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No plans yet for Christmas? Well, there’s no need to pout, because TPG Assistant Editor Melanie Wynne has compiled a list of holiday getaways that will get you packing. Whether you’re looking for romance, adventure, trips suited to friends or family, a chilled-out vacation or a non-stop party, you’ll find your ideal Christmas destination here.
Travelers in Search of Romance
Founded in 1608 as a French colony, the cozy, cobblestoned capital of Canada’s Québec province provides a trip to France without leaving North America. Christmastime in Québec City’s perfectly preserved Old Town is especially romantic with snow-packed, pedestrian-only streets aglow with fairy lights, bustling holiday markets, crackling fires in stone hearths and a cuisine based on pie, stews and warm drinks. The winter cold can inspire cuddling under a blanket on a horse-drawn carriage or heading to the bar at the baronial Fairmont Le Château Frontenac to nurse snifters of sortilege (maple whiskey) high above the frozen St. Lawrence River.
The exchange rate between US and Canadian dollars is better than it’s been in years ($1 CAD = 87 cents USD), and while Québec City specializes in small boutique hotels, there are a few points properties in town, including the Hilton Quebec and the Québec City Marriott Downtown, and an eight-minute drive away, the Four Points by Sheraton Quebec.
Charleston, South Carolina
That romantic horse-drawn carriage ride is a little warmer in Charleston, where the harbor rarely freezes and the palm trees are trimmed with lights. Stroll past 19th-century mansions and along the elegant Battery, sway to holiday choirs at former plantation Drayton Hall, gaze up at the huge Christmas tree in Marion Square, and enjoy some local traditions; instead of chestnuts, you’ll find roasted pecans, and eggnog is spiked with bourbon rather than rum. Some of the city’s best restaurants (Magnolia’s, Slightly North of Broad, etc.) offer Christmas dinners where you can enjoy Southern hospitality and Lowcountry cooking by candlelight.
The city is full of romantic, historic B&Bs, but you can also find a good match at points hotels like The Mills House Wyndham Grand, the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel & Suites Charleston – Historic District and the Courtyard Charleston Waterfront.
Banff, Alberta, Canada
This rugged, yet elegant city is the gateway to Banff National Park, land of ice fields, bears, elk, frozen lakes and winter sports. Strap on skis and get dropped from a helicopter onto the packed powder of Western Canada’s Rocky Mountains, test your mettle on a snowboard, or rappell along an icy rock face. You can race a snowmobile, mush your way by dogsled across wide, snow-covered plains, or take it slower on cross-country skis or snow-shoes. The ski runs at nearby Lake Louise are open on Christmas Day, and the majestic Fairmont Banff Springs (listed with Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts and Visa Signature) has the best holiday displays in town.
Mountain lodges, inns and rental condos are common in Banff, but most area points properties are located an hour away in Calgary. Fortunately, you can presently earn 4x Ultimate Rewards when you book a hotel via the Hotels.com store on the Chase online shopping portal; if you make your purchase with your Chase Sapphire Preferred, you’ll earn 5x on the total booking.
New Zealand’s North Island
While it’s winter over here, it’s both summer and the Christmas holiday season on New Zealand’s sunny, exciting North Island. Even with just a few days to spare, you can tube through the Waitomo Caves to see the glow worms that line the rocky ceilings, zip-line above groves of 500-year-old trees in Rotorua, go river rafting near the Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay, scuba diving or kayaking around the 11-million-year-old Poor Knights Islands, or tackle the lush, lakeside Waikaremoana Great Walk on foot.
There are generally several small inns and lodges near natural attractions, while points hotels around the North Island tend to be luxury properties like The Langham, Auckland, the Hiton Lake Taupo and the InterContinental Wellington.
Traveling with Friends
It’s ideal to plan a Christmastime trip to London with your pals that allows for a couple of days on either side of the holiday, as most of the city’s attractions and all public transportation will be closed on December 25. Christmas is a great day to walk through city parks, hear a holiday church service, or have a pint or two at a local pub before they close by the early afternoon. Boxing Day sales start on December 26, and in addition to catching a show on the West End, you can go ice skating ’round the tree at Somerset House, see the city unfold from the London Eye, keep warm in the city’s many museums or linger over a fashionable afternoon tea.
London is home to some of the world’s most luxurious boutique properties and dozens of points hotels, including several Marriotts and the St. Pancras Renaissance London, as well as the Andaz Liverpool Street London, the Trafalgar Hilton, the Radisson Blu Portman, Starwood’s Le Méridien Picadilly, and The Langham, London, the chain’s flagship property.
When it comes to Christmas, Hong Kong isn’t kidding around: each year, the city glows with many millions of LED lights, aiming to outdo itself from the year before. Throughout December, the free Symphony of Lights blazes along Victoria Harbor, and both Statue Square and the city’s department stores pull out all the stops with dazzling displays. Pre-Christmas sales aren’t a thing here, but you can do some bargain shopping at the city’s street markets. Hong Kong has about 75 Michelin-starred restaurants, many of which stay open on the holiday (some with special Christmas menus), so consider traveling here with your foodie friends.
