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Put America's Oldest Cities On Your Travel Bucket List The standard Lorem Ipsum passage, used since the 1500s "Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum." Section 1.10.32 of "de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum", written by Cicero in 45 BC "Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt explicabo. Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem quia voluptas sit aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt. Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur? Quis autem vel eum iure reprehenderit qui in ea voluptate velit esse quam nihil molestiae consequatur, vel illum qui dolorem eum fugiat quo voluptas nulla pariatur?" 1914 translation by H. Rackham "But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?" read more
6 Ways to Cruise Rivers and Waterways Close to Home This Year
It's no secret that river and small ship cruising is one of travel's biggest trends. What may still be an open secret is the boom in cruising on the inland waterways of North America, with new ships and new itineraries to appeal to every cruise traveler's interests.

Maybe you want to try river and small ship cruising in your own backyard before venturing overseas. Maybe you've done it all and realized the incredible cruising experiences opening up in your own backyard! Maybe you just want a cruise with no or minimal flights and jet lag. Or an 'easy button' family vacation.

Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/Host of BestTrip TV and cruise expert, explains the unique highlights of 6 river and fresh water small ship cruises from the West Coast to the East that will have you thinking about a North American 'staycation' for your next cruise – in some cases, no passport required!
 

Columbia & Snake Rivers and Wine Regions on UnCruise Adventures


UnCruise Adventures' name makes it clear: this is a different kind of cruise line, focused entirely on active outdoor exploration by small ship. The Seattle-based company focuses on the Pacific side of America: small ship coastal cruises from Alaska to Central America, and year-round in Hawaii, with fares inclusive of fine dining, wine, spirits, shore activities and equipment.


UnCruise Adventurs' only dedicated river itinerary is its autumn, 7-night cruises on the Columbia & Snake Rivers in the Pacific North West, where they say you'll find some of the most magnificent scenery in the US in the Columbia River Gorge. 

Early autumn cruises highlight the Lewis & Clark expedition route, Nature and soft adventure: rafting, hiking, a jet boat ride into Hells Canyon, kayaking, even a cycling/winery excursion.

November 'Rivers of Wine & Culinary' themed voyages feature the region's increasingly well-known AVA's. Their onboard culinary program is linked with shore excursions featuring UnCruise Adventure's own sommelier, other wine experts, winery tours, wine-pairing dinners and local scenic highlights.


The company also has a family program, Family Discoveries, with savings for children 8-13 years old, providing multi-generational families with plenty of outdoor activities to bond over.
 

The Mississippi River and Beyond on American Cruise Lines

The great Mississippi is the artery that has served America's heartland for centuries. Mark Twain's literary works immortalized the world of sailing and living along the Mississippi, and today, the mystique of the Mississippi remains, even as the modern world has caught up to river cruising.


American Cruise Lines offers 3 different styles of ships for guests to choose from, all built in the US, with among the largest staterooms in the industry: Victorian paddlewheelers (above), fully-stabilized coastal ships, and the first and only modern riverboats in the country (below).


This range of vessels cruises three-dozen itineraries in 25 US states, along great rivers the Mississippi and the Columbia & Snake Rivers, and both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. But the company's 9 Mississippi itineraries remain the most popular for Americans and Canadians, who often drive over the border to northern departure gateways to cruise itineraries between St. Louis all the way south to New Orleans, with calls that feature treasured Americana including Elvis' Graceland, Ante-bellum southern plantations, and the stunning design icon and newly re-opened St. Louis Arch.

All American Cruise Lines share its river-cruise style: all-inclusive fine dining, complimentary evening cocktail hours, pre-cruise hotel stays, gratuities, wine and beer with lunch & dinner, complimentary onboard entertainment and lectures, and many included featured shore excursions.
 

America's Great Rivers and Now the Great Lakes Too, on American Queen Steamboat Company & Victory Cruise Lines


American Queen Steamboat Company continues the tradition of gingerbread-trimmed paddle-wheel riverboats sailing the country's two great river systems.


One of their three boats (with another launching in 2020) was the first all-suite paddle-wheeler in the US. Another lays claim to being the largest, most opulent riverboat in the world. The vessel is an engineering marvel, six decks high, longer than a football field, but still with the lacy white trim and paddlewheel you associate with the era of waistcoated gamblers and damsels with parasols. Both sail itineraries on the Mississippi between iconic river port cities like New Orleans, Nashville, Memphis, Louisville and St. Louis. The third is the largest overnight riverboat West of the Mississippi, sailing on the Columbia & Snake Rivers with a vast collection of historic artifacts and Native artwork.


The cruise line has a unique, and popular, approach to shore excursions, many included with your fare. Deluxe coaches drive the itinerary's route in tandem with the boats. In port, they provide 'Hop-on, Hop-off' service, continuously making the round of major local attractions, so guests can select the attractions they most want to see, and enjoy them at their own pace.

Sister cruise line Victory Cruise Lines has two newly upgraded ships serving guests wanting to sail along North America's coasts, including the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway, Canada & New England itineraries, and an upcoming new ship in 2021 setting sail for British Columbia and Alaskan itineraries. Guests on this cruise line travel with historians and naturalists and enjoy inclusive shore excursions for expert immersion into these destinations in North American's backyards.
 

The Great Lakes on Tauck

Cross-border cruising can't get any better! Tauck is known for ultra-luxury land tours and safaris, as well as European river cruises. But in addition to North American land tours, it provides a one-of-a-kind Great Lakes small ship itinerary that's tailor-made for both American and Canadian guests.


Tauck's autumn cruise between the dynamic Canadian and US cities of Toronto and Chicago bookends the voyage with included pre- and post stays in Fairmont or Four Seasons hotels in both cities. The 7-night voyage between those world-class cities highlights seasonal foliage along the coasts, and includes Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake, Detroit, and smaller destinations (like Michigan's Mackinac Island, above) along both countries' coasts, with exclusive and included shore excursions that feature Nature, sport, culture, makers, and history along the way. 


Tauck is using one of luxury French line Ponant's elegant and eco-friendly, 160-guest, 5-star ships for the itinerary, with private balconies, iPod docks, mini bars and all-included service and on board service including wine, spirits in several lounges, and dining at 2 venues. 
 

Canada's Rideau Canal on LeBoat

 
Le Boat has been operating 'self drive' cruises on the canals and waterways of Europe for half a century, and in 2018 introduced their first North American itinerary. It's a one-of-a-kind cruise on Ontario's UNESCO World Heritage Rideau Canal, the oldest continuously-operated canal system on the continent.
Begun in 1826, the Rideau Canal remains today one of North America's most beautiful navigable waterways. You'll be able to swim, fish, cycle and stroll, seeing exquisite stone-masonry and pastoral countryside between Canada's original Canadian capital of Kingston on Lake Ontario, and the current national capital, Ottawa (pictured below), at the other end of the 125 mile-long canal.

There are 47 Locks on the Rideau, many with staff members to help boaters through the locks, and a lock pass is included in your fare. Where other cruises charge by the guest, LeBoat hires out the vessels, making it a highly cost-effective choice for families and even groups including solo travelers. It also means you can set the pace and follow your own itinerary. A tutorial before you go gives you confidence driving the boat.

But don't confuse LeBoat with the houseboat rental experience you may be familiar with – this is more like what LeBoat calls pet-friendly 'floating villas'. LeBoat's fleet includes new, upscale European models designed for larger groups – some as big as 5-cabin/5-bath models that sleep 12 people! – with en-suite bathrooms, expansive 'fundecks', barbecues, air-conditioning, even dishwashers in fully-equipped kitchens. You provide your own food, drink, fuel, and fun.

 

New York's Erie Canal and the Great Lakes on Blount Small Ship Adventures


Founder Luther Blount built his first ships specifically for one very special itinerary: the 'Great American Waterways' cruise that includes the four Great Lakes – the world's largest freshwater system – and New York state's historic Erie Canal. The ships are built for the Erie Canal's size, making Blount the only overnight cruise line able to navigate the waterway. 


Guests love the casual, no dress-up atmosphere, complimentary wine and beer with meals, and a related perk that will astound seasoned cruise travelers: a BYOB policy! Not only can you provide your own wine and spirits (or buy them at local, craft wineries and distilleries along the cruise), Blount even facilitates the process, providing mixers, garnishes and barware, so you can 'pour as you please' for your entire cruise!
 
The Great American Waterways itinerary remains the family-owned and –operated company's most popular voyage. But Blount considers the entire Atlantic Coast part of its cruising 'territory', with itineraries sailing coastal New England and the Canadian maritimes into the St. Lawrence seaway (pictured, top, at New York's Singer Castle), as well as winter itineraries in the Bahamas.

Start your Trip!


Images courtesy of their respective cruise lines.

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If you've ever taken a cruise or traveled to Alaska, you may recognize this place. 

From sea level in Skagway, Alaska, the White Pass & Yukon railway climbs an incredible 3000 feet in just 20 miles, and all the way to the peak of the Continental Divide – which also forms the natural border between Alaska in the US, and Canada's Yukon. The train began as a route for aspiring gold prospectors to reach the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon in the 1890's. Today, it's a stunning way to appreciate Alaska's inland scenery and the shared history between our two countries.

By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip TV
 
I love this BestTrip TV video, and the heartwarming US/Canadian border at the summit in the middle of the Northern wilderness. For me, it's a symbol of the incredible relationship between the United States and Canada. 

It's a relationship we may all take it for granted, so here are a few quite remarkable achievements no two other countries can claim:

  • We are each other's largest trading partners.

  • We have the good fortune to be able to share the longest, undefended border in the world.

  • We have a long history as strong allies and having each other's backs on the world stage.

  • We've been called neighbors, cousins, even countries that act like brother and sister.
 
  • The United States and Canada even have birthdays just days apart. Canada Day falls on July 1st and just three days later, Americans mark Independence Day on the 4th of July. None of our countries' founders planned it this way of course, but those dates also conveniently today kick off summer vacation season. 

