UNIGLOBE Donaldson Travel Cambridge's Blog

Eataly's $106 Million Italian Culinary Destination in Bologna

They don't want you to call it a 'theme park'. But if you're one of the foodies around the world who love the wildly popular, celebrity-chef Mario Batali-backed Eataly, the field-to-fork destination that opens this fall in Italy is the culinary 'theme park' of your dreams.

Batali has described the Eataly phenomenon as a premium Italian grocery store 'with tasting rooms'. You shop, you eat, you love; authentic, from-the-source Italian food and food products.  When it launched in New York City, there were lineups around the block, and it's still packed.  There are dozens of other Eataly outlets worldwide, including a dining venue on the MSC Divina at sea.

FICO Eataly World outside Italy's culinary capital of Bologna will be a whole new level of interactive culinary experience. FICO stands for Fabbrica Italiana Contadina - Italian Farming Factory. It's the culmination of Eataly's food 2.0 vision; a game changer for Eataly and global food culture. 

The 20-acre complex is a hub connecting an expected six million annual visitors to Italian agriculture and gastronomy: food production, education, dining, tastings, and retail, all in one eco-responsible space powered by 44,000 solar panels, said to be the largest solar property in Europe.

The numbers show the awesome scale and scope of  FICO Eataly World:

EARTH AND FARMS

  • 2.5 acres of fields, stables, pastures, gardens and farms, where all of Italy’s best-known crops will be cultivated and prime livestock breeds raised.

PRODUCERS

  • 40 areas of fresh production with raw ingredients managed by the best Italian companies
  • 2000 Italian companies will participate in the project, sharing their crafts, innovations and passion for the food they produce.

MARKET:

  • 97,000 square feet of retail marketplace selling iconic 'Made in Italy' seasonal food products

RESTAURANTS: a paradise for gourmands looking discover the best of Italian gastronomic biodiversity.

  • 25 restaurants, including themed restaurants and street food stalls including:
    • Meat
    • Cured meat and cheese restaurant
    • Pasta
    • Vegetable restaurant
    • Winery
    • Fish
    • Regional restaurant
    • Piadina bistro
    • Smoothie street food stall
    • Potato street food stall
    • Prosciutteria
    • Pastries
    • And more…

EDUCATION

  • 1,000 courses for adults per year
  • 40 workshops, where visitors can learn Italian culinary skills like pasta and cheese production first-hand.
  • 5,000 educational activities for schools
  • 500 internships per year for aspiring young people and adults who wish to master food production, learning from on site experts

EVENTS

  • 500 cultural events per year related to food, wine, and agriculture

FICO Eataly World is an extraordinary destination we can't wait to open in October.  A vision come to life of a hands-on, for-the-people celebration Italy's rich culinary heritage and groundwork for its future, educating the next generation of food producers, diners and home cooks, and engaging in environmental best practices. 

Definitely one of the most exciting culinary experiences for anyone planning to visit Italy.

Start your Trip!

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New Cruise Ships in 2017

It will be a full year of breaking champagne bottles against sparkling new ship hulls. Every new cruise ship gives cruise lines the chance to spread their wings and launch design, culinary and entertainment innovations. This year, there are even new-in-class ships never seen before.

Here's what's new at sea in 2017.

Seabourn Encore:


 

First out of the gate, luxury small ship cruise line Seabourn's Encore was christened in Singapore the first week of January and is sailing in Asia, heading to Australia, New Zealand, then back to Dubai and the Mediterranean.

What we love: Curving lines, feel of a sensuous, luxury yacht styled by celebrity hospitality designer Adam Thihany.  All suites, 300 of them, with marble baths, all veranda. The culinary styling’s of 3-Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller in the Grill. An aft water sports marina that opens when the ship anchors, so guests can kayak, windsurf and paddle about in the sea.  The draped Retreat on the top deck, with private cabanas, a spa cabana, bar and the sea breeze.  Seabourn's partnership with UNESCO promoting sustainable tourism at World Heritage sites.

Silver Muse

April brings us the ninth and largest ship for luxury, small ship line Silversea Cruises. The Muse will be the flagship and the largest in the fleet.

What we love: Silversea is calling it a leap forward to 'ultra-luxury ocean cruising'.  600 guests will enjoy 7 levels of suites.  An incredible eight restaurants, three of them outdoors, including the line's signature pool deck Hot Rocks al fresco, table-top meat and seafood grill. Only one involves a fee, La Dame, the Relais & Chateaux French restaurant with local ingredients. A sophisticated indoor/outdoor cigar and whisky bar.

Viking Sky and Viking Sun

Twin sister ships to Viking Star and Viking Sea, Viking's two new ships launch early spring and late fall this year.  Also like their sister ships, Viking Sky and Viking Sun will host 930 guests on cruises that include long calls in port and plenty of overnight calls so guests can immerse themselves in the destination experience.

What we love: Viking's signature 'Nordic' lifestyle: Scandinavian design, a Nordic spa, Finnish sauna, even a 'snow room', plus a cozy and sociable fire pit.  The indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace dining rooms, 'magrodome' pool with glass roof that opens in fair weather, and a main restaurant also transforms from cozy 'hygge' atmosphere to a breezy, open air venue.

MSC Meraviglia

Slated as the biggest ship at sea by passenger capacity when it launches this spring, the MSC Meraviglia means 'wonder', with 3 more ships in its class due by the end of the decade.  MSC Meraviglia will homeport in Europe.

What we love: The two-deck indoor amusement park, three large pools, and massive aqua park. The Mediterranean-style indoor promenade featuring a 262-foot-long LED "sky" that transforms through the day. MSC's wristband technology, for making payments and bookings and keeping track of family members.  And who wouldn't be excited about Cirque du Soleil's first at-sea partnership? Plus the eco-friendly technology to neutralize carbon dioxide emissions and equipment to be water-emission free.

MSC Seaside

Launching at the end of the year, the MSC Seaside launches a new class of ships, just for MSC in North America. It will homeport in Miami and sail year-round in the Caribbean.

What we love: An unimaginable nearly half million square feet of public space. See-through glass walkways (top picture) that hang over the ocean and open-air spa. An outdoor promenade that wraps around the whole ship where you can enjoy shops, bars and alfresco dining. Terraced balcony cabins, with both sea views and a view over the promenade below. Five water slides in a huge aqua park, a ropes course, and a zipline. An expanded MSC Yacht Club – the line’s ship-within-a-ship concept so family fun and butler-catered refined luxury are all on the same ship.

National Geographic Quest

When Lindblad Expeditions launches the National Geographic Quest in the summer for sailings in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and Central America, it will be the largest ship in the fleet.  Not your traditional expedition ship.  Half of the 50 cabins will have balconies.  Family-friendly connecting rooms. Even the rarest of expedition cruise ship amenities: a spa!

What we love: The spirit of exploration. Technology that connects you to nature, like remotely operated vehicles (ROV), a hydrophone and bow-cam to hear humpback whales and film dolphins. Being able to get close to Nature with on-board sea kayaks, paddleboards, expedition landing craft, warm and cold water diving gear, and underwater cameras.

American Constellation

This summer, American Cruise Lines launches its first new ship in several years. The American Constellation will be the cruise line's largest ship; a 163-guest coastal cruise ship built to sail itineraries on the US Eastern coastline and inland waterways including Chesapeake Bay, New England, Hudson River, Mid-Atlantic Inland Passage, and the Southern U.S.

What we love: Most staterooms have private balconies and there's even a selection of single rooms for solo travelers. Menus with regional cuisine, sourcing local ingredients at ports.

Flying Clipper

Star Clipper celebrates its silver anniversary not just with a new addition to its fleet of masted sailing ships, but a near-replica of the largest ship of its kind ever built. The 300-passenger, 5-masted Flying Clipper will be powered by 32 sails constituting nearly 40,000 square feet of sail (with backup fuel-efficient engines). 

