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The island where it’s Christmas every day

By Maureen O’Hare, CNN

(CNN) — In travel news this week: Holiday journeys get underway despite extreme weather and strike action; a Croatian man has turned his home into a winter theme park; plus what it’s like to live on Christmas Island.

Destination inspiration

It’s Christmas every day on Christmas Island, the 52-square-mile jungle paradise that sits in the Indian Ocean about a 3.5-hour plane flight northwest of Perth, Australia. Its thriving reefs and 250 endemic species have earned it the nickname “The Galapagos of Australia,” but geographically, this remote gem lies closer to Indonesia than the Australian mainland.

Just 1,700 or so residents are lucky enough to call it home. Local Sook Yee Lai tells CNN Travel, “We do lots of free diving, snorkeling, diving, surfing, caving and walking through the jungle to hang out on hidden beaches.”

Although the community is tiny, it’s vibrant and diverse. About 22% of the residents have Chinese ancestry, 17% Australian, 16.1% Malay, 12.5% English and 3.8% Indonesian, meaning it’s common to hear many languages day to day – English, Mandarin, Malay, Cantonese, Min Nan Chinese and Tagalog, among others. Read more here to discover life in this very special corner of the world.

Holiday travel

‘Tis the day before Christmas Eve, and holiday flights are whizzing through the air like Santa on his sleigh – almost 3 million passengers per day on US airlines alone. While bad weather’s still threatening to impact travel, there’s no sign yet of a repeat of last year’s Southwest Airlines meltdown that stranded enough passengers to fill Lapland 11 times over. This week, it earned the airline a record $140 million fine.

It wasn’t smooth sailing for cruise passengers this week. The MSC Meraviglia was meant to take guests from New York to the sunny Bahamas but got diverted to considerably chillier Canada and New England. After a rainy cruise to the Bahamas, some Carnival Sunshine passengers returned to Charleston, South Carolina, only to find a very unpleasant surprise in the parking lot. Finally, another cruise ship lost power in rough North Sea conditions.

Rail wasn’t immune from the woes. Travelers on the Eurostar, the European high-speed rail link service, found their journeys hit by a last-minute strike by Eurotunnel staff on Thursday.

Sometimes when life gives you lemons, you amass a gang of lemonade-loving strangers and go on a road trip together. A group of 13 stranded strangers drove from Orlando to Knoxville last December after their flight was canceled. Here’s what they’re up to now.

Hot hotels

Most visitors to the Great Wall of China stick to the sections nearest Beijing, waiting in multihour lines to jostle with other tourists for their own Instagram-worthy shots. The smarter way is to drive an hour north to Commune by the Great Wall, where a series of modernist buildings make up an award-winning design hotel. Best of all, it’s just 20 minutes by foot to a spot where you can soak up wall views all to yourself.

Over in India, just half an hour from the “pink city” of Jaipur with its pastel buildings, is a former royal residence that’s been turned into an opulent boutique hotel and resort. The stunning Wes Anderson-esque style of Villa Palladio, though, is an unexpected burst of Italy in a quiet corner of Rajasthan.

If you can bear to tear yourself away from these hotels’ beautiful interiors, the local landscapes are equally breathtaking – and worthy of lengthy exploration by foot. Our partners at CNN Underscored, a product reviews and recommendations guide owned by CNN, have selected the 29 best hiking boots of 2023, according to experts.

Man turns family home into winter theme park

As a child, Zlatko Salaj never had a Christmas tree. So now each year he turns his Croatian family home into a spectacular festival of lights attracting an estimated 100,000 visitors. It’s been growing and growing over the past 20 years, and in 2023, he used 5 million lights to spread holiday cheer.

In case you missed it

TSA officers discovered 17 bullets in an “otherwise clean” diaper at New York LaGuardia. 

We’ve heard of pooping bullets as you go through security, but this is ridiculous.

A man was charged with stealing $23,000 in cash from his fellow plane passengers. 

Surely a late contender for worst-behaved travelers of 2023.

Two strangers met when their flight was delayed on Christmas Eve in 1975.

Here’s how they became friends for life.

How KFC became a Christmas tradition in Japan. 

On Christmas Eve, restaurants will be up to 10 times busier than usual.

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