Tropical temperatures, illuminated palm trees and snowmen made of sand have us dreaming of a different type of Christmas — the kind made of white sandy island beaches. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors rounded up four top island escapes that know how to do holidays right.
Swap the usual yuletide greetings with “Mele Kalikimaka” while in Oahu. The island has a history of going all out for Christmas — the Honolulu City Lights festival has been put on for more than 25 years. Popular with both visitors and locals, the month-long event features thousands of colorful lights all over downtown, children’s rides, concerts and larger-than-life figurines of Santa and his friends. About an hour’s drive north in Laie, the interactive Polynesian Cultural Center puts on “Christmas in Polynesia,” a canoe ride that sails through a live, holiday-themed theatrical production. Retreat beachside to The Kahala Hotel and Resort in Honolulu for seasonal events like tea with Santa and a Christmas Day dinner buffet.
You’ll hear “Jingle Bells” set to a salsa beat this time of year in Puerto Rico, but there’s much more to holiday celebrations here than the street music. In fact, in-the-know Christmastime tourists flock to this island for its festive decorations and nightly fireworks. Head to Old San Juan for what is often considered the most jubilant atmosphere on the island nation (you’ll likely run into parrandas, the Puerto Rican version of carolers). And hole up at The St. Regis Bahai Beach Resort, Puerto Rico and have Nochebuena (Christmas Eve dinner) at Fern, an upscale seafood restaurant with a menu designed by Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
On the gorgeous, unspoiled 36-square-mile island of Nevis (St. Kitts’ sister island) in the West Indies, holiday celebrations are a relaxed, low-key affair. But that doesn’t mean they are nonexistent — throughout December and into January, the island holds Christmas parties, mask parades and carolers. At Four Seasons Resort Nevis West Indies, choose from special holiday dining options on Dec. 24 and 25, expect a visit from Santa and even hear local children’s choirs in the resort’s lobby. Stick around for New Year’s Eve and toast 2013 with champagne and fireworks on the beach.
The holidays in Grand Cayman are done big and bright. Residents are known to deck out their homes in bold lighting displays and add sand to the lawn for their own version of a white Christmas. Camana Bay, a lively town center in Grand Cayman, holds a host of holiday events stretching from November through the New Year, from a parade of decorated boats to holiday craft-making clinics. Stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman to take part in even more events held throughout December, like a Hanukkah celebration, a gingerbread house workshop, a teddy bear tea and Christmas Day family brunch inside Santa’s workshop.
Photo Courtesy of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc.