InStyle Vacations's Blog

8 Facts About the Panama Canal

Panama's beaches are drawing more and more resort travelers, and itineraries that take cruise passengers through the Panama Canal are growing in popularity. But how much do you know about this Man-Made Wonder of the World?

1. It's a short cut for ships between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The Panama Canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama in a narrow land bridge between North and South America. Prior, ships had to sail around the tip of South America.  It takes about 8 hours to cross the Canal's 50 miles (77km). That saves days. If a ship had to navigate down and around Cape Horn at the tip of South America and back up the other side, it would have to travel nearly 12,500 miles (20,000 km).

2. It's over 100 years old.

2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal.   Columbia, France, then later, the United States controlled the land surrounding the canal.  In 1999, control passed back to Panama.  In 1881, the French started building the canal, but progress halted due to engineering problems and high worker mortality.  The US took it over in 1904 and completed the project with newly available technology ten years later at a cost of $400 million USD.

3. It also cost over 25,000 lives.

At times, more than 43,000 people were working on the Panama Canal.  Workers had to deal with heat, jungles, swamps - and all the creatures in them, including rats that carried bubonic plague.  Plus mosquito-borne diseases like yellow fever and malaria. Over 20,000 workers died during French building efforts. After the scientific links between the insects and disease had been discovered, Americans undertook intensive anti-mosquito initiatives.  Even so, another more than 5000 workers perished during the American building phase.

4. It's considered one of the Man-Made Wonders of the World

The American Society of Civil Engineers has also dubbed the Panama Canal one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World. It's one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken.

A system of locks at each end of the Canal lifts ships up 85 feet  (26 meters) above sea level to an artificial lake. Ships traverse the artificial lake, as well as a series of improved and artificial channels, and then are lowered again in more locks to sea level at the other side. 

The locks are 110 feet (33 meters) feet wide and 1000 feet (300 meters) long. About 30-MILLION pounds (1,400,000 kilos) of explosives were used to help clear the land for the canal.

5. Over 1 Million vessels have crossed the canal since it opened.

In 1914, the year it opened, about 1000 ships used the canal. Today, nearly 15,000 ships transit the Isthmus of Panama through the Canal annually. The 1 Millionth ship crossed the canal in 2010, 96 years after it opened.

In 1934 it was estimated that the maximum traffic of the canal would be around 80 million tons of shipping a year, but by 2015, canal traffic exceeded 340 million tons of shipping – over 4 times the original maximum estimate.

6. $2 Billion in tolls are collected annually

Every ship that passes through the canal pays a toll based on its size, type and volume of cargo. Tolls are set by the Panama Canal Authority. Tolls for the largest cargo ships can run about $450,000. Cruise ships pay by berths (number of passengers in beds).  The per-berth fee set in 2016 was $138; a large cruise ship can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to sail through the Canal. 

The smallest toll recorded was paid by American Richard Halliburton in 1928, who paid 36 cents to swim the Canal.

7. The Panama Canal was expanded for bigger ships in 2016

The original canal locks are 110 feet (33 meters) wide and ten times as long. For a century, they accommodated shipping, and the term 'Panamax' ships was used to describe ships built to fit through the canal.  But ships kept getting bigger, and in 2007, work began on a multi-billion dollar expansion of the Canal.  In 2016, a third, wider lane of locks opened for commercial shipping, capable of handling 'Post-Panamax' ships that can carry 14,000 20-foot shipping containers (nearly 3 times Panamax ship capacity).

In spite of that giant leap forward in 2016, the world's largest container ships - that can carry 18,000 shipping containers – can't pass through the Panama Canal.

8. Tourists can visit the Panama Canal by land or water. 

There are 2 options.  Cruise lines offer actual Panama Canal itineraries that sail through the canal in the approximately 8 hour passage to their next destination in the opposite ocean.  But you don't have to sail through the canal.  Whether you're in Panama City, or on a resort / beach vacation in Panama, you can take a land trip to see the canal in action. 

The Miraflores Visitor Center is on the east side of the Miraflores Locks, which are close to the Pacific end of the Canal. Like the canal, the Visitor Center is open daily.  The Visitor Center has large balconies designed for you to get a great view as the lock gates are opened and closed for ships to start or complete their journey through the Panama Canal. 

Engineering buffs and even children will be thrilled at the up-close-to-the-action perspective on this man-made Wonder of the World. 

(Photo credit)

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Top 5 Souvenirs from Newfoundland, Canada

The immense iceberg that's been parked in 'Iceberg Alley' on the coast of Canada's rugged Newfoundland and Labrador has reminded a lot of people it's time to book that trip to North America's eastern-most coast.  

You can only take a picture of an iceberg, but here are 5 unique, interesting souvenirs you can take home that you'll actually use, or give as gifts - and support local artisans and businesses. 

We've given you tips about each one, plus a high/low rating to help you decide where to save or splurge.

Labradorite is magical: moody, blue / grey / green with striations and life, with the appearance that light is playing inside the semi-precious stone - it's easy to see why it's said to be an incarnation of the Northern Lights. Labrador is the mainland part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It was there Europeans first saw and named the stone in the 18th century, although labradorite was part of Inuit lore long before.

(Photos: BestTrip.TV)

Tip: movement of the piece is the key to the mythical play of color in labradorite, so choose jewelry to get the most motion and bring out its best.

High /Low: Pieces set in silver start at around $50, and depending on the setting and the artist, can be worth many times that.

'Trigger Finger' Mittens:  Hunting is a way of life in Newfoundland; just about everyone we met, including 'Townies' (people who live in 'town') fishes, AND hunts. With so much time spent outdoors in any weather, trust some clever Newfoundland knitter to come up with 'Trigger Finger Mittens'. So you don't have to take off your mitts to get the job done. Handy even for people who don't use firearms, too.  Who wants to take off a mitten to use your index finger in cold weather?

Tip: We found lots of big mittens, but searched high and low for trigger finger mittens that would fit women's hands.  A friendly local recommended someone who made them who could supply them in women's and children's sizes.

High/ Low: in the range of $15-20 per pair.

Savoury: Yes, the herb.  No one I spoke to seems to know how savoury became so indispensable to Newfoundland cooking, but it's a staple seasoning.

Savoury is found in bread at restaurants, on iconic Newfoundland cod, and especially, as the key ingredient in dressing (aka 'stuffing'). In Newfoundland, 'dressing' is an everyday food, not just for Thanksgiving.  You'll find it on menus as a side to upscale cuisine and even fish and chips.  It's usually served along with gravy, and called 'D + G'.

Tip: Use Newfoundland savoury in easy-to-bake biscuits. And definitely in dressing! A wonderful gift for a foodie friend.

High/Low: under $10.

Sea Salt: One producer of sea salt in Newfoundland said it best: why should an island surrounded by the briny sea have to import salt?

There are now a couple of businesses in the province who extract salt from the icy North Atlantic waters, and for any traveling foodie, a local sea salt is a treasure.

Tip: use on lightly flavoured items like eggs or fish, where the salt's unique characteristics can stand out.

High/Low: low, perfect for a foodie's stocking stuffer, maybe along with a bottle of Newfoundland savoury.

Newfoundland Music: Perhaps the greatest export from Newfoundland, and contribution to Canadian culture, is its music.

It seems every Newfoundlander you meet is a talented musician, and even casual parties feature live music and singalongs. While you're in Newfoundland, don't miss it: from festivals to kitchen parties to every bar on famous pub-lined George Street, live music is part of the Newfoundland experience. Don't forget to take some one-of-a-kind music home!

Tip: Fred's Record Store on Duckworth Street in St.John's has been selling and supporting Newfoundland artists for nearly 50 years. If you've forgotten what a record store feels like, don't miss it! Fred's also has free live music at times, so drop in and enjoy!

