Favorite Places to Go to be Immersed in Holiday Spirit

Christmas in Busch Gardens Colonial Williamsburg.

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

My criteria for great destination places to spend the winter holidays starts with charm, offers plenty to do indoors as well as outdoors that interests everyone in the family, is walkable to get around or at least offers great public transportation, perhaps even a cutesy trolley or something that is fun, has great decorations, and a festive feel. Here are more of our favorite places, where the spirit glows bright throughout the holidays, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. (See also: Favorite Places to Go Where the Holiday Spirit Glows Brightest)

Philadelphia’s Winter Wonderland

Philadelphia is well known for its wintertime holiday traditions. The season begins with America’s oldest Thanksgiving Day Parade—enjoying its momentous 100th running this year. But this year, three newcomers get an early start on the holidays. These include a vast, immersive, evening light display—LumiNature at the Philadelphia Zoo—a seasonal selfie station at The Bourse—Photo Pop Philly: Winter Wonderland—and a massive floating tree, with a sound and light show, at the center of the just-opened Fashion District Philadelphia.

Here is what’s new for the 2019 winter holidays in Philadelphia:

Holiday pop-ups abound around City Hall in the heart of Center City, including the dazzling nightly Deck the Hall Light Show (November 25, 2019 – January 1, 2020), projected on to the side of City Hall. The outdoor Rothman Orthopaedics Ice Rink & Cabin (November 8, 2019 – February 23, 2020) offer ice skating, skate rentals, twinkling lights and indoor space to warm up and fill up on snacks, cocktails, seasonal beer and hot drinks. The charming, stroll-worthy Wintergarden (November 8, 2019 – February 23, 2020) is aglow with seasonal plants and lights. Also, the Made In Philadelphia Holiday Market (November 23, 2019 – January 1, 2020) returns with dozens of independent local vendors selling their wares. (Dilworth Park, 1 S. 15th Street).

During the annual Franklin Square Holiday Festival, the Electrical Spectacle Holiday Light Show presented by PECO makes this historic square twinkle with free shows every night. Among the 75,000 bulbs set to music is a giant, illuminated kite. Other festivities include Saturdays with Santa; rides on the holiday train and carousel; comfort foods, local beer and hot beverages at Ben’s Sweets & Treats and holiday fare at SquareBurger; and mini-golf.

Deck the District – The Fashion District Philadelphia offers great local art, amazing bargains, delicious drinks and a holiday light show. Designer Matthew Schwam, known for putting big, bright red bows and dazzling lit-up snowflakes on significant city buildings, has promised a magical, 45-foot tall floating tree featuring 600 mirrored, stainless steel orbs for the center of the complex. Every half hour from 4 p.m. until closing, the tree will host a free light show featuring the festive sounds of the Philadelphia POPS. November 14-December 31, 2019.901 Market Street, (215) 925-7162, fashiondistrictphiladelphia.com

Photo Pop Philly: Winter Wonderland ­– The ultimate selfie station, located inside the historic Bourse building (now a modern food hall), invites ticketed guests through a series of artist-envisioned, purposefully Instagram-able rooms featuring virtual reality, a photo booth and lots of snow-filled backdrops, just in time for holiday card-making. Select days, November 15, 2019-January 5, 2020.111 S. Independence Mall East, (215) 925-7900, photopopphilly.com

LumiNature at Philadelphia Zoo – Two years in the making, a new, immersive display transforms the zoo’s day-scape into a nighttime multimedia light and music spectacle. Dancing lights, sounds (even talking trees) throughout furnish illusions of animals coming to life. A flock of flamingos forms a 25-foot-tall tree; an enormous polar bear broadcasts the magnificence of our planet; all four seasons host their very own party. Seasonal fare, live performers, hot chocolate and adult beverages promise to spark the winter spirit. Timed tickets. November 20, 2019-January 5, 2020.3400 W. Girard Avenue, (215) 243-1100, philadelphiazoo.org

The Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package includes overnight free parking and more perks, and is  bookable at Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website, visitphilly.com, 800-537-7676 where you can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages.

Festive Holiday Traditions on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket

Christmas on Nantucket.

Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket bring the classic spirit of the season to life Thanksgiving through New Year’s, each putting their special stamp on beloved holiday traditions.

Nantucket Island’s month-long (November 29, 2019 to January 1, 2020), Nantucket Noel, is a venerable tradition. This year’s theme is Winter Nights & Holiday Nights — a reminder that, on Nantucket, the winter holidays commence with the Tree Lighting and continue for 33 days through The New Nantucket New Year’s Event and The Nantucket Hotel’s Anchor Drop on New Year’s Eve. Nantucket Noel 2019’s festivities — including the signature event Christmas Stroll Weekend (December 6-8, 2019) features more than 150 majestically attired balsam Christmas trees lining the side perimeters of cobblestoned Main Street and adjoining byways. (Book your ferry reservations online at www.SteamshipAuthority.com or call 508-477-8600.)

Christmas in Edgartown: Downtown Edgartown comes alive December 12-15 for the 38th Annual Christmas in Edgartown. Twinkle-lit architecture sets the scene for cookie contests, wreath making, amazing store promotions, The Great Chowder Contest, and a parade down Main Street.

Cape Cod Enchanted Village takes place December 6, 2019-January 2, 2020. Free and open to the public! Thousands of lights, a Santa’s Village and the Cape Cod Surftone Carolers sing holiday music every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night from 5 pm to 8pm. Bonfire nightly (weather permitting). Holiday lights go on at dusk. Please bring a gift card of new, unwrappped toy for the “Giving Tree”. Proceeds go to Independence House. (www.capecodderresort.com/packages/enchanted-village-package)

Old-Fashioned Family Fun: Take a guided ride along a winter wonderland route in an over-sand vehicle to the remote Cape Poge Lighthouse for Christmas at the Lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard (December 7-8). The Nantucket Whaling Museum is ablaze with color during the Nantucket Historical Association Festival of Trees (December 6-31), featuring creatively decorated trees by local merchants, artists and children. And nine miles of twinkling lights greet visitors to Heritage Museums & Gardens’ Gardens Aglow, where you can visit with Santa in a 1913 Model T Ford, roast marshmallows over outdoor fire pits and stroll through the grounds on a reindeer scavenger hunt (November 29-December 29, Fridays-Sundays).

Shop Local: Quaint boutiques, charming bookstores and eclectic galleries adorn downtown areas, making it easy to tackle your holiday shopping list. One-of-a-kind gifts by local artisans can be found at Featherstone’s Holiday Gift Show(November 15-December 15), the Vineyard Artisans’ Annual Holiday Fair(December 21) and the Holiday LoveLocal Fest in Hyannis (December 7-8). Peruse the beautiful glass-blown ornaments at Sandwich Glass Museum’s Glassblowers’ Christmas, featuring handmade ornaments available for purchase (November 15-December 30). And if you shop on Nantucket between November 1 and December 24, you can earn red tickets and enter for a chance to win up to $11,000 through the Holiday Red Ticket Program.

Yuletide Cheer in Greater Williamsburg, Virginia

Visitors tour on Palace Green in an open carriage during the Christmas Season. Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area (photo by Danielle Hendricks).

What a holiday combination! Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, a living-history museum, the Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, offering a glimpse of 17th and 18th century holiday traditions and Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

America’s colonial past can be seen through the Illuminations taking place throughout Colonial Williamsburg. Between December 10 and 15, stroll through the Palace Green, the Capitol, Market Square or the taverns to enjoy an 18th century seasonal celebration as candles and cressets illuminate these sites, and the firing of muskets and a musical performance by the Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drums whisk us back in time.

Jamestown: Military history aficionados may take delight in Christmastide in Virginia at Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown between December 20 and 31.  17th and 18th-century holiday traditions are recalled through special interpretive programs and musical entertainment of the period.  At the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, hear accounts of Christmas and winter in military encampments during the American Revolution and relive holiday preparations on a Revolution-era farm.  At Jamestown Settlement, English Christmas customs of the period can be compared and contrasted with how the season may have been observed in the difficult early years of the Jamestown colony.

Busch Gardens—Christmas Town 2019 offers one of the largest lights displays in North America with more than 10 million tiny globes making all merry and bright.  Between November 16 and January 5, 2020, the season rejuvenates with festive food and drink, lighted Christmas train rides, holiday shopping and heart-warming shows in Busch Gardens – Christmas Town 2019. New for 2019, the Traditions Tree Maze presented by Coca-Cola features 500 fresh-cut Christmas trees creating a spectacular maze that allows park-goers to take a stroll around the world and explore holiday traditions celebrated in places like Japan, South Africa and Mexico. Country of origin themed craft-making stations for the kids, picture-taking moments, music and lights make this immersive experience like no other.  Also debuting this year, Believe lets guests dine while enjoying inspirational holiday music performed by a solo pianist in the Italy’s San Marco Theatre.  Not for the faint at heart, the new Finnegan’s Flyer tests the bravest of riders as they swing at speeds of 45 mph and 80 feet above the cliffs of the Celtic Coast, taking in the festive sights of Ireland.

Complete the magical experience with a stay at the grand, historic Williamsburg Inn, a full-service luxury (five-Diamond) resort (www.colonialwilliamsburghotels.com).

For more information and itinerary suggestions, visit www.visitwilliamsburg.com.

Holiday Family Fun in San Francisco  

Christmas in San Francisco (Ralsy Sabater).

Here are some essentials that epitomize a lovely winter holiday in the City by the Bay.

Winter Park at Civic Center: Now in its second year, the Civic Center Plaza is converted into a pop-up winter park to celebrate the holiday season. From Nov. 30 to Jan. 5, you can skate the night away or participate in Learn to Curl sessions.   https://winterparkicerinksf.com/

Ice Skating: Winter in San Francisco also means pop-up ice skating rinks. The most popular one is at Union Square, under Macy’s giant Christmas tree.Through Jan. 20, purchase tickets in advance; also check for special events ( https://unionsquareicerink.com/). Embarcadero Center has the biggest pop-up rink in the city, with gorgeous views of the waterfront (http://embarcaderocenter.com/experience/holiday-ice-rink/)

“Curious Contraptions: Flights of Fancy”: For indoor holiday fun, head to the Exploratorium at Pier 15 for an exhibition of whimsical mechanical sculptures, also known as automata. Brought to life by simple mechanisms and handmade pieces, each automata performs an entertaining drama. Understand the inner workings of these automata in “Curious Contraptions” from Nov. 21, 2019 to Jan. 26, 2020. www.exploratorium.edu

Classic Cable Car Holiday Nights & Sights City Tour: Ring in the holiday season aboard a cable car, Nov. 22 through Dec. 30, 2019 at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. The Classic Cable Car Holiday Nights & Sights City Tour begins at Taylor St. and tours through Fisherman’s WharfNorth BeachChinatownUnion SquareFinancial DistrictThe Embarcadero and PIER 39. Along the way, you’ll see San Francisco’s festive holiday trees, trimmings, and twinkling lights decorating the city for the winter season. Enjoy jovial jingles along with a complimentary Santa hat.  www.classiccablecar.com/tour/holiday-nights-and-sights/

Emperor Norton’s Holiday Bazaar: Off the Grid (OTG), the quintessential champion of the mobile food movement in the Bay Area and beyond, is debuting Emperor Norton’s Holiday Bazaar Nov. 29 to Dec. 24, 2019. Inspired by the tradition of European Holiday Markets, the Bazaar will take place at the iconic Salesforce Transit Center and Salesforce Tower Plaza.  Emperor Norton’s Holiday Bazaar will deliver a magical experience with classic holiday décor, cozy spots to relax and connect, and opportunities to shop for unique, handmade gifts – all paired with the soul-warming food and drink for which Off the Grid is famous. https://offthegrid.com/emperor-nortons-holiday-bazaar/

The Great Dickens Christmas Fair: A treasured Bay Area tradition since 1970, The Great Dickens Fair is takes place Nov. 23 – Dec. 22, 2019 at the Cow Palace. The Fair’s 20th season features over 800 performers in over 120,000 square feet of theatrically-lit music halls, dance floors, and Christmas shops. https://dickensfair.com/

Lucky Tuk Tuk Tour: This might just be the most holiday fun you can have on wheels. Lucky Tuk Tuk’s vibrant vehicles are eco-friendly and colorfully decorated with holiday lights to tour you through the city with holiday cheer. Lucky Tuk Tuk can fit up to six riders, perfect for a family outing. While on board, you can enjoy a hot cup of cocoa, candy canes and even sing-along karaoke.  www.lucky-tuk-tuk.com/

For information on reservations, activities and more, visit www.sftravel.com or call 415-391-2000. 

Festivities in Louisville, Kentucky

WINTER WOODS SPECTACULAR: Experience the twinkling of millions of lights at this new event from the producers of the popular Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular. Held in scenic Iroquois Park, the event features a half-mile drive of lighting and artistry exploring and celebrating the holiday season. (Nov. 30 through Dec. 31)

FÊTE DE NOËL: Louisville’s Paristown neighborhood is the site of this inaugural event. A six-week Winter Village features Louisville’s only authentic outdoor ice-skating rink, along with the return of Louisville’s award-winning Holiday Laser Dome, Stoneware & Co. ornament decorating, holiday family movies and more. 

LIGHTS UNDER LOUISVILLE: At this holiday favorite, Louisville Mega Cavern is transformed into a festive underground light spectacular. Enjoy a 30-minute ride through part of 17 miles of underground passageways. Featuring more than 850 lit characters with three million points of lights. ( Open through Jan. 4)

For more information, Louisville Tourism,gotolouisville.com

Christmas on the Beach in St. Petersburg

St Petersburg, Florida affords a marvelous opportunity to combine arts, culture, heritage with white sand beach. St. Petersburg/Clearwater offers scores of special activities – lighted boat parades that take place at various times in small villages; outdoor carolers at the holiday market. The very special Clearwater Marine Aquarium (home of the Dolphin’s Tale stories) transforms into Winter’s Wonderland. The annual Holiday Lights in the Gardens has a million LED lights shining throughout the Botanical Gardens (from 5:30 p.m.; $5 suggested donation). Head to Christmas Town at Busch Gardens for some great thrill rides and to see the park transform into a holiday wonderland of Christmastime entertainment, holiday shopping and a million twinkling lights!. Stay at the glamorous, historic and grand beach resort, the DonCesar Resort, known as “the Pink Lady” (www.doncesar.com) or the Vinoy Renaissance, both members of Historic Hotels of America (historichotels.org, 800-678-8946).

For more ideas, visit www.visitstpeteclearwater.com.

Enchanted Garden in Chattanooga

Chattanooga, Tennessee offers a surprising array of extraordinary experiences: walk through a secret underground ice cave and see Rock City’s Enchanted Garden of Lights, explore a nocturnal fantasyland with more than one million twinkling lights high atop Lookout Mountain; hop on board a train for a North Pole adventure; sing Christmas carols and dance with Santa on a river cruise; meet coral reef Santa divers; build creative gingerbread houses; watch animals open their own Christmas presents when you visit the Children’s Discovery Museum and the Tennessee Aquarium.

Enjoy Chattanooga’s Holiday Trail of Lights Nov. 15, 2019 – Jan. 17, 2020: Now in its third year, the Chattanooga Holiday Trail of Lights showcases 12 major holiday activities featuring millions of twinkling lights, holiday meals on a river cruise, live holiday music and entertainment, animal encounters, ice skating, Santa sightings and train excursions to the North Pole! Throughout the trail there are an array of festivals, gingerbread-house making workshops, special holiday meals, live music, theater performances, shopping deals, artist demonstrations, fireworks and plenty of ways to spend New Year’s Eve in Chattanooga.

The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel offers an absolutely magical experience. The historic hotel (and member of Historic Hotels of America) is literally created out of the legendary railroad station dating back to 1909, where you can stay in one of 48 Victorian train cars converted to the most delightful rooms, wonderfully furnished in period pieces (but with modern amenities like high-speed wireless Internet access), and the station serves as the hotel lobby (you can also tour some of the historic trains and meet the engineer). A free electric shuttle from the bus terminal next door takes you downtown. I don’t know when I have had a more enjoyable and enchanted stay. (Chattanooga Choo Choo, 400 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402, 800-TRACK-29 (872-2529, www.choochoo.com.)

Get the full scoop on planning a holiday getaway in Chattanooga at www.chattanoogafun.com/winter

Historic Holiday Sites

National Trust for Historic Preservation (the organization is the umbrella for Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org), offers Great Experiences & Tours, (nationaltrusttours.com). The National Trust has just introduced a new program to make history fun for families: Distinctive Destinations. From grand homes to artists’ studios to working farms, these places across America can add memorable moments to your off-the-beaten-path road trip, create new opportunities for your next vacation, or even be your new favorite gift shop (https://savingplaces.org/distinctive-destinations). They even have created an online list of holiday experiences at its collection of historic holiday sites. (https://savingplaces.org/collections/distinctive-destinations-historic-holidays, info@savingplaces.org, 202-588-6000,:800-944-6847).

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Favorite Places to Go Where the Holiday Spirit Glows Brightest

Christmas carolers at Longwood Gardens in the Brandywine Region © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The best thing about Christmas is that the festivities that brighten and warm all the days of the holiday season go on from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. And the best part is you don’t have to wait for Christmas week – festivities are happening throughout December. Here are some of our favorite places to revel in the holiday spirit:

Christmas in the Capital

Here are some of the best, can’t-miss ways to experience the holidays in Washington DC::

The National Christmas Tree, one of DC’s iconic holiday traditions, lives in President’s Park on the White House Ellipse, surrounded by trees decorated with handmade ornaments from 56 U.S. states and territories. Each night throughout the holiday season there are musical performances. The display is free to visit and open from 10 am – 10 pm while the National Christmas Tree is lit each day from 4:30-10 pm, from Dec. 5, when the lighting ceremony takes place.