So this newsletter is dedicated to staycations - trips around the corner or across the border.
 
  • Maybe you want that holiday, but want to avoid a flight – or at least a long flight and jet lag.

  • Maybe you just need a break and an 'easy button' travel solution close to home, especially if you have group or family logistics to manage.

  • Maybe you want your travel budget to support the local economy.

  • Or you've 'done it all' abroad, and are seeking unique travel experiences you've missed here.

  • And maybe a staycation gives you an excuse to try something new, like a river cruise, or an escorted, active, luxury vacation in your own backyard to see if it's a travel style you enjoy before venturing overseas.

Whatever your reasons for thinking of a staycation, we've found lots of inspiration, motivation and ideas for all of us to dedicate travel to exploring our own American and Canadian backyards.

Start your Trip!



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Legendary Athens Riviera Reborn with the Launch of the First Four Seasons in Greece
It's an exclusive stretch of the Greek coast just 20 minutes south of the capital. In the 60's, this exclusive spot on the Athens Riviera was the epi-center of chic, international jet set lifestyle. And now, the Astir Beach resort area is back, an essential eastern Mediterranean destination for stylish travelers in the know.

Recapturing 60's Seaside Retro Glamour


The highlight of the rebirth of the Athens Riviera is the very first Four Seasons in Greece. The Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens re-imagines the beach-side luxury of the legendary, mid-century Astir Palace. 



The resort's revitalized, modernist retro-chic meets Mediterranean breeziness on 74 acres of seaside landscape, and focuses on the hallmarks of a perfect Mediterranean seaside vacation: natural light, sea views and warm Greek hospitality.


Restored to a new level of luxury for a new era, 300 airy rooms and suites, some with private pools, gaze across the Aegean Sea. And for additional space, privacy and 60's nostalgia, you can stay at the resort's ultra-exclusive garden Bungalows, originally built in the early 1960s, and now reborn with a fresh look and up-to-date amenities for today’s luxury travelers.


Bask in the suny and breeze at three pools and three private beaches; dine and socialize in half a dozen restaurants and the Avra Lounge and Terrace; shop at luxury boutiques; or nurture wellness at the fitness center and the Spa with treatments inspired by the ancient teachings of Hippocrates.


Preserving Ancient Architecture


But the historic Astir Palace is not the biggest architectural story on Astir Beach. That honor goes to the designated archeological site of the 6th century BC Temple of Apollo Zoster. The 2500+ year old temple is breathtakingly situated in the heart of the beach, right next to the sea, a protected ancient site overlooking sunseekers on the sand.
 

Embracing Luxury Mediterranean Beach Lifestyle

 
The Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens restoration and re-imagining is just one feature of the re-born Astir Beach resort area, that's a complete luxury lifestyle destination with:
 
  • the upscale Astir Marina (you know, where you can dock your yacht while you enjoy the Athenian Riveria);


  • Matsuhisa, the Athens home of global Nobu culinary fame;

  • SEASIDE, with Mediterranean fare including fresh fish and seafood from the globally recognized organic restaurant visionaries, Athens-based nice n easy Group, that supports sustainable, wholesome, biological cuisine sourced from regional producers;

  • Astir Beach Bar, the rustic, uber-chic destination complete with crafted cocktails, and extensive Champagne and Greek wine list served in multiple lounge areas and private cabanas;

  • SUNTERIA World Music Elevation Sessions, a world electronic music series debuting in the summer of 2019, with 30 events on Astir Beach from May through August hosted by global DJ's; 

  • Holmes Place, the Astir Beach outpost of an upscale wellness and fitness club that has other locations in chic neighborhoods in Athens, offering yoga, FloatFit, aqua fit, beach stretch and workouts as well as other contemporary spa treatments in a stylish space; and

  • can't-miss curated boutiques that allow you to re-stock your supply of chic, European resort wear.
 
Whether you're a couple looking for romance or a relaxing break, or a family on school holidays, if you're planning a trip to Athens or a cruise departing from nearby Piraeus, don't miss the chance to book a few extra days to experience the ancient, mid-century and very contemporary luxury Greek Mediterranean lifestyle of the reborn Astir Beach and Athens Riviera.
 

Start Your Trip!

 
Photos: Four Seasons
 
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When you're investing half a BILLION dollars in a fleet-wide renovation, you're entitled to call it a 'Revolution'. Celebrity Cruises is undergoing a transformation.

You may have already heard about their two new, groundbreaking ships:

Celebrity Edge, which, among many firsts, debuted the world's first cantilevered venue at sea, which moves up and down the side of the ship, becoming a different drinks/ dining venue at each deck, including an upscale tender departure lounge at sea level for ports of call accessed by the ship's tenders.

Celebrity Flora, the world's first ship purpose-built for expedition cruising in the epic Galapagos Islands, has not only eye-catching, sleek, modern design, but local, Ecuadorian materials, designer contributions, and even godmother. Not to mention setting the bar even higher for environmental sustainability and responsibility.

But the rest of the fleet isn't being left in the 'wake' of these cruise industry firsts. Celebrity is investing $500 million dollars to bring the rest of its fleet 'to the Edge'. 

One by one, each and every Celebrity Cruise ship is undergoing ship-wide upgrades to design, dining and entertainment.  Spaces and even experiences are re-imagined, with a host of new brand-name and celebrity partnerships – some that will premiere on 'revolutionized' ships before appearing on Celebrity's new Edge flagship.

BestTrip .TV was there when the Celebrity Summit reappeared for her inaugural sailing after emerging from dry dock 'revolutionized'. 

Watch this video above to see her new, 'urban resort' indoor and outdoor spaces, re-freshed dining and the reveal of 2 amazing new partnerships, one with a famous, French-American Michelin-starred chef, and another American entertainment brand – both with a modern twist that's come to define the Celebrity Cruise ship experience.

Celebrity's first Solstice class ship has also now been 'revolutionzed', too. The revolutionized Celebrity Equinox debuts, in addition to completely uplifted spaces, dining experiences that bring the tabletop to life using innovative 4k technology, a new bar featuring more than 40 craft beers, wine and cocktails, a Science museum partnership that features S.T.E.M.-focused activations and unique, first-at-sea programming focusing on marine environments for young cruise travelers, new spa experiences at the onboard The Spa by Canyon Ranch, and more.

 
Watch for more Celebrity Cruise ships being 'revolutionized' with new spaces and new experiences over the next couple of years. Until the revolution is complete, no single ship will have all the new experiences Celebrity has in store for guests… you'll have to join the 'revolution' and sail on them all to get the full effect of the Celebrity Revolution.
 
By: Lynn Elmhirst, BestTrip .tv producer/host
 

Start your Trip!

 
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The World's First Underwater Ride Share: Now You Can Take a 'ScUber' in Australia's Great Barrier Reef
Forget about 'surge' pricing on an Uber ride – how about 'submarine' pricing? Hailing a 'ScUber' in Australia's Great Barrier Reef will get you a $3000 AUD charge to your Uber account – and it's worth every penny for the hour-long Uber ride of your life.

It's the first underwater ride share in the largest living organism on the planet, a partnership between Uber, and Tourism Queensland. 


ScUber rides are available for a limited time directly through the Uber app, and cost $1500 AUD per person, with a minimum $3000 AUD for each hour-long ride. The fare includes an Uber pick up and drop off at your location, a scenic helicopter transfer to and from select cities in mainland Queensland, the Australian state that's the jumping-off point to the country's unparalleled Great Barrier Reef.

The ScUber ride is a completely immersive experience in the underwater home of 3,000 individual reefs, a thousand islands and over 1,600 species of fish – no mask, tank, or diving expertise needed. The first reef ecosystem to be recognized by UNESCO, the tremendously biodiverse Great Barrier Reef is the storied home to the 'Great 8' marine encounters: whales, turtles, manta rays, clown fish, sharks, potato cod, Maori wrasse and the giant clam.  

 
Queensland Tourism surveyed visitors to the region, and discovered their biggest travel goal was exploring the Great Barrier Reef by submarine. Enter a partnership with Uber as the ultimate, 21st century way to explore this underwater natural wonderland.
 
The partnership doesn't just give a lucky few locals or visitors able to snag one of the limited available ScUber underwater tours of the Reef. It also supports the preservation and sustainable protection of the world's largest ecosystem.
 

Uber is donating $100,000 to Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef to help support their conservation programs. On top of that, it's also donating the value of every scUber ride taken.

With over 3 million visitors each year to the Reef's UNESCO World Heritage area, very few will be able to actually hail a ScUber. 

 

Here's a 'deep dive' into other reasons to book a trip to the Great Barrier Reef:

 
  • It's the largest natural feature on Earth - the only living structure that can be seen from the moon.

  • The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest - about 70 million football fields!

  • It's also the longest reef system, stretching 2,300km north-south along the upper east coast of the island of Australia. That's about the same distance between New York and Dallas!

  • The Great Barrier Reef represents approximately 10% of all coral reefs in the world.

  • 600 different types of coral grow here. That's a third of the world's species of coral.

  • Since 1981, the Great Barrier Reef has been a UNESCO World Heritage Area. It's the world's first reef ecosystem to be given that designation.

  • The Great Barrier Reef is highly protected. One of the best-managed marine areas on Earth, 80% of tourism only takes place in about 7% of the marine park.
 

Start your Trip!


Images: Tourism and Events Queensland
 
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4 Royal Family Hangouts in London
The latest Royal news has us all abuzz and reminds us it's time to book a trip to England's capital and home of the British Royal Family. We may not be invited to the latest gathering, but here are 4 places we can immerse ourselves in Royal history and put into context the images we see of the ceremonial events and appearances of the most famous family in the world.

 

Windsor Castle


Windsor Castle is outside of central London, but this thousand-year-old royal residence has been at the center of royal-lovers' attention recently. This is where the world was introduced to the new baby Archie of Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex, as well as the location (in the stunning gothic St. George's Chapel, pictured) of their marriage a year previously, as well as the wedding of Prince Harry's cousin (daughter of Prince Andrew) Princess Eugenie.