What we love: Wind-through-your-hair sailing adventure.  Get harnessed into the rigging and climb to the crow's nest for the best views at sea; learn knot-tying, celestial navigation, and sailing techniques. Two nets strung on either side of the bowsprit rock you gently in the sun. Three pools, including one that arcs sunlight through the ship's atrium into the dining room, a dive-training pool descending 18 feet through 2 decks with glass sides so passengers can watch at the Dive Bar, a water sports platform with snorkeling, kayaks, water skiing.

Start your Trip!

 

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Kung Hei Fat Choy! 

BestTrip.TV discovers the traditions, the spectacle and the little known facts behind one of Hong Kong's biggest festivals.

Chinese New Year - or Lunar New Year - is celebrated not only in mainland China, plus Hong Kong and Macau, but also in Chinese communities around the world, as well as throughout South-East Asia: Singapore, Viet Nam, Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines and others.

Chinese New Year in 2017 - the Year of the Rooster -  falls on January 28th. Celebrations last days in Hong Kong, and include adorable lion dances, temple activities, special foods, flowers, and plants, wearing red, exchanging gifts and other traditions for good fortune, a magnificent parade in downtown Hong Kong... and fireworks!

We visited Hong Kong on Chinese New Year, and we think it's one of the most exciting times to visit one of the world's most exciting cities.

It's hard to imagine the awe-inspiring Hong Kong harbor front skyline become even more spectacular... but this Chinese New Year fireworks show takes it to a whole new level.

Start your Trip!

 

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A New Year of Travel Trends

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

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

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

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

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

Safe and memorable travels in 2017!

 

 

 

Is health and weight loss at the top of your resolutions this year? Did you also resolve to travel more? 

What if you could marry your two goals?  Travel to a dream destination AND come home healthier?

Foodie BestTrip.TV travel video host Lynn Elmhirst trades in cocktails and cuisine for a juice fast at an extreme wellness, weight loss and fitness retreat in Costa Rica.

Every year, I make, like everyone else, New Year’s Resolutions. This year I wanted to hit the reset button after years of foodie travel and the good life, and an injury that interrupted my workout regime.  A serious wellness vacation.  AND create a fantastic travel video. 

So I did some research, then recruited my friend Nancy to join me on a girlfriend getaway for a two week juice fasting detox/cleanse at a resort in Costa Rica. Not just a massage or two and opting for ‘spa’ items on the menu while everyone around us is chowing down on steaks and margaritas.

We wanted to go ‘all in’, an extreme wellness retreat where we would see and feel significant results.  

Here's our experience at a no-holds-barred juice fasting resort with six hours a day of workouts beginning with a 7:30 am hike… in one of the most beautiful seaside destinations in the world.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO  and hear about our challenges and our triumphs, AND our final judgment: is an extreme wellness retreat a good travel option?

 

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Cruise to Cuba? Yes You Can!

10 ways you can cruise to Cuba this year.

One of the biggest travel stories of the past year has to be the renewing of relations between Cuba and the US and the rise of Cuba as a destination for American travelers. Cuba has long been a favorite sun and culture destination for Canadians and Europeans. Only US citizens were prevented from traveling to the Caribbean's largest island.

Now American cruise ships are permitted to sail to Cuba, and late in 2016, Cuba approved a number of US cruise lines' applications to make port calls.  A few international cruise lines could always go, and they have increased sailings and itineraries.  So cruising to Cuba is one of the biggest travel stories this year.

Canadians and Europeans now have a lot more choices to cruise to Cuba, and Americans now have that cruise option, although they still need a visa. US cruise lines now sailing to Cuba generally facilitate a 'people-to-people' visa for American guests.

BestTrip.TV's cruise expert Lynn Elmhirst rounds up 10 ways you can cruise to Cuba this year.

From single days in port in Havana, to a week or more exploring the island, cruises to Cuba allow you to get a taste or immerse yourself in Cuba's culture, history, and natural wonders.

ALL-CUBA CRUISES

Celestyal Crystal

This Greek line claims to offer the only true circumnavigation of Cuba on 7-day, all-inclusive cruises departing every Monday from Havana, and every Friday from Montego Bay, Jamaica.  

Formerly known as Cuba Cruise, this cruise began sailing 3 years ago, and now sails year-round in Cuba on a 1200 passenger ship that was renovated in 2016. They offer the p2p program visa for American citizens.

Itineraries include two days in Havana and various calls including Maria La Gorda, known for its impeccable beachfront and underwater marine life, the perfect destination for scuba divers, snorkeling enthusiasts and beach lovers, Punta Frances on the Isle of Youth, Cienfuegos, an 18th-century fortress, and historic Santiago de Cuba, 16th century capital of the Spanish colony of Cuba.

Ports and shore excursions provide city tours, history, adventure, cultural walking tours, hiking, beach days and snorkeling to passengers of all ages and tastes.  This cruise is family-friendly, with a supervised children's program for 4-12 year olds.

National Geographic - Lindblad Expeditions

Lindblad Expedition cruises' partnership with National Geographic means these cruises are for travelers serious about in-depth expertise: photographers, naturalists and cultural specialists join guests on the 11-day trips. These land and sea tours are an extension of Nat Geo's existing land tour programs, and they fulfill the p2p visa requirements for Americans.

Trips begin with a flight from Miami, and include several days in Havana, as well as stops in Trinidad, Cienfuegos, the historic Bay of Pigs, Isle of Youth, and Cayo Largo.

Fewer than 50 guests are on board the Panorama II, a small expedition ship, as it makes ports of call that highlight Cuba's marine and natural wonders and culture, highlighting music, history, and interacting with locals like artists, mechanics who inventively keep those classic US cars running, members of Cuba's renowned medical community, and naturalists protecting endangered species.

Natural highlights include searching for the smallest bird in the world, the bee hummingbird, a visit to a sea turtle breeding center, diving, and lots of wildlife and scenic photography.

G Adventures

Canadian tour operator G Adventures provides a less intense/ serious, and more youthful and affordable version of a Cuba expedition cruise on its 8-day 'marine tour' of Cuba's Canarreos archipelago in a catamaran with only 14 people on the tour. This cruise option is one of several types of trips to Cuba the company offers.  Americans are welcome, but need to arrange their own visas.

Cruises start and finish in Havana, and spend 5 low-key, soft-adventure days exploring off-the-beaten-path islands and island communities, with relaxed days of snorkeling, kayaking, sailing, easy exploring, visiting lighthouses, enjoying seafood dinners, and lazing on deck or on the beach. 

Pearl Mist

Pearl Seas Cruises (a sister company to American Cruise Lines), offers 10-night 'Cuban Cultural Voyages' that fulfill the American p2p visa requirements.  On the 200-passenger Pearl Mist, guests enjoy luxury elements including all private balconies on its 100 staterooms and high-end culinary offerings, but the company also makes sure to point out that there is elevator access to all decks and on board medical for its senior guests. 

These cruises run January through April, 2017, and start up again in November.  There's a packed program of stops on the island beginning with 2 days in Havana, and other ports include Isla de la Juventud, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, El Cobre, Santiago de Cuba and Parque Baconao.

Guests engage first hand with local tradespeople, artists, musicians and historians at museums, national parks, art studios, architecturally significant homes and UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Photos courtesy MSC Cruises

CRUISES THAT OVERNIGHT IN HAVANA

MSC Opera and MSC Armonia

MSC Cruises, a European company, was one of the first major cruise lines to feature Cuba in its itineraries for its European and Canadian guests. The cruises have been so popular, MSC has homeported 2, 2000-passenger ships, the Armonia and the Opera, in Havana.

