My family and I are planning our first trip to Europe for the last week of December (2018) and the first week of January (2019), I know this is a long way off but I am a planner and to me that is half the fun! I know to most people that time of year in Europe is not ideal, but we LOVE cold weather, snow, rain, etc. and I am drawn to the lower prices and smaller crowds. So far I am considering Rome for 6 nights, Venice for 2 and Munich for 6 nights. I want to take day trips from Rome to see Pompeii & the Amalfi Coast and from Munich to see Rothenburg and Nuremburg. Does this seem like a good itinerary? Since I love the cold weather are there any other itineraries you think would be ideal for that time of year? Any advice you have would be very much appreciated.
The article was written in 2013, but then updated and expanded every year. Since so many people visiting New Zealand do it in a rented car or camper van, all of the companies have deals that include the ferry crossing and returning the car on a different island. Just shop around online and you’ll find prices that include all of that. And also look into renting a campervan if that appeals to you at all. It’s really a wonderful way to see the country, and it’s cheaper than renting a car and staying in hotels or cabins.
The truth is, Rio de Janeiro will make this list for at least 8 months of the year, as the weather is always pretty good and the prices are still reasonable compared to Europe and North America. November is still well into the sweet spot, as the high season for hotels doesn't begin until December. This means bargains are often available at some of the luxury places along the beach, which won't be true again until April.
Oh, did you want a sunny tropical vacation that doesn’t require a passport? Done. Hurricane season is over, flights are cheap, and the water is still warm enough for swimming (and scuba diving). Almost all the tourists come here via cruise ship, which means you’re mostly not competing with them for hotel rooms -- Windward Passage, Emerald Beach, and the Bolongo are all open for business after Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year. On December 16 you can catch Jazz By The Sea down at Coral World Ocean Park, and on December 21 watch the St. Thomas Lighted Boat Parade, where contestants (boats) are judged on lights, originality, and holiday cheer.
From England I would say your cheapest and best late December destination with warm weather and reasonable prices is going to be Phuket. There are some other Thai islands that might be a bit cheaper, but they would be more complicated to reach, and they’d have fewer activities for the boys. Here are some Phuket resorts good for families. You can see that the price range is wide from cheapest to most expensive. In late December it’s peak season so you’ll pay at or near the top of those ranges.
Hotels in Buenos Aires are starting to reach their summer peak prices in November, especially toward the end of the month, but still they are a fantastic bargain by European or North American standards. The weather in November is also pretty much perfect, and while there's always a threat of rain in BA, it's mostly an indoor city so it shouldn't be too much of an inconvenience.
If I were you I’d fly into Bali and spend a couple days in the Kuta area to get your bearings and then head to Ubud, which is in the foothills and easily reached by shuttle bus. It’s also fairly crowded, but it’s still quite nice and there are scores of little spas and yoga places and that sort of thing. Then after a few days there, head up to the northern coastal town of Lovina, which is sort of like how Kuta was 25 years ago. It’s still only partly developed and there are still many open spaces, which is no longer true in the Kuta area. It’s cheaper than Kuta, and somewhat like Boracay in how mellow it is. You could also take a ferry from Bali to the island of Lombok, which is the next large one over. Things there are also more like Boracay and less chaotic than the Kuta area. Again, I really love Bali and still recommend it, but unless you are an Australian surfer, it’s best to stay somewhere other than the general Kuta area.
I’m sure you’ll have a great time. I don’t have any good suggestions for where to celebrate Christmas, but I’m sure you’ll have no problems finding something by just walking around or checking online. The top draw in Barcelona is the architecture, and especially the 20th Century buildings by Gaudi. I recommend the hop-on, hop-off bus tour because it allows you to see almost all of the famous buildings from the street in just a few hours. Park Guell is worth a visit, but of course the main attraction is the Sagrada Familia cathedral. Check opening times and reserve a ticket in advance if you can.
Costa Rica, as you probably know, is all about nature and adventure sports, along with some decent beaches. It would be perfect if you are up for that sort of thing. If not, Santiago and Valparaiso (nearby cities in Chile) could be good for more of an urban adventure. Or Buenos Aires is even nicer and more interesting (and probably cheaper if you bring cash) if you can get a deal on a flight there.
Cancun is at the north end of the Riviera Maya, which also includes the island of Cozumel, so this is a huge area with over a thousand hotels to choose from. All that competition keeps prices down until the high season begins, so November is still a buyer's market. There are even ruins nearby and other cultural opportunities, so it's not all about sitting on the beach here. If you prefer a high-rise hotel overlooking a beach then stay in Cancun itself, but if you prefer to stay in a friendly town with many restaurant and shopping choices then head to Playa del Carmen, just a bit to the south, instead.
I’m hearing very mixed things about Cuba visits. The main downside for Americans is that you still have to go as part of a package deal, and those packages are all incredibly expensive for what you get. It sounds like the Cuban government is charging very high taxes and fees on companies selling tours to Americans, so they are really only popular among people who are especially curious about visiting Cuba. In other words, they are poor value unless it’s at the top of your list already. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Every year it goes the same way. My mom calls me up a few weeks before Thanksgiving and asks me, “You are bringing green bean Casserole this year, right?” before she launches into a chorus of “You have to! No one else makes it just like you do!” Green beans have become “my thing” around the Thanksgiving holiday, and it’s the dish that I am expected to bring to dinner each year.
If you didn’t want to go to Asia you could instead consider the ABC islands, which don’t get much rain and haven’t had a major storm in many decades. Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao are known for good snorkeling as well and you’d get good hotel rates that time of year. Two weeks might be a long time to spend on those islands though, so I would go to Asia if you can. Late November is a perfect time of year for a visit there, and you can even include a few days in Siem Reap to visit Ankor Wat. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
Thailand is far more different and it’s easier to get around. The tourist areas are quite modern and well organized, and enough people speak English that it’s easy to do whatever you like. Again there you have choices of cooler areas in the north such as Chiang Mai, and of course Bangkok, as well as all of the islands. Let me know if you have any questions. -Roger
However, I would probably recommend staying closer to the US, unless you are really interested in the Asian cultures or that kind of experience. If you are mainly just interested in family time and a fairly easy holiday for all, and you aren’t specifically interested in getting to know an Asian culture and its food, I think I’d stay in the Americas.
In spite of its image of being blazing hot all the time, December in Cairo can actually be on the cool side, at least in the evenings. This is great though because almost all the important sights are outdoors and requite a lot of walking between them. For 9 months of the year it can get very hot doing that, so these few cooler months are ideal for visiting the famous sights.