For decades, thousands of vacationers have boarded cruise ships for the winter holidays, enjoying festive splendor, elevated dining and entertainment experiences and unequaled value.
Well, they did up until 2020, anyway.
Unfortunately, holiday cruises to the tropics are suspended this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So where can travelers in search of warm-weather destinations spend their holidays?
Here are four U.S. warm-weather spots to try this year for relaxation, social-distance experiences and value.
Our fingers are crossed for a return to the high seas for holiday cruises next Christmas.
Texas Hill Country
Less than an hour from San Antonio, Texas Hill Country doesn’t offer a beach, but the distance away from the city and the mild temperatures are still a welcome escape from winter. The elevation of the region boasts fresh air and opportunities for ample outdoor experiences.
A good choice in the area is the La Cantera Resort & Spa, which features 496 rooms and 34 villas that are offset in their own little cluster in the woods. There’s also a private pool reserved for villa guests.
For travelers who want more space and privacy, the villas offer a separate check in area and parking plus a personal golf cart is assigned to villa guests to zip around the resort in. The resort is keeping occupancy at a lower level to ensure social distancing hovering between 50%-70% occupancy so it never feels crowded.
Social distancing is implemented in the resort’s restaurants and bars with single-use menus. Plus, the service staff wears masks and self-serve buffets have been eliminated.
Like the activities of a cruise, guests can book a spa treatment onsite at Loma de Vida Spa, lounge in the infinity edge pool or schedule a tee time at the resort’s two championship golf courses.
You can also take cruise-style excursions. Summon an Uber to see the Alamo and San Antonio Missions National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Or you can make a day trip to the wineries in Fredericksburg, a short drive away through the Texas Hill Country.
As of Oct. 15, a pre-travel testing option will allow travelers an alternative to Hawaii’s mandatory 14-day quarantine. Out-of-state travelers must present proof of a negative nucleic acid amplification test administered by one of Hawaii’s trusted partners within 72 hours of their arrival in order to avoid two weeks in isolation.
If you’re fazed by the thought of a long flight in a mask, consider spacing out your flights with an overnight stay in a city like Phoenix. (Unfortunately, California hotels in gateway cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco are currently off-limits to out-of-state visitors because of the regional shutdowns in that state.) The last leg from the West Coast to Hawaii isn’t actually that unpleasant.
To be on the safe side, if you do opt to stay in a West Coast city en route to Hawaii, check its travel restrictions ahead of time to make sure you won’t have to quarantine.
Once in Maui, there are plenty of opportunities for socially distanced fun, including surfing, snorkeling, zip-lining, golfing, parasailing, whale watching or learning about the region’s ecosystem and marine life. And much like a cruise, there are activities suitable for travelers of all ages.
Montage Kapalua Bay, which had been closed for six months, reopened on Oct. 15th, just in time for travelers to trade in their coats for Hawaiian shirts and swimsuits. With 50 residential-style suites ranging in size from one to four bedrooms, Montage’s signature activities-based children’s program has daily activities like turtle tracking, lei making, coconut painting, herb garden tours, ocean bingo and more.
Florida’s Space Coast
The Sunshine State is a great destination to escape the winter chills, and is familiar for cruisers. Even though there are no cruises from Florida this December, there can still be beach days. Explore the beautiful beaches and the memorable Kennedy Space Center on the Space Coast of Florida, just about an hour east of Orlando.
Enjoy the beach scene on Cocoa Beach, Satellite Beach, Indialantic Beach and Melbourne Beach. All have a wide variety of beach parks and access points. There is even a dog-friendly beach at Canova Beach Park.
For aspiring surfers, the year-round warm temperatures are the backdrop for surf schools with experienced instructors, and the Ron Jon Surf Shop and the Cocoa Beach Surf Company have everything you need for a day at the beach including rentals.
A must-see while on this coast is the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Marvel at the replica space capsules at the Rocket Garden or hear stories of NASA’s space pioneers at Heroes & Legends, featuring the U.S Astronaut Hall of Fame. However, be aware that some attractions, such as the Saturn V Rocket and Astronaut Encounter, are currently off limits because of the pandemic. For a fun lunch idea, try Rocket Fuel Food Truck.
More social-distance fun awaits at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, covering more than 140,000 acres. There’s a 7-mile hiking loop to explore an abundance of wildlife.
One affordable lodging choice is the Hilton Cocoa Beach Oceanfront, which boasts an outdoor pool deck and covered Tiki Bar. The hotel has direct beach access and bikes and beach equipment available to rent.
Florida is just as beautiful on the west coast, and Naples – located on the Gulf Coast in the southwestern portion of the state – offers splendid beaches. There’s also bird watching and epic sunsets in addition to abundant shopping.
Cruise-lovers appreciate convenience – unlimited dining options, ability to walk around or relax, great shopping and the chance to lounge by the ocean on the beach, all of which can be achieved on Florida’s Paradise Coast in Naples. The destination’s diverse dining offerings include international casual cuisine, plus toes-in-the-sand tables and fine dining.
Beyond the beach are the Naples Zoo, Naples Botanical Garden and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary that all provide educational experiences for kids while still providing a fun day. All are open with COVID-19 protocols in place.
Settle in at the Naples Bay Resort and Marina, which offers golf, six tennis courts, and multiple swimming pools, including one with water slides and another for lap swimming.
Naples is accessible via Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) in nearby Ft. Myers, located less than an hour away.