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Wish Away the Worst of 2020, Give Thanks, and Plant Hope - Tourism New Zealand's Forest Initiative
When the sun rises on the New Year, New Zealand’s location on the globe makes it the first country in the world to welcome 2021.

To get next year started on the right foot for the whole planet, Tourism New Zealand is launching a holiday initiative that generates hope, turns the disappointments of this year into something positive, and launches on Giving Tuesday, December 1st.

For the month of December, Tourism New Zealand will be planting a ‘Forest of Hope’ for 2021.
 
2020 has been a tough year, with cancellations, postponements, missed travels and weddings, graduations, birthdays and celebrations.

People from all over the world can submit their disappointments from the past year and New Zealand will transform them into hope, planting a native Kiwi tree for every entry.
 
The program is based on trees as Nature’s symbol of life and growth. New Zealand’s famously green islands are over 30% forest – that’s more than 8 million hectares of wooded land. Some native trees are found nowhere else in the world, including Kauri trees (pictured below), among the oldest trees on the planet, some estimated to have been alive over 4000 years!

(Kauri Trees, courtesy Trees That Count)
 
To take advantage of this symbol of renewal, readers can share their disappointments from the year on the Tourism New Zealand website’s 'Forest of Hope' page.
 
For every disappointment shared with Tourism New Zealand between December 1 and December 31, 2020, a native Kiwi tree will be planted along the iconic Queenstown bike trail in the Southland, or among the Wiapoua Forest in the Northland.
 
You can also give a gift of a tree this year to a friend or loved one, give back to yourself, or simply give back to the environment by purchasing another tree to be planted for a nominal donation.

(Trees That Count: Planting at Queenstown)
 
And once the country’s borders open for travel and New Zealand is able to welcome visitors again, people will be able to visit the tree they helped grow.
 
Tourism New Zealand is partnering with Trees That Count. It’s a local non-profit with a goal of planting 200 million native trees across the country. They are over 30 million trees towards that goal now, and estimate in the next half-century, the new native trees will cleanse the earth’s atmosphere of more than 5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

(Tane Mahuta; photo David Kirkland)
 
It’s a wonderful way for us to feel connected to the earth and people on the other side of the world even as we dream of travelling again soon. 
 
And Tourism New Zealand’s Forest of Hope is also and mindful - and thankful - way to say goodbye to this year’s disappointments and plant a seed of hope to look forward to better times ahead in 2021.

 

#HappyHolidays



Top Photo: Eastwoodhill Arboretum, Eastland, courtesy Tourism Eastland Inc



How This New American River Cruise Ship May Surprise You
When you think of ships that cruise American rivers, you might picture paddlewheels, riverboat gamblers, and ladies with parasols.

But while some cruise ships exploring the United States by river pay homage to 19th-century American history, American river cruising doesn’t have to be an escape into a Mark Twain novel.

When American Cruise Lines launched its latest river cruise ship, the American Melody, this month, it became the 4th – and the second ship for the cruise line during COVID – in its acclaimed ‘Modern Series’.

No paddlewheels here. Instead, the kind of clean lines and contemporary elegance you might associate with upscale cruise ships anywhere in the world.


The American Melody and her sister ships feature 5 decks of eye-catching architectural details like a grand, multi-story glass atrium at the center of the ship, a patented opening bow and retractable gangway, elevator access to all decks for accessibility and ease, and sweeping expanses of glass throughout with unparalleled panoramic views both inside and out.


175 guests enjoy 100% private balcony, extremely spacious accommodations. And you’ll spend daytimes between a casual outdoor café; a signature Grand Dining Room with river views from every table; numerous spacious sky-lit lounges; several open-air & shaded sundecks; Library; Chart Room; Game Room; Fitness Room & Yoga-Wellness Studio.


American Melody and her sister ships redefine American river cruising from a design and architecture point of view. The American Melody, and sister ship American Jazz (its predecessor that was completed in 2020 but delayed its cruising launch due to the pandemic) provide a fresh, modern experience as they cruise the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers beginning in the summer of 2021.


The Modern Series joins the historic-style paddlewheelers and coastal ships in American Cruise Line’s fleet, and continues the same traditions of world-class gastronomic offerings that include local ingredients and regional cuisine, personalized service inclusive of daily pre-dinner cocktails, wine and beer with meals, itineraries with complimentary shore excursions, and daily entertainment that includes music, local culture, history and nature experts.

This modern twist on American river cruising is soon to become a common sight on America’s rivers, with a 5th American Cruise Line modern ship due in 2022, and 1 or 2 more each year in a rapid-expansion plan to meet a growing demand to rediscover America by water.

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images courtesy American Cruise Lines
Top Image: American Melody being launched into the Wicomico River at Chesapeake Shipbuilding, Salisbury, MD


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Italy Names Its First 'City of Wine'
Wine lovers have one more reason to get traveling again next year. In celebration of one of its oldest and most beloved products, Italy has declared its first-ever ‘City of Wine’.

The Italian association of communities that collaborate to protect and promote their regional wine designations held a competition for the new honor. 

Barolo - the town with the famous red wine of the same name – was crowned ‘City of Wine’ for the award’s inaugural year in 2021.

Nestled between Genoa on Italy’s north-western coast, and the Alps to the north, the picturesque Langhe hills surrounding Barolo in Piedmont are nearly entirely covered by vineyards and have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The nebbiolo grape grown there is made into Barolo wine – so highly esteemed, it’s been dubbed the ‘King of Wines’.
Barolo wine is considered the most famous regional designation in all of wine-rich Italy. Not only does the wine have to originate only in the Barolo zone – that’s only 5 miles across at its widest point – wine must also go through a particular process. That includes a minimum of 3 years of ageing – half of that in wooden casks. Barolo is famously a wine high in tannin and much better aged, with some connoisseurs waiting more than 10 years for Barolo wines to develop the best flavor.

That’s put some modernizers – who favor a fruitier, quicker, less fermented version that appeals to modern and international tastes – at odds with die hard traditionalists.

You can decide for yourself at the abundance of wineries and wine shops that form the core of any visit to Barolo, and pair the wine with some of the region’s famous dishes at local restaurants. (Don't miss braised beef Barolo - in Barolo red wine sauce, with carrots, an iconic example of Piedmontese cuisine.)

To beat out half a dozen other competitors for the new title ‘City of Wine’, Barolo proposed an entire 2021 calendar of events, exhibitions, seminars, tastings and installations. They’ll celebrate the wine traditions, history of Barolo wine, and the natural cycle of the seasons.

City of Wine celebrations only enhance Barolo’s permanent features: the Langhe hills, Barolo vineyards, wineries, and wine shops. Add Barolo castle and its wine museum, the nearby, quirky Corkscrew Museum, and Barolo chapel standing in the middle of vineyards with its historic sanctuary for vineyard workers-meets-modern art installation to your essential 2021 pilgrimage to Italy’s first designated City of Wine.

 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images: Getty
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Canadian Luxury Train Tours' First USA Journey - Rockies to the Red Rocks
They are the essential train trips in Western Canada. Three rail routes that provide travelers a window onto the Rockies like no other way of travel.

Rocky Mountaineer operates bucket list rail journeys between Vancouver and the iconic Canadian Rockies towns of Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper. 

They are train trips featuring a multitude of luxuries in the heart of the West’s greatest wilderness, from plush, glass-domed, railcars that reveal a 360 degree view of mountains, lakes and forests – some of which Technicolor scenery is only visible from the tracks – to fine dining and personalized service.

 
And beginning in 2021, travelers who love riding the rails can connect with some of the American West’s most iconic landscapes the same way.

Rocky Mountaineer is launching a new route in the heart of the American Rockies. Its ‘Rockies to the Red Rocks’ train trip is a 2-day journey between Denver, Colorado, and Moab, Utah.

Rockies to the Red Rocks route showcases scenic views that are unique to the Southwest United States. Between Denver and Glenwood Springs, train guests journey alongside the Colorado River and through a series of canyons with steep, rugged rock walls. The scenery along the route between Glenwood Springs and Moab includes mountain vistas, desert cliffs and rock formations.

Like its Canadian Rockies trips, the company's first U.S. rail journey features daytime spent on the tracks in custom-designed glass-domed coaches so you don’t miss any view of the incredible scenery.

This new route is also a rail journey that is both luxurious and local. Onboard storytelling, a social atmosphere and the Rocky Mountaineer's renowned culinary experience round out your train experience. It features cuisine and ingredients local to the Southwestern U.S., which will be complemented with beverage service, all served at your first-class seat, so you can enjoy the scenery as you dine.

And the overnight midway is spent in a hotel that’s included as part of your trip. 


Rocky Mountaineer says it’s been working for years on the new route, looking for a ‘special location with many of the same features we have in Western Canada – incredible scenery, iconic destinations, and the option for an all-daytime, multi-day journey that is best experienced by train.’

Calling its Rockies to the Red Rocks route between Denver and Moab ‘historic’, the company says, ‘now we are opening our newest train experience in the region where train travel history began.’

The company is working with local tourism organizations, hotels and tour operators to curate custom pre- and post-train journey packages that feature tours, activities, and stays in Denver and Moab, to make the most of your journey by rail.

If you love train travel, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to cross this historic train route off your travel wish list as there are 40 of these 2-day journeys on Rocky Mountaineer’s calendar from August to October in its 2021 preview season.

What would be even better? Making Rocky Mounaineer’s ‘Rockies to the Red Rocks’ train trip the core of a longer journey exploring the iconic sites and unforgettable scenery, history and National Parks of the American Rockies.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon



Images courtesy Rocky Mountaineer


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A New 'Species' of Extreme Thrill Ride: the 'VelociCoaster' Takes 'Flight' in Orlando
Florida’s fastest and tallest coaster – along with a pack of fierce Velociraptors – will be unleashed at Universal Orlando Resort in 2021.

If you – or the kids in your life – have seen all the movies and fantasize about visiting Jurassic Park and its fierce dinosaurs, the Jurassic World VelociCoaster will bring the movies to life in a coaster ride that will take your breath away.

It’s a new ‘species’ of roller coaster, with a series of intense maneuvers that will send you and your family catapulting up to 70 mph and more than 150 feet in the air with the swiftest of prehistoric predators.
 
The Jurassic World VelociCoaster is the world’s first roller coaster based on the blockbuster dino movie series. It features its own original story that spins off from the creatures, thrills and environments on the big screen. You’ll join the original cast – Chris Pratt as Owen Grady, Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing and BD Wong as Dr. Henry Wu – as you embark on a high-speed chase and feel the rush of the hunt while racing alongside a darting pack of Velociraptors.

Opening at Orlando’s Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park, the Jurassic World VelociCoaster soars to new heights in extreme roller coaster design.
 
Coasting over more than 4,700 feet of track and reaching heights of up to 155 feet, the coaster’s one-of-a-kind maneuvers will have you twisting and soaring above land, barrel rolling just inches above water, speeding through near-misses and launches in the paddock, and more first-ever maneuvers. All within a Jurassic World environment. You’ll:

  • Accelerate through two pulse-pounding launches, the fastest reaching 70 mph in 2.4 seconds
  • Take a 360-degree barrel roll right above the Islands of Adventure lagoon
  • Experience a zero-gravity inverted stall that will send you upside down across 100 feet of track in a jaw-dropping, first-of-its-kind maneuver
  • Go airborne during the towering “Top Hat,” which propels riders 155 feet in the air and then immediately plummets into an 80 degree drop – it’s the steepest Universal drop to date
  • Brace for a total of 12 heart-pounding seconds of airtime – with the thrilling sensation of weightlessness lifted from your seat – throughout the adventure.
 

