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Ancient walls and streets of Valetta, the capital of Malta. Photo: Shutterstock

Christmas and New Year’s Trips Loved By Your Fellow Travelers

These creative and rewarding holiday-time trips have been some of our readers’ favorites…with a little help from our WOW List of top travel specialists. Read on for inspiration for your next holiday getaway. Here’s how to get your own WOW trip.


Caribbean Yacht Charter: “Everyone in my family not only declared this easily our best yacht experience but our best fun-and-sun trip!”

Travelers having dinner on a boat yacht charter.

The Shapiro family aboard their yacht in the British Virgin Islands.

“I reviewed Wendy’s WOW List and saw there was a ‘Yacht Charters’ section but no specific WOW List expert(s) highlighted, only a button to ‘ASK WENDY’ if interested. I emailed Wendy and conveyed what we were thinking. The response was, ‘We do not yet have a yacht WOW expert BUT are currently working with someone who handles different parts of the world for private yacht charters, including the Caribbean/BVI, who we have high hopes for. With that caveat, we will gladly put you in contact with her if you’d like. Her name is Mandy.’ Why not?

Sidebar: I have since learned that there is a rigorous, extensive and extended vetting process for any travel expert who makes The WOW List. Moreover, The WOW List is constantly being evaluated, which is why reviews and honest feedback are so important. I’ve also learned and seen that making The WOW List does not guarantee one will stay on The WOW List. The WOW experts earn (or can lose) their place on The List with every trip. I love this!

I started communicating with Mandy and liked her and was impressed immediately. Mandy’s intelligent questions, professionalism, enthusiasm, very apparent expertise and experience with private yacht charters, detailed and prompt (very important to me) follow-up, really trying to thoroughly understand what we liked and didn’t like from our past yacht experiences, and perhaps most important, what we wanted in our BVI yacht adventure, was all giving me a confidence and comfort level.

This BVI yacht charter was just going to be for our family of four. Based upon our past experiences, we only needed three cabins and a boat ranging in size from 55’ to 80’ would work well. We also felt a total crew of two (captain and chef) would be perfectly fine for our family of four. I wanted a beautiful, upscale, elegant, very comfortable, good size cabins each with a shower and toilet, ideally with good Wi-Fi, well maintained, luxurious boat. I wanted lots of toys—water skiing, 2-person kayak, 2 paddle boards, snorkeling gear, etc. I wanted an experienced, safety-minded captain who on our 7 days’ charter would give us a BVI greatest hits with the islands we visit. Equally important, I wanted an awesome chef!

It was because of Mandy’s private yachting expertise and experience that she knew of an amazing boat and crew that was doing charters in the Bahamas and became aware that they were switching to the BVI for the upcoming season and called me immediately. I loved what I saw and we locked it up immediately and this was 14 months prior to our trip. TIP: I’ve learned finding the right boat and crew and using an excellent yacht broker like Mandy is critical to having a great experience, so give yourself plenty of time to do your research and then lock it up.

My family and I were blown away by this boat and crew! Everything about it was amazing and met or exceeded my criteria! The meals we had on the yacht were some of the best food we’ve had anywhere in the world! This entire 7-day yacht experience from start to finish FAR exceeded all of our expectations! It was absolutely perfect! We all LOVED it! Everyone in my family not only declared this easily our best yacht experience but our best fun-and-sun trip! We will always be grateful to WP and Mandy for making this BVI private yacht trip one of our most memorable family experiences!” —Andy Shapiro

This trip was arranged by a WOW List candidate. Here’s what that means.

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Sydney and Tasmania: “We boarded Sydney’s newest super yacht, The Jackson, for a night of dinner and music right in Sydney Harbour…”

The Sydney Harbour Bridge and city skyline from Milsons Point.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge and city skyline from Milsons Point. Photo: Tourism Australia

“We chose Stuart and Jacki to plan our Tasmanian adventure, but before heading to Tassie, we had an incredible evening enjoying the excitement of a Sydney New Year’s Eve Celebration that could have only been orchestrated by a true professional like Jacki. Jacki made all the arrangements and everything fell into place without even the slightest hitch. That evening, we boarded Sydney’s newest super yacht, The Jackson, for a night of dinner and music right in Sydney Harbour. I mean, seriously, we were front and center for the show. Dinner was a multi-course extravaganza with an open bar and Veuve Clicquot flowing as a live band played. We first were treated to the 9 pm family fireworks show and then witnessed the grand finale (I should say great beginning of 2024) as the most amazing fireworks we’ve ever seen exploded above us. We fell into bed in the wee hours of 1 January 2024, but were up again before long to catch a flight to Tasmania.

There we picked up our rental vehicle and began our six-day adventure around the island. We are confident that we saw places we would never have known existed without Jacki’s detailed plan. Jacki handled all our dinner reservations, and you can believe me when I say that we had some mighty fine food and wine, as well as super fun wine tastings. We even had a vodka tasting of vodka distilled from sheep whey. Our adventure ended in Hobart, where we had an excellent tour guide. Our fellow travelers had never used a member of Wendy Perrin’s WOW List but they quickly declared Jay, our guide, as the best guide they had ever had on any tour.

There is no way that we could have planned our incredible Australian adventure without the help of an experienced professional. When people tell me that they like to “discover places themselves” and don’t want help planning a trip, I think about how misguided this approach to travel is and how much they are missing, but some people firmly hold onto this idea and can’t be swayed. Too bad for them. We’ve had the most memorable trips with the help of The WOW List.” —Ruth Anne Lawson

Read more reviews of Australia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Sri Lanka: “We saw beautiful Buddha temples…hiked mountains with spectacular views, went on a jeep safari…”

Travelers taking a photo with the elephants on a safari in Sri Lanka.

Pam Greenstein and family saw elephants on their Sri Lanka safari.

“We had an incredible vacation to Sri Lanka over the Christmas holidays with our two daughters, ages 21 and 18. We had just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and wanted to do something special with them. We were there for 2.5 weeks and stayed in 9 different boutique hotels. They were all fantastic! Our guide was absolutely outstanding. He added so much to the trip by getting us into various cultural events, restaurants, markets, and experiences. We never had to wait in line! He was also very caring with our girls when they were tired and needed a break. His passion for the country was instrumental in our learning about the culture and history, and eating incredible food.

We saw beautiful Buddha temples, rode the famous train to see the incredible topography, learned all about tea country, hiked mountains with spectacular views, went on a jeep safari and got up close elephants, leopards and water buffalos; rode bikes through rice paddies, had a wonderful massage and sauna, toured a gem mine to see how they make beautiful jewelry, and swam with the sea turtles. The highlight was our farm-to-table cooking class, picking fresh vegetables at the market and then making Sri Lankan rice and curry dishes with local chefs. It was fun and delicious.

We had various anniversary cards, cakes, and champagne when we arrived at our hotels, such a warm and caring gesture from the staff. This was our third trip working with Wendy and her team, and as usual, they did an outstanding job planning every detail.” —Pam Greenstein

Read more reviews of Sri Lanka trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Peru: “We visited many Inca sites. We also had a day of whitewater rafting. The Urubamba market is open twice a week, so we took the opportunity to shop with the locals.”

The view of the Sacred Valley in Peru.

The Sacred Valley in Peru. Photo: Shutterstock

“My granddaughter and I just returned from our latest adventure, this time in Peru. This was our third New Year’s adventure organized by Allie, our other two experiences being the Galapagos Islands and Santiago/Easter Island, Chile. This trip’s primary objective was the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. We had a great 11 days.

Our base in the Sacred Valley was the Sol y Luna Hotel. Could not have asked for better accommodations. We visited many Inca sites. We also had a day of whitewater rafting. The Urubamba market is open twice a week, so we took the opportunity to shop with the locals. Being the new year, the flowers were aplenty, yellow, a color of note to the Peruvians at New Year. The highlight of the trip was Machu Picchu citadel. Pictures do not do it justice. The vastness of the site in the clouds and the river far below. It was beautiful!

On New Year’s Eve we had good intentions on staying up to ring in the new year, but Allie had other plans, gratefully and thankfully. The next morning we returned very early to the citadel. Allie was able to obtain tickets for Huayna Picchu. Tickets are in a limited number. We were very fortunate, as many people are disappointed when they find out tickets are not available. Allie had procured ours well in advance. My granddaughter climbed Huayna Picchu, also known as ‘the stairs of death,’ an experience she will never forget.

We returned to Cusco for a day, then it was off to the Amazon. Our flight was followed by a 45-minute powered canoe ride to the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, an eco lodge and our home for the next three days. We had a riverside cabana on the Madre del Dias River. In the mornings, we could hear howler monkeys and other unknown critters. It was the rainy season, so we had rain and thunderstorms daily. The weather did not hamper our activities, actually the weather was part of the experience. Although we had a twilight boat excursion and jungle canopy walks, our highlight was fishing on Lake Valencia. We went piranha fishing, followed by a shore lunch.

Unfortunately, our time had run out, we had to get back to the States. I said earlier that this was our third New Year’s adventure organized by Allie, which was my favorite. All were unique, different experiences and introduced us to some great people.” —Jim Stock

Read more reviews of Peru trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Eastern Europe: “Our final day in Krakow was spent making pierogi with Marta in her home.”

Travelers making pierogi in Krakow.

The Nury family learn how to make pierogi. Photo: Traveler Doug Nury

“The current state of our world is disheartening. Our March 2023 travels (arranged by a Wendy Perrin WOW List agent) took us to Israel as tourists, never imagining that seven months later, Israel would be at war with Gaza. Since October 7, our family regularly discusses the conversations we had with our two tour guides, Daphne (Israel) and Isla (West Bank) about the conflict and how both of them want a peaceful but fair solution. Through our vast international travel experiences, our family has learned to seek as many perspectives as possible, particularly from non-US citizens on domestic and international issues. As a result, we jumped at the opportunity for Gwen to plan an Eastern European trip over Christmas, not only to enjoy the Christmas traditions and markets, but also to hear the views of Europeans very close to the Ukrainian/Russian conflict.

Gwen’s tour guides were the best part of our trip. During our first four days in Budapest, Julia explained to us the devastating history of the Jewish population and how close to 500,000 citizens were murdered during WWII. She also arranged an enjoyable boat tour (the boat had heat!) on the chilly Danube, pointing out architectural landmarks on the Buda and Pest side, while cruising on the river.

In Prague, our guide Christina spent the rainy morning with us inside the Strahov Monastery, an active monastery that houses the largest collection of Bibles in the world, and gave us a VIP tour of its two main halls, the Philosophical and Theological halls. In Poland, we toured Auschwitz privately with Wojtek Smolen, a tour guide with over 30 years of experience who had two family members imprisoned at the concentration camp. His narration and walking tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau was fact-based, with no political slant. The things I saw that day—the massive size and scope of the concentration camp, the vast piles of victims’ strands of hair, abandoned shoes and suitcases on display—will forever be tattooed on my brain.

Following Auschwitz, we drove back to Krakow and met Julie at the Krakow History Museum, which is located at Oscar Schindler’s factory, for a tour of Krakow before, during and after the Nazi occupation. The museum is well done and definitely worth visiting. Our final day in Krakow was spent making pierogi with Marta in her home. While rolling out dough, adding the fillings and pinching the pierogi before dropping it into the boiling water, she told us how she housed eight Ukrainians for two months at the onset of the war and is concerned about the conflict due to the proximity of Poland to Ukraine.

My husband and I hope that this trip punctuated the importance of visiting historical relics and learning from experts at the site about past events instead of watching a YouTube video for our teenagers (ages 19 and 16). It’s also essential to engage with people worldwide to gain insight on their perspective of US leadership and diplomacy.” —Beth Nury

Read more reviews of Eastern Europe trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Galapagos, Andes, Amazon: “Allie even arranged for a private family photo shoot on the most beautiful beach!”

Travelers and a giant tortoise in the Galapagos.

Lauren Schor and family catch up with a giant tortoise in the Galapagos.

Allie did an amazing job planning our 13-day multi-generational family trip to Ecuador for Christmas 2023. We started planning almost a year in advance. Most accommodations are smaller, with about 20 rooms total, and I would definitely suggest planning this trip well in advance, as availability dictated the outline of our trip from the beginning of the planning process. And we LOVED all of the places we stayed!

Allie suggested destinations she thought were right for us, based on our travel style and age range. In the Galapagos Islands we opted for a land-based trip rather than a cruise, and although we didn’t get to see as many islands as we would have if we’d stayed on a boat, we were very happy with our choice. We spent four days in the Galapagos (two on land exploring Santa Cruz Island—so much to see and do) and two at sea exploring multiple islands in the archipelago. Allie even arranged for a private family photo shoot on the most beautiful beach!

Next stop was in the Andes mountains back on the mainland at an amazing hacienda where we really got a feel for the culture of the country. After a couple of days here, it was time for the grand finale, the Amazon rainforest. We all thought the Galapagos would be the main highlight of a trip to Ecuador, but the Amazon was just mind-blowing. Allie sent us to the most amazing eco-lodge in a very remote location where we spent three nights. Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Ecuador was very unique in that we were able to spend time in the Galapagos, the Andes Mountains and the Amazon all in one trip! Just be aware, we had a lot of very early mornings and very little downtime (naps during transit were common). Some of the excursions can be physically challenging if you don’t have great balance or stamina, especially combined with the strong equator sun. And there is a lot of moving around and time spent traveling from one place to another. However, it was all 100% worth it! Allie planned the trip of a lifetime for our family of eight!” —Lauren Schor

Read more reviews of Galapagos and Amazon trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Norway & Copenhagen: “We got to see the Christmas lights in Tivoli Gardens and took a ride on a wild roller coaster, wandered with some hot drinks…”

Kate Ogg and son Will see the northern lights from the driveway of their lodge in Alta.

