Now is the time to book your Christmas and New Year’s vacations if you haven’t already. Many of the most popular destinations have filled up, but the Trusted Travel Experts on our WOW List know about last-minute availability and have other ideas for off-the-beaten-path escapes. Browse our list of holiday getaways and get planning asap.
Island Getaway in French Polynesia
A few overwater bungalows are still available, says Tahiti travel specialist Kleon Howe, and no matter where you settle in for the festive week, he can score you a table for a romantic dinner at the new location for La Villa Mahana (maximum seven tables per evening with Chef Damien) with almost 360-degree views of the Bora Bora lagoon. Of course he can also arrange private snorkeling trips to see the manta rays and leopard rays off Bora Bora.
Read Kleon’s Insider’s Guide to Bora Bora, Tahiti, and French Polynesia, and reach out to him for the best possible trip.
Photo: St Regis Bora Bora
Affordable Festivities in the U.K.
Thanks to the Brexit, travelers to the U.K. are getting a little holiday gift from the Brits, in the form of discounts. “London hotels still have space for the holidays,” says Jonathan Epstein, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for England, and Scotland. “We’re seeing super post-Brexit value, as hotels are 20% off last year's price because of the exchange rate, and we still have space at some of our five-star London icons and four-stars in great locations,” with perks such as complimentary breakfast. He recommends Edinburgh as a fun festive-season city as well, especially for New Year’s (called Hogmanay in Scotland), where there’s a torchlight procession, bagpipe performances, and fireworks above the castle.
Photo: Christmas in London. Courtesy: visitlondon.com
A Wellness Retreat on the Aegean Coast
While our hearts may love the holidays, our waistlines have a different opinion. So how about spending this festive season giving yourself the gift of not putting on ten pounds? Canyon Ranch, the renowned wellness resort chain, just opened a property in Turkey—in the beautiful coastal area of Bodrum. Overlooking the Aegean Sea, the fitness and health retreat offers indoor and outdoor activities, including mind-body classes, yoga, and water sports. And as Turkey travel specialist Karen Fedorko Sefer adds, “There are also many activities off the property: hiking, Mandarin orange harvesting, boating, fishing….” Canyon Ranch is offering specials for the holiday, including a stay-five-nights-for-the-price-of-four promotion, a guaranteed upgrade, and complimentary health and healing lectures, morning walks, and activities for teens and children. Karen adds that Christmastime in Turkey is “calm, beautiful, and not crowded.”
Photo: Canyon Ranch Wellness Resort at Kaplankaya
A Villa Vacation in Cabo
Pack up the family—or a group of friends—and relocate to Cabo San Lucas for the holidays. The weather is perfect, the water is beautiful, and when you rent a villa, you can enjoy the festive season almost as if you were at home, but with more perks: ocean views, panoramic terraces, gourmet kitchens, private chefs, private pools. Cabo travel specialist Julie Byrd still has several available villas. The Playa Grande Eagle’s Nest is two penthouses at the luxurious Playa Grande Beach Resort in Cabo San Lucas, within walking distance of the fun at the marina and downtown. She adds that the six-bedroom Villa Victoria is an excellent vacation value; you can stroll right into downtown Cabo and the marina from this retreat. “Remember that we can have the villa completely decorated for any holiday and we can provide in-villa chef services—even better than some restaurants.” Of course, if you prefer to hit the town and sample Cabo’s foodie scene, Julie can steer your crew to the best restaurants for holiday feasts.
Photo: Playa Grande Eagle’s Nest, Cabo San Lucas. Courtesy: CaboVillas.com
Skiing in the Rockies
“Rumor has it this is going to be a great snow season,” says Colorado ski expert Meg Austin, who lives in Vail. “We’ve already had several dustings.” There is some festive-season availability at resorts in the Rockies, she says, but it’s tricky because airfares fluctuate by the minute. “A flight that’s available this morning may not be available this afternoon.” One solution she recommends is to choose Christmas week over New Year’s because “it’s more open and always more affordable,” and to consider renting a home or condo. In addition to pointing travelers to the best ski passes for their needs (for example, the Epic Pass, which allows for unlimited skiing all season at more than a dozen American resorts), Meg has ways of making Christmas Day special: “Gifts can be picked up at your house and arranged under a tree in your holiday home away from home. A chef can come in and cook en suite. Or, if you’re in Keystone or Park City/Deer Valley, you can head out to a restaurant for your family celebration via a horse-drawn sleigh, or ride a Snow Cat up to a cabin that sits on top of the mountain.”