High/Low: Low, $15-25, and what's easier to pack than a few CD's?

Special Places to Shop in Newfoundland:

Duckworth Street, St. John's

Although there are many places to buy Newfoundland souvenirs, Duckworth Street in St.John's is a sure thing. Running parallel and close to the waterfront, Duckworth street is in the heart of downtown. It's not only lined with shops, the streets running up the hill are charming examples of Jellybean Row, the brightly colored 'saltbox' houses that are iconic images of the city.

Quidi Vidi

This impossibly picturesque fishing village just outside St.John's (pictured top) is well worth a visit - for the scenery, its craft brewery, Mallard Cottage which one of the top rated restaurants in Canada, AND the Quidi Vidi Village Plantation. This dockside building houses artisan workshops, where you can meet the artisans, learn about their crafts, and buy souvenirs of your trip to Newfoundland.

- Lynn Elmhirst, BestTrip.TV

We Need This: Recharge App Lets you Book Hotels By the Minute

No, not for that. Well, sure, maybe for that.  If you and your sweetheart get inspired for some spontaneous romance, there's a new app that let's you be that much more spontaneous.

This is not the business of the world's oldest profession booking shady hotel rooms by the hour. 

The Recharge app gives you billed-by-the-MINUTE access to a luxury hotel room.  You pay for your room for exactly as long as you need it, and not one minute more. Tested originally in San Francisco, and now expanded to New York, where any luxury hotel room easily rings in at $500 a night, Recharge can make many travelers' experiences better. In New York, Recharge's by-the-minute prices range from $0.83 to $2 a minute.

Whether your goal is to relax or be productive, we (and the app's developers, who worked with JetBlue's tech incubator) think this will change your travel life.

Wardrobe malfunction?  No more stress of struggling to get that stain out of your shirt or deal with a burst diaper in a random coffee shop bathroom.  15 minutes in a private, spacious bathroom with a sink and facecloth and a hand-held hair dryer rings in from $12.45 – $30.

Need a power nap? 20 minutes of a bed better than the one you have at home and silence will cost you between $16.60 and 40 bucks.

Foot sore and weary from pounding the pavement / museum galleries, and no time to go all the way back to your hotel at the other end of town?   60 minutes to deal with those blisters, put your feet up, make a cup of coffee, even take a quick shower for $49.80 to $120 seems worth it.

Two and a half hours in silence to catch up on mission-critical email or update your presentation using reliable WiFi – or put over-stimulated (that is: cranky) kids down for a nap/ quiet time so the whole family gets to truly enjoy the rest of the day – or reset after a red-eye and before your day officially starts?  As they say, priceless.

Once you start thinking about it, you realize you don't know how you ever traveled without an app like this. Nursing moms. A quick change from day to evening business meetings. Who doesn't need on-demand, affordable access to a luxury hotel refuge to make your trip better?

There are other web-based hotel day-use options, but they tend to give you designated morning or afternoon time-slots. This is more like a parking meter app.  You can start any time you pull in, and only pay for as long as you're in that space.

Photos: Recharge

The app will locate the hotel closest to you, and you hit 'book now'.  Your actual billing starts 30 minutes later or once you pick up your key, whichever comes first, then ends when you hit 'check out'.   That minute.  If it's 49 minutes later, you're billed 49 minutes, not an hour.  You don't have to feed or worry about the meter.

At the moment only available in San Francisco and now New York.  But we're looking forward to 'Recharge'ing globally in the future.

Mind Body Soul: Wellness Shore Excursions Paired with Ship Spa Experiences

Does the idea of returning from vacation healthier, more centered, spiritually uplifted than when you left appeal to you?   Regent Seven Seas Cruises and its shipboard spa partner Canyon Ranch SpaClub have introduced Seven Seas Wellness, a new collection of wellness-themed shore excursions paired with on-board spa and wellness experiences.

The initiative, that integrates ship and shore, is all about providing guests with one-stop-shop holistic well-being programming for their holidays.   It debuts this summer on sailings of the Regent Seven Seas Voyager in the Mediterranean, a region whose healthy lifestyle sets a global benchmark.

(Tour the Canyon Ranch SpaClub on Regent Seven Seas Explorer in the video above).

Guests who choose a Seven Seas Wellness experience first choose a wellness-themed excursion from a collection of more than 10 options in some of the most exciting Mediterranean destinations.

Seven Seas Wellness Shore Excursions Include:

Marseille, Old Port. Photos: BestTrip.TV

  • Marseilles, France – A special intimate Tai Chi class in the garden courtyard of the Pharo Palace. The 19th century palace is built on a promontory overlooking the Mediterranean and offers a breathtaking view as you center your Chi with the ancient Chinese martial arts.
  • Sorrento, Italy – Guests can immerse themselves in the restorative hydrothermal pools of the Stufe di Nerone Baths and tour the famous burning Phlegreaen Fields. The large caldera, known for its volcanic activities, will awe you as you are ensconced in wellness traditions dating back to the Roman Empire.

  • Venice, Italy – Not to neglect the important sense of smell, guests can visit the new attraction dedicated to the Venetian tradition of perfume at the Museum of Palazzo Mocenigo. There, you explore how fragrance can help affect emotion and have the opportunity to create your own personal perfume to take home.
  • Athens, Greece – Swim, snorkel, and simply delight in floating in the hydrothermal, mineral waters of Vouliagmeni Lake and refresh in this most Zen of backdrops. You then continue onto a secluded spot on Faskomilia Hill overlooking the lake for a spiritual Yoga session.

Then, to complete the distinctive, body and soul-enriching experience, you select one of 5 curated Canyon Ranch Spa services on the ship to pair with your shore wellness experience.  

Shipboard Spa Experiences Pairing Menu Includes:

  • World of Relief Body Buff
  • Tangle Me Up Wrap
  • Ocean Scrub
  • Sole Rejuvenation
  • Vitamin Infusion Facial

So you're able to create your own invigorating, and customized, transformative wellness program in the practices that appeal to you most.

Furthermore, you'll be able to enjoy a robust menu of Canyon Ranch SpaClub and Fitness Center activities like

  • Reiki,
  • acupuncture,
  • fitness classes,
  • personal training,
  • educational presentations and workshops and more. 

Plus eat right at a new healthy breakfast bar at the Pool Grill and Canyon Ranch Balanced dinner selections appetizers, mains, and desserts with full flavor, full nutrition, and satisfying portions for maximum health and energy. 

For more and more people, pursuit of well-being is an essential part of a life well-lived, even, or especially, when we take time off to travel.  From eating right and exercising to practicing ways to reduce stress and experience moments that uplift the spirit, wellness is quickly becoming the ultimate luxury.

We know guests are going to love making this innovative Seven Seas Wellness program part of their fulfilling journeys.  

This might be our favorite way to break the ice at the beginning of a cruise.  And it's a long-standing tradition at Regent Seven Seas Cruises. 

When BestTrip.TV sailed on the Regent Seven Seas Explorer, not long after our cruise began, the ship's bell rang out, with the Cruise Director announcing the start of the ship-wide 'Block Party'. 

We love it!  No receiving lines, and a great way to meet the neighbors. The fun and informality are fitting on a cruise line that calls itself the most inclusive cruise line, where the atmosphere is like being member of a relaxed, luxurious country club.  Welcome Aboard!

It's been featured in no less than two James Bond movies.  Not to mention To Catch a Thief, the Alfred Hitchcock thriller starring Grace Kelly that filmed in glitzy Monaco, where she met a prince and then became Princess Grace.

Monaco – and Monte Carlo – have established and maintained an allure as one of the world's most glamorous destinations.  But most people only know about the mystique. 

Casinos, royalty, yachts and racing.

BestTrip.TV reveals 5 things you didn't know about this sexy Mediterranean destination.