Kate Ogg and son Will see the northern lights just outside their lodge in Alta, Norway. Photo: Traveler Ryan Ogg

“My husband, Ryan Ogg and I (Kate Ogg), and our three children, Will (17), Charlotte (15), and Wyatt (12), went to Copenhagen, Denmark, and Oslo and Alta, Norway, from December 28 through January 6. Will is graduating from high school this spring, and so we let him choose the destination for a family vacation this year. He wanted to go someplace cold, snowy and dark, where we could do some fun outdoor adventures, and hopefully see the Northern Lights (which we had tried and failed to do in Iceland a couple of years ago).

It was a fantastic trip. Copenhagen was still pretty magical the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and we found some good restaurants despite a few of the ones we had hoped for being closed. We got to see the Christmas lights in Tivoli Gardens and took a ride on a wild roller coaster, wandered with some hot drinks, shopped and just enjoyed the festive vibe. The next day we started the day with a boat ride through the harbor and some of the bigger canals, which gave us a sense of the city’s geography as well as a lot of the architecture.

Oslo was all closed while we were there because it was both Sunday and New Year’s Eve, but a walk through the sculpture garden, to the Fram museum to see a polar expedition ship, and a chance to see the Nobel buildings and then along the harbor was a nice way to spend the day before a fancy dinner at our hotel (The Thief) and a midnight toast on the roof. On New Year’s morning in a snowstorm, we made it to Oslo airport and up to dark Alta. The Sorrisniva Hotel was fully booked by the time we planned our trip (August), so we stayed in a little fishing lodge in the woods, down the driveway from Tristin and Trine Restaurant and past some sled dogs.

It was absolutely charming, and best of all, the very first night as we walked out of our lodge to dinner, the sky lit up with northern lights that continued to brighten and dance until we gave up and went to bed. I credit our very dark spot in the woods for the fantastic viewing. Our adventures in snowmobiling, reindeer sledding, snowshoeing, and king crab fishing all showed us different parts of the landscape and culture in northern Norway, and it was just…magical. We truly loved it.” —Kate Ogg

Read more reviews of Scandinavia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Panama: “We stayed in the old part of Panama City—very charming and beautifully decorated for the holidays.”

The old town of Panama City

Casco Viejo of Panama City. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband, 21-year-old son, and I had a fabulous time in Panama, organized by Pierre and his team. We were late in planning the trip for the week after Christmas but Pierre was able to help us with the right recommendations and accommodations. We stayed in the old part of Panama City—very charming and beautifully decorated for the holidays. Seeing the Panama Canal was the highlight of the trip for us—an absolute must-do for anyone visiting. We could not visit the private exhibit halls because they were unexpectedly closed, due to no fault of Pierre’s, but he was kind enough to treat us to a dinner to make up for it. We also visited monkey island (taking a boat next to big ships in the canal was awesome) and the sloth sanctuary.

We visited Boquete in the mountains for 3 nights and absolutely loved it. It still retains the charm of cloud forests without the commercialization of Costa Rica’s Monteverde. Highlights there included an adventurous 4×4 jeep ride to the top of Baru Volcano for sunrise and seeing both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, a fun cooking experience with the chef of Ngadri restaurant, hanging bridges, and tour of a coffee plantation.

We celebrated New Year’s in Panama City at one of the rooftop restaurants with great music and an excellent multi-course dinner and Champagne. Very memorable. All 3 of us really enjoyed Panama and look forward to going back again.” —Tina Hunt

Read more reviews of Panama trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Egypt: “On our last night of the cruise, we went sand surfing in Aswan. It was a blast!”

Travelers on a camel ride near the Pyramids of Giza.

Ashley Point and her family on a camel ride near the Pyramids of Giza.

“Wow! What an amazing trip. We just returned from Egypt. Jim, Glenda, and their team did an extraordinary job planning our 2-week trip. Our family of 5, including 3 kids aged 6-11 years old, started in Cairo with the Pyramids of Giza (including camel and ATV rides around the pyramids). Our guide, Eman Shawky Mahmoud, was wonderful. She is pursuing her PhD in archaeology and knows everything about Egypt. Our 11-year-old had just completed ancient history and he asked so many questions and she answered them all. For three days we toured pyramids, museums, etc. We all enjoyed climbing into two pyramids. We also did a Bellies en Route walking food tour. It was wonderful to see and taste the city with the help of a local. We stayed in connecting rooms at the Four Seasons. The food, service and rooms were top-notch.

After 4 days we flew to Luxor and met with our second guide, Bishoy George. He has two children and knew how to accommodate our needs when the kids were tired. He too is an expert on the history and culture of Egypt. We stayed at the Winter Palace. It was beautiful. The kids woke up Christmas morning to stockings filled with candy and gifts from the hotel!

After two nights, we boarded the M/S Farah and cruised the Nile. This smaller boat (120 passengers) was perfect for our family. The pool was a nice distraction after a long day of touring. They offered to make special meals for the kids, but they weren’t needed because the kids loved all of the dishes served. The staff on the Farah were the best, with their towel creations each night, ice cream every afternoon, and very clean accommodations. George met us at each port and showed us around each city. He answered all of our questions about the history, culture, politics, and people of Egypt. On our last night of the cruise, we went sand surfing in Aswan. It was a blast! The next day we flew to Abu Simbel, then back to Cairo to enjoy two more days with Eman at the GEM and Islamic Cairo.

Jim addressed all of our safety concerns, but we trusted that he knew Egypt best, and he did. We never felt unsafe. The Egyptians were kind and friendly and happy to share their beautiful country with us. We are already booking our next trip with a WOW planner!” —Ashley Point

Read more reviews of Egypt trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Paris: “A trip fit for royalty…”

Versailles palace, Paris.

The Palace of Versailles. Photo: Shutterstock

“We had three weeks to plan a Paris trip with our adult children after our Israel trip was canceled. Jennifer, a WOW planner through Wendy Perrin, created a trip fit for royalty. We stayed in a gorgeous, boutique hotel in the Marais district and had private car and tour guides for the Louvre, Versailles, Chateau, Jewish and History Tours. We saw the Eiffel Tower with a private tour, the Dior Exhibit at the Foundation, we had an amazing time.

Our WOW Moment started with a car picking us up at noon, taking us to an unknown destination which was a fabulous restaurant, Shabour. The owner told us that since we couldn’t go to Israel, this was a Jerusalem-Paris dining experience. We sat at the bar to watch the chefs prepare a delicious, fun, memorable lunch. It was awesome.

Jennifer and staff were in touch with us daily. They helped with dinner ideas and anything we needed or asked for. We had a concierge service at the airport on both ends, making it easy to maneuver. I can’t say enough about Jennifer and her staff who gave us a perfect trip in such a short period of time. We have traveled the world with Wendy Perrin’s WOW List. It is the best way and the only way we travel.” —Adrienne, Phil, Lindsey, Billy Goldberg

Read more reviews of Paris trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Australia: “We were able to have a private snorkeling trip to the Great Barrier Reef—both the inner and outer reefs…”

The Bengtzen family on a private yacht at Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

The Bengtzen family spent a day snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef from a private yacht.

“New Year’s in Australia had been a dream of mine since I was 14. We began in Sydney, where we stayed at the Shangri-La hotel. It gave us an amazing view for the fireworks, which were absolutely incredible. It was perfect for us and our adult kids to watch and not have to fight the crowds.

From Sydney we went to Hayman Island in the Whitsundays islands. This was a one-of -a-kind experience. From here we were able to have a private snorkeling trip to the Great Barrier Reef—both the inner and outer reefs. Restaurants on the island were fantastic, and the beach is heaven. From Hayman we went to Noosa, where we had an incredible experience kayaking on the ocean. The shopping and food were wonderful and gave us a great end to our trip.

None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t found Wendy Perrin and her referral of Stuart. Stuart and Jacki then took our dates, our family info, and planned a once-in-a-lifetime trip for us. I cannot recommend them enough.” —Keri Bengtzen

Read more reviews of Australia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Belize: “We were looking for a Christmas-week alternative to our typical beach-resort experience where we stay at the hotel and rarely venture out.”

Turquoise water in the Caribbean Caye Caulker island, Belize.

The Caribbean island of Caye Caulker, Belize. Photo: Shutterstock

“Just back from a wonderful week in Belize with our adult daughters (23 and 25). Patricia, Rachael and their team did a great job. They exemplify why I use your planners—they really listened and planned accordingly, were easy to communicate with, have in-country expertise and contacts (Rachael met us at the airport!), and were able to adjust on the fly.

Everything they planned was just what we asked for. We were looking for a Christmas-week alternative to our typical beach-resort experience where we stay at the hotel and rarely venture out. Instead, we had a 2-bedroom villa in a small hotel right on the lagoon, with day trips tailored to our desires. That first morning when I opened my door and walked 20 steps in my PJs to the completely quiet beach and into the still, clear waters was magical. All alone in paradise.

We snorkeled, zip lined, floated on the river, visited a spice farm and learned all about cacao and chocolate. We also relaxed on the beach, ate lots of ceviche, and discovered a new taste for rum.

Rachael planned a lovely WOW Moment—a private concert with up-and-coming Belizian vocalist Kylon Eiley on our villa patio, complete with margaritas.

The snorkeling guides were really great and considerate, especially to those who were bit anxious. The guide made sure we saw the sharks and turtles. On our second snorkel day, we saw a jeweled damselfish, and that alone was worth the trip. How that can exist in nature is amazing. And the corals were spectacular. Rachael had insisted that we add that second half-day snorkel to our trip, and I was glad she did.

As Belize is an English-speaking country, that made it very easy to communicate with everyone. We also enjoyed learning from our guides and drivers about the different cultures. Everyone we interacted with was kind and keen to make sure we were happy.” —Kathryn Barden

Read more reviews of Belize trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Colombia: “On our final day, we visited the very vibrant, and exciting, Comuna 13, where urban art and music are thriving.”

Sliding in Medellin's hilly Comuna 13 neighborhood.

Lynn Herrick’s son tries out a slide in Medellin’s hilly Comuna 13 neighborhood. Photo: Traveler Lynn Herrick

“This was a family trip with my three college-aged kids and my husband. So, we wanted a bit of history, a bit of adventure, a bit of culture and a lot of fun. Our trip started in Cartagena with the best tour guide ever, Will. Not only was Will’s dad the mayor of Cartagena, so we got to visit town hall, but he quickly got to know each of us and tailored our tours to our personalities. The kids even scheduled a secret outing with him to surprise me with emerald earrings for my birthday!

In Cartagena we ate street food we would have never tried, learned salsa dancing, took a cooking class with a cantankerous French chef and made the best ceviche ever, went canoeing in the mangroves, learned to drum with a local group, and participated in a rum and cacao tasting. We also fell in love with this hot, romantic, beautiful Caribbean town.

Next on the itinerary was the coffee region. We visited the Wax Palm trees, zip-lined, rafted, and spent a special morning at a coffee plantation. We all loved learning about the coffee industry in Colombia, enjoyed the delicious lunch that was served, and agreed the organic coffee was special.

We spent our last three nights in Medellin. While we learned about Colombia’s violent history throughout the trip, this was our opportunity to visit the countryside and hear from farmers how both the left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries imposed themselves on the farming communities and how many fled to Medellin during this time. The next day in Medellin, we took the cable cars to visit the barrio and see how those who escaped the civil war in the countryside built homes into the hills and created new communities. On our final day, we visited the very vibrant, and exciting, Comuna 13, where urban art and music are thriving. Throughout Colombia we ate the most delicious food, fruits and drinks. We will be craving coconut lemonade for a long time!” —Lynn Herrick

Read more reviews of Colombia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Malta: “The island itself was gorgeous, with dramatic views, romantic vistas and stunning architecture.”

Ancient walls and streets of Valetta, the capital of Malta. Photo: Shutterstock

Valletta, Malta. Photo: Shutterstock

“My girlfriend and I travelled to Malta for eight days from after Christmas through the New Year. Quite simply the trip was extraordinary, and we cannot recommend Malta, and Damon and his team, more highly. Malta is an extraordinary place, with magnificent history, art, culture, food, scenery and people. To start with, Damon spent a significant amount of time prior to the trip working iteratively with us to plan the itinerary based on various ideas he proposed and what we wanted to do. He really distinguished himself with his ability to figure out from our conversations exactly the kind of experiences and touring we wanted to do. He gave equal time, thought and care to the choice of lodging and restaurants. Our guide executed the plan wonderfully, making it even better as we got to know one another. Her knowledge of the history and culture of Malta gave us a real window into the lives of the Maltese people past and present. We had a number of truly extraordinary experiences, such as making a local delicacy and having lunch at an olive grove, a private tour of St. John’s Cathedral including viewing the stunning Caravaggio by ourselves, meeting a restorer of 18th-century organs and 16th-century art and seeing their work, dinner with some of the current Knights of Malta, touring a private home in the magical walled city of Mdina and an ATV tour followed by a private seaside picnic in Gozo. The highlight of the trip for me was exploring World War II in Malta, including a private visit with a remarkable local collector of World War II artifacts, a private tour of the Lascaris War Rooms and seeing the tunnels and chambers in which the Maltese sheltered during the Axis bombings. Our guide also spent time showing us and providing us with valuable perspective on other Maltese sights such as the Hypogeum and megalithic temples, which are older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids. The island itself was gorgeous, with dramatic views, romantic vistas and stunning architecture. We were particularly glad to be there during the bustling holiday season where many Maltese were celebrating and even saw the local Eurovision winner perform on New Year’s Eve.”—Larry Neubauer

Read more reviews of Malta trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Australia & New Zealand: “A helicopter tour, kayaking, a day at a 36,000-hectare sheep station (including an elegant lunch with the owners)…”

Wilson Island Great Barrier Reef Australia

Wilson Island, Great Barrier Reef.

