Getting There is Half the Fun
Want to really travel this winter--and not just go somewhere? Hit the road, rails and sea.
(MONEY Magazine) – YES, YOU COULD JUST PLOP YOURSELF down on a beach in Jamaica this winter, but in most cases, it'd be no different from that beach in St. John's. Or Florida. Or California. The same is true of skiing locations: Resorts are resorts are resorts. What if you put the "travel" back in traveling--not just relocating from one place to another, but actually going somewhere and enjoying the ride along the way?
Instead of the generic package of room, outdoor activity (how many swimming pools do you need?) and fake-authentic drinking establishments, these vacations are a little more offbeat--and a lot more memorable. Riding a vintage train through Mexico and driving through the mountains to a Canadian ice hotel make for far better slide shows than yet another poolside daiquiri or lift-ticket line. Not to get too Zen about things, but with trips like these, it's as much about the journey as it is about the destination.
Wine Country Bike Tour Sonoma County, Calif.
Why wait for a flight attendant to bring the beverage cart by your cramped middle seat? With a bike tour of Sonoma wine country, you go to the vino instead of waiting for the vino to come to you. Packages are available in two- or three-day trips at a variety of cycling levels. If you don't have a bike of your own, you can rent one from the tour operator, and if you get worn out en route, a support van is just a phone call away.
Day One of the trip is a fully guided tour of Dry Creek Valley wineries, with a gourmet picnic lunch (think apple-smoked ham and brie, not PowerBars). You'll visit more wineries after lunch, returning to the Grape Leaf Inn, a restored Queen Anne Victorian house, in time for an afternoon massage and a wine tasting in the hotel's cellar. Tour guides create a self-guided itinerary for a second day, keeping in mind your interests and ability. Riding distance is around 25 miles a trip, though you can do more or less the second day.
LENGTH OF TRIP Two or three days COST $750-$1,035 per person, depending on number of days and weekend surcharge WEBSITE winecountrybikes.com
Luxury Train Travel San Antonio to Mexico City
Under normal circumstances, train travel in the U.S. conjures up images of Amtrak cars not leaving the station on time (if at all). Hop aboard GrandLuxe Rail Journeys' Mexico tour, though, and you will start to think that you're Cary Grant or Eva Marie Saint. The line's fully restored vintage train includes a glass-roofed dome car, three gourmet meals served daily, cocktails by the piano in the lounge car, and rooms outfitted with couches, convertible beds, and private lavatories and sinks (suites have private showers; other rooms have a shower compartment at the end of each car).
You will have to fly a bit for this one--a charter from San Antonio to Monterrey, where you will spend your first day and then board the train in the evening. Following that, you will stop in four other cities: Zacatecas, with its colonial architecture and silver mine; San Miguel de Allende, notable for its art galleries, restaurants and ornate gardens; Teotihuacán, the site of 2,000-year-old pre-Aztec ruins, including the Pyramid of the Sun and the Temple of Quetzalcóatl; and Mexico City, which is not only the largest city in North America but is also the continent's oldest.
LENGTH OF TRIP Jan. 22-29, 2007 COST $2,945-$4,145, with discount for tickets purchased before Dec. 15, 2006 WEBSITE americanorientexpress.com
Road Trip New York City to Quebec
Winter turns the northeast into a snow-coated playground for shoppers, skiers and sightseers alike. From New York City, head northeast to Manchester, Vt. There spend a couple of nights at the Equinox Resort & Spa (equinox.rockresorts.com). In addition to regular skiing and snowmobiling packages, you can enroll in the resort's falconry and off-road driving classes. From Manchester, it's less than five hours to Montreal. The old-city European charms are made more beautiful by a few coats of snow. When the chill gets to be too much, head into the Underground City, a system of tunnels and shops designed especially for the cold weather. Finally, another 3½-hour drive gets you to Quebec City, which is as much like Europe as you can get, short of crossing the Atlantic. If you arrive after Jan. 5, you can stay at the Hôtel de Glace, or Ice Hotel (icehotel-canada.com), which is--you guessed it--made entirely of ice and snow. For the more warm-blooded, there is always the famous castle-esque Château Frontenac hotel (fairmont.com), which dominates the city's skyline.
DESTINATIONS Vermont, Montreal, Quebec LENGTH OF TRIP Variable COST Variable
Antebellum Christmas Cruise South Carolina to Florida
What tour operators usually mean when they say their trips are educational is that you'll witness a hackneyed historical re-enactment, the main purpose of which is steering you into a gift shop. Smithsonian Journeys (run by the Washington-based Smithsonian Institution), on the other hand, actually delivers. Its tours are staffed by guides such as Jay Fraser, a retired history professor from Georgia Southern University who now leads a nine-day holiday cruise down the southeastern coast.
You'll start out in Charleston, where you'll visit Drayton Hall, a plantation-house-turned-museum, and stroll the city's gaslit cobblestone streets. You'll spend Christmas morning onboard en route to Beaufort, S.C. There you'll take a walking tour of the well-preserved colonial village center. A trolley ride in Savannah, a visit to the manses of Jekyll Island's Millionaire's Village and a tour of the ruins of slave quarters at Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island round out the itinerary, which ends with a stop on Amelia Island, Fla.
The vessel that makes this journey is the four-year-old American Glory. The ship accommodates 49 passengers, who have five room classes to choose from (all have private baths and either a king or two twin beds, as well as TVs with satellite connections; some of the larger staterooms have private balconies). Local musicians perform onboard, but the typical cruise casino-and-disco scene has been replaced by quiet libraries and lectures.
LENGTH OF TRIP Dec. 22-30 COST Starts at $3,555 per person WEBSITE smithsonianjourneys.org
Bike tours through wine country 154
New "downtown" malls 156
Snapshot photo printers 158