Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal // (c) 2005 dsasso
For me, 2010 was a year of amazing discoveries, with visits to several new countries and several favorite ones.
Secrets Sanctuary Cap Cana, Dominican Republic
My trip to the Dominican Republic marked both my first visit to that country, as well as my first trip to the Caribbean. Having been raised with a healthy dose of Disney lore, I had some pretty distinct ideas of what the Caribbean might be like. My disappointment over not being called “matey” (not even once) was short lived, however, far surpassed by the services offered by the new Secrets Sanctuary Cap Cana.
My fabulous room — loft-style with two-story windows and my own private plunge pool — made it hard for me to leave. Thankfully, the food at Secrets Sanctuary was easily some of the best I’ve had at an all-inclusive resort (with a special nod to the Kobe beef rib eye steak), forcing me out of seclusion.
Another first this year was my trip to Italy. Invited by new cruise line Voyages to Antiquity, my mom and I enjoyed a few days in Rome before boarding the sailing known as “Pompeii is Something So Wonderful.”
In Rome, our corner suite at the Grand Hotel Via Veneto, gave us a gorgeous overview of Rome’s trendiest district. Although the hotel counts its location as one of its top selling points — it is within a mile or so of most of the city’s most famous attractions — for mom and I, the selling point was the amazing meals and desserts handcrafted by the hotel’s chef, not to mention his handmade cheeses and hand-cured meats.
After departing from Rome, my mom and I sailed on the Aegean Odyssey along Italy’s West Coast, from Pompeii to Palermo — each morning waking up in a new destination. Many of the shore excursions are included in the ship’s programming, and we particularly enjoyed visiting Pompeii, a place I’ve always wanted to see. Occasionally, we would skip the planned activities, however, just to spend some time people watching while sipping cappuccino or sampling a local gelato. Without a doubt, the cruise highlight was watching Mount Stromboli erupt in the pre-dawn hours.
Club Med Ixtapa Pacific, Ixtapa, Mexico
Although Mexico is an old favorite, both Ixtapa and Club Med were new to me this year. Rightly or wrongly, Club Med has always seemed the epitome of “all-inclusive resorts” and since I spent a lot of time at covering all-inclusive travel this year, it was great to add Club Med to the mix.
The resort’s gorgeous location is definitely a draw, but the uniqueness of the activities were what I found compelling. Although my extreme terror of heights made me a bad candidate for the Circus Academy, it was amazing to watch fearless young children climb up the trapeze for the first time and be accomplishing flips by the end of their training. Regular fitness classes include the high-energy Zumba program, with its Latin salsa and merengue music, which made an excellent soundtrack for our stay.
We also enjoyed a day sightseeing in Ixtapa and Zihuatenejo, which gave us a great overview of a fantastic destination that is less frenzied and more intimate that the larger beach resorts for which Mexico has become known.
Breezes Resort & Spa, Santa Clara, Panama
Panama was yet another first for me this year.
Although I was a guest of Breezes Resort & Spa, some two hours outside of the capital, much of the fascination of Panama came from visiting “the Canal.” The older I get the more interested I become in history, and the impact of the Panama Canal on world history and commerce can’t be overstated, so to be within arm’s distance of the ships sailing through the canal was a thrill.
Santa Clara, itself, as I mentioned, is a bit of a trek from the airport. But the region is filled with beaches, tropical rain forests and plenty for visitors to explore. Guests of the hotel, which starts at $200 per room, per night, can book optional tour programs, or they can rent a car and explore on their own.
When I have an opportunity to travel to Japan, which is one of my favorite destinations, it is unlikely that I’ll pass up the opportunity. This particular trip, which was in conjunction with the Visit Japan Travel Fair, also provided me a chance to join a post-event fam trip.
Kyushu Island is Japan’s third-largest island, and is the most southern of its main islands. I was excited to visit the island because I have several friends from the area who have been raving about it for years, but the fact that the climate is somewhat more temperate than the northern islands was also a plus for my November trip.
In Kyushu, we visited Kagoshima, which gave us a close up view of Mt. Sakurajima, an active volcano that erupted a half-dozen times while we were in the area, and Miyazaki, which is considered the birthplace of Japan.
Among the many highlights of this trip was the ability to utilize the area’s volcanic activity in the form of some of the most delightful onsen (natural hot springs) I’ve ever visited. From a secluded forest onsen, to a rooftop, seaside onsen, to an onsen bath preceded by lying in the healing, hot sands of Ibuzuki, there was no lack of opportunity to enjoy Japan’s favorite form of relaxation.