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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Top 10 Vacations to Get away from the Office

Itching to get away from the business this winter? Here are ten unusual ideas for you that are a good value for your dollar from now through March. Happy travels!

1. West FloridaW

With white sandy beaches, year-long sunshine and a more relaxed vibe than you'd expect in touristy areas around Florida, the Gulf Coast is a favorite destination for readers

Destin Condo Rentals allow you to soak up the sun right from your backyard. Skip the crowds and routine of hotel stays, with your very own condo. May travellers these days rent condos with other families or friends for both expanded socializing and funds.

Stunning white beaches, challenging golf and world-famous fishing define the Emerald Coast city of Destin. The Northwest Florida Regional Airport services this Northwest Florida vacation destination known as "The World's Luckiest Fishing Village."

You can find all kinds of great Destin Vacation Rentals to suit your plans - whether you want a week relaxing, or activities for the whole family.

2. The Caribbean island of Sint Maarten/St. Martin

On the half-French, half-Dutch island of Sint Maarten/St. Martin, the exchange rate is favorable: one euro = one dollar in many restaurants and stores. There's plenty to do, from world-class water sports on the Dutch side to world-class dining on the French side, and there's also plenty of nonstop airline service. Consider renting a villa. Three years ago my family rented a beachfront villa at Coral Beach Club for our February school break (click here to read why we liked it so much), and to this day it remains one of our favorite family resorts. Coral Beach Club is offering seven nights for the price of five until December 15 and a 20% discount from January 5 through April 15. Book through Sint Maarten/St. Martin villa specialist Marilyn Pulito of Villas in Paradise, who has access to 15% discounts on additional villas starting in January.

4. Mexico's Riviera Maya, Pacific Coast, or Michoacan Highlands

Thanks to lingering misperceptions that Mexico is unsafe—its vacation spots are no more dangerous than popular tourist destinations in the U.S.—values abound. Two great deals pre-Christmas are in the Puerto Vallarta area: The Four Seasons Punta Mita is offering three nights for the price of two through December 21; rates start at $400 per night. The St. Regis Punta Mita is offering three nights for the price of two, with daily breakfast included, through December 20; rates start at $406.On the Riviera Maya on the Caribbean coast, Mexico specialist Zach Rabinor of Journey Mexico is offering four nights for the price of three at the Rosewood Mayakoba (my new favorite tropical resort) January 4 through April 14; 25% off stays at the Banyan Tree Mayakoba after January 2 (stay three nights and you also get a complimentary spa session); and, at Esencia Estate, a third night free until December 20 and a fourth night free from January 5 through April 30. As for the Christmas/New Year's holiday itself, your best bet is the Pacific Coast, says Rabinor, because of simple supply and demand. Suites at Las Alamandas south of Puerto Vallarta, for instance, start at $561 per night (December 19-26 a minimum five-night stay is required; December 26 – January 2 a minimum seven-night stay is required). Looking to experience Mexico's nature and culture rather than just chill on a beach? Consider a private insider's tour of the country's colonial heartland and forested highlands to see the extraordinary annual gathering of Monarch butterflies. A one-week tour, starting on the date of your choice (including over the holidays) and staying in the remarkable boutique hotels of colonial Morelia and cultural Pazcuaro, costs anywhere from $1,600 per person (if you’ve got 10 people) to $2,540 per person (if you are only two), with a 10% discount for Condé Nast Traveler readers.

5. Rome

December through February is a highly enjoyable time in Rome. You'll need a coat and gloves, but you'll also need sunglasses, as the sun is usually shining. You'll find many more locals than tourists (not the case in the summer months), everything's open, museums are uncrowded, restaurants where the locals eat are affordable—and, if you're a shopper, there are steep January sales on Italian designer merchandise. December through February also brings low rates for rental apartments. Many apartments can be rented daily, with a three-, four-, or five-night minimum. Rent through Rome apartment specialist Patrice Salezze of Papavero Villa Rentals. She has deluxe apartments in a small palazzo (privately owned by the same family for 40 years), for instance, that include two-bedroom/one-baths for about $394 per night in January and February (vs. $527 in June or July ) and one-bedroom/one-baths for about $292 per night (vs. $440 in high season). Tell Patrice that you're a Condé Nast Traveler reader and she'll waive the minimum-stay requirement. Got a full week? Consider sleeping four people in a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment on a lovely pedestrian street between the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps for just $1,820 for the week.

3. Ski resorts Dear Valley, Jackson Hole, Banff/Lake Louise, and Aspen

The ski travel window that starts a couple of days after New Year's and ends a couple of days before Presidents' Day Weekend in mid-February traditionally brings good snow conditions, a lack of crowds, and  favorable pricing. Places that offer particular value for your dollar are those where winter is actually low season—resorts such as Deer Valley Condo Rentals, Jackson Hole in Wyoming, and Banff/Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies.  Looking to ski over the Christmas/New Year's holiday? You can save 50% at Capitol Peak Lodge in Snowmass, Colorado (packages start at $422 per person for four nights in a two-bedroom condo and three-day lift tickets; packages are based on quadruple occupancy); and you can get a 7th night free at the Rustic Inn in Jackson Hole (packages start at $762 per person and include seven nights in a king superior cabin and six-day lift tickets). You can save big with Aspen Vacation Rentals. Another high-value holiday ski idea: Base yourself in Salt Lake City—since there are plenty of flights into Salt Lake and plenty of empty hotels that normally cater to business travelers. It's an easy 45-minute drive to seven different ski mountains, so rent a car and you can try a different mountain every day!

