On my own trip I spent 3 nights on the North Island after leaving Auckland, and then 4 nights on the South Island. The South Island is more scenic and interesting, and much less crowded, so I would have liked to have stayed another 2 or 3 nights if I had the time. So I’d recommend 3 or 4 nights on the North Island and 5 to 7 nights on the South Island. With smaller towns and smaller crowds on the South Island, that is the better place for star gazing, though most of the North Island is fairly empty as well. It’s an amazing place and I’m sure you’ll love it. Have a great trip. -Roger
Bali is wonderful, or at least parts of it are, but they now have a volcano issue and those flights are very long and never cheap. Machu Picchu is incredible, but it’s a place you visit for half a day or so, and they actually have their rainy season at the end of the year, so it’s actually not one of the better times to go. Actually, you might consider a trip to Argentina, which is warm that time of year, though rarely scorching. Buenos Aires is a wonderful city that is pretty good value now, and you can also visit the Mendoza wine region and Iguazu Falls and Bariloche, which are all even a bit cheaper than Buenos Aires.
The high season hotel prices will start in November as well, but crowds are usually thin for most of the month so you should be able to get some nice bargains at some of the nicer places that allow online booking. When they see that they have lots of empty rooms as the month approaches, they'll discount to be on par with some of the 2-star places that aren't nearly as nice.
There are snack stands everywhere at the theme park, and I can tell you from the experience of at least yearly visits that most choices at the stands are decidedly NOT keto-friendly. In recent years they’ve added what I’m sure they consider “healthy” choices, but most of those consist of yogurt and fruit with dip. You may, upon occasion, come across some carrots and celery with dip, but it’s very hard to find.
This is a very good month to visit because the weather continues to be perfect here, while the largest crowds from northern Europe haven't quite started arriving yet. So finding an affordable hotel or apartment rental should be easy, and the restaurants and bars are always reasonably priced. If you want to be among other English speakers you'll want to focus on the southwest area of the island around Los Cristianos and Playa de la America.
Keep Snacks Handy When You are Out – This was my snack stash for Disney World. I had Macadamia Nuts, Walnuts, Pecans, and low carb bars. I made sure to chill the water bottles in the freezer beforehand so that as they thawed throughout the day, we had cold water. When hunger hit, instead of falling to temptation, I just grabbed my bag of snacks before I got HANGRY. Doing so made it so much easier to make keto/low carb choices at mealtime. I kept my snacks simple because we already had enough to bring with us (if you have a baby and a toddler you know what I mean). I saw lots of people with small coolers who were snacking on fresh veggies and deli meats, but, again, my goal was easy breezy. You can find a great list of Keto/Low Carb Snack ideas here for inspiration if you prefer a variety.
When it comes to flights over the Christmas holidays, you should book as early as possible. The airlines know they can fill every seat at a high price so they don’t have an incentive to lower fares like they do for flights in January or February. Air Asia now flies from the US to Asia and at good fares. Aside from them it’s just the major airlines as well as some Chinese airlines that do those routes.
If your real goal is to sit on a European beach and not freeze or be alone in December, your only real choice is the Canary Islands. Tenerife is the largest of them, and the best one for English speakers. The average high in December there is 22C with 16C as a low, and in December it’s packed with Swedes and Brits and Germans who actually do sit on the beach or around pools, even though it’s a bit cool for most of us. It’s important to note though that the Canary Islands are technically part of Europe because they are a territory of Spain, but only the largest cities on each island are “European” at all. The beach resort areas are quite generic, and not very special aside from the pleasant weather and modest prices.
Orlando’s theme parks are a major draw for families (and big kids, too!), but this iconic experience doesn’t necessarily come cheap. During the pre-Christmas November lull, however, hotels often offer attractive discounted rates, meaning potential savings and – more importantly for the kids – less time spent standing in line. Those looking for a more alternative American adventure should consider the island of Puerto Rico in November. While there’s a chance of rain (but a greater chance of balmy beach-lounging days), the out-of-season discounts are as appetising as the island’s take on Thanksgiving dinner: turkey stuffed with mashed plantain.
Since you mention the temperature in Fahrenheit, I’ll assume you are in the United States. You might have to go to the Southern Hemisphere to reliably get 84F or higher, but you can get over 80F in most of the Caribbean. You’ll get low 80s in Hawaii in early December as well. Fortunately, neither of those places get too crowded until just before Christmas, so either should work.
