Three Reasons to Throw a Wedding Celebration at Sea

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By Stacey McKenna

For couples planning a wedding, the idea of spending time with loved ones and offering guests a vacation has become more appealing in recent years. (Proof: Twenty percent of couples had a destination wedding in 2015.)  Virtuoso travel advisors can double as destination wedding planners, too. My friend Shelly Hilgers recently decided to host her wedding reception at sea (after having a family-only ceremony on land a month earlier), and as we readied to board the ship in Port Canaveral, our group of scattered family and friends popped corks and toasted the newlyweds over Champagne. We spent the next three days sailing around the Caribbean in honor of their marriage, enjoying uninterrupted time together.

Here, three reasons why getting married or hosting a wedding reception at sea are attractive options:

More Quality Time with Loved Ones

Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to maintain long-distance friendships, but that doesn’t mean we don’t crave face time. Dozens came together for Shelly and Patrick’s wedding, from all corners of the U.S. After three days in the Caribbean, sipping poolside cocktails and dining on gourmet meals, old friends had reconnected and new friends had been made.

Enough Freedom to Double as a Vacation

Just as Shelly hoped, her reception felt like a vacation for guests. On board and off, we had the space and flexibility to do as much or as little as we wanted. My husband and I spent our shore day in Nassau touring pirate ships while others went snorkeling or wandered around town. We all met up for an afternoon on the beach before heading back to the ship.

A Royal Caribbean wedding ceremony.

Less Stress for the Newlyweds

Weddings can often seem like a lot of fun for guests, but more like endless stress for the couple. By keeping the ceremony small and the reception non-traditional, Shelly and Patrick traded typical pressures for time with guests. “We were able to enjoy the reception without any planned activities like a first dance or speeches,” said Hilgers. “This made for a great, relaxing time.”

DO IT: Several cruise lines offer an array of wedding and reception packages. Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises can arrange simple or extravagant ceremonies. Smaller, more intimate river-cruise lines including Avalon Waterways and Belmond allow guests to charter entire ships. Virtuoso travel advisors can help select the right cruise, handle group reservations, and organize wedding activities.

Top Image: Courtesy Princess Cruises

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Now’s the Time to Race off to Bermuda

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Famed for its pink sand beaches, British history, and quick two-hour flight from New York City, Bermuda is experiencing a sexy new awakening as host to the 35th America’s Cup yacht race. Qualifying races start May 26 on the Great Sound; the top challenger will take on defending champ Oracle Team USA beginning on June 17. Don’t forget to dress the part: Pick up your bold-colored Bermuda shorts and racing-print swim trunks from the America’s Cup collection at the cheerful TABS flagship store (12 Reid Street, Hamilton).

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Colorful options at TABS Bermuda.

Host hotel Hamilton Princess & Beach Club recently capped a multiyear remodel with a renovation of Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant overlooking Hamilton Harbor. (Shoot the breeze over a Darker and Stormier, his version of Bermuda’s classic cocktail.) The property is offering five-night stays that include passes to the finals and a visit to the America’s Cup village (doubles from $1,005 per night; five-night minimum).

Race fans at Rosewood Tucker’s Point can reserve spots on the elegant 1926 Mariner III, an 80-passenger yacht that provides prime viewing with hotel-catered cuisine and cocktails (doubles from $1,395; Mariner III race viewing from $295).

Here are more of my favorite discoveries from a recent escape to the island:

Wahoo’s Bistro

Stop at Wahoo’s in historic St. George’s after you land in Bermuda – just ten minutes from the airport – for the best (and enormous!) fish tacos and award-winning Bermuda Fish Chowder. It’s owned by Austrian expat and chef Alfred Konrad (hence, a schnitzel sandwich on the menu), and everything is super fresh and comes with a great patio view (36 Water Street, St. George’s).

