Tag Archives: holiday travel

Favorite Family Winter Holiday Places, Where Life-Long Memories are Made

Horse-drawn sleigh ride across a field at the Mountain Top Inn& Resort in the Vermont countryside is like a Currier & Ives painting come to life © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are lodgings you choose to hang your hat after skiing, and then there are lodgings you choose because they are absolutely enchanting, especially for the winter holidays, which have the added delight of providing proximity to great skiing – ideal for families when not everyone’s cup of tea is skiing. Here are some of our favorite places to spend the winter holidays:

Mountain Top Inn & Resort, where we had the most delightful Christmas last year, is breathtakingly enchanting, complete with rides on a horse-drawn sleigh gliding across its expansive fields, a Currier & Ives landscape come to life. The setting, on 350 acres with a 740-acre lake, and ringed  by the Green Mountain National Forest, offers its own 60 km cross-country ski trail network; 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). Mountain Top Inn & Resort, 195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com.

The Sagamore, a grand historic hotel dating back to the 1880s that sits on a private 70-acre island on Lake George, is a sensational self-contained resort in one of America’s oldest tourism destinations. It is just 45 minutes from Gore Mountain, one of the best ski destinations in the East, certainly in New York State (a shuttle is provided); also nearby is West Mountain (downhill skiing, tubing, night skiing) and Crandall Park (cross country skiing, night skiing). The full-service resort offers ice skating, snowshoeing, indoor pool and spa, special holiday activities, (www.thesagamore.com866.384.1944)

The Sagamore, a grand historic hotel dating back to the 1880s, is set on a private 70-acre island on Lake George © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mohonk Mountain House has been enchanting guests for more than 100 years. Founded by the Smiley Family in 1869, the Victorian castle resort, a National Historic Landmark, is set on cliffs overlooking a lake, nestled in the Hudson Valley surrounded by 40,000 acres of pristine forest, only 90 miles north of New York City. Mohonk offers a world-class 30,000 sq. ft. “eco-friendly” spa, indoor pool, a spectacular skating pavilion, rock climbing, 85 miles of trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. New winter “wellness” programming is designed to help guests combat the “winter blues” and embrace the beauty of the season, with new mindfulness offerings that include fireside meditation, winter forest bathing and mindfulness lectures. If you can pull yourself away from its warm embrace, downhill skiing in the Catskills (Hunter Mountain, Belleayre, Windham) is an hour away. (844-207-8372, www.mohonk.com)

Now an Omni Hotels resort, the elegant Mount Washington Hotel, “a favorite New England retreat of presidents, poets and celebrities,” is just across the road from New Hampshire’s largest ski area, Bretton Woods (yes, that famous mountain hotel where world leaders signed the 1944 Treaty of Bretton Woods ending the gold standard in, fittingly, the Gold Room), with numerous trails and glades and three terrain parks. The grand resort has its own cross-country skiing on the golf course; one of the longest zip line tours in New England (year-round); a full-service 25,000 sq. ft. spa; two 4-diamond dining rooms (one is a former speakeasy) and sleigh rides. (www.omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington)

Stockbridge, Massachusetts is another utterly picturesque New England village which is like a Norman Rockwell painting of Americana – in fact, its Main Street is immortalized in Rockwell’s “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas” that includes the Red Lion Inn, where we stayed one Christmas – so much character!  The Red Lion has been welcoming travelers to the Berkshires since 1773, one of New England’s few inns that has been operated continuously since before 1800. It is beyond charming – with early American furnishings, much of which has been in place for a century. It has hosted five presidents and other notables including Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Cullen Bryant, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  And much to do in Stockbridge, including the not-to-be-missed visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum, as well as Arrowhead Museum, the home of Herman Melville, in Pittsfield. (www.redlioninn.com).

We were able to combine our delightful holiday stay at the Red Lion with downhill skiing and snowboarding at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, the largest ski and snowboard resort in southern New England (37 Corey Road, Hancock MA 01237, www.jiminypeak.com, 413-738-5500).

A great source for fascinating places is Historic Hotels of America, www.historichotels.org and www.historichotelsworldwide.com, where you can find the perfect destination hotel or resort, intimately connected to the heritage, the people, the personality of the place, wherever you are headed.  

Skiing, a Great Way to Spend the Holidays

Skiing (and snowboarding) is the great equalizer for families, something that is adventurous and gets the adrenalin rushing, where you feel a satisfied sense of accomplishment, and where kids can show up their parents. The resorts, especially the self-contained ones built around a small village with cute cafes and boutiques, all do a superb job of being festive. And there’s nothing better after a vigorous, bracing day on the slopes, than coming back and getting cozy in the condo with hot chocolate, or smore’s over a firepit, or a steamy Jacuzzi, or setting out for the skating rink or hopping a gondola to a mountaintop restaurant.

Park City’s historic Main Street. The Hyatt Centric provides a free shuttle into the town each evening © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Park City, Utah, goes all out for the holidays and the town itself is utterly charming with sensational restaurants, boutiques, and you can fly out in the morning to Salt Lake City and be on the slopes, just 35 minutes away, by 1 pm. Park City Mountain celebrates the holiday season with Snowfest: a 16-day winter festival, Dec. 22-Jan. 6, featuring après ski events, musical acts, village entertainers, and activities including ice sculptures, s’mores roasting, meet-and-greets with the avalanche dogs and more. Activities will be presented at both the Park City Mountain Village and Canyons Village each day. On Monday, Dec. 24, Park City’s 56th annual Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade takes place, a tradition as old as the resort itself, when 100 Park City instructors ski down with lit torches creating a beautiful scene on the Mountain, joined by Santa Claus. The resort, the largest in the US with 7300 acres of terrain, two distinct base areas, nine hotels, two dozen restaurants and a new eight-passenger gondola, does an excellent job of interconnecting with Park City itself, a most charming Western town. Book 7 days in advance online for discounts on lift tickets; check out holiday packages, events and lodging and updates on terrain and weather reports at ParkCityMountain.com. (Also visit snow.com for info on all the Vail Resorts.)

The intoxicating view at Park City Mountain, Utah, which after being combined with The Canyons, is now the biggest ski area in the US © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Hyatt Centric at the Canyons base, which has been a superb lodging for our stay and has its  own lift for ski in/out convenience, and is just a five-minute walk to the shops and restaurants, let us use the outdoor heated pool, hot tubs, sauna and lockers after we were checked out. Our two-bedroom condo (the hotel has 27 two-bedroom suites, which can be turned into 3 bedroom suites, and 15 one-bedroom suites) is unbelievably spacious, outfitted with every possible amenity including a full-kitchen, a dining table that seats eight, three TVs, a Jacuzzi bathtub in the master bedroom, four balconies, windows everywhere there open up to the gorgeous outdoors, and washer/dryer (so convenient when you ski).The hotel also offers a free nighttime shuttle into historic Park City (parkcity.centric.hyatt.com).

Similarly, Lake Placid is a charming village that is the hub for Whiteface in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Plenty to do, from the Olympic ice skating oval and museum downtown, to Olympic venues (you can even do bobsled, skeleton, biathalon, go up the Ski Jump towers, cross-country – even if there is someone in the family who doesn’t ski, or even if do, there is so much to enrich a trip. (Try to also fit in a hike through Ausable Chasm, incredible in winter).  It’s not for nothing SKI Magazine named Lake Placid #1 ski town for Off-Hill activities.

The Bobsled Experience: Lake Placid is the only area in the Northeast where you can experience bobsled, luge and skeleton. You get to “slide” with a professional driver and pusher © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We loved our festive holiday stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, which offers a shuttle bus up to Whiteface, but also is a hub for all that Lake Placid offers: walking distance to the Olympic Oval ice skating rink and museum or ice skate on Mirror Lake just outside the resort; lovely shops and restaurants, and the local “toboggan roller coaster.” Also dog-sledding across the frozen surface of Mirror Lake and guided snowshoeing at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. (www.golden-arrow.com, 844-209-8080)

Other favorite New York State ski destinations: Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks (North Creek is a delightful village to stay), Belleayre, Windham, Hunter Mountain in the Catskills. (See Ski New York, www.iskiny.com, for more ideas.)

Other favorites for the holiday vibe as well as great skiing: Smugglers Notch (a complete, self-contained mountain destination that is tops for families), Mount Snow, Stratton (now part of Ikon Pass) and Okemo (now part of Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass) in the Northeast (see SkiVermont.com);  Heavenly and Northstar around Lake Tahoe, California; Vail, Breckenridge (a historic town), Keystone Resort (sensational for families, easy to reach from Denver International Airport) in Colorado. Great source for ski holidays, Ski.com, a ski-specializing travel agency.

Warmer-Weather Winter Favorites 

St. Simons Island is one of Georgia’s Golden Isles, lying midway between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. The islands are a popular resort playground, offering a mix of natural beauty, rich history and quaint charm, coupled with the allure of inviting year-round weather (winter temps are in the low 60s). Visitors are enchanted by the natural canopy of moss-draped live oaks and the memorable Tree Spirits, hand-carved images of weathered faces that immortalize the area’s sailors who lost their lives at sea. The King and Prince, a member of Historic Hotels of America, offers a complete resort experience, including oceanfront dining, beachfront activities to horseback riding, tennis, biking and fishing. A variety of tours are available that provide samplings of the area’s history and culture, whether by foot, bike, trolley or boat.There are five oceanfront pools including a heated pool; enjoy golf at its famous The King and Prince Golf Course, and tennis. What I especially love is the opportunity to explore St. Simons – especially by bike. There are also dolphin cruises, shrimp boat excursion, kayaking, historic trolley tours of the island. Take time to explore Fort Frederica National Monument (which was an entire settlement, dating from 1736), Christ Church, and St. Simons Lighthouse & Museum. (www.kingandprince.com, 800-342-0212; member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)

Eau Palm Resort in Manalapan, on Palm Beach Island, is an intimate ocean retreat, luxurious and comfortable; traditional and modern; playful and indulgent, situated on seven private Atlantic beachfront acres, magnificently landscaped with lush gardens and exquisite pools © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eau Palm Resort in Manalapan, on Palm Beach Island, is a very special place. An intimate ocean retreat, it is both luxurious and comfortable; traditional and modern; playful and indulgent. Situated on the sweeping back drop of Florida’s Gold Coast with seven private Atlantic beachfront acres, magnificently landscaped with lush gardens and exquisite pools,  it is one of only two Forbes Five-Star resorts in Palm Beach and eight in Florida. The award-winning Eau Spa is not to be missed. The resort offers an imaginative array of activities, from stand-up paddleboarding, to snorkeling in aquamarine waters, to surfing lessons, tennis. Borrow a complimentary cruiser bike to explore Palm Beach on a fabulous recreational trail. Palm Beach also offers many wonderful museums and historic attractions also, like the Flagler Museum; try to fit in a visit to the Palm Beach Zoo if you can pull yourself from the beach and the stunning pools. (www.eaupalmbeach.com, 800-328-0170).

One of our favorite places is the Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray Beach, Florida – if  Cole Porter were a hotel, it would be this one, and just steps away from Delray Beach (I think one of the nicest, most scenic beaches on the Florida’s Atlantic coast); the hotel even has its own private beachfront country club. Delray Beach is a sumptuous confection of art and culture, once voted “America’s Most Fun Small Town.”  Among the features are complimentary breakfast buffet; wifi at hotel & club; fitness room; weekend live entertainment; walk to beach and access to private beach club with a saltwater pool).  (www.thecolonyhotel.com, 561-276-4123, 800-552-2363; a member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)

Colony Hotel, Delray Beach, Florida is a luscious confection that has you singing Cole Porter songs © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another way to get into the spirit of “America’s Most Fun Small Town” is a stay at the  Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel & Tiki Bar, which puts you right in the middle of all the activity Delray Beach offers, including a short walk to the beach, and yet makes you feel so far away, in some tranquil, private tropical retreat. It’s whimsical and fun. A fabulous buffet breakfast is served under the thatch roof of the tiki bar. (cranesbeachhouse.com, 561-278-1700, 866-372-7263).

Leave time to explore Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Wakodahatchee (best birding anywhere), Loxahatchee (kayak or canoe in the Everglades, look for alligators!) and Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens.

The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs is wrapping up its centennial celebrations with the recent unveiling of its largest, grandest holiday gingerbread display ever, a 13 ½-foot-tall, 11×11-120-square-foot gingerbread replica of the original 1918 Broadmoor resort. Situated at the gateway to the Colorado Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs, The Broadmoor and its Wilderness Experience properties of The Ranch at Emerald Valley, Cloud Camp and Fishing Camp encompass 5,000 acres. The resort campus has 784 rooms, suites and cottages. It includes championship golf courses, a Forbes Five-Star spa and fitness center, indoor pool, nationally recognized tennis staff and program, 24 retail boutiques and 10 restaurants and 10 additional cafes and lounges, including Colorado’s only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond restaurant Penrose Room. Other activities include falconry, guided mountain biking, hiking, rock-climbing tours, fly-fishing, paintball and more. The Broadmoor owns and manages attractions that include Seven Falls and The Broadmoor Soaring Adventure zip-line courses. During the winter season, Broadmoor guests may choose from a wide selection of complimentary weekend activities and classes designed to enlighten, excite, educate—or simply enjoy, including cooking classes, wine and spirits demos, fly casting instruction, golf instruction, dance classes, fitness classes. Holiday activities include Christmas dining events, face painting, carnival games, laser tag, and story time. Nearby activities include: Bear Creek Nature Center, Cave of the Winds, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Children’s Museum, Florissant Fossil Beds, Hiking in North Cheyenne Canyon, Manitou Cliff Dwellings, ProRodeo Hall of Fame, The Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, Royal Gorge Bridge, World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame, The Broadmoor Seven Falls, Western Museum of Mining, and World Ice Skating Arena. (www.broadmoor.com, 855-634-7711)

More Holiday Travel Ideas

Cruising is a great way for families to be together for the holidays. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises do a superb job for families, with spectacular entertainment, waterparks and other mind-blowing activities on board and age-appropriate children’s activity programs and dining options. These floating resorts bring families together around activities and interests, dining and entertainment, adding in the incalculable delight in exploring new places. Our family treasures our multi-generational reunion on a Carnival cruise during Christmas week that called at Key West and Cozumel (Mexico), both such colorful places. Your travel agent can best advise on choosing a ship, a cruiseline, an itinerary; also visit cruisecritic.com.

Visit Harry Potter at Hogwarts at Universal Studios Orlando © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Theme parks really deck the halls for the holidays, with parades, decorations, special activities. Our favorites include Universal Studios Orlando (loved our stay at the Loews Portofino), DisneyWorld (we had a really fun time at the Coco Key Hotel outside Disney, with its own waterpark and shuttle transport to the park), Busch Gardens Tampa (an outstanding zoo as much as it is a theme park) and Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

Close to home and an absolutely delightful theme park destination is Hershey Park (particularly great for families with younger kids): Its most festive seasonal event of the year, Hersheypark Christmas Candylane includes 4 million lights in a choreographed light show, 45 rides and coasters, entertainment, a visit with Santa. “Hersheypark Christmas Candylane Package,” available on select dates Nov. 16 – Dec. 29, includes one night accommodations at The Hotel Hershey (a grand, historic hotel) or Hershey Lodge resort and one day Hersheypark admission for the whole family, milk & cookie delivery, admission for 1 vehicle to Hershey Sweet Lights attraction. Also visit  ZooAmerica, an 11-acre zoo with 200 animals open year-round. (www.hersheypark.com, 717-534-3900).

Taking a trail ride at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dude ranches are a hoot; no matter your age, you wind up being a kid again. We had an entirely different holiday experience the Christmas we spent at Pine Ridge Dude Ranch (formerly the Pinegrove Ranch, was acquired this year by the former barn manager and two long-time guests). It’s an old-fashioned all-inclusive Catskills Mountains family resort with horses and a “Toy Story” cowboy vibe. So festive, warm, friendly and utterly delightful.  It’s a nonstop giggle for children of all ages. Parents will slip back into their own childhoods while making new childhood memories for their own kids. There are activities galore, indoor pool, even laser tag, archery, tubing, iceskating, plus nightly shows and entertainment, three meals daily plus snacks and the holiday atmosphere is so special. Riding horses over snow-covered trails is really special. They regularly offer specials for Christmas and holiday times (some families return each year). Pine Ridge Dude Ranch, 30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson N.Y. 12446, Ulster County, 845-626-7345, reservations@pineridgeduderanch.com, www.pineridgeduderanch.com.

