ALL POSTS IN [Holidays]

New Year's Day Plunge

Photography by Todd Bush Photography

Sometimes you need to make a statement — big and bold — in order to start the New Year off with a fresh, clean slate. And what better way to begin a new chapter than with a dip into a body of water — icy cold, at that!

I can personally vouch for it: Taking the plunge on New Year’s Day is something you won’t soon forget. Last New Year’s, on the heels of recovering from a lower back injury, I was feeling a little listless, like something had to change. Then one day, an ad popped up on my Facebook page — something about a Coney Island Polar Bear Club Plunge on New Year’s. Intrigued, I clicked on the ad.

Turns out, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club is the oldest swimming club of its kind in the United States, and every year since the early 1900s, this hardy group of men and women, now numbering in the hundreds, has taken a dip in the Atlantic Ocean off Coney Island on New Year’s Day. (They also take regular dips every Sunday from November through April, in case you can’t get enough.)

Hypothermia? Nah!

OK, OK, you’re probably thinking — I don’t know — “hypothermia” right about now. But as I found out last New Year’s, as I gathered with more than a thousand eager New Year’s plungers off the boardwalk at Coney Island’s Stillwell Avenue, you don’t have to be in super-primo-uno shape to take the plunge.

In fact, looking around at the sea of humanity ready to celebrate that New Year’s Day, I wasn’t exactly looking at a bunch of bodybuilders — and that’s putting it mildly. (As Bon Jovi music blasted from nearby speakers, yes, I did actually see grown men in every kind of sportive garb – including, you know, speedos and diapers — but hey, who am I to judge?)

Then came the moment …

At 1 p.m. sharp! –– a sea of people — my fellow brothers and sisters! — rushed toward the water, many yelping in what sounded like a primal seal sound: ah-oooh, ah-oooh

Feeling the growing excitement, I raced toward the water with them, and then it hit me, “Wow! This water is cold!” But then, what the heck, this was it, the moment — the New Year! — and soon, I dunked my whole body underwater, then rushed back toward the shore, feeling an exhilaration and joy I wouldn’t soon forget. I’m still talking about it a year later! (And a word to the ladies: A New Year’s plunge is a great date option — you’ll see how tough your fella really is!)

Eager to take the plunge yourself? Check out these New Year’s plunge options around the world! We’ve even included some warmer options, in case, you know, you don’t want to freeze to death. Go figure.

It was a big year. The Olympics took over London, and James Bond returned to the box office for the 23rd time. We took a tour of the Twilight destinations and even learned where Gangnam is. 2012 is definitely a year to remember, so let us jog your memory before we jump into 2013 … READ MORE

Still trying to figure out what to do on New Year’s? Well, if you happen to be near any of Priceline’s top 50 party spots, there’s a good shot that there are too many good parties to choose from.

Priceline released their 9th annual list of the Top 50 New Year’s Party Spots this week, and we bet you can guess what city came out on top. New York City not only topped the list, but also took several spots with different boroughs holding their own when it comes to partying like it’s 1999.

Florida grabbed 12 of the 50 spots with their theme parks and top-notch beaches stealing away many New Year’s revelers.

The top 10 party spots are:

#1 New York City, Midtown West

#2 New Orleans, French Quarter

#3 Las Vegas, Strip North

#4 New York City, Upper East Side

#5 Las Vegas, Strip Vicinity South

#6 New York City, Times Square/Theater District

#7 Orlando, Downtown Disney/Lake Buena Vista

#8 Miami, Downtown

#9 San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf

#10 Chicago, North Michigan Ave./River North Area

If you’re looking for a more adult-oriented New Year’s celebration, check out our picks for Sexy New Year’s Eve Getaways.

Are you in one of the top NYE party spots? What are you doing to celebrate? Tell us in the comments!

We couldn’t resist one more photo of New York City’s Rockefeller Center during the holidays — this time, though, from a very different angle, thanks to Instagram user schreiltalk. Thanks for sending us your holiday lights photos, and happy holidays from Travel Channel!

