InStyle Vacations's Blog

Great memories and stories are wonderful mementos of your Caribbean vacation, even photos to share with your friends. Even better if you can share those memories at home along with some flavor of the islands.  Here are some tips to help you shop.

Rum

Where to buy: Barbados, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Cayman Islands and more

If the taste of the tropics for you is a rum cocktail, you won't want to miss a tasting in the islands, and the opportunity to bring home a bottle you might not be able to find at home. 

Many, many islands grow their own sugar cane and produce their own brands of rum, each claiming subtle variations in flavor, color and strength as a result of local growing conditions, production, and ageing techniques.   Tradition holds that the first rum in the islands was produced in Barbados, so if you're a purist planning a rum odyssey, put a rum tour of Barbados on your bucket list.

Another rum experience not to be missed is the tasting tour of the world's largest, family-owned producer of spirits, Bacardi, in Puerto Rico.   Watch our BestTrip.TV video, above, where we meet the head of the Bacardi family today, and learn how to make a classic rum cocktail.

Or put on your scuba gear to discover the one place in the world it might be ok to 'drink and dive' (not really).  Seven Fathoms Rum, a distiller in the Cayman Islands ages its rum in casks in a secret location underwater off the coast – at exactly seven fathoms deep - where they say there are perfect, consistent ageing temperatures for out of this world rum.  But you'll have to taste it to decide.

Coffee

Where to buy: Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti.

If the best part of your day is your first cup of coffee, you won't want to miss the local coffee on some of your favorite Caribbean islands.

Jamaica's Blue Mountain coffee is the best known Caribbean coffee, with a history dating back hundreds of years, and an ideal climate on the steep, shaded slopes of the country's Blue Mountains at elevations between 1500 and 5000 feet.  Slow-ripening in the shade, picked by hand on the steep, treed slopes, Blue Mountain coffee isn't cheap.  But it's considered one of the world's most premium coffee varieties, its name protected by government regulation like wine regions are protected elsewhere. Many plantations keep their operations private, but a few offer tours and tastings.  Plus you'll enjoy the cool air high in the mountains, in contrast to the heat on the beaches.

Extend your Blue Mountain coffee drinking well into the evening with a sip of Tia Maria liqueur, made from Blue Mountain coffee.  

Coffee Plantation in Puerto Rico. Photo Credit

There are other coffee producing islands, too. Puerto Rico is a leading world producer of coffee, especially in the South-Western mountains. And both countries on the island of Hispaniola: the Dominican Republic and Haiti, also produce their own uniquely-flavored coffees.  In the Dominican Republic, most coffee growing takes place in the mountainous region above Jarabacoa.  While Haiti is a less-developed tourist destination, visitors to Royal Caribbean's port of call at its Labadee resort can support local co-op coffee growers by purchasing local coffee on your cruise.

Cigars

Where to buy: Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Barbados

There's no better way to make a relaxing vacation linger than a souvenir box of cigars.  It's been said the real luxury of cigars is not so much the cost of even the priciest cohiba.  It's the time it takes to properly, leisurely smoke a lengthy cigar.  In a world where time is increasingly money, investing the time to smoke a cigar may be the ultimate luxury.

The image of sultry young women rolling cigars on their thighs in days of yore in Cuba is still a part of the mystique of cigar culture.  When Cuba became cut off from the rest of the world, other Caribbean producers had their chance to shine. 

Cigar tobacco field in Cuba. Photo Credit

Aficionados consider cigars to be like fine wine: each tobacco region has its own 'terroir'.  In cigar 'tasting's, you are introduced to the subtleties contributed by the unique soil, minerals, light and variety to the unique flavor of cigars from different Caribbean islands.

You can tour tobacco plantations and cigar factories (where, advance warning, attractive young women do NOT roll cigars on their thighs) in rural areas of the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Barbados and yes, still Cuba.

Start your Trip!

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Silversea's 'Celebrity' Culinary Partnership

By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host BestTrip.TV

These days, celebrity chefs and cruise lines sail hand in hand.  Silversea's interpretation of luxury cruising is an understated elegance where service and attention to detail are primary.

The Silver Muse at anchor in Paraty, Brazil (Photo: BestTrip.TV)

So it's no surprise that Silversea's culinary partnership is not with a famous chef with a flamboyant TV show.  Instead, Silversea partnered with Relais & Chateaux, a world-wide association long dedicated to the highest culinary and hospitality arts for travelers in the know.

Table settings in La Dame on board the Silver Muse (Photo: BestTrip.TV)

If you're a dedicated foodie and traveler, Relais & Chateaux should be on your radar.  The association began in France decades ago, launched by a boutique hotelier/restaurateur to unite other independent boutique hotels with peak standards in local cuisine and fine living.  Today, it's the most prestigious hotel/culinary association in the world.  500 member landmark hotels and restaurants are united by a shared commitment to outstanding fine dining and their unique interpretation of the Art of Living.

Relais & Chateaux hotels/restaurants can be found in 64 countries around the world… and at sea, only on Silversea cruises. So the seven seas can be added to the dozens of countries where Relais & Chateaux' kitchens and dining rooms pay exquisite attention to ingredients, technique and flavors for the delectation of travelers.

Imagine: Silversea's expedition cruises to the world's polar regions mean the cruise line brings the only Relais & Chateaux restaurant to Antarctica!

Where art meets marzipan.  (Photo: BestTrip.TV)

Silversea works with the 'Grands Chefs' honored by Relais & Chateaux to offer their signature dishes on board Silversea ships.  In addition, one restaurant on Silversea, La Dame, is the only Wine Restaurant by the association at sea.  What a perfect combination: sailing to some of the world's great wine regions and dining in a restaurant that celebrates those wines with six-course menus of inspired French cuisine.

Lobster and Caviar and Leeks, oh my! (Photo: BestTrip.TV)

Our recent cruise on the Silver Muse from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro gave us the perfect opportunity to experience Silversea's unique version of Relais & Chateaux.   Argentine wines were the toast of the hour during a wine tasting in La Dame.  And we chose to celebrate our final evening on board the ship at La Dame with an array of exquisite wines and dishes that brought our Silversea experience to a crescendo.

Watch the video to join our experience in Silversea's La Dame Relais & Chateaux restaurant as well as 7 other unique restaurants on the Silver Muse.

BestTrip.TV hard at work... even at dinner in La Dame. (Photo: BestTrip.TV)

Start your Trip!

 

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Love Your Wine? You'll Love This Airline Perk

Alaska Airlines is giving wine the VIP treatment.  If you're a Mileage Plan member departing from West Coast wine destinations including airports in California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington states, you can – get this – check an entire case, yes a case of up to 12 bottles, of wine for free.

Wine Flies Free from 29 West Coast cities on Alaska Airlines. The program debuted in 2007 to enable passengers to transport wine from Sonoma/Santa Rosa, and Alaska Airlines has now nearly doubled participating departure airports.

Participating Wine Flies Free Cities:

California

Idaho

Oregon

Washington

Burbank*

Boise

Eugene

Bellingham*

Fresno*

Lewiston

Medford

Pullman*

Los Angeles*

 

Portland

Seattle*

Monterey*

 

Redmond

Spokane*

Oakland*

 

 

Wenatchee*

Ontario*

 

 

Pasco

Orange County*

 

 

Walla Walla

Palm Springs*

 

 

Yakima

Sacramento*

 

 

 

San Diego*

 

 

 

San Francisco*

 

 

 

San Jose*

 

 

 

San Luis Obispo

 

 

 

Santa Barbara*

 

 

 

Santa Rosa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Indicates new cities being added to the program.

And it's spreading the word with local wineries and regional winemaker associations as well as wine country destinations. So you can indulge yourself in the rich wine and culinary experiences all along the West Coast, and take home a whole case of terrific memories. Without having to figure out costly shipping.

Instead, your wine flies with you.  There's no charge to become a member of Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan, and anyone who's signed up can take advantage of the Wine Flies Free program.  Wine bottles have to be sealed and packed properly in a protective shipping container.  But customer service agents help make sure your wine is ready for take off.

How far can your wine fly?  Don't let the name Alaska Airlines deceive you. Together with Virgin America and its regional partners, Alaska Airlines flies to more than 115 destinations across the United States and to Mexico, Canada and Costa Rica.