“Our family of four, parents and two daughters in their 20s, traveled to Australia and New Zealand for 3+ weeks. Quite frankly, it would have been impossible to put together such a wonderful trip without the guidance, counseling, and bookings of our travel consultants. Everything went without a hitch, which is saying a lot for an almost-four-week itinerary.

We had initially thought we would only visit Sydney and Melbourne in Australia, but Stuart and Jacki persuaded us to tour Queensland and the rain forests, snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef, fly to Uluru to ride camels and experience the deep Outback, and take tours out of the cities to spots we know most tourists miss. The same held true in New Zealand, where Sarah and Sara staged a helicopter tour, kayaking, a day at a 36,000-hectare sheep station (including an elegant lunch with the owners at their home on the station), and a three-night stay at a beautiful two-bedroom cottage on a private estate winery on the North Island. We are most appreciative.” —Nancy Brooks

Read more reviews of Australia trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Portugal & Spain: “A Christmas to remember forever and ever!”

Sao Pedro do Corval, Portugal

Sao Pedro do Corval, Portugal. Photo: Michelle Bodine

“Our family just returned from the most magical and well-planned trip to Portugal and Spain for Christmas and New Year’s! We were thrilled to have traveled at this time of year, and especially in Europe where the Christmas lights, trees and markets made it even better. We took our four children and their spouses and four grandchildren, so fourteen all together. Wendy lined us up with the perfect people to help us plan and then succeed on a 14-day excursion with 14 people, big and small, in Portugal and Spain. Gonçalo and Patrícia were phenomenal with their hotel accommodations, food and restaurant recommendations, tour guides that fit our needs of grandchildren ages 6, 3, 1 1/2 and 3 months, and activities that enriched our trip. The itinerary was just what we wanted! It truly was perfect in every way. There was even flexibility, so if we needed to cancel a restaurant because we were going on a food tour and would not be hungry, we could. The amount of scheduled activities and free time to explore more was perfect. Gonçalo and Patricia are experts in what they do, and I would trust them again to plan the most satisfying travel experience for my family! We could not have done this trip without them. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts for planning a Christmas to remember forever and ever!” —Michelle Bodine

Read more reviews of Portugal and Spain trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Chile: “We had a private stargazing evening, hosted by French astronomer Alain Maury…”

Alain Maury’s SPACE Observatory, Chile.

Alain Maury’s SPACE Observatory, Chile. Photo: Barbara Schoenfeld

Tom designed a Christmas/New Year’s trip to Chile for our family of six. He rose to the challenge of transporting us down and back up half the length of the continent. He organized visits to both Patagonia and the Atacama Desert, securing rooms at Hotel Las Torres in Patagonia and Explora Atacama. Both were excellent choices for their top-notch adventure staff and boutique experience.

He pretty much had to plan three trips because we originated in San Francisco, New York, and New England, and we had three different time frames. He and his staff handled the transportation logistics smoothly. And I’m not just saying this because I’m writing a review for Wendy’s WOW List, but the best part of the trip was the Wendy WOW Moment. We had a private stargazing evening, hosted by French astronomer Alain Maury, at his observatory called SPACE (San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations). Above is the photo he took of us in front of one of his telescopes. Plus we have a video he recorded on my son’s cell phone where he described what we were seeing on the Sea of Tranquility on the moon—particularly the smudge where the US Apollo 11 landed.” —Barbara Schoenfeld

Read more reviews of Chile trips. Learn how to get your own WOW Moment. Or use our trip questionnaire (reached via the black button below) to start a WOW trip.

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Argentina: “We saw such varied things, from the sun-kissed vineyards of Mendoza to the grand colonial architecture in Salta…”

vineyards with snow-capped mountains in background Mendoza Argentina

The Andes and vineyards in Mendoza, Argentina. Photo: Shutterstock

Maita and Florencia gave us a truly memorable week in Argentina that began 4 hours after the World Cup-winning soccer team arrived home at EZE airport! I had many concerns about traveling over the Christmas holiday: the crowds, extra expense and pent-up travel demand from Covid. Despite all these obstacles, we had 4 great internal flights that Florencia booked and checked us in for all along the way, 5 terrific hotels and our guides were superlative. We saw such varied things, from the sun-kissed vineyards of Mendoza to the grand colonial architecture in Salta to the whole area around Purmamarca, a real discovery area for us. Ending at Iguassu falls was just perfect. We had to throw Maita and team some curve balls at the last minute: such as securing my husband and his 80-year-old mother last-minute back-up plane reservations and transfers from Ushuaia to meet me in BA on 12/20. They were able to help them on the run. We just loved our trip and we can’t wait to go back and discover more of remarkable Argentina! Next time: Lake district, glaciers and Patagonia! And maybe even more Purmamarca!

Travelers really should book all the internal air through Maita. The Aerolineas site does not work from the USA. Also, the private driver for crossing over to the Brazil side of Iguassu Falls is a must, the crowds were crazy there and we could not wait to get back to the relative calm of the Argentina side. Our driver Alex did a great job in tough conditions. Staying at the Melia right there is worth the extra money times 10!”—Mary Laronge

Read more reviews of Argentina trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Turkey: “It was chilly but the sun was shining. In addition, there weren’t large crowds even at the most frequently visited sites.”

garden restaurant at Four Seasons Sultanahmet Istanbul Turkey overlooking mosque

The Four Seasons Sultanahmet, Turkey. Photo: Four Seasons

Karen and her team did an excellent job planning our trip to Turkey. Every transfer and tour pick-up was prompt. The drivers and guides were excellent. We loved the hotels—The Four Seasons on the Bosporus was elegant and comfortable and the view spectacular.

Late December/early January turned out to be a great time to travel to Turkey. It was chilly (although luckily for us, it was a few degrees above normal, at least in Istanbul) but the sun was shining. In addition, there weren’t large crowds even at the most frequently visited sites.

We enjoyed the restaurants that Karen recommended, and appreciate that she switched restaurants between two evenings to avoid a traffic jam due to a soccer game being played along the route from our hotel to one restaurant. The tour plan was perfect and we maximized our time sightseeing. I would definitely recommend Karen to anyone going to Turkey.” —Susan Sullivan

Read more reviews of Turkey trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Chile: “Our pilot, Benjamin, was great fun and anxious to show us private spots, tucked away in the mountains, that had phenomenal views and absolutely no other foot traffic.”

Traveler Jeannie inside the helicopter.

Traveler Jeannie on a helicopter ride in Chile’s Lake District.

Tom planned a fantastic two-week holiday hiking trip to a part of Chile that I had never been to, the Lake District south of Santiago—an outdoor enthusiast’s playground. Of the many activities offered —hiking, floating, white water rafting, cultural visits, among others—I would say that the heli-hiking in Pucon with my guide, Patricio Garrido, who is also a professional photographer, was a standout. Our pilot, Benjamin, was great fun and anxious to show us private spots, tucked away in the mountains, that had phenomenal views and absolutely no other foot traffic. What a phenomenal experience. It’s like we had the world to ourselves for the day. This was the third time that I have used Tom for trip planning in South America. He chose terrific properties that offered impeccable service and every possible amenity. Vira Vira, an AndBeyond property, was exquisite.” —Jeannie Mullen

Read more reviews of Chile trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Mexico: “We were upgraded to their Tower Suite, which not only came with an enormous amount of space on two levels, but its own private elevator…”

Colorful buildings in San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato, Mexico

Colorful buildings in San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato, Mexico. Photo: Shutterstock

“When we decided on a family vacation in Mexico for three generations, plus a pre-vacation vacation for my husband and me, we wanted to make sure we navigated all the ins and outs while feeling safe and still having fun. Zach and his colleagues came through on both counts.

The first stop for my husband and me was San Miguel de Allende. While we had initially hesitated to stay at the Rosewood because it was not in the center of town, Zach convinced us this hotel would be excellent, and he was correct. Thanks to him we were upgraded to their Tower Suite, which not only came with an enormous amount of space on two levels, but its own private elevator, three outdoor patios, and two butlers! Everything about this hotel was magical, and we cannot wait to return. The tours Zach arranged in San Miguel were excellent and included a market tour and cooking class with a chef, and an in-depth tour of San Miguel and Guanajuato. (Zach had difficulty convincing us to spend the time on the day tour of Guanajuato, but we are so glad he did; it is a lovely, interesting city, and we were sorry we had not allocated an extra day or two to explore there.)

The remainder of our trip was spent in Puerto Vallarta with the entire family. We had mentioned to Zach that we wanted a private villa. We also had very specific requirements for the villa: directly on the water, large enough so we would all have our own space, fully staffed (and the staff vaccinated), close to activities, and located an easy distance from the center of Puerto Vallarta. Our villa, Casa Demae II, is in a gated complex, and was exquisite and outstanding in every way: spacious bedrooms (all ensuite, and most with balconies) with views of the pool and Banderas Bay, incredible common areas, infinity pool with a swim-up bar, jacuzzi, outdoor dining areas (from where we saw whales most days), streaming services—you name it, it was there! The staff were excellent and always helpful; what a treat to always have, without asking, coffee ready in the morning and (for the adults), margaritas ready in the evening! Our chef was fantastic—we actually cancelled two dinner reservations because the food at the villa was so wonderful. Another very nice touch was simply putting the dirty clothes in the closet basket, and having clean ones reappear that afternoon. This was like having our own private hotel…but better.

As in San Miguel, the activities planned were second to none. Everyone is still talking about the whale watching tour and the day on the private catamaran around Banderas Bay with complete crew and a chef. Also, because we had the benefit of entry to the Beach Club, the staff arranged for us to jet ski, paddleboard, and snorkel only a short distance away. There is no way we could have put together this trip on our own. From the moment my husband and I landed in Guanajuato until the entire family boarded our flight home, absolutely everything was handled efficiently and worked smoothly.” —Vanessa Hulme

Read more reviews of Mexico trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Costa Rica: “The highlights for us were rappelling down multiple waterfalls, a wave runner/snorkeling experience, and a zipline…”

Rio Celeste Waterfall photographed in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is full of natural wonders. Photo: Shutterstock

“The trip was with our two college-age children, and the highlights for us were rappelling down multiple waterfalls, a wave runner/snorkeling experience, and a zipline tour next to the Arenal volcano. All of the hotels we stayed at had amazing staff that not only were so kind and engaging, it just added to the trip. Pierre coordinated all of our transportation, which alleviated any potential stress with getting to our various locations. Thank you for making our trip spectacular!” —Julie Kelly

Read more reviews of Costa Rica trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO COSTA RICA

London: “There was even a small Christmas tree in our room…”

Christmas in London

Christmas in London. Photo: visitlondon.com

“It has become our practice to consult Wendy Perrin’s WOW List whenever we plan a trip. This time our goal was to spend Christmas in London. Although we had been to London several times, we know that the holidays can be a challenge due to closures on the holiday. We spoke with Jonathan about our previous visits to London and our desire to see and do something new.  We had a hotel in mind that we had stayed in before, but Jonathan strongly advised us to select another hotel, The Stafford, and we are so happy we took his advice. It is a much smaller hotel than the one we were thinking of, and that proved to be a big factor in feeling like we were ‘going home’ at the end of each day of touring London. The hotel staff treated us royally, and the hotel was decorated beautifully for the holidays; there was even a small Christmas tree in our room. As we had already seen most of the highlights of London on previous visits, Jonathan suggested other tours we would not have thought of. One was a Charles Dickens walking tour; our guide was extremely knowledgeable and entertaining, and we now understand how London during Dickens’ time influenced his writing.  Another highlight was a private “Behind the Glass” after-hours tour of the Churchill War Rooms. We had seen the War Rooms before, but nothing can compare with going there in the evening when it’s closed and actually going into the rooms that are not accessible to the public. These are experiences we would not have discovered on our own. Jonathan also executed a surprise ‘Wendy WOW Moment for us during our stay. It was a private tour and tasting in The Stafford’s amazing wine cellar, which was built in the 17th century and used as an air raid shelter during WWII!  The master sommelier, Gino, gave us the tour and made the experience very special!  Jonathan certainly added value to our holiday, and, given the short time frame of the trip, planned the perfect amount of activity while also allowing us plenty of time to explore London on our own and walk about enjoying the beauty of the lights and the amazing window displays and decorations everywhere.” —Susan Ketchum Philbrick

Read more reviews of England trips. Learn how to get your own WOW Moment. Or use our trip questionnaire (reached via the black button below) to start a WOW trip.

START A TRIP TO ENGLAND

Antarctica: “It was the best trip we ever had…”

Gentoo penguins in Antarctica

Gentoo penguins in Antarctica. Photo: Jennifer Santoyo

Ashton planned the trip of a lifetime to Antarctica for us! It was my last continent, and I cried when I arrived and cried when it was over. I had thought I wanted to fly over the Drake Passage because I was terrified of getting seasick, but I’m really happy I listened to Ashton. He said that flying over the Drake can mean delays on either side because of weather, and unless you have flexibility in your schedule, it’s not advisable. He highly recommended a ship that has the best stabilizers to handle the Drake, has excellent naturalist guides, and would work for my 17-year-old. Also, my husband wasn’t as excited about Antarctica as I was and preferred more luxurious accommodations than the fly trips offer. So we kind of had to agree on the trade-off to make the trip happen: my bucket list vs. Marty’s desire to be more comfortable on a nicer boat. Ashton was perfect in assessing what everyone wanted. Marty now agrees it was the best trip we ever had, and we all want to come back on the longer trip, which would include South Georgia Island, where the king penguins are. I will also use Ashton again for the North Pole, hopefully soon.” —Tina Sarafa

Read more reviews of Antarctica trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO ANTARCTICA

African safari: “We learned so much about nature and the wild from all our guides…”

Cheetah in Botswana's Okavango Delta

A cheetah in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Photo: Wilderness Safaris/Dana Allen

“We did an absolutely incredible three-week trip to South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana from late December through mid-January. Julian listened to what we wanted and curated a wonderful itinerary with beautiful lodges, stunning game drives, very knowledgeable guides, impeccable service, and delicious food and drinks. And of course the stars of the trip were all the amazing animals.

We started in South Africa at Makweti Lodge, which is stunning and has just five suites. The staff couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming, always making sure we were having a great time. We also spent a few days in Cape Town and the neighboring wine region—gorgeous, with so much history and beauty! Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe was so majestic even at a fraction of its full flow. We visited three camps in Botswana, each unique and amazing. Seeing elephants, hippos and all kinds of antelope right next to the lodges was super cool. The Okavango Delta is not to be missed, even during the rainy season. Camp Shinde was another one of our favorite camps, with top-notch service and gem viewing. The Desert and Delta Safari went above and beyond, flying us from one camp to another via helicopter twice because the bush planes couldn’t reach some locations because of the heavy rains. It was an unexpected and very special treat—twice!” —Tina Hunt

Read more reviews of African Safari trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

START A TRIP TO AFRICAN SAFARI

Italy: “In Florence we visited a noble family estate and cooked a five-course meal…”

Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

The Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

“Italy can be overwhelming because there is so much to do, see, and eat, but Maria planned a spectacular trip to Florence, Bologna, and Rome for me, my teenagers, and my fiancé over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday. In Florence we visited a noble family estate and cooked a five-course meal (and learned how to make tortelloni) with the family chef, had a tour of the wine cellar, and joined one of the family members for lunch. We learned of the family’s wing of art at the Uffizi, which we visited the next day. Meeting people who have a direct hand in the life and culture of Italy was special. In Rome, our food lovers’ adventure on Vespas with Toni was a complete standout. My 6′ 4″ son was mortified to ride on the Vespa—and got over that fear in one minute. We were a team of five Vespas! Don’t mess with us! As for Bologna, I am a dental surgeon and am really glad Maria recommended visiting the Teatro Medica at the University of Bologna with my kids. I am sure there is no way I could’ve arranged such a trip.” —Wendy Halpern

Read more reviews of Italy trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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The Galapagos Islands: “If you like to snorkel, this trip will top anything you have done…”

photo of Sea turtle swimming underwater in the Galapagos island

A sea turtle swimming in the Galapagos. Photo: Shutterstock

Ashton did an incredible job helping us plan our vacation of a lifetime to the Galapagos to celebrate our Dad’s 75th Birthday (and my 50th!). We can’t believe that all fifteen of us made it and were so grateful to Ashton. We spent eight days aboard a sturdy and very comfortable catamaran that sleeps 16 passengers across eight passenger cabins. The ship has a crew of ten that provided amazing service. It was incredible to have the entire boat to ourselves. With no internet onboard, we spent real quality time relaxing together. My dad claims he spent more time with his grandkids on this trip than over the past 15 years combined!

We walked on young lava around volcanoes, hiked up mountains, kayaked in caves, saw tons and tons and tons of all sorts of iguanas, swam on deserted white-sand beaches, watched octopus in tide pools, walked next to giant land tortoises, and saw lots and lots of blue-footed boobies. Several of us are certified SCUBA divers and were a little upset before we got there that we wouldn’t be diving on this trip but, I have to say, the snorkels we did on this trip were more spectacular that any dives I have ever done, anywhere. We had penguins nibbling our fins, watched sea turtles noshing underwater and sea lions performing acrobatics in front of us—every single day. We saw rays and whales and sharks and eels and tons of colorful fish and starfish the size of hubcaps. If you like to snorkel, this trip will top anything you have done, I guarantee it!” —Colleen Grazioso

Read more reviews of small-ship expedition cruises. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.

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Fakarava island in french polynesia with canoe on turquoise blue water

Where to Go for the 2023-24 Winter Holidays

Time is running out to make plans for your end-of-year holiday travel. We’ve tapped the experts on Wendy’s WOW List—the well informed, on-the-ground trip planners who’ve been wowing our readers throughout this busy travel year—to find destinations that are still able to be booked for Christmas and New Year’s vacations. These are places where they can still find you availability of charming hotel rooms and savvy private guides and put together a high-caliber trip.

To understand what makes a trip WOW, read these recent reviews from our travelers and these FAQs. And don’t miss the rest of our “Where to Go” series on the best destinations for every month of the year.


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European Holiday Cheer
Tropical Beaches and Seas
Winter Wonderland
Exotic Lands and Cultures

 


European Holiday Cheer

Italy, from cultural capitals to Sicily and Lake Como

A lit Christmas tree at night in front of Santa Maria del Fiore Florence Italy

Florence lights up for the holidays. Photo: Shutterstock

Italy was terribly crowded and pricey this summer.  To get a true taste of the culture, go in winter, when the weather is mild and the cities and countryside have a more local flavor. Ride a Vespa around Rome; learn how to make pasta in Venice; take in an opera at La Scala in Milan; gather with your family at a private villa on Sicily or Lake Como; or stroll holiday markets in the Dolomites.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO ITALY

 

France: Paris, Strasbourg’s holiday markets, even Provence

Colmar, France, Christmas village lights December 29 2015. Traditional french houses in Petite Venise, Alsace, Europe.

Christmas lights in the village of Colmar, France. Photo: Shutterstock

If you got shut out of France this summer because of sold-out hotels and exorbitant prices, now is your chance to book a December trip. The light in Provence in winter is why so many famous artists moved there, and this month is prime time for the region’s acclaimed truffles. Of course, Paris is fabulous for Christmas and New Year’s—the City of Lights gets even more dressed up for the holidays. France’s best Christmas markets are in Strasbourg and Colmar and run until December 24 and 29, respectively. If your trip dates include December 25 or 31, don’t worry that everything will be closed: The right expert can arrange a private cooking class on Christmas, or concert tickets on New Year’s Eve.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO FRANCE

 

London for a festive Christmas

Big Ben clock and the red telephone booth during Christmas time in London, England.

Big Ben during the holiday season in London. Photo: Shutterstock

Enjoy a Dickensian Christmas in London, which puts on a display of spectacular lights and holiday markets. A knowledgeable local guide can make the city’s history come alive, whether via an after-hours tour of the Tower of London, an exploration of the city’s street-art scene, or a pub crawl to the best local watering holes.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO LONDON

 

A castle in the English countryside

Broughton Hall Christmas

Broughton Hall, in the Yorkshire Dales, at Christmastime.

Looking for a place to gather with extended family? Consider a stately home—even your very own castle—that suits a group of 16 or more in England. These houses are tastefully decorated throughout, tree and all, and come fully staffed, so you need not worry about cooking or cleaning over the holidays. Nearby you’ll often find Christmas markets to stroll, but you can just as easily stay on property and enjoy plenty of activities that bring your family together and put you in the Christmas spirit: wreath-making workshops, cocktail masterclasses, even a brass-band recital.

RENT A MANOR HOME IN THE ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE

 

Central Europe’s Christmas markets

Traditional Christmas market in Vienna, Austria.

Just one of Vienna’s many Christmas markets. Photo: Shutterstock

Many of Europe’s charming, illuminated Christmas markets close on December 24, but a growing number are staying open past the holiday. That’s true at many festive markets in Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Belgium. A savvy trip designer will work your itinerary to hit the markets that still have a truly local feel.  If you’re near the Netherlands, don’t miss the Amsterdam Light Festival too; it runs until January 22.

START A CHRISTMAS-MARKETS TRIP

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Tropical Beaches and Seas

Belize, from coral reefs to jungle adventures

Tiny island with coconut trees and boat in Belize

One of countless tiny cayes off the Caribbean coast of Belize. Photo: Shutterstock

Nonstop flights to Belize take off from several U.S. cities that are only about three hours away. Once you’re there, you can explore world-class coral reefs, visit uncrowded Mayan ruins, learn to scuba dive as Wendy’s son did, fish for 100-pound tarpon (which kept her husband busy), and laze beside sparkling Caribbean waters.  Accommodations range from beach resorts to overwater bungalows to remote jungle tree houses. If you’re traveling the week leading up to Christmas, you can even charter your own private yacht to enjoy fabulous snorkeling, sunbathing, kayaking, and endless horizons.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO BELIZE

 

Costa Rica, from cloud forests to volcanoes

beach, coastline lined with green jungle at Costa Rica Carrillo and Samara Beaches in Costa Rica

Carrillo and Samara Beaches, Costa Rica.

From beach to cloud forest to volcanoes, Costa Rica packs a lot of highlights into a small country. The skies are generally dry in December, but the land is lush and green from the recent rainy season. If you’re having trouble finding hotel rooms for your family over the holidays, our experts can help: They’ve blocked rooms at their favorite properties expressly for you last-minute planners.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO COSTA RICA

 

Panama for its marine life and prime surfing

pier and overwater bungalows in Bocas del Toro Panama

Bocas del Toro on Panama’s Caribbean Coast. Photo: Costa Travel

Under-the-radar Panama has hotels and private villas on both the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, which deserve to be better known for their diverse marine life and prime surfing spots. It also has verdant highland landscapes, VIP Panama Canal tours for would-be engineers, and coffee and chocolate fincas that will welcome you for tours and tastes.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO PANAMA

 

Colombia for its vibrant cities and buzzing food and arts scenes

Picturesque buildings in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.

The colorful city of Cartagena, Colombia.  Photo: Shutterstock

Colombia’s charms range from Bogota, sitting 8,000 feet up in the Andes, to Cartagena, with its charming walled Old City on the Caribbean coast. In between you’ll find boutique haciendas in the coffee regions, cable cars to scale the mountains around Medellin, and a rich diversity of wildlife. The interior cities are quieter over the holidays—a plus when it comes to exploring museums and navigating traffic—while places along the coast often demand multi-night stays. Not all of Cartagena’s beaches are alike; work with an expert to find the right strand for you.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO COLOMBIA

 

Tahiti, Bora Bora, and the island paradise of French Polynesia

overwater bungalows in Bora Bora with green mountain in background and kayakers in foreground and very clear ocean

Kayaking the crystal-clear waters near Le Bora Bora resort. Photo: Pearl Resorts

The islands usually book up early for the period between Christmas and New Year’s, but this year there is unexpected availability—even for New Year’s Eve at the Hotel Kia Ora on Rangiroa, which puts on one of the islands’ best celebrations with a fireworks show, dinner, and a band with Polynesian dancers. Rangiroa has the only vineyard and wine maker in French Polynesia, and the diving and snorkeling are spectacular.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO FRENCH POLYNESIA

 

The Maldives for private-island resorts

Maldives Islands Ocean Tropical Beach

Picture yourself in the Maldives. Photo: Shutterstock

What better tropical getaway than jetting off to these idyllic islands in the Indian Ocean? Most are home to just a single resort, where you can spend your days snorkeling with manta rays, digging your toes into the sand at beachside restaurants, and relaxing in your private overwater bungalow. Pure bliss.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO THE MALDIVES

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WINTER WONDERLAND

Canadian Rockies: Snowy Thrills

Moraine Lake surrounded by snow covered mountains during Christmas time in Banff National Park, Canada.

Moraine Lake, in Canada’s Banff National Park. Photo: Shutterstock

The Rockies are gorgeous when covered with snow, making them a winter wonderland for an active family:  Think snowshoeing, sleigh rides, and ice canyons. You can go dogsledding near Lake Louise, cross-country skiing near Jasper, and snowmobiling outside Banff. Wind down your day in a cozy private cabin or a cushy resort with spa treatments to ease any sore spots from your adventures.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

 

The Alps, from rustic huts to chic chalets

Ski Resort of Corvara at Night, Alta Badia, Dolomites Alps, Italy

The Alta Badia ski resort at Corvara, in Italy’s Dolomite mountains. Photo: Shutterstock

Wintertime Alpine fun comes in many flavors, from rustic huts on the Italian slopes to chic French ski towns to Zermatt’s après-ski scene. Whether you’re after a private guide to take you off-piste skiing, a hut-to-hut adventure, or a more civilized locale with options for non-skiiers, we can probably connect you with the right expert. Deciding between the Alps or a ski trip out west? You’ll pay more for the flights to Europe, but lift tickets there are considerably less expensive.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO THE ALPS

 

Norway: Northern lights, reindeer sledding, ice fishing

December is a great time to see the northern lights in Norway.

Consider a cozy adventure with your family in Norway:  Ride a sled pulled by reindeer in search of the northern lights, go snowmobiling above the Arctic Circle, learn about the indigenous Sami culture, enjoy locally sourced meals inside your timber lodge or ice hotel, and warm up between outdoor pursuits in a wood-fired sauna. Here’s more on when and how to see the northern lights.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO NORWAY

 

Antarctica cruises: penguins and a polar plunge

Zodiac cruise through the ice, Antarctica. Photo: Abby Suplizio

A zodiac cruises through the ice near Antarctica. Photo: Abby Suplizio

If seeing wildlife is your goal, the latter half of December is the very best time to cruise in Antarctica. By then, thousands of penguins, including their fluffy chicks, have made their home along the coastline, the sea ice has usually broken up enough to allow great access, and the weather is generally better than earlier or later in the season.

START A HOLIDAY ANTARCTICA CRUISE

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EXOTIC LANDS AND CULTURES

African safaris: Take advantage of “Green Season”

lion sitting in savannah grass in botswana africa

A lion in Botswana. Photo: Shutterstock

South Africa and Kenya are booked up, but there’s still availability in Botswana and Zimbabwe, where December falls during the “green season.” In return for the possibility of an afternoon or evening rain shower, you get lush vegetation (which makes for great photos), more prolific predators (because the grazing species are having their babies), and significantly lower rates at many camps and lodges.

START A HOLIDAY SAFARI

 

Peru: Machu Picchu and beyond

machu picchu ruins

A view of the ruins at Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate. Photo: Aracari

Imagine spending the holidays at Machu Picchu, or riding the rails in luxury on the Andean Explorer train line from Cusco to Lake Titicaca to Arequipa. There can be afternoon showers in Peru at this time of year, but smart planning can focus your outdoor activities on the mornings. You can even hike the last few miles of the Inca Trail and arrive at Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate, which has a spectacular, panoramic view of the ruins.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO PERU

 

Chile and Argentina: from wine country to the Lake District to the Atacama Desert

Atacama desert, Andes, Chile

Chile’s Atacama Desert. Photo: Shutterstock

December is prime time for many of the Southern Cone’s highlights: Toast the holiday with top-value wines in Chile’s Colchagua Valley or Argentina’s Mendoza province; burn off those extra calories with hiking and kayaking around Bariloche, where glacial lakes meet the foothills of the Andes; and ring in the new year with a nighttime light show—no fireworks needed—under the Atacama Desert’s spectacularly starry skies (or a more urban celebration in Buenos Aires or Santiago).

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO CHILE AND ARGENTINA

Ecuador for hiking, horses, and hacienda life—or even an Amazonian adventure

Horseback riding is one of many activities at Hacienda Zuleta, Ecuador. Photo: Hacienda Zuleta

Options are extremely limited in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands for the holiday weeks (availability is easier to come by at Galapagos hotels than for boat-based journeys), but mainland Ecuador is a good option, especially if you’re seeking affordability. December temperatures there are in the 70s. It’s easy to combine Quito’s Old Town with a historic hacienda in the nearby Andean highlands, where you can explore craft villages, hike in ecological reserves, and horseback ride on quilt-like pastures. Nature lovers shouldn’t count out a visit to the Amazon, either: While some parts of the region are rainy in December, the Ecuadorian portion is relatively dry (for a jungle, of course), and there is still availability at some luxe eco-lodges.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO ECUADOR

 

Mexico’s charming colonial cities (with award-winning cuisine)

Colorful buildings in San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato, Mexico

Colorful buildings in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Photo: Shutterstock

Our southern neighbor is a perennial favorite for the winter holidays, but several corners of the country still have good availability in December.  For gorgeous beaches and great dining options, head to the Riviera Nayarit, north of Puerto Vallarta, or to Los Cabos. For an urban experience without the crowds (because the locals are all at the beach), try Mexico City, where the springlike weather brings warm days and cool evenings. Southeast of the capital is Puebla, known for its colonial history, colorful architecture, and culinary and art scenes. And on the Yucatán Peninsula there’s Mérida, a hotspot during both the Mayan and colonial eras, today rich in history and culture.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO MEXICO

 

Sri Lanka: safe, welcoming, fascinating

Elephants bathing in the river in Sri Lanka.

Elephants bathing at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock.

The political unrest is over, but Sri Lanka has yet to see tourism bounce back. That’s great news for intrepid travelers: Many hotels aren’t charging peak rates, and the dollar is very strong against the rupee. Combine the country’s cultural landmarks with a scenic train ride and incredible hikes through tea plantations in the hill country, then overnight in a tented “cocoon” near a national park that abuts the ocean and offers frequent leopard sightings.

START A HOLIDAY TRIP TO SRI LANKA

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A lit Christmas tree at night in front of Santa Maria del Fiore Florence Italy

Where to Go for the 2022-23 Holidays

Time is running out to book a trip over the December/January holidays. We’ve tapped the experts on Wendy’s WOW List—the well informed, on-the-ground trip planners who’ve been wowing our readers throughout the pandemic—to find destinations that are still able to be booked for Christmas or New Year’s vacations. These are places where they can still find you charming hotel rooms and savvy private guides and can put together a high-caliber trip.

To understand what makes a trip WOW, read these recent reviews from our travelers. And don’t miss the rest of our “Where to Go” series on the best destinations for every month of the year.

Italy

A lit Christmas tree at night in front of Santa Maria del Fiore Florence Italy

Florence lights up for the holidays. Photo: Shutterstock

Italy was incredibly crowded and pricey this summer. For a true taste of the country, the answer is to go in winter, when the weather is mild and the cities and countryside have a more local flavor. Ride a Vespa around Rome; learn how to row a gondola in Venice; gather with your family at a private villa on Sicily or Lake Como; take in an opera at La Scala in Milan; or stroll holiday markets in the Dolomites.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN ITALY

France

The Champs-Élysées at Christmas time, Paris, France

The Champs-Élysées at Christmas time, Paris. Photo: Paris Perfect

If you got shut out of France this summer, now is your chance to book a December trip. The light in Provence in winter is why so many famous artists moved there, and this month is prime time for the region’s acclaimed truffles. Of course, Paris is fabulous for Christmas and New Year’s—the City of Lights gets even more dressed up for the holidays. France’s best Christmas markets are in Strasbourg and run until December 24. If your trip dates include December 25 or 31, don’t worry that everything will be closed: The right expert can arrange a private cooking class on Christmas, or concert tickets on New Year’s Eve.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN FRANCE

Costa Rica

beach, coastline lined with green jungle at Costa Rica Carrillo and Samara Beaches in Costa Rica

Carrillo and Samara Beaches, Costa Rica.

From beach to cloud forest to volcanoes, Costa Rica packs a lot of highlights in a small country. The skies are generally dry in December, but the land is lush and green from the recent rainy season. If you’re having trouble finding hotel rooms for your family over the holidays, our experts can help: They’ve blocked rooms at their favorite properties expressly for you last-minute planners.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN COSTA RICA

Belize

Tiny island with coconut trees and boat in Belize

Belize. Photo: Shutterstock

Nonstop flights to Belize take off from several U.S. cities that are only about three hours away. Once you’re there you can explore world-class coral reefs, visit uncrowded Mayan ruins, learn to scuba dive as Wendy’s son did, fish for 100-pound tarpon (which kept her husband busy), and laze beside sparkling Caribbean waters. Accommodations range from beach resorts to overwater bungalows to remote jungle tree houses. If you’re traveling the week leading up to Christmas, you can even charter your own private yacht to enjoy fabulous snorkeling, sunbathing, kayaking, and endless horizons.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN BELIZE

Canadian Rockies

Lake Louise Canada in winter

Lake Louise. Photo: Billie Cohen

The Rockies are absolutely gorgeous when covered with snow, making it a winter wonderland that is perfect for the active family…think snowshoeing, sleigh rides, and ice canyons. You can go dogsledding near Lake Louise, cross-country skiing near Jasper, and snowmobiling outside Banff. Wind down your day in a cozy private cabin or a cushy resort with spa treatments to ease any sore spots from your snowy adventures.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

London

London skyline with Nelson's Column and Big Ben at dusk

London skyline. Photo: Julian Love/London and Partners – Visit London

Enjoy a Dickensian Christmas in London, which puts on a display of spectacular lights and holiday markets. A knowledgeable local guide can make the city’s stories come alive, whether via an after-hours tour of the Tower of London, an exploration of the city’s street-art scene, or a pub crawl to the best local watering holes.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN LONDON

A castle in the English countryside

Broughton Hall Christmas

Broughton Hall, in the Yorkshire Dales, at Christmastime.

Looking for a place to gather with extended family? Consider a stately home—even your very own castle—that suits a group of 16 or more in England. These houses are tastefully decorated throughout, tree and all, and come fully staffed, so you need not worry about cooking or cleaning over the holidays. Nearby you’ll often find Christmas markets to stroll, but you can just as easily stay on property and enjoy plenty of activities that bring your family together and put you in the Christmas spirit: wreath-making workshops, cocktail masterclasses, even a brass band recital.

ASK ABOUT A MANOR HOME IN THE ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE

Panama

pier and overwater bungalows in Bocas del Toro Panama

Bocas del Toro on Panama’s Caribbean Coast. Photo: Costa Travel

Under-the-radar Panama has hotels and private villas on both the Caribbean and Pacific coastlines—which deserve to be better known for their diverse marine life and prime surfing spots—not to mention verdant highland landscapes, VIP Panama Canal tours for would-be engineers, and coffee and chocolate fincas that will welcome you for tours and tastes.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN PANAMA

Colombia

A view from the beginning of the hike towards Cocora Valley which is famous for its tall wax palm trees in Colombia

Cocora Valley, Colombia.

Colombia’s charms range from Bogota, sitting 8,000 feet up in the Andes, to Cartagena, with its charming walled Old City on the Caribbean coast. In between you’ll find boutique haciendas in the coffee regions, cable cars to scale the mountains around Medellin, and a rich diversity of wildlife. The interior cities are quieter over the holidays—a plus when it comes to exploring museums and navigating traffic—while places along the coast often demand multi-night stays. Not all of Cartagena’s beaches are alike; work with an expert to find the right strand for you.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN COLOMBIA

Norway

Northern lights in Norway.

Enjoy a cozy holiday with your family in Norway: Ride a sled pulled by reindeer in search of the northern lights, go snowmobiling above the Arctic Circle, learn about the indigenous Sami culture, enjoy locally sourced meals inside your timber lodge or ice hotel, and warm up between outdoor pursuits in a wood-fired sauna.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN NORWAY

The Maldives

Beautiful beach landscape with overwater bungalows Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives

Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives. Photo: Shutterstock

What better tropical getaway than jetting off to these idyllic islands in the Indian Ocean? Most are home to just a single resort, where you can spend your days snorkeling with manta rays, digging your toes into the sand at beachside restaurants, and relaxing in your private overwater bungalow. Pure bliss.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN THE MALDIVES

The Alps

Ski Resort of Corvara at Night, Alta Badia, Dolomites Alps, Italy

Corvara ski resort, Alta Badia, Dolomites Alps, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

Wintertime Alpine fun comes in many flavors, from rustic huts on the Italian slopes to chic French ski towns to Zermatt’s après-ski scene. Whether you’re after a private guide to take you off-piste skiing, a hut-to-hut adventure, or a more civilized locale with options for non-skiiers, we can probably connect you with the right expert. Deciding between the Alps or a ski trip out west? You’ll pay more for the flights to Europe, but lift tickets there are considerably more affordable.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN THE ALPS

Mexico

Gorgeous view of Teotihuacan, The Sun´s Pyramid surrounded by hot air balloons, shot take at the dawn.

Mexico City is vibrant with arts, restaurants, and parks—and the historic Teotihuacan pyramid is nearby too. Photo: Shutterstock

Our southern neighbor is a perennial favorite for the winter holidays, but several corners of the country still have good availability in December. Head to the Riviera Nayarit, north of Puerto Vallarta, or to Los Cabos for gorgeous beaches and great dining options. For an urban experience without the crowds (because the locals are all at the beach), try Mexico City, where the springlike weather brings warm days and cool evenings. Southeast of the capital is Puebla, known for its colonial history, colorful architecture, and culinary and art scenes. And on the Yucatán Peninsula there’s Mérida, a hotspot during both the Mayan and colonial eras, today rich in history and culture.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN MEXICO

Galapagos Islands and Ecuador

Hacienda Zuleta, Ecuador. Photo: Hacienda Zuleta

Options are dwindling in the Galapagos for the holiday weeks, but availability is easier to come by at Galapagos hotels than for boat-based journeys. In mainland Ecuador, where December temperatures are in the 70s, it’s easy to combine Quito’s Old Town with a historic hacienda in the nearby Andean highlands, where you can explore craft villages, hike in ecological reserves, and horseback ride among quilt-like pastures.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN THE GALAPAGOS AND ECUADOR

 

Peru

machu picchu ruins

The ruins at Machu Picchu, Peru. Photo: Aracari

Imagine spending the holidays at Machu Picchu, or riding the rails in luxury on the Andean Explorer train line from Cusco to Lake Titicaca to Arequipa. There can be afternoon showers in Peru at this time of year, but smart planning can focus your outdoor activities on the mornings—you can even hike the last few miles of the Inca Trail and arrive at Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate, which has a spectacular, panoramic view of the ruins.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN PERU

Safari in Botswana or Zimbabwe

Rhino-spotting on safari in Botswana. Photo: Brook Wilkinson

South Africa and Kenya may be booked up, but there’s still availability in Botswana and Zimbabwe, where December falls during the green season. In return for the possibility of an afternoon or evening rain shower you get lush vegetation (which makes for great photos), more prolific predators (because the grazing species are having their babies), and significantly lower rates at many camps and lodges.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY SAFARI

Antarctica Cruises

Zodiac cruise through the ice, Antarctica. Photo: Abby Suplizio

Zodiac cruise through the ice, Antarctica. Photo: Abby Suplizio

If seeing wildlife is your goal, the latter half of December is the very best time to cruise to Antarctica. By then, thousands of penguins, including their fluffy chicks, have made their home along the coastline, the sea ice has usually broken up enough to allow great access, and the weather is generally better than earlier or later in the season.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY ANTARCTICA CRUISE

Southeast Asia

Sri Panwa, Phuket, Thailand hotel pool

Sri Panwa, Phuket, Thailand.

2023 is Southeast Asia’s moment: Nonstop flights are coming back, and the crowds that descended on Europe this summer haven’t yet arrived. With so many great new hotels opening in Bangkok, it won’t be hard to find room over the holidays; there are still rooms aplenty in Hanoi and Saigon too. Flight options into Cambodia are more limited, but the reward is wide hotel availability in Siem Reap, and far fewer tourists at Angkor Wat than you’d have seen there in December 2019.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

Bora Bora and Tahiti (French Polynesia)

Hiva Oa Marquesas Islands French Polynesia

The Aranui 5.

