Christmas tree at the Willard InterContinental in Washington, D.C.
The Willard InterContinental

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.

The Willard InterContinental in Washington, D.C.
The Willard InterContinental
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

La Fonda hotel in Santa Fe
La Fonda on the Plaza
La Fonda on the Plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico

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.

Ice slide at a Gaylord hotel
Gaylord Hotels
Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, Tennessee

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.

Ice skating at the Edgewater hotel in Madison, Wisconsin
The Edgewater
The Edgewater in Madison, Wisconsin

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. 

Christmas tree at Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York
Mohonk Mountain House
Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York

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. 

Santa arriving by outrigger canoe at Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort in Honolulu
Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort
Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort in Honolulu

“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. 

Gingerbread house at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort at Walt Disney World in Florida
Walt Disney World Resort / Kent Phillips, Photographer
Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa at Walt Disney World in Florida

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. 

Holiday dinner theater at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado
The Broadmoor
The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado

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. 

Ice skating rink at Hotel del Coronado in San Diego
Hotel del Coronado
Hotel del Coronado in San Diego
The red-roofed grande dame of San Diego hotels pulls off the impressive feat of bringing outdoor ice skating to Southern California with its surreal beachside rink. An adjacent lounge has a fire pit as well as a menu of snacks and seasonal cocktails. Out on the sand, The Del screens holiday movies under the stars and next to the rolling surf. Bonfires and Santa are on hand for s'mores and wish list consultations, respectively. See? It’s fun to linger outdoors in winter without getting frostbite. But don’t let that stop you from popping into the hotel's wood-paneled lobby to lay eyes on the two-story Christmas tree.