Carlson Wagonlit Travelscope 's Blog

The Largest Cruise Ship Ever to Transit the Panama Canal

As you can see, it was a tight fit when the newest mega-ship at sea arrived at one of the man-made wonders of the world in an iconic photo-op for the modern age of cruise travel.

On her inaugural sailing from the shipyard where she was built in Germany, towards her homeport of Seattle, the Norwegian Bliss became the largest passenger ship ever to transit the Panama Canal.

The nearly 50 mile-long and 12-hour series of locks, canals, and man-made bodies of water is considered an engineering marvel of the world. Opened in 1914, it allows shipping traffic to pass between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans without having to sail around the southern tip of South America.  And the Norwegian Bliss' historic transit in 2018 was only possible as a result of the Panama Canal's 2016 expansion that now allows it to accommodate among the largest classes of cargo and cruise ships.

The newest – and largest – Norwegian Cruise Line ship, the Norwegian Bliss certainly qualifies. 20 decks and 168,000 gross tons, with berths for more than 4000 guests and 1700 crew.

In addition to the historic Panama Canal passage and crossing a Panama canal transit cruise off their travel bucket list, guests on the Norwegian Bliss enjoyed these highlights of the 16th ship in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet, including many firsts at sea and for North-American-based ships:

Excitement:

The Largest Race Track: 2 levels and 1,000-feet of open-air race track thrills in electric go-karts. Alex Vega, Miami-based celebrity car guru from Discovery Channel’s reality television show, “The Auto Firm with Alex Vega”, delivered two fully customized electric go-karts to the Norwegian Bliss to add to the spectacle. 

The First Open-Air Laser Tag Experience:  Day or night, guests can immerse themselves in a fantasy environment of an abandoned space station, going into stealth mode and competing against family and new-found friends.

Eye-Popping Aqua Park: Not 1 but 2 waterslides! The high-speed Ocean Loop, a double waterslide that gets your blood pumping as you slide out over the side of the moving ship. Plus the tandem inner tube Aqua Racer.  Challenge friends and family members to race side by side to see who finishes first! 

Or let the ambitious members of the family tackle the water slides while you relax in one of 2 swimming pools or, on the deck above, find tranquility in one of 6 infinity hot tubs blur the line between the ship and the sea.  Younger kids have their own areas too, of splash pads, water cannons, tipping buckets and scaled-back water slides.

Fitness and Wellness: 

You'll feel no guilt allowing yourself to indulge in the Norwegian Bliss' culinary experiences with state-of-the-art equipment in the fitness center, as well as TRX, Fight Club, Ryde Cycle, and an aerobics room.  The Mandara Spa has 24 treatment rooms and a thermal suite that provides deep relaxation as well as full ocean views, hydro-therapy, steam room and dry sauna, samarium, salt room and even a Snow Room.

20 Restaurants, 13 Bars, and 2 Observation Lounges and 3 Shows:

Highlights include the ever-popular partnership with Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, The Cellars Mondavi Wine Bar, Ocean Blue, and elegant seafood restaurant, and a restaurant with nearly every international or classic cuisine imaginable, from the elegant evenings to pool-side casual.  You'll want to time dining and drinks around shows including the Tony-award-winning musical Jersey Boys.

The Haven:

In addition to many classes of staterooms and suites for extended families to solo travelers, the Norwegian Bliss has a 'ship within a ship', the Haven, a private, luxurious area more like a luxury small ship with highly personalized service, the Haven Courtyard with a retractable roof, private pool and lounge, spa and treatment rooms and restaurant, allowing guests to enjoy top-shelf luxury when they wish and to enjoy other restaurants, thrills, and entertainment of the rest of the ship when they wish.  The best of both worlds!

Where Can You Sail on the Norwegian Bliss?

  • From June, 2018, Norwegian Bliss will make 7-day cruises to Alaska from Seattle with calls in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Victoria, British Columbia; 
  • Then she will make select voyages to the Mexican Riviera from Los Angeles;
  • In Fall 2018 and Winter 2019, the Norwegian Bliss sails from Miami to the Eastern Caribbean;
  • In 2019 she returns to New York City to sail 7-day voyages to the Bahamas and Florida, and the Southern and Western Caribbean.

Ask us about specific itineraries for the Norwegian Bliss or how you too can cruise the Panama Canal.

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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.

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5 Reasons To Give An Ovation To Luxury Cruising's Newest Ship

Applause, champagne, and celebration for the Seabourn Ovation.  The fifth ship in Seabourn's fleet has her naming ceremony May 11, 2018, officially joining the line's award-winning Odyssey-class ships.

The launch of the Ovation is the finale of Seabourn's current expansion plans. Now, the five Seabourn ships: Ovation, Encore, Quest, Sojourn and Odyssey, represent one of the most modern and consistent fleets in ultra-luxury cruising.

Like her sister ships, sailing on the Seabourn Ovation is like sailing on a private yacht – but with experiences even private yacht travelers don't have the opportunity to enjoy.

Here are 5 of our favourite features of the Seabourn Ovation:

That Yachting Lifestyle:

The Seabourn Ovation blurs the lines between private yachting and cruising. Each suite has a personal bar that is stocked according to your preferences even before you board the ship.  There's an open-bar policy throughout the ship, including champagne, premium wine and spirits, so the entire ship feels like your own chartered yacht. Similiarly, all dining experiences are included.  And the Ovation also includes Seabourn's signature water-sports open marina at the aft of the ship.  At anchor in a secluded location on one of the world's spectacular coastlines, you'll be able to experience the extraordinary feeling of getting out onto the water right off the back of the ship.

Space:

You're among only a few hundred guests on a ship that's been designed to maximize space for each guest. On the Ovation, you'll discover secluded areas for quiet contemplation as well as spaces that foster natural and easy social interaction. When you would like to share the company of the other like-minded guests, that opportunity is there, but you'll have plenty of space to relax in privacy and enjoy the peaceful sailing experience.

All-Suite Experience:

300 all-oceanfront suites provide that 'home away from home'/ country club resort atmosphere at sea. Every suite on the new Ovation includes a private veranda that not only provides you with sweeping views of the sea, but is also spacious enough for private, alfresco dining. Suites include indoor, spacious living space, walk-in closets, and superb marble bathrooms with separate baths and showers, stocked with Seabourn's own exclusive line of Molton Brown amenities.

Design:

Design icon Adam D. Tihany was once again tapped to style a sailing, ultra-luxury resort. The Ovation's design is that of a boutique design hotel/resort that welcomes you with deluxe comfort, modern elegance and stand-out design elements and innovations.

Seabourn-Exclusives:

The launch of the Seabourn Ovation means there's another destination at sea to experience Seabourn's signature moments, including Caviar-in-the-Surf, and a host of one-of-a-kind partnerships. 

  • The Grill by Michelin-starred American culinary icon Thomas Keller harkens back to a mid-century upscale dining experience with table-side preparations of classics like Caesar salad and ice cream sundaes. 
  • Then attend 'An Evening with Tim Rice', where the acclaimed musical theatre lyricist's best-loved works from Jesus Christ Superstar, Aladdin, and the Lion King are punctuated by his personal anecdotes and video narrative.
  • Participate in the Spa and Wellness program by holistic medicine pioneer Dr. Andrew Weil. (Watch this video to experience the Crystal Sound Bowl treatment)
  • And on shore, enjoy purposeful and sustainable travel experiences through Seabourn's partnership with UNESCO.

The Seabourn Ovation spends her inaugural season in Northern Europe on 7-day Baltic and Scandinavian itineraries, as well as 2-week voyages into the Norwegian fjords and rustic, northern British Isles.

