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Ah, cities and Christmas -- an exercise in mass hysteria as shoppers clog department stores and streets in search of the perfect gift. The hustle and bustle of a city at Christmastime, though, is unrivaled -- it's probably the quickest way to get a holiday spirit adrenalin rush. For this report, we've rounded up some hotel packages, where available, in major cities. But if you live in the Midwest, say, and you're inspired to travel across the country, and you need airfare as part of the deal, check Expedia (www.expedia.com), Orbitz (www.orbitz.com) and Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) for competitive rates for your city of choice. Be warned, though, airfares are climbing compared to last year and many flights are already sold out.

Is there anything better than Christmas in New York? Yes, Christmas in New York when it snows, but only for the first half hour, before it has a chance to become dingy with dirt from cabs, diesel and cars. The city's official tourism site NYC & Company (tel. 212/484-1222; www.nycvisit.com/home/index.cfm) lists a compilation of city events, mostly related to arts and culture including exhibits at the Guggenheim on Russian art through January 11, 2006 and Van Gogh's drawings at the Metropolitan Museum until December 31. Specific promotions include a Thanksgiving package available November 23-27 at the Westin Times Square for $399 per night, including valet parking, with a two-night minimum. Ask for the THANKRTPK plan. If you want something more luxurious, the Westin is offering, starting at $569 per night, a package valid November 23 and 24 that includes dinner and continental breakfast for two at Shula's Steak House. This is a one-night package; ask for THANKPKG rate when you book.

Something more affordable, perhaps, is the "Holidays in the City" package offered by Affinia Hotels (tel. 866/246-2203; www.affinia.com), which operates The Benjamin, Affinia 50, Surrey Hotel, and a handful of others. Rates start from $199, upgrades are possible from $40, and it runs the week of Thanksgiving and the end of December -- virtually unheard of in New York City during this time of year. You will receive a NYC & Co. visitor's guidebook and shopping tote. Right now the deal is not posted on the hotel group's website, so contact them for more details.

Hilton is offering a series of specials December 20-26 in conjunction with the Great White Way's ticketing site (tel. 212/541-8457; www.broadway.com/gen/Promotion.aspx?pi=518813). You can select the show you want based on the dates of your stay -- Beauty and the Beast, Avenue Q, Chicago and Spamalot all have availability, among others. For example, a two-night stay at the Hilton New York with two tickets (at nearly $100 a pop) to Chicago costs $651, including taxes. Or, a one-night package at the Hilton New York with two tickets to see Gabriel Byrne in A Touch of the Poet is priced from $379 for a standard room.

I've long contended that Philadelphia (tel. 215/599-0776; www.gophila.com) is a great place for food (cheese steaks aside), and a great place to take kids -- the city of brotherly love is chockablock with museums both artistic and scientific and naturally, history. The newly opened Constitution Center is worth checking out, and the Philadelphia Art Museum (tel. 215/763-8100; www.philamuseum.org) is exhibiting Edvard Munch's Mermaid through December 31 and Dutch landscape painter Jacob van Ruisdael through February 5. Right now, in conjunction with the Body Worlds Exhibit at the Franklin Institute, the city's tourism site is running a special for two VIP tickets to the exhibit, which gains you admission anytime the exhibit is open, seven days a week, overnight accommodations and some other amenities, such as breakfast or parking, depending on the individual hotel's offerings. Rates run from $149 at the Radisson Plaza Warwick on Locust Street for Thanksgiving weekend, all the way up to $219 for the Doubletree on South Broad Street for the Friday before Christmas.

In conjunction with Ben Franklin's 300th birthday in mid-January (www.gophila.com/Go/Ben/), the city will be celebrating him with a variety of promotions, incentives, coupons, events and exhibits, including one at the National Constitution Center (While this isn't a holiday promotion per se, who couldn't use a little history lesson in between Christmas shopping?) Over 30 hotels are participating in the "Ben's Birthday Hotel Package", available between December 15 and April 30, 2006. It includes one or two nights, two tickets to the aforementioned exhibit, a coupon book called the Little Book of BENefits, and other amenities as determined by the hotels involved.

