WHERE: Grand Cayman
WHY: The Ritz-Carlton drafted the equivalent of the NBA Dream Team for its new Grand Cayman resort, scheduled to debut this month. The starting lineup: celebrity chef Eric Ripert, opening two restaurants (one formal, one casual); champion golfer Greg Norman, designing an environmentally sensitive nine-hole course along a saltwater lagoon; explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, running an aquatic education program; and legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, presiding over the courts. As if that weren't enough, La Prairie was also brought in to create a 20,000-square-foot spa—one of the largest in the Caribbean—featuring treatments inspired by the tropical setting.
HOW: Seven Mile Beach; 800/241-3333 or 345/943-9000; www.ritzcarlton.com; doubles from $699.
WHY: Celebrate three holidays in one aboard the Crystal Serenity. The special 14-day cruise departs December 21, sailing round-trip from Los Angeles to Mexico's Paciﬁc coast with stops in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán, and La Paz. The itinerary incorporates a wide range of festivities and adventures—from a Hanukkah dinner (complete with latkes and matzoh-ball soup) and Christmas-tree lighting, to a zip-line adventure in the Sierra Madre mountains, to a Bloody Mary brunch on New Year's Day.
HOW: 800/804-1500; www.crystalcruises.com; from $6,245 per person, all-inclusive.
WHERE: Southern Maine Coast
WHY: York Beach is even more atmospheric off-season—its deserted boardwalks, shuttered arcades, and often misty shores are perfect (albeit chilly) for walks in the salty air, with only intrepid seagulls for company. Just down the shore, the historic Cape Neddick lighthouse is at its most photogenic, shrouded in snow; in nearby Kennebunkport, Santa Claus arrives by lobster boat during the annual Christmas Prelude (December 111). Warm your beachcombing toes before a ﬂagstone fireplace in one of the three Arts & Craftsstyle Wharf Cottages at the White Barn Inn.
HOW: 37 Beach Ave., Kennebunkport; 207/967-2321; whitebarninn.com; cottages from $525.
WHERE: Paradise Island
WHY: Watching movies from a beach chair just might be the perfect antidote to the winter blues. Designed for cinéastes and snowbirds alike, the Bahamas International Film Festival (December 811) showcases more than 50 films from around the world, including features, shorts, and documentaries, with a special category for Caribbean productions. Screenings of films such as the underwater documentary Deep Blue and Turtles Can Fly, an Iraqi war drama, take place not only in theaters but also, after sunset, on the sand. Plus, director Spike Lee will be in attendance as this year's honoree for career achievement.
HOW: www.bintlfilmfest.com. Atlantis, Paradise Island Resort, 888/528-7155 or 242/363-3000; www.atlantis.com; doubles from $270.
WHERE: Ambergris Cay, Belize
WHY: Get away from it all at Azul, a secluded, two-villa beach resort opened this year by a pair of expats from San Francisco. Located six miles north of San Pedro on one of the island's most idyllic stretches of sand, the property's meticulously crafted open-plan villas combine modern perks (plasma TV's, Viking kitchens) with rustic design elements (bamboo railings, cabinets carved from ziricote wood). Take a dip in the rooftop hot tub overlooking the jungle and use the old-school walkie-talkies to summon frozen mojitos from Rojo Lounge, Azul's beach bar.
HOW: North Beach, San Pedro, Ambergris Cay; 011-501/226-4012; www.azulbelize.com; doubles from $695.
WHERE: Swiss Alps
WHY: To experience off-piste glacier slopes without the crowds, spend the night on the mountainside at Whitepod, five geodesic domes high above the town of Villars, just east of Lake Geneva. Although the tents have no running water or electricity, they're the height of eco-chic, with wood-burning stoves, high-tech insulation, organic linens, and iPods. Campers can join expert mountain guides on excursions—ice climbing, skiing—or stop by the 19th-century alpine chalet, where the resident chef prepares a fondue dinner.
HOW: 41-79/744-6219; www.whitepod.com; doubles from $330 (two-night minimum).
WHY: There's nothing like making fresh tracks down a mountain—and with the opening of the Deep Temerity lift at Aspen Highlands, skiers now have 180 previously untouched acres to play on. The new terrain is expert only, but neophytes are not to worry: the mountain still offers 465 acres of beginner and intermediate runs and, perhaps most important, the best après-ski scene in the state. Little Nell's high-wattage Bar and Living Room were recently redesigned by David Easton, who added even more space for snow bunnies to see and be seen.
HOW: www.aspensnowmass.com. The Little Nell, 675 E. Durant Ave.; 800/843-6355; www.thelittlenell.com; doubles from $270.