Visit the Smithsonian National Zoo during ZooLights, when the zoo is illuminated with more than 500,000 environmentally-friendly LEDs,  animated light installations, live music and various animals on display. ZooLights runs Nov. 29 – Jan. 1 (closed Dec. 24, 25 & 31).

Enchant Christmas is a light maze, billed as the biggest in the world, that is in DC for the first time at Nationals Park from Nov. 22 – Dec. 29. Throughout the holiday season there are ice skating trails and a large holiday market offering products from more than 60 vendors, including local businesses and international brands. (Use promo code “VISITDC” to get 10% off when you buy tickets.)

Downtown Holiday Market: Located at 8th and F Streets NW, the market holds down the area in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. At night, its bright lights bring Penn Quarter to life, providing a holiday spark to the neighborhood, but you can shop during the day too. (Open daily 12-8 pm, Nov. 22 – Dec. 23).

Georgetown GLOW exhibition of light-art, a stroll through DC’s most historic neighborhood  has proven to be such a hit that it’s now a month-long celebration (Dec. 6 – Jan. 5, 5-10 pm). Afterwards, wander through a winter wonderland at The Washington Harbour, one of the district’s favorite places to ice skate.

George Washington’s Mount Vernon: A George Washington-inspired Christmas awaits at the Founding Father’s Mount Vernon estate, Nov. 29 – Dec. 31. Walk through Washington’s home and visit Aladdin the camel, which pays homage to Washington’s 1787 Christmas in which he paid 18 shillings to entertain guests with a camel. See Mount Vernon by candlelight (Nov. 29 & 30, Dec. 6-7, 13-14 and 22) between 5-8 p.m., when you can enjoy a character-guided tour, 18th century dancing and fireside caroling.

The U.S. Botanic Garden gets decked out for this annual exhibit. This year’s display focuses on gardens from Hawaii to Maine, including iconic spots like the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Franklin Park Conservatory and Huntsville Botanical Garden. Inside the Conservatory are  the garden’s collection of DC’s iconic landmarks and a showcase of poinsettias. Season’s Greenings is open from Nov. 28 – Jan. 5 (10 am – 5 pm), and stays open until 8 pm, with holiday concerts on select Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

A magnificent tree decks the Great Hall of the Library of Congress‘ Thomas Jefferson Building each December, visited from the First Street SE entrance between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm (the Jefferson Building is closed Sundays and on Christmas). (Check the guide to visiting the largest library in the world so you can properly explore.)

Ice slide at Gaylord’s ICE! © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Visit National Harbor, a shopping, dining and amusement park-like landmark located just 20 minutes south of DC (reached by public transportation). Step inside the Gaylord National Resort for ICE! (Nov. 15 – Dec. 30), an indoor winter wonderland featuring two million pounds of hand-carved ice sculptures, ice slides, a live carving area and a retelling of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. While at National Harbor, view the tree from atop the Capital Wheel, shop for gifts at the Tanger Outlets and experience weekend events like holiday markets, performances and movie screenings.

Beautiful lights, seasonal food and holiday-themed attractions and characters make up this annual Christmas event at Six Flags America, on weekends and select days from Nov. 23 – Jan. 1.

Located in the Brookland neighborhood, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, dresses up with more than 50 Christmas trees, over 65,000 lights, halls decked with 500-plus poinsettias and two manger scenes. (Free and open to the public daily from 7 am – 6 pm)

The Willard InterContinental Washington offers a holiday tradition throughout December. You can enjoy afternoon tea from 1-4 p.m. in the elegant Peacock Alley every day of the month (except Dec. 24, 25 and 31). There will be seasonal decor, sandwiches, pastries and the beautiful sounds of a harp to accompany you as you sip on festive teas from one of DC’s most historic hotels.

Visit https://washington.org for more details and ideas.

Christmas in Washington DC: The historic Willard Intercontinental Hotel hosts holiday afternoon tea, nightly caroling, and a gingerbread display.

15th Annual Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth, NH

Now in its 15th year, Vintage Christmas, taking place throughout December, transforms Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which National Geographic/Travel described as “possibly the greatest small town in the USA,” into a picture-postcard winter wonderland.

Those who visit Portsmouth during the holiday season discover an intimate streetscape framed by 19th century storefronts, boutiques and sidewalk cafes. The city’s reputation as a “foodies’” haven is upheld by chef-owned restaurants on more than every corner. The thriving craft beer and local music scene banish all suggestions of “staid New England” without losing the charm. And sales tax-free shopping offers delights for every age and taste.

For 2019 Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth includes:

The Music Hall, a historic theater dating from 1878 on Chestnut Street, presents “Annie” from November 27 to December 22, with Sally Struthers reprising her Broadway tour reprisal of Miss Hannigan. Juston McKinney: Last Laugh 2019 on Dec. 27, 28 & 29, looks back at “the year that was” with one of the region’s most “popular stand-up comics. New Year’s Eve Champagne Pops with the Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra on Dec. 31.

Strawbery Banke Museum:  40th Annual Candlelight Stroll on December 7, 8, 14, 15, 21 and 22, showcases 300+ years of daily life and holiday festivities around the theme “A Tradition for Every Family” in the historic waterfront neighborhood and living history museum of Puddle Dock. Saturdays 5-9 pm. Sundays 4-8 pm. Adult $25; child (5-17) $10, Family (2 adults/2 kids) $60. Children under 5 and Military families, free.

It’s Chanukah at the Shapiro House at Strawbery Banke, Portsmouth NH’s living history museum © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Labrie Family Skate at Puddle Dock Pond, Strawbery Banke’s seasonal outdoor ice skating rink, open daily 9 am to 9 pm, also hosts costumed Victorian skaters evoking Currier & Ives during each of the December evenings of Candlelight Stroll.

Vintage Christmas Trolley. This free trolley, courtesy of the City of Portsmouth, shuttles visitors on a 15-minute loop throughout the festively decorated downtown, from hotels and parking garages to the key events and shopping areas on weekends,  December 7-22, 1:30-10:30 pm.

For more information, visit VintageChristmasNH.org; Discover Portsmouth, PortsmouthHistory.org, 603-436-8433.

Christmas in Newport, RI

Newport, Rhode Island, the Gilded Age’s favorite summer resort, is always enchanting, but never more so than at the winter holidays, when, it seems, the entire town is one big festival. A sampling of “Christmas in Newport” (now in its 49th year) and winter festivities include:

Holiday Lantern Tours: Hear the history of early American holiday traditions on an evening walk and learn how Newporters did, or did not, observe the holidays. Tours depart from the Museum of Newport History and Shop (Nov. 22 – Dec. 28, Fridays and Saturdays at 4 p.m.)

Christmas in Newport: The Breakers, Vanderbilt’s opulent “summer cottage”, decked out for the holidays.

Christmas at the Newport Mansions: The glitter of gold and the sparkle of silver dazzle as you tour three magnificent mansions decked out in yuletide finery. Music, tours and spectacular decorations highlight celebrations at The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House – each of which will have Gingerbread Mansion replicas on display. Special events include “Holiday Evenings at the Newport Mansions” and “Santa Sundays.” (Nov. 23 – Jan. 1)

Christmas at Blithewold: Enjoy elaborate holiday decorations around every corner of this historic early 19th century estate in Bristol. (Nov. 29 – Jan. 1)

Holiday Market at Gurney’s: Features a curated selection of travel, lifestyle and fashion finds. (Nov. 29 – Dec. 20, Friday – Sunday).

Dickens Holiday Dinner Train: Immerse yourself in the classic tale of humbuggery, ghosts and redemption with this interactive retelling of “A Christmas Carol” by the Marley Bridges Theatre Company. Experience a dining journey along the Newport and Narragansett Bay Railroad in a custom-designed theater car featuring special tables for two all facing center stage. (Nov. 30 – Dec. 21, Saturdays)

A Rough Point Holiday: Experience the holiday traditions and winter caretaking practices at Doris Duke’s Rough Point with various rooms of the mansion museum both spruced up for the Christmas holiday and cloaked in their winter coverings. 30-minute guided tours offered throughout the day. (Dec. 7 – 28, Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m)

48th Annual Christmas in Newport Candlelight Tour of Historical Private Homes: Experience the rare opportunity to tour private homes of note in Newport. (No children 10 or under and no high heels. Dec. 28) 

Festive Igloo Pop-Ups at Gurney’s Newport Resort: Features heated multi-sensory igloos overlooking Narragansett Bay, each with its own theme including Santa’s Workshop, Winter Wonderland, Cozy Log Cabin, Roaring 20s, Harry Potter, Tropical Summer, Northern Lights, Astrology and Après Ski, complete with activities and cocktail pairings. Proceeds will go to Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Rhode Island. (Nov. 22 – Feb. 29)

Gurney’s Newport Resort Skating Rink: Opens for the season with outdoor skating on the North Lawn overlooking the Newport Harbor Lighthouse, The Point and the Newport Bridge. Open seven days a week. (Nov. 26 – March 1)

Goat Hikes at Simmons Farm: Spend an afternoon on a two-hour hike led by Farmer Karla and her crew of adventurous, fun-loving goats. Each participant gets their own goat to walk on a leash. The afternoon finishes with hot chocolate made with the milk from the farm. (Nov. 24 – Jan. 1)

Meanwhile, “Tiffany Glass: Painting with Color and Light,” an exhibit of colorful glass artwork and objects by the renowned Louis C. Tiffany opens at Rosecliff beginning Sunday, Dec. 8, and continuing through March 1. The exhibition is free to view with paid admission to Rosecliff (548 Bellevue Ave.). For tickets and information, visit newportmansions.org/learn/adult-programs or call (401) 847-1000, ext. 178. Rosecliff is one of the Preservation Society of Newport 11 historic properties, seven of them National Historic Landmarks, collectively spanning more than 250 years of American architectural and social development. (NewportMansions.org)

See more holiday and winter events in Newport and plan a visit at DiscoverNewport.org, 800-326-030, 401-849-8048.

Holidays in the Brandywine Valley

Wilmington and the Brandywine Valley is one of the most picturesque and historic places especially during the holiday season From Christmastime exhibits at du Pont family estates to the dancing fountains at Longwood Gardens. Here are highlights:

Christmas lights at Longwood Gardens in the Brandywine Region © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A Longwood Christmas at Longwood Gardens, is magical with 500,000 lights gracing 150 trees throughout the outdoor Gardens, a four-acre Conservatory with holiday sing-alongs accompanied by a 10,010 pipe Aeolian organ – the largest organ ever constructed in a residential setting. At the Open Air Theatre, fountains dance day and night to holiday classics. Delight in Longwood’s outdoor train display as it travels past miniature Longwood landmarks illuminated for the holiday season. In the Meadow Garden, stroll through a 140-ft tunnel of light in the winter landscape, and discover a grove of glowing architectural orbs that pulse and change to the rhythm of holiday music.  Grab a hot chocolate and cozy up to one of the many fire pits. ALongwoodChristmasruns November 22, 2019– January 5, 2020 (including Christmas Day). Admission to the Christmas display is by Timed Admission Ticket, with tickets purchased in advance for a specific date and time. (Tickets and reservations at longwoodgardens.org.)

Yuletide at Winterthur: From November 23 through January 5, you can experience one of the Brandywine Valley’s most memorable attractions. Henry du Pont’s mansion is transformed into a magical holiday spectacle, with food, music, exhibits, an exquisite 18-room dollhouse mansion, and an Enchanted Woods children’s garden. Reservations are recommended for the Yuletide exhibits, and the last chance to see Winterthur’s Costuming THE CROWN (showcasing costumes from Netflix’s Emmy winning series) before it closes on January 5.

Nemours Estate: Starting November 17, you can  experience holidays in traditional du Pont style as you tour the 1907 mansion and gardens that Alfred du Pont built for his wife Alicia. See original decorations (including a 19th century German crèche), twinkling lights, and bright colored ornaments.

Holidays at Hagley at Hagley Museum takes you back to 1803 as you visit the du Pont ancestral home Eleutherian Mills, decorated in vintage holiday charm. There’s also a “Christmas Trees Past and Present” exhibit.

Brandywine Christmas at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, renowned for its collection from three generations of Wyeth family artists, during the holiday season showcases the region’s most impressive model train display, which includes nearly 2,000 feet of track. Throughout the season, festive trees and crafts, live musical performances, and imaginative “Critter” ornaments made by local volunteers. There’s also a Polar Express Pajama Party, breakfast with the trains, and more special events. (www.brandywinemuseum.org)

Holiday Light Express throughout December you can take a 45-minute ride in 100-year old (heated!) coaches and experience thousands of holiday lights twinkling as you pass decorated homes along the route.

A Christmas Carol: Delaware Theater Company’s adaptation of the Dickens classic has a twist:  performed with just five actors bring Charles Dickens’ beloved characters to life using props, puppets, bold physicality and the imagination of the audience. Opening night is December 7, so make this a cultural must-see on your holiday road trip.

For more information, trip planning help and accommodations, visit www.visitwilmingtonde.com, 800-489-6664.

Visit Christmas City, USA: Bethlehem, PA

Christmas in Bethlehem, PA, America’s “Christmas City.”

Experience the magic of the Christmas City: Bethlehem, in Lehigh Valley, PA boasts one of the top-ranked holiday markets in the world, now celebrating its 27th season. Christkindlmarkt (weekends, Nov. 22 – Dec. 22) offers visitors wares from 100 vendors, musical performances, and glass blowing demonstrations.

 Along Main Street, browse the Christmas Huts on Main (weekends, Nov. 22 – Dec. 22), a shopping experience inspired by a German Weihnachtsmarkt, complete with charming wooden huts lining the streets offering holiday gifts. Browse the Moravian Book Shop, the oldest continuously operating bookstore in the country.

Join Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites for a variety of tours including Christmas City Stroll, which takes you on a walking excursion through the city’s National Historic Landmark District. Led by a guide in period dress, this tour will give you a peek into what Moravian life was like in the 1700s.

To get a great view of the famous star atop South Mountain, get tickets for the Bethlehem by Night bus tour. On this tour, participants will learn why the north side of the city dons white lights and the SouthSide dresses up in colored lights. (Reserve in advance.)

One of the most distinctive holiday traditions is the Bethlehem’s Live Advent Calendar. Thought to be the only one of its kind in the country, visitors can join locals in this activity nightly, Dec. 1 – 23, at 5:30 p.m. Crowds gather outside the Goundie House at 501 Main Street. A selected visitor knocks on the door and the group is greeted by representatives from local businesses offering a surprise for all to enjoy. Nightly surprises could include musical performances, a story, or a tasty treat.

As you wander along Main Street, enjoy the music. Trombone choirs stroll the sidewalks playing holiday tunes, a nod to the city’s Moravian heritage.

For a special view of the city’s historic district, take a horse-drawn holiday carriage ride, hosted by the Bethlehem Carriage Company.

A free Christmas City Trolley is offered Fridays-Sundays, Nov. 15 – Dec. 22. The trolley runs every 20-30 minutes, shuttling between the Historic District and the SouthSide Arts District.

More information at discoverlehighvalley.com, info@DiscoverLehighValley.comOpens in New Window
610-882-9200, 800-MEET-HERE.

Victorian Christmas in Cape May

A Victorian Christmas awaits in Cape May, NJ.

Share a special holiday tradition with friends and family on a festive tour of Victorian Cape May during Christmas Candlelight House Tours, presented by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC). Every year since 1974, a large selection of Victorian inns, homes, churches and hotels open their doors and welcome visitors to share the warmth and hospitality of the season during these popular, self-guided, walking tours. You will be welcomed inside with holiday hospitality and cheer. Enjoy Christmas carols by candlelight, strolling musicians along the historic streets of Cape May and beautiful holiday decorations. Walk from site to site, stopping at hospitality centers for warm beverages and holiday treats during your travels. Free heated shuttles make limited stops along some routes. The three Christmas Candlelight House Tours of the 2019 holiday season are held on Saturdays, Dec. 7, 14 and 28, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (tickets should be purchased in advance). The festivities begin Friday, Nov. 22 and continue through Jan. 1, 2020. 

For information about MAC’s year-round schedule of tours, festivals, and special events, call 609-884-5404 or 800-275-4278, or visit MAC’s Web site at www.capemaymac.org. For information about restaurants, accommodations and shopping, call the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May at 609-884-5508 or visit www.capemaychamber.com. For information about historic accommodations, contact Cape May Historic Accommodations at www.capemaylodging.com.

Next: More Favorite Holiday Places

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Photo Highlights of 93rd Edition of Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 93rd edition of the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade  ushered in the holiday season with 16 giant character balloons; 40 novelty balloons, heritage balloons, balloonicles, balloonheads and trycaloons; 26 floats of fantasy; 1,200 cheerleaders and dancers; more than 1,000 clowns; and 11 of the nation’s finest marching bands, starting with the pilgrims riding a giant turkey and finishing with Santa Claus on his sleigh.

Macy’s Inc CEO Jeff Gennette and NBC’s Al Roker kick off the 93rd edition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Despite strong winds and gusts on the cusp of forcing the giant balloons to be grounded, heroic balloon handlers acted more like wranglers to keep the balloons in control, though flying so low as to touch the ground. Still, there were thrills to be had, and not just the excitement at seeing favorite characters as tall or as long as a building flying overhead, as the balloons passed cross-streets where the winds were strongest, almost pushing the balloons over. The crowd cheered their encouragement, “Go, go, go.”

