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The Best Hotels and Resorts to Spend the Holidays

By Tobey Grumet
updated September 29, 2021
Fairmont
Should you stay or should you go? For many, deciding whether to trust a hotel or resort with their winter holidays, instead of celebrating at home, is a common dilemma.

If you are considering taking the plunge and spending your cherished holiday time somewhere other than home, there are many factors to consider—like how far you want to travel, whether you’re going with family and what, if any, special holiday details are being offered.

To help with this difficult determination, we’ve rounded up five super places to consider this holiday season. From sandy beaches to sin city, we’ve got you covered for everything happy and the merry.

The Emerson Resort and SpaThe Emerson Resort and Spa is a great place to get cozy in upstate New York © Tobey Grumet / Budget Travel

Emerson Resort & Spa, Mt. Tremper, NY

Location, location, location. Sitting directly between the most sought-after vacation towns in New York’s Catskill mountain range, like Woodstock and Phoenicia, this sprawling resort is just a two-hour drive from NYC, offering a family- and dog-friendly, cold-weather sanctuary from the city. In addition to cold weather pursuits and a weekly bonfire, you can try other included resort activities like a Winter Guided Nature Walk, an ornament making class and Storytime in the Great Room with a delicious hot chocolate bar on hand.

The Emerson Resort and Spa is also home to the world’s largest kaleidoscope, and a Holiday Kaleidoshow is being planned for guests. Interested in a little relaxation? Hit the spa and reserve a treatment with its Peppermint Rosemary aroma and signature tea—or get a 20% discount on any manicure through December. The onsite Woodnotes Grille will also be offering holiday-inspired specials, like the Edge of Esopus cocktail and a pan roasted porterhouse pork chop with apple sage butter, roast potatoes and braised red cabbage.

Bellagio, Las Vegas, NV

Las Vegas has something for everyone when it comes to the holidays. And though you may come for the mild the desert weather, you’ll stay for the shows, restaurants, nightclubs and family activities—including the massive Strip-wide fireworks show on New Year’s Eve. As a home base, the Bellagio is a working winter wonderland you won’t want to miss. In addition to the 42-foot white fir tree with five-car motorized train in its Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, you’ll want to stop and gawk at the polar bear-escorted ice queen, dressed in a couture gown created from preserved roses, silver palmetto leaves, hydrangeas and orchids.

Nearby, there is also a Gothic castle and connected passageway inspired by New York’s Central Park. In fact, over 34,000 flowers and 28,000 poinsettias will be on display around the exhibit. Don’t forget to visit restaurants like Spago, New York’s Soho darling Sadelle’s, and the iconic Le Cirque. New Year’s weekend will also herald the opening of The Mayfair Supper Club, a classic dinner and a show experience with the well-known Bellagio fountains dancing in the background.

Gaylord Palms Resort, Kissimmee, FL

Nobody does family time better than central Florida. And though Disney may be the draw, this Marriot Bonvoy resort is offering holiday fun for all ages. The popular ICE! Exhibit has a Polar Express theme this year and includes hand-carved sculptures and displays made from over two million pounds of ice, while the Cirque Dreams Unwrapped stage show is a combination of a circus and Broadway-style revue.

The Gaylord Palms Resort's on-site Alpine Village brings a little bit of cold weather fun to the tropics and the whole family can tube down eight lanes of real snow, while the Santa’s Snow Throw exhibit lets you pound Santa’s Elves with buckets of snowballs. Christmas trees abound in the Evergreen Atrium, a perfect place for a leisurely stroll and the Relache Spa is offering seasonal treatments for adult relaxation. Christmas and New Years buffets are available for brunch and dinner, and kiddos might enjoy the Elf on the Shelf Character breakfast. Christmas packages are now 20% off.

Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta, CanadaThe northern lights dance over the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, which is located within a UNESCO World Heritage Site © Tobey Grumet / Budget Travel

Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Alberta, CA

Do winter right at this Canadian lodge located directly inside the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Jasper National Park. With 700 acres to explore, activities are diverse and include hiking, sledding, tobogganing, snowshoeing and, of course, skiing. The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge's Festival of Christmas includes Santa’s Cabin with sleigh and reindeer, and the Winter Wonderland will be set up with all the equipment you’ll need to enjoy the amenities—including fat tire bikes for hire. Hit the Lake Mildred Ice Park, surrounded by Rocky Mountain views, to join a game of hockey, try your hand at figure skating or just tool around the 1km loop.

Kids can also check out the indoor Christmas Carnival, decorate their own stockings on Christmas Eve, drop-off letters to Santa and enjoy s’mores under the stars on Lac Beauvert’s frozen shores. Of course, adults can have some fun too by joining a mixology class, beer tasting or cooking demo—all exploring holiday flavors. The Spa & Salon is featuring 24K gold manicures and pedicures for the season as well as an Express Holiday Makeup service if you want to get glam. Best of all, if you’re lucky, you’ll have a chance to catch the stunning aurora borealis over the lake.

Half Moon, Montego Bay, Jamaica

Enjoy your holidays island style at this festive Jamaican stunner in popular Half Moon. Named for the crescent, white sand beach it cradles, the resort’s open-air lobby and Cedar Bar are the social center of the property—and here you’ll be able to enjoy the “Chrismus breeze,” clink festive cocktails and dance to the seasonal, live music and tribute concerts. A curated Christmas program also includes a tree-lighting ceremony, ice-sculpting lessons and a holiday-themed sandcastle building competition—created specially for bragging rights.

Of course, Jamaican Santa doesn’t deign to come by sleigh, so kids can catch him as he flies into Half Moon by parasail. Book a villa in the Rose Hall section of the resort and you can organize a floating feast in your private pool, and have staff customize your decorations and lights. Other family friendly activities include goat races and pony rides, and you can use golf carts or bikes to get around the resort’s 400 acres. Golf and tennis are complimentary, and the Fern Tree Spa is offering a free body exfoliation when you book the therapeutic massage. A Gentleman’s Spa is also available for that guy who has everything.