Many resorts are booked up for the period between Christmas and New Year’s, but you can still snag an idyllic overwater bungalow for the week leading up to Christmas. You can also still book a cabin on the Aranui 5, a supply boat that doubles as a passenger ship and sails 12-day itineraries through the remote Marquesas archipelago.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN FRENCH POLYNESIA

Europe’s Christmas Markets

Christmas tree and projected snowflake lights on a building at the Warsaw Christmas market in Warsaw Poland

Warsaw’s Christmas market. Photo: Polish Tourist Board

Many of Europe’s charming Christmas markets close on December 24, but a growing number are staying open past the holiday. That’s true at many markets in Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Belgium; in the Netherlands, the Amsterdam Light Festival runs all the way until January 22. A savvy specialist will work your itinerary to hit the markets that still have a truly local feel.

ASK ABOUT A CHRISTMAS MARKETS TRIP

Sri Lanka

sigiriya rock Sri Lanka

Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka. Photo: Pixabay

Last year’s political unrest is over, but Sri Lanka has yet to see tourism bounce back. That’s great news for intrepid travelers: Many hotels aren’t charging peak rates, and the dollar is very strong against the rupee. Combine the country’s cultural landmarks with a scenic train ride through tea plantations in the hill country, then overnight in a tented “cocoon” near a national park that abuts the ocean and offers frequent leopard sightings.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN SRI LANKA

 



Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

illuminated Christmas market in the Old town of Colmar, Alsace France

What to Know About Europe’s Christmas Markets in 2022

After closures due to Covid the past two holiday seasons, most of Europe’s Christmas markets are finally expected to fully open again this year. These festive traditions are one of the best reasons to go to Europe in winter: You can see cities and villages illuminated for the holidays and fill your evenings with charming street scenes: stalls where artisans sell handmade local crafts, open-air choral concerts, ice skating and rides for kids, and a huge variety of piping hot street food, from local delicacies to hearty winter comfort fare and endless mulled wine.

Another advantage of Europe in the late fall or winter is lower airfares and hotel rates than you’ll find in the spring, summer, and early fall.  While the weekends of Christmas and New Year’s can be crowded (especially with locals), November, Thanksgiving break, early December, and early January deliver low-season value.

Some of the most iconic Christmas markets are in Austria (Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, St. Wolfgang), Germany (Munich, Nuremberg, Regensburg, Berlin), and France (Strasbourg, Colmar, Reims), as well as Budapest, Prague, and Krakow.

Here’s how to make the most of them this holiday season.

Go early or go late—because market dates are extended.

Many European Christmas markets are running longer this year than they have in the past.  This means you can plan your trip to avoid the worst of the crowds and air-travel hassle, while still getting an undiminished dose of all that holiday cheer and charm.

“Some of these Christmas markets that once had a firm closure on December 24th are now lingering longer—some into January,” says Gwen Kozlowski, a WOW List travel specialist for Austria, Germany, and Eastern Europe. Salzburg’s main market is planned for November 17 through January 1.  The Christmas market in St. Wolfgang opens early too, on November 18.  Those lasting through early January include Vienna’s Christmas market at Schonbrunn Palace (open through January 4), Innsbruck’s and Prague’s (open through January 6), Berlin’s Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz (open through January 8), and the Jardin des Tuileries Christmas Market in Paris (open through January 8).

Mix the bigger city markets with lesser-known ones in small villages.

Every country has its big-hit Christmas markets in major cities, but the holiday spirit can be especially charming in areas you might not have considered during the winter. In France, the biggest and most famous Christmas market is in Strasbourg, but you could combine that with Metz or with smaller markets in Provence or Champagne, suggests Jennifer Virgilio, a WOW List specialist for France.

Or you could make Colmar your base and visit smaller markets from there, such as Turckheim and Kayserberg, advises Philip Haslett, another WOW List specialist for France.

Combine more than one region for different experiences and flavors.

Nothing is really that far apart in Europe, and the train network makes for easy, quick travel. So take advantage of that proximity by combining a couple of regions into a mini-Christmas-market crawl, with stops along the way to enjoy Europe’s other delights.

“I like to do a Christmas market road trip and start in Paris, then to Reims which is easily reached—and a bit of Champagne is never a bad idea!” says Philip. “From there you can take a high-speed train to Strasbourg, which takes about 1h20; and after Strasbourg on to Colmar, 30 minutes by train or an hour by car, but with some lovely stops on the way for wine tasting and a visit to the iconic Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle.”

Last year Philip planned a Christmas-week road trip for WendyPerrin.com reader Margaret Harvey, who reported back to us:

“We started off in Geneva, Switzerland, where we kicked off our trip with a Christmas market that was across the street from our hotel. Our next stop was Gstaad, which felt like a winter wonderland. After that we drove to Chamonix, where we stayed in what was my husband’s dream spot at the top of Mount Blanc. It was truly something, we had to take the most charming red train to get to our hotel. The stars there were unlike we had ever seen. After Chamonix we drove to Fossano, Italy, where we visited a castle and stayed in a suite that felt as if we were in an old Italian romance novel. Next, we went to Monte Carlo, where our hotel key gave us access to the Monte Carlo Country Club. My husband is an avid tennis fan and this was really special for us. We stayed on the top floor and had the most incredible view of the city and water. Following Monte Carlo we went to St Paul de Vence, where we relaxed in a spa hotel with a Mediterranean influence. Next was Aix in Provence, where we stayed at a dreamy chateau. After that we went to Avignon, where we stayed across from the Pope’s Palace. We ended our trip in Paris on New Year’s Eve.”

Reader Richard Goldin enjoyed his late-December road trip too, planned by Jennifer Virgilio. He reported:

“Jennifer arranged for a rental car, all hotels and recommended events and restaurants as we drove from Paris to Strasbourg, Colmar, Dijon, Burgundy and back to Paris. Each hotel chosen was extremely well located. There wasn’t a hotel that we would not go back to. We thoroughly enjoyed all of the Christmas markets, especially in a small town called Kayserberg, near Colmar.”

Book through a local fixer who can monitor the situation on the ground and rearrange your plans if necessary.

There’s always the possibility that a market could close or that any of many other speedbumps that have affected travelers over the past couple of years could crop up and impact your trip. “Plenty of markets have said that they’re opening and have already listed dates and times,” says Gwen. “But it’s important to be flexible and ready to make changes if/when something happens.” Last year, when Christmas markets in Vienna, Munich, and Salzburg closed at the last minute because of Covid, Gwen rescued reader Sarah Wade’s trip, sending her to Budapest, Warsaw, and Krakow instead. Sarah’s report:

“Our original plan had us going to Munich, Salzburg, and Vienna for 9 nights in early December 2021.  As we approached the time to depart we began to get notices from Gwen that one by one each city was cancelling the Christmas markets, and eventually Austria closed down entirely. Gwen’s team was on top of it each step of the way. They offered us alternatives, and we settled on an itinerary of Warsaw, Krakow, and Budapest.

Our three city choices were great. Some highlights:
*the gingerbread cookie baking class in Warsaw was wonderful.
*In Krakow our tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau was so moving and impactful. Our guide was incredible and we were so fortunate to have him explain the history of this terrible place to us. We found out that our guide’s father was a survivor of Auschwitz and it was humbling to have him share with us. Guides really do make or break tours.
*A private ornament-making session with a renowned hand-painted ornament business. They were even so sweet as to bake us an apple cake and our guide along with the owner sang us traditional Polish Christmas carols as we decorated our ornaments and the snow fell outside. Quite the experience!
*A fantastic meal at the beautiful castle restaurant in Egar with Hungarian wines paired to our various courses – the best meal of the trip!
*A private boat on the Danube to see the lights of nighttime Budapest.

I appreciated Gwen’s team being willing to make changes for us as we moved through the itinerary. Even though this was not the trip we had originally planned, we ended up with a trip that we all enjoyed. It was such a relief to know the logistics were handled and we had someone on call, should anything change or become difficult.”

If you’re thinking about a Christmas markets river cruise, watch the water levels in the Danube and the Rhine.

This year’s Christmas market cruises are nearly full, despite the extensive drought last summer that caused so many challenges, says Tom Baker, a WOW List river-cruise specialist. Low river levels forced a number of ships to change their itineraries, dock far from the planned port city, or move passengers to different vessels or to busses for making the journey on land.  While operations on the Danube have picked up in recent weeks, Tom reports, “the Rhine is still in bad shape, with vendors switching out guests to sister ships to make the navigational points.” The forecast for late fall and winter is not clear yet, so watch water levels or consider waiting until 2024.  Tom’s personal favorite holiday itineraries: “The Danube when it operates as Vienna, Salzburg, Passau, Regensburg, and Nuremburg—they have marvelous Christmas markets as well as vast cultural enchantment. Budapest markets are not as exciting, but the city is incredible and not to be missed. I also love the Alsatian Christmas Markets on the Rhine in Germany and France!”

chaise longus by an infinity pool overlooking the ocean in Cabo Mexico

These Places Are Still Available for the Holidays

This year’s holidays are bringing some unexpected gifts: the potential for extraordinary last-minute trips you may not have realized were even possible.

We’ve tapped the experts on Wendy’s WOW List—the well informed, on-the-ground trip planners who’ve been wowing our readers throughout the pandemic—to find destinations that are still able to be booked for last-minute Christmas or New Year’s vacations. These aren’t merely places that have random spots of availability; these are places where they can still find you the most charming hotel rooms and the savviest private guides and can put together a Covid-safe and high-caliber trip.

The list includes some spots that are newly reopened (like Thailand) and others (like Italy) that have been open but are enjoying a break from the usual crowds. In every case, the WOW Lister knows how to handle all Covid requirements for arrival and return and can remove that stress from your plate. All you have to do is show up and bring the holiday cheer.

*Covid situations continue to change all the time. Please talk to your WOW List specialist for on-the-ground intel in the places  you are considering and consult available current data (vaccination info by country and Covid cases by country) to determine your comfort level.  

Cabo, Mexico

Families with kids young and old, multigenerational clans, and groups of friends can still nab a dream home in Cabo in December. Our WOW List expert for Cabo has plenty of availability Christmas week (but not the week after) in seaside villas that range from four to ten bedrooms, and that offer plenty of indoor and outdoor space for hanging out together—in gourmet kitchens, al fresco dining areas, large living rooms, or by a pool, fire pit, or Jacuzzi. Some properties are near beach clubs, tennis courts, or golf clubs, but if your crew is more interested in lounging around, private chefs and in-villa spa treatments can be arranged too.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN CABO

 

U.S. National Parks

While marquee parks such as Yellowstone and Grand Teton are fully booked for the holidays, you can still find availability in and near some parks out west (think California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona). Whether you’re hiking, mountain biking, canyoneering, horseback riding, or driving four-wheelers, you’ll be spending your days in the fresh air, accompanied by vaccinated private guides.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN THE U.S. NATIONAL PARKS

 

Italy

Italy’s cities light up with magic for the holidays. Spend yours in Rome, Florence, or Venice, where our WOW Listers can arrange for an array of outdoor experiences, from learning how to ride a Vespa in Rome (where temps are in the 50s in December) to learning how to row a gondola in Venice.  Florence is more about indoor venues —museums, palazzi, legendary boutiques—but these feel safe because entry is limited to those with a Green Pass (the Italian equivalent of the CDC vaccination card). And this year museums are limiting group sizes indoors, so you can take in Italian masterpieces without a sea of heads in front of you. At Christmastime these cities’ holiday lights, outdoor Christmas markets, and gastronomic treats—tortellini in brodo, panettone, pandoro—will have you feeling like a local in a way you never can in summertime.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN ITALY

 

Europe’s Christmas Markets

Certain of Europe’s festive, charming Christmas markets are staying open for longer than usual this year, in many cases until the Epiphany (January 6). Christmas markets in Italy (both in Rome and in northern Italy by the Dolomites) and London (Covent Garden and Leicester Square) are among those that are open into the first week of the New Year. Be aware that Covid is currently spiking in some European countries, including Austria (which imposed a national lockdown) and Germany (where some areas, including Munich and Bavaria, have canceled their Christmas markets). We can recommend well-informed, well-connected WOW Listers who can provide local intel and help evaluate the on-the-ground realities—for instance, whether local restaurants and indoor venues are requiring proof of vaccination for all who enter, where free testing is available, how mask-compliant the locals are, and even which hotels are offering special deals.

ASK ABOUT A CHRISTMAS MARKETS TRIP

 

Thailand

Thailand has only recently reopened to international travelers, so it does have some hoops for travelers to jump through (e.g., pre-trip and post-arrival tests), but our WOW List experts are well versed in the process. They can spare you the logistics so that you can focus on enjoying what the country has to offer before next year’s tourist hordes return: gorgeous beaches and island-hopping in the Phuket and Krabi areas, the bustling energy of Bangkok, the historic temples of Chiang Mai, and the rich cultural heritage and local artists of Chiang Rai.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN THAILAND

 

Turkey

Even in December the weather is still mild enough to enjoy outdoor sightseeing and many meals al fresco. Plus, you can get around privately everywhere with the right trip planner, not just via spacious, WiFi-equipped vehicles but via private boat and balloon too. This was Wendy’s experience of Istanbul during Covid; other outdoor experiences include cooking classes and backstreet food tours. Top it off with Cappadocia—the unique lunar landscape with otherworldly rock formations and ancient cities carved into rock—for sightseeing by hot-air balloon and unforgettable hiking, biking, and ATV rides.