Guests spend about 2 days in Havana on MSC itineraries. MSC does not design its Cuba itineraries to meet American citizens' requirements for p2p visas, so guests have more flexible options that include not only historic and cultural attractions, but also beach days in Cuba as part of cruises that also include other Caribbean destinations.

Azamara Quest

Royal Caribbean's smaller-ship, sister brand Azamara has just one Cuba port of call this season: it's added an overnight in Havana to one 12- night Caribbean cruise on the Azamara Quest departing March 21st from Miami with stops in Key West, Tampa, New Orleans, and Cozumel, Mexico as well as Havana.

The cruise line says it's planning to introduce more dates and more Cuban ports, but it already offers an impressive line up of 6 of its signature 'Land Discoveries' immersive destination programs, including Hemingway's Havana and Havana by Classic American Car.   The programs fulfill visa requirements for Americans, so this cruise is a destination-focused opportunity for the Azamara Quest's 700 guests to get a taste of Cuba.

Seven Seas Mariner

Regent Seven Seas Cruises is the only North American classic luxury cruise line to sail to Cuba – yet. 

It has added Havana to two Caribbean cruises aboard the 700-guest Seven Seas Mariner on April 11th and 18th.   The itineraries are identical, with an overnight in Havana as part of week-long cruises that also call on Harvest Cay, parent-company Norwegian Cruise Holding's upscale resort destination in Belize.

Regent Seven Seas cruises are all-inclusive, with fares that include airfare, unlimited shore excursions, alcoholic beverages, WiFi, gratuities and more.  Its Cuba tours fulfill US p2p visa requirements and provide guests with authentic Cuban experiences that explore the people, music, art, history and culture of the island.

Norwegian Sky

Norwegian Sky, with 2000 guests, is the largest US vessel sailing to Cuba in 2017.  NCL has scheduled 5, 4-day roundtrip cruises from Miami to Cuba on May 8, 15, 22 and 29th. 

The cruises overnight in Havana, and also spend a day at Norwegian's private island resort in the Bahamas, Great Stirrup Cay. Norwegian Sky's cruises to Cuba, like some of its others in the Caribbean, include an open bar, so overall, these short cruises will have mostly a party atmosphere.

However, guests will be able to go ashore to visit sites in Cuba's capital, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Old Havana, and experience the local art and music scene; engaging with local artists (and fulfilling US p2p visa requirements).

CRUISES WITH ONE PORT DAY IN HAVANA

Marina

Oceania's Marina is the first of the Norwegian family of cruise lines to sail to Cuba. The 1250-guest, upscale ship begins one day or overnight calls in Havana in March, with programming that meets visa requirements for Americans.  These 10 day or two week Caribbean cruises depart from Miami in multiple itineraries that also include NCL's new private island resort Harvest Caye in Belize.

Empress of the Seas

Royal Caribbean recently updated and renovated the 1600-guest Empress of the Seas for its Cuba itineraries. Beginning in April, 4, 5, and 7-night cruises depart from both Miami and Tampa on Western Caribbean itineraries with one day in port in Havana.  Royal Caribbean's Cuba shore programming allows Americans to meet visa requirements while enjoying Royal Caribbean ship experiences like rock climbing, multiple pools, restaurants, nightlife, and even the Cuban-inspired dance club Bolero.

Cuba is a brand-new destination for Americans, and cruising to Cuba is novel even for Canadians.  A travel advisor can help you choose the right ship and itinerary, and navigate the details to ensure your cruise to one of the world's newest cruise destinations is all you dreamed.

 

Start your Trip!

 

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Accor's New-Concept 'Millennial' Hotels: 'Revolutionizing' Travel?

French company Accorhotels is launching JO&JOE, a new hotel concept it says is 'disrupting' traditional hotel codes and 'reinventing' the hotel experience in design, food&beverage, service and lifestyle, blending 'the best of private-rental, hostel, and hotel formats for solo, groups, pairs or family 'tripsters'.

A lot of jargon, but what does it mean for travelers?

JO&JOE hotels are an economy option that will be located in on-trend European and global city-center locations close to public transportation and a city's major points of interest.

The design and experience focuses on the hotel as a 'vibrant living space' for 'Millennial-minded trend-setters' who value sharing, spontaneity and experience.   So you don't have to be actually under 30 to appreciate the JO&JOE approach, just in tune with millennial trends:  mingling of locals and travelers in an 'open house' environment, offbeat design, digital ecosystems and a next-generation approach to food and beverage.

Is this really new? Would we want to stay? Would you?

Live:

JO&JOE is possibly more about its 'open house' lifestyle than a place to lay your head. Designers envision welcoming both 'Townsters' (people living nearby) and 'Tripsters' (people in town to explore) who treat the hotels as an annex of their own living rooms at home. 

Common areas and interaction foster community living and a full calendar of programs, from concerts, yoga classes or DIY workshops. JO&JOE local teams and the Townsters and Tripsters themselves help keep hotels active and buzzing, using the brand's geosocial app as a social accelerator which helps bring people together, enabling Townsters and Tripsters to connect, meet, initiate events, share tips, or arrange to get together for a meal or a walk.

 

We see this as a great step towards two things increasing numbers of people – not just Millennials – are saying they want more of when they travel: 'authentic' local experiences and meeting local people.

Sleep:

Stays at JO&JOE are incredibly affordable, with target price points starting at only €25. Think about it: less than 10% of what a city center hotel in a major travel destination like Paris would cost.

JO&JOE hotels will have a private area called "Happy House" where 'Tripsters' can relax, work, cook or wash their clothes, just like at home.  And you have multiple sleeping options:

  • 'Together':  an ingenious modular sleeping area that guests share without sacrificing privacy, with spacious beds, private lockers, reading lights and USB ports, shared recreation areas and bathrooms.
  •  
  • 'Yours': rooms and apartments for two to five people with a private bathroom and, sometimes a kitchen area. Ideal for small groups and families, the space offers a completely different look from a conventional hotel room thanks to originally shaped and extremely comfortable beds.
  •  
  • 'OOO!' (Out Of the Ordinary): unexpected and unforgettable accommodation, different at each JO&JOE, including yurts, hammock and caravans.

Dine:
Also incredibly affordable. Dining options begin at €10 for a menu, and also reflect a supposedly Millennial spirit with a focus on interaction, sharing, local, and healthy cuisine:

  • A central bar with unique design and high street visibility to encourage local residents to join guests enjoying a wide range of drinks, with a selection promoting flagship local and craft products. 
  •  
  • Local, affordable craft cuisine serving quality food without the frills through simple, authentic, and warm restaurant concepts: grills, open flame barbecues, woks or wood fired pizzas. 
  •  
  • Collaborative kitchens offers guests a showcase for their culinary talents and a stage for sharing their best recipes. Guests can stay on budget by using the space to cook meals, just for themselves or for a whole tribe. 

If this means the demise of the sad, $30 Club Sandwich, we're on board. We're also excited to have a place to create a meal after a visit to a local market, BUT where you can also order a terrific local wine and enjoy a cozy, healthy meal if you don't feel like cooking or trekking back out to find a restaurant after a long day exploring.

Our conclusion? It might not be a revolution, but this new hotel brand is delivering in style the innovations and lifestyle more and more travelers - not just Millennial 'tripsters' are looking for when they visit a new destination.

We can easily see JO&JOE's new concept hotels being a terrific part of many holidays: families with young adult children, teens, and even small kids, fun, on-trend couples and solo travelers who want to connect with locals and local trends, on its own or integrated into a larger trip like a pre- or post-cruise, group/escorted tour, or balancing a more traditionally-structured trip.

So stay tuned!  In the coming year, Accorhotel's first JO&JOE's will roll out in Paris and Bordeaux, France, as well as Warsaw, Poland, Budapest, Hungary, and outside Europe in Rio and Sao Paulo, Brazil.   It has plans to expand rapidly around the world, launching 50 hotels in 'destinations popular with Millennials' by 2020 to catch the wave of the future of travel.

