The pressure of expectation, traditions and family can make you either love or loathe the festive season. While many wouldn't dare forego the traditional Christmas with all the trimmings, others would rather be anywhere else but home – with that one strange uncle, the in-laws and the pressure to do what's expected rather than what you'd really like to do.
The other, appealing, option is to say goodbye to expectation and reward yourself with a Christmas getaway. However, holidaying in Australia over summer – and let's face it, practically anywhere – during the peak festive season is downright expensive. Tom Walley, head of Leisure Travel at Flight Centre, says the period between Christmas and New Year's operates as its own travel season, with pricing based on increased demand, rather than factors like weather conditions that usually drive pricing. Subsequently, travel at Christmas is priced at a premium no matter where you want to go, and the closer to Christmas you book, the more expensive it will be.
"A destination Christmas is a great way to do something different for a memorable celebration. For families, Thailand is great for a tropical Christmas as locals embrace the celebration, making it a unique festive break, while a white Christmas in Europe is the quintessential festive experience."
Flight Centre's No. 1 tip for travellers looking to get away at Christmas is to book super early as many travellers book nine to 12 months in advance. If you're anything like me and completely unorganised, Traveller offers 16 fabulous destinations where you can celebrate the silly season in style, if not this year, then next.
A WHITE CHRISTMAS
THE PLACE Niseko Village, Japan
The experience: Known as the "Prince of Powder", Niseko is the jewel in the crown of Hokkaido, a region brimming with ski resorts and a favourite with Australian skiers. Think champagne powder snow, views of Mount Yotei (the Mount Fuji of the north), Japanese cuisine and onsens (natural hot springs) to soothe weary ski legs.
BEST FOR Families of fairly competent skiers and groups of friends.
DON'T MISS Have your photo taken with reindeer or go reindeer sledding. On Christmas Eve catch the fireworks over the village and see Santa Claus. Early risers can uphold the Japanese tradition of viewing the sunrise on the first day of the year by riding the gondola for spectacular views across the mountain.
THE DETAILS Kasara Niseko Village Townhouses are located at the heart of the village and embody the Japanese charm and elegance of the Edo period with ski runs and lifts a mere heartbeat away. From $2019 per townhouse, per night. See kasara.com/nisekovillage. The Hilton Niseko Village at the south base of Niseko Annupuri Mountain offers ski-in, ski-out access from $612 per night, twin share. See placeshilton.com/niseko-village.
THE PLACE Antarctica
THE EXPERIENCE Leave tradition and Christmas madness behind and head to one of the most remote regions on earth: Antarctica. Immerse yourself in a polar wonderland filled with incredible scenery, curious wildlife and a guaranteed white Christmas.
BEST FOR Multi-generational families; nature lovers, singles.
DON'T MISS Sea kayak among majestic icebergs and get up close with one of the world's largest penguin colonies, playful seals and breaching whales. Sing Christmas carols, decorate the tree and gather for a roast turkey lunch with all the trimmings.
THE DETAILS Sail from Ushuaia in Argentina on December 22 aboard Silver Explorer for a 12-day round trip, including shore excursions, Relais & Chateaux cuisine, festive activities, onboard educational talks, butler service and more, priced from $21,101 per person, twin-share, in an Explorer Suite. See silversea.com
THE PLACE Telluride, Colorado, USA
THE EXPERIENCE Experience a taste of the wild west in Telluride, with its mix of historic charm and modern luxury, complete with clapboard storefronts, brick hotels and ornate Victorian homes, now housing chic restaurants, boutiques and fine art galleries. Today it's a historic mining town-cum-ski resort offering some of Colorado's most majestic peaks.
BEST FOR Outdoor lovers; family and friends.
DON'T MISS Telluride's torchlight parade on Christmas eve, a local tradition since 1972, sees hundreds ski down the mountain into town with glowing torches to the cheers of holidaymakers and locals. Skiing Santa also makes appearances across the mountain, including several runs down Misty Maiden where he'll stop at Gorrono for hot chocolate and cookies. The Telluride Concert Series (December 27-29) this year features Jewel, Motown legend Smokey Robinson and Amy Helm and the Handsome Strangers.