You can still be a part of the Ovation's maiden sailing season and be among the first to experience this magnificent new ship.  Let us help you find the perfect Seabourn cruise for your next vacation.
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Preserving the World's Heritage: One Cruise Line's Partnership with UNESCO

There are over a thousand World Heritage Sites in 167 countries.  Places in the world of such extraordinary cultural or natural wonder, that UNESCO has dedicated itself to preserving them for the ages… and travelers dedicate themselves to discovering them for themselves.

One cruise line has partnered with UNESCO to help achieve both goals. Seabourn's ultra-luxury cruises sail to all seven continents.  It has a unique ability to bring travelers to many of the world's UNESCO treasures.

In fact, over 170 designated UNESCO sites are included in Seabourn itineraries, iconic places like Halong Bay in Vietnam,  (watch the video of our kayaking tour of Halong Bay with Seabourn), the Ruins of Pompeii, the Great Barrier Reef, the Birthplace of the Olympic Games, as well as Canada's Bay of Fundy, where the world's highest tides have resulted in landscapes and ecosystems making up a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.  (Watch the video where the tides of the Bay of Fundy reverse the flow of the St. John River).

In addition to helping bring guests to the sites, Seabourn has developed two types of shore excursions in partnership with UNESCO. Seabourn World Heritage Tours visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  And Seabourn Discovery Tours offer exclusive, enhanced shore excursions of UNESCO World Heritage Sites through their partnership.

In the case of both types of designated UNESCO shore excursions, a donation is made to the UNESCO World Heritage Fund for each Seabourn guest who participates.  Seabourn guests who donate additional funds to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre even earn Seabourn Club Points that help advance guests up to another membership level with added benefits.

The partnership Seabourn has with UNESCO reflects dedicated corporate responsibility in travel on a global level, and also the interests of Seabourn guests to experience the greatest achievements of humankind and miracles of Nature, while supporting their continued preservation.  At the same time, Seabourn assists UNESCO in its goal of promoting awareness and sustainable tourism to those World Heritage properties.

Our Seabourn Canada and New England cruise gave us the opportunity to visit Quebec City's glorious, 400-year Old Town World Heritage Site.  Two designated UNESCO Partner Tours are offered to guests in Quebec City:

  • Historic & Modern Quebec with Parliament Visit
  • Historical Walk with Horse & Carriage Ride

In both cases, guests are introduced in a unique way to the extraordinary historic, hill-top town founded in 1608 as the capital of New France, and which remains today the only walled city north of Mexico.  400-year old cobbled streets wind up and down the steep slopes of this elegant fortified town, lined with stone houses shops, restaurants, public squares, the oldest Catholic Church in North America, and the iconic Chateau Frontenac, the castle-like hotel that tops the hill and dominates Quebec City's unmistakable skyline.  (Tour the Chateau Frontenac in this video).

Our fellow Seabourn guests who were visiting Quebec City for the first time all said they felt like they'd been magically transported to a preserved town in Europe. It's almost unbelievable that it is right in the backyard of North American travelers.  It's that kind of magic and wonder that every UNESCO site inspires in visitors and Seabourn's one-of-a-kind UNESCO Partner Tours make possible.

By Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/Host, BestTrip.TV

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How does a hotel become the most photographed in the world?  Many hotels have spectacular architecture, magnificent and dramatic settings... but very few hotel silhouettes define the destination. 

Fairmont's Chateau Frontenac is to Quebec City what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.  The hotel not only evokes the grace and elegance of the French castles that inspired it.  It is literally the high point of this historic, 400 year old city's UNESCO world heritage site.  Although it appears to rise from the French Middle Ages, in fact, it dates from the late 19th century, and in 2018 celebrates 125 years of being a can't miss experience of a trip to Quebec City. 

Join BestTrip.TV's exploration of the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac's historic character and anniversary multi-million dollar makeover.

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One of the greatest natural spectacles in the world is the unmatched explosion of colorful foliage that takes place in Eastern Canada and the North-Eastern US every autumn. And it's best experienced by cruise ship. Our cruise on the Seabourn Quest navigated the St. Lawrence from Montreal with calls at Quebec City, Canada's Maritime provinces, then along the Eastern Coast.

Watch this video for our cruise tour and review.

And here are my top 7 reasons you'll want to add a Seabourn cruise of Canada and New England to your fall travel schedule.

By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host, BestTrip.TV

  1. Seabourn packs its ultra-luxury cruise experience into boutique-sized ships, and that is an advantage you won't want to miss. Large ships can't sail any farther west than Quebec City as they don't have clearance under certain bridges; only on a smaller ship can sail all the way to Montreal.The second-largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris, and fashion, culinary and lifestyle global center is an exhilarating port of embarkation or disembarkation you won't want to miss as a pre- or post-cruise stay.
  2. The smaller ship size makes you feel like you are on a large yacht, and like yachts, the Seabourn Quest is able to call as smaller, more out-of-the-way ports you might not be able to experience otherwise, like the tiny islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon that remain the territory of France in North America.
  3. Seabourn is famous for its signature 'moments', little happenings that pop up to enhance your cruise experience.As you inhale the brisk sea breezes taking in the isolated shorelines lined with crimson-leaved trees as you sail by, suddenly, there's a hot chocolate-with-a-twist bar on deck.You didn't even know you wanted a delectable hot chocolate laced with your favorite liqueur… but the scenery seems to get even better with one in your hands.
  4. I've always loved Seabourn's 'Shopping with the Chef' – local markets come even more alive seen through the eyes of the immensely talented, creative Seabourn chefs.Chef Jes invited our cameras to accompany him to Quebec City's Old Port Market, one of North America's great historic markets, with truly local vendors selling some of Quebec's famously rich abundance of highest quality foods. And the Chef's shopping was not for show! He was thrilled to find the miraculous last fresh strawberries of the season to surprise guests with at breakfast the following morning. And he also gave us a cooking demo using some of the ingredients we discovered at the market. It was a highlight of our call in Quebec City.
  5. Overnight in Quebec City. The Seabourn Quest was docked in Quebec City in a prime location at the foot of its famous hill, and an overnight in this famous, UNESCO World Heritage, 400-year old city gave us and our fellow guests ample opportunity to experience the evening lights, and the culinary scene of this little piece of Europe in North America.
  6. Getting close to Nature. In addition to calls at some of North America's most storied and vibrant cities in Canada and on the American East Coast, sailing brings Seabourn guests often quite close to Nature. The St. Lawrence is seasonal home to a variety of whales; on the cruise prior to ours, one whale cruised alongside the ship for hours. Guests were able to come from all over the ship to line the decks in awe, incredibly close to a spontaneous encounter with wildlife.
  7. The suite life on Seabourn. Brisk autumn breezes as you stroll the decks or wander off the ship to explore the East's charming seaside towns are not only invigorating – they also leave you wind-blown and ready for a bath and a glass of something special. On the Seabourn Quest, your steward can deliver champagne and draw you a bath – yes! a bath on a ship! Your wonderful day becomes a perfect one.

We North American's sometimes forget that one of the world's epic cruises is right in our backyard. Seabourn's Canada and New England autumn colors cruises remind us of the beauty here at home - elevated by Seabourn's exquisite on board luxury lifestyle.

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You may be familiar with treating yourself to a massage, reflexology, or other spa wellness treatments while you're on holiday.  But an Amethyst Crystal Sound Bath?  That's a level of holistic therapy you rarely encounter at any spa, especially at sea.  BestTrip.TV took a 'dip' during our cruise on the Seabourn Quest. 

