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Big-City Hotels Wrapping Up a Merry Little Christmas for Holiday Shoppers

November 08, 1998|SUSAN SPANO | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

I saw Christmas decorations in a Westside mall the week before Halloween--which made me dimly recall the good old days when retailers waited until after Thanksgiving to deck the halls, and holiday shopping didn't seem a chore. I was a little girl then, in suburban St. Louis, eagerly awaiting not only Santa Claus but the Saturday in December when my mother would take me downtown to see the Christmas windows and do our holiday shopping. Back then, department stores delivered, so you didn't have to carry your purchases; there may have been snow; and I think I had a muff made of fake fur.

This year, those with similar memories can make their own "miracles on 34th Street" by taking advantage of a number of holiday shopping packages offered by hotels in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Denver and Santa Fe. Here are a few I turned up.

San Francisco

The Golden Gate city can be a joy during the holidays, especially for people with long gift lists. The chief shopping hub is Union Square, with the glass-domed Galleria on Post Street, the Embarcadero Center and other funkier shopping spots, such as Valencia Street in the Inner Mission and Upper Polk Street, just a cab or cable car ride away.

* The stylish, 150-room Maxwell Hotel, 386 Geary St. (at Union Square), telephone (888) SF4-MAXX or (415) 986-2000, built in 1908 but thoroughly refurbished by the Joie de Vivre chain in 1996, offers holiday shoppers "Winter Freeze" rates of $109 for deluxe rooms (usually starting at $155) and $149 for junior suites (usually starting at $195). Along with the room come special services such as the hotel's own "Shopologist Newsletter" and Union Square shopping map, and a big sturdy shopping bag and high-tech foot massagers delivered to guest rooms free of charge after a long hard day in the stores.

* The 1,500-room San Francisco Marriott, 55 4th St. (two blocks from Union Square), tel. (888) 575-8933 or (415) 896-1600, fax (415)777-2799, gives those who book the "Holiday Magic" package discounts at Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, FAO Schwarz and selected stores in the San Francisco and Embarcadero centers. The rate for a deluxe room is $124 a night (a $151 discount off the rack rate), available from Dec. 9 to 30 and from Jan. 1 to 4, 1999. The Marriott is just across the street from Yerba Buena Gardens, which features a high-tech multimedia center for kids called Zeum, a children's garden and a skating rink (where the "Holiday Magic" package yields two-for-the-price-of-one admission).

* And I couldn't leave San Francisco behind without mentioning the Shopper Stopper program, tel. (707) 829-1597, which includes a day of guided shopping by private bus at area factories usually only open to the wholesale trade. Available on Saturdays (except for holidays), it costs $24 and is for serious bargain hunters looking to bag up-to-date, first-quality, brand-name clothing, accessories and housewares at up to a 75% discount. The expedition takes a whole day, with refreshments served, and can include discounted accommodations at the Tuscan Inn, Fisherman's Wharf, or the downtown Juliana.

New York

Get out your mittens and hope for snow--so that the big tree in Rockefeller Center looks its Christmas best. If all you do during the holidays in Manhattan is window shop and eat a hot dog, you'll still have fun.

* The gracious 425-room Warwick Hotel, 65 W. 54th St. (in midtown, down the block from the Museum of Modern Art), tel. (800) 223-4099 or (212) 247-2700, fax (212) 713-1751, will help guests handle shopping details with its "Sanity Saver" program, available from Nov. 23 to Dec. 24. Services include a wrapping and shipping booth, expedited lunches at Randolph's Lounge in the hotel so you can hit the street in 55 minutes or less and a shopping map of mid-Manhattan. The special holiday weekend rate is $230 per night (rooms generally run $295 to $315 during the winter), single or double occupancy, including continental breakfast or parking.

* The Palace Hotel (formerly the Helmsley Palace), 455 Madison Ave. (across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral and Saks), tel. (800) NY-PALACE, is offering a honey of a "Shopping Getaway" package, which features accommodations at a New York landmark, the Villard Houses, built in 1886 in the style of a Renaissance palazzo, with a courtyard illuminated by 60,000 twinkling lights, connected to a modern 55-story tower. The package costs $265 or $385 a night, depending on whether you book in the main building or the tower, available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to Dec. 13, and on weeknights from Dec. 18 to Jan. 3, 1999. (Regular rates during the time period start at $450.) Included are offers from Saks, such as complimentary gift wrap and delivery, 10% discounts on purchases and an instant charge card.

Chicago

The Windy City is closer than New York, just as pretty during the holidays, and no slacker when it comes to shopping packages.

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