InStyle Vacations's Blog

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.

Start your Trip!

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.

Start your Trip!

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

Start your Trip!

                              

 

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.

Start your Trip!

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.

Start your Trip!

 

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.

Start your Trip!

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.

Start your Trip!

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).

Start your Trip!

Hanami Tips: View Cherry Blossoms Like the Japanese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well you know where it went from there.  Parties.

Image Credit

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

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

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

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

Night Hanami. Image credit

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

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

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

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

Tips for Hanami in Japan:

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

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

Start your trip!

 

40 Years Later: Where is the 'Hotel California'?

It's one of the most loved travel songs of all time.  And February 26th marked the 40th anniversary of the Eagles' Hotel California. 

It really was forty years ago, in 1977, the band's most popular song was released as a single from the Eagles' album of the same name, and entered the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

Hotel California quickly won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1978.  But it also became a cultural icon for generations since.  Its guitar solo is consistently named one of the greatest ever, and the roadtrip song is now in the Grammy Hall of Fame.   Want it playing in your head the rest of the day?  Here's a link to the Eagle's performing it.  (Photo: The Eagles in concert performing Hotel California, 2010 tour in Australia. Photo Credit.)

So where is Hotel California? Well, the album cover art made it pretty clear.  It featured a picture of the fabled Beverly Hills Hotel.

Photo Credit

Somehow, fans with big imaginations wove conspiracies about a deeper, hidden meaning, but the band members say it's just not so. Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and Don Felder share writing credits for the song, and Don Henley has made it very clear that the song was about 'a journey from innocence to experience... that's all…'

'We were all middle class kids from the Midwest, ‘Hotel California’ was our interpretation of the high life in L.A.'

The Beverly Hills Hotel is still the essence of Hollywood's luxury pedigree.  The Mediterranean Revival style hotel, in its trademark pale pink and green, is one of the most renowned hotels in the world. 

Photo Credit

Constructed in 1912, in the middle of bean fields where rich polo players used to practice, the Beverly Hills Hotel was built BEFORE that city's existence. The hotel was strategically built on a prominence above the main road, and resembled a palatial, colonial mansion. Each of the rooms has its own balcony and is designed in the Beverly Hills Hotel colors. The Sunroom of the hotel, containing Californian craftsman furniture, provides vistas of the Pacific Ocean.

Polo players were quickly replaced by the cream of Hollywood society: film stars, studio bosses, celebrities, and rock stars.   In its earliest days, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Rudolph Valentino, and Will Rogers flocked to the new destination, ultimately building homes nearby.

They transformed the bean fields to one of the most prestigious addresses in the world. The Beverly Hills Hotel is the prime occupant of Sunset Boulevard, in the city that established itself around the hotel, and adopted the hotel's name.

Beverly Hills became a symbol of the glamorous 50's and 60's, and the Beverly Hills Hotel welcomed royalty like Princess Margaret, Princess Grace, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who rubbed elbows with leading lights of Hollywood: John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack, Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, the Beatles… the list goes on and on.  

The Beverly Hills Hotel became known as the 'Pink Palace', with legendary stories emanating from the hotel's guest rooms, bungalows in the 12 acres of gardens, and the Sand and Pool Club, whose white sand was imported from Arizona, and made the pool area look like a beach.

Old Hollywood lives on today.  The Beverly Hills Hotel had a100-million-dollar-plus renovation in the 1990's, and more remodeling and restoration for its 100th anniversary in 2012.  That year, the hotel was named the first historic landmark in Beverly Hills.

Today, the Eagles' 'Hotel California' is part of the Dorchester Collection of luxury hotels, and guests can still soak in the atmosphere of legendary Hollywood glamour.

Start your Trip!

 

 

 

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

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

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

Start your Trip!

Who's the Best Bartender at Sea?

2500 entries.  13 cruise lines.  All competing for the title of 2017 Bacardi Legacy Cruise Competition Bartender of the Year.

The finals took place in Miami in February in a live competition judged by a panel of cocktail and spirits experts, held at award-winning restaurant Alter in Miami’s hip Wynwood neighborhood.  

