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Our round-table panel of editors gather to discuss our top destinations for the new year as well as one city our readers can't seem to get enough of.

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Kelly Regan: Hi, and welcome to the frommers.com podcast. I'm Kelley Regan, Editorial Director of the Frommer's Travel Guides, and today it's time for our annual top destinations podcast, where we talk about our list of top destinations for 2010, and to help us go through the list, I have a round table of esteemed Frommer's colleagues to help.

Today I'll be joined by David Lidel, Editorial Director for frommers.com, and my fellow podcast co-host. Jason Clampet, Senior Online Editor for frommers.com, Gene Shannon, who's our Associate Editor for Frommer's Canada, and Mark Henschell, who's an Editor with our Frommer's UK office.

So David, Jason, Gene, Mark--Welcome, thanks for coming to talk about our top destinations today.

[crosstalk greetings]

Kelly: So for those of you who might not know, we've been picking our top destinations here at Frommer's for the past five years or so, and so we do this every year to look forward to the new calendar year and what places we think are up and coming, or interesting, or have some kind of timely reason for you to be traveling to them now.

It's a really exciting way to motivate yourselves about travel and as part of our selection process, we go through and talk to our writers and our fellow Frommer's Editors, and you know, just based on our experiencing out in the travel industry and surveying the landscape, we come up with a list that we think really works and that will get people excited about travel.

So this year, we have a slightly different approach that we've taken to our top destinations and I'm going to ask David Lidel about that. David, what's new and different about how we picked our top destinations this year?

David Lidel: Well, as opposed to every other year--where we basically had all of our Editors sit in a giant room and throw names out, and then argue back and forth, until we could whittle a list down to something reasonable. This year, we did two things. One, we built our own system, where Editors could make their suggestions online for our own private site, and then from there, we could whittle a list down.

And one of the exciting things is--really is--that we also, based upon past experience from making these lists--you know, we want to find a way to get people excited about various destinations around the world, to help them pick places that they might want to go to...

Kelly: Right.
David: ...maybe places they've never even considered. We always have feedback from our readers, which is--we love that. But the number one type of feedback that we got was, "Hey, why isn't this place on the list?"
Kelly: Right.
David: And there was always the claim of "if this destination isn't on the list, then the list must not be valid," so...
Kelly: Or, "I can't believe you didn't pick...destination X."
David: Exactly.
Kelly: Yeah.
David: So this year, we decided to open it up to our readers, as well, so we have a list of Editor's picks based upon our year long experience of seeing where trends were going and places that people should be looking at now, before they become too popular or maybe having some great festival going on.
Kelly: Right.
David: And we also wanted to find out from our readers, based upon a couple week long nomination process, to where we had 3,000 submissions. From that, we had to pick, out of those submissions, the top 10, based on vote count.
Kelly: Right.
David: And so we had this list up for our readers to vote then on the top 10 destinations. Several destinations ran neck and neck. I don't think the nomination list was surprising, but they're also based upon those perennial favorites, that people always want to go to. You have Hawaii, you have Alaska, you have--the entire country of Ireland was nominated, you have the entire country of Italy was nominated.
Kelly: Right.
David: Then you have specific cities. I think actually the most surprising place on the nomination list was Antarctica.
Kelly: Oh yeah, we did get quite a number of those for Antarctica.
David: Right, and I mean, that also shows you that people, they do have dreams about seeing exciting places that--not necessarily the easiest place to go.
Kelly: Sure and so I mean I think that the point is that the reader's parameters for choosing a top destination, might not be the same as ours. You know, we're trying to look ahead to reflect what trends are happening or what's in the news. I think for readers, it's really more about what is their dream destination and where is it that they've always wanted to go or where they're planning to go.
Jason Clampet: Right, or where they want to go back to.
Kelly: Or where they want to go back to, exactly.
David: So why don't I just say what the reader's choice is? The one that won, by our readers...
Kelly: You've built up the suspense...
David: Yes, and then we'll have Gene go ahead and he can read the rest of the list--the boring Editor picks compared to the exciting reader's picks, because you know, we always actually have to listen to the readers and those things that they're interested in, so they do have a say, and their pick is Paris this year.
Kelly: For 2010.

