February 2013 Travel Column

Top Domestic Destinations for 2013

In the latest Travel Trends Survey conducted by Travel Leaders Group, Orlando, Fla., and Las Vegas, Nev., continue their long reigns as the favorite vacation spots in the U.S. The survey of Travel Leaders agents across the U.S. is based on actual booking data, providing an objective assessment of the most popular vacation destinations in the country.


Orlando ranks over Las Vegas by a narrow margin in the most recent survey, conducted from November 19 to December 16, 2012. The undisputed top draw in Orlando is Walt Disney World Resort, which has welcomed vacationers since 1971, and this year there are some brand-new attractions in a major expansion of Fantasyland. Many Disney fans have discovered Orlando’s other charms, too, such as a stroll through the historic district around pretty Lake Eola. Visitors can also take in performances of live music, theater and dance, or watch the NBA’s Orlando Magic play at the Amway Center.


Las Vegas is another iconic destination that always has something new to see and do. New hotels, casinos, restaurants, clubs and shows continually pop up along the famed Las Vegas Strip. A new Nobu restaurant, featuring the upscale Japanese cuisine of famed chef Matsuhisa Nobu, will soon open in the world’s first Nobu Hotel, part of the Cesar’s Palace complex. By the end of 2013, a the world’s largest giant observation wheel, SkyVue Las Vegas, will be unveiled as the centerpiece of a new entertainment complex.


Two destinations as different as they are desirable tied for third place: Alaskan cruising and Maui, Hawaii. Both offer spectacular natural beauty, lots of outdoor activities and whale watching opportunities, though in very different surroundings.


Fifth on the list is another perennial favorite: New York City. The city’s iconic train terminal, Grand Central Station, celebrates its 100th birthday on February 1, but festivities will go on all year. Events include special exhibitions at the New York Transit Museum, performances in Grand Central’s gorgeous main concourse, and a parade of historic trains.


Rounding out the top 15 domestic vacation destinations are:


6.       Honolulu, Hawaii

7.       San Francisco, Calif.

8.       Washington D.C.

9.       Chicago, Ill.

10.   Los Angeles, Calif.

11.   Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

12.   Hawaiian Cruising

13.   Miami/Miami Beach, Fla.

14.   U.S. Virgin Islands

15.   Phoenix/Scottsdale, Ariz.


To plan your visit to any of these great destinations, talk with your travel professional.


Top International Vacation Destinations

Americans have a growing taste for Europe in 2013: three of the top five international vacation destinations are in Europe, according to the latest Travel Trends Survey conducted by Travel Leaders Group. The survey gathers actual vacation booking data from more than 1,000 U.S. travel agency owners, managers and frontline agents.

While Europe beckons, two destinations a bit closer to home – Caribbean cruising and Cancun, Mexico – remain the most popular international destinations. The Caribbean is dotted with islands that offer lovely vistas, soft sand beaches, and flavorful cuisine. By the end of 2013, choices for a departure port will expand when Houston joins the ranks of Galveston, New Orleans, Tampa and Miami as home ports for Caribbean cruise ships.


Cancun just rehabilitated its beaches, and the results get high marks from vacationers. This resort area has everything you need for a relaxing vacation, including lots of sun and sand; snorkeling, diving and other water sports; great restaurants and lively nightlife.


While Mexico’s allure is undiminished, more U.S. vacationers are planning to head across the Atlantic this year. Mediterranean cruising leaped into the top three international destinations for the first time, perhaps because it offers way of seeing several European destinations – such as a combination of Barcelona, Marseilles, Rome and Monte Carlo – in one trip.


The cities in the fourth and fifth spots – Rome and London – have long been favorites of Americans abroad. After all, many of the main attractions have been there for 1,000 years or more. In Rome, the only intact internal passageway of the iconic Colosseum is being restored and may open to the public as early as this summer. The Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Pantheon are the eternal city’s most striking remnants of Imperial Rome.


Since the conclusion of the 2012 Summer Olympics, London has been busy transforming Olympic Park into a visitor destination. On July 27, the one-year anniversary of the opening ceremonies, the park will reopen as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, ready to provide everything from swimming lessons to beautiful venues for championship-level contests in sports ranging from cycling to ice hockey.