Norwegian Cruise Line’s Wade Cleophas came out on top of the 'spirited' competition, and now wears the crown of Bartender of the Year.

Wade’s winning creation is the ‘Legend Reviver’ - inspired by classic cocktails with spices reminiscent of traveling to exotic places - featuring Bacardi Ocho Anos, mixed with star anise-infused sweet vermouth, caramel/cinnamon syrup with drops of whisky barrel aged bitters and finished with a mist of Absinthe.  As we like to say, 'Tastes like another!'

His perfectly presented cocktail was artistically finished off with a garnish resembling the sails of a merchant ship and the wings of the Bacardi bat.

A key element of the competition was the requirement for finalists to promote their cocktail around the world.  In the three months that Wade was promoting Legend River Reviver, Norwegian sold almost 2000 servings of the specialty drink. We think that's a strong vote for Wade's creative mixology.

Wade began his bartending career over 12 years ago, starting out in his hometown of Cape Town, South Africa, progressing to work with many leading bartenders in Dubai and Miami, before joining Norwegian Cruise Line.

Wade will now move on to The Bacardi Legacy Global Cocktail Competition in May in Berlin.  It's a global search to find a cocktail that can stand the test of time to become a true Bacardi classic; a cocktail that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with cocktails of legends, such as heritage classics like the Daiquiri or Mojito.

In the meantime, you might be able to sidle up to the bar to taste his magic with a cocktail shaker; Wade is the Assistant Beverage Manager onboard Norwegian Escape, sailing weekly from Miami to the Caribbean.

Start your Trip!

How to Eat Like the Irish on St.Patrick's Day

A foodie exploration of  Ireland is an island-wide adventure involving the favorite Irish pastimes of eating, drinking and socializing – from cafés and pubs, to stylish Michelin-starred restaurants.

In the 'Emerald Isle', food is intimately connected to the rich green landscape, regional farming and cooking traditions, the freshest seasonal ingredients and supremely talented food-meisters who magically inject ‘art’ into artisan Irish produce and modern interpretations of Ireland's culinary heritage. Not to mention Ireland's famously colorful turns of phrase.

On the one day a year that 'everyone's a little bit Irish', up the ante on your green beer.  Here's a guide to ordering authentic flavors of Ireland.  And some tips about where and what to eat and how to celebrate Ireland's food culture on your next trip.

Boxty

Where: O’Holohan’s on the Barge, Belfast

Climb on board O’Holohan’s, moored at the Belfast Waterfront. This restaurant-on-a-barge is famed for its boxty: a traditional potato pancake, which it serves with pan-fried hake, organic veg and shellfish cream.

Home-Smoked Salmon

Where: Delahunt, Dublin

Bring on one of the best fish dishes in Dublin. This is a thing of brains and beauty: lapsang souchong home-smoked salmon, served in the incredible surroundings of a converted Victorian building on Dublin’s Camden Street. It’s the very essence of contemporary Irish cooking – creative, fresh AND delicious.

Coddle

Where: The Woollen Mills, Dublin

Overlooking the iconic arc of the Ha’penny Bridge, the Woollen Mills has a light, modern-industrial interior – a great counterpoint to a dish that dates back to the 1770s, Dublin coddle, a no-nonsense bowl of bacon, sausages, onion and potato. Honest, hearty and very Dublin.

Seafood Chowder

Where: Canteen at the MAC Belfast

In the super-cool open-brick surrounds of Belfast’s premier arts venue, MAC, you can enjoy one of Ireland’s most popular seafood dishes: seafood chowder. MAC’s version uses sustainable fish, and comes with Guinness and treacle bread. Come for the art, stay for the chowder.

Cockles and Mussels

Where: The Exchequer, Dublin

Fever-ridden Molly Malone wheeled her wheelbarrow around the Dublin streets selling these fresh local molluscs. But to dine on the cooked combination, you need to check out the Exchequer gastro pub and its gourmet version with spiced sausage, Bulmers cider and homemade bread.

