We’ve always known our readers were expert business travelers, which is why we seek their votes for the best in travel yearly with our GT Tested Reader Survey awards. But it turns out they are also incredibly well versed in the world of leisure travel. The January 2012 results of our Mediamark Research survey indicated our valued readers take an average of three international and six domestic leisure trips per year.

And so we launched the Leisure Travel Awards, seeking input for the best of the best in a number of leisure-related categories, naming Lifestyle, Cruise Line, Resort, Tour Operator and Island award winners.

Without further ado, we are pleased to introduce the winners of our inaugural Leisure Travel Awards. Congratulations to the very best in the world of leisure travel!

LEISURE TRAVELERS LONG for destinations that offer a plethora of options when it comes to their favorite activity, be it shopping, sightseeing, seeking sun or hiking. Take a trip around the world with us as we introduce the best places on the globe for conquering those pastimes.

Perhaps nothing screams relaxation more than a day of pampering at a 5-star spa. The winner of the coveted Best Spa title? The Peninsula Bangkok, a 19,000-square-foot spa in the middle of the busy Thai city. The Peninsula Spa features 14 treatment rooms, four suites, a tea lounge and relaxation rooms. The tailored treatments blend Eastern and Western philosophies and practices.

Best Spa: The Peninsula Bangkok © The Peninsula Bangkok

Best Spa: The Peninsula Bangkok © The Peninsula Bangkok

Retail is therapy for many a traveler, and according to our readers, the best spot to seek that solace is Hong Kong, named Best Shopping. The goods available for purchase and perusal in the hot spot range from haute couture to local goods, and the wealth of options blankets every corner of the city, meaning shoppers are never far from their next retail fix.

Australia was the recipient of two awards. The Down Under destination was honored for what comes naturally and for what comes naturally only to thrill-seekers, earning top spot for Best Natural Attractions and Best Adventure Travel Destination. Travelers can find adventure in an abundance of natural beauty, from the Australian Alps and Green Cauldron to the Greater Blue Mountains and the Great Barrier Reef. Nearby New Zealand was voted Best Hiking Destination.

Bridging the European and Asian continents and an important religious and cultural hub, it’s no wonder Turkey stood out for its Best Historical Attractions. For wonders of the animal kingdom kind, readers voted South Africa Best Safari Destination.

From frigid temperatures to the sweltering sun, hot and cold activities define leisure for travelers. For those in favor of hitting the slopes, Switzerland was voted Best Skiing. Grindelwald, Gstaad, Mürren, Zermatt, Klosters and St. Moritz — these destinations are unrivaled anywhere else in the world. Sun-worshippers, the British Virgin Islands — our first-ever Best Beach Destination — are more your speed.

How do you take it all in while visiting your favorite leisure travel destination? Our readers recommend Abercrombie & Kent as the Best Luxury Tour Operator.

SETTING SAIL IS becoming an increasingly popular way to spend leisure travel time, and modern cruise lines have shrugged off the past stigma of cruising and upped the ante with luxury cruise liners; exotic, off-the-beaten-path itineraries; around-the-world options; river cruises; and exciting shore excursions.

Silversea Cruises, named the Best Small Ship Cruise Line, was a forerunner in redefining luxury cruising. The cruise line offers large-ship amenities on smaller, intimate, all-suite ships. The itineraries take travelers literally around the globe to all seven continents, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the polar regions and to 500 spots in between.

“This is a tremendous honor for us to be selected as the ‘Best Small Ship Cruise Line’ in Global Traveler’s inaugural Leisure Travel Awards,” said Ellen Bettridge, president of the Americas, Silversea Cruises. “To receive this exceptional recognition from the readers of Global Traveler is further validation that we are succeeding in our efforts to deliver an ultra-luxury vacation experience of unsurpassed quality. This recognition underlines our ongoing commitment to provide our guests with the very best cruising experience possible.”

Best Small Ship Cruise Line: Silversea Cruises ship Suite © Silversea Cruises

Best Small Ship Cruise Line: Silversea Cruises ship Suite © Silversea Cruises

Looming larger is Celebrity Cruises, voted Best Large Ship Cruise Line. Sailings are available to Alaska, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, Canada, New England, the Caribbean, Europe, the Galapagos, Hawaii, the Panama Canal, South America and the Pacific.

For those looking for a more thorough, up-close-and-personal look at destinations, river cruising is a viable option. Consider Viking River Cruises, the Best River Cruise Line.

NO MATTER THE destination, there’s a resort perfect for you — at least according to the votes of our well-versed readers. In the United States and Canada, The Phoenician, in Scottsdale, Ariz., is tops. The Luxury Collection resort was named Best Resort in the United States and Canada.

Perhaps the most relaxing U.S. state, Hawaii is home to a number of first-rate resorts — not to mention natural beauty. But the best of the best in Hawaii is Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort.

