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Extraordinary Events

These special occasions are worth experiencing in person

By Lucy Spicer

Vacations Magazine: Extraordinary Events
Arizona Office of Tourism
There are dream vacations and bucket list trips, and then there are occasions that only come around once (or very nearly) in a lifetime. Some birthdays, anniversaries and milestones are important enough to produce months' worth of special events and gather crowds from across the globe. From a rare viticultural fete to the 50th anniversary of mankind's "giant leap," we've compiled five extraordinary events you'll want to mark on your calendar, along with suggestions for resorts, tours and cruises that could only enhance the experience.

A grand celebration
In northern Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park received its official designation on Feb. 26, 1919, and 100 years later the novelty of its magnificent vistas has not worn off: Grand Canyon was the second-most visited U.S. national park in 2017. The park's nonprofit partner, the Grand Canyon Conservancy, is working with the National Park Service to organize a centennial celebration that incorporates several events throughout 2019.

The two biggest events of the Grand Canyon National Park Centennial will be Founders Day on Feb. 26 and the Grand Canyon Star Party, June 22-29. Founders Day will mark the park's official birthday, complete with cake, a Teddy Roosevelt performer, presentations from cultural demonstrators and a chance to sign the park's birthday card.

The Star Party will appeal to those who prefer festivities with warmer weather. During the day, guests are encouraged to stop by the South Rim Visitor Center to learn about the park's history. Kid-friendly activities and guest speakers will provide further engagement and educational opportunities. At night, amateur astronomers will set up dozens of telescopes to help visitors take in the starry skies.

The June 22 departure of Insight Vacations' "Enchanting Canyonlands" has guests overnighting in the park during the Star Party. That trip starts at $2,223, but the weeklong itinerary is available from April through October with rates from $2,178.

Leonardo's legacy
Painter. Sculptor. Architect. Engineer. Just as Leonardo da Vinci's talents could not be confined to a single medium, events commemorating the 500th anniversary of his death will not be limited to a single time and place. Leonardo died on May 2, 1519, but even today his influence remains incalculable worldwide.

Several European museums plan to showcase various works by Leonardo in 2019, but one of the longest-running and most extensive exhibits likely will be at the Louvre Museum in Paris from Oct. 24 to Feb. 24, 2020. The Louvre already owns five of the paintings attributed to Leonardo, but it hopes to bring as many of his paintings and drawings to the exhibit as possible.

Although he died in France, Leonardo lived mostly in Italy, and that's where the main event, Celebrando Leonardo, will take place on May 2. The Mani d'Oro Cultural Association is building a pavilion called Casa Leonardo that will illustrate how his art and inventions have continued to influence Italian society over the last 500 years.

Divided into seven parts, Casa Leonardo will incorporate elements of gastronomy, theater, technology and more. The pavilion will be a traveling exhibit, starting off in Rome before touring other Italian cities followed by plans for destinations in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Looking for more da Vinci in Italy? Follow the May 2 celebration with the May 3 departure of "Rome and Tuscan Highlights" a nine-day escorted tour by Trafalgar. It starts in Rome and allows for leisure time in Florence on the journey's third day, giving you the perfect opportunity to check out the city's Leonardo da Vinci Museum. Prices start at $2,313 for the May 3 trip, but there are other dates scheduled from April to October from $2,268.

A generational divide
As the number of appellations steadily climbs worldwide, wine lovers seldom have trouble sniffing out tours, tastings and festivals dedicated to the vine. So why is the Fete des Vignerons in Vevey, Switzerland, not to be missed? It only comes around once in a generation.

Held every 20 years or so, this winegrowers festival returns to Vevey from July 18 to Aug. 11 in 2019 and has distinguished itself further still since its last iteration: In 2016, it was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The exclusive nature of the celebration draws visitors from around the world to its stunning Alpine setting along the shores of Lake Geneva. A visit here is the perfect opportunity for oenophiles to explore Swiss wine, less than five percent of which is exported to other countries.

The Vevey market square has played host to the event since its inception in 1797, and in 2019 the main attraction will require the construction of a 20,000-seat stadium. A spectacular show featuring thousands of performers honoring the history and culture of Swiss winegrowers through song, dance, poetry and more will be staged there most days throughout the festival.

Easy access to train travel means you won't have to fight for in-town lodgings. About an hour away by rail, Geneva is home to an international airport and a variety of accommodations, including Hotel Cristal, a modern boutique hotel within walking distance of the train station.

Out of this world
At 10:56 p.m. EDT on July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 mission commander Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on Earth's moon. More than 500 million transfixed viewers witnessed the television broadcast of Armstrong's footsteps on the moon's surface, and this monumental event continues to enthrall people to this day.

The successful Apollo 11 mission placed the United States firmly at the forefront of space exploration and gave scientists unparalleled insight into the makeup and history of our moon in the form of rocks collected by the astronauts. July 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the mission, and there never has been a better time to learn about the Apollo program.

Both the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Merritt Island, FL, and Space Center Houston have special projects in the works to celebrate the lunar landing's anniversary. The Kennedy Space Center plans to open a new exhibit featuring interactive elements sure to appeal to explorers of all ages. As part of its Lunar Jubilee, Space Center Houston will host a family-friendly gathering on July 20 that includes a countdown to the time of the moon landing.

Can't make it in July? Observe Apollo-era artifacts throughout the year, like the Saturn V moon rocket at the Kennedy Space Center and moon rocks and spacesuits at Space Center Houston.

It's easy to go from admiring the moon to soaking up the sun when both of these NASA centers are less than 50 miles from a cruise port. Visitors to Houston, for example, could head to nearby Galveston, TX, and hop on the Liberty of the Seas for a seven-night Royal Caribbean International cruise to Mexico, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica the day after Space Center Houston's lunar anniversary. Prices for a July 21 sailing begin around $700; several other dates drop below $500.

Gandhi's enduring spirit
In India, Oct. 2 marks Gandhi Jayanti, the national holiday honoring Mohandas K. Gandhi's birthday. Globally known as Mahatma Gandhi, the politician and social activist was born in 1869, making 2019 the 150th anniversary of his birth. A national committee was formed to properly commemorate the occasion, which will include events and programs across the world stretched over a two-year period.

The National Gandhi Museum in New Delhi is a must-see for anyone wishing to learn more about him in his native country, and new exhibits provide further insight into this influential figure. A heartbeat installation allows visitors to listen to a re-creation of Gandhi's heart rate measured by an electrocardiogram in 1937, a powerful symbol of his presence even after death. Another display focuses on Gandhi's final years and includes quotations from world leaders explaining how he has inspired them.

Since activities are scheduled throughout India over the course of two years, be sure to look up the calendar on the celebration's official website, www.Gandhi.gov.in, to see which ones coincide with your travels. Events include theater performances, documentary screenings, panel discussions and more.

If you're going to be in India around Gandhi's birthday, you'd do well to get a good look at the nation whose independence he worked for so fervently. The 15-day "Mysteries of India" tour from Collette features wildlife sightings in Ranthambore National Park, a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra and much more. Rates for departures on Sept. 26 and through the end of 2019 begin at $2,999.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Winter 2019. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 680-2858 for current rates and details.

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