After the false alarm of the summer of 2021, 2022 was the year when travel seemed to get fully back to normal after the pandemic. It’s debatable if that’s for the best—Covid really is still a thing, y’all—but it’s simply a fact that people got back to traveling in 2022 as if the pandemic was fully over. Paste’s travel section similarly dived headlong into all corners of the earth, offering the best coverage of what to do and how to get there of any website in the business. With 2022 already fading out of view, let’s take a brief moment to look back on the year that was and highlight our most popular travel pieces of the year. We’re not looking at pre-2022 pieces that continue to bring in bountiful traffic every month, but exclusively considering the articles we published in 2022 that topped our charts. It’s a nice summary of what we have to offer here at Paste Travel, from detailed first-person travelogues, to deep, informative guides to a variety of destinations and experiences. It was a great year, and we’re only getting started.
10. “Here’s Why Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure Is Better in Epcot than at Disneyland Paris”
Photo courtesy of Disney
Disney’s dark ride starring Remy from Ratatouille disappointed me when I first rode it at Disneyland Paris in 2017. A version of it opened at Epcot in 2021, and although it’s an almost exact duplicate, the new context made me appreciate the ride a lot more. As I wrote in January, 2022:
France’s Ratatouille ride was the only reason I went to Walt Disney Studios Park. It’s simply not good enough of a ride to shoulder the weight and expectations of being a centerpiece attraction. In Epcot, it’s a contributing player, something that capably fills a specific role, but won’t draw too much attention away from the real E tickets like Soarin’ and Spaceship Earth. Those expectations can have a palpable impact on how someone reacts to an experience, and for me, at least, that, along with the lackluster attempt at world-building, helped make the original Ratatouille ride in France a real bummer. Now that Epcot has not just the same ride, but a superior version of it, I don’t see a reason to visit Walt Disney Studios Park again.
9. “The Tonga Hut in Palm Springs Is Like a Vacation from a Vacation”
Photo by Garrett Martin
In late March I spent a couple of days in Palm Springs. There are two things I remember most about that trip. The first is that I photographed two stars on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, and both of those actors died later in the year. (We miss you, Larry Storch and Judy Tenuta.) The other thing that most made an impression on me was the Tonga Hut, the best tiki bar in Palm Springs. Not only did it have the drinks and vibes you hope to find in a tiki bar, but it has a secret room full of vintage midcentury tiki bar décor. As I wrote back in April:
It’s 2022, and the Tonga Hut in Palm Springs has a phone booth. You’d be excused for thinking it’s just another part of the midcentury affectations found in pretty much every tiki bar, and yeah, that’s definitely a part of it. More importantly, though, that phone booth is a passage into the mystery and mystique of the entire tiki experience. It’s not a phone booth but a hidden portal into a forgotten world—the entrance into the Tonga Hut’s secret room.
When you step through the other wall of that phone booth you’ll step back through time into the post-war peak era of the tiki bar. Kevin Murphy, the owner of both the Palm Springs Tonga Hut and the original bar in North Hollywood, festooned the secret room with tchotchkes and artifacts recovered from the myriad of tiki bars that dotted California’s nightlife from the ‘40s into the ‘70s. In a bar already fully committed to the classical tiki experience, that secret room is the ne plus ultra—a beautiful distillation of what Donn Beach and Trader Vic were aiming for when they first opened their bars in the 1930s.
8. “10 Things to Know Before Visiting Kauai and Maui”
Photo by Terry Terrones
Back in July former Hawaii resident Terry Terrones wrote about why Kauai and Maui are the best parts of Hawaii for tourists to visit. Terry ran down the most gorgeous spots to visit, the best places to stay, and other highlights from both islands, and editing this piece reminded me once again that I need to finally get myself out to Hawaii one of these days. Here’s Terry’s summary of why everybody should check out these two islands in particular.
While all four islands have plenty to offer travelers, after living on Oahu (too many tourists) for three years and visiting the Big Island (a land of extremes) I’ve found the best places to visit in Hawaii are Maui and Kauai. A recent two week trip confirmed this belief, with these two stunning islands offering plenty of beauty, wonderful secrets, and delicious food all set in a tropical paradise. While you can, and should, visit Hawaii and enjoy it however you like, below are the tips I’d give to any friend who would be going to the best of the Hawaiian Islands: Kauai and Maui. Mahalo!
7. “Searching for Ghosts in New England’s Most Haunted Hotel”
Photo by Julie Tremaine
Julie Tremaine writes regularly about theme parks, but she made her Paste debut by exploring another one of her interests: the mysterious and unexplainable. She spent a few nights in New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Hotel, which has gained as a reputation as one of the most haunted hotels in the country. And although Tremaine isn’t necessarily a believer in the paranormal, what she saw and heard during her stay there can’t really be explained in any conventional way. As she wrote in her piece:
At this point, I had been staying in the room for 36 hours, and I hadn’t heard a single knock or seen those lights flicker even one other time. Then my eyes glanced down to the nightstand, the same one the head of housekeeping had talked about before. “Guys,” I said, “look at that drawer.” It was open two inches.