“We are so thrilled and honored Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort has been named Best Resort in Hawaii,” said Tracy Walker, general manager. “This award is certainly a testament to our team members who work hard each and every day to deliver world-class service to our guests. Our resort is a 22-acre oasis on beautiful Waikiki Beach, and our guests look forward to returning here year after year.”

In addition to its lush layout, the resort offers more than 90 shops and services; 16 restaurants, lounges and bars; and a Hawaiian cultural show and fireworks every Friday.

AAA Five Diamonds. Four hot restaurants. Three infinity pools. Miles of beach. These are the credentials of the Best Resort in the Caribbean, a category with plenty of competition. The winner? Four Seasons Resort Nevis.

The resort’s Dive & Dine excursion, hosted by Executive Chef Andreas Donnerbauer and a Nevisian dive master, takes guests deep into the sea to forage the catch of the day and take in the underwater sights. Later, Donnerbauer hosts a beachside barbecue with the day’s fresh lobster catch. The resort also teamed with the nonprofit Sea Turtle Conservancy and the Nevis Turtle Group to help protect endangered species and sea turtles.

“This recognition by such a prestigious publication with a well-traveled audience is especially motivating for us, given the emerging competition in the Caribbean luxury hotel sector,” said Sven Wiedenhaupt, general manager. “If we can make every guest feel instantly at home and at one with Nevis and the Four Seasons, then we have accomplished only part of our job. The rest is to continue to delight and surprise our visitors with touches that they will remember long after their stay with us.”

In Chile, The Ritz-Carlton, Santiago won the title of Best Resort in South America. Located in the city’s El Golf neighborhood, the property offers an urban spa, four restaurants and a location equidistant to skiing and beaches.

The Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort earned the distinction Best Resort in Mexico, likely for its position on the Sea of Cortez, private terraces, infinity pools, swim-up bars, numerous restaurants, tennis courts and more.

Open since 2006, the 80 overwater bungalows at The InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa were a factor in enticing our readers. Equally interesting is the resort’s eco-friendly air-conditioning system, which deploys a nearly 8,000-foot pipe to a reef 3,000 feet off Bora Bora. Ice-cold deep-sea water pumps through a titanium heat exchanger to power the air-conditioning. The resort is a perfect spot for spa-going, romance, dining and activities.

“The award recognizes our commitment to provide exemplary service and an unforgettable experience to our guests,” said Guillaume Epinette, general manager. “The resort exhibits a number of unique attributes, including its location on a virgin beach on Motu Piti Aau (meaning ‘two hearts’ in Tahitian) with breathtaking views of Bora Bora’s majestic Mount Otemanu; 80 luxurious overwater villas, each with a split-level terrace and sundeck for easy access to the turquoise waters of the lagoon; one of the finest culinary experiences in French Polynesia at our restaurant, Reef; and our award-winning Deep Ocean Spa by Algotherm, which utilizes deep-sea water and minerals extracted from the Pacific Ocean in its signature spa treatments.”

Mallorca, Spain’s nearly perfect year-round weather, rich cuisine and location on the Mediterranean coast may have something to do with our readers naming The St. Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort the Best Resort in Europe.

Kempinski’s Emirates Palace is a destination in and of itself. It is indulgent, extravagant, opulent and enticing — and it’s the inaugural winner of the Best Resort in the Middle East title.

Opened in 2011, the 111-villa Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa, Best Resort in Africa, is the only resort on the private Silhouette Island. Garden or beachfront villas are available, as well as five restaurants, a host of activities, white-sand beaches and Aquum Spa.

“We are delighted that Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa has been honored as the Best Resort in Africa,” said Rob Palleschi, global head, Hilton Hotels & Resorts. “With its white-sand beach setting on the hideaway Silhouette Island and luxurious villas, the resort has emerged as an exceptional vacation destination, as well as a marquee leisure property in our Hilton Resorts collection.”

WHERE IN THE world to go for your next leisure trip? Perhaps you consistently return to your favorite island; maybe you continually seek new experiences. Whichever traveler you fancy yourself, here’s a list of islands worldwide worth considering.

Hawaii’s fourth-largest island, Kaua’i deservedly won the honor of Best Island in the United States and Canada. It overflows with natural wonders, from the 3,567-foot-deep Waimea Canyon to the cliffs of the unspoiled Nāpali Coast. The five main resort areas include Princeville and Hanalei on the North Shore; The Royal Coconut Coast on the east side; Lihu’e, the island’s gateway city; Po’ipū Beach to the south; and the old-fashioned plantation-style towns of the west.

“Having Global Traveler determine that Kaua’i is the best of all the islands in the United States and Canada is a tremendous honor, and we are absolutely thrilled,” said Sue Kanoho, executive director, Kaua’i Visitors Bureau. “Time spent on Kaua’i is a rejuvenating experience inspired by our island’s incredible natural beauty and the fascinating diversity of outdoor activities there is to enjoy. Every visitor has a favorite place for memories on Kaua’i — like the Nāpali Coast, Wailua River or Waimea Canyon — that makes the Garden Isle uniquely special from any other travel destination.”

