Best summer holidays: Last-minute guide to the best summer escapes for families

"But how will Santa be able to find us?"

The year is 2014 and the children are concerned about spending Christmas away from home.

No mad tearing at wrapping paper with their cousins at 5.30am. No tree in the lounge room, festooned for the occasion. No bicycle, bound by a red ribbon, stashed in the shed.

We're on the other side of the world – up five flights of stairs in a tiny apartment on the outskirts of Florence – and we couldn't be happier.

Sure, it isn't a white Christmas: This is one of the warmest European winters on record. But we're together. And Santa – somehow – manages to find us.

According to a new survey by Wotif.com, almost one in three Australian parents of school-aged children takes the family away for Christmas, or the January school holidays.

Interestingly – and possibly because of the low Aussie dollar – three out of four plan to stay local this festive season, rather than heading overseas.

It's terrific to take advantage of the extra-long school break, but airfares and accommodation are expensive.

Still, it's worth every cent to create those priceless memories: long languid days at the beach; a hit of cricket in a country town; or New York City, at the most wonderful time of the year.

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Here's a stocking full of ideas for families, who want to escape their relatives – I mean, spend time together before school begins in 2017. Happy ho-ho-holidays!

THE PLACE

The Gold Coast, Qld.

THE LOWDOWN

Believe it or not, the Goldie is going through a renaissance. Main Beach or Burleigh Heads are our top picks. If you have tweens or teens, strap on a Jetpack, Jetovator or Flyboard for the best fun you can have with your clothes on. jetpackadventures.com.au

NEED TO KNOW

Design Hotel, QT Gold Coast, has a three-night summer escape from $515 a room a night, including breakfast daily at the funky Bazaar, one family dinner, and a $50 Stingray Lounge credit. 7 Staghorn Avenue, Gold Coast. qtgoldcoast.com.au.

THE PLACE

Q Station Manly, NSW

THE LOWDOWN

The refurbished quarantine station, surrounded by Sydney Harbour National Park, has history and ghost tours, nature and water sports, and high-end dining facilities. Nearby Shelly Beach boasts some of the best snorkelling in Sydney, starring Harry, the resident Blue Groper.

NEED TO KNOW

Prices start from $269 a night for a heritage suite until the end of January. 1 North Head Scenic Drive, Manly. qstation.com.au.

THE PLACE

The high seas.

THE LOWDOWN

Why not run away to sea this Christmas? No cooking, cleaning, or shopping; lots of carolling and festive fare. More than 20 ships sail from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Auckland this time of year, covering the South Pacific, Asia, New Zealand and the Queensland coast.

NEED TO KNOW

Christmas cruises start from $1079 per person for seven nights. Some will be sold out by mid-December, but January cabins will be available on other ships. Contact the independent agency cruiseexpress.com.au/christmas-2016.

THE PLACE

Tasmania's East Coast.

THE LOWDOWN

Hire a house at Coles Bay, Bicheno, Binalong Bay, Orford or Bruny Island. Take a day trip to Maria Island National Park, a wildlife sanctuary with historic ruins. The Painted Cliffs, moulded sandstone shaped by the the sea, are simply extraordinary.

NEED TO KNOW

There are loads of homes available along this strip, listed on Airbnb. airbnb.com.

THE PLACE

The Hunter Valley, NSW.

THE LOWDOWN

This glorious region isn't only for gourmands. Take the whine out of wine tasting by first visiting the Storybook Garden, with its larger-than-life nursery rhyme characters.

NEED TO KNOW

Crowne Plaza's family getaway deal includes tickets to the Hunter Valley Gardens. Kids dine for free. Prices starting from $345.96 a night. 430 Wine Country Drive, Lovedale. Book directly at crowneplaza.com.au for up to 30 per cent off stays until January 31.

THE PLACE

Sunshine Coast, Qld.

THE LOWDOWN

This is the perfect place for an old-fashioned family holiday. Surf, paddle, and dig for pippies, or head inland to Maleny for farm visits and locavore cuisine.

NEED TO KNOW

The new Rivershore Resort has camp and caravan sites, plus safari tents for glamping. The owner, Bernie, says he's had four generations of the one family staying here. Powered sites from $95 a night. 99 David Low Way, Diddillibah. rivershoreresort.com.au.

THE PLACE

Darling Harbour, Sydney.