WHERE: Italian Dolomites
WHY: Set to open this January, Matteo Thun's modern 15-acre steel-and-glass Merano Thermal Baths, 200 miles from Milan, will have sulfur-infused pools, saunas, and steam rooms, all fed by deep thermal waters. Natural therapies will be offered in the 30 treatment rooms, surrounded by bonsai-perfect gardens. A hotel, also designed by Thun, is scheduled for completion this spring. In the meantime, stay at Thun's nearby Pergola Residence.
HOW Piazza Terme, Merano; 39-0473/252-000; www.termemerano.it; treatments from $73. Pergola Residence, 40 Via San Cassiano, Merano; 39-0473/201-435; www.pergola-residence.it; doubles from $186.
WHY: A new indoor resort located in the Mall of the Emirates is bringing a bit of Telluride to the Middle East. Ski Dubai has five snowy slopes (including an indoor black diamond) and covers an area equivalent to three football fields. Downhillers can rent all the necessary equipment to enjoy a day on the "mountain." After a snowboarding lesson, grab a cup of hot chocolate at the Avalanche Café. Ready to defrost?Five minutes away and 50 degrees warmer is the wave-shaped Jumeirah Beach Hotel.
HOW: Sheikh Zayed Rd.; 971-4/340- 3392; www.skidubai.ae. Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Jumeirah Beach Rd.; 800/223-6800 or 971-4/348-0000; www.jumeirahbeachhotel.com; doubles from $600.
WHERE: Washington State
WHY: Cross-country skiing's popularity is soaring, especially in Methow Valley, a group of secluded alpine hamlets in the upper Cascade Range, four hours north of Seattle. Over a hundred miles of groomed trails make this one of the largest (as well as most scenic) Nordic systems in the country. The Rendezvous circuit, which gives way to vistas of the glacier-carved lowland and granite peaks beyond, has a string of rustic lodges, perfectly suited for inn-to-inn touring. (Leave the luggage behind: it will be awaiting your arrival at the next stop.)
HOW: 509/996-3287; www.mvsta.com; day passes from $18. Sun Mountain Lodge, 604 Patterson Lake Rd., Winthrop; 800/572-0493; www.sunmountainlodge.com; doubles from $150.
WHERE: Queenstown, New Zealand
WHY: It's summer in New Zealand and food lovers can study the art of cooking Aotearoa style at Punatapu, an exclusive, five-suite lodge with its own culinary school beside Lake Wakatipu. Chef Jenny Stewart is on hand to teach in the Whareumu, a glass-sided kitchen equipped with a wood-fired oven, teppanyaki plates, and wok-burners. A typical day starts with an invigorating power walk on the property; afterward, guests forage for wild produce before creating the ultimate organic meal. Also on tap: visits to nearby olive groves, orchards, and wineries.
HOW: Glenorchy Rd.; 64-3/442-6624; www.punatapu.com; doubles from $563, all-inclusive; cooking classes $88 per person per day.
WHERE: Park City, Utah
WHY: Forget the one-horse open sleigh. A Sno-Cat takes adventurous types up the slopes above Park City Mountain Resort for an intimate dinner at 8,725 feet in a candlelit, rustic yurt. Start with a glass of wine on the heated terrace under star-filled skies before heading inside for a meal worthy of a mountain man: creamy butternut-squash soup, prime rib au jus, and bread pudding filled with cherries.
HOW: 800/222-7275; www.parkcitymountain.com; doubles from $100; dinner $125 per person.
WHERE: Healdsburg, California
WHY: The French Laundry has some new competition. Cyrus, run by chef Douglas Keane and maître d' Nick Peyton (the team behind St. Helena's popular Market restaurant), serves up innovative dishes such as Thai marinated lobster with fresh hearts of palm and bourbon-glazed pork belly. It's the little details, though, that have won over diners—a champagne-and-caviar cart, on which roe is weighed against a gold bar, is rolled out to greet you upon arrival, and a small box of handmade bonbons is bestowed with the check, a sweet forget-me-not to bring back to the adjacent Les Mars Hôtel, modeled after an 18th-century château.
HOW: 29 North St.; 707/433-3311; dinner for two $116. Les Mars Hôtel, 27 North St.; 877/431-1700 or 707/433-4211; www.lesmarshotel.com; doubles from $495.
WHY Recently designated the hotel of the Teatro alla Scala, the Carlton Hotel Baglioni offers the exclusive chance to dine at the hotel's Baretto al Baglioni with the famed players of the Orchestra Filarmonica. Before dinner, you'll be driven via limo to the recently restored La Scala, where a guide takes you on a tour of the rarely visited backstage. The ensemble then performs a private concert led by one of the company's guest conductors. The evening continues back at the hotel, where you'll rub shoulders with the musicians over risotto con osso buco or cotaletta alla milanese.