This edge-of-your-seat, dino-engineering marvel is the latest addition to Jurassic Park at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Only in this immersive land can the Jurassic fans in your life come face-to-face with life-size dinosaurs in incredible theme park experiences, including Jurassic Park River Adventure, where a leisure raft ride turns into a daring eight-story plunge to escape a ferocious T. Rex; and Raptor Encounter, where you can get up-close to Velociraptor Blue and the newest additions to the paddock – baby raptors – while learning more about the clever carnivores.

If immersion into the world of this epic film franchise – or an extreme roller coaster experience – fits your family’s vacation dreams, Jurassic Park at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure should jump to the top of your travel list.
Other members of the family will find their own thrills in one of the other two theme parks in the trio of Universal Orlando destinations. Universal Studios Florida is home to the technologically-advanced stunt show, The Bourne Stuntacular; and Universal’s Volcano Bay is a tropical oasis that features an actual beach right in the middle of Orlando. 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images courtesy Universal Orlando

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There's a New Moon on the Horizon - a Silver Moon
October was an extraordinary month for stargazers and amateur astronomers. One single month saw two full moons: a Harvest moon and a rare, second full moon – a blue moon.

But one other moon appeared in October too – Silversea’s Silver Moon. 

Sister ship to the ultra-luxury cruise line’s Silver Muse, it’s the 9th vessel for Silversea, and its second new ship to overcome the unprecedented challenges of 2020 to launch this year.

Over 1,000 craftspeople labored in Italy to bring the Silver Moon to life. The 600-guest ship follows in the lines of her sister ship the Silver Muse, celebrating small-ship intimacy and understated, modern Italian luxury that’s loved by sophisticated North American guests.


Expanding the Indoors Outdoors, and Re-imagining Favorite Public Spaces


The Silver Moon builds on the successes of the Muse in her public spaces, in many cases incorporating new outdoor spaces to maximize guests’ true maritime experience.

·     Guest-favorite indoor gathering space, Dolce Vita, (above) has an updated layout – with the bar repositioned to the center of the space and focal point of shipboard social life: a sophisticated bar by day and atmospheric piano bar in the evenings.
 
·     Silversea’s signature restaurant and salute to classic French cuisine, La Dame has been enlarged on the Silver Moon and enriched with custom-designed Lalique crystal panels, as well as an option for lovers of fine dining to indulge outdoors in the sea air.
 
·     Kaiseki, where guests enjoy the spectacle of expert sushi chefs in action preparing delectable, seasonally-inspired Japanese and Asian cuisine, has elevated, while still minimalist design on the Moon.
 
·     Those who enjoy a cigar and a snifter will find a new Wintergarden area in Connoisseur’s Corner that extends the sophisticated club atmosphere into a sheltered and inviting outdoor space.


Suite Life – Silversea Style


Spacious all-suite, all-butler-serviced accommodations are hallmarks of the Silversea experience. Soothing luxe décor, materials and amenities embrace guests in comfort, and dedicated butlers, stocked in-suite bar, 24-hour in-suite dining make your suite on the Silver Moon feel even better than home.
 

S.A.L.T. Program: Immersive Culinary Enrichment

 
One tremendous innovation in the Silversea cruising lifestyle is debuting aboard Silver Moon. The line’s new culinary enrichment programme S.A.L.T. is an acronym of ‘Sea and Land Taste’, and it gives guests the opportunity to explore a range of destination-focused gastronomic experiences—both on-board and ashore.
 
Three new venues form a hub of culinary discovery on Deck 4 of the Silver Moon as part of the S.A.L.T. program:
 
S.A.L.T. Kitchen is among the largest of eight restaurants aboard Silver Moon. It’s the first large-scale regional restaurant aboard a luxury cruise ship, offering a menu that changes with the destination and a regionally inspired wine list;
S.A.L.T. Lab is a test kitchen where guests learn about local ingredients and artisanal techniques, through insightful workshops, tastings, and demonstrations; and
S.A.L.T. Bar allows guests to sample the most authentic flavours of the destination, through a large selection of regional wines, spirits, and other drinks.

 
Silversea’s newest of its Muse-class ships is both the pinnacle of advances in luxury cruise travel in the 21st century and a symbol of the resilience of the hard-hit cruise industry.
 
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images courtesy Silversea

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The Latest Cruise Line To Go 'All-Inclusive'
Nothing is more luxurious than when things are extra simple and extra special. Now you can have that wonderful feeling that ‘everything is taken care of’ on your next big-ship cruise.
 
Celebrity Cruises has unveiled a new ‘Always Included’ program. Instead of differing promotions and packages, the cruise line is including unlimited drinks, unlimited wi-fi and even daily tips on all new bookings except its Galapagos itineraries.

This new, all-inclusive approach is making waves in cruising.

Travelers have gotten used to all inclusive beach resorts. But in cruising, ‘all inclusive’ has only been found at the very top end of ultra luxury lines with small and mid-sized ships. Silversea, Seabourn, Crystal Cruises, Scenic, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and Atlas Ocean Voyages launching in 2021, are among those ultra-luxury cruise lines that include wine and spirits, gratuities, internet, and in some cases, specialty restaurants, butler service, even flights and shore excursions.

With ‘Always Included’, Celebrity Cruises is knocking on the door of that exclusive club.

In Celebrity’s case, there are additional variations in the all-inclusive experience on the line. ‘Always Included’ is the base level of all-inclusive lifestyle. The ‘Elevate’ package expands to include unlimited premium drinks and adds some shore excursions, while the ‘Indulge’ package tops up ‘Elevate’ even further with unlimited streaming Wi-Fi, as well as onboard spending money. And all guests in the ‘Retreat’ ‘luxury ship within a ship’, all-suite area with private restaurant, lounge, and sundeck, automatically receive ‘Indulge’ level of all-inclusive amenities.

It’s part of Celebrity’s mission to redefine ‘modern luxury’ cruising lifestyle on a big ship level. And it coincides with the launch of the second of its new, 3000-guest ‘Edge’ class of ships. 

The brand-new Celebrity Apex has just arrived in Florida, joining its sister ship the Celebrity Edge. Both are easily recognizable with their distinctive, phenomenal ‘Magic Carpet’ (pictured, top), a cantilevered, bright-orange venue suspended off the side of the ship that travels up and down to different decks, acting as a lounge, restaurant, or even tender embarkation center.

Focus on leading-edge, contemporary design, an upscale, on-trend resort atmosphere and lifestyle that’s now all-inclusive… all combine into Celebrity Cruises’ version of ‘New Luxury’.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Image courtesy Celebrity Cruises.

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30 Years Later: Celebrating One of the Great Monuments to Democracy
This fall, Germany celebrates the 30th anniversary of its reunification. 

It’s hard to believe it was three decades ago that the Cold War came to an end. That from the end of WW2 until 1990, Germany was a divided country, with families and fellow citizens split between democracy in the West and the Soviet Eastern bloc. 

In the heart of Soviet-controlled East Germany, the city of Berlin itself was divided too. The outpost of Western democracy was surrounded on all sides by the East’s barbed wire and armed guards who shot suspected spies or escapees, with the ruthlessly effective – and symbolic - Berlin Wall separating the two sides of the city.

(Top: Historic image from July 1980: A look from West Berlin over the Berlin wall to Brandenburg Gate and East Berlin. Sign with 'Caution: You are leaving West Berlin' in the foreground.)

The Berlin Wall’s photogenic focal point in front of the Brandenburg Gate was where President Reagan gave his historic ‘Tear down this wall’ speech that helped speed the Cold War to an end.

The fall of the Berlin Wall, on November 9, 1989, with unforgettable images and footage of peaceful demonstrations and joyful crowds demolishing the wall by hand, followed by ecstatic reunions across the artificial border ensured the Berlin Wall’s place in legend.

The Brandenburg Gate today. (VisitBerlin/ Dagmar Schwelle)

Within a year – in the fall of 1990 – East and West Germany had disappeared, and one Germany re-united. 
In the 30 years since, historic cities and regions in the formerly cut-off Eastern German states have regained lost ground as tourist attractions – and Berlin has boomed.

Berlin Today


Restored as the capital of a unified Germany, Berlin retains visible memories of its recent and more distant past.
Those interested in WW2 and Cold War history will find a strip of markers in cobblestone that trace the path of the Wall, with one piece remaining at East Side Gallery to remind residents and visitors of its iconic presence. Other chilling history from these world-changing years is preserved in Book Burning Square, the Soviet Memorial, Stasi Museum and Holocaust Memorial (below).

(GNTB /Francesco Carovillano)
3 of Germany’s 41 UNESCO World Heritage Sites are in Berlin, and reflect the layers of Berlin’s many personalities over the centuries:

·      As the name suggests, Museum Island (below) is home to a phenomenal concentration of world-class museums rubbing elbows on an island in the middle of the city. In total, Berlin has 180 museums and more than its share of historic and modern masterpieces.

(GNTB/ Francesco Carovillano)

·      Prussian royalty established their summer palace in Potsdam, where Schloss Sanssouci’s architecture and gardens are awe-inspiring in their elegance, in sharp contrast to downtown Berlin’s urban modernism.

·      Modernist Housing from the 1920’s illustrate Berlin’s role as a leader in global architecture, design, politics and social trends.

Berlin’s tragedies, history of leading new trends, and joyous transition to peaceful reunification in 1990 have all shaped the city you’ll find today.

 (GNTB/Francesco Carovillano)

It has another UNESCO accolade: ‘City of Design’, recognized for creative and tech industries, and its exciting startup culture.
 
Berlin’s celebrated as one of the top cities in the world for innovative electronic music, a wild party and club scene, extravagant street art and pop up installations and sometimes gritty willingness to embrace creativity, innovation and self-expression in virtually any form. 
 
There’s a profound sense of freedom to express and explore new directions in Berlin. The city that completely reinvented itself just 30 years ago continues to invite visitors to discover new facets of themselves.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon

 

 Top image: Getty

All other images courtesy https://www.germany.travel/en/home.html

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KLM has revealed the future of flight. Hint: You'll be sitting IN the wings.
If you’re one of those travelers who always picks a seat over the wing, you’re in luck. In this new-concept aircraft, you – and every other passenger on board – will be flying IN the wings.

They call it the Flying –V. And it’s a whole new vision of passenger flight.

“Tube-and-wing” design has defined planes since the earliest days of passenger flight. Innovative approaches to aircraft design continued in military applications, where flying wing aircraft have established a presence. Now, they’re set to transform commercial passenger flight.

In the Flying-V, the pilots remain in the nose. But behind them, the passenger cabin, cargo hold and fuel tanks are in the wings, resulting in a plane that’s a spectacular V shape. No more tube!

The reason for the Flying –V design is simple: it’s incredibly energy efficient, especially for long-haul flights. KLM, who is partnered with Airbus and the Netherlands’ Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the project, predicts that the improvements in aerodynamics and reduced weight of the design will lower fuel consumption by 20% even over the most fuel-efficient aircraft flying today.

In a further step towards its goal of sustainable flight travel, the company is planning in a further stage to fly the Flying –V on sustainable fuel.


