5 sunny vacation destinations to dream about on this freezing winter day

Feb 18, 2021

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Across the country this week, there have been back-to-back winter storms. And our friends in Texas have been walloped by the bitter cold, snow and ice storms, and have lost both power and, in some cases, water. The bad news is the forecast remains cold in much of the United States for the next few days.

If you’re bundled up at home, grumbling about this winter weather, we invite you to dream about your next fabulous vacation to a warm and sunny destination when the cold — and pandemic — breaks.

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Marrakesh

If you’re tired of drab, dark and snowy landscapes, set your future travel dreams on Marrakesh.

In western Morocco, you’ll find the medina — a medieval walled city — that’s beguiling. You can stay in luxury hotels or raids (traditional accommodations) within the medina or just outside one of its 19 gates.

Visit the palaces and mosques, gardens and colorful souks (marketplaces). If you appreciate art and architecture, this is the place for you. You’ll see Moorish-style buildings with intricate tilework as well as incredible painted ceilings, carved wood and fine stucco finishings.

And the food! Local dishes are made with fragrant spices such as cumin, saffron, paprika, ginger, turmeric, nutmeg and coriander. Be sure to try regional specialties such as tajine (slow-cooked stew), couscous (a rice-like dish made with durum wheat semolina), rfissa (chicken and lentils with spices), harira (a soup) and skewered grilled meats.

How to get there: You won’t find any nonstop flights from the United States to Marrakech (RAK), but you can connect in a variety of cities, including London (British Airways), Paris (AirFrance), Frankfurt and Munich (Lufthansa), Lisbon (TAP) or Madrid (Iberia).

Where to stay on points:

  • Ksar Char-Bagh, Small Luxury Hotels of the World from 30,000 World of Hyatt points per night
  • Le Meridien N’Fis, a Marriott Bonvoy Category 2 property from 12,500 Marriott points per night (standard dates)
  • AnaYela, Marrakech, a member of Design Hotels and Marriott Bonvoy Category 4 property from 25,000 points per night (standard dates)
  • Mr & Mrs Smith Dar One or Les Deux Tours from 20,000 IHG points per night
  • Mr & Mrs Smith Dar Zemora from 42,500 IHG points per night
  • Mr & Mrs Smith La Farnatchi from 67,500 IHG points per night
  • Book with cash or Membership Rewards points the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program (FHR) to stay at the Four Seasons Resort Marrakech, La Mamounia, Amenjena, Royal Mansour Marrakech or Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech

Related: A first-timer’s travel guide to Morocco

French Polynesia

Oftentimes, a frequent flyer plans a trip to French Polynesia — usually the Society Islands of Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora — thinking it will be a once-in-a-lifetime getaway. But the South Pacific is so beautiful and remote that many of us plan repeat trips. It’s the type of place that helps repair the soul, and we may all need a bit of that after this pandemic is over.

It’s a long-haul trip to Papeete, Tahiti, from anywhere in the United States, so plan to spend at least a week on the islands. Fly to Tahiti (PPT) and stay a day or two as a salve for your jetlag. Tahiti is also the embarkation port for cruises from Paul Gauguin Cruises, Windstar Cruises and other lines.

If you don’t plan to go on a cruise, most travelers move on from Papeete to some of the other islands in the region. Bora Bora with its imposing Mount Otemanu as a backdrop, many motus and overwater bungalows is a popular destination — especially with honeymooners. You’ll need to take a flight from Papeete to get there.

Adventurous travelers tend to select Moorea for activities like the hike to Belvedere Lookout or the four-wheel-drive tour up Magic Mountain.

How to get there: Your gateway to all of French Polynesia is Papeete, Tahiti (PPT). You can fly there from Los Angeles on Air France or Air Tahiti Nui, from San Francisco on United or French Bee or from Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines.

Learn how to find award flights to Tahiti and the best ways to use miles and points for a French Polynesian vacation.

Where to stay on points:

  • In Tahiti, use 50,000 IHG points per night for the InterContinental Hotels Resort Tahiti. On Bora Bora, you have two options: the InterContinental Hotels Le Moana Bora Bora (from 50,000 points per night) or the InterContinental Hotels Bora Bora Resort Thalasso Spa. (We couldn’t find any availability at this property through January of 2023. Your mileage may vary.)
  • If you have Hilton Honors points, you can use them at the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa (starting at 80,000 points per night) or on Bora Bora at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui (starting at 89,000 points per night). The Hilton Tahiti Resort also opens in July 2021.
  • There are two Marriott Bonvoy options on Bora Bora: Le Meridien Bora Bora (Category 7, from 60,000 points per night on standard dates) and the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort (Category 8, from 85,000 points per night on standard dates).
  • Book with cash or Membership Rewards points through the Amex FHR program: St. Regis Bora Bora Resort, Conrad Bora Bora Nui or Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora

Maldives

Similar to French Polynesia, the trek to the Maldives is time-consuming for North Americans. It can help to break up the trip with a stopover in Asia. Check out TPG’s take on whether the Maldives or Bora Bora is better.

