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Happy Birthday Canada! Celebrating Canada's Travel Treasures

Canada celebrates 150 years of Confederation on July 1, 2017.  Of the many celebrations, events and legacy builds taking place in Canada this year, one of our favorites is the free admission to Canada's National Parks and historic sites for the entire year.

Parks Canada is inviting Canadians and visitors from around the world to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary at national treasures from coast to coast to coast with free admission to all Parks Canada locations.  You can order your pass online or pick up in person at certain locations.

Here is our curated collection of Canada's National Parks and historic sites and nearby experiences that might help inspire you to include the 'true North, strong and free' in your travel plans this year.

L'Anse aux Meadows

In a clever line on the Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism web site, 'even the Vikings came here to get away'. 

If you thought Columbus was the first European to reach the Americas, think again.  L'Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site and UNESCO World Heritage Site on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland contains archeological evidence of a Viking settlement dating back to around the year 1000 – hundreds of years before Columbus and his first 1492 expedition.

Sod and wood buildings were found, with artifacts that showed the residents involved in smithing iron, knitting, weaving, and carpentry for boat building or repair. It's believed dozens of Viking men and women resided here, but harsh conditions made it unsustainable and the site was abandoned.

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While you're in Newfoundland, don't miss…Cape Spear. The rocky cliffs jutting over the North Atlantic waters make Cape Spear feel like the edge of the world – and it nearly is.  This is the eastern-most point of North America.  Standing on Cape Spear, you are closer to London, England than you are to Vancouver on the other side of the continent! 

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Old Town Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

From the harbor, the almost cartoon-bright painted houses look like an artist's interpretation of an historic town.  But it's real.  The town is both National Historic Site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It's considered the best surviving British colonial town on the continent, with its 18th century planned, gridiron streets, unique shops, restaurants in preserved buildings leading away from the harbor that was the focal point of rich a fishing and shipbuilding economy.

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You can still see majestic and romantic tall ships moored on the town's waterfront, and hear the stories. Especially about the fabled Bluenose. This is the homeport of the Bluenose II, the replica of the original local fishing boat that was undefeated in 18 years as a racing schooner.

While you're in Nova Scotia, don't miss: The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. It's a week-long event held every summer in Halifax celebrating Nova Scotia's Scottish and military traditions. It began to mark the visit of the Queen Mother to Nova Scotia for the first International Gathering of the Clans with bagpipes, highland dancers and military traditions. Hundreds of Canadian and international military and civilian performers makes it the world's largest annual indoor show; granted Royal status by the Queen.

Bay of Fundy National Park

The Bay of Fundy is the site of a record-breaking marine phenomenon, part of the UNESCO Fundy Biosphere Reserve, and a Dark-Sky Reserve.  The tides in the Bay of Fundy are the highest in the world – as high as a 5-storey building! Local Mi'kmaq folklore attributed the dramatic tides to a giant whale splashing; it's actually a result of the bay's particular shape.  The twice-daily tides see a flow of 115 billion tonnes of water flowing in and out of the bay.

You'll also want to experience local dinosaur fossil finds exposed by the extreme tides, hiking, sea kayaking, tidal rafting, and whale watching, including the rare right whale.

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While you're in New Brunswick, don't miss…Confederation Bridge, part of the Trans Canada highway, connecting mainland New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island since 1997.  You'll be driving 13 km across the largest bridge in the world that crosses ice- covered waters.

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Prince Edward Island National Park and Green Gables

Canada's smallest province has one of its most beloved sites.  60 km (37 miles) of Prince Edward Island's signature red rock and sand shoreline. Seven swimming beaches, hiking and cycling trails, and camping grounds join protected white sand dunes, freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, and nesting areas for endangered coastal wildlife.  

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While you're there, don't miss... Green Gables, the house that was the childhood inspiration for the internationally beloved Anne of Green Gables stories by local author Lucy Maud Montgomery.

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Quebec  City

Many people say walking through Old Quebec is like a visit to Europe without the jet lag. The only walled city in North America and the oldest city north of Mexico, the historic district of Quebec City, dating from 1608, is a National Historic Site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, first city in North America to receive designation.

