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8 Ways to Warm Up This Winter

Tropical islands, Western desert, mountainside Jacuzzis and more --
fire up your vacation plans in these hot spots

By Jennifer Davoren

Vacations Magazine: 8 Ways to Warm Up This Winter
Ryan Bonneau/Visit Telluride

(Scroll down to see a slide show.)

There's no shame in snowbirding. Beat a retreat as December flexes its icy claws: to the beach, to a boat or to an oven-warmed eatery in Bangkok. Spring break and summer vacations are popular, as far as seasonal escapes go, but a winter getaway can be a relief from the daily grind as well as a disappointing weather forecast.

Get one up on Jack Frost with these eight suggestions for waging war against the cold. The travel discounters at Vacations To Go can offer great rates on your escape, from cruises and beachfront resorts to escorted tours in fevered, far-flung locales. Just go to the provided websites for more info.

Soak up southern sun. Heading south for the winter? Migrate to the far side of the Caribbean and the isle of Aruba, where daily temperatures idle at about 82 degrees year-round. On Palm Beach, a two-mile stretch of balmy sand on the destination's northwestern shore, you can volley between tropical waves and your choice of seafood houses and belly-warming cocktail bars. A variety of full-service resorts await, including the all-inclusive, adults-only Hotel Riu Palace Antillas and the family-friendly Hotel Riu Palace Aruba, both with quick connections to snorkeling and other water sports.

Winter also is a popular time for Aruba-bound cruises. Fire up a Valentine's Day getaway aboard the Jewel of the Seas from Royal Caribbean International, sailing round trip from San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Feb. 14 for a seven-night vacation that also makes time for Curacao, St. Kitts and St. Thomas.

Singe your taste buds. And, while you're at it, chase away any lingering seasonal congestion with a curry hot enough to smack your sinuses. On the eight-day "Real Food Adventure - Thailand" you'll also dig into steaming bowls of khao soi, a noodle dish popular among street vendors; laab, a spicy pork salad; and 11 recipes prepared in part by you and your fellow Intrepid Travel guests -- under the watchful eye of a local expert, of course.

Between meals, peruse floating markets for top produce, visit a mushroom farm to pick your own ingredients and sample the restaurant scenes of the Thai capital, Bangkok, and the northern tourist haven of Chiang Mai. Choose from three upcoming departures (Dec. 5, Jan. 2 or Feb. 13) priced from $985.

Light up the night. It seems counterintuitive, leading a heat-seeking mission into the Rocky Mountains as January blankets its peaks in more than a dozen inches of fresh powder. But in addition to its 2,000-odd acres of ski slopes, Telluride, CO, is host to a toasty celebration of the arts: the Telluride Fire Festival, with the 2016 edition slated for Jan. 14-18. Follow flame-throwing cars as they blaze a path across town and turn out for free performances by dancers and other practitioners of "fire artistry" that lend a thrilling glow to otherwise chilly nights.

Explore the Mountain Lodge at Telluride for accommodations ranging from budget-friendly rooms for two to ski-in, ski-out mountain cabins with native stone fireplaces. Further thaw out in the on-site Jacuzzi, heated swimming pool and sauna.

Sizzle on the dance floor. A thrilling competition awaits those embarking a Holland America Line theme cruise departing Fort Lauderdale, FL, in early 2016. The Jan. 10 "Dancing With the Stars: At Sea Champions Cruise" brings the fun of the television hit to the 2,100-passenger Nieuw Amsterdam in a fight for the famed "mirrorball" trophy. Watch contestants strut their stuff, take advantage of complimentary lessons with dance pros or make a casual spin around a shipboard venue like B.B. King's Blues Club.

This seven-night voyage, with port calls in the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and other island havens, is priced from $599.

Go geothermal. The name says it all: "Ecuador Amazon, Hot Springs & Volcanoes" is an escorted vacation fueled by the steam of humid rain forests, bubbling natural baths and magma-charged craters in the Earth. Traveling round trip from the Ecuadorean capital, Quito, guests take advantage of the region's dry season as they explore national parks and cultural havens, including a textile and handicraft market in the city of Otavalo. Participants can work up a sweat with optional hiking and biking excursions or simply soak in their surroundings; a visit to a traditional Andean village, San Clemente, offers lunch and conversation with local families.

The nine-day tour with G Adventures is priced from $1,449, and winter departures are offered Dec. 18, Jan. 1 and Feb. 12.

Follow the kohola. Humpback whales, as they're known outside the Hawaiian Islands, make the 3,000-mile dash from Alaska to the South Pacific each winter in search of better breeding and feeding grounds. They put on quite a show between December and May, breaching the ocean's surface for photo ops, trailing their calves past idling tour boats and otherwise enjoying their tropical vacation spot. Migrating pods are especially fond of the Auau Channel, a wildlife thoroughfare bordered by the isles of Lanai and Maui.

At Napili Kai Beach Resort, found in the Auau-adjacent town of Lahaina, a concierge arranges whale-watching outings as well as helicopter tours and luau reservations. Free perks of the property include a daily coffee hour complemented by Hawaiian cultural presentations and a weekly mai tai party.

Ignite your overnight. See Caribbean port cities in a new light with Celebrity Cruises' line of evening shore excursions. Starting in 2016, overnight stays in select destinations will offer unique glimpses of the local nightlife as well as customized journeys: sunset catamaran cruises in Aruba and St. Maarten; wine tasting in Curacao; two very different styles of touring Cartagena, Colombia (walk among Spanish-built structures to delve into South American history or board a party bus bound for raucous adventure); and more.

Choose between colonial architecture and cocktails while visiting Cartagena with the Celebrity Equinox. Sailing round trip from Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 1, the ship also calls on Mexico's Riviera Maya, Costa Rica, the Cayman Islands and Panama. Ocean-view cabins are priced from $1,999.

Get steamy in Vegas. Summer in Sin City is nothing short of punishing, but daytime highs in December and January hover around 60 degrees. It can be considerably chillier at night, with temperatures just shy of freezing, but that's when a poker table hot streak comes in handy.

Still, if a few extra chips in your pocket aren't enough insulation, you always can turn to The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and its Sahra Spa. An on-site hammam, or Turkish bath, offers a steam room experience that will warm you to your bones. Sample treatments like the Red Flower Hammam Experience, an 80-minute pampering that incorporates 11 oils and fruit essences to loosen limbs and encourage detoxification. Or, soothe winter dryness with a little tub time, including a tension-relieving bathing treatment that adds the bite of peppermint oil and the springlike scent of lavender to chase away your winter blues.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in November/December 2015. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 998-6925 for current rates and details.

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