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Revealed for the 1st Time: This Hotel’s Famous Cookie Recipe

Challenging times call for fresh-baked cookies. For your COVID-19 #StaySafeStayHome pleasure, a cookie recipe for all the home baking and snacking we hear everyone is enjoying during lock down.

Not just any cookie recipe. These are cookies of legend.

They are the welcoming treat so many guests of DoubleTree by Hilton look forward to when they check in. Receiving a paper sleeve of straight-from-the-oven warm sweet treats makes a hotel stay at one of the company’s nearly 600 hotels in almost 50 countries feel a lot like coming home.
DoubleTree cookies have a long history and - no surprise - an avid fan following. More than 30 million cookies are eaten every year, and copycat recipes have been circulating on the internet.
They are also the first cookies baked in space! The hotel chain partnered provided the recipe for its world-renowned cookies to test cooking equipment for space on the International Space Station.
Travel on earth may be grounded. But now, DoubleTree by Hilton’s beloved cookies can continue to put smiles on faces. For the first time, they’re sharing the official bake-at-home recipe for the chocolate chip cookie so at-home bakers can create the warm and comforting treat in our own kitchens. 
“We know this is an anxious time for everyone,” said a spokesperson for DoubleTree by Hilton. “A warm chocolate chip cookie can’t solve everything, but it can bring a moment of comfort and happiness.”
 

DoubleTree Signature Cookie Recipe

Makes 26 cookies

½ pound / 225 grams butter, softened (2 sticks)
¾ cup + 1 tablespoon / 165 grams granulated sugar
¾ cup packed / 150 grams light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 ¼ teaspoons / 6.25 mL vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon / 1.25 mL freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 ¼ cups / 280 grams flour
1/2 cup / 45 grams rolled oats
1 teaspoon / 6 grams baking soda
1 teaspoon / 6 grams salt
Pinch cinnamon
2 2/3 cups / 465 grams semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 3/4 cups / 220 grams chopped walnuts 
 
  • Cream butter, sugar and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes. 
  • Add eggs, vanilla and lemon juice, blending with mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, then medium speed for about 2 minutes, or until light and fluffy, scraping down bowl. 
  • With mixer on low speed, add flour, oats, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, blending for about 45 seconds. Don’t overmix. 
  • Remove bowl from mixer and stir in chocolate chips and walnuts.
  • Portion dough with a scoop (about 3 tablespoons) onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper about 2 inches apart. 
  • Preheat oven to 300°F.
  • Bake for 20 to 23 minutes, or until edges are golden brown and center is still soft. 
  • Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet for about 1 hour.
 
On the off-chance you haven’t just eaten all the dough or baked and enjoyed the full recipe of cookies all at once, they’ve even provided a tip so you can enjoy fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies for days.
 
You can freeze the unbaked cookies, and there’s no need to thaw. Preheat oven to 300°F and place frozen cookies on parchment paper-lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake until edges are golden brown and center is still soft.
 
The Doubletree spokesperson says, “We hope families enjoy the fun of baking together during their time at home, and we look forward to welcoming all our guests with a warm DoubleTree cookie when travel resumes.”


#DreamNowTravelLater


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When a destination’s nickname is ‘The Rock’, you don’t expect a warm and cozy place. Newfoundland is the eastern most point in North America, the vanguard of the continent where it faces into the North Atlantic waters and winds that once brought Vikings and still bring icebergs to its shores.  
In this dramatic setting and tough climate, only the strong survive. Newfoundlanders are tough survivors, but the opposite to their stark environment with famously welcoming, colorful, charming, musical and comedic culture.
The ponies that Newfoundlanders brought over from Northern Europe developed the same characteristics over 400 years, until they became their own breed of tough, sweet, sure-footed and gentle ponies.
Nearly extinct only couple of decades ago, Newfoundland Ponies are now, along with Newfoundland dogs, the animal symbol of the province, and a special treat to meet ‘in person’.
BestTrip TV met these Newfoundland Ponies at The Doctor's House Inn & Spa, an hour away from the province’s capital of St. John’s. The graceful Tudor-style mansion occupies 100 acres of oceanfront Newfoundland terrain with breathtaking views of Trinity Bay. 
Converted into an inn with charming rooms, acclaimed fine dining, one of the most beautiful private gardens on the island, walking trails, luxury spa and an event venue in the restored barn, it’s become not only a country retreat and hub for visitors to explore the region, it’s also become a world famous wedding destination.
Warm Newfoundland hospitality at The Doctor’s House Inn & Spa includes the welcome of sheep, goats, chickens, ducks… and a small herd of now-rare Newfoundland Ponies. They add a ‘Newfoundland theme’ to weddings, drawing the bridal couple in carts.
Not only picture perfect, but irresistible, too. 
 

