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These days, travelers are going the distance for memorable experiences. Case in point: the top two overall experiences in America for this year’s Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards’ Best of the Best Things to Do are both outside of the continental U.S.
The No. 1 spot went to Hawaii’s Grand Circle Island and Haleiwa Tour, a 9-hour tour run by Royal Star Hawaii Deluxe Tours. It starts in Honolulu and passes by Diamond Head and Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. Along the way, it stops at iconic spots: the natural wonder of Halona Blow Hole, the scenic viewpoint of Nu’uanu Pali, the Japanese Byodo-In Temple, a macadamia nut farm, the Dole pineapple plantation, and the historic surf town of Hale’iwa.
Tripadvisor users — 8,477 of them who have rated the tour the top score of 5 — raved that it’s a “must do when visiting the island of Oahu,” calling it a “fun ride.” Many reviewers rave about the guides being “so very nice,” “very knowledgeable about the island,” and simply “great all the time.”
The runner-up spot was also outside of the Lower 48, going to Alaska’s Juneau Wildlife Whale Watching — a 3.5-hour adventure operated by Alaska Tales. The trip starts at Juneau’s Mount Roberts Tramway and heads out past Mendenhall Glacier to the Auke Bay Harbor for two hours on the water to spot the majestic marine mammals. With 2,696 5-star ratings, one Tripadvisor reviewer said it “was probably the best experience of our entire trip” and on her “bucket list to revisit.”
The rest of the list was rounded out by a wide range of experiences, including the History and Hauntings of Salem Guided Walking Tour in Massachusetts, Party Bike in Old Town Scottsdale in Arizona, Niagara Falls American-Side Tour with Maid of the Mist Boat Ride in New York, Xtreme Parasail in Honolulu in Hawaii, Deluxe USS Arizona Memorial and Historical City Tour in Hawaii, Swim with Manatees in Florida, Fairbanks Snowmobile Adventure from North Pole in Alaska, and The Official Hollywood Sign Walking Tour in Los Angeles. (The latter is just in time for the 100th anniversary of the iconic California landmark.)
“In the past year, we have seen a notable uptick in travel to cities, and taking a historical tour is one of the most popular things to do in these destinations,” Kate Urquhart, Tripadvisor’s general manager of experiences, told Travel + Leisure.
She added that beach and outdoor destinations have continued to be coveted since the beginning of the pandemic: “In these destinations, there are many adventure- and wildlife-oriented experiences that travelers feel make their trips more exciting and unique.”
Urquhart herself has experienced the skyrocketing demand for these activities, as she tried to book the History and Haunting of Salem Walking Tour last year during a Massachusetts visit. But she wasn’t able to snag a spot since it was booked for several weeks straight. “Ultimately, I navigated the town on my own, but next time, I am buying tickets early!” she said.
With more than 300,000 bookable activities on Tripadvisor’s site, this set was awarded this year’s top 10 in the U.S. after the company looked at reviews over a 12-month period, noting experiences with a large volume of top reviews. Additionally, each winner had to pass Tripadvisor’s “rigorous trust and safety standards,” with less than one percent of the site’s 8 million listings getting the “Best of the Best” label.
“These experiences are backed by real travelers with real unfiltered reviews,” Urquhart said. “From spooky adventures to snorkeling excursions to city tours, travelers are gravitating to a new and diverse set of experiences with the goal of creating lifetime memories.”