Travel’s Best Vacations in 2013
Gulf Coast, USA
The Gulf Coast is seeing a resurgence as it slowly recovers from the horrific 2010 BP oil spill, and once again, its sandy coastline and calm, warm waters are beckoning travelers to the region. Stretching from the Florida Panhandle down through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, the Gulf Coast draws visitors hoping to explore its windswept dunes, quirky beach towns like Destin, FL, rollicking casinos such as Mississippi's Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, and incredible Cajun-Creole seafood shacks and restaurants.
Plan your trip to include a visit to one of the Gulf Coast's most exciting town, New Orleans, during Mardi Gras, its most epic of parties. Enjoy a stroll down Bourbon Street (and treat yourself to some cocktails while there), checking out the Dixieland jazz played at many local bars, then tuck into a meal at some of New Orleans's finest restaurants, like Arnaud's. After treating yourself to some time in the big town, relax along the silken sand beaches and windswept dunes of the so-called "Redneck Riviera," exploring towns such as Pensacola Beach, FL, and Gulf Shores, AL.
Christchurch, New Zealand
After the tragic earthquakes that leveled great swaths of this city in 2010 and 2011, Christchurch, New Zealand, is bouncing back with a vengeance, reclaiming its rightful reputation as a quirky, urban enclave known for embracing New Zealand's rural charms at spots like the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Though the ruins of the town's much-loved Anglican cathedral will soon be demolished, other popular spots are still alive and well, including the Canterbury Museum, which highlights Maori arts and history, and the Avon River, where visitors can go "punting," or be rowed along the slow-moving river in small boats typically manned by local students.
Many of the town's hottest retailers and even a few bars and cafes have been relocated to Re:START, a pop-up shopping development near the City Mall that features nearly 30 shops, such as Scorpio Books and Revival bar. Also rebuilding and thriving in post-quake Christchurch are the city's craft beer and food scenes. Join the hipsters as they toss back beers at Cassels & Sons Brewery and the Twisted Hop, then enjoy some ethnic grub at The Bodhi Tree, a Burmese restaurant, or the Lotus Heart, a Thai restaurant. For a real local's experience, ogle the produce while wandering the Christchurch Farmers’ Market, held every Saturday off Kahu Road.
Perhaps you've begun to hear murmurs among your friends or family of trips planned to the once-obscure Dominican Republic. It wouldn't be a surprise, as more and more travelers have discovered the country's beach resorts, mountains, staggering cliffs and peaceful lagoons. In the first quarter of 2012 alone, the DR, as it's known, saw an 8.4% increase in tourism, and most major airlines now offer flights to one or more of the DR's 8 international airports. Cruise lines have made the DR a popular port of call, and a number of new hotels and resorts are slated to open in 2013, including the Westin Puntacana Resort.
The Dominican Republic is also an outdoor adventurer's paradise, home to white-water rafting on the Yaque del Norte River, paragliding from Alto del Guayabo mountain and horseback riding along Punta Cana's white-sand beaches. Above all, visit the 27 waterfalls of Damajagua for breathtaking hiking, swimming and photo ops. The Dominican Republic remains one of the Caribbean's most affordable destinations, though we recommend you get here fast, before the crowds grow much larger, and the prices subsequently grow higher.
If you've ever daydreamed about what Fiji's islands might have been like in their natural state before becoming overrun with ultra-luxe resorts, pay a visit to the heavenly Solomon Islands in 2013, before they, too, see the dawn of a tourism boom. The Solomon Islands are often best-known to Americans as the site of fighting during World War II, and many islands and dive spots have names to reflect the battles, such as Kennedy Island, where Lt. John F. Kennedy and his crew swam for safety after a Japanese destroyer crashed into their patrol boat. Many of the islands remain largely undeveloped, swathed in jungles, lined by beaches and surrounded by vibrant coral rings.
Accommodations, such as the bungalows at Fatboy's Bar and Restaurant Resort, are sufficient, but barebones. Volcanoes and rainforest-covered mountains are also the norm in these parts, lending a stunning backdrop to aquamarine waters and white-sand shores. The Solomons are a diver's paradise, and the surrounding waters make for fascinating underwater exploration, teeming with exotic and colorful fish, brilliant corals, and even a slew of WWII ship and plane wrecks.
Because the islands remain untouched by the reaches of mass tourism, traveling here can still be difficult. There are no direct flights to Henderson Airport in Honiara, the islands' only international airport, and additional domestic flights or boat rides are often necessary to reach your final destination. But the extra travel time is worth it for the end result: a vacation in a pristine natural wonderland.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
The start of 2013 marks an epic year of milestones for Amsterdam -- and no, we're not talking about the expected ban on marijuana sales to tourists that's had so many people in a tizzy. The Dutch city will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of its famed Canal Ring, which has given Amsterdam the moniker, "Venice of the North." In 2013, Amsterdam also marks the 175th birthday of the Artis Royal Zoo, the nation's most famous zoo, which houses 900 species of animals.
Additionally, after years of extensive renovation, the iconic Rijksmuseum will reopen in spring 2013, showcasing 800 years of Dutch history and art in 80 restored halls. The upcoming year is also the 125th anniversary of both the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Concertgebouw concert hall. Also of interest to visitors is the 160th birthday anniversary of the Dutch master Vincent van Gogh, and the 40-year anniversary of the popular Van Gogh Museum, which is also reopening after renovations.
See our panel of advisors' picks for Travel's Best Halloween Attractions 2013, amazing pumpkin carvings, creepy vampire destinations and more!