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Last-minute family holiday getaways

From sand to snow and everything in between, here are the best places to take the family on a last-minute vacation. By Montoya Hudson | October 1, 2021

Looking to book holiday travel and coming down to the wire? We’ve all been there, but planning a last-minute holiday vacation doesn’t have to be stressful. Instead, head to one of the destinations below for a vacation that’ll make you wonder why you didn’t do this sort of trip earlier.

These family-friendly holiday getaways are great for making memories the whole family will cherish, so you can:

  • Shake off the winter blues: Learn to hula dance on the sunny beaches of Honolulu

  • Sample other cultures: Feast on festive Aruban holiday ham

  • Experience the magic of the holidays: Add a little whimsy to your holiday vacation at Orlando’s theme parks

For those seeking sand and sunshine

Los Cabos, Mexico

If your family loves to add a bit of adventure to a typical beach vacation, then Los Cabos is the destination for you. Take your sandy playtime up a notch by going off-roading in an ATV or zip-lining over the Baja Forest canopy. The holiday season is also a wonderful time to see whales on their annual migration, so set sail with a reputable tour company like Cabo Expeditions on a whale-watching excursion. After a day of family-friendly adventures, dine on phenomenal regional cuisine like locally sourced marlin and chocolate clams.

Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

If you’re looking for a holiday vacation in the sun, look no further than the Sunshine State. Ft. Lauderdale is often touted as Miami’s family-friendly cousin, but it really is a destination all its own. If you prefer to be on the water, charter a boat and watch the city’s annual Winterfest Boat Parade, where you’ll see hundreds of hand-decorated boats on display. Or leave the sea navigation to the professionals and take a pirate cruise with Bluefoot Pirate Adventures. Nature-lovers will love learning about the Florida Everglades wildlife at places like Butterfly World and the Flamingo Gardens, which has the largest collection of native wildlife in Florida.

Puerto Rico

Due to the large Catholic influence on the island, Puerto Rico goes all out for the holidays. Holiday celebrations start shortly after Thanksgiving and continue well into the new year. Starting in mid-December, families can sing carols at nightly celebrations called Aguinaldo Masses, toast to their good fortune on Nochebuena (the night before Christmas) and observe the end of the holiday season at the San Sebastian Festival in January. When you’re not out celebrating at the numerous festivals, relax at popular Condado Beach or hunt for waterfalls around the island. At night, explore old San Juan for dazzling light displays. If you stay out late enough, you might even catch a holiday parranda (or street party) as revelers go from house to house with music, dancing and caroling.



Trips for city the lovers

Chicago

Chicago is your ideal holiday vacation destination if you’re seeking snowcapped skyscrapers and amazing food. Sample deep-dish pizza, along with many other culinary delights in the city, by taking a food tour with Chicago Food Tours. Or dine at Wildberry Restaurant, one of the city’s most renowned and family-friendly dining destinations. The restaurant is only open until midday, but their creative pancake flavors make them a hit with kids. Visit Millennium Park for more holiday fun, like ice skating near the city’s Christmas tree display. If you want to escape the cold, head indoors to the Chicago Children’s Museum (best for kids up to age 12) or the Museum of Science and Industry, which is heralded as the largest science center in the Western Hemisphere.

New York

New York City’s snowy streets, wreath-laden brownstones and colorful light displays make it an ideal destination to celebrate the holidays. Take your family by Rockefeller Center to ice skate around its Christmas tree and shop for presents at FAO Schwarz. Venture to Times Square to let the kids snap a picture with a costumed character or get treats from the colossal M&M store. A visit to the Big Apple isn’t complete without taking the family to see Lady Liberty herself; our tip is to take a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry for a prime view of the Statue of Liberty. Coney Island’s amusement park is closed during the winter, but your family will still enjoy feeding the fish and watching the sharks at its New York Aquarium.

San Francisco

Celebrate the holidays on San Francisco’s waterfront at Pier 39. The entire area is decked out for the holidays with a larger-than-life holiday tree and live street performers. While you’re there, indulge your family’s sweet tooth with a warm funnel cake from The Fun Food Factory, say hello to the resident sea lions and learn about local aquatic life at the Aquarium of the Bay. To get in the holiday spirit, ride the cable cars up the hilly downtown streets to spot holiday lights and decorations, take the kids ice skating at city hall or explore the Zoo Lights event at the San Francisco Zoo.



For those wanting the gift of relaxation

Honolulu

Honolulu is the capital city of the largest island in Hawaii, so it’s fitting that the city goes big for the holidays. Spend the holidays building sandcastles, visiting pineapple plantations and learning to hula dance at holiday luaus. Your kids will love seeing the city adorned in lights and the larger-than-life tree display in the city square. There are more than 100 beaches on Oahu to visit, but the most family-friendly of them all is Waikiki Beach. The water is calm and the sand is soft, making it perfect for younger kids. It’s also where families can see Santa trade in his sleigh for a kayak. Kids ages 6 and older can hang-10 and ride the surf by signing up for lessons from the Kahu Surf School.

Orlando, Florida

Nobody does holiday vacations better than the theme parks in Orlando. Disney World takes the holidays to heart with their Very Merriest celebration, complete with special character outfits, nightly firework displays and holiday-themed parades down the decorated promenade. Ride some of the infamous rides or explore a certain school of wizardry to add a bit of adrenaline to the magic of the holidays. Venture outside of the parks with children ages 6 and older by learning to defy gravity on a flying trapeze at Orlando Circus School. If you’d rather keep both feet on the ground, become holiday chocolatiers at Farris & Foster's Chocolate Factory.

Aruba

Trade the white snow for the white sand beaches of Aruba this holiday season. The island is a cultural melting pot of traditions that make holiday vacations here special. There’s Dutch Sinterklaas, who foregoes the traditional stockings and instead leaves gifts in children’s shoes left on the porch. You can also hear customary holiday carols sung by Venezuelan-inspired Gaita bands and dine on Aruban ham covered in pineapples and cherries. When you feel up to an activity, explore the rest of the island with a family-friendly company like De Palm Tours Aruba. They will take you to feed the island’s flamingos, snorkel to spot aquatic life in shallow waters and get your crew access to an exclusive waterpark on the island.

Make your holiday travel memory

With so many memorable holiday vacation destinations to choose from, picking just one place might be the hardest part of planning your getaway. But with this guide, your last-minute holiday vacation can be filled with as much, or as little, adventure, relaxation, food, sun or snow as you’d like. No matter the destination you select, the memories you create while on vacation will be the greatest gift of all.

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Montoya Hudson is the founder of the popular blog, The Spring Break Family. She loves to share tips on travel, health and all things related to the family.

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