Plus one bonus fact:

Her Serene Highness, Princess Charlene of Monaco, is the godmother of the Regent Seven Seas Explorer, said to be the 'most luxurious cruise ship ever built'; it's right at home in the storied glamour of Monaco.

(HSH Princess Charlene on board the Regent Seven Seas Explorer)

During christening ceremonies, HSH cut a red velvet ribbon, which sent a Primat bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne smashing against the ship’s hull to officially christen the newest member of the Regent Seven Seas Cruises fleet. The jubilation of the bottle breaking moment was followed by a spectacular 40-minute private performance from musical maestro Andrea Bocelli, capping an incredible launch for a ship that sets new benchmarks for luxury.

(HSH Princess Charlene of Monaco, with HSH Prince Albert of Monaco by her side, christens the Regent Seven Seas Explorer)

As a former Olympic competitive swimmer, and Princess of a country on the Mediterranean, it's fitting that the Princess' humanitarian efforts include the Princess Charlene of Monaco Foundation, whose mission is to save lives by teaching children and adults basic water safety techniques. The Foundation sponsors a number of “Learn to Swim” and “Water Safety” programs in 27 countries throughout the world, including in the United States.  Discussions are underway to implement the Foundation's Water Safety program on all the company's ships.

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Regent Seven Seas Cruises is celebrating a banner year: its Silver (25th) Anniversary and the first full year in service of its flagship, the Explorer, a ship that's been called 'the most luxurious ship at sea.' 

We just had to see if it's true. Watch the video and decide for yourself!

No bills to sign at the bar.  No ties. Photos: BestTrip.TV

Since 1992 when the Radisson Diamond was christened, launching what would become Regent Seven Seas Cruises, it has created a distinct identity and passionate following among a certain style of cruise travelers.  This four-ship, all-suite, all-inclusive cruise line attracts guests who prefer a luxury level of service but a relaxed atmosphere.  No bills to sign. No need to wear black tie. In fact, gentlemen don't need to wear any ties at all!

Like you're a member of a country club. That takes you to the world-wide destinations of your dreams.

A country club that takes you to the destination of your dreams.

In addition to building the Explorer, Regent Seven Seas Cruises is undertaking a $125 million fleet-wide refurbishment.  The Voyager has already completed hers, and now matches the remarkable style and new amenities of the Explorer.

Anniversary Sailings

25 celebratory cruises take place across all four of Regent's ships this year, on itineraries around the world.  You can journey across Europe on the new Seven Seas Explorer, explore Asia on the newly renovated Seven Seas Voyager; experience natural wonders in Alaska aboard Seven Seas Mariner, or traverse one of the man-made wonders of the world, the Panama Canal, aboard Seven Seas Navigator.

Anniversary voyages include:

Seven Seas Explorer

  • Mediterranean – Oct. 4, 2017
  • Northern Europe – July 3 and Aug. 21, 2017
  • Atlantic Crossing – Nov. 24, 2017

Seven Seas Mariner

  • Amazon -- Nov. 17, 2017
  • Alaska -- July 12 and August 23, 2017
  • Fall Foliage – Oct. 27, 2017

Seven Seas Navigator

  • Panama Canal – June 17, 2017
  • East Coast – Aug. 7, 2017
  • Atlantic Crossing – October 17, 2017
  • Hawaii – December 11, 2017

Seven Seas Voyager

  • Asia – Dec. 5, 2017
  • Mediterranean – June 11, June 28, July 8, Aug. 20, Sept. 19, Sept. 28 and Oct. 27, 2017

Compass Rose

Galley Lunches

Guests sailing on these 25 voyages will have the opportunity to participate in a new experience, the 'Galley Lunch', a brand new dining concept launched for the anniversary celebrations. You'll get the red carpet treatment from the Compass Rose restaurant into the galley, to see the kitchen in action. You can interact with the world-class chefs onboard while you enjoy a magnificent meal, then indulge in an array of displayed desserts service inside the restaurant.

Silver Anniversary Tastings

Regent Seven Seas Cruises is also hosting special Silver Anniversary Tastings on these 25 voyages. In addition to the complimentary free inclusive fine wines and spirits, you'll have the opportunity to participate in special wine, whiskey and cocktail tasting seminars featuring some exclusive vintages and premier spirits.

Butler-service suites; in-suite dining with friends.

Thanking Past Guests and Welcoming their Friends

Past guests that refer a guest sailing for the first time with Regent Seven Seas Cruises receive a $400 per suite shipboard credit, as will their friends.

Happy Silver Jubilee, Regent Seven Seas Cruises!

Lynn Elmhirst, BestTrip.TV's cruise travel expert

New-to-Cruise? A Guide to Nautical Terms: Getting Around

If you've never taken a cruise before, you're not too late to the party. There's never been a better time to try a cruise. Cruise travel never stops innovating, launching spectacular new ships and new ways for cruise travelers to interact with ever-more intriguing ports of call.

Worried you might not fit in among experienced cruise travelers?  Here's a guide to all the most important terms you'll need to sail through your first (no doubt of many) trips at sea.  Beginning with your first question: Where am I?

Brought to you by: Regent Seven Seas Cruises' 25th Anniversary Celebrations

(Regent Seven Seas Explorer docked at Harvest Caye, Belize. All photos BestTrip.TV)

Let's first get one thing straight. It's a Ship.  Not a boat. Nothing makes you look like a newbie more than referring to your ship as a 'boat'.  Generally speaking, a boat is small enough to be carried aboard a ship, but a ship can't be carried aboard a boat. 

A British Navy witticism is 'A ship, gentlemen, is what we are in, a boat is what the gravy comes in'.

Or this gem: 'When a ship sinks you get in a boat, when a boat sinks you get in the water'.  Which leads us to…

Tenders. These are the small boats you see carried on the sides of your ship.  They are lifeboats in the highly unlikely event of evacuation. But more likely, a tender is how you'll get to shore if you have a 'tender port'. 

(Filming an arrival interview at a new port of call.)

Some Ports of Call  - that is, stops on your cruise - don't have docks big enough for your ship, or they're all in use. So your ship anchors off shore, and guests are shuttled back and forth to shore in the ship's tenders. They usually go back and forth all day. They are not luxurious, but comfortable, and have a full roof to protect you from the elements.

Before we leave the word 'tender'… Shortly after you board, everyone – that means everyone – on the ship stops what they're doing and participates in a 'Muster Drill' or safety drill.  It's the maritime version of the safety instructions you experience prior to an aircraft take off.  Depending on the cruise line, you 'muster' or 'assemble' at your assigned tender or a different designated 'muster station' or 'assembly station'.  This is the part of your holiday where you take responsibility for your own well-being and make sure you know where your muster station is, and you and your loved ones know the drill.

OK, you've boarded your ship.

One of the first places you'll head is your… Not 'room'. Cruise travelers inhabit 'Staterooms'.  And if you're lucky to sail in an exclusive area of the ship, or even an all-suites ship, your Suite. 

You often hear – and your travel advisor may even refer to - 'cabins'.  Back in the day of strong class distinctions, cabins were very basic. First-class cabins with much better amenities were called staterooms.  These days, even the least expensive accommodations would be considered staterooms, so many long-time cruise experts always say stateroom, not cabin.  If there are multiple rooms (other than a bathroom) in your accommodations – think: walk-in closet/dressing room, or a separate living space -  it's a suite.

  • Inside staterooms do not have a wall on the outer wall of the ship. There are no windows (although some newer ships have created 'virtual' windows/ views for inside staterooms).
  • Ocean-view staterooms are on outside walls of the ship. But the port-hole or window that looks outside may not open.
  • Balcony or veranda staterooms have doors/windows that actually open for you to access the open air/ outdoors from your stateroom.

(Sun lounges on the top deck.)