Attractions include the Piton Mountains, Pigeon Island, Volcano and Sulphur Springs, Castries Market, Rodney Bay and the Diamond Waterfall. European and ethnic culinary options abound. Accommodations range from all-inclusive options and boutique properties to privately owned villas and luxury hotels. The island? Saint Lucia, the Best Island in the Caribbean.

“We are honored to be the first to be named Best Island in the Caribbean by Global Traveler. This award speaks to the dedication of the government, hotel and tourism partners and service workers who help make Saint Lucia a highly sought-after destination,” said Louis Lewis, director of tourism, Saint Lucia Tourist Board. “From our diverse ecosystem that includes the UNESCO World Heritage Pitons, pristine beaches and rainforests to events like the annual Saint Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival and even our weekly Friday Night Jump Ups, Saint Lucia offers rich cultural, culinary and adventure experiences for every visitor.”

A place of exquisite wildlife is the winner of Best Island in Mexico, Central and South America — the Galápagos Islands. No matter which of Darwin’s Enchanted Islands one chooses to uncover, wonders of nature exist aplenty.

Bora Bora is only 18 miles in circumference, yet it is often considered the most beautiful place in the world. It is also the first-ever Best Island in Australia and the South Pacific. The waters surrounding the island contain a circle of coral, and the mountains are a background for the aquamarine, sheltered lagoon. It sounds beautiful, even in words.

“On behalf of Tahiti Tourism and the Islands of Tahiti, we are honored Global Traveler has named our pearl of the Pacific, the island of Bora Bora, the Best Island in Australia and the South Pacific,” said Jonathan Reap, managing director, Tahiti Tourism North America. “The islands of Tahiti, the quintessential South Pacific getaway, are much closer than many think, just eight hours from Los Angeles. The island of Bora Bora is a quick 45-minute flight from Tahiti and offers romantics, families and adventurers alike stunning, lush mountains; aquamarine lagoons; iconic overwater bungalows; world-class resorts; and quaint, French-inspired restaurants — all for the ultimate private getaway.”

Best Island in Europe is Capri, a playground for fabulous people three miles off the coast of Italy. The landscape is breathtaking, with a jagged coastline and caves opening into grottos, the most well known being the Blue Grotto. With excellent shopping and cuisine, travelers to Capri certainly enjoy a taste of la dolce vita.

“We are thrilled to have Capri awarded Best Island in Europe by Global Traveler readers in the first-ever Leisure Travel Awards,” said Eugenio Magnani, director, The Italian Government Tourist Board North America. “We would like to thank Global Traveler for delivering its readers their expert message of travel, and for proposing Italian destinations as among the most exciting and exclusive. A deep thank you also to the Global Traveler readers for voting Capri among the inaugural winners.”

As part of the Indonesian archipelago, tourism in Bali is continually on the rise. Life on the Best Island in Asia and Africa winner is guided by the Tri Hita Karana concept of a spiritual bond between the human, God and the environment — a perfect place for soul-searching, rest and relaxation.

Let’s raise a glass — little umbrellas included — to the inaugural winners of GT’s Leisure Travel Awards.

Winners’ Circle

Best Spa: The Peninsula Bangkok

Best Shopping: Hong Kong

Best Natural Attractions: Australia

Best Historical Attractions: Turkey

Best Skiing: Switzerland

Best Beach Destination: British Virgin Islands

Best Adventure Travel Destination: Australia

Best Safari Destination: South Africa

Best Hiking: New Zealand

Best Small Ship Cruise Line: Silversea Cruises

Best Large Ship Cruise Line: Celebrity Cruises

Best River Cruise Line: Viking River Cruises

Best Resort in the United States and Canada: The Phoenician

Best Resort in Hawaii: Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort

Best Resort in the Caribbean: Four Seasons Resort Nevis

Best Resort in South America: The Ritz-Carlton, Santiago

Best Resort in Mexico: Hilton Los Cabos Beach & Golf Resort

Best Resort in Asia and the South Pacific: Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa, An InterContinental Resort

Best Resort in Europe: The St. Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort

Best Resort in Africa: Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa

Best Resort in the Middle East: Emirates Palace

Best Luxury Tour Operator: Abercrombie & Kent

Best Island in the United States and Canada: Kaua’I, Hawaii

Best Island in the Caribbean: Saint Lucia

Best Island in Mexico, Central America and South America: Galápagos

Best Island in Australia and the South Pacific: Bora Bora

Best Island in Europe: Capri

Best Island in Asia and Africa: Bali

The Method

Voting for GT’s first-ever Leisure Travel Awards took place May 1–Dec. 31, 2012, online at globaltravelerusa.com/leisureawardsballot. Each category included a number of nominees as well as an option for voters to fill in and vote for their favorite. Global Traveler surveys receive thousands of responses yearly. Employees of FXExpress Publications, Inc., and affiliated members of the travel industry were not allowed to participate.