Oysters

Where: Mourne Seafood Bar, Belfast

Traditionally served with pints of Guinness, sample some of the finest at the Mourne Seafood Bar in Belfast. In this relaxed informal space, seafood takes centre stage. Try local oysters three ways: au naturel, Japanese-style or Rockefeller. Either way, they’re delicious, so get shucking.

Or:

Celebrate Oyster Season

September is the month of the oyster and in Northern Ireland the annual Hillsborough Oyster Festival (1-4) holds the world oyster eating championships – you’ll have to eat around 223 in three minutes if you want to seriously compete! But the pretty Georgian village is alive with music, Ulster’s fine food, golf, dancing and pageants if you don’t.

The world-famous Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival (23-25) is also a major event in Ireland´s social calendar – London’s Sunday Times has called it one of the 12 greatest shows on earth. Walk through the city and you’ll see passionately fought-out Irish and international oyster opening competitions, celebrity cook-offs, and fantastic live music events on the streets and pouring out of the pubs. Few can resist a Galway oyster tasting (with the perfect accompaniment of a pint of Guinness), a ‘seafood dine-around’ some of the city’s best restaurants or a glam night out at the Gala Oyster Ball.

A Fresh Fish Supper (Fish and Chips)

Where: John Long’s, Belfast

A philosophy of simple but impeccable fish and chips runs through this Belfast institution, which has been described by the Belfast Telegraph as “the holiest of holy culinary shrines”. Grab a space at a Formica table, order a cup of tea, and wait for some of the best fish and chips you’re ever likely to taste.

The Waterford Blaa

Where: Hatch & Sons, Dublin

Waterford locals love their ’blaa’ – a soft bread roll introduced by the French Huguenots in the 17th century. Paired with dry-cured bacon, it’s a real delight. To try one in Dublin, head to the Georgian kitchen-café of Hatch & Sons on St Stephen’s Green. Go old school with rashers (strips of bacon), or take it upscale with spiced beef, rapeseed mayo, Coolea cheese and onion relish.

Or

Visit September's Waterford Harvest Festival. The city's famous fluffy breadroll blaa is centerstage, along with other local delicacies. Over 10 mouth-watering days, foodies will relish the cookery demos and workshops, seminars, foodie films and tastings, dinners, banquets and restaurant trails. Street performances and big outdoor music gigs are also on the Waterford menu.

And For Serious Foodies…

If you want to take your love for food a bit deeper you can sign yourself, your family, your colleagues or your pals up for one of the excellent cookery schools located around the country. Serious foodies can also opt for a food tour – counties Cork, Mayo and Dublin are excellent for these.

Start your Trip!

A New Viking on the High Seas

The Viking Sky has set sail on its maiden voyage.  It's the 3rd ship for Viking Ocean Cruises and a sister ship to Viking Star and Viking Sea.

The Viking Sky launched from Rome’s Civitavecchia port last week on her first cruise en route to Barcelona. Sister ship to the award-winning Viking Star and Viking Sea, Viking Sky begins her maiden season sailing itineraries throughout the Western and Eastern Mediterranean before heading north into Viking territory to sail Scandinavian and Baltic itineraries in the summer. Viking Sky crosses the Atlantic this fall and finishes out the year sailing itineraries in the Americas and the Caribbean.

Scandinavian Design

Considered a “small ship,” the all-veranda Viking Sky, like her sister ships, boasts 465 staterooms – that's less than a thousand passengers. Viking's ocean ships are designed by experienced nautical architects and engineers, as well as the same interior design team responsible for the award-winning fleet of Viking Longships.  On board, guests find serene Scandinavian spaces, where every room is beautiful and functional, quiet, and filled with light.

The 'Viking Way' of Exploration

Viking Sky, like all Viking's ocean ships, is deliberately small to get guests closer to your destination, with more time in port, more overnights and fewer days at sea. All-veranda design means that guests experience every day with a new, expansive vista. With the most al fresco dining at sea, Viking’s guests can truly dine in their destination. A focus on cultural enrichment brings immersive experiences onshore and on board, including these highlights in the destinations of the new Viking Sky's maiden year in service:

·         The Hermitage Behind Closed Doors, St. Petersburg, Russia – Guests receive a Privileged Access view of the vaults of one of the world’s greatest art collections at the magnificent Hermitage Museum. 

