Travelzoo Best Bets 2021: Dreamers Edition
Let’s be honest: the ubiquitous annual lists of “the best places to visit next year” will inevitably look different in the age of Covid-19. The pandemic’s effect on travel has to be factored in, whether that means looking for destinations with low infection rates or avoiding places where quarantine restrictions will limit your holiday fun.
We also know that despite safety precautions and protocols, there are some Canadians who may not feel comfortable travelling at all at the moment, and that’s fine, too. But at Travelzoo, we believe that shouldn’t stop you from dreaming about — and even planning — your next trip!
There is power in planning. We know that just dreaming about and planning for a trip can have a positive impact on our mental state. In fact, according to a recent survey of Canadian Travelzoo members, 89% said that planning or anticipating a trip can be just as enjoyable as going on a trip! Planning a trip gives us something to look forward to and daydream about.
That's why we're calling this year's list Travelzoo Best Bets 2021: Dreamers Edition. These destinations are perfect for long-term trip planning, and offer great deals with highly flexible cancellation policies. (For peace of mind, Travelzoo only sends out flexible deals that are either fully refundable or have no change fees, allowing members to pick their travel dates later, or get a full refund should they choose not to travel.)
We like a practical edge to our dreams, though — which is to say, we want those dream trips to be accessible to you when you're ready to travel again. Other publications prioritize the exotic and unexplored, or the trendy and Instagram-friendly — and we like those qualities, but with a major caveat: The destinations on the Travelzoo Best Bets list have to offer the best experience for the best value to Canadians.
After all, our currency isn’t the strongest, and we don’t have as many flight options as Americans or Europeans, so the destinations on traditional must-see lists can be impractical for Canadian residents. We considered transportation options from Canada, as well as vacancy rates, world events, availability of deals and more to develop the Travelzoo Best Bets 2021 list.
Here’s our forecast of the top six destinations that should be on savvy Canadians’ radar, whether you’re interested in an exotic trip of a lifetime, a quick holiday close to home, or just dreaming of where to go next.
The Islands of Tahiti
After a year of staying close to home — and perhaps cancelling all your 2020 vacation plans — you may be ready for the luxury, bucket-list trip. (Haven’t we all learned the value of seizing the day, rather than postponing our dream trips for some uncertain future?)
That’s why The Islands of Tahiti (pictured, above) made our list this year. Also known as French Polynesia, these 118 islands across the South Pacific are a paradise of wild dolphins, bone-white beaches, lush coconut groves and azure bays. French and Tahitian are the two official languages, so French-speaking Canadians will have even more ease on their trip (although almost everyone in hotels, restaurants and shops also speak English).
These islands are a famously luxurious destination — celebrities including Jennifer Aniston, Margot Robbie, Benedict Cumberbatch and Nicole Kidman honeymooned in Bora Bora — but just like all tourism-centric areas, they've seen demand slide during the current crisis. Now, even the most exclusive, high-end resorts are on sale; you can grab a deal for 2021 that you never would have been able to find before.
Take, for example, this sale from The Brando, an ultra-luxurious resort on an island once owned by Marlon Brando. U.S. President Barack Obama reportedly spent a month there when writing his upcoming memoir, “A Promised Land.”
Although the islands were the birthplace of the overwater bungalow (created by three young American men in 1967 for their up-and-coming hotel), 5-star overwater resorts are not the only option; there are over 250 guesthouses around the islands, mostly family-run, that feel like warm inns or B&Bs.
These days, many are $150-$175 per night and include breakfast or even two meals a day. Many have the same ocean views and lagoon access of their 5-star counterparts; some are even on their own private islets.
Getting there is cheaper than usual, too: Air Tahiti Nui is having sales to celebrate Tahiti’s reopening (book by Dec. 8). Nonstop flights depart from Los Angeles to Papeete; we’re seeing fares that are $330 less than typical prices. The airline just finished a transition to an all-Dreamliner fleet last year; they need to fill those planes to make their investment back, so we expect the deals to keep coming.