One-of-a-Kind Wellness: Dr. Andrew Weil's Mindful Living Program on Seabourn

By Lynn Elmhirst, BestTrip.TV

If holistic wellness had a 'celebrity', it would be Dr. Andrew Weil.  The pioneer in integrative medicine is a best-selling author and practitioner. Dr. Weil has been pivotal in bringing a new awareness and mainstream practice of Eastern and Western wellness to the North American public.

He has also brought his mind, body, and spirit approach to holistic wellness to Seabourn.  So your cruise can include a journey towards rejuvenation, healthy ageing, and even renewed happiness through Dr. Weil's principles and unique practices and treatments.

The ultra-luxury line wants guests to be uplifted, not just by travel to new horizons, pampered by attentive service and the Seabourn way of life, but also by the opportunity to return from your holiday refreshed and relaxed in every way.  They've partnered with Dr. Weil to bring wellness and a Mindful Living program to the entire Seabourn fleet.  It's the first wellness program of its kind at sea.

Dr. Weil's Mindful Living program at the Spa on Seabourn ships is led by a wellness coach.  This certified yoga and meditation practitioner leads complimentary classes and practices as well as wellness gatherings throughout voyages.

Dr. Weil's teachings guide a comprehensive program.  Meditation sessions provide participants with positive affirmations and mantras you can reflect on throughout the day. Restorative yoga sessions reinforce the mantra introduced in the day's meditations.  Therapeutic yoga sessions also provide guests with various health concerns a practice to help their specific healing needs like back pain, joint pain, headaches, and body alignment. 

The Mindful Living program also recognizes the other ways the practice of yoga empowers you, offering sessions that enhance creativity, mental focus and even happiness.

The daily themes of the Mindful Living program change daily in seven-day cycles, so on a week-long Seabourn cruise, you can be immersed in new mindful living practices daily.

In addition to practices, complimentary program seminars provide guests with more information on the philosophies and background and principles of the program elements and its overall mission.  The goal is to empower you and increase your awareness of the connection between mind, body, environment and wellness.  Healing arts seminars include experts' teachings about issues we can all relate to:

  • Spontaneous Happiness & Spontaneous Healing
  • Anti-inflammatory foods with nutritional guidance from Dr. Andrew Weil's teachings
  • Healthy Aging
  • Learn what happens in both the mind and body during Mindful Meditation

But every person's wellness needs are different. So everyone receives an individual consultation and specialized recommended courses of practice and treatments that go far beyond standard spa fare.  Thai Poultice massages with steamed herbs like Kaffir Lime and Lemon grass, Deeper than Deep Hot Stone Massages, Bamboo massages, Acupuncture, and the Amethyst Crystal Sound Bath featured in the BestTrip.TV video above enhance the Dr. Andrew Weil Mindful Living practices.

One of the best things about participating in the Dr. Andrew Weil Mindful Living program on Seabourn is that, unlike the effects of a massage which can disappear once you return to the stresses of daily life, some of the practices you can learn during the course of a Seabourn voyage, like meditation or breathing exercises, can go home with you, and enrich your life along with memories of your favorite Seabourn moments long after your cruise has come to an end.

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What Happens to Worn-Out Hotel Sheets? A Good News Story

How many times can your hotel sheets be slept in once, then washed, and slept in again before they're too worn to use one more time?

We don't know.

But we do know that there's now a better end story for used sheets than landfill or being tied together to form an escape route out the back window in a romantic comedy.

Westin Hotels has decided that there's more to their famous 'Heavenly Bed' sheets than thread count. In fact, their new upcycling program for used linens is making every thread count.

The hotel chain's Project Rise: Thread Forward transforms dated bed linens into all new fabric: a soft, breathable jersey material. Then it's made into kids' pajamas.

It's a sustainability program, yes, but it speaks to even more than a commitment to the environment. Westin has embraced and established groundbreaking Wellness programs for its guests. 'Sleep Well' is one of the pillars of that program, and Westin has been inspired by studies that show a third of adults and majority of children don't get enough. Westin also recognizes that for more and more of us, giving back is also important to our sense of well-being.

These kids' jammies hit all those buttons.

It's the first large-scale textile upcycling program in the industry. In the first 5 months, 50 Westin hotels world-wide collected a mind-boggling 30,000 pounds of linens, that were turned into thousands of sets of children's sleepwear.

Westin is working with charities to distribute pajamas to children in need, whose insecure circumstances contribute to poor sleep. New York, Toronto, Mexico City, and Cape Town are among the first cities where Westin is sharing the gift of sleep outside its hotels. Sadly, pajamas are among the most-requested items of charities that support low-income families. Putting on pajamas contributes to a bedtime routine that can help provide children with the healing power of sleep.

Which is why Westin guests will also be able to buy a pair of pajamas for kids in their own lives, with proceeds benefiting the program.

The jammies come in kids' sizes 2-8, all in a playful, unisex design of a child rising over a moon with a book – a nod to a better sleep empowering a better day.

It's a multi-level wellness win: for the environment, the well-being of Westin hotel communities, guests and hotel associates who came up with the idea and whose participation makes the program possible.


Westin hopes their program inspires change and textile upcycling throughout the travel world. It's certainly a way you can feel good about being kind to the planet, and to others, when you travel.

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There's a tinkling, tap-tap-tap coming from the pool deck of the Silver Muse. It's being made by a hammer against a tiny shoe nail in the hands of an Italian cobbler. Before your eyes, he custom-makes Italian leather sandals for another fortunate guest.

One of the hallmarks of a Silversea cruise is the exceptional level of service. It's personified in the white-gloved, formally-suited butlers who not only provide, but actually anticipate your every need.

Before we boarded the Silver Muse, I was not aware I needed a new pair of custom-fitted, hand-made, Italian leather sandals for my vacation. Once I saw Gennaro's work, it was obvious that is exactly what I needed.

In the rarefied world of true luxury cruising, it can be hard to define what makes one cruise line's interpretation of luxury different from another's. In the case of Silversea, a cruise line with Italian roots, luxury at sea becomes la dolce vita. The good life, polished with pleasure and indulgence, Italian-style.

In that context, having an Italian cobbler on board seems almost obvious. Of course ladies and gentlemen would like to meet a skilled craftsman who can make them custom Italian leather sandals on their cruise.

Not all Silversea cruises have an Italian cobbler-in-residence. But wherever you sail on Silversea cruises around the world – and since they sail to 900 different ports of call on every continent including Antarctica, that is pretty much anywhere – a little bit of Italy travels with you.

Here's our guide to the dolce vita, Silversea-style.

By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/Host, BestTrip.TV

Socializing

There is an actual place called the Dolce Vita on board the Silver Muse, a relaxing lounge and gathering place sumptuously appointed and with day and evening service. A cappuccino? A glass of wine or champagne or a bespoke cocktail to enjoy as you exchange greetings with fellow guests, plan the next day's adventures, enjoy the pianist with your aperitif before dinner? Gather with intimate or larger groups in a perfect social setting. And don't miss the stylized portrait of Silversea chairman Manfredi Lefebvre d'Ovidio whose Italian heritage inspired and shapes the Silversea lifestyle.

Dining

Everyone loves Italian cuisine. But not everyone serves authentic Italian cuisine. Silversea does.

La Terrazza restaurant is located on an aft deck where you can choose al fresco dining so the sea breezes complement cherished regional Italian dishes, daily fresh-made pasta and the freshest Mediterranean ingredients. The restaurant's relaxed style evokes the atmosphere (and mouth-watering culinary experience) of dining in outdoor restaurants in seaside Italian towns.



Spaccanapoli is hard to say, but the original Neapolitan pizza it serves is easy to swallow. Most guests on the ship just say 'the pizza place', but that off-hand term hardly does this pizza restaurant, on the top deck overlooking the pool, justice.

