Tag Archives: holiday break

Tropical beach with white sand, turquoise ocean water and blue sky at Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands in Caribbean.

These 2024 Winter Holiday Trips Are Available Now—But Not For Long

If you haven’t made travel plans for the December holidays yet, we understand: It can be hard to focus on a winter trip in mid-summer. But the wisest options for a festive trip are dwindling, and with each passing week, availability shrinks further. So that you know your best options, we asked experts what travel experiences for Christmas and New Year’s are still available now but won’t be by fall.

First, a few general tips that apply regardless of destination:

  • If possible, travel before Christmas or after New Year’s. This year, you’ll find lower prices and fewer crowds before December 21 and after January 5.
  • Stay longer in one place. Many resorts and hotels offer a better deal the longer you stay—perhaps in the form of a free fourth, seventh, or tenth night.
  • Don’t plan complicated logistics right around Christmas or New Year’s. Customer-service people are on vacation or very busy, and alternative options are in short supply if something goes awry. On the other hand, it’s often a good idea to:
  • Fly on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, or New Year’s Day. Flights are often less expensive on these days.
  • Venture to smaller towns and out-of-the-way places. That way, you’re more likely to connect with locals, avoid crowds, and be a part of meaningful holiday traditions.
  • Get creative about timing. You may need to arrange components of your trip to fit with holiday closures and reduced holiday hours. Fortunately, WOW List trip-planning experts know what is closed when and can coordinate all the moving parts so that you’re never shut out.

Not sure where to go over the holidays?  We can help. Just ask us via the black banner below.



Skiing in the Rocky Mountains

Skiing in Vail, Colorado.

Skiing in Vail, Colorado. Photo: Meg Austin

“There’s still great availability at U.S. ski resorts for the holiday season,” advises WOW List ski expert Meg Austin. “Prices are high, but not as high as they were during the pandemic.” For now, Austin can negotiate for extra amenities and even extra nights, but as time passes and families rush to book last-minute trips, demand will drive up prices.

If you’re traveling with adults and/or older teens, Austin recommends adults-only resorts. “They often lower their prices during the holidays, and some will take kids 16 and older. These can be great options, and you’re not surrounded by babies,” she says.  If you need a rental house or condo for your group, Austin can stock it with a decorated tree and a fridge full of holiday provisions for your arrival.

There are direct flights from Newark to Eagle, Colorado, with a 45-minute drive to Vail, and it’s a similarly quick drive from Salt Lake City to Park City.  And there’s plenty for non-skiers too, from spa treatments to free concerts.


Isla Mujeres, Mexico, for Beachy Beauty

Isla Mujeres Mexico

Isla Mujeres is a small island that’s close to Cancun yet feels remote. That’s Wendy and her sons having a picnic!  Photo: Timothy Baker

If beaches are more your vibe, Cancun is an easy nonstop flight from many U.S. cities—and from there it’s a quick ferry ride to tiny Isla Mujeres. The island cranks up the holiday spirit, and the town square fills with twinkly lights, vendors, parades, and plenty of family-friendly island charm.

ATELIER, a luxury all-inclusive on Playa Mujeres, got a Michelin mention for its modern Mexican restaurant María Dolores—but if you want a table here over the holidays, you’ll need to book soon.


Italy’s Lake Region, Including Lake Como

View of the Town of Menaggio and lake Como, Milan, Italy.

The town of Menaggio on Lake Como, Italy. Photo: Shutterstock

The busy season on Lake Como and northern Italy’s other lakes is from June to September. But Andrea Grisdale, an Italy expert on The WOW List, lives on Lake Como and knows firsthand that the holidays can be a smart time to visit. “There are local festivities and a great atmosphere,” says Grisdale, “and gorgeous festive lights. The towns are all lit up.”

Acclaimed hotels like Passalacqua and Villa d’Este, which used to close for wintertime, are now open through January 6—but word has gotten out and space is already limited. (Don’t plan a visit for later in January or February, as such properties are busy with maintenance and construction, and many restaurants and cafes shutter for off-season.)