#DreamNowTravelLater




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Earth Day Marks A Quarter Century of Conservation for Disney

For more than 60 years, beloved fictional animals have been central to Disney storytelling and families’ experiences in Disney parks and ships. 

And for the last 25 of those years, the Disney Conservation Fund, inspired by the conservation of Walt Disney himself, has played a role in saving real wildlife around the world.
Founded on Earth Day (April 22nd) 1995, the conservation fund has inspired millions of people to take action to protect the planet, directed millions to reverse the decline of wildlife in more than half the countries in the world, engaged communities in conservation, and connected kids and families around the world with the magic of nature.
Earth Day in 2020 is overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic that’s keeping much of the world self-isolating at home.
So festive gatherings may be off the table, but we can still join in celebrating the Disney Conservation Fund’s contributions to wildlife preservation over its first 25 years: 
  • $100 million to non-profit organizations to save wildlife;
  • 1000 species protected, focusing on apes, butterflies, coral reefs, cranes, elephants, monkeys, rhinos, sea turtles, sharks/ rays, and tigers;
  • 53 million kids connected to nature through Disney experiences like those found at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and through programs, tools and resources supported by the Disney Conservation Fund;
  • 315 million sensitive acres protected; and
  • Projects supported in 6 of 7 continents, all 5 oceans and over 100 countries around the world.
Recent Wildlife projects include momentous contributions like these: 
  • 103,000+ square miles of critical forest habitat achieving protection to support endangered apes in the Democratic Republic of Congo through a Great Apes Conservation Action Plan (the Jane Goodall Institute) (Jane Goodall pictured top at a previous DCF event, courtesy Disney
  • 2,000+ Atala butterflies and 1,000+ endangered Shaus’ swallowtail butterflies raised and released in the wild (University of Florida)
  • 2,300 coral pieces grown, 12 coral nursery sites established, and 3,000+ coral fragments planted to repopulate reefs in The Bahamas (Perry Institute for Marine Science)
  • 7 Siberian cranes outfitted with satellite transmitters during their migration to identify the most important wetland areas for conservation and protection (International Crane Foundation)
  • 1 million+ acres of forest habitat surveyed to protect important areas for African elephants (Wildlife Conservation Society)
  • 20 tons of plastic waste removed from the environment, 175+ families supported through income-generating programs, 164,000+ trees planted, and more than 37,000 acres of forest protected in Colombia and Brazil to protect cotton-top tamarin and golden lion tamarin monkeys (Associação Mico-Leão Dourado, Proyecto Tití, Save the Golden Lion Tamarin and Wildlife Conservation Network)
  • 20 Rhino Protection Units (anti-poaching teams) in Indonesia trained in advanced monitoring practices to better protect two national parks and the Sumatran rhinos who live there (International Rhino Foundation)
  • 238,000 pounds of marine debris removed from sea turtle habitats and 1.2 kilometers of sea turtle nesting habitat restored and cleared of debris (University of Florida)
  • 156 species of sharks and rays studied to help identify where management or protection efforts are needed the most around the world (Wildlife Conservation Society and partners)
  • 4,131 miles of forest patrolled by community rangers to protect tigers in Sumatra, Indonesia (Wildlife Conservation Society)
The DCF is also involved in projects Protecting the Planet
  • Helping strengthen the livelihoods of 52 communities while aiding in the protection of more than 200,000 acres of critical habitat to support endangered species including Sumatran tigers;
  • Supporting implementation of water restoration projects across California and Arizona to improve water use efficiency on agricultural land, reduce the amount of water diverted from rivers and creeks, and improve water quality, recreation and wildlife habitats;
  • In celebration of Disneynature films, The Walt Disney Studios and the Disney Conservation Fund have collaborated to support animals and habitats around the world, resulting in:
  • 3 Million trees planted in Brazil’s most endangered forest.
  • 40,000 Acres of a new marine protected area established to conserve coral reefs in The Bahamas.
  • 65,000 Acres of savanna protected to create conservation corridors in Kenya.
  • 130,000 Acres of wild chimpanzee habitat protected in the Congo, and 60,000+ local youths educated, and chimpanzees cared for.
  • 495,000 Acres of forest protected to restore key corridors for wild pandas and establish a new snow leopard conservation program in China.
  • Conservation projects across 400,000 acres of US national parks supported, park visitors educated, and animal and plant species protected.
  • Conservation projects supported across one million acres in Indonesia, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka, benefiting hundreds of species and protecting fresh drinking water for local populations.
The DCF also annually recognizes local people or teams who have dedicated their lives to conservation in their communities. So far, it has acknowledged the work of nearly 200 wildlife heroes in 4 dozen countries. 
As we wait to create new family memories at Disney parks and cruises, we can learn more about The Disney Conservation Fund on its web site (https://thewaltdisneycompany.com/disney-conservation/), and explore an interactive map of its world-wide projects that help care for the planet and ensure a world where wildlife thrives, and nature is treasured and protected.
Image: Disney
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#LookUpTogether During Dark Sky Week and at the World’s Largest Dark Sky Preserve’s Festival in the Rockies

The COVID-19 pandemic kept everyone at home, resulting in an unexpected and heartening clearing of skies and revival of Mother Nature in surprising places. But one thing that continues to disappear from the world… is darkness.