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Although the magnificent hotel Chateau Frontenac dominates the skyline, perched in Upper Town's 100 meter high cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence, it is a mere hundred or so years old compared with Upper and Lower Towns' 17th century walls, fortifications, Citadel, winding cobbled streets with shops, restaurants, Plains of Abraham.

While you're in Quebec City, don't miss… The Winter Carnival, one of the biggest in the world, and all the more dramatic in snow covered historic streets.  There are masquerade balls in the grand ballroom of the Chateau Frontenac, an Ice Palace, snow sculpture parks, a bikini snow bath, day and night parades led by 'Bonhomme' de Neige ('snowman') the ambassador and mascot of the festivities with his red cap and early voyageur knit belt.  And plenty of French joie de vivre.

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Rideau Canal, Ontario

This feat of incredible engineering in the early 1800's began with military intent, but nowadays has become a top recreational boating destination. Following the war of 1812 with the United States, British military engineers came up with plans to forge a vital water route for over 200 km (126 miles) from Kingston on Lake Ontario north to Ottawa. Workers labored to carve the waterway through dense wilderness and solid rock of the Canadian Shield. They also built 45 locks to take vessels up and down elevations in the terrain along the way through rivers, lakes and man-made canal.

The Rideau Canal is a glorious boat trip through pastoral plains, cottage communities and remote, sheer rock cliffs all the way to downtown Ottawa and past Canada's majestic Parliament Buildings.

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Don't miss… Boating the length of the canal in the summer months, taking a canoe tour of  the Ottawa portion of the canal, or skating on it in the winter.  In downtown Ottawa, in the shadow of historic hotel Chateau Laurier and Canada's Parliament buildings, 8 km of the canal becomes the world's longest skating rink every winter.

Wapusk National Park

It's over a 2 hour flight or two days by train from Winnipeg to Churchill, Manitoba, the gateway to Wapusk. For anyone who makes the trip in mid winter, it's worth it to reach one of the last places in the world to see tiny polar bear cubs getting their start in the world. 

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Wapusk means 'White Bear', and this part of Canada is known the world over as the polar bear capital.  Nearly three million acres of the park are the seasonal home of a thousand polar bears returning from summer roaming through the tundra back to new Arctic ice, joined by moose, wolves, foxes, and herd of thousands of caribou. Polar bears are gorgeous but dangerous; access to the park is only through licensed operators of guided trips to this famous refuge.

While you're in Manitoba, don't miss…Winnipeg's Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Opening in 2014 to national and international attention, the museum is architecturally compelling, with geometry and colors based on images of the Canadian landscape. It's also intellectually challenging, highlighting personal stories and stimulating debate about how to define its subject matter.

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Wood Buffalo National Park

The largest of Canada's National Park straddles both Alberta and the Northwest Territories for nearly 45,000 acres – it's bigger than Switzerland!  It needs to be that large – it provides enough territory in its muskeg and tundra for the long term preservation of the world's largest herd of free roaming Bison. 

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The park is also a UNESCO world heritage site and the world's largest Dark-Sky Preserve. And in spite of its remote location, the park can be reached and visited by car.

Banff National Park – Alberta

Canada's first National Park dates back to 1885, and scenes of the turquoise waters of Lake Louise surrounded by a distinctly Canadian alpine landscape have been famously depicted on postcards sent around the world ever since.  Snow topped mountains, glaciers and icefields, the western resort town of Banff, endless all-season outdoor activities and the hot springs that started in all keep visitors coming back to this park in the Rocky Mountains year round.  The breathtaking Icefields Parkway connects Lake Louise to Jasper National Park further north.  

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While you're in Banff, don't miss… a cocktail at the Banff Springs Hotel in the lounge with picture windows over Lake Louise.  The view really does make a perfect custom cocktail taste even better!

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site

Spearheaded by the Haida Nation to stop destructive logging on their historic lands, Gwaii Haanas now protects an archipelago of 138 (formerly Queen Charlotte) islands off the coast of British Columbia.  It totals 5000 square km of land and sea – one of the only places in the world protected from the depths of the ocean in deep fjords to rugged mountain tops.  90% of the land is forest, with mountains draining into dozens of freshwater lakes and salmon-spawning streams. The seas are a 'primary feeding habitat' of humpback whales; Gwaii Haanas is remote and only accessible by boat, sea kayak, or floatplane.