Windsor Castle is considered one of the few remaining 'working palaces' left in the world. It was built as a fortress in the 11th century after William the Conqueror successfully led the Norman invasion of England. You may think of Buckingham Palace as the premiere home of kings and queens, but Windsor Castle is the longest-occupied palace in Europe.  It's the Queen's weekend home when she's in London - said to be her favorite – and a venue for hosting state visits.

Don't miss: the view of Windsor Castle from the 3-mile, tree-lined Long Walk, giving you a real sense of the scope and grandeur of Windsor Castle and Great Park, as well as the chance to see some of the friendly members of a 500-strong herd of Red Deer in Deer Park.

 

Buckingham Palace

When anyone says 'Buckingham Palace', chances are the picture that pops into your head is a scene on 'that' balcony. It's one of the best opportunities to see members of the Royal Family together in public, for the annual Trooping of the Colour (celebrating the Queen's symbolic birthday) or for less-frequent events like Royal Weddings – the last one balcony wedding kiss was between Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge on their wedding day. 
With 775 rooms, Buckingham Palace is the Sovereign's London residence and headquarters (the 'offices' of 800 people!), the center of state occasions, like visits from foreign heads of state, as well as national celebrations and mourning. Within the grounds are the largest private gardens in London, which are the venue for the Queen's famous Garden Parties. They are the largest functions at the Palace, where up to 8000 people are invited to attend each of three every summer.


The State Rooms are open to visitors for most of August and September and occasionally at other times of the year. Even if you are not able to tour the inside of Buckingham Palace, or snag an invitation to a Garden Party, you can still get a glimpse of the façade and that famous balcony on the East Front.

Don't miss: The Changing of the Guard in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. The Queen's personal Guard maintains a formal presence around the Palace in their unmistakable scarlet uniforms, and 'shift change' is equally elaborate. The ceremony is held at 11:00 am every day from April to July and four times a week in the winter.
 

Kensington Palace


Or 'K.P.' is the least impressive from the outside of the London royal residences, with its low, red-brick 17th century architecture. But it's in a fantastic location off Kensington High Street's shops, and is surrounded by a fabulous garden. Kensington Palace's black, wrought-iron gates are seared into the memories of many of us as the site where over a million bouquets of flowers were left outside the London home of Diana, Princess of Wales in tribute following her death.


Now, some apartments in Kensington Palace are the official London residences of Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge and their children, as well as other members of the royal family. Others are offices for royal charities. The State Rooms are open to the public, which display paintings and objects from the Royal Collection. 

Don't Miss: There are four themed routes to follow, including one displaying iconic pieces of Diana's wardrobe, including the blue velvet gown the princess wore when she danced with John Travolta in the White House in 1981.
 

The Tower of London


The Tower of London is not currently a royal residence but its official name is Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London. Like Windsor Castle, the Tower dates back a thousand years to William the Conqueror. It was built as a feared stronghold of the monarch, and in its early years, did serve as a sovereign's home. With its name-sake Tower, turrets, moats and pivotal location on the Thames river, the Tower of London serves up the picture of the iconic 'castle' of our imaginations. The Tower also served as a prison – right up until 1952! Famous prisoners were executed at the Tower, and naturally ghost stories abound.


The Tower has served as an armoury, treasury, menagerie (zoo), as the Royal Mint, and still today houses and guards the Crown Jewels of England, including the orb, scepter and crown only used during the coronation of a new monarch as well as jewels worn by the Queen and family members on formal occasions on a more regular basis. You'll recognize many of them. They are on public display at the Jewel House.

Don't miss:  some of the most famous jewels in the world. The regalia contain 23, 578 gemstones, including the largest clear cut diamond in the world (Cullinan I) and the Koh-i-Noor, at an inimaginable 105 carats.
 

Start your Trip!


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10 Amazing Facts about the Tasmanian Devil
Move over, cuddly koalas and cute kangaroos. Meet the Tasmanian Devil. 

No, not the Looney Tunes cartoon character that travels like a spinning top, drooling, snarling and terrorizing Bugs Bunny's friends. The real animal, found in the wild only in one state Down Under.

In Australia's collection of one-of-a-kind creatures, the Tasmanian Devil is a stand out member. So between photo ops with koalas, and watching kangaroos hopping through wildlife parks, head to Australia's southern, island state, to get to know the Tasmanian Devil.

It's a keystone species in Tasmania and the symbol of many organizations in the state. We visited a wildlife sanctuary only a half-hour's drive from Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, and discovered amazing things about Tasmanian 'Devils'.


By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip TV
 
1. Cute and cuddly they are not. Tasmanian Devils look a bit like bear cubs, or like a big-boned small-ish dog at under 30 pounds fully grown. When they're not aggressive, they look a bit sweet. But I had a chance to touch a baby being raised at the sanctuary, and even so young, its fur was like coarse bristles. And they are not sociable or friendly, living alone and coming out at night. 
 
2. They smell bad, too. Tasmanian Devils have a 'scent gland' used to mark territory with very strong and repulsive scent.
 
3. They have a great naming story. Tasmanian Devils are aggressive if they feel threatened or are competing for food. They bare teeth, lunge, and emit loud, blood-curdling shrieks in the dark hours that made early settlers imagine demons had surrounded them in the wilderness. That's how they were dubbed Tasmanian 'devils'. (Check out this video to hear Tasmanian Devils screeching).
 
4. Their oversized heads have incredible jaws that can open to 80 degrees wide! and deliver the strongest bite for its size of any mammal in the world. They have the power to bite through thick metal wire! The staff at the sanctuary joked to keep fingers away from the babies' mouths; even at that size and age, if they'd bitten onto our hands, 'they wouldn't stop til they reach your elbow'. Possibly a joke to make the point, but it paints a picture of:
 
5. The world's largest carnivorous marsupial. (Marsupials are mammals that carry their newborns in pouches). Tasmanian Devils eat only meat: they hunt birds, snakes, other mammals up to the size of small kangaroos, but they also eat carrion – dead animals. They put those tremendous jaws to good use, eating 'pretty much anything they sink their teeth into', crushing and ravenously ingesting even the bones.  
 
6. Even a Tasmanian Devil's teeth are unique. They have the same number of teeth as a dog - 42 – but unlike dogs, a Devil's teeth grow continuously throughout its life, contributing to its phenomenal ability to consume bones of its prey.
 
7. Like all marsupials, Devils store fat in their tails, which thicken up (like humans' waistlines!).  

8. Although Tasmanian Devils once thrived throughout Australia, now they are native only in the island state of Tasmania. There, they have adapted very well to a variety of environments in Tasmania, from coasts to forests to even suburbs. So rather than environmental change, it's believed their extinction on Australia's mainland can be blamed on the arrival of dingoes – which never spread to Tasmania to threaten the Devils.
 
9. It wasn't all smooth sailing for Tasmanian Devils in Tasmania, either. Those settlers who christened the 'Devils' mistakenly believed they killed livestock (a theory which has now been debunked) and hunted and poisoned them nearly to extinction, until the government stepped in to protect them in the 1940's.

 
10. The Tasmanian Devil population rebounded, but today, they're in danger again. Not from angry farmers. Tasmanian Devils adapted to modern life, with these carrion eaters finding a new food source in the form of roadkill … except these black animals eating roadkill at night are invisible to oncoming traffic, and they, too are killed in great numbers on roads. In addition, a catastrophic facial tumor disease is spreading through the population. The tumors build up in affected animals' mouths and stop them from eating, and they eventually starve to death. Tens of thousands of Tasmanian Devils have died since the disease appeared in the late 90's. 
 
Since 2008, Tasmanian Devils have been listed as endangered. Wildlife sanctuaries attempt to save and raise young in the pouches of mothers killed on the roads, and programs are isolating and breeding populations unaffected by disease. 
 
Devils are also being sent abroad to partner international zoos to contribute to population insurance programs for Tasmanian Devils too.
 
You can see Tasmanian Devils in some zoos – but better yet, by visiting and supporting a sanctuary on their home turf in Tasmania.
 

Start your Trip!

 
(Images: Getty)
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See the World's Tallest Indoor Waterfall at this New Airport

It's one of the world's top ten busiest airports, with a flight every 80 seconds. A hundred airlines transport over 60 million passengers yearly to and from Singapore's Changi airport. So millions of travelers are already familiar with the breathtaking Nature features in the airport that's the gateway to Asia's 'City in a Garden'. 


But 2019's new Jewel Changi Airport brings the natural world into an airport environment in a whole new, spectacular way that makes Singapore's airport a destination itself.

The Rain Vortex was inspired by Singapore's tropical rains. It's a 7-story feat of design and engineering that astounds you the moment you walk in the door. At over 130 feet high, it's the tallest indoor waterfall in the world, cascading dramatically through an oculus in the glass and steel dome.


The experience of the Rain Vortex changes depending what time of day you are at Jewel Changi Airport. Every evening, the flowing water, along with mist and music, becomes the centerpiece of an hourly, magical Light & Sound show designed by the same company responsible for the fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and hundreds of other water, fire, light, fog and music installations around the world.

Jewel's indoor waterfall is surrounded by 5 acres of lush gardens and greenery – 2000 trees and 100,000 shrubs from 120 species in different 'parks' that make Jewel Changi Airport a lifestyle destination for visitors and locals too.

Areas like Forest Valley and Canopy Park are shopping and dining neighborhoods in a whimsical green wonderland, with cobblestone walking trails, indoor clouds, play attractions like Sky Nets, Hedge Maze, Mirror Maze and Discovery Slides that flow through themed gardens - all in climate-controlled comfort. In a man-made environment, you can enjoy tropical gardens without tropical weather!
 
With all the world-class shopping, dining and entertainment, Jewel is still a functioning airport that anticipates travelers' needs and offers conveniences that are a breath of relief, even for travelers with only a brief stopover in Singapore. 
 