Contact Wendy to find the right Trusted Travel Expert to help plan the best possible ski trip.
Photo: Blue Sky Basin, Vail Ski Resort, Colorado. Courtesy: Vail Resorts
A Pied-à-terre in Paris
The City of Light is a no-brainer during the holidays: the illuminated Eiffel Tower, the foie gras and oysters that make special appearances on menus, the bûche de Noël, the chocolat chaud, not to mention all that shopping. Annie Flogaus, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for France villa vacations, still has availability in three of her well-located, well-appointed apartments. The one-bedroom Quai de Montebello has close-up views of the Seine and Notre Dame and works for couples—especially those who love to entertain, since the Maubert market is just around the corner. For a family of four or two couples, there’s Rue de Saints-Peres, a duplex tucked away in the neighborhood bordering the 6th and 7th arrondissements. “The boutiques on the adjacent streets provide endless opportunities for la leche vitrine (window shopping) without having to walk too far on a cold winter’s day,” Annie says. Her Rue du Four is in the heart of Saint-German and can fit six people in its three-bedroom spread.
Photo: Rue des Saints-Peres apartment rental, Paris. Courtesy: Just France
Savings on Rentals in Paris or London
“The holidays are an enchanting time in the City of Light, with old-world-style Christmas markets, captivating window displays at the grand department stores, and ice skating at the Hotel de Ville and other beautiful spots,” says Madelyn Byrne Willems, Trusted Travel Expert for Paris and London apartment rentals. To help celebrate, Madelyn’s company is running a sale of up to 30% savings, so you can set up shop in an apartment rental right on Ile de la Cité, near Notre Dame Cathedral, and spend your days sampling cheese, browsing chic shops, exploring museums, and people-watching at cafés. Madelyn is also offering up to 15% off a variety of homes in London, which, she notes, “does festive for the holidays like no place else. The streets are decked out with lights and decorations, and whether you're coming early for the best holiday shopping or staying for the fabulous Boxing Day sales, you'll want to be out and about enjoying the holiday atmosphere around town.”
Photo: Fireworks over London's Tower Bridge on New Year's Eve. Courtesy: London Perfect
Foodie Indulgence in Paris
"The food markets of Paris really come alive at Christmas, a time of year that Parisians take very seriously from a culinary point of view,” says Jack Dancy, Trusted Travel Expert for France. Truffles, foie gras, game, marrons glacés….There are all manner of seasonal foods.” Jack is still seeing availability in two notable hotels: The new and affordable Jules & Adele, which he points out is “away from the traditional tourist hangouts, and great for food markets, boutique shopping, and pedestrian access to pretty much all of central Paris;” and Le Meurice, right by the Tuileries and the Louvre, which is offering 50% off the kids’ room when you book two rooms, up until December 29. In addition to market visits and cooking sessions with chefs, Jack can arrange for food-lover’s day trips, such as a hop over to Champagne to visit wineries and enjoy tastings.
Photo: Christmas charcuterie in Paris. Courtesy: Paris Tourist Office - Photographer: Amélie Dupont
Authenticity in Portugal
Mike Korn, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Portugal, and his colleague Ally Lewing, know of availability in Lisbon and in the Alentejo. “Lisbon has a mild winter climate, and in the cooler months you can really feel the history,” says Korn. “It is less crowded, and all the buildings have that distinctive type of low-sun shadow that only older European cities have (a photographer’s dream).” He recommends Pousada de Lisboa, describing it as an underrated luxury boutique hotel with an authentic Portuguese feel (it was formerly the home of the Ministry of Internal Affairs). In the Alentejo, he recommends the off-the-beaten-path Torre de Palma Wine Hotel for its many activities, outstanding food, and a 360-degree view from the estate’s main tower. Korn can arrange a visit to the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site Évora; a private cooking lesson in a local home with an expert chef; and a traditional Christmas Eve in a small village with a local family. “The villagers gather in the town square to light an enormous bonfire (Madeiros in Portuguese), while singing (and drinking) the night away.”
