Holidays Away From Home: 10 Ways to Celebrate

In lieu of another video game or toy, consider giving a getaway to your grandchildren.

By Kara Williams

Thanksgiving at a theme park? Chanukah in Hawaii? Christmas on a cruise? Why not.

Instead of playing host to your extended family this holiday season (or making the rounds at relatives' houses), celebrate away from home. When you travel with your grandchildren during the winter holidays, you'll have fun exploring and sightseeing — without having to cook and then clean up after the brood. Those vacation memories will last much longer than yet another toy your grandkids will soon outgrow.

Consider these options:

Kick Back on Kauai
While just about any Hawaiian island is an incredible getaway spot in the winter months, Kauai stands out for its manageable size (you can get to know the intimate island quickly) and its natural beauty. Many condominiums on the island offer convenient accommodations; save money by storing breakfast foods and picnic fixings in a full-size kitchen. Stay in the centrally located east side, in the sunny southern Poipu, or in Princeville to the north, close to the dramatic Na Pali coastline.

Relax at an All-Inclusive Resort in the Riviera Maya
Combine a beach vacation with some cultural immersion along the 86-mile strip of coastline along Mexico's Yucatan peninsula south of Cancun. From Puerto Morelos in the north to Tulum in the south, family-friendly resorts abound. With an all-inclusive resort — where food, drink, entertainment, and activities are included in your room rate — you know the price of your vacation before you go. Visit the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum, snorkel at Xel-Ha and Xcaret waterparks, or swim in ancient underground cenotes (caves filled with water) for a fun geology lesson.

See the Bright Lights of New York City
No other North American city ties on a holiday bow quite like New York City. After all, it's home to the massive Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, plus the Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular. There's always a timely theater offering with a limited holiday engagement on Broadway; this year, White Christmas at the Marquis Theater is the musical to look for. Other sights and activities that delight children include admiring the views from the Top of the Rock Observation Tower, ice skating in Central Park, eating at the space-theme Mars 2112 restaurant, taking tea at American Girl Place, and coveting the giant stuffed toys at FAO Schwarz.

Splash Around at an Indoor Water Park
Frolicking in water sprays, twisting slides, wave pools, and raft rides is not just a summer-only activity, with the plethora of indoor water-park resorts that have sprouted up nationwide. The granddaddy of them all? The Great Wolf Lodge in Madison, Wisc., runs properties from Washington to Pennsylvania. Family-friendly accommodations include suites with separate bunk-bed areas for the kids. The Midwest's Wisconsin Dells and Sandusky, Ohio, are other hotbeds of indoor-water-park activity.

Enjoy the Action at a Theme Park
Major amusement parks in southern California and the Orlando area of Florida are open year-round, and most hold seasonal celebrations, such as Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom Orlando. At Legoland California, Carlsbad, families snap photos in front of a 30-foot Christmas tree made entirely of Lego bricks. Don't dawdle Christmas morning; some of the big theme parks close their admission gates by midmorning because of crowds. Also prepare for long lines Thanksgiving weekend.

Hit the Slopes at a Ski Resort
While you can't always be assured of enough snow to ski, most resorts in the Rockies and other mountainous regions in the West open their chairlifts on Thanksgiving Day. While I'm partial to the ski mountains in my home state of Colorado, including the incredibly family-friendly Snowmass in Aspen, other resorts that cater to multiple generations include Smugglers' Notch in Smugglers' Notch, Vt., Chestnut Mountain in Galena, Ill., and Big Bear Mountain in Big Bear Lake, Calif. Most mountain-resort towns offer many activities for nonskiers, too.

Revel in Solitude at a National Park
While the nation's national parks see their largest crowds in summer, many are open in winter for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and winter wildlife viewing. Just take note of any services or facilities that may shut down in the off-season. See Yellowstone's Old Faithful in the winter via an exciting snowmobile ride or nifty snow coach tour (like a bus on tracks). The Grand Canyon's North Rim may be closed, but you can still take in all the dramatic scenery from the South Rim. Or admire the tropical flora and fauna in Florida's Everglades National Park and St. John's Virgin Island National Park.

Be Entertained in Branson
Throughout November and December during the Ozark Mountain Christmas celebration, this "live entertainment capital of the world" celebrates the holidays with Christmas-theme, star-studded live music, comedy, and magic shows. While the entire Missouri city sparkles with millions of twinkling lights that adorn shops, hotels and theaters, one must-see attraction is the Branson Area Festival of Lights Drive-Through: a mile-long path lined with 350 illuminated displays.

Celebrate a Cajun Christmas
With hurricane season petering out around Thanksgiving, New Orleans is a festive place for families to visit during the holidays. Before booking accommodations, look for discounted Papa Nöel hotel rates. Throughout December, Christmas "characters" in period dress stroll the streets, educating guests about the city's storied past; restaurants offer special holiday Reveillon, or the eve of Christmas and New Year's menus; and the halls are decked at the area's historic plantation homes.

Cruise the Caribbean
Explore multiple ports of call and only unpack once. Now that's convenience. So are myriad dining options, a crazy amount of on-board activity, shore excursions, and itineraries for all price ranges. Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Lines, and Norwegian Cruise Line roll out the red carpets for families, with kids' clubs, spas, casinos and late-night shows for the grown-ups. Visit the Regent Seven Seas website for a luxury option. Enjoy it all in the gloriously tropical climate of the Caribbean.

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