HOW: 5 Via Senato; 39-02/77077; www.baglionihotels.com; doubles $1,425 (two-night minimum), including dinner, tour, and performance.
WHY: Skip the traditional turkey and stuffing and celebrate Nochebuena Latin-style at Nacional 27, Second City's ceviche bar and salsa club. Chef Randy Zweiban expertly prepares dishes from the 27 countries in Latin America; for his Cuban-inspired Christmas Eve feast, he pairs inventive mojitos with bacalao fritters, spiny-lobster empanadas, banana leafwrapped suckling pig, moros y cristianos (black beans and rice), and pumpkin flan. Sleep off the meal at Amalfi, a small, amenity-rich hotel within walking distance of both the restaurant and the Magnificent Mile.
HOW: 325 W. Huron St.; 312/664-2727; dinner for two $98. Amalfi, 20 W. Kinzie St.; 877/262-5341 or 312/395-9000; www.amalfihotelchicago.com; doubles from $229.
WHY: The city in which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart spent the last 10 years of his life commemorates his 250th birthday with music, music, and more music. Mozart 2006 kicks off on January 8, when tenor Plácido Domingo leads an all-star cast in an inaugural concert at the Theater an der Wien. The venerable Vienna State Opera follows up with four Mozart masterworks including The Marriage of Figaro (January 2328). A more intimate perspective on the composer can be found at the Mozarthaus Vienna, a museum dedicated to his life and art that's opening January 27.
HOW: www.wienmozart2006.at. Grand Hotel Wien, 9 Kärntner Ring; 43-1/515-800; www.grandhotelwien.com; doubles from $298.
WHERE: Los Angeles
WHY: In February, Annette Bening takes on the role of Madame Ranyevskaya, the matriarch of an aristocratic Russian family who struggles to hold on to a debt-ridden ancestral estate, in The Cherry Orchard (Feb. 12March 19) at the Mark Taper Forum. Sean Mathias, who revived The Elephant Man on Broadway, stages Chekhov's drama about the fragility of human nature in the face of change. For more celebrity sightings, call it a night at the Hollywood Roosevelt.
How: 213/628-2772; www.centertheatregroup.org. Hollywood Roosevelt, 7000 Hollywood Blvd.; 800/950-7667; www.hollywoodroosevelt.com; doubles from $139.
WHERE: Cologne, Germany
WHY: The Old Town glows during the holidays, when the Christmas Market encircles a 66-foot tree, dwarfed only by the 13th-century cathedral. Warm up with hot mulled wine, then wander into the new Peter Zumthordesigned Kolumba museum, where the ancient meets the modern: crucifixes and reliquaries share space with the works of Bauhaus designer and painter Andor Weininger.
HOW: www.stadt-koeln.de. InterContinental Cologne, 1 Pipinstrasse; 888/ 303-1758; www.ichotelsgroup.com=; doubles from $161.
WHY: Benjamin Franklin turns the big 3-0-0 on January 17, sending a jolt of electricity throughout the city. The yearlong celebration begins with "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World" at the National Constitution Center, an exhibition of more than 250 artifacts—from the polymath's chess set to re-creations of his most famous experiments (Dec. 15April 30). Then, on January 1, the Franklin Institute Science Museum raises the curtain on "Sparks!", an interactive show complete with real lightning bolts.
How: 215/557-0733; www.benfranklin300.org; Rittenhouse Hotel, 210 W. Rittenhouse Square; 800/635-1042 or 215/546-9000; www.rittenhousehotel.com; doubles from $265.
WHY: If theatrical snowflakes tickle your fancy but the Nutcracker isn't the answer, get a ticket to Matthew Bourne's staged rendition of Edward Scissorhands, playing at the Sadler's Wells Theatre (Nov. 22Feb. 5). The British choreographer re-interprets Tim Burton's Gothic film as a ballet, creating a dark winter fantasy as the oddball hero (with scissors for hands and pure innocence for a heart) shears shrubs, hairdos, and blocks of ice into fantastical objets d'art.
How: Rosebery Ave.; 44-207/863-8198; www.sadlerswells.com. Malmaison London, Charterhouse Square; 44-207/012-3700; www.malmaisonlondon.com; doubles from $340.
Written by Aaron Barker, Jennifer V. Cole, Amy Farley, Hillary Geronemus, Robert Greskovic, Jaime Gross, Darrell Hartman, Farhad Heydari, Amanda Jones, Xander Kaplan, Julia Klein, Peter Jon Lindberg, Francine Maroukian, Mario Mercado, Clark Mitchell, and Clara Ogden.