Start your Trip!

 

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Introducing the Seabourn Encore

Seabourn's new Encore was introduced to the world at a festive evening ceremony pier side in Singapore January 7th, 2017, and we can't help gushing over the first cruise ship arrival of 2017.

International recording artist and the world's best-selling soprano Sarah Brightman presided over the naming ceremony as Godmother of the new 600-guest ship, the first of two new all-suite vessels for the luxury, small-ship cruise line.

Guests and VIPs joined Seabourn staff to enjoy the vibrant, entertainment-filled launch festivities as a projection screen showed the climactic moment when Brightman sent a bottle of champagne smashing against the bow of the ship, a time-honored ship christening tradition. A host of local musicians and cultural acts, including lion dancers and stilt walkers, energized the event to send the ship and her guests off in style.

The launch of Seabourn Encore marks the start of a new era of ultra-luxury cruising.  It's the fourth all-suite vessel to join the Seabourn fleet and the first of two new ships to be designed by hospitality design icon Adam D. Tihany. The second, Seabourn Ovation, is currently under construction and is scheduled to launch in spring 2018.

All ships maintain some of the signature elements we love most about Seabourn: a high ratio of space per guest, enabling highly personalized service by close to one staff member for each guest on board, all-suite accommodations, Seabourn’s signature water sports Marina, an open-bar policy serving premium wine, champagne and spirits, and renowned menus. With the addition of these two new ships, Seabourn will have the youngest and most modern ultra-luxury fleet in the world.

Intended by Tihany "to feel more like a luxury yacht," Seabourn Encore features modern design elements and innovations. Somehow, they manage to take our breath away, and still stay in keeping with Seabourn's understated elegance. The Encore has an additional deck and newly expanded public areas. New features include The Retreat, a secluded sanctuary for you to stretch out and relax in private cabanas, and Sushi, a one-of-a-kind dining destination found on no other ship in the Seabourn fleet.

With the inaugural voyage, Seabourn Encore is also marking the formal debut of several new onboard partner programs we've written about before: Spa and Wellness with Dr. Andrew Weil offers guests a holistic spa and wellness experience that integrates physical, social, environmental and spiritual well-being; a new production show, 'An Evening with Tim Rice', created exclusively for Seabourn will also have its debut on board in the ship's Grand Salon; and Seabourn Encore will also feature The Grill by Thomas Keller, a restaurant inspired by the classic American chophouse that first opened on Seabourn Quest last year.  If you're not sailing on the Encore, you can still enjoy all three programs on other Seabourn ships; they'll be rolled out across the entire Seabourn fleet by 2018. 

Following the naming ceremony, Seabourn Encore departed on its Inaugural Voyage, the 10-day Gems of the Java Sea cruise, bound for Indonesia. The ship will then move on to Australia and New Zealand voyages, then cruise back to Singapore, on to Dubai, and cruise through the Holy Land before ending her winter season at Athens at the beginning of May.  She will then summer in the Mediterranean, arriving in Barcelona, Spain, on September 13 for the start of her autumn season.  

A busy debut sailing season for one of luxury cruising's most highly anticipated new ships. Wishing the Seabourn Encore, and everyone who sails on her, Happy Voyages!

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Celebrate Music and Modern Architecture in Hamburg

The landmark, modernist Elbphilharmonie, designed by 'starchitects' Herzog & deMeuron, has opened its doors at last this month. The complex adds three world-class concert halls, a hotel, and a public area with a panoramic view to the city famously associated with the music of Mahler, Brahms and the Beatles.

Hamburg is Europe's second largest port.  It handles large, ocean-going ships, so it's considered a seaport, even though it's nearly 70 miles (110 km) inland from the North Sea on the Elbe River at its confluence with 2 other rivers.

The Elbphilharmonie is in a unique location in Hamburg’s historic port.  It's part of Europe’s largest inner-city urban revitalization project, in direct proximity to the Speicherstadt warehouse district UNESCO World Heritage site. 

In location, in design, and in function, the Elbphilharmonie serves as a symbol of the city’s past, present and its future.

Spectacular Architecture

The renowned Swiss architecture firm Herzog & deMeuron designed the exciting structure to perch on top of a brick warehouse that used to store tea, tobacco and cocoa arriving from abroad. 1700 reinforced concrete piles support the modernist, glass structure, whose wave-like roofline rises above the water of the port that surrounds it on three sides.

The Plaza is the area that links the warehouse and the new structure, and it's the central meeting place in the Elbphilharmonie. There's a viewing platform here that's open to the public. Even getting to it is an experience: an 82-metre-long (over 250 foot-long) curved escalator transports visitors through the building. Once you get there, you have a stunning panoramic view over the city and port of Hamburg.


The heart of the Elbphilharmonie is the spectacular, Grand Concert Hall. 2,100 seats are arranged around a centrally located stage, designed to remind you of visits to terraced vineyards. Amazingly, no member of the audience is seated more than 30 metres (about a hundred feet) from the conductor. Being so unusually close to the action turns this new acoustic space into a place of unforgettable musical encounters.

In order to achieve optimum acoustics, the architects developed a special wall and roof structure together with internationally renowned acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota. 10,000 individually shaped fibre panels cut with millimetre precision ensure targeted sound distribution that reaches you in every corner. For the Grand Hall, the German organ builder Klais developed an extraordinary concert hall organ with 4,765 pipes that are located in, next to and even behind the audience stands.

A Boundless Music Experience

In addition to the one-of-a-kind Grand Hall, the complex includes the acoustically outstanding, wood paneled Recital Hall and The 'Kaistudios', the Elbphilharmonie’s interactive music education area for people of all ages. The 'Kaistudios' are also home to the new 'Elbphilharmonie World of Instruments': diverse workshops in which children and adults can try out instruments from all over the world.

Are you thinking this all sounds fantastic, but you really aren't a fan of classical music? Don't fear: there's a line up of concerts and performances that not only include orchestral and operatic performances with the best orchestras in the world; piano, string quartet and German 'lieder'; but also world music, popular, and even electronic music.   Music for every fan, and a reflection of a city that not only supported famous composers, but also has had a world-celebrated club scene since the earliest days of the Fab Four.

They call it 'a perfect symbiosis of architecture and music'.  We agree.  The new Elbphilharmonie highlights Hamburg on the map of must-see global destinations for lovers of music and celebrated modern design.

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2016 is Sailing off into the Sunset...

And here at Walnut Grove Travel, we're looking back on some of our best, most inspiring travel stories of the past year... AND bringing you some fresh ideas to start your travels off right in 2017.

Thank you for being part of our community of travel lovers this year.  We wish you a very Happy New Year 2017, and whether you travel on business, for pleasure, on your own, with colleagues, family, friends, or that special someone, we hope you have many exciting and memorable journeys ahead!

(Top Photo: BestTrip.TV in Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

Intrepid Doubles Family-Themed Itineraries

Intrepid Travel is doubling its family-themed tours for 2017 with 48 itineraries tailored to families in two new styles of travel, Comfort and Active Family.

The decision to launch more than 20 tours comes as a result of the increasing demand for multi-generational travel. Intrepid Travel has also experienced significant demand for its teen trips, designed for ages 12 and up, inspiring the launch of teen trekking itineraries in Peru and Nepal, among other destinations.

“Intrepid Travel’s kid-friendly tours shake up the typical family vacation, offering a sense of adventure suited for all generations,” says Leigh Barnes, North America director for Intrepid Travel. “By significantly increasing our Family tours for 2017, we hope to be the go-to operator for family adventure travel.”