David For 2010, our reader's pick is Paris, France. Not a surprise. Perennial favorite. Absolutely gorgeous place. Everybody must go to Paris, at least once in their life. It actually ran neck in neck with Rome, and with Ireland.

Kelly: Yep.
David: But Paris won out in the end, and then all the others that were nominated were distant seconds.
Kelly: And I bet people are picking Paris because they are really curious to see how that McDonald's is going to look in the Louvre.

[laughter]

David: I think that must be their primary motivation.

[laughter]

Jason: It was great reading over the comments because when people nominated places, they could also say why. So during the nomination process, where we had a few hundred nominations for Paris, people's reasons were interesting. You know, they wanted to go back there, to the city where they got engaged, it's the city where they fell in love--it's a place they've always dreamed of for people who haven't gone there yet.

And we pulled out a quote that will run in our top destinations article from one of our readers and they simply said that it was the greatest city in the world.

[laughter]

Jason: I think that there are many great cities in the world, but I think you can make a pretty good argument that, you know, our Editor's top destinations--our list of really fascinating and interesting places this year and we're really excited about them--but I think all of us around the table wouldn't mind going back to Paris, one more time.
Kelly: Sure, sure.
David: I would never complain about going back to Paris. I mean the reason we pick destinations to be on the list are to pick those places that are sometimes not considered that are worthy of attention. So places like Paris and Rome and New York City and San Francisco and London, fall off the consideration list because they seem too obvious to us.
Jason: Unless they do something fascinating or there's a great reason, which is why one of those places is on our list this year which maybe Gene will..
Kelly: Gene, why don't you kick it off, and put people out of their suspense and read off the list of our Editor's choices for top destinations this year?
Gene: I'd be happy to. We have twelve selections. And they start with Tunisia, second we have Copenhagen, Denmark, in the news these days, Hanoi, in Vietnam, Santiago, Cuba, Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates, the big island of Hawaii, which is very popular as was mentioned, Salta Province, in Argentina, the Isles of Scilly, in England, Mexico City, Melbourne, Australia, the beaches of the Florida panhandle, and Kerala, in India.
Kelly: OK, so there's our list of twelve spots. You can find complete information about our top destinations at Frommers.com/go/topdestinations, and there's also much more extensive information about these places in the destinations area on the website.

But I thought today what we'd do is we'd focus on five destinations on the list so we could go a little bit more in depth and tell you a little bit about them. We're going to kick it off with Mark, who's going to talk about the Isles of Scilly. So Mark, what do you think puts the Isles of Scilly on our list?

Mark Henschell: Well we're talking about green destinations and magical places visitors might want to go, the Isles of Scilly aren't often mentioned in the UK, but domestic tourism in the UK surged in recent years and the Isles of Scilly, which are S-C-I-L-L-Y, just in case anybody is wondering.
Kelly: [inaudible 08:48] images.
Mark: Exactly, yes. They're only 28 miles west-southwest of Land's End, and they're on actually 41 square kilometers. They're really tiny and they're basically a group of low lying granite islands. They're really well-positioned in that they've got--about 50 of the islands are uninhabited, about five of the islands are inhabited.

But we're talking about a population of about 1,500 at St. Mary's, which is the largest island. There's no cars for a start. So in itself, that's quite unusual. And you've got silver white beaches, turquoise sea. It's a kind of a sub-tropical vegetation there, and it feels very unpolluted. There's fantastic wildlife. There's a lot of birdwatchers who go there in the spring and the autumn, and they have lots of white flowers and migrant butterflies.

So that's why I think it's kind of quite a magical place. The kinds of things you can do there apart from just enjoying the flora and the fauna are things like kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, cycling. But you've got all of that and you've got really good cafes and pubs as well. And it's actually the only area of outstanding natural beauty, or it's the smallest rather, in England.