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Inspiration

Where to Find The Best Cocktails for Fall

When those summertime margaritas and rum punches turn to cherry-tinted Manhattans or bourbon-forward Old Fashioneds, you know autumn has fallen. From tailgating to Thanksgiving to Halloween, these complex, robust, cold-weather cocktail flavors combine the crispness of the season with a warmer, more generous, flavor profile. Want to get started on your seasonal cocktailing? Here are six fall cocktails to look out for and where you can hunker down to drink them. The Palm, multiple locations This classic steakhouse, known for its prime beef and lively caricatures of patrons and celebrities lining the walls, has gone from a single New York City restaurant in the 1920s to 21 locations around the globe. And though you can always enjoy a generous martini, this season you can also choose from five new fall cocktails. For a more well-heeled concoction, the Figaro consists of Basil Hayden’s dark rye, Amaro Montenegro, caramelized fig syrup and black walnut while the South Side of Italy is a playful mixture of Plymouth gin, Lillet Blanc, Caravella Limoncello, simple syrup, lemon juice and mint. The Sazerac Bar, New Orleans, LA This French Quarter gem occupies a slice of New Orleans cocktail history. And with its signature dark wood, leather chairs, and dark, narrow bar, you’ll want to make sure you have time to enjoy its namesake Sazerac in the place it was born. The timeless drink is mixed with Sazerac Rye, Peychaud’s bitters, sugar and Herbsaint but you can also sip the Brown Derby, with Buffalo Trace bourbon, grapefruit, lemon, honey and Rhubarb bitters. The Watch: Rooftop Kitchen Spirits, Charleston, SC This rooftop restaurant shells out handcrafted cocktails relying on locally sourced, unorthodox ingredients like carrots and corn. Take a seat indoors or outdoors and soak up the panoramic views of Charleston’s stunning architecture, then order one of these eccentric drinks to keep you company. The Trader’s Village is a play on Mexican street corn and combines corn infused tequila, ancho reyes, egg yolk, lime juice, and avocado orgeat, while the clarified milk punch dubbed the Clearwater merges bourbon, Plantation 5 year rum, port wine and citrus, garnished with warm bread pudding. Now, if that won’t warm your soul, nothing will. My Friend Duke, New York, NY A downtown cocktail den seamlessly plunked in Manhattan’s Murray Hill, My Friend Duke is a neighborhood joint with an upscale vibe. In addition to the 11th St. Manhattan, which adds a cheeky taste of Drambuie to its rye, antica and bitters, the Night Owl is an exciting potion fusing cold brew coffee soaked in oats, Irish whiskey and Demerara sugar – then charged with nitrogen. By the time you’ve imbibed these fall mixtures, this cocktail den will morph to a place where everybody knows your name. Nari, San Francisco, CA The biggest problem at Nari will be choosing which cocktail to try next. A sister restaurant of New York’s beloved Kin Khao, this two-level Thai palace pairs bold seasonal flavors with an ambitious cocktail menu broken up into punch, standard cocktails, low-alcohol and zero-proof. The punches are sized for sharing so you’ll have to bring friends to sample concoctions like the Tua Kua, with whiskey, amber vermouth, lime, peanut orgeat, cacao and bitters. Standard cocktails include the coconut-washed bourbon, salt and bruleed palm sugar lime peel that make up the Benja. Or the Sita, a blend of whiskey, toasted brown rice, Benedictine, amaro and angostura. Feel like taking it easy? Try the refreshing session cocktail called the Ambhan, with sweet vermouth, amaro, plum liqueur and spiced angostura. King of Cups, Chicago, IL Sow your royal cocktails at this imperially themed bar in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. And in addition to the over-the-top Rococo-style décor, including an interactive throne, the cocktails are many and come on tap, with a swizzle, stirred or shaken. The perfect cool companion, the Absolute Rule is a carbonated tap cocktail blending bourbon, brandy, and Guinness while The Lady India is likened to a whiskey sour and shakes together a strange brew of bourbon, sweet vermouth, lemon, IPA, beer syrup and angostura. And if you’re mood for a boozier creation, try the well-stirred Ginger Grant, with Scotch, fry vermouth, pomegranate balsamic and orange bitters.