I was standing closest to that nightstand, so I would have known if someone had touched it. It really seemed like whatever had opened it for Mark had opened it for us, too. We all looked at it for a few minutes, then pushed the drawer back in.
Shortly after that, people started to filter out. I was staying, so I was behind everyone who was leaving. I turned around to make sure there were no stragglers, and that’s when I saw it. The drawer was open again, only this time it was completely open. I had closed it myself. Dana came back inside, and tried to do something that would make the drawer open on its own. We pushed it, pulled it, tested whether a coat could have caught on it, jumped on the floor in front of it, walked heavily across the room towards it. Nothing moved it at all.
“I need to get out of this room,” I said to her. “I just need to use the bathroom first.”
“Ok,” she said. “We’ll wait for you in the hall.” I closed the hotel room door, went into the bathroom, came out a minute or so later, and ran to the door. “Get back in here!” I yelled.
This time, the top drawer was open. And I had been completely alone in the room. There is no chance any living person did that.
6. “The Georgia Guidestones: Why America’s Most Mysterious and Misunderstood Monument Was Destroyed”
Photo by Garrett Martin
The Georgia Guidestones were the weirdest tourist site in the state. They weren’t even supposed to be a tourist site, but the sheer oddness of their existence and the mystery of how they came to be made them a point of fascination for people throughout the country. They were also long the target of conspiracy theories, from garden variety Satanic Panic to globalist fears about shadowy groups who wanted to decimate the world’s population. The extreme right had turned what were essentially an absurd curiosity into a focus of hatred and fearmongering, and in these politically charged times that lead to one inevitable result: somebody tried to blow them up last summer.
I started writing about the Guidestones earlier in 2022, before they were attacked and subsequently torn down, but didn’t prioritize it until the day of their destruction. And although my piece from July probably undersells the racist and eugenicist inspiration behind their creation, I still believe they were an ultimately harmless bit of local weirdness whose destruction highlights how extreme one of our two political parties has become. As I wrote last summer:
A recent trip to the Guidestones, well before today’s vandalism, revealed how thoroughly ridiculous everything about the monument is. Its supposed “Satanic” commandments are generic New Age chatter about living together in peace with nature. It’s in one of the worst imaginable locations to spread any kind of message, sitting in an otherwise vacant lot in a town of barely 4000 people, a two hour drive from the nearest city. Whoever built it probably were passionate believers in whatever they were trying to say—most people wouldn’t travel to nowhere to spend a lot of money if they weren’t serious about it—but if it came out the whole thing was built by a rich guy who lost a bet, or was some kind of proto-viral marketing for a company that went belly-up before the campaign could really kick in, it wouldn’t be that surprising. (Or if, as many believe, it was built by Elberton itself to drive tourism to the town.)
5. “5 Cool Things about Virgin Voyages, the New Adults-Only Cruise Line”
Photo courtesy of Virgin Voyages
It seems like adults really want to go cruising without their kids. We ran several pieces about various cruise lines and ships this year, and the only one to crack the top 10 is Blake Snow’s review of his trip aboard the adults-only Virgin Voyages ship Scarlet Lady. Originally set to have its maiden voyage shortly after the start of the pandemic, Scarlet Lady’s first cruise was delayed to late 2021; by the time Blake traveled on it, it had established itself as, in Blake’s words, “the most delicious, cheeky, and feel-good ship I’ve ever sailed on.” He was especially impressed by its food; here’s what he had to say about that:
I’ve floated on several different ships of varying sizes from 3-14 day itineraries and the food always left me wanting more—a lot more in worst cases, a little more in best cases. Virgin Voyages, however, left me wanting for nothing. There are no buffets or large dining rooms on board. Instead, all 20 eateries have their own kitchens and executive chefs. The result is like hopping from one trendy NYC restaurant to another, all week long, without the rehashed dishes you’ll find elsewhere. Standouts include poke, street corn, clam chowder, handmade pizza, the razzledazzle watermelon, mediterrania pitas, fried avocado tacos, filet mignon, and eating family style so our party could try everything.
4. “Here’s Why Disney Fans Lined Up for Hours to Buy a Figment Popcorn Bucket”
Photo by Harrison Cooney, courtesy of Disney
Almost exactly a year ago right now the media was obsessed with an extremely popular popcorn bucket that sold out almost immediately at Epcot. The Figment popcorn bucket was a tribute to the purple dragon that was the theme park’s original mascot, and was released as part of the celebrations for Disney World’s 50th anniversary and Epcot’s 40th. Its initial allotment sold out instantaneously, with fans, collectors, and shameless eBay flippers waiting in long lines to snap it up on release day. They started selling for hundreds of dollars on eBay, and between the extreme lines and the extreme resale markups, the media started to make note of the whole situation, almost always without ever providing the context necessary to make sense of it all. So I tried to fill in those gaps and explain why it wasn’t particularly surprising among people familiar with the market for Disney parks merch. As I wrote 362 days ago:
It’s not often that theme park news gets mainstream coverage, but when it does, it’s frequently treated as something weird or funny or embarrassing. Case in point: many outlets reported on the Figment popcorn bucket that Disney fans lined up for last week, with the wait at one point reaching up to seven hours. Yes, that’s a little ridiculous, and something I personally would never do—I can tolerate lines for an attraction, but not for snacks or souvenirs. I’m not here to encourage you to laugh at these people, though, or to mock the existence of adult Disney fans; no, my goal is to give you a bit of context, some understanding, as to why people might be so excited about a piece of dragon-shaped plastic that they’d spend the better part of their day in line for one. It only partially involves making money.