And the reason we've picked it this year is just because I think Devon/Cornwall comes up as a big UK destination every year...

Kelly: Right.
Mark: ...and Scilly is often overlooked. And although it can get quite windy in between the islands, because there's not a lot in between the islands, it's only a short boat ride in between them. And there's quite varied accommodation. You've got camping in the southwest on St. Agnes. You've got sort of family houses that you can stay in at St. Mary's.

Everything from just sort of the usual kind of holiday in sand castles and some really nice weather to snorkel in. It's got it all. And when you kind of add these things up, it sounds like a really sort of foreign exotic destination, but it's just off the coast of England.

Kelly: I was going to say that. I mean it seems very unexpected. Like an unexpectedly sort of tropical or outdoorsy destination that you might not think of when you think of traveling to England.
Mark: That's it. A lot of the community is increased every year by people doing gig sailing and lot of the sailing community going over there. That said, that's a niche market. And you do need to book ahead. There isn't a lot of accommodation on the island. It's not going to be the cheapest holiday you've ever taken. But most people who get there, whether it's by plane or helicopter or boat, want to go back and spend a little longer.
Kelly: Yes.
Mark: I think what I'm going to do now is get on to our next destination. And I think Jason you're going to be speaking about Hanoi?
Jason: Yes. I'm going to talk a little bit about Hanoi. One of the challenges we have every year when we start talking about Southeast Asia is there are a lot of options. It's one of those destinations where I think after people have been too cautious about traveling there for a long time, it's just emerging now.

It's becoming a much more interesting scene, and a much more accessible scene for outsiders. And we turn to Hanoi this year for a couple of reasons. And one, it's a fascinating city, but also, it's celebrating its 1,000th anniversary, which is a milestone most places don't...

Kelly: Haven't yet reached?
Jason: I say that sitting here in Hoboken, New Jersey, which I think is 200 years old and very happy about it. Despite its age, it's thriving, it's cosmopolitan and it is very excited about the future. One of the things that drove us to choose the city is because of the kind of confidence of the residents and the eagerness to share the city with outsiders.

Whether that's in the dining scene in really nice restaurants or excellent street food, where you can get a bowl of pho which I believe cures all sicknesses, no matter what's wrong with you. You can't have a bad meal in Hanoi. Along with the food, there's incredible shopping, whether it's the Dong Wong Market or you have smaller funky boutiques.

Like other places in Southeast Asia, it's a great place to go and have custom clothing made, because of the affordability. You'll pay a twentieth of what you'd pay to have a custom suit made in New York city or London. So it has the right mix of history and modernity that make it a very, very compelling destination for the coming year. So I'm actually going to go halfway around the world to Kelly, who is going to talk a bit about a very different place.

Kelly: Very different place, the Florida panhandle. You know I have been a big fan of the Florida panhandle for many, many years.
David: You mean the exotic Florida panhandle.
Kelly: The exotic Florida panhandle, exactly. I am a beach person. I'm kind of unashamedly a beach person. And I would say my experience isn't incredibly extensive, certainly not worldwide extensive. And I think you'll find the beaches in the Florida panhandle to be some of the most beautiful of anywhere in the world.

Northwest Florida doesn't really get a lot of respect, it's kind of the Rodney Dangerfield of Florida destinations, if there is such a place. But I think there are so many worthwhile reasons to go. A large swath of the panhandle, as you start to go up to the handle part of the panhandle, are national seashores, national recreation areas and a lot of the land is protected.

The beaches, as I said, are stunning--white sand, gulf coast beaches. And there is a lot of, as Mark had mentioned with Scilly, the Isles of Scilly, there's a lot of outdoor activities. There's kayaking and there's sailing and windsurfing. There's a lot of big game fishing. Boats will leave from Destin, one of the main towns there and go out on charters to catch big fish.