For more, read our blog, Bring on 2021: 7 Ways to Hit Reset in The Islands of Tahiti. Start planning your vacation by checking out our best French Polynesia deals.
However different travel may be in 2021, the experience of being in the mountains, breathing fresh air and feeling the wind nipping at your cheeks while zooming down a powder-filled slope will be as spectacular as ever. Even better, you can have this experience without crossing a national border, in a destination that’s relatively easy to access from anywhere in Canada: Whistler, B.C.
Whistler is a treat any time of year, but this winter, it’s quite literally a playground for Canadians. International travellers will be few and far between, which means smaller crowds, shorter lines and the kind of hotel deals you rarely see at the height of the ski season.
Ski-and-stay deals combine lift tickets with hotels for the best value; book in advance and give yourself something to look forward to as winter’s cold sets in. And whether you intend to take to the slopes or not, check out Travelzoo’s extended-stay deal at Summit Lodge, Whistler's top-rated hotel (TripAdvisor), which features modern rooms with fireplaces, pull-out sofas and balconies. Kitchenettes with cooktops make this a great option when travelling with the family or just keeping an eye on costs.
“We took advantage of this offer in autumn and visited Whistler for a long-overdue local getaway," says Travelzoo staffer Dana Skogstad. "In addition to the comfortable accommodations and great location, we were particularly impressed by the safety measures the hotel has implemented. It was such a treat to schedule pool time and have it all to ourselves. During our visit, we took in the lights at Vallea Lumina and spent plenty of time exploring the local trails.”
Winter sport enthusiasts can expect a new excitement while pursuing the limitless thrills on and off the mountains: Throughout late 2020 and 2021, a La Nina winter is expected to bring even more snow than the 11-metre average.
New policies are in place to make the resort as safe as possible; visitors are expected to wear a face covering, adhere to physical distancing (not too hard when you have 200 trails) and maintain chairlift and gondola groupings. As applies to all travel these days, reservations are a must if you want to avoid disappointment.
Whistler is a four-season resort, so you can plan a visit for spring, summer or fall 2021 and score great deals (think $150 per night) on luxury properties located in the heart of the Village.
No matter where you live in Canada, Whistler is easy to enjoy, either on its own or as part of a longer trip to the Vancouver area. The resort town is located less than 2.5 hours from Vancouver International Airport along the amazingly scenic Sea to Sky Highway, and Air Canada and WestJet offer nonstop routes to Vancouver from major Canadian cities. Flair Airlines also flies to Vancouver, with direct flights from Toronto priced at under $300 roundtrip during flight sales.
For more, read our blog on Whistler: Adventure Differently in Whistler This Winter, and check out our latest Whistler hotel and spa deals.
As months went by without the opportunity to travel, many of us took refuge in memories of far-flung, mind-expanding destinations that we’ve visited in the past. Thailand is just such a destination, which is why it’s on our Best Bets list for 2021. If you haven’t been yet, this is the year to go. (In fact, before you read any further, drop everything and enter our contest for a spectacular 11-night trip to Thailand, with stays in three cities and flights included! Enter for your chance to win at the bottom of our blog on romance in the Southeast Asian paradise).
With over 1,400 islands, 40,000 Buddhist temples, buzzing urban centres and hot, sunny beaches, Thailand is utterly unlike Canada (or anywhere else on earth). It’s also done a great job of controlling COVID-19, going more than 100 days without a new case last summer and maintaining fewer infections across the entire country than occurred in most Canadian provinces.
Thailand’s low cost of living and renowned hospitality results in one of the most affordable luxury hotel markets in the world; you can get a 5-star pool villa experience for a sliver of the price it would cost elsewhere, especially with the deals we’ve been seeing this year. (High-five if you’re one of the Travelzoo members who snapped up our gone-but-not-forgotten deal on a seven-night getaway for two for the jaw-dropping price of $499.)
Tourism makes up about a fifth of Thailand’s economy, and after trialling a program subsidizing domestic tourism, the government has hinted that it could follow suit with international tourists as well.
