Head to the states for snowy fun and winter sun
Anyone who has been to a hotel in the US around Christmas will know that Americans don’t do understatement when it comes to what is known across the pond as ‘the holiday season’.
Trees are taller, baubles are bigger, and every spare corner is festooned with fairy lights. If, like me, you love a big, boisterous Christmas, it’s awesome.
But the US in winter has something to offer even grinches who don’t like to feel festive.
From fantastic skiing to balmy spots in the south where they can leave Britain’s chill behind and bask in the warm sunshine, the breadth of choice means you really shouldn’t regard the States only as a summer holiday option – it’s a year-round all-rounder.
1. New York
Christmastime in the Big Apple conjures scenes from dozens of favourite movies, and clients can tick off a whole host of classic winter experiences in the run-up to December 25.
Fans of Miracle on 34th Street should head for Macy’s Santaland where they’ll find the big man in red himself, plus elves and snow.
Recommend coming early or late though – it gets busy in the middle of the day.
A huge tree has graced Rockefeller Center Plaza since 1931, and this year the lighting ceremony will take place on December 2. Clients can visit from 5.30am-midnight every day until January 6 – they’ll get the biggest impact after dark.
The ice rink here may be famous, but it’s small and expensive. Suggest they head for the rink in Central Park instead, which is just as atmospheric. And don’t let them forget to book a seasonal show – Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular is the classic, with high-kicking Rockettes and dancing Santas.
And no doubt some shopping will be in order. The window displays on Fifth Avenue are spectacular, but they’ll find better bargains out at Woodbury Common Premium Outlets, which is served by shuttle bus from the city.
Why not suggest they convert all their measurements to American sizing in advance, so they’re not foxed by the labels in the shops?
Find out more: nycgo.com
Been Christmas shopping in New York before? Or just looking for a smaller, savvier sister city?
Boston is a more compact city and its sales tax is lower than New York’s, so your clients’ dollars will go further and their feet will be a little less tired.
Funway Holidays’ Rebecca Evans recommends shoppers use the Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Tour, which the operator offers for £25.
“Get off at Copley Square for some shopping on Boston’s hip Newbury Street and a walk around the extravagant Copley shopping centre,” she recommends.
Snow is a strong possibility at this time of year, and visitors can get into the festive spirit with ice-skating on Frog Pond in the middle of Boston Common, where’s there’s also a large nativity scene and ice sculptures, or head to Boston Opera House for a performance of The Nutcracker, which runs throughout December.
For something more adult, there’s a burlesque version, for over-18s only, called The Slutcracker that has been running since 2008 at the city’s Somerville Theatre.
Find out more: massholiday.co.uk
3. New Orleans
Want a completely different festive feel? Look south to a city that knows how to party but won’t set you shivering.
It’s 10 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, so it’s surely time for clients to head over and see how it’s bounced back.
It’s still warm enough to eat outside in the run up to Christmas – summer here is really pretty sweaty – and there’ll be fewer other tourists getting in the way.
From November 27 until January 2 the whole of City Park is lit up with colourful displays for Celebration of the Oaks.
For clients who like cuisine, recommend they book a Reveillon dinner. This tradition started among the Creole community in the 19th century, but now instead of a traditional banquet at home, dozens of New Orleans restaurants offer special Creole-inspired menus during the holiday season.
Winter is also perfect timing for the parades the city is so famous for, from Halloween through the Krew of Jingle holiday parade, with its Christmas characters, floats and marching bands, on December 1, to the big daddy of them all, Mardi Gras, which falls on February 9 next year.
Find out more: neworleanscvb.com
4. Sun Valley, Idaho
It’s a far longer flight than the Alps, but skiing in America can really be worth it. Excellent-quality powder is one benefit, plus groomed slopes, modern lift systems, fewer queues and good ski tuition.
However, the après-ski doesn’t really happen on the scale of the Alps, so bear that in mind for very party focused clients.
Idaho’s Sun Valley is the oldest ski resort in the US, and has just reopened its completely redesigned Sun Valley Resort and added a swanky spa to the property.
There are fewer, bigger rooms, and six suites named after the stars who have stayed here, from Marilyn Monroe (her suite has the best views of the slopes) to Ernest Hemingway, who wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls here.
The area is still a popular spot with celebrities – suggest lunch at Cristina’s in Ketchum to see who clients can spot – and is famous for both Alpine and Nordic skiing.
There is beginner, intermediate and expert terrain, plus a snowboarding superpipe – just one of five Olympic-sized half-pipes in North America.
If clients want to feel festive, suggest a horse-drawn sleigh ride to Trail Creek Cabin – try to book a table near the fireplace – or take the gondola at night for a moonlit dinner at The Roundhouse, Sun Valley’s gourmet mountain dining spot, which also has the best night-time views.
Find out more: sunvalley.com
5. Park City, Utah
True ski aficionados should head for Utah. The enormous Park City Mountain Resort will make history as it joins forces with neighbouring resort Canyons to form one of the largest interconnecting ski areas in the world – and the largest in America, bigger than Vail and Beaver Creek combined.
Karen Anderson of Ski Independence says: “Park City already has an incredible snow record and now with the addition of even more state-of-the-art ski lifts, this truly is a snow sports paradise.”
A new eight-passenger, high-speed, two-way gondola, named Quicksilver, will transport skiers from the base of the existing Silverlode Lift at Park City to the Flatiron Lift at Canyons, and there’ll be a new 500-seat indoor restaurant at the base.
The town is lively, with a great choice of bars and restaurants – you may be in Mormon country, but Park City sure isn’t dry – and accommodation is wide-ranging too, from luxury hotels to good-value options like the Park City Peaks Hotel, a favourite with Ski Independence guests.
