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10 U.S. Hotels That Go All Out For Christmas


December is the time to deck those halls, trim those trees and make lots and lots of gingerbread. Or you can just book a stay at a hotel and let them handle all the Christmas cheer.  These ten hotels from across the U.S. really go out of their way to be festive during the holiday season and are easily worth an overnight stay, even with the peak-season rates you’ll face.  Several have hotel packages that include their own or local activities. If you can’t book a stay, stop by anyway.  Make a reservation for one of their events, sip a yuletide cocktail at the lobby bar, or just take a gander (and a selfie) at their sparkly lobbies.

(Like these Christmas-season travel ideas? Find out where to find unique Santas and the best NYC Christmas hotels.)

Top Hotels For Christmas Decorations & Activities

1. Amelia Island, Florida

A gingerbread pirate ship docks at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia IslandThe Ritz Carlton on this Florida island taps into local maritime culture with a giant gingerbread pirate ship made with more than 600 cookie pieces; its a nice change from the usual cottage.

In addition, there is a 40-foot Christmas tree and thousands of holiday lights around the resort and gingerbread-house building all season long. On select dates you can attend Santa’s Magical Dinner or Santa’s Storybook Tea. (Find the best seasonal rates.)

2. Cascade Mountains, Washington

Suncadia Resort, 80 miles southeast of Seattle, stages a winterfest through November and December with an endless array of activities. (Book the best seasonal rates.)

Penguins read stories, the Grinch and Santa’s elves tuck kids into bed, people dress themselves as Elk for a fun run. Enjoy ice skating, sleigh rides and a holiday market with artisinal food and crafts from across Washington. Your kids can watch The Grinch movie with the Grinch while you sip spiked cider and cocoa, along with other seasonal cocktails.

On New Years Eve, send your kids for an overnight camp out while you enjoy a spa treatment infused with the scents of the season.

3. Chapel Hill, NC

The Carolina Inn has a very good Santa ClausFor 21 years now, the Carolina Inn has lavishly decked its halls to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas in grand Southern style. Through December you can enjoy the decorations when you come for events like the gingerbread house competition, Christmas market and breakfast or brunch with Santa.

There are a series of afternoon teas, some specifically for families includd a Sugar Plum Fairy tea party featuring ballet dancers performing scenes from “The Nutcracker.” A reading of “The Polar Express” includes cookie decorating, ornament making and a train ride. (Check reviews and rates.)

4. Dallas, Texas

board the christmas express at Hilton Anatole in DallasThe Hilton
 Anatole takes advantage of Texas’s warm weather with Peppermint Park, an outdoor holiday festival that offers a talking Christmas tree, ornament and candle making, elf school and the opportunity to make slime (green, naturally) with the Grinch.

There is also a marionette show, a penguin show, fireworks in early December, lots of opportunities to eat sweets and much more.

There is an admission fee and several attractions cost a few dollars on top of that. But there are hotel packages that include your room and admission, along with breakfast with the Clauses or a private meeting with the man in red. (find the lowest seasonal rates)

5. Gaylord Resorts

Holiday Season ICE carvings are pretty spectacular at the Gaylord Resorts

Gaylord Resorts are known for filling their soaring atriums with holiday lights, decorations and ice sculptures that make them destinations in themselves.

Outside Washington, DC, National’s has created “A Charlie Brown Christmas” amid 2 million holiday lights in its towering atrium. A month of special events includes breakfast with Charlie Brown on select dates. (Check rates and book.)

Opryland (check rates) has chosen to set its atrium with scenes from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” while  Gaylord Palms (check rates)  in Florida draws inspiration from my favorite holiday movie, “A Christmas Story.”

At their Texan hotel outside Dallas (top) look for Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer amid an indoor winter wonderland that offers snow tubing, ice skating and snow-ball tossing. Have breakfast with Rudolph on select dates, too. (Check rates and book it.)

6. Louisville, KY

winter wonderland at the Galt HouseThe Galt House Hotel offers its Christmas “kaLightoscope,” once again this holiday season with a winter WonderLane, gingerbread English village, snow fairy castle and the  Peppermint Express kiddie train. Kids will love an Elfpalooza party and movie night, or Breakfast with Santa, which includes juggling elves, a train ride and more. Praents will appreciate the Dacncing Bellmen. (Find the best seasonal rates.)

