The most-booked international travel destinations for 2008.
The holidays are a distant memory by this point — so what better way to overcome those winter doldrums than by planning a vacation? Last week, Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associates unveiled the 2008 results of its annual Travel Trends Survey. Conducted between Nov. 26. and Dec. 19, the survey includes top international and domestic destinations based on responses from 555 of Carlson’s owners, managers and agents throughout the U.S. Interestingly, consumers are still finding value in traveling to Europe, as seven of the top 20 international destinations are European. And cruises certainly ruled the top 10. “Ever since 9/11, one trend we’ve seen that’s grown is the multigenerational family traveling together — cruise lines have programs for young children, teenagers and adults,” said Kathy Gerhardt, a Carlson Wagonlit spokeswoman.
1. CRUISING THE CARIBBEAN
Percentage of agents ranking this as a top destination for their clients in 2008: 64
Bouncing from island to island throughout the Caribbean on a cruise ship is exactly what many vacation goers have in mind this year. “This is consistently our top international destination,” said Gerhardt of Carlson. “The Caribbean islands attract people, because they want sun and fun, but they don’t want to go too far away from home. For families who are trying to piece together a trip, the all-inclusive aspect of a cruise is really helpful.” Not to mention, all the well-known cruise lines have plenty of options for travelers throughout the year. Next month, for example, vacationers can book Royal Caribbean’s seven-night jaunt through Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Antigua, St. Lucia and Barbados, among other stops.
“This region has done a phenomenal job in rebounding from the hurricane damage brought on by Hurricane Wilma in 2005,” said Gerhardt. “Things really are back to normal there, and agents have been continuously updated as to how renovations have come along. The costs remain very reasonable, and U.S. travelers are aware of how easy a place like Cancún is, in terms of a vacation destination.” Excellence Resort’s Playa Mujeres (left) is Cancún’s newest luxury resort destination for adults, which opened in November. The resort is situated on an untouched 20-mile peninsula separating the Caribbean and the Chacmochuc Lagoon, a national wildlife preserve.
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3. RIVIERA MAYA, MEXICO
Located to the south of Cancún, the Riviera Maya corridor begins at Playa del Carmen and ends at Tulum, along the Caribbean Sea — the region is full of resorts and it boasts average annual temperatures ranging from 77 to 86 degrees. The Mayan Palace Riviera Maya is a large, full-service resort located roughly 30 miles south of Cancún. The resort features amenities such as three interconnected pools and a golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus. The Xpu-Ha Palace is 60 minutes south of the Cancún airport in the Riviera Maya. The area consists of Mayan ruins, snorkeling lagoons, a coral reef and unique eco-theme parks. And Mandarin Oriental (seen left) has opened a location here, as well.
“This ranking may surprise some people, but Rome has actually remained steady in this position over the past year,” said Gerhardt. “Whether you’re into food and wine or arts and culture, there’s so much to see and do. Rome is also the ideal jumping-off point for a trip to Italy. People fly in here, then they’ll take trains to Florence and Venice, or they’ll rent a car and drive through the Tuscan countryside.” After visiting sites such as the Colosseum, St. Peter’s and the Trevi Fountain (left), tourists can stay at luxury hotels including the St. Regis Grand and the InterContinental De La Ville Roma. Shopping is abundant along the Via Condotti, which houses designer stores such as Giorgio Armani, Prada, Christian Dior, Bulgari and Gucci.
5. CRUISING the MEDITERRANEAN
A Mediterranean cruise sailed right into the top five this year, gaining ground from 10th place in 2007. “The Mediterranean is appealing to ‘cruisers’ who have done the Caribbean and Alaska. They’re looking for something different — and it’s a great way to see Europe without incurring the costs of lodging and food at European prices. Our agents have been stressing to their clients, ‘Europe is not out of your reach. You can still get there and visit the attractions. This is the ideal way to go,’” said Gerhardt. One option is Celebrity Cruises’ 12-day Mediterranean adventure, making stops in Barcelona; Naples; Santorini, Greece; Dubrovnik, Croatia, and Venice, among other ports.
