The window between Thanksgiving and Christmas is one of the smartest times of the year you could possibly travel. Tourists are scarce, hotel rates are low, free upgrades are plentiful, and in much of the world the favorable rates coincide with either lovely weather or festive holiday charm. True, you may miss holiday parties back home, but you’ll also miss all that holiday traffic, not to mention those long lines every time you try to run a simple errand. Personally, I’d rather do my holiday shopping at Europe’s Christmas markets or in artisans’ studios in Hawaii or in the cellars of Argentina’s wine country than at the mall back home.
Last year my own between-the-holidays trip was a cruise from Barcelona to Rome to put Viking Cruises’ new Viking Star to the test. I’ve sailed in the Mediterranean in December before, and it has its pros and cons: It can be chilly on deck or on your balcony, and the sun sets at about 4:00 pm, so there are fewer hours for sightseeing than in summertime. But onshore you get pleasant sightseeing temps in the 50s and 60s—especially along the French Riviera and on islands like Malta and Sicily—and it’s a relief not to have to battle the peak-season tourist crush.
While the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is not the optimal time for a Mediterranean cruise, it is an optimal time for the following seven destinations. If you want to know the best way to book a last-minute trip to any of them so as to get the best value for your dollar, you may ask me here.
With the exception of Thanksgiving, all of November through December 18th or so is uncrowded, with hotels offering deals of the pay-for-three-nights-get-four and pay-for-five-nights-get-seven variety. Look for values on Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island in particular.
2. The Caribbean
Hurricane season is over, the weather is sunny and clear, and upgrades abound at blissfully empty five-star resorts in the Caribbean islands.
‘Tis the season for fourth-night-free and fifth-night-free deals in Mexico up until December 18th or so.
4. Europe’s Christmas Markets
One year, my between-the-holidays trip was a European river cruise focused on the magical Christmas markets of Central Europe. I’ve traveled in Austria and Germany in practically every month of the year, and the holidays is my favorite time, thanks to the homespun festive decorations everywhere, the mouthwatering holiday foods, and the concerts and other celebratory activities in towns large and small, not to mention the stomach-warming glühwein and the ease of meeting and chatting with locals at the outdoor markets. It’s not terribly cold; if there’s any snow, it only adds to the winter-wonderland atmosphere. Darkness falls at 4:30, but it’s not a disadvantage because the towns are gorgeously lit up at night and there’s plenty to see and do after dark. Here’s how to plan the perfect trip to Europe’s Christmas markets.
5. New Zealand
I chose early December for my honeymoon in New Zealand. We had perfect late-spring weather and blossoms from the tip of the North Island to the toe of the South (remember, summer starts circa December 21 in the southern hemisphere), and conditions were great for the crazy adventure activities we did, from jetboating in Queenstown to blackwater rafting in Waitomo.
6. The Maldives
Early December brings lovely weather, optimal conditions for snorkeling and diving, and extraordinary values at the over-the-top private island resorts you find only in the Maldives.