Inspired by the historic street in Naples, the seaside town where pizza was born, Spaccanapoli is one of the most popular places to dine on the ship. Chefs in the open-air kitchen work hand-made dough and create made-to-order pizzas in a range of authentic recipes, baking them in a pizza oven only a few steps away from your al fresco table. It couldn't be simpler, or more special: a super-chilled, crisp rose wine in the sea breezes mingling with the fragrance of authentic Neapolitan pizza.

Italian coffee and a selection of wines are perfect accompaniments to quiet and social moments throughout the day.

Freshening Up

One of your first interactions with your Silversea butler on boarding and entering your suite involves your selection of bath amenities. Italian lifestyle brand Bvlgari is stocked in your marble bathroom, but another Italian brand, Ferragamo, is also on offer, making it easy for you to channel your inner stylish Italian as you luxuriate in your suite's bath.

Relaxing

Morning coffee on your veranda, or at the ship's spa. Any number of occasions on board the Silver Muse call for a cozy bathrobe and slippers. Italian fashion house Etro supplies particularly plush ones to Silversea. The family business is famous among those in the know for mens' and womens' wear, as well as accessories and home products. It is sometimes tempting to stay in the robes all day!

Resting

After an exciting day of travels, when you finally lay your head down at night in your suite, you'll be resting on linens from legendary Italian firm Pratesi. Join European aristocracy in sleeping on bed linens that have been called masterpieces of comfort and luxurious style. Difficulty sleeping? Ask your butler about options from the pillow menu, including lavender aromatherapy pillowcases.

Whether you're in Buenos Aires or Belfast, Capri or the Caribbean, make sure you enjoy the Italian indulgences on your Silversea ship.

Start your Trip!

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Silversea's 'Celebrity' Culinary Partnership

By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/ Host BestTrip.TV

These days, celebrity chefs and cruise lines sail hand in hand.  Silversea's interpretation of luxury cruising is an understated elegance where service and attention to detail are primary.

The Silver Muse at anchor in Paraty, Brazil (Photo: BestTrip.TV)

So it's no surprise that Silversea's culinary partnership is not with a famous chef with a flamboyant TV show.  Instead, Silversea partnered with Relais & Chateaux, a world-wide association long dedicated to the highest culinary and hospitality arts for travelers in the know.

Table settings in La Dame on board the Silver Muse (Photo: BestTrip.TV)

If you're a dedicated foodie and traveler, Relais & Chateaux should be on your radar.  The association began in France decades ago, launched by a boutique hotelier/restaurateur to unite other independent boutique hotels with peak standards in local cuisine and fine living.  Today, it's the most prestigious hotel/culinary association in the world.  500 member landmark hotels and restaurants are united by a shared commitment to outstanding fine dining and their unique interpretation of the Art of Living.

Relais & Chateaux hotels/restaurants can be found in 64 countries around the world… and at sea, only on Silversea cruises. So the seven seas can be added to the dozens of countries where Relais & Chateaux' kitchens and dining rooms pay exquisite attention to ingredients, technique and flavors for the delectation of travelers.

Imagine: Silversea's expedition cruises to the world's polar regions mean the cruise line brings the only Relais & Chateaux restaurant to Antarctica!

Where art meets marzipan.  (Photo: BestTrip.TV)

Silversea works with the 'Grands Chefs' honored by Relais & Chateaux to offer their signature dishes on board Silversea ships.  In addition, one restaurant on Silversea, La Dame, is the only Wine Restaurant by the association at sea.  What a perfect combination: sailing to some of the world's great wine regions and dining in a restaurant that celebrates those wines with six-course menus of inspired French cuisine.

Lobster and Caviar and Leeks, oh my! (Photo: BestTrip.TV)

Our recent cruise on the Silver Muse from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro gave us the perfect opportunity to experience Silversea's unique version of Relais & Chateaux.   Argentine wines were the toast of the hour during a wine tasting in La Dame.  And we chose to celebrate our final evening on board the ship at La Dame with an array of exquisite wines and dishes that brought our Silversea experience to a crescendo.

Watch the video to join our experience in Silversea's La Dame Relais & Chateaux restaurant as well as 7 other unique restaurants on the Silver Muse.

BestTrip.TV hard at work... even at dinner in La Dame. (Photo: BestTrip.TV)

Start your Trip!

 

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Love Your Wine? You'll Love This Airline Perk

Alaska Airlines is giving wine the VIP treatment.  If you're a Mileage Plan member departing from West Coast wine destinations including airports in California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington states, you can – get this – check an entire case, yes a case of up to 12 bottles, of wine for free.

Wine Flies Free from 29 West Coast cities on Alaska Airlines. The program debuted in 2007 to enable passengers to transport wine from Sonoma/Santa Rosa, and Alaska Airlines has now nearly doubled participating departure airports.

Participating Wine Flies Free Cities:

California

Idaho

Oregon

Washington

Burbank*

Boise

Eugene

Bellingham*

Fresno*

Lewiston

Medford

Pullman*

Los Angeles*

 

Portland

Seattle*

Monterey*

 

Redmond

Spokane*

Oakland*

 

 

Wenatchee*

Ontario*

 

 

Pasco

Orange County*

 

 

Walla Walla

Palm Springs*

 

 

Yakima

Sacramento*

 

 

 

San Diego*

 

 

 

San Francisco*

 

 

 

San Jose*

 

 

 

San Luis Obispo

 

 

 

Santa Barbara*

 

 

 

Santa Rosa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Indicates new cities being added to the program.

And it's spreading the word with local wineries and regional winemaker associations as well as wine country destinations. So you can indulge yourself in the rich wine and culinary experiences all along the West Coast, and take home a whole case of terrific memories. Without having to figure out costly shipping.

Instead, your wine flies with you.  There's no charge to become a member of Alaska Airlines' Mileage Plan, and anyone who's signed up can take advantage of the Wine Flies Free program.  Wine bottles have to be sealed and packed properly in a protective shipping container.  But customer service agents help make sure your wine is ready for take off.

How far can your wine fly?  Don't let the name Alaska Airlines deceive you. Together with Virgin America and its regional partners, Alaska Airlines flies to more than 115 destinations across the United States and to Mexico, Canada and Costa Rica.

So you and your new favorite West Coast wine can go far together.

Start your Trip!

 

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5 Reasons To Love Your Suite Butler on a Silversea Cruise

If you've never sailed on Silversea Cruises before, you might not realize something very special you will come to love: your Silversea Butler.

This is the only cruise line that provides its famous Butler service in every suite on the ship, where the staff-to-guest ratio is nearly one to one.  If you're trying to picture how that level of service – and butlers! - translate to your experience, here are 5 reasons the BestTrip.TV team loved our Suite Butlers when we sailed recently on the Silver Muse.

By Lynn Elmhirst, Producer and Host, BestTrip.TV

In-Suite Dining and Entertaining

Nothing is too complex or too tiny a detail for your Silversea butler.  A simple cup of tea in the early morning hours so I could enjoy the unique pleasure of inhaling sea air and watching the waves pass by was a perfect Silversea moment thanks to my butler. (All photos BestTrip.TV)

Dining and entertaining in-suite is such a pleasure on the Silver Muse.  Spacious suites have living areas that open out onto your balcony. Perfect for pre-dinner cocktails and canapés with friends. 

Our butler made that happen.  He ensured our in-suite bars were stocked to our individual preferences of wine, champagne, spirits and mix.  He delivered canapés for pre-dinner aperitifs and extra cocktail, wine, and champagne glasses. Which magically had disappeared by our return after dinner.

