With old man winter’s icy breath encasing the Great Lakes, I’m dreading being cooped up listening to dire statistics and only being able to visit friends and family via Zoom. Thanks to the pandemic, festive holiday gatherings won’t brighten up the enveloping darkness and Lake Effect precipitation hurtling towards America’s “North Coast” at the end of November and all of December.
On the bright side, I can still embrace one holiday tradition I cherish every year during the season of light: Planning next year’s trips. I have a far-flung family that doesn’t always make getting together easy for Thanksgiving and Christmas. So when the flakes start flying, I stoke up the fireplace. And instead of a grabbing a tantalizing biography that’s risen to the top of my reading pile, I plop down in my favorite wing chair with my iPad and start cogitating on where to take respite from winter weariness and what might be appealing for a major trip the following fall. It’s quite entertaining and very rewarding since it’s the only aspect of the holidays I ever seem to control. Even an untimely cold doesn’t keep me from brainstorming, scrolling through images, budgeting and looking up flights and deals.
Last year I was at a slight disadvantage since I was on the road during the holidays, or more accurately, cruising the Danube River from one port to the next on board one of Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours boutique ships that deposit travelers in one fabulous Christmas Market town after another in Germany, Austria and Hungary. We arrived home Christmas day and I took up my annual holiday gaze into my wandering future on Dec. 26. I knew my circle would be smitten with my description of this Danube River Christmas Market cruise that included stops in Nuremberg, Regensburg, Melk, Salzburg, Vienna and Budapest. These cruises are offered every December, except during major European wars and global pandemics. For the first time since WWII, Nuremberg’s annual Christmas Market (started in the 1600s) has been canceled. Fortunately, the majority of our clan was interested in the 2021 holiday season, which gives us more time for planning and saving–not to mention more time for an effective vaccine. Many tour operators, including Scenic, are offering “book with confidence” options that allow rebooking on future cruises if things get scary again.
I can’t wait until next December for a change of scenery though; and since I know where I’ll be then anyway, my focus will be on winter escapes we can drive to that offer plenty of social distancing. These destinations must be dog-friendly and boast a variety of outdoor activities that don’t involve dressing up like the Michelin Tire man. Right now, I’m dreaming about Edisto Island, South Carolina (Hilton Head’s low-key neighbor), Gulf State Park at Gulf Shores, Alabama or Amelia Island Plantation off the coast of Jacksonville. All will require an overnight stay to get there, but there’s little that delights me more than listening to carols and sipping mulled cider while searching for a cozy bed & breakfast along our route.
I don’t know where we’ll go between our winter sojourn and Scenic Cruises’ Danube River Christmas Market cruise next December. But after canceling five trips last March, we’ve decided to wing some of our 2021 travel plans. One thing is for certain though:
I will be much happier celebrating the holidays at home this year with visions of vacations dancing in my head.