With the holidays approaching, places around the country are gearing up to put on a spectacular show. Here are 10 of the best to take your family to, so they can see and experience the magic!
NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND
Make your first stop for Christmas at The Newport Rhode Island Marriott, which builds a giant gingerbread house with 450 pounds of gingerbread and a 16-foot working lighthouse. The roof alone is made from more than 4,000 cookies and giant lollipops! Admission is free, but you can share the holiday spirit by bringing a nonperishable food item to be donated to charity.
The whole family will enjoy this affordable open-air skating rink located right in downtown Newport next to the Newport Yachting Center, where you slip along with a view of the harbor and the boats. Bundle up for several hours of icy fun!
The winter holidays are a great time to visit the oldest standing synagogue in America, which opened its doors for worship in 1763 and is a masterpiece of Colonial architecture. You can take a tour of the white and green perfectly restored interior where you’ll see a Torah that is 500 years old. Guides ranging in age from 19-79 tell your family about the national significance of the synagogue and the fascinating history of Jews in Rhode Island. Tours last about half an hour and are recommended for children ages six and older.
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
A trip to New York City during the holidays is a feast for the senses. Fanciful, elaborately-decorated department store windows beckon to passers-by; trees twinkle with colorful lights (including the nearly 80-foot one at Rockefeller Plaza); sidewalk vendors send the aroma of roasting chestnuts into the cold winter air, and the songs of carolers bring a small-town feel to this thriving metropolis. The season begins with Santa’s grand arrival after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and ends with a flourish when the ball drops in Times Square, signaling the arrival of the New Year. The weeks in-between are unquestionably the most magical time of year in this bustling city.
The most exciting moment of this more than 80-year-old parade is the same every year, but the anticipation of it only adds to the fun for kids: Santa’s much-heralded arrival at Macy’s and his temporary home in Santaland, the unofficial signal that the Christmas season has begun. More than 3 million spectators line the route of this famous parade each year, and if you can’t get there, you can join the millions who will be watching from their television sets on NBC at 9 a.m.
It’s been a sell-out hit for 85 years, and there’s a reason — seeing the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is truly awe-inspiring from the moment you walk into the opulent theater until the lights come back up at the show’s conclusion. Whether you catch the show at the historic theater or in your hometown, prepare to be captivated.
Although trees are brightly decorated all over New York City, none compare to the majesty of the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree. Set amongst a glorious display of holiday decorations throughout the Plaza (including the gossamer-winged, horn-blowing angels that guide
The miracle of Chanukah takes on even greater significance for kids as they look upon the 32-foot, 4,000-pound, golden candelabra that grandly takes the spotlight near Central Park on the corner of 5th Avenue and 59th Street.
Seeing the New York City Ballet’s version of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker is a right of passage for many children once-in-a-lifetime experience. The holiday classic takes on even greater grandeur here, with more than 100 dancers.
Leave the holiday hustle and bustle of Manhattan behind and head to the Bronx for this popular family event. In its 19th year, visitors to the Holiday Train Show get a birds-eye view of nearly 150 miniaturized five-borough landmarks.
Grand Central Terminal is a kid-favorite New York City destination throughout the year, but the Holiday Fair, Laser Light Show, and Holiday Train Show make it even more of a must-do.
WALT DISNEY WORLD RESORT, FLORIDA
From early November through January 6, 2014, throughout the Walt Disney World Resort, you’ll find a dazzling array of holiday-themed attractions, decor, and experiences that will enchant every member of your family. It’s a highly popular time of year for visitors to the parks and good reason: the resort is dressed to the nines and ready to deliver unforgettable holiday memories. There are a few ticketed events, but most are available for all park visitors. From the hotels to the restaurants, rides, and attractions, holiday cheer abounds.
It’s a magical night of unique holiday entertainment, including Castle Dream Lights! An enchanting parade and nighttime fireworks spectacular. The park’s centerpiece, Cinderella’s castle, will shimmer in “ice,” courtesy of 200,000 individual lights that drape the turrets and towers of the magical fortress and come to brilliant shimmering life each night. Holiday-themed spectacular fireworks feature bright bursts of color all set to favorite traditional holiday music and Disney music composed especially for this show.
The “dancing lights” moments occur every 10 minutes and last two to three minutes. Spontaneous dancing and singing have been known to happen among guests.
Delight in the Candlelight Processional (5 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8:15 p.m., daily) as celebrity narrators deliver an extraordinary retelling of the Christmas story accompanied by a phenomenal orchestra and a glorious mass choir. Enjoy a nighttime spectacular at IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth (nightly, 9:30 p.m.) with a grand finale just for this joyous time of year with the song “Let There Be Peace On Earth” at its center.
Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade blends the joy and jive of Disney’s Animal Kingdom park with the sights, sounds, and spirit. Check out the holiday accessories Mickey and his friends have added to their safari costumes.
