Tis the season when top destinations and family resorts are decking their halls and making the season merry and bright. With children around the country enjoying as much as two weeks of school holidays, many families will turn Christmastime into an opportunity for a vacation.
These destinations, resorts, and cruise lines promise festive and memorable holiday getaways. Deck the halls with boughs of holly—or better yet, take a break this year and let somebody else do the work. The Christmas season brings out the best in hotel resorts around the country, as festive décor enhances warm, welcoming environments. This year, pack up the family and celebrate the holidays in the charm and comfort of one of the ten best Christmas-season resorts in the U.S. With gigantic Christmas trees, light shows, and even slides made of ice, a stay at one of these resorts guarantees a very merry Christmas indeed!
Whether you are planning a holiday trip to a nearby resort or to a tropical beach, there are many great Christmas vacations to choose from. The places that made our list offer travelers something unique: spectacular views, luxurious spas and activities for kids. Find great trip ideas from New York City, Washington D.C., Minneapolis – St. Paul, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas and other cities. Here are some of the best Christmas vacations to do with family.
1. The Lodge at Sea Island: The Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club is a relaxing beach getaway in southeastern Georgia. The hotel is set along five miles of private beach and has 40 luxury guest rooms and suites, offering guests privacy and five-star service. Vacationers have access to an array of activities and facilities, including the Learning Center, tennis center, boating, fishing, and a 65,000-square-foot spa and fitness center. If you are planning a family trip, Camp Cloister offers activities for kids, including cooking and fishing.Explore five miles of sandy beach on your own, or sign up for Nature Tours. Work out at the fitness center and unwind at the spa with one of the customized body treatments or massages. The hotel continues to win honors and awards for its attentive service and beautiful setting. There are three 18-hole championship courses where you can play tee off in a scenic setting, as well as improve your game with clinics, private, and group lessons. The AAA Five-Diamond destination overlooks the St. Simons Sound, Atlantic Ocean and the Plantation Course. Guest rooms measure at least 700 square feet in size and are furnished with overstuffed chairs and hardwood floors. The property offers 24-hour butler service and other luxury amenities. Rooms start at $395 per night. You can also stay at The Cloister at Sea Island
2. Voted the No. 1 Kid-Friendly Resort in the Eastern US & Canada by SKI Magazine readers, Smugglers’ Notch Resort in northern Vermont can enjoy a variety of special holiday activities throughout much of December.Designed for all ages, these activities include cookie decorating, craft workshops such as sock puppet making and snow art, themed family challenge races, all included in the resort’s vacation package. Santa will join children each Saturday around the resort’s village bonfire for complimentary hot chocolate and cookies. A weekly Winter Carnival features music, food, games and the thrill of watching an ice carving specialist unveil a masterpiece. A torchlight parade and fireworks follow the carnival.Smugglers’ vacation packages also include mountainside condominium lodging, lift tickets, snow tubing, ice skating, use of the indoor pool and hot tub and indoor FunZone with climbing inflatables, and family and adult entertainment.
3. West Coast travelers can plan a relaxing family Christmas in California where charming coastal towns offer a number of holiday events. Visit unique museums, attractions, wineries and shops in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Monterey, Newport Beach, Healdsburg and other amazing places in California, one of the best Christmas vacation destinations in the U.S. San Diego is a popular place to visit with kids, home to the San Diego Zoo, USS Midway Museum, the Maritime Museum of San Diego and other family-friendly attractions.Visit Disneyland, Disney California Adventure and Aquarium of the Pacific while staying at Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort in California. The oceanfront resort features Spanish-inspired architecture, ocean adventures, spa treatments and several sumptuous restaurants
4. Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort WHERE: Scottsdale, Arizona
Though the desert setting makes it highly improbable that you’ll see a white Christmas, the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Resort makes a valiant effort at instilling the holiday spirit. Crafted from 67,000 lights that sparkle amidst the palm trees, the Princess’s four-story Christmas tree welcomes guests with flickering lights timed to holiday songs. The Arizona resort also invites guests to ice-skate in pleasant temps, alongside cacti and lighted trees. Special holiday dinners are on offer at the resort’s fine-dining restaurants, including Bourbon Steak, La Hacienda, and Ironwood American Kitchen, while the perfect nightcap awaits via the resort’s winter cocktail list, served fireside at The Plaza Bar. For the eighth holiday season running, Christmas at the Princess returns to the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. Enjoy all of the holiday festivities, including more than three million twinkling lights, fireside s’mores, outdoor ice skating, a visit to Santa’s workshop and more. There are several special packages available for this event.