One of our group had brought a certain snack on board when we arrived.  He finished the package but didn't mention it.  His butler not only noticed… but replaced it with a fresh package from the ship's stores. Observation meets the service of anticipation.

Polished Sunglasses…

Returning on board the ship a bit worse for wear after a day in port called for a freshen up in my suite's full marble bath before dressing for dinner.  When I returned to my suite after dinner and the evening's entertainment, what did I find? 

The sunglasses smudged with the day's sunscreen had received the butler treatment.  My butler had polished my sunglasses and left them wrapped in a polishing cloth I took with me on the next port of call.

… And shoes

Then formal evening arrived.  Ladies and gentlemen took the opportunity to celebrate life, Silversea-style, by dressing for the evening.  That morning, my butler brought my tea and reminded me it was formal evening.  Would I need anything pressed to wear for dinner?  No, thank you, my dress traveled well.   Perhaps he could polish my formal shoes?  Well that was a splendid idea. 

I returned to my suite to dress for dinner to find them polished and presented in tissue in my closet.  A perfect kick-off to the evening!

White-Gloved Service

The white-gloved service didn't end there.  Particularly on formal evening.  Butlers stood poised in hallways outside suites ready for service, wishing guests a fine evening and even offering an escort to dinner.  The hospitality is not limited to the ladies! 

When you cruise on Silversea, don't be surprised to find yourself forming quite a bond with your suite butler. The best of them bring a genuine personal kindness and deep caring to their work as butler.  It is the person you will have the most contact with, and often a wonderful personal connection.

Suitcases and Packing

In a lovely gesture on the day before our cruise came to a close,  my butler offered to help me pack.  I'm pretty independent and couldn't bring myself to accept that assistance.  I was delighted to return to my suite to find my suitcase set out  for me with this note.  My butler had cleaned my suitcase, freshening it up in anticipation of packing and sending me on my way.

Those are just 5 ways we realized we couldn't live without our Silversea Suite Butler.  You'll have your own butler moments, too.

We all have our special memories of our cruise on the Silver Muse, where the hardest part... was saying goodbye to our butlers.

Start your Trip!

 

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Rio's annual pre-Lent extravaganza, Carnaval is the highlight of Rio's – and the party world's – calendar. It runs every year in the 5 days leading up to Ash Wednesday, culminating on Mardi Gras.  But not everyone can make it to the throbbing excitement of Carnaval in that short window.  

If you missed what many consider the sexiest party on the planet, not to worry.

BestTrip.TV can give you an insider's view of Carnaval.  Join us for a rare, behind-the-scenes experience with our fellow guests on this Silversea Grand Voyage exclusive shore excursion to one of Rio's top Samba Schools.

For Silversea's Grand Voyage guests, a one-of-a-kind Carnaval experience immerses us in all the elements of Rio's renowned celebrations:

Floats are the centerpieces of Carnaval.  Samba Schools build their floats in total secrecy – even from other members of their own Samba School. That makes the access we and our fellow guests have to the float-in-the-making extraordinary. The competition between Rio's Samba Schools is so extreme, not a whisper of each Samba School's new theme can leak out.  Each year, the Samba School parade entry tells a different story, and the installations, mechanisms and very glittery art  - provide the framework for the story. The countless sequins, glitter, feathers and sparkly paint make the floats surreal.

Costumes outshine even the floats, if that's possible.  Parade floats are escorted through Rio's Sambadrome by hundreds and even thousands of costumed dancers, musicians and other performers. Perhaps it's the extraordinary contradiction of so much glitter and shine… and so much skin at the same time. Rio's Carnaval costumes differ from other Mardi Gras celebrations around the world (like Venice or New Orleans) in one key way: they are notoriously sexy. This is the birthplace of the thong and dental floss bikini after all.  Not every costume is skimpy on fabric – they are wondrous, hand-made creations, and we and our fellow guests get to play dress up with genuine Carnaval costumes.

Cocktails make everything more fun, and the Carnaval experience is no exception. Cachaca (pronounced ka-CHA-sa) is Brazil's local sugarcane spirit, this country's answer to rum. Caipirinhas are the mojito of Brazil and help make this experience into a party.

Samba may be the most uniquely Brazilian aspect of Rio's Carnaval. The local music and dance, with roots in the country's African slaves, shaped by poor urban neighborhoods of more recent years, is a great symbol of the diversity, unity and democracy of the country today. Not to mention being one of the most throbbing, sensual, irresistible rhythms in the world. To the beat of the drums, cowbells, and whistles of musicians, we get into the spirit of Samba.  Spoiler alert: you may need to be born dancing samba to do the incredible music justice.

Parade time is the culmination of a year of Carnaval preparations. Rio has even built its incredible Sambadrome parade ground, lined by stands and VIP booths.  They don't prevent anyone from dancing along with the Samba School entries though.  And naturally, our own Silversea Carnaval experience culminates in a 'mock' Carnaval parade.

It's an overnight in Rio we'll never forget.

Plus, the Carnaval Experience supports the Youth Samba School that educates thousands of kids in the community.   Join us in celebrating Brazil's famous five-day party!

 

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Two of South America's most fabled cities and a week-long cruise in luxury. That's our BestTrip.TV experience sailing on Silversea's Silver Muse from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

With overnights in both exciting ports, and sunny days at sea on Silversea's intimate 600-passenger ship, it's the South American sailing of your dreams.  Spacious and yacht-like, with more restaurants than we can experience in a week, the personal attention of an all-butler suite ship, and niceties of Italian hospitality and lifestyle that are the hallmarks of a Silversea cruise... we can't imagine a more ideal way to sample the delights of two destinations on everyone's travel bucket list. 

Start your Trip!

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40 New Ways to Score Marriott Rewards in 2018

If you're collecting Marriott Rewards points, 2018 is a very fine year.

Marriott International is launching 40 hotels across its 8 luxury hotel brands in 2018.  That's 40 new places around the world to accumulate points towards Marriott's loyalty program, from Savannah to Tel Aviv to Hobart, Tasmania.  

It's all part of a busy couple of years for the world's largest hotelier, which is opening at least one hotel every 14 hours! in a three-year period.

2018's new luxury hotels span your favorite places to see the world in the ultimate comfort with the most supreme travel experiences: The Ritz-Carlton, Ritz-Carlton Reserve, St. Regis, W Hotels, The Luxury Collection, EDITION and JW Marriott. 

The group of hotels and resorts already has a footprint in 60 countries, and with 200 more hotels in the pipeline, it's expanding to include 25 more countries, from Iceland to Cuba, from Nepal to the Philippines.

Whether you're traveling for business, leisure, or 'bleisure', a stay in one of Marriott's luxury hotels or resorts is an experience in living your best life. That may be creating a signature dish at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman’s Culinary Studio, prioritizing wellness tapping into on-demand fitness with JW Marriott’s Behind the Barre program, recharging in an over-water villa at The St. Regis Maldives or exploring one of the world’s most energetic cities through a W Insider.  The hotels occupy remodeled palaces, skyscrapers, and breezy beachfront escapes.

Pack your bags now for:

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel de La Paix, Geneva as well as China’s scenic Jiuzhaigou Valley, plus renovations of key properties including The Ritz-Carlton, Berlin and The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul.

The debut of the Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Los Cabos, distinguished from the Ritz-Carlton brand by an intimate, culturally immersive experience with a caring, human touch.

St. Regis Hotels & Resorts celebrates the opening of St. Regis Rome in 2018, as well as openings in destinations such as Cairo and Amman.

W Hotels, the 'luxury rebel' brand, has an unprecedented year of openings in 2018, from Tel Aviv, and Dubai to Brisbane and Panama City. (W Hotel Singapore pictured below).