But even without subsidies, the country offers terrific value for Canadians. Small, inexpensive boutique hotels abound, and it’s easy to find terrific places to stay for less than $100 per night. Prefer to stick with an international chain? In 2020, no fewer than three major hotel brands (Kimpton, Capella and Melia Hotels International) opened their first Thailand properties, expanding supply just as demand dropped. (Translation: deals!)
With countless restaurant options from street food to fine dining, you can spend as little or as much as you want on the famously flavourful food. And while you can’t put a price on love, it has to be said that Thailand is one of the most romantic countries on earth.
Snowbirds or digital nomads might even consider Thailand as an affordable long-stay locale; the country has began to introduce a new Special Tourist Visa, good for long-stay vacations of up to 90 days. (Under non-COVID circumstances, Canadians can enter Thailand for 30 days without a visa.)
We found roundtrip flights to Bangkok priced as low as $886 from Vancouver (on Cathay Pacific), and the country is serviced by multiple airlines including Air Canada, KLM, Air France, Thai Airways and Etihad Airlines.
Want to learn more? Read our blog on Thailand and see our latest deals for Thailand getaways.
Perhaps you spent your 2020 vacation days at home, saving money for future trips in the process. Or maybe you’re a Canadian snowbird whose wings were clipped by COVID-19, and Florida or other U.S. destinations aren’t looking so appealing.
Either way, you might be ready for a slight splurge in 2021, and we’ve got just the spot: Bermuda, a pink-sand paradise that, while not inexpensive, has better deals for 2021 stays than we’ve seen in years. Plus, the country is open to digital nomads and, at $263, the application fee for long-stay visas is a fraction of the cost of Caribbean counterparts Barbados and Anguilla, which charge at least $2000.
Bermuda is less than a three-hour flight from Toronto (Air Canada flies direct every week), and the 54-square-kilometre island has seen fewer than 200 COVID cases since March. But proximity and safety are just the beginning of Bermuda’s blessings
“Pink sand, turquoise water, pastel homes, a beach with rainbow pebbles of beach glass — so as far as getting in touch with nature, it’s just stunning,” says Ally Dean Spencer, a Canadian writer and editor who lives in Bermuda with her husband and two young daughters. “It’s very lush; no matter the season, there are always flowers in bloom — and you’re never more than 10 minutes from a beach.”
More than 60% of Bermuda’s hotels are open right now, and they are gunning for guests. Travelzoo recently featured a deal for 50% off stays at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess & Beach Club. Bermuda’s annual Pink Sale launches each January and offers deals at a number of the island’s luxury properties — in 2021, we expect to find the lowest prices in years.
Once you’ve settled in, a good time can be had at little cost, especially if you’ve packed some snorkelling gear. Credit the Bermuda Triangle for the 170-odd shipwrecks surrounding the island, including many that you can access just by swimming from shore. (Numerous shipwreck tours are also available.) In the winter months, when daytime temperatures drop to a comfy 21 degrees Celsius, enjoy a walk by the sea, or stroll a vintage railway track that runs along the centre of the island and has been converted to a walking path. Bermuda is also famous for its golf courses, elegant afternoon teas and crystal caves.
But you’ll miss out if you spend your whole trip on land; consider renting a boat. “There’s a whole other side of Bermuda that you get to see if you go out on the water — private lagoons and hidden coves where you can anchor and go swimming,” says Ally.
Tourists can’t rent cars (just scooters and twin-seater electric vehicles called Twizys, neither of which is family-friendly), but the Bermuda Bus and Ferry Pass is an economical option for travel by road or by sea that lets you explore all Bermuda has to offer.
For more info, check out our deals in Bermuda.
While the Azores have garnered buzz in recent years, this nine-island archipelago rising out of the Atlantic Ocean still feels like a best-kept secret. What that means for travellers is that you’re not paying inflated tourist prices (especially now) — and the locals are still more than happy to share their islands with you.
The Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, is only a five-hour flight from Toronto, but offers European cuisine and culture alongside a wild, lush landscape and coastline that rivals Hawaii, Ireland or Iceland in its rugged beauty. The mild climate makes it a year-round destination; even in winter, daytime temperatures typically hover around 16 degrees Celsius.