Light pollution doesn’t just prevent you from seeing the constellations in the middle of the city. Light spilling far into the countryside interferes with nocturnal creatures’ ability to thrive, as well as the essential rhythms of nature. Many species, including the human species, need periods without light, and we hear about shift workers and peoples in the far north whose health and sleep are impacted by interruptions of natural cycles of darkness and light.
The loss of darkness by human expansion around the world is so profound, that, just as people have established reserves for wildlife and irreplaceable wilderness, spaces on earth with an unimpeded view of the stars above are being preserved, too.
The International Dark Sky Association in Arizona works to protect the night, and its International Dark Sky Places conservation program recognizes and promotes excellent stewardship of the night sky.
Over 130 Dark Sky Places around the world have been designated to encourage communities, parks and protected areas around the world to preserve and protect dark sites through responsible lighting policies and public education.

International Dark Sky Week

International Dark Sky Week is a worldwide annual event hosted by the International Dark-Sky Association to celebrate the night and bring attention to the problems caused by light pollution. International Dark Sky Week is held during the week of April’s new Moon, when the sky is darkest and the stars most visible. 2020’s celebrations run from April 19th through the 26th, which appropriately coincides with Earth Day on April 22.
So if you and your family have ever wondered how to find a constellation in the night sky… Or how cultures around the world, and across time, saw their place in the stars... Or what critters are exploring the night while you sleep… You’ll find presentations daily during International Dark Sky Week on the organization’s.

Jasper’s Dark Sky Festival in the Canadian Rockies

Jasper National Park is the largest of Canada’s mountain parks, famous for magnificent glaciers, lakes and mountains. Jasper has also been designated by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada as a Dark Sky Preserve for its special commitment to protect and preserve the night sky and to reduce or eliminate light pollution in all its forms.
It’s one of 17 designated Dark Sky Preserves in Canada, the second largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world, and the largest accessible Dark Sky Preserve - meaning there’s a town within the limits of the preserve.
As daylight hours begin to shrink, the month of October is the perfect time for Jasper’s Dark Sky Festival. Dozens of events including dark sky photography workshops, interactive experiences at Jasper’s Planetarium, black hole sculptures, and ‘Animals of the Night’ hikes, indoor and outdoor events, speakers and hands-on celestial activities celebrate the night skies that cradle the earth.
ASK YOUR TRAVEL ADVISOR ABOUT THE BEST WAY TO EXPERIENCE JASPER’S DARK SKIES.
(Jasper National Park/ Jasper Tourism)

Jasper’s Wild Beauty and Darks Skies by Train on the Rocky Mountaineer

A Rocky Mountaineer rail journey has been called one of the ‘World’s Greatest Trips’. The incredibly scenic train, with its glass-domed, panoramic cars, gets rave reviews about the magic and wonder of a train trip through the majestic Canadian Rockies.
The Rocky Mountaineer is a presenter of Jasper’s Dark Sky Festival and a visit to Jasper any time of the season, with a visit to its Dark Sky Preserve and Planetarium is a magical highlight of a rail journey through the Rockies.
Three Rocky Mountaineer journeys take you to Jasper National Park and its Dark Sky Preserve, including
  • Rainforest to Gold Rush Explorer
  • Canadian Rockies Circle
  • Journey through the Clouds Explorer

Jasper Dark Sky Festival Canadian Rockies Adventure by Globus

The highlight of this 9-day Canadian Rockies escorted tour is the natural wonder of the western skies.
From the forested seaside city of Vancouver, guests travel through mountain passes to the historic mining, rail and cattle town of Kamloops. 
The tour continues to Jasper and its Dark Sky Preserve for a special community Moon Viewing, complete with telescopes.
There’s time to explore Jasper National Park or the Jasper Wildlife Museum, then attend the Jasper Planetarium & Telescope Experience. Guests learn about this spectacular Dark Sky Preserve in a dome theater experience, complete with the most powerful telescope in the Rocky Mountains and venture outside to look for the Northern Lights. The tour includes a day at Jasper’s Dark Sky Festival and a fascinating and inspiring Keynote Presentation by guest speakers steeped in astronomic lore.
After Jasper, the tour travels to Lake Louise for an overnight stay at the famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise where guests enjoy crisp mountain air, a gondola ride up the mountain and the amenities of this world-renowned lakeside resort as well as Banff National Park in this remarkable Rocky Mountain setting.