THE DETAILS Lumiere, Telluride's most intimate and luxurious boutique hotel with convenient ski-in/ski-out access, offers 11 hotel rooms and 18 one-to-five bedroom residences. The Lumiere bar is great for après skiing with freshly prepared sushi, raclette and signature cocktails. From $725 per night. See lumieretelluride.com. Madeline Hotel and Residences meanwhile offers one- to four-bedroom luxurious residences and guestrooms, with gourmet kitchens, restaurant, and even an ice skating rink. From $530 per night. See madelinetelluride.com; visitTelluride.com
THE PLACE Europe
THE EXPERIENCE For a traditional white Christmas, an APT Magnificent Europe river cruise is a lovely way to hop between festive markets, take in a private concert with the Mozart Boy's Choir and join a rail journey aboard the luxurious Majestic Imperator. The 16-night cruise runs along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers.
BEST FOR Empty nesters, over 55s.
DON'T MISS Europe's best Christmas markets including those in Vienna, Salzburg and Regensburg, plus a special Christmas dinner with all the traditional trimmings in Bamberg.
THE DETAILS From $10,290 for departure on December 16, 2016, available through Flight Centre. See flightcentre.com.au.
A TROPICAL CHRISTMAS
THE PLACE Bali
THE EXPERIENCE A short flight from Australia, fabulous restaurants, warm friendly locals, some of the world's best spas, good surf beaches and stunning rice terraces. What's not to love?
BEST FOR Families, couples and groups of friends.
DON'T MISS A spa treatment at the Spa at Maya Ubud, one of Bali's most astoundingly positioned spas on the banks of the fast flowing Petanu River. Have dinner at Robert Marchetti's elaborate Plantation Grill with its Great Gatsby-like feel and head for the hills to see Bali's UNESCO World Heritage-listed rice terraces that date from the 9th century at Jatiluwah.
THE DETAILS The hip new beachfront Maya Sanur offers deluxe garden view rooms from $424 per night including breakfast for two. See mayaresorts.com. For the ultimate in romance, the cliffside Anantara Uluwatu offers luxury two- and three-bedroom villas with ocean views, private pool, sundeck, garden and jacuzzis from $1157. See bali-uluwatu.anantara.com.
THE PLACE Hawaii
THE EXPERIENCE Gentle trade winds, the warmth of the tropical sun and the spirit of aloha make Hawaii a terrific place to celebrate "ohana" (family). With soft sand beaches, volcanic peaks, rich Hawaiian heritage and warm, welcoming locals, it's little wonder this Pacific archipelago is perennially popular.
BEST FOR Beach-loving families, grandparents and couples.
DON'T MISS Around Christmas, the swells at famous surf spots on the legendary North Shore including Waimea Bay, Pipeline and Sunset Beach can reach a whopping 10 metres or more. It's rumoured that late this year, or early next, will see the return of he Eddie, (not run since 2009) – the famous big wave surf contest held in honour of Hawaii's legendary surfer and lifeguard, Eddie Aikau – who spawned the famous slogan "Eddie Would Go". Christmas is also whale watching season, with humpback whales from Alaska typically found in the shallow waters off Maui.
The Honolulu City Lights, meanwhile, at Honolulu Hale (City Hall) features a 15-metre Norfolk pine Christmas tree, giant yuletide displays and live entertainment.
THE DETAILS Stay at Honolulu's only harbour-front boutique hotel, The Modern Honolulu, known for its Christmas decor and festive signature cocktails. Rooms at the minimalist property overlooking Ala Wai harbour start from $796 per night including Wi-Fi. See themodernhonolulu.com. At the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, Santa arrives via outrigger canoe. Rooms from $650 including Wi-Fi, trolley connections to Waikiki and more. See outrigger.com.
THE PLACE The Maldives
THE EXPERIENCE Those seeking a white Christmas of the sandy beach kind should look no further than the Maldives. Here it's all about dreamy overwater bungalows, incredible diving and snorkelling, cocktails in the balmy air, fine dining with your feet in the sand and mesmerising turquoise waters.