If you’re focused on a tourist magnet such as Lake Como, “get out into smaller towns and villages,” Grisdale advises. “You’ll get much better value for money and really get to have a slow and authentic experience—a restaurant manager might be able to sit down and have a coffee with you. Those are the memories people really take away with them.”  Grisdale likes to arrange such experiences where travelers can connect with interesting local people.


Nativity Scenes in Naples, Italy, and the Amalfi Coast

Fireworks in the village of Albori on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.

New Year’s Eve fireworks illuminate the village of Albori on Italy’s Amalfi Coast.

Naples is full of buzzy culture, and it really shines at Christmastime, with classical music concerts and themed art exhibitions. The concept of a nativity scene actually developed in Naples in the 15th century, and they’re more than just depictions of the birth of Jesus—they’re incredible works of art. San Gregorio Armeno, also called “Christmas Alley,” is the center of this age-old tradition, full of artisan workshops and displays that range from gorgeous to funky. Booking now will give you access to a broader pick of curated experiences, choice English-speaking guides, and unique seasonal cuisine.

Naples also makes a smart wintertime base for day trips to nearby islands and the Amalfi Coast. The Amalfi Coast is famous as a warm summer destination, but it’s beautiful in wintertime too.  Grisdale recommends heading to Ischia, a volcanic island known for its mineral-rich thermal waters, instead of Capri. “It’s the same length ferry ride from Naples, and you’ll get a more authentic experience.”  Since Ischia is home to more locals than touristy Capri, in winter it’s still full of life. There’s a festive-season ice rink in Ischia Porto and a Bosco Incantato (“enchanted forest”) with a dazzling display of lights.


European Christmas Markets and Musical Events

The Christmas market in Rathausplatz, Vienna.

The Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz is one of Vienna’s many holiday markets.

Christmas markets in some European countries are starting earlier every year. Austria’s holiday markets used to open circa Thanksgiving; now they start on November 8.  Budapest’s and Prague’s Christmas markets open the following week. In Germany, however, the markets are open only during advent season, starting four Sundays prior to Christmas.

The holiday season in Central and Eastern Europe also brings an array of cultural offerings.  “There are so many incredible cultural events: opera, ballet, symphonies,” says WOW List Austria and Germany expert Gwen Kozlowski.  For art lovers, “it’s the perfect time of year to visit museums; there is always a good show going on, including special exhibitions for locals.”  For example, through January 12, Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum is showing an unprecedented variety of Rembrandt’s major works. These tickets sell out quickly, so don’t delay.

River cruise ships are also now cruising through the festive season, making for a scenic, effortless option. “They’ll be busy, but nowhere near the levels of busy-ness you see in summer,” says Kozlowski.

To add to a festive trip, Kozlowski can even organize holiday dinners in local homes and visits to Krampus runs, which involve curved horns, terrifying masks, and occasionally the flick of a whip. Pro tip: Don’t wear expensive clothes—Kozlowski’s friend got her favorite cashmere scarf swiped with soot.


A Galapagos Land-Based Adventure and Mainland Ecuador

Blue-footed Booby on rocks, in Galapagos Islands.

Blue-footed boobies in the Galápagos Islands. Photo: Shutterstock

The Galapagos Islands are enormously popular over the holidays: Kids are out of school, and December is the start of summer, so the water is warming up for more pleasant swimming and snorkeling. Many ships are already booked up, but if your heart is set on a holiday-season Galapagos trip, WOW List Ecuador specialist Allie Almario suggests a land-based trip, where you stay in a lodge and take a boat each day to nearby islands. “A land-based trip is great if you’re a little more independent or want a lot of downtime and beach time,” she says. Whereas a cruise might travel to five or seven different islands, the land option is “more relaxed, and perfect for families, and there are now at least three islands with good hotels.”  That includes The Finch Bay Hotel, a little resort tucked away from the town of Puerto Ayora, with gorgeous private coves and boats available to visit nearby islands. These are selling out too, so time is of the essence.

Mainland Ecuador is also a smart option for Christmastime travel, offering particular value.  It’s convenient too, with “hardly any time-zone changes, the same voltage as the U.S., and even the U.S. dollar,” says Almario. Direct flight options are plentiful, especially from Miami.  Just one example of a lodge option that works well for a family holiday is Hacienda Zuleta, the 17th-century Andean hacienda and working farm of former Ecuador president Galo Plaza Lasso and his family:  Festive food like just-caught rainbow trout, melt-in-your-mouth cheese, and organic produce are sourced from the grounds, and the Christmas decorations are beautiful.

