We can dream, can't we? Pól Ó Conghaile rounds up the biggest, best and most mind-blowing trips of 2014 for our ultimate travel bucket list
The Nakasendo Trail, Japan
In feudal times, people travelling between Kyoto and Tokyo used the Nakasendo Way, passing through the central mountains with rest stops at minshuku (guesthouses) along the way.
Today, 'National Geographic Traveller' lists the route as one of its 50 Tours of a Lifetime.
Adventure Holidays has a 10-day self-guided trip including five days of village-to-village walking from €1,710pp (based on budget accommodation) to €2,420pp (premium).
A full day in both Kyoto and Tokyo and return train tickets are included, though flights are extra. Expect to pay €810 return with Turkish Airlines in April.
Details: 01-259 0133; adventure-holidays.ie
Mauiva air cruise
Mini-bus, shmini-bus. Topflight USA & Canada is offering a completely new way to travel in the US -- a Mauiva Air Cruise from less than €2,000pps.
The idea is simple -- travelling via plane to private terminals allows a multi-destination sightseeing experience without the gruelling road miles and cramped conditions of regular tour buses and private cars. "You can save up to 37 hours compared with a traditional road trip!" they say (complete with breathlessly enthusiastic exclamation mark).
An eight-day 'All American Eastern Experience' features stops including Niagara Falls, Hershey and Washington DC from €1,859pp. The price includes hotels, tours, half-board, guides and transfers, but not international flights.
Details: 01-240 1788; topflightworldwide.ie
Wild & scenic Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has always been a dream destination. Now that its long-running war is over, a visit to the country's myriad beaches, evocative ruins, hospitable people, delicious food and wandering elephants has never been closer to reality.
Cassidy Travel has an eight-night tour departing Dublin on February 24, with Colombo City, a jeep safari in Yala National Park and a visit to Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home included in the price of €2,643pp.
The package includes flights, accommodation, mini-bus transfers, an English-speaking guide and several meals. Sri Lanka's surf is surprisingly good too.
Details: 0818 332 500; cassidytravel.ie
Moscow & St Petersburg
Russia is home to two of the world's most fascinating and exciting cities. Moscow radiates splendour, ostentatiousness and an intriguing history, while St Petersburg boasts opulent architecture and vast squares. Both are on offer in this Travel Department tour.
Departing on March 27, the nine-night jaunt is priced at €1,399pp and takes in landmark sights including the Kremlin, the Metro and the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, as well as the Hermitage Museum with its collection of 2.5million exhibits in St Petersburg.
Accommodation is in a range of four-star hotels, and sightseeing is guided.
Details: 01-637 1600; traveldepartment.ie
Oasis of the Seas in Europe
Fancy a spin on the world's biggest cruise ship?
Oasis of the Seas is longer than four football pitches, accommodates up to 6,400 passengers, and is chock-a-block with facilities ranging from a hand-crafted carousel to its own Central Park.
And this autumn, the Royal Caribbean behemoth is coming to Europe.
After a transatlantic sailing from Florida, Oasis of the Seas will offer a series of sailings from Barcelona, with easy air connections from Ireland. A five-night Western Mediterranean Cruise taking in Rome (Civitavecchia) and Naples, for instance, is currently priced from €1,140pp based on two sharing an inside stateroom, without flights.
Details: 1800 932 619; royalcaribbean.ie
After years on the brink of a breakthrough, this looks like Antarctica's moment.
Majestic icebergs, calving glaciers and stunning wildlife (think gentoo penguins, killer whales and leopard seals) get it ranked No2 on Lonely Planet's Top 10 Countries for 2014 -- a year marking the centenary of the beginning of Ernest Shackleton's seminal voyage too.
It's impossible to do Antarctica on the cheap. But then this is a bucket list, so why not try a luxury cruise with Silversea Expeditions? Flights to Buenos Aires depart Dublin on November 30, hooking up with a nine-night cruise that's sold through Trailfinders from €10,759pps.
Next on the list is a 'Quest for the Antarctic Circle' itinerary offered by Sunway and Cassidy Travel among others. The 15-night trip departs on March 7 and includes seven days' exploring the Antarctic Peninsula from €7,999pp. Highlights range from sailing the Drake Passage to close encounters with penguins, whale pods and dramatic icescapes.
Finally, adventurer Tom McManamon will lead a once-in-a-lifetime adventure celebrating Shackleton's centenary in January 2015. That's a full year away, but places are limited and selling fast, so it's worth investigating now.
The Shackleton 100 is a two-week trip promising to visit the Weddell Sea -- where the Endurance was beset by ice in 1915 -- with passengers entertained and educated by special guests and performers along the way.
Every morning brings another mind-blowing encounter in the Antarctic -- think giant whales swimming alongside zodiacs, albatrosses floating overhead and towering icebergs rising up from the frigid waters.
A ticket is yours from €8,600pp all-inclusive.
Details: trailfinders.ie/cruise; sunway.ie; shackleton100.com
Galapagos Northern Island & Inca discovery tour
What do you mean, you've never snorkelled in the caldera of a collapsed volcano? What about camping on the Inca Trail? Or exploring booby cliff colonies?