Ships have 'Decks'.  In a hotel, you might say the restaurant is on the 5th floor.  On your floating hotel, it's on Deck 5.  (Not the 5th deck; 'Deck 5'.)  Some decks also have their own names. You've probably heard the term 'Lido Deck'. Lido is an Italian word for beach; if there's something called a Lido deck on your ship, it's where you'll find the main outdoor pool area. (Of course, some ships have multiple pools, hot tubs, outdoor facilities on multiple decks.)

(Overlooking the protected, open-air pool deck.)

Ships are also directional.  Whether they're in Port or at Sea (those terms are pretty self-explanatory) there's a pointy end facing forward and a blunt end bringing up the rear.   On a cruise ship, you refer to the pointy direction as 'Forward', never 'front'. And instead of saying the 'back' it's called 'Aft'.

(The spectacular view from an aft suite on sailaway from Miami).

Between Forward and Aft, you're 'Midship'.

This makes finding your way around your ship quite straight forward (pun intended!)  If your new friends tell you to meet them at the bar on Deck 10 Aft, well, you know exactly where they'll be.  Tell them to order cocktails for you; you'll find your way there before the ice starts melting.

Modern ships are very helpful in way-finding.  Elevator lobbies and hallways post a simple drawing map of your ship so you can see where you are relative to forward and aft. So you know not just what deck you're on, you also know which way to head forward, aft, or midship to your destination. Your destination on the ship, that is. 

Navigation of the ship itself from port to port takes place from the Bridge on an ocean ship, or, on a smaller river cruise ship, the Wheelhouse.   Many cruise lines offer tours of the bridge or wheelhouse if you're interested in seeing where the navigation action happens.  We've been lucky enough to be filming on the bridge of a huge ship when multiple officers are docking her – what a feat!

Your food is prepared in a Galley, not a 'kitchen'.  Think about it, even bread has to be baked on board for freshness. Food and beverage services on ships are an enormous, multi-restaurant undertaking.  Do take a galley tour if it's offered, you will be astonished at what it takes to feed a whole ship around the clock.

Ships still have Gangways (not gangplanks. That's where pirates walk).  They're ramps leading on and off a ship, and they may occur on different decks in different ports.  You will always be given instructions. 

Here's a tip for new-to-cruise guests: when you check in, each guest traveling receives a card key. It's not just to open your stateroom door. Yours also contains your personal identity information.  Every guest (and actually, crew too) needs that card every time you Embark and Disembark (get on and get off) the ship. They swipe it at the gangway so the ship maintains their Log (record) of who's on -and who's not on - the ship. 

When you've reached your final port of disembarkation and your holiday's over, your final card swipe off the ship and travel down the gangway is your final goodbye to your cruise.

Lynn Elmhirst, BestTrip.TV's cruise travel expert

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Trying out the specialty restaurants is one of the great pleasures of dining on cruise ships. We recently sailed on the Regent Seven Seas Explorer – it has all-included, all-specialty restaurants:

  • Compass Rose – on most ships, this would be called the 'main' restaurant, but think again.  Compass Rose, in addition to a classic menu of courses of North American and Continental cuisine, has an innovative, 'build-your-own-meal' menu that allows you to select your meal elements and flavor preparations, so every meal is your own custom creation.
  • Prime 7 – the steakhouse of your dreams.  Modeled after the masculine havens of London or New York, with mirrors and black and white marble, screens and art (by Picasso, and Chagall even!) of bulls, this is dining that brings out the primal instinct in us all.
  • Chartreuse – the counterpoint to Prime 7.  An elegant, airy, French dream of Belle Epoque style and classic and modern, stylish French cuisine.
  • Sette Mari at La Veranda – evening al fresco dining on the deck with the breeze in your hair and Italian wine and cuisine on your table.
  • Pacific Rim – an exquisite, pan-Asian restaurant with spectacular, over-scaled Asian décor and a menu that's a delicious tour of the favorites of the continent.

Chef Enmin Wang at Pacific Rim was kind enough to share with us the recipe for the healthy, fresh, and delicious Tuna Tartare.   Watch the video as he prepares it for us, and here's our version of the recipe for you to try yourself.

For 2 Appetizer Servings

Step 1:  Prepare Carrot/Ginger Japanese Dressing:

Makes 375-500 mL

  • 250 g (about 3) peeled, chopped carrots
  • 125 g chopped whites of shallots
  • 125 g peeled and sliced fresh ginger
  • 80mL rice vinegar
  • 80 mL canola oil
  • 1 ½ T honey
  • 1 T white miso if desired
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 1 T Japanese soy sauce
  • 2 T fresh lime juice
  • water as needed for consistency

Tip:  for an even silkier consistency, or if you're worried you don't have a machine that will make a smooth result, cook carrots first. 

Otherwise, put all ingredients in a blender, blend til smooth.  Taste, and add salt, pepper, adjust honey, lime juice, all other seasonings, adding water if desired and necessary for the right consistency.  Put in a squeeze bottle for maximum ease, or a jar.   This step can be done a day or two ahead of using; keep refrigerated. 

This dressing is also delightful on green Japanese salads, and you'll have plenty of leftover to enjoy in other ways.

Step 2: Tuna

  • 150 grams sushi grade tuna, in ½ cm dice

Place in a mixing bowl. 

  • To taste, add approx:
  • ¼ teaspoon sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon each mirin, Japanese soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon combined chives and scallions, cut in thin rounds (more or less, to taste)
  • sea salt
  • black pepper

Mix all ingredients. Adjust all seasonings to taste.

Step 3: Plate

On each of two decorative plates:

Create a wide pool of Carrot Ginger Dressing. 

If you have 6.5 cm rings, place the ring in the dressing and gently pack half of the tuna in the ring, pressing gently down.  Remove ring. If you don't have a ring, build a small mound of tuna using two spoons, careful not to disturb the dressing.

Garnish top of tuna with:

  • 2 Tablespoons shallots (cut in rings, fried crispy in advance)
  • 1 T spring onions, green part only, thinly sliced on a long bias

Sprinkle around tuna in the pool of dressing:

  • ½ teaspoon toasted black sesame seeds

Repeat with second plate. Serve immediately (with crisps if you wish) and do not allow to sit at room temperature.

 

Luxury, Small Ship Cruising Gets a New Muse. The Silver Muse

Silversea launches its new flagship Silver Muse; with fewer than 600 guests and over 400 crew, the newest all-suite, all-butler service environment at sea embodies classic, small ship luxury cruising.

 

The Silver Muse has set sail, ceremoniously delivered to the cruise line in Genoa, Italy.  She was blessed by His Eminence Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa before launching on a summer of Mediterranean itineraries. The Silver Muse then sails to the Americas (Canada / New England then onwards to South America) for the fall/winter.

Fans of cruising on Silversea will feel right at home.  The Silver Muse is an evolution of the most recent (2009) Silver Spirit. It hones an ultra-luxury ocean travel experience, while maintaining the small-ship intimacy and spacious all-suite accommodations that are the hallmarks of the Silversea experience.

The Silver Muse brings the Silversea fleet to 9 ships. Silver Muse accommodates 596 guests, and offers the highest number of large suites (Silver, Royal, Grand and Owner's) in the fleet, and the greatest number of connecting suites for families and friends. Gracious and expansive outdoor spaces change character from morning to afternoon to evening.  Overall, Silver Muse offers a welcoming and understated blend of spaciousness, luxury, and comfort.

