Hotel Noel! The Jolliest Hotel Christmas Decorations and Traditions
Updated November 18, 2021
Lots of hotels across the United States get festive each December with lobby Christmas trees, visiting carolers, and enough twinkling lights to rival a stargazing park. But the ho-ho-hotels that follow go beyond, supplying extra-special yuletide magic via unique traditions involving everything from over-the-top ice sculptures to a canoeing Santa Claus. With these stays, there’s no place like a home away from home for the holidays.
Pictured: the Willard InterContinental in Washington, D.C.
Holidays at the Willard InterContinental in Washington, D.C., are steeped in elegant traditions. And we do mean steeped—the hotel’s December afternoon tea service in Peacock Alley is a locally beloved end-of-year staple. If there’s not room in your budget for finger sandwiches and sugarplum scones, you can enjoy nightly caroling concerts from visiting choral groups in the lobby for free. Then goggle at the hotel's elaborate holiday decorations before sipping a seasonal cocktail in the historic Round Robin Bar.
For a Christmas with Southwestern charm, you can’t do better than Santa Fe, where strings of lights and paper lanterns called farolitos impart a golden glow to adobe buildings. Like powdered sugar, a thin layer of snow provides the finishing touch. From its spot in the historic Santa Fe Plaza, La Fonda is an essential piece of the scenery and a holiday destination in its own right. In late November, the hotel hosts the Winter Indian Market, where visitors shop for one-of-a-kind holiday gifts from more than 150 Native American artists selling jewelry, pottery, weavings, and paintings. All season long, the hotel keeps its kiva fireplaces blazing and shows off a gingerbread-and-gumdrops replica of the building’s facade.
If ever there was a time to embrace a more-is-more aesthetic, it’s the season of silver bells and sparkle. Nashville’s Gaylord Opryland Resort obliges with its annual Christmas spectacle in November and December, when the huge hotel is adorned with 3 million holiday lights, a "Parade of Trees" decorated by country music stars, and fountains erupting in sync with Christmas carols. Without leaving the grounds, you can go snow tubing, ride bumper cars on ice, help Buddy the Elf save Christmas via an interactive experience, and catch a dinner show with performances by some of Nashville's biggest names. Save the subtlety for Presidents’ Day.
At the end of November, Madison’s stylish Edgewater hotel transforms its outdoor Grand Plaza into a winter wonderland with abundant holiday decorations and an ice skating rink where visitors turn figure eights in view of two of the city’s icons: the Wisconsin State Capitol building and Lake Mendota. Inside, the hotel keeps things jolly with a season-long calendar of festivities. Among the highlights are meet-and-greets with Santa and, possibly more significant for Big Ten fans, Bucky Badger from the nearby University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Mohonk Mountain House, situated in a densely wooded spot in the Hudson Valley north of New York City, goes the traditional route during the holidays. Handmade wreaths, garland clumps known as kissing balls, and several lovingly decorated Christmas trees fill the 19th-century Victorian property with the scent of pine, while seasonal activities celebrate the time-tested joys of ice skating, cross-country skiing, and cookie decorating. The architectural possibilities of sweets are showcased in the annual Hudson Valley Gingerbread Competition, during which the region’s top confectionary builders converge on the hotel to vie for gingerbread supremacy. Mohonk displays the winners through New Year’s.
“Here we know that Christmas will be green and bright,” Bing Crosby sang in “Mele Kalikimaka” of December in Hawaii, “the land where palm trees sway.” Throw in some world-famous sand and surf and you’ve got a good description of Honolulu’s Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort. The fun-loving hotel kicks off the holiday season with the arrival of Santa in an outrigger canoe on the hotel’s beachfront. In Hawaii, apparently even Rudolph is on vacation. If you’re still dreaming of a white Christmas, head to the onsite Duke’s Waikiki restaurant and gaze upon the snow-colored ice cream filling of the macadamia-topped, chocolate cookie–crusted Hula Pie.
Christmastime gives Disney yet another chance to activate the company’s unrivaled skill at creating moments that are at once magical and monetized. Many of Walt Disney World’s onsite hotels boast enchanting yuletide décor—but room rates seem designed for guests with the funds of Scrooge McDuck. Still, you don’t have to spend the night to check out the lobby of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, known for its massive Christmas tree and 15-foot-tall Victorian gingerbread house covered in more than 5,000 edible shingles. Yes, of course there’s an adjacent shop selling cookies, fudge, peppermint bark, and other sweets.
If staying busy is the key to combating the holiday doldrums, then they don’t stand a chance at the Broadmoor. The century-old resort at the base of Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs schedules a sleigh full of merriment, including a dinner-theater music show, visits from Santa, and oversize gingerbread creations. Overnight guests get access to even more holiday programming; there are special culinary events, a wassail tea service, and additional face-to-face time with Saint Nick. During the first three weekends of December, the resort's recently restored sightseeing train ride up the majestic Pikes Peak will end in cookies and hot chocolate at the depot.