It’s not too late to escape the insanity of being home for the holidays with these three last-minute vacations, each with availability, a direct flight from Chicago, and great holiday atmosphere.
Riverside, California, for Four Million Holiday Lights
Arrive to balmy highs in the low 80s. Check in at the historic Mission Inn Hotel & Spa (packages from $199 a night) for front-row seats to the free Festival of Lights. Through January 6, four million Christmas lights and 400 animatronic characters are bedazzling the block-spanning, California-Mission-style hotel, drawing crowds from across the country and illuminating ornamental features that include flying buttresses, bell and clock towers, a five-story, open-air rotunda and a maze of courtyards.
While you’re there: Spend a casual Christmas day swimming in the classic outdoor pool and dining outside in the illuminated garden at Las Campanas. Get off the grounds, too, with a cupcake shake next door at Casey’s, and a Cinderella carriage ride to the in-town ice rink.
Getting there: Fly direct from Midway to Ontario in four hours via Southwest.
Crested Butte, Colorado, for Tons of Snow
If you want fluffy powder beneath skis or a board, head to Crested Butte Mountain Resort (lift tickets from $103), already 67 inches deep in snow this season. Get 10 percent off a stay at the Grand Lodge Crested Butte (from $289 a night), a short walk from the slopes. For more savings, come after January 1 for 25 percent off lift and lodging on a four night stay or after Valentine’s Day for a $100 air credit plus 50 percent off lift and lodging on a seven-night stay; both deals are available only to those flying through Chicago and must be booked with Crested Butte Vacations (844-993-9545).
While you’re there: On Christmas Eve, watch Santa come down the mountain in a sleigh pulled by a snowcat followed by a torchlight parade performed by the Crested Butte Ski and Ride School. On Christmas Day, ride a sleigh to Uley’s Cabin in the woods. A fire awaits, plus a menu of roasted chestnut soup, winter green salad, Colorado venison, and house-made Scottish toffee cake.
Getting there: Fly direct in four hours on select Saturdays and Sunday—a new seasonal service launched last season on United.
St. James, London, for British Tradition
Stay in St. James near the River Thames at the historic, residential-style Stafford London (from $569 a night), a classic British institution now decorated with 100 Christmas trees.
While you’re there: Have a drink in the memorabilia-packed America Bar, ordering a Burgundy or Bordeaux from the in-house, 380-year-old wine cellar. On Christmas Eve, kick things off with carols, roasted chestnuts, and mulled wine in the working cellar. After a four-course dinner in the Lyttelton, take part in the torchlit procession to celebrate midnight mass at the historic Guards Chapel in nearby St. James Park. On Christmas Day, fill up on a classic British feast followed by a Christmas pudding ceremony. Later, take a walk in the royal Green Park, ice skate in Hyde’s Park, and shop the Convent Garden Christmas Market.
Getting there: Fly direct in seven and a half hours on flights offered by numerous airlines.