DISNEYLAND RESORT, CALIFORNIA
Every year, Southern California’s Disneyland Resort becomes a sparkling holiday wonderland from late November through just after New Year’s Day. Guests are greeted by a 60-foot Christmas tree set in the Town Square near the park entrance, and Main Street is adorned with garland, wreaths, and glittery lights that’ll be sure to jumpstart your holiday spirit. Locals dreaming of a White Christmas may not get the real thing, but they will get a chance to see “snow flurries” during a nightly show at Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle, a hit with visitors of all ages. This year’s seasonal celebration runs from November 15, 2013, to January 6, 2014
A spectacular transformation takes place each evening as Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle shimmers and shines with twinkling lights, sparkling icicles&glistening snow-capped turrets. At twilight, a three-part show on the front of the castle begins with music and snow flurries that build up to a grand finale that paints the night sky with dazzling images as snow falls over Main Street, New Orleans Square and “Small World” mall to the sounds of “White Christmas.”
Disney characters dance from “it’s a small world” to Main Street U.S.A. with toy soldiers, smiling snowmen, gingerbread men, a skating Mickey and Minnie, Mrs. Claus, and more as they ring in the arrival of Santa Claus, perched high on a sleigh high above the crowd.
Jack Skellington and his friends from Halloweentown deck, the halls of the Haunted Mansion, ride with all sorts of ghoulish delights from “Sandy Claws” in a Christmas-Halloween combo that’s more fun than scary.
“It’s a small world” Holiday.
This classic Disneyland attraction adorns its facade with sparkling lights as children from around the world can be heard singing “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” in harmony. Pay attention to the other sights (and scents) through the ride.
- Santa’s Reindeer Round-up
- Disneyland Park – Frontierland
This annual attraction brings live reindeer to Disneyland, tended by none other than Santa and Mrs. Claus themselves. Kids will love not only the “star-sighting” but also the opportunity to create souvenir crafts and play games.
Learn the history behind Disneyland holiday traditions on this guided tour that includes entry into “it’s a small world” Holiday and Haunted Mansion Holiday, VIP seating for the Disneyland “A Christmas Fantasy” parade and other seasonal surprises.
It’s a unique way to celebrate the holidays with Mariachi and Samba musicians, folklórico and carnival dancers, 12-foot-tall mojiganga puppets, and Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, plus Santa and Mrs. Claus.
A holiday family fun fest for kids of all ages, the annual Winter Wonderland Festival. The seasonal fun includes indoor ice skating, visits with Santa, sparkling lights, arts and crafts, gigantic inflatable jumpy rides, and more.
- Daley Plaza at Washington and Dearborn
Jawohl! Your family will hear vendors calling “Frohe Weihnachten” (“Merry Christmas!”) to each other and speaking in German as you explore this beautiful holiday market set up on Daley Plaza each year. A great gift-buying and cultural opportunity, complete with sauerkraut, German sausages, and pancakes, here you’ll find handcrafted toys, ornaments, and other unique gifts (as well as warm spiced German wine for the grownups).
- Tree Lighting Ceremony in Daley Plaza
The annual ritual of lighting a 90-foot Christmas tree, accompanied by the sweet voices of the Chicago Children’s Choir, as well as live performances by local acting groups, celebrates its 100th year (music at 5 p.m., tree lighting at 6 p.m.). Your kids (bundle them up!) get to countdown at the top of their lungs and then be wowed by the fireworks display that lights up the night sky after the tree is lit. Santa will also be on hand for holiday wishes and photographs.
The Lincoln Park Zoo does it up during the holidays by stringing 2 million lights and having extended hours until midnight. Kids also get to watch nightly ice sculpture carving demonstrations and visit with Santa as they enjoy a sneak peek at nocturnal animal behavior (the same ones who are always asleep in their burrows during the day), the lights, and holiday crafts. Admission is free. At 4:55 p.m on November 29, the zoo will hold a lighting ceremony at the Kovler Sea Lion Pool to kick off the festivities.
The more than 300 acres of Colonial Williamsburg offer up an early American Christmas like no other in the United States. Stroll down Duke of Gloucester Street where every residence, every trade shop, every museum, and even Merchant Square are done up for the holidays with intricate, old-fashioned, and entirely natural decorations made of white pine, fir, holly, magnolia, and dried fruit. A single white candle stands in every window. Colonial Williamsburg has a different and old-fashioned, decidedly 18th-century holiday feeling, and the overall effect will not only enchant your family but also teach your children about America of old.
Christmas Decorations Walking Tour, A Very Virginia Christmas at the Decorative Arts Museum, Holiday Tea at the Williamsburg Inn, the Winter Wonderettes Show, Holiday Music of the Civil War, A Christmas Tale at the Raleigh Tavern, a Victory Ball, a 1940s Basset Hall Christmas and more!