EDITION – the collaboration between Marriott and boutique hotel innovator Ian Schrager – sees 7 new hotels across 3 continents in 2018. The hotel brand's timeless design, uncompromising quality, true originality and impeccable modern service, expands with two additional properties in Shanghai and Bangkok in Asia, Bodrum and Barcelona in Europe, its first outpost in the Middle East in Abu Dhabi, plus two more US properties in Times Square and West Hollywood.

The Luxury Collection's more than 100 hotels take you to some of the world's most inspiring places.  Authentic and indigenous experiences are the hallmark of the brand, which sees 10 new hotels in 2018 around the globe, including Los Cabos, Savannah, Vail and Okinawa.

JW Marriott's modern luxury finds new homes in Nashville and the Maldives, and renovates more than half of its 79 hotels and resorts, including Bangkok and Grosvenor House. (JW Marriott Venice pictured, top)

So if you have a taste for luxury, 2018 gives you 40 more ways to pad your Marriott Rewards points tally and get that much closer to indulging in more travel with the authentic, immersive, local access these luxury hotels and resorts offer their guests.

 

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Montreal's marquee hotel in the heart of the city has been restored to its 50's and 60's roots in a stunning makeover that marries the sexiest elements of sleek mid-century design - with some modern interpretations that take this landmark hotel to the forefront as a travel and lifestyle destination.

Pick up a dry martini and join us on a tour of the very sexy, redesigned hotel with our friend, Ulya Jensen, principal designer of Ulya Jensen Interiors.  She shares with us her favorite spaces in the newly-renovated Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth hotel.

Start your Trip!

 

 

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Viva Versace: 4 Travel Destinations to Commemorate the Fashion Legend

Gianni Versace's dramatic and random murder over 20 years ago on the steps of his Miami home continues to capture public attention in continuous movie, TV and pop culture references.

The Italian fashion impresario changed the face of high fashion and became a symbol of popular culture, dressing 90's icons like Diana, Princess of Wales, linking the music and fashion worlds in his association with Cher, Sting, and Elton John, as well as breaking new ground as openly gay, accompanied by his partner on the international party scene.

The fashion house Gianni Versace founded became synonymous with opulent designs and vivid color, and the Greek mythological Medusa head symbol of Versace is unmistakable. Following his 1997 death, Gianni Versace's sister Donatella famously took over as the face and creative force behind Versace, so her brother's vision lives on for us to experience today.

Versace Flagship Boutique, Milan. Photo Credit

Of course you can make your way to the Versace flagship store in Milan, or other high-fashion global capitals.   But Versace is not just about shopping.  Here are 4 travel destinations where you can live the opulent Versace lifestyle.

 

Photo Credit

Miami, Florida: The Villa Casa Casuarina

 

Gianni Versace was killed on the doorstep of his Miami residence: a Mediterranean Revival mansion surrounded by the Art Deco pastel buildings on Ocean Drive in the heart of South Beach.

Before his death, Versace had added an entire new wing and a pool, restored the property, and undertook a redesign in true Versace style. After his death, the Versace Mansion was sold, and today, it's a luxury boutique hotel.

The name reflects its original identity when it was built in the 1930's – but guests at today's Villa Casa Casuarina discover many elements from Gianni Versace's restoration and redesign. It's a unique experience of the fashion figure's personal and private expression of style.

If you stay at the Villa Casa Casuarina, you can swim in the Million Mosaic Pool that Versace had lined with thousands of 24 carat gold tiles. The villa's Mediterranean Revival style dovetailed with Versace's famous Greek mythology inspiration; the pool he designed features the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon. And of course, the fashion house's Medusa emblem also makes appearances. The new owners take their stewardship of Versace's vision seriously, securing a resident artist to maintain the mosaics and frescos Versace created for the villa.

Photo Credit

Versace's former dining room is now a celebrated restaurant 'Gianni's', and the rooftop views of the ocean on the across iconic Ocean Drive are the same the designer would have enjoyed during his stays.

Gold Coast, Australia: Palazzo Versace

There are two Versace branded hotels in the world, and a third on the way.  The first Versace hotel is on Australia's beach holiday destination, the Gold Coast.  Its founders call it the world's first fashion-inspired hotel.

The concept was proposed in 1997 and was inspired by Gianni Versace's well-known love of architecture, plus the fact that Versace  - alone at that time – was the only fashion house with a home collection that covered all hotel needs from dinnerware to linens to upholstery fabric. Of course, it also had an unmistakable aesthetic synonymous with over-the-top luxury.

Since 2000, the Palazzo Versace has been a beacon of style and decadence on the Gold Coast.  The architecture pays homage to Versace's fascination with ancient Greece: a postmodern building interpreting neoclassical architecture, on an exclusive waterfront setting.

Inside, it's all Versace with bespoke furnishings, décor, ambiance, and Italian craftsmanship that respects the couture roots of the Versace brand. Award-winning restaurants, spa and wellness center, a private marina, the country's first water salon cabana lifestyle… and of course a Versace Boutique are all part of the Palazzo Versace experience.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Palazzo Versace

Dubai's epic extravagance mirrors the Versace opulence, so it's no wonder that the second Palazzo Versace was built in this extraordinary city.

Neoclassical architecture meets elegant regional Arab influences in the building's design. Three pools showcase elaborate mosaics, and landscaped gardens have glorious views of the surreal Dubai skyline.  The iconic Versace Medusa head is a constant reminder of the fashion house's influence.

Donatella Versace personally designed exclusive interior bespoke furniture, fabrics, wallpaper and décor items for the hotel, its 215 rooms and suites, and 8 restaurants and bars, each of which has an alfresco terrace, reflecting the classical, Mediterranean inspiration of the hotel, as does the internal courtyard.  Versace design is even reflected in the kids' areas.

Hand-crafted is almost an understatement: Nearly a dozen Italian artists were brought in to hand-paint designs on walls, and 1.5 million marble tiles were hand-laid to form the extraordinary lobby floor mosaic (top image).

At Sea: Regent Seven Seas Cruises

The Regent Seven Seas Explorer has been called The Most Luxurious Ship at sea, and its designers also tapped into Versace's unmistakable iconic style for the ship's signature restaurant, Compass Rose.

Photo: BestTrip.TV

As you dine on European-inspired Continental cuisine in the elegant, glittering setting, you'll be dining from Versace porcelain. Four hundred specially-designed Versace place settings are featured in Compass Rose on the Explorer, with other ships in the fleet featuring different Versace dinnerware designs and their signature Medusa head symbol.

Start your Trip!

 

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Some of the best food travel experiences don't involve white linen or Michelin stars.  A crab feast in Alaska that starts with a boat ride to collect crab pots is one of the most fresh, pure-tasting... and fun dining experiences you'll have anywhwere in the world.

Prepare to get dripping in butter and crab juice in this fun BestTrip.TV video!

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And local fireweed and spruce tips for truly local spirits and craft cocktails.

BestTrip.TV was in port in Skagway, Alaska on our Regent Seven Seas cruise and naturally, we checked out the famous local saloon recommended by Regent's shore expert.  We are always on the hunt for 'local', and there on the bar menu:  cocktails made using local, small-batch gin and vodka. Intrigued, we asked the bartender, who drew us a map on a napkin (those are always the best maps) to find the distillery.

And off we went on a walk through town to find Skagway Spirits. We found them next to Skagway's local airport in a re-imagined hangar, distilling gin and vodka and hand-crafting local ingredient-based juices and cordials to mix with them in their fun tasting room.