You Could Soon Be Flying On This Futuristic Plane


KLM’s Flying-V represents the most exciting innovation in commercial passenger aircraft design since the now-retired Concorde. That supersonic jet’s distinctive, ‘hawk’s-nose’ design contributed to the ultra-aerodynamic shape that enabled the plane to transport passengers on Trans-Atlantic flights faster than the speed of sound. 

The Flying-V’s design gives it the advantage in distance, not speed. Its fuel efficiency will enable it to fly longer without refuelling. That could mean more ultra-long-haul, non-stop flights.

KLM has now successfully flown a scale model of its Flying-V, but there’s no date for the plane to begin service. Nonetheless, we’ve got some insights about what flying will be like in the Flying-V. 

The innovation partnership compares the Flying-V to Airbus’ current most advanced aircraft, the A350. The Flying-V is not as long as the A350, but it’s the same width, so it fits in existing airport infrastructure like boarding gates and runways and hangars.

The Flying-V will carry the same number of passengers – 314 – as the A350, and the same amount of cargo. But ultimately, it’s a shorter, smaller aircraft. And that contributes to its reduced air resistance and increased fuel efficiency.

The team is taking the opportunity of a new aircraft design to re-imagine the interior of the plane and passenger comfort and on-board experience, too. To maximize the efficiency gains of the outside of the plane, the insides have to be as lightweight as possible. Everything is being re-designed, from the seats and bathrooms to the seating layout in those futuristic wings.

And of course, what’s automatically changed… is the view, from INSIDE the wings.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images courtesy KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
 
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Top 4 Places In The World To Go Hot Air Ballooning
Imagine yourself silently drifting along under colourful silk, cradled in a giant basket. You’re part of the breeze and Nature as you tranquilly float on the air over undisturbed scenery below. Your pilot lets the heat in the balloon drop to silently lower you closer to your birds’ eye view… then lifts you to majestic heights over an unforgettable panorama.
As epic as your photos will be, they will never match the reality of your experience.

If that is your idea of a bucket list trip, here are 4 of the most magical hot air balloon destinations in the world to make that travel dream come true.

 

Cappadocia, Turkey

A hot air balloon ride is so much established as the best way to experience Cappadocia (pictured top), virtually every photo of this region in Turkey features balloons wafting over its legendary chimney rock formations.
 
Millennia past, the limestone rocks near the town of Goreme eroded into a landscape of fairy spires and pillars. Early people carved subterranean villages with homes, churches and monasteries out of the soft stone formations. Possibly inspired by the mystical atmosphere, it became a monastic center 2500 years ago.
 
Extraordinary at ground level, the site is other-worldly from the perspective of a hot air balloon drifting across countless minaret-like formations at sunrise.
 

The Serengeti

Dreaming of an African safari? Make sure to add a hot air balloon ride to your trip of a lifetime to Kenya or Tanzania.
 
Even if you log all of Africa’s ‘Big Five’ list of iconic wildlife that includes the elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and Cape buffalo… as well as other exotic creatures like zebras, giraffes, cheetahs, chimps and gazelles from the back of your guide’s Range Rover, don’t miss the scenes of the Serengeti from the perspective of a hot air balloon.
 
Floating silently – without alerting or disturbing the animals – over the grasslands and canopy gives you the purest way to experience Nature’s wonders below.
 
Take a hot air balloon ride in Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya or the Serengeti National Park across the border in Tanzania between July and October, during the Great migration of gazelles, zebras and wildebeests, and be a witness to the incredible scale of this pre-historic phenomenon.
 

New Mexico

They say it’s the biggest hot air balloon race and festival in the world. For over a week every October, Albuquerque becomes the epicenter of the world of ballooning when it’s taken over by hundreds of hot air balloons during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Whether you’re lucky enough to be in a basket or observing from the ground, you’ll thrill at some of the highlights of the festival. Don’t miss one of the simultaneous ‘mass ascents’ of hundreds of colourful balloons against piercing blue skies. There are even races - although balloons ‘ride the wind’ and therefore travel the same speed as the wind, pilot expertise can influence speed.

Year round, you can hire local hot air balloon pilots for your own ride over the mountain and desert landscape over the Rio Grande Valley.
 

Bagan, Myanmar

Incredibly, there are said to be 5000 temples, monasteries and pagodas built between the 11th and 13th centuries dotting the plains of Bagan. It was the capitol of a number of ancient kingdoms in this South-East Asian country and is a UNESCO World Heritage site today.
 
A sunrise hot air balloon ascent at Bagan gives you a breathtaking vista as the ruins glow golden. 
 
It’s also the best way to get a sense of the astonishing scale of this archaeological wonder and the civilization that created it.

 

#DreamNowTravelSoon

 

Images: Getty

 

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Why This Mexican Mountain Town Keeps Getting Voted 'Best Small City In The World'
When you think of Mexico, famous beach towns may come first to mind.
But Mexico is more than its coasts. And one place, the ‘Heart of Mexico’, half a day’s drive northwest of Mexico City in the Colonial Highlands, has again been named ‘Best Small City in the World’*. It’s just the latest recognition of the charms of San Miguel de Allende. 

6000 feet above sea level in Mexico’s high sierra, with cool, comfortable temperatures and clear mountain air, it’s a far cry from the country’s beach atmosphere – and lifestyle. 

Every winter, Canadians, Americans and Europeans flock to San Miguel. Many have second or permanent homes in the city. And it’s more than climate that draws them. 

World Heritage

Founded in the 1500’s by a Franciscan monk, San Miguel’s core retains its historic streetscape and a sweeping collection of masterpieces of Mexican Baroque architecture – some considered the best in the country.
 
In San Miguel, Spanish colonial, indigenous and Creole influences converged in a melting pot and a truly one-of-a-kind culture that honors both European and Latin American heritage.
 
San Miguel’s colonial center has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More than individual buildings, the entire neighborhood is preserved so that cathedrals and homes, shops, and public buildings are maintained in their original form. The area preserves its heritage status by insisting even commercial signage doesn’t intrude on the historic atmosphere.

History Meets Lifestyle

Part of San Miguel’s charm is that it’s a terrifically walkable city.

Wear sensible shoes to wander cobblestone and flagstone narrow streets lined with tile-roofed homes in brilliant hues of yellows, oranges and reds, the grander architectural marvels that integrate heavy wooden doors, arches and wrought iron, shady parks full of playing children and local food vendors, and plazas that frame architectural delights and provide a gathering place for residents and visitors today.

Cafes and restaurants and vendors line the streets and plazas to fulfill your appetite for a café con leche or simple, inexpensive taco… all the way to inventive international cuisine that caters to the global tastes of San Miguel’s expat community.
Nearly a third of the hotels considered best in Mexico are in San Miguel, including a perennial first place winner, the Rosewood San Miguel with its famous rooftop terrace overlooking the city – especially magical at night when the monuments are lit!

Artists’ Colony

 
It was WW2 that put San Miguel on the map for foreign visitors and residents. After the war, US veterans covered by the GI Bill started coming to the city to study in its noteworthy school of fine arts, the Allende Institute. Artists, musicians, a host of culture creators took root in San Miguel, as well as expats and travelers who supported the growing cultural community.
 
Today, San Miguel still has a famously rich arts scene, based on a critical mass of thriving art galleries, an abundance of live music and theater, and an engaged community that participates and supports the city’s unique creative lifestyle. 
 
That also makes San Miguel a famous shopping destination, especially for modern and folkloric art, so plan ahead with space in your luggage!

Get Out of Town

In the area surrounding San Miguel, you’ll find ranch hacienda wineries and even be able to follow a wine route, discover a village that’s the cradle of Mexican independence and taste its famous ice cream in some unheard-of flavors, relax in natural thermal pools, as well as explore other artists’ colonies and cultural centers with festivals and shows that fill the calendar of residents and visitors to the Mexican Highlands.

 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


*San Miguel de Allende was named “Best Small City in the World” in the 2013, 2017, 2018 and 2020 Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards; over 700,000 readers cast votes pre-COVID to determine 2020's awards.

Images courtesy Visit San Miguel

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3 Hallowe'en Traditions With Roots in Ancient Celtic Ireland
Frightful Hallowe’en is many people’s top holiday of the year – but did you know that we can thank ancient Ireland for our favorite Hallowe’en traditions? 

Travel to Ireland these days, and you’ll still be able to connect with the origins of Celtic culture that still swirl in the mists of time in Ireland’s Ancient East.

Today’s Hallowe’en is the descendent of the Celtic festival of Samhain (Sow-ann). The celebrations included feasting on the harvest and lighting fires to mark the end of the season of light, and welcome the days of darkness.
 
The Irish practice of lighting bonfires began on hilltops in Ireland 3000 years ago, with clans and communities gathering to light huge ceremonial Samhain fires.
One of the biggest Celtic festivals of fire was on a hilltop called Hill of Ward in today’s County Meath. Recent archaeological excavations suggest the hill was used for feasting and celebration over 2,000 years ago. What’s more, it was the grandmother of all fires; old manuscripts reveal that the Celts lit a fire here from which all the fires in Ireland were rekindled.
To this day the area around the Hill of Ward, and the nearby Hill of Tara (pictured above) where the High Kings of Ireland ruled, remains one of the centers of Irish Halloween traditions. Every year, a 21st century celebration of Samhain, called the Púca Festival, is held in the region.

Celebrating Ireland as the birthplace of Halloween, Púca events normally include an impressive re-enactment of the symbolic lighting of the Samhain fire, live music and performance, amazing light installations and more. (This year the celebrations will be virtual, with a broadcast of the lighting of the Samhain fires due to take place on 31 October.)
 

Dress Up

That period of seasonal metamorphosis involved more than changing hours of light and darkness and lighting of fires for the ancient Celts. They believed that the moment of transition allowed the worlds of the living and the dead to interact – and that shape-shifting spirits could move between worlds. Starting to sound familiar?

To avoid being pulled into the netherworld in an untimely way, Celts disguised themselves in costumes. That would create confusion and even scare off any ghosts, fairies, goblins or demons roaming this world.
Hallowe’en dress up today may involve superheroes and video game characters – but its origins lay in deceptive and even frightening disguises.
 

Jack-o-Lanterns

Whatever face you choose to carve into your Hallowe’en pumpkin, you’re following an Irish tradition with New World materials. Before pumpkins existed in Europe, turnips and even large potatoes were hollowed out and carved to serve as lanterns.

Even the name Jack-o-lantern has its origins in and Irish folktale. As the story goes, a man named Stingy Jack played a trick on the Devil, who punished Jack, cursing him to wander all of Eternity with only a burning ember from the everlasting fires of Hell inside a turnip to light his way.

When Irish immigrants brought Hallowe’en traditions, including the jack-o-lantern, with them to North America, they discovered much larger and already-hollowed-out pumpkins and other winter squashes here that made bigger, better and much easier lanterns than turnips! 


Trick or Treat

In old Ireland, it was called ‘souling’. Children and the poor went from door to door, offering songs or prayers for the dead in exchange for money, kindling for fires, or food. The common food treat was a ‘soul cake’: a flatbread that contained fruit.

Today, the Irish celebrate Hallowe’en much like we do, with costumes and visits to neighborhood homes for small gifts of candy, fruit and money.