Start your Trip!

Top 3 Images by Royce Bair, courtesy International Dark Sky Association
Top: Milky Way over the abandoned Lincoln Highway in Nevada 
Middle: North Star and Big Dipper over Grosvenor Arch, Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument, Utah
Bottom: Milky Way star canopy over a silhouette of the ‘Wall Street’ canyon in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
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The Whale Shark Whisperer of Cabo
It’s a paradise where Mexico’s Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific. Los Cabos has become synonymous with a chic coastal retreat for Hollywood celebrities and global jetsetters.

The southern tip of the Baja Peninsula teems with luxury beachside resorts and spas, where stylish people relax, go golfing, horseback riding, and dancing til dawn.

But Cabo is first and foremost about the sea. Its signature landmark is the Arch rock formation rising from the ocean at the ‘End of the World’, and water-based activities like kayaking and paddle boarding, snorkeling and diving dominate the holiday lifestyle.


Cabo is the launching pad for visits to the area of Cabo Pulmo, Mexico’s protected National Marine Park known as “The Aquarium of the World”, and its most famous resident, enormous whale sharks.

They’re called ‘sharks’, but these ‘Gentle Giants’ are slow-moving filter feeders completely harmless to humans. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the seas, growing to more than 30 feet and 20,000 pounds, making them far and away the largest non-mammal creature alive.

Any glimpse of a whale shark in the wild is magnificent. But in Cabo, visitors can join tours that allow you to swim among these breathtaking creatures. Cabo’s whale shark viewing season runs October through April, and it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
 
We asked Los Cabos diver and expert whale shark tour guide Oliver Hernandez what it’s like to swim with these gentle giants.
 
How long have you been swimming with the whale sharks?
“My first season swimming with the sharks was in 2013. I had been working with Cabo Adventures as a guide for a number of other tours since I moved to Los Cabos in 2008. I’ve loved the water since childhood, so that type of tour was a natural fit for me. When I learned that there were whale shark tours operating out here, I knew I had to apply to become a tour guide.”
  
You have a job that a lot of people likely envy. What amazes you most about what you do?
“I feel extremely lucky to be able to swim with these incredible animals. It’s truly a mind-blowing experience. The very first sighting of a whale shark in our waters was only in 2006, and many people had no idea that a swimming excursion with them was even an option. In my first season, we only had tours every third day with maybe eight guests.  Of course, it exploded in popularity rapidly and we quickly had to develop a system to avoid disturbing the sharks. Today, you may be on a waitlist for a tour because we cap it at 14 boats in the water at a time to ensure the sharks remain comfortable. I’m proud of how we moved quickly to accommodate the sudden increase in demand while still remaining respectful of the needs of the wildlife.”
 
How has the marine tour industry and its protocols evolved?
I’ve personally witnessed many changes in my time here, and all of them have been for the better. There have been different rules and restrictions in place over the years and all of them have been guided by the desire to provide the best experience possible for the guests and the animals. I feel confident and proud in saying that Los Cabos takes the utmost caution to tour the waters respectfully and cultivate a love for the sharks. I feel that, since our inception, we have demonstrated respect and care for this species and that is an amazing thing.”
 
You work with whale sharks almost every single day. What’s the most important or interesting thing you’ve learned about them?
“The most important thing for me, when dealing with any species in the ocean, is care and perseverance. It is important to respect the ocean’s wildlife, and I think that doing so has helped to maintain that sense of wonder I get every time I dive in. Unlike in say a zoo, these animals are not here for us to look at: we are entering their home and humbly requesting an audience with them. We should always feel grateful for the opportunity to interact with these creatures in their habitat.”

 
What’s the secret for consistently finding these breathtaking animals and introducing them to the guests?
“It’s all about teamwork. The captain, Jorge, seems to instinctively know exactly where to position the boat. As guides, we are in the water simultaneously watching the position of every guest and every shark. On days where it’s proving difficult to spot them, we manage to approximate their location by reading the flow of the waves and the ‘trail’ they leave in the water as they swim. As the captain spots from the boat, he relays what he sees to the guides and gets us moving in the right direction. “
 
Although whale sharks are docile filter feeders, there are definitely people out there who will have reservations about swimming with any kind of shark. What would you tell a guest who might be feeling a bit hesitant to get in the water with them?
The good news is that unless you are plankton, you aren’t on the menu. Whale sharks are gentle and will show respect as long as their space is respected. We encourage guests not to impede their movements and to stay out of their way so they feel relaxed. When in the water with any species, the key is always to blend in. Once you jump into the water or start splashing around wildly, the whale sharks can feel the vibrations and motions of the water and they are bound to take off rather than approach. The key to having a good experience with the animals is just to be calm and don’t interfere with wildlife. Whether it’s whale sharks, dolphins, or hammerheads, they will respond by remaining calm as well.”
 
