Five Magical Places for the Holidays

The holidays can be a wonderful time, especially if you can celebrate with special people in a magical place. Some of those locales could be family homes, a favorite restaurant or even cities that seem to sparkle.

Here are some of those cities that seem to twinkle a little brighter during the holiday season and how you and your family can enjoy them.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

If you are looking to get out and possibly get active, there’s no better place to do that than in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Fishing, skiing, mountain climbing and hiking are among the activities you can partake in at the entrance to the Grand Teton National Park. But you also can experience nature as the Grand Tetons tower above and you are less than three hours by car from Yellowstone National Park, considered the first national park in the world.

With plenty of lodging options, restaurants, shopping choices and the largest commercial airport in Wyoming, it makes it the perfect place to set up camp for your adventures, much like the settlers and pioneers of the Old West.

To start quickly, hop on the Big Red tram at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and ride to the top of Rendezvous Peak (in just nine minutes) to eat waffles at 10,450 feet in Corbet’s Cabin. And then you can either ski down or, for the less daring, take the tram back down.

You can take a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge or watch Santa arrive in his own Jackson Hole-style at the base of the Aerial Tram on Dec. 24. Or children can ski with Santa on Christmas Day near Teewinot and Bridger Gondola.

The Wort Hotel will once again be celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas with activities for the entire family while the Grand Targhee Resort offers sleigh ride dinners, snowshoe tours, movie nights and more.

New York, New York

The City That Never Sleeps also knows how to celebrate the holidays. The problem might be trying to do everything during one visit.

Things kick off with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, an annual tradition that will celebrate its 93rd year in 2019. The parade, known for featuring giant balloons, marching bands and Broadway performers, winds through the streets of Manhattan.

Appearing on the televised broadcast of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade since 1957 have been The Rockettes. If you don’t happen to catch them in the parade, you can see them in the “Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes.” This year’s Christmas Spectacular, which has been performed annually since 1933, will be held from Nov. 8 through Jan. 5, 2020. The 90-minute show is held up to five times a day, even on Christmas and New Year’s Day.

If you go to the show, or even if you don’t, you cannot miss seeing the huge Christmas tree (and ornaments) on display at Rockefeller Center. There also is an ice skating rink below the tree, if that is something you’d like to do.

From Rockefeller Center, continue southeast and you will end up on Fifth Avenue, home of the legendary Saks Fifth Avenue and its iconic holiday window displays. But the other retailers along Fifth Avenue also get into the spirit of the season and decorate their windows as well, some with interactive exhibits, inviting passersby to push a button or pull a lever to make things happen.

Asheville, North Carolina

The largest city in western North Carolina, Asheville usually makes it on any list that deals with towns that celebrate Christmas because of the one-two punch of the Biltmore House and the annual tradition of Christmas Dinner at The Omni Grove Park Inn.

Built in the late 1800s for George Washington Vanderbilt II, the Biltmore House is the largest privately owned house in the United States, with more than 135,000 square feet of living area. During the holidays, the historic museum is decorated with more than 100 Christmas trees adorned with more than 25,000 ornaments and 1½ miles of garland. You also will see thousands of poinsettias and other plants, 500 wreaths and a 35-foot live Fraser fir in the Banquet Hall.

As a bonus for “Downton Abbey” fans, the nationally touring exhibit, Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, will be at the Biltmore from Nov. 8-April 7, 2020. This presentation features set recreations, costumes and never-before-seen multimedia elements.

Over at The Omni Grove Park Inn, the 27th Annual National Gingerbread House Competition will be held Nov. 18, and the winning creations will be on display Nov. 20-Jan. 4, 2020. That means if you are headed to the Grove Park Inn for one of its holiday meals (Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s), you will be able to see the final products. But make your reservations soon, since these events usually fill quickly.

And while you are in town, don’t miss the North Carolina Arboretum’s annual Winter Lights show, converting the gardens into a fairyland with more than half a million lights.

Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

The city cannot guarantee a white Christmas, but the chances are relatively good, with an average high of 29 for that day. Even if there is no snow, there are plenty of other things to do to get you in the holiday spirit.

In the downtown Village Square on Nov. 30, guests will be able to enjoy food and drinks from local vendors while enjoying live entertainment. Santa will make a special appearance for all of the children while everyone can enjoy horse-drawn carriage rides. The Village tree lighting ceremony will kick off the holiday season in Elkhart Lake.

The Osthoff Resort, on the shore of Elkhart Lake, offers guests and visitors alike an opportunity to ice skate on its Reflection Pond. The resort also will be offering Breakfast with Santa on the first three Saturdays in December. And The Osthoff Resort’s Old World Christmas Market returns for its 22nd year when it opens Dec. 6 and runs through Dec. 15. Visitors can search for unique gifts and enjoy the tastes of Europe in this market based on Christkindlesmarkt of Nüremberg, Germany.

If snow does arrive, lace up your snowshoes and head out to the Quit Qui Oc Golf Course for an adventure. But don’t worry if you don’t have the right stuff; you can rent show shoe equipment at the golf course.

Skiing in Vermont

Again, when lists come out that mention small towns and holidays, Woodstock, Vermont, usually appear. Which is good, because you also can ski here.

The Woodstock Inn & Resort Suicide Six Ski Area opened the first rope tow in 1936 when the resort opened. Why the strange name? Apparently, a ski instructor at the time, Wallace “Bunny” Bertram, said that to ski down the steep incline of Hill No. 6 would be suicide. The resort offers skiing and snowboarding and rents equipment if you don’t feel like hauling yours around.

Cross-country skiing also is an option in these parts, as is skate skiing. For skate skiing, you need a firmer snow surface and the skier pushes alternating skis away from one another at an angle, similar to ice skating.

With more than 4,000 acres and 16 ski lifts, Sugarbush Resort is one of the largest ski resorts in New England. It offers skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing for a variety of levels as a full-service resort with sales and repair shop in Warren, Vermont.

About 60 miles south of Sugarbush, you will find the Okemo Mountain Resort, where, from Dec. 28-Feb. 15, 2020, you can enjoy a remarkable pyrotechnics show in the Okemo Clock Tower Base Area. A parade of skiers and riders will head down the trails, guided only by torchlight. As the skiers finish and put out their flames, the skies will light up with a fireworks display.

No matter where you end up this holiday season, your AAA Travel Advisor can help make it magical and memorial.

John T. Garcia is Managing Editor of AAA Magazine.