Rustico

Far from Hamilton’s tourist crowds, this hearty neighborhood Italian spot in Flatts Village hits the spot. Order pizzas to share and sit on the patio on a beautiful night. You’ll be surrounded by locals – or vacationers with second homes on the island – which makes for great people-watching (North Shore Road, Flatts Village).

Della Valle Sandals

Italian Vincenzo Della Valle has made shoes since he was a child living in Capri. Last summer, he finally opened his long-dreamt of shop on Hamilton’s Queen Street, a must-stop for well-priced, custom women’s sandals. Go on your first day in Bermuda so Valle has time to finish them before you leave – he doesn’t ship (depending on your order, turnaround time is a couple of days). If I regret one thing about my trip, it’s buying only one pair (19 Queen Street, Hamilton).

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Vincenzo Della Valle works on a pair of custom sandals in Hamilton, Bermuda.

Gibbs Hill Lighthouse

Climb 185 steps to the top of this historic lighthouse in Southampton Parish for a panoramic view of the entire island. Queen Elizabeth II visited the lighthouse shortly after her coronation on June 2, 1953 – one of four trips she has made to Bermuda.

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The view from Gibbs Hill Lighthouse.

Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art

This museum only shows art inspired by Bermuda, including famous pieces by Winslow Homer and Georgia O’Keeffe. It’s one of the best small museums I’ve visited anywhere – Prince Charles is an official patron. Viewing Bermuda through artists’ eyes helps you appreciate its landscape, people, and culture (such as sailing and races) even more. If you see curator and director of collections Elise Outerbridge, ask her about her encounters with David Bowie, who had a home on the island. Stroll through the small Bermuda Botanical Gardens surrounding the museum after your visit (183 South Road, Paget).

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Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art.

Tip: As of May 2017, rental cars are banned on the island – even residents are permitted only one car per family. Have your travel advisor reserve their favorite driver and/or guide, or book taxis through the hotel.

All photos by Annie Fitzsimmons.

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The Secret Science of Choosing a Travel Magazine Cover

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We create every issue of Virtuoso Life to inspire you to travel and explore the world, and we tap our network of professional photographers to bring stories to life with their images.

One of the most important (and most debated) decisions of each issue involves determining the cover image. For the May issue of Virtuoso Life, we knew the image would show a Virtuoso hotel – it’s the Hotel Issue, after all, and the feature “Small Wonders: 20 intimate hotels, villas, and lodges worth adding to your short list” provided options aplenty. Our editorial and creative team consulted with the Virtuoso Hotels and Resorts team to help us choose which of 1,200 hotels to include – in fact, half of our hotels have fewer than 100 rooms.

The editorial team presented three top contenders to Virtuoso’s Member Marketing Committee, an elected group of advisors that essentially serves as our publications’ editorial advisory board. “The advisors loved all of them for different reasons,” says editorial director Elaine Srnka, “which assured us that we were on the right track.”

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at three of our top contenders, and what we loved about each of them.

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Hôtel Le Toiny
Saint Bart’s

The board loved the image of the newly renovated Le Toiny’s open-air bar, declaring it sophisticated, colorful, and stylish. Art director Melanie Fowler said she wanted the model’s sandals. One editor said the model looked like someone you’d want to hang out with, while associate editor Amy Cassell liked the symmetry of the cover with three bar stools and three chandeliers.

However, the general consensus was that the image didn’t clearly communicate that the destination was Saint Bart’s or that the setting was a hotel. The image opens “Rosé All Day,” Srnka’s dining guide to the island.

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Hôtel Le Toiny, Saint Bart’s.

Pikaia Lodge
Galápagos Islands

Art director Melanie Fowler loved the Pikaia Lodge option. “The person in the image isn’t the primary focus,” she says. “It highlights the destination, as well as the property’s beautiful architecture.”

Managing editor Marika Cain liked the model in Pikaia Lodge, as well. “It gives it scale, as a traveler taking in the views.”

