We're looking back at the highlights from a year in Travel. Today, USA and Canada.
WHEN BEAUTY MEETS HISTORY
You would expect a three-hour train ride to get a little boring. But if the train is heading through the San Juan forest in Colorado, prepare to be enthralled the entire time.
Faced with choosing my favourite part of a recent trip to this mountain state, I struggled a bit, but eventually settled on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad journey.
This historic steam engine has been running between these two Wild West towns for 137 years and remains a fantastic attraction and driving force for local tourism.
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The trip on the scenic route is nothing short of stunning. I spent most of the ride with my face pressed against the window, in awe at the blue of the river, the gold of the aspen trees, and the towering mountains around us.
Any Kiwi wanting to see the best of Colorado needs to climb aboard this train for a glimpse of just how beautiful the US can be.
— Melissa Nightingale
IF IT'S GOOD ENOUGH FOR BIEBER . . .
One out of several favourite moments in the glitzy nucleus of Beverly Hills was simply sitting on an outside table at local icon Il Pastaio for lunch on North Canon Drive and watching the world go by. A stone's throw away from the iconic Rodeo Drive, this is a prime spot for people watching and is often frequented by celebrities — Justin Bieber even has his favorite pasta named after him here, the Paccheri Alla Justin Bieber, delicious rigatoni pasta with pink sauce.
While I was trying to tell my tablemate that New Zealander's generally aren't excited by celebrities, I couldn't help but get caught up in the buzz, spotting dodgy, black-clad paparazzi lurking across the street wearing backpacks and looks of desperation.
On a blazing Californian day sheltered under a chic awning, served by hilarious Italian waiters and sipping on some delicious wine from the Napa Valley on a table covered in crisp white linen, the entire vibe was the kind of escapism you need from the bubble of LA — unapologetically glamorous. No Justin Bieber sighting however, I had to settle instead for restaurateur/meme sensation Nusret Gokce aka Salt Bae, floating by on a scooter.
— Dan Ahwa
WHERE DREAMS COME TRUE
It really is a whole new world. I truly believe no one can be grumpy at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. The best part: feeling like a kid again. The giddiness of lining up for a ride you know will get your heart racing and watching the wide smiles of little boys and girls as they meet their animated idols creates a feeling of nostalgia like no other.
So, wish upon a star and hope someone will bring you as their guest to what can only be described as the answer to a heartfelt wish of your inner child. The experience will make you say "Hakuna Matata" and let go of all your worries — because that's what happens at the happiest place on earth.
A tiny tip: bring only the bare necessities and be prepared to go the distance because all the fairy dust and spoonfuls of sugar in the world won't help your aching toes after all that walking.
— Chelsea Daniels
LEAVING LAS VEGAS
Although most people head to Las Vegas for its bright lights, glitzy shows and wild times, getting out into the surrounds is where you'll find its real quirks. Whether it's getting every orifice filled with dirt during an all-terrain vehicle in the desert, or jumping off a cliff for a zipline bungy, there's plenty to do in just 30 minutes to an hour's drive from the Strip.
Head out to Sandy Valley for an adventure that crosses the Californian border and sees you getting among local cacti while negotiating the thick dirt with just a pair of ski goggles and neck scarf to keep the dust at bay. At the end of it you can relive your tale with a beer at the local Idle Spurs Tavern. If a horizontal, high-speed bungy is more your style, head to Bootleg Canyon where you get to jump off not once, but five times at slightly varying lengths and seeing you travel at varying speeds.
— Belinda Feek
WHERE MORE DREAMS COME TRUE
As a cold-hearted, pessimistic millennial I had always believed that Disneyland was tacky and commercial — and I'm not too proud to admit I've never been so wrong in my life.
And it took exactly 2 minutes and 25 seconds for the high to hit — at a little show called World Of Colour.
It's a humongous water fountain show, where they project classic Disney scenes on to the blasts of water, like those overhead projector things everyone's teacher used in primary school — except 10 billion times cooler.
Just for a bit of background — my favorite Disney flick is The Little Mermaid, where a redheaded mermaid chucks in her family, gal pals and entire life, a la Meghan Markle, to sell her voice to a sea witch so that she can grow some legs and marry a real basic dude.
Two minutes and 25 seconds into Ariel singing Part Of Your World, when she hits that last climatic bit where she goes "When's it my turn? Wouldn't I love to explore that shore above?" I, an adult woman, promptly burst into tears. When is it our turn indeed Ariel?? When DO we get to explore the shore above?
I sobbed for rest of the show.
— Sinead Corcoran
If you're in Vancouver in winter, head up Grouse Mountain and try snow-shoeing. It's an activity that people of all ages and fitness can tackle. If you do happen to find it tough, you can simply turn around. Your only necessary fitness is a bit of leg strength. But if you don't have it at the time, you will afterwards as you plough through the thick snow, toes first. The mountain also has amazing views of Vancouver and its surrounds and if you do want something a bit more adrenaline pumping, jump on a snowboard or a pair of skis.
Vancouver is also easy to get around; whether that's by foot, boat or bike. A short ferry can get you across to shop and/or eat at Granville Island, or you can hire a bike and check out the hugely popular Stanley Park, 400ha of west coast rainforest that not only has many kilometres of seawall trail, but beaches, food and views, as well as Canada's largest aquarium.
— Belinda Feek