So you and your new favorite West Coast wine can go far together.

Start your Trip!

 

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5 Reasons To Love Your Suite Butler on a Silversea Cruise

If you've never sailed on Silversea Cruises before, two elements of this special luxury cruise experience make it stand apart. 

This is the only cruise line that provides its famous Butler service in every suite on the ship, where the staff-to-guest ratio is nearly one to one.  If you're trying to picture how that level of service – and butlers! - translate to your experience, here are 5 reasons we loved our Suite Butlers when we sailed recently on the Silver Muse.

By Lynn Elmhirst, Producer and Host, BestTrip.TV

In-Suite Dining and Entertaining

Nothing is too complex or too tiny a detail for your Silversea butler.  A simple cup of tea in the early morning hours so I could enjoy the unique pleasure of inhaling sea air and watching the waves pass by was a perfect Silversea moment thanks to my butler. (All photos BestTrip.TV)

Dining and entertaining in-suite is such a pleasure on the Silver Muse.  Spacious suites have living areas that open out onto your balcony. Perfect for pre-dinner cocktails and canapés with friends. 

Our butler made that happen.  He ensured our in-suite bars were stocked to our individual preferences of wine, champagne, spirits and mix.  He delivered canapés for pre-dinner aperitifs and extra cocktail, wine, and champagne glasses. Which magically had disappeared by our return after dinner.

One of our group had brought a certain snack on board when we arrived.  He finished the package but didn't mention it.  His butler not only noticed… but replaced it with a fresh package from the ship's stores. Observation meets the service of anticipation.

Polished Sunglasses…

Returning on board the ship a bit worse for wear after a day in port called for a freshen up in my suite's full marble bath before dressing for dinner.  When I returned to my suite after dinner and the evening's entertainment, what did I find? 

The sunglasses smudged with the day's sunscreen had received the butler treatment.  My butler had polished my sunglasses and left them wrapped in a polishing cloth I took with me on the next port of call.

… And shoes

Then formal evening arrived.  Ladies and gentlemen took the opportunity to celebrate life, Silversea-style, by dressing for the evening.  That morning, my butler brought my tea and reminded me it was formal evening.  Would I need anything pressed to wear for dinner?  No, my dress traveled well.   Perhaps he could polish my formal shoes?  Well that was a splendid idea. 

I returned to my suite to dress for dinner to find them polished and presented in tissue in my closet.  A perfect kick-off to the evening!

White-Gloved Service

The white-gloved service didn't end there.  Particularly on formal evening.  Butlers stood poised in hallways outside suites ready for service, wishing guests a fine evening and even offering an escort to dinner.  The hospitality is not limited to the ladies! 

When you cruise on Silversea, don't be surprised to find yourself forming quite a bond with your suite butler. The best of them bring a genuine personal kindness and deep caring to their work as butler.  It is the person you will have the most contact with, and often a wonderful personal connection.

Suitcases and Packing

In a lovely gesture on the day before our cruise came to a close,  my butler offered to help me pack.  I'm pretty independent and couldn't bring myself to accept that assistance.  I was delighted to return to my suite to find my suitcase set out  for me with this note.  My butler had cleaned my suitcase, freshening it up in anticipation of packing and sending me on my way.

Those are just 5 ways we realized we couldn't live without our Silversea Suite Butler.  You'll have your own butler moments, too.

We all have our special memories of our Silversea cruise, where the hardest part... was saying goodbye to our butlers.

Rio's annual pre-Lent extravaganza, Carnaval is the highlight of Rio's – and the party world's – calendar. It runs every year in the 5 days leading up to Ash Wednesday, culminating on Mardi Gras.  But not everyone can make it to the throbbing excitement of Carnaval in that short window.  

If you missed what many consider the sexiest party on the planet, not to worry.

BestTrip.TV can give you an insider's view of Carnaval.  Join us for a rare, behind-the-scenes experience with our fellow guests on this Silversea Grand Voyage exclusive shore excursion to one of Rio's top Samba Schools.

For Silversea's Grand Voyage guests, a one-of-a-kind Carnaval experience immerses us in all the elements of Rio's renowned celebrations:

Floats are the centerpieces of Carnaval.  Samba Schools build their floats in total secrecy – even from other members of their own Samba School. That makes the access we and our fellow guests have to the float-in-the-making extraordinary. The competition between Rio's Samba Schools is so extreme, not a whisper of each Samba School's new theme can leak out.  Each year, the Samba School parade entry tells a different story, and the installations, mechanisms and very glittery art  - provide the framework for the story. The countless sequins, glitter, feathers and sparkly paint make the floats surreal.

Costumes outshine even the floats, if that's possible.  Parade floats are escorted through Rio's Sambadrome by hundreds and even thousands of costumed dancers, musicians and other performers. Perhaps it's the extraordinary contradiction of so much glitter and shine… and so much skin at the same time. Rio's Carnaval costumes differ from other Mardi Gras celebrations around the world (like Venice or New Orleans) in one key way: they are notoriously sexy. This is the birthplace of the thong and dental floss bikini after all.  Not every costume is skimpy on fabric – they are wondrous, hand-made creations, and we and our fellow guests get to play dress up with genuine Carnaval costumes.

Cocktails make everything more fun, and the Carnaval experience is no exception. Cachaca (pronounced ka-CHA-sa) is Brazil's local sugarcane spirit, this country's answer to rum. Caipirinhas are the mojito of Brazil and help make this experience into a party.

Samba may be the most uniquely Brazilian aspect of Rio's Carnaval. The local music and dance, with roots in the country's African slaves, shaped by poor urban neighborhoods of more recent years, is a great symbol of the diversity, unity and democracy of the country today. Not to mention being one of the most throbbing, sensual, irresistible rhythms in the world. To the beat of the drums, cowbells, and whistles of musicians, we get into the spirit of Samba.  Spoiler alert: you may need to be born dancing samba to do the incredible music justice.

Parade time is the culmination of a year of Carnaval preparations. Rio has even built its incredible Sambadrome parade ground, lined by stands and VIP booths.  They don't prevent anyone from dancing along with the Samba School entries though.  And naturally, our own Silversea Carnaval experience culminates in a 'mock' Carnaval parade.

It's an overnight in Rio we'll never forget.

Plus, the Carnaval Experience supports the Youth Samba School that educates thousands of kids in the community.   Join us in celebrating Brazil's famous five-day party!

 

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Tips to Shake Up March Break Family Travel

It isn't too late to book a March break.  Travel brings families together and the change of pace and location lets everyone do a mid-winter re-set. There are amazing family vacations to take together in March, and you don't have to do the same-old, same-old trip.  Here are some ideas for March Break 2.0.

Beach

We all love great all-inclusive beach vacations for simplicity and value.  Shake it up this year and get off the much-beaten path.  You can take baby steps. If you usually travel to one of the big three: the Dominican Republic, Mexico or Cuba, try one of the others.  Each country has a rich and distinctive culture and lifestyle you'll want to make sure you enjoy outside of your resort.

Or you could take a bigger step and avoid the massive influx to the most popular destinations. Instead, opt for destinations you can reach by a regularly scheduled flight that gives you greater flexibility of scheduling than a once-a-week charter.  Smaller islands or Central American destinations like Costa Rica or Panama (Photo credit, top) have terrific resorts and all-inclusives, including some of your favorite brands. Plus you'll have a completely different and memorable beach vacation experience.

The aqua park on the MSC Seaside

Cruise

What's better than unpacking once and getting to enjoy a taste of different Caribbean destinations? Family-focused cruise ships have something for everyone, with fantastic water parks, adventure activities, multiple pools and hot tubs, spas, name-brand entertainment nightly and culinary partnerships that bring the flavors of celebrity chefs to your plate daily.  Plus designated programs to keep babies to teens loving life at sea, safely freeing up parents (and extended family members like grandparents and aunts and uncles) to relax and enjoy their holiday and grown up company when they wish.  

If you live in the East or North-East, don't overlook the cruises departing from eastern ports like New York that sail south to warmer waters.  You may be able to drive to the port, using your savings for a stateroom upgrade, or on-board or shore excursion treats.