5. What could be sweeter than spending Christmas in the so-called Sweetest Place on Earth? Hershey rolls out the red carpet for the holiday, including a marquee Hersheypark Christmas Candylane at the theme park, light shows, holiday entertainment, visits with Santa and his reindeer, and more. Melted chocolate meets melted hearts with the Hotel Hershey’s sweet holiday salute. Hershey’s candy mecca completely transforms for the holiday season: Start with a stroll down Hersheypark’s Christmas Candylane, where two million LED lights set the high-end amusement park aglow. Though the landmark roller-coasters are closed for the season, the park has more than 30 year-round rides for families and kids. Hershey’s Sweet Lights attraction brings visitors on a cruise through a dazzling exhibit of illuminations and sculptures. A favorite among families, the breakfast or lunch with Santa pairs quality cuisine with exclusive one-on-one time with the jolly, red-suited fellow.Hershey Park sweetens the season this year with ?A Music Box Christmas, a show for kids of all ages, as well as cookie workshops and holiday-themed roller-coaster rides. Kids can also share their Christmas wishes with Santa and meet his nine live reindeer, including Rudolph. Later, hop in the family car and drive through two miles of wooded trails to experience Hershey’s “Sweet Lights,” a festive display of over 200,000 lights that “dance” to popular Christmas tunes. Christmas Candylane Packages are available on select dates. Make reservations for your children to have breakfast or lunch with Santa on a Saturday or Sunday from Nov. 25 through Dec. 23. See the website for dates, times and more details.
6. All inclusive old fashioned Christmas; In Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, the uber-family-friendly and all-inclusive Woodloch Resort is putting on an Olde-Fashioned Holiday on weekends in December. Highlights include a visit from Santa with live reindeer, a festival of lights, fireworks, holiday scavenger hunt, traditional yule log hunt, gingerbread wars, ornament making and more.
Less than two hours north of New York City in the Catskills, all-inclusive Mohonk Mountain House is a Victorian castle in the sky that’s perfect for a midweek escape during the holiday season. During the Olde-Fashioned Christmas, the resort decks its halls with spectacular handmade swags, elaborate gingerbread creations, and decorated Christmas trees. Special seasonal activities include a family Yule log hunt, holiday craft-making, and caroling. The December Delight package includes accommodations, two meals per day plus afternoon tea and cookies, and most activities.
7. Mohonk Mountain House WheERE: New Paltz, New York
The stately and exclusive Mohonk Mountain House decks the halls in grand style each Christmas, providing an ideal getaway for families and couples. From late November through early January, the historic compound is adorned with wreaths, garlands, and astonishing gingerbread creations that add a festive touch to the retreat. A stay in one of Mohonk’s 259 guestrooms is nearly all-inclusive (alcohol and spa treatments are exempt), including an impressive array of wintertime activities like ice skating, cross-country skiing, and snow tubing. Work up an appetite, as afternoon tea and cookies, a three-course dinner, and breakfast buffet are standard highlights with each night’s stay.
8. The magic of Christmas exists for those who believe. That’s the theme of The Polar Express, the beloved children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg that became a perennial favorite holiday movie featuring Tom Hanks.What Happens on Board the Polar Express? In the story, a boy takes a train journey to the North Pole to rekindle his belief in Santa. Over the past decade, dozens of Polar Express trains have popped up all over the country, offering families the opportunity to recreate the magical Polar Express experience through readings of the story, music from the movie soundtrack, cups of cocoa and, of course, meetings with Santa.Even better, many of these trains operate on historic railways that brim with charm and travel along scenic routes. The revenue from these special holiday trains benefits historic railroads, most of which are not for profit, by helping them raise money to preserve their historic trains.
Be aware, however, that while these trains may share many of the same activities, the execution of the experience can vary greatly. It’s always a good idea to do your homework and read reviews to see what previous passengers seem to think.
How Can You Make the Most of the Experience?
Before you go, be sure to read the book and watch the movie so that the details will be more meaningful during your Polar Express experience. All of the trains encourage kids to wear their pajamas, just like the boy in the story. It’s fun for the kids and the trains are heated. Many trains offer a variety of seating classes with more expensive options including additional perks, such as a souvenir mug or a keepsake photo thrown in.
Always check to see exactly what is included at each fare level.
Consider what time of day you travel. Some younger kids may do better on earlier trains, but the last train ride of the evening is arguably the most atmospheric when it’s darker outside and so consequently the train cars seem cozier and holiday lights seem all the brighter.
How Far in Advance Should You Reserve Tickets?