THE LOWDOWN

Fireworks, carols and – of course – Santa decorate Darling Harbour during December. Take the kids to the Powerhouse Museum, the Australian National Maritime Museum, and Sea Life Aquarium. Walk to Circular Quay, where exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art are free. Then hop on a ferry to Lavender Bay to kayak under the bridge with lifesanadventure.com.au

NEED TO KNOW

Children under-12 stay and breakfast for free at Parkroyal Darling Harbour. It's $245 a room, with a complimentary upgrade and Wi-Fi, valid from December 11 to January 16. 150 Day St, Sydney. parkroyalhotels.com.

THE PLACE

Waikiki, Hawaii

THE LOWDOWN

Learn to surf, eat shave Ice, and watch the sun set from Diamond Head, before hitting the shops at Ala Moana and Waikele Premium Outlets. Take a jeep tour around the island to see the mellow North Shore. The USS Arizona Tour at Pearl Harbor is a must, for all ages.

NEED TO KNOW

The Embassy Suites by Hilton Waikiki Beach Walk has two-bedroom apartments with mini-kitchens, and a heated children's pool, from $USD749 a night. 201 Beach Walk, Honolulu. embassysuites3.hilton.com/en.

THE PLACE

A motorhome.

THE LOWDOWN

Explore this wide brown land with transport and accommodation all-in-one. Drive to the Parkes Elvis Festival (January 11-15), the Tamworth Country Music Festival (20-29 January), or explore the Coffs Coast hinterland, via beautiful Bellingen.

NEED TO KNOW

Motorhomes start at $114 a night on apollocamper.com. You'll need to book into RV parks quick smart, as they fill up fast. For destinations, log on to the tourism authority in your state.

THE PLACE

The Great Ocean Road, Vic

THE LOWDOWN

This region really is nature's wonderland, with towering waterfalls and lush forests. For a bird's eye of view of the National Park, do a zipline tour or treetop walk at the Otway Fly.

NEED TO KNOW

Port Fairy is the last destination on the Shipwreck Coast – a charming fishing village with 19th century cottages, Norfolk pines and stone churches. YHA has a three-night package in a 4-6 bed family room or five-bed self-contained apartment, from $360 a room, valid from December 26 to January 29. 8 Cox Street, Port Fairy. See yha.com.au.

THE PLACE

Mai Khao Beach, Phuket, Thailand.

THE LOWDOWN

Away from putrid Patong, Mai Khao is a hidden gem with pristine waters, sleepy villages, and produce markets. The weather is cooler than usual from December to March – between 24 and 32 degrees.

NEED TO KNOW

The Holiday Inn Resort has themed children's rooms, and interconnecting suites on a man-made lagoon, right on the beach. There are family cooking lessons, bike tours and Thai language classes. Kids stay and eat for free. This is a five-star resort at a four star price. From THB6375/night. 81, M003, Tumbol Mai Khao Amphur, Talang, Thailand.

See phuketmaikhaobeach.holidayinnresorts.com.

THE PLACE

Melbourne, Vic.

THE LOWDOWN

Aside from the obvious attractions – hiring a blue bike to ride along the Yarra, running around the Tan, and taking the kids to Luna Park at St Kilda – there's the new, interactive game the Heist at Eureka Skydeck, the highest public vantage point in the southern hemisphere.

NEED TO KNOW

I'm not a fan of casinos but the accommodation at Crown is superb. Curl up in the evening at Crown Promenade with a complimentary movie, popcorn and choc-tops. Kids breakfast for free as part of the family getaway package, starting at $275 a night, until January 15. 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank. crownhotels.com.

THE PLACE

New York City, United States

THE LOWDOWN

Everything is open over the festive season in the city that never sleeps. Watch the Radio City Rockettes perform a Christmas Spectacular, or ice-skate at the Rockerfeller Centre. Stay near Central Park, Museum Mile and the iconic Apple Store.

NEED TO KNOW

The Pierre is a Taj Hotel, opposite Central Park, which has an extensive children's program. A two-bedroom deluxe grand suite starts at – eek - $US3450 a night. 2 E 61st Street, NYC. See thepierreny.com. The nearby Hotel Beacon has lovely self-contained family apartments from $US499/night. 2130 Broadway, NYC. See beaconhotel.com. For activities, go to nycgo.com/holidays.

THE PLACE

Canberra, ACT.

