Let me preface this by saying I work at Best Buy (in Canada). Take that either as a plus or a minus based on your beliefs about the company.

Personally, don't go the camcorder with photos route. Camcorders in general take poor quality photos. Cameras are catching up to faster quality video at a much faster pace and manufacturers like Canon who used to lock down zoom during video are finally starting to let up in their fun zoom models.

My choices would all be in that fun zoom size (10-15x zoom) rather than the megazoom (18-26x zoom) size because you'll actually take the camera with you. My top pick would be the Samsung WB600 or WB650, followed by the Panasonic ZS5 or ZS7, Sony H55 or HX5V, Canon SX210 and Nikon S8000 (which is troublesome but does some things very well).

Personally, test them out. See which feels nice in your hands. It's something not enough people do before they buy a camera and then they end up with something they don't like. Each manufacturer also has a bit of a shift to their white balance in a warm or cool direction that you'll either like or you'll hate and it's hard to see that in store.

Hope this helps,
Matt