Whether it’s an all-expenses-paid adventure, a romantic weekend away or an escape in the form of a spa treatment, the gift of travel is, in our humble opinion, the most thoughtful present you can give (and — hint, hint — receive). Allow us to be your guides to gifting a trip this year. We’ve rounded up our five most popular destinations of 2012 and selected the best things to do in each this season to help you give (and take) a winter trip your loved ones will cherish.
Check In: This year, the Four-Star Willard InterContinental’s holiday tree boasts one decadent accessory collection: every official White House ornament ever made. See the bedecked boughs through early January and hear the Willard’s “holiday lobbying” choral concerts nightly through December 22. A Winter Weekend package perfect for couples runs through January 13.
Don’t Miss: The National Christmas Tree and National Chanukah Menorah light up the Ellipse next to the White House. And check out the Kennedy Center’s lineup of holiday favorites, including NSO Pops performances, The Nutcracker ballet and Irving Berlin’s White Christmas musical.
Dine Here: Think outside the box and inside the gingerbread house. Through December, the Four-Star Ritz-Carlton, Washington D.C. offers a gingerbread-inspired menu from executive chef Yves Samake — served inside a life-sized gingerbread house.
Spa Special: Pop into The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Washington D.C. for the indulgent winter wrap or the new jet-lag reviver that differs depending on the time of day you receive the treatment.
Check In: Four-Star Acqualina Resort & Spa in Sunny Isles Beach is a good base for festive types, with holiday events like a tree trimming and a Mediterranean-themed New Year’s Eve party. The Holiday 4 for 3 package includes a free fourth night, a bottle of champagne and a daily $40 spa credit for two.
Don’t Miss: The Art Basel art show — and its after-parties — takes over Miami from December 6 through 9, but the city’s museums hold events all month long; visit Vizcaya Museum & Gardens on December 17 for a nighttime holiday tour of the historic villa. On December 30, the 31st annual King Mango Strut parades through Coconut Grove in proudly off-kilter fashion.
Dine Here: If you haven’t been to Four-Star, eight-seat Naoe in a while, make a reservation at its new location on Brickell Key for a seasonal Japanese meal you won’t soon forget. Chef Kevin Cory plans to open N Lounge, a complementary lunch and dinner spot, next door in early 2013, so be on the lookout beginning in January.
Spa Special: Put your spa credits to good use at Four-Star Acqualina Spa by ESPA. Its newest treatment, Two Hours to Gorgeous, is a revitalizing face and body makeover.
3. New York
Check In: The Five-Star St. Regis New York has its own holiday happenings, but to kick things up a notch, book the hotel’s Radio City package and see the Rockettes perform their 85th Christmas Spectacular five blocks away. Shoppers, stop in the hotel’s Thornwillow boutique before you pound the pavement on Fifth Avenue.
Don’t Miss: The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and ice rink (open through April) offer the ultimate holiday tableau, but for a bit more room to roam, head to Bryant Park’s holiday shops and skating “pond” (open until March 3).
Spa Special: Just down the block from The St. Regis, the Four-Star Spa at Four Seasons New York has a winter special that adds a bonus 25-minute scalp treatment to any 50-minute massage through January 15. We suggest tacking on a third treatment: the Big Apple Antioxidant, an exclusive apple-sugar scrub.
Check In: The holiday season at Four-Star Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago is notably family-friendly. We especially like the Winter Family Getaway package that includes cookie-and-milk turndowns and VIP access to the hotel’s chauffeured Audi Q7.
Don’t Miss: The Windy City positively sparkles this month, especially on Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile, where trees are aglow with more than 1 million lights. Also visit Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier (through January 6) and Millennium Park’s ice rink (through mid-March).
Dine Here: Make a dazzling entrance at Four-Star Sixteen inside Trump Chicago: The elevator to the 16th-floor restaurant has been transformed into a Gingerbread Express, thanks to more than 1,100 gingerbread bricks crafted by Sixteen’s pastry teams. As always, the menu is seasonal, too.
Spa Special: Visit the Four-Star Spa at Trump Chicago for an indulgent cocoa treatment. Both the hot chocolate body scrub and hot chocolate pedicure include a steaming mug of cocoa.
1. Las Vegas
Check In: The Four-Star Venetian Resort Hotel Casino offers activities galore during its Winter in Venice celebration, which runs through January 6. As if the skating rink, light shows, concerts and culinary contests weren’t enough, overnight guests sip a welcome amenity of warm apple cider as carolers stroll about.
Don’t Miss: Soul2Soul featuring Tim McGraw and Faith Hill begins its run at The Venetian Theatre on December 7. Watch the power couple duet on select dates through April 27.
Dine Here: Celebrity chef Pierre Gagnaire has a collection of lauded restaurants around the world, but from December 28 to January 3, he’s only cooking at one of them: Five-Star Twist by Pierre Gagnaire. His residence at Twist, on the 23rd floor of the Five-Star Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas, includes a New Year’s Eve party where you can ring in 2013 with the master chef himself.
Spa Special: The seasonal Warm Spicy Chestnut Mani-Pedi at CityCenter’s Four-Star Spa & Salon at ARIA battles the Strip’s desert air with a chestnut-spice moisturizing cream. Next door, Spa & Salon Vdara has a Holiday Spice Facial (choose pumpkin or pear-fig) through December.
Photos Courtesy of iStock-wdstock, Trump International Hotel and Tower and MGM Resorts International