THE LOWDOWN

Canberra is an unbeatable destination for an educational trip, with Parliament House and Questacon. This summer, the National Museum of Australia showcases A History of the World in 100 Objects: from the British Museum. Teenagers are loving the Lewis Chessmen, which feature in the Harry Potter films.

NEED TO KNOW

The historic Hotel Kurrajong has been restored to its original grandeur. Former Prime Minister Ben Chifley lived here throughout his parliamentary career. Family rooms are from $343 a night. 8 National Circuit, Barton. See tfehotels.com.

THE PLACE

Fremantle, Perth, WA.

THE LOWDOWN

Check out Santa's Enchanted Wardrobe, the baby animal farm, and face painting at the markets. Or scare the pants off the kids with a tour of Fremantle Prison.

NEED TO KNOW

Pay for two nights and stay three in a colonial cottage, which fits a family of six. And, if the kids are driving you nuts, pop them in a prison cell. From $167 a night. 6 The Terrace, Fremantle. yha.com.au.

THE PLACE

Fiji

THE LOWDOWN

This used to be storm and cyclone season, but the weather is increasingly unpredictable. You might well strike sunny skies, for a fraction of the cost in high season. I maintain my position that Fiji is the best destination if you have babies, toddlers, or small children.

NEED TO KNOW

Yasawa Island Resort & Spa welcomes children 12-plus all year, and younger ones December 19- January 6 and January 21 – February 5. Kids visit a local village as part of the Kachi Club program. From $FJ2900/night in a two-bedroom beachfront bure, including all meals, activites and Wi-Fi. yasawa.com.

THE PLACE

Mornington Peninsula, Vic.

THE LOWDOWN

Ride the new Arthurs Seat Eagle cable car, soaring high above the bay. There are summer carnivals at Rye and Rosebud, or get lost in multiple mazes. Sample goats' cheese at Main Ridge Dairy, and pick berries at one of the farms.

NEED TO KNOW

There are plenty of homes on offer at houseswapholidays.com. Your accommodation is free after signing up for a (discounted) $59.95 membership fee.

THE PLACE

Vietnam

THE LOWDOWN

Make no mistake: Vietnam is the family destination for 2016-2017. It's cheap, cultural, and fun. Don't miss Hoi An, Halong Bay, and the Cu Chi tunnels.

NEED TO KNOW

We heart Intrepid tours but there's new players including Soulful Concepts, which specialises in philanthropic travel. What better way to teach kids about the importance of giving back? Book before Christmas for travel next year from $3185 an adult and $2630 ar child 6-12 years. soulfulconcepts.com.

Tracey Spicer stayed courtesy of various operators

AND IF YOU CARE TO GO OFF THE GRID...

1 It's the ideal time of year to visit the best family resort in the Asia/Pacific, PER AQUUM Niyama in the Maldives. A profusion of properties in this region is pushing down prices at the luxury resorts. peraquum.com.

2 Trout fishing, chook feeding and sheepdog rounding are all in a day's work at Tuki Trout Farm near Daylesford. Stay in one of the hand-built bluestone cabins for a true retreat from the Christmas kerfuffle. tuki.com.au.

3 Angama Mara is a remarkable new safari lodge on top of an escarpment overlooking the Masai Mara in Kenya. A private access road leads to the game area. The kids will be too busy looking for the big five to even consider Santa. angama.com.

GREAT PLACES TO BRING THE RELATIVES

1 BIG4 Adventure Whitsunday Resort in Airlie Beach is great for multi-generational groups, with self-contained accommodation ranging from luxury condos to camping sites. A 13-slide water park is opening next year.

adventurewhitsunday.com.au.

2 Stay in a charming Patagonian farmhouse near the Peninsula Valdes nature reserve, home to penguins, elephant seals and orcas. Internationally, grandparents are funding this sort of once-in-a-lifetime trip for their families. andbeyond.com/argentina/places-to-go/patagonia.htm.

3 The aptly named Waves and Wildlife Cottages are an affordable alternative to Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island in South Australia. The three-bedroom cottage has expansive ocean views for only $165 a night. wavesandwildlife.com.au.

4 New three- and four-bedroom private residences at Vomo Island in Fiji are large enough for extended families. There are "baby butlers" and nannies to look after the kids, while Mum/Dad/Nan/Pop enjoy adult time. vomofiji.com.

5 Tarraleah in Tasmania is an old hydro town, which has been converted into multi-generational accommodation. Take a trip to Russell Falls, do a spot of fishing, or play a family round of golf. tarraleah.com.

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