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While you're in British Columbia, don't miss… Victoria Harbour, one of the most picturesque harbors in the country.  Originally used by First Nations, the harbor now bustles with recreational vessels and small cruise ships, mooring in the center of this scenic heritage city famous for its continuing British tone. Historic buildings frame the lively waterfront and line the walkable streets. The harbor is the epicenter of thriving eco-tourism and whale watching tour activities.

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

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

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

Peruvian Touches

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

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

Culinary Heights

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

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

Exclusive Exploration

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

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

Train and Stay in Peru

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

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


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


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The Bicycle's Big Birthday

This month marks a big milestone for the bicycle. We've had two hundred years of two-wheeled travel. 

On June 12, 1817, German inventor Karl von Drais took a little ride on his new invention, the 'Laufsmaschine'. His first reported trip, from a castle courtyard in Mannheim to a coaching inn 5 miles away on Baden's best road, took a little over an hour – and changed travel forever.

Reproducing Karl von Drais' First Ride.  Image courtesy of City of Mannheim

Von Drais' 'Laufsmaschine' was heavy, awkward, had no pedals, and riders moved it with uncomfortable running/ skating motions of their feet. Laufsmaschine even means 'running machine'.

This does not look fun to ride.  (Photo credit)

Travel Game Changer

But it was the start of something that literally moved the world.  The patent that Drais filed in 1817 for the earliest form of the bicycle fulfilled the saying 'Necessity is the Mother of Invention'.  A volcanic eruption in Asia in 1815 had sent so much ash into the skies that the following year the sun in Europe was blocked, causing crops to fail, and widespread famine.  People were forced to slaughter their oxen and horses to feed their families, leaving them with no form of transportation. 

In this sad scenario, the earliest form of the bicycle was a game changer.  For the first time, humans were their own form of faster-than-walking propulsion. It was the first form of land transportation without using an animal, and set the stage for all future mechanized personal transportation. It not only increased the speed at which humans could travel on their own, it was even faster than available transportation!  Drais' first, 5-mile, one-hour trip in Mannheim was twice as fast as it would have taken a traditional horse-drawn coach.

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

Happily, Drais' invention evolved through the 19th century and the bicycle spread from Germany across Europe and overseas.  There were some bumps along the way – literally.  Terrible rutted dirt and cobbled roads sent early cyclists onto crowded sidewalks (a controversy that continues today), endangering pedestrians.  That resulted in bans of bicycles in its birthplace, Germany, as well as Great Britain, the US, and even cities in India!

Hard to imagine, when today, the bicycle has become such a fundamental part of the local culture and lifestyles of people around the world.  The bicycle is the answer to the need for inexpensive, effective transportation in some of the most fascinating, densely populated cities in Asia, where seas of bicycles have become the very image of local lifestyle. And Northern Europe's health and eco-friendly culture is symbolized by city bikes.

The Netherlands has more bicycles than people!  Photo: BestTrip.TV

More and more travelers are also choosing to experience destinations by bicycle.  The relaxed pace, off-the-beaten track, and health features of cycling journeys answer the call for active, authentic travel experiences.

Cycling tour of Peterborough & the Kawarthas, Canada. Photo: BestTrip.TV

And innovations like E-bikes and power-generating bicycles will keep Karl von Drais' invention moving us into the future.

Celebrating 200 Years of Bicycles

Mannheim and the region have a year-long calendar of activities commemorating the bicycle's birthday, with concerts, exhibitions, bicycle tours, shows and much more. Visit Mannheim's Technoseum for a special exhibition, "2 Wheels - 200 Years," which brings to life the technical development of the bicycle since Karl Drais, to the present cycling culture and the future role of the bicycle in cities.  (Top image courtesy Technoseum).

