ 'iglus' as they call them.  Igloos are interconnected and themed, with elaborate, fantastical ice/snow carvings by international artists, and warmly rustic chic décor.

Up to 14 people can stay at the hotel – imagine booking the whole place for a group of friends or even a company retreat!

Nothing says 'team building'  or 'family fun' like an igloo building workshop. 

 But there's also the family igloo and even the romantic igloo.  Snuggling under the covers is bound to cement feelings of warmth.

Yes, that's a wedding proposal made out of ice. How romantic is that?

Cocktails at the bar, fondu dinners, mulled wine, mini film festivals, they'll all keep you warm indoors.

Outdoors, around Lake Hinterstocken, you can fill your days ice fishing, snow tubing, winter hiking and snowshoeing, playing hockey… or even relaxing and soaking up the winter sun in a lounge chair.

Stockhorn has half a dozen sister 'igloo-villages' throughout the country, so as long as the weather cooperates, you can add a night in an igloo to your winter trip to the Swiss Alps.

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Opening Weekend for Germany's Christmas Markets

So many of our modern Christmas traditions hail from Germany (via England, thanks to Queen Victoria's German husband, Prince Albert); for a real injection of the spirit of Christmas, no better place to go than the source. Plus, Germans are nothing if not sticklers for authenticity – no plastic or made in China items. Only genuine evergreen branches, music, food, drink and shopping traditions allowed!

Lynn Elmhirst, BestTrip.TV's producer and host, shares her tips for visiting Germany's Christmas markets.

When to go:

Markets are traditionally open during Advent, the last four weeks before Christmas, ending Christmas Eve, the day most Germans celebrate. This year, Advent begins Sunday, November 27th; many opening ceremonies are the Friday before the first Sunday. One more tip about when to go: for an extra special experience, visit in the evening – when twinkling lights, bonfires and torches kindle the magic and spirit of the season and transport you back to the ancient origins of this winter festival.

What to eat and drink:

The fir branch-draped, traditional wood stalls include the best German standards: hot sausages, pretzels, and beer, plus the seasonal delights: hot, mulled 'gluhwein'; stollen, a particularly addictive fruit bread; gingerbread or lebkuchen.

And marzipan, oh, the glorious marzipan. Forget the icky, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth goo slathered on top of cheap fruitcakes here at home. Once you taste the real thing, you just can't get enough. Marzipan in Germany isn't just for cake topping. It comes formed in all shapes. Look for the quirky Christmas traditional 'marzipan kartoffeln' – marzipan 'potatoes', little marzipan balls dusted with coco to look like… miniature potatoes. Other shapes are delightful, hand painted confections – a favorite in southern Germany is little pigs, a symbol of good luck. Take some home for gifts! I would love forever anyone who put marzipan kartoffeln in my stocking!

What to buy:

Markets are laden with high quality, and often, artisan-crafted German Christmas traditional items like nutcrackers, ornaments, religious items and toys, toys, toys.

You are going to want to buy the unparalleled handmade glass ornaments and you are going to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how and if you can get them home safely. Sheepskin slippers and mittens, and lots of boiled wool. I admit to an obsession with boiled wool, a northern European tradition I can indulge easily at Germany's Christmas markets, buying myself and loved ones hats, mittens, vests, jackets and more with a European design flair you don't find at home. Every market also has local specialties like the iconic blue and white china in Dresden, in everyday and Christmas designs.

How to get there:

Any trip to Germany during Advent and up to Christmas Eve gives you the opportunity to visit the local Christmas market. Land tour companies and river cruise companies offer Christmas market specialty tours this time of year that take you to multiple Christmas markets so you can compare the atmosphere, food and shopping. A Christmas market cruise on the Danube, for example, could include flying into Frankfurt and visiting its market before your cruise, and sailing to both Nuremburg's (possibly the most famous) town square market and Regensburg, in the castle grounds.

Even 'grinches' discover genuine Christmas good cheer in the historic, traditional atmosphere of Germany's Christmas markets. And lovers of the season add to cherished memories of Christmas celebrations.

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Our 'Plan a Cruise Month' Smorgasbord of Offers

Mark it on your calendar. October is 'Plan a Cruise Month'. 

This is the time of year when the world's top cruise lines introduce some of their best offers of the year.

And with the nights getting chillier, thoughts of getting away this winter to the Caribbean's turquoise waters, exotic Polynesia, or fun loving Australia leap to mind.  Or an expedition of a lifetime to South America or Galapagos. And there's always Europe and the elegant Mediterranean in the spring.

There's a smorgasbord of cruise offers available right now, so if you were thinking of a romantic escape, a family or multi-generation holiday, an expedition cruise of a lifetime, even an employee incentive trip or a group getaway with your club, here's our round up of some of the best offers available.

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Why We Love River Cruising in Europe

We love river cruising. Like all cruise travel, it's a hassle-free way to navigate to multiple destinations and get an overview of a region. You unpack once, really settling in to your ship environment like a home away from home.

