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Hot spots around the globe

Can Santa Fe be a worthier destination than Paris or San Francisco? Is it possible that Cancun's beaches are the world's best outside the U.S.?

Yes, according to recent travel polls. Today's column includes a sampling of what's considered tops in travel, along with a few comments of my own:

Best of all travel experiences

Conde Nast Traveler, which has more than 1-million subscribers and all the upscale ads a publisher could hope for, has released its annual readers' choices of the 100 top travel experiences _ destinations, transportation, lodgings. The magazine says 24,000 subscribers fully answered the questionnaires. Seabourn Cruise Line, at No. 16, broke into the top 25, the only non-hotel or resort.

The Top 10

1. Stein Eriksen Lodge, Park City, Utah

2. The Oriental hotel, Bangkok

3. The Regent hotel, Hong Kong

4. Inn and Links at Spanish Bay resort, Pebble Beach, Calif.

5. Halekulani resort, Oahu

6. Ritz-Carlton resort hotel, Naples

7. The Regent hotel, Bangkok

8. Le Bristol hotel, Paris

9. Peninsula hotel, Hong Kong

10. Ritz-Carlton resort hotel, Rancho Mirage, Calif.

(I've never been to any of them, so who am I to disagree?)

Some of the top rankings for individual categories:

All destinations: Santa Fe, N.M., San Francisco, San Antonio, Vienna, Florence, Rome, Sydney, London, Paris, Venice.

U.S. destinations: Santa Fe, San Francisco, San Antonio, New Orleans, Seattle, Boston, Maui, Kauai, Washington, D.C., Oahu.

All Airlines: Singapore, Swissair, Japan, Thai International, Lufthansa, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, SAS, Alaska, Virgin Atlantic.

U.S. Airlines: Alaska, Midwest Express, Delta, American, United.

Cruise Lines: Seabourn, Crystal, Royal Viking, Windstar, Royal, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Renaissance, Celebrity, Princess.

Spas: Canyon Ranch (Tucson, Ariz.), Golden Door, (Escondido, Calif.), Doral Saturnia (Miami), Hilton Head (S.C.) Health Institute, Aspen (Colo.) Club.

Not included: Safety Harbor Spa, which was listed previously.

What big-money people think

Andrew Harper, the pseudonym of a former congressional aide, publishes the authoritative Hideaway Report for an elite clientele: The 2,479 respondents to his 11th annual survey have an average net worth of $3.1-million, according to their poll answers. Among their favorites:

Top U.S. Resorts: The Boulders (Carefree, Ariz.), Mauna Lani Bay (Hawaii), The Greenbrier, Ventana (California), The Cloister (Georgia), Manua Kea Beach (Hawaii), Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel (Calif.), Auberge du Soleil (California), Lodge at Koele (Hawaii), The Point, (New York). (The Ritz-Carlton Naples was No. 11, dropping from No. 6 last year.

Top U.S. city hotels: Bel-Air (Los Angeles), Ritz-Carlton Boston, Four Seasons Chicago, Mansion on Turtle Creek (Dallas), The Carlyle (New York), Ritz-Carlton Chicago, Plaza Athenee (New York), Windsor Court (New Orleans), Four Seasons Washington, D.C., Regent Beverly Wilshire (Beverly Hills).

Top foreign resorts: Little Dix Bay (British Virgin Islands), San Pietro (Italy), Amanpuri (Phuket Island, Thailand), Jumby Bay, Antigua, Villa d'Este (Italy).

Top foreign city hotels: The Oriental (Bangkok), The Regent (Hong Kong), The Ritz (Paris), The Peninsula (Hong Kong), The Connaught (London).

Of these 30, 21 also appear on the Conde Nast Top 100 list.

What the travel editors think

The syndicated television show Weekend Travel Update polled a few dozen travel editors, including me, last spring for our favorites in 23 categories. The Golden

Compass Award winners include:

U.S. city: San Francisco.

International City: Budapest.

Domestic Beach: Panama City.

International Beach: Cancun.

Domestic beach resort: Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel.

International beach resort: Club Med, Huatulco, Mexico.

Domestic historic site: Ellis Island, New York harbor.

International historic site: Great Pyramids, Egypt.

Obviously, my colleagues love crowds. How could they select that mess in Cancun and ignore such delights as Genipabu, near Natal, Brazil, or take Panama City Beach over the beautiful and nearly empty Graydon Beach State Park, just a few miles away?

Just for fun

Dollar Rent A Car surveyed its offices for the most bizarre rental requests. Among the oddities:

An orange car, to show support for the Cincinnati Bengals. (Actually, Dollar's press release refers to the team as the Beagles.)

Rental of the company's courtesy shuttle bus at JFK International Airport.

A station wagon requested by a woman who wanted to fill the back seat with sand, into which she would put a tree trunk for her pet raccoon to use.

And among the other facts Dollar turned up, one renter in Sioux Falls, S.D. averaged 859 miles a day.

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