Courtesy City of Mannheim

Courtesy City of Mannheim

And get outdoors and bike! SouthWest Germany is a bicycle rider's paradise, with hundreds of bike routes that pass through beautiful landscapes, from vineyards to castles and the Black Forest to Lake Constance. The ADFC (German Bicycle Club) notes and rates cycling routes; don't miss the region's five-star "Liebliches Taubertal - der Klassiker".  The route is one of the oldest in Germany and travels by castles, monasteries and fortresses for 100 beautiful kilometers.

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MSC's 'Wonder' at Sea

There's a new Wonder at Sea.  The MSC Meraviglia.  If your language skills are rusty, that's Italian for 'wonder', and this European cruise line's new flagship is a wondrous destination at sea for five thousand guests. The MSC Meraviglia is the biggest ship to be built by a European ship owner, and also the biggest cruise ship to come into service in 2017.

The 13th addition to the MSC Cruises fleet brought wonder to the northern French port of Le Havre for her christening in a glittering event. Italian screen legend and fleet godmother Sophia Loren, accompanied by a parade of the ship's officers, cut the ceremonial ribbon in a time-honored crescendo of champagne and fireworks.

The MSC Meraviglia is the first of six new ships for MSC's between 2017 and 2020, a massive fleet expansion giving the cruise line the opportunity to introduce innovations in technology, design and experiences. 

Here are a few of the unique features on MSC Cruises’ newest flagship we love most:

Entertainment:

Cirque du Soleil's first cruise line partnership: Cirque du Soleil at Sea.   The world-renowned entertainment company has created two exclusive shows just for MSC Meraviglia.  With two performances six nights a week, guests can enjoy a unique show and dinner or cocktail & show experience.

Design:

The longest LED Sky Screen at Sea in the Meraviglia's Galleria: 262 feet of LED sky creates an awe-inspiring atmosphere in a stunning 315 foot long Mediterranean-style indoor promenade, designed to become the social hub of the ship.  It's a round-the-clock display of stunning visuals and effects.

Technology:

The MSC for Me suite of smart features that enhance your cruise: navigation and geo-located wayfinding, a digital concierge for on board, real-time bookings, planning schedules, and tailor-made recommendations to your preferences.

The Emotions immersive gallery is a tunnel of oversized video and photo walls. As you move through the tunnel, you're surrounded by cruise events and you can interact with the walls, searching for you and your loved ones amongst the imagery and experiences.

Family:

MSC shows its roots as a family-owned company in its commitment to kids’ activities and a dedicated family deck area. Furthermore, the technology that is a signature of the ship extends to its youngest guests too: Kids get to participate in MSC for Me, too, with wristbands that enable parents, crew and staff to locate and monitor their kids as they participate in their own programs and activities on the ship.

Luxury:

The cruise line's 'luxury ship within a ship' MSC Yacht Club formula appears on the Meraviglia too, with new features and premium accommodations spanning three decks, with private facilities, available amenities, and butler service round-the-clock.

Dining:

Widest range of dining options and bars on any MSC Cruises ship to-date with 12 dining venues and 20 bars: you'll be delighted to find an authentic American steakhouse, Teppanyaki and Sushi restaurants, and a continued partnership with Italian eatery Eataly.

Accommodations:

Configurations for every type of cruise traveller, including modular staterooms, accommodations for solo travelers and suites in the MSC Yacht Club.  The Meraviglia is designed for multi-generation family travel where everyone is comfortable and feels at home.
 

Following her christening, the MSC Meraviglia departed on her maiden voyage from Le Havre to Genoa, Italy. She spends the summer of 2017 sailing Mediterranean itineraries, including popular Western Mediterranean ports of call Genoa, Marseille, and Barcelona and as well as more unique ports like Naples, Messina in Sicily and Valetta in Malta.

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Sometimes we think that the best travel experiences can only be found in distant, exotic destinations. And they're waiting for you right in your back yard. 

Kieran Andrews of Wild Rock Outfitters leads cycling tours in some of the most famous and storied locations in the world.   But when BestTrip.TV's Ryan McElroy asked him about one of his favorite places to cycle, it was at home in Canada in Peterborough & the Kawarthas. 