What’s unique about the Maldives is that you’re usually visiting an island resort on a specific atoll and not a country as a whole. Your vacation will be filled with quiet pool and beach time, snorkeling and diving, spa treatments and fine dining experiences. Seaplanes don’t fly at night, so you really can’t go anywhere else in the evenings.

The resorts of the Maldives are over-the-top luxurious and that is a draw in and of itself. You can pick from gorgeous overwater bungalows or beach villas — many travelers split their reservations so they can stay a few days in each type of lodging.

While the Maldives is a haven for honeymooners, families with plenty of miles and points enjoy the trip since it’s a place where you can really unplug and enjoy nature without any distractions.

How to get there: For all resorts, fly to the capital of Male (MLE) and then take a boat or seaplane transfer to your hotel. Many airlines fly to the Maldives, but the poshest are Emirates, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Etihad, Korean Air and Cathay Pacific. Here’s TPG’s complete guide for getting to the Maldives on points and miles.

Where to stay points:

Seychelles

The Seychelles archipelago comprises more than 100 islands in the Indian Ocean — about a thousand miles east of Mombasa, Kenya. It’s another bucket list destination known for beautiful islands, lush forests, incredible underwater life and sunny weather.

Victoria, on Mahe Island, is the country’s capital and home of the international airport (SEZ). The islands were only recently inhabited, around the 16th century, by European settlers — mostly from Britain and France. The languages spoken here today include English, French and Seychellois Creole.

Some of the islands are known for having giant boulders on their beaches and it’s a great destination for nature-lovers. There are a variety of nature reserves and activities ranging from hiking to horseback riding, diving and fishing. It’s also the home to the Aldabra giant tortoise, which can live up to 120 years.

How to get there: Look for flights to Mahe (SEZ), the main island in the Seychelles archipelago. There are no nonstop flights from the U.S., so you’ll need to connect somewhere, such as Istanbul (on Turkish Airlines), Frankfurt (on Lufthansa), Paris (on Air France), London (on British Airways), Dubai (on Emirates), Doha (on Qatar) or Abu Dhabi (on Etihad).

Where to stay on points:

  • Hilton Honors points open the door to stays at Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort & Spa (from 95,000 points per night), Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa (from 80,000 points) and the DoubleTree by Hilton Seychelles – Allamanda Resort (from 70,000 points).
  • If you’re looking to spend Marriott Bonvoy points, there’s only one option — and it’s a fancy one: North Island, a Luxury Collection Resort, Seychelles, which is a Category 8 property with special pricing. Per night redemptions are in excess of 350,000 points, so this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime trips.
  • Book with cash or Membership Rewards points through Amex FHR for stays at Four Seasons Resort Seychelles, Four Seasons Resort Seychelles at Desroches Island or Raffles Seychelles.

Zanzibar, Tanzania

Zanzibar: It just sounds exotic.

It’s an island archipelago off Tanzania’s mainland, and the main island of Unguja is usually just referred to as Zanzibar. This is where you’ll find Stone Town, a fascinating historic center where you can learn more about its Islamic and Swahili roots. This is the place to get a sense of what the area is all about and it’s also where you can do some serious shopping for unique works of art.

To the north, you’ll find a range of beachfront hotels. Your hotel can help you plan tours such as a dolphin-watching cruise or a snorkel excursion to Mnemba Island. You can rent jet skis to explore on your own and a cooking class is a must-do experience.

How to get there: Look for flights to the Abeid Amani Karume International Airport (ZNZ) right on the island. Or, you can take a high-speed ferry from Dar es Salaam on the mainland.

Where to stay on points:

  • You can stay at the Park Hyatt Zanzibar from 15,000 points per night in a standard room (or 7,500 points plus $210), 24,000 points for a standard suite and 30,000 points for a premium suite.
  • Marriott comes to the table with the Protea Hotel Zanzibar Mbweni Ruins. It’s a Category 3 property, so your Bonvoy points will take you far (just 17,500 points per night on standard dates).
  • There are two Hilton options that start at 30,000 Hilton Honors points per night: the DoubleTree by Hilton Zanzibar – Stone Town and the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Zanzibar – Nungwi.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Gauguin Cruises/Ponant

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