·         Vistas, Vikings & The Village Woodturner, Torshavn, Faroe Islands Guests can gain insight into daily village life and the rich Viking heritage as they explore the village of Kvivik, site of a 10th-century Viking settlement.

·         King Crab Safari, Honningsvåg, Norway – Guests can set off in a deep-sea raft into the pristine waters of Sarnesfjorden to catch their own king crab in this thrilling excursion.

The trio of ocean ships will become a quartet in late 2017, when Viking’s fourth ocean ship, Viking Sun, will be delivered in November.  The Viking Sun will spend her maiden season sailing the cruise line's first-ever World Cruise.

They'll be joined by the Viking Spirit in 2018 to sail itineraries in Australia, Asia and Alaska. A sixth, yet-to-be-named ship will be delivered in 2019.

With the arrival of the sixth ship, Viking will go from a river-only cruise line only a few years ago, to the largest small ship ocean cruise line.

Start your Trip!

Video: Culinary School in Provence, France

Has it been your dream to go to a cooking school in Europe? Immerse yourself in local produce, ingredients and culinary secrets shared by a chef in a scenic destination?

BestTrip.TV traveled to Provence in the South of France, a region famous for its sun, breathtaking vistas, vineyards, beaches and cuisine. Our culinary school experience was learning to make aioli, which you sometimes see on menus called 'garlic mayonnaise'. But silky, mellow, aioli, made by your own hand - a glass of ice-chilled local rose wine in the other - as part of a Provencal meal on the terrace of an historic manor house? Incomparable.

A memorable way to experience hands-on the cuisine of one of the legendary destinations in Europe for couples, a group of friends, even a girlfriend getaway.

Start your Trip!

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Makes 5-Star Award History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start your Trip!

Video: When is a Cruise not a Cruise?

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

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

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

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

Start your Trip!

Montreal Celebrates 375th Anniversary with a Year of Music

5 Can't Miss Music Events in Montreal in 2017 from Leonard Cohen to Pink Floyd Opera to an Electronic Music Parade.

On May 17, 1642, a small colony called Ville-Marie was founded by a small group of 50 explorers from France. The little colony would soon be known as Montreal and 375 years later, a city of 1.7 million is celebrating a milestone.

Montreal's 375th anniversary conveniently falls alongside Canada's 150th, and makes Montreal one of the top Canadian destinations to visit in 2017 thanks to an exciting line-up of festivals and events throughout the year. Montreal has always fostered and celebrated its musical scene, and in its 375th anniversary year, music reigns.

Here are five musical experiences you can't miss in Montreal this year.

World Premiere of: Another Brick in the Wall: The Opera

When: Select dates between March 11th and 24th

Another Brick in the Wall: The Opera is based on Pink Floyd's 1979 album The Wall and is a collaboration between Opera de Montreal and Pink Floyd's former bassist and chief songwriter, Roger Waters.

Starting out as a concept album (1979) and then a film (1982), The Wall is a psychological drama inspired by Waters' life.  Waters got the idea for The Wall after a concert at Montreal's Olympic Stadium in 1977, so the iconic composition is in a sense, coming home with the premiere of its operatic interpretation on the Montreal stage during the city's 375th celebrations.

Waters will also be a librettist in the production.

Free Montréal Symphonique Concert at Foot of Mount Royal

When: August 19th

Montreal's inner-city mountain has been central to the city since the start, and nowadays, it's a green urban retreat for locals and visitors.  Mount Royal takes center stage of 2017 birthday celebrations during a free performance at its base. The concert brings together major artists and Montréal's three great orchestras: the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, the Orchestre Métropolitain as well as the McGill Symphony Orchestra for the first time, under the direction of Simon Leclerc.

This extravagant, far-reaching concert will feature over 300 musicians, pop artists and choral singers. The theme of the concert is: seasons, and a series of tableaux will evoke the city, its inhabitants, its history, its landmarks and its vibrant personality. 