Urban

Who says March break has to be by the pool? Or even in the sun? This is one of the best value times of the year to take the family to Europe.  Not to mention missing line ups at famous museums and attractions.  Closer to the Mediterranean, you'll still be able to enjoy a climate that is much more pleasant than a Northern American winter, along with the fantastic cuisine and culture of the continent.

Bilbao, Spain's Guggenheim Museum. Photo Credit

Packages to North American cities are great options, too. Sports or culture in the North East, or the warmth of some West Coast or Southern sun.

Mountain

Or celebrate winter.  If your family loves the snow and winter activities, treat them to a new mountain destination.  Packages that include accommodations and passes, even equipment rentals so you can leave the gear at home and take that flight to a new destination where the hills present new challenges and après ski activities, make it easy and bring your family closer together.

This might be the ultimate family ski vacation. The Sound of Music's Von Trapp family ended up in Stowe, Vermont, where you can stay at their lodge.  Photo Credit

Exotic

Is your family the adventurous type, or have you been waiting to give them that once-in-a-lifetime travel experience?  You don't need to wait. Tours to the Galapagos, Easter Island, the fjords of South America, India's Golden Triangle, an African safari or the Outback…you can see all these places in March. The world is your oyster and you'd be amazed at what you can see and experience in the time allotted by March break.

Elephants near Mt. Kilimanjaro, Kenya.  Photo Credit

The best part is – you don't have to figure it all out yourself. Travel advisors have inside tracks to tours and packages and insights that ensure your vacation is everything you want it to be… as well as a break for you.

Start your Trip!

 

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Kung Hei Fat Choy! 

The Lunar New Year celebrations may be the largest global festival. A billion Chinese, plus people of Chinese descent as well as other Asian countries and communities around the world follow age-old practices to ensure another year of good fortune and prosperity. Lunar calendars have the New Year falling on different dates in February or March and celebrations take over small communities and Asia's largest urban centers.

BestTrip.TV was lucky enough to be filming in Hong Kong during Chinese New Year.  Here's how we  - and you – can get into the spirit of the Lunar New Year.

By Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip.TV

Seeing Red

Colors have strong associations in Chinese lore, and red is one of the best. Red is the color of good fortune.  The more of this hue in your life as you welcome another year, the luckier you'll be – or so they say. That's why you see so much red associated with Chinese culture, and especially at Chinese New Year.  Seasonal markets are laden with items in red and other auspicious colors and significance.

Photo Credit

Do as we did: pack your red dress, or tie or pocket square (we even heard there's special red CNY lingerie) to wear to celebrations to draw that good fortune towards you for the coming year.

Gold/yellow is associated with royalty and status, so it's no surprise it's often paired with red as the most auspicious color combination.  Don't hold back on gold jewelry!

Deck the Halls

I admire the practical aspect of conscientious housekeeping in one CNY tradition: sweeping away bad spirits and luring good spirits into your home with a good scrubbing. Then double down on your good fortune in the coming year by decorating.  You'll see endless red banners and lanterns of course, bouquets of red flowers.  But keep your eyes open for one other charming practice: bringing orange, tangerine, or their miniature version, kumquat trees into the home. 

Photo Credit

This tradition is said to have evolved from a play on the words for orange and tangerine sounding like the words for luck/prosperity.  Exactly what you're looking for on CNY.  In addition, their yellow/orange color also resembles gold.  In compact homes and apartments, a potted, table-top kumquat fits the bill.  In larger public spaces, restaurants and grand hotels, pairs of elegantly potted, sculpted orange or tangerine trees flank entryways during Chinese New Year.

Give and Receive

Sometimes, you'll see red envelopes with gold letters and trim tied to the branches of those orange trees.  Enclosing gift money in red paper is intended to bestow extra wishes for good fortune on the recipient, so the cultural significance of the red envelopes is the red paper, which amplifies the value and blessings of any money inside. 

Photo Credit

For that reason, if you are fortunate enough to receive a red envelope, you accept it ceremoniously with both hands and do not open until later.  Red envelopes are exchanged among family members, but employers often use the last day before CNY holidays as an occasion to thank and share best wishes with employees. 

When we were lucky enough to be visiting Hong Kong during Chinese New Year, and our hosts kindly offered us lai see, we felt very touched to be included almost like family.

Set off Fireworks

While many Lunar New Year practices attract good spirits, it's equally important to keep the evil ones away.  According to folklore, loud noises are ideal to scare away evil spirits.  That's become a tradition of setting off fireworks.  People go to markets and buy vast quantities of individual fireworks, and CNY community fireworks extravaganzas have become legendary. 

Hong Kong's CNY fireworks take place over Victoria Harbour with its spectacular skyline backdrop.  Take a look at the video at the top, you'll be breathless too!

Take in a Lion Dance

Any day is a good day when you get to experience a playful, whimsical lion dance.  They wink and flirt shamelessly with the crowd… and naturally bring good luck and fortune at Chinese New Years.  The lion's movements are performed by a two person team head and tail and have their roots in martial arts. Some include a sequence to 'pluck the greens': performing amazing feats of performance and athleticism to reach an auspicious bunch of lettuce tied with a red envelope that's dangled in front of the lion like a lure.

Photo Credit

These were our experiences in Hong Kong, and there are many other Lunar New Year celebrations to explore in China, other South-East Asian countries, and their communities around the world. 

Make sure you have good fortune in the coming year by joining in!

 

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Two of South America's most fabled cities and a week-long cruise in luxury. That's our BestTrip.TV experience sailing on Silversea's Silver Muse from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

With overnights in both exciting ports, and sunny days at sea on Silversea's intimate 600-passenger ship, it's the South American sailing of your dreams.  Spacious and yacht-like, with more restaurants than we can experience in a week, the personal attention of an all-butler suite ship, and niceties of Italian hospitality and lifestyle that are the hallmarks of a Silversea cruise... we can't imagine a more ideal way to sample the delights of two destinations on everyone's travel bucket list. 

Start your Trip!

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Seoul'd: There's More to Korea than the Winter Olympics

The 2018 Winter Olympics remind us how exciting a travel destination Korea is.

South Korea has an enviable range of high octane urban, spectacular mountain, beach and countryside destinations, a rich history, culture and cuisine as well as a world-renowned pop culture that rank South Korea among the most unique places in Asia. Visit by land or by cruise ship; the Korean peninsula has several major ports and a long-established maritime lifestyle.

Here's a list of places you'll want to include on a trip to South Korea.

Pyeongchang

You may never have heard of Pyeongchang until it was designated host of the 2018 Winter games, but this winter resort area is a natural Winter Olympic host. Its catchy slogan is 'Happy 700 Pyeongchang', referring to the city's 700 meter (2300 foot) elevation in the Taeback mountain region east of the South Korean capital of Seoul.

Photo Credit

As you'd expect, Pyeongchang sees seasonal snow and low enough temperatures to sustain outdoor winter sports. Two resorts in the region attract skiers, boarders as well as off-season mountain hiking. They're the core of the winter games sites, which have also resulted in additional hotel and sports facilities.

Photo Credit

The Olympics brought other advances, too. A new high-speed (250 km/h or 155 mph) train now brings visitors from Seoul in less than an hour and a half. Don't spend all your time on the slopes in Pyeongchang. Take a break for your spiritual wellness at one of the area's notable and historic Buddhist temples.

Seoul

Seoul is the 4th most economically powerful city in the world, the hub of its global technology, electronics, and auto industry wealth. Like other large, wealthy Asian cities with extraordinary modernism, high-tech, high-rise Seoul can feel surreal to visitors. The center of K-pop (Korean pop music), entertainment and media, this is a city that never sleeps. (Top Photo Credit)

Photo Credit

Seoul is land-locked and surrounded by mountains. The city was established on the Han river 2000 years ago, and has been Korea's capital for over six centuries. Korea's west-coast port of Incheon is right next door; if your Asia cruise has a call there, you'll be well-positioned to do some 'Seoul searching'.

Photo Credit

Seoul's neighborhoods are landmark destinations in a whirlwind city. Among the skyscrapers, neon, miles of packed arcades and landmark hotels, you'll be immersed in the lifestyle of one of the largest urban centers in the world, Korean style: chic drinks and dinners as well as upscale shopping for local and international brands.