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Snoopy, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Chris Janson. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Marching Band from Ronald Reagan High School, Texas. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Kelly Rowland. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New giant balloon characters joining the line-up this year included Astronaut Snoopy by Peanuts Worldwide, Green Eggs and Ham by Netflix, and SpongeBob SquarePants & Gary by Nickelodeon. In celebration of his 75th birthday, a heritage balloon and fan favorite Smokey Bear once again takes to the skies over Manhattan.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Alvin Ailey dance troupe. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mighty Morphin Power Ranges. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Returning giant balloon characters included Diary of A Wimpy Kid® by Abrams Children’s Books; Sinclair Oil’s DINO®; The Elf on the Shelf®; Goku; Illumination Presents Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch; Jett by Super Wings™; Olaf from Disney’s “Frozen 2”; Chase from PAW Patrol®; Pikachu™ by the Pokémon Company International; Pillsbury Doughboy™; Power Rangers Mighty Morphin Red Ranger; Ronald McDonald®; and Trolls. Completing the inflatable lineup is the famed Aflac Duck, Sinclair Oil’s Baby DINOs and the Go Bowling balloonicles, as well as Universal Orlando Resort’s The Nutcracker.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Black Eye Peas. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Goku. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Ozuna. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The parade also featured special performances and appearances by Natasha Bedingfield, Black Eyed Peas, Chicago, Ciara, Josh Dela Cruz, Celine Dion, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, Debbie Gibson, former NASA Astronauts Kay Hire & Janet Kavandi, Chris Janson, Idina Menzel, Lea Michele, Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin, NHL® Legends Dominic Moore and Eddie Olczyk, the cast & Muppets of Sesame Street, NCT 127, Ozuna, Billy Porter, Kelly Rowland, That Girl Lay Lay, TLC, Tenille Townes, and Chris Young.

Ronald MacDonald. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Josh Dela Cruz. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
610 Stompers from New Orleans. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Awesome Original Second Time Arounders from St. Petersburg, Florida. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Awesome Original Second Time Arounders, St. Petersburg, Florida. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Billy Porter on the Rexy in the City float at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Rexy in the City float. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Nia Franklin, 2019 Miss America, is from New York. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This year, five new floats debuted including Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues & You! (Josh Dela Cruz), The Brick-changer by The Lego Group (NCT 127), Home Sweet Home by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® 3 (Tenille Townes), Rexy in the City by COACH® (Billy Porter), and Toy House of Marvelous Milestones by New York Life (Kelly Rowland).

Green Eggs and Ham. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Madison Central HS, Kentucky. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Madison Central HS, Kentucky. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Sponge Bob Square Pants. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Big Apple Circus. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Chris Young on South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore float. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The returning float roster and its scheduled performers and special stars included 1-2-3 Sesame Street® by Sesame Workshop™ (The cast and Muppets of Sesame Street); Big City Cheer! by Spirit of America Productions (Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin); Central Park (Lea Michele); Christmas Cheer is Near by Elf Pets®/The Elf on the Shelf®; Cornucopia; Deck the Halls by Balsam Hill® (Idina Menzel); Everyone’s Favorite Bake Shop by Entenmann’s® (Jimmy Fallon and The Roots); Fantasy Chocolate Factory by Kinder™ (Natasha Bedingfield), Harvest in the Valley by Green Giant® (Chris Janson); Heartwarming Holiday Countdown by Hallmark Channel (Chicago); Mount Rushmore’s American Pride by South Dakota Department of Tourism (Chris Young); the NHL® Most Valuable Hockey Mom presented by MassMutual (Black Eyed Peas and NHL® Legends Dominic Moore and Eddie Olczyk); Parade Day Mischief by SOUR PATCH KIDS® Candy (Ozuna); Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Nickelodeon (Ciara); Santa’s Sleigh (Santa Claus); Shimmer and Shine by Nickelodeon (Debbie Gibson); Snoopy’s Doghouse by Peanuts Worldwide (Charlie Brown and former NASA Astronauts Kay Hire and Janet Kavandi); Splashing Safari Adventure by Kalahari Resorts and Conventions (TLC); Tom Turkey; and Universal Playground by Universal Kids (That Girl Lay Lay).

Smokey Bear. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. High School’s Kings of Halftime, Lithonia, GA.Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Blue Springs Golden Regiment Marching Band, Missouri. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Trolls. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Balloon handlers wrangle the Trolls. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Jimmy Fallon and The Roots. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Western Carolina University’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band, Cullowhee, NC. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Returning for a third year by popular demand, the Macy’s Singing Christmas Tree by Delta Air Lines will feature the harmonious voices of more than 100 Macy’s colleagues and friends from Delta hailing from across the nation and the world. Performing an original song to celebrate the start of the holiday season, the golden-voiced chorus will touch the hearts and uplift the spirits of millions.

Lea Michele. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Chicago. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Enthusiastic parade watchers. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Pillsburgh Doughboy. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For this year’s 93rd march, 11 of the specially chosen marching bands from around the country included Awesome Original Second Time Arounders Marching Band (St. Petersburg, FL), Blue Springs High School Golden Regiment (Blue Springs, MO), Catalina Foothills Falcon Band (Tucson, AZ), Franklin Regional Panther Band (Murrysville, PA), Macy’s Great American Marching Band (United States), Madison Central High School Band (Richmond, KY), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. High School’s Kings of Halftime (Lithonia, GA), Morgan State University’s The Magnificent Marching Machine (Baltimore, MD), NYPD Marching Band (New York, NY), Ronald Reagan High School Marching Band (San Antonio, TX), and Western Carolina University’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band (Cullowhee, NC).

Catalina Foothills Falcon Band, Tucson, AZ. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Catalina Foothills Falcon Band, Tucson, AZ. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Keeping The Nutcracker under control. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Idina Menzel. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Great American Band. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Great American Band. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Olaf. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Singing Tree. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Singing Tree. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Parade watchers also got a taste of the specialty performance groups. Joining the line-up this year were the teen dancers and cheerleaders of Spirit of America Dance Stars and Spirit of America Cheer – together featuring more than 1,200 of the very best performers recruited from hometowns nationwide. Also, the hilarious 610 Stompers (New Orleans, LA), modern dance youth talent showcased by The Alvin Ailey School (New York, NY).

Santa Claus. Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Other performances included the tap dance theatrics of children from The Nice List (New York, NY). Rounding out the performance group line-up and joining select talent performances will be Gamma Phi Circus (Normal, IL), Manhattan Youth Ballet (New York, NY), the dance stars of the world-renowned in-school arts education program National Dance Institute (New York, NY) and Young People’s Chorus of NYC (New York, NY).

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NYC ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Some 3.5 million people turn out to line the two-mile parade route; another 50 million watch on television.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Most Wonderful Time of the Year: New York City Sparkles with Holiday Festivities

The most stupendous, eagerly anticipated float of all at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade carries Santa Claus with his elves and reindeer ushering in the Christmas season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

From the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to the Christmas Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Center and the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square, New York City offers unparalleled ways to celebrate the holidays with vibrant performances, tours, lightings, special events taking place from early November into January.

“New York City’s celebratory spirit and excitement are palpable during the annual holiday season. From iconic attractions and events to hidden-gem activities in all five boroughs, there’s an endless roster of memorable programming to enjoy from November to January,” said NYC & Company president and CEO Fred Dixon. NYC & Company, New York City’s official destination marketing organization, is forecasting seven million visitors will visit the City during the 2019–2020 holiday season.

Here are some of the festive events, performances and activities across the boroughs to celebrate the holiday season in New York City.

Annual Celebrations:

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a classic New York City celebration of the holidays, featuring larger-than-life helium balloons, fantasy floats, clowns, performance groups, Broadway’s best musicals, celebrity appearances. Olaf from Frozen makes a return appearance in the 93rd edition of the parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, November 28, Manhattan
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a classic New York City celebration of the holidays, featuring larger-than-life helium balloons, fantasy floats, clowns, performance groups, Broadway’s best musicals, celebrity appearances and more. The 93rd Annual spectacle will feature new balloons including Astronaut Snoopy, Netflix’s Green Eggs and Ham, SpongeBob SquarePants & Gary, Smokey Bear and Yayoi Kusama’s Love Flies Up to the Sky. New floats include Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues & You!, The Brick-changer by The Lego Group, Home Sweet Home by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store®, Rexy in the City by COACH® and Toy House of Marvelous Milestones by New York Life. The parade begins at 9 am on 77th Street and Central Park West, snakes around Central Park South and heads down Sixth Avenue before concluding at Macy’s Herald Square at 34th Street and Seventh Avenue.

Balloon Inflation, November 27, 1-8 pm: Head up to the American Museum of Natural History on November 27 from 1 to 8 pm to watch the balloon inflation at West 79th Street and Columbus Avenue but be prepared for long lines (entrance at 73rd and Columbus.)  

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, December 4, Midtown, Manhattan: The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center has been a tradition for more than eight decades. Lighting up Rockefeller Plaza, the tree lighting ceremony features performances and classic Christmas songs. The tree will arrive on November 9, light up on December 4 and be on view through early to mid-January.  

Rockefeller Center at Christmas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lighting of the Largest Menorah in Brooklyn and Lighting of the World’s Largest Menorah:  Manhattan, December 22, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn; Grand Army Plaza, Manhattan: Both the Manhattan and Brooklyn Grand Army Plazas compete in the race for the World’s Largest Hanukkah Menorah. The Largest Menorah in Brooklyn has been lit since 1985, and the annual concert to kick off the holiday will be held on December 22.  

New Year’s Eve Times Square Ball Drop, December 31–January 1, Times Square, Manhattan: Each year, millions of viewers watch the Times Square Ball Drop from New York City and around the globe. The Waterford Crystal Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball sparkles in Times Square for visitors to see all season, but its descent is a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime way to ring in the New Year.  

New Year’s Eve Fireworks at Prospect Park, December 31–January 1,  Prospect Park, Brooklyn: The Grand Army Plaza’s iconic New Year’s Eve Fireworks at Prospect Park offer an alternative to the frenzy of Times Square. This spectacular celebration includes live music, followed by a fireworks show at midnight.  

New Year’s Eve in Times Square (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sparkling Light Festivities:

Shine On at Hudson Yards, November 29-January 5. A new tradition being introduced at Manhattan’s newest neighborhood. Kicks off the day after Thanksgiving with full day of live performances featuring award-winning New York musicians, dangers and entertainers, plus Only at Hudson Yards offers. Then, every Tuesday through December 24, music and dance performances throughout Hudson Yards, and Saturdays children’s activities and family events. Immersive Light and Music Shows: the New York premiere of artist Christopher Schardt’s light sculpture Lyra, 5 pm daily at multiple locations throughout Hudson Yards. Visit Wells Fargo Lodge for hot chocolate tastings and 360-degree photo ops, plus interactive Star Stations with gift wrapping. Unlock holiday offers from SAP with shine ON LED bracelet available at Hudson Yards retailers.  

Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo, November 21–January 5, Fordham, the Bronx: Returning for the first time since 2007, the stunning light displays at the Bronx Zoo will cover several acres in a walk-through experience with wildlife-themed LED displays, custom lanterns and animated light shows.  

LuminoCity Festival, November 23-January 5, Randall’s Island Park, Manhattan: Sixteen acres of lights will illuminate themed worlds during this inaugural festival, creating an immersive journey for visitors that includes a castle, skating unicorn and enchanted forest.  

Brookfield Place Light Up Luminaries, December 3-January 4, Battery Park City, Manhattan: This spectacular light installation kicks off December 3 with an evening of free ice skating, snacks and live performances.  

Hello Panda Festival at Citi Field, December 6–January 26, Flushing, Queens: The debut of this international lantern, food and art festival will include 60 global cuisine vendors, arts experiences, live performances and a holiday market.

NYC Winter Lantern Festival, November 20–January 12, Randall Manor, Staten Island: The NYC Winter Lantern Festival is returning for a second year to Staten Island. Sponsored by Empire Outlets and venue partner Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, eight acres will be lit up by more than 50 LED installations, accompanied by live performances of traditional Chinese dance and art.  

Winter Exhibits and Cultural Events:

The Origami Holiday Tree at the American Museum of Natural History, November 25–January 12, Upper West Side, Manhattan: This beloved tradition includes a 13-foot tree and 1,000 origami models. The signature Origami Holiday Tree, themed “Oceans of Origami” this season, has been a part of the celebrations for more than 40 years.

New-York Historical Society, (November 1, 2019 – February 23, 2020:  A holiday favorite returns this season, reimagined to celebrate the 100th birthday of Busytown series author and illustrator Richard Scarry. Holiday Express: All Aboard to Richard Scarry’s Busytown  showcases artwork and graphics of Scarry’s characters like Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm from publisher Random House Children’s Books alongside more than 300 objects from the Jerni Collection’s antique toy trains, stations, and accessories. Using Busytown stories and characters, dynamic displays explore the workings of the railroad, the services it provides, and the jobs required to keep people and goods moving. Fun, train-related activities for kids of all ages take place through the exhibition’s run―all free with museum admission. These include: Celebrating Richard Scarry and Busytown! (Saturday, December 14 and Sunday, December 15; 1–3 pm); December School Vacation Week (Thursday, December 26 – Wednesday, January 1) (170 Central Park West (77th St), New York, NY 10024, www.nyhistory.org)

Holidays in New York City (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gingerbread Lane at New York Hall of Science, November 23–January 12, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens: Gingerbread Lane at the New York Hall of Science invites visitors to witness the vast collection of gingerbread structures embellished with candy canes, chocolate and frosting.  

New York Botanical Garden Holiday Train Show, November 23–January 26, Fordham, the Bronx: Conveniently accessible via the Metro-North Railroad from Grand Central Terminal, head to the New York Botanical Garden to be enchanted by model trains zipping through a display of more than 175 NYC landmarks, each re-created with natural materials.  

Belmont BID Arthur Avenue Tree Lighting Ceremony, November 30, Belmont, the Bronx: Experience Christmas in the Bronx’s Little Italy at the Belmont BID Arthur Avenue Tree Lighting. The annual event features a visit from Santa, cookies and hot chocolate among the twinkling lights.  

Seaport District NYC Celebrations, Seaport District NYC, Manhattan: Festivities in this neighborhood include the Winterland Holiday Tree Lighting on December 2, Menorah Lighting on December 22, a pop-up tree farm, ice skating and a light display at Pier 17.  

Holiday Workshop Weekend at Wave Hill, December 7–8, Riverdale, the Bronx: Create one-of-a-kind holiday decorations by the gorgeous gardens and galleries at Wave Hill during their interactive Holiday Workshop Weekend.  

Historic Richmond Town Candlelight Tours, December 14–21, Staten Island: This Christmas season, experience the tastes and scents of centuries past at Historic Richmond Town. Step back in time while touring the unique New York City which is illuminated by candles and oil lamps.  

11th Annual Latke Festival at the Brooklyn Museum, December 16, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn: One of New York City’s most unique and delicious holiday tasting events, the Latke Festival is a charity event that celebrates the best and most creative potato pancakes.  

Melrose Holiday Parranda, December 21, Melrose, the Bronx: The Melrose Holiday Parranda follows in the footsteps of Puerto Rican holiday caroling with a procession based on plena music and holiday songs.
Cheer-Filled Performances:

The Rockettes are sure to perform their iconic Wooden Soldiers routine in the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes, November 8–January 5, Midtown, Manhattan: The Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes returns to Radio City Music Hall, dazzling audiences of all ages with incredible costumes, festive songs and synchronized high kicks.  

Four Renditions of the Holiday Classic A Christmas Carol

An unforgettable Broadway experience, Christmas Carol at the Lyceum Theatre will run November 7-January 5 with a new, enchanting interpretation of this holiday masterpiece.  

For a unique venue, head to the 1832 Merchant’s House Museum in Greenwich Village, as an actor portraying Charles Dickens shares this memorable story November 29–January 4.  

The Players Theatre will bring Charles Dickens’ timeless tale to life in their 11th annual A Christmas Carol the Musical December 1–20 in Greenwich Village.  

A Christmas Carol at Queens Theatre transports the audience to Victorian England to experience Scrooge’s iconic journey December 6–22.  

Three Extraordinary Versions of The Nutcracker:  

George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at the Lincoln Center Plaza brings the classic Christmas Eve tale to life with breathtaking music and choreography November 29–January 5.  

The Salzburg Marionette Theatre’s The Nutcracker is coming to Flushing Town Hall in Queens on December 4 with a historical puppet cast bound to entertain children and adults alike.  

The Brooklyn Nutcracker at Kings Theatre transforms familiar characters and scenes to represent the diverse traditions and vibrant culture of Brooklyn on December 14.  

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at New York City Center, December 4–January 5, Midtown, Manhattan: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s holiday season opens with premieres, new productions and repertory favorites, including the masterpiece Revelations.  

A Holiday Doo Wop Spectacular at the St. George Theatre, December 7, St. George, Staten Island: The famous theatre presents its annual Holiday Doo Wop Spectacular featuring critically-acclaimed performers such as The Vogues, The Crystals and Eddie Holman.  

Holiday Performances at the World Famous Apollo Theater, Harlem, Manhattan: The Apollo Theater, celebrating its 85th anniversary in 2019, hosts holiday events including a Harlem gospel choir performance at Coca-Cola Winter Wonderland on December 14, followed by the Amateur Night Holiday Special. Gospel legends Yolanda Adams and Donald Lawrence headline annual concert Holiday Joy: A Gospel Celebration on December 21. As a grand finale, the annual Kwanzaa Celebration on December 28 features Abdel Salaam’s Forces of Nature Dance Theatre and guest performances.

New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, (1047 Amsterdam Ave. at 112th St., New York 10025, 212-316-7540,info@stjohndivine.org, www.stjohndivine.org), Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, 7-8:30 pm,: Founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1984, the annual New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace is a signature Cathedral event with performances by the Cathedral Choir and Orchestra led by Director of Music Kent Tritle. Harry Smith, host; special guests Paul Winter, Jamet Pittman, Jason Robert Brown, and David Briggs. General admission seats are free and open to the public on the night of the show. Reserved seats are available now. 

