Exotic Places to Spend Christmas
10 perfect places to celebrate the season: Salzburg, The Big Island, Dominican Republic, Yosemite, New York, Rome, Vermont, Galápagos, Caribbean Cruise, Colonial Williamsburg
WHY: "Silent Night" was written just down the road. Add snow sifting on Baroque angels, carriages with jingling bells, and lots of Lebkuchen (spiced honey cookies), and you'll feel as if you're walking in a Christmas card.
WHERE TO STAY: Hotel Goldener Hirsch (37 Getreidegasse; 43-662/8084; www.goldenerhirsch.com; doubles from $570) has atmosphere (red and green loden—jacketed staff, eiderdowns on the beds), as well as up-to-date comforts (lavish marble baths).
CHRISTMAS DINNER: At Hotel Schloss Mönchstein (26 Mönchsberg Park; 43-662/848-5550; www.monchstein.at), high above the town, there's a full-dress dinner with carols sung by a children's choir, mass in the hotel's own chapel—and views from mountaintop to mountaintop.
Related: The Best Places to Spend Christmas
HOW YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE MARIA: Take the Sound of Music bus tour: Dance in that gazebo! Enumerate your favorite things! (Salzburg Panorama Tours, 43-662/883-2110.)
MUST-HAVE SOUVENIR: Skip the red dirndl and opt for street vendors' clever marionettes.
WHAT YOU THINK YOUR CHILDREN WILL ENJOY, BUT THEY WON'T: The Salzburg Marionette Theater. Uncut. German. Opera.
WHAT YOU THINK YOUR CHILDREN WON'T ENJOY, BUT THEY WILL: Midnight mass at Peterskirche with choirs of painted angels and, afterward, a night walk to the sound of church bells.
TO STUFF THOSE STOCKINGS: Comb the Christmas Market, in the Domplatz, for carved baby angels, spun-glass birds, and walnut shells with tiny mice nestled inside.
TO STUFF THOSE FACES: Head for cafés like Tomaselli (9 Alter Markt, 43-662/844-488)—nearly 300 years' practice serving the best poppyseed strudel and hot chocolate heaped with frothy cream.
FUN FOR FREE: Listen to a brass choir (5:30 Christmas Eve, by the Mönchsberg), and go to Franziskanerkirche (Sigmund-Haffner-Gasse) at 10 p.m. to hear the mass written by Franz Gruber, in which the original "Silent Night" is played.
The Big Island, Hawaii
WHY: A snowcapped volcano overlooking the beach. Santa paddling ashore in an outrigger canoe. Snorkeling with turtles on Christmas morning.
WHERE TO STAY: Play castaway at the luxuriously rustic Kona Village Resort (800/367-5290 or 808/325-5555; www.konavillage.com; cottages from $495), with hula lessons, lei-making tutorials, and wildlife walks along the shore. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a stone's throw from Kilauea Lodge (866/967-7366 or 808/967-7366; www.kilauealodge.com; hales [cottages] from $125), a converted YMCA camp with wood-burning fireplaces, stained-glass windows, and Hawaiian quilts.
CHRISTMAS DINNER: Roy's Waikoloa Bar & Grill (250 Waikoloa Beach Dr., Waikoloa; 808/886-4321) serves pork wrapped in laulau leaves, with wasabi mashed potatoes—then brings out the haupia (coconut pudding).
IF YOU HAVE A HAMMER: Two days before New Year's, join in a traditional mochi-rice-cake—pounding ceremony in Wailea Village.
DON'T MISS: Kilauea volcano, in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (808/985-6000), the only place in the country you can see real flowing lava.
Club Med Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
WHY: An all-inclusive Christmas on a beach as white as snow (800/258-2633; www.clubmed.com; doubles from $1,290, $471 for kids under 17, for a seven-night stay including airfare). Facilities are first-rate, thanks to a recent $35 million renovation.
SWEET SUITES: The 543 suites—many with balconies—accommodate families of four. Sliding doors separate the bedroom from the living area (the kids' room by night).
KIDS' CLUBS: Club Med's largest kids' program has five mini-clubs, where guests ages 4 to 10 can swing on a trapeze and learn to windsurf and juggle. During school holidays, the teen club shifts into high gear.
CLUB MANY: Menorahs, Stars of David, and Kwanza decorations mix with Christmas trees.
HE SEES YOU: Each year, Santa spices up the reindeer routine by entering the village in a top-secret way (he has rowed in on a tiki-lit canoe, flown in via helicopter, and splashed ashore on a water slide).