Lace up your boots for an end-of-year adventure at the wild ends of the Earth. December is the ideal time to explore Patagonia’s mind-blowingly beautiful Torres del Paine National Park. Embark on an epic trek along the eight-day circuit, or take the four-day ‘W’ trek for Instagram-worthy views of Los Cuernos (the ‘horns’), the region’s iconic jagged granite peaks. Similarly breathtaking experiences can be had diving the coral reefs around Thailand’s Similan Islands. Beneath the sparkling surface of the ocean you’ll find sharks, barracuda, rays and green and hawksbill turtles – it’s Finding Nemo brought to life.
This classic Thanksgiving side came from Julia Child. We don’t see many creamed vegetables any more, except maybe creamed corn or spinach, so this might be a bit of a novelty. And it’s delicious. If people complain about the richness, just remind them that Thanksgiving dinner is supposed to be a feast, right? (And you can get by with an awful lot be invoking the name Julia Child).
Most hotels these days include at least a small refrigerator, and some even include a full kitchen and stove. This is great because it allows you to shop locally for some fresh food options. Search online for nearby farmer’s markets or grocery stores and see if you can pick up some local meats or fresh veggies to have in your room. This is more likely to be an option in the warmer months.
Say Hydrated – This is a no-brainer and one of the most significant challenges for me. I never drink enough water, but it was hot this week in Florida when we were at Disney, and I could tell such a difference in how I felt when I was hydrated. I felt like it made it easier to stay strong and stick to eating low carb/keto as it helps to quench false hunger.
And as you mention, Bali could actually work for you. I’ve spent two Decembers in Bali, and December is quite a bit rainier on average. Still I had a great time and it was sunny most of the days. The rain in the tropics (and Bali is almost ON the equator) tends to come down in 30-minute bursts rather than drizzling all day, so it’s usually pretty easy to avoid. The best part of Bali is there are loads of things to see and do, and the nightlife is excellent. The Kuta Beach area is fun for at least a few days, but I wouldn’t spend too much time there. You should also spend a few days in Ubud, which is very touristy but also interesting. And you could spend some time in Lovina, which is along the northern coast and it has all of the charm of Bali from 20 years ago before most of it got overbuilt. With all the temples and other local attractions, there is always something interesting to do, which is not true of many other places with great beaches and nightlife. Let me know if you have any other questions. -Roger
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.
As for key events in December, I typically avoid those sorts of things myself, so I’m not a good source on that. I actually visited Rio de Janeiro during Carnival, by accident, and it drives hotel prices so high and also crowds that it’s probably the worst time to visit unless you specifically want to spend all night watching the parades. And Oktoberfest, as another example, literally triples the prices of hotel rooms in Munich, so it’s only worth it if you REALLY want to get involved in the Oktoberfest thing yourself. But plenty of other travelers love to go witness the biggest events, and I assume they love it, so there is no right or wrong.
If you are looking for an all-inclusive resort with reasonable airfares from Chicagoland, your best bets will be in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, or the Cancun/Playa del Carmen area. Both have everything on your list, except perhaps wild life, depending on how you define that. You can get cheaper flights into Cancun, and there is a wide variety of offerings once you are there. If you don’t think you want to leave the hotel much, then stay in the Cancun hotel district or along the Maya Riviera nearby. But if you want to interact with a real and lovely town, then stay in Playa del Carmen or over on Cozumel. There are many nearby activities and some very interesting ruins.
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.
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.
Without knowing more about your interests, my top suggestion would be to focus on Sydney and Melbourne and the areas around both. The Blue Mountains near Sydney are also nice for a couple days or so. The main challenge you’d have in seeing a lot of Australia is that it’s all so spread out. You can hire a car for Melbourne and Sydney and that whole area, but it’s better to fly to get to Uluru (near Alice Springs) or Brisbane or Cairns/Great Barrier Reef or Perth. You’d be driving for days in between those places if you started from the southeast area where most people live.
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.
Southeast Asia is easier to deal with, and there are cheap flights connecting in the Middle East and landing in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore. Each of those is a very interesting city, and there are many smaller places to go in the same region. In Malaysia there is Penang and Melaka. In Thailand there is Chiang Mai and quite a few others in that area. In Laos you can visit Luang Prabang, which sounds like it could be a winner for you. And there is also Siem Reap, which is home to the amazing Angkor Wat temple complex.