Wow... three pages already... I have not read through all the posts so if what I am going to say is repeated by others, sorry.
Anyway, I find that the lighter and smaller the camera is, the easier and more convenient it is for people to bring around when on vacation (at least for me). I would not want to be lugging a DSLR on free and easy trip which I would most certainly be taking in the scene rather than clicking away. Anyway, I believe that small mirrorless interchangeable lens system is good enough for most of what TS wanted.
And for these, I would recommend the Sony NEX-5n, Olympus PEN series and the Panasonic G-series or GX1... also the Pentax K-01, all these system had bigger than most compact camera's sensor. and produce very nice pictures.
Another alternative would be Canon's G1X which sport a sensor that is larger than even the m4/3 sensor of the Olympus and Panasonic and it offer pretty good image quality with very good noise control for high ISO (price wise is not exactly cheap though and I believe some of the entry level DSLR is cheaper in comparism).