Non-skiers won’t be bored, with dog-sledding, snowshoeing and fly-fishing on offer and even an Olympic Bobsled track to have a go on – a professional driver pilots the four-man sled down at 80mph.
Find out more: visitparkcity.com
Next year is the centenary of the US National Parks service, and Wyoming’s wonderful Yellowstone was the first to be established.
It’s not just somewhere to visit in summer, so clients can get in early and be among the first to visit in the centenary year by checking it out in all its snowy glory in January and February.
There are plenty of benefits to the time of year – bison, foxes and Yellowstone’s famous wolf packs show up better against the snow, and there will be far fewer crowds even at tourist highlights like Old Faithful. Snowcoach rides are the best way to visit – some of the interior roads are closed to cars – and can be reserved from the north, south or west entrances to the park.
National Park ranger-led programmes are on offer, plus guided snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobile tours. Only two lodgings are available within the park in winter – Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins and Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins.
For those who’d rather someone else got them organised, escorted touring operators offering winter itineraries include Trafalgar’s eight day Secrets & Winter Wonders of Yellowstone, and Tauck’s nine-day Wonderland: Yellowstone in Winter, both with January and February departures.
A trip to see Mickey has to be the best early Christmas present for many a child, and average temperatures in Orlando sit at around 17C in December – more comfortable for some than the hotter days of summer.
And there are plenty of special events to make the visit sparkle, including Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom, a ticketed event beginning at 7pm with cookies, cocoa and snow flurries on Main Street, followed by a festive parade, dance party, stage show and fireworks.
Disney characters in Christmas costumes will be available throughout the park for meet-and-greets, and iconic Jungle Cruise turns into a Jingle Cruise for the holidays.
At Epcot’s Candlelight Processional, celebrity narrators tell the Christmas story, and kids can meet Santa and Mrs Claus. All the resort’s hotels are decked fittingly, with a 16 foot high Victorian gingerbread house in the lobby of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort.
Over at Universal Studios there’s the all-singing, all-dancing Macy’s Holiday Parade, and at Islands of Adventure the Grinchmas Who liday Spectacular, a live retelling of Dr Seuss’s classic tale, plus character breakfasts with The Grinch and friends.
Find out more: visitorlando.com
There’s never a bad time to head to a paradise island, and average winter temperatures in Hawaii stick at around 25C, so it’s a tempting prospect. It’s a little rainier than in summer, but showers are short, and there’s the added bonus that you’ll find far fewer other tourists, and that winter is whale-watching season.
Between December and May, two-thirds of the North Pacific’s humpback whale population return to Hawaii to breed, calve and nurse their young – so this is the time to come and spot baby whales on a whale-watching tour, or they can frequently be seen from land.
The island’s clear waters are perfect for snorkelling – suggest Honaunau Bay in Hawaii Island, Haumana Bay on Oahu, and Molokini on Maui to see sea turtles and colourful fish.
Or suggest a scenic flight: Maverick Helicopters, best known for its Grand Canyon flights out of Vegas, offers options out of Maui.
How to choose your island? Well, Kauai offers dramatic natural beauty; Oahu has big surf waves and plenty of modern amenities; Hawaii Island is larger than all the others combined and has a vast variety of terrain; Maui has some of the best beaches in the world; Molokai is culturally rich; and Lanai, without even a single traffic light, is a truly secluded getaway.
Find out more: gohawaii.com/uk
9. Palm Springs
While the northern states shiver, southern California basks, particularly if you head for the desert. Palm Springs’ winter daytime temperatures sit between 21C and 27C, and though just three hours from LA, its swaying palms and desert landscapes backed by the San Jacinto Mountains make it seem a world away from the urban grime.
Celebrities have long appreciated its appeal – everyone from Frank Sinatra to Liz Taylor had homes here – and it’s still home to some seriously swanky hotels.
Shopping is chic, restaurants are stylish, and there are plenty of art galleries and museums for cultured visitors.
It’s a treasure-trove of mid-century modern architecture – the annual Modernism Week runs from February 11-21 next year – with house and walking tours and parties, but guided tours are available year round.
Winter temperatures are perfect for golf, and the area is home to more than 100 courses. Clients can take hikes in national parks, or cheat and ride up the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which ascends Mount San Jacinto for spectacular views.
And if they want to relax, hot spring water feeds 22 spa resorts just 15 minutes from downtown.
Find out more: visitpalmsprings.com
10. Dude Ranch
Any client who has dreamed of riding with cowboys doesn’t have to make this dream come true only in summer.
Arizona’s winter temperatures can be around 24C and there are dozens of dude ranches to choose from. Large properties such as Rancho de los Caballeros offer horseback riding over 20,000 acres of the Sonoran Desert, plus there’s an 18-hole golf course, tennis, cookouts, hiking and a swimming pool for saddle-sore days.
Or, clients can embrace the season and head for a ranch somewhere where the snow will fall, such as Colorado.
Here, Vista Verde Guest Ranch has a winter riding programme, taking slightly shorter, slower rides along frosted trails as well as riding in a heated indoor arena. Sleigh rides, skiing, snowshoeing, snow-tubing and a special kids’ snow programme are also on offer.
Find out more: visitarizona.com/colorado.com
Funway Holidays offers three nights at the four-star Sheraton Boston from £675 including Virgin Atlantic flights from Heathrow on December 8. funway4agents.co.uk
Ski Independence offers seven nights with breakfast at the Park City Peaks hotel in Park City from £1,118 including United Airlines flights from Heathrow, departing January 13, and transfers. ski-i.com
Trafalgar offers an eight-day Secrets and Winter Wonders of Yellowstone tour from £2,826 land-only for departures in January and February. trafalgar.com
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