Thoughtful airport facilities that have been added in Jewel include early check-in counters and kiosks, a baggage storage service and the Changi Lounge, a 150-seat lounge with shower facilities, offering seamless transfers for passengers connecting to and from cruise and ferry services
 
Jewel also has the first YOTELAIR in Asia. The tech-savvy, smart-design, space-efficient cabin hotel concept has 130 cabin-units in Jewel in three categories. The Premium, Accessible and Family cabins can be booked for as little as four hours. They are a game changer for travelers with short daytime layovers, a very early arrival in Singapore, even an extra half day to spend time exploring all that the airport has to offer before you fly out of Singapore - even overnight stays. Hotel check-in / check-out is seamless, with time-saving, airline-style self-check-in kiosks.
 
Jewel also adds capacity to accommodate increasing numbers of travelers at Changi Airport. Another 3 million passengers will now be able to be accommodated annually, bringing the airport's total capacity to 85 million. And it's going to be needed with an airport that's enough reason alone to visit Singapore.
 
The multi-faceted innovation at Jewel gives local residents a new destination where lush Nature meets Singapore's urban energy. And it gives a renewed sense of novelty and wonder at the experience of air transportation to everyone traveling to or from Singapore. 
 

Start your Trip!


Photos: Jewel Changi Airport Devt.

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 Whether you love Old Havana colonial style, rhythms and cocktails, Mid-Century modern tropical, Rat Pack vibes, or contemporary luxury urban resort on a world's top beach... Puerto Rico's El San Juan Hotel fits the bill.


Following a post-hurricane, $65-million reno, this grande dame of Puerto Rico society and must-visit destination for visitors to Puerto Rico's capital is back - in spectacular style combining all three eras and captivating your travel imagination.
The El San Juan Hotel alone is worth the trip to this US island territory! 

It's ideal as a destination tropical resort for your whole vacation or destination wedding/ vow renewal / business event, or as an extension before or after your Caribbean cruise embarking or disembarking from Puerto Rico; the El San Juan Hotel is 5 minutes from the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport, 10 minutes from San Juan Cruise Port… and 15 minutes from historic Old San Juan, on 2 miles of Isla Verde Beach that's been voted the Best Urban Beach.

Start your Trip!


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You may never have heard of the small Bavarian village of Oberammergau. But every year ending in 0: 2010, 2020, 2030 and so on... Oberammergau becomes synonymous with the Passion Play – the biblical story of Easter – it performs nearly daily for months from Spring to Fall. 

For those with a Christian faith tradition, attending a play that's been performed for hundreds of years in celebration of the most significant Biblical story is a once – maybe twice? – in a lifetime opportunity.

But it's not just Christians who are drawn to Oberammergau. The rarity of the play, its cultural and historic traditions in this little pocket of southern Germany, make it a bucket list, must-see spectacle of community that is updated every cycle to speak to changing times and theatrical styles.  

There are many ways to reach Oberammergau in 2020 or even 2030. Land tour operators have worked a day or two in Oberammergau into tours of Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and also included Oberammergau into faith-based tours of Europe. Oberammergau is even included as a shore excursion from Danube and Rhine river cruises.

It's an experience that groups of friends, extended families and singletons on a mission not to miss this extraordinary event cruise, coach, drive, and fly to experience.

Ask your travel advisor the best way to travel to and enjoy this incredible play - and learn more about the story of the play - in this village nestled at the base of a dramatic mountain landscape that falls off the world's travel consciousness for years – until another Passion Play year is on the horizon.
 
 

Start your Trip!


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Think Overwater Villas are the Height of Exotic Luxury Travel? Try This UNDERwater Villa
It puts new meaning into being immersed in the local natural beauty. The pristine waters of the Maldives are epic, surrounding one of the world's most romantic, remote and legendary tropical eco paradise destinations. 

Now you can sleep alongside your sweetheart or family as well as the rich marine life that animates the waters of these tiny islands in the Indian Ocean. Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is a pioneering resort: the first international hotel in the Maldives, the first underwater restaurant, and now, the first undersea residence.


It's called the Muraka, or 'coral' in the local Maldivian language, and it is an extraordinary way for up to 9 guests to experience of one of the world's most breathtaking marine environments. Specialized aquarium technology was used to create the 2-story villa, consisting of above-sea-level space, and a spiral staircase to an underwater suite more than 16 feet below sea level with a king size bedroom, living room, and bathing area under a dome with 180-degree views of the ocean.

Sleeping in an undersea dome is an almost surreal vacation, but the overwater part of the villa above is unforgettable, too. More bedrooms, one with an ocean-facing bathtub, more bathrooms, gym, space for a butler and private security, living room, kitchen, bar and dining area with a deck facing the sunset, and another deck with an infinity pool facing sunrise. 

The Muraka butlers are dedicated 24-7 to hyper-personalized service. They are also ambassadors of the Maldivian island experience for undersea villa guests, sharing their passion for culture, the environment and adventure throughout your custom-crafted stay at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island.


The resort is located in the Maldives' best diving and snorkeling locations. It melds harmoniously with the environment, flowing from island, over the ocean, to the overwater/undersea residence.


You can double down on the undersea experience at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island at its trailblazing underwater restaurant. Ithaa Undersea Restaurant is also a world's first, where the fusion local and Western lunch and dinner menus, fine wine pairings, and mid-morning cocktails are accompanied by a panoramic view of coral gardens 16 feet below the surface of the ocean.

 
Ithaa Undersea Restaurant is one of dozen resort restaurants and bars that regularly make 'best of…' lists. Conrad Maldives Rangali Island also features an overwater spa and a Spa Retreat, and experiences inspired by the local environment and culture round out the ultimate island escape. Sunrise and sunset yoga practice. A meditation pavilion. A 5-hour journey to inner tranquility via a unique Zen revelation. A Spa Retreat with over a dozen water villas, its own restaurant, and a selection of therapies including a signature treatment inspired by the beauty practices of Maldivian women, including a heated coconut stick massage and organic, pineapple and papaya body scrub.


Consciously-designed villas and suites, from ultra-private beach villas nestled amongst the rich tropical landscape with direct beach access, to overwater villas ranging from private and romantic, to expansive for an extended group of family or friends, complete with sundecks, hot tubs steps into the sea, spa treatment rooms and more, provide the iconic Maldives vacation.
 
Start your Trip!
 
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Top 10 Souvenirs from a Trip to Hawaii

You'll come home with a million sun-drenched memories of a holiday in Hawaii. Here are 10 mementos you can take with you.

 

ANYTHING PINEAPPLE



They may be the most common symbol of Hawaii, and you'll find pineapples, pineapple products, and pineapple motifs everywhere. Pineapples are actually native to South America, and their Hawaiian name 'halakahiki' means 'foreign fruit'.  They arrived in Hawaii in the 1500's, but it wasn't until James Dole, the 'Pineapple King' came to the islands in 1899, that Hawaii became synonymous the world over with pineapples.


At one time, Hawaii produced 75% of the world's supply. Hawaii is no longer the world's big kahuna of pineapple production. But the second most visited attraction in Hawaii is the Dole Pineapple Plantation Experience. Roadside stands sell delicious, perfectly ripe pineapples you'll enjoy during your stay, and that's where they'll have to stay. You can't take fresh fruits off the islands. But you can take candied and chocolate versions of pineapple with you – as well as an unlimited selection of items with pineapple motifs that will remind you of lazy days in the Hawaiian sun. 
 

OTHER TROPICAL FRUIT

The Hawaiian islands are America's tropical paradise, with market and roadside fresh guavas, papayas, mangos, bananas, lychees, passionfruit as well as pineapples. Like pineapples, they are not native to the islands, although bananas were one of the dozen staple crops brought on the first journey to Hawaii by Polynesians. Other tropical fruit came later and many have even gone wild, even becoming invasive in the wilderness. 


The same no-fresh-fruit in your luggage rule applies. Fresh tropical fruit juices make delicious toppings on Hawaii's favorite refreshing treat: shaved ice. And look for tropical fruit preserves to take home to relive your vacation every morning with your breakfast toast.
 

LOCAL WOOD



Sustainable local woods, especially local, fast growing and immense acacia koa are turned in the hands of artisans into both beautiful and useful memorabilia of your Hawaiian vacation. From salad tongs and bowls, fruit and nut bowls, platters, yes, even in ubiquitous pineapple styling, Hawaiian tropical wood products make a warm and heart-warming souvenir for yourself or family and friends.
 

ANYTHING TIKI



Much of the world associates tiki culture with the Hawaiian islands. Tiki culture is not actually a real 'thing', in fact, it's a mash up of elements, some real and some imaginary, of stylized elements of the Pacific tropics, like statues, sweet and complex cocktails, tropical décor including bamboo, flaming torches, brightly patterned fabrics (see: Hawaiian shirts), rattan furniture, and bead curtains. Tiki culture developed in the mid-1900's, and picked up speed with a post-war fascination with the romantic and exotic - brought home by returning US troops from the Pacific war theater and exaggerated by Hollywood. 


Now, tiki has a fun, retro vibe, and is a perfect theme for a back yard barbecue, complete with mai tai's garnished with fresh fruit and tiny umbrellas.
 

HULA GIRLS - OR GUYS

The adorably kitschy, wiggling, dash-top décor is a fun and retro memento of one of Hawaii's most powerful, unique and authentic traditions: the hula dance. Accompanied since the 19th century by western-influenced instruments like the ukulele, Hawaii's hula is a complex and ancient dance tradition, where hand movements can represent the swaying of a tree or wave in the ocean, even an emotion, along with unmistakable foot and hip movements. 


Hopefully, you'll experience a hula performance live in Hawaii. The hula girl (or guy) on your dashboard gives you fond memories and a little hipster credibility.
 

HAWAIIAN SHIRT



Channel your inner 'Magnum' or Don Ho with the modern man's loudest item of clothing, worn un-tucked and cool in the tropical heat of Hawaii. Traditional and local Aloha shirts are more muted in tones and style, and are considered formal wear locally, equivalent to shirt, tie and jacket in all except the most formal of scenarios, perfect for the local climate. The Aloha shirt is the top textile export from the islands, so you'll be in good company if you add one to your wardrobe at home.
 

