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The holiday season means more time with family, but who says that family together time has to be spent at home? Pack up the family and visit spots that go overboard on Christmas décor — in a good way. From NYC’s classic ice-skating rink at Rockefeller Center to Lapland’s Santa Claus Village, TPG suggests five locales near and far that embody the term “winter wonderland.”
1. New York City
When it comes to putting on a show-stopping Christmas celebration, New York City is in a league of its own. Not only are some of the events free, like viewing the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting, ice skating in Bryant Park (other than renting skates) and the lighting of the “World’s Largest Hanukkah Menorah — the 32-foot-high, 4,000-pound steel menorah sitting across from The Plaza Hotel — there’s also plenty to see. You could easily stroll for days just taking in the scenery, from the beautifully decorated streets to the world-renowned window displays at Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman and Saks that continue to trump the year before.
New York City also takes a cue from Europe’s Christmas festivities, setting up holiday markets at Bryant Park, Union Square, Columbus Circle and indoors at Grand Central. Of course, one of the highlights of celebrating the holidays in NYC is a trip to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes perform at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, which runs through January 1, 2019.
Where to stay: Families who want a larger than average standard room (for NYC) should check out the Kimpton Ink48 Hotel in Hell’s Kitchen, a former printing house with a rooftop bar. Here you can order up child safety kits with outlet covers and night-lights. Also be sure your kids say the secret password for extra goodies. Oh, and it’s pet-friendly, too. Rates start at $220 or 65,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night.
If you’d rather post up in Times Square, check out the kid-friendly TRYP New York City Times Square near Penn Station, with airy, contemporary-style family rooms (think sleek wallpaper, reclaimed wood floors and 10-foot-high ceilings) featuring bunk beds and sleeper sofas. Rates at this Wyndham property start at $348 for a family room that sleeps up to six (two queen beds and bunk beds) or 15,000 Wyndham Rewards points per night.
For some of the largest suites in the city, take your bags downtown to the Millennium Hilton New York Downtown, just a quick stroll from the Statue of Liberty ferry and landmarks like the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Location is one selling factor here (skyline city views don’t hurt, either), but so are Hilton’s amenities that help make packing just a little bit lighter thanks to available cribs and high chairs. Rates often start around $171 or 41,000 Hilton Honors Points per night. Here are five more family-friendly hotels in New York City where you can use points.
2. Orlando, Florida
Skip out on the snow back home and head south to a destination that brings cheer 365 days of the year: Orlando. Around the holidays, Disney’s Magic Kingdom throws its annual Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party through Dec. 21. During this time, the characters, shows and the classic (and included!) Disney sweets take on a Christmas touch.
You’ll also find celebrations at other theme parks across the city, from SeaWorld Orlando, strung with more than 3 million twinkling lights (and guest appearances from Rudolph and Santa), to Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s (a great alternative to the iconic NYC parade). Plus, fans of Dr. Seuss’ classic Christmas tale can catch a live show with The Grinch himself in the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
Where to stay: Orlando is home to more hotel rooms than NYC, and we’ve helped narrow down the top points-friendly hotels near Disney World. At the top of the list is Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista – Disney Springs Area, one of seven hotels in Disney Springs. Here guests receive perks like complimentary shuttle service to the Disney theme parks, access to Disney FastPass+ and Disney’s Extra Magic Hours — plus there is a dessert-heavy Disney character breakfast on Sundays at Covington Mill. Rates often start around $101 or 38,000 Hilton Honors points per night. Navigate the park like a pro with TPG’s Ultimate Guide to Walt Disney World Resort.
3. Lapland, Finland
Santa Claus and his elves may just be myths to some, but in Lapland they come to life — reindeer and all. Home to the Arctic Circle Post Office and Santa’s headquarters in Korvatunturi, in Eastern Lapland. Here travelers can also meet the man himself at Santa Claus Village. After exploring this real-life Christmas wonderland, spend the night in traditional Finnish style, soaking up the heat in an old wooden sauna in the countryside drinking glögi, the Finnish version of mulled wine. Also carve out time to explore by dogsled!
Another way to travel Santa-style is on the Finnish double-decker night train (aka the Santa Claus Express), which runs from capital city Helsinki to Lapland. The 15-hour journey crosses the Arctic Circle and lands you right in Finland’s northernmost city — and the heart of Lapland’s lake district and ski resorts — Kemijärvi, pausing in Santa’s village along the way.
Getting there: Finnair and Flybe fly into Lapland’s five airports: Kemi-Tornio (KEM); Rovaniemi (RVN), Finland’s fifth-largest airport that also includes daily service from Helsinki (HEL) on Norwegian; Kittilä (KTT), one of the main hubs in northern Finland; Enontekiö (ENF); and Ivalo (IVL), the country’s northernmost airport.