Rocking Horse Ranch is a perennial family favorite. In the best tradition of Catskills resorts (all-inclusive) and dude ranch, it offers unlimited horseback riding, an indoor water park, live shows and entertainment, meals and tastings. Activities include bungee trampoline, rock climbing wall, mountain tubing, a spa and “exotic wildlife” exhibit (600 State Route 44/55, Highland, NY 12528, 800-647-2624, www.rockinghorseranch.com).

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Favorite Places to Travel to Spend the Christmas Holidays

An urban resort stay:Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC offers a spectacular Christmas on the Potomac festival including ICE! where you get to go down an ice slide kept frozen at 9 degrees © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have so many fond memories of Christmases past, spent in charming, festive places that capture the magic and spirit of the season, and most importantly, bring our family together with experiences we share.

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, has a festive feel, and most important, doesn’t shut down and close up for the holidays. 

Christmas in the Capital

Washington DC certainly fits this bill – you can spend all your time just on the National Mall, visiting iconic museums like the National Air & Space Museum (a major favorite for families, great café also)), the relatively new Museum of the American Indian, the even newer Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, the National Portrait Gallery, National Archives, and just across the avenue is the gorgeous National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden ice skating rink and charming café (also skating at The Wharf, Georgetown, and Capitol Riverfront). Go further afield to the Spy Museum and if the weather permits, the National Zoo (easy access by Metro).

Ice skating on the Sculpture Garden rink across from the National Archives. Washington DC is one of the best destinations for family travel over the Christmas holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Best way to take in the Capital city’s holiday lights is with these free offerings: Tour America’s historic train stations in miniature at Seasons Greenings: All Aboard! at the U.S. Botanic Gardens (thru Jan. 2); Smithsonian National Zoo dazzles with more than 500,000 LED lights, snowless tubing and more at ZooLights, 5-9 pm thru Jan.1, (closed Dec. 24, 25, 31); take in National Christmas tree in President’s Park on the Ellipse is attended by 56 decorated state and territory trees and Santa’s Workshop and enjoy nightly musical performances thru Dec. 31.

Also memorable: George Washington’s Mount Vernon celebrates the season with Colonial dancing, chocolate-making and caroling, Nov. 23-Dec. 31; candlelit tours run Nov. 23, 24, 30; Dec. 1, 7, 8, 16.There are Holiday in the Park thrills at Six Flags America with lights, rides and s’mores: Nov. 23-25, Dec. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 21-23, 26-31. Among the holiday performances underway: National Symphony Orchestra’s Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 20-23); at Warner Theatre, the Washington Ballet’s Nutcracker recasts the classic in the Lincoln White House (Nov. 29-Dec. 28); and Richly Dressed, A Christmas Carol (Nov. 15-Dec. 30) at Ford’s Theatre.

Find inspiration for memorable getaways on Destination DC’s holiday landing page on washington.org, and its Instagram and Facebook channels, including festive hotel packages, menus, holiday lights, ice skating rinks, gift markets, can’t-miss exhibitions and events across the city’s welcoming neighborhoods. Help with planning is available from a DC travel expert weekdays 8:30 am-5 pm, 800-422-8644.

To really get into the spirit, stay at the elegant and historic Willard InterContinental  (it’s a stone’s throw from the White House and was where Abraham Lincoln stayed before his inauguration) which transforms into a holiday-inspired wonderland, a beloved tradition that both locals and visitors have come to anticipate each year, with its display of yuletide trimmings, musical fanfare and epicurean delights thru January 1. The centerpiece is the treasured Christmas tree, boasting decades of sentiment on each carefully curated branch. The Willard is the only hotel in Washington  to feature the White House Ornament Collection, an initiative founded by the White House Historical Association in 1981: each ornament honors a different U.S. President or special White House event. This year honors Harry S. Truman, 33rd president, and the three significant changes made during his administration – one to the Presidential Seal and two to the White House itself. Another iconic facet of the hotel’s décor is their picturesque gingerbread display in the lobby that pays tribute to an iconic landmark in and around D.C.  This year’s display pays homage to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and with a magnificent replica that will include all terminals, lighted runways, a control tower and even parts of the Washington Metro.  

Turn your visit into a complete resort stay at the Gaylord National Resort which has its Christmas on the Potomac festival that is not to be missed (whether or not you stay), that includes ICE! where you walk through a winter wonderland carved from over 2 million pounds of ice, this year telling the holiday tale of A Charlie Brown Christmas www.ChristmasOnThePotomac.com. (https://www.marriott.com/gaylord-hotels/gaylord-national-harbor-christmas-on-the-potomac.mi)

Christmas in Newport

Newport, Rhode Island is always enchanting, but never more so than at the winter holidays, when, it seems, the entire town is one big festival. There’s a palpable elation throughout the City-by-the Sea during Christmas in Newport, a month-long celebration toasting simple traditions of the holiday season. For nearly 50 years, this event has made for an extraordinary holiday respite in a quaint New England coastal town. White lights illuminate homes, shops, restaurants and the bustling wharves in a ritual meant to represent candlelight from days gone by, when families would wait for their loved ones to return home from their seafaring adventures. Holiday events are tailored to entertain every age, including tree lightings, Polar Express train rides, historical tours, shopping strolls, concerts and dances like the Newport Nutcracker, Island Moving Company’s rendition of the classic holiday ballet, Victorian-era Christmas festivities, culinary fêtes, arts and cultural celebrations and more. (Where else but Newport can you gaze at a 16-foot working gingerbread lighthouse?) (See discovernewport.org, 800-326-6030, for trip planning help.)

The Great Hall of The Breakers, decked out for the holidays, part of Christmas at the Newport Mansions and festivities that take over the City-by-the-Sea, Newport, RI.

Christmas at the Newport Mansions returns to The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House with newly imagined holiday decor thru Jan. 1. The three houses offer a total of 25 large decorated Christmas trees, plus additional smaller potted trees and topiaries. Windows in each mansion are lit with individual white candles. New this year, professional event designers will create contemporary holiday tablescapes in the dining rooms at Marble House and The Elms, and in the Breakfast Room of The Breakers, to provide inspiration and ideas to visitors for ways they can decorate their own holiday tables.

Holiday Evenings at the Newport Mansions recreate the ambiance of an evening soirée during the Gilded Age: at The Breakers are Saturdays, December 1, 8, 22 and 29, 6-8 p.m; On December 15, guests can visit both The Elms and Marble House for the price of one, 6-9 p.m. ($35 in advance, $45 day-of the event. Children 6-17 are admitted for $10 in advance, $15 day-of. Children under the age of 6 free. More information and tickets are available online or call (401) 847-1000.

The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House open daily for tours, except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, through Jan. 1. Rosecliff will also be open in December, with a new exhibition, Bill Cunningham: Facades, featuring photographs by the late New York Times photographer. A Winter Passport ticket providing daytime admission to up to 4 houses can be purchased for $30 for adults, $10 for children 6-17. Children under the age of 6 are admitted free. Individual house tickets are also available. Tickets can be purchased online or at each property. (Program information at newportmansions.org.)

A chanteuse entertains at The Vanderbilt, a Grace hotel, that was originally built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, third son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt, who died heroically in the sinking of the Lusitania © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are any number of marvelous hotels and inns to accommodate. We loved our holiday stay at The Vanderbilt, a historic boutique hotel a short walk (and what a rooftop view) to Newport’s delightful waterfront, which makes you feel like a Vanderbilt. In fact, it was originally built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, third son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt, who died heroically in the sinking of the Lusitania. The 1909 mansion has been restored to its former glory and is one of the few private homes of the era to operate for guests as a fully functioning luxury hotel in Rhode Island. The Vanderbilt offers 33 rooms and luxury suites, a lavish spa, indoor and outdoor pools, and a signature restaurant, The Vanderbilt Grill. A Grace Hotel, it is now part of the Auberge Resort Collection (www.gracehotels.com/vanderbilt/).

More Favorite Places for the Winter Holidays 

Manchester, Vermont, a delightful New England village, hosts six weeks of holiday merriment, across the Manchester and the Mountains Region (a whole village of outlet shops, too!). There are tours of decorated inns, pub crawls with local restaurants offering special pairings, a Lighted Tractor Parade, and the Elf Express Train ride. A highlight of any visit to Manchester is a tour Hildene, Robert Todd Lincoln’s estate, festooned in Victorian finery, just as it might have been when they stayed for the holidays so many years ago. Take the self-guided tour; throughout December, talented musicians play Mary Lincoln’s Steinway and the vintage Aeolian organ (www.hildene.org). (Trip planning help at visitmanchestervt.com/merriment).

One of our favorite places to stay for the holidays in Manchester is the historic Equinox, where Mary Todd Lincoln would spend summers. The Equinox has since become a four-season luxury resort with every imaginable amenity including world-class spa, indoor pool, Orvis fly fishing school, a falconry school, Range Rover driving school. Besides outlet shopping and historic sites such as  Hildene, the Equinox is also a short drive to superb downhill skiing at Stratton, Bromley and Magic Mountain (www.equinoxresort.com, 800-362-4747).

Woodstock, Vermont is the quintessential New England village, oozing charm and its centerpiece is the historic Woodstock Inn. An AAA Four Diamond resort, it is decked out in holiday finery and activities galore (Tubbs Snowshoe Adventure Center, cross-country skiing, luxurious spa and indoor recreation center with tennis, visits to the fascinating Billings Farm & Museum, downhill skiing at the resort’s own Suicide Six ski hill, with Killington just 25 minutes away and Okemo 40 minutes away. Founded by the Rockefellers, the Woodstock Inn & Resort is owned and operated by The Woodstock Foundation, Inc.  Proceeds from Resort operations support The Woodstock Foundation and Billings Farm & Museum education and conservation programs. Find vacation packages and specials at www.woodstockinn.com.

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

One of my most memorable Christmases was spent in Wilmington, Delaware, the hub for nearby historic Newcastle and the whole Brandywine Valley Region. There are scores of holiday attractions and activities –Longworth Gardens, famous for its holiday decorations and enchanting Dancing Fountains (open even on Christmas Day), “Yuletide at Winterthur” Museum, Gardens and Library with its sensational holiday performances; the fascinating Hagley Museum and DuPont Mansion; the Brandywine River Museum of Art with its unparalleled collection of  Wyeth family art and nearby historic towns of Old New Castle and Odessa (http://thebrandywine.com/attractions/index.html). See schedule at https://www.visitwilmingtonde.com/events/holiday/

Staying at the historic Hotel DuPont, makes it all the more special; that Christmas Eve we walked across the street to participate in the evening church services. (www.hoteldupont.com)

Christmas in Victorian Cape May, NJ

Victorian Cape May at Christmas offers six weeks of festive tours and events sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) through Jan. 1.Take a guided, daytime, living history tour of the magnificent 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, decorated in authentic Victorian style for Christmas, during Physick Family Christmas House Tours, presented from the viewpoint of a member of the Physick family in the early 1900s. The tour also includes a visit to the Carroll Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate where you can see “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) through Jan. 1,; hours vary. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8. There are historic district trolley tours (many themed, like Ghosts of Christmas Past), house tours, Lamplighter Christmas Tours which are self-guided evening tours of Cape May’s inns and private homes, specially decorated for the holidays. Here, the perfect place to stay is in one of the historic inns (www.capemay.com/stay). For more information. Contact Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), 609-884-5404 or 800-275-4278 or visit www.capemaymac.org.

Go back even further in time at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, a living-history museum, fill out the visit with Busch Gardens Williamsburg and other attractions including the Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, where you will experience  Christmastide in Virginia. (Dec. 20-31), offering a glimpse of 17th and 18th century holiday traditions including daily appearances by the Lord of Misrule at Jamestown Settlement and period musical entertainment at both museums. At Busch Gardens, enjoy Christmas Town (select dates through January 5) offers one of the largest light displays in North America with more than 10 million lights. New this year, Busch Gardens Railway turns into the Christmas Town Express, with caroling, 2 million lights, holiday-themed vignets along the 1.5 mile route around the theme park; plus 25 rides are open including InvadR and Verbolten roller coasters. (Planning help at www.visitwilliamsburg.com). Complete the magical experience with a stay at the grand, historic Williamsburg Inn, a full-service luxury (five Diamond) resort (www.colonialwilliamsburghotels.com).

Christmas at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

St Petersburg, Florida affords the unparalleled opportunity to combine arts, culture, heritage with a glamorous, historic and grand beach resort, the DonCesar Resort, known as “the Pink Lady” (www.doncesar.com). 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 through Jan. 6; watch special Santa dive presentations at Mavis’s Rescue Hideaway (CMA holiday fun). 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) through Dec. 30.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!  (through Dec. 31). (www.visitstpeteclearwater.com)

Trade pine trees for palm trees for the winter holidays at Loews Don CeSar (the “Pink Lady”), on St. Pete Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

San Francisco has so many amazing attractions and charms (I can’t get enough of the trolley cars or the trolley museum), but really gets decked out for the holidays when the entire city becomes a Gallery of Light Art.  Now in its sixth year, “Illuminate SF Festival of Light” celebrates 37 dramatic, eco-friendly light art installations located throughout San Francisco. Located in 17 different neighborhoods, the works, by 30 local and world-renowned light artists, are accessible by public transport and many are free for all to view, thru New Year’s Day. The works come to life at dusk throughout the city with a luminescence that will turn any evening into an illuminating adventure, especially when combined with exploring San Francisco’s world-class museums performing arts and restaurants. The light art can be found in neighborhoods in the Embarcadero along the waterfront, in North Beach, Civic Center, Central Market, the Inner Sunset, South of Market (SoMa), Potrero, Mission Bay, Bayview, Golden Gate Park, Hayes Valley, South Beach, the Castro, the Mission District and even flying in or out of San Francisco International Airport (SFO). (The San Francisco Travel Association offers a guide to all of the installations and artists at www.illuminatesf.com; plan your visit at www.sftravel.com.)

One of the light art installations that decorate San Francisco for the holidays, “Photosynthesis Love for all Seasons” by Ralsy Sabater.

Combine city and country with a stay at The Tenaya Lodge at the doorstep to Yosemite National Park.  Families are delighted by the festive décor and special holiday activities, including gingerbread house and ornament decoraiting workshops, live lobby music, a  Christmas Eve reading with Mrs. Claus, and Dinner with Santa. The resort has its own ice skating rink, sleds, horse-drawn sleigh rides, showshoes.  And this holiday season, the resort is helping California wildfire victims by donating $25 toward  CalFund’s Wildfire Relief Fund on stays booked with this offer where you also save 15% on holiday stays, Dec. 21 to Jan. 6, two-night minimum stay, promo: HOLIDAYS (www.tenayalodge.com).

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

Historic train car turned into an enchanting sleeping room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga, Tennessee © 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, 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 interesting stay. (Chattanooga Choo Choo, 400 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402, 800-TRACK-29 (872-2529, www.choochoo.com.)

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© 2018 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

This Holiday Season Give the Gift that Transcends Borders and Time: Travel

Venice, Italy. Take advantage of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and holiday deals to give the gift of travel. Perillo Tours is offering $500 off per couple on all 2019 Italy escorted tours on Black Friday © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

Many complain that the true spirit of the holidays have been corrupted by crass materialism. But there are ways to be less material and incorporate values – family values, social values, environmental values, global values – into your gift giving. Think travel.

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

But it is also possible that we can use gift-giving to support or help sustain heritage, culture, environment.

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: 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, which usually have special items oriented around major exhibitions, and you wouldn’t believe the great Harry Potter items you can get at the New-York Historical Society, in conjunction with its “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” exhibit (www.nyhistory.org),  to list just a few.