Read Mike’s Insider’s Guide to Porto and the Douro River Valley, and contact him to get the best possible trip.
Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: cristinamacia/Pixabay
New Year’s Eve in Rio
Rio de Janeiro is one of the most exciting cities for ringing in the new year, rivaling New York, Sydney, and London. And now that the Olympics hoopla is over, it’s a great time to find availability and deals. “It’s not just the size of the Réveillon celebration that makes Rio stand out,” says Paul Irvine, Trusted Travel Expert for Brazil, of the fireworks display and festivities on Copacabana beach. “Everyone dresses up in white and throws flowers into the sea as offerings to Yemanja goddess for prosperity during the new year, which makes a spectacular sight.” In December Rio’s newest design hotel, the Emiliano, will be opening right on Copacabana beach and hosting its own New Year’s party with fabulous views of the fireworks. And it still has availability.
Photo: New Years Eve Réveillon on Copacabana beach, Rio, Brazil. Courtesy: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo/Flickr
Christmas Traditions in Rome
Rome is a natural pick for celebrating Christmas. “You not only get Rome’s festivities, but also Vatican City’s celebrations,” says Andrea Grisdale, Trusted Travel Expert for Italy. “At the Vatican, the Pope delivers a Christmas Eve midnight mass, and tickets for this sell out well in advance, so if you want to guarantee your position in St. Peter’s, book now.” Andrea can help travelers find spots in coveted accommodations such as J.K. Place Roma, Villa Spalletti Trivelli, and Portrait Roma (though she notes these rooms are selling like hot cakes already, so act fast). She can direct you to iconic Christmas markets and Nativity exhibitions, like those in Piazza del Popolo and Piazza Navona, and can suggest plenty of family activities to keep everyone feeling young at heart.
Photo: The Vatican and St. Peter's Square at Christmas. Courtesy: Patricia Feaster/Flickr
A Beach Vacation in the Caribbean
At this time of year, most top Caribbean resorts are sold out, but at a few, availability changes daily; if you work with a travel specialist who has deep connections and ins, you’re more likely to snag a coveted spot. For example, last week, Caribbean travel specialist Lindsey Epperly was able to nab luxury villas at St. Lucia’s Sugar Beach, as well as rooms at Four Seasons Nevis and COMO Parrot Cay in Turks and Caicos. “The Caribbean is one of the most popular spots for the festive season, with rates typically marked up by 25% to 50% and requiring minimum night stays of 7, 10, even 14 nights,” says Lindsey. “When you book this late, you’re subject to what’s left.” However, she adds, since there are a few openings at very notable properties because of Zika concerns, hotels are more willing to bend rules regarding minimum-night stays than they have been in the past.
Read Lindsey’s Finding Your Perfect Caribbean Island Resort: Insider’s Guide and Best and Worst of the Caribbean: Insider’s Guide to Beach Vacations, and reach out to Lindsey here to get the best possible trip.
Photo: Sugar Beach, St. Lucia. Courtesy: Lindsey Epperly
Sea Kayaking in Cuba
Even though Cuba is pretty much sold out for the holidays, adventure-travel specialist Mindy Gleason has availability on her company’s inaugural sea-kayaking program there from December 30 to January 7. The eight-day “people-to-people” adventure includes all accommodations, meals, and activities, and will visit Havana as well as the southern coast of the island for sea kayaking, bird watching, hiking, and snorkeling. “Cuba’s coral reefs are in great shape,” notes Mindy. The group trip is limited to 16 people and can accommodate children as young as 12.
Read Mindy’s Insider’s Guide to River Rafting in the American West, and target="_blank"reach out to her to get the best possible trip.
Photo: Sea kayaking in Cuba. Courtesy: OARS
Sunshine in St. Barts
Conveniently, Peg Walsh, our Trusted Travel Expert for the picture-perfect Caribbean island of St. Barts, keeps an updated list of villa availability right on her website. So whether you’re looking for a one-bedroom at the Colony Club overlooking Gustavia Harbor (so you have perfect views of the New Year’s fireworks), a family set-up like Villa Les Embruns a few minutes from Flamands Beach, a surfer’s haven like the three-bedroom Villa Wide View near the waves of Toiny, or the money-is-no-object two-acre, 24-guest, private compound of Camp David, you can easily find your swanky beach holiday home.