Where to stay: While there aren’t traditional points hotels in the region, you can still use points from cards such as the Discover it® Miles or Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to stay in more off-the-wall spots like the Arctic SnowHotel & Glass Igloos. There you will find a series of 15 glass igloos with thermal roofs and heated floors on the Arctic Circle; rates start at $264 per night. For something more conventional, the 57-room Arctic Light Hotel, which sits 15 minutes from Santa Claus Village, is housed in the former Rovaniemi City Hall; rates start at about $215 per night. Learn about the best places to see the Northern Lights.
4. Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Amsterdam’s canals are always magical, but they really come to life each winter when they host the largest Saint Nicholas parade in the world, featuring more than a half-mile of floats and boats. The Dutch version of Santa, Sinterklaas, sails in with 400,000+ people awaiting his arrival on the canals. He then switches out his boat for a white horse to parade through the streets. The heart of the city also lights up for Christmas with a 65-foot tree wrapped in 40,000 LED lights sitting in the center of Dam Square. There are all sorts of Christmas markets to stumble upon, an ice rink at Museumplein’s Ice*Village and the Amsterdamsche Kerstmarkt, held in the industrial warehouse of Kromhouthal in Amsterdam Noord. There you will find a mini-arcade, musical performances and a program catering specifically to kids. Make the most of your time in Amsterdam with TPG‘s guide, 36 Hours in Amsterdam.
Where to stay: Once a series of six, 17th-century canal palaces, the Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam still features some of the property’s original 18th-century art, as well as a Guerlain Spa (the perfect way to relax post-flight) and two-Michelin star restaurant, Librije’s Zusje Amsterdam. Rates at the top-tier Hilton hotel start at $478 or 95,000 Honors Honors points per night. This could be a great spot to use a weekend award night from cards such as the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express.
Last spring, Kimpton opened its second hotel outside of the US, smack-dab in the center of Amsterdam. The 274-room Kimpton De Witt Hotel is a cozy spot to hole up during the holidays, with its courtyard botanical garden and craft cocktail bar, House Bar, which sits in a former family home dating back to 1645. Rates from $200 or 50,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night.
5. Paris, France
Note: In early December, there were violent protests in parts of Paris and elsewhere in France. As of press time, France weighs whether or not to declare a state of emergency. Be sure to check current news reports and US State Department information before planning a 2018 holiday trip to the region.
As Audrey Hepburn said, “Paris is always a good idea,” and this quote rings even truer around the holidays. Paris is nicknamed The City of Light for a reason, with Christmas illuminations covering more than just monuments, as the light displays take over everywhere from Montmartre to the Champs-Élysées and Place Vendôme.
Each of the 20 arrondissements (except the first two) boasts free merry-go-rounds, and traditional Christmas markets pop up around town with their wooden chalets selling ornaments and vin chaud (mulled wine). Major department stores, like Galeries Lafayette, are decked out in over-the-top holiday décor (imagine the French version of Bergdorfs). Royal parks, like the Tuileries Garden, open up to a Christmas village with a 164-foot-high Ferris wheel, ice-skating rink and more than 120 chalets whipping up culinary specialties from 20 regions across France. If you’re visiting on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, you’ll see a show worthy of Disney World as Father Christmas flies his reindeer-led sleigh through the sky. And, despite its reputation for being one of the world’s most expensive cities, check out free and kid-friendly pastimes in Paris.
Where to stay: Book a room close to Paris’ luxury shopping street, the rue Saint-Honoré, at The Westin Paris – Vendôme, with rooms showing off views of the Eiffel Tower and Tuileries Garden’s Christmas market. Rates start at $314 or 60,000 Marriott Rewards per night. Stay in the heart of the Champs-Élysées in a five-star spot on the boulevard at the Paris Marriott Champs-Élysées Hotel, which will put you in the middle of the Christmas markets and holiday decorations. Rates start at $370 or 60,000 Marriott Rewards points per night. Make the most of your points and miles with help of these 6 tips for using points and miles to visit London and Paris.
If you are considering a Christmas trip abroad, credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Citi Premier Card don’t charge foreign transaction fees. To see more good card options when traveling overseas, check out Top Credit Cards With No Foreign Transaction Fees.
Looking for other family-friendly points hotels for your holiday getaway? We’ve got you covered with a list of our top picks around the globe. Be sure to also see The World’s Best Christmas Markets and 11 Extravagant Christmas Lights Displays Worth Traveling For — and share some of your favorite spots to spend the holidays in the comments below!
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock
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