The gift of travel can be invaluable to support important institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, through visitor fees, purchases at the store and online catalog, and purchasing memberships, some, like the Smithsonian Institution, even sponsor tours and magazines © 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.

Another gift idea is to purchase family memberships in these entities, which gives a sense of “ownership” and encourages multiple visits as well as giving access to benefits.

Just call or go online to your favorite museum, zoo, aquarium, preserve, historic site or attraction and you will likely find a store or various ways to support the organization with your gift.

You can give a donation that preserves the planet and good social purpose, often getting something material in the bargain. In recent years, I have “purchased” an acre for preservation and sent a furry animal and booklet to my niece and nephew through the Nature Conservancy (nature.org/gifts and there is an actual catalog); became a member of the Smithsonian Institution  and received not only a subscription to the outstanding Smithsonian Magazine for myself, but a free subscription/membership to give as a gift, not to mention the incredible journeys offered through the Smithsonian (www.smithsonianmag.com); enrolled my loved one as a member of the National Parks Conservation Association so they received a fleece blanket plus the NPCA magazine; made donations on behalf of my loved ones to National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service which earned gifts as well as membership benefits.  A gift membership to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, for example, gives access to online guides to bike trails and often some giveaway like a hat (www.railstotrails.org).

Hiking the John Muir Trail in Yosemite National Park. You can gift a donation to National Parks Conservation Association and also receive a fleece blanket plus the NPCA magazine in support of national parks; national parks are also supported by the Subaru Share the Love Event © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can give a gift that supports important organizations which protect destinations, historic or cultural sites, or the mission of exploration, like  National Wildlife Federation (my nieces enjoy their holiday subscriptions to Ranger Rick magazines I’ve gifted them for years, nwf.org). Also on my holiday list: Audubon Society(www.audubon.org), the Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org/store), the Wildlife Conservation Society (www.wcs.org); and World Wildlife Fund (wwfus.org).

The Rainforest Trust has a completely new twist to raise funds during this season: a public auction for the naming rights to one of 12 species recently uncovered in South America https://auctions.freemansauction.com/auction-catalog/1618B).

Many worthy organizations are also supported by purchases: the National Park Foundation, which supports national parks, gets support from Subaru of America through its annual Subaru Share the Love Event, now through January 2; over the past decade, the event has raised over $7 million for national parks. Earthwatch Institute, which offers “civilians” the opportunity to join real scientific research expeditions (earthwatch.org) is supported by purchases made through AmazonSmile (https://smile.amazon.com). When you buy travel insurance through World Nomads, you can make microdonations to support local communities (the site also steers people to responsible travel, https://www.worldnomads.com/make-a-difference/responsible-travel/).

Consider these organizations for support on Giving Tuesday.

Trips That Make a Difference 

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)

andBeyond has launched philanthropic-focused itineraries in Tanzania, Kenya, and South Africa to give guests a first-hand look at its core ethos of caring for the land, wildlife, and people.

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),

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).

Adventure Life, a tour operator, 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).

WorldVentures Foundation offers 42 VolunTours in 12 countries — professionally planned and guided trips where volunteers spend time beautifying communities, building infrastructure and brightening the lives of local children – reported that its 2017 programs impacted the lives of more than 50,000 children around the globe with over 50,000 volunteer hours (worldventures.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/),  Volunteer Guide (volunteerguide.org), 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.

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 as examples.

National Geographic is offering up to $1000 off each child under 18 who travels with you on its family-friendly National Geographic-Lindblad expeditions to Alaska and Galapagos (booked by Dec. 31). 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 (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/expeditions/). Traveling with National Geographic helps further the work of its scientists, explorers, and educators around the world (natgeo.com/giveback).

Also, 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).

Often, just showing up is a way of sustaining, revitalizing communities with tourism supplanting obsolete extractive and exploitive economic pursuits. Also, some travel companies donate a portion of their guest fees to local community, in addition to doing their best to purchase locally, hire locals, and help sustain communities. For example:

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).

Travelers who take Overseas Adventure Travel’s trips help its parent company’s Grand Circle Foundation support communities in which Grand Circle works and travels, including some 300 humanitarian, cultural, and educational endeavors worldwide.

World Bike Relief has partnered with tour operator Tourissimo to present a week-long mountain biking tour in the Apennine Mountains of Italy led by World Champion Rebecca Rusch. Funds raised through this trip will help empower students, healthcare workers, and entrepreneurs in rural Zambia and give them access to reliable transportation. Tourissimo is also donating two Buffalo bikes per rider. https://www.tourissimo.travel/appenninica2018.

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 (see sustainabletravel.org).

Travel Gift Card, Registry Programs 

Black Friday, Cyber Monday kick off the holiday shopping season. But gifts don’t have to come in a box. You can also gift the experience of travel and all the life-enhancing, even life-changing benefits that travel affords, from creating the opportunities for family bonding, to enriched learning, to broadening perspectives and world-view, to laying the values for social consciousness by seeing other cultures and habitats.

Many travel entities – hotels and resorts, cruiselines, tour companies –  have gift card programs – spas (Spafinder.com), ski resorts, cruiselines. Some have registries.

Many of the grandest Historic Hotels of America members – each one distinct, and most often grand, historic and luxurious – 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.

Great stocking stuffer: a gift card to a grand historic hotel, like famed Mohonk Mountain House in New York’s Hudson Valley © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

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 on expiration dates and how the gift card can be used.

And how much better to let someone special know you care by gifting them the fulfillment of a fantasy? There are Fantasy Camps for just about every interest. For example: Broadway Fantasy Camp, geared to adults of all ages and levels of experience, immerses you in the world of performing and creating live theatre, working closely with theater pros – veteran stage directors, choreographers, and musical directors – who guide you through the process (www.broadwayfancamp.com, 212-713-0366). Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy Camp, based in Las Vegas, offers a variety of music, as well as Songwriting Fantasy Camp and Vocalist camp (check their site for calendar and events, www.rockcamp.com, 888-762-2263).

And if you are struggling for that special gift for the hard-to-please teen, consider an Outward Bound expedition: Sailing on the rugged and beautiful Maine Coast; Sea kayaking through the Outer Banks; Dog sledding on the frozen Boundary Waters of Minnesota; Mountaineering in the Colorado Rockies, High Sierra or Pacific Northwest; and many more choices to fit students’ interests, schedules and locations. The company makes it easy to purchase a Gift Certificate (outwardbound.org, 866-828-1195).

The holidays are a great time to check off items from that bucket list.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday

The travel industry makes it easy: gift cards and certificates, some offer registries. Many have Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, holiday discounts and sales – just google sites to find them. This is the time to indulge that bucket list or fantasy.

Just a few to recommend:

For example, on Black FridayPerillo Tours, is offering $500 off per couple ($250 per person) on all 2019 Italy and Hawaii escorted tours.  The offer is valid on new bookings only for travel January 1 – December 31, 2019.  The 24-hour Black Friday sale is bookable online, via phone or email from 12:01am to 11:59 pm on November 23, 2018 (must use booking code: BlackFri18).

On Cyber Monday, November 26, the Divi & Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusives offering a discount of 50% off hotel stays between April 21 – December 22, 2019. Plus, one lucky winner who books the Cyber Monday deal will be selected to receive their stay free (www.diviaruba.com orwww.tamarijnaruba.com)

The historic Red Lion Hotel, famous for Norman Rockwell’s painting of Stockbridge, is one of the hotels, resorts and travel companies offering Cyber Monday specials © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Save up to 40% off bookings at the historic The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, MA. Rates for winter and spring travel start at $99 per night; summer dates start at $179 per night for bookings online on Monday, November 26 and can be booked online at: https://www.redlioninn.com/getaway-deals/.

At Porches Inn at MASS MoCA receive 25 percent off midweek stays (Sunday through Thursday) through Labor Day 2019. The offer is only available on Monday, November 26 and can be booked online at https://www.porches.com/berkshires-hotel-specials/

Glamping Hub, an online booking platform with 35,000 tree houses, tipis, yurts, safari tents, airstreams, cabins  – accommodations that are unique and secluded in nature – is participating in its first-ever Cyber Monday sale, adding 20% to each gift card purchased on Monday, Nov. 26. Visit https://glampinghub.com/.

Travel Related Gifts

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 is involved.

Among our favorites: 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 had a good experience with 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 cameras have almost as much functionality as the larger digital SLR, but are compact, light, easily carried and in most cases even have quality video. (For really important trips, good to have a DSLR as well as a smaller, versatile point-and-shoot.) Look for a wide-range digital zoom, ISO range, image stabilization, video capability, battery life, how fast the camera focuses and shoots and WiFi capability).

Criteria for a travel camera: small enough to wear around your neck, easy enough to shoot with one hand, sharp and fast enough to shoot while riding a bicycle, Venice to Istria. The Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS100 fits the bill © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

After consulting with experts at this year’s PhotoPlus Expo, I have a list of cameras for when I don’t want to pack my DSLR that fulfill my criteria – 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. Here’s my list Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS100 (which I use), Panasonic Lumix DMC AZ200, Canon G9X, Canon G7X, Sony RX100V.

Drones and GoPro-style cameras are also popular, as well as new accessories that enhance the photo capability of smartphones.

Consider getting your traveler a waterproof camera for those adventures into the rainforest, snorkeling, whitewater rafting and such; for the astrophotographer, the astronomer, the birder, the survivalist, the underwater photographer, the adrenalin junky.

Take advantage of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and holiday savings deals at major camera stores and online sellers like B&H, www.bandh.com, 212-465-4018, 877-865-9088 and Adorama, www.adorama.com, 800-223-2500.

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© 2018 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

 

Holidays in New York, Most Magical Time of the Year

 

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

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

The winter holiday season may well be New York City’s most magical time of the year and gets underway with the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, continues with the iconic Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center, and constantly delights with festivals, special events and attractions, and all the dazzle of holiday decorations right through New Year’s Day.

“The holiday season in New York City is a spectacle unlike any other,” said NYC & Company President and CEO Fred Dixon “It is a time when the vibrant energy that makes up the very fabric of our city is magnified through the joy of dozens of multicultural celebrations among New Yorkers and global visitors who make the five boroughs a centerpiece of their annual festivities.”

Highlights include landmark events and first-time New York–style holiday celebrations of a nearly endless variety for travelers to enjoy this winter. Visitors delight in historic and new shopping destinations, world-famous department store window displays (Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue), unrivaled outdoor ice-skating rinks and more scattered all throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. The five-borough-wide season wraps up in a fashion as dazzling as ever with various New Year’s Eve celebrations.

As always, three iconic events bookend the introduction and conclusion of the holiday season in New York City:

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featuring larger-than-life helium balloons, performances by the casts of Broadway musicals, select marching bands from across the nation and celebrity appearances—kicks off the holiday season on November 22 at 9 am. A staple of the holiday season since 1924, the 92nd edition, the line-up will feature 16 giant character balloons; 43 novelty balloons, heritage balloons, balloonicles, balloonheads and trycaloons; 26 floats; 1,200 cheerleaders and dancers; more than 1,000 clowns; and 12 marching bands (macys.com/parade).

But the event has a pre-quel, The Great Balloon Inflation, that takes place the night before, when the streets around the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West are literally flooded with tens of thousands of people coming to delight in seeing the massive balloons being inflated by hundreds of volunteers.

Tens of thousands come out the night before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade to watch the Balloon Inflation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, Manhattan, November 28, 2018: A lineup of live performers rivaled by few events all year will help light up New York City’s biggest and brightest home for Santa’s Christmas eve delivery again. The more than seven-story tree will spread holiday cheer to the millions of visitors it welcomes until the lights dim on January 7 (rockefellercenter.com).

New Year’s Eve Times Square Ball Drop, Manhattan, December 31, 2018–January 1,2019: In 1904, the former New York Times owner convinced the City to rename Longacre Square in honor of the world-famous publication. In addition to the name change and the opening of NYC’s first subway line, that year marked the inaugural Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration, and the “Crossroads of the World” has been the historic backdrop of the City’s New Year’s Eve celebration ever since. Approximately 1 million visitors are expected to gather to watch the ball drop in person again this year. This is something that should be on every bucket list to do at least once in a lifetime (timessquarenyc.org).

Angels light the way to the most famous holiday tree, at Rockefeller Center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My favorite activity for the holidays is an evening stroll to see the holiday windows and decorations. My route typically goes from Macy’s (this year’s theme, “Believe in the Wonder of Giving”), up to Fifth Avenue to Saks Fifth Avenue which is directly across from Rockefeller Center (from which you can see the amazing light show that is projected onto Saks building) and across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral (stop in), up to Bergdorf Goodman. Separately, I will take in Bloomingdale’s (a “Grinch” theme this year, connecting with the new movie), and Barney’s downtown on Broadway.

Meanwhile, there are more than a dozen celebratory events to delight this holiday season in NYC.

23 Days of Flatiron Cheer, Manhattan, December 1–23, 2018: The Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership welcomes visitors this December to enjoy contests, performances, free neighborhood walking tours, giveaways from local businesses and an interactive installation in the North Public Plaza. Other unparalleled offerings can be found in the historic 103-block neighborhood stretching from 23rd to 28th Street, bordered by Third and Sixth Avenues (flatirondistrict.nyc).

A Slice of Brooklyn Christmas Lights Tour, Brooklyn, December 1–30, 2018: Every holiday season, more than 100,000 visitors descend on Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights neighborhood to view the most extravagant Christmas displays in the New York City area. This tour, operated by born and raised Brooklynites, stops by the most over-the-top exhibits of the season while telling patrons the story of how “Dyker Lights” came to be nearly 40 years ago (asliceofbrooklyn.com).

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

Another popular tour is the holiday edition of The Ride, “a 21st century sleigh ride” aboard patented $1.5 million travelling high-tech theaters with floor-to-ceiling gigantic glass windows featuring side-facing VIP seating making the streets of New York the stage. Original seasonal music, videos and hilarious hosts support the dazzling Holiday performances along the 4.2 mile journey through Midtown Manhattan (http://experiencetheride.com, 212-221-0853).

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Holiday Engagement at New York City Center, Manhattan, November 28–December 30, 2018: City Center’s 75th Anniversary Season will feature a wide range of performances including new productions, annual favorites, live music and Alvin Ailey’s feature performance Revelations. A special show on December 11 celebrates City Center’s opening performance in 1943 (alvinailey.org).

Saks Fifth Avenue becomes a canvas for a holiday lightshow © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

American Museum of Natural History’s Holiday Season, Manhattan, November 20, 2018–January 7, 2019: The museum’s cultural celebrations begin with the decoration of the Origami Holiday Tree—complete with more than 800 hand-folded paper models created by local artists—and continue through the New Year. On December 29, the AMNH will host its 40th annual Kwanzaa celebration. The festival of African-American heritage celebrates the seven core principles of Kwanzaa while exploring the rich history behind its traditions. Family-friendly activities, musical performances and an international marketplace are also included (amnh.org).

Apollo Theater Presents “Kwanzaa Celebration: Regeneration Night,” Manhattan, December 29, 2018: The legendary Harlem theater is celebrating Kwanzaa with visitors for the 12th consecutive year with a night of music and dance that honors the principles of Kwanzaa—family, community and culture (apollotheater.org).

Brooklyn Ballet’s Nutcracker, Brooklyn, December 14, 2018: The hip-hop and ballet infused replication of the holiday classic, reimagined in various Brooklyn neighborhoods, is hosted by the iconic Kings Theatre, in Flatbush, for the first time this year (brooklynballet.org).

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical: Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, December 13–30, 2018: Dr. Seuss’ holiday classic is sure to cause audiences hearts to grow at least three sizes when they watch the story of the true meaning of Christmas come to life in this limited engagement at the world’s most famous arena (msg.com/hulu-theater-at-msg).

Gingerbread Lane at New York Hall of Science, Queens, November 10, 2018–January 21, 2019: Since 2013, the edible village at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, has set the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of gingerbread houses and structures with each new installment. The record is sure to be challenged again this year (nysci.org).