These Christmas trains are wildly popular and seem to sell out faster every year. With well over a half a million pajama-clad passengers climbing aboard each season, some trains sell out before the end of summer, especially those that run only on weekends and select dates. Book early to secure a specific date or time.
What Does It Cost to Ride a Polar Express Train?
For a family of four with two adults and two kids, count on spending anywhere from $100 to three times that, depending on the seating class you choose and whether you spring for upgrades. Costs for the train rides vary but typically start around $20 for kids and $30 for adults. Many trains offer a variety of upgrades and packages that often include a copy of the book or a souvenir mug, or seats in the dining car so you can enjoy your hot cocoa at a table with tablecloths.
9. Santa Claus, Indiana: Previously named one of the “10 best places to spend Christmas” by CNN, the town of Santa Claus, Indiana, whose population is less than 2,500, boasts the only post office offering a special “Santa Claus” postmark.
The town was originally called Santa Fe. In 1856, the United States Postal Service originally refused the town’s application as there was already a Santa Fe established with the USPS. This inspired the townspeople to change the name of the town to Santa Claus. Every year, the post office receives thousands of letters to Santa from all over the world. A group of volunteers known as Santa’s Elves ensures each child receives a reply from Santa Claus. This tradition has existed since 1914.Street names in Santas Claus include Christmas Boulevard, Candy Cane Lane, and Mistletoe Drive, and you’ll find over 20 statues of Santa around town, offering many seasonal photo ops.Santa Claus has a Christmas-themed amusement park called Holiday World, but ironically it is not open during the Christmas season.
The 2017 Santa Claus Stamp
Every year, a new holiday postmark is designed by a local high school art student as part of an annual contest.The Midwest town is hosting its annual three-week Santa Claus Christmas Celebration starting December 2, 2017. Holiday events in Santa Claus include: Santa Claus Christmas parade, The story of Santa Claus at the Santa Claus Museum & Village, Run Run Rudolph 5K through Lake Rudolph’s Santa Claus Land of Lights, Face painting and Christmas woodcarving demonstrations at Holly Tree Christmas Shop, Chestnuts roasting on an open fire at Santa’s Candy Castle, which opened in 1935 as the Christmas-themed attraction in the United States, Gingerbread house decorating at the Santa Claus Christmas Store, Christmas dinner with Santa at Santa’s Lodge, Christmas Lake Village Festival of Lights.
Families looking to save money on a getaway to Santa Claus should consider one of the Christmas packages the local visitor center has put together to give added bang for your buck. The packages are bundled to include accommodations and a selection of events and activities for added value. Some packages offer extras such as a bedtime story with Santa and Mrs. Claus in your hotel room. Options start at under $100 a night and increase depending on the quality of accommodations and the inclusions of the package.
10. A Smoky Mountain Christmas…
If you are spending Christmas in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, an evening at Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland should be part of your holiday. This light show set to music will make festive memories, and kids will love the bounce houses and refreshment stands at the end.Have yourself a picture perfect Smoky Mountain Christmas vacation in Gatlinburg / Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Seated next to the entrance of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the Bavarian-inspired ski town of Gatlinburg. This is THAT place…the picturesque, iconic, warm and fuzzy, old-fashioned Christmas winter wonderland you dreamed of as a child.In the Tennessee mountains tradition and folklore runs deep, and so does the Christmas cheer. Every mile of this charming mountain town is adorned with festive lights, transforming the region into a winter wonderland. A short 10-minute drive will take you to the over-the-top entertainment of Pigeon Forge, giving you the best of two contrasting cities, and a variety of entertainment both in and out of the woods. A Smoky Mountain Christmas is undoubtedly one to remember.If the small town shops are not your thing that’s okay, there’s plenty to do in downtown Gatlinburg. I am a personal advocate of Ripley’s Believe it or Not franchise, and this place is like the Land of Ripley’s. The Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies is AWESOME! With penguins, a walk-through shark tunnel, dinosaurs and even a scuba-diving Santa, this is a WIN for the family. Check out the Ripley’s House of Oddities, Ripley’s Haunted House, and Ripley’s miniature golf courses too!
Each year, Sevier County, Tennessee host Winterfest and decorates the strip going from Sevierville through Gatlinburg with Holiday lights and I’ll also be sharing some of that with you. But in addition to the main Winterfest lights, they also host an awesome light show called Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland.The light show is set to music. When you first drive in you will see a sign to tune your radio to a specific station. When you do, you will begin to hear Christmas music that is in sync with the lights. Each display of lights moves in rhythm with the music.