But as we enjoy activities we see as fun diversions and cute child’s play, we can also remember their mystical origins in ancient Celtic Ireland.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images courtesy Ireland.com

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Explore the Oldest Protected Forest in the Hemisphere
If you haven’t been to the twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, the chance to discover the wonders of the Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve should add it to your Caribbean travel list.

Covering two-thirds of the island, the Reserve dates back to 1776 – the same year as American Independence!

The historic ordinance protecting the tropical rainforest recognized some of the earliest science showing the relationship between abundant trees and the rainfall that contributed to the fertility of the land. It is considered a conservation landmark, with Scientific American noting, “the protection of Tobago's forest was the first act in the modern environmental movement'.

Legacy of Conservation 

Today, the 10,000 acres of prolific tropical rainforest is a dream for naturalists, outdoors enthusiasts and especially bird watchers.  It’s home to dozens of species of mammals, (non-poisonous) reptiles and amphibians, including the ocellated gecko, not found anywhere else in the world.
More than 200 types of birds live in the reserve and you can see many of the colorful winged residents of the rainforest. If you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the White-tailed Sabrewing Hummingbird. It’s one of the world’s rarest hummingbirds and unique to the island of Tobago. Thought at one time to be extinct after a hurricane tore through the region, the species has been recovering since its rediscovery in the 1970’s.

Nature Trails

There are a number of marked trails through the lush and tranquil Reserve. The oldest and most prestigious trail is the Gilpin Trace. Cutting through the heart of the forest, it’s generally flat and accessible to birders, nature lovers and hikers of many levels of fitness. An experienced guide will help you make the most of the sights and sounds of this naturalists’ nirvana.
For more intrepid explorers, turn your sights on the island’s highest point – Pigeon Peak – at the eastern end of the Main Ridge Forest Reserve. In a half-day hike, you can traverse the challenging, overgrown and mostly unmarked trail. The main route follows an old plantation road that cuts along the hillside. Just before a gully, a steep trail leads up into open rainforest towards the summit.
 

Off The Beaten Track

Surprisingly for a nature reserve that’s been voted “World’s Leading Eco-Tourism destination” multiple times, the Main Ridge Forest Reserve still flies under the radar. So it’s the perfect place for an off-the-beaten-track tropical nature holiday.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon

 
Images Courtesy Tobago Tourism; Photo credit: Alexa Fernado

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The Caribbean Gets a New Princess, and She's Enchanted

She’s sailing now en route to the U.S. for an inaugural season cruising Caribbean itineraries.

Princess Cruises’ newly completed Enchanted Princess is a beacon for a return to cruising; one of just a tiny number of ships scheduled to begin service this year that is actually on the water.


Home to over 3600 guests, Enchanted Princess is the 5th Royal class Princess Cruises ship.
Enchanted Princess represents an evolution of the design used for her Royal Class sister ships, even as the ship continues their contemporary flair and style. 
 
With the launch of the new ship, the cruise line has taken the opportunity to introduce new attractions all her own. Guests on the Enchanted Princess will experience delectable, one-of-a-kind dining experiences, the most pools and whirlpool hot tubs ever, world-class entertainment venues and the breathtaking Sky Suites, offering expansive views from the largest balconies at sea.
 

Signature Dining

5 specialty restaurants from gastropub to the culinary styling’s of a Michelin starred chef – plus the ultimate treat: balcony dining – give guests options for every meal of every day.
That’s on top of a host included dining, from the line’s signature partnership with celebrity Chef Curtis Stone’s cuisine in the Main Dining Room, to casual, 24-hour dining for every appetite.
 

A First for Entertainment at Sea

In addition to Broadway Caliber production shows, the antics of Jim Henson’s muppets for the kids and entertainment for every interest in between, Enchanted Princess features Take Five, the only jazz theater at sea, celebrating the iconic sounds, culture and history of jazz.

Sky Suites

First introduced on Sky Princess and now Enchanted Princess, the new luxury Sky Suites ‘crown’ the heights of the ship. These new signature suites host up to 5 guests, who enjoy inclusive amenities, attentive service and a dedicated Suite Experience Manager – not to mention what Princess is calling ‘The Largest Balcony at Sea.’ The furnished outdoor space – even an outdoor fridge and TV along with loungers, day beds, and dining furniture - blurs the distinction between indoor and outdoor living. Guests can even host their own celebrations or catered events on these expansive balconies, as well as have the unique experience of private seating for Princess’ ‘Movies Under the Stars’.
 

MedallionClass Cruising

The new Enchanted Princess joins the fleet of the cruise line’s high-tech ‘MedallionClass’ vessels. The OceanMedallion is an included, wearable device for guests. It enables touchless interactive experiences and entertainment, plus enhancements to your cruising experience like expedited boarding, on-demand food, beverage, retail and service delivery, keyless stateroom entry, contactless payment, handy friends and family locator, and movies/live TV on the go.  
 
Medallion technology empowers guests on the Enchanted Princess to enjoy an effortless, personalized vacation with less time on planning and logistics, and more time connecting to their loved ones and experiencing the things they love most on the newest ship in the Caribbean.

#DreamNowCruiseSoon

 
Images/ Renderings courtesy Princess Cruises
 
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Ah, Venice: Luxurious New River Ship Sailing One of Europe's Most Unique Itineraries Revealed
A passion for style, art, cuisine and living well. Capturing that iconic Italian way of life and the essence of Venice was the goal of the latest ‘Super Ship’ by Uniworld Boutique River Cruises.

The S.S. La Venezia, like all Uniworld ships, is more ‘local boutique hotel’ than ‘river cruise ship’.

We often say that one of the attractions of cruising is your ‘floating hotel’. But Uniworld’s approach takes the destination to heart. Where many river cruise ships are very similar to their sister ships on other rivers, La Venezia, like every Uniworld ship, is a ‘work onto itself’, designed specifically to reflect its Venetian itineraries, just as luxury boutique hotels on land allow guests to be immersed in the essence of their destination.

Every space on La Venezia has been crafted to expressly celebrate Venice, beginning in the lobby, designed to strike a bold resemblance to the dramatic, romantic era of 1930’s Venice.
Throughout the ship, artistic touches are unmistakably Venetian: guests will stroll across marble or brass-inlaid parquet floors. You’ll see echoes of the portico of the canal city’s landmark bridges in the patterns of the fabrics, or a reference to classic Venetian cuisine’s local fish dishes. And of course, the signature craft of Venice, Murano blown glass, appears in swirls and pops of color.

La Venezia’s 4 restaurants and bars bring local gastronomy to life with ingredients sourced straight from Venetian markets. Their names as well as design themes also reflect the city:

·     Rialto’s is the largest dining venue onboard and was inspired by the famous Venice-Istanbul train the Orient Express. Guests dine on traditional Venetian fare in an atmosphere of a bygone era of luxury travel, in charming booth seating, surrounded by intricately etched panels.
·     Hari’s Bar and Lounge allows guests to relax into sumptuously upholstered love seats and enjoy live music, cocktails, and an impressive champagne list, nibble on a selection of traditional paninis and soak in the iconic sights as you sail through Venice.
 
·     La Cantinetta is the most intimate of La Venezia’s venues, offering private dining with expert wine pairing, surrounded by hand-etched glass walls and polished ebonized wood. You’re invited to start your La Cantinetta experience earlier in the day, accompanying the ship’s chef to source ingredients at the city's famous Rialto food market. The chef’s selections of Adriatic seafood, fine Italian cheeses and cured meats and locally grown seasonal produce like asparagus or artichokes are later masterfully prepared in the demonstration kitchen to create a mouth-watering meal of traditional Italian dishes.
 
·     Cielo’s Pizzeria on the Lido di Venezia Deck celebrates pure Italian comfort food, where wood-fired pizzas are served hot from the oven in al fresco dining with the best views of Venice.
 

Experience the Ship’s Design First-Hand

To bring the magic of the world’s most beloved canal city on board, Uniworld turned to local Venetian design house Fortuny, renowned for its handmade fabrics. Fortuny artists have been crafting essential Venetian designs for over a century, and their textile creations are company secrets to this day.

The Fortuny story is so intricately woven into the design of the ship that Uniworld guests will have the exclusive opportunity to visit its private showroom and gardens to learn about the company and its Venetian legacy. 

 

Redefining ‘River Cruising’

Venice is a city of water. La Venezia gives guests the opportunity to discover Venice as she was meant to be experienced – from the water. 

Once she makes her debut in the Spring of 2021, La Venezia will allow guests to uncover the magic of the Venetian Lagoon on a number of itineraries that expand the definition of ‘river cruising’. 

On the ship’s signature, “Venice & the Gems of Northern Italy” itinerary, you’ll be treated to a private opening and lighting ceremony at St. Mark’s Basilica, explore the peaceful canals unique to Venetian islands Burano, Mazzorbo and Torcello, as well as the magnificent cities of Bologna and Padua.
Other itineraries on La Venezia include “Milan, Venice & the Gems of Northern Italy”, “Cruise & Rail: Venice & the Swiss Alps” and “Cruise & Rail: Milan, Venice & the Swiss Alps”.
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images courtesy Uniworld Boutique River Cruises
 
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Sweet Spot: New Chocolate Museum Houses the World's Largest Chocolate Fountain
It’s one part of the great trifecta of iconic Swiss contributions to world culture: precision clocks, alpine-produced cheese… and chocolate.
And now, a new museum celebrates the sweetest thing about Switzerland.
The Lindt Home of Chocolate has opened on the outskirts of Zurich. Its centerpiece will get any fan of fine chocolate drooling – and wishing they had brought a fondue fork!
This isn’t just any chocolate fountain. At 30.5 feet, it easily tops the 27-foot height of the chocolate fountain at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the current Guinness World Record holder for tallest chocolate fountain. 
It isn’t often local tennis great and Lindt brand ambassador, Roger Federer, is upstaged. (He's on the left in both of the photos above.) 
But at the museum’s opening ceremony, all eyes were on the 4850 lb chocolate art installation. More than 300 feet of pipe enable 400 gallons of Swiss chocolate to flow from a giant whisk down over a supersized replica of a signature Lindor truffle sphere.
Beyond the fascination of the world’s largest chocolate fountain, the Lindt Home of Chocolate is an interactive celebration of all things chocolate: multimedia exhibits follow chocolate from the origins of the cocoa bean and its introduction to Europe, where 200 years ago, Swiss pioneers helped develop the confectionary we know, love, and use to mark nearly every holiday occasion today!
It’s a multi-sensory experience. You can marvel at the open-view production line that reveals the secrets behind the process of creating chocolate, and follow it from start to its satisfying conclusion in the tasting room.
Chocolate fans rub shoulders with experts who are developing new chocolate masterpieces in Lindt’s test kitchen, or leading courses in chocolate making for all ages.
The biggest chocolate fountain in the world isn’t the only record breaker in the Lindt Home of Chocolate. Chocoholics will lose themselves among traditional Lindt pralines and treats in the biggest chocolate shop in the world.
But why have the world’s biggest chocolate shop without one-of-a-kind treats? Watch a Master Chocolatier create a chocolate bar customized exactly to your taste and whims. And design your own praline packaging so you’ll have a personalized souvenir for yourself or the perfect Swiss sweet to take home to your loved ones.