And it's a great family destination really, because most of the properties, they're actually relatively few resorts in that area. So unlike the rest of Florida really what you would do, is you'd rent a house. You'd rent a house, or a condo, or an apartment. And most of them are right there, very close to, or on the beach. And what's nice about it is, you get a lot of different types of experiences as you drive along the Panhandle.

As you start further in the South, in Apalachicola, which is right in the Panhandle as it starts to bend, it's a very old Florida place. It's well known for its oysters, a lot of Key's funky shopping. And then you travel up along the coast to Grayton Beach, which is, you pass my city, which skips over a very Spring Break association to it. It has a lot of beach side bars, and karaoke, and things like that.

But Grayton Beach has a nice surf culture aspect to it, and then you actually get to the planned communities of Seaside and Rosemary Beach. Seaside, you might remember, is where the film the Truman Show was filmed back in the day. But beautiful, little, bungalow-type, pastel houses, and then you get further up the coast to Destin, which is much more.

There's a giant outlet center there. There's a lot more shopping. There's a little bit more developed, but you really get a real breadth of experience there. I can't recommend it highly enough. It's much more of a summer destination, because its further north in Florida.

In the winter, the winters due to tend to be a little colder. So I think it's much more popular for people to go in the summer time. But certainly in the September, October, April, May, you get some great shoulder season bargains. So that's my pitch for the Panhandle.

And now I'm going to throw it to David, to talk about another one of my very favorite places in the whole world, which I think is one of the great, underrated cities in the world, Mexico City.

David: Yeah, thanks Kelly. Good sell there on the Panhandle, too. Yeah, Mexico City, this is actually something that both you and I have been throwing out as a nominee for the editorial list for years.
Kelly: For years.
David: And, yay! We finally got what we wanted.
Kelly: Yay! [laughter]
David: And there's good reason. Mexico is a really fascinating, and often times overlooked destination. When people travel to Mexico, they tend to think of the coast. They think of the Yucatan, to go to Cancun.
Kelly: Or Baja.
David: Or right, they go to Baja if they're just driving down, or flying down from California, or Puerto Vajarta or Acapulco. It's often times also the places that are hit by cruise ships.
Kelly: Mhmm.
David: You know, the ports of call. But Mexico City is just layer upon layer of different cultures that have had their influence on the city. First, it was chosen because of a vision by the Aztecs. The eagle flying with a snake landing on a rock as seen by the Aztecs as they were conquering their way across up through Mexico.

They built this city on a lake. So it's a city that is above a water table, which adds some fascinating features to the outlying areas. These canals, that they built which are still accessible, I think, to the West of the city. We'd take boats out, and you have basically the equivalent of punters who are pushing you along in these canals...

Kelly: Right.
David: ... and different wildlife areas. And then you have the influence of both the French, and the Spanish. Spanish, obviously, they were the conquistadors who conquered Mexico, and it's the primary language spoken in Mexico City, and in the country. Interesting side note though, there are 37 languages that are spoken in all of Mexico because a lot of the original native languages are still spoken.
Kelly: Right.
David: Just in smaller doses. So people, who think that you're going to a mono-linguistic country, can be pleasantly surprised. And then of course there's also a French influence because of Maximillian going there to take over when Mexico defaulted on a loan.
Kelly: [laughter]
David: Which a lot of...
Kelly: Harsh.
David: Yes, exactly. Oh, you can't pay? We'll just come visit you for a while.
Kelly: [laughter]
David: Which allowed them actually to build the city up into classic European metropolitan style, with major arteries, that run throughout the city, which is sort of where all the major sites fall off of.
Kelly: Right.
David: And it's a city where you can turn a corner and be surprised because there's a Diego Rivera mural. They are all over the city.
Kelly: Yeah, I would say that Mexico City has one of the great public art traditions of any city in the world. The amount of amazing, "muralistic" art that's on display. As you said, on the side of a building, inside an office building. It's pretty astonishing.
David: Right, and just about every place that these murals exist now, especially if they're inside an office building of some sort, like the Department of Education, off the [inaudible 20:16], the huge marketplace, they're open to the public.
Kelly: Right.
David: Because they recognize the value of these. And of course if you mention Diego Rivera, you also have to mention Frieda Kahlo. They lived there together. There's the Frieda Kahlo Museum, the Blue House, Casa Azul, which is open to the public. It's very small as a museum goes, but it's really fascinating how they've left it, set in place for when they lived there.