3. “The Best Halloween Horror Nights Haunted Houses of 2022”
Photo courtesy of Universal
If there’s anything you can count on from Paste’s travel section, it’s an annual deep dive into every haunted house and scare zone at that year’s Halloween Horror Nights. Universal’s Halloween party is the best seasonal theme park event of the year, and their designers seem to outdo themselves every season. 2022’s might have been the best yet, between the hilarious ‘50s-themed “Bugs: Eaten Alive” house, the genius multimedia display of “The Weeknd: After Hours Nightmare,” and the best house of the year, “Dead Man’s Cove: Winter’s Wake,” which is about as gorgeous and poetic as theme park design gets. Here’s what I wrote about that last house back in September:
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Dead Man’s Pier made me reconsider the artistic possibilities of a haunted house. It’s a gorgeously designed space, from the small New England town square of the first scene, to the decaying boats we walk through, to that show-stopping moment when you enter a clearing and see the widow playing her violin far above you. Remember what I said at the start of this list about how Universal’s original houses represent both their worst and best work? Well, this is the greatest thing they’ve created during the few years I’ve gone to Halloween Horror Nights, and something that deserves to be a permanent part of the theme park’s lineup. It’ll be a tragedy to lose this so quickly. If you have any interest in the art and design of theme parks, you should try to visit Dead Man’s Pier before it fades away.
2. “Buc-ee’s Is Too Damn Big”
Photo used under Creative Commons license from Wikimedia Commons
The cult of Buc-ee’s continued to grow in 2022, with the beloved Texas convenience store chain (don’t call it a truck stop) spreading into Georgia for the first time. I visited the location in Warner Robins, Georgia, and was as impressed by its selection of original snacks and immaculately clean bathrooms as I was overwhelmed by its size and scope. As I later wrote at Paste, my main takeaway about Buc-ee’s is that it needs to be viewed as a destination in and of itself, and not treated like a typical highway convenience store. It’s so large and so perpetually crowded that you can’t really get in and out of a Buc-ee’s in less than a half hour; that’s fine if your goal is to go to Buc-ee’s, but if you’re just looking for a quick place to get some gas and a snack before getting back to the highway, Buc-ee’s is the last place you should go to. As I wrote last March:
Buc-ee’s isn’t something you just pop off the highway to hit real fast. It is not a quick trip. Buc-ee’s is a commitment. Even if you know exactly what you want from the store, and don’t plan on getting gas, a stop at Buc-ee’s will require a half-hour, at minimum. If you just want to grab some food and use the bathroom during your drive, or get gas as fast as you can before getting back on the highway, you can scratch Buc-ee’s off your list. It’s simply too damn big and crowded for anybody who’s just looking for a gas station. Buc-ee’s is a legitimate experience, and not necessarily one I want to have when I’m trying to get to wherever I’m going as quickly as possible.
1. “10 Things to Know Before Traveling in an Amtrak Sleeper Car”
Photo by Terry Terrones
Despite running just three weeks before the end of the year, Paste’s biggest travel piece of 2022 by a very wide margin was Terry Terrones’ guide to riding in an Amtrak sleeper car. I have no idea exactly how or why this piece blew up—it was not our only Amtrak or train-related piece of 2022, but it dwarfed all of them combined in traffic. Perhaps it was a hit io the right train-focused Reddits or message boards, or maybe a ton of people were googling “Amtrak sleeper cars” in the weeks before Christmas. Either way it attracted almost three times as many readers as our second most popular new piece of 2022. It’s a deep, detailed explainer of what you can expect if you ever travel on an Amtrak sleeper car, both the good (the scenery) and the bad (the delays and the communal showers). As he wrote in his piece, Terry especially enjoyed simply being able to hang out and enjoy down time with his loved ones.
There’s no rush on a train, so my wife and I used our time to just hang out together. We talked, listened to music, played cards (I crushed her in Crazy 8’s and Gin Rummy, don’t let her tell you otherwise.), read, and watched movies. The Zephyr is a wonderful way to stay connected, which I noticed from others as well. I saw a number of families traveling together, and several mother/daughter and father/son pairs enjoying the ride.
What will all of us here at Paste’s travel section bring you in 2023? Beyond excursions to every corner of the globe, personal travelogues from the most fascinating cities and out-of-the-way destinations, reviews of hotels and airlines and cruise ships, and however much theme park business I can squeeze into my personal schedule, the one thing you can expect from us in 2023 is more of the best and most curious travel writing on the internet. Thanks for reading us in ‘22 and we hope to see more of you in ‘23.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about travel, comedy, games, and more. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.