Image: The Mandarin Oriental Riviera Maya
George Apostolidis
Mexico’s Mandarin Oriental Riviera Maya, one of’s ‘must’ picks, is set on 36 secluded acres on the coastline.
updated 12/31/2008 9:41:27 AM ET 2008-12-31T14:41:27

Looking ahead to a year that is going to be “challenging” for travel, as it is for every sector of the economy, we’re going to be particularly picky about where we go and what we do. And since we’re the site that compiles the “best” lists, we’re going to zero in on a few of the destinations and experiences we’ve covered in the last few months. They’re not meant to be definitive — just a skim from the best of our bests.

So here is our “Must List” for 2009 — everything and everywhere you must see, do, stay, have, eat, and avoid.

Some destinations, like Mexico’s Mandarin Oriental Riviera Maya resort, are among the shining stars of our lists. At this luxury spa retreat surrounded by 36 acres of tropical forests, visitors relax and rejuvenate in style with treatments that are given in Thai massage suites, offering views of breathtaking lagoons.

Don’t have the time for a week-long sabbatical? A weekend getaway to Lake Placid, N.Y., will prove just as rejuvenating as sun bathing in the Caribbean. Its prime location offers opportunities for every outdoor activity imaginable — perhaps that’s the reason Lake Placid got a coveted spot on our list of America’s Prettiest Cities.

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If beautiful scenery alone isn’t enough to take your breath away, then skydiving above Mt. Everest certainly will. In 2008, the world’s first skydiving program in the Himalayas was started, and even the most seasoned adrenaline junkies may become a little nervous when they’re jumping from heights of more than 29,000 feet — with extra oxygen and thermal wear.

Good food and good times are essential to ringing in the new year, but who says celebrating has to be confined to special occasions? Live the good life year-round in the Palazzo Hotel in Vegas. One of the newest hotels to hit the strip, the Palazzo is equipped with its own casino, a 134,000-square-foot spa, and an on-site Lamborghini dealership.

And no “best of” list would be complete without including some of the most mouthwatering musts for 2009. Everyone loves chocolate chip cookies, but the award-winning cookies at Tate’s Bake Shop in Southampton, N.Y., are the ultimate in crisp, buttery and chocolatey taste.

Right up there with cookies may be the century's biggest trend in dining — brunch — and nobody has got it down to a science more than Brennan’s Restaurant, where Bananas Foster was invented. One of the first restaurants to bounce back after Katrina, Brennan’s in New Orleans offers a menu filled with Big Easy specialties such as Eggs Bayou Lafourche — poached eggs atop Andouille Cajun sausage and Holland rusks.

Over on the must-avoid side, you might want to steer clear of one of the world's deadliest delicacies, Casu Marzu, a type of cheese made with rotten milk and maggots that is only served in the Sardinian region of Italy.

We also don’t advise checking out the bizarre food festival, with its Annual Rattlesnake Hunt — after all, you want to be around to see next year’s list, right?


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