Home for the holidays? Say no, then go here

If the notion of being home for the holidays makes you shudder more than smile, getting away from it all could be the best gift that you receive this year. Here are ways to do just that: before, when or after the new year begins.

Canoe Bay is a low-profile but high-quality retreat that is big on scenery and serenity. Located near Chetek (Rusk County) and southeast of Rice Lake, it also is both pricey and prestigious – a “world of luxury,” according to the New York Times.

This is Mobil’s only four-star inn in the Midwest; the inn’s wine list (about 700 selections, some rare, emphasizing California and France) gets an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine.

Room rates begin at $290 and top off at $1,500 per night; sometimes a two- or three-night minimum stay is required.

There are 12 cottages, a lodge with seven guest rooms and Edgewood (a 3,500-square-foot executive retreat). The architecture is inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Each unit has a fireplace, whirlpool, private deck, peace and quiet. There are no snowmobiles allowed in winter, motorboats in summer, children or pets at any time of year.

“Canoe Bay is a great place to ring in the new year if you’re NOT looking for a big party and lots of noise,” says co-owner Lisa Dobrowolski. “We hold true to our year-round theme of peace and quiet, great comfort indoors, unspoiled natural beauty outdoors.”

The property includes three private lakes and 280 acres of forest. Cross-country skiing and snow shoeing are options; the area presently has at least 10 inches of snow. Twenty downhill runs are within an hour’s drive, at Christie Mountain, near Ladysmith (www.christiemountain.com or 715-868-7800).

In-room massages can be booked at Canoe Bay. There is a fitness center and an extensive library of reading materials/movies/music. Chef Scott Johnson’s fixed-priced gourmet dinners are $55 per person.

Even if you can’t afford a stay at Canoe Bay, go to www.canoebay.com. Both the images and background music are so soothing, you may want to make this your “home page” on stressful days. For more, call (715) 924-4594. Accommodations are not available on Christmas Eve or Day.

Also distinctive but less harsh on the budget, and with more potential for revelry, is The Irish Cottage – a new lodge that is outside of Galena, Ill. – and Frank O’Dowd’s Irish Pub.

On a hilltop that is slightly east of Galena, the 77-room inn and pub is the project of two Irish-American entrepreneurs. Parts of the facilities were handcrafted in Ireland, then shipped to Illinois for assembly.

Rates are $89 to $209 per couple, which includes breakfast. Higher-end accommodations are suites with fireplaces and whirlpools. The pub has traditional Irish grub – such as Irish stew, shepherd’s pie, and on weekends there is Irish music and step-dancers.

Come for New Year’s Eve, when there also will be complimentary entertainment, and pay $59 to stay a second night. The Irish Cottage will be closed on Christmas Eve and Day.

Jennifer Sexton, a pleasant lass who is here from Ireland to work at the inn as a college intern, says it’s a pleasant 20-minute walk (or five-minute drive) into Galena. For more, go to www.TheIrishCottage.com or call (866) 284-7474.

If it’s a kid-friendly place that you seek, consider – what else? – the Wisconsin Dells and its myriad waterparks to warm your bones and shrivel your skin.

Most places sell day passes to these monstrous indoor facilities, so you and the young’uns can hop from one place to another, from one day to another, if you’re so inclined.

At the Great Wolf Lodge, a race of 300 plastic ducks down a waterslide is a fun and popular draw for families on New Year’s Eve. It’s become a tradition, and prizes are awarded to people who pick the fastest ducks. There also is a scavenger hunt and Mardi Gras style of celebration for adults. For more, go to www.greatwolflodge.com or call (800) 559-9653.

A Dells’ waterpark kingpin is the Kalahari Resort, with its African-themed décor. Coming sometime in 2004 is a new test of liquid skill – the FlowRider, which is described like this: “It looks like a wave, but rides like a mountain. Half surfing, half snowboarding, with tricks derived from skateboarding.” From info at www.FlowRider.com, it looks like a good match for extreme sports enthusiasts.

Options to celebrate New Year’s Eve include a dressy dance for adults (with live music), a DJ spinning music for teens and night activities for children. Just about all age bases are covered.

Kalahari and Great Wolf Lodge rates vary wildly during the holiday season; waterpark access is included. At Kalahari, the range includes a low of $169 on Christmas Eve to $349 on New Year’s Eve (per night, two-night minimum stay required).

For more, go to www.kalahariresort.com or call (877) 253-5466. For more about the plethora of other places to stay and get wet in the Dells, go to www.wisdells.com or call (800) 223-3557.