Holiday Shopping:

Holiday Markets abound, including Bryant Park where you can also ice skate or visit the New York Public Library’s exhibits on novelist JD Salinger and Broadway Producer Harold Prince © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Holiday markets: New York City is full of incredible holiday markets, with must-buy gifts, sweets, drinks and winter activities. This year, the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park opened earlier than ever on October 31. Other popular markets include the Union Square Holiday Market, Columbus Circle Holiday Market, Brooklyn Flea and Astoria Market.  

Iconic Holiday Windows: Awe-inspiring window displays at stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s Herald Square and the new Nordstrom Women’s Store sparkle, inviting visitors to explore the magic of New York City shopping.  

Enchanted by the holiday windows © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Empire Outlets, St. George, Staten Island: New York City’s first-ever outlet destination, Empire Outlets, will ring in the holiday season with a special Black Friday sale and their first annual tree lighting ceremony. Easily accessible by the free Staten Island Ferry from Lower Manhattan, the outlets will be adorned with thousands of lights, garland wraps and a 40-foot tree.  

23 Days of Flatiron Cheer, December 1-23, Flatiron District, Manhattan: 23 Days of Flatiron Cheer will include free, holiday-themed events showcasing the intersection of shopping, dining and culture in this vibrant neighborhood.

The Shops at Columbus Circle has kicked off its fourth year of Broadway Under the Stars, a five-week series of free public performances taking place this holiday season.Select cast from today’s hottest Broadway musicals will perform against the backdrop of the destination’s famous 12 massive stars. These stars, one of the largest specialty crafted exhibits of illuminated color displays in the world, are suspended from the 100-foot-high ceilings. Performances, lasting 20 minutes,  begin at 5 pm and are free to attend and open to the public, no reservations or tickets are required. (Nov. 11, Waitress, Chicago, Oklahoma!andThe Lightening Thief; Nov. 18, Come From Away, Rock of Ages; Nov. 25: Dear Evan Hansen, The Illusionists, Frozen; Dec. 2: Beetlejuice, Tootsie, Mean Girls; Dec. 9: Phantom of the Opera, Wicked). Additional Broadway Under the Stars offerings include specialty cocktails from the Shops at Columbus Circle’s Restaurant and Bar Collection which includes Monday night drink specials like Center Bar’s Pomegranate Smash cocktail ($16). Visit www.theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for more information and list of events and happenings.  

The Shops at Columbus is particularly festive during the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Shop at Your Hotel: Several hotels are home to retail pop-ups this holiday season, partnering with iconic stores to make shopping easier than ever for visitors. ​

Grand Hyatt New York is partnering with Macy’s Herald Square for a pop-up located behind the check-in desk, featuring New York City-themed gifts, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade apparel and novel gift items November 25–January 1.  

Loews Regency New York Hotel and Bloomingdale’s are teaming up to bring a curated selection of holiday gifts to the lobby lounge November 29-December 24, including on-site monogramming of leather gifts by ROYCE New York.

Conrad New York Midtown is launching the first FAO Schwarz Holiday Suite, filled with shoppable toys, stuffed animals and gifts that will be restocked for visitors who book a stay in the suite November 18–January 5. Additionally, all guests during this time period will be able to order gifts on demand to their suite or home address.

For additional holiday celebrations and ideas, visit nycgo.com/holidays.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Gift of Travel: Take Advantage of Black Friday, CyberMonday, Holiday Specials to Give the Gift that Keeps Giving

Xanterra is putting its Grand Canyon hotels on sale for the holidays. Scores of travel companies have special Black Friday, CyberMonday and holiday deals underway, for a great opportunity to give the Gift of Travel, the gift that keeps giving. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The gift of travel is the gift of together, of time, of memory, of life-changing, life-enhancing experience, of new perspectives and new awareness – of self, of others, of our place in the world and time itself. It is the gift that keeps giving.

Travel destinations and providers get into the holiday spirit with Black Friday, Cyber Monday and special deals and make it easy to package The Gift of Travel.

Hotels in national parks are in such high demand they rarely offer discounts…but they do during Black Friday and Cyber Monday! Xanterra Travel Collection’s annual Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale features up to 40 percent off hotels in Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Zion and Yellowstone. Also on sale: tickets on the historic Grand Canyon Railway, luxury hotels (The Broadmoor and Sea Island), Windstar Cruises, VBT Bicycling Vacations and Country Walkers. Details: www.xanterra.com/Thankful.

Whole countries are on sale: Ireland is promoting special offers of its partners including Great Value Vacations, The Irish Tourism Group, Brendan Vacations, CIE Tours, Railtours IIreland, Tenon Tours, Authentic Vacations and Insight.

More than 20 hotels, resorts and villas in Saint Lucia are offering significant Cyber Monday booking specials (up to 60% off!) on luxury resorts, family-friendly accommodations, private villas, hotels overlooking the iconic Piton mountains, beachfront accommodations, and more. Most of these limited-time specials are available for booking starting on Cyber Monday and several are offering these deals to “early birds” who wish to book before then. (www.stlucia.org/specials/cyber-monday-specials for details)

Taking in the view at sunset of the Piton Mountains from the Passion Flower terrace. Anse Chastanet and its sister resort, Jade Mountain, on St. Lucia have been recertified by Travelife, the sustainable tourism certification system. More than 20 hotels, resorts and villas in Saint Lucia are offering significant Cyber Monday booking specials. © Laini Miranda/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Perillo Tours and resorts like Woodstock Inn & Resort in Vermont, as well as chains like Hilton all have special timely offers.

Even themeparks like LegoLand California Resort is discounting its various pass offerings starting at 12 a.m. Friday, Nov. 29 through 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 2, exclusively through its website.

Basically, anything that you have been thinking about, fantasizing about, anything on your bucket list, check out the company’s website to see whether there are holiday specials.

Okemo Mountain Resort, Vermont. Gift idea: season pass or lift tickets © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Many tour operators, including Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold and other sister companies of The Travel Corporation (ttc.com) are offering enticing discounts for early bookings and many travel entities – hotels and resorts, cruiselines, tour companies, spas (Spafinder), ski resorts (think about gifting ski passes like EpicPass, Ikon Pass or Liftopia) and cruiselines (cruisecompete.com is a good source) –  have gift card programs and are offering special discounts for the holidays.. Some have gift registries where multiple gift-givers can contribute.

Liftopia’s annual Cyber Monday sale begins Nov. 26 at 5 pm PT through Dec. 3 at 9 pm PT. Give the gift of ski this holiday, or simply use this opportunity to snag the best deals of the season by purchasing lift tickets online and in advance. Purchase a Liftopia Gift Card and get a bonus credit up to 25% (spend $100-$199, get a $15 bonus gift card; spend $200-$299, get a $40 bonus gift card; spend $300 or more, get a $75 bonus gift card). Purchase at www.liftopia.com.

The 1926 Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray, Florida, one of the members of the Historic Hotels of America, each one a spectacular venue for vacation or special event and holiday destination. Check out gift cards and holiday specials © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Many of the grandest Historic Hotels of America members, each one distinct with deep connections to place, offer gift cards – like Wentworth by the Sea, NH; Omni Grove Park Inn, Mission Inn & Spa (the list goes on and on) – just inquire. To see members, visit historichotels.org and its European counterpart, Historic Hotels of Europe,  www.historichotelsofeurope.com.

Sebasco, a fabulous resort on the mid-Maine coast that manages to be rustic and luxurious at the same time is offering a deal where if you purchase a $150 Sebasco Gift Card by December 13, you get a $25 gift card for free or for a $500 gift card, a $100 bonus gift card free (sebasco.com, 877-636-0085).

A glamping stay in Montana for a wedding © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here’s a really interesting one: Glamping Hub (glampinghub.com) is offering its second annual Black Friday-Cyber Monday sale – an interesting way to experience this online booking platform for 35,000 unique outdoor accommodations in over 27 different categories (safari tents, tree houses, cabins, tipis, villas, domes) in over 120 countries. For every gift card purchasedon Glamping Hub’s Gift Card Portal, 20% will be added to the gift card. This deal will be live on the website from 11/28-12/4,and gift cards have a one-year validity, Travel Deals Black Friday 2019 / Cyber Monday Deals (https://glampinghub.com/special/black-friday-cyber-monday-travel-deals/).

These are just examples. The key here is that if there is a destination, a cruise, a resort you want to “gift” to your loved one, just ask if a program is available. Check expiration dates and how the gift card can be used.

Trips That Make a Difference 

Often, just showing up is a way of sustaining, revitalizing communities with tourism supplanting obsolete extractive and exploitative economic pursuits. Many travel programs and tour companies are now designed to sustain the environment and heritage of local communities, hire locally, donate a portion of the tour costs to benefit local communities (building schools, creating water projects) and even are organized around opportunities for travelers to participate in local life or projects.

Brett Tollman, chief executive officer of The Travel Corporation, commits the company and its 42 brands, and the TreadRight Foundation to “Make Travel Matter” for the planet, people and wildlife © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Travel Corporation’s 42 different brands (Including TrafalgarUniworldInsight Vacations, Luxury GoldContikiAfrican Travel, Inc.Lion World Travel, Brendan Vacations and Red Carnation Hotels)  are designed this way and also support the Treadright Foundation. TTL’s philanthropy,  dedicated to preserving and protecting the planet, people and wildlife, supports 55 projects in 280 communities in 26 countries (www.ttc.com). In addition, some of the tour programs work in conjunction with We.org, which builds schools, promotes sustainable agriculture, brings pure water to communities – to offer programs in which travelers can immerse themselves into that community. (www.TreadRight.org/trips/)

Pure Adventures (pure-adventures.com), a boutique biking and hiking tour operator  offering private, custom, independent and guided travel in Europe, Asia, South and North America,  as a member of the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund, contributes a portion of the trip fee to support conservation efforts around the world. (Check out this year’s projects)

Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), which is part of Boston-based Grand Circle Corporation’s family of travel companies, supports the nonprofit Grand Circle Foundation established in 1992 by owners Alan and Harriet Lewis to support communities in which Grand Circle works and travels, including some 300 humanitarian, cultural, and educational endeavors worldwide, among them, 100 schools in 50 countries.  The Foundation is an entity of the Lewis Family Foundation, which has pledged or donated more than $169 million since 1981 (www.oattravel.com).

Off Season Adventures organizes trips in such a way as to help local communities.

Off Season Adventures (offseasonadventures.com, 619-971-0823), a Hoboken-NJ based tour company which is specifically organized to support local communities.

There is a whole category of “sustainable travel” companies and projects that not only structure their travel programs with social responsibility in mind, but leverage the power of travel and tourism to improve the lives of people and their environment.  Many are represented by Center for Responsible Travel (responsibletravel.org), Global Sustainable Tourism Council (gstcouncil.org), Earthcheck (earthcheck.org), the Rainforest Alliance (www.rainforest-alliance.org) and Sustainable Travel International (sustainabletravel.org).

Voluntourism

The very act of traveling benefits communities by spurring an economy that sustains culture, heritage, the environment, community, and forges a mutual understanding that can translate into foreign policy.

But for those who want to go even beyond to improve conditions for people, there is a category of travel, Voluntourism, that organizes travel to a destination to volunteer for good purpose – whether it is participating in scientific research, working to save a species from extinction or save the planet, or helping disadvantaged communities, or rebuilding after some disaster, as in Puerto Rico.

andBeyond has launched philanthropic-focused itineraries in TanzaniaKenya, and South Africa to give guests a first-hand look at its core ethos of caring for the land, wildlife, and people. The activities range from adopting an elephant at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Kenya to participating in local school conservation lessons in Tanzania to visiting the Grootbos Green Futures College in Cape Town, an organization that provides educational training to unemployed young adults in the city (www.andBeyond.com)

Earthwatch Expeditions enable you to join scientists in the field as they research urgent environmental issues, in places that would otherwise be closed to visitors. Expeditions address wildlife and ecosystems, climate change, archaeology and culture, and ocean health, for example, researching lions and their prey in Kenya, rewilding the Scottish Highlands and studying orcas in Iceland. (800-776-0188, 978-461-0081, www.earthwatch.org),

Earthwatch Expeditions in the Amazon.

Habitat for Humanity’s Habitat for Humanity Global Village offers opportunities to help in disaster recovery or build or improve housing, schools, clinics, and other essential structures in 40 countries (www.habitat.org)

Sierra Club arranges around 90 affordable volunteer trips each year through its Sierra Club Volunteer Vacations to engage in hands-on conservation work like building and maintaining trails, removing invasive plants and assisting on archaeological digs. For example: park maintenance in Hells Canyon, Idaho (with transportation by jet-boat up the Snake River Canyon), forestry service at the New York Botanical Garden (a 50-acre urban old-growth forest) and native-bird habitat restoration on the Big Island of Hawaii (with hiking in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park). (https://content.sierraclub.org/outings/volunteer-vacations)

Adventure Life incorporates voluntourism into some of its trips. For example, on its trip to Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Volcano, travelers lend a hand with reforestation efforts, painting interpretive signs and performing trail maintenance; a trip to Costa Rica’s Pacuare Reserve for whitewater rafting also includes two nights with biologists for research at an important nesting ground for leatherback turtles; a cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula enables travelers to take part in citizen science projects aboard the ship (www.adventure-life.com).

Village Experience expanded upon its fair-trade retail shop (which supports local craftsmen) to create an ambitious program that brings travelers into their villages, creating another stream of revenue (www.experiencethevillage.com).

Other entities offering voluntourism opportunities: Biosphere Expeditions (800-407-5761, www.biosphere-expeditions.org), Globeaware (www.globeaware.org/volunteer-vacations); Global Volunteers (https://globalvolunteers.org/volunteer-worldwide/, 800-487-1074); American Hiking Society (americanhiking.org/volunteer-vacations); Projects Abroad (www.projects-abroad.org).

But don’t expect that because you are volunteering your services the trips are cheap, sometimes you pay for the privilege of doing good and your fees help support the mission.

On the other hand, during the holiday season, many of the operators offer substantial discounts for early bookings.

For example, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic has a new Alaska Family Offer, where with discounts for up to two children 22 and under traveling with two full paying adults on select 2020 Alaska departures: save 50% departing in May and August and save 25% departing in June and July. Also, there is Free Air for Adults from Seattle to Alaska for booking select 2020 Alaska departures by Dec. 31, 2019.  .

Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic has announced a new Alaska Family Offer that makes traveling next summer a lot more economical for families.

There is a whole category of experiential trips that not only enrich and inspire and make the world a better place, but support important institutions like National Geographic, the Smithsonian (which also offer student and family programs); Outward Bound, Road Scholar, Sierra Club (sierraclub.org), just a few examples.

Through the National Geographic Global Explorers Program, kids and teens learn to develop the skills and curiosity of an explorer while working alongside our certified field instructors -observing the behavior of blue-footed boobies, painting watercolors using glacier ice, or filling a field journal with wildlife sketches of all kinds (www.nationalgeographic.com/expeditions). Traveling with National Geographic helps further the work of its scientists, explorers, and educators around the world (natgeo.com/giveback).

Indulge a fantasy: in addition to photography safaris, there are travel programs to indulge all sorts of fantasy: become a Broadway star at Broadway Fantasy Camp (www.braodwayfancamp); a rock-and-roll star at Rock n’ Roll Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas (www.rockcamp.com); or Baseball Fantasy Camp (Twenty four major league baseball teams offer annual fantasy camps, see: http://www.lineupforms.com/choosing-the-right-fantasy-baseball-camp.html)

Gifts for the Traveler

Still wedded to the idea of a material gift? There are umptium possibilities for the travel-bound, especially where some special-interest or activity that requires special gear or equipment is involved like skiing, biking, hiking, scuba diving or safariing is involved.

You can purchase some needed gear while also supporting the cause. For example, go to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s trail shop for  all-new Great American Rail-Trail jerseys, gift memberships and trail guidebooks and help realize the dream of an a nation connected by rail trails (railstotrails.org).

Rails-to-Trails Sojourn on the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail. Purchase a Rails-to-Trails jersey for your biking enthusiast and help the conservancy build a bike-trail spanning the entire nation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Going traditional among our favorite suppliers: REI, www.rei.com/s/holiday-gifts-for-travelers, 800-426-4840)Eastern Mountain Sports, 888-463-6367, ems.com;  LL Bean, 888-610-2326, llbean.com; Sun & Ski, 866-786-3869, sunandski.com; Tennis Express, TennisExpress.com, Bass Pro Shops, www.basspro.com. And of course, luggage (I love my Olympia USA 22 in. Green 8-Pocket Rolling Duffel for $25 purchased through homedepot.com of all places which I used on an around-the-world trip; another great site is Luggageonline.com, 888-958-4424).

Cameras are big on the list for travelers, with size and functionality among the key criteria. Some of the new smaller, mirrorless cameras have as much functionality as the larger digital SLR and use interchangeable lenses but tend to be fairly costly (in the $1000 range).  What I look for when purchasing a camera for travel: decent digital zoom, ISO range, image stabilization, video capability, battery life, how fast the camera focuses and shoots and WiFi capability.

For something like a safari, you would need a good DSLR with great lenses to cover the various focal lengths, but for, say, a biking or hiking trip, that is, what can I wear around my neck, shoot with one hand while riding a bicycle that gives excellent quality images, image stabilization, decent zoom lens, auto focus, is fast and responsive on/off/shoot, and is reasonably priced. I have found the Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS70 to be ideal for this kind of travel (offered at $100 off, $298, at B&H), Panasonic Lumix DMC AZ100 (now on sale at B&H; B&H consistently has best inventory, prices, and holiday specials, plus excellent customer service, delivery and return policies, www.bhphotovideo.com, 800.606.6969, 212.444.6615).