Ideal for meeting like-minded families, Intrepid Travel’s family-only adventures offer action-packed experiences steering off the beaten track, away from ball pits and buffets. Transforming travel into a form of education, the tours encourage families to use the world as their textbook by immersing into the destination and culture. With an average group size of 12, travelers can hop aboard local transportation, eat at family-run restaurants and kick back in home-stay accommodations. Family-friendly tours with 2017 departures offer one-of-a-kind experiences including:

  • Act like Mowgli in search for Shere Khan and other Bengal tigers for a true “Jungle Book” experience on the Comfort Northern India Family Holiday.
  • Visit Chiang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park, recognized by World Animal Protection for its protection of elephant welfare, on the Thailand Family Holiday.
  • Punt along the waterways of the Okavango Delta’s vibrant ecosystem by traditional canoe, greeting grunting hippos on the Namibia & Botswana Family Adventure.
  • Take on life as a local Gozitan shepherd for the day, tending to animals, cutting corn, making ‘gbejniet’ cheese and preparing lunch with the host family during the Malta and Gozo Family Holiday.

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A version of this article previously appeared in TravelPress.com

As 2016 Sails off into the Sunset...

We look back on some of our best, most inspiring travel stories of the past year... AND bring you some fresh ideas to start your travels off right in 2017.

Thank you for being part of our community of travel lovers this year.  We wish you a very Happy New Year 2017, and whether you travel on business, for pleasure, on your own, with colleagues, family, friends, or that special someone, we hope you have many exciting and memorable journeys ahead!

(Photo: BestTrip.TV in Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

Go Island Hopping in the South Pacific

The very word 'Tahiti' evokes the mystique of one of the most remote and romantic island destinations in the world.

An island hopping escape to even a few of the 118 islands and atolls in this South Pacific paradise is not only the ultimate escape from northern winters, it's the trip of a lifetime.

Picture your arrival, welcomed by Tahitian music and fragrant Tiare flowers… and use these highlights of some of the key islands to start planning your island hopping fantasy escape:

They call the island of Tahiti 'The Queen of the Pacific'. It's the largest and most populated island, and is the starting point for travelers, who fly into the capital city Papeete. Don't miss Marae Arahurahu, an ancient Tahitian outdoor temple, or, in the centre of town, the market with tropical produce and fresh local fish and Tahitian arts and crafts, including the biggest selection of pareus (sarongs) in the country. Outside the city, Tahiti boasts spectacular scenery: lush green peaks tower over cascading waterfalls and rippling pools in the interior, and black- and white-sand beaches and turquoise lagoons at the sea.

Photos: Chris McLennan

Moorea is a mere 11 miles across the Sea of the Moon from Tahiti. If that doesn't already sound like a fairytale, consider Moorea's nickname: 'The Magical Island'. It is even said to be the inspiration for the mythical island of Bali Hai. You've seen it in the movies, from Mutiny on the Bounty to Love Affair. But film can never do full justice to the dramatic beauty of the island. Make sure you go to Belvedere Lookout, with its breathtaking views of Moorea’s twin bays, Cook’s and Opunohu. Look on Moorea's hillsides for its signature produce, pineapples, and visit a local distillery to sample exotic liqueurs from pineapple, mango, coconut, vanilla and other Tahitian flavors.

Here's another magical nickname: the 'Garden of Eden'. Huahine is 110 miles northwest of Tahiti, and actually consists of two islands joined by a bridge. Its main town, Maeva, means 'welcome' in Tahitian! Drive into the hills for spectacular views over white-sand beaches and brilliant turquoise lagoons, and visit restored Tahitian marae (temples), centuries-old stone fish traps, and plantations of melons, vanilla, coffee, taro, mango, and flowers. Do you surf? There are world-class waves at Avamoa Pass, and the world’s largest outrigger canoe race begins here each October.

Bora Bora is a tiny island with a big reputation. 'The Romantic Island' has been called the most beautiful island in the world. It's only 18 miles around, circled by a necklace of coral. Lush mountains provide a dramatic backdrop for the indescribable turquoise, lapis and aquamarine of the famous, sheltered lagoon. Bora Bora is home to world-class resorts and quaint continental restaurants, where celebrity A-listers vacation in luxurious seclusion.

The Tuamotu Atolls are the largest of the Polynesian archipelagos, Tahiti’s 'Strand of Pearls' with 76 islands and atolls spread over more than 7500 square miles. Four of these atolls – Rangiroa, Manihi, Tikehau, Fakarava – offer world-class scuba diving, horseback riding, shark feeding and deep-sea fishing. In addition, the ecosystem in the Fakarava atoll is a UNESCO biosphere reserve. And Manihi is 'the Pearl Island', the site of the first of many pearl farms that have made Tahiti famous for prized, cultivated black pearls.

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Celebrate the Holidays French Style Around the World

You say: Christmas, the French say: Noel. Paris is always a top holiday escape destination, but the City of Light is not the only place to have a 'Joyeux Noel'. Here are my other favorite places in the world to celebrate the season with French 'joie de vivre'.

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

Provence, France:

In the wondrous South of France, Provence isn't just for summer tans. Winter in Provence is one of the most magical times to visit. There's still sun and fresh air and charming, uniquely Provencal seasonal traditions.

There's the 'Big Supper' on Christmas Eve, culminating in a ritual of 'The Thirteen Desserts', said to represent Jesus and the 12 apostles. Local and family traditions vary, but the desserts often include almonds, figs, dates, and other local fruits and flavors.

My favorite Provencal Christmas tradition is one that visitors can enjoy year round… and even take home as a souvenir or a gift. Santons are small, hand-painted clay figurines (the word is derived from Provencal dialect for 'little saint'). Santons make up table-top nativity scenes, but in a traditional Provencal nativity scene, it wasn't just the Holy Family, three wise men, angels, a shepherd and some farm animals. Traditionally, there were 55 figures that included characters from everyday Provencal life, like a fishwife and a vegetable seller.

Picture of crèche: Guillaume Piolle

Santon-making is a family craft that is still passed down through generations today, and you can buy santons from workshops through the year. Marseille holds a December Santon fair, and there are also children's holiday santon painting workshops.

Photo: Guillaume Piolle

New Orleans, Louisiana:

Wherever the royal French motif, the fleur de lys, pops up around the world, it's a clue to that area's historic French ties. In New Orleans, the fleur de lys city symbol joins Creole and Cajun dialect, culinary and other traditions in an enduring, beloved, and unique culture. Two of its holiday traditions were originally observed only on Christmas Eve, but these days, visitors can celebrate the season with locals through the month of December.

Photo by Rebecca Ratliff/NewOrleansOnline

Bonfires on the Levee date back to the earliest Cajun settlers. They were set along the banks of the Mississippi originally to light people's way home for the holiday, or to Midnight Mass, or it's said most recently, to light the way for 'Papa Noel' – Cajun Santa Claus. They have become extravagant in size and design, some accompanied by fireworks and concerts, drawing crowds that feast on bowls of hot gumbo and community good cheer. A hundred or more may be lit every year in neighboring parishes, and visitors can take guided scenic tours of the experience.

Reveillon Dinners were also once exclusively on Christmas Eve, following Midnight Mass. Now, instead of dinners starting at 2 am at home, Reveillon ('awakening') dinners are usually family and friends gathered at conventional dinner hours in a restaurant. Dozens of top city restaurants offer Reveillon menus through the month of December, not just on Christmas Eve, so it's easy for visitors to the city to participate in the tradition.

James Beard Award-winning chef Frank Brigtsen of Brigsten's Restaurant is at the forefront of a new generation of New Orleans chefs who are revitalizing Creole/Acadian cooking, creating modern dishes that pay tribute to Louisiana's culinary traditions. He shared his Reveillon Dinner menu recipe for Oysters Bienville, named after Jean Baptiste le Moyne, the Sieur (Lord) de Bienville, the founder of New Orleans.

