By Emily Holt
HOPE VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
The 33 log cabins at this Sierra Nevada resort are surrounded by aspens. Book one and have yourself a holiday of sledding and backcountry skiing.
14255 Hwy. 88; 800/423-9949; www.sorensensresort.com; cabins from $95.*
Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort
It's a cowpoke Christmas at this 10,000-acre working cattle ranch outside Santa Barbara. Saddle up for a morning ride, jump into a canoe on Alisal Lake, say howdy to the ducks and goats at the petting zoo, or just hang tight near the fireplace in the lodge with resident cowboy poets and singing wranglers.
1054 Alisal Rd.; 800/425-4725 or 805/688-6411; www.alisal.com; two-room suites from $465.
JEKYLL ISLAND, GEORGIA
Jekyll Island Club Hotel This century-old Queen Anne-style resort off Georgia's coast is a golfer's dream: four of the nation's best public courses are on the property. Off the green, you can take in the island's historic cottages and salt marshes by bike, or by horse and carriage. J.P. Morgan's former quarters, one of hotel's 33 suites, is ideal for families. 371 Riverview Dr., 800/535-9547 or 912/635-2600; www.jekyllclub.com; family suite (for four) from $219.
SUN VALLEY, IDAHO
Sun Valley Lodge
Photos of famous guests line the hallways at this 148-room Sun Valley mainstay, a favorite with families since 1936. On Christmas Eve, celebrities and citizens alike gather on the terrace to take in the local ski school's torchlight parade.
1 Sun Valley Rd., 800/786-8259; www.sunvalley.com; doubles from $229.
Four Seasons Chicago
Tis the season to splurge. Pick up last-minute gifts on Michigan Avenue, then gather with your kids for the hotel's Storytelling Tea: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cocoa, cookies, a present, and a visit with Santa. (Adults are treated to a classic high tea with all the trappings.) On Christmas Eve, a stocking filled with chocolate and toys is delivered to each child.
120 E. Delaware Place; 800/332-3442 or 312/280-8800; www.fourseasons.com; doubles from $395, kids under 18 stay free; Storytelling Tea $40 per person.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Windsor Court Hotel
Christmas presented with traditional Southern drama: fresh garlands, velvet bows, trees two stories high, model trains, and lots of, "How y'all doin?" Don't worry about bringing Chips Ahoy to leave for Santa on the big night-the hotel sends up freshly baked cookies with milk expressly for that purpose.
300 Gravier St.; 800/262-2662; www.windsorcourthotel.com; doubles from $175.
NEW PALTZ, NEW YORK
Mohonk Mountain House
The Mountain House is a 251-room Victorian castle-with a well-planned kid's program, and 21st-century rates. Every December 24, guests competing in the annual Yule Log Hunt venture into the woods to find the timber with a red ribbon on it. Whoever brings back the ribbon gets to light the Yule log in a ceremony before Christmas dinner. The outdoor fun also includes hiking in the surrounding Shawangunk Ridge (aka the Gunks, a famous rock climbing locale), and skating in the resort's own pavilion.
1000 Mountain Rest Rd., New Paltz; 800/772-6646 or 845/255-1000; www.mohonk.com; doubles from $358, kids $76.
Stowehof Inn & Resort
Located on 30 acres in Vermont's Green Mountains, this 46-room inn has few frills, but is minutes from Stowe's 200-year-old downtown and its ski mountain.
434 Edson Hill Rd., 800/932-7136 or 802/253-9722, www.stowehofinn.com, doubles from $83, kids ages 6-13 $16
Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello
Beginner bilinguists gather to hear Christmas stories read in French and English at this 211-room chalet on the Ottawa River. Troop across the street to the Golf Club House for folk music and chocolate fondue. Be sure to stop at the teepee en route to warm up by a log fire.
392 Rue Notre Dame; 800/441-1414 or 819/423-6341; www.fairmont.com; doubles from $143.
The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge
Active broods will feel right at home at this 446-room resort in the Canadian Rockies, exploring the largest ice field south of Alaska, ice skating on Lake Mildred, or downhill skiing at nearby Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park.
1 Old Lodge Rd.; 800/441-1414 or 780/852-3301; www.fairmont.com; doubles from $145, kids under 18 stay free
CARIBBEAN AND MEXICO
NEVIS, WEST INDIES
Four Seasons Nevis
Steel drum-playing carolers join the ubiquitous Evian-spritzing pool butlers during the holidays at this 196-room resort on the Caribbean Sea. Tennis and golf clinics are held on site. Most families are happy to never leave the property—the farthest many they get are to the picnic tables at the beach café next door.
Pinney's Beach, Charlestown; 869/469-6238; www.fourseasons.com/nevis; doubles from $425.
Half Moon Montego Bay
Guests indulge in biweekly barbecues at this 419-room Montego Bay mainstay. Watch for the room service staff riding bikes to suites and villas, while balancing trays on their heads.
Rose Hall, Montego Bay; 800/626-0592 or 876/953-2211; www.halfmoon.com.jm; doubles from $390, kids under 12 $60.
Inn at Robert's Grove
The barrier reef in the waters bordering this 32-room eco-resort on a peninsula in southern Belize offers some of the world's best snorkeling and diving. Families venture into the nearby jungle to see howler monkeys, toucans, and scarlet macaws. Don't miss the area's Mayan ruins. Consider spending a night in a wooden cabana hoisted on stilts on Ranguana Caye, the inn's two-acre private island a short boat ride away.
Placencia; 800/565-9757 or 501/523-3565; www.robertsgrove.com; doubles from $165
A 16th-century former convent turned hotel with a pool makes the perfect homebase in this spirited Mexican city, famous for its zocalo and crafts. Insiders know to queue early for prime viewing of giant radishes carved by locals into dancers and mariachi bands at the Radish Festival, December 23 and 24, in the zocalo. Be sure to catch the Christmas Eve candle-lit posada through the square.
300 Calle Cinco de Mayo; 52-951/501-6101; www.camino-real-oaxaca.com; doubles from $205, kids under 12 stay free
*Prices throughout this story reflect winter holiday 2003/2004 rates. Kids stay free unless otherwise noted.