XMAS FEAST: Once Santa has handed out his presents—one for each kid, no two surprises alike—the gang makes a beeline for the giant buffet (including chocolate everything), followed by fireworks.
CABIN FEVER: You may never want to step outside the resort gates, but Club Med organizes enticing excursions, such as a boat ride through the Quisqueya outback, then a Dominican shrimp and chicken lunch.
WHY: Balsam-covered hills and an über-Vermont village so movie-set flawless you may be tempted to walk up to a brick storefront, give it a push, and see if it falls over.
WHERE TO STAY: Dry your mittens at the Woodstock Inn & Resort (14 Village Green; 800/448-7900 or 802/457-1100; www.woodstockinn.com; doubles from $195; children under 14 free; also see Family Values, page 14), wrought by Rockefeller millions into a Yankee faux-historic resort. You can walk to town from the Shire Motel (46 Pleasant St.; 802/457-2211; www.shiremotel.com; doubles from $125), which offers cut-above rooms, many with river views.
LOCAL TRADITION: During the weekend-long Wassail Celebration (Dec. 7—9; 888/496-6378) there's caroling, ornament-making workshops, and a parade of horse-drawn carriages (begins this year at 2 p.m., Dec. 8).
DON'T MISS: Billings Farm & Museum (Route 12 and River Rd.; 802/457-2355; open December weekends, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Glimpse pre-Nintendo Christmas in the 1890 farmhouse, visit the working dairy barn, and take a sleigh ride o'er the fields.
CHRISTMAS DINNER: If you can get the kids past the walk-in gingerbread house, try the Woodstock Inn's Vermont free-range turkey with blood orange—and—cranberry marmalade ($50 for adults, $25 for children under 14). Kids can also order from an à la carte menu that offers, of all things, sides of fruit and veggies.
MUST-HAVE SOUVENIR: Farm-made cheddar and maple syrup from the hilltop Sugarbush Farms (591 Sugarbush Farm Rd.; 802/457-1757).
WHERE ELSE TO GET STICKY FINGERS: The Mountain Creamery (33 Central St.; 802/457-1715)—ya want waffles with that syrup?
BEST FIRST SKIING EXPERIENCE: Quechee Lakes Ski Area (802/295-9356; rentals available), four miles east of Woodstock; miracle-working instructors will have your four-year-old doing "pizzas" in no time.
—Meg Lukens Noonan
WHY: Culture, candlelight, chocolate—and serious spirituality for sleepy kids at the pope's midnight mass (book ahead; 39-06/6988-3114).
WHERE TO STAY: Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz spent Christmas 2000 at the stylish, eclectic Hotel de Russie (9 Via del Babuino; 39-06/328-881; three-night Christmas package for two from $1,480). Want to see how Roman families celebrate the holiday?Rent a room or apartment in one of 400 private houses that double as B&B's from Bed & Breakfast Italia (Palazzo Sforza Cesarini, 284 Corso Vittorio Emanuele II; 39-06/687-8618; doubles from $49). Some have baby-sitting services and bicycles at your disposal—and you may even get to take part in the family festivities.
CHRISTMAS DINNER: Keep an eye on the Christmas Day goings-on at the Vatican during the family brunch at La Terrazza Degli Aranci (Rome Cavalieri Hilton, 101 Via Cadlolo; 39-06/3509-2055; brunch $73 per adult, $36 per child), whose roof-garden restaurant overlooks St. Peter's.
HOW ROMANS DECK THE HALLS: Buy handmade decorations, Nativity-scene figurines, and traditional Sicilian puppets at the Piazza Navona Market (Dec. 22—Jan. 6).
PARENTS' NIGHT: Slip out for a rooftop dinner by Rome's top chef, Heinz Beck, at La Pergola in the Rome Cavalieri Hilton (101 Via Cadlolo; 39-06/3509-2211; dinner for two $180).
BABY-SITTING: The city's best English-speaking nannies come from Angels (98 Via dei Fienili; 39-06/678-2877; $5—$9 per hour, plus a $14 agency fee), which counts the Bulgari family among its clients.
TO STUFF THOSE STOCKINGS: Città del Sole (65 Via della Scrofa; 39-06/6880-3805) has miniature periscopes, tops, and a tricky table game that will have the family fighting to keep the Leaning Tower of Pisa on its feet.
