It was another amazing year of travel! I didn’t quite match my 2016 statistics, flying 230,511 miles, or roughly 25,000 fewer than last year, but I couldn’t have fit another trip in if I tried!
My 22 countries included (in order): US, UK, Oman, UAE, Costa Rica, Israel, Chile, Bermuda, Mexico, Thailand, the Maldives, Singapore, Panama, Colombia, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, Czechia, Austria, Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Japan (again), and Bermuda (again). My new countries this year were the Maldives, Colombia and Uruguay.
Domestic destinations included: California, Colorado, Alabama, Montana, Ohio, Florida, Illinois, and New York. I had never been to Alabama, Montana or Ohio before.
In all of that travel there were a few hotels, destinations and experiences that stood out. So I’m detailing them below! I obviously recommend them all highly.
Best Hotel, Asia
Park Hyatt Tokyo
Asia is full of amazing hotels, and this year I stayed in many of them, from the Peninsula Bangkok to Singapore’s Fullerton Hotel to the Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills. But the Park Hyatt Tokyo stood out because of its service. I stayed with my 7-year-old for a week in October, and we were constantly greeted by name (straight out of Lost in Translation, which was filmed there) and treated like royalty. And then I returned a month later for an AFAR Magazine event and I was welcomed back by everyone I passed. I’ll never stay anywhere else in Tokyo.
Best Hotel, Europe
Aria Hotel Prague
The Aria Hotel Prague has it all – a perfect location near Charles Bridge, a great view (from our room at least – I didn’t see other rooms), an excellent breakfast, an afternoon tea that the kids looked forward to every day, and staff who were willing to go above and beyond – like opening the rooftop restaurant for me to photograph sunrise. On par with Aria’s amazing property in Budapest.
Best Hotel, South America
Tierra Patagonia, Chile
We actually stayed in a lot of South American hotels this year, in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia. Tierra Patagonia was really more of a lodge than a hotel, but whatever you call it, it was perfect. The setting is stunning, and the included activities were fun and kid-friendly. Worth the trek to get there!
Best Hotel, US
Hotel Giraffe, New York City
Library Hotels only has hotels in a few cities around the world – Budapest, Prague, New York and now Toronto. Every one of them is amazing. This year I was in NYC three times and stayed in three of their properties: Hotel Elysée; the Library Hotel; and Hotel Giraffe. They were three of my top hotel stays anywhere, but if I had to choose one, it would be Hotel Giraffe because of the location – near Madison Park – and the theme. I’m a sucker for giraffes.
The Minions Suite at Loews Portofino Bay, Orlando
The Minions Suite at Loews Portofino Bay is the coolest room ever for kids. Adults too. Half is an upscale suite, but then you walk through what looks to be the door of a secret lair and you enter a room decorated floor to ceiling with Minions. The rocket beds were a highlight.
Best View from Room
Park Hyatt Tokyo
In August I wrote a post for Travelocity on my 25 favorite views from hotel rooms. Then in October we stayed at the Park Hyatt Tokyo and it put every other view to shame! Plus it’s impossible to look out and not think of Lost in Translation.
Six Senses Laamu, Maldives
We spent an amazing four nights at Six Senses Laamu, and in retrospect should have stayed longer. Everything was perfect, from the island/overwater villa setting to the food, activities and bike riding. Our new favorite resort.
Park Hyatt Tokyo and Tierra Atacama, Chile
I can’t choose just one. Every afternoon in Tokyo we ended up at the Park Hyatt’s 47th floor pool, and every afternoon in the Atacama Desert we ended up at Tierra Atacama‘s pool. Both have stunning views. Downtime at the pool is a good thing.
This is an easy call. Any year that I get to stay at Peninsula Bangkok, it’s going to be my favorite breakfast. I love the riverside setting, and the food is the best anywhere, from dim sum to French pastries to the fresh mango. I usually go back three times for more mango… Honorable mention: Park Hyatt Tokyo; Soneva Fushi; and Six Senses Laamu.
Dimitris Ammoudi Taverna, Santorini
We detour to Santorini at least every other year just to have lunch at Dimitris, and it never disappoints. Note to self: call ahead for a table next time. This is the first time that we got there and had to wait.
The Middle of the Arabian Desert
I had a lot of excellent meals this year, but the best based on food, location and conversation was in the Arabian Desert on a photo expedition with National Geographic. An amazing, memorable night in a unique setting. Honorable Mention: Park Hyatt Tokyo with AFAR Magazine.
Hot Butterbeer at Universal Orlando
It’s even better than frozen butterbeer, and only available during the holidays. And if you add a shot of espresso to it…wow! Check out The Travel Bite’s (slightly high-calorie) recipe if you want to try to re-create it at home.