BEST FOR Couples and honeymooners wanting a luxurious break.
DON'T MISS The incredible Christmas tree under the sea at Anantara Kihavah Villas made entirely from reef coral. For the ultimate festive feast, enjoy Christmas Eve dinner at the W Retreat and Spa Maldives where director of cuisine Paul Lewis recreates the comfort of home with a six-course menu, featuring live catch of the day at overwater seafood restaurant, FISH.
THE DETAILS W Retreat and Spa's glamorous Stop the Clock package includes two tickets to the hotel's New Year's Eve gala dinner with a welcome glass of champagne, access to FIRE celebrations with international DJs, spectacular fireworks, accommodation in a beach villa (118sqm) and daily breakfast for two for $3186 per night (min three nights). See wretreatmaldives.com. A beach pool villa at the Anantara Kihavah Maldives starts from $4592 per night. See kihavah-maldives.anantara.com.
THE PLACE Vanuatu
THE EXPERIENCE Vanuatu is a short hop from Australia and offers postcard-perfect beaches, great diving, active volcanoes, affordable French Champagne and exquisite seafood.
BEST FOR Adventurous families and couples.
DON'T MISS Take a swim in the amazing Blue Holes with its staggeringly beautiful fresh water the colour of sapphires, have a picnic at pristine Champagne Beach and dive the wreck of the luxury liner-turned-warship SS President Coolidge.
THE DETAILS The private island resort of Ratua, off the island of Espiritu Santo, offers villas from $515 per night including cooked breakfast, welcome drink, airport transfers, water sports activities and more. See ratua.com. The adults-only Havannah offers garden villas from $950 twin share for two nights with a la carte breakfast daily, Wi-Fi, shuttle service to Port Vila, airport transfers and non-motorised water sports. See thehavannah.com
A DESERT CHRISTMAS
THE PLACE Dubai
THE EXPERIENCE A luxurious Christmas in the desert mixing five-star accommodation with an Arabian night's desert adventure.
BEST FOR Couples seeking a five-star experience with a twist.
DON'T MISS Escape into the desert for a magical night in the heart of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve. The experience starts with a safari drive over rolling dunes at sunset before arriving at a desert encampment to a traditional Arabian welcome for camel rides, a Bedouin feast and Arabian music.
THE DETAILS Flight Centre offers a three-night package at Atlantis the Palm, including breakfast and the Arabian dinner in the desert experience from $700 per person, per night. See flightcentre.com.au.
THE PLACE Morocco
THE EXPERIENCE Revel in the incredible beauty, silence and solitude of the Sahara Desert in the style of Lawrence of Arabia. Abercrombie and Kent's (A&K) unique Bedouin camp is set up exclusively for guests in the Erg Chebbi dunes near Erfoud on the edge of the desert. Nights are spent under canvas in Caidale tents decorated with warm earthy colours complete with luxury touches – hot water, flushing toilets, dreamy desert sundowners, candlelit dinners and a crackling camp fire – and camp staff are on hand to look after every guest need.
BEST FOR Couples.
DON'T MISS Taking a ride on a camel for sundowners.
THE DETAILS A&K's 12-day Kasbahs and Caravans includes a night in the A&K Desert Camp, plus stays at the Kasbah Hotel Chergui, Erfoud (in the Sahara), and Dar Ahlam at the foothills of Atlas Mountains, from $12,195 per person. See abercrombiekent.com.au.
THE PLACE Kenya
THE EXPERIENCE Kenya is the home of the safari: a wonderland of vast open plains teeming with wildlife, flamingo-rimmed lakes and proud traditional people. Safari through the Mara, explore the Great Rift Valley, scale Mount Kenya and witness the annual Great Migration.
BEST FOR Adventurous travellers, singles or couples.
DON'T MISS Take a game drive through the Masai Mara and spot the big five in one of the world's best wildlife regions; experience a safari by moonlight as big predators prepare themselves for the nightly hunt; and meet Africa's legendary warriors, the Maasai.