Bonus: “Ecuador is a very Catholic country, so they have cool religious ceremonies you don’t see anywhere else,” adds Almario. She recommends catching a New Year’s Eve parade where communities burn paper mâché effigies to symbolize saying goodbye to all the bad in the year behind them. “There are fireworks and bonfires, and it’s great fun.”


The Northern Lights in Norway (and Possibly Sweden for Heli-Skiing)

Northern lights explosion on snowy mountain range near coastline at Lofoten islands, Norway

Northern lights in the Lofoten Islands, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

December through March is peak season for an experience of the northern lights—here is more intel on how to maximize your chances of seeing them—so “if you’re looking at the holidays, move now because it’s already getting really full,” says Torunn Tronsvang, a Norway expert on The WOW List. Her advice: “Choose either Christmas or New Year’s to highlight. So, the celebration itself could be below the Arctic Circle, then the other half of the holiday could be focused on the northern lights.”

Norwegian hotels are known for gorgeous Christmas celebrations, replete with stunning decorations and foodie-acclaimed fare. Tronsvang suggests celebrating Christmas in the fjords, like the Hjørundsfjord. Use Hotel Union Øye or Hotel Storfjord as a base, then travel north to view the aurora borealis.

Refrain from flying anywhere between December 22 and December 27: “Schedules are just so irregular, and it’s hard to get help when something goes wrong. Back-up solutions are limited because everything is full.”

For a blow-out trip, top it off with Sweden for heli-skiing!  More specifically: Start your itinerary in Norway,  combining Lofoten (northern lights, the midnight sun, and small villages) with Narvik (home of the world’s northernmost zoo), then take the Arctic Circle Express—an icy, gorgeous Arctic train ride—to Niekhu for heli-hiking and skiing.


The Pyramids, the Nile, and a Warm Welcome in Egypt

Balcony view from the Old Cataract hotel in Aswan, Egypt

Balcony view from the Old Cataract hotel in Aswan, Egypt.

People have been traveling in Egypt safely—and receiving an unusually warm welcome—despite (and perhaps because of) the Israel-Hamas war. Read these Egypt trip reviews from WOW List travelers to understand what it’s like now.

Start in Cairo. “Counterintuitively, Egyptians take great pleasure in revving up for the holiday season,” says Jim Berkeley, an Egypt specialist on The WOW List. Even though some 90% of Egyptians are Muslims, “they are great hosts, and they know Westerners are traveling for the holidays. They really make the effort to help foreigners feel welcome on an important holiday.” The Four Seasons and the St. Regis in Cairo have spectacular trees and Christmas decorations, Berkeley says—ideal for family photos.

After Cairo, move on to a Luxor to see the ancient treasures and tombs, and a Nile cruise.  By New Year’s, you want to be in Aswan, at the Sofitel Legend Old Cataract hotel. “It’s the place to be,” says Berkeley, “with cocktails, champagne, a belly-dance show, live music, hats, everything you can imagine, and a million balloons falling from the ceiling.”  Tickets to the hotel’s New Year’s Eve Gala and rooms in the hotel are still available now, but not for long, says Berkeley, so don’t delay.


Cape Town and an African Safari

cape town beach south africa

Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Cape Town Tourism

Safaris are popular for the holidays, and because the best lodges and camps are small, they fill up fast, but with creativity and insider connections, you can find availability.

Start in Cape Town, says WOW List safari specialist Cherri Briggs.  “Cape Town is unbelievably beautiful for Christmas, but move fast before European crowds descend,” she urges. Continue to Botswana’s Okavango Delta.  Why?  The Delta has “small lodges that haven’t been promoted much yet, and some great new lodges,” says Briggs. “Plus, they’re more water-based, which is a big advantage for the heat.”  In fact, many lodges and camps will charge low-season rates because of the heat.  This can save you thousands of dollars per person. If you’re sensitive to high temperatures, though (remember, December is summer in southern Africa), this is not the time for you.

