Image: Elf tuck-in
Courtesy of Walt Disney World
An elf tuck-in, featuring a story and milk and cookies delivered by an elf on Christmas Eve.
By
Tribune Media Services
updated 11/19/2010 2:00:29 PM ET 2010-11-19T19:00:29

Wouldn't it be nice?

No holiday cooking (unless you want to) much less washing piles of dishes. No lumpy sofa beds in your sister-in-law's family room. No squabbling, impossible-to-please kids bored with too little to do in too small a place. No running out of clean towels and hot water.

It's not wishful thinking — even in this economy. All you need to do is gather the gang at a vacation destination rather than a relative's house for the holidays.

According to American Express, 40 percent of consumers plan to travel this holiday season, most of them staying in the United States. This year, AAA expects more of us to hit the roads and skies for Thanksgiving.

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If you're going to drive four hours or fly across country anyway, you might as well go somewhere fun. It will be a lot easier than hosting the gang at your place and a lot less stressful than cramming everyone into your brother's house. The good news is that getting away for the holidays can be a lot more affordable than you might think.

You'll be surprised at the number of deals out there with plenty of holiday cheer (think Santa tucking the kids in), especially if you can travel before Christmas. Book a flight and hotel together on Expedia.com and save up to $450. Even better, book a flight for travel by Jan. 3 and you qualify for Expedia's "Holiday Bonus," a $200 travel coupon for use in the first quarter of 2011.

If your gang — like mine — can't wait to hit the slopes, you'll find plenty of early-season deals from Vermont to California. In southern Vermont, Stratton Mountain Resort (www.stratton.com) lets kids 17 and under ski and stay free. They get free rentals too, if adults are renting gear, and you might spend under $250 a night for a family of four to stay, ski and gear up.

In northern Vermont, through the holidays, Bolton Valley (www.BoltonValley.com) offers a ski-and-stay package just $139 for adults and $30 for kids that includes lodging, breakfast, skiing, and even a torchlight parade, fireworks and party on New Year's Eve.

In the west, Jackson Hole (www.jacksonhole.com) — where you can tour Yellowstone in winter, as well as hit the Wyoming slopes — buy three plane tickets and get the fourth free. Crested Butte Mountain Resort in Colorado (www.crestedbutte.com) is celebrating its 50th anniversary early season with half-off lifts and deeply discounted lodging. Ask about the Friends and Family fly free deal — a free ticket for every two you purchase.

"There are many more deals than last year all season, including during the holidays, offering things like free nights, free days of skiing, room upgrades and resort credits," says Dan Sherman of ski.com, which posts some 900 deals. My tip for ski country: Go the week before Christmas for the best deals and to avoid the crowds. The kids will get more attention in ski school, too, and there already is plenty of snow in many places.

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There are plenty of warm weather options too. All-inclusive Barcelo Hotels & Resorts (www.barcelo.com) in Mexico, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic promise a 30 percent savings on stays between Christmas Eve and next spring, as long as you book by Nov. 30. And 10 Marriott Hotels & Resorts in Florida are offering a $100 Activity Credit now through Jan. 30.

The deluxe, all-inclusive Azul Sensatori Hotel (http://www.karismahotels.com/resort/azul-sensatori-hotel-karisma), just 20 minutes from Cancun, offers free connecting suites for teens if you book by the end of November and travel through Dec. 22. (Azul is great for babies, too. They provide everything from a baby monitor to strollers and they'll even deliver the latest Fisher-Price toys to your suite!)

And if you are traveling with grown kids, as I will be, Loews Coronado Bay Resort (www.loewshotels.com) a short drive from San Diego, offers a new Big Boomerang package with 30 percent off a second room, spa or surfing, sailboat or motorboat rental. Room rates start at just $169 for the first room.

If the extended family nixes the idea of a vacation holiday, gather your kids and slip away for a pre-holiday getaway — even for a weekend. You can find all kinds of holiday events just a short drive from your home. Head to Colonial Williamsburg (www.history.org) and travel back to 18th-century Christmas where a three-day, two-night Christmas Bounce Package will only set you back just $379 for a family of four. It includes lodging, breakfast and tickets to Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area and Busch Gardens' Christmas Town.

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Head to the White Mountains of New Hampshire the weekend of Dec. 10 when the Appalachian Mountain Club (www.outdoors.org) hosts its 8th Annual Gingerbread weekend with gingerbread house decorating, family hikes, nature walks and fireside games — all under $400 for a family of four, including lodging, most meals, activities and even use of the L.L. Bean Gear Room.

Have the elves tuck in the kids at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs, Colo., (www.cheyennemountain.com/) where room rates are under $100 a night and you can take the Pikes Peak Cog Railway along with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Your kids can get a personal visit and story from Santa at Sandestin Beach and Golf Resort and Spa in Florida (www.sandestin.com), where condo and villa rates are significantly discounted for the holidays, or get your own tree delivered to your room at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort (www.swandolphin.com) where rooms start at just $122 a night and you can get up-close and personal with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Zip through the trees on the TreeTops Canopy Tour with Adventures on the Gorge in West Virginia (www.adventurewestvirginia.com) where you can rock climb, hike, mountain bike and more — all with deals as much as 50 percent off.

Slip away yourself with a couple of friends for a de-stressing weekend shopping, museum hopping or playing tennis. A friend of mine just went to Chicago to see "The "Oprah Show." I'm spending an upcoming weekend with friends in San Juan.

Forget the mall. I'll be on the beach.

For more Taking the Kids, visit www.takingthekids.com and also follow "taking the kids" on www.twitter.com, where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.

© 2010 Eileen Ogintz ... Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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