What are some of your most memorable moments while leading a tour?
We had a guest once who was swimming and was grazed by a whale shark. Whale shark skin feels like sandpaper, so she had a big shock. At times, when there are many whale sharks in the water, you have to become a matador. One time I was following along with the group and I felt a presence next to me, so I turned around and found myself staring into the huge open mouth of a whale shark coming towards me. I had to roll myself like a tortilla and I was just floating along the surface while the whale shark passed, the fin gliding right between my legs. It can happen more than once because the whale sharks are everywhere. That’s what makes the experience so fun.


Top, middle photos: Getty
Bottom photo: Visit Los Cabos

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Top Souvenirs from a Trip to... Ireland
If you’re one of the almost 20% of Americans and Canadians with Irish ancestry – or have fallen in love with the lore of the ‘Emerald Isle’ – a trip to Ireland is the perfect way to immerse yourself in its vivid scenery, storied towns and landscapes… and of course, stock up on the souvenirs that symbolize the country’s history, craftsmanship, and flavors.

Here’s a list of the best places in Ireland to visit to shop for ways to remember your trip to Ireland, or treat your friends and loved ones to a taste of Ireland.


Irish Whiskey in County Cork


It means ‘water of life’, and was once the most popular drink in the world. The distilled grain spirit that’s now called whiskey was developed beginning around the 12th century by creative monks. Today it’s enjoying renewed popularity, and has regained its top standing as the fastest-growing spirit in the world. 

There are dozens of distilleries dotting the cobble-stoned towns and green rolling hills of Ireland, and the list keeps growing. In nearly every county, you can tour historic stone, or ultra-modern distilleries that expand on Ireland’s breadth of whiskeys.

Visiting one or more of the country’s distilleries and tasting rooms, and packing one or more of the 80 million or so bottles produced in the country every year in your luggage (carefully!) for the trip home, is a must-do for any visitor to Ireland. 


The essential experience is in County Cork at Jamesons’. As the world’s biggest producer of Irish whiskey, and dating from the 1700’s, it defines ‘traditional’ Irish whiskey. It’s a ‘blend’ whiskey: locally-grown Irish barley, some malted and some unmalted, or ‘green’, is distilled one of two ways, then the different distilled spirits are mixed. Irish whiskey differs from most whisky from Scotland that is made from grain dried by a peat fire, giving it a smoky flavor -  not present in smoother Irish whiskey. 


Crystal in Waterford County


Nothing will make your Irish whiskey taste better than drinking it from a Waterford crystal low ball glass or decanter.
Crystal was not invented in Ireland, but 200-year old Waterford is one of the world’s most famous crystals, and a tour of the House of Waterford Crystal facility is one of the top reasons to visit the Irish county of the same name.

You can watch artisans in action in each of the steps in the creation of Waterford crystal’s pieces, seeing pieces come to life, from blowing molten crystal into elegant shapes, to mould making, to inspections, marking patterns onto approved pieces for master artisans to cut the signature designs that result in the clarity and sparkle that rival diamonds in vases, bowls, glass and stemware and of course, décor items like chandeliers.


Ireland isn’t the only place you can find this famous crystal. You’ll spot Waterford crystal some of the finest bars and restaurants and hotels in the world. And you’ll see Waterford chandeliers in Westminster Abbey, Windsor Castle, and across the pond, in the Kennedy Center and… it’s the famous ball that drops every New Year’s Even in New York’s Times Square.
 

A Claddagh Ring in Galway


After the shamrock and the Celtic cross, this must be the most iconic symbol of the Emerald Isle. It’s certainly Ireland’s essential piece of jewelry – with a delightful and touching meaning.

The Claddagh ring’s hands cradling a heart topped with a crown symbolize friendship, love and loyalty. Rings are worn in Ireland and often by people of Irish ancestry around the world as friendship, engagement and wedding rings. 

They are often passed down mothers to their eldest daughters or grandmother to granddaughter and worn differently to advertise the wearer’s current relationship status, useful in the days before you could look it up on facebook! Worn
·     On the right hand, with the heart pointing toward the heart, you’re in a relationship; your ‘heart has been captured;
·     On the right hand with the heart pointing outward, you’re single and looking;
·     On the left ring finger with the heart pointing outward, you’re engaged; and
·     With the heart pointing to your heart, you’re married.


Start your own tradition and add some extra meaning to your new Claddagh ring by making the trek to the fishing village of the same name in Galway, where Claddagh rings were invented in the 18th century. The original goldsmith’s shop still stands. Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold is the oldest jeweler in Ireland, and houses a museum to the iconic ring.