ALOHA ACCESSORIES



Not everyone can pull off an Hawaiian shirt. The rest of us may have to make do with more subtle expressions of Aloha style: plumeria/ frangipani flower hair clips, and shell or silk flower leis. The custom of lei floral and leaf garlands was brought to the islands of Hawaii by settlers who made the incredible journey from Polynesia in canoes.  They've become the symbol around the world of welcome to America's 50th state.
 

MORNING JOE AND AFTERNOON TEA

The word in coffee in Hawaii is 'Kona'. Various efforts on the islands in the 19th century to grow coffee failed, but the slopes of the Kona or west side of the island of Hawaii, where sugarcane was unsuccessful, is ideally suited to coffee production. The Kona district became the center of coffee production in Hawaii and is Hawaii's coffee designation of origin; it must be grown in a two-mile-wide belt of terrain at 700-2000 feet of elevation to be labeled Hawaii's most prestigious coffee.


Kona coffee grows on west side slopes, and the opposite, east side has conditions conducive to growing tea. Tea production in Hawaii is much more recent, and growers are experimenting with black, green, oolong teas, scented with local flowers and fruits, so tea drinkers also have a local hot beverage to enjoy on island or to take home.

GET NUTTY



The pale, round and incredibly rich macadamia nut – sometimes even called the Hawaii nut - is also associated with classic Hawaiian snacks and cooking. But it, like the pineapple, originates elsewhere. Macadamia was introduced to Hawaii from Australia in the 1800's, and a local macadamia nut plantation just after WW2 helped spread the popularity of Hawaiian macadamia nuts through the US.  Enjoy them freshly roasted and take them home in cans, made into brittle, chocolates and countless other reminders of the flavor of Hawaii.

SALT



Hawaiians have been living off the land since their brave Polynesian ancestors made their way by celestial navigation thousands of miles across the Pacific. Harvesting sea salt has always been a fundamental part of island tradition, and continues today, with varieties of sea salt highlighting different flavors and unique characteristics of the areas they are harvested. The perfect foodie souvenir!
 

UKULELE

The soundtrack of any trip to Hawaii is the one-of-a-kind tunes of a ukulele. Looking like a miniature guitar, the ukulele is a Hawaiian adaptation of string instruments brought to the islands by Portuguese immigrants in the 19th century. The word has a whimsical meaning: 'jumping flea', thought to reflect the movement of a player's fingers. Ukulele music was popularized by the patronage of King Kalakaua in Hawaii, and it spread to the US and the rest of the world in the early and mid-20th century, along with post-war fascination with the South Seas and 'tiki' culture. Even Elvis famously played the ukulele in Hawaiian-themed performances.


You too can buy a ukulele in Hawaii, even visit an artisan workshop where they're made from traditional acacia koa, and take lessons, to liven up your next summer barbecue with the ultimate sounds of the Hawaiian tropics.
 

START YOUR TRIP!


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8 Facts About the Panama Canal

Panama is one of the fastest-growing destinations in Central America, and the Panama Canal is the country's star attraction. Although it's on everyone's list of things to experience, the canal is more important as a global shipping transit than tourist experience. 

Whether you sail the canal on your next cruise or watch in action from land, here are 8 things you need to know about this wonder of the modern world.

1. It's a short cut 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 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. In 1999, control passed back to Panama.

3. Construction cost over 25,000 lives.

At times, more than 43,000 people were working on the Panama Canal at once. 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 and successful 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.

 (That's a view! The Norwegian Bliss is the largest passenger cruise ship to have ever transited the Panama Canal)

5. Over 1 Million Vessels have transited the canal since it opened.

In 1914, the year it opened, about 1000 ships used the canal. Today, nearly 15,000 ships pass through the Isthmus of Panama via 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.

(A Celebrity Cruise ship transiting the Panama Canal)

8. How you can visit the Panama Canal. 

Many ocean cruise lines offer increasingly popular 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. If you're visiting Panama City, or taking 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 and Panama City. 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. 
 

Start your Trip!


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They say on St. Patrick's Day everyone's a little bit Irish. So it's fair to say that on Rabbie Burns' Day, we're all a little bit Scottish. The national poet of Scotland – he wrote the song you likely sing every New Year's Eve: Auld Lang Syne – was born on January 25, 1759. And every year on January 25th, Scots and people of Scottish ancestry world-wide celebrate the man voted the 'Greatest Scot' in the country's history.

In Scotland and in many communities with Scots heritage, especially in Canada, where more than 15% of the population have ancestors from Scotland, the day is marked with Rabbie Burns Day Suppers. Gentlemen lucky enough to own a kilt suit up, bagpipers pipe in the haggis, Burns' 'Address to a Haggis' is read as the stuffed sheep's stomach is ceremonially carved and served, many toasts are made with whisky (all the better to wash down the haggis!), and it wraps up with everyone singing Auld Lang Syne.

If you're one of the millions of North Americans of Scots ancestry – or are an honorary Scot on Rabbie Burns' Day – we hope you attend a Rabbie Burns supper on January 25th in your hometown. Even better, once in your life, make the trip to join the festivities in Scotland itself. It's a bucket list trip much like being in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day. You'll feel like a true Scot for the rest of your life.

Here's our salute to Robert Burns Day: BestTrip's video / love letter to the Shetland Islands, the most remote part of Scotland and northern-most point of the British Isles. (Click on the video above to watch).

The Shetland Islands are where 'Scotland meets Scandinavia and the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean'. Directly due west of Norway, the Shetland Islands are as far north as St. Petersburg, Russia, and Anchorage, Alaska.

With over 4000 years of history, enchanting wild coastline and charming farms - and an estimated 1500 of its famous, local namesake breed of Shetland ponies roaming its green pastures - the Shetland islands are a time capsule of unique Scottish history, heritage and traditional lifestyle. 

(Seabourn Ovation docked next to Oslo's historic fortifications)

We sailed to the Shetland Islands on our luxury Seabourn cruise of Scandinavia and the Northern British Isles. The Shetland Islands are yet another reason we love sailing on smaller ships like Seabourn, whose itineraries include not just marquee destinations like Copenhagen, Oslo and Edinburgh, but also small ports in remote destinations - like the Orkney and Shetland Islands. Imagine a cruise port where you barely see another tourist while you experience untouched Nature and authentic local life. 

It's cruise travel as the explorer inside you dreams it will be.

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Go Glamping in the Galapagos on the Celebrity Flora

What's better than a once-in-a-lifetime cruise to the Galapagos Islands? Sleeping under the spectacular night skies in one of the most remote places in the world on the deck of a ship that's the height of modern luxury.

  The Celebrity Flora is a first for the cruise line, dedicated to exploration of the natural wonder of the Galapagos islands. The ship launches in May, 2019, and is based on the island of Baltra in the Galapagos.  
100 privileged guests at a time will experience the Galapagos islands in the Flora's all-suite environment. In addition to the stylish design, dining, cocktails and onboard signature Celebrity Cruises lifestyle, this exploration ship is designed specifically for the best possible Galapagos luxury experience:  
  • innovative, outward-facing design providing 360-degree views of the islands, open air lounges with hot tubs and cabanas with a view,
  • expert-led ecological seminars,
  • seamless sea-to-shore transportation in yacht tenders off the open marina at the ship's aft,
  • environmentally-conscious features like extreme energy efficiency and anchorless technology to protect the sea floor, and
  • an open-air stargazing platform on the top deck.
  That's where Celebrity has crafted a whole new Galapagos cruising experience: 'glamping' (glamorous camping) with the Galapagos' brilliant night sky and millions of stars above.       It's a one-night experience you'll never forget. Four guests each night will be able to reserve the experience that includes two cabanas with deluxe appointments, one with a bed for sleeping, the other for dining alfresco with curated cocktails, wines, even campfire favorites like s'mores under the stars. And a naturalist is available to point out stars and constellations as seen only from this part of the world. The magical overnight experience concludes with sunrise and a full bed-side breakfast.   Glamping under the stars isn't a one-time PR stunt –it's a full-time part of Celebrity's Galapagos experience.Guests on every sailing of the Celebrity Flora on her 10- or 11-day tours as well as 16-night inner plus outer loop Galapagos itineraries can reserve Glamping under the stars on the top deck to add another unforgettable experience to their bucket-list travel to these remote islands and natural wonders.  

Start your Trip!

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11 Best Places in the World to Go Whale Watching
70 percent of our planet is covered by oceans, and whales are not only the largest marine mammals, but the largest animals alive. No wonder humans are drawn to the oceans and these mammals who dwarf us and remind us how small we are in the universe. 

Whale watching tops many travelers' wish lists. Seeing whales in their natural environment touches every traveler, no matter how young or old, and it's an experience accessible to travelers of all budgets.

As with any interaction with Nature, we recommend booking only with a licensed and reputable operator who knows the area and how not to interfere with the wildlife. Many regions are now protecting whale feeding and breeding grounds. Following protection guidelines helps ensure these fascinating creatures will continue to thrive for future generations.

Here's our list of the top whale watching destinations around the world, when to go, and what types of whales you can hope to see. 
 

ALASKA

America's 49th state is a magnet for summer visitors, and May-September just happens to coincide with its prime whale-watching season, which is concentrated in the Inside Passage area, with tours originating from Juneau, Gustavus, Ketchikan, Petersburg and Sitka.

Although Orcas are seen along the Alaskan coast year round, and gray whales spend summers in the Gulf of Alaska feeding, the star of the show in the Inside Passage is the humpback whale, so numerous many operators guarantee you a free trip if you don't spot a whale on your tour. The incredibly rich waters provide enormous quantities of food the humpbacks need to gain literally tons of weight before migrating for the winter months to breed and calve in …
 

HAWAII

From December – April, an estimated 10,000 northern pacific humpback whales congregate in the warm waters of Hawaii to give birth to their calves, safely away from northern orca whale predators.
 