6. Prague and Vienna

These cities are a festive winter wonderland in December. In Prague—which is a lot more delightful when free of the summertime tourist hordes—the Christmas markets run longer than those elsewhere in Europe: They start December 1 and last through January 6. Central/Eastern Europe specialist Gwen Kozlowski of Exeter International, which is known for its smart itineraries and savvy English-speaking guides, is offering a three-night package at the five-star Kempinski Hybernska that includes daily breakfast, round-trip private transfers from either airport or train station, two hours of a private guide to give you an insider's tour of Prague's Old Town, and all taxes, for $333.33 per night for two people, based on double occupancy. Can't make it for the Christmas festivities? The deal is available from now through March 24. Consider combining the three nights in Prague with four in Vienna, where Gwen is offering a four-night package at the four-star Le Meridien (in a great location just a block from the Opera House) that includes daily breakfast, round-trip private airport or station transfers, a Vienna Card (which provides discounted admission to all the top sights and free use of public transportation), and all taxes, for $300 per night for two people, based on double occupancy. (Vienna's Christmas Markets start November 17 and run through December 24.) The package is available from now through March 24, although there are blackout dates.

7. Berlin

Five-star hotels in Berlin are discounting aggressively over Christmas/New Year's (as well as throughout the winter), airfare is relatively affordable (since business travelers don't fly over the holidays), and there is always so much going on in this European cultural capital. The Regent is located smack in Gendarmenmarkt—where the Christmas market lasts until December 31—and has a "Winter to Remember" package that includes daily breakfast and Wi-Fi. Central/Eastern Europe specialist Gwen Kozlowski of Exeter International is offering a five-night rate that includes private roundtrip transfers, a three-day museum pass per person, and one admission per person to the Christmas market, for $180 per person per night (based on double occupancy). At the Adlon Kempinski (which has a pool), she is offering a five-night package that includes a particulately elaborate buffet breakfast daily, private round-trip transfers, a three-day museum pass per person, and one admission per person to the Christmas market, for $200 per person per night (based on double occupancy). Gwen has plenty more hotel deals up her sleeve, so contact her if you're happy with four-star values as well.

8. Anna Maria Island

Anna Maria Island is a quaint Barrier Island nestled in the Gulf of Mexico. Beautiful turquoise waters and white sandy beaches are the main attraction here. It is a place where "old" Florida charm can still be found, flip flops are a way of life and the speed limit never exceeds 35mph. High rise condos and fast food restaurants are pleasantly absent from our pristine "get away from it all" island. Anna Maria Vacation Rentals accommodations and restaurants offer something for everyone. From quaint cottages by the sea to deluxe suites, from million-dollar villas to rustic cottages to own, One visit to Anna Maria Island and you will be calling it, "My island in the sun".

9. Abu Dhabi

The world's richest city (with branches of the Louvre and the Guggenheim on their way) is terrific value for the money right now. In winter the temperature is hot but not 100-degrees-plus (as it can be the rest of the year), and for just $200 to $300 a night you can snag rooms in sparkling, over-the-top hotels fit for a sheikh. Combine two nights in the city with three nights in the desert or on Sir Bani Yas Island—a nature reserve where you can do an array of activities, including snorkeling, falconry, and animal safaris. United Arab Emirates specialist Lindsey Wallace of Linara Travel has access to deals you can't get elsewhere and will ensure all goes seamlessly. In the city he recommends the new waterfront Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa by Anantara, which has a rate of $200 to $250 (including daily breakfast and taxes) for all but a few nights close to New Year's, or the beachfront Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island, which is $300 per night (including daily breakfast and taxes). Combine that with three nights on Sir Bani Yas Island at the Desert Islands Resort & Spa by Anantara for $250 to $295 per night (including daily breakfast and taxes, based on a minimum three-night stay) or in the desert at Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara, where, for $280 to $320 per night (including daily breakfast and taxes), you can live out your Arabian Nights fantasy amid endless sand dunes.

10. A "repositioning" cruise

Got lots of time and enjoy spending it at sea on a ship? There are bargains on longer cruises where the ship is doing its seasonal repositioning from one region of the world to another. On December 7 there is a 15-night cruise on Celebrity Cruises' Infinity from Fort Lauderdale through the Panama Canal to Santiago, Chile, starting at $699 per person. On January 14 there is a 14-night cruise on Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas from Barcelona through the Suez Canal to Dubai, starting at $799 per person. If you're looking for a simple one-week Caribbean getaway, some of the lowest prices are on Royal Caribbean out of New Orleans in February (and it's relatively inexpensive to fly to New Orleans on most February dates): The Navigator of the Seas has balcony cabins priced at $649 per person. Sailings on the Disney Magic out of Galveston, Texas, are also a particular value, compared with the cost of sailings on other Disney ships from other ports. My source for these deals is plugged-in cruise specialist Tom Baker at Cruise Center, whom I recommend you contact to book these sailings.