Kerri Westenberg
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The travel landscape was altered dramatically in a matter of months.

In July, reports of tainted alcohol allegedly served in Cancun-area resorts caused concern. Then in August the State Department issued a fresh travel warning for Mexico, raising more questions about the safety of Cancun and other beach spots in the country, due to rising violence. September brought lashing hurricanes to regions best known for sun.

I have heard from many readers wondering where they will get their doses of sunshine this winter. Can they book trips to post-hurricane Florida? What about Mexico?

To help answer those questions, Star Tribune reporters traveled to both hot spots: Read about Amelia Rayno's Playa del Carmen trip and Sharyn Jackson's Florida Gulf Coast exploration on page G1. The answer, in both cases, is yes, though only the most intrepid traveler may want to venture off the resort in Mexico.

As for the Caribbean, some islands are fine, but others are facing a slow recovery (see the roundup on G3).

Beyond these points south, there are wonderful places to absorb some rays. A few I like:

Phoenix may not have beaches, but the dry heat and bright sun will eradicate winter chills. To get that soaked-in-the-sun feel, choose a resort with multiple pools. I've enjoyed the Arizona Biltmore, a historic hotel that's been hosting since 1929. It has eight pools, including one with a water slide, a swim-up bar and poolside cabanas.

Another inland sweet spot is Orlando. With Universal Studios, Disney World and an average daily high of 79 degrees, there is a lot to love.

For me this year, it's hello, Hawaii. Maui was my choice even before the hurricanes blew away other island options. With beautiful beaches, tropical scenery and pretty fish, the only downside is potential jet lag. I'm not too worried. When I wake early, I'll be one of the first on the beach.

Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.