Christmas Travel

Traveling over the Christmas holiday has become a bit of a tradition for me and I thought it would be fun to reflect back on some of the places I’ve spent Christmas. It really started as a necessity, trying to squeeze as much out of my PTO as possible, and using holiday weekends certainly helps! Here are some of my favorite winter holiday destinations:

Redstone, Colorado

The first Christmas trip I can recall was when I lived in Seattle; my mom and sister were in Illinois and we decided to meet in the middle. We spent a couple nights at Glenwood Hot Springs and for Christmas Eve, checked into the Redstone Inn. I had no idea how wonderful Christmas could be when there are no dishes to wash at the end of the night! Not to mention hot tubbing in the snow, and a horse-drawn sleigh ride to a neighboring castle!

Christmas Eve sleigh ride at the Redstone Inn

Oahu, Hawaii

A few years later, before my mom retired, she treated us to a Christmas trip to Hawaii. This was my first tropical Christmas and I thought I might miss having a white Christmas, but I really didn’t! In the Midwest, there is plenty of winter before and after Christmas, so I didn’t miss the cold and snow at all. Hawaii is a great winter holiday destination, and you will be singing “mele kalikimaka” before you land!

12/22 - Hale Koa luau

Who wouldn’t want to snorkel with dolphins on Christmas Eve?! (In the wild, of course; not one of those places with poor captive dolphins – that’s disgusting! Thinking about doing it? Read this please.)

12/24 - Waianae Wildlife CruiseSnorkeling with Spinner Dolphins

St. Croix, USVI

My mom and I spend the winter holiday on St Croix in the US Virgin Islands, two years in a row. We returned on Christmas Eve, or left on Christmas day so we could still celebrate at home as well. I suppose if you’re really religious, or have a huge family, spending the actual holiday in an airport could be depressing, but not me! In fact crowds are a bit calmer on the actual holiday as most people don’t want to be in transit. Any of the Virgin Islands would make great winter holiday destinations.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

In 2014, we traveled to the Galapagos Islands over Christmas. This was a 10 day trip, so traveling at Christmas really helped reduce the vacation days I used at work. We planned it more than a year in advance, and ended up celebrating Christmas at my house the day we flew back. Talk about a crazy day – starting in Quito, Ecuador and ending with pizza and guests in Chicago that night!

Group photo - Randy, Elayne, Leigh, Beryl, Mendel, Diane, Heather, Dieter, Lisa


Panama City

Panama City is a great winter holiday destination as it’s a short flight from the States, and a warm, tropical climate. My mom and I spent a Thanksgiving holiday there one year after finding a great deal on Skyscanner.

Barefoot Panama City and Canal TourCasco Viejo

Baja, Mexico

In 2016, I flew to Baja, Mexico on Christmas Day. My present to myself was a first-class seat, which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially given the 5am departure time! (I paid with airline mileage, I could never part with real money like that!)

As you can probably  tell, I’m not much of a sentimental (or religious) person, so missing Christmas isn’t a big deal to me.  I do miss going to my hometown and getting together with my aunts, uncles and cousins at the holidays, but with everyone grown up, married and starting their own families, it was already becoming so difficult to coordinate that we just get together in the summer!  I don’t think my nephew will remember that we celebrated his first Christmas on the 29th instead of the 25th, and even if he does, I’m always going to be that aunt that misses big events because I’m traveling the globe, so they may as well get used to that while they’re young, right?! 🙂

Has you ever celebrated Christmas somewhere other than home? Any suggestions where I should consider for next Christmas?

Check out these great ideas for winter holiday travel! #travel #travelplanning #winterbreak Click To Tweet


Christmas Travel

My All-Time Favorite Hotels

When I was in Cambodia, I fell in love with my hotel and started thinking about how many hotels I’ve stayed in and which ones were truly memorable.  I love staying in hotels, especially nice hotels, but there are definitely a few standouts that make the cut as my all-time favorite hotels.  Many of these aren’t even fancy, but there was something special about them that seared them into memory.