The calm and shallow waters between Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe provide humpbacks with the optimal conditions. Most tours originate on the west coast of Maui, like Lahaina and Maalaea. Tour operators also offer whale-watching excursions from the main island Hawaii.
 

BRITISH COLUMBIA

You may not be able to identify all the world's whales, but orcas (sometimes called 'killer whales') are unmistakable with their stylish black and white coloring. They are not the world's largest whale, but among the most popular – and the very best place in the world to see an orca in its natural environment is Canada's Vancouver Island mid May to mid September, with most whale watching tours starting in the Vancouver Island city of Victoria. For a more active option, try a whale-watching tour by kayak.


If you get off the beaten path, to the island's west coast, Tofino and Ucluelet are ideal places to see the migration of 20,000 gray whales as they pass the island on their journey between the Gulf of California and the Bering Sea between February and May. If you're there in mid-March, don't miss the Pacific Rim Whale Festival.
 

BAJA CALIFORNIA

The gray whales' yearly migration between Alaska and Mexico is one of the longest migrations of any marine creatures in the world. At the southern end of their journey, 20,000 or more gray whales as well as humpbacks, finbacks, and even blue whales gather in the rich, subtropical waters around the Mexican peninsula. Between December and March, the region is a whale nursery, where females give birth in shallow lagoons before heading north again in April.

Tours focus on gray whales, who are known to be curious, approaching boats, with gray whale calves often visible playing. Check out one of several annual whale festivals on the Baja peninsula in the early months of the year.
 

THE CARIBBEAN:

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
You can combine your beach vacation in one of the most popular Caribbean islands with whale watching. This is the biggest whale-watching destination in the Caribbean, based in Samana Bay on the island's northern coast, which is now a designated sanctuary. At the beginning of every year, from January through March, thousands of humpback whales migrate to breed and calve in these protected waters.
 
In addition to having the opportunity to see humpback behavior like breaching and diving, and slapping the water with tail or fins, some tour operators are equipped with underwater hydrophones for you to hear these whales' unique 'singing'.

DOMINICA
Prime season for whale-watching on this island is from October through March. This long season includes migrating whales like humpbacks, and several varieties of dolphins, as well as sperm whales who live here year round. The steep mountains of the island are mirrored underwater. 3000-foot deep waters close to the west coast create a unique and protective home for 200 female sperm whales who can dive deep for food like giant octopus, and also rest in sheltered waters. Male sperm whales join them for a few months late winter and early spring for mating.

GUADALOUPE
The islands of Guadaloupe are in the midst of a ocean freeway for dozens of marine mammals. Even taking a ferry between islands, you can often spot wildlife. For a dedicated whale-watching tour, head to the north coast of Basse Terre, the closest point to waters that are home to sperm whales, migrating humpbacks, as well as a dream list of other Caribbean whales including pilot whales, orca, pygmy right whales, pygmy sperm whales, melon-headed whales and even the rare Antilles beaked whale along with several species of dolphins.
 

THE AZORES

They're like the Hawaii of the Atlantic. The Azores islands belong to Portugal but are 1500 km away from mainland Europe – almost halfway to Canada. There, in the middle of the Atlantic, 30% of all types of the world's whales and dolphins live permanently or pass by, including sperm whales, the most commonly-seen here as the males live here year-round and the females visit with their calves May-October, pilot whales, who live here all year too, and even the largest whale in the world, the blue whale, and finbacks during their migrations April/May and again September/October. Whale-watching is one of the top reasons travelers come to the remote Azores islands.
 

QUEBEC AND CANADA'S EAST COAST

The might Gulf of St. Lawrence stretches from Quebec, to New Brunswick, Labrador and the island of Newfoundland, with sheltered waters and abundant fish for hungry whales. The region has a 1200 km 'Whaleroute'. You can follow the route on a road trip that connects national parks for different whale experiences along the way, with many spotting opportunities from the land, and marine tours offered at many points along the way. 


The southernmost pod of extraordinary, white beluga whales in the world live in Saguaney Fjord year round, blue whales in the summer, as well as minke, humpback and finback whales in different waves from May through October.  Whale watching tours are popular in all of Canada's east coast provinces, including Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy, one of the very few places n the world where rare northern right whales make an appearance.
 

ICELAND

Whale-watching is a year-round event in Iceland, where 11 species of whales can be spotted including blue whales, humpback, minke, sperm whales and orca. Most visitors travel to Iceland during the summer months, but whales can even be spotted in the winter. The town of Husavik, whose whale museum is well worth a visit, calls itself the 'Whale Watching Capital of Europe'.

 

SOUTH AFRICA

You may go to Africa for its Big Five land mammals, but don't forget the marine life off its coast. South Africa is surrounded on three sides by oceans rich in wildlife. From July til October, bulky but agile and playful southern right whales attract hundreds of thousands of whale watchers. 100 km east of Cape Town, Hermanus hosts a whale festival and even has a 'whale crier' who blows a horn when a southern right whale is spotted in Walter Bay.

Start your Trip!


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Discover Dazzling Winter Evenings at Hong Kong's New Light Festival

For a city whose nighttime skyline overlooking Victoria Harbour is already a global icon of urban lighting and signage, a light festival might seem like overkill. 


But the new Hong Kong Pulse Light Festival expands the effects of Hong Kong's famous neon signs and lit-up skyscapers to a street-level playground of luminous artworks during the darkest months of the year.

Debuting in 2018, the Pulse Light Festival runs from the last week of November through late February. Not only does the artistic light festival brighten the longest nights of the year, it also overlaps Chinese New Year festivities, a high point on Hong Kong's calendar of celebrations for an amplified celebratory atmosphere. 

Artists from around the world contribute to the Pulse Light Festival to bring Hong Kong to even greater heights of brilliance in the winter.  Here are some highlights visitors shouldn't miss:

'A Symphony of Lights'

It's one of the world's most spectacular light and multi-media shows, and now, Hong Kong's 'A Symphony of Lights' festival gets a winter edition. Every night, Victoria Harbour will get more dazzling, with more participating skyscrapers, more color, more pyrotechics from rooftops, and more lighting effects, all put to music that inspires. Check the calendar for special shows on red-letter dates like Christmas, New Year, and other holidays.


'A Tale of Two Trees'

The holidays are the inspiration behind 2 very different tree installations in Hong Kong. A glorious, traditional, lit-and-decorated Christmas tree lights up Hong Kong's Statue Square with the magic and wonder of the season.

Next to Hong Kong's brilliantly-lit Observation Wheel, a completely different kind of 'tree' installation reinterprets the traditional motif. The 'XTree' is a 25-metre, cubist, 'tree' made from metal scaffolds that evoke tree branches. Its strategically-placed lighting 'dances' to a soundtrack, making the 'XTree' come 'alive'. More than a visual treat, the installation is intended to inspire discussion and debate about environmentally friendlier ways to maintain and translate holiday traditions for the future.

'International Light Art Display'

The 'XTree' is one installation of a much larger display, the incandescent 'International Light Art Display'. Over a dozen, curated light art pieces by global artists from Europe, the US, India, Israel, and elsewhere in Asia, as well as several symbolic works by local Hong Kong artists, line Hong Kon's iconic Victoria Harbour for the festival.


Many installations are interactive and change color or appearance over time and in contact with visitors: revealing your inner beauty with 'Angels of Freedom' (pictured above), witnessing the dialogue of 'Talking Heads', walking through arches of 'Bat and Coin'. The light installations turn stunning Victoria Harbour from a breathtaking view to be seen from a distance, into a destination to explore and experience up close and in a festive evening atmosphere.

The Pulse Light Festival creates an unforgettable visual journey through Hong Kong, and joins other magical winter and holiday festive events, activities and celebrations that light up the night and warm hearts through the entire season.

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It's a global buzzword and cultural phenomenon. When the cold and darkness of winter close in, more and more of us go in search of Denmark's signature recipe for happiness: 'hygge'.


Danish 'hygge' (pronounced 'HOOG-uh') is sweeping the world – everyone wants in on Denmark's famously convivial way of life. The Danish are the happiest people on the planet – even during the long, dark days of winter - and it's all about hygge.

So much so, hygge has actually been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status. It might be the world's first UNESCO World Heritage… feeling.

But translating hygge – and living it - aren't so simple. A hug? Mindfulness? Cozy?

Hygge is often referred to in design, with tips for creating rooms with 'hygge'. It's been said the Danish buy more candles per capita than anyone else on the planet. Add snuggly wool throws. Nature-inspired materials. A crackling fire. Comfort foods. And the simple pleasures of good company and togetherness.

BestTrip was in Copenhagen at the height of a hot summer on a pre-cruise weekend before boarding our Seabourn cruise… and with Copenhagen Urban Adventures, we discovered 'hygge' isn't just something you find indoors in winter. It happens year round, indoors and outdoors, with people, spaces and activities you love.


Hygge has caught on as a catchphrase with its appeal as an antidote to the ails of the modern world. Travel to Denmark, and you'll discover not only the scenics that stand out in Scandinavian style. Danish food and drink, obsession with cycling and life balance… a concept that's been around for a couple of hundred years has new and more powerful relevance in a busy, connected-yet-impersonal, disengaged and over-programmed world.

Hygge might be the very best souvenir from Denmark of all: once you learn how to capture hygge like we did from Mie at Copenhagen Urban Adventures, you'll be able to take that feeling home with you and implement its practice into your and your family's life.

Start your Trip!


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We can't get enough of the Monograms way of travel. Have someone else do the legwork while you get to have all the fun? Count us in.

All Monograms tours give guests the VIP treatment: a Monograms Local Host and driver to pick you up and drop you off when you're arriving and departing from the city (no matter how you travel – we arrived by cruise ship and departed by air); a private guided tour of the city to see the highlights and get your feet under you; a selection of experiences integral to life in Rio or any of Monograms' world-wide destinations; plus your Local Host is available throughout your stay to provide tips and advice to make sure you get the very most out of your trip.

