Huntley Hotel
The Huntley Santa Monica Beach
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updated 1/25/2006 12:47:36 PM ET 2006-01-25T17:47:36

With the new year comes the inevitable tide of resolutions, remorse (for overdoing it during the holidays), anticipation for the 12 months ahead and, for many people, a bad case of the winter blahs.

Fortunately, help--in the form of plane tickets--is at hand. January is the time when leisure travelers begin formulating their plans for the rest of the year. Whether booking beach time in Anguilla, reserving a room for the family in Florida over spring vacation or planning a summer holiday in Tuscany, the earlier you act, the better your chances will be of going where you want, when you want.

Of course, there's still plenty of room for spontaneity; the romantic getaway to Mexico, the last-minute business trip that morphs into a few days in Los Angeles, the old college friends who insist you join them in Nantucket over Labor Day.

Regardless of where you want to go in 2006, travel is going to cost more--and require more advanced booking--than ever. "We expect to see only a moderate increase in room supply: about 1.2% this year, compared with a historical average of 2.2% in the U.S.," says Jan Freitag, vice president of Hendersonville, Tenn.-based Smith Travel Research. Growth in new-room supply is particularly sluggish in the luxury resort and business sectors, where first-class hotels take longer and cost more to build.

Bad news for the consumer is good news for the hotels, however. "The travel industry will do really well this year. It's a great time to be an operator," says Freitag, who predicts room-rate increases of 5% in 2006--well above inflation. "What that means for the individual is: Book early, book often," he advises.

The trends are the same overseas, and Freitag cites especially high demand in such vacation hot spots as the Caribbean and Europe. "We've seen anecdotally that new resorts are coming online in those locations. While we have no hard numbers, demand is certainly up there, as well." That means you'll be paying more for your hotel this year, whether it's in dollars, francs or euros.

The Washington, D.C.-based Travel Industry Association of America predicts that high energy costs, which are pushing up air fares, slower growth in corporate profits and weak CEO confidence will all be factors affecting the travel industry in 2006. Increasing travel costs led TIA to forecast domestic and international travel spending in the U.S. to increase just 4.4% this year, compared with last year's 7.8% jump.

But high prices and full hotels shouldn't stop you. It's a new year, and there are new cities to explore, new resorts to check into, new beaches to lie on and new spa treatments to try. That's why Forbes.com has come up with a list of Where We Can't Wait To Go In 2006.

One destination high on our list is the Maldives. Although this remote range of islands in the Indian Ocean has been in vogue as a honeymoon or special-occasion destination for years now, the recent proliferation of resorts in the area means that there are now hotels to cater to a wider range of travelers. Even the Starwood Hotels & Resorts-owned (nyse: HOT - news - people ) W chain announced the opening of their W Maldives, Fesdu Resort in 2005, set to debut this spring. But our top choice in the Maldives is the One&Only Maldives at Reethi Rah, the second One&Only outpost in the Maldives. (One&Only, which is owned by closely-held One&Only Resorts, a subsidiary of Bahamas-based Kerzner International Limited (nyse: KZL - news - people ), operates seven luxury resorts around the world, including the Ocean Club on Paradise Island.) With its 130 villas, some overlooking the crystal-clear ocean and others perched on the powdery sand beach, this is one place we're definitely hoping to write postcards from.

Another place we want to go this year is L'Albergo della Regina Isabella, a picturesque spa and resort on the Italian island of Ischia. Some scenes from the 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley were shot there, and you might recognize the Mediterranean greenery. But what you didn't see in the movie was the 60-room state-of-the-art spa, where doctors examine each guest individually and prescribe a personalized wellness regimen, consisting of anything from lymphatic drainage to volcanic mud wraps. Though the resort was built more than 50 years ago, the brand-new Royal floor features opulent suites, some of which have their own plunge pools with three kinds of thermal water on tap, or Jacuzzis with thermal or seawater.

Forbes.com
Hotel Basico, in Playa del Carmen, Mexico
Of the ten resorts on our list, almost all opened their doors in 2004 or 2005. A few, like L'Albergo della Regina Isabella or The Huntley Santa Monica Beach, are older, but underwent such significant changes last year that we included them. Some, like the Marriott International-owned (nyse: MAR - news - people ) Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman are all-purpose resorts, while others, such as the Monart Luxury Destination Spa in the Irish countryside, are designed for spa enthusiasts (and adults) only. But all the resorts featured here have captured our interest. Wish we were there.

Video: Where To Travel In 2006

© 2012 Forbes.com

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