ASK ABOUT A HOLIDAY TRIP IN TURKEY

 



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Where to Go This Winter

Many of you have been asking: Can I travel safely this winter? The answer is that it’s possible to minimize your risk greatly—even when traveling to far-flung destinations—thanks to new, smarter entry requirements for certain states and countries, better Covid testing options, and new protocols that particular travel companies, hotel staff, and private drivers and guides have put in place. Read our reviews of real trips that travelers have taken to many of these destinations, all of which share three major characteristics: They are currently open to U.S. residents without a quarantine; they allow for social distancing, both during your daily activities and at your accommodations; and they are warm enough that you can eat many of your meals outdoors.

Click to get a personalized trip recommendation

Mexico

Beach villas and other private accommodations make it easier to social distance in Mexico. Photo: Cabo Villas

From private beachfront villas to small boutique inns with open-air common areas to colonial haciendas that you can reserve for just your family, you’ll find an array of options in Mexico that allow for easy social distancing—as these travelers did in July. Many airlines are operating between the U.S. and Mexico, with no Covid-testing requirements. For east coasters, a quick flight to Cancun gives you entrée to the Riviera Maya and Tulum; west coasters will find nonstops to Cabo San Lucas (where migrating whales and whale sharks pass by every winter) and Puerto Vallarta, the latter a gateway to the top-notch resorts and private villas on the Punta de Mita peninsula. Beyond the beach, the freestanding suites in the Mayan forest at Chablé Yucatán allow for complete privacy. Read Mexico trip reviews.

Ask About a Trip to Mexico

A Caribbean island

St Lucia beach with Pitons mountains in the background

St. Lucia is open to U.S. travelers. Photo: Shutterstock

A good many Caribbean locales are once again welcoming U.S. travelers. Some require pre-trip testing, others test on arrival or screen for symptoms, and some—including Anguilla—have created “vacation bubbles” so that travelers can take part in certain land and water activities that have been deemed safe. Read this article for more details. If you’re nervous about getting sick outside the country, know that Medjet will fly you home from the islands if you are hospitalized with Covid.  

Ask About a Trip to the Caribbean

Hawaii

Hawaii - Kaneohe Bay, Oahu

Hawaii now allows travelers to skip quarantine if they arrive with a negative Covid test. Photo: Shutterstock

The Hawaiian islands did away with their mandatory 14-day quarantine in October—provided that travelers register with the Safe Travels program and arrive with negative results from an approved Covid test performed no more than 72 hours prior (passengers headed to Kaua’i must still quarantine or stay in a “resort bubble,” and there may be quarantines for inter-island travel). A number of airlines will help passengers headed to the islands get a pre-flight test, for a fee. Once you’re in Hawaii, it’s all about enjoying the outdoors, from snorkeling to hiking to stand-up paddleboarding and ATV rides. Read Hawaii trip reviews.

Ask About a Trip to Hawaii

Belize

aerial shot of Belize ocean with sailboat

Charter your own boat in Belize for days of snorkeling, sunbathing, and plenty of distance from other travelers. Photo: Belize Sailing Vacations

Nonstop flights to Belize take off from several U.S. cities that are only about three hours away; travelers who arrive with a negative Covid test will be fast-tracked through the airport, while all others will be screened and tested. Once you’re there you can explore world-class coral reefs, visit uncrowded Mayan ruins, learn to scuba dive (as Wendy’s son did), fish for 100-pound tarpon (which kept her husband busy), and laze beside sparkling Caribbean waters. Only accommodations that have earned the country’s new Gold Standard Certificate of Recognition are allowed to open; options range from beach resorts with separate bungalows to remote jungle tree houses—or you can charter your own private yacht as I did, enjoying fabulous snorkeling, sunbathing, kayaking, and plenty of distance from everyone except your captain and first mate (who have at least 14 days between charters, to avoid contact between groups of guests). Read Belize trip reviews.

Ask About a Trip to Belize

Skiing in the Rockies

Aspen Skiing, Rockie Mountains

Ski resorts are limiting capacity this travel season. Photo: Parker Olsen.

The slopes are operating differently this year: Major resorts are limiting capacity to allow for social distancing on lift lines (snow conditions and run availability will determine specific numbers), and pass holders receive priority on peak dates. At many resorts, day-of lift tickets aren’t available at the window, but you can buy a pass for as little as one day of skiing. It’s usually sunny enough to enjoy lunch outdoors on the patio; as for dinner, condos and private homes are in high demand among those who want to dine without others around. A first-rate ski trip will be pricey this year, but the right specialist can help you snag those sought-after slope reservations, and can get you the ideal ski-in/ski-out hotel suite or private cabin. Read ski trip reviews.

Ask About a Ski Vacation

The U.S. Southwest

Arches National Park, Utah

Some of the southwest’s outdoor meccas, such as Arches National Park in Utah, make for fun winter adventures. Photo: NPS Photo by Jacob W. Frank

Utah offers Moab, a year-round adventure mecca with 4×4 tours, canyoneering, and hiking in nearby Arches and Canyonlands national parks, plus spectacular resorts with your own private, standalone accommodations, such as Amangiri and Camp Sarika. New Mexico exempts travelers from its quarantine if they get a negative Covid test 72 hours before or after their arrival, and the Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado Santa Fe is welcoming guests.

Ask About a Trip to the Southwest

The U.S. Southeast

covered gazebo dock stretching into lake in tennessee at Blackberry Farm resort

Blackberry Farm is in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, . Photo: Blackberry Farm

Northeasterners may not want to drive too far south, given the lengthy quarantine many face upon returning home, but if you live in the Southeast, there are a lot of drive-able, even pet-friendly, resorts in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee that have standalone cabins or cottages spread across considerable acreage. Just a few examples: Blackberry Mountain in Walland, Tennessee, situates guests atop the Great Smoky Mountains, with adventure (bouldering, anyone?) awaiting you at the doorstep of your cabin. The Cloister at Sea Island has its own private island on the Georgia coast. At Virginia’s Salamander Resort, every room has a private patio or balcony, and their famed equestrian center is open.

Ask About a Trip to the Southeast

Costa Rica

Rio Celeste Waterfall photographed in Costa Rica

The weather in Costa Rica during the winter months is ideal. Photo: Shutterstock

Costa Rica’s jungle lodges and beach resorts are open to all U.S. residents with no testing required. The weather is ideal at this time of year too, with the skies clear but the landscape refreshed by recent rains in much of the country. Read Costa Rica trip reviews.

Ask About a Trip to Costa Rica

Bermuda

Warwick Beach, Bermuda

Warwick Beach, Bermuda. Photo: Shutterstock

Bermuda is great in winter: The humidity is low, the temperatures are warm enough to have dinner al fresco, the golfing is excellent, the 2- or 4-person microcars available for rent make it easy to get around the island safely, and many of Bermuda’s colonial-style resorts have individual cottages with immediate access to the outdoors. You can also feel more comfortable knowing that travelers are screened rigorously, with Covid tests required in the week before a trip, again on arrival in Bermuda, and on days 4, 8, and 14. And if you can’t imagine going home, there’s always the “Work from Bermuda” program, which allows visitors to stay on the island for up to a year while working remotely.

Ask About a Trip to Bermuda

The Galapagos Islands and Ecuador

blue footed booby galapagos islands ecuador

The ratio of guides to guests is likely to be much lower than usual this year in the Galapagos Islands. Photo: peterstuartmill/Pixabay

Prior to Covid, on a Galapagos cruise you’d often have to share a guide with 15 other guests; these days, with travel to the islands just beginning to ramp up again, that ratio will likely be much lower. All travelers and staff are tested prior to flying to the Galapagos. Some hotels on the islands are welcoming visitors again, a few expedition-cruise ships are operating—or maybe your family group wants to have a small vessel all to yourself. If you’d like to extend your trip into the Amazon rainforest, consider Sacha Lodge, which is adjacent to one of the most biodiverse spots on earth; each group gets its own private guide, and the dining room is open-air. Read Galapagos trip reviews

Ask About a Trip to the Galapagos

The Maldives

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives

The Maldives require a negative Covid test taken within three days of the first leg of a traveler’s flight. Photo: Gili Lankanfushi

These idyllic islands in the Indian Ocean, many of which are home to just one resort, requite visitors to present a negative Covid test taken no more than 96 hours prior to the first leg of their flights to the Maldives; I spent a blissful five days there in October. It’s a breeze to socially distance at a private-island resort, where secluded beach villas and overwater bungalows are the norm. Restaurants are already open-air, toes-in-the-sand kinds of places, and the closest interaction you might have is with a manta ray while snorkeling. You’ll also benefit from lower rates and more generous cancellation policies at many resorts this winter. Read Maldives trip reviews.

Ask About a Trip to the Maldives

An African Safari

zebras drinking from a stream in the great migration of animals in Kenya

Safari camps usually book up years in advance, but for the 2020 holidays, the camps and the safari drives will see fewer people. Photo: Shutterstock

Safaris had grown so popular within the past few years that you were likely to notch more sightings of other 4x4s than of lions or rhinos, and the best camps and lodges—which typically have only a handful of rooms or tents—would book up years in advance. Now is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience Africa’s wildlife in solitude, as one of our travelers did in December. Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe all allow travelers in with a negative Covid test; Namibia and Rwanda require tests both before and after entering the country. A savvy safari-planning specialist can lead you to the lodges that are limiting occupancy in game-drive vehicles, are testing staff, and have open-air dining areas and in-room air conditioning (the latter a necessity in some parts of southern Africa at this time of year). Read African safari trip reviews.

Ask About an African Safari

Egypt

Egypt’s pyramids and other famous sites reopened in September at lowered capacity. Photo: Shutterstock

If you’re feeling truly adventurous, consider Egypt. While Cairo’s bustling souks and narrow streets don’t lend themselves easily to social distancing, there are certainly ways to sightsee while staying in your bubble, and this is an unprecedented opportunity to see the country’s pyramids and other archaeological wonders without the crowds: These sites reopened in September, but with much lower capacity. (Or do as these travelers did and have an expert arrange for private, after-hours access.) Travelers must bring a negative Covid test from the 72 hours prior to their departure. Read Egypt trip reviews.

Ask About a Trip to Egypt

We’re here to help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

Beautiful beach landscape with overwater bungalows Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives

Why You Should Travel Between Thanksgiving and Christmas

The window between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of the smartest times of the year to travel.  From the Tuesday after Thanksgiving weekend until approximately the Thursday before Christmas week, tourists are scarce, hotel rates are low, free upgrades abound, and in much of the world the favorable prices coincide with either lovely post-rainy-season weather or festive-winter-wonderland holiday charm. True, you may miss holiday parties back home, but you’ll also get away from all that holiday traffic and lines at the mall. Personally, I’d rather do my holiday shopping in Europe’s Christmas markets or in the cellars of Argentina’s wine country.

One year my own between-the-holidays trip was a cruise from Barcelona to Rome to put Viking Cruises’ new Viking Star to the test. I’ve sailed in the Mediterranean in December before, and it has its pros and cons: It can be chilly on deck or on your balcony, and the sun sets at about 4 p.m., so there are fewer hours for sightseeing than in summertime. But onshore you get pleasant sightseeing temps in the 50s and 60s—especially along the French Riviera and on islands like Malta and Sicily—and it’s a relief not to have to battle the peak-season tourist crush.

While the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is not the optimal time for a Mediterranean cruise, it is an optimal time for the following seven places. If you’re headed to any and want to book your trip so as to get the maximum experience for your money, you may ask our advice here.

Hawaii

Four Seasons Maui balcony

Four Seasons Maui. Photo: Four Seasons

With the exception of Thanksgiving, all of November through December 18th or so is uncrowded, with hotels offering deals of the pay-for-three-nights-get-four and pay-for-five-nights-get-seven variety. Look for values on Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island in particular.

The Caribbean

Hermitage Bay, Antigua

Ocean views at the Hermitage Bay Resort in Antigua. Photo: Hermitage Bay Resort

Hurricane season is over, the weather is sunny and clear, and upgrades abound at blissfully empty five-star resorts in the Caribbean islands.

Mexico

three orange beach chairs and a green umbrella facing the ocean in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Photo: Shutterstock

‘Tis the season for fourth-night-free and fifth-night-free deals in Mexico up until December 18th or so.

Europe’s Christmas Markets

A Christmas market in Vienna, Austria. Photo: AmaWaterways

One year, my between-the-holidays trip was a European river cruise focused on the magical Christmas markets of Central Europe. I’ve traveled in Austria and Germany in practically every month of the year, and the holidays is my favorite time, thanks to the homespun festive decorations everywhere, the mouthwatering holiday foods, and the concerts and other celebratory activities in towns large and small, not to mention the stomach-warming glühwein and the ease of meeting and chatting with locals at the outdoor markets. It’s not very cold; if there’s any snow, it only adds to the atmosphere. Darkness falls at 4:30, but it’s not a disadvantage because the towns are gorgeously lit up at night and there’s plenty to see and do after dark. Here’s how to plan the perfect trip to Europe’s Christmas markets.

New Zealand

View of the Hauraki Gulf sea, taken from the Owhanake Coastal Track on Waiheke Island, New Zealand on a cloudy day. With hills and trees.

View of the Hauraki Gulf sea, taken from the Owhanake Coastal Track on Waiheke Island, New Zealand. Photo: Shutterstock

I chose early December for my honeymoon in New Zealand. We had perfect late-spring weather and blossoms from the tip of the North Island to the toe of the South (remember, summer starts circa December 21 in the southern hemisphere), and conditions were great for the crazy adventure activities we did, from jetboating in Queenstown to blackwater rafting in Waitomo.

The Maldives

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives

Beach views from Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives. Photo: Gili Lankanfushi

Early December brings lovely weather, optimal conditions for snorkeling and diving, and extraordinary values at the over-the-top private island resorts you find only in the Maldives.