But don't miss the historic and authentic side of Korea in Seoul. Artisan and local craft markets, the Joseon Dynasty palace complexes of traditional architecture, local festivals and religious ceremonies with celebrants in traditional dress are distinctly Korean experiences. The area is home to 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites as well its international design award-winning modern architecture.

Jeju Island

Formed by volcanic eruptions over 2 million years ago, Jeju island is the largest island off the Korean peninsula, 85 km (50 miles) south of the peninsula in the waters between Korea and Japan. Jeju's lava base limited early agriculture and resulted in a unique and pristine ecology that set Jeju apart from anywhere else on earth.

Photo Credit

It also created breathtaking lava formations including one of the biggest lava tubes in the world, nearly 9 km (over 5 miles) long and close to a hundred feet high and wide. Visitors are in awe of the full range of cave architecture like columns, benches, bridges and more. The 7.6 meter (25 foot) column of lava inside is the largest known in the world. The caves are home to exceptional wildlife, including a 30,000 strong colony of bats.

Photo Credit

Jeju is an increasingly popular resort island, with a sub-tropical, humid climate warmer than the rest of Korea and some stunning beaches. The island, historically isolated from the mainland, also has its own cultural, clothing, architectural and language traditions.

Busan

South Korea’s second biggest city, on the south-east coast of the peninsula, is also the country's largest port. Many Asian cruises call at Busan. Like Seoul, it's a fascinating combination of history and tradition on the one hand, and eye-popping ultra-modern urban lifestyle on the other. Shop til you drop at the world's largest department store, and take a wellness break at one of the city's dozens of traditional spas using natural-sourced spring water.

Photo Credit

Compared to Seoul, Busan is blessed with a warmer climate, beaches, and a maritime lifestyle including a renowned fish market, and signature seafood cuisine. Surrounding mountains provide cool air and magnificent vistas over the sea. Many Korean temples are at the tops of mountain hikes, so don't miss one spectacular exception, the Haedong Yonggung Temple on Busan's coast overlooking the Sea of Japan.

Photo Credit

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

The DMZ is a 4 km (2 ½ mile) wide no man's land between the two Koreas that spans the entire peninsula 250 km (150 miles) from sea to sea. The DMZ is a very real reminder of the conflict between the two Koreas that remains unresolved today.

Photo Credit

Don't let the name mislead you. It's called 'demilitarized', but Korea's DMZ is actually one of the most heavily armed, land-mined, barricaded and patrolled regions of the world. Tours into the DMZ bring the history of the Cold War conflict that split this country into high relief. It also soberly memorializes the lives lost and families separated as a result of the division of the country. Absent human activity in the area, several formerly endangered species have re-established footholds in the DMZ. So there's that small consolation. As an experience of military tourism and reminder of the repercussions of the Cold War that still exist today, Korea's DMZ is unlike anywhere else on the planet.

Photo Credit

The Olympic flame only burns in Korea during the games, but we hope the 2018 Winter Olympics shine a permanent spotlight on South Korea as one of Asia's most unique – and unmissable – travel destinations.

Start your Trip!

 

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France's largest port town, on the magical Mediterranean, has been transformed in recent years. 

You'll still find the charms of its Old Port, the oldest neighborhood in France, the maritime culture... but there's been a wave of revitalization and stunning builds that make this seaside city spectacular. 

On our latest visit, we fell in love with Marseille, and here are at least 3 reasons we think you'll love it too.

Start your Trip!

5 Things You Must Do At Mardi Gras

New Orleans is home to one of the world's greatest parties. 

Like other Carnival celebrations, Mardi Gras grew from the Christian practice of feasting and celebrating on 'Mardi Gras' – which means 'Fat' Tuesday - on Shrove Tuesday, just before the solemn fasting of the 40-day pre-Easter season of Lent. 

The actual dates differ every year.  Shrove Tuesday can happen during February or early March, and Carnival season begins immediately after the 12th day of Christmas, continuing up to the Eve of Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. 

Other places in the world celebrate pre-Lent, too; you've probably heard of famous Carnivals in Venice, the Caribbean, in Rio and elsewhere.  But New Orleans' Mardi Gras has its own unique character.  The city's French-Creole heritage and culture and cuisine, steamy Southern climate - and oh, that famous local jazz!  - make Mardi Gras one-of-a-kind.

Thousands of people from North America and around the world flock to Mardi Gras. Here's how to celebrate in true N'awlins style:

Feast on Fat Tuesday Food

Fat Tuesday is the one day of the year when eating fried foods is a virtue. No dieting on Mardi Gras! Sink your teeth into some of the best Creole dishes New Orleans offers. To get that local flavor, order anything on the menu with crawfish – a classic crawfish boil, crawfish bisque, or the iconic crawfish etouffee, which means 'smothered', with the local crustacean coated in a rich creamy Louisiana-seasoned sauce served over rice.   

Iconic Creole stews gumbo or jumbalaya are a must while you are in Louisiana.  For feasting on the run, a local muffuletta sandwich is the best best on the menu: where the special ingredient, olive salad, binds cured meats and cheeses in sesame dinner rolls.

Indulge your sweet tooth with the local version of beignet – or as you might call it: a traditional-recipe donut.

A Mardi Gras special sweet treat is King Cakes, often a brioche/raisin bread type ring topped in official Mardi Gras colors of green, gold and purple, and with a hidden bean or even baby Jesus statue inside. Whoever gets the bean, becomes the next Mardi Gras 'king', or party host.

Have a Ball

Krewes are social clubs of New Orleans' residents that date back to the 19th century, established to organize the famous Carnival parades and masked balls. Most major krewes follow the same parades schedule and route annually.  These days parades are too oversized to take place inside the famous French Quarter.  But they still rouse up enthusiastic spectators and toss trinkets into the crowds, including 'doubloons' – replica coins often stamped with a krewe logo – and of course beads, the symbol of New Orleans Mardi Gras decadence.

Play Dress Up

There is no Mardi Gras without the costumes. This is not a time for subtlety.  Sparkles and matching headgear and masks are the order of the day, especially in Mardi Gras' traditional colors of purple, gold and green. New Orleans Mardi Gras may lack the baroque elegance of Venice or the throbbing sensuality of bikinis and samba in Rio, but dress up you must. Mardi Gras costumes span everything from black tie at private balls, to mutant octopus costumes and Elvis impersonators, jokers and mythological figures in a surreal whirlwind of excitement.

And Dress Down

It's easy to blame the current younger generation and TV shows featuring bad behavior for the decadence of topless party-goers at Mardi Gras. But semi-nudity and even cross-dressing have a long history with the Carnival in New Orleans, at least back to the 19th century.  Women flashing from balconies in the French Quarter have long been documented crowd stoppers. The beads-for-baring-them motif is all part of the unrestrained party ambiance of Mardi Gras.

Feel the Music

Any time of the year, New Orleans is one of the greatest music capitals of the world, the birthplace and home of jazz.  Mardi Gras takes music to another level in the city, and even more than usual to the streets, where jazz music and brass instruments are joined by the latest beats and rhythms.  You won't be able to resist dancing in the streets, at parties, in hotel lobbies, at of course at any ball you are lucky enough to be invited to attend.

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40 New Ways to Score Marriott Rewards in 2018

If you're collecting Marriott Rewards points, 2018 is a very fine year.

Marriott International is launching 40 hotels across its 8 luxury hotel brands in 2018.  That's 40 new places around the world to accumulate points towards Marriott's loyalty program, from Savannah to Tel Aviv to Hobart, Tasmania.  

It's all part of a busy couple of years for the world's largest hotelier, which is opening at least one hotel every 14 hours! in a three-year period.

2018's new luxury hotels span your favorite places to see the world in the ultimate comfort with the most supreme travel experiences: The Ritz-Carlton, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, St. Regis, W Hotels, The Luxury Collection, EDITION and JW Marriott. 

The group of hotels and resorts already has a footprint in 60 countries, and with 200 more hotels in the pipeline, it's expanding to include 25 more countries, from Iceland to Cuba, from Nepal to the Philippines.