This signature event of the holiday season takes place the first Sunday in December and caps off with eye-widening fireworks that burst into color at three different locations. The celebration also includes a performance by Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums, a band that impersonates the military field musicians who historically marched ahead of the troops. As they perform up and down the street, your kids may join the dozens of families in eagerly following them so as not to miss a beat.
Weekend programs offered just for families include dressing up for the holidays, 18th-century music and dance, storytelling, celebrating religious traditions, Christmas carols, and an introduction to British holiday traditions.
Every year this beautiful folk art museum hosts a Christmas tree ornament-making hands-on workshop, a time to learn about Colonial traditions, enjoy the museum, and take home a unique keepsake for your tree.
Though it is in Canada, we couldn’t skip Montreal, and made an exception this time. Montreal is one of the magical cities in North America.
No one does the Nutcracker as well as the Grands Ballets Canadiens Magic, which has dancers come from all over the world to put on a multicultural performance full of wonder and surprise in the land of snow and the kingdom of sweets. An hour before each show, children and parents can hear the story of the Nutcracker, read in both French and English, when one lucky child is chosen to be the “Mouse of the Day” go on stage during the performance!
Your family will feel the warmth and beauty of the Christmas season at a slower yet just as enchanting a pace at the Montreal Botanical Garden as you visit the greenhouses that are decorated for Christmas and enjoy the Christmas carols and the storytelling for children.
If you come to Montreal at Christmastime, you have to visit one of the open-air markets where vendors deck things out in true holiday splendor, offer free samples galore, and make the most scrumptious and unusual holiday delights that you’ll fill your shopping bags and come back for more.
It’s all about the shows in Music City, where you’ll find dozens of Christmas performances to choose from and some of the friendliest holiday folks around. Stroll downtown or take a carriage ride to the Ryman Auditorium, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the State Capitol, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (known to all as “Tee-PAC”), bustling Broadway, and Bicentennial State Park. You’ll feel welcomed and Christmasy everywhere you go, and, though the weather’s mild, there’s just enough nip in the air to make you feel cozy when you go inside.
The Gaylord Opryland Resort has been offering A Country Christmas for more than 25 years. It is a paradise for children of amazing Christmas music shows (from the Rockettes to Dr. Seuss musicals), decorated tree displays, craft projects, carriage rides, and more! They also have unique holiday decor and entertainment, including ICE! featuring DreamWorks’ Merry Madagascar — an indoor wonderland where your family can explore holiday scenes created entirely of 2 million pounds of ice, including ice slides that stand more than two stories tall. ICE! is hand-sculpted by 40 international artisans and kept at a chilling 9 degrees.
TPAC is home to four theaters — from a small black box that seats 250 to the main stage where thousands can enjoy a show — and offers a fantastic variety of programming, including touring Broadway shows, Disney shows, and lots of other family-friendly spectacles. Walk into an inviting lobby where there’s something to look at everywhere (a water wall and fountain, art and quotes embedded in the shades of the blue floor, and performance-specific atmosphere). At Christmastime, the lights go on for The Nashville Ballet, which is performing a fascinating version of The Nutcracker based on Tennessee history.
Texans will use any excuse to throw a fiesta, and what better one is there than having a Feliz Navidad? At Christmastime, San Antonio comes alive with lights and merry-makers and a diverse array of festivities. Celebrating Mass in an 18th-century cathedral, holiday shopping at a Mexican market, enjoying the River Walk in weather so mild your family may be in short sleeves for the holidays are just a few of the fun activities that await you this time of year.
Every Friday after Thanksgiving, the River Walk — San Antonio’s beloved tree-lined walkway with cascading water, stone bridges, and centuries-old cypresses — comes alive with thousands of lights and a spectacular Holiday River Parade of illuminated floats, sumptuous costumes, and lively music.
- Ford Caroling Nights with Santa
Enjoy a magical evening on the River Walk with Luminarias, Christmas Lights, and Carolers singing to everyone. Bring your camera and take a picture with Santa on a decorated river barge.
- Ford Fiesta de Las Luminarias
Experience the Holiday serenity of the River Walk as you stroll along the lush banks of the San Antonio River guided by more than 6,000 Luminarias.
WHITE MOUNTAINS, NEW HAMPSHIRE
New Englanders are a lucky bunch at Christmastime when quaint towns from Rhode Island to Maine become the very picture of the traditional holiday setting of lore. The White Mountains area of New Hampshire offers a gorgeous, woodsy scene with plenty of family fare and adventure any time of year, but during the holiday season, you’ll swear you’re part of a picture book or a wintery dream. Take your teens to Mount Washington or ski at Cannon Mountain, where holiday decor and good old-fashioned fun will put everyone in a moody mood.
Kids, especially younger ones, will delight in this magical land that’s just their speed while parents will enjoy a beautiful, low-key, well-maintained park that’s rarely packed to the gills. Most rides are fine for any child older than 2; parents can take even younger tykes on several. Stay until after dark to enjoy a cup of cocoa under a dazzling display of glittering lights.