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Herald travel awards 2014

We’ve travelled more than 100,000 km, visited countless cities (and airports) and now select the best of the best from our journeys. With Holiday World starting this Friday, check out these options worth considering for your trips

Business Class Airline – British Airways

An easy one, this. If you’re keen on going to Miami (who isn’t) or the US west coast, or the Far East, there’s no easier connection than a short hop to Heathrow. The luxury begins at BA’s home base of Terminal 5, with its array of shops and restaurants and great lounges. From there, you save time and stress with one flight to the States in luxury. Club World boasts lie-flat seats, pictured, excellent entertainment channels and dining options (including a galley where you can help yourself to your own body weight in chocolate), served with a smile. If you win the Lotto, try First, the ultimate in luxury – but watch out for business class deals for that special occasion or once in a lifetime trip. www.ba.com

Budget Airline – Ryanair

A controversial one. Pampered travel writers love being fussed over, and the favoured few wax lyrical about airlines that give them business class upgrades – but they’re not paying the tab. Ryanair just doesn’t cut the mustard for luxury-lovers. Here at Herald travel, when we’re paying our own way, we’ve used Ryanair and Aer Lingus to save those hard-earned euro. Both have done what they say on the tin, and Ryanair in particular haven’t let us down on price and timekeeping. We’ll be keeping a close eye on how real their cuddly new image is, but even when they’re a pain in the neck, hats off to an airline that brings hordes of tourists in and out of this tiny island. www.ryanair.com

Short haul Airline – Aer Lingus

The big advantage over Ryanair is flying to airports near where you want to go. The other plus is that, in most cases, you get cabin crew who are good ambassadors for their country. Their breakfast is a top notch deal, and the new menus look tempting. As much as we think San Fran

cisco is overrated as a city, its new non-stop service cuts out a lot of plane-changing in New York or Chicago, so that’s a winner in our book. www.aerlingus.com

Best Airport  – Munich

You’ve got to love the Germans. Even if they are a bit scrooge-like about our billion-euro bills, they do things well. Munich airport is a case in point. It’s typically German – with fast rail connections, plenty of shopping and entertainment and, incredibly, it seems to attract people to it who aren’t even flying anywhere, so nice is the buzz. But you’ve got to love any airport that has an outside Christmas market, with stalls and restaurants. Check it out next year! www.munich-airport.de

Airport lounge – Dublin Airport’s new T1 lounge

Opened late last year, it’s bigger, brighter and with nice views of the runway. We’ve always found the airport’s lounges hit and miss, with service bordering on the frosty at times. But staff here are lovely, mixing the efficient and the welcoming – which, incredibly, is rare around the world. www.dublinairport.com

Best Hotel – Turnberry Isle, Miami

Situated in the city’s northern suburbs, it’s the ultimate in luxury. The pools adjoining the ocean are chilled out and uber cool, the service is friendly (not always the case in snooty Miami) and, best of all, the prices won’t force you into NAMA (again, very unusual in the pricey city). With a spa and golf course and brilliant steak restaurant, you might just not leave it on your stay in Florida.


Best all inclusive hotel – Sensatori, Egypt

Egypt’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons, but Sharm el-Sheikh is back in business. It’s a place where you switch off and get pampered – and Sensatori is the ultimate pleasure resort. It’s got its own beachfront, with waiter service, numerous all inclusive restaurants and, best of all, swim-up rooms if you fancy paying a bit extra for an unforgettable upgrade. The staff are great, and the only problem is you won’t venture outside the resort as everything you need is here. Book with Falcon’s sister company on www.thomsonholidays.ie

Best Budget All inclusive Hotel – Sandos Papagayo Beach Resort, Lanzarote

Sensatori is a great place for kids – but it’s even better if you leave them at home and treat yourselves to a second honeymoon. Closer to home, the Papagayo, in Playa Blanca, is perfect for families. It’s a great value destination, and the restaurant has enough pizza and pasta options to keep the fussiest child happy. It’s got a dedicated kids’ pool, burgers and chips restaurant late into the night and a host of kids’ activities. Book through www.sunway.ie

Best Irish Luxury Hotel – K Club

Situated in Straffan, Co Kildare, it’s a handy bolthole for a quick weekend for Dubliners. It’s five-star luxury, with bars and restaurants straight out of the Downton Abbey age. It’s also very family friendly, so don’t feel out of place if you bring the children along. It’s upmarket, but keep an eye out for deals. www.kclub.ie

Best Irish Break Hotel – Powerscourt Hotel, Wicklow

Another handy escape destination from the city, it’s classy but friendly. We love the casual Irishy bar and the views over the Wicklow Mountains are spectacular. www.powerscourthotel.com

Best Irish Budget Hotel – Tullylagan Country House Hotel

2013 was the year of The Gathering – and mostly I gathered that we couldn’t afford to stay in many hotels in the Republic. Bookings were up – and so were prices, particularly in Dublin. We wish the hoteliers well this year, but hope the era of the cheap deal isn’t over just yet. Across the border, you can get a double room in Tullylagan from £50 a night room only, with other offers available. It’s got two-course dinner deals in the bistro for £12.95, and the gardens here are beautiful. It’s a short drive from Dublin and a tranquil place for a cheap weekend stay. www.tullylaganhotel.com

Best Cruise Line – MSC/Royal Caribbean

MSC for budget deals for families, Royal for innovation – just too tight to call. We love the all inclusive drinks packages on MSC (not much more than €100 for your voyage) and the new ships, like Divina, are fabulous luxury liners. Royal’s strength is in the entertainment – and the new Quantum class ships look fantastic, with skydiving as well as bumper cars and dedicated music venues. www.msccruises.ie/ www.royalcaribbean.ie

Best Luxury Cruise Line – Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

River voyages are the hot new thing in the cruising world – and it’s easy to see why. Small ships which dock

in the heart of cities like Amsterdam or Vienna, complimentary excursions (a huge cost saving) and, new for this year, all inclusive drinks and tipping to cut down those after-cruise bills. The ultimate in luxury. www.uniworld.ie


Best Ferry Line –  Stena/Brittany Ferries

Again, too close to call. We’re glad to see Irish Ferries bringing French sailings direct from Dublin this year, so that could be a contender for 2015’s awards. But Stena are tops for wifi and kids’ entertainment (some private rooms have games consoles and DVDs, while our writer enjoyed one of the best family holidays around – camping in France, with a short 10-hour sailing to Roscoff with Brittany Ferries’ Pont Aven. www.stenaline.ie/ www.brittanyferries.ie


Best Escorted Holiday – Travel Department

Our writer got to experience the pleasures of one of Europe’s most beautiful corners – the Lake Garda region. It’s straight out of the Sound of Music, with the bonus of Italian fun and hospitality. Better still, Travel Department coach trips are ones where you meet new friends in a fun environment. www.traveldepartment.ie


Best Weekend Destination – Cologne

Click and go are market leaders in weekend breaks, with good value city trips using Aer Lingus services. Cologne’s Dom is one of the world’s most beautiful churches, and the shopping and sightseeing are top notch in this easy-to-reach Rhine city. www.clickandgo.com

Best Activity Destination – Northern Ireland

Surfing and hovercraft racing on a Saturday in Co Derry; off-road driving in Co Tyrone on a Sunday. Northern Ireland is making a niche for itself with activity breaks, and there’s everything from kayaking to ziplining and sailing – and all affordable. www.discovernorthernireland.com

Best Budget Destination – Porto

Pints for a euro? Yup, you can find them in Portugal’s second city. Often overlooked in favour of Lisbon, this Unesco-listed heritage city is Medieval, bustling, fun and cheap. If it was in Italy everyone would be raving about it. Get a cheap Ryanair flight and visit it this year. www.visitportugal.com

 Best tour operator

 – Falcon/Thomson

We’re still nuts about the Sensatori but there’s much more to see with these sister companies. Rhodes and Ibiza are new for this year, and the family-focused resorts are excellent. www.thomsonholidays.ie/www.falconholidays.ie

 Best Long Haul Destination – Las Vegas

Finally we get it. We’re not gambling types, but if you want decent sun, great pool parties and top notch service, Vegas has it all. Check out the packages with Tour America or American Holidays and you can get a hotel for a song. www.vegas.com

 Best Ski – Topflight

Irish skiers are lucky to have three great operators – Topflight, directski and Crystal, all offering competitive deals to the slopes. We plucked up the courage to try the pistes of Austria, and discovered a picturesque land with fabulous apres-ski at prices that you can live with. www.topflight.ie

 Best Long Haul

- Hong Kong

It’s not a city on everyone’s lips these days, and has been bypassed as a hub by the Middle East, but Hong Kong is special. It’s Manhattan meets Asia and the perfect stepping stone to discovering China. www.discoverhongkong.com