This year, the Deal Experts at Travelzoo touched every continent on our travels, and along the way forged new friendships, got a little lost, felt a million miles from home and grew eager to plan the next adventure. Here are some of our favorite travel memories from 2012.
Happy holidays, and safe travels in the new year!
The Great Outdoors
• Warren Chang, New York: "Setting foot on Antarctica! I not only wanted to visit Antarctica but to set foot on the continent. I was privileged to find a cruise line and good weather from Mother Nature, which enabled me to set foot onto Port Lockroy, Antarctica. Port Lockroy houses a former British research facility that has since been turned into a small museum, gift shop -- and post office!"
• Ainslie Hogarth, Toronto: "This year I visited Peggy's Cove in Nova Scotia, an extensive granite outcrop overlooking the Atlantic Ocean with an unpredictable and often breathtaking surf. Seeing the giant waves explode against the rocks filled me with both awe of nature's boundless wonders, and the overwhelming urge to belt out "Little Mermaid" lyrics. Also you can find any variety of lobster knick-knack in the nearby town, including a lobster yo-yo which I purchased with every intention of gifting to my niece, but instead kept because I'm shellfish."
• Blaire Constantinou, Los Angeles: "We brought back many great memories of Australia, from feeding kangaroos at Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo to surfing the waves at Bells Beach. The most memorable was driving up the Eastern coast and taking in the metropolitan cities, internationally famous surf beaches, and coastal Bohemian and rain forest-fringed towns."
• Kelsey Rexroat, New York: "My favorite travel moment was in Muscat, Oman: watching the sun set over the Gulf of Oman after a day of exploring its underwater life on a scuba excursion."
• Lily Fu, Los Angeles: "Boating in Sian Ka'an (protected biosphere south of Tulum in Riviera Maya and UNESCO World Heritage Site) and being circled by dolphins and turtles!"
• Angela Tablac, Miami: "My favorite travel moment was in Peru, walking through Machu Picchu just after the morning fog cleared away. It was such an emotional moment for me because it was the culmination of a four-day, 34-mile hike on the Inca Trail -- complete with dizzying altitude sickness, three nights of sleeping awkwardly in a one-person tent and a lot of walking every day. Going through the good and the not-so-good on that four-day trek made finally seeing Machu Picchu all the more worthwhile and special."
• Erica Wacker, Chicago: "Ringing in the new year outside Dublin's Christ Church Cathedral with hundreds of revelers from around the world."
• Annalisa Henderson, New York: "In March I traveled to the City of Light -- Paris -- for a long weekend with my best friend, Jenny, after we were inspired by a fantastic airfare in the Top 20. Springtime in this beautiful city means lovely weather and, best of all, slim crowds. Besides happily sitting at sidewalk cafes and attempting to learn French phrases from my fluent friend, highlights included napping on a bench in the Jardin des Tuileries, indulging in exquisite macarons from Pierre Hermé, dining at tiny locals-only wine bars and admiring the graceful architecture of Notre Dame at midnight. Sometimes the best trips are the unexpected ones."
• Courtney Brooks, Miami: "Traveling to and throughout Italy to the Amalfi Coast, Capri and Rome with such a close and special friend, exploring and sharing in the beautiful scenery, staying at amazing top-rated hotels, enjoying the culture, outstanding food and wine at Michelin and local restaurants and making my birthday celebration a memory that will last forever!"
• Jen Lee, Los Angeles: "Uncorking a bottle of wine on a rooftop in Strasbourg, France, and toasting to a view of a million twinkling Christmas market stalls."
• Jessica Tilley, Las Vegas: "Taking an elevator ride to the top of Coit Tower in San Francisco. It was such an amazing spot for a 360 view of the Bay Area."
• William Brown, Chicago: "My favorite travel experience of the year was in Las Vegas when I stayed at Trump. All I have to say is: SnoBar margarita ice pops. They were absolutely delicious and surprisingly potent. Nothing better to combat the offensive heat by the pool -- and you have to eat them really quickly. I am currently looking into a franchise."
The Unusual & Unexpected
• Andrea Kahn, New York: "I spent an incredible afternoon in rural Estonia along the Russian border in Setomaa, whose inhabitants are a cultural/linguistic minority in Estonia and Russia known for their tradition of choral singing. Though we had no common language, four women who had been singing together for nearly 50 years and have performed in music festivals in cities like New York took us to visit the graves of their ancestors and then sang four-part a cappella traditional music for us. I was touched by their openness and wowed by their musical talent."
• Ashley Pyle, Chicago: "I watched the Kansas Jayhawks win during March Madness in the middle of the ocean on our Caribbean cruise."
• Matt Ring, New York: "I was in Jerusalem we walked through an archaeological excavation as it was going on. It was a new tunnel that was discovered leading from outside the modern city walls to right outside the Temple Mount (inside today's Old City). They were sending bags of sand through the tunnel on a pulley so we had to wait until all the bags swung down before you could walk through. It was not open to the public, only to those traveling with tour guides who are familiar with the excavation. It was really cool!"
• Karl Klockars, Chicago: "The Traverse City Film Festival (Michigan) is always a high point of the summer. A few days to escape to Northern Michigan and see a dozen movies or so, combined with the restaurants and craft breweries that abound up there, is an awesome time that I anticipate on an annual basis."
• Debbie Kwok, Mountain View: "Eating fermented shark in Iceland with friends I've made on the trip."
• Nicole Pointon, Vancouver: "For this Muggle-born mom, the idea of spending a whole week at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando at the request of my five-year-old was a little daunting. But once I got there, I never wanted to leave. I'm still dizzy from circling back into line at the Flight of the Hippogriff over and over and over again."
• Andrew Young, New York: "Hiking through the slot canyon with my two boys and family to the top of Tent Rocks National Park in New Mexico near Santa Fe. Spread your arms and you can touch the canyon walls. When you get to the top, the view of the mesa for miles around is humbling."
• Haifa Sweeny, San Francisco: "Visiting a farm in Parma in Italy where a father and son were making Parmesan cheese and then getting the chance to taste the raw cheese!"
• Angela Shannon, Chicago: "Dipping my five-month-old daughter's toes in the sand for the first time while vacationing in Miami, and later, watching her run sand through her fingers; may she be a lifelong traveler and explorer."
• Caroline Eber, New York: "My sister and I learned that a popular hiking trail in Ireland led to the top of Croagh Patrick, where legend has it that St. Patrick banished all the snakes from the country. What we didn't know -- until about halfway up the mountain -- is that this climb, most commonly done as a religious pilgrimage, becomes incredibly steep, rocky and scary toward the top. After a harrowing climb, making it to the summit and discovering St. Patrick's beautiful chapel was my favorite travel moment this year. Until we had to turn around and find a way down...."
• Chris Vassil, Chicago: "My visit to Disney World this year proved that the 'happiest place on earth' is just as much fun at 30 years old as it was at 10. With adult beverages, fine dining and behind-the-scenes tours, our new twist on a family-favorite turned out to be not only the first family vacation we've taken in almost a decade, but also one of our most memorable ones."
-- Hilary Solan is an editor at Travelzoo and based in Chicago. Travelzoo has 250 deal experts from around the world who rigorously research, evaluate and test thousands of deals to find those with true value.