The Biggest Openings of 2011
Disney Cruise Line
Disney's Aulani Resort; Disney
Aulani Resort, Oahu
Long in the business of telling tales, Disney brings its magic across the Pacific in 2011 to open the Aulani Disney Resort & Spa on Oahu. Slated to open on August 29, the resort will tell the "story of Hawaii," with some 70 native Hawaiian artists hired to design authentic art works for the resort (check out AOL's sneak peek). The resort has also employed the advice of island elders and spiritual advisors, and the 2008 groundbreaking started with a traditional Hawaiian blessing. Count on Hidden Mickeys to be camouflaged into the decor as well as wooden Menehunes (traditional statues) stashed throughout the property. The oceanfront resort will sprawl across 21 acres, with 359 hotel rooms and an additional 481 Disney Vacation Club Villas. There will also be a manmade lagoon for snorkeling and a conservation pool for close encounters with stingrays and other marine life. One thing's certain -- you're not in Orlando anymore.
The National September 11 Memorial and Museum, New York City
New York has a place on nearly every list of the world's top places to visit in 2011 -- and part of that surely has to do with the upcoming ten-year anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. It's still very much a work in progress, but the National September 11 Memorial (defined by two reflecting pools on the site of the buildings' footprints) is slated to open in time to commemorate the anniversary of the tragedy. The memorial's design will feature the two largest manmade waterfalls in North America, with 52,000 gallons of water flowing over the granite walls of the reflecting pools every minute.
St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London
As if we needed another reason to head to London in 2011. Wills and Kate Middleton's impending nuptials aside, springtime will be lovelier -- and more romantic than ever -- with the March opening of the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel London. For years, the Victorian Gothic structure, which opened as a hotel next to St. Pancras railway station in 1873, was in a rundown state complete with resident rats and bats. But a facelift to the tune of more than 150 million pounds has restored former details -- think Gothic Revival metalwork, gold leaf ceilings and wide stone staircases for a truly grand entrance -- to their former glory. The golden age of railway travel and grand arrivals in London has never felt nearer.
The Aulani may be big on land, but the Mouse is set to up the ante on the high seas with its largest cruise, the Disney Dream. With the first sailing inked for January 26 from Port Canaveral, Florida, the Dream will wow the family-set with some fun cruise ship firsts, including the first water coaster at sea (a rollicking ride that wraps around one deck and even loops over the side of the ship). Other highlights will include Magical Portholes -- virtual windows inside the staterooms that use high-definition cameras to provide a real time view of the sights outside. The Disney Dream's itinerary will cover three-, four- and five-night cruises from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas.
Yotel New York
After wildly successful openings in London and Amsterdam, the trendy and refreshingly affordable hotel chain that calls itself the "iPod of the hotel industry" will open its fourth property in 2011 in Times Square. With a whopping 669 rooms (or cabins, as Yotel prefers to call your quarters, since they're inspired by first class airline cabins), the debut will be Manhattan's largest hotel opening of the year. And while rooms only give you about 170 square feet to move around, clever design and traveler-friendly touches like monsoon rain showers and free wireless internet have a big impact -- especially when paired with the affordable rates, which will reportedly be between roughly $200 and $250 per night.
As if families needed one more reason to put a trip to Central Florida on the radar, Legoland is opening October 2011. The 150-acre theme park will be located at the site of the old Cypress Gardens theme park in Winter Haven, Florida. It will also be the world's largest Legoland, with 50 attractions, shows, and rides geared, in particular, toward children ages 2 to 12. But Builder Bob types of all ages will surely find something to admire here in the jaw-dropping sculptures pieced together from thousands of tiny plastic parts.
With disaster tourism gaining more traction in 2011, the Ukrainian government announced that Chernobyl, site of the worst nuclear catastrophe in the history of the planet when a reactor exploded here in 1986, will be open as an official tourist site in 2011. This includes the "exclusion zone," an area with a radius of some 19 miles around the reactor, according to reports (other areas that still have relatively high radiation levels will remain strictly closed to tourists). The attractions of visiting? How about the chance to feed catfish living in the nuclear power plant's cooling pond and a visit to the town of Pripyat, an abandoned village where gas masks can be seen littering the grounds of a school. Sobering, to be sure.
Allure of the Seas
It's been a massive couple of years for Royal Caribbean. The second half of the world's-largest-cruise-ships equation (an honor shared with sister ship Oasis of the Seas, which measures five centimeters shorter) the Allure of the Seasdebuted in December 2010. But 2011 is really the time for the 225,282-ton, 5,400 passenger ship to shine. Onboard, entertainment spins into overdrive with Broadway's "Chicago" headlining in the ship's main theater, an acrobatic extravaganza called "Ocean Aria" and a 3-D movie theater. Oh yeah, there's a sapphire blue ocean to look at, too. The ship sails the eastern and western Caribbean from its homeport in Fort Lauderdale, with calls in sultry locales such as Jamaica, Cozumel, St. Thomas and St. Maarten.
SkyRider Tour, Catskill Mountains
Who says you have to go to Costa Rica for the thrill of an adrenaline-charged zipline ride over pristine terrain? The longest, highest and fastest zipline course in North America opens in 2011 in the Catskill Mountains. The SkyRider Tour will take riders as high as 600 feet above the ground to fly across ziplines that stretch up to 3,200 feet long, high above the forest canopy at Hunter Mountain (about two hours from New York City). There are over 4.6 miles of zipline in total and you'll reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour while cruising along. Catch your breath between rides at platforms and bridges between the lines, and be sure to dress for what promises to be some serious wind chill.