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Plan B For the Holidays

By: Arushi Mehra

First the bad news: If you haven’t booked a holiday trip in the tropics yet, you’re probably out of luck. Hotels in the Caribbean, Mexico and Hawaii filled up faster than usual this year, thanks to Mother Nature. The good news? The world is a big place, and there are plenty of other amazing destinations with room for your end-of-year celebrations. We’ve chosen four unconventional spots that have availability over Christmas and/or New Year’s. And we guarantee your January water-cooler chat will be more interesting than “I sat on a beach.”


Angkor was once the seat of the Khmer Empire and the largest city in the world, home to 0.1% of the world’s population. (And you thought the parking lot at the mall was busy!) That was back in the 10th to 13th centuries; nowadays, it's thronged with visitors exploring the incredible architecture. December and January have ideal weather—dry and not too hot—and if the crowds get overwhelming, retreat to the Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor. Itself once home to Cambodian royalty, the resort is just five miles from the ruins and has a massive pool, Art Deco interiors and a spa with traditional Khmer-inspired treatments. 


No, we’re not going down the “Put Christ Back Into Christmas” route. But the holiday season is a special time in the Holy Land, no matter how religious you are (or aren’t). The little town of Bethlehem is replete with lights, concerts and holiday markets, while Jerusalem gets into the, um, spirit with processions, street parties and special masses. Tel Aviv is much more secular, so focus on the chic shopping and excellent food scene—this month, in honor of Hanukkah, sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts) and potato latkes are on many menus. Stay at the Ritz-Carlton, Herzliya, on the beach just north of the city with a rooftop pool and a private boat for excursions on the Mediterranean.


As if San Francisco wasn’t charming enough already, imagine it festooned in holiday lights, with people in high spirits and the fog creeping in on little cat feet. It’s a wonderful time to stay in a classic grand hotel like the Fairmont San Francisco, the grande dame of Nob Hill. The hotel pulls out all the stops for the holiday season, with an enormous Christmas brunch and a life-size, two-story gingerbread house crafted with pounds of icing, candy, and gingerbread sticks. On New Year’s, the Fairmont's a perfect perch for watching the fireworks (our agents can request a room with a view when you book)—and late check-out the next day is automatic.


Yes, we said earlier that it’s probably too late to spend the holidays in the Caribbean, but this is a little bit different. By staying at the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, you can sway on the beach, sip a tropical drink and do a good deed at the same time. The beachfront hotel is in the Condado area of San Juan, which is back up and running even as the rest of the island continues its post-hurricane recovery. So enjoy Champagne toasts, fireworks over the warm Caribbean water, and locally inspired cuisine at 1919 Restaurant—knowing that whatever you spend is helping the island’s economy. What could be more in keeping with the holiday spirit?