Irish Wool from the Aran Isles


When you picture Ireland’s famous green pastures, you may also picture those pastures with grazing sheep. Throughout Ireland, keeping sheep and spinning, dyeing and weaving or knitting their wool was a cottage industry for centuries.


You can still see looms at work throughout Ireland, and enjoy the fruits of the artisans who craft colorful scarves, wraps, hats, and other useful, beautiful, and wearable examples of Irish history, creativity and skill.

Perhaps the most Irish of woolen knitwear is an Aran sweater. The Aran Islands off the country’s western coast have historically been home to hardy fishing communities whose women used wool ‘unscoured’ of its natural oils, making it water resistant and perfect for fishermen working in harsh Atlantic waters – or anyone who spends lots of time in the outdoors. 

(Image: Getty)

Sweaters are marvelously complex works of art, comprising 100,000 stitches of each maker’s own design. Different patterns of stitches represent different meanings and omens for the success and safety of the fishermen wearing them .
 
Ireland’s deep culture and heritage make an unforgettable impression on any visitor to her shores, and you’ll want to take home memories and mementoes of your journey. These are just a few of the many souvenirs of Ireland that really beat a ‘Kiss me, I’m Irish’ t-shirt from your last St. Patrick’s day at the pub!

 

Start your Trip!


All images courtesy of Ireland.com unless otherwise indicated.

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Lie Flat Beds in Economy Class?  This Airline Says, "Yes, You Can!"
An airline has cracked the code to providing some of the same comforts for economy class passengers as their fellow passengers in costlier business and first-class enjoy.

After three years in development, Air New Zealand has revealed the prototype of an innovation that could forever change the way you look at long haul travel – even in coach!

They’re calling it the Economy Skynest, and it’s a groundbreaking concept. A ‘nest’ of six, full-length, lie-flat sleep pods stacked on top of each other like bunk beds, with the added bonus of replacing a chunk of hated, center block of seats (although final placement in different planes can change).

If you love to travel but hate not having enough space to stretch out. Or your company budget doesn’t stretch to first class with lie-flat cubicles… but you still need to arrive at your destination fresh and ready to get to work. We can think of all kinds of reasons Air New Zealand’s Economy Skynest could tick a lot of boxes for you.


Each single-person pod is over 2 m (more than 6 and a half feet) long, with a minimum shoulder width of 58 cm (23 inches), and comes with a full-size pillow, a blanket and also sheets! as well as ear plugs, privacy curtains and lighting designed for sleep. Air New Zealand is also exploring other features like a separate reading light, a personal device USB outlet, and an outlet for ventilation. All the comforts of a hotel bed… just a little cozier.

And it makes sense. New Zealand’s position on the globe means it operates some of the world’s longest flights, like a non-stop Auckland-New York flight that spends 17 hours and 40 minutes in the air. That’s the flight the company is testing the Economy Skynests on for an inaugural year.

It’s just the latest innovation in comfort for an airline that is at the leading edge of customer-centric design and eco-responsible advances. The Economy Skynest is the next step up from Air New Zealand’s previous game-changer, the award-winning Economy Skycouch.


The row of Economy seats that can be turned into a couch after takeoff so friends or family members can use the space to stretch out changed the way families fly. And further enhancements like a dedicated infant harness enabling infants to stay lying down throughout the cruise phase of flight, a new infant pod which provides extra comfort and protection, and a modification to the existing adult Skycouch Cuddle Belt means it's now certified for two children to be able to share the Skycouch lying side by side.


Given how popular the Economy Skycouch has become, the airline is expecting Economy Skynests to ‘take off’, too, with a focus on the longest of long haul flights. Air New Zealnd anticipates that Economy class passengers would be able to book the Skynest in addition to their regular Economy class seat, so you can be seated for a portion of your flight and able to sleep when you feel like it.

And they expect, as they experienced with the Economy Skycouch, other airlines will explore licensing the Skynest from Air New Zealand so you can enjoy its comforts on many routes around the world.

As aircraft engineering continues to advance to achieve greater feats of fuel economy and enables planes to fly longer non-stop flights, innovations like Air New Zealand’s Economy Skynest will be ever more attractive options when you book your flight.

It may be the most exciting new innovation in flight – that literally puts you to sleep.

Start you Trip!


Images: Air New Zealand

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How You Can Help Solve Overtourism - AND Still Enjoy the World's Most Popular Destinations
Amsterdam. Venice. Barcelona. Just to name a few. These are spectacular, vibrant, magical cities… reeling under the weight of tourists.

I’m very fortunate to have visited a number of cities that are now on the list of overtouristed destinations. They are magnificent and life changing. But sadly, each subsequent visit, I see the very qualities travelers go there to seek eroded a little bit more by a growing volume of tourists.