December is sometimes called the “secret season” or “emerald season” in southern Africa: It tends to be not only hot but also wet and green. In the Kalahari Desert, game concentrates on the open plains starting in early December, says Briggs, so “there will be a ton of animals.” The continent’s largest population of elephants is in Botswana, and you can also see hundreds of species of birds, crocodile, hippo, buffalo, lion, leopard, hyena, the highly endangered wild dog, as well as many other rare species such as cheetah and aardwolf.


Sail the British Virgin Islands

Tropical beach with white sand, turquoise ocean water and blue sky at Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands in Caribbean.

Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. Photo: Shutterstock

If your dream is a week aboard a private yacht, it’s hard to beat the British Virgin Islands during the holiday season. Much of the rest of the Caribbean is off the table, as the easterly trade winds—aptly named “the Christmas Winds”—make the water too choppy for sailing. And, of course, the Mediterranean Sea is too cold and windy in December for a yacht charter. But the Virgin Islands’ mountainous terrain protects the sea from the winds—and many boats there are still available for the holidays.

With copious water sports, parties, and live music on the beach, this is a fun trip for families or groups of friends. Prices go up as the holiday season approaches, so the best time to secure a spot is now. Fair warning: Many boat owners will only accept charters that end on December 26 or 27, and begin on December 27 or 28, so they can make the most of the two holiday weeks.



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Timing your next family trip abroad

Published in our twice-weekly newsletter on 1-24-22. For travel updates straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Smart timing is everything

For all you cooped-up families desperate for an interesting trip abroad and wondering whether to try for spring break or wait till summer, the big question to ask yourself is: Can you bear the risk (however small) of the students in the family testing positive before the flight home, needing to isolate in place, and missing a week of in-person school? Those of you choosing spring break typically have a two-week break and are traveling during the first week only, or you can live with remote schooling in isolation (been there, done that). Those of you waiting for summer should choose early summer, when a possible quarantine wouldn’t interfere with the return to school.

I say the risk of having to isolate abroad is small because, of the thousands of travelers whose trips we’ve monitored during Covid, we’ve heard of only two cases of testing positive before the flight home. Both were just before New Year’s—one in Iceland (and most of the traveler’s family members who tested negative flew home without her), and one in Belize (where the resort provided a free stay for the asymptomatic quarantine). Nobody was a minor, and nobody missed school. My own students and I (pictured above in Turkey last summer) wish you the best with your decision, and for spring-break ideas, read about the cool things that the families below did during the Christmas/New Year’s school break! —Wendy


Just back from a safari

Cheetah with babies on African safari

Photo courtesy Beth Nury

“It brought back memories of…breathtaking treetop scenes from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. But this time, it was live and we were filming!”

“Initial discussions with Cherri and her team began in July 2021 to further investigate if 2021 would be the year to go on safari. What Covid hurdles would we encounter? How would we handle a trip cancellation if a family member tested Covid positive days prior to departure? Where is the best place to see the Big 5? She and her team answered those questions (and plenty more!) enabling us to explore Kenya for 15 days. Cherri’s team guided us from the beginning and insisted on three key items to avoid possible trip derailment and an immense financial disaster.

1. Transportation: Due to Covid country entry requirements regularly changing with little notice (the U.S. changed their entry requirements two times after we booked our trip in July), Cherri recommended a direct flight from JFK via Kenya Airways. This smart strategy limited us to only one Covid test when leaving the U.S. and avoided the possibility of additional tests for connecting international flights and airports. Cherri also recommended limiting our travel to one country, Kenya, to again avoid additional, costly Covid tests in order to enter another African country.

2. Insurance: Cherri highly recommended we purchase Trip Cancellation insurance and evaluate the optional CFAR (Cancel For Any Reason) endorsement. Granted, the policy was expensive and the CFAR endorsement only indemnified me for 75% (industry standard) of the total trip cost, but it provided peace of mind as the Delta and Omicron variants raced across the U.S. with me and my family as potential targets!