Brigsten's Oysters Bienville - Makes around 3 dozen oysters

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup diced ham (1/4-inch pieces)

4 cups finely diced yellow onion

3 cups finely diced celery

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon + ½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon dried whole-leaf thyme

½ teaspoon dried whole-leaf oregano

2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic

2 cups sliced scallions, white part only

½ cup diced shrimp

2 Tablespoons brandy

1 cup oyster liquor

1 cup milk

2 cups cream

1 cup unsalted butter

1 ½ cups all-purpose white flour

36 oysters on the half-shell

1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pot over high heat. Add the ham and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Add the onions, celery, and bay leaf. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions become soft and clear.

3. Reduce heat to low. Add the salt, white pepper, cayenne, thyme, oregano, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 minute.

4. Add the sliced scallions (white part only). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the scallions become soft, 2-3 minutes.

5. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp turn pink, 1-2 minutes. Add the brandy and cook for 1 minute.

6. Add the oyster liquor and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom and sides of the pot.

7. Add the milk and cream and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer for 3-4 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Transfer the mixture to a tall container and purée until very smooth. Transfer the puréed sauce back into the pot.

8. Make a blond roux: Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Gradually whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly. Bring the Bienville sauce to a boil and gradually add the roux, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat. Refrigerate until fully chilled.

9. To serve, preheat oven to 500 degrees. Using a pastry bag, top each oyster on the half-shell with about 3 tablespoons of the Bienville Sauce. Bake at 500 degrees for 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Bon Appetit!

Martinique, the French Antilles:

It's a little piece of France in the Caribbean. Over the years, residents of the island of Martinique have combined the best of both worlds in their unique local Christmas traditions.

One of the most charming must be the 'Fleurit Noel': the 'Christmas Flower'. This delicate white flowering shrub made its way into local Christmas traditions due to a blooming season that runs December to March. It certainly makes me think of an angel's cloud! It's also thought to cure colds and flu.

Photo: Tourism Martinique

If you travel to Martinique during the holiday season, experience Christmas caroling like you've never experienced it anywhere else in the world. Chante Nwel are get togethers with traditional Martinican holiday cuisine - much of it pork based from a history of households keeping a pig in the backyard and making it the focal point of holiday meals - and singing accompanied by the goatskin tambour bele drum, and call-and-response.

Photo: Tourism Martinique

The carols are collected in a booklet of local versions in Antillean Creole, and you'll never forget the first time you sing - to the tune of 'Jingle Bells' - joyful song lyrics “Gut the Pig”, or other unique local twists on traditional carols.

Quebec, Canada:

Quebec City, the cradle of French civilization in North America, is unforgettable. Built over 400 years ago, it is the only walled city north of Mexico, a UNESCO World Heritage site of stone buildings and steep rooftops true to the French architectural style of the day.

Photo: Quebec City

Wandering the streets of historic Quebec City feels like a taste of Europe at any time of year, but during the snowy Christmas season it's truly magical – the city has been voted one of the top 10 places in the world to celebrate the holidays.

The province's biggest French city, Montreal, is Quebec City's slightly younger sibling, celebrating its 375th birthday this year with the tallest Christmas tree in Canada. Quebec is world famous for its music scene; make sure to attend caroling and concerts in both cities during the Christmas season, and do not miss the opportunity to go to Christmas Eve midnight Mass in one of the historic cathedrals.

Photos: Tourisme Montréal. Giant Christmas Tree: Eva Blue. Place St. Jacques: Matthieu Dupuis.

My mother's side of the family is French Canadian, and we follow the tradition of midnight Mass and a traditional 'Reveillon' meal, including tourtiere, Quebec's traditional meat pie, served with pea soup.

Here's my family recipe for you to enjoy during the holidays or any time of the year.

Photo: BestTrip.TV

Lynn's Family Tourtiere Recipe (Quebec Christmas Meat Pies)

Makes 2 pies or 24-30 tarts

3 lbs ground meat (We use 2 lbs beef and 1 lb pork. Some use all pork, or game, or even duck)

2 large onions, grated or finely minced

2 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons salt

1 t thyme

½ t sage

½ t pepper

¼ t ground cloves

½ t allspice

Brown meat with onions and spices til onions and meat are cooked and still moist. Add

1/3 c red wine

2 large potatoes, peeled, boiled, mashed

Mix thoroughly and cook 5 min. Let cool to room temperature.

Mix in 1 egg

Pack into pie or tart shells, top with a pastry cover, cut slits for vents, and

Wash tops with 1 egg beaten with 1 t water.

Cook in pre-heated 410 degree oven til pastry deep golden. Serve hot.

Bon appétit and Joyeux Noel!

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Go Glamping in Antarctica

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

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

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

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

All photos: White Desert

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

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

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

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

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

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Snuggle in an Igloo in the Alps in Switzerland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Warm Up Indoors with 12 Days of Christmas Cocktails in Canada

InterContinental Hotels in Canada are warming up a cold Canadian winter with 12 festive cocktails through the month of December.

You can celebrate or commiserate over the winter weather while enjoying flavors of the holidays in style at all three InterContinental hotels in Canada: Toronto Centre, Toronto Yorkville and Montreal.

Barchefs at the hotels have created a dozen cocktails marrying seasonal herbs and spices such as cinnamon, rosemary and thyme with the delightful yuletide tastes of cranberries, lemons and apples, pairing them with specially selected rums, gins, liqueurs, vodkas and other spirits. So whether you travel to Toronto or Montreal for business, family, or a winter holiday escape this month, there's a seasonal cocktail in town calling your name.

In the spirit of the season, the barchefs have even given us the recipes, so you can warm up your guests at home in style! Here are three of our favorites.

Cheers!


 

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Welcome Winter!

 

The Winter Solstice this year takes place on Wednesday, December 21st.  The first official day of the winter season, it marks the shortest period of daylight – and longest period of darkness – on the calendar.

No wonder cultures and religions around the world created winter solstice festivals that celebrate light.   

For many of us these days, the question is: celebrate winter… or escape it? 

So we devote this newsletter to some of the most unforgettable travel experiences we could find for you to create warm memories in cold weather... or bask in sun and warmth. 

However – and wherever - you spend the holidays, we wish you and yours a bright and joyful holiday season.

Happy Travels and Happy Holidays!

Photo: BestTrip.TV in the Kawarthas, Canada

Great News if You Collect Air Mileage. One of the Longest Flights in the World is Back.

Singapore Airlines has resumed flights to San Francisco, one of the longest non-stop flights in aviation.

The new service serves San Francisco twice daily. These flights are the longest in the Singapore Airlines network and among the longest in duration in the world.

Depending on winds, direction, and time of year, your flying time between northern California and the south-east Asian city-state will be between 14 1/2 and nearly 18 hours. That rivals other longest-of-the-long-haul flights by other airlines: the same San Francisco to Singapore route on United Airlines that also just launched, as well as other carriers' flights from Toronto to Hong Kong, Dallas to Dubai, and New York to Johannesburg.

In a double milestone, the plane to make this trip also happens to be Singapore Airlines' sixth Airbus A350-900 – the 10,000th Airbus delivered to the company since 1979.

Singapore Airlines ceremoniously took delivery of the plane this fall from Airbus and flew it from Toulouse, France, to the West Coast for the San Francisco-Singapore service. The same aircraft is being used for Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, and Johannesburg long haul flights.

You'll be happy to hear it has an extra-wide body, and other features that make the flight easier, like higher ceilings, larger windows, and lighting to reduce jetlag, along with technological advances and superior operating efficiency that benefit all 253 souls flying in the plane's three classes, with 42 in Business Class, 24 in Premium Economy Class and 187 in Economy Class.

Do you think that's just too long to be on a plane?

