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Queens Chronicle

2012 Holiday, gift and travel guide

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Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012 10:30 am

If you’ve been procrastinating about what to get the special people in your life or simply want to reward yourself, here are some last-minute ideas.

Electronics have long been the consumer goods holiday marquee item. The good news is that the combination of competition and advances in technology have reduced the prices of some once very pricy gizmos.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble’s Nook are small tablet devices that are used primarily for reading e-books but also possess full Internet capabilities.

Samsung has gotten a lot of notice for its Galaxy Note II, which the company describes as a “phablet,” a hybrid of a smartphone and computer tablet.

If you want to introduce a youngster to the world of personal technology, Kurio is a 7” Android tablet that is loaded with games such as the popular Angry Birds. It allows parents to control their child’s access to the Internet as well as the length of time their child can use the Kurio in a single sitting.

Headphones are inexpensive and useful items for music aficionados. Boston Beats, House of Marley (run by relatives of the late reggae legend Bob Marley) and iHome all have headphone lines that provide terrific sound fidelity.

Watches are the most popular form of jewelry because of both style and function, and like jewelry, they come in all price points. You can never go wrong with Rolex, Movado and Tag Heuer, but HOH Watches, founded by Forest Hills High School alum Lawrence Leyderman, provide comparable luxury and features of those high-end timepiece companies at a fraction of their price. Casio’s G-Shock is a popular watch brand in the $150-$250 category.

If your budget is a bit tighter, you can get watches from Timex, Fossil, Paul Frank and Long Island City’s own Armitron for under $100. Avon has gotten into the watch business as well and has licensing deals with both the NBA and NFL so that sports fans can show their loyalty to their favorite team on their wrist for $39.99.

Speaking of sports fans, New Era, Sportiqe and Tommy Bahama are all giving industry leader Nike stiff competition in the area of sports team apparel with T-shirts, caps, jackets, and pullovers that feature team logos. Interestingly, women are approaching men in terms of sales dollars when it comes to buying athletic-themed clothing as evidenced by the success of Victoria Secret’s VS PINK NFL women’s line.

The arrival of the holidays of course also means the beginning of winter. Lands End, LL Bean and Columbia Sportswear all offer winter coats and other apparel that keep you warm without the bulk.

Sorel and Timberland are synonymous with quality winter boots and now they’re being joined by a pair of familiar names in the shoe biz. Crocs, best known for their beach clogs, have expanded into winter boots as well as dress shoes. Doc Martens, best known for being the footwear favored by ‘90s grunge rock fans, has also entered winter footwear market.

Contrary to popular belief, sunglasses are very important in the winter, particularly when you are squinting while driving thanks to the glare caused by the sun’s low-angle rays. Carrera is renown for its stylish aviators. Oakley and Nike’s wraparounds have become favorite brands of both professional athletes and weekend warriors. Newcomers ICU and Zeal Optics also have great styles at prices far less than their established competitors.

Just as more women are watching sports and purchasing sports-related apparel than ever before, more men are using skin care products and purchasing fragrances for their own use. Jack Black was one the first companies to market anti-wrinkle cremes to men. Amway, Clarins, Burt’s Bees and Turo Skin have also discovered that courting the male consumer is a key to profitability and all have produced gift sets aimed at guys. Shiseido, Maybelline, Avon, Estee Lauder, Vbeaute and Pevonia are brands that cater primarily to women but guys have been known to secretly use their products when their wives or girlfriends are not looking!

When I was growing up just about the only cologne I heard of was Brut. Times have changed. There are scent wars going on at Yankee Stadium as Derek Jeter has lent his name to Avon’s Driven while the Bronx Bombers ownership has officially given their blessing to NY Yankees Fragrance. (There is also an NY Yankees perfume for ladies.) Rocker Jon Bon Jovi has his own Avon cologne line, Unplugged.

You can’t go wrong giving a male friend a Gillette gift box that contains its Pro Glide Fusion Razor, shaving creme, and shower gel. Gillette’s parent corporation, Procter & Gamble, has put together gift boxes of household items that are ideal for someone who hast just moved into his or first apartment.

Everyone loves to be pampered every now and then. Oasis and Red Door are just two of many spas that sell gift certificates. To find out more deals from other venues, log onto spaweek.com.

