Great Getaways for 2010

travelingThe holiday decorations have been crammed back into the attic between the Halloween jack-o’-lanterns and Fourth of July bunting. The Champagne bottles from New Year’s Eve are in the recycle bins and the Super Bowl frenzy has yet to peak. Sounds like a good time to grab a moment of your attention for our annual roundup of where to go this year.

LAS VEGAS: After a gloomy late 2008 and downright dismal 2009, Las Vegas appears to be slowly rebounding from its stupor. Maybe it’s the completion of the CityCenter complex that stood out like a dead pterodactyl on the Strip or the buzz from last summer’s sleeper hit “The Hangover” that reminded people of the outrageous possibilities of a night in Sin City (get hit in the face by Mike Tyson). Whether the boom years’ bubbly optimism can return quickly is doubtful, but anyone who has seen Vegas “down and out” because of anything from the light-dimming energy crisis of the 1970s to the travel freeze after 9/11 is taking a gamble betting against the improbable metropolis in the middle of nowhere.

HAWAII: This should have been Hawaii’s time. The dollar’s problems and Mexico’s troubles, combined with the 50th anniversary of statehood last year seemed to make the islands a natural for a string of good years. But the collapse of Aloha and ATA airlines led to skyrocketing airfares, followed by the financial crash keeping more people at home. Continental’s new service to Hawaii from Orange County, starting March 7, might be the beginning of a Southern California-driven tourist rebound.

MEXICO: Just about every forecast I have seen this winter predicts a big comeback for Mexico. I’m not so sure. Even if H1N1 flu is more of a problem in parts of the United States than Mexico and officials are aggressively cracking down on drug-driven crime south of the border, Mexico still has an image problem. There are plenty of deals, a good exchange rate and new luxury hotels opening. The question: Are Americans ready to forget all the headlines of 2009 for the deals and delights of 2010?

VANCOUVER: The Winter Olympics will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia, with much of the skiing in the nearby mountain resort of Whistler Blackcomb. Since Whistler Blackcomb regularly tops glossy travel magazine lists of the top places to ski and Vancouver is an international favorite, the cities hosting the games from Feb. 12-28 might not get as much of a bump as lesser-known spots like Calgary or Salt Lake City.

SOUTH AFRICA: Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon’s star turn in “Invictus” comes just as South Africa is about to host the FIFA World Cup for what we call soccer and the rest of the world calls football. Nations will come to a screeching halt if their teams get beyond the quarterfinals. The one exception: The United States, where soccer has gained popularity but not the national frenzy found from Rio to London to Cape Town. Games start June 11 and run into mid-July.

SHANGHAI: Two years after Beijing wowed the world with the Summer Olympics, China is hoping for a repeat with the modern version of the World’s Fair in Shanghai. The event intended to showcase China’s technological and architectural muscle (and downplay its repression and sputtering economy) opens May 1 and closes Oct. 31. The excitement starts right from the airport, where visitors take the world’s only commercially operational magnetic levitation (Maglev) train into the city.

OBERAMMERGAU: If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then this small German town has the details down pat. Once every 10 years, the locals put on the passion play of the death of Jesus Christ. It’s been a big hit since 1634 and draws 500,000 people for the run between May and October.

DISNEY, HARRY POTTER, KING KONG AND SAINTS: The Associated Press touts Disney California Adventure’s new “World of Color” attraction, while saying Universal’s theme parks will have good years because of “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” in Orlando and a reborn King Kong 360 ride in Hollywood (the old one burned down). On a slightly more spiritual note, The Associated Press forecasts bigger crowds on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain because the July 25 feast day of St. James the Apostle, whose remains are said to be in the church, falls on a Sunday.

BIG BOATS: There’s a seemingly never-ending race for the biggest cruise ship in the world. The new top tub is Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, which is so large it has interior-view rooms that look out from either side of the superstructure on a center deck area. Sixteen stories tall, it had its maiden voyage in December 2009 and will be plowing across the Caribbean much of 2010. Open-seas fans like myself are waiting for Cunard’s new Queen Elizabeth, the third ship to carry the name for the line since 1938 (though the middle ship was named Queen Elizabeth 2). I was on her final trans-Atlantic crossing two years ago. The new Queen Elizabeth (no use of 2 or 3 this time) sets sail Oct. 12. Purists huff that it’s just a modified off-the-rack cruise ship being passed off as a one-of-a-kind Queen by Cunard (owned by Carnival Corp.). But I’m looking forward to taking a crossing sometime in the future.

IT’S “IT”:’s “2010 It List”: Marrakesh, Kyrgyzstan, Vancouver, Burma, Venice, Antarctica, Cuba, Sri Lanka, Colombia, South Africa.

WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS: Venerable guidebook company Frommer’s top destinations of 2010: Santiago de Cuba, Cuba; Florida Panhandle beaches; Hawaii (the Big Island); Salta Province, Argentina; Mexico City; Melbourne, Australia; Hanoi, Vietnam; Kerala, India; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Tunisia; Copenhagen, Denmark; Isles of Scilly, England. Frommer’s reader favorite destination for 2010, based on a reader poll: Paris

ICELAND IS HOT: The beautiful if debt-ravaged Atlantic island nation is among Lonely Planet guide’s top choices for 2010. Other spots the guidebook publisher likes as “value” destinations: Thailand, London, South Africa, Malaysia, Mexico, India, Bulgaria, Kenya ? and Las Vegas (obviously they’ve never had $200 out on the craps table at Caesar’s).


SOURCE: The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (c) 2010.