Le Meridien Angkor; Siem Reap, Cambodia

This is the hotel that spawned this list in the first place.  From the second I walked through the entrance and was greeted by a cool washcloth and cold juice, I was smitten.  A gorgeous oasis to retreat from the heat of Cambodia.  Beautifully designed pool and spa area, excellent service and good food, too!

Le Meridien Angkor

Le Meridien Angkor

Renaissance Carambola; St. Croix, US Virgin Islands

My mom and I stayed here two Christmas vacations in a row!  After a late night arrival, waking up to this ocean view was such a treat!  I love a hotel room with outdoor space, and these screened in porches were perfect, not to mention the hammocks and uncrowded beach. This place is a great destination for a quiet escape from the real world.  I know we’ll be back again!

Davis Bay

Hacienda la Jiminita; Quito, Ecuador

We stayed here before and after our Galapagos cruise, and it was so charming, especially the resident French bulldogs, Francois and Maya.  I wish we’d had more time to explore the grounds, but it was another whirlwind trip! This is a place I’d love to return with a pile of books and just relax.  (we know my trips are never relaxing, but maybe someday they will be!)

Casa de Hacienda "La Jimenita" - we spent the first two nights at this cute hacienda near the Quito airport

Breakfast at the hacienda - the food was delicious, and fresh squeezed fruit juice!

Flanigan’s Inn; Springdale, Utah

Oh, Flanigan’s!  Someone on a backpacking forum recommended this place for its proximity to Zion National Park and I visited with my friends in 2008.  I then spent the next 8 years dreaming of a return until I finally made it back in 2016 after my Grand Canyon rafting trip.  On the 2nd visit, I also got to experience the spa and the hilltop labyrinth, which was pretty cool.  Honestly, I think there’s something in the air here that just captivates me.

Flanigan's in Springdale, UT - awesome place to stay!(Photo Credit:  Amy)

The pool at Flanigan's - I love that view!

Redstone Inn; Redstone, Colorado

We’ve been visiting the Redstone area for many summers, and in 2005, my mom, sister and I decided to fly out for Christmas at the Redstone Inn.  What a treat, and I think this started the Christmas travel tradition for us.  We had all our meals in the gorgeous lodge, enjoyed stunning views of the night skies from the hot tub, and even a horse-drawn sleigh ride to nearby Redstone Castle.  What an experience!


Photo Credit: Aspen Valley Film

Christmas Eve sleigh ride at the Redstone Inn

Freestone Inn; Mazama, Washington

My sister and I stayed here on a trip to Washington State, after seeing Dave Matthews Band at the Gorge.   The cabin-like rooms each had their own patio, the lodge was gorgeous, the location remote. I would love to come back here sometime.

Lake outside our deck at Freestone Inn

Heaton’s Guest House; Dingle, Ireland

I don’t even have a photo of Heaton’s, but the Dingle Peninsula was just stunning.  I think we only stayed at Heaton’s 1 night, on a whirlwind trip across Ireland, but it had the perfect location near town right on the water.  I remember saying it would be the perfect place to come back and just relax with a bunch of books.  It’s been 13 years, and I haven’t made it back there yet 🙁

Honorable Mention:

Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park, Texas

This place looked so great, and I really, really want to go back and give it a proper visit.  Unfortunately, when I visited I came down with a cold/flu and spent pretty much the entire time in bed.

Sunset from Skyline Drive(BW)

Far View Lodge at Mesa Verde National Park

I guess I have a thing for lodges?!  This was a short visit on a road trip to Utah and Colorado.  Super cute rooms, good food at the restaurant and of course, stunning scenery and history.

Mesa Verde - my last National park of the trip, and where I would meet my mom.

I have a feeling I will be adding a few more to this list soon!  Any suggestions?