Grand Army Plaza, Largest Menorah Lighting, Brooklyn, December 2–10, 2018: With the help of local synagogues, the Grand Army Plaza, located in Park Slope, Brooklyn, has hosted the nightly lighting of the 32-foot menorah since 1984. Visitors are invited to celebrate the holiday with concerts and gifts for children through each day of the Jewish Festival of Lights (largestmenorah.com).

Holiday Workshop Weekend at Wave Hill, The Bronx, December 8–9, 2018: At this holiday craft fair, in addition to creating the usual wreaths and treasure boxes, families are invited to work on the feature project: the hamsa, or hamesh, the multicultural symbol of an open hand. Guests explore the spiritual side of the holidays as they make the palm-shaped amulets (wavehill.org).

New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show, The Bronx, November 17, 2018–January 21, 2019: The annual exhibition of classical model trains moving through a hand crafted display of New York City’s built environment is back for the 27th year. More than 175 miniature iconic city structures such as Yankee Stadium, The Brooklyn Bridge and The Statue of Liberty are replicated entirely out of plant parts and will coincide with other holiday celebrations such as a cappella performances, Bar Car Nights and more at the New York Botanical Garden (nybg.org).

The New York City Ballet presents George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, one of the most beloved and anticipated holiday classics, November 23–December 30 at Lincoln Center (nycballet.com).

Quite literally, the most magical place to be during this holiday season is at the NYHS. Harry Potter: A History of Magic captures the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories through centuries-old treasures © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New-York Historical Society Presents “Harry Potter: A History of Magic”, Manhattan, through January 27: Quite literally, the most magical place to be during this holiday season is at the NYHS. Harry Potter: A History of Magic captures the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories through centuries-old treasures, including rare books, manuscripts, and magical objects from the collections of the British Library, the New-York Historical Society, and other museums, as well as never before seen material from Harry Potter publisher Scholastic and J.K. Rowling’s own archives. The New York exhibition, showcasing a selection of objects not featured in the London presentation that are on view to the public for the very first time, is sponsored by Audible. There are also a slew of special events and family programming in conjunction with this not-to-be-missed exhibit, which vanishes, poof, after January 27, 2019. The tickets are timed; you can order online. Also visit The DiMenna Children’s History Museum, created for children  8-13, which presents 350 years of New York and American history through character-based pavilions, interactive exhibits and digital games. (New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org)

New York Philharmonic Presents “Home Alone in Concert, ” Manhattan, December 20–21,2018: The acclaimed New York Philharmonic will perform John Williams’ score live to the classic Christmas film Home Alone, for a 2018–19 holiday season special event—booby traps and lovable bandits not included (nyphil.org).

A carriage ride down Fifth Avenue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex and Store at Grand Central Terminal Holiday Train Show, Manhattan, November 15, 2018–February 3, 2019: A staple of Grand Central Terminal during the holiday season since 2001, the train show features a 34-foot-long track where vintage trains from the museum’s collection travel through a miniature New York City and countryside scene all the way to the North Pole (grandcentralterminal.com).

Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes, Manhattan, November 9, 2018–January 1, 2019: Everyone’s favorite high kickers dance their way from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve and champion the holiday spirit of New York City with their extravagant costumes and breathtaking state-of-the-art production (rockettes.com).

St. Thomas Church which is famous for the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, and its annual performances of Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 4, 6). Also this year, “A Ceremony of Carols” by Benjamin Britten (Dec. 13). (Purchase tickets, www.saintthomaschurch.org/music/concerts); also take a tour of this magnificent edifice, built in 1913 in the French High Gothic style. (5th Avenue and 53rd Street, www.saintthomaschurch.org).

Visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue is also a highlight of the holidays and it is remarkable that you can just walk in and enjoy an inspirational service.

Cathedral of St John the Divine offers inspiring concerts throughout the holiday season, with a Concert for Peace on New Year’s Eve © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I personally love to close out the holiday season on New Year’s Eve at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine which presents the most magnificent annual Concert for Peace, founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1984 with the idea of bringing together New Yorkers and visitors from around the world for an evening filled with uplifting music in a most magnificent setting. Indeed, the cathedral offers a rich calendar of concerts throughout the holiday season, as well as tours of this architectural jewel. Check the website for details.(The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue, at 112th Street, New York, NY 10025, 212-316-7540, info@stjohndivine.org, www.stjohndivine.org)

Favorite Places to Catch the Holiday Spirit

Central Park is magical in any season, but particularly for the holidays. In addition to the Wollman Rink (wollmanskatingrink.com), The Swedish Cottage is an enchanting place that is home to one of the last public marionette companies in the country. The cottage was originally constructed as a model pre-fabricated schoolhouse, and became Sweden’s entry in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After the exhibit, Central Park’s co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted had it placed in Central Park, where it has been headquarters for the Marionette Theater since 1939 (West Side at 79th Street). Currently playing is “Yet, Set, Snow!”, an original story and production from the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, with performances through the season until Feb. 24, 2019. (Purchase tickets, www.cityparksfoundation.org/arts/swedish-cottage-marionette-theatre)

Other favorite venues to get into the Christmas Spirit: Bryant Park, with its massive Christmas tree, ice skating rink, festive holiday markets, cafes, and carousel (wintervillage.org) has become one of the city’s iconic holiday places. Of course, there is skating right below the magnificent Christmas tree at the Rink at Rockefeller Center (therinkatrockcenter.com). There is also skating and The Rink at Brookfield Place opens November 1 (230 Vesey St., 860-209-3459, gpice.com).

Skating at Bryant Park where there is also a holiday market © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides Bryant Park, there are holiday markets at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Grand Central Terminal.

For a festive place to shop: The Shops at Columbus Circle, a destination within a destination that draws more than 16 million visitors per year to its 50 shops, renowned restaurants, bars and that free priceless view of Central Park (not to mention temperature-controlled and pet-friendly). But there are some spectacular happenings for the holidays:

Broadway Under the Stars is a five-week series of free public performances from today’s hottest Broadway musicals performing on the second floor mezzanine at The Shops at Columbus Circle. Participating shows include: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Chicago, Dear Evan Hansen, Head Over Heels, Kinky Boots, The Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock, Waitress and Wicked (check out theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for schedules). Performances begin Monday, Nov. 12 and take place for five consecutive Mondays through Dec. 10. Shows begin at 5 pm and last approximately 20 minutes.  (Free and open to the public, no reservations or tickets are required.)

The stars are aligned at the Shops at Columbus Circle, in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, a festive shopping, dining and entertainment destination especially at the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Holiday Under the Stars is The Shops at Columbus Circle’s holiday lights display, featuring 12 massive 14-foot stars which hang from the 100-foot-high ceilings. This is claimed to be the largest specialty crafted exhibit of illuminated color display in the world. There is a 5-minute daily musical light show every half hour from 5 pm to 9 pm, through the end of the year.

Culinary Delights:  Among the restaurants are six Michelin Stars: from Chef Masayoshi Takayama’s Masa, the only three-star Michelin Japanese/Sushi restaurant in the U.S., to the gastronomic jewel box that is Thomas Keller’s Per Se). The Bluebird London restaurant in London and Momofuku Noodle Bar are newly opened and join the Landmarc and Porter House restaurants.

Also, from the 150-foot-high panoramic windows,  visitors can take in the breathtaking views of Central Park. It’s one of the few indoor places in Manhattan where you can enjoy this vantage point.

(Visit www.theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for ever-changing list of events and happenings.)

For more information regarding the most wonderful time of the year in the five boroughs, find NYC & Company’s official guide to the holidays in New York City at NYCgo.com/holiday.

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© 2018 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

A Balloon Festival of a Different Sort: Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation Draws Thousands

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation event draws hundreds of thousands of people © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

NEW YORK –This Thanksgiving, a magical march returns to the streets of New York City and to homes across the U.S. as the 91st Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade® kicks off the holiday season with its signature spectacle of wonder. On Thursday, Nov. 23 (9 a.m.-noon in all time zones), the streets of Manhattan fill with the sound of “Let’s Have a Parade!” Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie and Al Roker of NBC’s “Today” will host the broadcast. Telemundo will simulcast the parade in Spanish, with the event hosted by Carlos Ponce, Jessica Carrillo and Karim Mendiburu.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation event draws hundreds of thousands of people © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

But the night before, the streets around the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West are literally flooded with hundreds of thousands of people coming to delight in seeing the massive balloons – 17 giant character balloons and 28 legacy balloons, balloonides, balloonheads and trycaloons, being inflated by hundreds of volunteers.

New York City Mayor Bill DiBlasio spoke of how iconic the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and the Balloon Inflation events have become, and how the parade not only kicks off the holiday season for the city, but the entire nation.

NYC Mayor Bill DiBlasio at the Macy’s Parade Balloon Inflation © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“It’s an example of what makes New York City great – hundreds of thousands here tonight, tomorrow millions, and it comes off flawlessly,” Mayor DiBlasio said. “It takes a lot of work, and working together. New York City is a beacon to the world – we have people of every background, faith, nationality, in harmony, giving thanks together.

“This is a beautiful event that happens because we’re safe. Every year, the NYPD does more to keep us safe. We live in a dangerous world. We have the strongest anti-terrorism capacity of any police force in thecountry. You will see a lot of officers so people feel good, confident, calm.

“There has been no credible or specific threat against New York or the parade. But we have precautions in place. Everyone needs to help: if you see something, say something.”

Acknowledging the terror attack that took place on Halloween in which 8 people lost their lives, he said, “That attack was an attempt to under our values, our democracy. It failed. Everyone is out, enjoying this great celebration. It is important to show how it failed.

NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill describes heightened security for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade © 2017 Karen Rubin/ news-photos-features.com

NYPD commissioner James O’Neill said that there will be 36,000 police out on the streets, criticial response teams, mounted police, long-gun teams. “This is the reality of 2017. We have 2000 more officers on patrol than last year.”

Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette noted that the parade started almost a century ago by employees who wanted to do something for their families and local people. For the 91st edition, the line-up will feature 17 giant character balloons; 28 legacy balloons, balloonicles, balloonheads and trycaloons; 26 floats; 1,100 cheerleaders and dancers; more than 1,000 clowns; 12 marching bands; and 6 performance groups.

Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette noted that the parade was begun in 1924 by Macy’s employees who wanted to do something for their families and community © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

A special float by Delta Air Lines will debut to commemorate the season of togetherness with the gift of song, as more than 125 Macy’s employees gather to form a one-of-a-kind cross-generational choir aboard the Macy’s Singing Christmas Tree.

“It’s the beginning of a new tradition.” Gennette said.

Here are highlights from the Balloon Inflation:

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation event draws hundreds of thousands of people © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation event is a magical experience © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation event  © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation event draws hundreds of thousands of people © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

 

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation event draws hundreds of thousands of people © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation event draws hundreds of thousands of people © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation event © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

 

Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation event draws hundreds of thousands of people © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation involves hundreds of volunteers © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation event draws hundreds of thousands of people © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Balloon Inflation event draws hundreds of thousands of people © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Here’s more of what to look for in the Parade:

The star power on parade will once again feature some of the nation’s most riveting performers. Taking to the streets of New York City on board one of Macy’s signature floating stages and thrilling the nation with their performances at Herald Square will be 98 Degrees, Lauren Alaina, Cam, Sabrina Carpenter, Andra Day & Common, Sara Evans, Jimmy Fallon & The Roots, Flo Rida, Goo Goo Dolls, Kat Graham, Andy Grammer, Angelica Hale, Olivia Holt, Nicky Jam, Wyclef Jean, Bravo’s Top Chef stars Padma Lakshmi & Tom Colicchio, Dustin Lynch, Miss America 2018 Cara Mund, Leslie Odom Jr. and the cast & Muppets of Sesame Street, Bebe Rexha, Smokey Robinson, Jojo Siwa and more.

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 “Anastasia,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Once On This Island” and “SpongeBob SquarePants – The Broadway Musical.” In addition, the show-stopping Radio City Rockettes®  will bring their signature high-kicking magic to Herald Square.

“The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is one of our great holiday traditions and we’re thrilled to be able to once again bring the pageantry and spectacle to viewers across the country,” said Doug Vaughan, Executive Vice President, Special Programs and Late Night, NBC Entertainment. “We can’t wait to see all the balloons, floats and high-end entertainment that have become such an integral part of this wonderful event.”

“For more than 90 years, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has signaled the start of the holiday season for millions of families. We are thrilled to once again come together as a nation to give this gift of joy and wonder to all,” said Susan Tercero, group vice-president of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. She added, “Our incredible team has planned a fantastic spectacle featuring an amazing line-up of giant character balloons, floats of fantasy, the nation’s best marching bands and performance groups, a dazzling array of musical artists, all coming together to herald the arrival of the one-and-only Santa Claus.”

The Macy’s Parade is always a unique multi-level, magical march that provides spectators with different experiences, whether they watch it on television with friends and family or scout the perfect spot on the route to watch it unfold live. To give fans another unique viewing opportunity, Macy’s, along with NBCUniversal and Verizon will once again take viewers closer to the magic via up close and personal views of the event through a 360-degree livestream of the parade on Verizon’s YouTube page. The stream, found at www.youtube.com/verizon, will be synced with the start of the Parade.

Flying Icons

Taking flight on Turkey Day will be the Parade’s signature giant character helium balloons. Since their introduction in 1927, these giants of the sky have featured some of the world’s most beloved characters. This year four giant characters will debut, including Olaf from Disney’s “Frozen,” Illumination presents Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, Jett from Super Wings™ and PAW Patrol®.

The balloon line-up will also feature the return of Harold the Baseball Player, a legacy Macy’s character prominently featured in Twentieth Century Fox’s iconic holiday film classic “Miracle on 34th Street.” In celebration of the film’s 70th anniversary, the Harold heritage balloon has been recreated for this year’s Parade, painted in hues of black, white and grey, to look exactly as it did on-screen during a memorable scene in the 1947 film. In addition to Harold, the famed spokesduck, the Aflac Duck, will debut as an all-new balloonicle (a Macy’s Parade innovation of hybrid cold-air balloon and vehicle) and is sure to have fans quacking with joy and laughter down the route.

Returning giant balloon characters include Angry Birds’ Red; Charlie Brown; Diary of a Wimpy Kid®;  Sinclair’s Dino®; the Elf on the Shelf®; Hello Kitty®; Ice Age’s Scrat and His Acorn; Pikachu™; Pillsbury Doughboy™; Red Mighty Morphin Power Ranger; Ronald McDonald®; SpongeBob SquarePants; and DreamWorks’ Trolls.

Parade Floats

Floating down the route this Thanksgiving, the Parade’s signature floats transport spectators to worlds of wonder. Designed and created by the incredible artists of Macy’s Parade Studio, which include carpenters, painters, animators, sculptors, metal fabricators, scenic/costume designers and electricians, this year’s line-up of floats sets an unparalleled stage for entertainment. The painstaking process of creating a Macy’s Parade float is both a creative and technical endeavor. Macy’s Parade floats are often three-stories tall and several lanes of traffic wide, but must collapse to no more than 12½-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. These creations are not only works of art, but also engineering marvels.

This year five new floats will debut including Everyone’s Favorite Bake Shop by Entenmann’s® (Sara Evans), Harvest in the Valley by Green Giant® (Lauren Alaina), Parade Day Mischief by Sour Patch Kids® Candy (Nicky Jam), Shimmer and Shine by Nickelodeon (Jojo Siwa) and Universal Playground by Sprout® (Angelica Hale).

