Hotels aren’t usually tourist attractions, but this one is an exception for a few reasons: You have small kids, it’s raining, you’re already going to the Grand Ole Opry or SoundWaves, or it’s the holiday season. Three massive atria form the hotel’s three courtyards, which are covered by more than 8 acres of glass, creating vast greenhouses of gurgling streams, splashing waterfalls, pathways, and ponds. The Delta atrium has a [bf]1/4-mile-long “river,” complete with boat rides and an island modeled after the French Quarter in New Orleans (where all the food and drink is overpriced and underwhelming).

While I generally find Opryland empty-feeling, it’s not at the holidays, when the place is transformed into a winter wonderland of epic proportions. With more than 3 million holiday lights and acres of decorations, this is Clark Griswold's dream scenario (and maybe also his nightmare depending upon how crowded it is). Every year the hotel puts on ICE!, a display that uses 2 million pounds of ice to create colorful ice sculptures hand-carved by 40 Chinese artisans including several two-story ice slides. Themes vary, but recent ones include the magic of Dr. Seuss’ “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.” There is also snowtubing, where you can race your friends and family down a five-lane tubing hill covered in 1[bf]1/2 million pounds of snow. If that’s not enough, they’ve got a 7,000-square-foot outdoor ice rink, photos with Santa, teacup rides, Build-A-Bear workshops, nativity scenes, carriage rides, gingerbread decorating, breakfast with the Grinch, and riverboat cruises. Live shows, from Cirque du Soleil to the Rockettes to Trace Adkins, round out the packed offerings. Holiday tickets range from $4 for gingerbread decorating to $100 for shows, so look for bundles on the website or, better yet, make a list of everything you want to do and call and talk to a representative about the best way to buy; they can point you to the year’s best deals.

Tip: If you are visiting Opryland just for the day, do not pay their exorbitant parking fees ($35 to self-park for just a few hours). Instead, drive your car through the movie theater entrance of the Opry Mills Mall all the way across towards the hotel, where you can park free and then enter the property through one of the marked paths.