The official travel portal for Atlanta (tel. 404/521-6600; www.atlanta.net) has several holiday packages, with rates from $54 at the city's "Macy's Atlanta Escape Shopping Package" (tel. 800/506-7829; www.marriottse.com/offers/macys). With this deal you'll save 11 percent with a Macy's savings pass at one of over 17 Marriott locations in the greater Atlanta area. The deal is valid through December 31, 2005 and the pass can be used for five days. Another package they're offering is the "Atlanta Marquis Holiday" experience (www.marriottse.com/offers/santa), complete with breakfast with Santa from $129. The package is available from December 15-24 and breakfast is available Friday December 16-24. The package also includes accommodations for one night, complimentary valet parking at the hotel, and breakfast at Allie's American Grille. Other possible activities include ice-skating at Centennial Park, and the new Georgia Aquarium (tel. 404/581-4000; www.georgiaaquarium.org), scheduled to open November 23. This package is only available at the Atlanta Marriot Marquis right in the Peachtree Center.

Chicago (tel. 877/244-2246; www.877chicago.com) lists a handful of holiday offerings, including the "Theater Lovers Immersion" weekend, but that's sold out. Their "Winter Delights Hotel Extravaganza" is their next promotion, only good for travel in January and February. As the official visitor's portal, the website is a useful way to search specific hotels for deals in the Windy City. There's even a feature that allows you to limit your looking by location -- whether you want to check the Loop, North Michigan Avenue, or Lincoln Park, for example.

An interesting special, albeit unrelated to the holidays, is something the landmark Drake Hotel (tel. 800/553-7253; www.thedrakehotel.com) is calling "Enjoy Pompeii: Stories from an Eruption". It's valid until March 26, 2006, based on availability, with rates from $199. Amenities include two VIP tickets to the Pompeii exhibit at the Field Museum and breakfast for two. Other hotels are getting into the act with promotions related to this exhibit, including the Courtyard Chicago Downtown (tel. 800/228-9290), with rates from $155-$195, good on weekends only through March 23, 2006.

On November 9, the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau (tel. 888/782-9673; www.onlysf.com) will announce some holiday hotel promotions in conjunction with their annual HolidayFest (www.sfholidayfest.com; Remember, this site goes live Nov. 9). Some of the events include Santa arriving by rowboat, a puppet rendition of the Nutcracker, a holiday gospel performance featuring the Blind Boys of Alabama and the more traditional (by this city's standards, at least) tour of holiday lights by cable car, complete with Santa.

See Seattle (tel. 206/461-5840; www.seeseattle.org), the site run by the visitors and convention bureau, has links to "Seattle Super Savers", a searchable site that lists special hotel rates and other packages. One such hotel, the charming Inn at the Market, is taking part in that promotion up until March 31, 2006. The charming, comfortable boutique hotel is located within footsteps of Pike Place Market. A simple search using the first weekend of November as check-in revealed a standard room at $155 and a water view room at $225. For early December weekend stay, the same standard room bumps up to just $175 and the water-view room to $235. The Seattle Saver site is definitely worth checking out.

Currently, the Mayflower Park Hotel (tel. 800/426-5100; www.mayflowerpark.com/email/20050817-shoppersspecial.html) downtown is offering rates from $145 for stays until December 30 as part of their "Seattle Holiday Shopper's Special" package. There are plenty of boutique and chain-store shopping experiences within walking distance and the city gets decked out with Santa, carousel rides, horse-drawn carriages and of course a Christmas tree. Seattle is another fantastic foodie town; for a special occasion, don't miss the Spanish-influenced Andaluca, located on the ground floor. Rates go up to $205 for a suite and a corner queen room is $155.

The official visitor's site for St. Louis (tel. 800/916-9680; www.explorestlouis.com) has a handful of offerings for the holiday season, including one at the Westin St. Louis, from $119 for a single or double, valid on Friday and Saturday. After a hard day of shopping, the Westin's heavenly bed is a welcome sight. The offer is valid from November 18-December 30. The "Wrap it Up" package at the St. Louis Marriot by the airport is priced at $99 for a single or double, valid on Thursday through Sundays but you must include a Friday or Saturday night stay. Coupons and special offers for the St. Louis Galleria stores are included, along with a travel coffee mug, shopping bag, breakfast for two and a complimentary cocktail. The offer is valid October 1 through December 23. A similar deal called "In the Bag" is being offered by the Renaissance St. Louis Hotel--Airport, from $109: the same amenities are included and it's valid on the same dates as the Marriot package. The Millennium Hotel's "Holiday Shopping Package" offers a single or double occupancy at $119 and a $50 American Express gift certificate for each night you stay, breakfast for two and hotel parking, valid December 1-30.

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