This year, take the strain out of the holidays by planning a family vacation
By Shandley McMurray
It’s no secret that the holidays are a stressful time. Scheduling parties, buying presents, cooking and cleaning for hours in preparation for a meal that will be eaten within minutes. Then there’s the driving. Combating snow squalled highways to visit aunts, grandmas and cousins. While it’s great to see family (most of the time), sometimes it can be overwhelming and exhausting.
Why not take a break from it all this year and create memories that will last a lifetime? Instead of spending money on gifts kids will most likely outgrow (physically or emotionally), agree to cut down on pressies and put the money towards a family trip. Involve the kids with choosing a location that’s within your budget and ask them for help in planning how to celebrate the holidays while you’re away. Maybe they’ll want to bring a small artificial Christmas tree or light a menorah on the beach. Whatever the plan, make it special and take time during your trip to sit back, relax and enjoy the luxury of being in one place during a very busy season.
Worried it won’t feel like the holidays? Don’t. Most hotels and resorts offer special holiday-themed dinners and activities to keep kids in the festive spirit and you in the backseat in terms of food preparation and clean-up. You could rent a villa in France or Spain (it’s cheaper at this time of year) or book a B&B in the English Cotswolds. A bit too far (and expensive) to stray? Here are a few of our favorite family-friendly vacation spots that are a bit closer to home:
Atlantis Paradise Island
Where: Nassau, Bahamas
What it offers: A 141-acre waterpark featuring a lazy river, slides through tanks filled with sharks and a children’s pool complete with water cannons. Kids can feed or swim with dolphins, take a tour through the Caribbean’s
largest marine displays with over 50,000 sea animals and forget all about you while having fun in the kids’ club. You, meanwhile, can dream about sugar plums while relaxing in the spa or play 18-holes on a par 72 championship golf course.
Photos courtesy of Shandley McMurray
Holiday festivities: For an additional fee ($400 per family), Santa will visit your room on December 22nd and 23rd to read his favorite holiday story, share a sweet treat and take photos.
Price: Rooms range in price from $593* per night in the Beach tower to $806 in The Royal Towers and include access to the waterpark. (*price for a family of four traveling from December 24th to 31st, 2014).
Great Wolf Lodge
Where: Niagara Falls, Canada
What it offers: Kids will be so busy here they’ll forget to miss Grandma. Between speeding along the 727 foot water roller coaster in the waterpark, playing games in the arcade and beating Dad at the bowling alley, there’s a
bevy of fun activities for kids to choose from. When they get tired, send your young fashionistas to the Scoops Spa, a pampering space just for them featuring ice-cream themed manis and pedis.
Holiday festivities: Watch a holiday show, meet Santa, sit through an indoor snowfall and get your boogie on at the Ugly Sweater Dance Party. Top it all off with a meal in a life-sized gingerbread house (reservations required and a fee of $20 to support Ronald McDonald’s House Charities).
Price: $460 CDN* for a family suite or $490 for a wolf den suite complete with in-suite cave. (*Based on a family of four staying from December 22nd to the 29th).
Intercontinental Hotels and Resorts
Where: Times Square, New York City
Photos: C NYC & Company/Photographer Name as noted by NYC & Company
What it offers: Who needs water parks when you have Times Square at your doorstep? Just steps away from the action, kids will get to feel the excitement of living in the heart of the city that never sleeps. The rooms are spacious by New York City standards and the beds are comfy.
Holiday festivities: While they don’t offer festive crafts or holiday shows, you’re in a prime location for booking the kids in to see the famous Rockettes in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular or take them skating at Rockefeller Centre by the biggest Christmas tree they’ll ever see. A trip to FAO Schwartz will make you even more popular than Santa (almost).
Photographed by: Will Steacy Photographed by: Joe Buglewicz
Price: From $377* per night for a 2 Double Bed, Sky View Room (*Based on a family of four staying from December 22nd to 29th).
Loews Coronado Resort
Where: San Diego, California
Photos courtesy of Loews Coronado Bay Resort
What it offers: With three pools and direct access to the beach, what’s not to love? Plus, the hotel gives small welcome gifts to younger kids and offers a teen-only food bar. The kids will go bananas over the animals at the San Diego Zoo and they’ll love catching a glimpse of Shamu at the nearby SeaWorld. Want to ensure they love you forever? Spend a day at Legoland.
Holiday festivities: Tell Santa your wishes over a stack of pancakes at Breakfast with Santa on December 20th. ($9 per child and $19 per adult)
Price: From $239* per night for a partial bay view room. (*Based on a family of four staying from December 21st to 28th).
Vail Marriott Mountain Resort
Where: Vail, Colorado
Photos courtesy of: Jack Affleck, Vail Resorts
What it offers: Situated at the base of Vail Mountain, this gorgeous hotel boasts a spa for weary grownups and a pool for energetic kids. A winter wonderland, it’s a perfect place to spend a white Christmas. The hotel is a mere three-minute walk to the Eagle-Bahn gondola, which will take you up to some of the best skiing trails in the world. Another bonus: you can rent ski equipment at the hotel, which means less stuff to fit in your suitcases.