Whether you're traveling for business, leisure, or 'bleisure', a stay in one of Marriott's luxury hotels or resorts is an experience in living your best life. That may be creating a signature dish at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s Culinary Studio, prioritizing wellness tapping into on-demand fitness with JW Marriott’s Behind the Barre program, recharging in an over-water villa at The St. Regis Maldives or exploring one of the world’s most energetic cities through a W Insider.  The hotels occupy remodeled palaces, skyscrapers, and breezy beachfront escapes.

Pack your bags now for:

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel de La Paix, Geneva as well as China’s scenic Jiuzhaigou Valley, plus renovations of key properties including The Ritz-Carlton, Berlin and The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul.

The debut of the Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Los Cabos, distinguished from the Ritz-Carlton brand by an intimate, culturally immersive experience with a caring, human touch.

St. Regis Hotels & Resorts celebrates the opening of St. Regis Rome in 2018, as well as openings in destinations such as Cairo and Amman.

W Hotels, the 'luxury rebel' brand, has an unprecedented year of openings in 2018, from Tel Aviv, and Dubai to Brisbane and Panama City. (W Hotel Singapore pictured below).

EDITION – the collaboration between Marriott and boutique hotel innovator Ian Schrager – sees 7 new hotels across 3 continents in 2018. The hotel brand's timeless design, uncompromising quality, true originality and impeccable modern service, expands with two additional properties in Shanghai and Bangkok in Asia, Bodrum and Barcelona in Europe, its first outpost in the Middle East in Abu Dhabi, plus two more US properties in Times Square and West Hollywood.

The Luxury Collection's more than 100 hotels take you to some of the world's most inspiring places.  Authentic and indigenous experiences are the hallmark of the brand, which sees 10 new hotels in 2018 around the globe, including Los Cabos, Savannah, Vail and Okinawa.

JW Marriott's modern luxury finds new homes in Nashville and the Maldives, and renovates more than half of its 79 hotels and resorts, including Bangkok and Grosvenor House. (JW Marriott Venice pictured, top)

So if you have a taste for luxury, 2018 gives you 40 more ways to pad your Marriott Rewards points tally and get that much closer to indulging in more travel with the authentic, immersive, local access these luxury hotels and resorts offer their guests.

 

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Local markets are one of the greatest delights of trips to the South of France.  The glorious town of Avignon (perhaps best known for the song about its famous bridge) also has a renowned market.  In addition to exquisite regional foods and food products, the charming locals are out in full force.  Particularly the character behind the chicken counter, who's known for breaking out into the French national anthem while plucking a chicken! 

Whether you visit Avignon by land or by river cruise, don't miss the market.  And when you go, say 'bonjour' to the poultry vendor like BestTripTV did on our trip to Avignon... and see if he'll sing you the Marseillaise too!

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Shaq is the 'Chief Fun Officer' of this Cruise Line

It's not the normal career path of a company CFO.  But when CFO stands for Chief Fun Officer, it takes a unique resume to fill the role. 

For Carnival Cruise Line, Shaquille O'Neal's credentials as an NBA Hall of Famer and TV commentator - one with a famously fun outlook and larger-than-life personality – fit the bill.

The beloved former basketball star is Carnival's ambassador for its new motto 'Choose Fun'.  Shaq's already having fun, touring some of Carnival's 25 mega ships that focus on non-stop fun times and great value. Although the cruise line sails on world-wide itineraries, Carnival is most famous for sun-filled cruise vacations to the Caribbean, the Bahamas and the Mexican Riviera.

Shaq's huge popularity mirrors Carnival's.  If the sports personality is the fun face of basketball, then Carnival is the face of non-stop fun cruise travel.

Carnival Cruise Line lays claim to the title of world's most popular cruise line.  More than five million cruise travelers each year take a Carnival cruise in search of its particular brand of round-the-clock fun. It's a top choice for families and couples as well as seniors, solo travelers and multi-generation travelers.  The line carries more kids and more military personnel than any other cruise line. 

We're not sure how many play basketball, but a lot of new and returning Carnival cruisers will be inspired by Shaq's career and irresistible, playful zest for life. As Carnival's ambassador, he's already toured the Carnival Vista's attractions and experiences, including of course the basketball court.

Stay tuned for more Shaq at sea.  And stay tuned for more Carnival cruise ships.  The colossal, 133, 500-ton, Vista-class Carnival Horizon launches in Spring 2018 as Carnival's 26th ship.  And the fleet keeps getting bigger.  Another Vista-class ship, the Carnival Panorama, is due in 2019, followed by two more, even bigger ships a couple of years later.

That's a lot of fun – even for Shaq.

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7 Reasons to Go To Sea on the New MSC Seaside

MSC Cruises' new flagship launched at the end of 2017 and it's really making waves.  Designers of the MSC Seaside had a goal: to bring guests on a big ship closer to the sea.  They threw out the playbook and started fresh, creating the Seaside, a new prototype for a class of ships inspired by an elegant Miami beach condo.

Here are 7 reasons by you'll want to get onboard this new concept ship:

1. Her standout silhouette.  

It's all part of getting back to the sea.  You'll never be far from a view of the ocean on the Seaside. Three-quarters of the staterooms are ocean-facing. They include beach condo-inspired, chic aft corner suites, exclusive balcony staterooms whose private terraces overlook the ship's promenade and even modular, extended family staterooms that can be configured for groups of up to ten.

2. The waterfront boardwalk. 

It's one of the widest on any ship ever built. This extravagant, wrap-around public space takes guests strolling past al fresco bars and restaurants in an experience reminiscent of – no surprise - a chic seaside town.

3. All that Glass.  

Take a deep breath and keep strolling, over the hundred-foot long, glass-floored 'Bridge of Sighs' projecting out from the ship on the top deck 131 feet high.  You'll feel like you're walking in the air - part of the sea breeze wafting around you.

From walking on ocean breezes to walking on water.  Two, 131-foot-long catwalks with glass floors continue the theme of connecting you with the surrounding marine environment.

And there's still more panoramic glass: elevators that whisk you up and down with yet more stunning views of the sea.

4. Entertainment in the Atrium.

On most ships, a place to pass through.  On the MSC Seaside, the magnificent, three-story atrium isn't just the stylish heart of the ship. It's also an impromptu, multi-media, multi-level 'stage'.  Who knows what you'll discover: dancers and acrobats? Music? Game shows? Flash Mobs? Karaoke? Or light shows?  If you like spontaneous delight, make sure to keep the atrium on your Seaside agenda.

5. Adrenalin Rushes.

Race a friend side-by-side on two of the longest zip lines at sea, nearly 350 feet to the finish line at the back of the ship. Or spend your day super-soaked in the vast water park with 5 interactive aquatic adventures.

6. Family Time.  

Infants right through teens have their own programs that entertain the kids and free up Mum and Dad's time for much-needed grown-up relaxation.  Plus MSC has a Lego partnership that makes kids sorry to leave when the holiday is over. The Doremi Family lounge and program is where families can play together during their vacation.

7. The Luxury Ship within a Ship. 

The MSC Yacht Club is MSC's version of a 'ship within a ship' is where you can enjoy a private luxury yacht lifestyle within all the extensive choices of a 5000-passenger ship.   We love this especially for extended families; those looking for a prestigious and pampered cruise with a private sun deck, lounge and restaurant, can also join other family members or take advantage of the dining, bars, views and activities in the main part of the ship when the mood strikes.

They call the MSC Seaside the 'ship that follows the sun'.  We think this innovative new concept ship is going to gain a lot of followers itself.

Check out even more wow facts and figures about the MSC Seaside.  And check with us for MSC Seaside Caribbean sailings from Miami.

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Montreal's marquee hotel in the heart of the city has been restored to its 50's and 60's roots in a stunning makeover that marries the sexiest elements of sleek mid-century design - with some modern interpretations that take this landmark hotel to the forefront as a travel and lifestyle destination.

Pick up a dry martini and join us on a tour of the very sexy, redesigned hotel with our friend, Ulya Jensen, principal designer of Ulya Jensen Interiors.  She shares with us her favorite spaces in the newly-renovated Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel.

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Viva Versace: 4 Travel Destinations to Commemorate the Fashion Legend

Gianni Versace's dramatic and random murder over 20 years ago on the steps of his Miami home continues to capture public attention in continuous movie, TV and pop culture references.