Over-touristed destinations worry about becoming artificial, ‘theme park’ versions of their charming, unique, authentic selves. They fear seeing local residents, artisans, shopkeepers and restaurateurs priced out of the cities’ historic centers by global brands and big companies buying up real estate for international brand shops and short-term housing rentals.

When the locals go, so do many of the very lifestyle elements you hoped to enjoy. Local food and craft markets collapse, inexpensive, authentic local restaurants close their doors, and the only people you meet… are other tourists.

These cities may be on your travel bucket list. Or you imagine re-living fond memories there.

I can’t bring myself to say people should no longer travel to over-touristed destinations (although some cities’ mayors sound like they’re willing to ban tourists altogether).

But I can offer 8 tips about the best ways responsible travelers can help be part of the solution, not part of the problem. And at the same time, take steps to ensure the best travel experience for themselves.

Responsible travel tips for overtourism:


Be a good global citizen. 

Practice the advice often given to park visitors: take only pictures, leave only footprints. Littering, loitering, being part of a loud group that blocks sidewalks and disrupts the peaceful enjoyment of a neighborhood, in many places outside of North America, eating or drinking on the street… some rules of good behavior are universal, and some are unique to local custom, like tipping practices.

Do your research in advance and be the person the locals welcome back.


Go off-season / shoulder season. 

I’ve written before about the benefits of off-season travel. In over-touristed destinations, off-season or shoulder season (the weeks on either side of the core ‘high season’), by definition, is less crowded. No lineups. Less expensive. The locals come back (think Paris after everyone takes the month of August away from the city). And the tourism attractions are happy to see you – and your money.

Stay in hotels.

Many short-term rentals are not real home shares by residents, but instead, units owned and managed by big corporations running what amounts to unregulated hotel businesses. Inhabitants of residential neighborhoods report being disrupted by a steady stream of strangers that can change the character of the community.

Hotels are regulated for your health and safety, they ensure local bylaws are followed, AND they are paying business taxes that support the preservation of cultural treasures visitors are coming to enjoy, and the infrastructure like streets and sidewalks and parks and public transportation tourists rely on.

Shop locally.

And especially, make a point to spend your souvenir, dining, and entertainment budgets to support local artisans, craftspeople, performing artists and venues, food and wine and spirit producers that are preserving local culture, techniques and architecture, and whose businesses 100% support the local economy. 
 

Book smaller cruise ships.

Bigger cruise ships need ports of a certain size, so that often means they all converge on major city ports – and some are already bursting with land-based visitors.

The biggest cruise ships carry thousands of people. In some places, a single ship can result in cruise visitors outnumbering locals! Imagine if two or more mega ships are in port! No wonder locals can feel like their city has been taken over by non-locals- and ‘normal’ local life comes to a halt while these immense cruise ships are in port.

There’s lots to be said for the attractions of mega cruise ships. If that’s your preferred cruise style, try to focus on itineraries that visit destinations that can accommodate you and your 5000 other cruise guests without overwhelming or changing the character of the city.

Always book a pre- or post-cruise stay.

That way, you are not just transiting through a city, you also contribute to its economy - and get to enjoy overnights and immersion in these wonderful places. Pre- and post-cruise stays - or tours - are a perfect balance to the destination sampling approach of cruising.

Book your visit with a reputable tour company.

The best tour companies understand the importance of reducing their impact on and preserving the best of local communities. They work to balance the interests of the destination with unique access to its greatest cultural, natural, and lifestyle gems for its guests.

Consider destinations in the same country that have fewer tourists.

You’ll often find the same – and sometimes, even more authentic - local lifestyle and flavors that have diminished in the most visited destinations if you leave the big cities and go off the beaten path in the same country.
 
Talk to your travel advisor about your travel interests, and they’ll be able to help you design a thoughtful and responsible travel plan that takes overtourism into account.
 
 

Start your Trip!

 
By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host BestTrip TV

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4 Places in Chile for Your Next Adventure Vacation
Chile is easy to spot on a map of South America. It’s the very long, very narrow ribbon of country stretching over 4300 km (2700 miles) along from the middle to the very tip of the Pacific coast of South America. In spite of its length, it’s only 350 km (220 miles) wide at the widest point! 

With the storied Atacama desert in the north and the dramatic landscapes of Patagonia in the south, bordered by the epic Andes mountain range in the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west stretching all the way to its fabled Easter Island, Chile’s incredible geography has created climates and landscapes ranging from lava fields and sand dunes, volcanoes and lakes, to forest and fjords, snow-capped mountains and endless maritime wonders.


They are wildly different backdrops for your next perfect adventure. Chile’s supersized natural settings have helped make it four times in a row the ‘World’s Best Adventure Tourism Destination’. 
 