THE DETAILS Angama Mara is a remarkable new safari lodge balanced on the rim of Africa's Great Rift Valley. Each tented suite, from $1750 per night, enjoys a 180-degree view of the Masai Mara, possibly the best-known game reserve in the world. See angama.com. Start your journey in Nairobi at the iconic Giraffe Manor set within 140 acres of forest, complete with a herd of resident Rothschild giraffes, from $795 per night. See thesafaricollection.com.
THE PLACE The Atacama Desert, Chile
THE EXPERIENCE Join a full moon experience to capture the magic of the Altiplano. Choose from a desert night trek with moonlit shadows in Death Valley or drive to the spectacular viewpoints of Moon Valley and try your hand at night photography. Wearing head torches, the fascinating shadows under the light of the moon are strangely eerie in the silence of the desert. Finish with a welcome hot chocolate and a local surprise.
BEST FOR Families with older children and couples.
DON'T MISS Soak away the tension of the old year at Puritama Hot Springs. Hidden at the bottom of a steep gorge, surrounded by vegetation, the River Puritama has eight natural pools with an average water temperature of 33 degrees.
THE DETAILS Built on the site of an old cattle corral, Tierra Atacama is a 32-room boutique hotel styled with Atacameñan details. It features a pool overlooking the Licancabur volcano, fire pits, spa, and the very best in Chilean food and wine. All-inclusive stays from $1955 per person per night, including the full moon experience December 25-26. See tierrahotels.com
MY DREAM CHRISTMAS
SUJATA RAMAN Managing director of Abercrombie & Kent
"I would book out Tarkuni, the Oppenheimer family home at Tswalu, South Africa's largest private game reserve for me and nine of my closest friends. The house is the last word in luxury and comes complete with a host, dedicated chef, private game viewing vehicles and a swimming pool."
ALASTAIR FERNIE General manager Ecruising.travel
"My ideal getaway would be Christmas in my favourite city, New York, staying at a suite in the Plaza Hotel. I'd then fly by private jet to Miami and check into the Royal Loft suite on Oasis of the Seas for a cruise around the Caribbean and New Year's Eve at sea."
JUDITH CROMPTON Chief commercial officer, Virgin Australia
"I'd spend Christmas in London – ice skating at Somerset House, carols at St Paul's and wandering down Bond and Sloane streets to see the spectacular Christmas lights (with a spot of Boxing Day shopping thrown in)."
TOM WALLEY Head of leisure travel at Flight Centre
"I'd treat my family to a trip to New York which embraces Christmas like no other city. We'd spend our time taking in the Christmas tree display at Rockerfeller Centre, the themed concerts at Radio City Hall and hunt down the best holiday window displays and ice-skating in Central Park."
JAMES THORNTON Managing director Intrepid Travel
"I'd choose our Christmas Markets of Central Europe trip featuring gluhwein, roasted chestnuts, cinnamon-brushed baked apples, mulled wine, nativity scenes and brightly lit markets. Spending Christmas Day in picturesque Vienna can't be beat."
FIVE PLACES WHERE CHRISTMAS SNOW IS A NEAR CERTAINTY
The annual Santa Claus Parade dating back to 1925, a French-themed Défilé de Noël festival, snow-covered French architecture, twinkling lights, fireworks and hot chocolate lends a fairytale feel to the city of Quebec. See au-keepexploring.canada.travel
WANAKA, NEW ZEALAND
Fly to a snow-cloaked glacier for the ultimate Christmas picnic in the snow with Aspiring Helicopters. See www.aspiringhelicopters.co.nz
CRESTED BUTTE, COLORADO
Incredible skiing, horse sleigh rides through the snow and the Strawberry Park Hot Springs make this western Colorado ski town magical at Christmas. See colorado.com
Rug up for a troika ride through Pavlovsk Park, fur hats, ice skating, vodka and lashings of caviar in the city where it's almost guaranteed to snow at Christmas. See moscow.ru/en/
See penguins, cavorting whales, and incredible icebergs on a cruise (or New Year's Eve flight) to the most remote place on earth. See antarcticaflights.com.au