Electro Parade Around Montreal

When: September 2nd

The first Electro Parade in North America will feature local and international DJs on parade floats equipped with state-of-the-art sound systems and wandering through the streets of Montréal - turning city streets into dance floors.

This global trend has already become popular in Paris and Zurich, where similar events have taken place. 

Full programming, names of guest DJs, and the parade route will be announced soon.

Leonard Cohen Exhibit at MAC Museum

When: November 9th 2017 to April 1st, 2018

Well before he passed away last year, the Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montréal (MAC) was preparing a retrospective on this famous Montrealer's life.

Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything will be one of the last major Montreal 375th events in 2017. The exhibition will pay homage to this global star and feature a collection of new works created by artists who were inspired by Cohen's works and include visual art, performance art, music, written word and film.

One More Thing:

Cité Mémoire Brings History to Life

When: Every night throughout 2017 and beyond - except April 10th  to May 10th

Cité Mémoire (pictured, top) invites visitors to experience Montreal's history through a series of multimedia projections around Old Montreal - on buildings, cobblestone streets and even on trees.

For the full experience complete with music and narration, visitors can download the "Montreal en Histoires - Cite Memoire" app before your trip and take along your headphones. The free app is available in four languages and has a map of Old Montreal that shows each projection location and lists the best times for viewing each piece.

This is a self-guided walking tour that visitors can do every evening at your own pace, but there are also Cite Memoire staff along the route to help with interpretation and questions.

Favorite installations include "Suzanne", a love story projection on the Clock Tower Quay set to the iconic song by Leonard Cohen, and "The Face of Montreal", projections of various Montreal faces on trees along Jacques-Cartier Quay.

For a complete line-up of Montreal's 375th anniversary celebrations, visit: www.375mtl.com/en.  

Start your Trip!

Cruise with Oprah on Holland America Line

Oprah Winfrey will sail on a HAL cruise to Alaska in July 2017 as Holland America Line and O, The Oprah Magazine partner to celebrate travel.

If you're a fan of Oprah, you already know that Oprah Winfrey and her magazine are all about personal growth.  They've teamed up with Holland America Line to explore the life-changing power of travel.

Oprah Winfrey, Gayle King and others will join the inaugural O, The Oprah Magazine Share the Adventure Cruise setting sail to Alaska this July.  

For Oprah, who has designated 2017 her 'Year of Adventure', this will be her very first trip to Alaska, and fellow cruise travelers will be a witness to her experience of America's Last Frontier on HAL.

O, The Oprah Magazine Share the Adventure Cruise to Alaska will take place July 15–22, 2017. 

Four additional O, The Oprah Magazine Adventure of Your Life sailings featuring O Magazine-inspired activities will be scheduled aboard select North America ships through 2018. 

O, The Oprah Magazine Adventure of Your Life cruises will include the following dates/destinations:

  • November 29, 2017 – 11-Day Southern Caribbean Wayfarer roundtrip from Ft. Lauderdale on ms Koningsdam
  • March 3, 2018 – 7-Day Eastern Caribbean roundtrip from Ft. Lauderdale on ms Nieuw Amsterdam
  • August 11, 2018 – 7-Day Alaska roundtrip from Seattle on ms Eurodam
  • October 28, 2018 – 7-Day Western Caribbean, ms Nieuw Amsterdam

Living your Best Life Programming: O, The Oprah Magazine Adventure of Your Life cruises and more HAL Cruises

The O, The Oprah Magazine cruises will feature exclusive programming developed with the magazine’s editors.  Members of the SuperSoul 100 — thought leaders and visionaries who use their talents to elevate humanity — will be on board sharing inspirational ideas and tips for living your best life.

In addition to the 5 specific O-partnered cruises, more than 300 Holland America Line cruises sailing in North America from August 2017 through 2018 will have a variety of engaging, stimulating activities that bring the magazine's philosophy to life, including:

  • meditation,
  • tai chi,
  • healthy cooking demonstrations,
  • an onboard book club and more.

