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2010 travel awards

As Holiday World gets underway at the RDS, travel editor Mark Evans looks at the best — and worst — for the year ahead

BEST SHORT-HAUL AIRLINE - SAS

Remember the days when flying was fun? In the era of OTT airport security and budget- airline blues, a trip abroad can be as much fun as a trip to the bank manager. But now, SAS has a free 20kg baggage allowance, SMS flight updates to passengers, free online check-in and 25pc child discounts on its routes to Scandinavia from Dublin.

BEST LONG-HAUL AIRLINE - BUSINESS - AER LINGUS

Really, it's the business. Aer Lingus upped its game big time last year and now passengers travelling business class to the US get all mod cons -- including lie-flat "sleeper seats", complete with cosy duvets, power points to keep that laptop charged up, and a 57-inch space between seats. Throw in a state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment system with large, personal TV screens and you can't go far wrong.

BEST LONG-HAUL AIRLINE - ECONOMY - BRITISH AIRWAYS

For a small fee you can upgrade from BA's already excellent economy cabin to World Traveller Plus, and get a business class lifestyle for a fraction of the cost. I flew in that cabin from London to Toronto and was amazed by the leg room, the reclining seat, plenty of inflight food and drink and the on-demand entertainment.

BEST AIRPORT - LAS VEGAS

Good. Airport. United States. Not words you'd usually find in the same sentence. But McCarran International is spacious, just a few short miles from downtown (it's at the end of the Vegas Strip) and has great facilities. It even has slot machines if they tickle your fancy.

BEST HOTEL - AGHADOE HEIGHTS

Okay, I hate their jammy footballers but, like many others, I'm enticed down to Kerry time and time again. The penthouse has been voted best in the world and the award-winning spa boasts one of the most luxurious thermal-suite areas you'll find anywhere in these islands. Pick from a huge range of treatments, and indulge in a walk in the fresh Kerry air afterwards. And if you can't entice yourself outside, there's enough luxury to keep even the most jaded traveller happy.

BEST VALUE HOTEL - CASTLEMARTYR RESORT

Five-star luxury needn't cost the earth. If you want a top-class spa, amazing pool area, lush grounds to walk around and impeccable service -- and still leave with a smile, not a hefty bill -- check out the Cork property's great offers.

BEST FOODIE HOTEL - WINEPORT LODGE

Most planners design the hotel first, then think about the restaurant much later. Not at the Wineport, where the restaurant came first and then the rooms. It's the setting for RTE's The Restaurant, the food is top-notch and the location exquisite -- in the heart of lakelands country in Co Westmeath. Hard to imagine that this little oasis is barely more than an hour away from Dublin.

BEST SPA - PARK HOTEL, KENMARE

Apart from running this long-established hotel, John and Francis Brennan keep themselves busy giving advice on the business on RTE with At Your Service. And they couldn't do better than show others how they do business than with this lovely and luxurious hotel in the heart of some of Ireland's most beautiful scenery. Rooms are timelessly elegant and it's also slap bang in the middle of Kenmare which, to my money, is our nation's prettiest and quaintest town. Now the award-winning Samas spa has brought a modern touch of ultra-luxury to a timeless classic.

BEST BOUTIQUE HOTEL - PALACE BONVECCHIATI HOTEL, VENICE

It's one of the world's most beautiful cities -- but the hotels tend to be expensive and 'palazzo' can mean a crummy, tiny room. Not here, in Venice's coolest hotel, with massive rooms slap bang in the heart of the city between St Mark's Square and Rialto Bridge.

BEST HOTEL BAR - WESTIN, DUBLIN

Fancy a cool cocktail? Look no further than the Mint Bar. While many hotel bars boast less atmosphere than the Moon, this one is a hotspot. And check out the ice-cool salsa dancing nights at the weekend. And the rooms are brilliant, too.

BEST CRUISE LINE - ROYAL CARIBBEAN

If it's your first or 50th cruise, look no further. The most innovative name in the industry, it's the perfect all-round cruise for families (great creches), for the sporty (rock-climbing, surfing and ice skating) and for the price-conscious (it has unbeatable deals). It has also got the world's biggest cruise ship, Oasis of the Seas, waiting to take you around the Caribbean.

BEST LUXURY CRUISE LINE - CELEBRITY CRUISES

Royal Caribbean's sister company does everything it does, but if you're a foodie, the cuisine is that bit better. It also pioneered the first lawns at sea and offers some great family deals if you're flexible about dates.

BEST FERRY LINE - IRISH FERRIES

In this job, you learn to hate airports. And new statistics show that more of us are turning back to ferry travel. What is easier than driving on at Dublin Port, taking everything but the kitchen sink, then driving off in Wales refreshed and ready to explore? Great discounts year-round and onboard luxury features such as Club Class lounges and priority boarding/disembarkation.

BEST HOLIDAY HOMES - TRIDENT HOLIDAY HOMES

A self-catering staycation needn't be a lesson in misery. Trident has 750 properties from which to choose around the most beautiful parts of the country, and it offers great discounts, too, for early bookings.

BEST SKI COMPANY - TOPFLIGHT

They've won enough awards to stock a score of trophy cabinets, and no wonder. No operator knows more, or offers as much value, as Ireland's favourite ski operator. And it's always in the business of innovation, with great new resorts (and short breaks) to tempt even the most jaded skier back to the slopes.

BEST WEEKEND DESTINATION - LONDON

The dreary city of the 80s is now the world's undisputed capital of cool. And with sterling still weak, there's never been a better time to go. The hotels are much cooler too -- try the Irish-run Gore Hotel or Phoenix House apartments, or the new, and very central, London Bridge Hotel.

BEST SHORT-HAUL DESTINATION - ISTANBUL

This year the European Capital of Culture is going to a very worthy recipient. East meets West in an intoxicating mix of history, culture and shopping (you've got to check out and haggle at the bustling Grand Bazaar). Five-star hotels have sprung up in the heart of old Constantinople, the locals are friendly and the food's amazing. The only problem is that a weekend won't do it justice.

BEST LONG-HAUL DESTINATION - QUEENSLAND

See the world's oldest rainforest, hit the beach and go ziplining all in the same day. The sprawling state has got it all, from Outback farm holidays to luxury resorts in Australia's version of the Caribbean, the Whitsunday Islands. Cairns is a bustling mini city, while underrated Brisbane has the cosmopolitan feel of Sydney without the tourist crowds.

BEST TOUR OPERATOR - TOUR AMERICA

Innovative, fun and ahead of the pack -- a bit like its destinations in North America, this group of companies has it all. If you want a cruise around the Caribbean, a trip to Orlando or cheap car hire in Chicago, look no further than this one-stop shop.

BEST LONG-HAUL OPERATOR - TROPICAL SKY

Dreaming of a once-in-a-lifetime beach hut holiday in Bora Bora? Fancy a honeymoon in the Seychelles. Dreading the cost? Then check out Tropical Sky, which offers a lot more for a whole lot less with year-round bargains to your own sunny paradise.


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