Watch the video above to see how we got the VIP treatment on a Monograms' tour of thrilling Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

It's the perfect combination of independent traveling and having an expert local friend in town.

You can even cherry-pick from a number of optional experiences and excursions to customize your visit to your own personal interests. And you didn't have to do any of that research to find or check reviews to ensure you'll have a quality experience; the local experts have already done that for you.

And here are our top picks of optional experiences in other Monograms South America tours:

Argentina Highlights

See exciting Buenos Aires and some of the natural wonders of South America's most southern country. Your local host ensures you experience the best of one of South America's most exciting cities including the grave site of Eva Peron, heroine of the musical Evita!, the majesty of the world's widest boulevard, and the vivid colours of the port area La Boca. Fly to Patagonia to the foothills of the Andes to experience some of the world's most breathtaking vistas, then further south to a glacier park UNESCO World Heritage Site to see one of the world's few advancing glaciers as it 'calves' with chunks breaking away into the water.

Don't Miss these Optional Tours: the world's sexiest dance, a traditional Tango show in Buenos Aires, and the opportunity to visit a working Argentine ranch to see authentic gauchos at work.

WATCH THE VIDEO: Click here to see our Monograms Tour of Buenos Aires and optional Tango show.

Magical Columbia

Columbia is one of the world's travel hot spots and Monograms provides you with the insider guidance and local expertise to help you see the best of Columbia in this 8-day tour. Your local host connects you with local food and colonial architecture in Bogota, and also takes you up a funicular car ride 10,000 feet up to the best view of the city. In the coffee triangle area, you'll visit a coffee farm for a tasting and exploration of the coffee production process, and enjoy views over the Andes mountains. And you'll also get a private tour of the can't-miss sites of Cartagena's UNESCO World Heritage walled colonial historic district and get an insight into the area's Pre-Columbian culture, too.

Don't Miss this Optional Tour: Go 600 feet underground to a Columbian pilgrimage site and architectural masterpiece, a church unbelievably constructed in multiple tunnels of an old salt mine.

Ecuador Discovery

From the Pacific coast to Amazonian tropics to the heights of the Andes, Ecuador is one of the most geographically and ecologically diverse countries in South America. Your local host helps you get a taste of it all, beginning with Quito, near the equator, with its colonial Old Town, a fascinating local market and a nearby local school. You'll get into the countryside for a visit to a highland national park, a natural hot springs at your hotel, and a plantation that grows one of Ecuador's most famous and sweet-smelling export: roses. And you'll take a mountain top train ride of a lifetime to visit Incan, sun-worshipping ruins. Your visit also packs in a cocoa plantation, a panama hat factory.

Don't Miss this Optional Tour: to the Middle of the World.There's a monument in Ecuador at latitude 0 where you can literally straddle two hemispheres. It's a can't-beat photo op!

Peru Highlights

Peru's lost mountain top city of Machu Picchu is on every travel bucket list, and this Monograms tour even gives the opportunity to overnight in this mystical location. Start in Lima with a city tour with your Local Host and experience the 16th century Spanish colonial historic and modern sides of Peru's capital. After you fly to Cusco, you'll also get a guided tour that includes monasteries, ruins, an amphitheatre and a red fortress. You'll visit the sacred valley of the Incas and learn about the importance of alpaca/llamas in Inca culture as well as modern weaving and craftsmanship. Then a train takes you to Machu Picchu, the 'Lost City of the Incas' with your Local Host ensuring you see all its secrets.

Don't Miss this Optional Tour: Lima is home to the largest electronic water fountain complex in the world, and you won't want to miss the spectacle of the water, sound and light show in its Park.

Amazonia Voyage with Rio and Iguassu Falls

This will be 10 of the most memorable days of your life, including 3 days on a ship on the Amazon river. Monograms' Local Host takes you to Rio's mountain-top Corcovado, just like in our video. Then you'll fly to the record-breaking Iguassu Falls for a private guided tour of this 2-mile wide falls. You'll also get a private tour of Manaus' spectacular architecture constructed during the incredible 19th century rubber boom before boarding your Amazon river cruise ship where you'll experience jungle and wildlife and local river communities and their connection to the jungle around them

Don't Miss This Optional Tour: A Panoramic City Tour and Visit to Sugar Loaf Mountain gives you more view points over spectacular Rio and its waterfront as well as one of the best cable car rides on the planet.

- Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/Host, BestTrip.TV

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5 Tips to Make a Cruise the Perfect Family Vacation

If you're trying to come up with the perfect family vacation for the holidays, time to think about cruising.

Whether you are new to cruising or a seasoned sailing family, here are 5 tips to ensure every member of the family has a fun, memorable… and relaxing holiday.

By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host and cruise expert, BestTrip.TV

1. Location, location, location.

Pick your family cruise destination first, and make sure every family member will have something to be excited about. A cruise is one of the best ways to introduce the family to Europe, to reach exotic destinations like the Galapagos, or see the world closer to home. (Top image: Families in awe of the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska on a Regent Seven Seas Cruise. Watch the video!)

Can you drive to a major cruise port? Ships embark from cruise ports along all coasts of North America, from Montreal, out the St. Lawrence and down the East Coast, southern ports in Florida, Louisiana and Texas, and up the West Coast from San Diego all the way to Vancouver. From these home-grown ports, cruising families can enjoy Canada and New England cruises, Bahamas/Caribbean/ Panama canal cruises, Mexico and Western Caribbean cruises, Pacific Northwest and Alaska cruises (like the Regent Seven Seas Cruise to Alaska pictured, top), and West Coast/ Baja, South America and even Hawaii cruises.

If you drive to the port where your ship round-trips, a family can save a lot on flights… and use those savings on their family cruise vacation to upgrade a stateroom category, treat yourselves to more shore excursions, even take other members of the family along too and make it an extended family get together.

2. Find the perfect cruise ship match.

Mega-ship or small ship? It depends on your family, and a good travel advisor will consult with you to find your perfect family cruise. There are enormous cruise ships that are destinations in themselves, floating theme park resorts. And for some families, they are perfect holiday destinations, with more round-the-clock adventures, activities, pools, sports, dining and entertainment than the family can even experience in a week or 10-day cruise. With social clubs for kids of all ages right through to the sedate activities many grandparents enjoy, these ships are crowd pleasers.

(Waterslides on Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas)

But they are not the only options. If the kids in your family don't need non-stop activities, if you are more interested in authentic destination experiences, medium and smaller-sized ships including expedition and luxury ships - even river cruise ships - might be the best fit for your family. Smaller ships and expedition ships may not have the whirlwind of activities and entertainment of the biggest ships, but they can dock in more out-of-the-way places, and the atmosphere on board is quieter for families who make their own fun.

3. Book and pre-pay for as much as possible.

Your travel advisor can help match you to your best cruise options that have the best value for the best type of cruise experience for your family. That may involve packaged, pre-paid or included things like tips, drinks packages, shore excursions, even flights. Generally speaking, pre-paying gives you the best value for money. As an added bonus, you'll worry less about tracking your vacation spending budget while you are on holiday – and be more likely to avoid going over-budget.

Pre-booking ensures you'll also be able to enjoy a ship board experience on your first preference of day and time. Spa appointments and specialty restaurants can book up before guests even board the ship. So pre-book parents' date night or someone's birthday or anniversary dinner before you board.

The same advice goes for shore excursions. If there's an experience at a port of call that's the highlight of the family cruise vacation, booking that zip line adventure, wildlife tour, catamaran or cooking class ahead will ensure you avoid disappointment.

(Beach day on Holland America Line's private island in the Bahamas)

4. Give kids some independence – and give parents a break.

One piece of advice parents regularly come back to thank me for is that I recommend families take walkie-talkies. One could be for the parents, the other for older (tween/teen) kids. This gives kids the run of the ship to enjoy their own interests, and still be in contact with parents. Or divided between different family groupings so there's maximum freedom to break into smaller family groups and also easily check in, plan meeting places, get together for a swim, lunch, or another whole-group activity…

Pre-paid drinks packages also enable kids to serve themselves without tracking down an adult or running up a surprise tab.

Since cruise ships are self-contained, they are among the safest family travel destinations for families to enjoy their own interests in the same space. Nothing says 'vacation' like parents lounging by the pool knowing the kids are safe and having a great time on their own.

5. Look into and take advantage of on board services.

This is part of the essential cruise match-making process your travel advisor can help you with. Cruise lines are innovators in keeping kids entertained. They've developed partnerships with kids' favorite characters and movies. And many offer clubs and daycare for kids of all ages – some even for babes-in-arms that make cruises great 'babymoon' destinations. So even if your kids aren't old enough to enjoy the ship's activities on their own, ask what options are for kids of all ages.

It's a great way to change up the pace for every member of the family, from time spent with different members in different experiences.

Cruises make some of the best family vacations that provide lifelong memories and maximum family time. Parents only have to pack and unpack once while the family gets to enjoy multiple destinations and vacation experiences together. With these tips, your next family cruise vacation will be your best holiday together yet!

Start your Trip!


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America's Tallest Monument Park Transformed in Time for One of Nation's Biggest 4th July Parties

The view 630 feet above St. Louis from the top of its defining monument has changed after an immense, multi-year, $380-million renovation to the city's Gateway Arch National Park .

The 1965 Gateway Arch became a global architectural icon and helped cement Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen's position as one of the masters of American mid-century design. The striking, modernist monument to the westward expansion of the United States is the world's tallest stainless steel arch, the tallest man-made monument in the United States, and even the Western Hemisphere. 

The arch itself is unchanged. Its boldly simple, award-winning design, 630 feet high and 630 feet wide remains 'a symbolic bridge between (America's) East and West, past and future, engineering and art'.

Its legs are still firmly planted on the western bank of the Mississippi on the site where the city of St. Louis was founded in the 1700's. But the experience of visiting this emblematic transition to America's West has been transformed.