The magazine kicks off the partnership with a contest in March 2017 awarding three deserving readers the chance to join the inaugural cruise to Alaska with Oprah and Gayle.  Oprah fans can keep track of the partnership with HAL in Oprah's magazine, TV, and online channels through through 2017 and 2018.

Start your Trip!

 

 

Spelunking in Jamaica

It might be the most polar opposite activity to a day on the beach in Jamaica. Escaping from the sunny, hot, breeze of the beaches, to explore one of the island's networks of cool, dark, damp cave systems.

Jamaica is one of the special places in the world with 'Karst' topography, where flowing water has carved paths through soluble limestone terrain, resulting in spectacular underwater rivers and caves.

Exploring caves is irresistible. Our earliest ancestors used caves for protection, a place for worship, where they created art, stored their treasures, even buried their dead. There's something about being in a cave that taps our most primal instincts, returning to the refuge of Mother Earth. Feeling just for a little while that we're exploring the unknown.

It's a magical environment inside caves. Like entering another world, transitioning from sunlight, heat, and breeze, to dark, damp, stillness, with the Earth encompassing you, not just beneath your feet. Where light does leak in through openings from the world above, it's filtered and bounced off the limestone walls, dancing off particles in the air, creating a mystical ambiance.

Jamaica has long been on the map for the global community of experienced cavers drawn to the wild highlands of the island where some claim are a thousand cave systems, some descending hundreds of feet into the bowels of the Earth. Now, Jamaica is also a destination for spelunking – amateur caving – where travelers with no caving experience at all can work with guides who have intimate knowledge of the maze of caves, and can provide safety equipment and instruction so you, too, can discover a completely different world in Jamaica.

If you are not part of a very experienced, well-equipped caving team who has safety training for these conditions, working with a reputable cave tour company is the only safe and responsible way to experience Jamaica's caves. First, you don't want your actions to damage the cave or its wildlife inhabitants. Then there's your own wellbeing. Cave interiors are dark and can be muddy with difficult footing, low ceilings, and twists and turns that can make you lose your way.

You need more than flip flops, a camera phone and enthusiasm! Spelunking tours in Jamaica provide you with everything you need to become an explorer of this fascinating, underground side of the island. You'll discover not just new scenery, but perhaps also a new, mystical relationship with the earth that might be one of your best memories of a trip to Jamaica.

Cockpit Country Adventure Tours offers half and full-day caving trips. Their experienced guides lead trips of all levels of difficulty. Whether you're a first-timer, or an experienced spelunker, you'll have an unforgettable adventure. For more information, or to book a trip, click here.

Start your Trip!

Sweet on Toronto

To fall head over heels in love in – or with - Canada's largest city, head to these one-of-a-kind sweet shops.

Nothing inspires love like artistic chocolates, a giant donut cake, or gourmet cinnamon buns.

Sweet Design

If high concept design gets your heart pumping, the splashy, graphic CXBO chocolates (above photo by Ryan Crouchman) are your perfect confectionary match.

Chocolates By Brandon Olsen were a surprise to the Toronto culinary scene when they launched in 2016.  Until then, the now-chocolatier had been best known for his flair with nose-to-tail cuisine, and pop-up fried chicken.

But there was chocolate in his heart.  In collaboration with his fiancée, artist and filmmaker Sarah Keenlyside, CXBO took flight. She says art chocolates are a natural extension of their relationship.

(Photo: Alexa J. Fernando)

'We say that CXBO chocolates are "handmade with love in Toronto, Canada." We do make our chocolates with love, but the deeper meaning is our relationship and how we started CXBO together as a couple. A lot of what binds us together is our love of creating things, our love of food and art. In each other, we found our greatest collaborator.'

Chef Olsen's chocolates are equal parts playful and architectural. The 'paint splash' finish on polyhedron chocolates makes them the gems of the chocolate world.  Inside, uniquely creative flavors like Orange Blossom & Honey and Raspberry Rose Fennel rub elbows with exquisitely true-tasting classics like Cherry & Vanilla and Salted Caramel.  There are seasonal and custom collections too, like the 'Love Boat' Valentine's Day collection (below).

