Gorgeous weather, an enviable winter suntan, and thriving dining and nightlife are obvious reasons for heading to Miami in December. Art Basel Miami Beach 2018, a contemporary art extravaganza and America’s premier art fair, is another incentive for a Miami trip. With celebrities, parties, and unmatched celebrations throughout the city, over 250 world-renowned galleries and 4,000 participating artists will display their creations and collections. The Betsy South Beach, centrally located in Miami Beach’s Art Deco district, will be a major Art Basel venue. Another noteworthy accommodation is The Setai Miami Beach, situated oceanside in South Beach. Featuring 87 Art Deco rooms and 49 ocean suites, the Setai will debut five new retail stores by the end of the year. There is no shortage of family-friendly fun in the Magic City, so named for its rapid growth from 1,000 residents to over 5 million in the past 120 years. Santa’s Enchanted Forest at Tropical Park is the largest holiday theme park in the world featuring carnival rides, shows, games, race cars, food, holiday displays, music, and dazzling Christmas lights. The Miami Lantern Light Festival at the Fair Expo Center celebrates Chinese culture, featuring food, acrobats, handmade souvenirs, rides, and huge handmade lanterns symbolic of illuminating the future and the reunion of family.
Unsurprisingly, the end of December is the beginning of the peak season for resort prices, so those who are able to come earlier in the month will be getting better deals. Still, the all-inclusive resorts are locked in heavy competition all year so this area can be a great deal compared to the alternatives, even in high season. If you are looking for where to go in December for an all-inclusive beach holiday, this is your best option for most people.
As for your Europe trip, I highly recommend spending 3 nights in any city you visit. If you change cities every day or every other day you’ll end up spending most of your holiday on trains or in airports rather than seeing the places you flew all that way to see. So if Amsterdam and Barcelona are musts, I would add exactly one other city if you’ve only got 9 days. Unfortunately it’s not on your list, but the best and easiest one to add between them is Paris. There is a train from Amsterdam to Paris in a bit over 3 hours, and another high-speed train to Barcelona from Paris in 6 hours 27 minutes with no changes. Paris is easily one of the most impressive European cities for tourists, but if you’ve been there before and don’t want to go again you can obviously choose something else.
As for Costa Rica, I think it would be ideal for what you have in mind. It’s by far the most tourist-friendly (and English speaking friendly) country in that area, so it’s a great starting point. Belize is pretty easy as well, although there is far less nature to enjoy. Panama and Nicaragua are a bit cheaper and have similar things to offer, but Costa Rica has the best infrastructure and nature parks, so it’s less stressful for a first-timer. The snorkeling is better on the Caribbean coast, I believe, but the better tourist beaches are on the Pacific. The country is pretty quick to get across, so you could easily spend a few days on both sides, plus another few exploring the rain forests and volcanoes and such.
December is the end of the rainy season in Boracay, but by the middle of December you would probably only get a few quick tropical showers a week. Room rates are a bit lower at that time as well, so it can be a great time to visit. If you were looking for a place to go for 2 or 3 days, I wouldn’t recommend it because it does take some time to get there and you could be a bit unlucky with the rain. But if you are going for longer than that I’d highly recommend it. It’s a wonderful little island that feels like you’ve gone back in time to before mass-market tourism in places like Phuket.
Costa Rica is kind of the Thailand of Latin America in that they have great tourist infrastructure and it’s the easiest place to get around. They also have a lot to offer with the beaches on both coasts and many natural sights and activities, plus of course the Arenal volcano, which is a really nice area. San Jose is best as a place to just pass through on your way somewhere else.
Resolve – My number one asset to staying on track was my resolve. I made my mind up before we left that I would not give in when tempted and that I would be entirely aloof for donuts, desserts, fries, and other favorite treats. I just kept reminding myself that I could enjoy those foods again perhaps on our next weekend getaway or at the end of our vacation if I chose to have a cheat day. Otherwise, they would be dead to me because I didn’t want my kids feeling guilty eating treats in front of me. I don’t want them ever to relate being good or bad based on what they ate so again; I had to have the mindset that it wasn’t a big deal.