Casa Pestagua, Cartagena, Colombia
I always wake up for sunrise when I travel. And it’s virtually always worth it! On Instagram this year I posted sunrise photos from Japan, California, Costa Rica, Jerusalem, Chile, Mexico, Montana, Panama, Florence, Greece, Prague and Florida. I can’t pick a favorite! Here are a few.
Six Senses Laamu, Maldives
As much as we loved everything at Six Senses Laamu, the sunsets were the best. There are overwater hammocks at the bar that are positioned perfectly for sunset. We relaxed there for at least two hours every night. If it wasn’t halfway around the world from California, we’d go back all the time just for the sunsets!
Best Conference Location
I went to travel events this year in New York, Jerusalem, Bermuda, Alabama, Austria, Japan and Argentina. I love Jerusalem. Austria was amazing. Huntsville, Alabama was actually very cool. But the destination that impressed me the most was Argentina. The ATTA conference was technically in Salta, but it included a day in the desert and wine region outside of Salta, and four days of biking, rafting, kayaking and hiking in northern Patagonia. The people were amazing, the food was excellent, and the scenery everywhere was stunning. I’ve never loved Buenos Aires, but I’ll return to Argentina for everything else.
Best Walking Tour
Context Travel – Tokyo for Families
My daughter wanted to see Tokyo’s crazy side – the arcades, photo booths and animal cafes. Done! This walking tour through Ikebukuro with Context Travel was perfect.
Best Group Trip
Panama with Thomson Family Adventures
I’ve done a lot of group trips – primarily press trips and photo expeditions – but had never before gone on a family-oriented group trip. Thomson Family Adventures blew me away. Every detail was perfect, and every activity was well-chosen. And we had no glitches over the course of a week, which is extremely rare. We also got along great with the other families. Would travel with Thomson again in a heartbeat.
Best Road Trip
Mammoth Lakes, California
My 10-year-old and I headed off to Mammoth Lakes for three days / two nights and had a great time hiking, kayaking, rock climbing and exploring. A new favorite in-state destination.
Coolest Experience with Kids
Having Universal Orlando to Ourselves
In my role as an ambassador for Universal Orlando, I got to visit three times this year: for the grand opening of Volcano Bay; for the launch of their holiday festivities; and with my two daughters at the beginning of September just for fun. September 1st is the official first day of Hogwarts, and my oldest daughter was 11 this year so she’s a First Year. I asked Universal if there was any way we could get early park access that day to photograph in Diagon Alley and then to be the first passengers of the day on the Hogwarts Express from King’s Cross to Hogwarts. They said yes! It was the coolest morning ever.
Coolest Experience without Kids
Falconry at the Al Maha Desert Resort
I loved my National Geographic photo expedition to Dubai and UAE – definitely the most fun that I’ve ever had on a photo trip. One of the highlights was early morning falconry at the Al Maha Desert Resort outside of Dubai. We wore robes. Because it was early. And because it was fun.
Best Impromptu Decision
We rented a villa in Cernobbio, Italy for two weeks. And we were bored after two days. So we booked a last-minute, four-night stay in Florence at Palazzo San Niccolo and jumped on the train. We had a great time, discovered new restaurants, met up with friends, and saved part of the summer.
Whitefish Lake, Montana
It was a fun year of kayaking, from Bermuda to Argentina to the Maldives to Mexico to several spots in the US. I’d have to give the overall nod to Montana. Lakes are typically flatter than the ocean anyway, and we loved Whitefish Lake. Plus is was my 7-year-old’s first time in a kayak and she did great.
Best Kids’ Club
Soneva Fushi, Maldives
We’re not a big kids’ club family, and we didn’t love Soneva Fushi overall, but they have the best kids’ club we’ve ever seen. From the pool and waterslide to ping-pong, a music room and a LEGO room, we spent more time there than we have at any other kids’ club.
Cleveland wasn’t previously on my radar, but my son and I headed there for the grand re-opening of the Ritz-Carlton Cleveland, and we had an amazing three days. From glass blowing to a Cavs game to world-class museums and restaurants, we were extremely impressed by all the city had to offer.
Hotels that Include Activities
This year we had several hotel stays where virtually all activities were including in the room rate – both high-end properties like Tierra Atacama and Tierra Patagonia, and lower-priced resorts like Punta Islita in Costa Rica. From hikes to horseback riding, we simply signed up for what we wanted a couple days in advance. And my new yardstick is kayaking. If you have kayaks, guests should be able to take them out anytime without having to pay for them. It’s not kid-friendly to make parents pay for an hour-long kayak rental when the wind may pick up and your child may want to go back in after ten minutes.
And now on to 2018! I have Hawaii, the Galapagos Islands and Brazil booked at this point, and am planning Greenland and the Seychelles as well. The rest is a mystery!