The returning float roster includes 1-2-3 Sesame Street by Sesame Street (Leslie Odom Jr. and the cast and Muppets of “Sesame Street“); The Aloha Spirit by King’s Hawaiian (Goo Goo Dolls), Big Apple by N.Y. Daily News (Bebe Rexha); Big City Cheer! by Spirit of America Productions (Miss America 2018 Cara Mund); Building a Better World by Girl Scouts of the USA (Andra Day and Common); The Colonel’s Road Trip to NYC by Kentucky Fried Chicken (Dustin Lynch); The Cranberry Cooperative by Ocean Spray®; Deck the Halls by Balsam Hill® (Olivia Holt); Discover Adventure! by Build-A-Bear (Sabrina Carpenter); Frozen Fall Fun by Discover®/NHL (Wyclef Jean) and NHL Hockey Hall of Famers Ray Bourque & Bryan Trottier); Fun House by Krazy Glue® (Flo Rida); Heartwarming Holiday Countdown by Hallmark Channel (98 Degrees); It’s All Rock & Roll by Gibson Brands (Jimmy Fallon & The Roots); Mount Rushmore’s American Pride by South Dakota Department of Tourism (Smokey Robinson); On The Roll Again by Homewood Suites by Hilton® (Andy Grammer); Santa’s Sleigh; Snoopy’s Doghouse by Peanuts Worldwide; Stirrin’ Up Sweet Sensations by Domino® Sugar (Cam); Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Nickelodeon (Kat Graham); and Tom Turkey featuring Bravo’s Top Chef (Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio).

Drum Roll, Please…

Marching bands are a central piece of the Thanksgiving delights, bringing national excitement and hometown pride to the streets of the Big Apple, not to mention the musical beat to the holiday revelry. Twelve performance ensembles will take up the call of the baton and march down the streets of Manhattan. This year’s bands include Colony High School (Palmer, Alaska), Davis High School (Kaysville, Utah), Rosemount High School (Rosemount, Minn.), West Harrison High School (Gulfport, Miss.), Rockford High School (Rockford, Mich.), Ohio University (Athens, Ohio), Nation Ford High School (Fort Mill, S.C.), Trumbull High School (Trumbull, Conn.), Prairie View A&M University (Prairie View, Texas), the United States Air Force Band and Honor Guard, Macy’s Great American Marching Band (United States) and the NYPD Marching Band (New York, NY).

Specialty Parade entertainment always promises a unique, exciting, and sometimes humorous look at the nation’s finest performance groups. Returning to the line-up this year are the dancers and cheerleaders of Spirit of America Dance Stars and Spirit of America Cheer. These groups combined feature more than 1,000 of the nation’s very best performers recruited from small towns and big cities. Days before Thanksgiving, they will gather for the first time in NYC, ahead of their once-in-a-lifetime national spotlight. Adding to the dance floor revelry will be 34th & Phunk, a special group commissioned and produced by Macy’s with organizers from the United States Tournament of Dance. Choreographed by the legendary artist Willdabeast Adams and acclaimed dancer Janelle Ginestra, 34th & Phunk will be a one-of-a-kind hip-hop dance crew featuring performers of all ages and from all walks of life, who have a passion for dance and precision movement. Bringing a Broadway flair to the spectacle will be the talented kids of Camp Broadway, who this year have auditioned and selected dancers/singers from military bases around the nation, and who will pay tribute to America with their performance. Rounding out the performance group list are the zany Red Hot Mamas (Post Falls, Idaho) who will deliver their signature humorous take on the holiday season, along with the whimsical stars of the Big Apple Circus (New York, NY).

Interactive Fun

This year the magic of Macy’s iconic balloons and Parade artistry will head south for the winter to give fans an up close and personal experience for the holidays. Starting on Saturday, Nov. 18, Universal Orlando Resort’s destination-wide Holidays celebration begins, featuring the all-new “Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s.” This one-of-a-kind experience is where merry and mayhem mesh to create a fantastic treat for park guests that features more than 15 incredibly detailed floats, colorful stilt-walkers and characters, and a specially created cast of all new Macy’s balloons that you can’t see anywhere else. Universal’s Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s will run daily from Nov. 18 through Jan. 6.

The 91st Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will begin at 9 a.m. from 77th Street and Central Park West. The procession will march to Columbus Circle, turn onto Central Park South and 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. “A Holiday Treat for Children Everywhere” has been the guiding motto of this annual tradition for more than nine decades and is the mandate that continues to this day.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade broadcast is produced by the Emmy Award-winning Brad Lachman Productions. Brad Lachman serves as executive producer, Bill Bracken will co-executive produce and Ryan Polito directs.

For more information on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,  visit www.macys.com/parade  or call the Parade hotline at 212-494-4495. Follow @macys on various social networks and join the conversation using #MacysParade.

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© 2017 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

Holidays in New York, The Most Enchanting Time of the Year

Rockefeller Center decked out for the holidays © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York City’s most magical time of the year, the winter holiday season, is already underway with the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, continues with the iconic Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center, and constantly delights with festivals, special events and attractions, and all the dazzle of holiday decorations right through New Year’s Day.

Throughout the season, each of the city’s five boroughs welcome multicultural guests to participate in local observances of diverse holidays. Secular activities include unforgettable department store windows, artisanal markets to explore, plus attractions and cultural draws. The season concludes by welcoming in the New Year with lesser-known fireworks at Prospect Park in Brooklyn and, of course, the unforgettable New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square.

“New York City is a sight to behold during the festive annual holiday season—it’s a time of year when world-class hotels, attractions and shops sparkle and shine brighter, offering six million global visitors a truly memorable travel experience,” said Fred Dixon, President and CEO of NYC & Company, the official destination marketing organization for the City of New York.

Here’s an overview of what to see and do by borough:

MANHATTAN

The 91st Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade—featuring larger-than-life helium balloons, performances by the casts of Broadway musicals, select marching bands from across the nation and celebrity appearances—kicks off the holiday season on November 23. (macys.com). (Macy’s iconic Thanksgiving Parade that kicks off the winter holiday season actually starts the night before, with a gigantic blow-up event that has become a major festival experience, drawing tens of thousands of onlookers on the streets around the American Museum of Natural History and Central Park West. This year, the event takes place from 1-8 pm; entrance is at 74th Street.)

Macy’s iconic Thanksgiving Parade that kicks off the winter holiday season actually starts the night before, with a gigantic blow-up event that has become a major festival experience, drawing tens of thousands of onlookers. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony, an iconic symbol of the holidays in New York City, takes place on November 29. The tree remains lit through January 7. (rockefellercenter.com).

The Rockettes high-kick their way into the festive season, as the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes returns November 10–January 1. The production dazzles audiences with extravagant costumes and fan favorites. Of note, families should mark their calendars for November 26, the inaugural Party City Kid’s Day, featuring pre-show activities to enthrall kids of all ages (rockettes.com).

November 30–January 5, the annual Brookfield Luminaries experience in the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place is reimagined. From 8am–10pm daily, visitors can “send” a wish from one of three stations to the canopy of hundreds of lanterns above, transforming the wish into a mesmerizing display of colors (brookfieldplaceny.com).

The City’s famed window displays are a must-see over the holidays.  WindowsWear operates daily tours, which begin at Macy’s in Herald Square and journey up Fifth Avenue, passing the Empire State Building, Bryant Park, Rockefeller Center, Central Park and more. In previous years, holiday tours have taken place between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve (windowswear.com). Our favorite walking route starts with Macy’s at 34th Street, moves to Fifth Avenue for Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman on 57th Street. (Barneys and Bloomingdale’s also have window displays).

A child’s delight enjoying the decorated windows at Macy’s © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex and Store at Grand Central Terminal is back with its 16th Annual Holiday Train Show. Lionel trains travel through a two-level, 34-foot-long miniature New York City and countryside scene. Vintage trains from the museum’s collection travel to the diorama’s North Pole from November 16 to February 4 (grandcentralterminal.com).

At Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater, the 11th annual Kwanzaa Celebration, Regeneration Night, is December 30. The Apollo’s celebration honors family, community and culture through a joyful evening of dance and music (apollotheater.org).

Also on December 30, the American Museum of Natural History holds its 39th annual Kwanzaa celebration, honoring the seven guiding principles of the holiday and featuring an international market (amnh.org). Also check out the newly opened exhibit, “Our Senses: An Immersive Experience.” (See: American Museum of Natural History Creates Immersive Experience for Understanding ‘Our Senses’)

Visit a museum over the holidays. The American Museum of Natural History just opened “Our Senses: An Immersive Experience” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s holiday engagement at New York City Center takes place from November 29 to December 31. Artistic Director Robert Battle leads the company of 32 in more than two dozen dynamic works and a series of special performances. Unique to the season are world premieres of Members Don’t Get Weary and Victoria, plus a New Year’s Eve Season Finale (alvinailey.org).

Louis Vuitton presents Volez, Voguez, Voyagez – Louis Vuitton October 27–January 7 at the former American Stock Exchange building in Lower Manhattan. Curated by Olivier Saillard and designed by Robert Carsen, the free exhibit retraces the adventure of the House of Louis Vuitton from 1854 to the present. One of the show’s 10 chapters is entirely devoted to the United States and New York City. (vvv-new-york-louisvuitton.com)

Holiday favorite ELF The Musical is in performance at the Theater at Madison Square Garden for a limited engagement. Back by popular demand, the production runs December 13–29 (theateratmsg.com).

Radio City Rockettes performing Christmas Spectacular Wooden Soldiers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Metropolitan Opera presents a family-friendly holiday extravaganza, The Magic Flute. Directed by Julie Taymor (The Lion King), the abridged English language presentation is a great introduction to opera for children. Additionally, those attending the December 29 and 30 performances will be invited to participate in activities, including opera-themed “dress-up” and “show-and-tell” (metopera.org).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art once again lights a 20-foot blue spruce above an 18th-century Neapolitan nativity scene, in the museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall. The Exhibit of the Crèche is a long-standing holiday highlight for New Yorkers and global visitors and is available to view November 21–January 7 (metmuseum.org).

Bryant Park has become one of New York’s most festive holiday venues with ice skating, holiday markets, cafes, the carousel and the lighted tree © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Visitors can enjoy one of the City’s many outdoor skating rinks that open in October through the holiday season, such as the Rink at Rockefeller Center (therinkatrockcenter.com), Wollman Rink in Central Park (wollmanskatingrink.com) and Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park (wintervillage.org). The Rink at Brookfield Place opens November 1 (gpice.com).

The New York City Ballet presents George Balanchine’s The Nutcrackerone of the most beloved and anticipated holiday classics, November 24–December 31 at Lincoln Center (nycballet.com).

Other favorite venues to get into the Christmas Spirit: Bryant Park, with its massive Christmas tree, ice skating rink, festive holiday markets, cafes, and carousel (wintervillage.org) has become one of the city’s iconic holiday places.

Besides Bryant Park, there are holiday markets at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Grand Central Terminal.

Central Park is magical in any season, but particularly for the holidays. In addition to the Wollman Rink (wollmanskatingrink.com), there is The Swedish Cottage, an enchanting place that is home to one of the last public marionette companies in the country. The cottage was originally constructed as a model pre-fabricated schoolhouse, and became Sweden’s entry in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After the exhibit, Central Park’s co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted had it placed in Central Park, where it has been headquarters for the Marionette Theater since 1939 (West Side at 79th Street). Currently playing is The Three Bears Holiday Bash, through Dec. 30 (purchase tickets, www.cityparksfoundation.org/arts/swedish-cottage-marionette-theatre). Ticket packages are available that include holiday workshops (geared to 3-8 year olds accompanied by adult): Monday, December 11 – Decorate a Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel; Friday, December 15 – Christmas Elf Stick Puppets; Friday, December 29 – Kwanzaa Stick Puppets.

Christmas at St. Patrick’s Cathedral © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue is a highlight of the holidays and it is remarkable that you can just walk in and enjoy an inspirational service, but a particularly favorite place is St. Thomas Church (5th Avenue and 53rd Street, www.saintthomaschurch.org), which is famous for the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, and its annual performances of Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 5, 7). Also this year, “A Ceremony of Carols” by Benjamin Britten (Dec. 14). (Purchase tickets, www.saintthomaschurch.org/music/concerts); also take a tour of this magnificent edifice, built in 1913 in the French High Gothic style.

There are also wonderful holiday concerts at historic Town Hall (123 W. 43 St., thetownhall.org).

THE BRONX

The New York Botanical Garden’s cherished Holiday Train Show is a twinkling display of model trains traveling through a miniature landscape of 150+ iconic city structures. The 26th annual iteration spotlights Midtown Manhattan, with new versions of the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, General Electric Building and St. Bartholomew’s Church, on view November 22–January 15 (nybg.org).

Families can enjoy making special holiday-themed crafts during the Holiday Workshop Weekend at Wave Hill, December 9–10 and can take home their very own natural wreaths, treasure boxes and other great keepsakes (wavehill.org).

BROOKLYN

In Downtown Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Ballet’s Nutcracker is an iteration of the holiday classic. It fuses ballet, hip-hop and various dance genres, plus reimagines Nutcracker characters and scenes to represent Brooklyn neighborhoods, such as Old Dutch Brooklyn and Flatbush Avenue. Performances are December 7–9, 11 and 13–16 (brooklynballet.org).

In Park Slope, Grand Army Plaza hosts nightly lightings of the Largest Menorah (32 feet tall) from December 12 to 19 during Hanukkah. A must-see in this location since 1984, there are concerts, gifts for children and celebrations each day through the festival of lights (largestmenorah.com).

Rounding out the season in Brooklyn, the Prospect Park Alliance presents annual fireworks at Grand Army Plaza to start the New Year. The best places for viewing are along Prospect Park’s West Drive and between Grand Army Plaza and 9th Street (prospectpark.org).

A horse-drawn carriage ride down Fifth Avenue © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

QUEENS

The Gingerbread Lane at New York Hall of Science is open from November 11 to January 14. Hopeful for the fifth straight title of Largest Gingerbread Village from Guinness World Records, over 1,000 handmade gingerbread houses and structures are on display (nysci.org).

Astoria Market Bohemian Hall offers holiday shopping December 3, 10 and 17. Featuring vintage finds, plus local artisanal wares and crafts, it’s the perfect destination for sourcing eclectic presents. The venue also offers delicious desserts and pastries from local bakers (astoriamarket.com).

The tradition continues with A Christmas Carol at Queen’s Theatre. Scrooge and the Spirits of Christmas past, present and future are in residence in the borough December 8–22, thanks to Charles Dickens and Titan Theatre Company (queenstheatre.org).

Saks Fifth Avenue turns its entire building into a light-and-sound show for the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

STATEN ISLAND

The first ever Winter Wonderland SI at Richmond County Bank Ballparkwill feature ice-skating, rides, games, a 34-vendor holiday market and more. Conveniently located steps from the Staten Island Ferry. At dusk each evening, there is a holiday light and sound show, and the Igloo Bar is a draw for adult attendees, featuring holiday cocktails and live entertainment (winterwonderlandsi.com).

A classic holiday tradition continues with the 14th Annual St. George Theatre Christmas Show December 8–10. Just steps from the Staten Island Ferry, this historic theater’s two-hour production features over 100 actors, a live orchestra and numerous holiday standards set in locales from the North Pole to Staten Island (stgeorgetheatre.com).

Midtown NYC Showcases ‘New’ NYC

Midtown NYC showcases the “new” NYC and this holiday season is an ideal time to experience new attractions:

Gulliver’s Gate, housed in the former New York Times building on West 44th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, features over 300 miniature buildings and models of iconic global landmarks. A full city block wide, the attraction is a technologically advanced, interactive and immersive world that ignites the imagination of visitors young and old (gulliversgate.com).

Midtown NYC showcases the “new” NYC with new attractions © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey , which opened in October, is an immersive experience in Times Square (West 44th Street, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues) that uses ground-breaking technology to transport guests on an incredible underwater journey across the Pacific Ocean (natgeoencounter.com).

Beginning in November, NFL Experience Times Square, a new attraction on the corner of 47th Street and Seventh Avenue, immerses visitors in the physical challenges of professional NFL athletes. Visitors enter as a fan, become a player and leave a champion on this hero’s journey (nflexperience.com).

New Broadway musicals will entertain guests over the holiday season. Visitors can see all current and upcoming shows at nycgo.com/broadway. Highlights include SpongeBob, sure to be a hit with families and nostalgic millennials alike, and The Band’s Visit, an artistic new work starring Tony Shalhoub, among others (spongebobbroadway.comthebandsvisitmusical.com).

