On track for a Grand Canyon New Year's

Natural and man-made wonders highlight "New Year's at the Grand Canyon," a holiday excursion featuring a New Year's Eve gala at the canyon and a gambol in Las Vegas. It all begins in Chicago Dec. 28 when Amtrak's Southwest Chief departs for Winslow, Ariz.

From there, a day of sightseeing through the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest ends in Williams, Ariz. The next morning, the Grand Canyon Railway transports travelers to the South Rim for a two-night stay at Maswik Lodge. After welcoming in 2008, the group moves on to Las Vegas for the finale, a three-night stay at Bellagio Resort.

The $1,995 fee covers hotel accommodations, some meals and all sightseeing, as well as coach seating on the train, motor-coach travel and some gratuities. Airfare back to Chicago Jan. 5 costs $99 extra. Sleeping car accommodations aboard the Southwest Chief are additional.

Offered by Uncommon Journeys-Train Holidays, this New Year's getaway can also be tailored to begin and end in California. (800-543-2846; www.trainholidays.com, click on Destinations, then on New Year's Grand Canyon)

Hank Aaron on deck

Baseball legend Hank Aaron will be back on deck aboard the Crystal Serenity as the vessel makes its Jan. 4-19 Panama Canal crossing between Miami and Los Angeles. Along the way, "Hammerin' Hank" will share his achievements, professional milestones and life experiences, hosting a question-and-answer session and posing for photographs.

With ports of call in Grand Cayman, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico (including a maiden call at Puerto Chiapas, Mexico), the cruise starts at $4,495 for a deluxe stateroom and $5,655 for a stateroom with veranda, plus $400 in fees. Gratuities and shore excursions are additional.

Aaron's lecture series is part of the Crystal Visions Enrichment Program, which brings noted speakers aboard all cruises. (888-722-0021; www.crystalcruises.com/cruise_itinerary.aspx?cid8301

'Ratatouille' deal gets family cooking

The movie "Ratatouille" has inspired New York's Roosevelt Hotel to offer a package of nearly the same name. The "Ratatouille — Anyone Can Cook Package" ushers families into the Roosevelt Grill kitchen for a cooking lesson with the chefs and then sits them down for dinner to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Priced at $1,443 for a family of four, the culinary caper also serves up two nights' accommodations, a DVD of the movie and, for the most discerning of rats, a gourmet-cheese turndown. Tax and tips are extra. "Ratatouille" reaches its sell-by date March 31. (888-833-3969; www.theroosevelthotel.com, click on Ratatouille Package)

A 'Ho Ho' horse for west coast getaway

Hotel Cheval in Paso Robles, Calif., calls on Chester, its Belgian draft horse, to provide the power for a carriage ride through the town's Victorian district.

The outing with Chester is part of Hotel Cheval's "Ho Ho Ho Weekend Package," which also includes Friday- and Saturday-night lodging, daily continental breakfast, port-and-chocolate pairing and champagne-and-cheese tasting.

Valid through December, the two-night yuletide package is priced at $875 plus tax and tips.

The new Hotel Cheval is located in downtown Paso Robles. (866-522-6999; www.hotelcheval.com, click on View our specials & packages)

Room with a future

Prompted by the "forever stamp" issued earlier this year, Willows Lodge east of Seattle has come up with a "Forever Willows" package that guarantees guests four one-night stays at almost any time in the future. "Forever Willows" is priced at $1,000.

Now for the fine print. Though "Forever Willows" can be redeemed forever, the package must be purchased by Dec. 30. The four-night credit may be used separately or on four successive nights.

Room tax is additional, and booking is based on availability.

Located in the Woodinville, Wash., "wine country," Willows Lodge is an 84-room rustic retreat with a full-service spa and two highly regarded restaurants. (425-424-2589; www.willowslodge.com, click on Accommodations, then on Wine Country Packages)

Prices generally are per person double, based on availability.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.