Holiday festivities: Decorate Christmas cookies, get creative in the snowman-making competition and have your photo taken with Santa. Then take the hotel’s complimentary bus into town to shop or attend a concert. When you’re feeling famished, chow down at the Christmas Day or New Year’s buffet (for an additional fee). On Christmas Eve, Santa makes a special pit stop to tuck little ones in for their long winter’s nap! (Just make sure to request it ahead of time.) The festivities are endless.
Photos courtesy of: Jack Affleck, Vail Resorts
Price: From $569 per night in a standard guest room with two double beds (*Based on four people staying from December 21st to 28th; lift tickets not included).
Two ultra luxury options if you’re up for breaking the bank:
The Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort and Spa
Where: Silhouette Island, Seychelles
What it offers: As the only hotel on a small island, you’re guaranteed a quiet, relaxing stay. Spend your days snorkelling, swimming, visiting the turtle sanctuary or trekking through the rain forest. Build your own Christmas Sand castle while you soak up some much-needed vitamin D.
Holiday festivities: Christmas carol sing-alongs, a tree-lighting ceremony and a five-star Christmas dinner that you didn’t have to cook. These are just a few of the festive treats the staff at Hilton Labriz have in store for their guests. There’ll be live entertainment and special activities for the kids. On New Year’s Eve, guests can attend the gala dinner and follow it up with a delicious buffet the next morning.
Price: From $624 per night for the King Beach Front Villa (based on a family of four staying from December 19th to 26th, not including flights or meals).
Schloss Fuschl Resort and Spa
Where: On Lake Fuschl just outside of Salzburg, Austria
Photos courtesy of Shandley McMurray
What it offers: Set in the idyllic Salzkammergut region, this spectacular castle (featured in The Sound of Music) boasts truly breath taking views. Surrounded by mountains, meadows and forests, your stay at the Schloss Fuschl is sure to be both quiet and luxurious. Enjoy a rich hot chocolate while snuggling under furs on the porch or head out for a day of nearby skiing and tobogganing. Don’t miss a visit to the Berchtesgaden salt mine, a short drive away. Kids will be fascinated by touring the underground tunnels, walking across the German border underground. Salzburg is beautiful, especially during the holidays. Spend at least a day in town to wander through the festive markets, skate in the main square and enjoy fresh pretzels, chocolates and other delicacies.
Holiday festivities: Munch on roasted chestnuts, sip on homemade mulled wine and wander through the Christmas Market set up right outside the hotel’s castle. Complete with a blacksmith, woodworkers, musicians and a spectacular view, this market will make even the most Scrooge-like visitor feel jolly.
Price: From $581* per night for the Junior Suite, lake view. (*based on a family of four staying from January 2nd to 9th; flights not included )
Plan your trip
Christmas is one of the most expensive times to travel. That’s why it’s best to try to book your trip in advance. If time is a luxury you can’t afford, try a last-minute booking site such as lastminute.com or farm out the work to a reputable travel agent in your area. Travel agents are a great resource as most of them have been to the places you’re interested in visiting so they can give first-hand recommendations and tips. They can also speak with the hotel on your behalf to help deal with special requests, such as an additional bed, etc.
Some of our favorite online booking sites include: travelocity.com and expedia.com. They often have comparable deals and can be remarkably cheaper than booking through the hotel or airline directly. Once you’ve chosen the hotel you like, check out online reviews before you book. It’s an easy way to find out if your hotel’s often plagued by bed bugs, uncomfortable mattresses or bad customer service.
What to pack
Beyond the basics (socks and extra undies) make sure to pack presents, wrapping paper, scissors and tape. Sometimes customs officers will rip open wrapped packages during safety checks, so it’s easiest to leave them unwrapped when you travel. Hide them from the kids to make sure they’ve still got a surprise when the time comes to open them. You may also want to pack a few cheap decorations like a plastic menorah, fake tree and battery-operated lights to make your hotel room feel more festive. Don’t forget the stockings if you celebrate Christmas. A few holiday books and DVDS will help to keep the festive spirit alive during down times.
How to break the news
It’s never easy to tell the family you’d like a hall pass from their holiday celebrations. That’s why it’s important to break the news tactfully. Here are a few of our tips:
1. Tell them in person If you live far away, a FaceTime or Skype conversation is the best option. Texting or e mailing will seem too impersonal.
2. It’s us, not you Smooth any tensions or worries by letting your family know that you just want a year off to celebrate with your own little family. This doesn’t mean that you don’t like them or their traditions; you merely
want a year to yourselves.
3. Shop early Make sure to buy and wrap your family’s presents before you go. They don’t need to be expensive, but leaving behind a few tokens will help them remember that you’re thinking of them.
4. Chat on Christmas Don’t forget to call or video chat with your family on Christmas Day. They won’t feel so left out if they know you remembered them.