3. Health & Safety: Cherri recommended bringing paper copies of all travel documents: Covid vaccines, health insurance cards, Trip Cancellation policy, Covid test results, passports etc. and not rely on my phone as the only document location. This strategy enabled us to move through airport check-in quicker than others because Kenya Airways wanted to review paper copies and not documents on a phone. Cherri’s team also coordinated our return Covid tests at Saruni Mara with a Kenyan doctor prior to leaving. The day following the tests, results were emailed to me at Giraffe Manor, our final stop, and the staff was instrumental with printing the lab report with the QR Code which was required in order to board our flight home.

The accommodations recommended by Cherri were superb. The hospitality was warm, the bush guides were knowledgeable, the food was excellent and the facilities were immaculate and regularly wiped down to eliminate any threat of a virus. A special shout out to Sasaab and Saruni Mara for going above and beyond by arranging meaningful visits to local people! Cherri’s tip to bring some candy and small gifts for the village children as an icebreaker was all that was needed for smiles, giggles and an insider’s view of the locals’ homes and lifestyles.

I cannot forget to note the sleeper of the trip: Governors Balloon Safari. My husband and I were skeptical of this bucket list item, envisioning being stuffed in a basket with other random tourists prior to sunrise. Boy, were we wrong. An overwhelming sense of nostalgia overtook us as we rose high above the trees of Masai Mara, spotting elephants, giraffes, hippos and buffalo in their natural habitat for the hour ride. It brought back memories of our 1970s childhood: Sunday nights, the entire family parked around the vintage RCA console television, spellbound by the breathtaking treetop scenes from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. But this time, it was live and we were filming!

How could I conclude without mentioning the game drives, the true meaning for the trip? Our guides had us up early for good reason. We regularly viewed big cats over kills every morning. Breakfast in the wild was a chance to pause and reflect. Night drives were full of excitement as we watched the drama of life and death unfold again. Africa, as revealed by Cherri’s team, is truly the ‘trip of a lifetime!’” —Beth Nury



Just back from the ancient world

Part of the Mortuary temple of the Queen Hatshepsut (Dayr el-Bahari or Dayr el-Bahri), Western Bank of the Nile

Queen Hatshepsut’s temple, Egypt. Photo: Shutterstock

“Tour leaders and Egyptologists were all awesome—helpful, knowledgeable, friendly and organized….”

“We had an epic family trip to Egypt over Christmas and NYEve break! Jim and his team set up this trip perfectly—and with very little input since we were too busy. We entrusted them to prioritize and plan our limited time in Egypt, and they did it quickly and brilliantly. The tool they use to share itinerary drafts and the final documents and suggestions were fantastic! When we faced some issues or had changes, they were quick to support us. When we had to cancel one of our group due to Covid, they tried to get as much $ back as possible. Scuba diving the Red Sea was a bucket list item for me and we pulled that off as well (even though it was a little cold). Tour leaders and Egyptologists were all awesome—helpful, knowledgeable, friendly and organized. St Regis in Cairo, Sonesta Star Nile cruise, and Savoy Sharm el Sheikh were all great choices too—especially NYEve party!” —Bernardine Wu



Just back from sun and fun

empty Beach at Caribbean sea in Playa del Carmen, Mexico with footprints

Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Mexico. Photo: Shutterstock

“The staff all wore masks and we spent most of our time outside…”

“We have just returned from a trip to Playa del Carmen and enjoyed a fabulous week at the Palmaia, House of Aia. What a gorgeous resort with a beautiful beach just 45 minutes to an hour south of the Cancun airport. Our trip was planned by Zach’s team. They arranged private transportation to/from the airport and our hotel accommodations. We had two beautiful rooms for our family of five and enjoyed the ocean views from the 3rd and 4th floors. This was a trip for just relaxing, so we didn’t plan any excursions. We enjoyed the beach and pools—a perfect vacation. The staff all wore masks and we spent most of our time outside, which made it feel more comfortable. The hotel is an all-inclusive serving top-shelf drinks, and the food was mostly vegan (though you could get seafood and meat at a few restaurants). The most delicious food we have eaten on vacation. We plan to return!” —Michele and Ken Krisko




family posing on a private yacht on the ocean in Belize

A WendyPerrin.com reader and her family chartered a private boat in Belize. Photo courtesy Shelby Willets

International School-Break Trips During Covid: Safe, Easy, and Fun

Safe, easy, delightful, international school-break trips, even during Covid? These families did it. Here’s how.