No? Well then, you'd better get booking this 13-night adventure tour of the Galapagos and Peru's Inca Trail. Departing August 8, Travelnet.ie's tour includes three nights on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, four nights on board a yacht to the Galapagos Islands and six nights in a hotel, along with several meals and return flights from Dublin.
All sorts of unforgettable experiences are on the cards, from wildlife encounters in the islands to guided tours of Sacred Valley. Alas, the €3,908pp price is pretty unforgettable too.
Details: 021 489 4084;
Alaska and the Rocky Mountaineer
Here's a bucket list tour to take your breath away.
ITAA member John Galligan has a 16-night escorted trip combining luxurious travel on the Rocky Mountaineer train with a five-star Alaskan cruise.
Sights include Yoho National Park, the Spiral Tunnels, Queen Elizabeth Park, the Butchart Gardens, the Sitka National Heritage Park and Hubbard Glacier, as well as a full day to explore Vancouver.
The tour departs in August with prices from €4,995pp including flights from Dublin to Calgary (taxes extra).
If you'd prefer to skip the cruise, Topflight Worldwide has a Canadian Rockies by Train offer on the Rocky Mountaineer from €2,192pp.
The journey runs from Vancouver through Kamloops and Banff to Calgary, taking in stunning mountain scenery -- not to mention a helicopter trip to see the six glaciers of Mount Resolute, Mount Cline and the Whitegoat Peaks.
The cost includes two days on the train and five in a hotel, but not flights.
Details: jgt.ie; itaa.ie/offers; topflightworldwide.ie
The Great 48
Why visit one US state when you can visit 48?
That's the thinking behind The Great 48 Adventure, an epic 80-day trip that Trek-America has shaping up for summer 2014.
Departing from Miami on May 9, it takes 13 passengers on a one-off tour of all 48 contiguous US states, priced at €7,707pp including flights.
The holiday includes 79 nights' accommodation in tents, hostels, hotels and cabins as you make your way from cities such as Las Vegas, New York and San Francisco to wild national parks, country tunes in Nashville and swimming in the Homestead Crater (featured in '127 Hours'). The tour is aimed at 18 to 38s, and the private mini-bus includes the all-important free WiFi.
Looking for a shorter road trip? You could always go back to basics with Route 66, the iconic cross-country highway connecting Chicago with California.
Tour America has a 15-night fly-drive from €1,569pp in 2014, a price that includes flights, car hire and accommodation in Chicago, St Louis, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and LA among other sensational stop-offs.
Details: trekamerica.co.uk/great48; touramerica.ie
River cruising in Vietnam and Cambodia
River cruise ships reach the places that big liners can't, and Uniworld's 15-day trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is an example of that par excellence.
Departing throughout 2014, the River Orchid sails down the Mekong, exploring stops along the way from floating markets to the Unesco-designated Angkor Wat temples. Guests can paddle around traditional homes on a sampan, take a motorcycle rickshaw through Phnom Penh, receive a water blessing from local monks and lots more to boot.
The trip is priced from €5,039pp including flights, transfers, many meals, excursions, seven nights in riverview state rooms and a further seven in de-luxe hotels.
Details: (01)775 3838; uniworld.ie
The sleeping giant: Mexico
Mexico is another of Lonely Planet's Top 10 Countries to Visit in 2014, and for good reason. Caribbean beaches, awesome food, Mayan temples and the Copper Canyon are only a few of the attractions on offer, and Mexico City has come on leaps and bounds too.
Classic Resorts has a seven-night offer including flights and all-inclusive accommodation at the four-star Occidental Grand Xcaret in Cancun from €1,310pp.
The deal is available May 1 to June 24 and September 1 to October 31, but must be booked by January 31.
Details: (01) 874 5000; classicresorts.ie
A taste of Chile, Argentina & Uruguay
Looking for a fabulous foodie frolic in 2014?
Try this South American adventure for size. Sunway has an 11-day itinerary traversing Chile, Uruguay and Argentina, with highlights including a visit to the Mendoza wine region, a two-night ranch stay in Uruguay and an exploration of Buenos Aires' trendiest gastro-neighbourhoods from €3,629pp.
The trip departs April 11 and includes flights, transfers, local guides, all breakfasts, three lunches and two dinners, accommodation at comfort hotels "and a few extra frills along the way", the company says.
Expect a small group experience, with an average of 12 travellers on the road together, and lots of space to explore on your own too.
Details: (01) 231 1800; sunway.ie
Safari & Seychelles honeymoon
A honeymoon is a once-in-a-lifetime holiday opportunity. When you think about it, when are you likely to have this kind of time, money and freedom ever again?
One way to do it justice is GoHop.ie's 14-night Safari and Seychelles trip.
It kicks off with a safari in Kenya, where you'll explore national parks, see the sunrise on a balloon ride over the Masai Mara Game Reserve, explore Nairobi and see the Rift Valley before jetting over to the Indian Ocean beaches and colourful underwater life of the Seychelles.