Most notably, you'll find more restaurants on her than any other ultra-luxury ship – eight venues for less than 600 guests. In a week-long cruise, you wouldn't have to dine in the same restaurant twice.  But you'd probably want to. Silversea's goal is to use the wide selection of diverse restaurants to provide the most bespoke culinary experience at sea.  All the more reason to take back-to-back cruises!  Dining venues include:

  • La Dame. As part of the continuing relationship between Silversea and Relais & Chateaux, the menu of this restaurant was developed by the Relais & Chateaux team to reflect French cuisine at its highest standard of excellence.
  • Two Italian restaurants, reflecting the Italian heritage of Silversea: La Terrazza, and Spaccanapoli.
  • Two Asian-themed restaurants:Indochine, a pan-Asian journey of culinary discovery, and Kaiseki, theatrically traditional, peak Japanese cuisine.
  • On a lighter note, both from an experience and a health perspective, the must-try Hot Rocks is fun, informal, and even a wellness option.Silversea's wildly popular evening al fresco restaurant lets guests grill their own meals on lava stones at the table.

  • Another less structured entertainment/ dining experience is Silver Note, where tapas-style international cuisine is accompanied by jazz, blues, and of course, your favorite wines and cocktails.

You'll also be delighted to learn that the new Silver Muse has features that set new standards to minimize air, water and even noise pollution. So you can feel good about the results for you, a relaxing and luxurious cruise, and for the world you travel. 

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Rosewood Tucker's Point in Bermuda offers guests exclusive chartered spectator yacht Mariner III for the ultimate VIP experience of the 35th America's Cup.

Bermuda is a long-anticipated venue for the America's Cup.  With 181 islands, marine activities are the life-blood of Bermuda. The Great Sound forms a natural amphitheater for the racecourse, and the Royal Naval Dockyard houses the America’s Cup Village with team bases, food and drink, entertainment and concerts.

Trials are already underway, with competition beginning May 26th. It's an exhilarating 5 weeks of the best sailing in the world.  Finals begin on June 17th, culminating in the awarding of the 'Auld Mug', the oldest trophy in international sport.

Fans of sailing and thrills will turn to Bermuda's iconic Great Sound where the best sailors on the fastest boats will continue a decades long tradition and long rivalries for top sailing spot. The defending Champions, ORACLE TEAM USA, will compete with the top challengers from around the globe, with exciting sailing scenery anticipated every day.

If you're a fan of sailing, there's no need to watch the drama from a screen.  And we mean drama.  ORACLE TEAM USA has already capsized its new boat during trials in Bermuda!

Photos: Rosewood Tucker’s Point

A quick flight to Bermuda can get you in the thick of the action, watching the racing 'in real life', especially if you're a guest of Rosewood Tucker's Point or their neighboring Harbour Court Villas, positioned on Castle Harbour and the mighty Atlantic Ocean.  The luxury resort has chartered the Mariner III Spectator Yacht each race day.

If you love sailing's double facets: a rich tradition of teak and white sailcloth on the one hand, and cutting edge technology on the other, this is the race experience for you.  The stylish and sophisticated spectator yacht evokes a golden age of marine lifestyle. Built in 1926, The Mariner III features rich varnished teak, gleaming brass and hand-crafted bevelled lead crystal windows from Paris, a large, open upper deck perfect for spectating and small aft deck with a bar for intimate dining or cocktails. Outside, a large open air deck includes a Bimini for shade.

The 122 foot-long motor yacht's large open deck offers unparalleled viewing of the high tech yachts being put through their paces on the racecourse. Each race morning, the yacht departs from the Harbour Beach dock and returns in the late afternoon following the completion of the races. Up to 80 guests of the resort each day can buy a ticket to join the yacht for exclusive access to the race course from the Superyacht area in Bermuda’s Great Sound, while enjoying sunshine, cocktails and cuisine by the hotel’s executive chef.  Ticket prices include complimentary lunch, snacks, wine, prosecco and beer.

Land lubber or sailor, this will be the maritime experience of a lifetime.

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Feed your Appetite for Culture, Danish Style, in 2017's European Culture Capital

Every year Europe designates a Culture Capital, where robust local cultural traditions meet a rich next generation of visual, audio, movement, sport, design, outdoor and indoor expressions of human creativity. 

Photo: Gottlieb & Co

In 2017 Denmark's second city, the cruise port city of Aarhus, is Europe's Culture Capital. Thousands of activities, installations and events mark a thrilling celebration of this lesser known region of the smallest Scandinavian country.   It's also a culinary powerhouse, in the same year achieving a record number of Michelin stars and another designation: European Region of Gastronomy.

From the biggest dinner party in the history of Denmark, to acoustic forest installations, from 'surfskating' to seaside illuminations, Danish Modern to lightshows of Viking history, food to watersports festivals, 2017 celebrates the best of the best of Aarhus.

Photo: S孑en Pagter

You'll discover a truly breathtaking series of activities, installations and events that defy one category of cultural endeavor, spanning categories and often inviting ordinary guests - grownups and kids – to participate.

Some have specific dates, others run long term or will become legacies for the country and visitors well into the future.  Here's just a sampling of things that excite us about visiting one of the hottest experiential travel destinations:

Design

The First Lego League Open European Championship: LEGO is possibly Denmark's most famous export and one of the world's favorite toys/ artistic media.  This so-called Olympics of LEGO brings competitors 10-16 years old from around the world to construct and program LEGO robots.

New Danish Modern: Hipsters and design lovers of mid-century modern will love this celebration of great Danish giants of design and the next generation of Danish design and designers, including hands-on workshops for guests to work on their own designs and pop up venues and master design classes.

The Jewellery Box: An exhibition of nearly 1000 pieces of unique Danish silver 20th c design by some of its most celebrated silversmiths and jewelers, illustrating the styles, skills and principles that made Danish applied arts famous around the world. 

Art

Above photo: Jomfrureisen Claus, Top photo: Claus Ørntoft

Project Life-Boats: Three jaw-dropping ambassadors of the celebrations, these 12-meter-long concrete sculptures evoke ancient maritime female ships' figureheads. They sailed first to Aarhus and continue through European rivers and canals into the heart of Europe's cities that built up around ancient waterways. These 'floating culture houses' have green energy propulsion and are themselves works of art as they sail past, but each also has her own story of womanhood guests can explore when they're docked.

Photo: ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum

The Garden: Spread over several venues around the city, including the main galleries of its renowned ARoS Art Museum, as well as along 4 km of coastline, this is Aarhus' inaugural Triennial art installation event.

Hesitation of Light: It's not enough to light up the CityRing Bridge. Cameras on the bridge point outwards to record sunset colors, which, once the sun is fully set, are converted into the bridge's new color palette, illuminated using hundreds of lamps.  The name of the light installation is a nod to a local 17th century astronomer's discovery that light has speed.  In this case, light is made to hesitate in its conversion from nature to the lamps reflected on the human-engineered bridge, bringing new meaning to the locally-originated concept.

River Art: Decorated boats, pyro-techniques and pyro-artists light projections and a giant display on a rooftop into light sculptures. There's a scheduled special performance in the harbor as a historic fleet sails.

Aarhus Stories: The history of the region – from Vikings until present – comes to life in epic digital cinematic concerts with visuals projected onto the cathedral and a soundtrack performed live by its DJ composer.

 

Audio/ Music

SonicArk: This sound project results from public recording sessions with interactive performers in and around Aarhus and will evolve over the year. This emotional sensory work will involve and move people differently every time they experience it.

Forest Megaphones: Immense, wooden acoustic bullhorns are installed in the woods, amplifying its sounds.  You can ''inhabit' the megaphones to engage in the richness of enhanced nature, and concerts will also be held, where musicians play inside megaphones for an audience assembled in the woods.

Aqua Sonic: Five performers submerged underwater in glass tanks perform a concert for live audiences. The artists collaborated with deep sea divers, instrument makers and scientists to develop underwater instruments and develop a new way of singing in the last frontier on earth.