You can see the kitchen where they cooked. You can see her bed. You can see how when she was bedridden, because of her accident at a young age, how she had artwork put over the canopy of her bed so she had things to look at that she liked...

Kelly: Right.
David: ...because she was often immobilized. It really brings an artist to life. Just around the corner from there is a whole different aspect of history, which is the Leon Trotsky Museum. It was the house where he had gruesomely had an ice pick put into his temple by an assassin sent by Stalin. Just to clean up the Socialist Revolution in Russia. Cleaning up...
Kelly: And these are all in the Coyoacan neighborhood.
David: All in the Coyoacan neighborhood, right.
Kelly: Which is in the Southern part of the city. I think it's unfortunate that most people have associations of Mexico City, this year in 2009 because of the Swine Flu. A lot of the news coverage seems to be focused on Mexico City. David, you were there recently and it feels like that's behind them now, and the city has regained its vibrancy.
David: Yeah, I was there actually on the Day of the Dead, which was fascinating in and of itself. If you can pick a time to go, go between October 30th and November 4th to see the city really come out. One, the marigold is the flower of choice for this time of year, and city workers are planting millions, literally millions of marigolds in every public space.
Kelly: Yeah.
David: I was also surprised to find out how many public parks they have in Mexico City.
Kelly: Yeah.
David: It claims to be the world's largest city. It's got 25 million people. Sao Paulo might want to fight with that, or a couple of cities in India and in China.
Kelly Regan: China.
David: That's neither here nor there. Speaking of the Coyoacan, there are a lot of great neighborhoods in the city as well. There's the Zona Rosa, the Pink Neighborhood, which is appropriately named, because it is sort of the Chelsea of Mexico City, the gay neighborhood. It also has lots of bars, and boutiques, and restaurants.

Any neighborhood worth its salt has tons of restaurants. I was amazed at the food scene in the city. You can go very high end to just awesome tacorias, where for five to ten bucks, you can stuff your gob with some really fantastic, simple food that is unlike anything I've ever experienced before. There's nothing like a fresh taco to beat a good meal.

Kelly: Exactly.
David: Briefly, before we move on, it is important to have a destination in Mexico. And as you said, Kelly, it's been on the news over the past year, the fear of the swine flu, the H1N1 virus. Just outside of Mexico City was sort of ground zero for where they believe it started.

While I was there, I saw a total of two people in a city of 25 million wearing a face mask. They didn't seem to be that concerned. We've actually had a larger instance of episodes of swine flu in the United States than there are in Mexico.

On the other side of that is one news network in particular has seemed to pick Mexico as the destination to be absolutely afraid of because of violence related to narcotics trade. Really, there's no evidence of this in Mexico City. If there's any crime, it's going to be political corruption, which really isn't going to affect anybody as a tourist.

Kelly: Right. I mean, there are pretty commonsensical guidelines people would want to follow regarding taxis and what kinds of taxis to take, and just avoiding the more gypsy cab type of situations in Mexico City. But on the whole, you're right. The city is by no means sort of an open warfare zone at all.
David: Exactly. No, not at all. Not the tourist areas, not the wealthy neighborhoods where most people are probably going to end up staying, whether it's in a nice, new high rise hotel, or a boutique.
Jason: Yeah, and I would point out the crime rate in many U.S. cities is much higher than Mexico City.
David: Mexico City made a concerted effort to change its image about 10 years ago by revamping of the police force, putting tourist police out. They've seen a steep drop in their crime rate. Like any large city, there are neighborhoods you simply don't want to go to. Don't go there. Don't go to those neighborhoods.

