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AOL's top vacation spots, new flight to Ecuador, a virtual trip

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The year of Mickey

Lend us your ears: What was this year's most-searched vacation destination on AOL?

Sao Paulo, Bali or some other faraway place? Nope, travelers were most interested in finding out about Mickey, specifically Disney World and Disneyland. Rounding out the top 10 were Las Vegas; Florida; Hawaii; Mexico; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Costa Rica; Italy; Colorado; and the Grand Canyon.

Desperation and budgets were the driving forces. Beth Caulfield, editor in chief of AOL Travel, attributed Disney's popularity to its aggressive promotion of affordable family packages. Las Vegas earned the No. 2 spot because it's clamoring for visitors in the wake of the economic collapse. "The hotels are doing everything they can to market and drive people to them," she said. Like Vegas, Hawaii has suffered from low occupancy rates, forcing hotels to offer steep discounts.

Florida's appeal is multifold, thanks to its combination of theme parks (Mickey, again), beaches and cruises. Mexico and Costa Rica attract folks who want an international adventure without straying too far. Bonus: a favorable exchange rate. Myrtle Beach's vacation home rentals, beaches and golf courses are popular with families. And despite a weak dollar, Italy still reels them in with its ancient cities, beaches, skiing and shopping, Caulfield said.

As for Colorado, it has the benefit of being a year-round destination. People can hike when it's warm and ski when it's cold. "There's a little bit of something for everyone," she said.

And for adventurers with slim wallets: The Grand Canyon's $25 seven-day auto pass makes it "a great place for a budget vacation," she said.

New flights hit the skies

Ecuadorans have earned their wings. Starting Monday, AeroGal will become the first Ecuadoran airline to offer nonstop daily service from New York's JFK airport to José Joaquin de Olmedo airport in Guayaquil, the country's largest city.

New York was chosen because of its large Ecuadoran community, which includes more than 100,000 Ecuadorans in Queens. "It is a major development for AeroGal, of course, but also for Ecuadorans, both at home and in the U.S., as well as increasing the number of visitors who are experiencing our wonderful country," Gabriela Sommerfeld, president of AeroGal, wrote in an e-mail.

Previously, the airline serviced only one U.S. city, Miami.

In-flight service features traditional Ecuadoran appetizers, such as empanadas de morocho and chifles, as well as Khumir, the country's brand of spirits. The introductory roundtrip fare is $547.76, including taxes. Info: 888-7AEROGAL, http://www.aerogal.com.ec.

Closer to home, Direct Air will start offering twice-a-day service from Washington Dulles to Melbourne, Fla., near the Space Coast. Flights depart every day except Tuesday. Air costs $244 round trip with taxes. Sign up for the newsletter for updates on discounts. Info: 877-432-3473, http://www.visitdirectair.com.

A charitable tour

Armchair travelers can now become computer-chair travelers with the Spirit of Christmas tour. Three employees from World Vision, a Christian charity organization that battles poverty worldwide, are visiting five countries to see how its donor gifts are affecting the lives of the recipient families. You can follow the team -- Devin Hermanson, senior director of the World Vision gift catalogue; Heidi Isaza, assignment editor of World Vision magazine; and Tom Costanza, senior videographer for World Vision -- on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/truespiritofchristmas), Twitter (@christmastour) and the Spirit of Christmas campaign's Web site, http://www.worldvisiongifts.org. The video and journal entries track their experiences in the Bronx, N.Y.; Quito, Ecuador; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Lusaka, Zambia; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The trip started on Nov. 19 and ends Dec. 17. You are now free to leave your chair.

Reporting: Nancy Trejos. Help feed CoGo. Send travel news, road reports and juicy tattles to: cogo@washpost.com. By mail: CoGo, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

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