The live-performance mecca of America’s heartland bills its holiday festivities as an “Ozark Mountain Christmas.” Highlights include music shows at various venues, as well as “An Old Time Christmas,” a light and theater show with a parade and crafts market that runs through December 30 at 1880s-style theme park Silver Dollar City. Branson also has two drive-through Christmas light displays, the one-mile Branson Area Festival of Lights and the two-and-a-half-mile Shepherd of the Hills Trail of Lights sprawling around the 230-foot Inspiration Tower where you can ride an elevator to the top and view the whole scene. If you arrive before December 21, hop aboard the Branson Scenic Railway’s Polar Express.
Lake Tahoe, California
Amidst the Sierras on either side of the California-Nevada border, the Lake Tahoe area’s relatively mild winter weather makes it easy to enjoy skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, sleigh rides and dog sledding. From December 20-31, major ski resorts Heavenly Village and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows feature ongoing evening celebrations under often clear, starry skies with events like ice skating shows, scavenger hunts, caroling, ice sculpting exhibitions, and opportunities for kids to meet Santa. Both South and North Lake Tahoe are full of family-friendly restaurants, and the hilltop surf-and-turf Chart House will be open for Christmas dinner.
Tahoe area points lodging includes the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino and The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe, both of which feature special holiday packages for families. Branded condo properties include the Hyatt High Sierra Lodge and a few Grand Residences by Marriott.
Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
Sunny skies, soft breezes, low humidity and an average water temperature of 81 degrees set the scene for a laid-back Christmas in Puerto Plata, a resort town on the Dominican Republic’s north coast. A sleepy antidote to glitzy Punta Cana, there’s blissfully little to do here but sunbathe, sip local rum or an herbal apertif called Mama Juana and loll in the turquoise Caribbean, but you’ll find plenty of brain-soothing activities within an hour’s drive. Take Puerto Plata’s aerial tramway to the top of Pico Isabel de Torres to see a huge statue of Jesus, snorkel the colorful reef at Sosua Bay, or take a short boat ride from nearby Sabana de la Mar to see the lush islands and caves of Los Haitises National Park. Little will be open on Christmas Day in this Catholic country, but most hotel restaurants serve Christmas dinner.
Rather than points properties, most of the lodgings along the Puerto Plata peninsula are all-inclusive resorts or small inns, though the glamorous Gansevoort Playa Imbert will open December 15. Keep in mind that you can earn 4x Ultimate Rewards (or 5x if you use your Chase Sapphire Preferred) when you book hotels through the Hotels.com store on Chase’s online shopping portal.
Resting on a half-moon bay along Mexico’s southern Pacific coast, the former fishing village of Zihuatanejo (or “Zihua,” for short) is known for rocky cliffs, folk art galleries and fresh seafood, as well as budget beach hotels and a few relaxed, upscale resorts. During the holiday, the winding streets and beach palapas will be draped in lights and you’ll hear Mexican versions of Christmas songs everywhere. For a short escape from lounging, catch a shuttle boat across the bay to car-free South Playa Las Gatas, where you can take a scuba lesson, go surfing in the mild waves, or snorkel right from the shore.
Two of Zihuatanejo’s most desirable resorts, Le Casa Que Canta and Viceroy Zihuatanejo are Visa Signature Luxury Collection properties, which means that when booked with a Visa Signature card (United MileagePlus Explorer Card, Chase Freedom, Capital One Venture Rewards, etc.) they provide access to perks like possible upgrades upon arrival, free Wi-Fi and daily breakfast. Note that the Viceroy is also a member of Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts, granting similar benefits to cardholders of the Amex Platinum and Centurion cards.
Note: On December 20, 2014, Delta will introduce a new direct flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo International Airport (ZIH), making Zihuatanejo even more accessible to U.S. travelers. A handful of other carriers currently fly seasonal direct routes from Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Phoenix, as well as all major Canadian cities.
Travelers in Search of a Party
Christmas in Chicago is full of light, cheer and beer. The 45-foot tall Great Tree soars to the ceiling of Macy’s Walnut Room, the Magnificent Mile twinkles with a million fairy lights, and the traditional German-style Christkindlemarket features a lantern parade, a beer garden and loads of entertainment. The Saturday before Christmas, December 20, is the Windy City’s first Fireball Santa Pub Crawl, and on Christmas Eve, the Latkepalooza holiday bash kicks off at dance club The Underground. Gløgg, a traditional Swedish mulled wine drink, is served at neighborhood haunts in Andersonville, and you’ll find bars all over town that stay open on Christmas Day – and night.
The Windy City is full of high-end points chains like Park Hyatt, Radisson Blu Aqua and The Langham, as well as mid-range hotels like the Downtown Marriott and Hilton Garden Inn. To keep the party going, though, consider the cool W Chicago Lakeshore or The Wit, a hip, modern DoubleTree By Hilton property.
Prague, Czech Republic
With two of the largest, most rollicking Christmas markets in Europe, Prague throws a heck of a holiday party. The lively markets in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square are both open on December 24 and 25, allowing you to spend your holiday dancing along to the music of local bands, drinking pilsners, mead and mulled gühlwein, and eating at least a dozen different kinds of pastry, all while surrounded by glowing lights and Prague’s Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture.
There are several mid-range points hotels in the city, such as the Prague Marriott, the Park Inn Prague, the Radisson Blu Alcron and the Hilton Prague Old Town. For a more luxurious stay, check out Prague’s three Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts and its four Visa Signature properties, both of which include the Mandarin Oriental Prague.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good trip! With great transfer partners like United and Hyatt, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game.
With great transfer partners like United and Hyatt, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game.