Photo: Gustavia harbor, St. Barts. Courtesy: St. Barth Properties
A Boutique Hacienda in Ecuador
Nobody ever said it had to be cold to be Christmassy. Our Trusted Travel Expert for Ecuador, Allie Almario, picks this South American country as an ideal holiday destination. “Ecuador is a very Catholic country, and Christmas holidays in Ecuador mean the peak of beautiful religious celebrations in the midst of a lush summer,” she says. “You could come across a parade of children dressed in white carrying a cross or be serenaded by a lovely choir singing hymns in Latin on Christmas Eve during a candlelit dinner.” She recommends Hacienda Cusin, an antiques-filled 17th-century estate in Otavalo in the Andes. Instead of shivering in the cold at home, spend your holiday hiking, horseback riding, spying hundreds of bird species, and Instagramming rare orchids in the gardens.
Photo: Horseback riding at Hacienda Cusin, Ecuador. Courtesy: Myths and Mountains
Beyond the Beach in Mexico
One of my favorite places in the whole world is Hacienda de San Antonio,” says Zach Rabinor, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Mexico. “Purchased and completely overhauled in the late 1980s by one of the world’s wealthiest men, Sir James Goldsmith, it’s a fairytale property.” The 25-room hacienda has a 2,000-hectacre working farm and is a great spot for biking, hiking, and horseback riding. It’s difficult to get to—it’s about a two-hour drive inland from Manzanillo on Mexico’s Pacific Coast—but, with the backdrop of the Sierra Madre Mountains and Colima’s volcanoes, it’s well worth the effort. And as luck would have it, the hacienda still has rooms available over both Christmas and New Year’s.
Photo: Hacienda de San Antonio, Mexico.
A Hot Hotel in Cambodia
Southeast Asia travel specialist Andrea Ross let us know about a boutique hotel opening in Siem Reap: the Jaya House River Park, which still has space for travelers who want to take in Angkor Wat’s iconic temples over the holidays. Andrea anticipates that this 34-room property on the banks of the Siem Reap River will get plenty of buzz in the coming year, thanks to its stylish rooms (including junior suites and pool suites), two swimming pools (one of which is silver), and a dedicated tuk tuk driver for each guest (with a mobile phone you can use to contact him). Even better, Andrea notes, her company is partnering with the hotel to reduce Siem Reap's ubiquitous plastic bottles and “$5 from each room night will be donated to charity, offering guests the chance to give back purely by visiting.” Andrea is putting together a Christmas Miracle Tour that visits her two favorite cities in Cambodia, Siem Reap and Battambang, and includes a stay at the Jaya House. “While this is a busy time to visit the temples,” she says, “we will of course use all our tricks to get guests away from the crowds—and weather-wise it’s the perfect time to visit.”
Photo: Jaya House River Park Hotel, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Best of Both Worlds in Colombia
Colombia offers an easy way to have two vacations in one: a vibrant party-filled scene in Cartagena, paired with a quieter escape in the green hills of coffee country. Eric Sheets, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Colombia, describes the city at this time of year: “It’s a festive scene where café tables are pulled into the roads for celebratory dinners, lights are hung from brightly hued colonial houses, and music is emanating from all directions,” he says. “And the New Year’s party at the Sofitel Santa Clara [which still has availability] is not to be missed.” In the countryside, he still has access to rooms at Hacienda Bambusa, where you can visit coffee estates to learn how the beans are produced.
Photo: The New Year's party at Sofitel Santa Clara hotel in Cartagena, Colombia. Courtesy: Sofitel Santa Clara
Bonus tip: Get a discount on a cultural city tour
Wherever you end up this holiday season, consider adding an insider’s city tour with Context Travel. Context creates in-depth, sophisticated explorations with noteworthy locals in cities around the world—so much so that founder Paul Bennett has long been on Wendy’s list as her Trusted Travel Expert for cultural city tours. As a special gift for WendyPerrin.com readers, Context is offering a 15% discount until January 1 on tours in Paul’s favorite holiday-time cities. See the deals (and how to get them), here.