A price tag of €2,599pp is pretty once-in-a-lifetime too, it has to be said, though it includes all flights, accommodation, park entrance fees, taxes, charges and many meals.
It's available for travel from April to June 22 and November to December 14.
Details: (01) 241 2389; gohop.ie
Gulet cruise, Turkey
Turkey has been the rising star of Ireland's package holiday scene for several years now, but there's a lot more to it than the beaches and bars of Bodrum or Kusadasi.
Cruising the coast in a traditional wooden boat, or gulet, is one example.
Gulets were originally built as fishing boats, but many have been adapted for cruising, with the addition of comfy sleeping cabins and lounging space.
The best thing about them is the ability to pull up at a deserted bay and hop in for a swim far from the summer crowds.
Wings Abroad has a seven-night gulet cruise (full-board) departing May 18 from €819pp. The package includes return flights, transfers, accommodation and luggage fees.
Details: (01) 871 9444; wingsabroad.ie
Gorilla tracking in Uganda
Forget lying on the beach. What about spending your summer holidays tracking gorillas through Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest?
That's the offer from Mahlatini, who have a seven-day primates and wildlife tour featuring two nights in each of Kibale Forest National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park and the best-named forest on Earth from €3,780pp.
The price includes flights from Dublin, transfers, accommodation, gorilla permits, park fees and a boat cruise. This is a marvellously exclusive holiday -- only a handful of travellers are allowed to hike in search of gorilla families every day. Sightings, however, are all but guaranteed.
Details: 1890 886 630; mahlatini.com
See the Northern Lights
NASA scientists are tipping this winter as the best in years to view the Aurora Borealis, thanks to a peaking 11-year solar cycle.
Northern Lights flare up where solar particles brush off the Earth's atmosphere, and are best seen in dry, crisp and cold conditions.
Going to press, Thomas Cook Cruise had a six-day Arctic Highlights package out of Norway, including three nights on board Hurtigruten's MS Trollfjord from Tromso.
A rate of €1,289pp included direct flights from Belfast, the Hurtigruten trip and two nights in a hotel, based on a January 30 departure. Optional excursions range from a visit to the Snow Hotel in Kirkenes to snowmobiling or an excursion to Europe's most northerly point (North Cape).
Other Northern Lights experiences (although it should be said that the Aurora are natural phenomena and never guaranteed) are available from Project Travel, or if you want to arrange your own trip, SAS flies from Dublin to Tromso from €149pp one-way.
Highlights of the Deep South
Git yer drawl on, y'all! That's the shout-out from Sunway on this nine-day tour of historic houses in Charleston, the dark side of Savannah, country groove in Nashville, the birthplace of the blues in Memphis and the jazz-tastic party vibe of Bourbon Street.
Departing on May 31, the trip pulls back the curtains on this unique part of the US, also visiting Elvis' home town of Memphis, sampling some Cajun cuisine, dipping into Bonaventure Cemetery, taking a Jack Daniels bourbon distillery tour and tucking into beignets at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.
The €2,269pp price includes flights from Dublin and eight nights' hotel accommodation.
Details: (01) 231 1800; sunway.ie
St Helena hideaway tour
Napoleon is known all over the world. St Helena, not so much. This tiny South Atlantic island where the French Emperor was exiled from 1815 until his death in 1821 is one of the most isolated outposts on Earth.
You can visit this year, however, by hooking up with a unique 19-day voyage departing Cape Town on September 11.
That's when the Royal Mail Ship St Helena sets sail for a five-day crossing (St Helena's first airport is scheduled to open in 2016, so this marks one of the last opportunities to visit the island the old-fashioned way).
Along the route, Prof Colin Lewis will enlighten guests as to the island's environment, land formations and history before leading an exploration of the key landmarks on St Helena itself over the course of several nights.
The 19-day tour costs from £2,745/€3,275pp (excluding flights).
Details: +44 207 575-6480; rms-st-helena.com
V-Day in Las Vegas and New York
When it comes to bucket list cities for Irish holidaymakers, New York tops the list. That's according to a survey by lastminute.com, which says flights to the Big Apple rose a spectacular 87pc between October and November of 2013 alone.
Going to press, the company had flight and hotel deals from €618pp based on a three-night stay at the Best Western Plus President Hotel, Times Square, in January.
Meanwhile, Classic Resorts has twinned the Big Apple with Sin City for a Valentine's package with a difference.
Departing February 12 with Delta, the eight-night trip is split between the two cities, with accommodation at the five-star Signature @ MGM in Vegas followed by the four-star Affinia Manhattan in New York.
If you haven't been to Vegas (or haven't been in a while), now's the time to check it out -- the city has added a breathtaking range of restaurants, malls, day trips and shows to the hotels and casinos that made its name. The €1,203pp price is based on two people sharing.
Details: lastminute.com; classicresorts.ie
- NB: All prices correct going to press, but subject to availability and change. Quoted offers include flights and taxes except where stated otherwise.