Movement and Active

Culture by Bike: Live one of Denmark's most powerful symbols of its modern way of life: cycle through 450 km of spectacular scenery and cultural offerings. Digital and printed maps help guide you to ride the entire or part of the route between museums, ancient ruins, and preserved manor houses. Stop for an ocean swim like a Viking or local food offerings. 

Photo: Joel Chester

Tree of Codes: An evocative collaboration between music, dance, light and structure.

Urban Waves: You've seen - and done - nothing like this.  First you learn surfing moves on specially designed skateboards.  If you're good enough, you get to graduate to mobile 'wave ramps'. 'Surfskating' is more like surfing and snowboarding combined, and you might sprain an ankle, but the kids will love it.

Gastronomy

European Region of Gastronomy: It's no coincidence that Aarhus and Central Denmark are also celebrating their culinary culture and heritage.  It's integrated into Culture Capital events in acknowledgement that cooking was what may originally have set humans apart culturally.  Depending on your favorite food, plan your trip to hit food festivals including lobster, oysters, seaweed, and even gourmet 'hotdogs' (not your everyday street meat!) and food trucks. But the marquee event must be…

Photo: Stefan Ravn

The People's Feast: a 3-day event billed as the 'biggest dinner party in the history of Denmark'. Long dining tables and kitchen stations serve up meals with a vision and story with twists, all under the command of renowned chefs and culinary trend-setters.

Find out more about all the events going on in Aarhus in 2017 here.

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MSC Cruises, UNICEF Partnership Feeds 67,000 Needy Children and Their Families

We're already pretty passionate about travel.  Then when the company we trust with our valuable vacation time and budget makes the effort to do good in our shared world, well, that makes us love travel even more.

European cruise line MSC Cruises has recently reached an incredible milestone for its partnership with UNICEF, raising €6.5 million (that's about $6.9 million USD) through guest donations onboard to support UNICEF.

Those funds have been put to good use.  More than 2 million sachets of Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) have been delivered to children in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and Malawi. That translates into helping 67,000 malnourished children and their families since 2014.  In addition, MSC has recently delivered 22,000 essential supplies to relief efforts in Malawi.

Focus on Children and Families

MSC Cruises is a family-run company, so, according to executive chairman Pierfrancesco Vago, the UNICEF focus on the wellbeing of children and their families, and the ability to provide life-saving and life-changing food to children around the world where and when it's most needed, strikes a chord. 

If you've sailed on MSC Cruises, you may have seen their 'Get on Board for Children' fund-raising initiative. MSC Cruises and UNICEF have worked in partnership since 2009 and together established the global initiative to assist malnourished children in developing countries and those affected by crises.

Through encouraging MSC Cruises’ guests fleet wide to make contributions to UNICEF, more than 6,300 children have been treated in Somalia, over 9,400 in both South Sudan and Ethiopia and, most recently, over 41,500 in Malawi. With multiple challenges such as food shortages, flooding, stagnant economies and prolonged droughts, the need for food aid in these countries is enormous, especially for children.

Nutrition plus Supplies for Malawi's Crisis

In Malawi, 54,053 cases of severe acute malnutrition have been recorded this year. As the only corporate partner in the country, MSC Cruises has worked tirelessly to support the area, helping UNICEF to reach over 40% of Malawi’s severely malnourished children.

The generosity of MSC Cruises' guests has been magnified by an additional donation of more than 22,000 essential items delivered directly to Malawi, one of the poorest regions served by the relief effort. In recent years, the country has been devastated by drought, then flooding that has wiped out farms and homes. Over 6 million people, half of them children, are in grave danger of survival.

Executive chairman Vago visited Malawi earlier this year and says he returned even more committed to helping UNICEF's programs in the country.

An MSC cargo ship arrives in Malawi this month with essential goods including mattresses and bed sheets, bicycles, cooking pots, bowls and spoons, and farming tools as well as chalkboards, school pencils, drawing books, toys and puppets for the children.

Participate in the UNICEF Program on Board Ships

MSC Cruises’ guests onboard have the opportunity to learn about and participate in the MSC/ UNICEF program. There are “edutainment” activities for children and their parents. Each week, cruise ship programs include activities like a dedicated UNICEF Day with fun games and a children’s parade, where participating kids receive a leaflet to teach them about malnutrition around the world. They also receive a UNICEF World Citizen passport that is stamped after each educational activity is completed, making them an ambassador for the rights of children across the globe.

So thank you to all the guests and fans of MSC Cruises who have participated in the UNICEF programs, and to MSC for giving guests onboard such a meaningful way to spread their own commitment to families to other families in our shared world. 

Travel can do great things, and we love to share success stories like this.

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-          Scented Genista Flower, for a soft, sweet smell

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

-          Umbrella Fern for a little pizazz

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

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

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

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

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Why scramble around outdoors in spring rain or snow for a chocolate bunny or some foil-wrapped chocolate eggs... when you could be in France, watching (and smelling!) chocolate fashion parading down the catwalk? 

That's just one of the delicious experiences BestTrip.TV had when we visited the elegantly-named Salon du Chocolat, an annual event in Paris celebrating all things chocolate. 

The chocolate costumes are not for eating, but most everything else is. You'll find tastings, edible art, and an incredible display of things you never imagined could be done with the world's most popular confection (jewelry! sculpture!). 

Treat your inner chocoholic to the best event ever, in one of the most celebrated culinary and fashion destinations in the world.  And please stop eating your kids' chocolate bunnies. 

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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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Why Inject Adventure Travel Into your Next Vacation

We get it. You really need a break. Downtime. Relaxation. Time to book a vacation so you can… Try a new adventure.

Does adventure travel sound way too energetic, even the opposite of what you need in a holiday? Think again.

Lynn Elmhirst, Executive Producer, Host and Travel Expert from BestTrip.TV, explains why finding a way to leave the beach and make soft adventure part – or all - of your next holiday, whether it's a multi-generation family vacation, a couples' escape, a girl- or guy-friend getaway, bleisure time from your business trip or business conference, might be the best travel decision you can make. And way better for you than a week on a lounge chair.

Soft adventure is about being active and interacting with the outdoors and nature. It's not about extreme activities that involve intensive training or baked-in danger. Think hiking, cycling, canoeing and kayaking, spelunking, tree walks, orienteering, photography, bird and wildlife watching, agriculture and rural volunteering - not tagging sharks, climbing Everest, or base jumping!

Tapping into your inner Scout, not SEAL.

Soft adventure vacations are one of today's top travel trends. Some reports say 50% of North American travelers have started choosing soft adventure travel experiences over beach vacations. There are outdoor adventures waiting in some of the world's most beautiful, inspiring places for travelers of every age and most levels of fitness. Plus all these benefits:

Physical Wellness

Fill your 'park prescription': anytime you can be active rather than sedentary, you're doing your body good. Doctors are starting to prescribe 'park prescriptions' to get people moving outdoors, deep breathing clean air, absorbing Vitamin D to reduce the impact of, and even treat common modern ailments, from heart disease to obesity to ADD. And of course you've heard that sitting is the new smoking. Anytime you're moving not sitting, your overall health and fitness is winning. Outdoors just makes it more effective.

And knowing you're going on an adventure on your next vacation can give you motivation to stay on your fitness program at home so you can enjoy the kinds of soft adventures you want to experience when you travel.

Acid Balance: Breathing fresh outdoor, clean air is believed to have an alkaline effect on your body. This can reverse or balance acidity from stress and lower oxygen levels from a more indoor, sedentary life. Ultimately, being active outdoors is a valuable tool to fight impaired fat loss, poor endurance and more unwelcome physical effects and make your body stronger and healthier.

See green to get fit: Getting outdoors is one of the best ways to support your fitness goals. Research shows that when you're viewing the color green (that is, plant life in a natural setting) exercise actually feels easier! So you'll enjoy it and stay with it longer, and it feels less like a 'workout' than play.