In celebration of the holiday season, this short video produced by NYC & Company captures the City’s festive essence. For a full holiday guide to NYC and more information about booking a trip to NYC this holiday season, visit nycgo.com/holidays.

Broadway Theater Presents Holiday Performance Schedule

The holidays are a perfect time to see a show. Broadway performs every day of the week at multiple curtain times to accommodate every schedule, including holidays. During Thanksgiving and Christmas weeks, some shows are changing their performance schedules.

Broadway theaters offer holiday schedule of performances; 14 shows even have performances on Christmas Day © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

“During the most wonderful time of the year, theatergoers can rely on Broadway to help them celebrate by fitting a show into their holiday plans,” says Charlotte St. Martin, President of The Broadway League. “With special matinees and evening performances, Broadway provides many additional opportunities to see a production. From comedies to dramas, old favorites and new, there are so many choices that there’s something for everyone throughout the Thanksgiving and holiday weeks.”

During Thanksgiving week, some shows will play on Thanksgiving Day, and many will play Friday matinees. Fourteen shows will be playing on Christmas Day! During Christmas week, alternate curtain times will also include Friday matinees and evening performances. Check Broadway.org to see the holiday performance schedules and easily find out where and when shows are playing.

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© 2017 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

New York City is Winter Wonderland of Spirited Delights

 

Rockefeller Center is like Christmas central in New York City © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Rockefeller Center is like Christmas central in New York City © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York City is never more vibrant than during the holiday season.

The epicenter for Christmas in New York is Rockefeller Center – the Christmas tree, ice skating on one of the most iconic rinks in the world (therinkatrockcenter.com, ringed by giant Nutcrackers and holiday garlands and a veritable parade of angels. Perhaps little known, there are delightful eateries and shops inside at rink level. Also, you are just across the street from Saks Fifth Avenue which besides stunning animated storybook windows, has for several years turned its entire façade into a holiday Sound & Light show. Cap it off with a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Thomas Church (check out the holiday concert schedule).

Take a walking tour by the famed animated windows © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Take a walking tour by the famed animated windows © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The City twinkles with holiday spirit, particularly as its famed stores strive to outdo the previous year’s artful animated windows. One of my favorite things is to structure a walking tour that starts at Macy’s on 34th Street, and moves up to Fifth Avenue to Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman on 57th Street. (Barneys and Bloomingdale’s also have window displays).  

Other favorite venues to get into the Christmas Spirit: Bryant Park, with its massive Christmas tree, ice skating rink, holiday markets (through Jan 3), cafes, and carousel (wintervillage.org) has become a another hallmark of the holidays.

Bryant Park with its Christmas tree, skating rink, holiday market and cafes has become a warm and wonderful holiday venue © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Bryant Park with its Christmas tree, skating rink, holiday market and cafes has become a warm and wonderful holiday venue © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides Bryant Park, there are holiday markets (through Dec 24) at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Grand Central Terminal.

While your at The annual Holiday Train Show at Grand Central Terminal, a popular model railroad exhibition presented annually by the New York Transit Museum, features Metro-North, New York Central, and subway trains departing from a miniature Grand Central Terminal (through February, M-F, 8 am-8pm, Sat-Sun, 10 am-6pm (grandcentralterminal.com).

Can’t get enough trains for Christmas? The New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show is a must-see New York tradition for families, featuring model trains that hum past more than 150 iconic buildings in a miniature city landscape (though Jan 16, 2017). (nybg.org).

Central Park is magical in any season, but particularly for the holidays, with the Wollman Rink (wollmanskatingrink.com). The Swedish Cottage, an enchanting place that should be visited, is home to one of the last public marionette companies in the country. (The cottage was originally constructed as a model pre-fabricated schoolhouse, and became Sweden’s entry in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After the exhibit, Central Park;s co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted had it placed in Central Park, where it has been headquarters for the Marionette Theater since 1939. On view: Three Bears Holiday Bash, through Dec. 30. (West Side at 79th Street) Three Bears Holiday Bash, through Dec. 30 (purchase tickets, www.cityparksfoundation.org/arts/swedish-cottage-marionette-theatre). 

What would Christmas be without the Rockettes or the “Nutcracker”?

The Rockettes kick their way into the holidays as the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes  through January 2. The production will dazzle audiences with brand new dance numbers, extravagant costumes, and traditional fan favorites (rockettes.com/christmas).

The New York City Ballet presents George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, one of the most beloved and anticipated holiday classics, from November 25-December 31 (nycballet.com).

There are always fantastic things going on at the American Museum of Natural History, famous for the Origami Holiday Tree (amnh.org), The theme of this year’s 13-foot tree is origami Dinosaurs Among Us, inspired by the current exhibitions ¡Cuba! and Dinosaurs Among Us. Visitors can see feathered dinosaurs and stunning modern birds among other treasured models. During the holiday season, knowledgable volunteers will be on hand to teach visitors of all ages the art of origami folding (through Jan.6). There are scores of special activities through December (even a sleepover for adults!). The Butterfly Conservatory has reopened.

Also amazing venues: Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org), The New-York Historical Society Museum & Library (nyhistory.org).

The Empire State Building puts on a show for Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Empire State Building puts on a show for Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Look up to the Empire State Building for its annual holiday light show series from December 20 – December 24. The building’s stunning Art Deco lobby will also be decked out with brand-new holiday decorations and custom-designed holiday windows. While you are looking up, tune in: Empire State Realty Trust, Inc. and iHeartMedia have announced that the annual Empire State Building (ESB) holiday music-to-light show will feature global superstar Mariah Carey and her iconic hit song, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” from her first holiday album, Merry Christmas. The show, designed by renowned lighting designer Marc Brickman, will premiere on December 19 and will be synced live each night at 7 p.m. ET on iHeartMedia New York’s Z100, 103.5 KTU and 106.7 Lite FM through December 25. (www.esbnyc.com/explore/tower-lights/calendar)

Holiday Tours with a Twist

The RIDE, an innovative bus tour of Manhattan’s highlights, does a special Holiday Edition, available through Jan. 8. The comfy motorcoaches, designed so that the seats face out to giant picture windows, whips around the city. (holiday tickets $79, 212-221-0853,ExperienceTheRide.com).l

Sugartooth Tours presents a Holiday Market Dessert Tour that lets you sample delectable desserts from Herald Square through lesser-known hidden gem bakeries, where you experience the culinary traditions of a wide variety of countries, including France, Germany, and Belgium, tasting hot chocolate, gingerbread cookies and other treats. The tour concludes at the Union Square Holiday Market, the area’s most exciting holiday market for shopping and other holiday treats. The tours are offered Sundays at 2 pm up until Christmas, and by request for groups. Tickets are $50 and include all tastings. Gift certificates available. www.sugartoothtours.com.

Holiday Festivities in the Boroughs

The New York Hall of Science presents Gingerbread Lane, which features more than 1,050 gingerbread houses as well as a double-decker carousel and 10-square-foot candy factory. Visitors can marvel at homemade gingerbread houses made entirely of edible gingerbread, royal icing and candy. The houses are drafted, designed, baked, planned, built and decorated by chef Jon Lovitch over the course of an entire year. GingerBread Lane has won the Guinness World Record for 2013, 2014 and 2015 for the largest gingerbread village. Lovitch’s creation will again contend for this year’s Guinness World Record. Free with NYSCI admission (through Jan 15, 2017, nysci.org).

Visitors can take a tour of the festively decorated Queens County Farm Museum during the Holiday Open House at the Adriance Farmhouse in Floral Park, December 26–28 (noon-4 pm). Enjoy free tours of the decorated 1772 Adriance Farmhouse at our annual Holiday Open House. Children will enjoy seasonal craft activities and all visitors are invited to warm up with freshly mulled cider and snacks. A Victorian Christmas tree will be on display. (Free event; no gate admission,queensfarm.org)

The Louis Armstrong House Museum, a national historic landmark, hosts annual holiday tours throughout the holiday season, featuring Louis Armstrong’s voice recording of “’Twas the Night before Christmas (A Visit from St. Nicholas)” from December 1-30 (louisarmstronghouse.org).

A Slice of Brooklyn’s Christmas Lights Tour, running through December 31 (excluding Christmas Eve and Christmas Day), will dazzle guests with Dyker Heights’ sparkling lights exhibitions featuring 30-foot-tall toy soldiers and nativity scenes (asliceofbrooklyn.com).

 

Christmas Eve & Christmas Day

Saks 5th Avenue turns its façade into a holiday Sound & Light Show © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Saks 5th Avenue turns its façade into a holiday Sound & Light Show © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As for what to do Christmas Eve to Christmas Day (when most other places close). Here are some ideas:

For the holiday fanatic:

Skating beneath the famous Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center City © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Skating beneath the famous Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center City © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • The Rink at Rockefeller Center is open December 24–25, offering visitors the chance to skate next to the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree (therinkatrockcenter.com).
  • Open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the Bryant Park Winter Village is ideal for ice-skating and holiday shopping at its many seasonal vendors (wintervillage.org).
  • The Radio City Rockettes will perform the beloved Christmas Spectacular in three shows on December 24 and four on December 25 (rockettes.com).
  • The Ride: Holiday Edition is back this year, offering interactive tours on both December 24 & 25 (experiencetheride.com). 
Radio City’s world-famous Rockettes put on their iconic Christmas show © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Radio City’s world-famous Rockettes put on their iconic Christmas show © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For (not just) the first-time visitor:

  • Visitors can admire the City from up high all weekend long, with the iconic Empire State Building open 8am–2am (com).
  • In Lower Manhattan, the recently opened One World Observatory is open 9am–5pm on Christmas Eve and 9am–10pm on Christmas Day.
  • Above the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and Ice Rink, Top of the Rock is open 8am–11pm on December 24 and 8am–midnight December 25 (com).
  • Beloved Madame Tussauds New York has extended hours on December 24–25, open 9am–10pm both days (com).
  • Ripley’s Believe it or Not’s 500-plus unique exhibits are open to the public 365 days a year, with holiday weekend hours of 9am–1am (com).

For the culture buff:

  • 12 Broadway shows are offering Christmas Day performances, including Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Cats, Chicago, The Color Purple, Jersey Boys and Wicked (org).
  • Historic jazz club Blue Note New York offers brunch and evening performances on December 24–25 (net).
  • Visitors to the Upper East Side’s Jewish Museum on December 24-25 can enjoy new exhibits and a sit-down meal at the museum’s recently opened Russ & Daughters café (org).

For the outdoorsman:

  • The City’s public parks, including Central Park, Pelham Bay Park and Prospect Park, are open over the holiday weekend, (nycgovparks.org).
  • Three of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s zoos—Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo and Queens Zoo—are open on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (wcs.org).
  • The High Line, a stunning urban park that is itself a work of art (and has become one of New York’s most popular attractions), is open to the public over the holidays, offering visitors spectacular views of Manhattan’s Far West Side, Empire State Building, Hudson River and beyond (thehighline.org).  

For the last-minute shopper:

Macy’s at Herald Square will be open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for last-minute shopping © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Macy’s at Herald Square will be open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for last-minute shopping © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
  • Several department stores are open Christmas Eve (closed Christmas Day), including Macy’s Herald Square, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales (nycgo.com).
  • Arthur Avenue’s food and retail market is open December 24–25, offering the opportunity to purchase authentic Italian produce, fresh cheese, meats and holiday treats (arthuravenuebronx.com).
  • Brooklyn Flea’s Winter Market at Skylight One Hanson is open December 24 from 10am to 3pm, and is offering extended noon to 8pm holiday hours December 21–23 (brooklynflea.com).

Lower East Side staple Essex Street Market will be open December 24, with vendors including beauty suppliers, art galleries and bakeries (essexstreetmarket.com).

Holiday Places to Dine

As for the most festive places for dining:

  • Tavern on the Green, the Central Park holiday mainstay, offers a three-course prix-fixe Brunch menu from 9am-3pm. For Christmas Eve and Christmas Day they will offer their Traditional Tavern on the Green Christmas dinner for $125 per person. Seating will be 4pm-11pm on Christmas Eve and 11am-9pm on Christmas Day (com).
  • The Palm Court at The Plaza offers special Christmas high tea service with a three-tiered assortment of holiday delicacies on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for $125 per person. Their holiday menu runs from November 1 – January 3 (com).
  • Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem presents a three-course prix-fixe menu for $55 per person featuring American holiday staples such as cornbread, deviled eggs, honey glazed ham, butternut squash soup, and roast turkey (com).
  • David Chang’s renowned Momofuku Ko presents an eight-course tasting menu for both lunch and dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for $225 per person (momofuku.com).
  • Geoffrey Zakarian’s The Lambs Club presents a Holiday Carolers Brunch each Saturday in December and Christmas Day, featuring a traditional caroling troupe and seasonal treats like the Stuffed French Toast with mascarpone, cranberry-pear compote and hazelnuts along with decadent hot chocolate and toppings. Reservations are $68 Per adult and $35 per child (com).

Holiday Lodging Packages

Many of the city’s hotels have special holiday-themed packages © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Many of the city’s hotels have special holiday-themed packages © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Have family or friends who are visiting from out of town? Here are some hotel ideas:

  • Visitors have no shortage of options when it comes to new hotels this holiday season, including The Beekman, Four Seasons New York Downtown and Arlo Hotels’ two new properties.
  • Z Hotel NYC is offering a Making Memories Package from October 7 to December 24. Components of the package include a Deluxe Queen overlooking the Manhattan skyline, dinner for two in the hotel’s new restaurant, the ceLLar bar, ice skating at Rockefeller Center, and a picture flip book capturing memories of your NYC trip.
  • For the holiday shopping season, ROW NYC offers a Bloomingdales Shop & Stay package, providing guests with a Bloomingdales’ $50 gift card, duffle bag, VIP leather wallet, key chain and special in-store offers (com).
  • Conrad New York will again offer its Conrad Skate package, including a stay in the hotel’s luxurious suites, breakfast at ATRIO Wine Bar & Restaurant and private skating lessons with Olympic skaters at The Rink at Brookfield Place, with a special autographed takeaway gift and hot cocoa at the hotel, post-skating (com).
  • Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, The Time Hotel New York offers a Holiday On Point Package. The offer includes Caviar pizza from Serafina paired with a Magnum bottle of Dom Perignon Rose Champagne delivered to the suite at midnight, as well as overnight accommodations in the Triplex Penthouse Suite and limo transfers to and from the airport (com).
  • The Surrey is launching a new package, Champagne Wishes to celebrate the holidays and toast the New Year in true luxury. Visitors who reserve a salon or suite during the holiday season will receive a child bottle of Veuve Cliquot, Champagne Truffles and a Champagne and Pearl Sugar treatment at the hotel’s Cornelia Spa (com).
  • During the month of December, The Loews Regency offers unique and festive holiday experiences including a 15-foot-tall Christmas tree, complimentary Hot Chocolate happy hour, complimentary kate spade new york pajamas, and carol performances every day in the lobby (com).

For a full holiday guide to New York City, visit nycgo.com/holidays.

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com 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

 

 

 

Favorite Places to Spend the Winter Holidays

Mrs. Shapiro talks about preparing for Hanukah at Strawbery Banke, the living history museum in Portsmouth NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mrs. Shapiro talks about preparing for Hanukah at Strawbery Banke, the living history museum in Portsmouth NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

(Our review of our favorite places for families to spend the winter holidays continues from Favorite Places for Family Winter Holiday Travel).

Portsmouth, NH: Strawbery Banke Museum, in the heart of historic downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is an authentic 10-acre outdoor history museum dedicated to bringing 300+ years of American history in the same waterfront neighborhood to life.