You can buy CXBO at their College Street West shop or at a few stores around the city, including the hipster Drake Hotel.  To double down on your immersion into Olsen's culinary arts, dine at their restaurant La Banane, which opened in January 2017 and is already at the top of the list of 'hottest restaurants in Toronto'. A nearly plate-sized chocolate "Ziggy Stardust Disco Egg" (below) is the star dessert.

Tip: you can order the currently available collections online so even after you leave Toronto, you can still get your fix of these exquisite edible art chocolates.

Sweet Taste of Home

'Home is where the heart is'.  But Rosen's Cinnamon Buns is a good place to look next.  Amy Rosen, the acclaimed food writer, arbiter of the best restaurants, and cookbook author, launched Rosen's Cinnamon Buns after a revelation: everyone loves cinnamon buns.

The proverbial light bulb switched on at a family gathering: when she served her cinnamon buns, the whole room, from the old to the young, the tall to the small, fell silent in homage to what may be the most deceptively simple pastry.  She opened the shop (there's a bar but no seats) in trendy College St. West in 2016.

Except for tea and coffee sourced from local Toronto businesses, the cinnamon bun is the only product sold. Don’t even dare to compare it with the cloying fast food mall version or… worse, the canned refrigerator variety!  Rosen's cinnamon buns are all natural, made with locally sourced where possible, organic and premium ingredients.  The base is a yeast dough, with a familiar, yet complex – and secret - combination of spices in the gooey centre.  

(Photo: Hector Vasquez)

And was Rosen right that everyone loves cinnamon buns – enough to commit a whole store to them?

'Cinnamon buns are the scent and taste of a happy home. When people walk into the shop I hear 'this smells like Christmas morning', or 'it smells just like my grandma’s house.' Scent memories trigger the smiles and then biting into a warm, fresh bun, drives the nostalgia home. Cinnamon buns aren't sexy, but they’re full of love.'

Tip: Get lucky with your timing and you might arrive when an occasional pan of cinnamon bun bread pudding comes out of the oven.

Sweet DIY

How sweet do you like your sweets?  The 'injector' donuts at The Rolling Pin pastry shop let you take charge in your love affair with pastries.

In the Lawrence Village area along Toronto's famous Yonge Street, pastry school besties Vanessa Baudanza and Isabelle Loiacono launched The Rolling Pin in 2014.   There's a fun, vintage vibe, from the cheeky 1950's signage, to the café inside with its mid-century decor and pops of cherry red.

The Rolling Pin menu features freshly baked selections of all the latest bakery/ pastry favorites, from macarons, cupcakes and cupcake 'bouquets', to cookies, pies, wedding and specialty cakes. But it's the humble donut that has become their calling card. 

'Ever wonder what a $10,000 donut tastes like?' they ask. The donut duo recently won Food Network's 'Donut Showdown', and it's that prize-winning yeast donut recipe that is baked daily in different flavors. You can even order any of the donut flavors as a giant, decorated 10-inch 'Donut Cake'.

But The Rolling Pin donut that truly 'takes the cake' is the one-of-a-kind 'injector' donut, and especially the maple bacon flavor with the injector tube of extra maple syrup, because… maple syrup.

It puts you in the power seat of your romance with the ultimate Canadian flavor. If you want a little bit more maple syrup, or a little bit less, you do it yourself and get exactly what your heart desires.

Tip: Check their web site for the 'weekly donut schedule' before you go so you don't miss the one you've got your heart set on!


Start your Trip!

5 Destination Wedding Sites in Mexico... that aren't the Beach

A dream wedding on the beach in Mexico… or not.

For some couples planning to get married or renew vows in coveted destinations in Mexico, it's just not their style to have sandy feet and sea salt-crusted hems of gowns on that special day.  Even if you love a beach vacation, you might want a different venue for the ceremony itself.

We've got you covered with 5 spectacular, fairytale venues that aren't on the beach - although 4 are in beach resorts. 

Bonus: all of these hotels/resorts are terrific  for the friends and family of all ages traveling with you.