In this BestTrip.TV video, Kieran takes Ryan in a two-day cycling journey across rolling hills and scenic vistas to waterfront in cottage country. Ryan gets an insider's introduction to local cycling community favorite trails, views and 'energy stops' (that is, fabulous restaurants!) as well as its network of passionate, connected cyclists.

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Face to Face with the World's Largest Solid Gold Buddha

Most of the time, breaking an historic religious icon does not turn out well. But when workers moving a large and very old but otherwise unremarkable plaster statue of Buddha in Bangkok in 1955 dropped their load, they got lucky. The accident revealed an amazing secret: the plaster with modest inlaid glass decoration was a decoy shell concealing the world's largest solid gold Buddha.

By Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip.TV

Hidden in Plain Sight

The design of the Buddha suggests it dates to the 13th or 14th centuries.  It's believed when dangerous times were at hand during Burmese invasions in the 1700's, the solid gold statue was plastered over to cleverly hide the magnificent religious treasure in plain sight.  In the confusion, dynastic changes, and moves that followed, the Golden Buddha's secret was lost to time. And so it sat under a simple open air roof in the unremarkable Bangkok temple Wat Traimit for hundreds of years – until it was dropped moving it to an indoor location.

Rather than hiding this phenomenal – and phenomenally valuable – discovery, temple officials have kept the Golden Buddha available for public worship at the temple. In 2010, they even opened a new, gold-leaf trimmed chapel to house this priceless treasure.

All photos: BestTrip.TV

That put Wat Traimit at the top of our film crew's must-visit list among the 400 temples in Thailand's capital city.  Gold features prominently in Thailand's vivid national palette and design, but being face to face with the world's largest solid gold Buddha is heart-stopping. In ways we didn't expect.

Record Breaking – but Humble

It weighs 5.5 tons. And it's about 83% pure gold.  That makes the gold in the statue alone worth about $250 million. The Golden Buddha's seated figure rises 15 feet above kneeling worshippers.

On arrival at the temple, you climb 4 stories of white marble steps leading to the chapel perched at the top overlooking the Bangkok skyline. Once inside, you might expect bristling guards, high tech security, crowds marched past with barely time to take a quick pic. But for a treasure of its worth and historic significance, the Golden Buddha's existence is almost humble.

The author (left) at Wat Traimit. No bare shoulders, no bare knees, and shoes off.  Respecting Thai temple etiquette.

The marble and gold leafed chapel sounds extravagant, but it's quite restrained and no more spectacular than many other temple structures in Thailand. The Golden Buddha may be a tourist attraction, but not a tourist trap. Monks, local worshippers and visitors mingle. Instead of a vast hall to maximize visitor numbers (and revenue), the massive statue occupies a small room.

For visitors, that intensifies the experience. The deep reddish gold almost pulses in the way it catches dim light and warms the nearby cool white marble walls. Only a couple of dozen visitors and worshippers are able to fit inside the chapel at any given time.  Worshippers place offerings and visitors can join them on a single carpet only a few feet in front of the Buddha.

It may be solid gold, but the temple monks and fellow worshippers interact with the Golden Buddha as they would any other neighborhood temple Buddha.

That might be the most remarkable part of our visit to Wat Traimit.  We were expecting to be – as one of our production team said – 'wowed by the bling'.  Instead, we experienced a space of beauty and almost simple serenity.  As if the Golden Buddha were still hiding behind its plaster mask.  Simplicity and serenity, mainstays of Buddhist practice, in the presence of what might be the most valuable and storied piece of solid gold in existence, might be the real treasure of the statue.

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Paul Gauguin Cruises Named Top for Honeymooners

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

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

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

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

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

Carnival Vista 'Taps' into Home Port Flavors for American Craft Beer Week

The first brewery on board a North American-based ship introduces Miami Guava Wheat Beer.

Carnival Vista's RedFrog Pub & Brewery gets into the spirit of American Craft Beer Week with a limited edition brew inspired by its home port.

Miami Guava Wheat Beer is a uniquely local flavor inspired by tropical South Florida. The beer's light body and palate-pleasing notes of tangy pink guava are not only tropical and refreshing, but include the primary ingredient in Miami’s ever-popular guava pastries.