#DreamNowTravelSoon


Images courtesy Lindt Home of Chocolate

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Santa's Not Just Making Toys in His Village Above the Arctic Circle in Lapland
It’s exactly 3 months until Christmas, and we know Santa and his elves are working full throttle. But not just putting in overtime in the workshop and training the team for their big flight Christmas Eve. Santa's got a new summer gig.
Finnish Lapland, with its Arctic landscapes, Northern Lights, ancient winter customs and herds of wild reindeer, is a natural bucket-list destination for Christmas lovers.
Santa Claus Village in Finnish Lapland keeps the spirit of the original, Northern European Christmas alive year round. Visitors to Santa Claus Village at the town of Rovaniemi find the essential Yuletide traditions: Santa Claus and his elves in early, Scandinavian garb, a Post Office that receives and answers children’s letters, Mrs. Claus’ house, cold-weather husky puppies, and naturally, Santa’s reindeer.  
(Visit Rovaniemi/ Visit Finland)
The Arctic Circle is painted across the village square and even at night, a light beam tracks through buildings as it passes through the Village (see image below), and you can even get a certificate that attests you’ve crossed into the land of the midnight sun.
(Visit Rovaniemi/ Visit Finland)
The environment in Finland’s far North that nurtures snow-covered terrain and herds of wild reindeer is now also on the list Santa Claus is checking twice.

Santa’s Forest

80 miles/ 130 km north of the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, a new Arctic nature park is taking shape.
Santa Claus Village answered a call for responsible tourism projects with a plan to make the tourist destination carbon neutral over the next five years - while at the same time offering others a way to offset their own carbon footprint. 
The ‘White Beard’, as the Finns call Santa, is spearheading a drive to plant a million trees, beginning in the first, 40-acre park, and ultimately in Santa’s Forests all over the Lapland region of Finland. Visitors to Santa Claus Village and supporters of preserving and restoring Northern eco-systems can sponsor trees and sections of forest.
(Visit Finland)
Summers are busy now for Santa Claus, as trees are planted while the land is free of ice and snow. In addition to creating a permanent carbon sink in Santa Claus country, the project also creates entirely new private nature reserves and support for the regional economy by hiring local young people. 
Santa’s Forests are a new and precious gift from Santa Claus Village to help ensure the world will be able to experience White Christmas for generations to come.

#3MonthsTilXmas

#DreamNowTravelSoon



Top Image: Juho Kuva/Visit Finland

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Mount Fuji and 3 Other Mountains You Need to Visit in Japan

France has the Eiffel Tower. The U.S. has the Statue of Liberty. But the visual shorthand for Japan is not man-made. It’s Mount Fuji.

The Japanese archipelago is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Chains of volcanic mountain ranges form the spine of the Japanese islands, and mountains have assumed immense cultural and spiritual significance over the millennia.

Nearly every population center is associated with one or more mountains, where forests of bamboo, Japanese cypress or maple, and fields of wild flowers like azaleas have provided the Japanese with the opportunity to commune with nature. 

Japanese culture even has a phrase: ‘shinrin-yoku’, or ‘forest bathing’ to describe the national practice of interacting with natural spaces and enjoying physical and spiritual benefits. It’s almost always associated with mountain terrain.

Fuji-San

And the grand-daddy of them all is Mount Fuji. Other peaks have names like Asama-yama, using the word ‘yama’ meaning mountain (in English we’d say: Mount Asama). But you would never say ‘Fuji-yama’. Fuji is an almost human character in the fabric of Japanese culture, and is given the personal honorific title: Fuji-san.
At 3,776 meters (nearly 12,500 ft), its peak is the highest point in the country. Its form is spectacular in almost-perfect volcanic symmetry, dramatically snow-capped nearly half of the year. And unlike many mountains in Japan, Mount Fuji rises from flat plains and so is perfectly framed to be viewed from several stunning vantage points.
Only 100 km (60 miles) south-west of Tokyo, Mount Fuji acquired national significance when early Tokyo became the capital hundreds of years ago. Poetry was written praising its beauty, which was captured by countless generations of Japanese artists. Mount Fuji became one of the earliest images of Japan to other countries and the West. 
Fuji-san is considered a holy mountain in Japan, and for centuries, people have been making pilgrimages to the summit. 
Hundreds of thousands of Japanese climb Fuji every year, and many visitors to the country join them. There are a number of trails to the summit. They all have 10 stations, and most people start at the 5th station, the last point where vehicles can reach.
You can look at hiking Mount Fuji from a purely active-travel point of view, to say you’ve done it, and to enjoy the experience and the view from the top.
But to make the climb the spiritual experience the Japanese seek, do as most Japanese do, which is make the 7-hour or so climb during the night to be at the summit as the first, pure rays of the sun illuminate the peak. Sun rise is symbolic in Japanese culture (the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’). 
The spiritual approach adds meaning to the historic shrines and teahouses, stone monkey guards at the entrance of the main, Yoshida trail, and the monuments at each historic station on the way up erected by followers of the local, Fuji-ko faith.
 

Mount Asama, Nagano

It’s one of Japan’s most active volcanoes. You can almost always see smoke curling into the air from Mount Asama, in the Northern Japanese Alps in the prefecture that hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics. 
A bonus of a hike up Mount Asama is that most people start from the chic, forested, summer-retreat town of Karuizawa. Japan’s Imperial Family have their summer home there, and other elite Japanese have followed their lead, making it a stylish vacation destination as well as a cool retreat from sweltering summer heat in nearby Tokyo.
The 4 hour climb to the summit takes you through cool, dense forests in the lower ranges, then above the tree line where the view opens up in a spectacular way. After your hike, an outdoor natural hot springs located at the trailhead is the perfect way to ease any climbing aches away in the fresh mountain air at 2000 meters (6500 feet)!

One of the most unforgettable experiences at Mount Asama is in the wake of its massive, 1783 eruption. In addition to a Buddhist temple in memory of those who perished, the lava field is now a park. It is like a sci-fi movie set, where trails take you through a ‘forest’ of stark and jagged lava formations and superb views of the volcano in the background. The park is memorably named Onioshidashi, ‘The Place Where the Devils Emerged from the Earth’.

Shiretoko Mountains, Hokkaido 

While the southern parts of Japan are tropical, its northern island prefecture, Hokkaido, is more like Russia and Alaska at similar distances above the equator. 
The Shiretoko Mountains are the feature of a National Park known for its unspoiled beauty, variety of wildlife and its drifting sea ice where visitors can take ice walk tours in winter. As sea ice drifts along the peninsula, brave visitors walk along a seeming conveyor belt of ice - with a few polar dips in between!
The park itself is dotted with hot springs. One very special hot spring phenomenon is Kamuiwakka Hot Waterfall, a unique cascade of hot water at the river’s head that can only be reached by foot. Visitors wade through warm water that increases in temperature higher up the river. Walking over waterfalls and upstream feels like discovering unexplored, mystical emerald-green terrain, and your final reward is the source of this hot shower called ‘Water of the Gods’ in the local indigenous Ainu language.
 

Mount Aso, Kumamoto 

Japan’s largest active volcano looks downright tame, covered in a smooth rolling layer of green felt. Mount Aso’s 100km (60 mile) caldera is one of the world’s largest, and there are several smaller volcanoes inside.
Like most active Japanese volcanoes, you need to check before you go if you hope to climb. Mount Aso’s peaks are occasionally closed due to volcanic activity. Helicopter tours are a popular way to view the steaming crater. And the nearby Aso Volcano Museum explains the volcano’s activity and its status in Japan as a deity.
A bonus of a trip to the area is the chance to see local Akaushi cattle, prized for their high-quality wagyu (‘Kobe beef’), freely roaming the plains. It’s one of the few places in Japan where you can go horseback riding, along trails that ribbon the picturesque landscape. You might be a little sore after your ride, but no worries, because the volcanic activity means the area has many hot springs Two are inside Mount Aso’s crater itself! 

 

Japanese, like mountain cultures the world over, associate peaks, fresh mountain air, and outdoor activity with purity and good health. In the aftermath of a global pandemic, mountain escapes have a special resonance. A trip to Japan focusing on its revered alpine experiences is a spiritual and wellness journey for the times.


#DreamNowTravelSoon


Mount Fuji images courtesy of JNTO;
Mount Asama image courtesu of JNTO;
Kumiwakka courtesy of JNTO;
Mount Aso image: Tom Vining, Unsplash

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Cruising Again by November? Industry Association Lays Out Formula to Start Sailing

You might be on a cruise in the Caribbean before the holidays.

Cruising in the Americas – that’s the cruise region for the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America - could begin again in about a month’s time, if significant industry developments this week bear fruit.

Testing the Waters in Europe

Any regular reader of our newsletters will know we’ve been following the slow progress of cruising’s return.
In the Spring in response to the pandemic, Europe-based cruise lines repatriated their ships to home waters. Then, after COVID peaked there in the summer, they successfully began ‘bubble’ cruises for their own citizens in very controlled circumstances which provided real-life case studies. 
European cruise lines like MSC Cruises, Ponant, Seadream and others have now been sailing safely in Europe for weeks.
Europe’s cruise lines have not only proven it’s possible, their return-to-cruising experiences have paved the way for the largest cruise market in the world to see a restart of cruising too.

2 Moves Closer to Cruising at Home

This week, two things happened on this side of the Atlantic.
1. Members of the cruise industry association representing 95% of ocean cruises unanimously agreed to adopt a set of mandatory protocols for safe sailing. Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) members include European cruise lines, whose successful experiences this summer – shared throughout the industry – helped inform a new set of rules all members have now adopted.
CLIA’s protocols also included the findings of an unprecedented collaboration between two of cruising’s giants. Royal Caribbean Group (parent to Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara and Silversea) and Norwegian Cruise Holdings (parent to Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas Cruises) convened a joint ‘Healthy Sail Panel’ of medical and scientific experts. The panel has spent months determining a list of 74 best practices to protect the health and safety of ship guests, crew, and the communities where cruise ships call in port. 
2. This week, the Healthy Sail Panel submitted those findings to the U.S. CDC in response to its request for input as it considers whether to lift its ‘No Sail Order’ currently in place for all U.S. ports.
With such strong submissions and the precedent of safe sailing in Europe, it’s widely hoped and expected the CDC will lift its No Sail Order, clearing a path for US-based cruise lines to resume operations after the end of October.

A Travel Industry First: 100% Testing


The core elements adopted by all CLIA members encompass your entire cruise experience from booking to debarkation following your cruise, and include:
  • Testing: 100% testing of passengers and crew for COVID-19 prior to embarkation.
  • Distancing: Physical distancing in terminals, onboard ships, on private islands and during shore excursions.
  • Masks: All passengers and all crew must wear masks when physical distancing isn’t possible.
  • Ventilation: New strategies to increase fresh air onboard and implement enhanced filters and other technologies to reduce airborne virus spread.
  • Shore Excursions: Passengers will have to follow prescribed protocols, and re-boarding will be denied for any passengers that do not follow the rules.
  • Medical Capability: Every ship will allocate stateroom capacity to allow for isolation if people do get sick, and will have advance plans in place for shoreside quarantine, medical assistance and safe transportation.

“A pathway for the return of limited sailings from the U.S. before the end of this year.”