Inspiration

Where to Celebrate Oktoberfest across The US

Each year, Oktoberfest welcomes millions of visitors to Munich for partaking in this beloved folk festival. Yet if you have to stay stateside, but you still want to raise your stein and say “Prost,” consider going to an Oktoberfest happening in the United States. So don your dirndl or lederhosen and look at heading to these celebrations across the country – with no need for crossing over the Atlantic. Fredericksburg, Texas This German-rooted city in Texas Hill Country has all the usual Oktoberfest happenings but also some other fun happenings. There’s a Kraut Run consisting of 8K and 5K runs, a 5K walk and a children’s walk, a Hauptstrasse Chicken Dance lineup, and a tuba playing jamboree. Dancing at Fredericksburg's Oktoberfest © Image courtesy of Oktoberfest Fredericksburg Four stages host a continuous parade of German oompah, polka and waltzing, along with German, American and Texan beers and foods. October 4-6, 2019. Leavenworth, Washington In this Bavarian-themed town northeast of Seattle, the weekend-long Leavenworth Oktoberfest opens its Saturday portion with a procession with a coat of arms known as a Muenchner Kindl and an afterwards keg tapping ceremony. The festival itself has four venues – Festhalle, Tanz Halle, Bier Stube and Spass Platz – serving beer and food and presenting live music. Out-of-towners can also extend their experience through stays at Leavenworth’s Tiny House Village, which consists of five small Bavarian-themed lodges catering to an Instagram-worthy stay. October 4-19, 2019. Tulsa, Oklahoma The Linde Oktoberfest Tulsa has a good mix of attractions for just about every attendee. A Bavarian team cup challenge has groups of eight striving to win a tug-of-war, a bier barrel race, a krug relay race and a stein hoisting competition. The younger set can have their own fun at a children’s tent and wiener dogs can participate in both a dash and a parade. Enjoying steins of beer in Tulsa © Image courtesy of Linde Tulsa Oktoberfest Along with bratwurst and beer and continuous entertainment by the Das Glockenspiel, Oktoberfest will usher in a new elevated dining experience, known as Restaurant am Himmel, or Restaurant in the Sky. October 17-20, 2019. Carlsbad, California This beach city near San Diego has its family-friendly Carlsbad Rotary Oktoberfest benefiting community-related charities. There are contests for best German male and female costumes and yodeling, area-produced craft beers, Chicken Dance performances and a spread of German delicacies. Kids can spend time at a pumpkin patch or other activities, while bands will be performing traditional German and contemporary music. October 5, 2019. Milwaukee, Wisconsin Happening in downtown Milwaukee, the city’s annual event packs in a busy schedule during its three-day run. Its Friday portion has Stein Hoisting Competition, where contestants have to maintain holding a full one in front of them at a 90-degree angle. The weekend also features a Miss Oktoberfest pageant and a Brat Eating Contest. October 4-6, 2019. Insdide the beer hall at Amana, Iowa's, Octoberfest © Image courtesy of Travel Iowa Amana, Iowa Held in an area known as the Amana Colonies, a 19th-century German settlement, the Bavarian-style fun begins with a Friday Procession and Ceremonial Tapping of the Keg on Friday. Saturday’s portion starts with a morning parade featuring locally-sponsored floats. The weekend keeps going with competitive games. The Brezel Schmeissen involves catching a fabric-made pretzel on your head wearing a plunger device, while the Eisenmann is a competition of four events – beer stein holding, a keg toss, a balance walk and log sawing. October 4-6, 2019. Helen, Georgia This Bavarian-themed city really keeps its Oktoberfest going, as the alpine village starts theirs in September, going through Thursday through Sunday, and then runs daily through late October. Kicking off with a parade through town, the Georgian festival pays a nod to this German tradition with the city’s Festhalle being its location. Here, see a ceremonial keg tapping and sit at long tables for feasting on bratwursts, pretzels and other dishes while watching live entertainment. From early September through October 27, 2019. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania This free Oktoberfest held at SteelStacks packs in a ton of activities that are both traditional and creative. To start, at the “Hasselhoff-Off,” contestants are judged on their best impersonation of Baywatch actor and German favorite David Hasselhoff. Then there is also a bratwurst eating competition, the Yuengling Oktoberfest 5K run/walk, a Brewers' Village and a wiener dog parade. October 4-6 and 11-13, 2019.