Well, for many people, that's 'just' a work day and a full night's sleep. See? Productive.

But no fun. How about this? Over the course of your flight you couldn't even get through a marathon viewing of the box set of Harry Potter movies! So, not so long after all, right?

Flights this long are broken up by a lot of food service, too. Singapore Airlines has a 'Book the Cook' service that lets some passengers plan and select your meals before your flight, so you can choose carb-heavy courses for when you think you'll be wanting to sleep, and lighter courses when you want to get some work done.

If you're still finding it hard to picture yourself on a flight this long, there are even longer ones coming down the pipeline.

In 2018, Singapore Airlines will take delivery of the first of a variation on this Airbus, the A350-900ULR, which stands for 'Ultra Long Range'. The airline is planning on using this upcoming aircraft for the world's longest non-stop flights: between Singapore and New York - tacking at least a couple more hours onto the current flights from San Francisco.

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Opening Weekend for Germany's Christmas Markets

So many of our modern Christmas traditions hail from Germany (via England, thanks to Queen Victoria's German husband, Prince Albert); for a real injection of the spirit of Christmas, no better place to go than the source. Plus, Germans are nothing if not sticklers for authenticity – no plastic or made in China items. Only genuine evergreen branches, music, food, drink and shopping traditions allowed!

Lynn Elmhirst, BestTrip.TV's producer and host, shares her tips for visiting Germany's Christmas markets.

When to go:

Markets are traditionally open during Advent, the last four weeks before Christmas, ending Christmas Eve, the day most Germans celebrate. This year, Advent begins Sunday, November 27th; many opening ceremonies are the Friday before the first Sunday. One more tip about when to go: for an extra special experience, visit in the evening – when twinkling lights, bonfires and torches kindle the magic and spirit of the season and transport you back to the ancient origins of this winter festival.

What to eat and drink:

The fir branch-draped, traditional wood stalls include the best German standards: hot sausages, pretzels, and beer, plus the seasonal delights: hot, mulled 'gluhwein'; stollen, a particularly addictive fruit bread; gingerbread or lebkuchen.

And marzipan, oh, the glorious marzipan. Forget the icky, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth goo slathered on top of cheap fruitcakes here at home. Once you taste the real thing, you just can't get enough. Marzipan in Germany isn't just for cake topping. It comes formed in all shapes. Look for the quirky Christmas traditional 'marzipan kartoffeln' – marzipan 'potatoes', little marzipan balls dusted with coco to look like… miniature potatoes. Other shapes are delightful, hand painted confections – a favorite in southern Germany is little pigs, a symbol of good luck. Take some home for gifts! I would love forever anyone who put marzipan kartoffeln in my stocking!

What to buy:

Markets are laden with high quality, and often, artisan-crafted German Christmas traditional items like nutcrackers, ornaments, religious items and toys, toys, toys.

You are going to want to buy the unparalleled handmade glass ornaments and you are going to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how and if you can get them home safely. Sheepskin slippers and mittens, and lots of boiled wool. I admit to an obsession with boiled wool, a northern European tradition I can indulge easily at Germany's Christmas markets, buying myself and loved ones hats, mittens, vests, jackets and more with a European design flair you don't find at home. Every market also has local specialties like the iconic blue and white china in Dresden, in everyday and Christmas designs.

How to get there:

Any trip to Germany during Advent and up to Christmas Eve gives you the opportunity to visit the local Christmas market. Land tour companies and river cruise companies offer Christmas market specialty tours this time of year that take you to multiple Christmas markets so you can compare the atmosphere, food and shopping. A Christmas market cruise on the Danube, for example, could include flying into Frankfurt and visiting its market before your cruise, and sailing to both Nuremburg's (possibly the most famous) town square market and Regensburg, in the castle grounds.

Even 'grinches' discover genuine Christmas good cheer in the historic, traditional atmosphere of Germany's Christmas markets. And lovers of the season add to cherished memories of Christmas celebrations.

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Our 'Plan a Cruise Month' Smorgasbord of Offers

Mark it on your calendar. October is 'Plan a Cruise Month'. 

This is the time of year when the world's top cruise lines introduce some of their best offers of the year.

And with the nights getting chillier, thoughts of getting away this winter to the Caribbean's turquoise waters, exotic Polynesia, or fun loving Australia leap to mind.  Or an expedition of a lifetime to South America or Galapagos. And there's always Europe and the elegant Mediterranean in the spring.

There's a smorgasbord of cruise offers available right now, so if you were thinking of a romantic escape, a family or multi-generation holiday, an expedition cruise of a lifetime, even an employee incentive trip or a group getaway with your club, here's our round up of some of the best offers available.

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New Cruise Ships Arriving this Fall in the Caribbean

If you like 'new ship smell', you won't want to miss the opportunity to experience some of your favorite Caribbean ports of call this winter – in a shiny new cruise ship.

A number of new cruise ships made their entrance on the cruising scene this spring and summer in Europe. But as temperatures cool, they start their migrations, repositioning to the Caribbean for a sunny tropical winter cruise season.

No matter your cruising style, there's a new ship to enjoy the islands this winter.

Seven Seas Explorer - Regent Seven Seas

Regent Seven Seas Explorer made a glamorous debut in Monte Carlo mid summer. She was christened by royalty, (Princess Charlene of Monaco) and explored the Mediterranean through the summer and fall, heading for Miami in November for its inaugural Caribbean season.

Highlights:

You'll be joined by only 750 privileged guests in a glittering, all-suite, all-balcony environment on a ship that's been called 'the most luxurious cruise ship ever built'. (Its Regent Suite is as spacious as any resort on shore, nearly 3900 square feet of exquisite design, with two bedrooms and even an in-room spa!) Guests may choose to dine in six fine dining venues, and enjoy the ship's two-story theatre and Culinary Arts Kitchen cooking school. Like other top end luxury cruise lines, the fare is all-inclusive, with packages that may include air, wine and spirits, shore excursions, wi-fi, gratuities and more.

Harmony of the Seas - Royal Caribbean

Have you been keeping track? Royal Caribbean's latest Oasis-class ship, Harmony of the Seas, is now the largest ship in the world, at an amazing nearly 1187 feet in length. This wonder of maritime engineering has been cruising in the Mediterranean since her launch in June, and repositions in November to her new permanent homeport of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. From there, she'll take nearly 5500 guests at a time on Caribbean itineraries.

Photo: BestTrip.TV

Highlights:

Hard to list in just one paragraph. Guests flow through the ship's immense space in seven distinct neighorhoods, where you have the opportunity to experience some of Royal Caribbean's favorite experiences and some new ones: 20 restaurants; FlowRider surfing simulators; a zipline and jungle gym, an AquaTheater for diving shows; a waterslide; a water park if you can picture your kids or your inner child having a blast with water cannons; a drench bucket; two climbing walls; and an ice-skating rink. The question is whether a 7-day itinerary gives you enough time to begin to explore the whole ship, let alone experience it all. You might want to consider back-to-back Eastern and Western week-long itineraries to spread out this much excitement over two weeks!

Koningsdam – Holland America Line

The first of HAL's new Pinnacle-class ships is the largest Holland America Line ship to date. When it debuted in May, christened (as is the tradition for the line) by Dutch royalty, the Koningsdam was praised as a new era for HAL. After a season sailing in the Mediterranean, in November, she arrives in her new homeport of Fort Lauderdale, Florida for winter and spring Caribbean cruises.

Highlights:

The Koningsdam ushers in a new era of fresh, celebrity design for the quietly elegant cruise line. Design innovations include new, upscale suites, including family units, and a top deck with a stunning pool with fountains and whirlpools. You'll be among 2650 guests enjoying some acclaimed dining experiences (always a HAL strong point): an intimate new seafood brasserie, exquisite garden-to-table cuisine (thanks to its glass-enclosed growing space), even a wine-making venue, BLEND, and new entertainment venues. The Koningsdam's 'Music Walk', features different nightly performances in three venues: Lincoln Center Stage (featuring world class performers as a result of the partnership with the famed Lincoln Center), Billboard Onboard, and World Stage.

