11 spectacular vacations you should book right now

Published September 13, 2012

| Budget Travel

We know you'd rather not think about the depths of winter when the summer sun is still bright. But booking your dream deep-winter vacation now--whether it's skiing the Rockies, exploring a tropical volcano, or just hanging on a pristine beach--can nail down a price that's within your reach.

Sure, you've still got sand in your shoes. Baseball season is still in full swing. But there's no use denying it: The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting chillier, and winter is on its way. But there's good news: We've found 11 irresistible winter getaways that can put you on world-class slopes or white-sand beaches. There's just one catch: If you want a price as dreamy as these trips, don't wait for the first snowfall to make your reservation.

SEE OUR DEEP-WINTER GETAWAYS

THEME PARK HEAVEN

Orlando, Fla.

There's a good reason folks around the world book theme park vacations a year or more in advance: While admission to the parks ain't cheap--often topping $80 per day for adults--you can get a break on airfare and hotel reservations by booking early. Orlando, Fla., is the epicenter for park sharks--it's home to Universal Studios Florida, SeaWorld Orlando, and Walt Disney World.

Get There: Round-trip flights from New York to Orlando on Delta start at $186.

Stay: Wyndham Orlando Resort is less than 20 minutes from Universal Studios Florida, SeaWorld Orlando, and Walt Disney World; it offers three restaurants, three pools, a health club, and if Harry Potter and Mickey Mouse aren't enough to bring out the kid in you, it even has its own ice cream parlor (8001 International Dr., Orlando, Fla., wyndham.com, doubles from $95).

SURFIN' SAFARI

Laguna Beach, Calif.

You're under no obligation to actually catch a wave just because you visit Laguna Beach, an iconic seven-mile stretch of sea and sand in Southern California's Orange County--most visitors are content to swim and soak up the warmth of the sun. But if you're so inclined, lessons with a champion surfer come with a money-back guarantee that you'll "get up"--surf slang for standing on the board-on your first lesson (lagunabeachsurfinglessons.com, group lessons from $75 per person). If you can bring yourself to towel off and put your shoes back on, good vibrations can also be found in nearby Laguna Village, a prime spot for browsing quality art galleries and other shops--a reminder of the town's roots as an artists' colony.

Get There: Round-trip flights from New York to Los Angeles on Air Train start at $302; round-trip flights from Chicago on Spirit Airlines start at $270.

Stay: Pacific Edge Hotel on Laguna Beach is right on the beach and walking distance from Laguna Village (647 South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, pacificedgehotel.com, doubles from $132).

SOUTH OF THE BORDER

Tulum, Mexico

Tulum invites you to do as much, or as little, as you like. On Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, the seaside community is home to pristine Caribbean beaches famous for their giant sea turtles and the site of pre-Columbian Mayan ruins, including temples and castillos dating back to the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries. Admission to the cliff-hugging ruins is only about $5.

Get There: Round-trip flights from New York to Cozumel on United start at $649; round-trip flights from Los Angeles on United start at $631.

Stay: Hotel Cabanas Los Lirios Tulum offers a private beach, restaurant, grocery store, and spa; breakfast is included (Carretara Tulum Boca Paila, 52-998-8879602, hotels.com, doubles from $135).

CARIBBEAN DREAM

Puerto Rico

Where can you prowl the winding streets of an old-world-style city, explore a�� rain forest, and pay an eerie nighttime visit to a bay that glows in the dark, all without leaving the United States? Only Puerto Rico offers historic Old San Juan, the teeming, colorful El Yunque Rain Forest, and the hauntingly beautiful La Parguera bioluminescent bay. Oh, and there's also the world-class beaches if you insist on doing nothing much at all.

Get There: Round-trip flights from New York to San Juan on Jet Blue start at $290.

Stay: Embassy Suites Dorado Del Mar Beach & Golf Resort, just outside San Juan, includes an 18-hole Chi Chi Rodriguez-designed golf course built along the rocky cliffs and jetties of Puerto Rico's Atlantic coast; complimentary cooked-to-order breakfast is included (201 Dorado Del Mar Blvd., Dorado, Puerto Rico, embassysuites.hilton.com, doubles from $154).

PACIFIC PARADISE

Oahu, Hawaii

In the dead of winter, the classic image of Oahu's hotel-lined Waikiki Beach can either haunt your dreams or, if you book now, be yours to savor in person. The Waikiki neighborhood of Honolulu stretches from the Ala Wai Canal to Diamond Head, a volcanic cone misnamed by 19th-century explorers who believed the rocky cone held diamonds. Take a stroll on Beach Walk, where you'll find gift shops and art galleries (including a ukulele shop) and casual dining options that include traditional Hawaiian dishes and live music.

Get There: Round-trip flights from San Jose, Calif., to Honolulu on Alaska Air start at $499.

Stay: Best Western Plus Coconut Waikiki Hotel is an Art Deco-style boutique hotel with a tropical pool; it's a short walk from Waikiki Beach Walk (450 Lewers St., Honolulu, bestwestern.com, doubles from $153).

ROCKY MOUNTAIN SKIING

Bozeman, Mont.