Reference books are an often overlooked item this time of year. Almanacs have always been a favorite of mine even in the Internet age. Happily, the “2013 World Almanac,” “2013 TIME Almanac” and the “2013 Sports Illustrated Almanac” provide you with millions of facts, both those that are important and delightfully trivial. If you need to decide which flick to order from Netflix or watch on cable, there is no better compendium than “Leonard Maltin’s 2013 Movie Guide” (Plume). Maltin’s pithy reviews have engaged film buffs for years.

2012 has marked a 50th anniversary for some pop culture icons. Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man and the James Bond film franchise both started in 1962. In honor of those milestones DK Publishing has released a pair of coffee table books, “The Spider-Man Chronicles” and “James Bond: 50 Years of Movie Posters.” On the music front, two groups, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones, turned the big 5-0 and of course their respective record companies, Capitol and Universal, have released career compilation CDs, “50 Big Ones” and “GRRR!”

Anytime of the year is a good one to discover, or rediscover, New York’s many attractions. Two companies, New York PASS, and CityPASS, sell packages that let you visit as many different attractions that you can for one fixed price. The catch is that you have a limited amount of time to do it, depending on the type of book or card you purchase.

Spirits are synonymous with the holiday season for either purchases as gifts or to be served at parties. Here is a quick look at some of the types of liquors available and their top brands.

If you like sweet liqueurs, Cointreau, Baileys old Irish Cream, Kahlua, and Disaronno have long been popular. A stronger aperitif is Hennessy Cognac.

Bacardi, Don Q, and Captain Morgan are the top names in rum. Similarly, Jose Cuervo and Don Julio are the Coke and Pepsi of tequila. Their counterparts in the world of whisky are Johnnie Walker and Macallan although two brands from Japan, Hibiki and Yamazaki, are starting to garner attention.

If you like a quality screwdriver, make sure that your vodka brand is either Skyy, Smirnoff, Stolichnaya, Georgi or Grey Goose.

Japan’s answer to vodka is its rice-based sake. Ty Ku is that country’s leading brand and their sake can be served either hot or cold.

For those inevitable New Year’s toasts, Martini Sparkling Wines is a good and inexpensive alternative to champagne.

I have come to the conclusion that with wine varieties, there is no middle ground; you either really love what you are drinking or it’s as pleasant as swallowing bitter medicine. If you are not sure about what types of wine you may like, you should log onto tastingroom.com. Tasting Room produces out 100 ml. bottles of wine for you to sample. If you like what you have tasted, you can then order the full-sized bottle.

Evidence indicates the tannins in red wine promote heart health. My favorite domestic red wine is Pinot Noir from the Pacific Northwest. Oregon’s Benton Lane and Willamette Valley Vineyards both produce full-bodied, smooth Pinot that is easy to enjoy.

The holidays are a time to enjoy some sweets even if our waists will hate us for it later. Godiva Chocolates and Harry & David’s moose munch are addictive but very tasty. A new kitchen appliance called Yonanas turns frozen fruit into a dessert akin to soft-serve ice cream if you are looking for a good alternative to chocolate.

The bad thing about hosting holiday parties is the inevitable cleanup afterwards. The Samsung New Canister Vacuum, with its telescopic wand, has great suction power that picks up the tiniest of particles, and is easy to store because of its compact size.

It’s generally expensive to get away this time of year to any place that has palm trees. Southern California is an exception since this is considered its off-season. While hotels and airfare for the Orlando and Miami areas are sky-high during Christmas week, it’s the exact opposite in Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Diego, cities all served by Queens’ own JetBlue. You can go whale watching on the Pacific as well as catch some spectacular sunsets. The La Jolla Hyatt Regency, with its heated Olympic-sized pool, and the historic Grande Colonial in La Jolla Village, which is about to celebrate its centennial, are both highly recommended. You might even see Mitt Romney walking around La Jolla since he lives there.

If you don’t mind cold weather, the scenic Poconos are only a two-hour drive west on I-80. The Mount Airy Casino has fine dining, good entertainment and cross- country skiing.

It’s important to have good luggage before hitting the road. Briggs & Riley has a full line of wheeled carry-on uprights. Vera Bradley, long a favorite of stylish women for their brightly designed cloth handbags, is now making duffel bags that are perfect for weekend getaways as well.

Need even more inspiration for gifting? Websites such as Amazon, Ideeli, HSN and QVC sell nearly every consumer good imaginable.

If all else fails, you can always give an American Express Gift Card. AmEx frequently has a charity component related to sales of these items during this time of year.

Happy holiday shopping!

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