Carnival Vista's brewmaster Colin Presby, inspired by Miami's access to tropical fruit and thriving Cuban culinary scene to create the brew, tapped into the first keg in a ceremony to launch the beer. Guests can enjoy their favorite beverage and at the same time celebrate the Vista's home port, as well as the American craft brewing tradition and the latest brewing trends.  

If craft beer is the beverage you prefer to whet your whistle, but you miss Miami Guava Wheat Beer's limited run at the Vista's RedFrog Pub & Brewery on your next cruise, you can always try one of its three other craft beers. ThirstyFrog Port Hoppin’ IPA with aromatic, floral and hoppy notes and tropical and citrus overtones; ThirstyFrog Caribbean Wheat, an unfiltered wheat beer with flavors of orange and spices; and FriskyFrog Java Stout, a take on a traditional stout, rich and creamy with hints of coffee, are all brewed only on board the ship.

The craft brewery experience joins the cocktail pharmacy-themed Alchemy Bar, the New England-inspired Seafood Shack, Far Eastern cuisine at JiJi Asian Kitchen, traditional high-end steakhouse dining at Fahrenheit 555, and family-style Italian culinary experiences at the ship's Cucina del Capitano.

The Carnival Vista isn't just breaking ground in at-sea brewing.  It's also home to a one-of-a-kind SkyRide airborne bicycle ride and also the first cruise ship IMAX Theatre.  

Plenty of new experiences to toast with one of those craft beers.

 

The Ship that's Changing River Cruising

How do you revolutionize river cruise ships? River cruise ships are limited in length by the navigational requirements of rivers... like the sizes of locks.  The design for the AmaMagna, launching in 2019, is game changing.  It's twice the width of traditional European river cruise ships.

What makes the double-width river cruise ship a game changer? 

The concept has been 'floating' around for a while (pun intended), but AmaWaterways is the first cruise line to pull the trigger on building a double-width river cruise ship.

That opens the doors wide to re-interpret the guests' experience on a river cruise ship.  So with the debut of the concept of a double-width ship, AmaWaterways design team has aimed high at maximizing the two times more space available than on a single ship.

The AmaMagna will include:

  • River cruising's first open-water sports platform, complete with zodiac boats, canoes and recreational equipment.
  • Only 194 guests in 97 large staterooms - that's only 30 guests more than single-width ships.
  • Expansive public spaces, including:
  • Dedicated multiple dining spaces including an al fresco, glass-enclosed restaurant.
  • A large heated sundeck swimming pool with whirlpool and sky bar.
  • Expanded spa and fitness area and wellness offerings that will complement AmaWaterways' popular biking and hiking programs.
  • And they're even able to double the ship's width while doubling down on eco-friendly innovation with a more fuel-efficient engine that's also quieter.

Sound familiar?  What we're seeing is the best of small-ship/ yacht, luxury ocean cruising... brought to rivers.

Construction on the AmaMagna began in early 2017 and the ship launches in 2019 on Danube itineraries.

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

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!

Video: Is this the 'Most Luxurious Ship at Sea'?

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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Get your (Science) Geek on in Switzerland

If you, or someone in your family, has an inner science nerd, Switzerland is where you can feed your appetite for exploring the mysteries of the universe (as well as your appetite for chocolate and cheese  - but you already knew that!)

Did the song 'Rocket Man' immediately jump into your head?  There may be no better sound track to a story about science destinations, so here's a link to Elton John's classic so you can play it while you read on about the best ways to tap into your own inner geek in Switzerland.

CERN

Professional scientists, enthusiasts, and even your favorite TV comedy physicists all have Switzerland's CERN (pronounced 'Surn') on their travel bucket lists.  CERN is the world's largest physics laboratory.   The site straddles Switzerland and France outside of Geneva. Thousands of scientists from member European countries work together at CERN on questions of matter, anti-matter, the particles that make up all things in the universe, and the forces that link them.

It's best known for the Large Hadron Collider, a ring 27 kilometres around and 100 metres under the earth's surface.  The LHC accelerates particles into extremely high energies, making them smash into each other.  Scientists use very precise instruments to collect information about what happens during those collisions. 

