On one hand, the holiday season is expected to be “more stressful than fun” by one in four Canadians, according to a poll last December by Vancouver’s Research Co. On the other, end-of-year travel was cited as a source of stress by more than a third of respondents to an earlier American Psychiatric Association survey. Mix in the Great White North’s tempestuous winter weather, and travelling does not seem like an ideal way to ease festive stress.
But that’s where the hotels, resorts, lodges, trains, festivals, attractions and theme parks listed here come in. By taking all the work out of all sorts of seasonal diversions – from sleigh rides and Santa encounters to tree trimming and feast prep – they maximize merriment while making life easier throughout December and into January. Joy to the world indeed.
‘Christmas Train’ and Le Germain Hotels
Skirting 125 kilometres of snowy St. Lawrence riverbank between Quebec City and La Malbaie, this new weekend train service kicks off just in time for the Nov. 29 opening of the renowned Baie-Saint-Paul Christmas Market. The Quebec-based Le Germain hotel chain, meanwhile, is supporting the fairy light-festooned train by providing stylish digs, festive cuisine, Santa-centric diversions and live holiday music at two of its boutique properties – one steps from the European-style market, the other in most visitors’ natural departure point of Quebec City. For visitors looking to extend their stays beyond the train’s final run on Dec. 7, few cities make winter more appealing, with the iconic Fairmont Le Château Frontenac hotel towering over the city’s famous toboggan lanes, German Christmas Market, and other festive diversions.
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts: Built in part to share Canada’s winter splendor with the world, it’s no wonder several of the country’s historic railway hotels are rolling out holiday packages. A “Festival of Christmas Offer” from Alberta’s Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge includes in-room evergreens with decorations and family photoshoots in the cozy confines of Santa’s Cabin.
A snowy and outrageously scenic four-hour drive to the southeast, the stately Fairmont Banff Springs is home to similarly lavish trimmings, dining and pampering. It’s also within walking distance of the Banff Gondola, which as of Nov. 16 will be offering rides to Santa’s Workshop atop Sulphur Mountain, where families can decorate cookies and write letters to St. Nick, who is again defying the laws of physics by being present for photo ops.
Newer Fairmont hotels, such as those in Whistler, B.C., and Mont Tremblant, Que., are also pulling out all the snowy stops, with both offering “Trees of Hope” packages that include a 15-per-cent discount on accommodation, a $25 hotel credit per stay, and daily donations to Canadian charities.
Club Med les Arc Panorama: Canadians looking for all-inclusive ski resort vacations need not wait until the scheduled 2021 opening of Club Med Quebec Charlevoix, the French chain’s first mountain property in North America. The newest of Club Med’s 24 luxurious Alpine operations, the year-old Les Arcs Panorama in the French Alps, provides instant access to one of Europe’s largest ski areas, with festive feasts, activities, entertainment and more included.
Keystone Resort, Colorado: An hour’s drive west of Denver, Keystone cements its family-oriented reputation with the Kidtopia festival. Encompassing what’s said to be the World’s Largest Snowfort, a model village made of 7,000-plus pounds of chocolate, breakfast with Santa on Dec. 24, and a fireworks show and torchlight parade on New Year’s Eve, the December-long fest is capped by a Dec. 21 “Mountaintop Spectacular” high above Keystone’s 3,000-plus condos, five-acre skating lake billed as the largest in the United States, and six-lane tube park that, at 3,548 metres above sea level, is apparently the loftiest on Earth.
All is calm
Vintage Hotels, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.: Between spa treatments at any or all of its three properties in the Dickensian home of the Shaw Festival – which also happens to be staging A Christmas Carol from Nov. 13 to Dec. 22 – visitors can take part in chronologically accurate “12 Days of Christmas” packages that include daily events such as outdoor s’mores sessions, fortune-telling, and popup cocoa bars.
Wickaninnish Inn, Tofino, B.C.: There’s calm in the eye of a storm, which could be why watching the Pacific’s December fury through the panoramic windows of Tofino’s Wickaninnish Inn is so calming. There’s certainly plenty of relaxation built into the upscale inn’s three-night “West Coast Christmas” package, which includes brunch each day, a live miniature tree with ornaments for guests to take home, a four-course Christmas dinner at the Pointe Restaurant, a festive tipple at On the Rocks Bar, and a bottle of sparkling wine on arrival.
All is bright
Illumi festival and Ritz-Carlton Montreal: Eat your heart out, Clark Griswold! The inaugural Illumi festival covers an Olympic Stadium-sized expanse of Laval, Que., with sculptures and video installations decorated with more than 10 million LED bulbs. There’s also a Christmas Village with local artisan vendors, seasonal refreshments, live entertainment, and a 47-metre-tall Tree of Lights. Free shuttles whisk visitors between the fest and the nearby Montmorency Metro station, which is a 40-minute ride from the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Montreal. There, a pleasingly practical “Friends and Family” package knocks 50 per cent off connecting rooms until Dec. 31.
Niagara Falls Wonder Pass: Combined with the jaw-dropping Winter Festival of Lights and a wide range of hotel packages, these Niagara Parks passes take care of local transportation, courtesy of the WEGO bus and incline railway, and include admission to attractions as diverse as the thundering Journey Behind the Falls and the elegant Butterfly Conservatory.
Westin St. Francis, San Francisco: You’d need an army of helpers to pull off anything like the “Holiday Hideaway” package at home. Children are welcomed at check-in with candy canes, colouring books and a golden ticket redeemable for in-room goody delivery and a “Letter to Santa Kit.” Proceeding to a designated Holiday Hideaway floor in the historic Landmark Building, families are greeted by costumed toy soldiers who escort them to accommodations housing miniature Christmas trees. After elves bring surprise evening treats for all, little ones awake the next morning to a delivery of San Fran-inspired gifts from the North Pole.
All they (or you) want for christmas
InterContinental Toronto Centre: As well as being within easy walking distance of Union Station and a short ride-share from the Distillery Historic District’s glittering European-style Christmas market, this 25-storey downtown hotel offers a one-night Yorkdale Shopping Package that includes a buffet breakfast in Azure Restaurant & Bar, valet parking at the 250-store Yorkdale Shopping Centre, a $50 Yorkdale Gift Card, and a $25 Esso Gas Card.
Oak Bay Beach Hotel, Victoria: For a more intimate form of festive retail therapy, this boutique oceanside resort’s “Ultimate Shopping Package” includes breakfast and chauffeured car service in the picturesque community, a canvas shopping tote, complimentary parking, access to the hotel’s heated mineral pools, a $40 resort credit, and a brochure filled with discounts at many of the 30-plus businesses in the area.
Grandma got run over by ...
… a locomotive: The week-long “Scottish Christmas” rail tour from Chicago-based Vacations by Rail follows a round-trip route that begins and ends in Edinburgh and stops at scenic spots such as Kyle of Lochalsh and Loch Ness. Travelling by Scotrail, the Kyle Line and motor coach, guests take in the Cairngorms Mountains and Eilean Donan Castle, with Christmas Day spent in Inverness and Loch Ness hosting Boxing Day.
… a roller-coaster: Orlando’s two largest theme parks make Santa’s elves look positively lazy over the holidays. At Walt Disney World Resort, guests who book customizable packages at one of 25 Disney Resort hotels can check out new attractions such as Animal Kingdom’s “Tree of Life Awakenings” multimedia show, and the “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” themed area in Hollywood Studios.
Over at Universal Orlando Resort, the five-night “Wizarding World of Harry Potter Exclusive Package” includes breakfasts at the Leaky Cauldron and Three Broomsticks, a keepsake box containing themed luggage tags and lanyards, and early admission to select attractions at its namesake park, where Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley are decorated for the holidays and a new roller coaster, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, opened in June.
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