What's the most wonderful time of the year? No, not Christmas. Seasoned travelers know that the prize goes to the weeks leading up to December 25th - and not just because all the decorations are up, either.
The weekend after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of one of the best times for travel bargains; enterprising and flexible types can land some surprisingly good deals, and not just on airfare. So quiet are these few short weeks, industry insiders refer to them as "a dead zone."
After all, almost nobody's moving a muscle - at least not to travel - between these two major holidays. Which means, of course, that the coast is clear and the getting is more than good. So, cancel the holidays and take some time off in between to take full advantage - we've rounded up ten good examples of what you'll find out there.
The luxe Fairmont Mayakoba, located along a peaceful stretch of the Yucatan coastline and within easy reach of the airport in Cancun, has a Winter Offer rate of 20 percent off - in early December, that means $175 a night for spacious rooms with a furnished terrace or balcony - a good deal on one of Mexico's most high-end resorts. Based on availability, one night nonrefundable deposit required. How much to fly to Cancun? Check out our current list of airfares from your local airports.
Beat the crowds to see the newly expanded and reimagined Fantasyland at Disney's Magic Kingdom (opening Dec. 6) with a pre-Christmas visit. The Wyndham Grand Orlando Bonnet Creek, located on Walt Disney World property just a stone's throw from EPCOT, offers complimentary park shuttle service and low rates between Thanksgiving and Christmas starting at $139 a night. By the way, did you know there are two Orlando airports? It's true! Super low discounter Allegiant flies into both (Orlando International and Sanford). Airfares to Orlando International and Orlando Sanford.
3. LAS VEGAS
Christmas isn't so busy in Sin City - even this town likes to take a breather, once in awhile. It needs one, too, before the absolutely insane celebration that takes over the city at New Year's. On New Year's Eve, rooms at the iconic Bellagio resort (that's the one with the fountains) start at a jaw-dropping $599; throughout December and straight through Christmas Day, you can book the same room for $149 midweek and up (ask for one of the newly-remodeled Resort rooms - they're really nice.) And if you book at Tingo.com, and the room rate drops between the time you buy and just before you check in, you might even get money back to your credit card.
RELATED: 10 reasons to visit Las Vegas
Holiday shopping can be a total blast in the Windy City; between its two busy airports, you'll nearly always find a decent fare at this time of year, too. Book in at the MileNorth, a newer boutique option just steps off the city's famed Magnificent Mile. Save here and you'll have plenty of money left over for shopping - rates start at $119 during the "dead" midweek periods.
Use code 25MILE, based on availability through Jan. 31. And so save even more, here's a list of low airfares to both O'Hare and Chicago Midway on all airlines, including Southwest.
5. THE BAHAMAS
Feel like celebrating the fact that you made it through another Thanksgiving with the relatives? Break away for a three-night cruise from Miami over to the islands of the Bahamas on Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas. As I write, the November 30 departure - which stops at the line's private island, Coco Cay, has interior cabins for $169 per person plus port taxes. Isn't that almost cheaper than staying at home? Book with your travel agent or royalcaribbean.com.
6. NEW YORK
Really? Cheap deals in New York at peak holiday shopping/tree lighting/window viewing/rink skating/sledding in Central Park season? It's not impossible. The good value Hotel Wolcott offers a starting rate of $150 and up, based on availability, between December 16-26. The Ritz it's not, but the hotel, just next door to the Empire State Building, features complimentary continental breakfast and proximity to the Macy's windows, Fifth Avenue, Rockefeller Center and many other holiday season essentials. And you have three airports to compare prices (LaGuardia, Newark and JFK), so there's almost always a deal this time of year.
RELATED: 15 gripes about hotel rooms
7. WASHINGTON, DC
From the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse at the White House to the popular Seasons of Light show at the Smithsonian's Discovery Theater (not to mention the Washington Ballet's annual performances of The Nutcracker), Washington at the holidays is a hit with the kids - and a more manageable endeavor than New York at this time of year, for sure. The Savoy Suites Hotel, located up near the National Cathedral (which is particularly lively at this time of year), has rates from approximately $140 per night from Dec. 9 through Christmas - amenities include free access to the Washington Sports Club, free internet and other good stuff. Find a low airfare to Washington Dulles, National or nearby BWI.
Why Anaheim now? Well, for one, that weird and cheesy California Adventure park has been completely overhauled; of all the good things that have happened there, the best has to be the new 12-acre Cars Land, otherwise known as Nirvana for all the pint-sized (and not-so-pint sized) fans of that hugely successful Disney franchise. Then, across the plaza, there's Disneyland itself. And also there's the weather in Southern California. It's probably warmer than where you are now. Go, before school lets out and the entire city of Los Angeles (and everyone else within driving distance) rolls in for their holiday visit. The best place to stay, of course, is right on Harbor Drive, within walking distance (or complimentary shuttle) of both Disney parks - the Candy Cane Inn is a tried-and-true Tripadvisor favorite (currently #2 in Anaheim); rates in early December start between $130 and $150 and include breakfast, shuttle and free parking. Sound good? Find a low airfare to Orange County/Los Angeles International.
From the elegant architecture of Commonwealth Avenue to the elegant shopfronts of stylish Newbury Street, Boston's Back Bay is a pleasure at any time of year, particularly in the run-up to the holidays. At the heart of the neighborhood and just a short stroll from the Public Garden and Boston Common, the boutique Charlesmark Hotel has rooms (small but nicely furnished rooms, some with pleasant views, it should be mentioned) from just $119 through December and into the Christmas week. And airfares can be surprisingly low to Boston this time of year.
RELATED: A Long Weekend in Boston
10. GRAND CANYON
One of the country's most visited places shifts into winter mode after Thanksgiving. This means fewer people, which means that roads requiring the use of shuttle buses in high season are once again opened to private cars. Rates at the canyon rim-adjacent hotels fall a little more in line with what they're actually worth, too. The historic cabins at Bright Angel Lodge can be had on some early December dates for approximately $115 per night; if you don't mind sharing a bath, they have standard rooms for just a little over $70, too. (Note: Some construction is currently taking place on the grounds during daylight hours.) Fly into Phoenix or Mesa, AZ (on super discounter Allegiant, Southwest and other airlines) or Las Vegas and drive from there.