7. Palm Springs, California

The Waldorf Astoria La Quinta Resort lights up its Spanish-Mission style Plaza with an enormous tree and festive   decorations. Enjoy Southern California weather with an outdoor holiday-movie night, dessert-making demonstrations, chestnut roasting, arts & crafts for kids, seasonal cocktails for moms and dads, an annual tree-lighting and breakfast with Santa an select dates. (book the lowest seasonal rates.)

8. Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania

skytop lodge is naturally Christmasy when it snows. Skytop Lodge, about 90 miles northwest of New York City and 120 miles north of Philadelpia, has a unique Christmas-time package: Book a room and cut down your own Christmas tree at a local farm during your stay. I don’t know if you bring it home or decorate it in your hotel room. If you want to do that latter, check with the hotel, and plan on BYO decorations.

There are tree-lightings and breakfast with Santa each weekend in December, plus hay rides, campfires, ice skating, holiday crafts, afternoon tea and cookies, holiday movies and storytime. Activities vary somewhat by weekend. (check reviews and seasonal rates.)

9. Richmond, Virginia

The Jefferson Hotel (top) fills itself to the brim with Christmas spirit, along with countless pointsettias, pine garlands, ribbons, lights and toy soldiers. Admire the classic holiday-village in Gingerbread.  Santa and Mrs. Claus stop by for an elaborate tree lighting in late November.

Throughout the month local school orchestras, ensembles, choirs, and choruses perform in the lobby at noon. Have lunch and enjoy the music whether you book a room or not.

10. St. Louis, Missouri

The polar Express at Union Station, St. LouisThere is a bit less than usual going on at St. Louis’s Union Station because of some renovations. But consider a holiday season stay at the Hilton’s Curio Collection Union Station Hotel, an architectural gem, anyway.

Kids in a wide age range like the station’s Polar Express experience, where families board a real train for a six-mile, hour-long journey.

Have hot chocolate and cookies, listen to reading of “The Polar Express” and enjoy music from its namesake movie. Halfway through the journey there is a stop at the “North Pole” where Santa boards the train for the return journey.

Many kids, especially younger ones, wear their pajamas on the train (some parents do, too). If you’re staying at the hotel and have a later departure time, you can segue from the train ride right to bed!

On select evenings you can have a festive dinner at the station before or after your ride. Characters from the book  stop by and and there’s a 3-D holiday light show on the station’s arched ceiling.  If you don’t do the dinner, arrive early for your departure with school-age kids, who will enjoy the preboarding activities.

The Curio offers two seasonal packages. One accomodations and four standard tickets aboard the train. Another offers a decorated suite with special turn-down service and “First Class” train tickets. (Check for the lowest seasonal rates, too.)

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11 Comments

  1. Nikita
    February 2, 2018 at 5:41 am — Reply

    perfect lists for holidays… thanks for sharing

  2. December 13, 2016 at 1:53 am — Reply

    Such a great list! I have always heard great things about Hilton Anatole and the Gaylord hotels. We love going to Coronado during the holidays and my kids especially love the ice rink.

  3. December 12, 2015 at 9:17 pm — Reply

    Was sure the New York package would have been the most expensive.
    I’d love to go to Washington to see the Williard’s Christmas tree.

  4. December 12, 2015 at 7:04 pm — Reply

    Great list. Austin’s Barton Creek Resort isn’t too far from me, and I’d completely forgotten about the ice skating rink which is open to the public. We’re doing a quick trip to the Dallas/Fort Worth area for the holidays and will be staying at the Gaylord Texan. They also have a lot of holiday activities plus a (from what I hear) spectacular carved ice exhibit created by artisans from Harbin, China.

  5. December 12, 2015 at 1:51 pm — Reply

    Awesome collection of places to travel to for the holidays! I’d love to see Hotel del Coronado at Christmastime!

  6. December 12, 2015 at 2:36 am — Reply

    What a great list, Eileen. We should pair our Weekend Travel Inspirations up, since I wrote about traveling with kids….love it!

  7. December 11, 2015 at 9:48 pm — Reply

    I like the idea of the scavenger hunt at the Boston hotel. A great way to keep little ones amused.

  8. Meagan Shamy (@MeaganShamy)
    March 13, 2014 at 7:36 pm — Reply

    Best holiday getaway….That’s a tough question. We always love going to Whistler.

  9. December 10, 2013 at 6:18 pm — Reply

    This post made me wish I could get away. Such beautiful places, and great deals.

  10. Eric Dunes
    December 8, 2013 at 4:08 am — Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful post Eileen. Good job!

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