6. PUERTO VALLARTA
On the Pacific Coast of Mexico is Puerto Vallarta, a destination for vacationers seeking a little adventure, a little rest and relaxation, perhaps a little culture and beautiful weather. This coastal city is situated around the Bay of Banderas, where resorts and hotels line the beaches. One standout is the Grand Velas, which offers first-class services, a world-class spa and daily activities and programs inside and along the hotel grounds. The destination is also kid friendly and features a kiddie pool, private playground and cultural and recreational activities. Canto del Sol’s all-inclusive program allows guests to take advantage of a championship tennis club, windsurfing, a gym, nightly entertainment programs and even dance lessons.
7. MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA
Jamaica’s second-largest city, Montego Bay, houses plenty of well-publicized adult-only resorts, such as Breezes and Sandals, which have locations throughout the Caribbean. One of the most upscale spots is that of the Half Moon Resort (left), located across 400 acres. Half Moon features a championship 72-par golf course, an 18-hole putting green, 51 swimming pools, an exclusive natural Dolphin Lagoon, a shopping village and six restaurants. The resort has attracted its fair share of famous names, including Joan Crawford and her husband, Alfred Steel; Clark Gable; Queen Elizabeth I and Prince Philip; John and Jacqueline Kennedy, and Prince Rainier of Monaco.
Big Ben, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace — these are all tourist favorites. “If people have waited to take a European vacation, they are not going to be deterred by the cost — they still want to see all of these places,” said Gerhardt. She also pointed out that this destination speaks volumes to the Boomer generation. “These travelers have the means, they have the time and they’re ready to spend the money.” Well, then, why not check out some of the most expensive shopping streets in the world? Bond Street has plenty of prestigious names, including Hermès, Yves Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton, while Oxford Street features stores such as Marks & Spencer, H&M, French Connection and Mango.
9. PUNTA CANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
This destination in the Dominican Republic slipped from number six to number nine during the past year. Steve Phillips, a Carlson Wagonlit Travel expert in Crystal, Minn., stated, “Punta Cana continues to be a great value for an all-inclusive destination. However, the Dominican Republic has struggled to acquire and build an infrastructure to support American tourists.” Nevertheless, all-inclusive resorts that are still drawing in crowds include the Paradisus Punta Cana and Grand Paradise Bavaro (left). At Paradisus, guests can choose from 10 different restaurants, seven bars, unlimited golf, a casino and a new action park. Grand Paradise Bavaro is ideal for families with small children because of its compact layout.
10. CRUISING MEXICO
Along the western coast of Mexico, the stops for a cruise ship are abundant — but you have to act fast, as all trips depart during the month of February. Princess Cruises can take consumers to destinations such as Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán and Cabo San Lucas. All of these stops are included in its seven-night Mexican Riviera cruise, which sails four times next month from Los Angeles. In addition, Norwegian Cruise line’s 13-night Panama Canal trip sails once in February — ports of call include Los Angeles, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, the Cayman Islands and Miami.
11. CABO SAN LUCAS/ LOS CABOS, MEXICO
Located on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula, families, couples, honeymooners and golfers flock to Cabo year-round. The all-inclusive resorts such as Villa La Estancia and Villa del Arco Beach Resort and Grand Spa cater to vacationers who are looking for a little R&R, while Las Ventanas Al Paraiso and The One & Only resorts offer special honeymoon packages for couples. Meanwhile, there are plenty of world-class golf courses, such as the Cabo Del Sol Ocean Course, Cabo Real Golf Course and the Palmilla.
SOURCE: CARLSON WAGONLIT TRAVEL ASSOCIATES’ ANNUAL TRAVEL TRENDS SURVEY; CARLSON WAGONLIT IS A DIVISION OF MINNEAPOLIS-BASeD CARLSON COS.; *INDICATES A TIE