For all the cheer of Christmas, Smart Traveller appreciates that the festive season - with absent loved ones and familial quirks - can be an exercise in endurance. For those in need of escape, here are some journeys, with availability, far from inappropriate uncles and silly hats.
In Russia, Christmas lunch in St Petersburg's Stroganov Palace, a visit to Catherine's Palace and ballet or opera at the Mariinsky Theatre are part of a four-night trip. From $4390 a person, twin share, including return flights with Emirates departing Australia on December 23. Phone the Russian Travel Centre on 1300 668 844.
Princess Cruises' Dawn Princess sails from Melbourne on December 15 on a 13-night round-trip cruise to New Zealand. There will be strolling carol singers, gingerbread making and slow-roasted turkey and pudding served. Mass and non-denominational church services will be conducted by on-board clergy and Hanukkah is also celebrated on board. The ship stops at Dunedin, Akaroa, Wellington, Napier, Tauranga, Auckland and Fiordland. It costs from $1419 a person, twin share. The Diamond Princess sails from Sydney on December 14 on a 14-night cruise to Auckland and includes stops at Hobart, Melbourne, Fiordland and Marlborough Sounds. From $1799 a person, twin share. See princess.com.
P&O Cruises' Pacific Pearl sails from Sydney on December 17 on a 10-night cruise to the Pacific islands. Ports include Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Santa visits the ship and a traditional Christmas meal is served. From $999 a person, twin share. See pocruises.com.au.
The MSC Fantasia departs Santos in Brazil on December 22 for a seven-night cruise that calls in to Buzios, Salvador on Christmas Day and Ilha Grande. Phone MSC Cruises on 1300 028 502, see msccruises.com.au.
In Switzerland, a seven-day trip from Zurich to Geneva includes a visit to a baroque abbey and library in Einsiedeln, Old Montreux and a tour of Chillon Castle. From $2465 a person, twin share (land only), departing December 23. Phone 1300 237 886, see insightvacations.com.
In Spain and Portugal, a 13-day Christmas journey includes the Church of Santo Tome in Toledo, the architecture of Lisbon, Cordoba and Seville and Christmas Day lunch in Salamanca. Departs Madrid on December 16. From $1696 a person, twin share (land only). See trafalgar.com.
Gaze into the abyss
Lovers of icy altitude are in for new thrills with the December opening of a suspension bridge on Mount Titlis in central Switzerland. At 3020 metres above sea level, the 100-metre-long bridge will be the highest in Europe and marks a century of the Engelberg-Gerschnialp cableway connecting the two towns close to the mountain. The route to the bridge takes guests from the mountain station through a 140-metre tunnel to a chairlift, then on to the open-air bridge. Visitors will be able to see 500 metres into the abyss of the Titlis south wall. Entry is free.
Scourge of the skies
The ideal airline passenger is male, thirtysomething and travelling for business, according to a survey of more than 700 international cabin crew conducted by Skyscanner. The biggest gripe for 26 per cent of cabin crew is passengers who click their fingers to gain attention; passengers heading for the exit before seatbelt signs are switched off (13 per cent); and flyers stuffing too much into overhead lockers (11 per cent). Surveyed cabin crew also preferred to work in economy rather than premium class.
New year, new spot
In a first for Clark Island in Sydney Harbour National Park, New Year's Eve revellers can ring in 2013 on the patch of land off the tip of Darling Point near Double Bay. Trees will be adorned with lighting and there will be picnic blankets and cushions on which to lie back and watch the fireworks. The event costs $440 a person and includes ferry transfers, a food hamper and drinks.
Jenolan's triple gold
Jenolan Caves in the NSW Greater Blue Mountains Heritage Area, has won three golds at this week's 2012 NSW Tourism Council Awards. The caves won the council's ecotourism, heritage and cultural tourism, and adventure tourism categories. The caves are about 340 million years old and are some of the world's most spectacular.
Visitors can explore key, brightly lit caves with a guide or take an adventure deeper into the earth, armed with a headlamp and a decent pair of boots.
Melbourne Museum award
For the third year, the Melbourne Museum has taken the top prize in the major tourism attraction category at the RACV Victorian Tourism Awards, entering the hall of fame in the process. The Suzuki Night Market took top prize in festivals and events, and Habitat HQ in St Kilda won for best backpacker accommodation. The Peninsula Hot Springs won for best tourist attraction and health and wellbeing tourism.
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