Visitors can discover the mysteries of the Universe and the work of the world's biggest physics laboratory as a group, with friends, individually, on foot, on your bike, or virtually. CERN's 2 permanent exhibitions are free to visit.

(Above photos courtesy CERN)

CERN's gigantic Globe of Science and Innovation is a symbol of the Earth, and, at 27 metres high and 40 metres in diameter, bigger than the dome of St. Peter's in Rome!  Inside, the 'Universe of Particles' exhibit takes you on a journey of the building blocks of the entire Universe, where those particles come from, how they behave, and the questions of modern physics that scientists are exploring at CERN.  The 'Microcosm' exhibit allows you to discover the wonders of CERN's monumental experiments using the Large Hadron Collider, and meet the people who built and operate it.

(photo credit)

The Sphinx Observatory

From underground to 'The Top of Europe'.  Jungfraujoch is a UNESCO World Heritage Site: a glacier 'saddle' at the top of Europe's largest glacier, connecting two four-thousand meter peaks.

Take the historic Jungfrau railway from Interlaken to Grindelwald, a scenic glacier village that is one of Switzerland's oldest and most popular resort areas at the base of snow-capped mountains.  The view gets even more breathtaking from there to Europe's highest train station at Jungfraujoch.

(Photo credit)

Don't settle for the  spectacular views here.  Do what scientists do and aim higher.  The Sphinx Observatory dates from the early 1900's and is named after the 'Sphinx' peak of a breathtakingly steep ridge where it's perched at a height of 3572 metres (11, 719 feet). The Sphinx Observatory is the highest construction on the continent.  Amazingly, there's an elevator tunneled into that rocky mountain peak connecting the Jungfraujoch railway station to the observatory.  The observatory serves researchers in fields as diverse as glaciology, medicine, cosmic physics and astronomy, with multiple laboratories, weather observation station, a enormous telescope and even electricity, water, phone and internet! 

Check your vertigo at the door and inhale pure mountain air, as well as unmatched views of the Alps, the glacier, the scenery over 11,000 feet below, and sometimes, all the way to Italy and Germany.

Stay in a 'Space Suite' in Zurich

Zurich's Kameha Grand Zurich boutique hotel is in up and coming Glattpark.  The growing neighborhood is a new business center in Switzerland's global city of banking and finance, so business travelers who value lifestyle have a place near their meetings with solid design credentials.  And its proximity to the Zurich airport makes it perfect for a stay on leisure travelers' way into or out of a wider tour of the country.

The hotel's design creativity extends to themed suites.  If you were the little kid who wanted to grow up to be an astronaut, or you're traveling with that little kid, the Kameha Grand Zurich's space suite is the hotel equivalent of sleeping in your favorite space hero pajamas.   The little kid will love the treat.  The little kid inside you will grin at the tongue in cheek design.  It leans on 'space age' without being kitsch.  

Designed by artist Michael Najjar, the Space Suite transports you to the stars with silver, black and moonscape textures, a gravity-defying, sleek. floating bed, pictures of galaxies, hovering astronauts and models of rockets, together with curated selections of literature, music and films about space travel, as well as original works by the artist.   The perfect place for your inner 'Rocket Man' to recharge.

 

 

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts Makes 5-Star Award History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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The Philippines is a vibrant place full of beauty and fun, rich history and great food - Experience it !

 

CHECK OUT THE AMAZING CITIES TO VISIT

 

Be sure to call UNIGLOBE Travel and book your trip of a lifetime to the Philippines!

A New Year of Travel Trends

Happy New Year!  2017 is ramping up to be an exciting year of travel. So we thought we'd share stories about the hottest travel trends that are going to impact where - and how - you travel in the coming months and even years. What do we see in our crystal ball/ champagne glass?  

