Chicago, Four Seasons
Come Christmas time and the ”windy city” transforms into the “wonder city”. The holidays kick off on November 20 with the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, as twinkling lights decorate the strip from Michigan Avenue to the Chicago River. There’s a flamboyant procession with free activities that set the festive mood for the coming weeks, including a ice-skating rink at a festivally decorated Millennium Park with the impressive Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan as a backdrop
There’s more sparkle at the historic Navy Pier with 750,000 lights, 25,000 ornaments, and hundreds of decorated trees, while the Christkindlmarket Festival is the largest Christmas market in the US, showcasing German foods and trinkets. For kitsch family entertainment, see the ultimate feel-good musical – Irving Berlin’s White Christmas at Bank of America Theatre from December 15 to January 2.
Stay at the Four Seasons, where children can snuggle up in pint-size robes and enjoy colouring books, DVDs and toys. A Bedtime Stories Butler visits your room with a selection of festive storybooks presented on a silver tray and reads to your children, and The Ice Cream Man brings his soda fountain to your room
for ice-cream sundaes (£4 per person). You can also use the hotel’s Radio Flyer wagons – perfect for being pulled through Millennium Park. From £393 per night for a family of four in an Executive Suite, but stay three nights and get the third night free. Visit www.fourseasons.com/chicago
Benguerra Island, Mozambique
It’s not only snowy whiteness that adds to the Christmas spirit: soft white sand is equally mesmerising for those who prefer sizzling sun to snowflakes. Azura on the tranquil Benguerra Island is a gorgeous beach retreat that’s perfect for a relaxing Christmas break for parents as you can enjoy an island-hopping trip, learn about the local wildlife with the resident marine biologist or simple wander barefoot from your villa to the beach.
One of the biggest attractions is the new children’s programme that’s packed with exciting and educational activities, including a Padi Bubblemaker course, fishing, shell hunting on the white sands, seeing crocodiles or simply star-gazing into the night sky. There’s a host of indoor fun to be had as well, including the chance to bake delicious cookies with one of the hotel’s top chefs or even enjoy a specially tailored treatment at Azura’s African spa, such as a girls’ pamper party.
From £1,383 per night for a family of four staying in the Villa Amizade all-inclusive, with your own butler, massage, island drive and children’s activities. Visit www.elegantresorts.co.uk
Lily Beach Resort, Maldives
It’s sandcastles rather than snowmen that your children will be building at the tranquil five-star luxury resort of the Lily Beach Resort & Spa in Huvahendhoo in the Maldives. There’s plenty for parents to indulge in too, with a choice of open-air and fine-dining restaurants, and with the Platinum Plan, everything is included, so there are no hidden extras. The Turtles children’s club is for ages four to 12 years and features a host of fun activities, from treasure hunts and cookie decorating, to arts and crafts and sandcastle-making, as well as a guided island tour – all with a suitably festive theme.
The vibe is very much chill out and relax – Tamara, the over-water spa is a wonderful haven of peace and tranquillity – but there’s a choice of sports activities and evening entertainment available, too, should you and your family fancy a little more activity. And instead of settling down to an evening of Christmas television at home, sitting on your verandah watching a dusty pink sunset sounds rather more appealing, doesn’t it? Four people staying a Lagoon Villa from December 21–29 costs £12,775. Visit www.kuoni.co.uk
Whitby Lighthouse, Yorkshire
Like a shining beacon of whiteness – quite literally – Whitby Lighthouse provides a rather unconventional setting for the festive season, but at least Santa’s reindeer should have no trouble finding your family’s location with a beaming bright light to guide them!
Overlooking the white-capped waves of the North Sea, Whitby is set among fine stretches of coastline with a host of spectacular cliffs, beaches and bays. It also has a beautiful sandy beach – perfect for a bracing winter walk, and just nine miles away is the village of Goathland, the setting for the drama Heartbeat, in which visitors can see the stunning scenery which abounds in the area. This traditional maritime town, with its old cobbled streets, picturesque houses and sandy Blue Flag Beach, is a great place for a short family break – amazing winter walks, cosy nooks and places to explore.
Seven nights at the three-bedroom Galatea cottage costs £785, including a luxury festive hamper and Christmas tree and decorations. Tel: 01386 701177 or visit www.ruralretreats.co.uk
Typically a popular destination for escaping the chill of a UK winter, Florida guarantees snowfall – it falls four times a night at the Now Snowing extravaganza in the town of Celebration. There’s also an ice rink, Charles Dickens’ Carollers, horse-drawn carriage rides, and the Celebration Express train. As you’d expect, Orlando’s theme parks also go to town with festive spectaculars and regular ‘snow’ flurries – this is the land of make-believe, after all. At Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom, enjoy Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas with parades and fireworks and a wintry glisten to Cinderella’s castle. It’s Grinchmas at Universal Island Of Adventure with a musical performance of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. And at SeaWorld try The Polar Express Experience trip to the North Pole and there’s also a Hawaiian-style welcome at the Seafire Inn with the Makahiki Christmas Luau.