Jamaica Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios Martinique Martinique Netherlands Antilles Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Martin/Sint Maarten Puerto Rico Rincón, San Juan Saint Kitts and Nevis St Kitts Saint Lucia St. Lucia Trinidad and Tobago Trinidad and Tabago Turks and Caicos Islands Turks and Caicos Virgin Islands, British Tortola Virgin Islands, U.s. St. Croix, St. Thomas
On the morning of our last day we hit the hotel cantina again for another round of breakfast bowls and bacon (Meal 5), which I had with fatty coffee. Afterwards we headed out for our final day. After riding a few things and checking out some of the tours, we found a place for a late lunch/early dinner at around 4 pm. This was the only sit-down, table service place we patronized on the entire trip and it was worth it. The menu didn’t seem to have a lot to offer the carb-conscious, but after explaining briefly to my server that I avoid carbs and sugar, I settled on the Kobe beef burger, bunless, and the server offered to replace the side of fries or rice with a bowl of stir fried veggies. My plate arrived (Meal 6) and looked gorgeous! The veggie bowl consisted of onions, peppers, mushrooms, snow peas, baby bok choy, and some carrot sticks which I mostly ate around. After stirring in a smidgen of the offered soy sauce and Sriracha, I must say I was greatly pleased with this side. The chef also garnished my plate with a small sample of cucumber salad, which was delicious. The burger was as thick and round as a steak and was probably the best restaurant bunless burger I’ve ever had. It was served with a sesame-soy sauce mayonnaise as a condiment which really complimented the burger well. This was probably my favorite meal of the trip and it was well worth the price and effort of sorting through the menu.
The three places that jump out to me are the Playa del Carmen area just south of Cancun in Mexico, the island of Puerto Rico, or Costa Rica. All of those have endless beach activities and sights and great food and everything else, and they are all well within your budget. Puerto Rico would be easiest, and probably my first choice. Costa Rica is better known for adventure activities that might suit the younger ones. There are several good resort areas along the Pacific coast that would work.
Pretty much everywhere is going to be at or near capacity for those dates because half the world is on Christmas break. Between Australia and New Zealand, I think New Zealand would be far more interesting for 10 to 14 days. In Australia you pretty much have to spend a few days in Sydney, a few days in Melbourne, and a few days at the Great Barrier Reef, all of which require flights and will be very crowded over those weeks.
If you are looking for first-rate destinations that are among the cheaper European cities, I’ll suggest Prague, Budapest, Krakow, and Berlin. You could visit all four of them by taking trains, or choose any one, two, or three. In December you can get quite a nice room in any of those cities, with Berlin being the most expensive by a bit. Food and attractions are also quite affordable in those cities.
My favorite part of Bali is now the area around Lovina along the north coast, which is still very mellow and mostly open spaces with light development. It’s really beautiful and there is plenty to do. You can get similar experiences by visiting the nearby Gili islands, which also feel like Bali used to be 20 years ago when it was much nicer. They are all really beautiful and relaxing islands with great scenery and very friendly people. You just need to steer clear of the places that are the most crowded.
From November through February there are literally no European cities that could qualify as having “great weather.” We list Tenerife below because it's technically in Europe, although not really much of a cultural destination. Antalya, Turkey (which technically isn't even in Europe), has the closest thing to a sunny climate with acceptable temperatures. So during the winter Europe is all about cultural tourism, and lower hotel prices make it especially appealing for those who like to stretch their travel budgets and avoid crowds at the same time.
My best recommendation would be somewhere in the islands of Thailand. December has very pleasant weather with warm days and nights that can be a bit chilly (for some people). Best of all, it’s a very beautiful place and the tourist infrastructure makes it easy to get around speaking English and with very few headaches. The largest island is Phuket and it has famous nightlife in the Patong Beach area. In fact, the nightlife is so notorious that many people think it’s too much so they avoid the place. There are many other beach areas that are quiet and still close enough to go into Patong once in a while.