A few of the advisors wanted to picture themselves in that space, rather than see another person in the image. They wanted to imagine themselves in that space, versus someone else appearing in that moment. Fun fact: the “model” is Monica Witmer, director of sales and marketing for the hotel.

Fowler used the image on the opening spread of the issue’s “Small Wonders” feature article.

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Pikaia Lodge, Galápagos Islands.

THE WINNER

Canaves Oia Hotel
Santorini, Greece

Cain says this image ultimately won out because it beckons you to step inside and go explore. “It’s a fresh look that feels dreamy and conceptual at the same time. I love the open door inviting you in. Our litmus test for a great cover is ‘Does it make you want to go there?’”

Greece is a perennially popular travel destination, Srnka says. Santorini is iconic, and the bright pop of color on the masthead adds a modern flair.

Notice the cruise ship on the Greece cover, as well – a nod to the different ways of exploring this iconic destination.

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Canaves Oia, Santorini.

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Drink This in Vegas: The Secret 100,000 People Are In On

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By Marika Cain

There’s something to be said for going full Vegas. We’re not talking about Champagne-room shenanigans, but about embracing Sin City’s particular brand of sensory overload. Case in point: the Chandelier bar at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and its off-the-menu (but hardly under-the-radar) Verbena cocktail. Last summer, the whole Virtuoso Life staff fell for this tequila-based roller coaster in a rocks glass – and the bar’s over-the-top glitzy surroundings.

The Verbena cocktail at The Cosmopolitan. (Photo by Chris Plavidal.)

The experience goes like this: Corral a few friends, parade into The Chandelier’s Level 1.5 bar (you can get the drink on all three of the bar’s levels now, but it originated here), and order a round of Verbenas. Chew and swallow the Szechuan button garnish (the edible bud of the herb acmella oleracea), then take a sip. Your tongue tingles, the flavors intensify, and hilarious Snapchat videos ensue. “Nature’s Pop Rocks” is one description that gets thrown around for the small yellow “buzz button” flower. A natural alkaloid, it’s packed with spilanthol, a chemical compound that reacts with the drink’s citrus and awakens taste buds to near-supertaster levels.

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The Chandelier bar at The Cosmopolitan. (Photo by Ron Niebrugge/Alamy.)

The cocktail began as a lemon verbena-inflected seasonal special. When the herb’s season ended, so did the Verbena’s run, much to patrons’ chagrin. “I thought people were going to come and riot at my house,” says Mariena Mercer, The Cosmopolitan’s chef mixologist and Verbena inventor. She tweaked the recipe with yuzu sour and lemon, and made the drink available year-round to anyone who knew enough to ask. “I thought over time it would kind of die off and people would forget about it,” she says. But word of mouth is a powerful marketer: Last year bartenders at The Chandelier slung well over 100,000 Verbenas, and sales are on track to double this year. So if you’re in the mood for a drink next time you’re in Vegas, put on something sparkly and head to The Cosmopolitan. They have a flower for you.

COCKTAIL RECIPE: The Verbena

1½ ounces Herradura Blanco tequila
1 ounce ginger syrup
1 ounce lemon juice
2 ounces yuzu sour (such as Perfect Purée’s version)
1 Szechuan button flower (available as a “Buzz Button” at Fresh Origins)
Shake all ingredients except the flower over ice. Strain over crushed ice into an old-fashioned glass and garnish with the Szechuan button.

Plus, travel tips from Las Vegas insiders.

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What are the Best Honeymoon Destinations for 2017?

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Every year, BRIDES magazine partners exclusively with Virtuoso advisors and surveys them to find out what the best honeymoon destinations and properties are around the world. This year’s results from the BRIDES Honeymoon Awards includes the best romantic cities (spoiler alert: Italian cities are eternal favorites) and destinations, as well as top resorts in Hawaii, Mexico, Europe, the Caribbean, and the South Pacific.

