New England in the fall or Japan when the cherry trees bloom. Why not let the time of year guide your choice of destinations?
Photo creditCourtesy of Corbis
Photo creditMarkburger83/English Wikipedia
Long Days in Alaska With the snow gone and the lush mountain valleys filled with wildflowers, summer is the ideal time to discover Alaska. Cruise Prince William Sound, among the best places on Earth to observe glaciers calving, whales breaching, and seals and puffins socializing. For wildlife-watching in Alaska’s interior, you’ll want to spend time in Denali National Park. Here, brown bears and 20,320-foot-tall Mount McKinley reign. The view is as unforgettable as shaking hands with Iditarod champion Jeff King. He offers tours of his award-winning kennels, enabling you to see how he trains his sled dogs (and maybe you can dole out a belly rub or two). Those experiences, combined with dining on fresh-caught salmon, taking in Inuit art, enjoying myriad adventures in Anchorage and basking in the midnight sun, make Alaska a top summer destination.
The Next Riviera: Croatia Croatia shines in the summer when the stunning Adriatic is at its best. It’s hard to beat cerulean waters, swaying palms, sandy beaches and the Mediterranean climate of the Dalmatian coast, a destination some travelers are calling the next Riviera. Storybook castles and ancient ruins speckle the interior of this up-and-coming destination. Croatian cities, notably the capital, Zagreb, pulse with all the vibrancy of other well-known European metropolises. Dubrovnik, with a history that extends back centuries to the days of walled cities and fortifications, celebrates summer with a seasonal festival and performances of Hamlet. The backdrop of restored ruins, which have earned the city its designation as a Unesco World Heritage site, befit Shakespeare’s tragedy. Talk about historical accuracy!
Oktoberfest in Munich In Munich, beer is a way of life. Steins brim with the frothy beverage, especially during Germany’s annual Oktoberfest. Usually held within 16 days of the first Sunday in October, Oktoberfest runs from Sept. 22 to Oct. 7, 2012. The merriment dates back to the 1810 wedding of Bavarian crown prince Ludwig and princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. Ever since, kegs have been tapped in tents throughout Munich each September and October. Visit as many of them as you can to appreciate the variety of lagers, pilsners, bocks and hefeweizens, but also to sample the activities. One features marksmen testing their archery skills. Another highlights traditional yodeling. While you’re in town, visit Munich’s other famous sites—Marienplatz with its glockenspiel; Frauenkirche, recognizable for its domed towers; and the concentration camps at Dachau, about 10 miles north of the city.
Autumn Leaves in New England During autumn, New England puts on a show. Take a rail and motor coach journey that rolls past phantasmagoric leaf displays from Boston and Portland, Maine, through New Hampshire’s White Mountains. No other season boasts vibrant crimson, gold and pumpkin- colored foliage like autumn New England style. It’s also the time of year when lobstermen pull in their pots, heavy with tasty crustaceans. On the train, be it Amtrak’s Downeaster, Mount Washington’s Conway Scenic Railroad, the Lake Winnipesaukee Scenic railroad or the vintage Green Mountain Flyer, you get to simply sit back and enjoy the multicolored splendor. New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway provides the second act of this dazzling annual spectacle. And if you’re lucky, a moose or two may wander into the frame.
New Year's Eve in Rio de Janeiro Ring in the new year in Rio de Janeiro, a destination known for celebration. Sultry and exotic, Rio has a South American rhythm all its own. Get to know the Brazilian city during a cruise that takes you from sophisticated Buenos Aires—aka the Paris of South America—to Punta del Este, Uruguay’s San Tropez, and along Brazil’s coast. In December and January, when summer below the equator heats up, Rio’s white beaches are dotted with umbrellas, towels and girls from Ipanema. On New Year’s Eve, your ship anchors off Copacabana. Sipping champagne from the comfort of the deck, you’ll have a front-row view of Rio’s midnight fireworks display.
Christmas Markets on the Danube Since the Middle Ages, European cities have hosted holiday markets. The festive rows of stalls recall bygone Christmas shopping traditions that still exist in places like Prague, Budapest and Vienna. You’ll covet handmade ornaments, carved wooden gifts and unique toys firsthand when you take a luxury cruise along the Danube. Disembarking in Hungary, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, you’ll explore fairy tale castles dusted with snow and visit holiday markets, including a favorite near Nürnberg. Surrounded by artisans plying their craft and the spicy scent of gingerbread, you’ll share in the frosty Christmas cheer.
Cherry Blossom Time in Japan Across the globe in Japan, another show gets under way each spring. Fragrant cherry trees burst into bloom, infusing the air with a sweet scent that drifts among the bustling streets of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. The delicate pink-and- white sakura bloom from south to north (usually from early April to late May) across what’s known as “the cherry blossom front.” These harbingers of spring are honored at festivals and teas, a tradition known as hanami. You can ride Japan’s Bullet Train to enjoy the best of Tokyo, including the colorful Asakusa Kannon, a famous Buddhist temple, and Kyoto, where samurai once defended Nijo Castle. You may also decide to meet a geisha or tour a Zen meditation garden, highlights on this spring vacation that rival sakura fubuki, a “cherry blossom snowfall.”
Mardi Gras in New Orleans Forty-seven days before Easter, New Orleans gorges on frivolity and king cakes. The Mardi Gras street party will get under way Feb. 12, 2013 (when it already feels like spring in The Big Easy), but you’ll want to dive into the fracas by Feb. 9. Your early arrival gives you a long weekend to enjoy festivities citywide. Wander the French Quarter, with its historical wrought-iron balconies, mysterious voodoo temple, masquerade ball guests in formal gowns and more gaudy costumes than you can count. Jazz spills into Bourbon Street as you fill up on gumbo, jambalaya and, of course, king cake. Come Fat Tuesday, you’ll witness the Greatest Free Show on Earth, a series of parades as unique as New Orleans.
This article was first published in March 2012 in Traveler. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.