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Shanghai's World Expo, Oberammergau Passion Play rate in 2010

The year is a fresh slate before you, so it's time to start filling in those blanks. Here are five ideas for places to be or places to see that will turn your 2010 into a year to remember. And if you have something you think should be on readers' radars, write to us at travel@latimes.com.

Oberammergau Passion Play, Germany

It happens only once every 10 years and has been going on since 1634. The people of Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps, fearing that bubonic plague would sweep the village, promised they would reenact the Passion every decade if God spared them.

About 2,000 people participate in the production, which runs from May 15 to Oct. 3. They are musicians and costume makers and scenery painters and, of course, the actors who depict the last days of Christ. About a half-million people attend the play, which lasts five hours with a three-hour dinner break.

Tour companies regularly sell excursion packages to the play; you can find a list under "how to book" as well as more about the event at www.oberammergau-passion.com.

-- Catharine Hamm

Inaugural sail of the Queen Elizabeth

We saw the introduction in 2009 of the world's largest cruise ship -- Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas -- and in 2010, we'll see the introduction of what arguably will be the world's most loved: Cunard's Queen Elizabeth.

Like royalty itself, Cunard liners sometimes require a scorecard to keep track of who is who and what is what, so to recap briefly:

The original Queen Elizabeth was launched in 1938 but became a troop ship during World War II, transporting 750,000 troops and sailing a half-million miles. The ship returned to civilian use after the war and was in service as the decline in passenger transport began. It made its final transatlantic crossing as a Cunard liner in the fall of 1968.

By spring of the next year, the Queen Elizabeth 2 had taken over. In 1982, it was called into wartime service again, this time carrying troops to South Georgia Island to fight in the Falkland Islands war. It was refitted and refurbished again (and again and again), and after almost four decades was retired from the fleet. It is owned by the financially shaky Dubai World, and its future remains unclear.

By contrast, the future of the next Queen Elizabeth is crystal clear. The 1,046-stateroom ship is to set sail Oct. 12 from Southampton, England. Cabins may be booked beginning April 2. The inaugural voyage, to Portugal, Spain and the Canary Islands, will begin at $2,995 per person. For information: www.cunard.com.

-- Catharine Hamm

Watching the elk rut in Northern California

Call it sex outside the city. If watching animal courting rituals strikes you as a bit voyeuristic, you've not seen the show Roosevelt elk put on. Think of their antler-locking antics as a sort of fraternity hazing without the beer.

And if that's not enough to lure you, there's the great outdoors to enjoy at Elk Meadow, three miles north of Orick and 45 minutes from Eureka.

Roosevelt elk, the largest of the North American elk, inhabit the Pacific coastal rain forests and mountains. They're kin to deer but larger, graze on grasses rather than legumes and leaves, and communicate more distinctively than deer. The prime time to watch them rutting is early September to the end of October.

Besides elk watching, you can mountain bike, hike or go horseback riding through the redwoods. In nearby Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, the redwoods are old-growth and virgin trees because the forest has never been logged.

To see the full story, go to latimes.com/elk.

-- Terry Gardner

Total eclipse of the sun

In 2010, see something rare. Machu Picchu? Alaska's glaciers? They'll be around in 2011 (at least, we think they will). How about something more fleeting like, say, a total solar eclipse? It will occur July 12 and be visible from a narrow band of the Southern Hemisphere -- Mangaia in the Cook Islands and Easter Island.

A partial eclipse can be seen in parts of the South Pacific and southern South America.

Shipboard viewing is another option. It's a perfect excuse to take a cruise to French Polynesia. Tours are filling up quickly, so make your travel plans soon. Ring of Fire Expeditions ( www.eclipsetours.com) and Flo USA Inc. ( www.eclipsetraveler.com) offer tour packages. The eclipse lasts from two to five minutes depending on your viewing location. If you miss this one, the next total solar eclipse is Nov. 13, 2012.

More info: eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEpubs/2010/TP214171a.pdf.

-- Jason La

Shanghai world's fair

Think of a world's fair as a cultural Olympics that lasts six months. Prices are better, the airport less jammed. As such, the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai is shaping up as one of the year's best travel events.

The coastal city has always considered itself more cosmopolitan than Beijing. It's upping the ante with $45 billion in upgrades that include better roads and expanded mass transit. New hotels include two InterContinental locations -- the Peninsula and the stylish Hotel Indigo, a boutique property.

So where's the "wow" factor? As with any world's fair, it's all about the pavilions.

Visitors are sure to be drawn to the Saudi Arabia pavilion, which looks like a big gleaming wedding gift. The "moon boat" shape will be surrounded by deserts and seas. Across its roof: 150 date palms. Besides such stunning design feats, more than 100 daily events and performances will take place across several dozen sites. One-day admission is about $24. More info: en.expo2010.cn/.

-- Chris Erskine

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