The experts at this year’s PhotoPlus Expo also recommended: Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III (24.2 megapixel; 3x zoom, 24-072mm, ISO 100-25600); Canon PowerShot G5 X  Mark II (20.1 megapixel, 5x zoom, 24-120mm f 1.8 lens, Canon PowerShot G1X Mark III (24.2 megapixel, 3x zoom, 24-72 mm);  Nikon Z 50,s Nikon’s first DX-format mirrorless camera. 20.9 megapixels, ISO 100-51200, which uses interchangeable lenses; Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III features dustproof, splashproof, freezeproof construction in a compact and lightweight body.

Drones and GoPro-style cameras are also great gifts, as well as new accessories (like attachable lenses) that enhance the excellent photo capability of smartphones to give them more of the functionality of a camera.

Consider getting your traveler a waterproof camera for those adventures into the rainforest, snorkeling, whitewater rafting and such.

Or more spectacularly, what about a photo safari or a trip led by a master photographer, such as offered by Photo Safaris (www.photosafaris.com/Destinations/Find-a-Trip‎); National Geographic (www.nationalgeographic.com); ‎Photo Workshop Adventures (www.photoworkshopadventures.com); and Nomad Photo Expeditions (www.nomadphotoexpeditions.com).

Lindblad Travel has photography tours with National Geographic photographers and with the B&H Photo Locker on many of its ships, you can even test-drive the latest gear. (expeditions.com/why-us/expedition-photography)

Give a Gift, Support the Institution

Gift giving can support important institutions at the same time. Many of the great museums and institutions of the world offer some of the most interesting, innovative and creative items in their gift shops and you can support their endeavor by shopping online or through catalogs (check out holiday specials): the Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org), the American Museum of Natural History (www.amnh.org), the Art Institute of Chicago (855-301-9612), Smithsonian (Smithsonianmag.com). The Nassau County Museum of Art and New-York Historical Society usually have special items oriented around major exhibitions  (www.nyhistory.org),  to list just a few.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has exquisite items for sale in its many gift shops, many oriented around special exhibitions, which support the institution. Can’t visit? Check out the catalog. Museums typically offer holiday specials © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Zoos and aquariums and special attractions are fantastic to shop at, especially for kids: The Palm Beach Zoo (www.palmbeachzoo.org), for example, has eco-friendly items. There are also Adopt-an-Animal programs. The Bronx Zoo has similar programs and an online store (www.bronxzoostore.com). And you don’t have to visit the Kennedy Space Center, to get space-related items (www.thespaceshop.com), though visiting offers incomparable experiences. You might also consider gifting special experiences, like Zookeeper for a Day or an Overnight Campout at a Museum.

Another gift idea is to purchase family memberships in these entities, which gives a sense of “ownership” and encourages multiple or multi-day visits as well as giving access to benefits. Just call or go online to your favorite museum, zoo, aquarium, preserve, historic site or attraction. Often the memberships give you broad access like the Smithsonian Institution, Sierra Club (they produce a catalog of trips), National Trust for Historic Preservation (savingplaces.org)and its sister organization Historic Hotels of America (www.historichotels.org), Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Parks & Trail NY, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).

National Trust for Historic Preservation  offers Great Experiences & Tours, (nationaltrusttours.com). The National Trust has just introduced a new program to make history fun for families: Distinctive Destinations. From grand homes to artists’ studios to working farms, these places across America can add memorable moments to your off-the-beaten-path road trip, create new opportunities for your next vacation, or even be your new favorite gift shop (https://savingplaces.org/distinctive-destinations). They even have created an online list of holiday experiences at its collection of historic holiday sites. (https://savingplaces.org/collections/distinctive-destinations-historic-holidays).   

Stocking Stuffers

Darn Tough: Made in America socks for just about every purpose, that comes with a lifetime guarantee and the benefits of Marino wool (no odor; when hot, it wicks away moisture, when cold, it keeps you warm). Socks tailored to hiking, running, endurance, skiing, biking, hunting, work and lifestyle. Founded by Ric Cabot in 2004, a third-generation sock maker, the company operates out of Cabot Hosiery Mills, in the Sock Capital of the World, Northfield, Vermont. Colorful, a great stocking stuffer. (www.darntough.com).

Lowa Boots (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lowa Boots, a Connecticut based company that is in partnership with a German company founded in 1923, is famous for four-season specialized outdoor footwear for hiking, backpacking, mountaineering and walking, as well as everyday use. Available at Paragon, REI, Zappos and 450 independent specialty stores as well as online (www.lowaboots.com).

Ecco Outdoors creates ergonomic footwear that have their own version of natural motion, unique to each foot. The shoes are produced in factories in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and Portugal and sold in 90 countries from over 2,200 ECCO shops and more than 14,000 sales points. (www.eccousa.com).

For the hardcore adventurer, consider the Bivystick, a recently launched two-way satellite communication device that works with your smartphone with a flexible data plan, and offers the benefits of a GPS unit and satellite two-way communicator to send messages, track/share location information, access GPS maps, get updated forecasts an d notify EMS in the event of an emergency when otherwise off the grid. The company also produces Bivy, a software application that identifies the details, location and full path of tens of thousands of trails, waterways and climbing routes. (www.bivy.com).

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Kicks Off Holiday Season in New York City

The world-famous spectacular Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

On Thursday, November 28 at 9 a.m., the time honored phrase Let’s Have a Parade™ will ring from the starting line as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade kicks off on Central Park West in New York City. With more than 8,000 volunteers dressed as clowns, guiding the flight of larger-than-life character balloons, transporting spectators to new places on signature floats, bringing the beat in the nation’s best marching bands and entertaining the crowds as part of dazzling performance groups, the annual march is jam-packed with entertainment.

More than 3.5 million spectators line the two-mile route in New York City with more than 50 million television viewers watching  nationwide.

The parade’s giant balloons have become a signature element since 1927. Olaf returns in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 93rd edition of the iconic holiday event ushers in the season with its signature giant character balloons, floats of fantasy, the nation’s finest marching bands, whimsical groups, musical performances, and the one-and-only Santa Claus.

The parade will also feature special performances and appearances by Natasha Bedingfield, Black Eyed Peas, Chicago, Ciara, Josh Dela Cruz, Celine Dion, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, Debbie Gibson, former NASA Astronauts Kay Hire & Janet Kavandi, Chris Janson, Idina Menzel, Lea Michele, Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin, NHL® Legends Dominic Moore and Eddie Olczyk, the cast & Muppets of Sesame Street, NCT 127, Ozuna, Billy Porter, Kelly Rowland, That Girl Lay Lay, TLC, Tenille Townes, and Chris Young.

 “Spectacle is synonymous with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and each year we aim to create an even bigger one than the last, with incredible must-see entertainment for millions of spectators nationwide,” said Susan Tercero, executive producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “Featuring an amazing lineup of high-flying character balloons, jaw-dropping animated floats, world-class marching bands and performance groups, artists covering a variety of musical genres, and of course, the one-and-only Santa Claus, we are ‘Parade Ready’ and can’t wait to take to the streets of New York City to once again herald the arrival of the holiday season.”

For more than nine decades, the magic of the holiday season has begun with the march of the Macy’s Parade, as the spectacle enthralls the nation with its signature mix of whimsical elements and dazzling performances. For the 93rd edition, the line-up will feature 16 giant character balloons; 40 novelty balloons, heritage balloons, balloonicles, balloonheads and trycaloons; 26 floats; 1,200 cheerleaders and dancers; more than 1,000 clowns; and 11 marching bands.

To kick off the revelry, a special must-see opening number featuring a who’s who of actors, singers, dancers and more, all joined by the cast and Muppets of Sesame Street, will start the Thanksgiving Day party with 2 a smash. The first hour of the national broadcast will also include a special debut performance from her new album Courage by the incomparable Celine Dion.

Iconic Inflatables

The parade’s giant balloons have become a signature element since 1927, when the Parade’s character balloon swere  first introduced, and over the years have come to feature some of the world’s most beloved characters. The inflatables roster has expanded over time to include high-flying giants, balloonheads and even hybrid inflatables with vehicles inside (balloonicles) or tandem tricycles (trycaloons).

New giants joining the line-up this year include Astronaut Snoopy by Peanuts Worldwide, Green Eggs and Ham by Netflix, and SpongeBob SquarePants & Gary by Nickelodeon. In celebration of his 75th birthday, a heritage balloon and fan favorite Smokey Bear once again takes to the skies over Manhattan.

The world-famous spectacular Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City ushers in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Returning giant balloon characters include Diary of A Wimpy Kid® by Abrams Children’s Books; Sinclair Oil’s DINO®; The Elf on the Shelf®; Goku; Illumination Presents Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch; Jett by Super Wings™; Olaf from Disney’s “Frozen 2”; Chase from PAW Patrol®; Pikachu™ by the Pokémon Company International; Pillsbury Doughboy™; Power Rangers Mighty Morphin Red Ranger; Ronald McDonald®; and Trolls. Completing the inflatable lineup is the famed Aflac Duck, Sinclair Oil’s Baby DINOs and the Go Bowling balloonicles, as well as Universal Orlando Resort’s The Nutcracker.

Since 2005, the Macy’s Parade has featured high-flying artwork created in collaboration with renowned contemporary artists. This year, for the eighth edition of Macy’s Blue Sky Gallery, Yayoi Kusama joins the parade with her Love Flies Up to the Sky balloon. The design was developed by the artist from face motifs that appear in her “My Eternal Soul” series of paintings that embody Kusama’s innovative exploration of form and revolve around a tension between abstraction and figuration. Previous balloons in the Macy’s Parade Blue Sky Gallery series have included works from famed artists Tom Otterness, Jeff Koons, Keith Haring, Takashi Murakami, Tim Burton, KAWS, and FriendsWithYou™.

Stars on Parade

The Macy’s Parade has must-see entertainment for everyone in the family. Joining the festivities will be stars from a variety of global music genres including Pop, R&B, Country, Latin and K-Pop, with a few noteworthy special appearances thrown in the mix. Appearing or performing onboard one of Macy’s signature floating stages will be Natasha Bedingfield, Black Eyed Peas, Chicago, Ciara, Josh Dela Cruz, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, Debbie Gibson, former NASA Astronauts Kay Hire & Janet Kavandi, Chris Janson, Idina Menzel, Lea Michele, Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin, NHL® Legends Dominic Moore and Eddie Olczyk, the cast & Muppets of Sesame Street, NCT 127, Ozuna, Billy Porter, Kelly Rowland, That Girl Lay Lay, TLC, Tenille Townes, and Chris Young; with an extra special appearance by the one-and-only Santa Claus.

Floating Entertainment

Gliding down Manhattan, the Parade’s signature floats transport spectators to worlds of wonder through creative design, engineering, and skillful construction, conceived and crafted by the incredible artisans of Macy’s Parade Studio – a design and production facility that includes carpenters, engineers, electricians, painters, animators, sculptors, metal fabricators, scenic and costume designers. While they may seem to float down the Parade route as three stories tall and several lanes of traffic wide stages, the magic is truly in the design as these floats are built to collapse to no more than 12 ½-feet tall and 8-feet wide in order to travel safely from the New Jersey home of the Parade Studio to the Manhattan starting line via the Lincoln Tunnel each Thanksgiving eve.

Gliding down Manhattan, the Parade’s signature floats transport spectators to worlds of wonder through creative design, engineering, and skillful construction, conceived and crafted by the incredible artisans of Macy’s Parade Studio © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This year, five new floats will debut including Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues & You! (Josh Dela Cruz), The Brick-changer by The Lego Group (NCT 127), Home Sweet Home by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® 3 (Tenille Townes), Rexy in the City by COACH® (Billy Porter), and Toy House of Marvelous Milestones by New York Life (Kelly Rowland).

The Sesame Street float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The returning float roster and its scheduled performers and special stars include 1-2-3 Sesame Street® by Sesame Workshop™ (The cast and Muppets of Sesame Street); Big City Cheer! by Spirit of America Productions (Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin); Central Park (Lea Michele); Christmas Cheer is Near by Elf Pets®/The Elf on the Shelf®; Cornucopia; Deck the Halls by Balsam Hill® (Idina Menzel); Everyone’s Favorite Bake Shop by Entenmann’s® (Jimmy Fallon and The Roots); Fantasy Chocolate Factory by Kinder™ (Natasha Bedingfield), Harvest in the Valley by Green Giant® (Chris Janson); Heartwarming Holiday Countdown by Hallmark Channel (Chicago); Mount Rushmore’s American Pride by South Dakota Department of Tourism (Chris Young); the NHL® Most Valuable Hockey Mom presented by MassMutual (Black Eyed Peas and NHL® Legends Dominic Moore and Eddie Olczyk); Parade Day Mischief by SOUR PATCH KIDS® Candy (Ozuna); Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Nickelodeon (Ciara); Santa’s Sleigh (Santa Claus); Shimmer and Shine by Nickelodeon (Debbie Gibson); Snoopy’s Doghouse by Peanuts Worldwide (Charlie Brown and former NASA Astronauts Kay Hire and Janet Kavandi); Splashing Safari Adventure by Kalahari Resorts and Conventions (TLC); Tom Turkey; and Universal Playground by Universal Kids (That Girl Lay Lay).

The Singing Christmas Tree at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Returning for a third year by popular demand, the Macy’s Singing Christmas Tree by Delta Air Lines will feature the harmonious voices of more than 100 Macy’s colleagues and friends from Delta hailing from across the nation and the world. Performing an original song to celebrate the start of the holiday season, the golden-voiced chorus will touch the hearts and uplift the spirits of millions.

Strike up the Bands

The nation’s best marching bands bring the beat to the holiday revelry. For this year’s 93rd march, 11 of the specially chosen ensembles will ignite coast-to-coast excitement and hometown pride as they step off and perform on the streets of the Big Apple. This year’s bands include Awesome Original Second Time Arounders Marching Band (St. Petersburg, FL), Blue Springs High School Golden Regiment (Blue Springs, MO), Catalina Foothills Falcon Band (Tucson, AZ), Franklin Regional Panther Band (Murrysville, PA), Macy’s Great American Marching Band (United States), Madison Central High School Band (Richmond, KY), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. High School’s Kings of Halftime (Lithonia, GA), Morgan State University’s The Magnificent Marching Machine (Baltimore, MD), NYPD Marching Band (New York, NY), Ronald Reagan High School Marching Band (San Antonio, TX), and Western Carolina University’s Pride of the Mountains Marching Band (Cullowhee, NC).

The Great American Band at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Entertaining the crowds with their signature exuberance will be the Parade’s signature large and specialty performance groups. Joining the line-up this year are the teen dancers and cheerleaders of Spirit of America Dance Stars and Spirit of America Cheer. These groups together feature more than 1,200 of the very best performers recruited from hometowns nationwide. Days before Thanksgiving, they will gather for the first time in New York City to rehearse their numbers as a group, ahead of their once-in-a-lifetime national spotlight. Adding some wacky 1980s style dancing will be the hilarious 610 Stompers (New Orleans, LA), with modern dance youth talent showcased by The Alvin Ailey School (New York, NY) and the tap dance theatrics of children from The Nice List (New York, NY). Rounding out the performance group line-up and joining select talent performances will be Gamma Phi Circus (Normal, IL), Manhattan Youth Ballet (New York, NY), the dance stars of the world-renowned in-school arts education program National Dance Institute (New York, NY) and Young People’s Chorus of NYC (New York, NY).

A National Holiday Event

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the nation’s biggest and most anticipated holiday celebration. Broadcast nationally on NBC, with millions of families nationwide tuning in to watch the excitement unfold, the TODAY Show’s Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and Al Roker will host the three-hour broadcast from 9 a.m. – noon (in all time zones). Following the opener, on 34th Street, Broadway’s best shows will take a star turn in front of Macy’s famed flagship with special performances from the casts of Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations, Beetlejuice, Hadestown and Tina – The Tina Turner Musical. In addition, the show-stopping Radio City Rockettes® will bring their signature high-kicking magic to Herald Square. 4

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade opens with pilgrims and finishes with Santa Claus, ushering in the holiday season © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

360 Degree Livestream on Youtube

For the fourth year, Macy’s, with NBCUniversal and Verizon, will give viewers an up close and personal second screen experience of the Parade with a 360-degree livestream on Verizon’s YouTube page. The stream will go live at 8:30 a.m. EST at www.youtube.com/verizon and will run through noon EST. With exclusive access to cameras along the entire Parade route, online spectators will get a glimpse of the magic behind the scenes, as well as a preview of what’s to come as the Parade marches down the streets of Manhattan.

Some 3.5 million spectators will line the streets for the world-famous spectacular Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For spectators in New York or those traveling to the city to see it live, the 93rd Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade begins at 9 a.m., kicking off from 77th Street and Central Park West. The procession will march to Columbus Circle, turn onto Central Park South and then march down 6th Avenue/Avenue of the Americas. At 34th Street, the Parade will make its final turn west and end at 7th Avenue in front of Macy’s Herald Square.

 For an insider’s look at the holiday procession, fans nationwide should visit macys.com/parade for regular updates including behind-the-scenes previews, special tours, interactive historical information, and more. Fans can also follow @macys on various social networks and join the conversation using #MacysParade.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Before the Macys Thanksgiving Parade Comes the Macy’s Balloon Inflation

The iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is actually two events, which begins the day before with the Macy’s Balloon Inflation, from 1 to 8 pm when you can watch the volunteers as they literally breathe life into the iconic giants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is actually two events, which begins the day before with the Macy’s Balloon Inflation, from 1 to 8 pm when you can watch the volunteers as they literally breathe life into the iconic giants.

This has become wildly popular, with thousands and thousands of people arriving for a peek as hundreds of volunteers work to inflate the balloons. They start off flat, laid out in precise order on the streets around the American Museum of Natural History.

But the event is so popular, the entrance is at 73rd and Columbus (be prepared for intense security; can’t bring backpacks and very long lines), following a route up Central Park West, to 77th Street,  Columbus Avenue and back down 81st streets to the exit.

The best time to watch is around 5 pm when you will see the balloons in various stages of completion. (Insider tip: if you visit the Museum of Natural History early in the day, when you leave, you are right in the middle of the action.