Whether you’re planning a honeymoon or a simple romantic getaway, this list of best honeymoon destinations for 2017 is the perfect place to start perusing your options. You can also book hotels directly on through Virtuoso, and receive optional assistance from an expert travel advisor.

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Selected results from the BRIDES Honeymoon Awards:

The World’s 10 Most Romantic Destinations.

  1. French Polynesia
  2. Italy
  3. The Hawaiian Islands
  4. Maldives
  5. Greece
  6. Bali
  7. Mexico
  8. Thailand
  9. Fiji
  10. South Africa

The World’s 10 Most Romantic Cities.

  1. Paris, France (Read more: Paris, In Five Neighborhoods)
  2. Venice, Italy
  3. Florence, Italy
  4. Rome, Italy
  5. Cape Town, South Africa
  6. Barcelona, Spain
  7. Honolulu, U.S. (Read more: Just Back: Honolulu)
  8. Saint-Tropez, France (Read more: A Guide to Saint-Tropez)
  9. Sydney, Australia
  10. New York, U.S.

Top Five Resorts in Hawaii.

  1. Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
  2. Four Seasons Resort Lanai
  3. Regis Princeville Resort, Kauai
  4. Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, Hawaii Island
  5. Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort

Top Five Resorts in the Caribbean.  

  1. Amanyara, Turks & Caicos
  2. Jade Mountain, Saint Lucia
  3. One&Only Ocean Club, Bahamas
  4. Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France, Saint Barts (Read more: A Saint-Bart’s Dining Guide)
  5. Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort, St. Lucia

Top Five Resorts in Mexico.

  1. One&Only Palmilla, Los Cabos
  2. Rosewood Mayakoba, Riviera Maya
  3. Belmond Maroma Resort & Spa, Riviera Maya
  4. Banyan Tree Mayakoba, Riviera Maya
  5. Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita

Top Five South Pacific Resorts.

  1. Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, French Polynesia
  2. Regis Bora Bora Resort, French Polynesia
  3. The Brando, French Polynesia
  4. Laucala Island, Fiji
  5. Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa, French Polynesia

Top Five Hotels and Resorts in Europe.

  1. Le Sirenuse, Positano, Italy
  2. Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris
  3. Villa d’Este, Lake Como, Italy
  4. Belmond Hotel Cipriani, Venice, Italy
  5. The Ritz Paris, France

A group of Virtuoso travel advisors worldwide shared their opinions via a survey in January 2017. Start planning your romantic getaway by finding a Virtuoso honeymoon specialist.

Top Photo by Annie Fitzsimmons. 

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3 Things We Love About Regent’s Wellness Experience

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By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon

To stay fit on a cruise, you know the drill: Take the stairs, skip dessert, hit the gym. It’s sound advice, but not exactly fun. Which is why we’re impressed by Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ new Seven Seas Wellness program, offered aboard Seven Seas Voyager’s Mediterranean sailings through September. The program pairs active excursions with indulgent treatments at the ship’s Canyon Ranch SpaClub.

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Seven Seas Voyager cruising in Sydney.

Here are three reasons we love it:

  1. It’s Immersive.

    Instead of trips to the gym or taking laps around the deck, the wellness activities take place in some of the Med’s most scenic spots – think tai chi at the Pharo Palace in Marseille, France, and taking the waters at Italy’s Stufe di Nerone baths.

  2. It’s Customizable.

    Back on board, relax with your choice of one of five 50-minute Canyon Ranch spa treatments, ranging from foot massages to facials, as well as body wraps and scrubs.

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  3. It’s Great Value.

    Reserved à la carte, each included spa treatment runs approximately $200. But with the program, you get one excursion and one treatment for $299. While Regent includes basic sightseeing excursions in the cruise fare, excursions like the ones mentioned above would cost between $200-$900. You could even think about it as booking a premium shore excursion and getting a free spa treatment. The $299 per-person, per-pairing price tag (limited to 20 people) is a great value if you want to try new things.

    Photos courtesy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises. 

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