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St. Augustine makes USA Today's list of places to visit in 2013

8:14 AM, Jan 4, 2013   |    comments
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Forget the fiscal cliff. Though consumer confidence may be faltering amid Washington's protracted budget and tax battles, we're determined not to jettison our hard-earned vacations in 2013.

According to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll of 1,038 U.S. adults in late December, nearly three quarters of Americans plan to vacation at least 100 miles from home this year, up from 60% who said they did so in 2012. What's more, 80% of those who vacationed last year plan to travel as much or more during 2013.

As for where we're headed, there's no place like home.

A resounding 94% of respondents planning a vacation will travel within the USA, with "lake or beach" the clear favorites, followed by a road trip and national park visit. (New York, Las Vegas and Orlando, meanwhile, hope to continue their run of good fortune: All three cities reported or forecast record tourism numbers in 2012.)

But 36% of those taking a vacation say they'll be packing a passport this year. About a third plan trips both within and outside the USA, and it's a good bet many will cross the Atlantic: When asked where they'd visit if money were no object and they could go anywhere, nearly a third of those polled mentioned Europe (with Italy and Ireland leading the pack).

Near and far, here are five buzz-worthy destinations for 2013:

FLORIDA

The Sunshine State marks the 500th anniversary of European discovery and exploration this year, with events in all 67 counties. And two cities 144 miles apart - St. Augustine and Melbourne Beach - are duking it out over which one most deserves bragging rights (and a potential influx of tourist dollars) as the April 1513 landing spot of Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon.

MORE: St. Augustine makes 'National Geographic Travler' list of 20 must-see places in the world

Founded in 1565 and known as North America's oldest continuously inhabited city, St. Augustine is planning "Viva Florida 500" celebrations this spring. But event organizers in Melbourne Beach point to their own evidence that Ponce de Leon made his landing below Cape Canaveral, just south of town, rather than 15 miles north of St. Augustine.

In Orlando, meanwhile, notable theme park additions include SeaWorld Orlando's "Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin" and Universal Studios' "Transformers: The Ride - 3D."

Information: visitflorida.com

BURMA

Democratic reforms can work wonders for a country's tourism profile. Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, is a fixture on multiple 2013 hot-spot lists, including the No. 1 "emerging destination" pick by the U.S. Tour Operators Association.

Demand for tours has continued to rise since a tourism boycott was lifted in 2011; in the first half of last year, arrivals were up 30% over the previous year.

And President Obama's visit in November stoked interest among American travelers, prompting tour operators such as Overseas Adventure Travel to add more departures for 2013. (Sister company Grand Circle Cruise Line is among those initiating port calls in the country this year.)

With so much interest in this once-reclusive nation, the biggest challenge for many travelers could be finding available lodging.

Information: myanmar-tourism.com

GETTYSBURG, PA.

No one can accuse Gettysburg of downplaying the 150th anniversaries of the Gettysburg Address and the bloody Civil War battle that raged for four days in 1863.

Related events already are underway with a weekend lecture series that continues into March. Remembrance Day on Nov. 16 (three days before the sesquicentennial of President Lincoln's seminal speech) is expected to attract thousands of Civil War re-enactors.

But key events will take place June 29 to July 7 when the National Park Service and various civic entities commemorate the battle anniversary.

The weekends of June 29-30 and July 6-7 bring re-enactments on farms outside of town.

A June 30 evening ceremony on the battlefield will feature dramatic readings of eyewitness accounts and culminate in a public procession to the Soldiers' National Cemetery, where luminaries will mark the 3,555 graves.

July 1 marks the grand opening of the Seminary Ridge Museum in a former Civil War hospital near the battlefield.

July 3 features a ranger-led commemorative march across the battlefield.

Information: nps.gov/gett; gettysburg.travel

HAWAII

With 11% of survey respondents citing Hawaii as the place they'd most want to visit (making it the top vote-getter among individual destinations), the Aloha State has bounced back resoundingly from its recessionary slump. As of November, the state's tourism industry was on track to celebrate a 2012 record of nearly 8 million visitors who spent an average of $193 a day - up $16 a day from the year before.

Contributing to a continued sunny forecast: A boost in service to small and midsize cities on the mainland by Alaska Airlines and Allegiant Air, plus Hawaiian Airlines' launch of non-stop flights between Honolulu and New York's JFK airport.

On the anniversary front, both Oahu's Polynesian Cultural Center and the Big Island's Merrie Monarch hula festival will celebrate 50th birthdays in 2013 - and this month marks 40 years since Elvis Presley gave his first concert in the state that became one of his favorite vacation spots and the setting for three of his most famous movies.

Information: gohawaii.com

IRELAND

The website chronicling The Gathering - a year-long celebration of all things Gaelic - is quick to admit that Ireland "has had its share of doom and gloom the last couple of years." So what better way to banish the Emerald Isle's economic blues than by inviting the estimated 70 million who claim Irish ancestry to return to the Auld Sod for a bit of frivolity?

And bivalves: Among the special events planned for 2013 is Galway's "Tribal Shuck Off." Held in late September as part of the town's annual seafood fest, the competition is open to non-residents with a link to the 14 tribes, or families, that fueled Galway's prosperity from the mid-13th century to the 19th century. Familiarity with sharp knives is a plus, as entrants should be able to open at least 15 oysters within two minutes.

Information: thegatheringireland.com

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