If you really want to see the city up close, visit in November or December, when the crowds have dispersed. Hotel prices are comparatively low, and gondoliers are more appreciative of customers. And once you have your fill of religious art, head for the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which displays 20th-century American and European art in a home and garden setting. Note: October through January is the time of acqua alta, when Venice may flood. Usually it's not severe, and the city puts up wooden walkways for visitors and residents to traverse the water.

In her dynamite cookbook “Martha Stewart’s Vegetables,” the queen of domesticity shows how acorn squash can be a canvas for a variety of flavors. Roasted with sesame seeds and cumin, the squash takes on the warmth of the Mediterranean. Tossed with bacon, maple syrup and a touch of cayenne, it echoes the comfort of the breakfast table. And paired with orange peel, sage leaves and a touch of grated Parmigiano offers the perfect balance to rich gravy and herbed stuffing.

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.

While Cancun has become the king of the Mexican beach resort towns in the few decades since it was formed, it's only one of many, and all of them on both coasts have very nice weather in December. In fact, Cancun is probably the most expensive of them, so especially if you are coming from the west coast you are better off in Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, or Los Cabos instead.

By the way, Costa Rica is quite different from the popular countries of South America itself (Peru, Argentina, Brazil etc), so it’s a different experience and not much of an introduction. I think in 12 days you could have a great time in several areas of Costa Rica, and maybe also spend a few of those days in Panama or Nicaragua. As always, feel free to ask more questions if you have them. -Roger

Tamarindo and Smara are two of the most popular beach areas, but there are other good choices in the area as well. This part of Costa Rica is known for large chain resorts on the beach, and the 4-star resorts can be pricey, while the more traditional 3-star hotels are still very reasonable. Costa Rica is obviously one of the hot countries in December in both temperature and popularity, so book early.


Since flights to Mexico City from the US and Canada are usually quite cheap this time of year as well, this could be a perfect short cultural holiday. This city has great shopping, dining, and nightlife, and the central historic and tourist districts are far safer than most people would expect. There are ruins just out of town as well, so a bit of everything is available. 
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