The Azores declared zero active cases of COVID-19 in July, when they began welcoming international visitors again, and they require visitors to either submit proof of a recent negative test or take a test upon arrival and isolate until the result comes in.
On islands like Sao Miguel, Santa Maria and Terceira, you’ll have the chance to travel to the bottom of a dormant volcano, go whale-watching and indulge in thermal baths. The Azores is also a paradise for hikers and birdwatchers, with stunning trails replete with natural waterfalls, thermal pools, and wilderness.
Travelzoo staffer Christie McConnell went in early October, when it was still warm enough to swim, and found every element of her stay “very, very affordable.”
“We went out for a delicious steak dinner and it was less than 50 euros for the entire family, including unlimited wine, soft drinks for our kids, steak, appetizers and dessert,” said Christie. “If you travel with kids, there are amazing [free] playgrounds all over the island,” she adds.
Another reason to go: The Azores has been a leader in renewable energy for more than a century, and local hotels and businesses prioritize conservation.
Travelzoo has been sourcing trips to the Azores for several years now, and we frequently feature unbeatable deals, like the wildly popular $599 trips (including flights and hotels) from Azores Getaways. Alternatively, you can fly roundtrip on Azores Airlines or TAP Portugal, with roundtrip fares less than most European travel. (Think $600-$700 roundtrip from Toronto.)
For more info, check out Travelzoo’s deals in the Azores.
As a Toronto resident, I may be biased — but I’ve lived in New York City and London, and I tell my kids at least once a month that they’re lucky to live in Toronto, the greatest city in the world.
That means it’s one of the greatest tourist destinations, too. Like its more famous counterparts in the U.S. and U.K., Toronto has traditionally been a cultural hub with a thriving theatre and art scene, world-renowned restaurants, fantastic shopping and more. The difference: It’s always represented better value. Canadians don’t have to worry about the exchange rate, and while Toronto may be pricier than other Canadian cities, it’s not the playground for the rich that New York and London threaten to become.
The city’s spirit and local businesses have been hit hard by COVID-19, but both are poised to make a comeback. Museums and attractions in Toronto are still open, they are just “designed for distance” — and as a destination for 2021, Toronto is looking better than ever.
Travelzoo’s Deal Experts used to struggle to find Toronto hotel bargains; vacancy rates traditionally hovered above the 90% level, so discounts were rare, especially in well-located properties during high season. That, of course, has changed. This fall, Destination Toronto reported that the hotel occupancy rate in the downtown core was just 13%. Business conferences in the city dropped by 87% during the pandemic, and they won’t bounce back as quickly due to the advance planning required for large-scale events. This means hotels will be offering incentives to attract tourists.
One recent Travelzoo deal has the lowest we’ve seen rate for a downtown hotel in eight years — $89 for at the well-situated 4-star Novotel Toronto Centre.
This and other never-before-seen Toronto hotel deals make the metropolis newly affordable for out-of-town visitors, and an appealing staycation destination for people in the city or suburbs. Your visit also supports Canadian businesses (from restaurants to shops to galleries) that rely on tourists to keep their doors open.
Residents from coast to coast will find it easy to get to Toronto now, too. It’s serviced by WestJet and Air Canada plus discount airlines Swoop and Flair; and you can find cross-country fares for as low as $200 roundtrip.
To start planning, see our deals on Toronto hotels, spas and things to do.
Find deals for all our Travelzoo Best Bets 2021 deals here. We know the situation is fluid surrounding COVID-19 and flexibility is key. That’s why Travelzoo only sends you flexible deals that are either fully refundable or have no change fees. These allow you to lock in amazing savings now, with the peace of mind of knowing you can pick your dates later — or get a full refund if you choose not to go.
Note: The Government of Canada posts travel alerts and travel warnings for countries where travellers' health and safety may be at risk. When planning your trip, we recommend you check the Official Global Travel Advisory website to see what precautions you should take to minimize the impact on your travel.