The official end of summer may not arrive till September 21, but it certainly feels like it's come to a close -- at least the summer vacation part -- once Labor Day has passed. What does that have us thinking about? Well, sure, the thrills of fall -- like apple cider, pumpkin patches, and roaring fires. But it also has us planning our next getaway, which may not come till winter break.
And we're not the only ones. Looking at the past activity of our Oyster.com users, after Labor Day there's a significant spike in travelers booking vacations for the week of December 18, and this only continues to rise now through early December. So the time to start planning your winter trip is not, especially if you're interested in a stay in these 10 hotels and resorts, which are the most booked among our users for the week before Christmas. And considering that they're a mix of some of the most festive, iconic properties in the world -- as well as carefree, sunny spots on the sand, it comes as no surprise.
1. The Plaza, New York City
Pricing for The Plaza
The century-old, 282-room Plaza is a New York landmark. A $400 million overhaul in 2008 gave the huge rooms gold-plated bathroom fixtures, but it also converted most rooms overlooking Central Park into privately owned residences. Still, the exceptional spa, 24-hour butler service, and history make it worth the splurge.
2. Lotte New York Palace
Pricing for Lotte New York Palace
One of the most recognizable and respected luxury properties in New York City, The Palace lives up to its hype. The 909-room hotel completed a massive renovation in 2013, and features numerous property features, including a large, modern fitness center, a fine dining restaurant, and two intimate lounges. Tourists, business travelers, and celebrities alike stay in its spacious, sophisticated rooms, and it’s convenient Midtown location, across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral and within walking distance of numerous sights, is also a major draw. The lack of a full spa at such a large hotel is surprising, however, and there’s an annoying Wi-Fi fee for guests not staying in the Tower suites. Nonetheless, The Palace remains a grand New York icon; Tiffany stained glass windows and gilded ceilings remain from its days as a private mansion.
3. The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park
Pricing for The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park
Formerly the St. Moritz Hotel, this Ritz — which features 259 rooms (including 47 suites) in a 33-story limestone building on Central Park South (the southern border of the park) — was bought by Ritz-Carlton in 2000 and reopened in 2002, the same year their other NYC hotel, in Battery Park, opened. The two are similar in many ways. Both boast rooms with panoramic views. Each features a popular bar, an excellent gym, and a name-brand spa. Given that prices are twice as high at the Central Park edition, you have to conclude that what you’re paying for here is the location.
4. Renaissance New York Hotel 57
Pricing for Renaissance New York Hotel 57
Formerly a boutique, Hotel 57 has flown the Renaissance flag as part of the Marriott hotel consortium since April 2009. The lobby here features minimalist design in black, red, and white hues. The dim lighting makes it less than ideal for either work or socializing. Opia, the on-site French restaurant, however, creates a lively nighttime social scene that, thanks to solid soundproofing and some seriously awesome beds, doesn’t disrupt a good night’s sleep.
5. Sanctuary Cap Cana by AlSol, Dominican Republic
Pricing for Sanctuary Cap Cana
This 174-room romantic all-inclusive luxury resort looks like a Spanish castle town and is perched on a cliff by the ocean in the still developing Cap Cana complex, near the airport but a bit far from the main resort area. Its beautifully decorated pools, spa, and restaurants are all among the D.R.’s best; in this area, the similarly pricedZoetry Agua Punta Cana is one of only a handful of resorts that can compare.
6. Viva Wyndham Dominicus Beach, Dominican Republic
Pricing for Viva Wyndham Dominicus Beach
This family-friendly, 613-room all-inclusive resort has a mostly European clientele. Basic rooms have received a slight refresh (no more patterned bedspreads), and the limited all-inclusive amenities help keep prices low. Three pools, trapeze lessons, and tennis are available, but most guests flock to the beach. For drinks, guests will have to take turns standing in line to get small pours in plastic cups, and repeat the process until the (beautiful) sunset. Food is not a highlight: there’s a limit on a la carte reservations, and the main buffet seems to have a crowd at all times. Overall, though, this is an affordable choice for families. Romantics should consider the VIP upgrade.
7. Half Moon, Jamaica
Pricing for Half Moon
Drawing everyone from Queen Elizabeth to 50 Cent, Half Moon strives for timeless, understated luxury (even at theswim-up bar). Stretching over 400 acres (including 2 miles of beach), the 230-room resort offers attentive service, quality cuisine, and seemingly limitless activities like golfing and horseback riding.
8. Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall All-Inclusive, Jamaica
Pricing for Iberostar Grand Rose Hall
The best of the three Iberostar resorts in Montego Bay, this 295-room all-suite hotel is light years beyond its neighbors in terms of decor, food, and features. While some elements remain shared with the lesser Iberostar Rose Hall Beach and Iberostar Rose Hall Suites — for instance, the spa, fitness center, casino, nightclub, and shops — guests at Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall get the pick of the litter with free access to all three resorts’ restaurants, bars, pools, and beaches. The rates might be higher, but for good reason.
9. Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa; Oahu, HI
Pricing for Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa
This gorgeous property in the Ko Olina resort complex delivers on all of the Disney staples — but in a much more subtle way than the brand’s mainland destinations. Service is excellent, the food is delicious, and the kids always come first. The pool area is gorgeous, boasting a lazy river, two waterslides, and a manmade reef, and the coved-in lagoon offers calm waters. Room decor is cheerful and bright, with nods to both the Mouse that made Disney famous and Hawaii’s rich culture. Overall the resort is one of the best in Oahu for families, but those looking for more nightlife should consider someplace closer to Waikiki.
10. Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort; Maui, HI
Pricing for Grand Wailea
The beautifully designed, 780-room Grand Wailea is awe-inspiring in its scale: It’s got the best pool in Hawaii, one of the top U.S. spas, and a prime location on one of the best U.S. beaches. Opulence marks every feature — from the luxe rooms to the massive gym — but the resort’s Disneyland-like vibe isn’t right for everyone.
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