That’s what CLIA says these new agreed-upon protocols mean. The organization also notes that initially, following CDC approval of the new safety measures, cruises would sail on modified itineraries.
Regional cruise destinations will have to be on board too, and the new protocols are getting positive feedback from officials in your favorite cruise ports.   
The Prime Minister of Barbados co-chairs the Americas Cruise Tourism Task Force and said: “The cruise lines’ commitment to conduct 100% testing for all passengers and crew is significant and unique as compared to any other sector. Having this core element in place adds a layer of confidence for us so we may safely welcome cruising back.”
 

#WeWillCruiseAgainSoon

 
By: Lynn Elmhirst, Producer/Host and Cruise Expert, BestTrip TV
 
Top Image: Oceania
Other images courtesy CLIA

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3 New, Impossibly Picturesque Boutique Hotels That Make it Easy to Dream About Your Next Trip to Europe

France. Italy. Spain. If you’re imagining traveling again to Europe, you’ll have no problem picturing yourself in any of three independent boutique hotels that have just opened in spectacular historic properties.

All three belong to the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group of over 500 independent and unique hotels in 90 countries. They all have special character and offer themes that are even more relevant in the new world of travel: small size, privacy, and locations that allow guests to get away from crowds of tourists. 


Milan, Italy

Galleria Vik Milano is part hotel, part post-modern art gallery, immersing guests in Milan’s rich artistic heritage. With bold murals, striking sculptures and a colourful palette, this 88-room hotel is a canvas for Milan’s creative side.


The hotel is located inside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and is circled by Milan’s best-loved shops, landmarks, restaurants and galleries. Get your culinary, cultural or couture fix – it’s all literally on your hotel doorstep – then easily escape into your lifestyle hotel.


Both guest rooms and public areas are exhibition spaces with each bearing the hallmark of a renowned artist. Two restaurants, one with dawn-to-dusk food and drinks, the other dedicated to wood-fired pizza, complete your escape from the busy urban surroundings. Fully committed to the marriage of art and life, the hotel has no TV’s or screens. 

Don’t-miss feature: The Adriano Pompa Gallery Suite offers a mezzanine-level bed beneath a Renaissance-esque mural.


Loire Valley, France

If you’ve ever imagined living like the nobility of old France in their chateaux in the Loire Valley, that dream can become a reality in this 49-room hotel. While Les Sources de Cheverny (pictured, top) evokes historic times, guests enjoy modern comforts of luxury French country life.


Everything from the local produce served in the restaurant, the artisanal wooden WaterRower fitness machines, the solid oak jacuzzi and thermal pool, to the antioxidant and anti-aging grape seed extracts of Caudalie’s signature treatments in the Spa des Sources complements the surrounding farms, vineyards and the estate’s 45 hectares of woodland.
 
Here guests can rejuvenate in the spa, inspire energy with a forest-based yoga session, bathe in nature and feed their minds.

Don’t-miss feature: Discover the region on the Loire à Velo cycle route with the hotel’s complimentary bikes. Meander through more than 900km of cycle paths through Loire vineyards, along the banks of the river and past the region’s glorious Renaissance chateaux.


Matarraña, Spain

Torre del Marques is a 15th-century farmhouse that has been brought back to life for the 21st-century and beyond. The intimate, 18-room hotel is in 150 hectares of forest, farmland and vineyards in Aragon, a region of Spain. While it’s easily accessible from Barcelona, many tourists have yet to discover the area sometimes referred to as the ‘Spanish Tuscany’.


Guests of the hotel can enjoy the bounties of the region, including local delicacies surrounded by the gardens and groves that provide them - olives, almonds, honey and black truffles are showcased on the menu alongside local wines like Tempranillo and grape must Mistella.


The hotel has undergone a bio-sustainable makeover with families and small groups in mind. The Suite Room spaciously accommodates four people with two connecting rooms and an outdoor terrace.
 Don’t-miss feature: the organic, ‘zero-kilometre’ restaurant.
 

We can picture a dream escape in luxury to one of Europe’s most beloved destinations in any of these three new boutique hotels.

 

#DreamNowTravelSoon

 
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Roundup of the NEW, COVID Insurance Options for Canadian Travellers

In less than a month, the landscape for Canadian travellers has been transformed.

Back in March, the COVID-19 virus was determined to be a ‘known factor’ and so it was no longer covered by regular travel medical insurance policies. Since then, Canadians who have wanted to travel have not had coverage for expenses incurred if they contracted the virus while abroad.

All that changed just a couple of weeks ago. With much of the world learning to manage the pandemic, and commonly-accepted safety practices to help prevent the spread of the virus, one of the next key events necessary for a resumption of travel happened:

Travel medical insurance covering Canadians in the unlikely event they contract the virus away from home.

Once the first company announced coverage, it became a landslide. At press time, there are now no fewer than 6 options for Canadians to ensure they’re covered.  Here are the highlights:

Air Canada Vacations: 1st COVID Travel Insurance in Canada – With Limits

Air Canada’s packaged vacation division, Air Canada Vacations created headlines when it announced it would be including free-of-charge insurance for its guests against medical and quarantine expenses related to contracting COVID-19 while travelling.
ACV’s coverage is for up to 21 days and applied only to ACV air + hotel packaged holidays to specific destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean this fall and winter. The initiative is in partnership with global insurance giant Allianz and the program ends in April. 
While not the first globally to offer COVID-19 insurance, it was a breakthrough moment for the Canadian travel industry.
It wasn’t hard to predict Air Canada Vacations’ bold move would start a trend.

WestJet: 1st COVID Insurance Available on Air-Only Bookings to Specific Destinations

Air Canada’s rival WestJet then upped the ante, offering its air-only passengers – not just vacation package guests - no-charge COVID-19 insurance lasting up to 21 days through its provider TuGo.
WestJet’s COVID insurance covers travel to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Europe including the UK. 
And while the first two programs provide coverage on reservations through April, WestJet’s program runs to the end of August 2021.

Manulife: 1st For-Purchase COVID Coverage in a Standard Travel Medical Insurance Policy

Canada’s largest provider of travel insurance announced its ‘COVID-19 Pandemic Travel Plan’ launching in October. Manulife adds COVID coverage to its standard emergency travel medical policy, with specific additional coverage for COVID-19 medical care and out-of-country quarantine expenses. 
It will be available for Canadian travellers to purchase prior to travelling within our borders as well as internationally, including to destinations with a Level 3 Travel Advisory.

Air Canada: follows West Jet, Offering No-Charge COVID Insurance for Air-Only International Travellers

Now both of Canada’s major airlines include COVID insurance for Canadians who purchase flights on either carrier – at no cost to the passengers.
Although Air Canada Vacations’ COVID insurance is provided by Allianz, the airline is providing its air-only passengers with coverage through Manulife. The insurance applies to round-trip, international air bookings made until October 31st with travel by April 12, 2021.
In addition to coverage for medical treatment and quarantine expenses, Air Canada’s air-only COVID insurance also covers up to $500 CDN for unexpected costs of returning home if the Canadian government travel advisory level in your destination goes from Level 3 to Level 4 while you’re there.

Sunwing: Matching Competitors in No-Charge Coverage

Air-only, as well as beach vacation package travellers with Sunwing, receive coverage included with their bookings made by October 31st, for travel between October 16th this year and May 31st, 2021.
It’s also similar to other options for Canadian travellers, offering coverage for trips up to 21 days for medical, quarantine, transfer and trip interruption costs due to COVID-19 and pandemic-related travel advisory changes.
In addition, Sunwing insurance coverage is supported by medical assistance at all Sunwing resorts, and the company points out, “As the only travel provider that owns the airline its customers fly on, the transfer buses that travel to and from hotels, as well as over 30 hotels throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico, Sunwing’s commitment to safety spans across every step of the travel process.”

Comparing COVID Insurance: Apples to Oranges

All of the travel companies have implemented expansive new health and safety protocols on their own aircraft and with land partners. Their insurance provides coverage for medical expenses, quarantine expenses, some travel and even repatriation of remains due to contracting the COVID-19 virus while traveling.
But not all of these options are the same, and making good choices when you’re choosing to travel and choosing the best insurance option can make a big difference if you do get sick while you’re away.
Questions you should discuss with your Travel Advisor to help determine which of the COVID-19 insurance options available suit your travel needs best:
·     Is this available only a package (air + hotel) or will I have the coverage if I book air only?
·     How much coverage does this offer in dollar terms? Is that enough for where I’m travelling?
·     What are the limitations of coverage? Potential travellers should note that travel to some destinations – including the USA - may not be covered.
·     Am I personally eligible for coverage? 
·     How long am I covered for? Snowbirds looking to spend months in the sun need to look closely at the duration of coverage. 
·     When does this coverage end? Different policies require you to travel before a certain date.

Insuring a Return to Travel

The travel landscape keeps changing, but it’s safe to say that there will continue to be MORE insurance options for Canadians hoping to travel in the coming months. It’s a key piece of the puzzle to give Canadians confidence when they travel. 
We are all still waiting for a COVID immunization option to become available, and when it does, future travel insurance coverage - or even entry visas to certain countries - may require proof of COVID immunization.

While some Canadians may still not feel comfortable travelling yet, like any other travel/medical insurance, COVID-19 insurance is a responsible way for people who choose to travel to be protected against unforeseen expenses. 

#SafeTravelsSoon

 
 
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Seize the End of Summer with Recipes Inspired by Favorite American Hot Weather Travel Destinations

The kids are back to school (whatever that looks like this year for your nearest and dearest), but on the calendar, summer isn’t quite over – yet. The Autumn Equinox – the first day of Fall – arrives this year on Tuesday September 22, so we still have a couple more weekends of ‘summer’.


You may not have done all the traveling you wanted this summer, but you can catch up now in spirit. Serve up an celebration of summer travel with a party in your backyard full of summer flavors from beloved American hot weather destinations.



1. Pensacola, Florida: Grits à Ya Ya

Along Florida’s Northwest Coast, Pensacola is home to The Fish House, the restaurant behind the unique and delicious Grits à Ya Ya, created by Chef Jim Shirley. A combination of grits, a southern staple, heavy cream and lots of smoked gouda cheese, this is comfort food like no other. This delicious dish is sure to be a hit with your guests!

“In 1998 I developed this Fish House favorite during the Mardi Gras season. Mardi Gras, properly celebrated, can sometimes last for days. Recognizing the toll this marathon celebration had on my friends, I created this fare that not only provided sustenance but tasted great, too. Since then we've whomped up hundreds of thousands of dishes of my favorite child. Enjoy it at home with this recipe.”

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

The smoked Gouda Grits

1 quart chicken stock

1 cup heavy cream

1 lb Dixie Lily grits

1/4 pound butter

1 lb shredded smoked Gouda cheese

The Ya Ya

8 strips applewood-smoked bacon, diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced shallots

3 tablespoons butter

White wine

1 lb peeled and deveined jumbo shrimp

1 portobello mushroom cap, sliced

1/4 cup diced scallions

2 cups chopped fresh spinach

2 cups heavy cream

3 cups smoked Gouda cheese grits

PREPARATION

*For dietary restrictions or preferences, you can make this recipe shellfish-free if you replace the shrimp with 1½ lbs of an assortment of your favorite mushrooms, chopped.


First, make your grits. Run the chicken stock into a thick-bottomed saucepan and turn on high till it boils. Mix in the grits and stir like crazy. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cream if you need more liquid. Then tumble in the butter, add creamed corn, drizzle in the rest of the cream and stir till it’s all in the family. Then shake in the shredded cheese and stir very well till it’s all nice and smooth.

