We've travelled more than 135,000km in the last year, visited five continents, stayed in over 60 cities - and queued up in more airports than we'd care to remember.
Now the Herald travel team rate the airlines, hotels and destinations that have made their mark.
BEST SHORT-HAUL AIRLINE
A regular favourite with ourselves, Scandinavian Airlines is a full-frills airline in an era of paid-for drinks and seats. With decent fares and a generous baggage allowance, it’s a comfortable way to get to the Nordic nations and beyond.
BEST LONG-HAUL AIRLINE/ECONOMY
Like SAS, Turkish is a cut above the rest – even in economy. And with a special offer of €179 return from Dublin to Istanbul, it’s easy to enjoy comfort without breaking the bank.
BEST LONG-HAUL AIRLINE/BUSINESS
Etihad and Middle Eastern rival Emirates have set a new standard in service from Dublin to far-flung corners of the world. Both were neck and neck in terms of our votes, but the professionalism and courtesy of the lounge and ground staff in Dublin on a trip swung it in favour of the Abu Dhabi carrier.
It would be easier to write about the ones that have been a pain in the neck – with Amsterdam’s Schiphol not living up to its high ratings, in our view, this year, while Dalaman is pricey with long queues at security. But Copenhagen’s range of shops and eateries puts most airports to shame, while access is easy for arriving and departing passengers.
HYATT CAPITAL GATE
Abu Dhabi seems to introduce a new high end hotel each week. But the Hyatt stands out from the crowd. Leaning a record-breaking 18 degrees, every room here is different because of its bendy construction. The food is excellent and you can dine up on the roof terrace, with terrific views of the sprawling city. If you dare, there’s a suspended rooftop pool there too and a hip pool bar.
BEST BUDGET HOTEL
Think Alpine ski lodge in the heart of Tipperary. The welcome is warm, the views are amazing and the mountainous area is a walker’s paradise. Even better, the deals are great for a short break.
BEST CITY HOTEL
TRINITY CAPITAL HOTEL
New York’s Soho loft cool comes to the rooms of this ideally-situated Dublin hotel. The design’s quirky, but the welcome’s warm and Trinity College and Grafton Street are a stone’s throw away.
BEST ALL-INCLUSIVE HOTEL
MARMARIS IMPERIAL HOTEL
All-inclusive’s a growing sector, given that you can plan your budget better knowing that your food and drink are part of the brochure price.
The Marmaris area of Turkey is relatively unknown to Irish holidaymaker’s but it’s simply stunning.
The food here is nicely varied, with plenty of local produce and international favourites. Kayak hire is free, but you can also rent out a speedboat and stop off for a lunch along the bay for a reasonable price at this property, exclusive to the excellent Thomson Holidays.
BEST LUXURY HOTEL BRAND
Newcomers to the Irish market, Red Carnation have the top spots in the London luxury market all sewn up. A family-run hotel business, service is extraordinary in their group, which features hotels in other destinations including rural England, South Africa, Geneva, Guernsey and Florida.
BEST FERRY COMPANY
Wifi’s the norm onboard, and the ferry is the most relaxed way to get to Britain and beyond. Some new cabins
have PlayStations and flastscreen TVs as comfort and class are upped a notch.
BEST FAMILY CRUISE LINE
The Italian line has brought cruising to many families with its free places deals for kids. Its latest ships are floating palaces offering luxury with a European twist.
BEST CRUISE LINE
Still the best for that mix of relaxation and sports, no other cruise line has put so much fun into the sector. The Oasis and Allure super-ships are glorious floating cities in their own right, while many smaller ships have been given major makeovers.
BEST LUXURY CRUISE LINE
Its latest ship, Reflection, is simply gorgeous. If you want an Apple store at sea, you’ve got it. Cabanas and lawn clubs, ditto. Cocktail bars, wine clubs and champagne afternoons are the order of the day on a head-turning vessel.
BEST TOUR OPERATOR
A byword for quality in the trade, it’s got one of the most tempting ranges of destinations, from traditional Med favourites to the US and long haul honeymoon spots.
BEST LONG HAUL
We never tire of the US – and with the Dublin-based operator’s great deals to such favourites as Florida and Vegas (and the world-class shopping there) it’s easy to see why.
BEST SKI COMPANY
Multi award-winning, Topflight’s still the No 1 name in the ski market, introducing thousands to the joys of the slopes – and apres-ski (and check out its big sale, which runs till tomorrow).
BEST WEEKEND DESTINATION
It’s rare that a few days in a city makes you long to live there. The Danish capital is compact, fun and organised. The Tivoli Gardens are a wonderland of culture and ‘coasters, the bars are warm and friendly and everything just seems to work.
BEST LONG-HAUL HOLIDAY
It’s not much further than Cyprus, yet Jordan is a different world. Petra is an ancient wonder that’s worth a holiday in itself; Jerash is the Middle East’s equivalent to Pompeii; floating in the Dead Sea is something one everyone’s must-do lists, while the food and the people are second to none. We travelled in a group last year on an Insight Vacation and even the most jaded traveller among us was awe-struck.
Irish firms surviving a recession should be applauded; ones thriving should be lauded. With brands like multitrip.com and gadgeinsurance.ie, hats off to Ciaran Mulligan and Rowan Devereux, who follow on from last year’s winner, Clem Walshe of the excellent lowcostholidays.ie