For old-style glamour, stay at the Peabody Orlando, where your child can watch the parade of Peabody Ducks waddle through the foyer. A Superior or Deluxe guestroom, with VIP Participation in the March of the Peabody Ducks, $100 food and beverage credit and valet parking costs from £190 per night. Visit www.peabodyorlando.com
For a funkier vibe, the Mona Lisa Suites Hotel in Celebration is minutes from Walt Disney World, and has luxurious suites with living areas, kitchens and balconies overlooking the infinity pool or lush Florida landscape. A two-bedroom suite in December costs from £127. Visit www.monalisasuitehotel.com. Flights to Orlando from £619 with Virgin Atlantic (www.virginatlantic.com). For details of events, visit www.christmasinorlando.com
Le Manoir, Oxfordshire
A visit to Monsieur Blanc’s haute hotel and restaurant in Oxfordshire, Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons, is a treat at any time of the year, but for Christmas it has to be a gourmand family’s ultimate delight. For that snowy-white feel, stay in the Blanc de Blanc suite, which is layered in shades of white ready to be boldly punctuated with colourfully wrapped presents!
Christmas Eve kicks off with relaxing pampering treatments for mummies followed by mulled wine and festivities – there’s also a lovely Midnight Mass at the neighbouring 12th-century St Peter’s church – though younger guests will no doubt be tucked up in bed and dreaming of Santa by this time. On Christmas Day, the private dining room, La Belle Epoque, will be magically transformed into a games room where children will be able to play Nintendo Wii, table tennis and giant Jenga, while lunch will be a very grand eight-course affair celebrating both French and English seasonal traditions. On Boxing Day, there’s complimentary tickets to The Sound Of Music starring Connie Fisher at the New Theatre in Oxford, while the highlight for December 27 is a chocolate cookery demonstration in the Raymond Blanc Cookery School.
From £965 per person for a two-night break, based on two people sharing, including accommodation, activities and excursions and meals. It costs £45 per child per night staying in an adults’ room, including breakfast. Tel: 01844 278881 or visit www.manoir.com
The Grand, Eastbourne
Affectionately known as “The White Palace”, The Grand takes on an even more majestic feel at Christmas. Children have their own festive buffet lunch in the Norfolk Room each day, and children’s high tea will be also served daily from 5:30pm. In the afternoon on Christmas Eve, there will be a Family General Knowledge Quiz, with a Fortnum & Mason hamper (filled with plenty of chocolate!) for the winner. The hours of Christmas Eve draw to a close with carols sung by the choir of St Mary’s in the Great Hall before Christmas Eve Dinner. On Christmas day, a hearty English breakfast is served, while children are greeted by one of Santa’s helpers who has a surprise for each one. Following the presents, the nearby Bandstand presents a traditional family Christmas concert, and from there families can return to The Grand where children are invited to a Christmas Party with entertainment, games, party food and a visit from Santa, while adults have their own fun with Virtual Winter Sports on the big screen. On Boxing Day, children will have tickets reserved to the Cinderella pantomime at Devonshire Park Theatre. There are also goodies for all ages with mini-size robes and activity packs for tiny guests and free mocktails for teens.
A Junior Suite from December 23–27 costs £1,250 per adult, including meals, entertainment, and drinks receptions. Children aged 2–14 cost £35 per day, including breakfast, lunch, high tea and entertainment. Visit www.elitehotels.co.uk
Santa Magic in Finland
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a touch of magic from the big laughing fella himself. Head north for a four-day trip to Nellim in Finland, a small and picturesque town nudging the Russian border next to the impressive Lake Inari.
Stay at the family-run Nellim Wilderness Lodge and you’ll be doing your bit to support the Finnish Lapland tourism trade. It has a Safari House with sleds, toboggans and skis, all free for guest use. Next door are the husky kennels, whose occupants can take you for a snowy sleigh ride, or you may want to visit the frozen lake Inari for tobogganing, ice fishing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or mini-snowmobiling. You’ll also be treated to a meet-and-greet with Father Christmas at a secret location in the forest, and a cross-country trip via tundra, ice sheet and forest floor to the home of Rudolph, Donner and Prancer.
Departures to Nellim are available from Nordic Experience on December 19 at £1,225 per adult and £995 per child, including flights, transfers, full board, meals, thermal clothing and all activities. Visit www.nordicexperience.co.uk
The Hillside Su Hotel, Turkey
White is the unifying theme of the five-star Hillside Su Hotel in Antalya, Turkey, like a blank canvas onto which the hotel’s beautiful surroundings – tangerine trees, azure Mediterranean seas and the soft glow of red, yellow, pink and blue lights for the colour and warmth of Turkey – have been contrasted. The ambiance is contemporary and funky, from its lit exterior to the vast lobby with its own disco ball, this is a grown-up hotel that loves children, too, and has a host of fun activities and amenities, including children’s play areas and mini club.