The last time we turned down a crafted cocktail using local ingredients and local, hand-crafted spirits made from the first water off the local glacier was... never!  Our little adventure to find the entrepreneurial Heger family and their wonderful airport hangar distillery was one of our best memories of our trip to Alaska. 

The best news?  You don't need a happy accident to discover Skagway Spirits on your next trip to Alaska.  Now you know exactly where to find Gary, Jan and Luke Heger and their delicious spirits and cocktails.

Start your Trip!

 

 

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Indulge Your Love for Luxe in the Dominican Republic

All-inclusive resorts in Puerto Plata and elsewhere on this lush Caribbean island with 1000 miles of coastline put the Dominican Republic on the map for travelers seeking affordable family and couples vacations from winter weather further north. 

But what you may not know is that you can also find experiences that rival deluxe vacations anywhere in the Caribbean. Save or splurge, here's how to add indulgence to your winter holiday in the islands this year.

Lush Lodging

In the Dominican Republic, you can stay in unmatched accommodations that run the gamut from world-renowned boutique hotels to opulent resorts. Punta Cana in the east in particular is home to luxury properties ideal for intimate romantic travel, families and multi-generation travel, and large wedding, vow renewal, or reunion groups, even business conferences.

In addition to stunning beaches and multiple pools, many of these properties offer whirlpools, saunas, and extended wellness programs as well as traditional spa and aesthetic treatments.  Take sunset yoga, healthy cooking, and fitness programs.

And for complete privacy, book a private villa for a secluded, A-list holiday experience.

Gorgeous Golf, Fantastic Fishing and Prestigious Polo

Dominican Republic is a golfer’s dream, with over two dozen meticulously manicured courses set against the backdrop of the country’s most stunning scenery and shoreline. Pete Dye’s seaside “Teeth of the Dog” (below) at the storied Casa de Campo resort put the Dominican Republic on the world golfer’s map.

 

Here you can play courses designed by Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tom Fazio, Nick Price, and Robert Trent Jones. Sculpted bunkers and uneven terrain but let the natural contours of the land dictate the courses’ routing. Tropical breezes on the coastal courses add another layer of challenge to even the best player's game

Sports fishermen flock to Dominican Republic’s coasts in pursuit of the blue marlin, one of the largest fish in the world. Hit the water for a tournament or on a charter boat excursion to fish blue marlin, white marlins, mahi-mahi, wahoo, swordfish and tuna in the Caribbean Sea; while blue marlin, wahoo and barracudas can be found in the Atlantic waters off the North Coast.

Dominican Republic is part of the international circuit of the 'Sport of Kings', with polo facilities available at some of the country’s most exclusive resorts in La Romana, Punta Cana and Santo Domingo. Hire horses for your own tournaments, or head to a polo match to enjoy the action as a spectator for a one-of-a-kind vacation experience.

Serious Shopping

Fashionistas and shopping enthusiasts will be on cloud nine in Dominican Republic, where it’s easy to find couture clothing, unique handmade crafts and stunning precious jewelry all within close proximity.

But we love local best.  Indigenous amber or glassy blue larimar (above) jewelry makes the perfect souvenir, and a piece of local larimar or amber jewelry will definitely start a conversation when your friends at home see it.

Make sure to take tours of local coffee, rum, cigar or jewelry manufactures for an opportunity to meet Makers, learn about local culture, and pick up authentic souvenirs.

Delicious Dining and Next-Level Nightlife

Did you know the Dominican Republic was named the Gastronomic Culture Capital of the Caribbean?  The island is one of the few in the Caribbean with extensive, diverse and abundant local agriculture.  Ingredients are fresh and inspiring.  Try the fusion cuisine of innovative chefs who have taken classic international recipes and given them a Dominican twist with local ingredients.

After dinner, find a terrace with a view or a club outside your hotel, especially in the capital of Santo Domingo, where international performers and DJ's make frequent appearances and you can dance the night away to local merengue music. Wine cellars and cigar clubs also offer exclusive tastings sure to please both connoisseurs and novice cigar aficionados and sommeliers.

If you're looking for luxury, maybe it's time to re-define your Dominican Republic vacation experience. 

Start your Trip!

 

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This is a cruise line private island experience we haven't seen before.  Our Caribbean cruise on Regent Seven Seas Cruises included a day at Harvest Caye, and it turned out to be one of the most memorable days of our cruise. And when you watch the video you'll see why.

Harvest Caye is an island a mile offshore mainland Belize.  Like other cruise line private islands, Harvest Caye was developed as a beach port of call in the Caribbean for its guests by parent company Norwegian for its Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Oceania guests.

It's a spectacular, resort-style experience. There's a 7-acre pristine beach. You can relax in clamshell tents or even better, in one of the luxury beach villas with porches over the water, hammocks, dining and beverage options and dedicated concierge service.

Or head to the pool.  This extravagant 15,000 square foot oasis has a swim-up bar and tables in the water, elegant lounges and canopy pool cabanas with beverage service.

A 130 foot tall 'Flighthouse' looks a lot like a lighthouse, but gets its name as the island's point of departure for adventure:  an over water zipline or ropes course. There are also eco/ water sports like kayaking, paddle boarding, and canoeing in the lagoon alongside the wildlife.

Authentic and Sustainable

The Shopping Village, with its outdoor art festival, local musicians and dancers, high-quality local retailers of locally made chocolates, spirits and artwork including local woodwork, features street-style Belizean cuisine for that truly authentic local flavor.

The development preserves and improves the local eco system, uses indigenous, responsible hardwoods in the buildings, and is creating 500 direct and 1500 indirect jobs for the local economy.

All those things you might expect from a well-planned cruise line private island that also wants to support and authentically reflect its host community, Belize.

But Harvest Caye takes that responsible approach one step further with a Wildlife and Conservation program.

Wildlife and Conservation:

The development of Harvest Caye has boosted local environmental conservation. More than 15,000 new mangroves have been planted to increase the natural estuary habitat for birds, fish and other marine species.

Conservation programs and education efforts have been developed by award winning author and wildlife expert Tony Garel, Harvest Caye's Chief Naturalist, who supervised a wildlife interaction program so you can actually meet and learn about local wildlife.  Tony is on the island daily to lead tours of the wildlife experience. 

Tony's love for and commitment to Belize's plant and animal life were the highlight of our visit, and meeting Tony will be the highlight of your visit to Harvest Caye, too.  (And his friends, Belize's National bird, the toucans.) 

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There's everyday luxury on Regent Seven Seas Cruises: where your airfare, transfers, on board wine and spirits, tips, specialty dining and even shore excursions and wifi are all included in a relaxed country club atmosphere on beautiful mid-sized ships. 

Then there's another level of all-inclusive luxury on Regent: the butler suites.

BestTrip.TV got a behind-the-scenes experience of Regent's most spectacular suite, the 'most luxurious address at sea', and a glimpse into the life of the butlers who make the suite life on Regent's all-inclusive luxury ships even sweeter.

We even get an answer to the question: What do butlers do in their spare time (if they even have any)?

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5 Reasons to Travel to the United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates is still one of the most exotic and unknown locations on the planet.  This federation of absolute monarchies on the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula was established in 1971. Since then, it's made its mark on the world, first as one of the top ten oil producers, then with the lavish lifestyle of all that oil money, and more recently, as an increasingly popular travel and cruise destination.

Here are 5 things you might not know about the UAE:

1. There are 7 emirates in the United Arab Emirates.

They are: Abu Dhabi (which also serves as the capital) Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al Quwain.  The largest emirate, Abu Dhabi, is nearly 90% of the UAE's land mass – over 67,000 km squared (26,000 sq. miles).  (Abu Dhabi Skyline photo, top. Credit.)  It and splashy Dubai are the best known. The smallest emirate – Ajman – would fit into Abu Dhabi 25 times.  Saudi Arabia surrounds the UAE to the west, south, and south-east, with Oman on the south-east and northeast, and the remaining border is a 650 km (400 mile) coast along the Persian Gulf.  The emirates' largest natural harbour and cruise port is at Dubai.