Whether you are looking for a way to be immersed in Chile’s spectacular outdoors or you’re in search of adrenaline-pumping action, the country’s expansive and unique terrain offers travelers a full range of active experiences, including hiking, trekking, skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, mountaineering, climbing, surfing, sport fishing, kayaking, rafting, diving, canopy, sandboarding, kitesurfing and paragliding.
 
What’s more, many of Chile’s outdoor adventure experiences involve sustainable practices, protecting the environment you’re there to explore.
 
Here are four regions in Chile where you can get your heart pumping and create travel memories of a lifetime.
 

Atacama Desert 


In Chile’s north, it’s the driest desert in the world. It’s also one of the most unique eco-systems, occupying a vast, 105,000 square km (40,000 square mile) plateau between the Andes mountains and the sea.

 
The Atacama Desert’s sand dunes don’t just take your breath away with their scale and beauty, they provide the one-of-a-kind terrain for the unique adventure of sandboarding.
 

Punta de Lobos 


Chile may be narrow, but it has a whopping 4000 km (nearly 2500 miles) of coastline, which cruise travelers embarking and disembarking from Valparaiso get to enjoy, but we hope you explore Chile’s beaches more than from the rail of a ship. 
 
Chile has a well-earned reputation as world-class spot for surfing. Its Punta de Lobos beach south of cruise port Valparaiso and the inland capital of Santiago, has been named ‘Best Surf Capital of the World’.
 

You don’t have to be a world-class surfer to get in on the beach party scene and celebration of surf. And since it’s said to be one of the most consistent places to catch a wave in the southern hemisphere, it’s buzzing pretty much any day you visit.

 

Chilean Patagonia 


It’s a mystical destination near the bottom of the world, at the bottom of the Andes mountain range, straddling the border of Chile and Argentina. The last stop before the waters that lead to the Antarctic, Patagonia is South America’s great white south. 
 
This is the Chilean destination for lovers of vast, snow-topped mountain landscapes and cool climate or winter adventures like skiing, hiking and glacier trekking.
 

Easter Island 


Chile’s – and arguably, one of the world’s - most famous islands, Easter Island’s gigantic stone heads, called mo’ai, are instantly identifiable. Their lore draws culture-seekers from around the world and puts Easter Island at the top of adventure-lovers’ travel bucket lists.
 
Marine adventurers can get a different perspective on the mysteries of the mo’ai. The waters surrounding remote Easter Island are so clear, scuba divers are treated to visibility of the maritime environment up to 60 m (nearly 200 feet) away, including underwater caves and submerged mo’ai gazing inscrutably into the distance of the sea.
 
Your travel advisor can connect you to adventures where you can explore Chile’s one-of-a-kind natural wonders, be embraced by the renowned warmth of its people, wander the streets of UNESCO heritage historic sites – oh, and don’t forget to taste the wine and especially the country’s signature beverage, pisco!

 

Start your Trip!


All photos courtesy of Imagen de Chile.

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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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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.  

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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. And today, more and more of us are in need 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.

All things that mean more to us than ever.

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 recreate 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!

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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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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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Now You Can Take the Chunnel Train to a New Destination in Europe

London to Paris for a romantic weekend? Belgium to London for tea? Travelers have gotten used to having the option of a high-speed train connecting city centre London to mainland Europe via the tunnel under the Channel.   

Brexit politics aren't slowing down travel between the British Isles and Europe, either. So now the Eurostar is revolutionizing travel from England to the Netherlands too.  High-speed trains on the new route take only 3 ½ hours to arrive in downtown Amsterdam from St. Pancras International train terminal, and even less to the Netherlands' second city, Rotterdam.

The inaugural service to Amsterdam connecting two of the world's top travel destinations by high-speed train has been years coming.  And the long-awaited April, 2018 launch also boosts the existing London-Brussels section of the route, shaving nearly twenty minutes off the travel time to under 2 h to the Belgian capital.

This is a game changer for European and British travel. With a one-way ticket from just £35, it's an affordable way to add a pre or post extension in London to a river cruise or land tour from Amsterdam. Or for independent travelers to add a London leg to a train trip around the Continent.

Imagine maneuvering a Dutch bicycle across the canals in the afternoon (watch video) and quenching your thirst with a pint in an English pub that evening.

With no trek to the airport. Passengers of the Eurostar have to arrive only 30 minutes before the high-speed train departs from the city centre train terminal.  And no waits at the other end to claim your bags.  You take them with you on board.  And when you aren't marveling at the technology that connects the European mainland to the British Isles, you have wifi to catch up on your Netflix viewing, travel research, or even work if you are on a bleisure trip.

Plus you can feel good about the environmental benefits of train travel as it takes you from the capital of the U.K to the capital of the Netherlands. The new 3 ½ hour, high-speed Eurostar route from London to Amsterdam emits 80% less carbon than flying.  And you leave the train station and step right into the heart of the next city on your European vacation.

Start your Trip!