The re-imagined surrounding urban National Park reconnects the riverfront and Gateway Arch to St. Louis, and visitors to the momentous events the arch symbolizes. 

Busy Highway I-44 used to separate the arch and the mighty Mississippi from the city (left, below). Parkland now bridges over the highway, leading visitors uninterrupted from downtown, to St. Louis' Old Courthouse and the new Arch visitor center and museum, and the arch on the river, all the way to the riverfront (right, below).

Don't Miss:

The Old Courthouse was the site of the infamous trials where slave Dred Scott and his wife unsuccessfully sued for their freedom. The ruling against them declared they were not citizens with the right to sue and contributed to the tensions leading up to the American Civil War.

The New Museum at the Gateway Arch completely replaces the original museum from the 1970's.  

Six new themed galleries features interactive and engaging exhibits including Colonial St. Louis prior to the Louisiana Purchase when it transferred to the United States, St. Louis' position as busy Mississippi river trade port, President Thomas Jefferson's vision of westward expansion, Lewis and Clark's renowned expedition, how Manifest Destiny affected native people, Mexicans and pioneers, and how the astonishing Gateway Arch monument to westward expansion was designed and built.

The View from the Top. The pair of trams in each leg of the Gateway Arch still takes visitors to a sloped observation deck at the top of the arch. From it, you can gaze over the river towards the East and Illinois, or West, over the park, the Old Courthouse, and the city of St. Louis.  If you don't take the tram ride, the new Keystone Exhibit allows visitors to experience the view via live webcam feeds from the observation deck.

The revitalized, over-the-highway park extends to the riverfront, with a plaza, miles of bike and walking paths and space for community events.

The re-opening of the park after years of closure for the renovations coincides with the return of one of America's biggest Fourth of July celebrations. Fair Saint Louis returns to the waterfront and Gateway Arch urban National Park with a series of events that celebrate America's birthday and the new experiences at this breathtaking national monument.


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It's Bike Month! 3 Cycling Travel Stories to Inspire you to Travel Active

One of our favorite ways to stay active when we travel is to get on a bike and explore!  Cycling through city streets or picturesque countryside is one of the best ways to experience a destination, meet people, and get up close to the sights. 

On the other side of the world, or close to home, here are some of our favorite cycling experiences to celebrate Bike Month, and inspire you to book bike time on your next trip.

1. Staying Active in Vancouver:  How this hotel's wellness program gets you outdoors into Vancouver's Stanley Park and stunning sea wall.

CLICK to watch the video here.

2.  The Mother of All Cycling Cultures: Amsterdam and the Netherlands:  What it looks like when there are more bikes in a city than people.  And go behind the scenes of a workshop where they create those famous Dutch cargo bikes!

CLICK to watch the video here.

3.  Explore what one cycling guide calls: One of the World's Best Cycling Destinations - and it's closer than you think!

CLICK to watch the video here.

Did you get on a bicycle on your last trip?  Would you like to get the family active for your next vacation?  Take a river cruise where you can borrow a bicycle from the ship and cycle through quaint towns and local vineyards?  Or join a cycling tour of one of your bucket list destinations?

Let us help you find the perfect holiday where you can take a two-wheeled exploration of a new destination.

Start your Trip!

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Top 3 Souvenirs from Venice

Venice is not just the 'City of Canals'.  It's also always been a city of merchants, and modern Venice is a showcase for iconic Italian craftsmanship and uniquely Venetian works. 

You'll find the cheap and touristy items right alongside more expensive items that reflect traditional craftsmanship.   The Frezzeria not only leads to St. Mark's Square, it's also the city's busiest shopping street.  You'll find boutiques as well as souvenirs for yourself and your loved ones.

So leave room in your suitcase for our top shopping finds in Venice.

By: Lynn Elmhirst, producer/ host, BestTrip.TV

1. Murano Glass

Less than a mile from the main city, the Venetian island of Murano for centuries has been famous for glassware.   It was a European pioneer and leader in the miraculous art of glassmaking, and Murano glass is an essential Venice souvenir. 

Although you can buy Murano glass throughout Venice, take the time to visit the island, packed with factories and some artists' studios, some of which are open to visitors to see how it's made.  You'll find some more unique pieces that appear less 'mass-market' off the beaten track.

You'll have plenty of different expressions of the glassblower's art to choose from. Among the most recognized 'Murano' glass is multi-colored, especially in bright primary colors (millefiori) and glass beads that are often made into jewelry, or even rosaries for the devout in your life. 

After you've stocked up on beads and items made from beads, it gets less easy to pack.  Glassware, vases, figurines or contemporary glass sculpture, even chandeliers, require more planning, or even better, the studio or shop to arrange shipping for you.  But I guarantee that a nice Italian prosecco sipped from a Murano wine glass at home has a taste of your travels that makes the effort all worthwhile.

Tip:  Don't miss Paropamiso on the Frezzeria.  The owner collects glass 'Venetian pearls' and also travels around the world collecting items to bring back to Venice to his shop, where he also practices the Venetian craft of threading them into jewelry. 

2. Masks

Venice may be the world's spiritual home of Carnival, a celebration of decadence in the time leading up to the fasting and somberness of the pre-Easter season.  An elaborate mask and historic costume stands in our visual memories as code for 'Venice'.  And one of the most important events of the Venice Carnival is the contest for the most beautiful mask.

Masks have become the symbol of Carnival and of Venice itself. They have been a large part of the city's culture even back to the 12th century, when historians believe being wearing masks in the streets permitted Venetians some freedom from the city's rigid class divisions. 

You may not be in Venice for Carnival, or invited to one of its masked balls. But every visitor to Venice can participate in Venice's love affair with masks.  They are everywhere and made from leather, porcelain and even – as is tradition – from Venetian glass.  You'll find masks from the cheap and cheerful for the kids or your next Hallowe'en costume, to works of art you'll want to display.

Tip: Look especially for cat masks. Venice's colonies of cats are storied, and you'll see a number of cat-themed souvenirs in Venice, including portraits of cats in Carnival costumes.

3. Fine Fashion

We're not just talking about the household name Italian luxury fashion houses. Luckily when you're in Venice, you don't have to be a member of the 1% to participate in Italy's renowned sense of style and way with traditional fine fabrics and leather.   

Top picks as souvenirs of this Italian specialty: gloves and ties, belts and scarves. Why? They are easily packable, completely practical, and utterly beautiful.  A silk tie or a pair of fine leather gloves from Venice may be the perfect gift for anyone on your shopping list from hipsters to grannies… and of course, yourself.

Tip: For ties and scarves, look no farther than Trevisan on St. Mark's (San Marco) square. Displays resemble a silk rainbow with dizzying subtleties – this blue, or this blue or this blue? you will ask yourself.   In spite of its proximity to the tourist center of Venice, prices are remarkably sensible, so you may not have to pick between your favorites.  The store also sells other accessories for men and women.

Sermoneta is like a candy store of gloves, with over 5 dozen colors for any occasion: driving gloves, winter, fur-trimmed gloves, elbow length evening gloves, in various types of leathers.  They say it takes 10 artisans nearly 30 steps to make each pair and yet they are still reasonable enough to gift yourself and your favorite stylish loved ones.

A pair of sky blue or tangerine orange kid gloves will brighten dreary winter days for any woman (or confidently stylish man).  Add a silk tie from Venice to a gentleman's suit and it will instantly up his fashion game in an indefinable but noticeable way. Plus earn the wearer compliments and questions about where such a glove or tie of beauty was discovered.

Ah, Venice. More and more Mediterranean cruises embark, disembark, or have overnight calls in the City of Water, and group, small-group, or private tours give you the opportunity to experience one of the world's most extraordinary cities.  Let us help you find the perfect way for you to travel to Venice.

Start your Trip!

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The World's Tallest Geyser Is At It Again

It's a geological mystery and a rare spectacle of Nature at the world's first National Park. Yellowstone National Park occupies over 2.2 million acres of land in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho – larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined! The park's famously magnificent vistas include forests, lakes, waterfalls and petrified forests, all home to a treasure of American wildlife.

But beneath its surface beauty, that's where Yellowstone National Park gets even more interesting. It's over top of a giant volcanic hotspot, which has created over 10,000 thermal (heat-related geological) 'features', and more than 300 geysers.

The conditions that create geysers are rare. Yellowstone is one of the few places on earth where you see them. Geysers erupt when magma (underground molten rock from volcanic activity) heats up gas and water trapped below ground until they erupt like a teapot coming to boil. The hot water and gas generate enough pressure to break the surface of the earth and gush upwards in a tower of water that lasts minutes, followed by days of steam continuing to release.

That's what's happened at least 4 times in just a couple of months during the spring of 2018 at the park's Steamboat Geyser (photo credit). Each time, about 70,000 gallons of water have erupted from the world's tallest geyser, where powerful eruptions can spew steaming hot water over 300 feet into the air.

Like most geysers, Steamboat is completely unpredictable. Yellowstone's most famous geyser, 'Old Faithful', fulfills the promise of its name and erupts almost on clockwork every hour or so, and you can even monitor them on the dedicated Twitter feed created by the National Park Service. Scientists think Old Faithful's predictability is due to a simple underground structure, whereas Steamboat's structure is believed to be more complex, and the magma movement irregular.

In fact, it's the first time in 15 years that Steamboat has erupted 3 times in one year. The last time it erupted at all was in 2014. But in 1964, Steamboat erupted a record 29 times!

The truth is, other than general knowledge of how the park's underground volcanic activity activates geysers, scientists don't know for sure why Steamboat has started erupting again – or why it has already blown four times in a couple of months.

So the show may not be over.

That's why this might be the best year to make a trip to Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park; for the possibility of witnessing a rare display by Mother Nature you won't see many other places on the planet.

Let us help you plan a trip to Yellowstone and other National Parks in America's West this year; tour packages bring you to the heart of Yellowstone National Park, and hopefully, you'll have a once-in-a-lifetime experience with Yellowstone's famous geysers. Start your Trip!

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