On our 11th Day of Sparkle — thanks to Instagram user christinalacelle — beautiful white lights adorn a courtyard in Boise, Idaho. There’s only one more day of holiday lights left to go in our 12 Days of Sparkle — will your photo be featured? Be sure to Instagram it with the hashtag #TCHolidayLights!

San Francisco’s Neiman Marcus store goes BIG for Christmas, or perhaps it’s just the perspective of Instagram user omnivoredilemma’s photo. Got some great holiday lights photos? Instagram them with the hashtag #TCHolidayLights to be featured in our 12 Days of Sparkle!

Whether you were waiting to see if the world ended first or you are just a procrastinator every year, don’t fret! There’s still time to get last-minute gifts for the traveler in your life — the best part, these 5 gift ideas don’t even require shipping.

1. Airline Miles or Gift Cards — Give the gift of travel and treat the jetsetter in your life to airline miles or a gift card toward their next flight. American Airlines and United Airlines offer incentives for giving miles with bonus miles for the gifter as well.

2. Travel-Inspiring Books — For all the book lovers on your list, there’s bound to be a book for every travel personality. Some of our favorite books this year were those that inspired wanderlust: Hike the Pacific Crest Trail with Cheryl Strayed in Wild; ride along with travel writer and former actor Andrew McCarthy in The Longest Way Home ; and choose what’s next on your bucket list with National Geographic’s World’s Best Travel Experiences: 400 Extraordinary Places.

3. Gift of Language — Have someone on your list who’s about to take a trip? Help them learn the language before they go. You can usually pick up Rosetta Stone language programs at airports. Also LiveMocha offers 38 courses you can buy online. You’ll be hearing merci, danke, grazie … in no time.

4. Edible Gifts — Help the foodie traveler on your list relive their favorite trip with gifts fit for consumption. Curry spices from Thailand, rooibos tea from South Africa, coffee from Costa Rica, malbec wine from Chile … pick a taste from around the world. World Market  is a great place to pick up international goods or even your local Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods is bound to carry a few things for those seeking worldly tastes

5. LivingSocial Escapes and Adventures — What do you give someone who has everything? You can never have enough travel experiences! LivingSocial’s Escapes offer travel getaways like a 5-day surf camp in Hawaii or a Flurry of Family Fun in Vermont . Or give your loved one a fun thing to try in their very own city, such as an introductory flight lesson or photography class.

Need more gift inspiration? Check out our Editors’ Picks: Holiday Wish List and the Lost Girls’ Gift Guide.

Happy shopping!

White Christmas Cities 2012

Photography by Getty Images

Are you dreaming of a “White Christmas”? For many, the holiday season isn’t the same without the sight of powdery white snow outside, enjoyed from the cozy comfort of a home complete with a fireplace and an abundant supply of gifts under the Christmas tree.

Sadly, Santa didn’t do much dashing through the snow last Christmas. In fact, winter 2011 was the 4th warmest on record since 1896. So will Christmas 2012 see a repeat performance?

We asked our friends at weathertrends360 which parts of the United States will see a white Christmas this year — and by “white,” we’re talking 1 inch of snow or greater.

Good news! Plenty of cities nationwide will see a white Christmas, says weathertrends360 meteorologist Krissy Klinger — and keep in mind weathertrends360’s snowfall forecast for cities is accurate about 80% of the time.

White Christmas: 25 Cities to Watch

Here’s weathertrend360’s list of cities nationwide slated to see a white Christmas — the list is based on records of solid snow cover, with temperatures projected not to fall below freezing through Christmas:

1. Salt Lake City
2. Cheyenne, WY
3. Denver
4. Erie, PA
5. Buffalo, NY
6. Syracuse NY
7. Watertown, NY
8. Rochester, NY
9. Burlington, VT
10. Minneapolis
11. Madison, WI
12. Green Bay, WI
13. Bismarck, ND
14. Grand Rapids, MI
15. Sault Ste Marie, MI
16. Spokane, WA
17. Lake Tahoe, CA
18. Glasgow, MT
19. Elko, NV
20. Ely, NV
21. Flagstaff, AZ
22. Duluth, MN
23. Saint Cloud, MN
24. Marquette, MI
25. Omaha, NE

We Want a White Christmas, Not a Blizzard!

