It's beginning to look and feel a lot like Christmas, as resorts around the country are already preparing for the busy holiday season. With most children around the country enjoying nearly two full weeks of school holidays, families are increasingly using the break as a chance for a getaway. Whether you prefer to partake in old-fashioned traditions or create shiny new ones, there are resorts offering themed packages and special offers. Here's a look at what's going on at some of the many resorts that are promising a huge dose of holiday cheer.
What: Gaylord Palms (www.gaylordhotels.com/gaylord-palms/)
Where: Kissimmee, FL
Why: Because this kid-friendly Florida resort packs a wow factor for the holiday season. The popular ICE! exhibit is a hand-carved winter-wonderland constructed from two million pounds of ice featuring 3-D monuments, slippery ice slides, and even a life-size iced version of the Nativity scene. Holiday festivities include three Christmas-themed stage shows with live music and dancing, a resort-wide holiday gnome hunt, and a 54-foot Christmas tree. There are several packages available, but we recommend the Just Chillin' package, which starts at $159 a night and includes overnight accommodations, two tickets to ICE! (normally $20 to $25 per person at the door) and admission to the holiday events.
What: Chateau on the Lake (www.chateauonthelake.com)
Where: Branson, MO
Why: Because this upscale resort in the heart of kid-friendly Branson is pulling out all the stops this holiday season. In addition to the whirlwind of area entertainment (Silver Dollar City amusement park, life-sized Titanic exhibit, and a family-friendly waterpark, for starters), the resort is cooking up plenty of holiday activities of its own. Expect breakfast with Santa, bonfires and marshmallow roasts, hot apple cider, holiday brunches, and weekend carolers. Kids can catch a G-rated flick in the stadium-style Sassafras Theater or head to Crawdaddies, the supervised kids' club, for puzzles, games, and arts and crafts. The Ozark Mountain Christmas package starts at $390 and includes two nights of lodging, two adult two-day passes to Silver Dollar City, a $50 resort credit, Christmas ornament, and more.
What: Cragun's Resort & Hotel (www.craguns.com)
Where: Brainerd, MN
Why: Because winter at this family favorite on frozen Gull Lake means dogsled rides, ice skating, ice fishing, snowshoeing, broomball, magic shows, nightly entertainment and much more. The resort also features a huge indoor pool, spa, and a massive indoor sports center. During the holidays, families can enjoy the illuminated "Walk of Lights" and a traditional Christmas buffet. Christmas Holiday Celebration packages start at $405 and include three nights of lodging for four people, a dinner buffet, Continental breakfast on Christmas morning, Sunday morning buffet, keepsake ornament, and activities.
What: Hotel del Coronado (www.hoteldel.com)
Where: Coronado, CA
Why: Because you and the kids can ice skate on an outdoor rink just steps away from the sandy beach, and the winter activities don't stop there. Families can hop on Santa's surrey-sleigh ride, decorate cookies, and make holiday crafts together. Teens can hang out in the Vibz teen lounge featuring billiards, video games, and movies, while younger kids can head to the new Kidtopia Camp for scavenger hunts and s'more roasts before being tucked in for the night by Santa's elves. The Holiday Escape package starts at $249 a night and includes accommodations, a $75 resort credit, and a Christmas ornament.
What: Hershey Lodge (www.hersheypa.com/accommodations/hershey_lodge/)
Where: Hershey, PA
Why: Because Hersheypark's 30 themed amusement-park rides beckon, Hershey characters get decked out in their Christmas finery, and you can take in "Christmas in Chocolate Town," a holiday dinner and musical performed at the Hershey Lodge (see WeJustGotBack.com's review). Of the handful of packages available over the holidays, we like "Breakfast with Santa," which starts at $309 a night and includes accommodations, breakfast buffet with Santa, and admission to Hersheypark Christmas Candylane, Hershey Gardens, the new interactive museum on Chocolate Avenue, and "Hershey's Sweet Lights Show."
What: Great Wolf Lodge (www.greatwolf.com/grapevine/)
Where: Grapevine, TX
Why: Because during the holidays, this giant rustic-themed lodge and indoor waterpark is transformed into "Snowland" with thrice-a-day snowfalls in the lobby while temperatures inside the adjacent waterpark remain downright tropical. Kids can go on a "Polar Wolf Walk" each morning to learn about penguins and polar bears, have story time with Rowdy the Reindeer, make presents and cards at Santa's workshop and then head to the "North Pole University" to earn games and puzzles as their graduation gifts. Rates start at $190 a night on select days throughout December.
What: Grove Park Inn (www.groveparkinn.com)
Where: Ashville, NC
Why: Because this award-winning luxury resort has all the makings for a traditional family Christmas away from home, with artwork of the National Gingerbread House Competition on display throughout the holiday weekend. Families can take part in the scavenger hunt, watch classic Christmas movies, join in for caroling around the fireplace, and sample the Christmas buffet. The two-night Christmas Celebration package starts at $569 and includes daily breakfast for two adults, a Christmas dinner, and a signature ornament. Meals and accommodations for kids cost $46 per child.
What: Copper Mountain (www.coppercolorado.com)
Where: Copper Mountain, CO
Why: Because this kid-friendly ski resort (see WeJustGotBack.com's review) hosts a fabulous "En Fuego" celebration several times during the holiday season. At nightfall, there will be bonfires, brilliant fireworks displays, and a Santa-led parade of torch-carrying skiers winding down the slopes. In addition, there's snow tubing, ice skating, dog sledding, snowmobiling, s'mores by the firepit, and a free Kids' Night Out camp. Book two nights of lodging and one three-day adult lift ticket by November 30 and you'll receive your third night free. Kids 12 and under ski free.
What: Nemacolin Woodlands Resort (www.nemacolin.com)
Where: Farmington, PA
Why: Because this southwestern Pennsylvanian family favorite is offering a whopping $300-per-day resort credit when you book a three- to five-night holiday package for stays between December 20 and January 4, 2010. There will be elf tuck-ins, visits with Santa, gingerbread Workshops, cookie-decorating sessions, and a Christmas Day holiday movie marathon.
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