Argentina/Chile/Patagonia

vineyards with snow-capped mountains in background Mendoza Argentina

Mendoza, Argentina. Photo: Shutterstock

Late spring is one of the most beautiful moments in Argentina’s wine country, and it’s when you’ll find the best wildlife spotting in Patagonia.

 

What other destinations are at their best between Thanksgiving and Christmas? Share your own recommendations with us!

 

Be a smarter traveler: Follow Wendy Perrin on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.
Clue #1: We were somewhere tropical.

My Family’s Best Christmas Abroad

The Christmas-New Year’s school break is one of the few times of the year when families can carve out enough time to go far away. The location of my own family’s best Christmas abroad was remote, for sure—but we recommend it for an awesome holiday!  Can you guess where we were, based on the photo album below?

Our eclectic Christmas included:

  • Christmas morning at a local charity that feeds, clothes, and educates children living in extreme poverty. We brought gifts and supplies from home. Check out the videos (below) to see how much fun giving back when you travel can be.
  • Christmas afternoon at an estate built by the country’s most famous architect.
  • Santa Claus arriving not by sleigh but by WaveRunner. He brought gifts for all the hotel’s younger guests. No matter what the kids’ nationalities or faiths—and they came from Russia, the United Arab Emirates, France, India, Thailand, and Qatar—they were thrilled to welcome Santa.
  • Christmas dinner of fresh-caught seafood al fresco by torchlight on the beach.
  • A Christmas-cookie-decorating contest judged by the hotel’s top chef.

Click through my clue-filled photo album, then in the comment space guess where we were.  Tell me also:  Where was your own favorite Christmas, and why?

A 130-pound Santa arrived at our hotel on Christmas Eve, thrilling young guests of all religions.
A 130-pound Santa arrived at our hotel on Christmas Eve, thrilling young guests of all religions.
Clue #2: Note the open-air design of the resort’s lobby and its batik textiles.
Clue #2: Note the open-air design of the resort’s lobby and its batik textiles.
Clue #3: When guests arrive, they’re welcomed with a dance. (For the music and movement, see the first video below.)
Clue #3: When guests arrive, they’re welcomed with a dance. (For the music and movement, see the first video below.)
Clue #4: Santa came by WaveRunner, speeding past a mosque, a church, and a stupa en route.
Clue #4: Santa came by WaveRunner, speeding past a mosque, a church, and a stupa en route.
Santa brought enough gifts for every child—and the gifts were substantial: Doug, my 13-year-old, got a radio-controlled car.
Santa brought enough gifts for every child—and the gifts were substantial: Doug, my 13-year-old, got a radio-controlled car.
The kids got to make Christmas cookies in the kids’ club.
The kids got to make Christmas cookies in the kids’ club.
Then the hotel held a Christmas-cookie-decorating contest.
Then the hotel held a Christmas-cookie-decorating contest.
The kids’ contest was deemed important enough to be judged by both the hotel’s executive chef and its pastry chef.
The kids’ contest was deemed important enough to be judged by both the hotel’s executive chef and its pastry chef.
First prize was a chocolate Christmas tree. Charlie, my 14-year-old, won!
First prize was a chocolate Christmas tree. Charlie, my 14-year-old, won!
Christmas morning began with breakfast. Every Western breakfast food was available, but I always prefer to eat like the locals.
Christmas morning began with breakfast. Every Western breakfast food was available, but I always prefer to eat like the locals.
After breakfast we visited a local charity that provides food, clothing, education, and medical support to children living in extreme poverty. A lot of homes here were wiped out by a tsunami in 2004.
After breakfast we visited a local charity that provides food, clothing, education, and medical support to children living in extreme poverty. A lot of homes here were wiped out by a tsunami in 2004.
We brought gifts and played games. This is Pin the Eye on the Elephant.
We brought gifts and played games. This is Pin the Eye on the Elephant.
This bat-and-ball game is called rounders. Watch the videos below to see what else we did and how much fun we had.
This bat-and-ball game is called rounders. Watch the videos below to see what else we did and how much fun we had.
Group portrait.
Group portrait.
In the afternoon we explored the lush estate that the country’s iconic architect built as his country home. It’s 90 minutes from the capital city (where he designed the parliament building).
In the afternoon we explored the lush estate that the country’s iconic architect built as his country home. It’s 90 minutes from the capital city (where he designed the parliament building).
The architect liked to bring the outdoors in, blending nature and design.
The architect liked to bring the outdoors in, blending nature and design.
The gardens are a tropical paradise. Check out the height of the trees next to Doug.
The gardens are a tropical paradise. Check out the height of the trees next to Doug.
Begun in 1947, the gardens were the architect’s experimental laboratory for new ideas.
Begun in 1947, the gardens were the architect’s experimental laboratory for new ideas.
We’re in a wet tropical zone where temps range from about 80 to 90 degrees.
We’re in a wet tropical zone where temps range from about 80 to 90 degrees.
Here’s another clue for you.
Here’s another clue for you.
The estate doubles as a country house hotel with five guest suites. They were serving Christmas lunch.
The estate doubles as a country house hotel with five guest suites. They were serving Christmas lunch.
Back at our hotel, note the architectural similarities. In 1995 the architect who built the estate you just saw was commissioned to design this luxury resort. He died before he could finish; years later, one of his protégés took over the project.
Back at our hotel, note the architectural similarities. In 1995 the architect who built the estate you just saw was commissioned to design this luxury resort. He died before he could finish; years later, one of his protégés took over the project.
Note how the resort’s open-air design reflects the deceased architect’s vision.
Note how the resort’s open-air design reflects the deceased architect’s vision.
The hotel’s pool
The hotel’s pool
Late-afternoon view of the beach from the pool
Late-afternoon view of the beach from the pool
One of the hotel’s signature offerings is a private dinner on the beach. This was ours.
One of the hotel’s signature offerings is a private dinner on the beach. This was ours.
Check out the canoe filled with fresh-caught seafood to be grilled.
Check out the canoe filled with fresh-caught seafood to be grilled.
In the lobby on Christmas night, a blend of East meets West.
In the lobby on Christmas night, a blend of East meets West.
They sure went to a lot of trouble with the holiday decorations.
They sure went to a lot of trouble with the holiday decorations.
More of those chocolate Christmas trees, to be delivered to each guest room. Yum.
More of those chocolate Christmas trees, to be delivered to each guest room. Yum.
The next day we left to explore other parts of the country. It’s local custom to tie a string around your wrist as a blessing, for good luck.
The next day we left to explore other parts of the country. It’s local custom to tie a string around your wrist as a blessing, for good luck.
The final farewell blessing.
The final farewell blessing.

 

If you’d like ideas for your own fabulous overseas Christmas, I’m happy to help over at Ask Wendy.

 

overwater bungalows at St Regis Bora Bora

Holiday Vacations You Can Still Book

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.

(For Wendy’s personal picks, see Unexpected Holiday Travel Ideas. Also consider making a holiday gift to the locales you love that were affected by this fall’s onslaught of natural disasters. Here’s where you can donate to hurricane and earthquake relief.)

New Years Eve fireworks Reveillon Copacabana beach, Rio, Brazil

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. “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.” There is still availability at The Emiliano, a design hotel that opened last year on Copacabana beach and that hosts its own New Year’s party with fabulous views of the fireworks.

Read Paul’s Insider’s Guide to Rio de Janeiro, and reach out to him through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Photo: New Years Eve Réveillon on Copacabana beach, Rio, Brazil. Courtesy: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo/Flickr

overwater bungalows at St Regis Bora Bora

Island Getaway in French Polynesia

A few overwater bungalows are still available, as well as some catamaran yacht charters, says Tahiti travel specialist Kleon Howe, and no matter where you decide to spend the festive week, he can score you a table for a romantic dinner at 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 through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Photo: St Regis Bora Bora

Playa Grande Eagle’s Nest, Cabo San Lucas. Photo: CaboVillas.com

A Villa Vacation in Cabo

This area was not affected by this fall’s hurricanes, so pack up the family—or a group of friends—and relocate to a sunny Cabo villa rental for the holidays. The weather is perfect, the water is beautiful, and when you rent a house, 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. Wendy's Cabo travel specialist Julie Byrd still has several available properties over Christmas and New Year’s, including: Villa Bellissima (8 bedrooms, 2 pools, a gym, and oceanfront views), Villa Grande (6 bedrooms, oceanfront views ideal for whale watching), Villa Bahia de los Frailes (off the beaten path close to Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, a great home for divers), Villas del Mar (beachfront in Palmilla), Villa Real (located on a golf course). These villas have a seven-night minimum, and Julie has a ton of others with only a five-night requirement. “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.

Read Julie’s Insider’s Guides to Los Cabos Villa Vacations and Beach Vacations, and reach out to Julie through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Photo: Playa Grande Eagle’s Nest, Cabo San Lucas. Courtesy: CaboVillas.com

pool at the Azerai hotel in Luang Prabang, Laos

Exotic Affordable Luxury in Laos

“Laos is the one country I have to convince travelers to visit…and the one I get the best feedback about on their return,” says April Cole, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Southeast Asia. There’s still availability in lush, exotic Laos this holiday season, thanks partly to the new Azerai hotel in Luang Prabang. It’s right across the street from LP’s famous night market and a close walk to restaurants, the National Museum, and Mt. Phousi. Combine a stay at the Azerai with visits to colorful villages, traditional Baci ceremonies, a float down the Mekong river (while enjoying a foot massage, no less), day trips to Kuang Si waterfalls, and a homestyle cooking class.

 Ask Wendy to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Photo: Azerai hotel, Luang Prabang, Laos

Lisbon, Portugal. Photo: Pixabay

Authenticity in Portugal

Mike Korn, one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Portugal, knows of availability in Lisbon, in the Alentejo, and in Madeira. “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.” In Madeira, an archipelago about a 1-hour-45-minute flight from Lisbon), he says, “The weather is mild and offers city life, great hiking through the famous levadas, island hopping to places like Porto Santo which has beautiful beaches.” What’s more, he adds that New Year’s Eve in Funchal, Madeira’s largest city, is known for having one of the best fireworks displays in the world.

 Ask Wendy to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Photo: Lisbon, Portugal. Courtesy: cristinamacia/Pixabay

landscape of coffee region in Colombia

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, and he still has space at a private three-bedroom farmhouse in coffee country, ideal for families or groups of friends.

Read Eric’s Insider’s Guide to Cartagena, Colombia,  and reach out to him through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Photo: Colombia's coffee region. Courtesy: Latin Excursions

Christmas in London

Affordable Festivities in the U.K.

The UK and Ireland remain good value destinations for festive season as the dollar is still relatively strong. “Our hotels in key cities such as London, Dublin, Edinburgh, Bath, and Belfast still have great space, and the value is good. Many of our hotels are offering great specials such as four nights for the price of three on key dates, and others are offering other great specials such as discounting second rooms for families,” says Jonathan Epstein, one of our Trusted Travel Experts for England, Ireland and Scotland. Christmas and New Year’s packages at castles, country houses, manors and resorts can also still be found, and, he adds, “We also have some really great guided experiences such as touring London Christmas lights by mini cooper and even a Charles Dickens Christmas tour around London.” However, he notes that space is going faster than normal as those who had Caribbean vacations are now moving their plans farther north in the wake of a terrible hurricane season.

Read Jonathan’s Insider’s Guides to Scotland and the Cotswolds, and reach out to him through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Photo: Christmas in London. Courtesy: visitlondon.com

The Vatican and St. Peter's Square at Christmas, Rome, Italy

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 activities and can suggest plenty of family activities to keep everyone feeling young at heart, such as the oldest known nativity scene (a 13th-century marble scene now housed in the museum of Santa Maria Maggiore), the annual Christmas concert in the Nervi Aula in the Vatican, and the huge Christmas market in Piazza Navona.

Read Andrea’s Insider’s Guides to the Amalfi Coast and Italy’s Lakes Region, and reach out to her through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Photo: The Vatican and St. Peter's Square at Christmas. Courtesy: Patricia Feaster/Flickr

Gustavia harbor, St. Barts

Sunshine in St. Barts

"St. Barth is on the road to recovery and officially reopens for tourism on October 30,” says Peg Walsh, our Trusted Travel Expert for the Caribbean island of St. Barts, which was hit by Hurricane Irma. “It is amazing that some villas had very little damage, other than loss of foliage. A few are ready for rental right now; others November 15 and still others December 15.” She notes that still others were hit harder, so they are postponing their openings until 2018, although many restaurants and hotels are ready for visitors already, so contact her for first-hand input on what’s available and where.

Read Peg’s Insider’s Guide to St. Barts Villa Vacations and St. Barts Beach Vacations, and reach out to her through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Photo: Gustavia harbor, St. Barts. Courtesy: St. Barth Properties

Rosewood Puebla hotel exterior Puebla Mexico CR Rosewood

Beyond the Beach in Mexico

While the recent earthquakes caused heavy damage in some areas of Mexico (including Oaxaca state), other parts are fine and will be welcoming visitors as usual this holiday season—when tourism dollars will be appreciated even more than in past years. Zach Rabinor, Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for Mexico, reports that there is still good availability in Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Queretaro, Mexico City (“we are hopeful and confident it will be fully recovered in time for the festive season,” he says) and Puebla (“it’s miraculously true that the Rosewood Puebla was undamaged”). The Pacific Coast of the country also has openings, he points out, especially in less popular destinations such as Ixtapa, Zihuatanejo, Costalegre, Costa Careyes—and he’s even still seeing some availability in Puerto Vallarta and Punta Mita too.

Read Zach’s Insider’s Guides to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, and the Riviera Maya, and reach out to him through our site to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Photo: Rosewood Puebla

 

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