During the holidays, Gray Line of New York will be offering what is billed as "the most spectacular Christmas show in the world." A 2 1/2-hour tour of Manhattan that will feature entire buildings wrapped as Christmas packages, store windows with animated storybook scenes, sculptures fashioned with lights. On Fifth Avenue, visitors will glimpse a 2 1/2-story snowflake composed of 2,700 lights. They'll look in on the famous F.A.O. Schwarz toy store with its life-size stuffed giraffes, lions, bears and a 28-foot clock tower with 1,000 animated dogs, cats, mice. The tour takes in St. Patrick's Cathedral, a 32-foot menorah in celebration of Hanukkah, a 70-foot Norway spruce with 28,000 lights at Rockefeller Center, and at Lincoln Center a tree made of musical instruments.
Beginning Nov. 26, the tour will be offered daily. Cost: $15. Contact Gray Line Tours, 254 West 54th St., New York 10019, (212) 397-2600.
Holiday Hideaway: For readers looking to escape the pressures of the holidays, Big Bear Inn is scheduling Thanksgiving/Christmas packages in an alpine setting. Accommodations on Thanksgiving will run $100/$175 plus $17.95 per person for dinner. A gourmet meal will be served the Saturday following Thanksgiving (Nov. 24), with rates running $235 (double occupancy), including dinner, accommodations, a souvenir and a bottle of wine. Rates during Christmas/New Year's (Dec. 20 to Jan. 3): $130/$225 a night, single or double. The Christmas meal ($20.95) is extra. Manager Sheila Moore's European-style inn will feature live classical music, carols. A New Year's Eve party is in the works. Big Bear Inn rises in the forest between the Snow Summit and Bear Mountain ski areas.
Big Bear Inn, P.O. Box 1814, Big Bear Lake, Calif. 92315. Call (714) 866-3471.
San Diego: One of the season's best buys is a $100 getaway package for two at San Diego's Kingston Hotel. Besides accommodations, the package includes dinner for two at Malcolm's First Ave. Restaurant, a bottle of champagne, use of a fitness center, valet parking. The Kingston is a small (100-room), European-style luxury hotel near the U.S. Grant Hotel. An intimate little lobby (chandeliers, sofas, fresh flowers). Dining/dancing at the Top of the Kingston with its retractable roof (great for star gazing). Afternoon tea served in the Camelot Club. The getaway package is based on availability. Offer expires Jan. 31 (not valid New Year's Eve).
For reservations, call (800) 662-4477 or (619) 232-6141.
The Ultimate Escape: We can dream, can't we? A few minutes off the Caribbean island of Martinique, a couple of private islands await escapists. Tiny plots with only one home each. On Islet Thierry (30 acres), six double bedrooms await vacationers (verandas decked out with hammocks/chaise lounges). The house rises atop a 60-foot knoll with a stunning view of the sea. The other islet (20 acres) features a five-bedroom house. Vacationers on both islands are served by maids, cooks, boatmen. Beaches/docks for sunbathing/fishing. You're delivered by motor boat from the village of Le Francois on the windward coast of Martinique (about a 10-minute trip). Obviously, none of this comes cheap. All-inclusive rates: $200/$300 per person per day.
Contact Caribbean Inns, Hilton Head Island, S.C. 29938, (800) 633-7411.
To the Rescue: L.J. of Monrovia requests the name of a "reputable company that provides travel assistance overseas." We've had good reports on Travel Assistance International. TAI pays up to $5,000 in medical assistance, arranges for medical evacuation, offers free advice on visas, inoculations, cultural events. Anything related to travel. Helps with lost luggage, legal problems, etc. Cash advances during emergencies. Operates 24 hours a day with offices in more than 200 countries. Other services: pre-trip weather reports, transportation tips, flight schedules, hotel information. Service costs $40 for eight days, $120 per year.
Travel Assistance International, 1133 15th St. N.W., Suite 400, Washington, D.C. 20005. Call (800) 821-2828.
Oregon Charm: David Jennings, an ex-Oakland police officer, traded the Bay Area for a village along the Oregon coast with the melodic name of Bandon-by-the-Sea, where he operates a guest house (four rooms), bistro (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and hostel. In the heart of an artist's colony with ocean views. Beachcombing, fishing, clamming, seal/bird watching, riding. Cranberry bog tours. Sternwheeler river trips. Good photo opportunities (particularly of the fishing fleet, coastal rock formations). The guest house was redecorated recently. The kitchen features home-baked breads, pastries. Jennings' guest house is 80 miles north of the California border. The village contains craft shops, a theater with live drama. Nearby, wildlife refuges, miles of sand dunes, factories that turn out cranberry sweets, cheeses.