While your grits cook, bring a large saucepan to medium heat. Add bacon and cook for about 3 minutes, then add garlic and shallots. Saute and then add butter and a splash of white wine. When butter is half melted, add the shrimp. When the downsides of the shrimp become white, flip them and add mushrooms, scallions and spinach. Saute for 2 minutes. Remove the shrimp. Pour in heavy cream and let simmer while stirring. When reduced by 1/3, add salt, pepper and hot sauce. Return shrimp to sauce and combine. Spoon the sauce and shrimp onto heaping mounds of cheese grits.


2. San Antonio, Texas: Seafood and Quail Paella

This 300-year old city that originated as a Spanish mission and colonial outpost is now the second-largest city in Texas and the Southern US.


It’s one of only two American cities designated a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy and it’s easy to see why. If you're in the mood for some ‘Tex-Next’ dining, this seafood and quail paella - a twist on the traditional Spanish dish in an ode to the city’s heritage - created by Chef Steve McHugh of Cured should hit the spot.


“Experience the taste of Spain, with a San Antonio flavor in your own kitchen. This paella is meant to be enjoyed with family, friends and good wine.”


Serves 20

INGREDIENTS

1 ¼ cups extra virgin olive oil

Healthy pinch of saffron

Healthy pinch of red pepper flakes

Healthy pinch of paprika

2 lbs quail legs

2 lbs smoked Spanish chorizo

4 tablespoons shaved garlic

1 diced & roasted red pepper

1 sliced jalapeño

2 cups Sofrito

3 cups escargot

4 cups mussels

3 cups large shrimp

8 cups Bomba rice

4 quarts chicken stock

Salt

Pepper

Large cooked white beans

Pickled serrano peppers

½ cup preserved lemon rind, sliced thin

½ cup peas

Pea sprouts

PREPARATION

*Although paella traditionally includes and is most delicious with seafood, for dietary restrictions or preferences, you may wish to switch out the shellfish with cubed chicken and chunks of your favorite barbecuing sausage.


Heat your oil in the Paella pan. Sauté the chorizo and the quail. Turn the heat down to medium, add the saffron, red pepper flakes, garlic, red pepper, Sofrito and jalapeño. Sweat the vegetables until they are translucent in color. Add in Bomba rice, mix well. Add mussels, and shrimp. Arrange the ingredients in a nice pattern across your entire paella. Add in chicken stock, and allow to simmer until the rice is cooked, and most liquid is gone. Continue cooking until the bottom of the paella forms a Socarrat, or crust (this is the key to a delicious paella!).

FINISH & SERVE

Garnish the top with preserved lemon, pickled serrano peppers, white beans, peas and pea shoots. Serve hot to your loved ones.

Share your finished product using #TexNext and tag @visitsanantonio!


3. Hawaii: The Mai Tai

Often mistaken as Hawaiian, tiki is actually imaginary, made of a collection of romanticized concepts of Polynesian and South Seas culture, including humanoid teak carvings, coconut shell bikini tops, grass skirts, pineapples… and powerful cocktails featuring pineapple, coconut, rum, and other tropical flavors. Tiki and tiki bars have become shorthand for ‘Pacific Island getaway’ and they abound in Hawaii.


A staple in any tiki bar, the Mai Tai is the perfect Summer drink - or your drink of choice during a visit to America’s Pacific island state. You’ll be carried to Hawaii’s clear blue waters after your first sip of this fruity concoction.


Serves 1

INGREDIENTS:

1 oz spiced rum

1 oz coconut rum

1 tsp grenadine syrup

2 oz pineapple juice

2 oz orange juice


PREPARATION

Combine the rums, grenadine, and juices in a cocktail mixer with ice. Shake and strain into a glass of ice. *Party Tip: make these up a pitcher at a time with a bucket of ice and garnish handy.

SERVE

Garnish with wedges of fresh pineapple on a skewer topped with a cherry.

With these 3 recipes delivering up the taste of travel for a late-summer get together, dress in your most festive summer wear, soak up the last of the season’s sun, and enjoy, dreaming of your next summer weather vacation.

#TravelAgainSoon

Recipes and images courtesy of

· Visit Florida

· Travel Texas

· Hawaii Tourism

· And the respective restaurants/chefs referenced.



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Well, We Aren't Going to Miss This.  Major US Airlines Drop Most-Hated Fee
The first announcement was a bombshell. Then, like dominoes, they all fell.
United Airlines started the landslide when it revealed it was dropping change fees - forever.

Why?

Air passengers in the US dropped to below 100,000 a day at the peak of the pandemic travel shutdown – recovering to 10 X that number over the last month, which is still only a drop in the bucket of pre-COVID air travel rates. Something had to give.
Change fees – at United, it cost $200 to change a domestic booked ticket, plus any difference between the prices of the tickets – have been controversial.
When it made the announcement, United admitted change fees were the top requested improvement in customer service. And it made a commitment to find new ways to serve its customers better as a way to emerge stronger from the crisis.

Change at United Airlines

The airline is immediately and permanently dropping Economy and Premium ticket change fees for travel in the U.S. There are no limits on the number of times you can make changes.
Beginning in the New Year, you can fly standby on any flight on the day of your original flight for free. It applies to all types of tickets and class of service - a first among U.S. carriers - and it applies to all flights both inside U.S. and to and from international destinations. 
United is also extending its waiver for new tickets issued through December 31, 2020, to permit unlimited changes with no fee. It applies to all ticket types issued after March 3, 2020 and is valid for both domestic and international travel.
United’s move started a domino effect as the carrier’s U.S. competitors scrambled to match its move.

Delta Airlines

Delta quickly chimed in with its own, similar announcement.
Since March and the tsunami of COVID-related cancellations, it’s waived change fees. Now, the $200 domestic change fee is cancelled for good except for Basic Economy tickets.
However, the airline will continue to permit no-charge changes for all tickets including even Basic Economy, both domestic and international, through the end of the year.

American Airlines

Simultaneously with Delta, American Airlines fell in line, too. In its case, permanently-waived change fees apply to domestic as well as short-haul international flights, for premium cabin and most – but not all – main cabin tickets. Fliers will have to pay any difference in fares, but American will refund the difference as a voucher if the changed flight fare comes in lower than your original flight.
American mirrored United and Delta’s new policies of allowing booked passengers to fly standby anytime on the day of their flight for free.
In addition, American said even Basic Economy ticket holders would now be able to purchase upgrades, priority boarding, preferred seating and confirmed same-day flight changes

Alaska Airlines

Then Alaska Airlines followed suit. In this carrier’s case, it had been charging less - only $125 change fees - but moving forward will charge no change fees on all domestic – or international – tickets.
In addition, the airline is extending its flexible travel policy for all newly-booked tickets through the end of the year – including its lowest-cost Saver tickets.

Then There Were 5

Now, 5 major US airlines are not charging controversial change fees.
Consumer favorite Southwest airlines has never charged for ticket changes. 
Unlike the other major airlines, Southwest resisted padding its bottom line with surcharges that used to be included in all airline ticket fares, and earned a lot of customer loyalty in return.
So travelers may see more sweetening of flight fees yet, if Southwest feels pressured to re-establish its leadership in value.

Not Onboard - Yet

While the flurry of announcements in the US did away with one of the most disliked surcharges in travel applied by its major airlines, outside of the States… crickets.
So far, no airline outside the US, including carriers in Canada, have joined the major US airlines in permanently dropping fees to boost bookings or become more competitive. (Many are temporarily ‘waiving’ change and cancellation fees relating to flights cancelled due to the pandemic and travel bans. But a return to change fees hangs over passengers’ heads.)
These recent announcements could still transform the entire North American and global air travel landscape, however. 
For example, both United and Air Canada are members of Star Alliance. And Air Canada’s loyalty program Aeroplan members can accumulate points flying on United. Those fliers may opt for United itineraries to their destination for the flexibility to change their plans at no cost.
So even airlines outside the US may find themselves under pressure to match these new policies and drop some surcharges, or risk seeing passenger ‘flight’ to competing brands.
In The Big Picture: This development may make flying domestically or even internationally more affordable and appealing to travelers making plans to take off on a post-COVID trip soon.

#WeWillTravelAgain


Image courtesy United Airlines.

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Meet the Luxury, All-Inclusive Expedition Cruise Line Launching Soon - Yes, during COVID
Meet the Luxury, All-Inclusive Expedition Cruise Line Launching during COVID
 

You might call it bucking a trend.

 

Atlas Ocean Voyages is debuting, even during the global pandemic that currently has all cruises put on pause.

The new cruise line’s first ship is ahead of schedule to launch in July 2021. World Navigator will be the first of 5 new ships for the new cruise line. All 5 ships will be sailing by 2023


Adventure meets Luxury

Atlas Ocean Voyages ticks all the boxes for lovers of exploring off-the-beaten-track destinations accessible by the world’s seas and oceans. And who want their creature comforts along with that authentic adventure and ability to experience destinations like few others with as much or as little active adventure you’re comfortable with.
In addition to city and cultural tours, imagine yourself:
·     desert glamping in the breathtaking red sandstone ancient city of Petra;
·     body rafting in the Republic of Georgia;
·     tandem paragliding in Greece;
·     and even a rare (but very safe!) tour of the infamous Chernobyl on the new cruise line’s Black Sea itineraries!
 

Perfect for the Post-COVID World and Lovers of Luxury – and the Environment

 
Atlas points out its ships that are brand-new ‘fresh out of the wrapper’ with all of the most-modern hygiene and cleanliness measures incorporated into the design during construction – no retrofitting for the post-COVID world.
 
  • Safe, clean and green expedition ships, beginning with 2021’s World Navigator, carry up to 196 guests and feature
  • 98 luxe suites and staterooms,
  • all with an ocean view and most with a private balcony,
  • multiple dining and sipping venues,
  • a mud room for small-boat embarkation,
  • jogging track and exercise room,
  • pool/spa,
  • outdoor viewing with heated seating,
  • theatre
and more.
The company promises the highest standards in environmental stewardship with the latest hybrid power management and propulsion system, maximizing fuel efficiency and consuming as low as one-fifth the fuel compared to conventional cruise-ship systems. The ship’s alternate hydro-jet propulsion system helps the ship quietly cruise up to five knots without disturbing marine wildlife for incomparable up-close encounters.
 

One of the most inclusive cruise lines

In one way, Atlas Ocean Voyages is following a trend. When it launches in 2021, the new cruise line joins a club of small-ship, luxury cruise lines that are all-inclusive. 

The inclusions are impressively comprehensive, and incorporate expedition cruising amenities:
·     Intercontinental, round-trip airfare: all sailings, suites and staterooms from select U.S. and Canadian gateways
·     Prepaid gratuities
·     Open bar & lounges with complimentary spirits, fine wines, and champagnes, mineral water and specialty coffees
·     Gourmet international cuisine in more than one dining venue, plus 24-hour-in-room service
·     Enrichment programs led by onboard experts
·     Nightly entertainment
·     Complimentary WIFI throughout the ship
·     Elegant, boutique hotel-style accommodations offering L’Occitane bath amenities and coffee and tea service
·     Butler service for suites
·     A complimentary excursion on every itinerary in select ports
·     As an expedition cruise line, Atlas also includes binoculars in every room as well as parkas (where applicable) for guests to take home and waterproof boots for use ashore.

