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 The Brancatelli File

joe HOLIDAY TRAVEL TALES

BY JOE BRANCATELLI

November 4, 2004 -- Let's be honest: No matter whether your man won on Tuesday night or you think we're now stuck with the evil of two lessers, you have to be happy that it's all over, right? And since we're being honest here, let's be brutally honest: You don't really want to talk about business travel today either, do you?

Good. Neither do I. So let's talk about the holidays. It's one of the few times that the travel industry actually gets truly creative and interesting. There not only are some fabulous deals on business-class airfares around, but hotels all over the world have invented some fun packages.

So, assuming you don't just want to veg out at home over the holidays after another exhausting year of life on the road, consider some of these interesting tidbits.

HOW NOT TO BE A SCROOGE IN LONDON
Like many American baby boomers, my introduction to Charles Dickens was via the Mr. Magoo version of A Christmas Carol. It took me years to realize there was a book! And who knew that A Christmas Carol was actually a great read?

Anyway, that's my way of suggesting that spending Christmas in London is always one of those uniquely American travel fantasies. Which is why the holiday packages from London's Red Carnation Group (877-955-1515) strike such a nice holiday chord. At Red Carnation's five-star properties--the Milestone Hotel and 41 Buckingham Palace--The Five-Star Christmas package includes two nights of accommodations; a welcome gift; a wreath and mistletoe; gift-wrapping services; a three-course dinner for two, including mince pies; full English breakfast; a tea for two with Christmas cake; and a couple of bottles of wine. The price is $793 for a double room between December 1 and January 7. The Magical London package at Red Carnation's four-star hotels--The Montague, The Chesterfield and The Rubens--includes two nights of lodgings; welcome gift; gift-wrapping service; mistletoe; tea for two with Christmas cake; and a taxi ride to Trafalgar Square to see the Christmas tree. Prices start at $421 between December 1 and January 5. One Scrooge-like note: VAT taxes are not included in those prices.

JEAN SHEPARD WASN'T THINKING OF VANCOUVER, BUT...
Speaking of good Christmas movies made from good Christmas stories--hey, it's close enough to the holidays to give a pass to your fat, jolly columnist for the weak transition--we come to Jean Shepard's A Christmas Story. After lots of hijinks and sonorous voiceovers from Shepard himself, the movie ends with a grand holiday meal in a Chinese restaurant.

Now I can assure you that Jean Shepard was not talking about Vancouver, British Columbia, when he wrote A Christmas Story. But as anyone who's been there lately can attest, Vancouver has North America's very best Chinese cuisine--both in the quality of the food and the quantity and diversity of the places serving it. The recently revitalized Canadian dollar makes Vancouver dining a wee bit less of a bargain than it used to be, but give yourself a major prize this holiday season and check out the scene.

Where to stay? How about the Pan Pacific Vancouver (800-327-8585). The Holiday Leisure Package rate is valid through December 30 for as little as C$299 a night (about US$250) and includes deluxe city or water-view room lodging; breakfast for two; a food and beverage credit; passes to the health club and the Vancouver Aquarium; free local calls; and late checkout.

SHOPPING IN NEW YORK, BUT NOT MANHATTAN
Okay, I imagine you saying, why are you talking about eating and partying for the holidays when I haven't even started my Christmas shopping yet? Fair enough. I got your back.

Not far from the vast JoeSentMe world headquarters on the Hudson River in New York is Woodbury Common Outlets. This thing is a gigantic, slickly packaged, upmarket shopper's paradise. You'll find all the standard places scattered among the 220 outlets, of course, but also a treasure trove of upscale outlets: Burberry, William-Sonoma, Tod's, Armani, Dooney & Bourke, Le Creuset, Saks, Barneys and Versace, to name just a few. Even die-hard Manhattanites who never leave the island come up here.

Six Manhattan hotels in the Hilton Family recognize the power of Woodbury Common, which explains its Shop & Stay package. Besides overnight lodging, you get a booklet stuffed with discounts for Woodbury Common shops, a $5 discount on the express bus that connects Manhattan and the outlet center and a $5 food-and-beverage voucher at the Woodbury Common Food Court. Nightly rates through December 30 range from $209 at the Hilton New York or Millenium Hilton to $309 at the Doubletree Guest Suites. I suggest you try the Hilton Times Square ($249), a very sleek hotel that is also just a few steps from where the bus departs. Make reservations (877-NYC-HILT) using Plan Code WOO.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING NEW YEAR'S EVE?
Far be it from me to tell you what to do on New Year's, so consider this simply a recommendation from a lot of folks whose judgment I trust: Hogmanay in Edinburgh, Scotland. I got my first taste of Edinburgh as a leisure city this year and I was impressed. I can see why it would be a great place to celebrate the end of the year.

Edinburgh's best-known and most luxurious hotel, The Balmoral, is now in the hands of Rocco Forte, who seems to be buying or building super-deluxe properties everywhere you look these days. The Balmoral's Hogmanay Package includes two nights of accommodations; Scottish breakfast; and admission to the Balmoral Ball, which offers victuals from a Michelin-starred chef and lots of traditional Scottish entertainment. Prices for the package start at £ 498 a person.

A FINAL NOTE
Many airlines have figured out that their coach cabins are chockablock with leisure travelers over the holiday season, but that their business-class sections are virtually empty. So they've begun what's become a very welcome holiday tradition: cutting the dickens out of business-class fares in December and the first few days of January. One example: Continental is selling seats to Europe in its BusinessFirst cabin for as little as $1,600 roundtrip this holiday season. Check the Steals & Deals page for these opportunities.

This column originally appeared at JoeSentMe.com.

Copyright © 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.