Viking Star - Viking Cruises

The Viking Star is an honorary member of this group, since it launched as the first of Viking's ocean cruise ships in the spring of 2015. So technically, she's over a year old now, unlike the other ships on this list that launched this year. But she is crossing the Atlantic for the first time when she makes her way to Montreal this fall, then on via the Eastern Seaboard to New York, finally repositioning to San Juan to spend the winter in the West Indies before returning to Europe in the spring.

Highlights:

If you're a fan of Viking's river cruise ships, you won't want to miss the opportunity to experience its first foray into ocean cruising while the Viking Star is this close to home. The 930-guest Viking Star features the same, unique, Scandinavian modern design you've come to expect from all of this Norwegian company's ships, but in a larger ocean cruising format; all veranda staterooms; a LivNordic Spa, which includes a Snow Grotto; The Wintergarden for afternoon tea; multiple dining venues; and Viking’s Culture Curriculum for onboard learning.

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Why We Love River Cruising in Europe

We love river cruising. Like all cruise travel, it's a hassle-free way to navigate to multiple destinations and get an overview of a region. You unpack once, really settling in to your ship environment like a home away from home.

River cruise ships are small – almost by definition. They're restricted to the size of a ship that can navigate the rivers and canals and locks of Europe. Depending on the itinerary and the water levels, you may even see the wheelhouse on the top deck of the ship ingeniously lowered to make it under bridges!

Photo courtesy: BestTrip.TV

So, while modern river cruise ships feel surprisingly spacious, much like boutique hotels, you won't find extravagances like climbing walls or Broadway shows. There's usually one main restaurant, and sometimes, a much smaller alternative dining room in an aft area normally devoted to a lounge, or near the main dining room, or on the top deck for alfresco dining. Sommeliers offer wine tastings and sometimes even tasting dinners with local wines.

In direct support of local culture and economies, local performers and even artisans are scheduled to share their talents during sailing time. They literally bring their culture on board the ship in an intimate setting that fosters interaction between guests and the talented locals.

But for us, the true enchantment of river cruising is that rivers are at the heart of Europe, weaving through not just the major cities, but also the scenic rural areas and picturesque small towns between them. Historically, rivers were the best – sometimes only! – way to travel between communities. Most European cities started and were built from the river.

Photo courtesy: BestTrip.TV

In many ways, river cruising is the way Europe was meant to be seen; one of the most authentic ways to experience its diverse regions.

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How On Trend are your Travel Plans?

The results of a recent study have revealed the luxury fantasy destinations and travel bucket list experiences of 2016.  Are your travel dreams on the list?

If you're hoping or planning to go 'Down Under' this year, you've tapped into the latest travel trends.  Australia tops the list of destinations for the upscale traveler, followed by another perennial favorite Italy, romantic Fiji, and historic Greece.  Australia's next door neighbor New Zealand rounds out the top five.

1. Australia
2. Italy
3. Fiji
4. Greece
5. New Zealand
6. Maldives
7. Ireland
8. South Africa
9. French Polynesia
10. Antarctica

As for styles of travel, affluent travelers still crave a beach vacation, but adventure comes in at second place, confirming increased interest in active travel experiences.

Most popular types of travel:
1. Beach
2. Adventure
3. Cultural/historical
4. Family
5. Food and wine
6. Ocean cruising
7. City
8. Experiential
9. River cruising
10. Romantic
11. Spa/wellness
12. Weekend getaways
13. Eco, sustainable travel
14. Golf

Family travel is in the top 5 styles of luxury travel in 2016, but the bucket list experience survey takes the concept even further. On that list, the multi-generation family trip that rallies grandparents, parents, teens and tots and even the singleton aunts and uncles is number one.  Busy schedules and long distances are increasingly making a big group getaway extended families' top choices to see the world and reconnect at the same time.

What are the other Trips of a Lifetime on travelers' bucket lists this year?

  1. Vacation with multiple generations of your family – There are more and more options making multi-generational travel easier: bigger suites and more villas to accommodate large groups.
  2. Stay in a Polynesian overwater bungalow – It might be the most romantic travel fantasy out there: idyllic lagoons, coral reefs, and overwater bungalows perched above it all.
  3. Italy's Amalfi Coast – An exhilarating way to explore Amalfi's iconic cliff-hugging coastline is by car, the ultimate road trip that can be sandwiched between nearby Capri and perhaps an Italian city destination.
  4. The Greek Isles – Yachting between them evokes the ultimate luxury holiday, and that way you don't have to choose between the party scene on Mykonos, the romance of Santorini, or the archaeological sites on the mainland.
  5. An African safari – Plan your safari for the best destination and time of year to photograph them all:  elephants, lions, Cape buffalo, leopards and rhinos.
  6. The Northern Lights – Late August through March, the aurora borealis are the big attraction in the northern latitudes near the Arctic Circle and North Pole.

  1. The Galápagos Islands There's nowhere else in the world where you can interact with such fearless - and famous wildlife!  The Galapagos giant tortoise, sea turtles, the blue footed boobies...
  2. A world cruise – It might be the ultimate luxury - time! - to take to the high seas for a few months, checking exotic global destinations off your lifetime travel list. 
  3. One Trip, All Continents – An ambitious quest that takes outstanding planning.
  4. Highlights of Australia – Travelers can forget what an enormous place Australia is, and may only visit Sydney and the Gold Coast.  But we recommend going even further afield to two islands: Tasmania for its stunning scenery and the purest air in the world, and Kangaroo Island for - you guessed it! - the wildlife.

We think they all sound pretty inspiring!  And likely at least one of the trips on these lists matches your own travel dreams.

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Swiss Summer Sips

In the heat of the summer, even cooler regions of Europe look for ways to beat the heat.

Switzerland may be famous for chocolate and cheese, green meadows and snowy alps... but even they have some secrets to quench your thirst in the summer:

Mountain Fountain Water.

You might not want to try this anywhere else in the world, but in Switzerland you can drink the water flowing from fountains – in the mountains AND in cities. Bern has over 100 fountains, Zurich boasts 1,200. Unless there’s a sign that says not for drinking, the water is safe to drink. Not just safe, but delicious!  Its source is usually the Swiss Alps – the source of much of the expensive bottled water around the world – or some other pristine body of water, which Switzerland has plenty of. And the best thing: It's free. You just need an empty bottle.

Apple Juice from Thurgau.

The apple is the most popular fruit in Switzerland. The Swiss harvest 140'000 tons of apples each year – most of it in the cantons Vaud, Valais and Thurgau. Due to the apple growing and its shape the latter is known as "Mostindien" (Cider India). On the Mostindien tour you can discover apple adventures and delicacies – like the apple juice spritzer "Shorley", produced by "Möhl", a typical cider and juice mill.

Gazosa from Ticino.

This traditional drink evokes the feeling vacationing in the South.  Gazosa Ticinese is a traditional beverage with modern style. Bottled in a small town near Bellinzona since 1921, Gazosa has never lost its charm, and in fact, is enjoying a revival, with it becoming increasingly popular north of the Alps.  In any stylish bar or restaurant, you will find a line-up of these charming glass bottles with metal lids and retro/ hipster styling. Flavors include anything from lemon to raspberry. But for the original taste, order "La Fiorenzana" with bitter orange flavor.

None of these delicious summer sips is exported outside of Switzerland, so you'll have to book a trip there to enjoy.

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Copyright BestTrip.TV/Influence Entertainment Group Inc or Rights Holder. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this material from this page, but it may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.