Get dirty to get healthy: It's possible our lives have just gotten too… clean. It's time to get down in the muck to strengthen our immune and digestive systems. Contact with soil and the earth is now believed be important to reconnect us to the good bacteria, enzymes and other organisms in soil that helped our ancestors – and can help us – strengthen our bodies against allergies, asthma, chronic digestive problems and support our overall immune systems.

Mental Wellness

Reduce stress, improve your mood and perceived energy: Being active in nature has been shown to realign thinking associated with stress and depression and low energy levels, and viewing natural beauty can elicit feelings of awe, releasing endorphins and trigger a purely natural mental 'high'.

Take a hike, grow your brain-power: Memory loss as you age is linked to a shrinking hippocampus in your brain. Guess what? Hiking and walking or similar moderate outdoor activity grows the hippocampus, with just 3, 40 minute walks a week. And brain scans after being active show focused activity in the pre-frontal cortex.

Increase your confidence to deal with uncertainty: The one thing you can always say about Mother Nature is that she isn't afraid to throw you a curve ball. Soft adventures give you low-risk opportunities to grow your problem solving skills when things don't go according to plan, practice staying cool under pressure, and acquire confidence in your ability to cope with life's uncertainties.

Give yourself a sense of accomplishment: Physical adventures give you opportunities to push the envelope of your safe zone and acquire new skills and knowledge outside of your daily routine, especially when they take place in a new environment. When you set yourself a challenge – like getting to the top of a new hill, to the end of a new trail, and achieve it, we get a chemical reward from our brains that creates euphoria. Don't we all need some natural euphoria in our lives?

Personal Growth

Create Memories and Stories: Our earliest ancestors knew the value of group memories and storytelling. Outdoor adventures and challenges create new memories, shared stories, opportunities to learn from challenges and share them. Even tough times create great stories, and fantastic times can give us inner resources to draw on for a lifetime.

Forge new relationships: embarking on challenges, achieving goals and getting those outdoor and physical 'highs' together with other people, can forge lasting bonds, whether it's with family, new friends, or even business colleagues.

Develop Self-Awareness/ Mindfulness: Outdoor adventures, especially ones that keep your body busy, free your mind to reflect on what you're seeing and experiencing, and on big picture 'life' itself. Most of our days are occupied on mentally-heavy work, family scheduling, and multi-tasking. Hiking or paddling or most other soft adventure remove us from our day-to-day mental loads, and let the side of wonder, self-reflection, and interaction with a world that's greater than ourselves take over.

Help the World

A lot of soft adventure travel options involve interacting with the natural and unspoiled world. Increasingly, soft adventure tourism, when it is about responsibly interacting with those natural spaces and resources, wildlife and local / indigenous people, provides one of the only – and best – sources of income to financially support their ongoing protection. The value of adventure travel creates a 'business case' for preserving them from development or other encroachment.

Key words: responsible and soft. Soft adventure isn't just 'soft' on your body, it's ALSO soft on the world around you. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Soft adventure can be transformative travel for you AND for future generations together on this earth.

(Photo: Kayaking in Halong Bay, Vietnam, BestTrip.TV)

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Can Cruise Travel have an Edge? Celebrity Cruises Thinks So.

We don't normally go gaga over ships that haven't launched yet… But this news we just had to share with you. At a cruise industry event last week, Celebrity Cruises announced the first of a new class of ship: The Edge.

The first ship designed entirely in 3-D, in (parent company) Royal Caribbean's Miami Innovation Lab in the world's largest and highest resolution 3-D virtual reality simulator in the world, we think the billion (with a 'b') dollar Edge earns its name.

Imagine this: designers were chosen for their inexperience – inexperience! - with cruise ships and cruising.  Celebrity wanted a truly fresh approach to how to enjoy life at sea.  No preconceived notions, and nothing  was off the table.   New-to-cruise travelers, this could be the ship for you!

Highlights of their revolutionary approach include outward-facing design, a big break from traditional inward-facing design, connecting guests more to the seascape around you and practical, make-life-easy digital innovations – not just gimmicks.

In a Class of its Own: The 'Magic Carpet'

Originally conceived as a tender (small boat to shore) launch but evolved into an engineering feat that is so much more: the world's first cantilevered venue at sea that travels up and down 13 stories on the side of the ship, transforming into different venues on different decks: an al fresco specialty restaurant under the stars, an expansion of the pool deck, a luxury embarkation station.

Then there's…

  • The Resort Deck, encompassed by an outward-facing, untraditionally asymmetrical terraced pool deck nearly 22 feet high that makes the ocean views and landscapes the focal point while lounging poolside.
  • Spectacular martini glass-shaped hot tubs suspended elegantly in the air on the slenderest glass stems and bookend the pool.
  • A larger-than-life artistic mirror installation – an ever-changing, abstract piece positioned above the Pool Bar.
  • The pool deck's oversized sculptural pieces unlike anything we've seen at sea. Dramatic, unique tree sculptures add an air of whimsy and create an intimate setting at night when lit up.
  • The Rooftop Garden, a living, urban playscape designed to awaken the inner-child in everyone, tended to daily by a resident horticulturist, an interactive space, including pop-up live music performances from musicians in the treetop sculptures.
  • The Retreat Sundeck rivaling any high-end resort, with over-water hanging chairs while the water laps beneath your feet or you lay back in the shaded resort-style cabanas and soak up the nearly 240-degree panoramic views on the forward end of the ship.
  • The Retreat Lounge, located just below The Retreat Sundeck and open around the clock, touching the sea on both the port- and starboard sides, and offering seemingly endless ocean views.
  • Edge staterooms with Infinite Verandas, revolutionizing the standard veranda stateroom with the touch of a button, blurring – even erasing – the boundaries between inside and outside. The entire living space becomes the veranda, letting you walk right out to the water’s edge.

Altogether: a uniquely nautical interpretation of a stand-out, stylish, boutique resort… that happens to deliver you to a new port of call every day. 

The head-turning design is matched by technology:

Digital Technology on the Edge

  • 'Frictionless arrival', eliminating the stop-and-go check-in process that frustrates modern travelers, replacing it with a seamless experience harnessing facial recognition software and a system of geofenced beacons.
  • The cruise industry's first–keyless entry using a smart phone.
  • Another cruise-first: stateroom automation allowing guests to precisely adjust lighting, window shades, temperature, and service with a simple touchscreen.
  • Virtual Concierge app harnesses Artificial Intelligence, allowing guests to order drinks, book dinner reservations, or reserve shore excursions.
  • Way-Finding using smart phones with sensors.
  • 'X-Ray Vision' (actually, a system of HD cameras) allowing you to peek behind walls and closed doors of selected locales, like the bridge, the engine room, or even the anchor.

We can't wait to see the Edge come to life.  You won't be able to sail on this ground (wave?)-breaking new ship until December 2018, but you can already reserve your place so you can be among the first to see if you agree: there's real Edge to this new ship.

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It may not be the most joyful travel experience you have in Northern France, but for families of veterans, and any grateful citizen, a visit to the World War 2 Landing Beaches in Normandy creates a lifetime of memories.

BestTrip.TV journeyed to the shores on a stormy English Channel to see the remnants of battlefield sites, moving war monuments and memorials to the brave souls from the UK, the US, and Canada who stormed those beaches in a last-ditch effort to free Europe and end the war. 

Nature and Heritage at Jamaica's First UNESCO World Heritage Site

A first for Jamaica and a first for the Caribbean. In 2015, Jamaica's Blue and John Crow Mountains became the country's first UNESCO World Heritage Site, and also the Caribbean's first World Heritage Mixed Site for both natural and cultural riches.

The emerald mountains define the eastern part of the island and cover an area of 480 km2. The UNESCO site is 260 km2 within Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park.