 

An Incredible Inaugural Year of Itineraries: World Navigator Sailing in 2021

  • 7- to 24-night itineraries in the Holy Land, Black and Mediterranean Seas in the summer 2021,
  • followed by 9- to 13-night itineraries in the Caribbean, South America and Antarctica in winter 2021/22
 

Black Sea: Summer, 2021

World Navigator will sail two Black Sea Rediscovery itineraries that deliver the colors of this historic crucible of trade for Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East. The July 28, 2021, seven-night voyage from Athens (Piraeus) transits the Dardanelles and Bosporus straits and will call at Ephesus (Kusadasi); Nessebar, Bulgaria; and Bucharest (Constanta), Romania. The voyage concludes with two consecutive overnights in Odessa, Ukraine, known for its beaches and 19th-century architecture. However, guests also can launch into unconventional adventures, such as an optional and spine-tingling, two-day overland tour to the infamous and other-worldly Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
The following nine-night voyage, departing August 4, circumnavigates the Black Sea for a more in-depth exploration of the region, with calls at Novorossiysk, Russia – from where guests have the option to visit Moscow; Batumi, Georgia; and Sinop and Amasra, Turkey. The voyage features an overnight in Sochi, Russia and also concludes with an overnight in Istanbul, Turkey. Travelers with more time can combine both voyages into an extended, 16-night Black Sea odyssey.
 

Holy Land: August-September, 2021

Guests will discover or rediscover the ancient crossroads of civilization when sailing aboard one of World Navigator’s three Holy Lands voyages. All itineraries feature overnights in Jerusalem (Haifa) and Masada (Ashdod), more combined overnights in Israel than traditional cruise itineraries. With four nights, guests can experience both Jerusalem and the must-see highlights of the region, as well as join in an optional adventure experience such as an overnight at a kibbutz, a Bedouin camp, and even the historic archeological site of Petra in Jordan.
The first 15-night voyage begins on August 13 with an overnight in Istanbul and includes calls at eight Turkish ports (Troy/Gallipoli, Bozcaada, Dikili, Ephesus, Bodrum, Marmaris, Fethiye, and Kekova Island), as well as Patmos, Greece, and Paphos, Cyprus. A shorter, nine-night voyage, departing August 28, begins with the Jerusalem and Masada overnights, and includes Egyptian-ports Cairo (Port Said) and Alexandra, as well as Heraklion, Greece, and Limassol, Cyprus. The subsequent 12-night, Athens-roundtrip voyage, departs September 6, and enhances the previous itinerary with additional calls at Ephesus (Kusadasi); Rhodes (Lindos) and
replaces Limassol with Paphos.
 

Italian, French and Spanish Rivieras: Autumn, 2021

World Navigator will sail two seven-night Mediterranean voyages, departing September 18 and September 25, when the climate is perfect and fewer visitors crowd the streets. The first itinerary focuses on Southern Italy and sails from Athens (Piraeus) to Rome (Civitavecchia). Guests will transit and wonder at the claustrophobic narrows of the Corinth Canal and call at Delphi (Itea) and Olympia (Katakolon), Greece; and Taormina Etna (Naxos), Paestum (Agropoli), Ravello (Amalfi), Positano, and Naples/Pompeii, Italy. The second itinerary sails from Rome to Lisbon, Portugal, calling at Florence (Livorno), Italy; Marseilles, France; Barcelona, Valencia and Malaga, Spain; and Gibraltar, U.K.
 

Antarctica and South America: November, 2021 – February 2022

Two longer journeys, each a distinctive, 12-night, round-trip itinerary from Ushuaia, expand guests’ Antarctica adventure. The November 28, 2021, journey will bring guests within the umbra of the Moon on December 4, for a rare, Antarctic-solar eclipse of the sun. Guests also visit the South Shetland Islands, Paulet Island and Brown Bluff, as well as make three landings in the South Georgia and Sandwich Islands. On the February 2, 2022, departure, guests visit all the planned landings as the nine-night itinerary, plus navigate across the Antarctic Circle in pursuit of marine wildlife-spotting for two additional days. Guests will be able to see Antarctic wildlife closer from World Navigator’s Water’s Edge Lookout, the lowest expedition ship’s bow observation area in the industry and the only one with wrap-around, heated benches for extended time out on deck.
World Navigator also will embark on an eight-night Argentine Patagonia and Falkland Islands itinerary, departing November 11, 2021, from Montevideo, Uruguay, to Ushuaia. Guests call at Buenos Aires, Puerto Madryn and Port Stanley, U.K. and explore one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems to catch sightings of sea lions, seals, whales, dolphins, and up to five distinct penguin species – King, Magellanic, Gentoo, Rockhopper and Macaroni – along the way.
We’re excited to see the debut of the World Navigator in July, 2021 and the launch of this new, luxury, small-ship, all-inclusive cruise line exploring the world in luxury, expedition style. 
 

#DreamNowTravelSoon

 
Images courtesy Atlas Ocean Voyages
 
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Post-COVID's Biggest Travel Trend is...Small
As the world prepares to travel again, there’s a huge trend emerging: going small.
 
We know what the ingredients of travel are going to be in the immediate post-pandemic future of travel:
 
More space. More privacy. More flexibility.

The travel industry is rising to the occasion with an innovative sweep of new, and newly-important touring options that make touring with your own ‘bubble’ – whether it’s your family, extended family, group of friends or couples on their own – suddenly easy. Smaller groups. Private departures. The options for ‘smaller is safer’ travel are growing.
 
And in many cases, they’re more affordable than many travelers might think. 
 
This list of tour ingredients used to be exclusively available on only high-end touring options. But it’s not just the luxury touring options that are seeing spiking interest. 
 
More affordable touring companies are developing new options for land journeys that maintain favorite elements returning guests will love… with more space, privacy and flexibility that meet the new expectations travelers are looking for to feel comfortable embarking on a journey in this new era.
 
Here are some standout opportunities to think ‘small’ on your next journey:
 

Globus: Small Group Discovery Tours

 
This fan-favorite group touring company (pictured, top) has always offered travelers an incentive to put its own small groups together, with savings and benefits for groups of as few as 8 people travelling together within a larger tour group.
 
It also has a ‘European Private Touring’ program that makes more sense than ever, with a sliding scale of surcharges for private tours of 1-24 guests with your own dedicated Tour Director, private transportation and private guides on existing Globus itineraries.
 
There’s another timely option now: Small Group Discovery Tours on ALL of its 2021 tour departures through Central & South America, Asia, Africa and select departures in the South Pacific. It tightens up traditional group tours, with an average of only 20 guests per departure you’ll be spending most of your time with. That means a coach is less than half full, providing extra space along with its new health and safety measures along with flexible booking and changing policies so you can make informed decisions until the last minute before your departure.
 

Monograms: The best of two touring styles, now with off-season and closer to home options

 
Sister company to Globus group tours, it’s like Monograms was designed for post-pandemic travel, even though its style of touring has been around for a while. Monograms cherry-picks the best elements of private travel and group travel. 
 
You are personally picked up and dropped off, have a Local Host who gives your group its own tour of must-see sights, have VIP access to jump to the head of the line at popular attractions, like larger tour groups do. You can choose among a selection of hand-picked hotels that meet new health and safety standards, and even personalize your journey according to your interests. The company also has flexible booking and re-booking policies for your peace of mind.
 
It also recently opened up new, off-season Europe options, for Fall, Winter and Spring departures when there are fewer people (so more space and less crowding than Summer/high season), and lower prices, translating to savings for travelers of up to 40%. It’s also introduced a selection of Monograms tours in North American destinations for guests wanting their next trips to be close to home. 
 

Insight Vacations: Small Private Group Option

 
This global leader in premium guided vacations is offering travelers a ‘Small Private Group Option’ on 38 trips departing late 2020 through Spring of 2021 throughout Europe, as well as Egypt, Morocco, Israel, Jordan and Canada. It also includes Christmas Market journeys, where the company has received many inquiries.

You can create your own travel ‘bubble’ and personalize your journey. Insight provides a private, customized coach, tour director, the opportunity to tailor-make trips based on your group’s interests, all including enhanced health and safety practices and flexible change policies.

Groups of 12 qualify for Insight’s Small Private Group journeys. There’s a sliding scale of surcharges on the original price of the trip, beginning with a 30% surcharge, dropping to no surcharge once the group reaches 26 people.
 

G Adventures: Book Your Bubble Collection

 
This Active/Adventure tour company has introduced a ‘Book Your Bubble Collection’ featuring 80 tours spanning the globe from Europe, Central/South America, Asia, North Africa and the Middle East.
 
The company encourages people to assemble your own bubble of fellow travelers, choose a date that works for you, and offers savings for private groups, with 50% off the 8th person in a group of 8, or the 12th person in a group of 12 traveling for free. It’s easy to picture a group of 4 couples or a multi-generational family taking advantage of these new G Adventure trips that include its new health and safety measures as well as flexible booking policy.
 
The 80 tours in the Collection feature the freedom and safety found on all of the company’s private tours. ‘Book your Bubble’ applies to the new, designated bubble Collection, and in addition, your bubble can enjoy a Tailor Made private journey, or even choose any of G Adventures’ existing itineraries, and arrange for them in a private tour. Optional activities from the company’s list of tour experiences can be added to personalize any of the Bubble journeys.
 

Butterfield & Robinson: Singular Stays

 
The company whose motto is ‘Slow Down To See The World’ combines an active approach to travel, from biking to hiking to even camel rides! with luxurious lodging, insider access, extraordinary food and wine and cultural immersion. It already offered Small Group Trips and a Private Travel collection of Ready-to-Book and Bespoke itineraries, that are prepared to allow your ‘bubble’ private group to go when, how, where – and of course, with whoever you want.

It’s also recently launched a new option that provides the highest amount of space and privacy for your small bubble group. Singular Stays are a curated collection of private accommodations paired with the creativity of B&R's Experience Designers.
 
The new, Singular Stays program means you can relax in one accommodation for the duration of your trip – from private villas and castles in Europe, to ranches, resorts and glamping in the Americas, and private lodges in Africa, while the B&R team brings your destination to life with exclusive activities and events that take advantage of your setting.

(Abercrombie & Kent)

Abercrombie & Kent: Luxury Small Groups, Private Stays, Chartered Yachts and Planes and New Tailor-Made and Road Trips close to home

 
Luxury tour operator A&K is no stranger to private and small group touring, with Luxury Small Group Journeys, Luxury Family and Marco Polo journeys, offering opportunities for all-ages adventure as well as itineraries to exotic locales and exclusive festivals and events. All journeys are led from start to finish by an A&K Resident Tour Director and local guides, with an average of 14 guests on each departure, and feature hand-selected accommodations and A&K’s renowned insider access.
 
It also offers the ultimate in physical-distancing travel with its Luxury Private Stays, fully crewed chartered yachts, and chartered air.
 
What’s new are its collection of 6 new ‘Tailor Made’ journeys as well as 2 new iconic Great American Road Trips across the American West and Alaska that take advantage of A&K’s baked-in distancing and privacy, in destinations closer to home where travelers may feel more comfortable. Private guides, access to sites off the beaten path, customized itinerary, vetted accommodations that offer added space and privacy, and in the case of the Road Trips, a private luxury car and driver/guide.
 

These new and innovating touring options meet the new expectations of travelers by going small in a big world still waiting for you to discover.

 

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