Candlelight Stroll, an annual holiday tradition at Strawbery Banke since 1979 showcases 350 years of seasonal and holiday traditions against the backdrop of the Museum’s furnished historic houses. On these weekend evenings, the Museum grounds glow with hundreds of lighted candle lanterns, the houses are adorned with thousands of hand-made decorations crafted from live greens and dried flowers and herbs collected from the Museum gardens, and the air is filled with the sound of holiday music and scent of woodsmoke from the bonfire. Its authenticity is the foundation for the claim that the Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth holiday celebration, echoed by Travel + Leisure magazine, makes Portsmouth ‘the Christmas capital of North America.’

Visitors stroll from house to historic house, greeted by costumed role players and performers who recreate the traditions of times past, rediscovering the joys of simpler times. Mrs. Shapiro prepares a Hanukah celebration her 1919 Russian Jewish kitchen. Mrs. Goodwin, her family and servants prepare a Victorian Christmas. Father Christmas, the night watchman, “Mayor Frank Jones” and other role-players make their rounds along the dirt lanes; and the Abbotts await news of their soldier fighting in Europe in the Second World War. Carolers, chestnuts and holiday crafts bring all the sounds, scents and moments for family ‘stopfulness’ to this event that is a cherished New Hampshire tradition.  Complimentary refreshments and hot apple cider are offered at the Cider Shed. Traditional hearth-cooking demonstrations, crafts demonstrations, and winter projects for kids provide interactive fun for multiple generations. (December 3, 4, 10, 11, 16, 17, 18; Saturdays, 5-9 pm. Sundays, 4-8 pm. Friday Dec 16, 5-9 pm). Purchase tickets in advance at the Strawbery Banke Visitors Center at 14 Hancock Street and online, www.strawberybanke.org.

There are also Guided Holiday House Tours, weekdays, Dec 26-31 of five decorated historic houses at Strawbery Banke Museum offered on the hour, 10 am to 2 pm. Adults $15, children 5-17 $10, children under 5 free.

For more information on Vintage Christmas in Portsmouth sactivities and participating hotels, visit www.VintageChristmasNH.org.

Wentworth By-the-Sea, a grand historic resort in Portsmouth, NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Wentworth By-the-Sea, a grand historic resort in Portsmouth, NH © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Complete the experience with a stay at Wentworth by the Sea, an AAA Four-Diamond resort and member of Historic Hotels of America, delightfully set on an island just across from historic Portsmouth, NH. Ask just about anyone who grew up in New Hampshire and they wax nostalgic about spending holidays at this grand resort hotel that has graced the shore since 1888. Among its amenities: an 8,500 sq. ft. spa, magnificent indoor pool, Wentworth Dining Room with original hand-painted ceiling mural. Check the website for special packages including Romance, Golf, Dining, and Spa, and holiday programs. Wentworth By the Sea, 588 Wentworth Road, New Castle NH  03854, 603-422-7322, 888-252-6888, info@wentworth.com, www.wentworth.com.

Victorian Cape May Christmas 

Victorian Cape May at Christmas offers six weeks of festive tours and events sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), from Nov. 18 through Jan. 1, 2017.

The wonders of the season are on display at “An Old-Fashioned Christmas Exhibit: Holiday Traditions through the Years,” at the Carroll Gallery located in the Estate Carriage House, 1048 Washington St. Here you can experience an exhibit of holiday traditions complete with a giant Christmas tree, a Dept. 56 Dickens Village, model trains, nostalgic photos from Christmas past, toys and much more! Friday, Nov. 18-Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. The Gallery is open daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas); hours vary. Admission is free and free parking is available.

Take a guided, tour of the 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, decorated in authentic Victorian style for Christmas, during Physick Family Christmas House Tours © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Take a guided, daytime, living history tour of the magnificent 1879 Physick Estate, Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, decorated in authentic Victorian style for Christmas, during Physick Family Christmas House Tours, presented from the viewpoint of a member of the Physick family in the early 1900s. The tour also includes a visit to the Carroll Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate where you can see “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas) through Jan. 1, 2017; hours vary. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8.

During the Historic District Trolley Tour, you’ll get acquainted with Cape May on a trolley tour as knowledgeable guides present entertaining and educational stories about the nation’s oldest seashore resort. $12 for adults and $8 for children (ages 3-12). Offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas); tour times vary.

Enjoy a guided trolley tour of Cape May’s Historic District, followed by a guided tour of Cape May’s only Victorian house museum, the Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St., decorated in true Victorian style for Christmas and presented through the eyes of a member of the Physick family in the early 1900s, during the Combination Trolley/Physick Family Christmas House Tours. $22 for adults, $14 for children (ages 3-12). Tours are offered daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas.) Hours vary.

Relive the memories of Christmas past on Lamplighter Christmas Tours, self-guided evening tours of Cape May’s inns or private homes specially decorated for the holidays. Hear a holiday presentation by the owner at each location. The tour also includes a visit to the Carroll Gallery at the Emlen Physick Estate where you can see “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit and enjoy warm beverages and holiday treats. Adults $20; children (3-12) $15. Offered 7 p.m.-9 p.m. on Fridays, Dec. 2-23; Saturday, Nov. 26 and Wednesday, Dec. 28, and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 31. 

Ghosts of Christmas Past Trolley Rides feature a member of the East Lynne Theater Company who will regale you with a Victorian holiday ghost tale as you ride through Cape May’s festively decorated Historic District. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8. Tour begins and ends at Washington Street Mall at Ocean Street except for the Nov. 19 tour which leaves from the Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington Street. Offered Fridays, Dec. 2-Dec. 23, Saturdays, Nov. 19-26; Sundays, Nov. 27-Dec. 18; and Monday, Dec. 26-Saturday, Dec. 31). Hours vary. Advance reservation strongly recommended.

Thousands of Christmas lights and holly transform Cape May during the holiday season. Take one of the many Holiday Lights Trolley Rides through Cape May’s Historic District to see cheerfully decorated inns and homes as guides talk about Victorian Christmas traditions, lead sing-alongs, and play Christmas music. Rides last about 30 minutes and admission is $12 Adults; $10 children (ages 3-12). Offered nightly, Nov. 25-Dec. 31. Hours vary. (No tours Dec. 3, 10, 12, 17, 24 25) Trolley rides leave from the Washington Street Mall Information Booth, Washington Street at Ocean (except for Nov. 19 trolley rides, which leave from the Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St.)

Revel in the sparkly lights of Cape May’s beautiful Victorian homes decorated for Christmas on a trolley ride through town, then take a guided tour of the first floor rooms of the 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, authentically decorated for a Victorian Christmas during the Evening Yuletide Tour. See how the Physick family would have entertained for the holidays. Afterwards, visit the Carriage House for holiday refreshments and a visit to “An Old-fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Tour begins and ends at the Ocean Street trolley stop. Adults $22; children (3-12) $14. You can also take just the house tour portion, the Evening Physick Estate Tour, a 30-minute guided tour of Cape May’s 1879 Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St., decorated in authentic style for a Victorian Christmas. Included is a visit the Carriage House for holiday refreshments and a visit to “An Old-Fashioned Christmas” exhibit. Adults $12; children (3-12) $8. Both tours offered every evening, Nov. 25 through Dec. 30, except Dec. 3, 10, 12, 17, 24 and 25. Hours vary.

MAC also offers holiday-themed food and wine tours and events.

For more information. Contact Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), 609-884-5404 or 800-275-4278 or visit www.capemaymac.org.

Chattanooga Choo Choo 

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 star-bright 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, visit the Children’s Discovery Museum and the Tennessee Aquarium. Get the full scoop on planning a holiday getaway in Chattanooga at www.chattanoogafun.com/winter.

Historic train car turned into an enchanting sleeping room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga, Tennessee © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Historic train car turned into an enchanting sleeping room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chattanooga, Tennessee © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Chattanooga Choo Choo offers an absolutely magical experience. The historic hotel (and member of Historic Hotels of America) is literally created out of the historic railroad station, 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).

The train station offers marvelous dining places (including a saloon-style restaurant where the waiters take turns singing), and cute shops. You can climb aboard the historic locomotive, and dine in the dining car as well. The music of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” immediately rings in your ears (it plays fairly constantly).

The original motel, which is still used, offers an indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, gardens. There is even a historic train ride on a trolley. Also, 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 interesting stay. Chattanooga Choo Choo, 400 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402, 800-TRACK-29 (872-2529), www.choochoo.com.

Grand, Glorious & Historic Hotels

You can’t go wrong in choosing a Historic Hotels of America member hotel or resort for personality, character, connection to place, authenticity and overall aura that makes for a unique experience so perfectly fitting for your own family tradition. Here are just a few of our favorites for the holidays:

Mohonk Mountain House, New York © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Mohonk Mountain House, New York © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mohonk Mountain House, located 90 miles north of New York City in the Catskills,- is the very definition of a getaway-from-it-all retreat. From festive décor and favorite traditions to cozy wood-burning fires and a wealth of outdoor recreation, the historic Mohonk Mountain House exemplifies a quintessential holiday getaway.

The atmosphere at Mohonk is exceptional any time of the year, but is absolutely breathtaking for the holidays: spectacular hand-made swags, Victorian decorations, and beautifully decorated Christmas trees on display throughout the House. Families who want to create a festive atmosphere in-room can inquire about holiday decorations, including an ornamented ‘eco-tree’ and stockings hung above their fireplace, filled with goodies. Cozy wood-burning fireplaces can also be found in 124 out of 259 guest rooms –more than any resort in the nation.

The spirit of the season fills Mohonk Mountain House, National Historic Landmark resort, throughout December with many cherished traditions, including the family Yule Log Hunt, a Trim-A-Tree Party, the nightly lighting of the Menorah, holiday craft-making and caroling. Workshops on wreath making, cookie decorating, seasonal tablescapes and more are also offered. Outdoor recreation options abound, including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snow tubing (weather permitting), along with ice-skating at the resort’s stunning open-air Pavilion.

Mohonk also offers an award-winning, eco-friendly Spa (it was named the Number One Resort Spa in the United States by CondéNast Traveler). Spa amenities include an outdoor heated mineral pool, an indoor heated swimming pool with underwater sound system, a yoga/motion studio, comprehensive fitness center and solarium. For reservations, call 855.274.4020 or visit Mohonk.com.

Other Historic Hotels of America favorites:

Cranwell Resort & Spa, in the Berkshires – like being on a grand estate – equipped with every luxurious amenity – world class spa, indoor pool, cross-country skiing, and about half-hour up the road, downhilling at Jiminy Peak (www.cranwell.com).

Omni Mount Washington at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire: A grand masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance architecture, conceived by industrialist Joseph Stickney, this National Historic Landmark opened in 1902 and has been attracting generations of families ever since. It’s located literally across the street from Bretton Woods, a marvelous ski resort, and also offers a spa and cross-country skiing. It’s also close by to the outlet shopping town of North Conway, NH (www.omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington)

The Sagamore, Bolton Landing: Situated in the unspoiled Adirondack Mountains on its own island on Lake George, the Sagamore opened in 1883 and was a social center for the wealthy visiting Lake George. It’s a magical place. Nearby, go sledding or cross-country skiing on The Sagamore’s golf course, or hop its shuttle bus to ski at Gore Mountain, about 45 minutes away.

The Jekyll Island Club, Georgia © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Jekyll Island Club, Georgia © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have scores of favorite Historic Hotels – there are 275 members in just about every state and territory. Those that offer a grand resort experience include The Hotel Hershey, in Hershey, Pennsylvania; Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Jekyll Island, Georgia; Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray Beach, Florida; The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, and the Don CeSar (www.loewshotels.com/don-cesar), both in St. Petersburg, Florida. Each offers exquisite atmosphere, service, amenities and each has its own personality, character, and special connection with the people and place. For more information, visit HistoricHotels.org.

The Loews Don CeSar, on St. Petersburg Beach, Florida © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The Loews Don CeSar, on St. Petersburg Beach, Florida © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hey Dude!

We had an entirely different holiday experience at the Pinegrove dude ranch, an old-fashioned all-inclusive Catskills Mountains family resort with horses and a “Toy Story” cowboy vibe. So festive, warm, friendly and utterly delightful.  It’s a nonstop giggle for children of all ages. Parents will slip back into their own childhoods while making new childhood memories for their own kids. There are activities galore, indoor pool, even laser tag, plus nightly shows and entertainment, three meals daily plus snacks and the holiday atmosphere is so special. They regularly offer specials for Christmas and holiday times. Check the site for specials on February Recess, Mothers Day, Fathers Day and school vacations. Pinegrove Ranch, 30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson N.Y. 12446, Ulster County, Reservations: 800-346-4626, email info@pinegroveranch.com, www.pinegroveranch.com. 

Gift of Travel 

Norwegian Breakaway. Consider giving a gift card or travel certificate. Norwegian Cruise Lines, which operates the Breakaway from New York, lets you purchase a denomination that can be applied to the cruise or to onboard experiences © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Norwegian Breakaway. Consider giving a gift card or travel certificate. Norwegian Cruise Lines, which operates the Breakaway from New York, lets you purchase a denomination that can be applied to the cruise or to onboard experiences © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Consider giving a gift card or gift certificate for a travel or vacation experience. Many cruiselines (for example Norwegian Cruise Line’s gift cards can be used toward the cruise vacation or onboard experiences, like a massage or specialty dining), hotel companies (for example, Catania Hospitality Group which has the Dan’l Webster Inn & Spa in Sandwich on Cape Cod, the Cape Codder Resort & Spa, Cape Codder Water Park, John Carver Inn & Spa in Plymouth, the Hearth ‘n Kettle Restaurants, Grand Cru Wine Bar and WaterFire Tavern, as well as gift shops, not only has gift cards, but offers special bonuses, www.cataniahospitalitygroup.com), even tour operators (for example Globus, www.globusjourneys.com/Gift/, Apple Vacations, www.applevacations.com/gift-certificates/,  and Southwest Vacations, and offer gift cards where you can purchase a denomination that can be applied to the trip or upgrade or some special activity or experience. One of our favorites for gift cards is spafinders.com.  Check the terms and how the cards or certificates can be applied. Best to choose an entity that offers lots of choices.

See also:

Favorite Places for Family Winter Holiday Travel

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© 2016 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com 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

 

Favorite Places for Family Winter Holiday Travel

 

Christmas carolers at Longwood Gardens, in the Brandywine Region © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Christmas carolers at Longwood Gardens, in the Brandywine Region © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Travel brings family together, forging relationships and bonds – whether it is siblings, parents with children, multi-generations – in a way that the everyday does not. Holiday travel is that much more special, building those lifelong memories as surely as the aromas of a holiday meal.

That’s because travel encompasses not just place, but activities and experiences that families share together, and perhaps even more significant, the luxury of spending time together.

Northstar, Lake Tahoe, California: Ski holiday brings the whole family together for Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Northstar, Lake Tahoe, California: Ski holiday brings the whole family together for Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Consider: a ski holiday is a superb activity to bring everyone together, not to mention getting cozy around a roaring fire– some of our favorite ski resorts include Okemo, Stratton Mountain, Smugglers Notch in Vermont; Heavenly and Northstar in Lake Tahoe; Keystone, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Winter Park in Colorado (check out Ski Colorado, www.ColoradoSki.com; Vail Resorts, snow.com; Ski Vermont, skivermont.com;  Ski New York, www.iskiny.com; Ski.com); cruising is a great way for families to travel together (check out www.cruisecritic.com, www.dunhilltraveldeals.com, cruisecompete.com, www.crowncruisevacations.com, cruising.org); a resort stay; dude ranch;  or a themepark resort holiday are essential to childhood (DisneyWorld, Universal, SeaWorld are among our favorites for the winter holidays). Historic Hotels of America are wonderful venues – they are stewards of tradition and heritage, after all, that provide just the right atmosphere to knit your own family tradition.

Or think about experiential, active, or adventure travel:  a family safari; London in search of Harry Potter; cycle on the Danube Bike Trail (great for families).

The best holiday destinations offer plenty of activities indoor and out, so no matter the weather, there is something enchanting to do. But there is more: they manage to create an entire atmosphere that leave everyone in the family with lifelong memories. Over the years, we have had magical winter holidays in such places. Here are some of our family’s favorites.