Photo Credit

About 10 million people live in the UAE.  Only 1/10th of those are Emirati citizens and the rest are expatriates; laborers and domestic workers from mostly 3rd world countries, and some business expats from the West. 

2. It has the tallest skyscraper in the world.

Even in a region known for surreal cities of glass and steel sprouting out of the desert that surrounds them, the Burj Khalifa (Khalifa Tower) stands alone.  Inspired by traditional regional architecture, this mega-tall skyscraper tops out at 829.8 meters (that's 2722 feet).  Imagine this: it's so high above the earth that, standing on higher floors of the tower, you can still see the sun for a couple of minutes AFTER it has set at ground level.

Photo Credit

The Burj Khalifa has blown away dozens of world records, including tallest structure, tallest structure ever built, building with the most floors, highest elevator, highest outdoor observation deck, highest nightclub, and highest restaurant.  It's the centerpiece of a massive mixed use development that includes an artificial lake and parkland fed by water from the vast air conditioning units of the tower. You simply will not get a more spectacular view over Dubai than from the tower.

3. And the world's largest artificial island.

You've probably seen photos of this.  The Palm Jumeirah artificial archipelago of reclaimed land on the Persian Gulf coast of Dubai, part of a development to increase Dubai's shoreline by 520 km (320 miles).  In a complete break from any previous land reclamation project ever undertaken, the development's encircled palm tree design not only takes your breath away, it also maximizes beachfront.  Privately-owned villas, hotels and resort areas occupy the palm fronds and circle. 

Photo Credit

Hotels, resorts and hotel residences in this spectacular setting include: The Fairmont Palm Hotel & Resort, St. Regis Hotel – The Palm, Kempinski Hotel & Residences, Sofitel Dubai, The Palm Resort & Spa, The Langham, Palm Jumeirah, Waldorf Astoria, Dubai Palm Jumeirah, W Hotel, Viceroy Palm Jumeirah Dubai, and dozens of independent properties.  There is no other hotel / resort destination in the world like the Palm Jumeirah.

4. And the largest man-made marina.

The man-made Dubai Marina is built along a 3 km (2 mile) stretch of shoreline on the Persian Gulf.  This artificial canal city is said to be inspired by Concord Pacific Place along False Creek in Vancouver. When complete, it will overtake the current world's largest man-made Marina del Rey in California and be home to over a hundred thousand people in its residential towers.

Photo Credit

Dubai Marina is a completely new waterfront.  Engineers brought the waters of the Gulf into the site of the man-made marina.  A large central waterway runs the 3 km length of the site; marine wildlife, including whales, are known to travel inland from the open sea into the marina. The waterways of the marina are complemented by 8 km of landscaped public space.  12% of the land surface of the Dubai Marina is devoted to public space. You may not think of a desert country as a place to go to the beach, but places like Dubai Marina do give you the opportunity to swim in the local waters. (Carefully check and follow designated areas to avoid breaking strict public dress codes).

5. But the Emirates aren't just ultra-modern cities.

There is still Nature in the Emirates.  Outside the futuristic, man-made environments of the UAE's cities, are vast deserts with rolling sand dunes, oases that provide water for settlements, and grow date palms, acacia and eucalyptus trees. The desert itself is not barren; grasses and thorn bushes continue to support wildlife. 

Photo Credit

Conservation programs initiated or supported by the Emirates' royal leaders are helping ensure the survival of wildlife species near extinction from hunting, including the Arabian Onyx, Arabian camel and even wild leopards.

Police Car in Abu Dhabi.  Photo Credit

The United Arab Emirates is one of the most astonishing, contradictory, ultra-traditional and futuristic, spectacular travel destinations in the world. 

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Travel like a Rock Star: W Hotels' Sound Suites

You know it's something you've always wanted to say: "I'm with the band".

You and your friends may have never realized your high school dream to be famous recording artists. But it's not just actual rock stars, indie bands and electronic music creators who can have the ultimate 'destination recording experience'.

W Hotels' Sound Suites allow anyone to go on vacation, and lay down some tracks as well as work on your tan. Four W Hotels around the world: Bali, Barcelona, Seattle and Hollywood, all have the one-of-a-kind Sound Suites.

It's just the type of development we'd expect from the hotel chain that set the bar for modern, stylish, artistic lifestyles. W Hotels feel more like independent design hotels, but as a chain, they have celebrated, empowered and integrated the works of creators of music and the arts, with a global music director and advisors, signature music experiences and an immersive experience of the local creative scene in each hotel.

Their North American Music Director, Chicago-based producer DJ White Shadow, known for his work with Lady Gaga, came up with the idea for W Sound Suites, and the brand has run with his concept, implementing W Sound Suites with professional grade sound equipment and top technology for audio production. You'll find Native Instruments and Shure state of the art sound equipment like a keyboard, DJ system, professional-grade headphones and microphones, as well as Yamaha acoustic guitar and Fender bass for professional musicians and aspiring guests to use in music sessions.

The professional sound studio set up lives in W Hotel signature style. The W Hotel Barcelona, for example, which has Europe's first W Sound Suite, features murals from local visual artist Ricardo Cavolo. A 'fire' for music and design come together in the original art that inspires Sound Suite musicians. W Sound Suites have space to accommodate your entourage with a lounge, a living room, as well as soundproof recording and mixing space, so you can raise the roof with your sound.

Support for music creativity goes beyond the space to hold your own private recording session with amenities like stylish restaurants, room service, pools and gyms and spas and bars of the hotels. Musicians booking a W Hotel Sound Suite may also have access to Master Classes, sound engineers and other local experts through the hotel's Music Curator.

W Hotels Sound Suites bring out – or resurrect - the music creator in us all. We love the idea of booking Sound Suites for guy and girlfriend getaways or bachelor parties… for the musically-inclined, it's a once in a lifetime blast! W Hotels see the suites as not just for recording artists on creative retreats, but as a way to support amateur and emerging talent – all within the artistic, creative vibe of the signature W Hotels environment.

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Do you ever see social media posts of magnificent wildlife photos from someone's trip to Alaska and think: This just can't be real?

But it is.  BestTrip.TV cruised from Vancouver to Seward (near Anchorage) on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner, hoping Nature would be kind and we'd encounter at least a couple of the animals and birds Alaska is famous for:

  • Whales
  • Salmon
  • Crab
  • Bald eagles
  • Puffins
  • Brown (grizzly) bears
  • Sitka deer
  • Sea otters
  • Sea lions

Like you, we were skeptical of shore excursion guides who jokingly promised guests 3 out of 5 of a list of iconic Alaska wildlife 'or your money back'.  For Regent guests, this is truly a joke, because Regent has included shore excursions, so you can take wildlife tours in every port of call without going over your vacation budget.  If you don't see the animal your heart is set on, another day, another port, another excursion just might bring you luck.

The truth is, our shore excursion guides and boat captains really know their corners of an enormous state; where whales feed or sea lions congregate.  Plus we got lucky with weather and time of day...

In the end, over the course of a week-long cruise, we ended up seeing all of these creatures and others we didn't expect, and capturing them on video to share with you.

We think this video is the next best thing to actually being there watching whales come up for air or puffins fly past or a bald eagle swoop down into the water to capture a fish to feed her young in the nest. 

But don't take our word for it.  Add an Alaska cruise to your travel bucket list.

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