For those who'd prefer not to escape winter but rather to plunge deeper into it, Montana throws its arms open wide. The minute you step off the plane in Bozeman, the cold, pine-scented air will remind you that you're not in Wherever You Came From anymore. Powder hounds swear by Bridger Bowl ski lodge, in the nearby Bridger Mountain range (part of the Rocky Mountains). The lodge offers ski lift/lodging packages with local hotels starting at $139/person for two days of skiing and one night's lodging. If you decide to mix your powder with a spoonful of learning, drop by the Museum of the Rockies, at Montana State University, to delve into Montana's Native American and pioneer history and to see some of the world's finest dinosaur fossils.

Get There: Round-trip flights from Los Angeles to Bozeman on Alaska Air start at $347.

Stay: Homewood Suites by Hilton Bozeman provides a cozy home away from home in the heart of this college town (1023 Baxter Lane, Bozeman, Mont., homewoodsuites.hilton.com, doubles from $99).

SOUTHWESTERN SUN

Albuquerque, N.M.

A winter sojourn to the Southwest doesn't have to mean just golf courses and exhibition baseball. Albuquerque presents an eclectic dance card to visitors: The Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum is a hotspot for hot-air balloon enthusiasts--and also for those content to just watch those gentle giants take flight. The Pueblo Cultural Center presents one of the world's most impressive collections of Southwestern Native American art, including changing exhibits by contemporary artists. If, after soaking up New Mexico's distinctive desert landscape, you want to find out more about how the land took the shape it did, head to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

Get There: Round-trip flights from Chicago to Albuquerque on United start at $426.

Stay: Nativo Lodge features an indoor and an outdoor pool, a fitness center, and spa (6000 Pan American Freeway North East, Albuquerque, N.M., hhandr.com, doubles from $67).

TROPICAL FUN

Costa Rica

This Central American nation's reputation for all-around beauty, adventure, and affordability is well deserved. Start with the markets, museums, and nightlife of capital city San Jose, then head to Arenal--the kind of rumbling, lava-spewing volcano you may have thought existed only in movies. And if an active volcano isn't enough to get your adrenaline flowing, dive into Manuel Antonio national park to cavort with monkeys, or just go take a hike���no, we really mean take a hike--in the cloud forests near Monteverde and Santa Elena along the continental divide.

Get There: Round-trip flights from New York to San Jose, Costa Rica, on American Airlines start at $478; round-trip flights from Miami to San Jose, Costa Rica, on American Airlines start at $392.

Stay: Hotel Presidente, in San Jose, offers boutique hotel style in a convenient central-city location and includes a complimentary continental breakfast buffet (Central Avenue Blvd., 7th Street, San Jose, Costa Rica, hotel-presidente.com, doubles from $100). Hotel Mountain Paradise lets you get up close and personal with Arenal Volcano (Fortuna, Alahuela, Costa Rica, hotelmountainparadise.com, doubles from $150).

ITALIAN SKIING

Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy

This stunning region of Italy's Dolomite Mountains--featuring peaks over 9,000 feet above sea level--was the site of the 1956 Winter Olympics and has always attracted a swanky European crowd, including movie stars and royals. But strict zoning has kept the area true to its surprisingly Teutonic roots, and you'll see white-timber houses that look as if they were transplanted out of a fairy tale. The popular Cortina d'Ampezzo ski resort offers a seven-day Dolomiti Superski pass, which gives you access to all the area's slopes for about $40 a day, and booking your trip now can nab you reasonable airfare and hotel rates for this tony enclave.

Get There: Round-trip flights from New York to Rome on Finn Air start at $611.

Stay: Alaska Hotel is centrally located in Cortina d'Ampezzo and offers complimentary breakfast and a fitness center (39 Largo delle Poste, Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, hotels.com, doubles from $145).

NORTHEAST SKIING

Smuggler's Notch, Vt.

With incredible ski destinations in the American west and the mountain ranges of Europe, it's easy for easterners to forget that there are some awesome slopes under their noses. For one-stop shopping, Smugglers' Notch, in Vermont's Green Mountains, is convenient, affordable, and regularly ranks among the top favorites of ski enthusiasts. Here, a little more than an hour's flight from New York City, you'll find weeklong packages that include a mountainside condo, lift tickets, snow tubing, and a family entertainment and recreation center.

Get There: Round-trip flights from New York to Burlington, Vt., on JetBlue start at $140.

Stay: Smugglers' Notch ski lodge basic packages include a studio condominium and lift tickets (4323 Vermont Route 108 South, Jeffersonville, Vt., smuggs.com, doubles, including lift package for two, from $218).

THE PERFECT BEACH

Nha Trang, Vietnam

Yeah, the airfare to Vietnam from the U.S.'s West Coast is not cheap, averaging between $900 and $1,300 round-trip, but once you get there, food and lodging can be quite reasonable. The beaches of Nha Trang, on the country's south central coast, are a major wintertime draw, and many visitors are more than happy to skip major cities like Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi in favor of this laid-back beach town. Besides superb surf, scuba, and sunbathing, Nha Trang offers a number of temples dating as far back as the 9th century and Vietnam's signature cuisine, which blends French Colonial influence with traditional Southeast Asian claypot and noodle dishes.

Get There: Round-trip flights from Los Angeles to Nha Trang, Vietnam, on Vietnam Airlines start at $1,221.

Stay: Novotel Nha Trang has an outdoor pool and a spa (50 Tran Phu St., Nha Trang, Vietnam, novotel.com, doubles from $70).

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