The Italian fashion impresario changed the face of high fashion and became a symbol of popular culture, dressing 90's icons like Diana, Princess of Wales, linking the music and fashion worlds in his association with Cher, Sting, and Elton John, as well as breaking new ground as openly gay, accompanied by his partner on the international party scene.

The fashion house Gianni Versace founded became synonymous with opulent designs and vivid color, and the Greek mythological Medusa head symbol of Versace is unmistakable. Following his 1997 death, Gianni Versace's sister Donatella famously took over as the face and creative force behind Versace, so her brother's vision lives on for us to experience today.

Versace Flagship Boutique, Milan. Photo Credit

Of course you can make your way to the Versace flagship store in Milan, or other high-fashion global capitals.   But Versace is not just about shopping.  Here are 4 travel destinations where you can live the opulent Versace lifestyle.

 

Photo Credit

Miami, Florida: The Villa Casa Casuarina

 

Gianni Versace was killed on the doorstep of his Miami residence: a Mediterranean Revival mansion surrounded by the Art Deco pastel buildings on Ocean Drive in the heart of South Beach.

Before his death, Versace had added an entire new wing and a pool, restored the property, and undertook a redesign in true Versace style. After his death, the Versace Mansion was sold, and today, it's a luxury boutique hotel.

The name reflects its original identity when it was built in the 1930's – but guests at today's Villa Casa Casuarina discover many elements from Gianni Versace's restoration and redesign. It's a unique experience of the fashion figure's personal and private expression of style.

If you stay at the Villa Casa Casuarina, you can swim in the Million Mosaic Pool that Versace had lined with thousands of 24 carat gold tiles. The villa's Mediterranean Revival style dovetailed with Versace's famous Greek mythology inspiration; the pool he designed features the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon. And of course, the fashion house's Medusa emblem also makes appearances. The new owners take their stewardship of Versace's vision seriously, securing a resident artist to maintain the mosaics and frescos Versace created for the villa.

Photo Credit

Versace's former dining room is now a celebrated restaurant 'Gianni's', and the rooftop views of the ocean on the across iconic Ocean Drive are the same the designer would have enjoyed during his stays.

Gold Coast, Australia: Palazzo Versace

There are two Versace branded hotels in the world, and a third on the way.  The first Versace hotel is on Australia's beach holiday destination, the Gold Coast.  Its founders call it the world's first fashion-inspired hotel.

The concept was proposed in 1997 and was inspired by Gianni Versace's well-known love of architecture, plus the fact that Versace  - alone at that time – was the only fashion house with a home collection that covered all hotel needs from dinnerware to linens to upholstery fabric. Of course, it also had an unmistakable aesthetic synonymous with over-the-top luxury.

Since 2000, the Palazzo Versace has been a beacon of style and decadence on the Gold Coast.  The architecture pays homage to Versace's fascination with ancient Greece: a postmodern building interpreting neoclassical architecture, on an exclusive waterfront setting.

Inside, it's all Versace with bespoke furnishings, décor, ambiance, and Italian craftsmanship that respects the couture roots of the Versace brand. Award-winning restaurants, spa and wellness center, a private marina, the country's first water salon cabana lifestyle… and of course a Versace Boutique are all part of the Palazzo Versace experience.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Palazzo Versace

Dubai's epic extravagance mirrors the Versace opulence, so it's no wonder that the second Palazzo Versace was built in this extraordinary city.

Neoclassical architecture meets elegant regional Arab influences in the building's design. Three pools showcase elaborate mosaics, and landscaped gardens have glorious views of the surreal Dubai skyline.  The iconic Versace Medusa head is a constant reminder of the fashion house's influence.

Donatella Versace personally designed exclusive interior bespoke furniture, fabrics, wallpaper and décor items for the hotel, its 215 rooms and suites, and 8 restaurants and bars, each of which has an alfresco terrace, reflecting the classical, Mediterranean inspiration of the hotel, as does the internal courtyard.  Versace design is even reflected in the kids' areas.

Hand-crafted is almost an understatement: Nearly a dozen Italian artists were brought in to hand-paint designs on walls, and 1.5 million marble tiles were hand-laid to form the extraordinary lobby floor mosaic (top image).

At Sea: Regent Seven Seas Cruises

The Regent Seven Seas Explorer has been called The Most Luxurious Ship at sea, and its designers also tapped into Versace's unmistakable iconic style for the ship's signature restaurant, Compass Rose.

Photo: BestTrip.TV

As you dine on European-inspired Continental cuisine in the elegant, glittering setting, you'll be dining from Versace porcelain. Four hundred specially-designed Versace place settings are featured in Compass Rose on the Explorer, with other ships in the fleet featuring different Versace dinnerware designs and their signature Medusa head symbol.

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What is the Top Golf Travel Destination in the Asia Pacific Region?

Twice in a row, the International Association of Golf Tour Operators has named New Zealand the golf destination in Asia Pacific with the best experience for golf travelers.

Do you think of New Zealand as the golf world's hidden gem? In fact, only Scotland has more golf courses per capita in the world. This island nation has 400 golf courses ranging from ocean-front, subtropical courses in the north, to alpine terrain and vistas in the south.  So getting on the tee is never a problem. 

New Zealand loves its golf. And New Zealanders love to share golf with visitors.  Local volunteers run small country courses, and of course the country boasts exceptional world-class championship courses. 

Thinking of a trip to this golfer's paradise?  Here are 5 of New Zealands' most spectacular marquee golf courses for the ultimate golf travel experience.

Kauri Cliffs

Kauri Cliffs ranks in Golf Digest's list of the world's top 50 golf courses. Perched above the bay in New Zealand's Bay of Islands, this championship course has five sets of tees for all levels of golfers.  You'll be challenged by native rough, stands of fern and intimidating forced carries over gorges.  Four of the 18 holes run parallel to the Pacific on the top of dramatic cliffs.

The Lodge at Kauri is famous in its own right, with top-shelf accommodation and the Pacific Rim cuisine that rivals the views over the ocean.

Cape Kidnappers

This poetically-named golf course (Photo Credit: The Farm at Cape Kidnappers) in the country's famous Hawke's Bay wine region will steal any golf lovers' heart.   The course is dramatically perched on a narrow peninsula that juts into the Pacific and ranks in the top 20 of Golf Digest's list of top 50 courses.

The par 71 course is not for the faint-hearted.   Here's one description:  a “stratospheric Pebble Beach, high atop a windswept plateau some 500 feet above the sea”.  Imagine yourself taking challenging tee shots over deep canyons. And its luxury lodge is one of the country's most exclusive and talked-about resort destinations.

The Kinloch Club 

This Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course enhances the Kinloch Club's (Photo by the Kinloch Club) natural environment and is a test of true links golf.  Internationally-renowned,  this par 72 course rivals the panoramic views of New Zealand's largest fresh-water lake, Lake Taupo, and the surrounding rugged rural landscape.

The Lodge at Kinloch is just as known for golf as well as romantic couples' escapes.

Jacks Point

This 18-hole, par 72 championship course with five tee positions to choose from is an unforgettable golf experience only 20 minutes from downtown Queenstown. 

But the view is even more spectacular.  Lake panoramas and the breathtaking 2300 vertical meters of the aptly-named The Remarkables mountain range are the best possible distraction from your game.  

The natural landscape remains as part of the course architecture.  Native tussock grasslands, dramatic rock outcrops and native bush are 'par for the course' at Jacks Point on the edge of Lake Wakatipu.

The Hills

The Hills is a magnificent golf course surrounded by snow-capped mountains near Queenstown providing not only a dramatic landscape but a challenge to all golfers.

The Hills occupies a former deer farm near Arrowtown, Queenstown (image credit: Gary Lisbon). Native plants including native brown top grasses and wild mountain tussocks are preserved in the design. But there's an even more unique course design story here: sculptures crafted by New Zealand artists are integrated into the course’s lakes, waterways and wetland areas.

With a reputation that includes its position as co-host of the New Zealand Open, The Hills is a course that's a destination for both player and spectator.  So on or off the course, this will be a lasting memory of a golf trip to New Zealand.

 

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Some of the best food travel experiences don't involve white linen or Michelin stars.  A crab feast in Alaska that starts with a boat ride to collect crab pots is one of the most fresh, pure-tasting... and fun dining experiences you'll have anywhwere in the world.

Prepare to get dripping in butter and crab juice in this fun BestTrip.TV video!

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Happy Holidays

Wishing you and your loved ones the best of the season. We hope 2018 brings you happiness and new travel memories.

20 Things You Must Pack For Your Next Trip - and 1 Thing To Skip

Luggage allowances are shrinking and on many airlines, checking a bag comes at an additional cost.  So a savvy traveler only packs what's most important.

Travel Expert and BestTrip.TV Producer/ Host Lynn Elmhirst has packing down to a science. Here's what's in her bag.

The smartest travelers and frequent fliers try to never check a bag.  Not everyone can go that far. But everyone can pack smarter. 

It works both ways. Not only do you want to have everything you need, there's no worse feeling than coming home having lugged something around your whole trip and never used it.

Here's what I've learned you really do need to pack:

  1. Packing Cubes. The first time you use packing cubes, you never travel without them again. They're indispensable to keep things organized and compartmentalized in your suitcase. No random clothes spilling out of your bag if you need to open it en route!  And they save you precious holiday time: you can easily unpack at your destination, just opening up a cube and laying it in a dresser, then closing it up again and putting back in your suitcase when you move on.
  2. 3 Pairs of Shoes – 4 at the most. Believe me. No matter what your type of trip, anyone can travel successfully with 3 pairs of shoes – maximum 4, even though one of the best ways to handle tired feet from exploring all day is to CHANGE shoes so your feet still have support.  Wear your comfortable (and heaviest) shoes on the plane.  (This will keep the weight of your luggage down, too.)  One pair of 'dressier' shoes for dinners/ evenings that go with everything. Another pair of day shoes to switch out sore feet makes 3.  Maybe that 4th pair of shoes for the beach or your workout.
  3. Shoe bags.  Put all your shoes in separate bags.  Fabric shoe bags are kind to your leather shoe finish, but plastic bags will do.  They keep street/beach/jungle dirt or moisture away from your clothes.
  4. Shoe-Shine Wipes. Your shoes usually get dustier when you travel because you are walking around more. Shoe shine wipes (you can also get mini, enclosed, sponge/polish units) for any color of leather will keep you looking, well, polished for meetings or nice evenings out. 
  5. A Large Wrap/ Scarf.  Planes and trains and even hotels get chilly.  Men and women both can need a little extra something even if there are blankets on the plane.  A large, lightweight wool-type (not heavy knit) scarf/ wrap can keep you warm, and double as an evening wrap (for ladies).  Black is almost always useful.  A lightweight black cardigan sweater can do the same trick for men or women.
  6. A Small, Fold-up Umbrella.  It can protect you from both rain and blistering sun. If you get one small enough, you won't even notice it in your bag.  And it will save you the embarrassment of arriving somewhere dripping.
  7. Travel First Aid. Don't waste valuable time on your holiday hunting for solutions for minor issues. Travel with an easily-packable, small pouch containing:
    1. Your preferred over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication;
    2. Bandaids (Tip: get the ones that already contain antibiotic ointment; they help blisters heal faster);
    3. Non-drowsy travel sickness medication. I never get travel sick but I carry it to help travel companions. Preventing people getting sick around you is as much a kindness to yourself as them.
    4. Throat lozenges for dry airplanes and hotels (especially helpful if you are traveling on business and need to make a presentation or speech or... host that travel video);
    5. Help for tummy trouble (constipation or diarrhea) which can strike as a result of strange water, jet lag/different body schedules or new food;
    6. Non-drowsy OTC allergy meds as you never know when something new may trigger an unpleasant allergic reaction, and
    7. OTC sleep aid especially if you have a long, overnight flight (arriving somewhat rested will help you enjoy your travels much better than starting exhausted.)
  8. A Foldable Shopping/ Carry-all Bag.  This is one of the most useful things you can carry with you at all times – not just when you are shopping.  Carry it in your carry-on bag, then if you get to the airport and your carry-on bag ends up needing to be checked, you can pull out the foldable bag and still have something to hold essential carry on items.  Splurge: on a Longchamp Pliage bag.  It has classy leather handles and closure and very sturdy and stylish, water-resistant fabric in multiple colors. It can double as a purse or beach bag as needed but folds up to pack. Priceless.
  9. Plastic Bags. You can use plastic bags to store your wet or dirty clothes or muddy shoes.  I know a savvy traveler who always has a roll of doggy-waste bags in the bottom of their suitcase.  They are heroes to their travel companions in rainy climates.
  10. Multi-tool-plus-knife. Airline regulations still permit you to pack one in your checked luggage (but not carry-on) for emergencies.  If you're like me, you love to check out local markets and food producers.  So most of my travel 'emergencies' involve opening wine bottles and serving cheese. Splurge: on a real Swiss Army knife - it will last your whole life.  It also makes a perfect gift for a traveler in your life.
  11. Pen. It is almost embarrassing to have to remind you.  There's always someone in a line up or on a plane who needs to fill out a form and starts asking around for a pen.  Don't be that guy.
  12. Hard copies of all your travel bookings, confirmation numbers, loyalty program numbers, travel insurance, emergency contacts and local addresses, including your hotels.  The best digital solutions are only as good as the wifi that powers them.  You don't want to be stuck unable to pull up a reservation or even the name of your hotel on your phone for the taxi driver if you can't connect to the local internet.
  13. Notepad – Same thing; never be completely reliant on digital technology when you are traveling.  Names, phone numbers, names of restaurants… if your phone isn’t connected, your essential notes need to go somewhere.
  14. Flash Drive – Keep a back up soft copy of all those travel documents and reservations because paper documents can get lost, too, and your hotel will be able to let you plug into a computer (or your own laptop) to print them out again.
  15. Updated Travel Apps – Make sure you have up-to-date versions of your preferred booking apps, map apps, and language translation apps. Don't use expensive (and possibly slower) local wifi to update your apps.
  16. Smartphone / Device Battery Extender – Even if you are on your phone constantly now, chances are, when you travel you'll use it even more: more photos, more videos, map app running in the background… plus you may well find yourself away from a plug and running out of power.  Carry a battery extender you can charge nightly in your hotel, or a portable solar charger.
  17. Converter - Abroad, an electricity adapter / converter for all your electronics will keep you powered up. Spend once, use forever:  a universal unit that adapts electronics anywhere in the world. If you carry a lot of electronics, you might even want two.
  18. An extended-length smartphone charging cable.  Use your phone as an alarm clock?  Post to social media and reply to emails in bed?  Not all hotels or cruise ships yet have bedside USB charging adapters.  You may need to plug your phone in 10-12 feet from your bed.
  19. Emergency Cash.  A nice number is $250 USD or Euro depending where you're going. Or a number that makes you comfortable to cover yourself if local bank machines are down and you can't get local currency, or a restaurant won't take credit cards, or… any number of little emergencies can come up when you're traveling that cash will solve. Having an emergency stash (hidden but on hand) can save the day.
  20. Contact information of your travel professional - If bad weather or other emergencies interfere with your travel plans, your travel agent/advisor is one of your best advocates to help get you home or your problems resolved smoothly.
  21. PLUS here's a big tip about what NOT to pack:  Your most expensive watch, jewelry or sunglasses. First, many people lose things when they travel, leaving a trail of items in planes, hotels and taxis.  Second, in some destinations, pricey accessories make you a target. That's not the sign of a smart traveler.  

Start your Trip!

 

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And local fireweed and spruce tips for truly local spirits and craft cocktails.

BestTrip.TV was in port in Skagway, Alaska on our Regent Seven Seas cruise and naturally, we checked out the famous local saloon recommended by Regent's shore expert.  We are always on the hunt for 'local', and there on the bar menu:  cocktails made using local, small-batch gin and vodka. Intrigued, we asked the bartender, who drew us a map on a napkin (those are always the best maps) to find the distillery.

And off we went on a walk through town to find Skagway Spirits. We found them next to Skagway's local airport in a re-imagined hangar, distilling gin and vodka and hand-crafting local ingredient-based juices and cordials to mix with them in their fun tasting room.

The last time we turned down a crafted cocktail using local ingredients and local, hand-crafted spirits made from the first water off the local glacier was... never!  Our little adventure to find the entrepreneurial Heger family and their wonderful airport hangar distillery was one of our best memories of our trip to Alaska. 