Whether you're planning family, 'bleisure' (business/leisure), solo, romantic or couple travels, gal or pal getaways, from the uber luxurious to the economical, 2017 travel will be all about:

  • Wellness and Adventure: Getting outdoors and being active, returning more healthy than when you left, doing something other than pounding pavement or cobblestones every day...  visitors have more and more new, healthy and adventurous (not necessarily dangerous!) ways to experience destinations.
  • Cuba: Travel to Cuba has changed forever now that relations with the US are normalizing. If you haven't already been, there are even more ways to explore one of the world's last restricted travel areas.
  • New Cruise Ships: Ocean or river, luxury or expedition, new cruise ships, with itineraries, designs, amenities, activities and celebrity entertainment or culinary partnerships that battle to outdo each other just keep on coming!  What WILL they do next on a ship? We'll keep you abreast of all the latest developments. If you're one of the last few people who still thinks cruising is about 'blue hair and buffets', you should take a look at the latest generation of cruise ships... and passengers.  There really is a cruise out there for every traveler.
  • Celebrations: Canada commemorates its 150th birthday in 2017, and it's also riding a wave at the top of nearly every 'best place to travel' list.  Did you know as many Americans travel to Canada every year as go to all of Europe?  And with the dollar and other considerations, it's never been a better year for vacationing close to home.  So throughout 2017, we're going to share some of our favorite stories about Canada to inspire your travels. 
  • Local and authentic: Local food, local artisans... everyone is looking for authentic, local production, creation, and consumption. There's a global awareness that we're all looking to be more connected with each other and the items we consume.  Products with provenance and people with passion and rejuvenated cities and neighbourhoods.  There's more and more of it out there to discover.
  • Connecting: Staying connected with those at home, and connecting with the people, Nature, and wildlife where you're traveling.
  • Customization:  It's never been easier to work with a travel expert to craft a trip of your dreams.  In the past, it may have been harder to tweak a trip to get exactly what you want, but a new age of crafting travel itineraries is upon us, at every price point.  If you're just saying 'yes' and dropping down your credit card, you're missing out.

We want to inspire your travel imagination in 2017... and then make those dreams come true!

So we're also introducing BestTrip.TV - an 'online travel TV station' with inspiring videos you can watch right here on our web site (click on BestTrip.TV on our home page).  We'll be sharing BestTrip.TV videos throughout the year.

Safe and memorable travels in 2017!

 

 

 

Go Glamping in Antarctica

Antarctica may be on your travel bucket list, but what if even the prospect of being one of the few people ever to set foot on the surreal, winter wilderness of the South Pole isn't enough to convince you to rough it?

Well, you don't have to. We've discovered a tour operator that takes only a dozen visitors at a time to what they call the 'real' Antarctica, inland from cruise shore excursions, all the way to the actual Geographic South Pole.

And they do it in style.  Inspired by luxury safaris of yesteryear complete with china, chefs, hampers and fine linens, White Desert creates an encampment of luxury pods that furnishes almost as unique an environment inside as outside.

Taking off from South Africa, it's a half-day's flight to the camp. While nothing to look at from the outside (and why would you want to when you're surrounded by scenic glaciers and ice waves?), the interior design would be at home in any luxury lodge. It's 'glamping' – that's 'glamour' meets 'camping'.

All photos: White Desert

The camp has six sleeping pods for two, equipped with a bed, desk, and wash/toilet area.

There are separate structures for showers, a kitchen, and lounge and dining areas, and your meals are catered by an award-winning chef.  With your comfort assured, it's time to explore.

Guests can choose from two, eight-day trips, and even an extraordinary, 'best day ever' single day to Antarctica and back. Expert polar guides help you discover the wonders of the immense 'white desert' continent through different excursions out from base camp. You may trek to a magnificent colony of 6,000 majestic Emperor Penguins, explore exhilarating ice formations and tunnels, go technical rock climbing, abseiling, kite-skiing, even take a trip to the actual Geographic South Pole and the science station nearby.  Imagine standing at the single place on earth where all points lead… only north!

Your actual footprints will be swept away by the snow, and the company ensures no ecological footprint will be left behind in this pristine environment either. The company's zero impact policy is complete: the camp is temporary, and re-created each season; all waste – including human – is removed; solar and wind power the camp; and even your flight emissions are offset through dedicated carbon projects around the world.

It's an Antarctic luxury 'safari' where you can have the world's rarest scenery, rushes of adrenaline, and stylish comfort, too.

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Snuggle in an Igloo in the Alps in Switzerland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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