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Now, That Was a Vacation


Moorea InterContinental in French Polynesia  

FRENCH POLYNESIA
Who: Courtney Dunlop, 31, web editor, and Kevin Grasmann, 31, sound-and-film editor
What: Two weeks in September 2010 on $10,000 to $15,000
How: “In Moorea, we stayed in a little hut at the InterContinental (from $340; moorea.intercontinental.com). There were two pools and a private beach, and the area around the hotel was great for snorkeling. In Bora Bora, we stayed at Sofitel (from $323; sofitel.com) in one of those iconic overwater bungalows; it’s pretty cool jumping from your deck directly into the turquoise water.”
Highlights: “Swimming with giant whales [an outing arranged through the InterContinental] was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We also swam near a reef where crazy manta rays jump all over you and sharks circle around the edge. The Bora Bora hike [arranged through Sofitel] was something we didn’t expect to do but were so glad we did. Our guide showed us edible jungle plants and told us about the history of Bora Bora.”
Take their advice: “There are no umbrellas at the InterContinental; if you’re fair, bring a long-sleeved SPF swim shirt and a hat.”

ISRAEL, CRETE, AND GREECE
Who: Avital Greener, 32, photojournalist, and Gregory Smith, 39, reporter
What: Two weeks in August 2010 on $5,000
How: “We stayed with family in Tel Aviv and then spent two nights in Ein Bokek, a resort town on the Dead Sea. We flew into Heraklion, Crete, stayed at the Lato Hotel (from $110; lato.gr), and drove to the ruins of the Minoan city Knossos, following winding roads through minuscule villages and olive groves. We went to Matala to explore caves and hiked Samaria Gorge before heading to Athens for a few days.”
Highlights: “Our day trip to Gramvousa, a small island off Crete. The ferry (gramvousa.com) was uncrowded with plenty of beer, and the island had beaches, hiking, ruins, and spectacular views. The whole trip cost about 40 euros. The best meal was in Matala at the Mystical View fish taverna; it didn’t look like much, but we stayed for hours drinking tsikoudia, described by locals as ‘Cretan moonshine.’ ”
Take their advice: “Go to Jaffa, the old port of Tel Aviv. It’s a maze of cobblestone paths lined with galleries and historical ruins.”

ARGENTINA AND URUGUAY
Who: Sara, 31, management supervisor, and Lawrence Weiner, 40, attorney
What: Two weeks in March 2011 on $15,000 to $20,000
How: “In Buenos Aires, we stayed at the boutique hotel Mine (from $160; minehotel.com) in Palermo Soho, a very cool area with great stores and cafés. Then we flew to Uruguay for four nights at the Playa Vik (from $1,050; playavikjoseignacio.com) in José Ignacio, which just opened in December—it was five-star all the way. We also stayed at the Cavas Wine Lodge (from $325; cavaswinelodge.com) in Mendoza; it had a roof deck with views of the Andes.”
Highlights: “We took a private tango lesson at Mansion Dandi Royal (mansiondandiroyal.com); by the end of the class, we could complete the first sequence of moves. It enhanced the experience of seeing a tango show at the Faena Hotel (faenahotelanduniverse.com). Our favorite restaurant in Buenos Aires was Osaka (osaka.com.pe), a Peruvian-Japanese-fusion spot; we’ve never had better ceviche or sushi.”
Take their advice: “Hire a private driver to take you around Mendoza. Ours, Mauricio Molina, made all the winery reservations and planned out our days, which included five-course lunches with wine pairings.


Junks in Halong Bay, Vietnam  

THAILAND, CAMBODIA, AND VIETNAM
Who: Kaajia, 30, PR manager, and Chris Cassin, 31, consultant
What: Three weeks in January 2011 on $10,000 to $15,000
How: “We picked nicer hotels in the places we were staying longer, such as the Rachamankha (from $250; rachamankha.com) in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and the Nakamanda (from $225; nakamanda.com) in Krabi, Thailand. In Vietnam, we stayed on the junks: old-fashioned, thirties Indochine-style boats with orange sails (cruiseshalong.com). Ours had sixteen people aboard plus crew; the cabins were comfortable and the dining was top-notch.”
Highlights: “Halong Bay was breathtaking, like stepping into the pages of National Geographic. Exploring the caves via a little bamboo boat reminded us of an Indiana Jones movie; we felt so far away from home, but in the best way possible. We also loved riding elephants in Chiang Mai and visiting the ruins of Angkor Wat.”
Take their advice: “Avoid the advertised speedboats from Krabi to Ko Phi Phi; they’re a tourist trap. Hire a longboat instead. We spent an afternoon on an island with a beach the size of a studio apartment, and it was just the two of us.”

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