And I guess next what we're going to talk about is Cuba. And Gene, you're going to talk about Cuba, yes?

Gene: Yeah, thanks David. It's another place that's in the news a lot. The reason that we picked Cuba is hopefully this is the year that Americans get to enjoy what the rest of us in Canada and Europe and all that have been enjoying for awhile. And it's just something that is a really...
David: Are you sure you want that?

[laughter]

Gene: We're not, like, we've had it for awhile, so we're willing to share now. But it's a really friendly, affordable destination. And I think the reason that we picked Santiago de Cuba in particular is when Cuba tourism does open up to the United States, there's going to be a big rush down to Havana and some of the big resorts that people hear about.

But Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city in Cuba, and it's way at the opposite end of the country. So, it's going to preserve a lot of that authentic Cuban flavor for a little while longer, which is great. As well, it has a really distinct culture of its own that's really worth checking out.

One thing that's really cool about it is it has the largest Afro-Cuban population anywhere in the country. So, that brings in the whole different cultural aspect to it. It's been famous in Cuba for a long time for an area that creates a lot of great musicians. A lot of the great Afro-Cuban music that you hear originated from that area. Rita Marley came from Santiago de Cuba. So, you get a lot of that more Caribbean influence as well.

There were a lot of people who came up from Haiti and those areas that settled there historically. So, it's got a bit more of a Caribbean vibe than other parts of the country, which is great.

Like I said, it has its own history, which is nice. It's known to Cubans as the cradle of the revolution. It's where Castro made some of his first attempts at revolution there. It has a whole history of being a real political hotspot that way.

But, this sort of unique culture really comes out in just the friendliness of the people. I know people who have gone down to live there for a little while, and they just go on about how excited they are to invite you into their homes. And it's really something that because it's a little bit further off the tourist map, there isn't the separation necessarily that you always get between the local culture, and you really get invited into that, which is amazing.

The carnival they have there in July is supposed to be the best one in Cuba, a great party that happens in July. And, you know, some of the stuff that makes Cuba great is particularly true here. One of the things I was impressed with was just looking at the weather patterns there. It's so consistent throughout the year. They'll have their hottest months are about 87 Fahrenheit, and their coolest are like 82.

Kelly: Oh. wow. [laughs]
Gene: There's no real bad month to go there in that sense.
Kelly: No downside there.
Gene: Yeah, no downside. Not a lot of rain.
David: Although it is in the hurricane belt, right? So, I mean it... you watch it.
Gene: You want to watch in that period, yeah, in the fall. The city itself is on a bay, a nice deepwater bay. There are some low mountains in behind it. So, it's got a lot going on that way. It's got its own UNESCO World Heritage Site, its own biosphere reserve nearby. So, you can really sample a lot of different things.
Kelly: That sounds great. Those are some of the destinations that we've been talking about. As I said, as Gene read off at the beginning of our podcast, we have seven others. We've talked about five. There are seven others, plus our reader's pick for 2010, which is Paris, France. As I said, you can find out more information about these swell destinations at frommers.com/go/topdestinations.

I think that's probably all the time we have for today. So, I wanted to thank our esteemed panel of Frommer's experts, David Lidel, Jason Clampet, Gene Shannon, and Mark Henschell, for joining our conversation today. So guys, thanks for being here and going through the top destinations. I know we're all going to start planning our trips for 2010.

David: I'm looking at India.
Kelly: That's right, that's right. I think, personally, Melbourne's going to be on my list, I think. So, join us soon for another conversation about all things travel. I am Kelly Regan, and we will talk again soon.

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Kelly: This podcast is a production of Frommers.com. For more information on planning your trip, or to hear about the latest travel news and deals, visit us on the Web at www.frommers.com. And be sure to email us at editor@frommermedia.com with any comments or suggestions.

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