Mayan Ruins

Where: The Occidental at Xcaret, Mayan Riviera

What we Love: Mayan archeological ruins (pictured above) are the star destination wedding or vow renewal location of the Occidental at Xcaret. This exclusive area offers a beautiful setting that looks out onto the Caribbean from a rock outcrop, fine white sand, and the ruins of a Mayan temple. The combination of nature, culture and Mexican tradition in a setting of great beauty and ecological value, nestled in an unbelievably beautiful cove.

And not only can you have a civil ceremony or a symbolic ceremony, you can also celebrate in the Mayan tradition.

Crystal-Clear Cenote

Where: Sandos Caracol Eco Resort in Playa del Carmen

What we Love: A secluded, immersed-in-nature venue is the cornerstone of its 'Green Wedding': a wooden deck over a cenote (say-NO-tay) – a natural, fresh-water-filled limestone sink hole. Live Mayan drum music, organization of donations to the less fortunate, a tree planting, and even a Temazcal ritual for the couple at the Spa can be arranged.

Weddings can also be held in a gazebo on the white sand beach and on the chic rooftop terrace.  The resort is affiliated with the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association and welcomes and supports the community.

Sunset Colonial Rooftop

Where: Rosewood San Miguel de Allende

What we Love: In the mountains of Mexico, UNESCO World Heritage site San Miguel de Allende is an enchanting, preserved colonial town with cobblestone streets, colorful facades, red rooftops, an ornate Gothic church surrounded by a traditional Mexican plaza. The 'stepping back in time' feel is balanced by a famously thriving cultural scene; the town is an artists' colony inhabited by ex-pats from around the world.

Rosewood San Miguel de Allende is a fairytale destination wedding hotel. Couples can marry or renew vows in historic churches and chapels in town, or at the hotel's lush gardens, lavender lawn or the spectacular rooftop terrace.  A sunset wedding on one of the 'hottest rooftop terraces in the world' would be unforgettable.  An animated, and truly Mexican callejoneada can accompany your guests to the venue with live music (Mariachi or estudinatina) and toast with tequila for the happy couple.

Rock Gazebo

Where: Dreams Huatulco Resort & Spa

What we Love: located on Tangolunda Bay, Dreams Huatulco Resort & Spa overlooks the dazzling golden beaches and the sapphire blue waters of the coast of Oaxaca.  Set among lush jungle, soaring mountains and coral reefs, there's a perfect ceremony venue everywhere you look. But we love the gazebo set against the rocks next to the sea for its rustic, almost primeval and earthy feel. 

The resort's Waterford Yours Truly toasting flutes program provides you with a premium memento of your day, and Free Anniversary Nights programs give you an excuse to re-visit the happy day year after year. We also love that the Dreams Huatalco Resort & Spa is Rainforest Alliance Certified.

Sky Terrace

Where: Azul Beach Resort by Karisma, Mayan Riviera

What we Love: The Sky Wedding takes your destination wedding ceremony to the next level - literally! Imagine saying vows overlooking stunning 360-degree views from the private rooftop terrace that makes you feel on top of the world.  Sky Weddings are available at a number of this family of resorts in Mexico: Azul Beach, Azul Sensatori Mexico, Generations Riviera Maya.

Gourmet Inclusive® restaurants and bars combine a selection of mouthwatering à la carte menus and exotic drinks in a variety of settings. And there's a Romance Experience Menu and the personal service of resident 'Romance Maître D's' who help you plan the perfect romantic getaway uniquely designed for your love story.

Start your Trip!

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

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

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

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

Seabourn:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silversea

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

They will melt in your mouth and melt your heart!

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

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

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

Crystal Cruises

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

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

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

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

 

Start your Trip!

Video: Tree-Top Champagne Bar in Champagne, France

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

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

Start your Trip!

What European River Cruise is the Most Romantic?

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

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

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

Castles to Watch

Image: BestTrip.TV

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

Image: BestTrip.TV

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

Wine to Taste

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

Image credit

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

A 'Murmuring Rock' to Listen to


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

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

Start your Trip!