As for the Northern Lights, Iceland is one to consider, and its Aurora Tourism sector is pretty famous. You can get a cheap flight to Iceland from London or most other large cities in Europe, and it’ll cost about the same as a flight to Stockholm or Oslo. If you want to stay on the continent, I’d think about Sweden, even though Norway has more northern area. Both are very expensive, but Sweden is a bit cheaper and easier to get around in.
Surprising to some people, December can actually be a bit cool in Mexico City, especially at night. Its elevation keeps it mild all year, but at least the rainy season is totally over by December, so it's an ideal month for a cheap cultural holiday, perhaps combined with a trip to one of Mexico's many beach resorts. You can get cheap flights between Mexico City and Cancun or Puerto Vallarta, for example.
The “city that never sleeps” is a delight in December, even if the weather makes it necessary to bundle up a bit. For holiday spirit and things to do any time of year, New York City is a top destination. Broadway and off-Broadway shows are exceptional entertainment, and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular with the famous Rockettes is a perfect holiday event. The New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center presents the classic "Nutcracker," a seasonal tradition. At the New York Botanical Garden, the toy train will wind its way through a miniature Lower Manhattan for the amusement of kids as well as nostalgic adults who may have once had their own train sets. The dazzling Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, New York City’s centerpiece each year with nearly 50,000 lights, will once again overlook the famed ice skating rink and golden Prometheus statue. Window shopping takes on new meaning during December when department stores along Fifth Avenue entertain passers-by with intricate decorations and displays. Holiday markets at Bryant Park, Columbus Circle, and Union Square also invite browsing and shopping along with warm drinks and food. For a convenient stay, the Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel offers spectacular views and Versa, a year-round rooftop restaurant and bar. Or enjoy the Innside by Melia New York in the trendy Chelsea area with its newly opened seafood-focused dining spot, The Wilson.
It’s unfortunate and heartbreaking how many times I have recommended San Juan, Puerto Rico in the last few years. Once they get the power back on I’m sure it’ll be back to normal fairly soon after that, but I’m guessing probably March or later. And fortunately, Nate missed the Cancun area for the most part. Have you considered somewhere in the Cancun/Playa del Carmen/Cozumel area? I’m particularly fond of Playa del Carmen, and that flight to Cancun should be pretty reasonable for you.
Warm weather, Caribbean beaches, and fascinating history beckon visitors to this coastal city during December. Once a 16th-century Spanish port, Old Town Cartagena, surrounded by ancient stone walls, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors strolling through its streets will see original Spanish Colonial architecture among new restaurants, restored homes, and boutique inns. From street food to upscale restaurants, Cartagena offers the best in local seafood, meat, and fresh fruits. In December, the city becomes a festival of lights, with nativity scenes, decorations, and holiday celebrations culminating with New Year’s Eve fireworks. Holiday shoppers will want to take home gifts of colorful handcrafts sold at markets throughout the city, with special Christmas markets arriving in December. Colombia supplies nearly 90 percent of the world’s emeralds, and a quality gem from a reliable source would make a memorable keepsake. Nearby Rafael Nunez International Airport makes arriving by air quite convenient, and visitors will find a range of lodging in and around Cartagena. For a luxurious vacation, the new Conrad Cartagena offers four pools, a private beach club, a golf course, seven restaurants, tennis courts, a spa, and stunning ocean views from every room.
I’m in the Texas Hill Country myself at the moment (Kerrville to be exact), so we are almost neighbors. It really depends on whether you’d like a city or a beach or national parks and such. My first recommendation is Mexico City. You’ll be able to get cheap flights from Dallas, and the weather there in November is very nice and dry. Honestly, the whole huge city center is as nice as any large Texas city, and the architecture is far more interesting. You can even visit some pyramids just a bit outside of town. Before I went I assumed Mexico City would look run-down like many border towns, but it’s actually very fancy.