DESSERT COURSE: Do as the Romans do by taking your pan d'oro Christmas cake (available at virtually every bakery) for a chocolate dip at Moriondo e Gariglio (21—22 Via Piè di Marmo; 39-06/699-0856). Or gorge on little chocolate snowmen, comets, and Christmas trees.
NOT TO MISS: Explora (80 Via Flaminia; 39-06/361-3776), Rome's new hands-on museum for kids under 13, which has a working TV studio and one of Italy's most efficient post offices—run by visiting children.
New York, New York
WHY: The skyline peeking above snowy treetops in Central Park. A Messiah sing-along at Lincoln Center. A chance to experience the-city-that-never-sleeps during a rare downtime.
WHERE TO STAY: For proximity to Central Park (and carriage rides), the key holiday windows (Tiffany, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys), and skating at Rockefeller Center, splurge on the Plaza (768 Fifth Ave., at Central Park S.; 800/527-4727 or 212/759-3000; www.fairmont.com; doubles from $324). Its Young Plaza Ambassadors VIP program for kids 6 to 18 supplies discount passes for museums, restaurants, and stores (including F.A.O. Schwarz, across the street, although only the insane would want to join that crush). For a Time and Again experience on the city's most gorgeous square, try the Gramercy Park Hotel (2 Lexington Ave., at E. 21st St.; 800/221-4083 or 212/475-4320; www.gramercyparkhotel.com; doubles from $170).
CHRISTMAS DINNER: During the 12 days before Christmas, Zoë (90 Prince St.; 212/966-6722; adults $48, kids under 12 $25) has a prix-fixe holiday menu.
THE GIVEAWAY: Christmas cookies and candy for after-dinner strolls in SoHo.
BABES IN TOYLAND: For classic toys and old-fashioned ornaments, check out the Children's General Store (Grand Central Terminal, Park Ave. at 42nd St.; 212/682-0004; and 2473 Broadway, at 92nd St.; 212/580-2723).
HOLIDAY PROMENADE: Head down Fifth Avenue, starting at 59th Street, to see the world's largest menorah; a 27-foot-wide sparkling snowflake; the golden angels flanking Rockefeller Center's towering tree; and the Empire State Building glowing red and green.
ETIQUETTE CHALLENGE: Don party clothes and proper manners for afternoon tea at the Stanhope, Park Hyatt New York (995 Fifth Ave.; 212/288-5800; 3:30—5:30 daily).
SUGAR FIX: Queue up outside Magnolia Bakery (401 Bleecker St.; 212/462-2572) for a cupcake. The best hot chocolate (with homemade marshmallows) is at City Bakery (3 W. 18th St.; 212/366-1414).
FREE FUN: Carol on Park Avenue on December 2 with an organ and brass quartet and a cast of thousands, outside Brick Presbyterian Church (62 E. 92nd St.; 212/289-4400). First Night New York is an alcohol-free festival on New Year's Eve and Day, with music and dancing at landmarks around the city.
. . . AND FOUR MORE FESTIVE IDEAS
YOSEMITE IN THE SNOW: Outside there's snowshoeing, skating, downhill and cross-country skiing; inside, foot-warming fires, family sing-alongs, and talks on bears, bats, and ravens. The Bracebridge Dinner at the 1927 Ahwahnee Hotel is a three-hour pageant with minstrels and a feast that ends with plum pudding (Ahwahnee Hotel, 559/252-4848; www.yosemitepark.com; doubles from $326; children under 12 free; seating for the Bracebridge Dinner is by lottery in February).
GALÁPAGOS ADVENTURE: Journey in a glass-bottomed boat to islands inhabited by sea lions, penguins, and boobies. Visit Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and the weaving and wood-carving villages along the Avenue of the Volcanoes (Travcoa, 800/992-2003; www.travcoa.com; 11 days, doubles from $4,395 per person; $590 each additional person).
CARIBBEAN CRUISE: On December 23, set sail from San Juan, Puerto Rico, on the brand-new 3,114-passenger Adventure, with skating rink and computer center, as well as kids' workshops in printmaking and tinsmithing. After Christmas in Aruba it's on to Curaçao, St. Martin, and St. Thomas (Royal Caribbean International, 800/327-6700; www.royalcaribbean.com; doubles from $2,399 per person; $1,299 each additional person).
COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG CHRISTMAS: Fireworks on December 2 start off the holiday celebration at Colonial Williamsburg, where historic houses are decorated with pineapples and boxwood wreaths, and carolers sing on the steps of the 1770 courthouse (two-day rates at the five hotels in the historic district from $221 per adult; children 5 and under free; 800/404-3389).