Nature and Biodiversity

It's a rare 'tropical mountain' environment on the steep (nearly 1,000-meter) slopes, with cloud forest, a unique ecosystem that only occurs in 2.5% of the world's tropical forests.

The Blue and John Crow Mountains are a global biodiversity hotspot, one of the world's 78 most irreplaceable protected areas for plant and wildlife species conservation.

The park has 1,357 species of flowering plants; a quarter of them are only found in Jamaica, and 87 are found only within the park.

It is the last of two known habitats of the giant swallowtail butterfly, the largest butterfly in the Western Hemisphere, and the habitat for 200 species of birds including the endangered Jamaican blackbird. It is one of the largest migratory bird habitats in the Caribbean. It's also the home of the Jamaican boa and the threatened rodent hutia.

Culture and Heritage

This is where indigenous Tainos and former slaves fled to escape colonial enslavement. The thickly forested mountains provided the seclusion and natural resources for the Maroons' survival and fight for freedom. They developed a profound knowledge of and spiritual connection to the mountains, creating a cultural legacy that survives in modern Jamaica.

Tangible history of the Maroons' life and resistance in the mountains also remains today. The Nanny Town Heritage Route includes settlements, trails, viewpoints, and hiding places.

The Blue and John Crow Mountains sustained Maroons and supported them as they struggled to survive and achieve recognition and liberation. Their example influenced other slave resistance in the region, and is a powerful story of humanity for all people of the world.

Jamaicans and Visitors

The Blue and John Crow Mountains' designation as a dual UNESCO World Heritage Site was a momentous occasion for Jamaica and Jamaicans.

It was dedicated to the legacy of the Maroons of Jamaica, "strong, cunning and resourceful persons who found ingenious ways to dismantle a system that blighted peoples of the region… They have helped to shape our identity of self, and community."

As a Mixed World Heritage Site, the Blue and John Crow Mountains' one-of-a-kind environment and profound cultural heritage will be preserved for ancestors of the brave Maroons, and for visitors to the country looking for a deeper connection to Jamaica.

To plan your visit, contact  the Office of Park Managers, Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust by email at jamaicaconservation@gmail.com; or by phone at (876) 960-2848-9 or (876) 960-8278-9. Photo Credit - Jamaica Social Investment Fund

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

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

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

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

 

Above Photo Credit  All other images courtesy Fortnum & Mason

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

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

Getting a Proper Cut and Shave from the Barber

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

Ordering a Cocktail from the Barman

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

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

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

Outfitting your Travels like a Gentleman

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

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

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

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There's a magical stretch of the Danube river that's known as the 'Tuscany of Austria'.

Hills rise in the mist above the Wachau valley, and between fairy tale towns of ornate, pastel colored historic buildings, wineries line the river banks and hillsides.

It's a region best visited by river cruise.  Our AMAWaterways Danube river cruise on the AMACerto brought us right to the doorstep of this legendary destination: the picturesque village of Krems.

BestTrip.TV disembarks our ship to visit the Winzer Krems vineyard, where the vintner's tour reveals the winery's history, delicious and famous white wines, as well as an exciting new taste for interactive, modern art in an historic setting.

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

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

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

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

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

·       New: Expansion of the vegetarian menu

·       More than 80 diverse dishes

·       Partnership with Michelin-starred chef Michael Hoffmann

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

First-class Vegetarian and Vegan menus:

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

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

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

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

Part of a Holistic, European Approach to Wellness:

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

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

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

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Look up!  Tips from an Interior Designer to Take Travel Home

The inspiration we get from the new spaces we experience is one of the reasons we travel.  It's even better when we can translate that inspiration from our travels into our own homes.

Karen Sealy is principal designer of Sealy Design Inc. and TV design expert on Cityline.  She's also an avid traveler, who shares her love of travel and design expertise with us.  Here's her take on stunning 'Fifth Walls' and how you can take that travel inspiration into your own home.

Ceilings can create the overall feeling of a space as much as, if not more than, many other decorative details.  Truly inspired design includes ceilings as a 'Fifth Wall'.  Too often, it's more like a 'Forgotten Fifth Wall'.  So many ceilings end up with default crown moulding – not very inspired!    Here are some of the most inspired ‘fifth walls’ I’ve encountered on my travels, and how you can take these uplifting design tips from magnificent places you can visit… into your own home.

Fallingwater, Pennsylvania

Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece Fallingwater was once a private home, but is now preserved for future generations of design lovers to visit.  It is an entire lesson in the use of ceilings to set the atmosphere of a room. 

 

(Photo Credit)

Cathedral ceilings create a sense of grandeur and openness, perfect for great rooms or other large spaces, but used in a smaller space where you might want a cozier appeal it will feel like you are sitting in an elevator shaft. Frank Lloyd Wright famously used ceiling heights to create moods.  It’s not always about lofty ceilings. In many cases, lowering the ceiling to offer a space to rest was a design device he used to make people in the space feel safe and secure.

Frank Llyod Wright’s Fallingwater- Living room, looking south.  Photo: Robert P. Ruschak, courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy

As someone who has always been inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s design it struck me how different it felt to be at Fallingwater, rather than to just see it in print.  Even large open rooms had a sense of intimacy and the entire space worked as a cohesive unit as you moved from one space to the next.  I adopted many of these techniques in my own home.  Opening the ceiling in the living room and adding wood clad collar ties, with subtle lighting above created drama and interest and then in the neighbouring dining area, I specifically lowered the ceiling over the wrap around banquette to create an intimate area for lounging and conversation. 

King Edward Hotel, Toronto

There’s been a great revival of the coffered and tray ceiling. We often associate these details with a more traditional aesthetic (which is where these ceilings have their roots) but modern choices, such as linear, less “fussy” details and painted versus natural wood, work in most transitional homes. 

This ceiling (top photo and below)  in the historic King Edward Hotel, in Toronto, is majestic and elegant, and even feels current. By painting it white it has a more reflective quality that bounces light from the both the magnificent, traditional chandeliers and the very modern uplights creating an airy and ethereal feeling. 

It's a great example of achieving the best design by creating tension between elements.  Imagine you’ve bought a lovely century house with beautiful coffered ceilings and while you want to honor the history of the home, your personal taste is more modern.  How do you marry these things successfully?  In broad strokes, my trick is to keep (or even add) more authentic primary components of the house, such as: restoring the original baseboards, doors, ceiling details, architectural features… any part of the house itself.  Then the way you fill the house, such as: lighting details; furniture; cabinetry; plumbing fixtures can be more modern. 

Of course playing with this formula also allows some creative license that can create some very dramatic spaces like the King Eddie ballroom.  Aside from dramatic effect, functionally speaking coffered or tray ceilings can offer some practical purposes to like providing a clever way to hide structural beams, ductwork or plumbing.  These also serve to delineate zones in open concept spaces.  

Hawksworth Restaurant and Bar, Rosewood Hotel Georgia, Vancouver

The ceiling at Hawksworth cocktail bar feels like a sculptural piece that might have well been inspired by 'starchitect' Frank Gehry.  Its organic flow has a feminine appeal that plays well against the very structured masculine clad walls and dark wood floor.  But what makes this ceiling really sing, is the use of lighting to accentuate its sensuous folds.

The Pearl Room at the Hawksworth, which is adjacent to the cocktail bar, employs an entirely different ceiling technique.  The linear lines created by the applied moulding acts to frame the enormous contemporary crystal chandelier.  The color palette in both rooms is the same – rich chocolate brown and cream, so the flow between the rooms works, but the experience is each is unique in large part due to the ceiling design.  

We are experiential beings interacting with our built environment.  Inspiration is all around us. When you travel around the world or around the block, look around – and up! – for inspired design.

(A version of this article was published previously; courtesy Cruise and Travel Lifestyles Magazine).

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