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.
Traveling around India is a shock to the system, but it’s not as bad as it looks. If you pay a bit more for the AC3 class on trains (air-conditioned, 3 bunks per side of the compartment), or AC2, it’s pretty comfortable and civilized. Mumbai is worth a couple days before you’ll be desperate to get out, but many parts of Rajasthan are much nicer and fascinating.
Phuket is incredibly popular among Europeans in December, especially the final week, of course, so it's critical to book early to get a good price at a beachfront hotel if that's your mission. It's also important to mention that Phuket is an island with more than a dozen different beach towns, each with its own personality and price range. Some are raucous and down-market while others are quiet and very expensive.
I like your comment about how “rainy seasons” are almost always overstated. I totally agree based on my own experiences and research, although there are a few places where they should be taken more seriously than others. On my most recent December trip to Bali (2.5 years ago, I think), I spent 30 days there and the rain only became a problem that one time I mentioned. It was just an insane cloudburst while taking a minibus from Kuta to Ubud, and in the end it’s actually probably my best Bali story. Aside from that, it’s very humid during Bali’s wet season, but even that really didn’t slow me down. The thing is, in Bali you are usually on or near the beach or a hotel pool (feeling the breeze) or in your air-conditioned room. Or you might be touring around to see temples and rice terraces and whatnot, and everything is outdoors and beautiful. When it does rain it’s usually over in 15 minutes, but often the rain comes over night. That kind of humidity can be a killer when visiting a city, but for me it’s a small issue on a tropical island like Bali.
From December through February there are literally no European cities that could qualify as having “great weather,” except for the Canary Islands, which is listed below. 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.
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.
Sports fans might enjoy the World Rugby Classic (Nov. 4-10), The Bermuda Squash Challenge (Nov. 8-10), or Goslings Invitational Golf Tournament (Nov. 26-30). It’s spiny lobster season, and local restaurants are serving the tasty seafood in chowder, tacos, sauces, and for purists, the tail meat broiled with butter. Coco Reef Resort is offering a Thanksgiving weekend package that includes daily breakfast, holiday dinner, taxes and fees, starting at $397 per night. Although it’s near the U. S. — about 650 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras — Bermuda is a British territory, so a valid passport is required.
It would probably be a bit more expensive, but another idea that could be great would be to fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and rent an apartment for two weeks. It’s a wonderful place that is family friendly, and rental apartments can be good deals. It’s obviously peak season there as well so nothing will be cheap. But the weather will be fantastic and the beaches are great, even in and near the city. I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions.
Weirdly enough, Central America and South America aren’t really known as top “culture” destinations, as the colonial history has mostly wiped out the indigenous history in the larger places. There are Aztec, Maya, and Inca ruins and sights, but not really enough to build a whole trip around. I’d say the most interest of those would be the Inca culture of Peru, specifically around Machu Picchu and the valley around Cusco. Alternatively, visiting Argentina is pretty much like visiting Europe from a culture standpoint. It’s quite nice there and prices are low if you know about the blue market for currency, but otherwise it may not be what you are looking for.
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).
If you’re a bit more on the timid side, you can always use Yelp and TripAdvisor to get good insights on places people have visited. As a disclaimer, some of the ratings may not be accurate on these sites, so make sure you go through and read some of the more recent reviews that people have written. We did this for a few of the places we visited and had no issues.