Favorite Hotels


St. Croix, US Virgin Islands

After spending Christmas on Oahu in 2008, I knew how relaxing a tropical Christmas could be. In 2012, I decided to head off any holiday anxiety with a trip to St. Croix, US Virgin Islands.  My mom and I loved it so much, we came back the next year as well!   With a huge travel bucket list that I constantly obsess over, it’s not often that I’ll go back to the same place twice, especially not two years in a row!  (Other than Colorado, of course!)

Arrival in St. Croix is usually via a puddle jumper from San Juan, Puerto Rico.  There are also some connections through Miami.  The first year, we had an 8-hour layover in San Juan on the way home, so we were also able to explore a little bit of the Old Town, which was fun.  I recommend doing this, although we should have researched luggage storage as it was a pain lugging around our carry-ons!

We stayed at the Renaissance Carambola, a Marriott property at the northern end of St. Croix. Some of the online reviews had me a little nervous, but it was absolutely incredible!  Say what you want about chain hotels, but this is the only place I’ll ever stay on St Croix.  I love everything about this resort. Starting with the rum punch they have waiting for you upon arrival. The views and constant sound of crashing waves are pretty awesome, too! Almost all of the rooms are in a short walking distance to the beach – there are some rocky areas, but plenty of sandy spots and loungers along the beach.

My first day was spent at the spa.  I booked the “Beach Ready” package, which included a mani/pedi, facial and full body sugar scrub. It was all amazing, and included lunch from the bar delivered to the relaxation room.  I especially loved the sugar scrub after flying in from cold, dry Chicago!  However, I was there almost the whole day, so I wish I had done the mani/pedi back home and had more beach time that first day.

St Croix BeachWhile visiting St. Croix is all about relaxing, we have done a few excursions during our visits. The full day snorkel tour to Buck Island with Big Beard’s is a must. For less than $100, you get an all day cruise, two opportunities to snorkel near Buck Island, a beach cookout and all-you-can-drink rum punch.  And an amusing show by the island mongoose who gather for scraps at the lunch spot.

Another highlight of any visit is the Friday night Pirate Buffet at our hotel, which includes a performance by the Mocko Jumbies. Even if you aren’t staying at the Renaissance, I think this is worth the trip out.  The buffet has tons of delicious options, but everyone comes for the show.
St. Croix Mocko Jumbie

We also took a shuttle into Fredriksted one day, but found it was pretty quiet and didn’t offer much in the way of shopping or sightseeing.  Apparently, when cruise ships are in, there are more vendors along the beach, but we tried to avoid the cruise ship crowds.  I would recommend sticking to Christiansted if you are looking for anything to do.

Knowing that the towns on St Croix didn’t have much going on, we didn’t feel the need to explore them again on our 2nd trip. Instead, we booked a day of island hopping via seaplane.  After a short flight, we were on St. Thomas, which is the glitziest of the US Virgin Islands.  We quickly passed the yacht harbor with upscale shopping, and caught a taxi to the ferry dock at Red Hook. The ferry took us to St. John, the most pristine of the US Virgin Islands, where much of the island is designated a National Park.  We took a taxi to Cinnamon Bay, marveling at the postcard perfect beaches around every bend in the road.  St. John is truly magnificent! It’s a bit of planes, ferries and automobiles to get there, but totally worth it!

Boarding the Seaplane to St Thomas

Cinnamon Bay, St John

 All in all, St. Croix is a perfect island getaway!  (Did I mention no cell service?) If you are looking for a full plate of activities, getting back and forth to town from the Carambola can be expensive.  It’s easiest to stay on property and take advantage of the quiet location and sugar sand beach. Car rentals are available, but the cars are American, while the roads are British – driving on the left, but the steering wheel is also on the left!  Roads are narrow and windy, so I haven’t tried driving yet!

Both times that I’ve left St Croix, I’m immediately working numbers in my head to figure out when I can come back.  Carambola Beach has a special place in my heart and I hope I’m lucky enough to come back many more times in the future!

My full Yelp review of the Renaissance Carambola can be found here.

St Croix