Gilded Age Holiday in Newport, RI

Newport, Rhode Island is such a charming place any time of the year, but especially at Christmas. There is so much to do throughout the city, eminently walkable – ice skating on the harbor rink, boat rides to see seals, walking along the Cliff Walk, but the essence are visiting the Gilded Age mansions when you really feel yourself transported in time.

Beginning November 19, 2016 and running through January 2, 2017, The Preservation Society of Newport County offers music, tours,  visits from Santa Claus, model trains, antique toys and shopping at three of America’s most outstanding historic houses: The Breakers, Marble House and The Elms.

Each year new themes, ornaments and decorations are added to keep the experience fresh for returning visitors.  For 2016, there will be a total of 28 decorated Christmas trees throughout the three houses each decorated to coordinate with its setting.

New this year at The Breakers, the toy train display in the second floor loggia will focus on the Vanderbilts’ New York Central Railroad. Three model train sets, each different vintage reproductions of New York Central rail lines, will run through a grove of decorated Christmas trees. Nearby, display cases will exhibit memorabilia from the New York Central Railroad from the Preservation Society’s collection.

The Breakers, a 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo, was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt and completed in 1895 for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, President and Chairman of the New York Central Railroad.  Its interiors include rich marbles and gilded rooms, a 50-foot high Great Hall, mosaic tile floors and ceilings, and open-air terraces with magnificent ocean views.

At The Elms, a Gilded Age streetscape theme in the ballroom will feature period sleighs and lanterns, mannequins wearing vintage clothing, trees and a topiary horse. Also on display in the house will be a collection of antique decorations and toys donated by Berwind family descendants.

The Elms is an elegant French-style chateau built in 1901 for Philadelphia coal magnate Edward J. Berwind.  It serves as a backdrop for monumental artworks, including wall-sized 18th century Venetian paintings and Chinese lacquer panels.  The Elms is situated on a 10-acre park with an elaborate sunken garden.

Marble House, a grand stage for Alva Vanderbilt's climb to social and political power, first as a leading society hostess and later as a leader of the "Votes for Women" campaign, is one of the special venues for Newport Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Marble House, a grand stage for Alva Vanderbilt’s climb to social and political power, first as a leading society hostess and later as a leader of the “Votes for Women” campaign, is one of the special venues for Newport Christmas © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Marble House was the summer home of Mr. and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt. Built and furnished at a reported cost of $11 million, it was the most lavish house in America when it opened in 1892.  It became a grand stage for Alva Vanderbilt’s climb to social and political power, first as a leading society hostess and later as a leader of the “Votes for Women” campaign.   

Holiday Evenings at the Newport Mansions recreate the ambience of an evening soirée during the Gilded Age.  These open house evenings allow guests to stroll at their leisure through the decorated house, listening to live holiday music and enjoying cookies, eggnog and cider.  Holiday Evenings at The Breakers are scheduled for Saturdays, November 26, December 3 and December 10, and new this year, two Friday evenings, December 23 and 30, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. On December 17, guests can enjoy a Holiday Evening DuetThe Elms and Marble House, and see both of those houses for the price of one, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Admission to Holiday Evenings is $35 in advance, $45 day-of the event.  Children 6-17 are admitted for $10 in advance, $15 day-of. Children under the age of 6 are admitted free.  Preservation Society members enjoy reduced admission, $30 in advance, $35 day-of. More information, including the schedule of Holiday Evening entertainment, and advance tickets are available online at www.NewportMansions.org, or call (401) 847-1000.

A grand choice for accommodations is The Hotel Viking, nestled in the Historic Hill district on famed Bellevue Avenue. Once the summering destination of America’s wealthiest, the Hotel was opened in 1926 to accommodate their haute monde guests. With the most recent multi-million dollar renovation finished in 2007 this hotel is the perfect choice for a historic stay in the heart of Upscale Historic Newport Rhode Island. Hotel Viking is a member of Historic Hotels of America (historichotels.org).

Another is the Vanderbilt Grace Hotel, a boutique hotel originally built by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, a scion of the wealthy Vanderbilt family. The 1909 property is a vintage Newport mansion that has been restored to its former glory and is one of the few private homes of the era to operate for guests as a fully functioning and top luxury hotel in Rhode Island. Today, as The Vanderbilt Grace, the mansion comprises a luxurious hotel with 33 rooms and luxury suites and a lavish spa and fitness center with indoor and outdoor pools. The hotel features two restaurants including Muse (www.gracehotels.com/vanderbilt).

For a complete line-up of holiday and winter events, travel packages and last minute deals, visit Discover Newport, 800-326-6030, DiscoverNewport.org.

Quintessential New England

Manchester, Vermont, a delightful New England village, hosts six weeks of holiday merriment, across the Manchester and the Mountains Region (a whole village of outlet shops, too!). There are tours of decorated inns, pub crawls with local restaurants offering special pairings, a Lighted Tractor Parade, and the Elf Express Train ride. Some events charge admission. (visitmanchestervt.com/merriment).

Skiing at Stratton Mountain Resort, Vt. © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Skiing at Stratton Mountain Resort, Vt. © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of our favorite places to stay for the holidays in Manchester is the historic Equinox, where Mary Todd Lincoln would spend summers. The Equinox has since become a four-season luxury resort with every imaginable amenity including world-class spa, indoor pool, Orvis fly fishing school, a falconry school, Range Rover driving school. The Equinox is near fabulous outlet shopping and historic sites such as Todd Lincoln’s home, Hildene, which hosts holiday tours and cross-country skiing. Equinox is also a short drive to superb downhill skiing and riding at Stratton Mountain, Bromley Mountain and Magic Mountain (www.equinoxresort.com, 800-362-4747).

Woodstock, Vermont is the quintessential New England village, oozing charm and its centerpiece is the historic Woodstock Inn. An AAA Four Diamond resort, it is decked out in holiday finery and activities galore (Tubbs Snowshoe Adventure Center, crosscountry skiing, luxurious spa and indoor recreation center with tennis, visits to the fascinating Billings Farm & Museum, downhill skiing at the resort’s own Suicide Six ski hill, with Killington just 25 minutes away and Okemo 40 minutes away. Founded by the Rockefellers, the Woodstock Inn & Resort is owned and operated by The Woodstock Foundation, Inc.  Proceeds from Resort operations support The Woodstock Foundation and Billings Farm & Museum education and conservation programs. Find vacation packages and specials at www.woodstockinn.com.

A Capital Christmas

Washington DC is an ideal winter destination – so much that is fascinating to see inside, as well as enchanting places outside, and easy walks between the attractions that line the mall – National Air and Space Museum, National Museum of Natural History, National Museum of American History, Museum of the American Indian, to list but a few. Break up museum visits with ice skating on the mall, a ride on the carousel and a visit to the National Zoo (reachable by metro).

Holiday Displays and Lights Galore: Among the elaborate displays:

  • ZooLights returns to brighten the paths throughout the National Zoo (Thru Jan. 1, closed December 24, 25, 31). More than 40 animated light installations as well as Panda Claus delight visitors (nationalzoo.si.edu/events/zoolights)
  • Character-guided candlelit tours of George Washington’s Mount Vernon welcome visitors to walk through the founding farmer’s mansion and try 18th century dancing and fireside caroling. Aladdin the Christmas camel, a nod to General Washington’s tradition of bringing a camel to his farm for the delight of his guests, will be in the barn. Christmas festivities November 25 – January 6. (Open 365 days of the year including Christmas and New Year’s, www.mountvernon.org/plan-your-visit/activities-tours/christmas-at-mount-vernon)
  • The National Christmas tree in President’s Park on the Ellipse kicks off a month of nightly musical performances at the site at dusk (through Jan. 1).
  • Georgetown Glow, the city’s only curated exhibition of contemporary light-art installations dot the historic riverfront neighborhood, Dec. 2-Jan 1, 6-10 pm nightly. (www.georgetownglowdc.com)

For details and assistance planning a trip, go to Destination DC, www.washington.org. There’s also a real-time concierge service (800-422-8644 between 9am-5pm) and lively social channels for tailored suggestions and inspiration.

Historic hotels in Washington include Willard Intercontinental Hotel, offering themed packages;  The Morrison-Clark Inn, The Jefferson, The Churchill, Henley Park Hotel, The Fairfax at Embassy Row, The Mayflower Hotel, Autograph Collection, The Capital Hilton,  and Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington DC (see historichotels.org). For an extraordinary bed-and-breakfast in a historic mansion home, Swann House, 1808 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009, tel. 202-265-4414,  E-mail stay@swannhouse.com, www.swannhouse.com.

Christmas on the Potomac

A resort stay: Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC offers a spectacular Christmas on the Potomac festival including ICE! where you get to go down an ice slide © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A resort stay: Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC offers a spectacular Christmas on the Potomac festival including ICE! where you get to go down an ice slide © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Get a full family resort experience (and still enjoy easy access to DC) with a stay at Gaylord National Resort which offers a dazzling array of holiday activities during its annual “Christmas on the Potomac” festival, including ICE! (Nov. 19, 2016-Jan. 1, 2017), this year with the theme, Christmas Around the World to showcase different cultures and their Christmas festivities.

Artisans from Harbin, China travel more than 6,000 miles to hand-carve more than two million pounds of colorful ice into larger-than-life ice sculptures to illustrate scenes celebrating the world’s diverse cultural traditions. Adults and kids alike also can enjoy two-story ice slides, an enchanting Parade of Toys, and larger-than-life ornaments. The 9 degrees attraction brings back The Frostbite Factory for its third year, allowing visitors to learn how the attraction is made through colorful sculptures, as well as to see an artisan carve live using chainsaws, ice picks. Pricing, advance purchase of tickets and hours can be found at  www.ChristmasOnThePotomac.com.

In addition to ICE!Gaylord National offers a variety of other holiday attractions, dining events and more during its Christmas on the Potomac celebration.

New this year, guests can dine with their favorite Peanuts characters at Breakfast with Charlie Brown and Friends holiday meal. This one-of-a-kind, interactive character breakfast includes a delicious breakfast with Peanuts-themed dishes and tableside visits from Peanuts characters. During the meal, guests can pose for a photo with Charlie Brown and the Gang as a keepsake from the experience (extra fee).

Guests also can enjoy the return of The Elf on the Shelf® Scavenger Hunt. By finding all the scout elves hiding in the resort and solving the puzzles in the scavenger hunt booklet, families will reveal the elves’ names so they can get their Christmas magic. Guests who help the scout elves will receive a special prize.

New for 2016, Gaylord National Resort has an exclusive Build-A-Bear Workshop experience that lets guests build their very own furry winter friend—a cuddly, cute polar bear plush, designed for Gaylord Hotels, which can be personalized with cozy winter clothing and accessories.

Dancing Fountains are part of the Christmas on the Potomac festival at Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Dancing Fountains are part of the Christmas on the Potomac festival at Gaylord National Resort just outside Washington DC © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Additional holiday entertainment includes nightly holiday fountain shows with lasers and indoor snowfall, photos with Santa, an indoor train ride and attractions, gourmet holiday food and beverage offerings including a new Christmas Cookies Around the World class, winter spa treatments, gingerbread decorating and more.

Overnight packages are available that include unlimited priority entry to ICE!  priced from $199; and a Christmas on the Potomac Package, which includes one night room accommodations, tickets to ICE!  with unlimited, priority entry, $100 resort credit per night for hotel dining and Relâche Spa services; and souvenir ICE! photo, priced from $259.

For more information on Christmas on the Potomac at Gaylord National Resort or to book a package, visit www.ChristmasOnThePotomac.com or call 301-965-4000 (201 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, Maryland 20745, www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/wasgn-gaylord-national-resort-and-convention-center).

Celebrate with the DuPonts in Wilmington DE and the Brandywine

Spectacular lighting displays at Longwood Gardens, in the Brandywine Region © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Spectacular lighting displays at Longwood Gardens, in the Brandywine Region © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of my most memorable Christmases was spent in Wilmington, Delaware, nearby historic Newcastle and the whole Brandywine Region. There are scores of holiday attractions and activities – the DuPont Mansion all decorated, Longworth Gardens, famous for its holiday decorations and enchanting Dancing Fountains (open even on Christmas Day). Staying at the historic Hotel DuPont, makes it all the more special.

Highlights include:

Yuletide at Winterthur (Nov 19, 2016 – Jan 8, 2017): Be dazzled by Henry du Pont’s 175-room home, decorated in holiday style. Tour the house and enchanting gardens (Winterthur.org).

Winterthur Galleries (thru Jan 8, 2017): The featured exhibit, “The Artists of Currier & Ives” lets you discover the extraordinary art of Fanny Palmer and Arthur Tait, two of the most prolific artists of Currier & Ives. Winterthur presents an unparalleled collection of nearly 90,000 objects of decorative and fine arts made or used in America from 1630 to 1860 (winterthur.org).

A Longwood Christmas (Nov 24, 2016 – Jan 8, 2017): Wander through half a million twinkling lights, thousands of poinsettias and magnificent Christmas trees. Listen as carolers share the sounds of the season. (Buy before you arrive; timed admission tickets required and are limited. 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square,  PA 19348, longwoodgardens.org)

A Brandywine Christmas 2016 (Fri, Nov 25, 2016 – Sun, Jan 8, 2017) The museum celebrates the season with fabulous holiday displays including an extensive O-gauge model railroad, antique dolls from the collection of Ann Wyeth McCoy and thousands of whimsical “critter” ornaments on holiday trees.

Holidays at Hagley (Fri, Nov 25, 2016 – Sat, Jan 21, 2017): Lace decorations add to the ambiance of Hagley’s annual holiday exhibition. The theme this year at Eleutherian Mills residence is “A Feminine Touch.” Well-loved displays returning include the elaborate Twelfth Night celebration in the dining room and the Victorian library’s Christmas for children with its table-top tree surrounded by toys and games. (200 Hagley Creek Road, Wilmington, DE 19807, 302-658-2400, www.hagley.org)

Herr’s Lights Up the Holiday Season (Nov 24, 2016-Jan 1, 2017): Ring in the holiday season with Herr’s celebrated annual holiday lights display. A family favorite, the free driving tour incorporates more than 400,000 sparkling lights. Classic family favorites include oversized falling snowflakes, delightfully hung Christmas balls, a nativity scene and the famous 12-foot wreath and giant bow adorning the snack factory warehouse. (271 Old Baltimore Pike, Nottingham, PA 19362, 800-284-7488, www.herrs.com)

Brandywine River Museum of Art Presents: Rural Modern (thru Jan 22, 2017): Rural Modern explores the adaptation of modernist styles to subject matter associated with the American countryside (www.brandywine.org/museum)

More details at www.brandywinevalley.com/events

Christmas Tours in Odessa and Old New Castle (December): In Old New Castle, the annual “Spirit of Christmas & A Dickens Experience” events feature carolers, street vendors and actors recreating street scenes straight out of “A Christmas Carol,” as private homes and historic sites open their decorated doors to sightseers. “Christmas in Odessa” features private house tours, craft sales, holiday concerts and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. (See details at www.visitwilmingtonde.com/events/holiday.)

Gift of Travel

A cruise offers delightful experiences and logistics for a family reunion Christmas holiday, © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A cruise offers delightful experiences and logistics for a family reunion Christmas holiday, © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Can’t get away for the holidays? Gifting a future trip is a dream come true for many on your list. Consider a spa getaway (spafinders.com), an adventure tour (see moralcompasstravel.info for ideas), a fantasy camp (baseball, Rock n Roll, Broadway), Outward Bound adventure, a chance to join a research expedition (Earthwatch), a river cruise, a cycling trip (see biketours.com). Many hotels and resorts have gift card and gift certificate programs that you pay for a certain dollar denomination that your recipient can use to pay for meals or activities; cruiselines (like Norwegian Cruises) make it easy to purchase gift cards in customizable denominations ($25 to $1000) that can be used for onboard experiences or even shore excursions. If you know of someone who is planning a trip, you can gift a sightseeing tour or some special experience.

At this time of year, keep in mind that many travel entities (Vail Resorts, hotel companies, cruiselines, tour operators) run Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials.

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