This is really an insider’s look and it is really thrilling.

Since 1927, when the Parade’s character balloons first joined the revelry, the inflatables have become a signature element featuring some of the world’s most beloved characters. Over time, the inflatables have morphed from air-filled characters carried on sticks to high-flying giants, balloonheads and even hybrid inflatables with vehicles inside (balloonicles) or tandem tricycles (trycaloons).

New giants joining the line-up this year include Astronaut Snoopy by Peanuts Worldwide, Green Eggs and Ham by Netflix, and SpongeBob SquarePants & Gary by Nickelodeon. In celebration of his 75th birthday, a heritage balloon and fan favorite will return to the Parade as Smokey Bear once again takes to the skies over Manhattan.

The Peanuts balloon at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation event, NYC (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

 In 2005, the Macy’s Parade began to feature what would become a collection of high-flying artwork created in collaboration with renowned contemporary artists. The special series, entitled Macy’s Blue Sky Gallery, has featured some of the art world’s finest creators. This year, for the eighth edition of the series, the world’s most renowned female contemporary artist will take her iconic art to new heights as Yayoi Kusama joins the Macy’s Parade with her Love Flies Up to the Sky balloon. The design was developed by the artist from face motifs that appear in her “My Eternal Soul” series of paintings–a body of work that she began in 2009. Vibrant and animated, the paintings embody Kusama’s innovative exploration of form and revolve around a tension between abstraction and figuration. The artist’s signature dots–which recur throughout her practice—are also featured prominently in the Macy’s Parade balloon design. Previous balloons in the Macy’s Parade Blue Sky Gallery series have included works from famed artists Tom Otterness, Jeff Koons, Keith Haring, Takashi Murakami, Tim Burton, KAWS, and FriendsWithYou™.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation event, NYC (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Returning giant balloon characters include Diary of A Wimpy Kid® by Abrams Children’s Books; Sinclair Oil’s DINO®; The Elf on the Shelf®; Goku; Illumination Presents Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch; Jett by Super Wings™; Olaf from Disney’s “Frozen 2”; Chase from PAW Patrol®; Pikachu™ by the Pokémon Company International; Pillsbury Doughboy™; Power Rangers Mighty Morphin Red Ranger; Ronald McDonald®; and Trolls. Completing the inflatable lineup is the famed Aflac Duck, Sinclair Oil’s Baby DINOs and the Go Bowling balloonicles, as well as Universal Orlando Resort’s The Nutcracker.

93rd Edition of Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

Then, the 93rd edition of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade kicks off at 9 am on Thursday, November 28  when the time honored phrase Let’s Have a Parade™ rings from the starting line. With more than 8,000 volunteers dressed as clowns, guiding the flight of larger-than-life character balloons, transporting some 2.5 million spectators who line New York City’s streets and 50 million more watching on television to new worlds.

Olaf flies in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The iconic holiday event ushers in the season with its signature giant character balloons, floats of fantasy, the nation’s finest marching bands, whimsical groups, musical performances, and the one-and-only Santa Claus With special performances and appearances by Natasha Bedingfield, Black Eyed Peas, Chicago, Ciara, Josh Dela Cruz, Celine Dion, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, Debbie Gibson, former NASA Astronauts Kay Hire & Janet Kavandi, Chris Janson, Idina Menzel, Lea Michele, Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin, NHL® Legends Dominic Moore and Eddie Olczyk, the cast & Muppets of Sesame Street, NCT 127, Ozuna, Billy Porter, Kelly Rowland, That Girl Lay Lay, TLC, Tenille Townes, and Chris Young

Here are more fun facts about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade:

OVERVIEW:

3.5 million people line the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route in New York city (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

• Years of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade – 93 (est. 1924) o Note: The Parade was canceled in 1942, 1943 and 1944 due to World War II.

• Parade Route Spectators – 3.5 Million

• Parade Route Length – 2.5 miles (77th & Central Park West south to 34th Street-Herald Square)

• Participants – 8,000+ including Macy’s colleagues and their friends & families, celebrities, recording artists, athletes, Broadway performers, marching bands, clowns, dancers, cheerleaders and other performance groups

BALLOONS:

• Giant character helium balloons – 16

• 40 novelty, heritage, specialty balloons, balloonicles, balloonheads and trycaloons

• New balloons – Astronaut Snoopy by Peanuts Worldwide, Green Eggs and Ham by Netflix, SpongeBob SquarePants & Gary by Nickelodeon, Smokey Bear by USDA Forest Service, and Love Flies Up to the Sky by Yayoi Kusama

• Height of tallest balloon – 62 feet (Diary of A Wimpy Kid®)

• Length of longest balloon – 77 feet (Power Rangers Mighty Morphin Red Ranger)

• Width of widest balloon – 39 feet (Jett by Super Wings™)

• Balloon handlers – more than 1,600 (90 handlers on average per giant balloon)

More than 1600 volunteers are on hand to handle the giant balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

FLOATS:

• Floats – 26, comprised of hundreds of different set pieces and other structural elements

• New floats – Blue’s Clues & You! by Nickelodeon, The Brick-Changer by The LEGO Group, Home Sweet Home by Cracker Barrel Old Country Store®, Rexy in the City by COACH®, and Toy House of Marvelous Milestones by New York Life

• Length and height of largest float – 60 feet long and 3.5 stories tall (Santa’s Sleigh)

• Float escorts – 400

THE BROADCAST:

• Television Viewers – More than 50 Million, one of the country’s most viewed televised events

• Hours of Live Television – 3 (9am-noon, in all time zones), 3 rebroadcast (2pm-5pm, in all time zones)

• Years on NBC, official national broadcast partner – 66 (since 1952)

• NBC TODAY Show anchors as host of the Parade: o 2019 marks Hoda Kotb’s 2nd year hosting o 2019 marks Savannah Guthrie’s 8th year (since 2012)

•  2019 marks Al Roker’s 25th year (since 1995)

Al Roker marks his 25th year in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

ENTERTAINMENT, PERSONALITIES & PERFORMERS:

• Marching Bands – 11 bands spanning approximately 2,793 members in total

• Performance Groups – 10 groups including 600 cheerleaders and 600 dancers from all over the country

• Radio City Rockettes® – An annual favorite, they first performed in the 1957 Parade

• Broadway musicals – 4, the long-standing relationship with Broadway shows to showcase performances nationally, dating back to 1977

• Choral Singers (Macy’s own) – 100

• Clowns – 1,000

• Clown Stilt Walker Units – 22

• Santa Claus – the ONE and ONLY in his famed Parade finale appearance o Santa Claus has closed the Macy’s Parade every year with the exception of 1933, the only year in which he led the official Parade march

There are 1000 clowns in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

BEHIND-THE-SCENES MAGIC BY THE MACY’S PARADE STUDIO TEAM:

• Hours of labor from the Parade Studio team of approximately 27 painters, carpenters, animators, sculptors, welders, scenic/costume designers, electricians and engineers – 50,000+

• Square Footage of the Parade Studio’s Moonachie, NJ headquarters – 72,000

• Length of Tubular Steel – nearly ½ mile for creation of the Macy’s Singing Tree, and the most steel ever sourced for a Macy’s Parade float

• Pounds of Glitter – 300

• Costumes – 4,200

• Make-Up Artists for Clowns – 90

• Banner Carriers – 95

The Singing Tree at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Vermont’s Indies Strike Back! Independent Ski Resorts Lure “Uncommitteds” with Versatility, Flexibility & Vibe

Bolton Valley Resort, which was re-acquired by the Des Lauriers family that founded the resort in 1966, is capitalizing on its strengths as it asserts its independence: night skiing until 10 pm and an innovative learn-to-back-country-ski program.

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

With the “Bigs” mountain resort companies taking over a significant number of New England’s major destination resorts, locking in loyalty to their brand, independents are capitalizing on their unique character and culture, their ability to offer value pricing, to be flexible and adaptive, and their appeal to the “noncommitteds” – those who still see the season pass as a barrier. They can offer their own pass, packaging and pricing deals. They also capitalize on their special character and ambiance.

Adam White, the Director of Ski Vermont, sees only positives from the friendly competition between mega-resort companies and independents. “Vermont’s resorts have invested more than $51 million, improving snowmaking across the board, every resort, every size. It speaks volumes. It gives Vermont the ability to deliver a consistent product regardless of Mother Nature, from Suicide Six to Mount Snow to Killington. Every one is improving.”

As for Bigs versus Indies, “There is reason to go to every area – all are different and have something to offer. A parent with small kids may want a smaller, less chaotic, area where they can have more control.”

Magic Mountain: Back to the Future

“Our future is as an independent. For our future, we are looking to our past,” says Geoff Hathaway, Magic Mountain’s president who acquired the resort four years ago.

How to compete against Vail Resorts’  Epic and Anterra Mountain Company’s Ikon passes if you are an independent ski resort in Vermont?  “We can appeal to the ‘uncommitted’ market – we have passionate group of committed people, but there is opportunity is to peel off those who don’t want to commit to $800 season pass,” Hathaway says.

Magic Mountain offers a variety of options on passes: Sundays only, Midweek, 18-29s, a Throwback Card ($99 gets you $29 tickets all season long). ”These are crazy affordable but the skier makes some commitment. “We try to be as creative as possible – we even have holiday pass when others are blacked out elsewhere.” Skiers can also purchase discounted lift tickets on Liftopia.com.

“We make more opportunity to say “yes’ to a little bit of Magic.”  

Magic Mountain, which remains fiercely proud in being independent and a throwback to Vermont’s ski heritage, continues to make major investments in lifts and snowmaking, this year spending $2 million in improvements to ensure a laid-back, uncrowded, soulful ski experience. In order to handle more customers yet keep its lift line wait to under 10 minutes even during the busy holiday periods, Magic is replacing its Black Double summit lift with a fixed-grip Quad from base-to-summit to complement its Red Lift. The new Black Line Quad is expected to be completed by Christmas for the 2019/20 season. In addition, Magic is repairing snowmaking pipe and re-energizing its Thompsonburg Brook pond to better re-fill and supply water to its snowmaking pond in order to expand snowmaking coverage to over 50% of its trails on both the East Side and famed expert West Side. With the addition of the new summit lift, Magic adds another double-diamond expert summit trail named Pitch Black. There is also a new East Side glade created by our “Friends-of-Magic” work-crew this year.

Magic is a northern Vermont mountain in southern Vermont, more challenging than its neighbors. The mountain installed a mid-mountain chair improving access for intermediate and novice skiers (there is no beginner trail from the summit, but a low-intermediate can take the 1.6 mile trail from the top). Magic offers a 1500-ft vertical, 51 trails of which green are 25%, blue are 30%.

“There’s more Magic than ever to enjoy for the new ski and ride season.”  (magicmtn.com)

Mad River Glen

Mad River Glen, the only cooperatively owned mountain open to the public, is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the “pure Vermont” ski experience and takes pride in consistently upgrading its infrastructure while maintaining an unchanged exterior.

“We take pride in constantly upgrading while quietly remaining the same. We are still Mad River Glen, just like 1948,” said Ry Young, head freeski team coach. Mad River Glen’s trails were cut in the 1940s and 1950s, narrower, winding down the mountain following the natural contours.

Mad River Glen has invested more than $5M in capital improvements. Mad River Glen raised $5.5 million through donors to its nonprofit foundation which will be spent next summer on a Basebox and Patrol building renovation.

There are no high-speed lifts at Mad River Glen – only fixed grip chairs (3 doubles and the last functioning single in continental US) – which limits uphill capacity.

Mad River Glen offers the most challenging and diverse terrain in New England with an uphill capacity that guarantees low skier density on the trails even on the busiest days. It is one of only three areas in North America that still prohibit snowboarding. The trails were cut to follow the mountain’s natural contours. Skiers can descend the entire 2,037′ of vertical on true expert terrain with no run-outs, 1000 acres of inbound skiing and 1000 acres of back country skiing; of the 52 trails, 25% are beginner but the majority of terrain is advanced.

There are no high-speed lifts – only fixed grip chairs (3 doubles and the last functioning single in continental US) – which limits uphill capacity.

There is a special camaraderie among the skiing community, with its co-op ownership, non-commercial, family-friendly atmosphere, dedicated staff, and – of course-the Single Chair, America’s favorite ski lift.

You can also experience the mountain on snowshoes: join one of MRG’s staff Naturalists for a guided snowshoe trek tailored to your interest in the ecology and wildlife of Stark Mountain (Naturalist Programs). There is no on-mountain lodging, but plenty of inns and bnb’s in town. (madriverglen.com)

Bolton Valley Resort

Bolton Valley Resort, which was re-acquired by the Des Lauriers family that founded the resort in 1966, is capitalizing on its strengths as it asserts its independence: night skiing until 10 pm and an innovative learn-to-back-country-ski program (the DesLauriers are famous as pioneers in extreme skiing.)

The most visible improvement is the complete replacement and upgrading of the night skiing lighting system (Bolton offers night skiing nightly until 10 pm).

Besides being one of the few places in New England offering night skiing, Bolton opened an in-house backcountry-specific guiding and instructional program, complete with top-of-the-line rental and demo fleets of alpine touring and splitboarding equipment. This program makes Bolton Valley a premiere destination for skiers and riders looking to move beyond lift service, as well as cross country skiers looking to access more aggressive terrain. Explore 1,200 acres of high-mountain wilderness terrain while learning the ins and outs of alpine touring, backcountry safety, and self-reliance.

But Bolton Valley has something that hardly any other mountain resort has: not just back country skiing on 1,200 acres of high-mountain wilderness, but an in-house backcountry-specific guiding and instructional program, complete with top-of-the-line rental and demo fleets of alpine touring and splitboarding equipment, offered every Saturday.

“The gear is different – you have to be able to unhook the heels and put on climbing skins; we rent all the equipment, demo gear and sell gear,” says Adam Des Lauriers. The program was launched two years ago. “It’s totally unique – more traditional ski areas don’t know how to deal with back country and uphill, even though it is the fastest growing segment.”

Building on its reputation for having some of the best and most accessible backcountry terrain in the Eastern US, this program makes Bolton Valley a premiere destination for skiers and riders looking to move beyond lift service, as well as cross country skiers looking to access more aggressive terrain. You can explore high-mountain wilderness terrain while learning the ins and outs of alpine touring, backcountry safety, and self-reliance.

How good do you have to be? “At least strong intermediate –we take it slow. People are surprised when they can do it. It is scary to attempt if you do it alone, but a mind-opening experience when you realize you can do it.”

Bolton Valley also has back country huts which can be rented through the Green Mountain Club, the organization that runs the Long Trail,but accessed through Bolton. “It’s a unique camping experience, just one mile from the base. You wake up to fresh tracks, and get to do winter camping. It’s accessible, but feels like being deep in woods.”

Bolton Valley sits high in the Green Mountains of Vermont. The high mountain alpine village is surrounded by 5,000 acres of wilderness. Bolton Valley offers 71 trails and glades for Alpine skiing and riding and 100 km of Nordic and backcountry trails. Each year Bolton Valley receives an average of 312 inches of snow.

All the lodging, including hotel rooms, suites and condominiums are either ski in/ski out or within a short walking distance of the lifts. Two restaurants, a cafeteria, deli and general store are located within the village. After a day on the slopes, walk over to the Sports Center, where there is an indoor pool, hot tub and sauna, skateboard bowl and mini ramps, arcade games as well as an open floor for basketball and other games. The Indoor Amusement Center offers bouncy houses for kids who just want to keep moving.

Bolton Valley also offers a large Nordic center, an indoor skate park and indoor pool. The year-round resort, which is the neighborhood ski area for the city of Burlington and generations of Vermont skiers, offers tennis and ropes course, and expanding its mountain bike trail network, for summer. (www.boltonvalley.com)

Bromley Mountain

This year, Bromley resort has made a number of maintenance-related updates on and off the mountain. For those who rent equipment, there is an updated rental fleet to include some of the best equipment on the market for a more comfortable fit and smoother glide. On the mountain, crew continued their trail widening efforts. All-new park features satisfy a variety of rider abilities, green to black. Plus, Bromley is partnering up with Arena Snowparks to build and design parks (for the second year in a row) with the intention to produce one of the best family-friendly progression parks.

For après-ski entertainment, enjoy Bromley’s Wild Boar Tavern (located at the base of the mountain) as well as expanded events calendar with more free, family-friendly entertainment for everyone. Top off your ski days with a scenic sleigh ride at beautiful Taylor Farm, take a stroll through the sculpture garden at the Vermont Art Center, treat yourself to a fabulous shopping experience at the Manchester Shopping Outlet center, all within a 10-mile radius. (skivermont.com/bromley-mountain-resort)

Suicide Six Ski Area

Suicide Six Ski Area, which is owned by the historic, grand resort, the Woodstock Inn & Resort, remains independent but partners with 35 other quintessential resorts to create the Indy Pass. For 84 consecutive seasons, Suicide Six has offered its blend of exquisite service and personal touch, including the longest continually operating Ski and Ride School in the country. Here you’ll find stellar coaches, progressive terrain, and a warmth and care. The ski area is adding more terrain features and an entirely new park concept, as well as taking its snowmaking production to the next level with a focus on automation, efficiency and sustainability. Suicide Six is investing $250,000 into its snowmaking pump station with more efficient pumps, automation and instrumentation that provide lightning fast responses to changes in weather and conditions. Combine that with previous investments of over $400,000 the ski area has made in new snow guns, and the automation of the Face trail (its world-class racing venue), Suicide Six looks forward to a longer, more productive season with the highest quality snow.

Suicide Six, which is owned by the grand, historic Woodstock Inn, is one of the most family-friendly ski mountains.