The top 15 international destinations also include:


6.       Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

7.       Playa del Carmen/Riviera Maya, Mexico

8.       European River Cruising

9.       Montego Bay, Jamaica

10.   Paris, France

11.   Florence/Tuscany, Italy

12.   Negril, Jamaica

13.   Barcelona, Spain

14.   Mexican Cruising

15.   Cabo San Lucas/Los Cabos, Mexico

To visit any of these destinations in 2013, talk with your travel professional.


Top Cruise Destinations for 2013

Cruising is a very popular vacation choice, and many first-time cruisers want to know which destinations are the most popular. The most recent Travel Trends Survey conducted by Travel Leaders Group asked travel professionals who specialize in leisure travel and cruising which destinations they are booking most often for 2013. Here are the results:


1.       Western Caribbean. This region includes ports along the Caribbean coast of Mexico and Central America; the islands of Cozumel, Roatan and the Caymans; and sometimes Jamaica. Reliable weather, sandy beaches, colorful reefs, Mayan ruins and eco-tourism opportunities contribute to the popularity of Western Caribbean cruises, along with an excellent variety of home ports: Galveston, New Orleans, Mobile, Tampa and Miami.

2.       Alaska. A very close second to Western Caribbean cruising, Alaska offers an incredibly scenic coastline with a rainforest, massive glaciers, majestic mountains, remnants of the Gold Rush era and Tlingit Indian cultural sites. Cruises are available from May through September.

3.       Eastern Caribbean. This region is dotted with lovely islands that are quite diverse. For example, grasses and flowers sway in the breeze on the relatively flat Bahamas, while the Virgin Islands are mountainous, with lush forests and deep valleys. There’s an excellent variety of itineraries to choose from, and embarkation ports stretch along the East Coast from Miami to New York City.

4.       European Rivers. European river cruises are quickly gaining popularity: 92.4 percent of Travel Leaders agents said their bookings are equal to (31.7 percent) or higher than (60.7 percent) last year.  A river cruise is a wonderful way to see interior cities and towns that sea-going cruise ships can’t access. You’ll be able to step off the ship right into the heart of a beautiful city like Vienna, Budapest or Cologne.

5.       Mediterranean. Like the Caribbean, Mediterranean cruises tend to focus on East or West. The Eastern Mediterranean includes ports in Turkey, the Greek Isles, and the Adriatic coasts of Croatia and Italy, providing a terrific mix of beaches and antiquities. Western Mediterranean cruises usually focus on major ports in Italy, France and Spain – and sometimes Malta, Monte Carlo and Portugal – providing a rich cultural experience.


Whenever you choose to cruise, talk with your travel professional to explore the full range of itineraries and ships that can take you where you want to go.


Ireland’s Great Gathering

It’s going to be a special St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland this year: 2013 is the year of The Gathering Ireland, a celebration of all people and things Irish.


More than 70 million people around the world claim Irish ancestry, and The Gathering Ireland invites all who have a link to Ireland – or simply a love of the country – to come and visit.


Events are scheduled all over Ireland and fall into two main categories. One is Gatherings, which can be small or large (such as reunions, sports tournaments, or simple meetings of old friends). The other category is festivals and special events, which will celebrate the best of Irish music, art, literature, dance, culture, heritage, sports, film and food.


The Gathering will include a wonderful variety of St. Patrick’s Day parades and parties across the country. For example, the organizers of St. Patrick’s Day Parades in towns like Dundalk and Buncrana are inviting people with ties to the area to come and take part in the parade.


Just before St. Patrick’s Day, the town of Tipperary will host a genealogy-themed weekend that will include workshops on ancestral research and guided tours of the Tipperary heritage trial. Genealogy services will be available to help attendees research their Irish heritage. Waterford will host a gathering of pipe and drum bands, which will also be featured in the St. Patrick’s Day parade.


In Dublin, the annual St. Patrick’s Festival, March 14-17, will include exhibitions of Irish art, performances of traditional Irish music, a “Craft Beer Village” with stands serving artisan foods, and three “funfairs” with carnival rides and games. On St. Patrick’s Day, a spectacular parade will be preceded by a special “People’s Parade” of 8,000 people from around the world who have ties to the Emerald Isle.


Whether or not you have Irish blood, it’s clear that Ireland is the place to be this year for a warm and welcoming St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Don’t delay – call your travel professional to make your travel arrangements.


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