The best news?  You don't need a happy accident to discover Skagway Spirits on your next trip to Alaska.  Now you know exactly where to find Gary, Jan and Luke Heger and their delicious spirits and cocktails.

Start your Trip!

 

 

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Sink Your Teeth Into This UNESCO Cultural Experience

When is a pizza not just a pizza?  When you're dining on a piece of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Possibly the world's most beloved comfort food, game-day dinner, kids' birthday party treat and party go-to take-out, the humble yet versatile pizza has been given UNESCO Cultural Heritage status.

But not just any pizza.  'Pizzaiuolo' is the art of traditional, Neopolitan pizza-making.  Think of it as the 'way of the pizza'. The original, home-grown-in-Naples technique was given the designation in November 2017. It is meant to safeguard and raise awareness about different forms of cultural heritage and ensure the methods and origins are preserved and passed to future generations.

Naples in Southern Italy's Campania region is the historic and spiritual home of the original pizza, where the word 'pizza' has been traced back to the 10th century. 'Modern' pizza arrived on Naples' local culinary scene about 250 years ago.  If you've been to Naples (which is itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest and most historic cities on the Mediterranean) you've certainly dined upon and heard about the importance of pizza here.  (If you haven't been to Naples and eaten the pizza there, well, add both to your travel list right now.)

Neapolitan pizza already has 'Traditional Specialty Guaranteed' status in Europe, with its own local Association (The Genuine Neapolitan Pizza Association) issuing and enforcing rules for its creation and labeling. 

Mount Vesuvius, Naples and the Mediterranean Sea. (Photo Credit)

A true Neapolitan pizza must be made with San Marzano tomatoes (that only grow on the volcanic plains of nearby Mount Vesuvius) and Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, itself a protected designation of origin cheese from semi-wild water buffalo in the region.  There are additional rules about how the dough must be made, from what flour, and include requirements that the dough be formed by hand to a thickness of no more than 3 mm (.12 inches).  After toppings are added, the pizza must be baked for less than 2 minutes in a stone oven heated by an oak-wood fire.

Pizzeria in Naples, Italy.  (Photo Credit)

The result?  A Neapolitan pizza is soft, elastic, tender and fragrant.  The Association recognizes only two authentic pies: the simple Pizza Margherita (top photo credit) that follows the traditional rules for ingredients with the addition of basil and extra virgin olive oil, and Marinara Pizza with tomato, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and oregano.   Don't even think the words 'Hawaiian' or 'Meat Lovers'.

Pizza Neapolitan joins traditional horse games of Kyrgyzstan, wind mill operations in the Netherlands,  women divers of Korea and dozens of other unique expressions of local culture registered and safeguarded by UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity program.   In other words, another reason #WhyWeTravel.

Buon Appetito!

 

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Would You Sail on an Adults-Only Cruise Line?

Sir Richard Branson is betting you will. The flamboyant billionaire behind the Virgin brands is doubling down on the reputation Virgin Air gained for uniquely fun, sexy… and grown up travel. His latest venture, Virgin Voyages, will be 'Adult by Design'.

Virgin Voyages will be the very first cruise line to be designated adults-only.  True, some other cruise lines lean towards a grown up, as opposed to kid-friendly lifestyle.  But that tends to be more about mature adults at the luxury price point, where kids are still welcome.  Not for Virgin Voyages.

You get a strong sense of what 'Adult by Design' means at Virgin Voyages when we tell you the announcement was made during what they called a 'Ship Tease'.

Branson and the cruise line CEO were delivered to the stage of the shipyard in Italy in dramatic style via a 200-foot crane drop for the traditional ceremony for the laying of the new ship's keel.  They used the occasion to announce more details about what to expect from the new cruise line and the first of its three ships launching in 2020.

Not only did the pair announce the 'Adult by Design' concept (permitting bookings for only those 18 and older) they also promised the new ship will be the most recognizable design at sea, reminiscent of a super yacht in cruise ship form, with a sleek, silver-gray (as opposed to white) hull with smoked glass and hits of Virgin red especially on its iconic red Virgin funnel. 

They're calling the fleet the 'Lady Ships' in a twist on the British term 'your ladyship', a nod to Branson's nationality and playfulness.  In another twist on tradition, instead of a female figurehead on the bow of the ships, a Virgin mermaid makes a saucy appearance.  Branson also promised Virgin Voyages would be home to the happiest crew afloat. 

In other words, look forward to a big, sexy, fabulous party in established Virgin style  - at sea.

Nearly all staterooms will boast a 'sea terrace' on what Virgin Voyages is calling a 'sophisticated ship and a transformational experience' for cruise travelers where 'rejuvenating day-life meets exciting nightlife and everything in between'.   And they've announced the cruise line is open for business with pre-sale deposits now being accepted for the first season of sailing.

Virgin Voyages vision is taking shape and its 'Ship Tease' was one more step towards reality for this highly anticipated cruise line. 

 

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7 Tips for Holiday Travel from an Airline Expert

Millions of travelers were stranded this fall when hurricanes Irma and Harvey wreaked havoc on the southern US and Caribbean.  Now, with the holiday season fast approaching along with the possibility of bad winter weather, we thought it would be good to share some tips about how to face the unpredictable.

Andrew Collins, the CEO and President of Sentient Jet, shares his insights with us into best practices when extreme weather interferes with your best –laid travel plans. Whether experiencing unexpected weather, a flight cancellation or delay, here are his tips to ensure you are equipped to handle the situation.

1. Departure time matters. During high traffic periods and days when weather is expected to be poor, give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport (Top Photo Credit).  Work with your travel advisor to look to take the first flight out if you can, as that aircraft has a better chance of already being at the airport and therefore taking off on-time. Delays tend to increase as the day progresses, particularly when inclement weather in one area causes a ripple effect across multiple regions and airports.

2. Become a priority. Inclement weather can increase the amount of time it takes to travel to the airport, and also leads to crowds upon arrival.  Being able to skip the security line could make the difference between catching your flight or getting stuck at the airport. Look into the possibility of bundling priority security line access into your ticket and, if you are a frequent traveler, to sign up for TSA Pre and Global Entry. Have you ever tried a customs concierge? When traveling internationally,  they can assist you with every stage of navigating unfamiliar airports, from providing pick-up service to arranging lounge access.

3. Invest in a travel “Tool Kit.” Does your credit card offer specialized perks or access? Are you a loyalty member of an airline, hotel chain, or car rental service? Most importantly, are you in the know about what your enrollment in these programs can really provide? All too often, people miss out on the benefits of their memberships, such as a room at a sold-out hotel or a seat on a sought-after flight. Take the time to learn about what these services can do for you – and how to access them quickly in a pinch.

4. Know your equipment. Do you feel more comfortable flying on a larger aircraft over a smaller, regional one? Work with your travel advisor to take these preferences into consideration, allowing you to identify the right flight for you based on time, distance, conditions, and plane type. A car upgrade to a larger automobile or SUV can also help you manage your ground transportation needs. When facing the possibility of inclement weather, prioritizing your comfort by selecting more reliable modes of transportation is a must.

Don't let this happen to you.  Photo Credit

5. Consider flying privately or chartering an aircraft. If there is an extreme weather situation, look into booking a private charter. In the event of extreme weather conditions, the nimble nature of private jet companies often means they can fly with fewer hours’ notice and even operate more flights than a commercial operator to get travelers out of harm’s way. Many programs even offer specific aircraft availability guarantees, ensuring you a seat whenever possible, and can fly into smaller hubs – and that can make the difference between getting home for Christmas or spending it on a cot at the airport.

6. Always ask - nicely. If your flight does get canceled due to inclement weather, ask the airline if they can find a flight for you with another carrier as opposed to waiting for them to reschedule. Though airlines do not always announce this option in order to keep revenue in house, this is often something that can be done, and will help you get to your destination faster.

7. And don't forget your travel advisor is a strong partner to help you navigate unexpected travel issues, not just when you're booking your trip, but while you're away.

Whether you're traveling great distances or staying at home to gather with your loved ones in the coming weeks, we wish you a safe and joyful holiday season.

 

 

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