Inspiration

Top Restaurants from a Top Chef: Spotlight on Lexington, Kentucky

Cole Arimes opened his first restaurant Coles 735 Main in 2012, and he’s been pushing Lexington’s culinary reputation into the national spotlight ever since. His second new restaurant, Epping’s On Eastside, is a stylish, lively eatery in a historic building specializing in elevated pub grub and wait-worthy brunches. Cole Arimes knows a thing or two about Lexington's food and drink scene © Erica Lee Photography This all comes as Lexington neighborhoods up their cool quotient. The Distillery District, for one, anchored by the newly refurbished historic James E. Pepper Distillery, draws revelers with bars (including one in the distillery), restaurants, an arcade, a brewery, and plenty more. We checked in with Cole to get his tips on dining around this dynamic town. The Best Burger: Wallace Station Deli Ouita Michel’s Kentucky bona fides run deep. She opened her first restaurant in 2001, and since then she’s opened seven more in the area, written cookbooks, appeared as a judge on Top Chef, garnered several James Beard Award nominations, and made very high-profile initiatives to support Kentucky farmers. But she hasn’t forgotten about simple pleasures, like a mighty fine burger. Cole heads to Wallace Station Deli, her farmhouse-style deli in Midway, about 30 minutes from Coles 735 Main, for his burger fix. And if his young son and daughter come along, not only do they appreciate the restaurant’s kid-friendly vibe, but the ride along the grassy landscape where thoroughbred horses roam captivates their attention during the trip. Best Latin Food: Corto Lima Cole has a hard time coming up with an answer when asked about his favorite dishes at Corto Lima. “Everything,” he replies. “The chicharonnes are awesome and the black bean and pork dish is excellent.” Run by Jonathan Lundy, James Beard Award semi-finalist and cookbook author, this Latin-inspired restaurant’s small-plate style lends itself to not having to choose favorites. Of course, few things go with this kind of food than a margarita. Cole considers their tequila and mezcal selection the best in the area. And while he’s more of a bourbon guy, “good margaritas aren’t all that bad now and then,” he admits. Best Ice Cream: Crank and Boom Craft Ice Cream Lounge Cole let’s his kids call the shots on this one. Their vote is for the industrial-chic Crank and Boom Craft Ice Cream Lounge. Yes, lounge. It’s known for eccentric flavors like coffee stout and dark chocolate truffle, and it’s all made in-house using as many local ingredients as possible. Ice cream cocktails are also on the menu. “The sundaes are all carefully composed and the ice cream dishes are just all-around fantastic,” he swears. He and his family are hardly the only ones who think that. She started about seven and a half years ago and has blown up in terms of the restaurants that carry her product. She was also one of the first to businesses to open in the Distillery District. Best Specialty Drinks Spot: Wise Bird Cider Company In late August, Cole went to Wise Bird Cider Company for the first time, an airy industrial-chic spot with long tables, outdoor seating, and charcuterie on the menu. Never much of a cider guy, he wasn’t sure what to expect, but he ended up liking it so much that now he’s carrying it at both his restaurants. As an added bonus, the space is kid-friendly. “You can let them loose to run around and not fear that they’re gonna tear the place up.” Best Fine Dining: Dudley’s on Short or Heirloom Cole sees his fellow chefs and restaurateurs as partners, not competitors. “We’re all in it together,” he insists. He tries to visit other restaurants when he’s not busy running his own two places of spending time with his kids. Dudley’s on Short, he says, is a longstanding local favorite, much respected for being in business since 1981. Located in a 19th century bank building, he describes it simply as “the tried and true.” He gushes over Heirloom. Its minimalist décor ensures there are no distractions from what Cole describes as seasonally driven meals that play on Californian cuisine. The team puts a premium on local ingredients, though a menu always includes a few staple dishes, like fried chicken livers and an excellent burger, by Cole’s estimation. But it’s the seasonal dishes that lend the place some excitement. “You never know what you’re gonna get every time you go in,” he says.

Inspiration

New Yorkers And Parisians Will Soon Have Another Option for Crossing The Pond

This week, low-cost long-haul airline French bee announced its latest route: beginning June 10, 2020, one flight will operate daily between Paris-Orly and Newark Liberty International. Prices won’t be announced until tickets go on sale on September 18, but fares for the carrier’s other routes start at US$189 (€212) for basic economy and US$239 (€268) for economy with extra amenities. (The airline only has a few destinations; it currently offers connections between Paris and Punta Cana, Réunion Island, Tahiti, and San Francisco, and between San Francisco and Paris and Tahiti.) When the EWR - ORY route launches next year, it will be with a fleet of Airbus A350 XWBs, a fuel-efficient aircraft that reportedly reduces CO² emissions by 25%. French bee says the planes were specifically designed with the comfort of long-haul passengers in mind, with air exchange every three minutes, serious sound insulation for four times less noise than the Boeing 787, and all-around LED lighting that makes it easier to nod off and wake up. That’s a good thing, too, because the only flight heading west to east is a red-eye, departing from Newark at 6:15 p.m. and arriving in Orly at 7:30 the next morning. On the return leg, it leaves Orly at 2:00 p.m. and lands at Newark at 4:15 p.m. “With our A350s, passengers are only experiencing pressure equivalent to a stay at an altitude of 1800 metres, creating a much more comfortable atmosphere,” says sales director Sophie Hocquez, adding that the inclination of the walls creates more space. “Our customers...have said they experience less fatigue, and are ready to enjoy their stay as soon as they step on the ground.”