River cruise ships are small – almost by definition. They're restricted to the size of a ship that can navigate the rivers and canals and locks of Europe. Depending on the itinerary and the water levels, you may even see the wheelhouse on the top deck of the ship ingeniously lowered to make it under bridges!

Photo courtesy: BestTrip.TV

So, while modern river cruise ships feel surprisingly spacious, much like boutique hotels, you won't find extravagances like climbing walls or Broadway shows. There's usually one main restaurant, and sometimes, a much smaller alternative dining room in an aft area normally devoted to a lounge, or near the main dining room, or on the top deck for alfresco dining. Sommeliers offer wine tastings and sometimes even tasting dinners with local wines.

In direct support of local culture and economies, local performers and even artisans are scheduled to share their talents during sailing time. They literally bring their culture on board the ship in an intimate setting that fosters interaction between guests and the talented locals.

But for us, the true enchantment of river cruising is that rivers are at the heart of Europe, weaving through not just the major cities, but also the scenic rural areas and picturesque small towns between them. Historically, rivers were the best – sometimes only! – way to travel between communities. Most European cities started and were built from the river.

Photo courtesy: BestTrip.TV

In many ways, river cruising is the way Europe was meant to be seen; one of the most authentic ways to experience its diverse regions.

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Swiss Summer Sips

In the heat of the summer, even cooler regions of Europe look for ways to beat the heat.

Switzerland may be famous for chocolate and cheese, green meadows and snowy alps... but even they have some secrets to quench your thirst in the summer:

Mountain Fountain Water.

You might not want to try this anywhere else in the world, but in Switzerland you can drink the water flowing from fountains – in the mountains AND in cities. Bern has over 100 fountains, Zurich boasts 1,200. Unless there’s a sign that says not for drinking, the water is safe to drink. Not just safe, but delicious!  Its source is usually the Swiss Alps – the source of much of the expensive bottled water around the world – or some other pristine body of water, which Switzerland has plenty of. And the best thing: It's free. You just need an empty bottle.

Apple Juice from Thurgau.

The apple is the most popular fruit in Switzerland. The Swiss harvest 140'000 tons of apples each year – most of it in the cantons Vaud, Valais and Thurgau. Due to the apple growing and its shape the latter is known as "Mostindien" (Cider India). On the Mostindien tour you can discover apple adventures and delicacies – like the apple juice spritzer "Shorley", produced by "Möhl", a typical cider and juice mill.

Gazosa from Ticino.

This traditional drink evokes the feeling vacationing in the South.  Gazosa Ticinese is a traditional beverage with modern style. Bottled in a small town near Bellinzona since 1921, Gazosa has never lost its charm, and in fact, is enjoying a revival, with it becoming increasingly popular north of the Alps.  In any stylish bar or restaurant, you will find a line-up of these charming glass bottles with metal lids and retro/ hipster styling. Flavors include anything from lemon to raspberry. But for the original taste, order "La Fiorenzana" with bitter orange flavor.

None of these delicious summer sips is exported outside of Switzerland, so you'll have to book a trip there to enjoy.

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13 Nights / 14 Days to discover India visiting: Delhi, Varanasi, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur & Mumbai.  

Have a look at some of the places you'll see on our pinterest board:  https://www.pinterest.com/toddrct/india/

Click the picture to get a downloadable flyer.

 

So Much Greatness! India Travel Planner and Itineraries. Come into the office and pick one up. Air Canada direct flights to Delhi in partnership with the India Tourism Board and Tourcan Vacations. read more

Big Savings on the popular tours.  Call us to book  519 763 3520

See the full page and download a copy here:  https://www.drive.google.com/insightHOT

See the full page and download a copy here:  https://www.drive.google.com/insightHOT

Check out the itineraries online - https://www.insightvacations.com/ca/destinations/europe

 

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5 farmers markets you need to check out in Amsterdam  If you are in the city, you have already realized how expensive it is to eat out. If you are yet to travel, then today is your lucky day. You will learn how to save on your food budget. Listed below are the top farmers markets in Amsterdam. read more
SALE 11 DAY China Tour March 9 - 19, 2014. We have a few extra seats we need to sell on our China Tour Mar 9 - 19, 2014. We have negotiated a very good rate to help fill this tour. See Shanghai, Suzhou, A Ride on the Maglev Train, a Cruise on the Huanhpu River, Terracotta Army, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Beijing, The Great Wall, Ming Tombs, Summer Palace, and Temple of Heaven! read more
Supplier Event Night - January 29, 2014 Join us on January 29th to watch some of our great travel partners give presentations. See whats coming for 2014! read more
October 28, 2013 HOT DEALS Check out today's HOT Deals for put together by our Carlson Wagonlit Team. All pricing is PER PERSON, subject to availability and not guaranteed until paid for. On the home page is our online booking tool, where you can look at and book vacation packages. Click the hotel name to get an overview of the property. read more