CENTER STAGE: Because of its diverse architecture and cultural significance, Curaçao's capital, Willemstad (established in the 1600s), was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Calvin Y. Lee/Getty Images

Rain or shine, there’s one thing every good ROAD WARRIOR knows: Embrace the unexpected.

Suffice it to say, real Road Warriors know how to roll with the punches when something doesn’t go their way. Case in point: On an otherwise perfectly sunny day, a rainstorm rolled in out of nowhere in the middle of the photo shoot for the winners of our 12th Annual Road Warrior Contest. And not just once — twice. Rather than complain, though, our Road Warriors took it all in stride, laughing merrily as they piled into golf carts and were whisked to drier ground — in this instance, a nearby maintenance shed. The rest of us, meanwhile, scurried to cover photo equipment — including a menacing-looking gen erator with electrical cords protruding from it — with garbage bags and anything else we could find that offered protection. Hey, no one ever said photo shoots were safe — glamorous, sure, but nothing is risk-free when it comes to capturing the perfect shot. (Just ask third-prize winner Ashley Baker and grand-prize winner Becca Powelson how safe they felt posing on the side of a cliff for Ashley’s hero shot.)

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The setting for this year’s Road Warrior cover shoot was the picturesque Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort in Curaçao. An island known for its lush landscape and beautiful beaches, it’s not a place where rain is usually an issue. Except, apparently, on two of the five days we were there. Despite the unexpected spates of rain we encountered — which, if we’re totally honest, added a certain amount of charm — Curaçao, one-third of the ABC Islands (Aruba and Bonaire being the A and the B), proved itself worthy of its idyllic reputation. The five-day exotic retreat (one of several Road Warrior prizes that also included a Samsung Galaxy smartphone and tablet, a $500 shopping spree from Citibank and 1 million AAdvantage miles split between the five winners) provided a welcome respite from the cold-weather climes that all of our winners were experiencing at home in January. And, after numerous days of sun- and water-filled activities (frolicking on the beach, swimming with dolphins and submarine excursions into the deepest parts of the ocean), no one, including the American Way staff, wanted to return to reality. As our Road Warriors began to exchange goodbyes, though, rather than bidding farewell to one another, they merely said “ till next time,” because, as warriors of the sky, there’s no doubt they’ll be seeing one another again — even if it’s just in passing as they run to catch a connecting flight. So, for the next 365 days, here are your reigning 2013 Road Warriors. If you find yourself seated next to one, be sure to say hi — and till next time.