The first winter storm of the season, which has been named Draco, slammed the Midwest and western Great Lakes on Thursday — and is now moving northeast. That’s good news if you’re heading out west; now that the storm has passed, and the temperatures will be cold through the weekend, the snow pack should keep in place through Christmas, says weathertrends360 meteorologist Krissy Klinger.

Any major weather concerns to watch out for?

“The only area we’d be concerned with having disruptive, blizzard-type weather would be across the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest,” says Klinger. “But it’s going to be a close call. Right now, the forecast has a storm in the Central US gathering strength on Christmas Day, so any slow-down in that strengthening could easily push the storm off until late Christmas night or the next day.”

Farther north and west of the area being impacted by the blizzard (Minneapolis; Duluth, MN; Saint Cloud, MN; and Bismarck, ND) temperatures will be frigid through Christmas Day, which will also ensure that the current snow pack, several inches deep, will stay in place for the holiday, adds Klinger.

As for the Northeast, winter storm Draco is likely to bring snow to interior sections of New England (Burlington, VT), and kick up a period of lake-effect snow for cities such as Erie, PA; Syracuse, NY; Watertown, NY; Rochester, NY; and Buffalo, NY, says weathertrends360’s Klinger. Throughout, stay abreast of pre-Christmas travel issues.

Finally, in the West, across the Rockies, a Pacific storm system is slated to spread snow across higher elevations through this weekend and into Christmas Eve, says Klinger.

Snowfall Updates — Where to Go

For a full look at cities and snowfall, check out National Climatic Data Center’s nifty map of White Christmas Cities.

Stay current on White Christmas City updates on weathertrends360′s Facebook page.

And check out Travel Channel’s tips on how to score deals on last-minute holiday travel deals.

Instagram user pamelagt shows us that New Orleans’ Roosevelt Hotel really knows how to do Christmas! Keep sending us your holiday lights photos with the hashtag #TCHolidayLights to be featured in our 12 Days of Sparkle!

Photography by Getty Images

AAA predicts that 93.3 million Americans will hit the road during the holidays, making this Christmas travel season the busiest it’s been in 6 years. More people are taking road trips this year because finding a reasonably-priced airplane ticket is like finding a needle in a haystack.

A record 84.4 million people will drive at least 50 miles between Dec. 22 and Jan. 1, according to the reputable travel agency. That’s 90.5% of holiday travelers, up from 89.3% just 6 years ago. So what does that mean to you? Expect plenty of traffic jams, crowded rest stops and bumper-to-bumper lines near highway tolls.

Need tips for dealing with this inevitable headache? Pack a couple travel-size games and snacks to keep the kids preoccupied. We recommend checking out some helpful family travel tips from Mommy Points blogger, Summer Hull, before you head out the door. Our travel expert offers up advice on everything from flying with a baby for the first time to finding hotels with health food options.

One thing travelers aren’t too concerned about is gas prices, which have dropped 50 cents since September, according to AAA. The average price at the pump will range from $3.20 and $3.40 a gallon by New Year’s Day, but that’s still not enough of a reason to thwart travelers’ plans to drive.

Although more people will be on the road, the airports will be just as busy. We recommend heading to the airport earlier than you normally would to avoid long TSA security lines — especially on the weekend before Christmas, the day after Christmas and on Jan. 2.  AAA’s economist John Heimlich expects 86% of the airplane seats to be filled with paying passengers, up from 85% last year.

Hundreds of flights have been canceled or delayed due to a major storm system making its way across the Midwest and headed for the East Coast of the US. Meteorologists predict that another storm on the West Coast may throw a wrench in travel plans next week; so before you head out the door, check out our weather forecast tool — powered by WeatherTrends360 — to find out if these 2 storms will affect your Christmas travel plans.

And if you’re headed to a big city, download The Layover app or peruse our airport guides to find out how you can kill some time during a lengthy layover.

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