The misnomered Suicide Six (it actually is one of the most family-friendly ski mountains, with 24 trails – 30% beginner, 40% intermediate and 30% advanced), is focusing on family-friendly ski and stay packages, where ski passes are included. The resort also makes it easy to organize a private lesson for the family where the kids learn to ski and parents learn how to continue to teach them.

The downhill ski area is owned by the grand, historic Woodstock Inn which also offers the Woodstock Nordic Adventure Center providing 30 kilometers of trails to explore via cross country skis, fat bikes or snowshoes; a 10,000 sq. ft Spa; and Woodstock Athletic Club, with indoor and outdoor tennis courts, racquetball courts, a 30-by-60-foot heated indoor lap pool, a whirlpool, workout equipment and steam and sauna rooms. Woodstock Inn provides a free shuttle to the mountain (skivermont.com/suicide-six-ski-area)

Trapp Family Lodge

Trapp Family Lodge, Vermont

Situated on 2,500 acres in Stowe, Vermont, where it specializes in cross-country skiing on 100 km of groomed trails, Trapp Family Lodge (yes, that Trapp Family of “Sound of Music fame”) is a mountain resort that combines Austrian-inspired architecture and European-style accommodations with the best of Vermont. The Lodge offers stunning mountain views, old-world comforts, and impeccable service, along with activities for every season, but it boasts being one of the first American resorts built around cross-country skiing – the cross-country center is more than 50 years old. Snowshoeing is also popular (equipment rentals available). Take a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the meadows with stunning views into the valley.  Enjoy any number of tours to learn about the history of the von Trapp family and lodge; how maple sugar is made; tour the von Trapp Brewing’s state-of-the-art brewery on site; dine in the Bierhall to sample the lagers and enjoy the authentic Austrian experience and cuisine. There’s also ice/rock climbing, spa, pool, hot tub and three restaurants. Cross-country ski three miles up to a cabin and enjoy hot soup. When you get the urge for downhill skiing, shuttles are provided to nearby Stowe. (www.trappfamily.com)

Mountain Top Inn & Resort

Mountaintop Inn & Resort, Chittenden, Vermont (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, set on 350 acres ringed by the Green Mountain National Forest, is breathtakingly enchanting, offers 60 km of groomed cross-country ski trails (snowmaking on a 2 km loop insuring optimal conditions); horse-drawn sleigh rides; a small old-fashioned (natural) skating pond; snowshoeing (twilight tours available); snowmobiling; spa; hot tub; fire pits; and the coziest fireplaces. It’s also a 30 minute drive to Killington Mountain for downhill skiing (shuttle transportation available, 8:30 am, returning 4:30 pm; reserve in advance). The most charming of inns offers 32 rooms plus 23 individual guest houses; dining at The Mountain Top Tavern (with 12 Vermont Craft Brews on tap) and fireside dining in the dining room.Downhill skiing at Killington and Pico is a short drive away. www.MountainTopInn.com.

Middlebury Snow Bowl

This season you will see a new Prinoth Groomer, upgrades to the Ticket counter including new transaction windows ad a new Point of Sale System, and a new season pass format.  There is also the new Shared Parent Pass for families with kids that aren’t skiing yet (both parents ski on the same pass).  What you won’t see, but will certainly experience, is the snowmaking pipe upgrades, summer trail work and lift work. (www.middleburysnowbowl.com)

Jay Peak Resort

Jay Peak is a quirky 800-bedroom, 3,100-bathroom, 217,800,000,000-square foot resort just two miles from the Canadian border offering multiple athletic pursuits across all seasons. Potential upsides include an indoor waterpark, ice arena, climbing center, movie theater, synthetic-turf athletic fields, multiple hotels, 5,000 acres of ski-and-ride terrain, and a staff of 1,500 Tier One professionals. Jay Peak has annual snowfall averaging 349 inches a season, still there is snowmaking on 80% of terrain. Jay Peak offers 385 skiable acres (100 acres of gladed terrain), a vertical drop of 2,153, 50 miles of trails 9 lifts  accessing 81 trails (20% Novice, 40% Intermediate, 40% Advanced), for a total of 50 miles, the longest, Ullr’s Dream at 3 miles, and four parks (Rabbit Beginner Park, Family Cross, Jug Handle & Interstate ). (jaypeakresort.com)

To information or help choosing a destination, contact Ski Vermont, 802-223-2439, info@skivermont.com, or visit skivermont.com.

See also:

Vermont Ski Areas Open Winter Season With Major Enhancements to Guest Experience
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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Vermont Ski Areas Open Winter Season With Major Enhancements to Guest Experience

Skiing Pico Mountain, Vermont: the Vermont ski areas have made $51 million in improvements especially in snowmaking to guarantee consistent high-quality surface © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Never content to rest on laurels, Vermont ski areas are constantly improving the guest experience. A big part of that comes via annual improvements and each year, the mountain resorts spend their off-seasons bettering everything from facilities, terrain and ticket/pass options to off-slope activities and amenities.

This year, guests from around the world will find $51 million in improvements, including snowmaking and grooming to virtually guarantee excellent conditions. The gains are throughout Vermont’s ski areas, but the growing number of major resorts that have come under Vail Resorts’ umbrella or Anterra Mountain, not only funnels money capital investment in infrastructure and gives the resorts a global profile, but gives resorts like Mount Snow, Okemo and Stowe (now part of Vail and Epic Pass) the ability to improve the guest experience through technology improvements as well as best practices in operating lifts, snowmaking, parking, ticketing, safety, efficiency and sustainability initiatives.

Here are the many ways in which skiing and riding in Vermont will be better than ever this upcoming season:

Mount Snow Resort

Snowmaking improvements continue to be a priority at Mount Snow, which (along with Hunter Mountain in New York and 15 other New England and Mid-Atlantic resorts became part of Vail Resorts with its acquisition of Peak Resorts (and therefore included on the Epic Pass). This winter will see improvements to the Sunbrook Face as well as Carinthia Parks. On the Sunbrook side, the resort has added 7.2 acres of snowmaking as Little Dipper will now be connected to the Northeast’s most powerful snowmaking system. This change will allow Mount Snow to open this trail earlier in the season and keep it consistently covered throughout the winter. Sunbrook is a beloved part of the mountain and guests will be able to better take advantage of this area. In Carinthia, the resort is adding snowmaking to Fool’s Gold, which increasing snowmaking coverage by an additional 9.8 acres and allowing the ops crew to transform it into a park with small features. Beginner and intermediate park enthusiasts will have a place for building skills before they move onto larger features.

The Grand Summit, Mount Snow Resort, Vermont, now part of Vail Resorts (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

These projects wouldn’t be possible without the previous upgrades of the past three summers including the addition of West Lake, Mount Snow’s 120-million-gallon snowmaking reservoir, as well as new pump houses and pipes, totaling more than $30 million invested in snowmaking. As the resort moves from 80% to 83% snowmaking coverage for this winter, Mount Snow has its sights set on 100% coverage which could be accomplished in the near future.

There is also snow tubing and snowmobiling. You can book a leisurely sunset tour to the summit of Mount Snow, or a trek across Somerset Reservoir through Snowmobile Vermont (book in advance, mountsnow.com/snowmobile). Unwind at Mount Snow’s Naturespa, located in the Grand Summit Resort Hotel, offering pure, natural and organic spa treatments, guided mountain treks, holistic health, and fitness specialties. (mountsnow.com)

Stowe Mountain Resort

Stowe, which is now owned by Vail Resorts and is included on the Epic Pass, now offers Epic Mix, which enables skiers and riders to track their days and vertical feet skied,earn digital pins, share photos, race against the pros and check real-time liftline wait time using their RFID chip-embedded season pass or lift ticket.

Stowe has an inter-mountain transfer gondola connecting its two mountain peaks, Mt. Mansfield and Spruce Peak. There are new high-speed lifts on Spruce, new base facilities, gourmet restaurants. The Stowe Mountain Lodge, a 312 room hotel and spa, is recognized as one of the greenest and most luxurious mountainside lodgings anywhere. There’s also a new state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center at Spruce Peak.

Stowe Mountain Resort is now part of Vail Resorts and included on the Epic Pass. (photo from Stowe)

New this winter atop the Mansfield Gondola in Stowe is a resort inspired Maple Waffle Café. Located inside the Gondola summit shelter, the new waffle experience is the perfect place to warm-up with a delicious Vermont flavored snack. The new Whistle Pig Pavilion adjacent to the outdoor skating rink at Spruce Peak delights skiers in the late afternoon with gourmet tasters and whiskey toasts by the famous Vermont spirits bottler. Stop in for a surprise and stay to sample their farm-to-table small bites menu and the local beer and whiskey bar. “At Stowe, we are curating and customizing on-mountain private experiences,” says Jeff Wise.

Stowe also offers an on-mountain Kids AdventureZones, well signed areas that give kids and families the opportunity to easily access gentle side-country areas and freestyle terrain purpose-built for learning progression. (www.stowe.com)

Okemo Mountain Resort

Okemo Mountain Resort, which became part of Vail Resorts (and the Epic Pass) last year, has renovated its Summit Lodge and mid-mountain Sugar House with a $2 million infusion of capital. On the slopes, Okemo has secured its reputation for consistent and reliable snow quality and surface conditions through more upgrades to its snowmaking system. Installation of 5,000 feet of pipe completed a five-year project to replace main feeds to Okemo’s snowmaking system across the entire mountain. And this winter, skiers and riders will be able to experience the entire mountain in a new way with EpicMix, a free app that provides access to a variety of features from their mobile phones. They can check snow conditions and lift-wait times, view web cams and trail maps, track vert, earn digital pins, and even track Ski & Snowboard School progress and accomplishments.

Season pass introductions this winter include a new Northeast College Pass that offers unlimited, unrestricted access to Okemo and Mount Sunapee, in New Hampshire, as well as unlimited access with holiday restrictions to Stowe. Also, Vail Resorts has launched Epic Day Pass, allowing guests to ski world-class resorts for less than lift-ticket-window prices.

Jackson Gore affords ski in/out convenience at Okemo Mountain Resort, now part of Vail Resorts © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of our favorite New England ski mountains with its long, scenic cruisers, Okemo also offers an assortment of activities for families to enjoy together. For a thrill, try Okemo’s Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster or go snow tubing down a specially groomed chute in the Jackson Gore courtyard; skate at Okemo’s ice skating pavilion; rent a fat bike for riding on snow; go snowshoeing; cross country skiing; work on your golf game at Okemo’s indoor golf facility. Chill out with an after-hours snowcat excursion to the top of the mountain, take a swim or soak in a hot tub at Okemo’s Spring House Pool & Fitness Center.. Enjoy a massage or a facial at the spa.

The Adventure Zone located in Okemo’s Jackson Gore area offers year-round activities soar through the treetops on Sawyer’s Sweep Zipline Tour or go off-roading on a Segway PT Tour; launch yourself into the Amp Energy Big Air Bag; climb the climbing wall; putt Cal’s Miniature Golf Course or challenge yourself on the 18-hole Disc Golf course.

A wide variety of trailside and mountainside lodging options provide great ski-in/ski-out convenience, but our favorite is Jackson Gore. (okemo.com)

Killington Resort

The “Beast of the East,” Killington is the biggest ski resort in New England and has the longest season. A Powdr resort, Killington and its sister resort Pico are both partnering in the IkonPass, allows 5-7 days on the pass. Killington offers the Beast 365 All-Seasons Pass gives guests access to everything at Killington, all year long. It starts in summer with unlimited lift and trail access for 30 miles of mountain biking, plus golf course greens fees and access to the Adventure Center including zipline, ropes course and a year-round downhill coaster; pass holders also get access to discounts every month, that could consist of spa or golf. Accommodations are mostly along the access road (though we adored our stay at nearby Mountaintop Inn), and now owns the legendary Wobbly Barn nightclub.

The “Beast of the East,” Killington is the biggest ski resort in New England with 6 connected mountain peaks. The resort has a partnership with the Ikon Pass © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Killington offers Woodward, an experiential action sports company on a mission to inspire next generation sports experiences through intuitive programming and innovative environments. It’s where the most passionate people come together to stoke new levels of growth, confidence and a lifelong love of their favorite sports. Woodward at Killington is the East Coast destination for action sports progression, providing mountain experiences built to inspire and empower youth to reach their potential and experienced athletes to take it to the next level. The Woodward experience at Killington includes Woodward Mountain Park in the winter and then, when the snow melts, the Woodward WreckTangle ninja obstacle challenge.

Killington offers seven distinct mountain areas including Killington Peak, the second highest point in the state at 4,241 feet and a vertical drop of 3,050 ft, and 212 trails and 1,977 of skiable acres including Pico. (killington.com)

Pico Mountain

Pico Mountain, which is Killington’s sister mountain, is undergoing major upgrades to its snowmaking system, which means guests will experience a better, more consistent and more reliable snow surface. Pico has a very different feel from its sister resort, Killington, just next door. A self-contained resort with slopeside lodging, Pico has 57 trails serviced by seven lifts, including two high-speed detachable quads, Its more intimate scale, gentle learning terrain, smooth cruisers and classically narrow New England steeps, that all that funnel to a single base make it ideal for families. Even the most selective skiers and riders will be impressed by Pico’s vertical drop of 1,967’ – taller than 80% of Vermont ski areas. (picomountain.com)

Stratton Mountain Resort

Last January’s Snow Bowl Express launch was a game changer, creating quick access to a blend of terrain from the legendary World Cup and tree-lined Drifter to a three-mile beginner run from the summit of southern Vermont’s highest peak.  The new skier and rider is a focus this season with 12,500 feet of new snowmaking pipe, featuring the latest hydrant technology, for the learning zone. Plus, a one-acre parallel teaching area has been crafted to eliminate the fear factor as beginners build a foundation with basic skills, including stance and balance, before heading up the 550-foot covered carpet. Kids snowboarding has never been easier with the addition of a new Burton Riglet Park for 2019-20.

Stratton Mountain is now part of Alterra Mountain Company and included on Ikon Pass © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There’s lift-served snow tubing, moonlight snowshoe tours, and 12 km of cross-country trails for skiing and fat biking. Unwind with a massage from the Village Day Spa or enjoy a dog sled ride through Vermont’s wooded terrain. Stratton’s Training and Fitness Center offers Olympic-sized, salt-water swimming pool, cardio and weight room and the Cliff Drysdale Tennis Center. Stroll through the Village to enjoy cafes and shops or venture 20 minutes down Route 100 to Manchester for shopping at 40 designer outlets.

Now part of the Alterra Mountain Company, Stratton is included on its Ikon Pass, now offering access to nearly 82,000 acres at 38 premier mountain destinations across the globe. (Stratton.com)

Sugarbush Resort

Sometimes it’s the little things that add up to a whole lot of change. Sugarbush has invested in a number of smaller projects this summer to improve the guest experience heading into the ski season. The Lincoln Peak Courtyard has been rebuilt with cobblestones, firepits, gardens, and bar tops. Two new EV charging stations are getting installed at Mt. Ellen for the electric car user looking to shred Vermont’s third-highest peak. Its focus on environmentalism is also demonstrated by donating 1% of restaurant receipts for Protect Our Winter, advocating for climate action, and is partnering with a Vermont business that builds solar arrays to generate 2.5 MW, enough to power Mount Ellen. Additionally, there is now snowmaking on a more opened-up Sleeper Road, and plenty of new infrastructure upgrades around the lodges and lifts.

Sugarbush is independent but has a partnership with the Ikon Pass (photo provided by Sugarbush)

Sugarbush also actively supports the community. “We’re big on the community. We have a nice base area with restaurants, but we encourage guests  to go to Mad River Valley. We have shuttle bus through day til 5 or 6, and Saturday late to 2 am. We encourage people to shop, eat, patronize the artisans,

An independent resort, Sugarbush is part of the Ikon Pass and The Mountain Collective. “We can pivot faster as an independent. We do specialty passes: for 20s, for 30s, Boomers (65+) discounted Quad Pack- 4 lift tickets for $249 which are transferable.

Wynn Smith purchased Sugarbush in 2001 (unfortunately, on September 10) and between 2004-2008, he rebuilt the entire Lincoln Peak Village (Mt Ellen is old school). There is a hotel, new lodge, two ski schools (one for adults, one for kids).

“We have the largest detachable quad, the Slide Brook Express, in world – 2 miles – connecting Mt Ellen & Lincoln Peak. You can ski the back country between and use a shuttle bus or  take the Slide Brook Express back,” says John Blley.

Cabin Cat Adventures also offer a great way to experience the mountain, whether it’s Allyn’s Lodge Fireside Dining at the top of Gadd Peak, Cabin Cat First Tracks on a powder day or Sunset Groomer Rides to the top of Lincoln Peak. Other activities available in Mad River Valley include ice-skating, an Icelandic horse farm, a locally owned movie theater and cross country skiing. (sugarbush.com)

Smugglers’ Notch Resort

Smugglers’ Notch Resort’s claim to fame is the total experience the resort offers. There is probably no other ski resort that is so focused on family togetherness, pioneering a vast array of activities families enjoy together as Smugglers Notch. Families can vary their vacation days by joining craft sessions, broomball challenges, scavenger hunts, snow cat tours, story times, and pool games (included in their Smugglers’ vacation package). Smuggs has also introduced S.T.E.A.M. activities that bring fun ways to explore science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. “We’ve cracked the code with new family dynamics,” said Michael Chait. “Kids get to see their parents play… Family programs touch on every family dynamic, from the new parent to the great grandparent.”

Smugglers Notch Resort, the family-friendliest of ski destinations, has terrain for every level of skier © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

FunZone 2.0 offers 26,000 square feet of indoor fun:  an adventure center (laser tag, climbing tower, giant slide), a café serving beer and wine, so parents can relax while kids play. Outdoor activities include snowmobile tours through the historic Smugglers’ Notch pass, and CatTrax heated-cabin snow cat rides to the summits of Smugglers’ most popular peaks.

