Away for holidays Festivities: Here are some travel packages you might like to unwrap for Hanukkah, Christmas or New Year's.

November 10, 1996|By Judi Dash | Judi Dash,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

While congregating around the home hearth with all the relatives may be a holiday tradition, an increasing number of adventurous folks are seeking new ways -- and places -- to celebrate. Travel operators are offering a slew of Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's trips around the world trimmed with festivities that accent the holiday spirit.

Savor Christmas dining Cajun-style in Louisiana, biking through northern California's wine country or making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Ring in the new year horse-packing into the Grand Canyon, cruising the Caribbean, or enjoying a black-tie ball and caviar tastings in St. Petersburg, Russia. Jewish families can celebrate Hanukkah or have a bar or bat mitzvah in Jerusalem. And Disney lands on both U.S. coasts are offering big holiday packages just before Christmas so you can celebrate away -- and then at home.

Following are some great reasons to leave home for the holidays. Prices are per person, double occupancy, and, unless noted, do not include airfare.

Cycling California wine country: Nights are cool, days fresh and breezy in northern California's wine country, home to some of the state's best labels. Backroads, one of the nation's top cycling outfitters, is running a Christmastime, inn-to-inn trip through the Napa, Sonoma, Alexander and Russian river valleys, with wine tastings and holiday celebrations along the way.

At the classy Madrona Manor, a Victorian inn in Healdsburg, there's a preholiday feast with caroling. Christmas dinner -- and perhaps a massage -- is taken at the Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa, and you can opt for a mud bath during the stay at the Mount View Hotel in Calistoga, the therapeutic mud capital of the country. The group also stays at the pretty Vintage Inn in Yountsville, and the Inn at the Tides overlooking gorgeous Bodega Bay. The terrain is fairly easy going, with a sag wagon out to transport luggage as well as any participants who want a ride over more demanding stretches.

Trip runs Dec. 22-27. Price: $1,348. Contact Backroads, (800) 462-2848.

Mississippi steamboating: The Delta Queen steamships make a big splash around Christmas and New Year's with traditional holiday celebrations rolling down the Mississippi. Count on loads of seasonal food, drink and music on board and at stops along the way. Itineraries vary from tours of plantations and battlefields to a country music slant when Nashville is on the itinerary. Comedian Milton Berle is on the Mississippi Queen for its Christmas and New Year's cruises.

The Christmas trip runs Dec. 20-27 aboard the Mississippi Queen and American Queen. The New Year's trip runs Dec. 27 to Jan. 5 aboard the Mississippi Queen and Dec. 27 to Jan. 2 aboard the American Queen. Price for six-night cruises starts at $870; nine-night cruises start at $1,400. Contact a travel agent or Delta Queen Steamboat Company, (800) 543-7637.

Hiking Costa Rica with the Sierra Club: Trade a white Christmas for a tropical holiday with the Sierra Club. Led by a naturalist guide, the group hikes through lowland rain forest, mangrove swamps and sandy beaches, and rafts the Rio Corobici, scouting for jungle wildlife -- parrots, howler monkeys, crocodiles. During a visit to Rincon de La Vieja National Park, participants explore the bubbling fumaroles (steaming vents in the rocks) of this volcanic region, and ride horses through stretches of forest. Accommodations are in private lodges and simple hotels.

The trip runs Dec. 23-31. Price: from $1,975, depending on group size. Contact the Sierra Club Outing Department, (415) 977-5630.

Grand Canyon New Year's on horseback: Gone are the summer crowds; the Grand Canyon is all yours. This weeklong pack trip off the North Rim rings in the new year with a slow descent 2,000 feet into the canyon, with supplies brought in by pack animals. Participants should be experienced western riders. This is not a luxury experience and participation is expected, with everyone pitching in to groom the horses, pack and unpack and set up camp. The temperature can get frigid, with the likelihood of snow on the rim, but, hey, that's part of the fun, and you could be in a T-shirt down in the protected canyon. New Year's is celebrated with a hearty feast; you can bring your own champagne, confetti (biodegradable, please) and noisemakers for one heck of an echo off the canyon walls.

Trip runs Dec. 28 to Jan. 3. Price: $840. Contact Equitour, (800) 545-0019.

Holy Land Christmas or bar mitzvah: Isram World of Travel's 11-day Holy Land journey geared to Christian travelers includes Christmas Eve midnight Mass in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and Christmas Day in Jerusalem. The group also visits Nazareth and the Mount of Beatitudes in Galilee.

For Jewish families, the company runs a bar and bat mitzvah celebration in Jerusalem, with a ceremony at the southern wall and excursion up Mount Masada. Bar and bat mitzvah tours run year-round.

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