BY LORI CAPULLO
If you want to get out of town — really far out of town — there’s no question about one thing: you’ve got to fly. But if there is one thing that will put a damper on what should be an exciting vacation to a far-flung locale, it’s the thought of switching planes in overcrowded airports. Worrying that a delay on the first leg of your journey will cause you to miss the connection — or, worse yet, that delay actually transpiring — can cause anxiety no in-flight cocktail will assuage.
Fortunately, South Florida is not only the gateway to the Americas; it’s a way to get out of Dodge and get where you want to go in one straight shot. Doesn’t matter if you’re looking to romp on the beaches of Rio, traipse through Toronto or kick back in Cancun — there’s no need to stress about delays, missed connections or having to dash like a gazelle through a metropolis-like airport to get from one gate to another. Here are five suggestions to consider:
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
TAM Linhas Aereas Flight 8057
Recent airfare: $1,280.72
Departs Miami: 10:05 p.m.
Arrives in Rio de Janeiro: 7:30 a.m. (the following day)
Total travel time: 8 hours, 25 minutes
What to do there: There are few cities in the world that are as striking as Rio de Janeiro. Known as “the marvelous city”— cidade maravilhosa, in Portuguese — Rio can be at the same time both exhilarating and overwhelming. Situated on a narrow strip of land on Brazil’s Atlantic Coast, Rio is flanked by the world-famous Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, both of which are ideal for stargazing, populated as they often are by the rich and the famous. Leave the beach and you’ll find yourself surrounded by a lush rainforest and soaring mountains. And don’t miss the iconic Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), the 130-foot-high statue of Christ on top of the Corcovado Mountain in Tijuca Forest National Park. Also a must: a cable-car ride (they leave every half hour) to drink in the breathtaking beauty of the city from the peak of the Sugarloaf.
Virgin Atlantic Flight 6
Recent airfare: $1,008.20
Departs Miami: 6:15 p.m.
Arrives in London: 7:55 a.m. (the following day)
Total travel time: 8 hours, 40 minutes
What to do there: With this April marking the first full year of Prince William and Princess Kate’s marriage, the 2012 Summer Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee taking place there — and of course the Prince Harry Strip Poker Scandal (bloody hell!) — all being in the news, if you’re not intrigued yet, consider some of the reasons tourists have always been drawn to this fantastic city: the scads of museums and galleries (Tate Gallery remains a favorite, but check out Museum Mile), Big Ben and the House of Parliament, and the Changing the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace (you won’t make them laugh, so don’t bother trying). Shoppers will be in heaven, between the world-famous Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges department stores, not to mention a million and one fab boutiques. And that old saw about British food being less than stellar no longer applies — there are plenty of wonderful restaurants, including one of Princess Kate’s faves, Dans Le Noir, where dinner is eaten in complete darkness (you can’t even bring in your cell phone because of the brightness the screen emits) by blind servers. Bizarre? Maybe, but it’s definitely an experience to remember.
WestJet Airlines Flight 1141
Recent airfare: $344.46
Departs Miami: 2:45 p.m.
Arrives Toronto: 5:50 p.m.
(same time zone as ours)
Total travel time: 3 hours, 5 min.
What to do there: Everything. It’s impossible to list all the possibilities here, but here’s a sampling: Shoppers will love discovering the seemingly endless array of malls, markets and boutiques, from Merchants’ Flea Market — a bargain hunter’s dream — to the trendy and bohemian Queen West neighborhood, with its cool galleries and indie music bars, to the just refreshed Mink Mile, this city’s version of Worth Avenue. Sightseers shouldn’t miss St. Michael’s and St. James Cathedrals, The Distillery District, where a new sake brewery has just opened, The Toronto Islands and Toronto Zoo. Get back to nature at Evergreen Brick Works, a former brickyard turned public gardens that’s a haven for naturalists; and the relatively new Sugar Beach, an urban park designed to allow visitors to chill and enjoy the view rather than actually swim.
JetBlue Airways Flight 1795
Recent airfare: $270.76
Departs Fort Lauderdale: 10:15 a.m. EST
Arrives Cancun: 10:57 am (GMT)
Total travel time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
What to do there: There’s a reason why so many celebrities choose to holiday here. The ideal spot for those who like to mix up relaxation with adventure, this city on the Southeast coast of Mexico offers postcard-worthy white-sand beaches and an assortment of beautiful resorts and spas to choose from, plus opportunities to hike, zip-line high above the jungle, and visit Mayan archaeological sites (note: Day of the Dead, a holiday that celebrates the spirits of deceased family members and friends, takes place Nov. 1st every year and it is quite the spectacle, as long as you’re not easily creeped out). One of the best hotels for both the experience and the money is Grand Velas, an all-inclusive resort that defies the stereotype of that designation with its topnotch service, accommodations and artfully presented gourmet cuisine.
GRAND CAYMAN, CAYMAN ISLANDS
Cayman Airways Ltd Flight 103
Recent airfare: $310.05
Departs Miami: 11:30 a.m.
Arrives Grand Cayman: 11:50 a.m.
Total travel time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
What to do there: The largest of the three Cayman Islands, Grand Cayman is still only 22 miles long, but its postcard-perfect beauty makes it an idyllic spot (particularly for couples) who love the sensuous nature of the tropics, but want to get out of Florida for a while. On the west side of the island, George Town is where it’s at, with shops, nightclubs and restaurants to entertain when you’re not in the mood for sunbathing and snorkeling. Notable places here include the Silver Rain La Prairie Spa at The Ritz-Carlton and Miami’s own culinary genius Michael Schwartz’s Grand Cayman outpost of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink. Go for a week or, if you’re limited to a quick getaway, steal away for a three-day weekend — that’s one of the best parts of such a short jaunt. λ