The rooms of the Hillside Su are completely white, right down to the televisions, and are equipped with state-of-the-art gadgets, such as mood lighting, as well as a sea-view balcony with sofa. There are a number of dining options for your Christmas dinner, ranging from Mediterranean to Japanese cuisine, as well as bars serving a full range of drinks. The hotel is also close to a Blue Flag beach, renowned for cleanliness and safety – expect exotic camel rides rather than donkeys – and the hotel also provides two swimming pools – one outdoors with underwater music and lights, and a heated indoor pool. There is also a comprehensive spa and gym with fitness classes, tennis and squash courts.
Seven nights at the five-star Hillside Su Hotel, Turkey, costs from £1,715 for a family of three, including B&B and return flights from London Gatwick on December 21. Visit www.thomascook.com
Lake Louise, Canada
Sleigh bells ring out as you take a magical trip alongside the glimmering, frozen Lake Louise in Alberta. There’s also all manner of snowy fun on offer, from ice skating and cross-country skiing to snowshoeing (you know, when it looks like you’re wearing old-style tennis rackets on your feet), as part of the fabulously festive package at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, which guarantees the whitest of Christmases.
There are plenty of diversions within the luxury confines of the hotel, including family movie screenings, decorating the Chateau’s Charlie Brown Christmas tree, decorating Christmas stockings, making gingerbread cookies and Santa’s workshop and games nights. For the grown-ups, there’s a massive choice of seven great restaurants, as well as wine tasting – all alongside the picture-perfect setting that is the stunning Lake Louise.
Seven nights at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in a Deluxe Lakeview room with Prestige Holidays costs from £6,596 for a family of four, including Air Canada economy flights and transfers. Visit www.prestigeholidays.co.uk
Chalet Grace, Switzerland
Imagine waking up on Christmas morning in a gorgeously luxe surroundings with snow on all sides. Chalet Grace is a spectacular designer chalet overlooking Zermatt village and the Matterhorn, with double-height floor-to-ceiling windows on all three levels that provide you with stunning panoramic views of the majestic mountains.
On arrival, children will be invited to decorate the Christmas tree, with carols playing and Christmas films in the DVD library to add to the festive ambiance, while your personal chef bakes fresh mince pies, Christmas cakes, and yummy biscuits. There’s a dedicated afternoon for the children to make Christmas goodies, a sledging competition followed by snowball fights, and a competition to make the best snowman and snow angel. Your guide can also take guests on a lovely mountain walk to hunt out any tell-tale tracks from Santa’s sleigh, before the man himself makes a guest appearance bearing gifts. And what better way to get warm and cosy after that frosty outdoors than to settle in front on the impressive French stone open fireplace?
One week over Christmas costs from £3,000 per person, based on 12 sharing, and this includes dedicated first-class service from the chalet staff, champagne reception, daily breakfast and afternoon tea, children’s supper every day, champagne and canapés each night, dinner on six nights, an open spirits bar and a range of soft drinks and carefully selected house wines, as well as a private chauffeured 4x4. Flights are not included in the price, but can be arranged by The Oxford Ski Company. Tel: 1865 398130
or visit www.oxfordski.com.
Sanbona, South Africa
The rare majestic white lions of the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve add an amazing twist to a white Christmas. Between towering mountains and wide-open plains, Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is the only location in the world where nature lovers can see white lions roaming free. The Gondwana Family Lodge resembles a typical thatched Karoo homestead and has children’s activity rooms, a spacious lawn, an outdoor play area and pool. A guide will even take children through the gardens of Gondwana to learn all about the local animals, looking out for tracks and, er… animal dung.
After an exhilarating few days tracking the white lions, families can head to the white sands of the Western Cape to Last Word Long Beach hotel in Cape Town, which has simply stunning views across the white sands and rolling waves. Situated in a picturesque lobster-fishing village, the hotel promises a relaxing, quiet seaside break with horse and camel rides along the beach, while at nearby Simonstown, children can spot some more distinctive black and white creatures: the local penguin colonies who waddle across the rocks before diving into the Atlantic waters beyond Cape Point.
A seven-night trip with Southern Africa Travel staying at Sanbona and Last Word Long Beach costs from £11,990 for a family of four, excluding flights but including car hire, full board and game activities at Sanbona and B&B at Last Word Long Beach. Visit www.southernafricatravel.co.uk
Junior's guide to igloos and snowy fun is an excellent place to look for interesting travel ideas.