There’s so much to do, this is the ski resort you want to stay longer at – not just ski and stay – 43 pages of activities in 7-day period.  Everybody has something even if they don’t ski. There are even activity packages that don’t include skiing.

The condo-style accommodations provide plenty of space for families to spread out, have meals and snacks in the condo (every condo has a crock pot; there is a country store on the mountain with the essentials and a grocery store 15 minutes away that you can shop at on the drive up).

Apart from its reputation as the most family-friendly ski resort anywhere, there is serious skiing to be had on three mountains: Morse (all green, so there is a natural separation of ability) while Madonna and Sterling are big, steep and deep; Sterling has a great variety of cruisers (great for intermediates) to bump up skill on short black. Madonna is the toughest, with some of the steepest trails (even a double-black) in the East, but there are also a couple of blues from top (Chilcoot and Drifter). (smuggs.com)

Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports

Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports serves people with physical, cognitive and emotional/behavioral disabilities from all over the world of all abilities in three Vermont ski destinations during the winter: Killington Resort and Pico Mountain in Killington; Sugarbush Resort in Warren; and Bolton Valley Ski Area in Bolton (though with enough notice, programs can be organized at other resorts as well). Summer programs are provided state-wide. Many of the programs include environmental educationwellness, and special programs designed specifically for veterans.

If a family member uses wheelchair, we can provide instruction. Scholarships are available for those for whom cost is a factor. The organization offers veterans programs all over the state – ski and snowboarding in winter, mountain biking in summer.

Vermont Adaptive is a nationally recognized organization that empowers people of all abilities through inclusive sports and recreational programming regardless of ability to pay. In addition to sports, year-round programming options integrate environmental, holistic wellness, and competitive training philosophies for people of all ages with cognitive, developmental, physical and emotional disabilities.

“We are recognized nationally for our client-centered programs and for providing access and instruction to sports and recreational activities with the belief that these things provide a physical, mental and social experience that is immeasurable in promoting self-confidence and independence in an individual,” said Lexi Moore, team manager.

Vermont Adaptive offers the largest variety of program opportunities and specialized equipment. Vermont Adaptive promotes independence and furthers equality through access and instruction to sports and recreational opportunities including alpine skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports; kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding, sailing, cycling, hiking, rock climbing, tennis, horseback riding, environmental programs and CORE Connections wellness retreats.

With nearly 400 active volunteers, plus generous partners and sponsors, and an amazing base of clients and friends, Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports has been at the forefront of sports and recreation for those with disabilities for more than 30 years. (vermontadaptive.org)

To information or help choosing a destination, contact Ski Vermont, 802-223-2439, info@skivermont.com, or visit skivermont.com.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Vail’s Epic Pass, Alterra’s Ikon & SkiCom Give New Direction to Ski Holidays

Alta Ski Area, Utah, is one of 41 ski resorts around the world included for Alterra Mountain Company’s Ikon Pass holders © Eric Leiberman/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The ski industry has done something very clever – much akin to the hotel and airline loyalty programs keep you within their brand. Two giants have emerged, through acquisition or operation of mountain resorts and through partnerships that give both global reach: Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass and Alterra Mountain Company’s Ikon Pass. This year, both have enhanced their programs with value, reach and even flexibility.

There are still programs that are more local and smaller scale like Liftopia and The Mountain Collective, and independent mountains have reacted with programs aimed at the “Uncommitteds” with extremely inexpensive pass programs or validity through holidays and peak dates when other passes may be blacked out.

But hurry: the last date to purchase the passes is Nov. 24.

But the passes only get you up the mountain. Organizing all the logistics and elements of a ski vacation – from transportation, to accommodations, to rentals to activities on and off the mountain, even choosing from among the hundreds of choices the appropriate destination for a long-haul ski holiday – is the bailiwick of a company like Ski.com.

Here’s a rundown:

Epic Pass is Epic

No question about it: Vail Resorts has stormed the entire East Coast ski market, just this season adding 17 resorts in one fell swoop with its acquisition of Peak Resorts, including such iconic destinations as Mount Snow in Vermont and Hunter Mountain in New York to a list that already included Stowe and Okemo Mountain in Vermont (and Okemo’s sister resorts, Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire and Crested Butte in Colorado), Now add in Attitash Mountain Resort, Wildcat Mountain and Crotched Mountain in New Hampshire and Liberty Mountain Resort, Roundtop Mountain Resort, Whitetail Resort, Jack Frost and Big Boulder in Pennsylvania plus seven more in the Midwest, all of which are included on this season’s Epic Pass.

New for 2019/20 – The Epic Pass now offers access to Sun Valley, Snowbasin, Rusutsu-Japan, and the 17 Peak Resorts ski areas, including Hunter Mountain, New York and Mount Snow, Vermont. Also new for 2020: Access Falls Creek and Hotham, Australia.

The vastness of Park City, Utah, included in Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 2019-20 Epic Pass, Epic Local Pass, Epic Australia Pass and Military Epic Pass now include unlimited and unrestricted access to each of the 17 newly acquired Peak ski areas, in addition to the access provided to some of the world’s most well-known resorts including Vail, Whistler Blackcomb, Park City and Breckenridge. Guests with an Epic Day Pass are also able to access these 17 ski areas as a part of the total number of days purchased. For the 2019-20 season, Vail Resorts will honor all Peak Resorts pass products and continue to sell them through the fall. Current Peak Resorts’ pass holders now have the option to upgrade to an Epic Pass or Epic Local Pass.

Epic Pass™: For $969 for adults and $509 for children (ages five to 12), the Epic Pass offers:

Unlimited, unrestricted access to: Whistler Blackcomb, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Crested Butte, Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Stowe, Okemo, Mount Snow, Mount Sunapee, Attitash, Wildcat, Crotched, Hunter, Liberty, Roundtop, Whitetail, Jack Frost, Big Boulder, Stevens Pass, Alpine Valley, Boston Mills, Brandywine, Mad River, Hidden Valley, Snow Creek, Paoli Peaks, Afton Alps, Mt. Brighton, and Wilmot in North America. The Epic Pass also includes access to Perisher, Falls Creek, and Hotham in Australia.

Limited access to partner resorts, including: seven days at each of Telluride, Sun Valley, Snowbasin, and the Resorts of the Canadian Rockies; five consecutive days at Hakuba Valley, Japan’s ten ski resorts; five consecutive days at Japan’s Rusutsu Resort. The Epic Pass also grants limited access to Les 3 Vallées in France; 4 Vallées in Switzerland; and Skirama Dolomiti in Italy.

Epic Local Pass™: For $719 for adults, $579 for teens (ages 13 to 18) and $379 for children (ages five to 12), the Epic Local Pass offers:

Riding the bubble chair at Mount Snow, Vermont, the newest addition to Vail Resorts, now included in on the Epic Pass © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Unlimited, unrestricted access to: Breckenridge, Keystone, Crested Butte, Okemo, Mount Snow, Mount Sunapee, Attitash, Wildcat, Crotched, Hunter, Liberty, Roundtop, Whitetail, Jack Frost, Big Boulder, Stevens Pass, Alpine Valley, Boston Mills, Brandywine, Mad River, Hidden Valley, Snow Creek, Paoli Peaks, Afton Alps, Mt. Brighton, and Wilmot.

Unlimited access with holiday restrictions to: Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, and Stowe.

10 total days combined (with holiday restrictions) at: Vail, Beaver Creek, and Whistler Blackcomb.

Limited access to partner resorts, including: two days (with limited holiday restrictions) at Sun Valley; two days (with limited holiday restrictions) at Snowbasin; and five total consecutive days with no blackout dates at Hakuba Valley’s ten ski resorts in Japan; and five total consecutive days with no blackout dates at Rusutsu Resort.

Military Epic Pass™: For $159 for Active and Retired Military and their dependents and $559 for Veteran Military and their dependents, the      Military Epic Pass offers:

Unlimited, unrestricted access to: Whistler Blackcomb, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Crested Butte, Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Stowe, Okemo, Mount Snow, Mount Sunapee, Attitash, Wildcat, Crotched, Hunter, Liberty, Roundtop, Whitetail, Jack Frost, Big Boulder, Stevens Pass, Alpine Valley, Boston Mills, Brandywine, Mad River, Hidden Valley, Snow Creek, Paoli Peaks, Afton Alps, Mt. Brighton, and Wilmot in North America. The Military Epic Pass also includes access to Perisher, Falls Creek, and Hotham in Australia.

Okemo, Vermont is now part of Vail Resorts and included on the Epic Pass © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Epic Day PassAnnounced earlier this year as a part of Epic for Everyone, the Epic Day Pass provides unprecedented flexibility and season pass discounts to guests skiing as little as one day.

With the customizable pass, guests can unlock discounts of up to 50 percent off lift ticket window prices by selecting the number of days they plan to ski or ride – from one day to seven days – and whether or not to add holiday access.

Use the pass at any of the Company’s North American owned resorts, including Whistler Blackcomb, Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Crested Butte, Park City, and more, including the 17 new resorts. Those purchasing four or more days also get access to Telluride, Sun Valley, Snowbasin, and Resorts of the Canadian Rockies as a part of the total number of days purchased.

Skiing Keystone, Colorado, a Vail Resort included on the Epic Pass © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are also local passes.

Visit https://www.epicpass.com/pass-results/passes.aspx

IKON Pass Adds Zermatt, A-Basin

Alterra Mountain Company’s Ikon Pass expands its offerings this season with the addition of Zermatt in Switzerland (and the famous Matterhorn) and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in Colorado.

The addition of Zermatt brings the number of destinations available to Ikon Pass holders to 41 around the globe, across five continents, 12 states, 4 Canadian provinces, for a total of 84,385 acres of skiing and 4,857 trails.

The iconic Matterhorn towers over more than 3,500 acres (1,416 hectares) of terrain that spans both Switzerland and Italy, offering Swiss hospitality coupled with Italian lifestyle, in the highest skiable terrain offered in the picturesque Alps. Connected lift service offers Ikon Pass holders access to Rothorn, Gornergrat and the Schwarzsee-Matterhorn glacier paradise within the Zermatt ski area, plus Cervinia-Valtournenche ski areas in Italy, collectively known as Matterhorn ski paradise.

Ikon Pass holders will have seven-day access to Zermatt and the Matterhorn ski paradise network on the Ikon Pass with no blackout dates, and five-day access on the Ikon Base Pass, also with no blackout dates.

“The Matterhorn is a true icon known around the world, so we are thrilled to have Zermatt join the Ikon Pass community,” said Erik Forsell, Chief Marketing Officer for Alterra Mountain Company. “Ikon Pass strives to continually offer pass holders unique experiences in the mountains. Now they can experience Zermatt’s glacier skiing, traditional Swiss fondue, plus its infamous European après ski across two countries, on one pass.”

“Zermatt and Matterhorn ski paradise are pleased to be the first European destination on the Ikon Pass, and we look forward to offering our best Swiss quality and Italian lifestyle to Ikon Pass holders everywhere. We are excited to share our passion and devotion to skiing within the Ikon Pass community and its impressive destination partners across the globe,” said Sandra Zenhäusern, Director of Marketing, Zermatt Bergbahnen AG.

The Ikon Pass unlocks adventure with access to 41 iconic winter destinations across the Americas, Switzerland, Japan, Australia and New Zealand and is a collaboration of industry leaders – Alterra Mountain Company, Aspen Skiing Company, Boyne Resorts, POWDR, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Alta Ski Area, Snowbird, SkiBig3, Revelstoke Mountain Resort, Taos Ski Valley, Sugarbush Resort, Zermatt, Thredbo, Mt Buller, Niseko United, Valle Nevado, and NZ Ski. Alterra Mountain Company honors each destination’s unique character and authenticity.

A-Basin is located just 68 miles from Denver and boasts the longest season in Colorado, many seasons running through the 4th of July. Affectionately known as “The Legend,” A-Basin sits on the Continental Divide in the Rocky Mountains and offers a high-alpine, big-mountain experience, paired with a laid-back atmosphere. Its 1,428 acres of iconic terrain includes the East Wall and Montezuma Bowl, plus The Beavers and The Steep Gullies, some of North America’s newest terrain. The Beach, a stretch of prime real estate near the lower-mountain chairlifts, transforms into a Colorado après tradition.

Ikon Pass holders will have seven-day access to A-Basin on the Ikon Pass with no blackout dates, and five-day access on the Ikon Base Pass, with selected blackout dates.

Through a partnership, Winter Park Resort, Colorado, which is owned by the City of Denver, is included in the Ikon Pass © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Alterra Mountain Company’s Ikon Pass connects some of the most iconic mountains across North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Chile, delivering authentic, memorable snow adventures. The Ikon Pass unlocks access to a community of diverse destinations to ski and ride, including Aspen Snowmass, Steamboat, Winter Park Resort, Copper Mountain, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, and Eldora Mountain Resort in Colorado; Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, Mammoth Mountain, June Mountain and Big Bear Mountain Resort in California; Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming; Big Sky Resort in Montana; Stratton, Killington and Sugarbush Resort in Vermont; Snowshoe in West Virginia; Boyne Highlands and Boyne Mountain in Michigan; Crystal Mountain and The Summit at Snoqualmie in Washington; Tremblant in Quebec and Blue Mountain in Ontario, Canada; SkiBig3 in Alberta, Canada; Revelstoke Mountain Resort and Cypress Mountain in British Columbia, Canada; Sunday River and Sugarloaf in Maine; Loon Mountain in New Hampshire; Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico; Deer Valley Resort, Solitude Mountain Resort, Brighton Resort, Alta Ski Area, and Snowbird in Utah; Zermatt in Switzerland; Thredbo and Mt Buller in Australia; Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Mt Hutt in New Zealand; Niseko United in Japan, and Valle Nevado in Chile. Special offers are available at CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures, the world’s largest heli-skiing and heli-accessed hiking operation.

The Ikon Pass is available now at www.ikonpass.com.

Killington, Vermont, the largest ski resort in the Northeast, is part of the Ikon Pass © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Alterra Mountain Company is a family of 14 iconic year-round destinations, including the world’s largest heli-ski operation and the Ikon Pass. The company owns and operates a range of recreation, hospitality, real estate development, food and beverage, retail and service businesses. Headquartered in Denver, Colorado, Alterra Mountain Company spans six U.S. states and three Canadian provinces: Steamboat and Winter Park Resort in Colorado; Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, Mammoth Mountain, June Mountain and Big Bear Mountain Resort in California; Stratton in Vermont; Snowshoe in West Virginia; Tremblant in Quebec, Blue Mountain in Ontario; Crystal Mountain in Washington; Deer Valley Resort and Solitude Mountain Resort in Utah; and CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures in British Columbia. Also included in the portfolio is Alpine Aerotech, a worldwide helicopter support and maintenance service center in British Columbia, Canada. Alterra Mountain Company honors each destination’s unique character and authenticity and celebrates the legendary adventures and enduring memories they bring to everyone.

For more information, visit www.alterramtnco.com.

Ski .com Facilitates Planning Long-Haul Holidays

With the global reach of Epic Pass and Ikon, the whole world is now the skiers’ oyster, encouraging more and more people to venture to Europe, Asia and Australia for an entirely different downhill experience.

The passes create new incentives for season-pass holders to go further afield from their “local” or familiar mountain, even “shopping” for where the best snow may be or novel activities, amenities, vibe or ambiance. This makes the services of a travel agent with particular expertise in mountain resorts to assist with the logistics (air, car rental, lodging, even rentals, etc.) more in demand. SkiCom, a travel agency/broker specializing in skiing and mountain resorts, brings that expertise cultivated over 50 years, especially when venturing to more off-the-beaten track, even exotic or remote destinations, out of your comfort zone, where help with lodgings, transportation, and non-ski or après-ski activities brings extra value.

Ski.com’s 65 mountain travel experts live and breathe ski culture. They are ski and snowboard enthusiasts who know the intimate details about each resort because they’ve been there, and done that.

These experiences allow them to accurately determine which resort(s) and accommodation(s) is perfect for each customer, based on their interests and budget.

Another benefit of using a ski specialist to help coordinate a long-distance vacation is mitigating the cost. With the rising cost of skiing, “people want to make sure they’re receiving more value for the higher cost,” says Dan Sherman, Ski.com chief marketing officer. “This is where Ski.com can help. In addition for being able to hunt for the best price, we really excel by matching people with the vacation components that are right for them. Also, not too long ago, all you needed for a successful ski vacation was a hotel, a chairlift and a bar. Now, resorts offer world-class amenities, spas, dining, improved family and ski school facilities and additional on- and off-mountain activities.”

Deer Valley, Utah’s legendary Stein Eriksen Lodge. Ski.com can help coordinate all the elements of a ski holiday including accommodations, transportation, rentals, on and off mountain activities © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Founded in 1971 in the heart of Colorado ski country, Aspen-headquartered Ski.com is one of North America’s largest providers of mountain vacation packages and an industry leader in online travel technology. Ski.com is actually an amalgam of some of the most famous names in ski travel companies: beginning as Aspen Ski Tours, which became Ski.com in 1999; the company over time acquired Lynx Vacations, GoWest Tours, Adventures on Skis, Sportours, AnyMountain Tours, and Rocky Mountain Tours. The company has booked travel for more than one million skiers and riders.

Ski.com specializes in booking custom ski vacations at more than 120 of the most popular ski resorts and heli- and cat-skiing destinations in North America, Europe, Japan and South America, with relationships with more than 120 destinations worldwide and over 4,000 properties worldwide. It is a one-stop shop for custom ski vacation packages that can include everything from discounted lift tickets, lodging, flights, equipment rental, ground transfers, lessons and off-mountain activities (such as dogsledding or nordic skiing).

Visit Ski.com (you can do an on-line chat with a specialist) or call 800-908-5000 or 970-429-3099.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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