During the holiday season, the cost of travel skyrockets along with the number of people visiting family and enjoying the school break. With a bit of strategy, however, it is possible to avoid the high price and crowds associated with holiday travel. Forget the busy airport, and take a road trip to one of the many enticing and economical destinations located within a six-hour drive of Jacksonville.
For a change of scenery from sunny Florida, the mountains of North Carolina are only six hours to the north. In Asheville, the Biltmore Estate is at its best during the Christmas season, and is decked out like a Victorian grande dame. If you long for winter snow but don’t want to fly, the Cataloochee Ski Resort is right outside of Asheville in Maggie Valley. They offer skiing, snowboarding and tubing, even when the Southern climate won’t cooperate. Every night from mid-December to early March, snowmakers blanket the slopes with manmade snow. A little farther west of Asheville is Bryson City, home of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad’s Polar Express. Young fans of the movie can experience their own train ride to the North Pole, complete with hot chocolate.
For a vacation that is the polar opposite, migrate south to Miami and have your hot chocolate with a churro from La Palma on Calle Ocho. Just a little over five hours away, Miami has plenty of sand and sun, as well as many cultural offerings and fabulous restaurants. While it may seem like the anti-Christmas destination (what could be further from “White Christmas” and “Jingle Bells” than South Beach?), even sunny Miami has holiday traditions of its own. Sample la caja china (roast pig) and coquito (the Puerto Rican equivalent of eggnog) for a taste of holiday cheer, or check out the kitschy Christmas-themed fairground in Tropical Park known as Santa’s Enchanted Forest.
For an international getaway in only a day, combine a car trip with a “fast ferry” for a quick trip to the Bahamas. From Fort Lauderdale (five hours away), you can take the ferry to Grand Bahama Island for as little as $37 each way. The ferry ride takes three hours to get to the island. You can depart from Fort Lauderdale at 8 a.m., arrive in the Bahamas at 11, leave that same evening at 7 p.m. and be back in Florida at 10 p.m. You might also combine your ticket with a hotel stay and extend the excursion.
If history and Southern hospitality are more your speed, head to Savannah, which is a little over two hours north of Jacksonville. During the holiday season, Savannah offers many festive tours and events. The Savannah Harbor Holiday Series features an annual gingerbread village and competition, claiming to have the South’s best Santa Claus. At the Savannah Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, tour a 6-acre Lighted Christmas Garden twinkling with over half a million lights. For a taste of the rich history of the city, visit Davenport House for their Holiday Evening Tours by Candlelight, or try the Victorian Savannah Christmas Walk downtown.
Depending on your personality and preferences, holiday destination choices can run the gamut from Southern to snowy, or from beach glamour to kitschy Christmas. Regardless of your taste, a holiday getaway is well within reach of your time and your budget.