11 Family-Friendly Vacations to Take in December

Rockefeller christmas tree

Rudy Sulgan/Getty Images

December is as good a time as July to pencil in a little family vacation. The destinations on your list will be glistening even more the closer it gets to Christmas and what better way to fend off your kids' winter break boredom, after all?

Holiday lights and sipping hot chocolate next to a fire are what cold-weather fantasies are made of. There are plenty of places for that or for catching up on your R&R under the palms, if you're partial to a warmer climate. There's even a town named after old St. Nick, himself, where the merriest of escapes awaits you and your family on Mistletoe Drive (yes, really).

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Revel in the Magic of Walt Disney World

Micky Mouse at Christmastime
Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney Parks

Disney World is magical every day of the year, but around the holidays, the theme park is especially merry.

'Tis the season when top destinations and family resorts are decking their halls and making the season merry and bright. If you're looking for a fun way to celebrate the holidays this year, one of these getaways might be just the ticket. With children around the country enjoying as much as two weeks of school holidays, many families will turn Christmastime into an opportunity for a vacation. 

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Marvel at New York City's Light Displays

Christmas decorations outside Radio City Music Hall

Rolf Bruderer/Getty Images

The holiday season is arguably the most exciting time to visit New York City and definitely a time with popular family appeal. Beginning in late November, the Big Apple is transformed into a festive holiday destination, from the famous Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center to the beautifully decorated storefronts along Fifth Avenue.

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Play in the Snow at National Parks

Father and daughter cross country skiing
Stephanie Hager - HagerPhoto / Getty Images

Love the outdoors? Perhaps the best-kept secret about national parks is that they are terrific places to visit year-round. During the winter, your family can take advantage of free ranger-led tours, junior ranger activities, and wildlife learning without the heat and the crowds. Check out these national parks that put the "win" in winter.

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Shop at the Christmas Market in Philadelphia

Philadelphia at Christmastime
M. Fischetti/VisitPhilly.com

From a popular German-style Christmas Market at Love Park to the Reading Terminal Market’s well-loved holiday railroad, the City of Brotherly Love is transformed into a festive holiday destination from mid-November through the New Year.

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Ride the Polar Express at the Grand Canyon

Napa Valley Wine Train Santa Train

Napa Valley Wine Train

The magic of Christmas comes alive in "The Polar Express," the beloved children's book and ​perennial favorite holiday movie. Dozens of Polar Express trains have popped up all over the country, offering families the opportunity to recreate the magical Polar Express experience through readings of the story, music from the movie soundtrack, cups of cocoa and, of course, meetings with Santa. Be sure to book ahead, as these trains can sell out months in advance.

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Warm up in Texas

Christmas Tree, Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas, America

joe daniel price/Getty Images

Looking for a warm-weather winter destination that's both cheap and easy to get to? The personal finance website WalletHub looked at dozens of the largest U.S. metro areas and crunched the data to see which has the winning combination of lowest travel costs and fewest hassles. Turns out that four of the top five top warm-weather destinations are in the Lone Star State. 

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Go Skiing at a Family-Friendly Resort

Kids skiing at Smugglers Notch
Smugglers' Notch

Looking for a ski resort that goes above and beyond for families? The readers of Ski magazine say these are the top 20 ski resorts for kid-friendly programming, with choices for every budget and skill level.

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Spot a Whale in San Diego

A gray whale fluke
Flickr Creative Commons: jpmckenna

Are your kids fascinated by whales? Consider planning a whale watching family getaway to Southern California. San Diego’s famous gray whale-watching season stretches from December through April. You can watch a parade of California gray whales make their annual 5,000-mile migration from the chilly Alaskan seas to the warm water lagoons of Baja California.

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Visit a Town Called Santa Claus

Entrance sign to Santa Claus, Indiana

Spencer County Visitors Bureau

Named one of the "10 best places to spend Christmas" by CNN, the town of Santa Claus, Indiana, whose population is less than 3,000, boasts the only post office offering a "Santa Claus" postmark and an army of elves that reply to nearly half a million letters each year from children trying to reach St. Nick. Street names include Christmas Boulevard, Candy Cane Lane, and Mistletoe Drive, and you'll find over 20 statues of Santa around town, offering many seasonal photo ops.

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Winter Olympics Host Cities

LakePlacid_BobsledExperience.jpg
Whiteface.com

You don't have to be an athlete to try out some of the sports at Olympic complexes, and an Olympic-themed getaway can make for a fun and active family trip. Along with delivering Olympic fun, these locations are without exception tremendously scenic and chock full of charm. They are picturesque ski towns with a wide array of kid-friendly hotels, restaurants, shops, and other amenities to keep families happy.

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Dog-Sledding Destinations

Love dogs? Love winter? Dog sledding is a fun and family-friendly adventure that combines the two. You don't need to take your family to the Iditarod to enjoy a sled ride over snowy terrain powered by a team of Huskies. There are plenty of places closer to home where your family can go for a spin on the snow and maybe even learn a few dog-driving skills.

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