Florida, a train trip or a busy Ozark city heat up winter travel possibilities.
By Karen Gibson

Traveling during winter is just the thing for breaking through doldrums. This year, try something different. Enjoy entertainment in an Ozark resort town or with a beloved mouse. Use transportation that soothes the soul instead of stressing the rest of you. You can even celebrate a holiday that doesn’t include jingle bells. All this is possible with a winter vacation.

Grand Canyon

In Title: The holidays are great fun at Walt Disney World Resort, and winter months less crowded. Disney photo

Above: Train travel is an enjoyable way to see winter destinations out West, including the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon Railway photo

Branson or bust

Branson is Missouri’s shining jewel for live entertainment. This southwest Missouri resort town nestled in the Ozarks offers great shows, from the Twelve Irish Tenors to American Bandstand regulars like Fabian.

The variety continues with the attractions. A well-known amusement, Silver Dollar City, offers rides, shows and Ozark artisans. Stone Hill Winery, Missouri’s oldest, has a friendly staff that goes all out to make the free tour and wine tasting entertaining.

Part of Branson’s appeal is the choice in accommodations. Find a cozy cabin at Table Rock Lake or a room at Kite House Bed & Breakfast. Luxuriate at the AAA four Diamond Chateau on the Lake resort hotel and spa on Table Rock Lake.

Snow visits this mountain town occasionally, often disappearing the next day for daytime highs that can climb into the 50s. After the promotion, Ozark Mountain Christmas, many theaters go dark for a holiday. However, the Hot Winter Fun promotion, which runs January through March, offers discount lodging rates, several live shows, including a big variety show in February, shopping and even golf.

Winter at Walt Disney World Resort

Luckily, Mickey Mouse and friends work year-round greeting visitors to their Orlando home. While holidays are celebrated in late November into December, visitors will find all kinds of specials in January and February when the crowds are smaller. Traveling to Disney World in the winter allows you to see things that you’ve never seen before. That’s because the lengthy lines in four theme parks have virtually vanished.

AAA always has Disney specials, whether you’re interested in the complete travel/accommodation/ticket package or just discounted tickets. January is Disney Month at AAA. Check the November/ December issue of this magazine for Disney Month event details.

Magic carpet made of steel

Arlo Guthrie’s description of trains says it all. There’s nothing like traveling by train. The gentle swaying of the cars makes the journey almost as much fun as the destination. Perhaps that’s why more than 25 million passengers board Amtrak each year.

Outside of the northeast, one of the busiest train stations lies in Chicago. Union Station is the fourth-busiest in the country, sending travelers north, south, east and west on an average 55 trains every day. If you have some time before boarding, take in the shopping on nearby Michigan Avenue.

Board the California Zephyr to see the snowy Rocky and Sierra Mountains, and in two nights’ time, the Zephyr delivers you to San Francisco. A northern route, the Empire Builder, follows part of the Lewis and Clark trail on its way to Seattle or Portland. Both the Lake Shore Limited and the Cardinal travel to New York City, a wonderful spot for the holidays. The Capitol Limited also runs east, but follows the former B&O line through the Potomac Valley on its way to Washington, D.C. If the warmth of the South sounds appealing, board the City of New Orleans for New Orleans or the Texas Eagle bound for San Antonio.

Amtrak accommodations are as varied as you’ll find in many motels. You can rough it and save money in a coach seat or reserve something larger and more private. Meals are included with roomette, bedroom or other accommodations. If you want to add more activities to your trip, ask Amtrak or the National Park Service about Trails & Rails, a joint project that combines train travel with educational opportunities.

AAA members get an added benefit when they travel by train–a 10-percent discount on the lowest applicable fare with three days’ advance purchase.

If a trip out West is in your plans, consider the Grand Canyon Railways, a historical train that travels between northern Arizona and the canyon. Members can save up to 36 percent on the Rails to the Rim air/rail package. Already in the area for the winter? Just show your AAA card in November–February and receive 20 percent off the fare.

It’s party time

Most people think of New Orleans for Mardi Gras, but this February event is celebrated in most southern Gulf states, from Mobile to Galveston. In fact, Mardi Gras celebrations started in Mobile 20 years before New Orleans started its most famous party.

In Louisiana, parishes throughout the state celebrate Mardi Gras. The Louisiana twin cities of Shreveport-Bossier City host several celebrations suitable for people of all ages. Shreveport’s oldest krewe, Krewe Gemini, takes to the streets on Feb. 21 in a glorious display of floats, from the traditional royal float to popular cultural icons. Crowds line up along Clyde Fant Memorial Parkway to get their share of items tossed from the floats. As the parade ends, people saunter off buried in Mardi Gras beads around the neck and silly smiles on their faces.

Northern Louisiana’s Mardi Grass Museum, located in Bossier City, celebrates the different Mardi Gras traditions in Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas.

Next year, Mardi Gras comes on Feb. 24, but look for parades and mounds of purple, gold and green beads in the weekends leading up to Fat Tuesday. Reserve accommodations early as hotels fill up fast on parade weekends.

Near and dear

Don’t forget to look out your own back door when it comes to winter travel. Many state parks offer winter specials that allow you to stay in lodges or cabins for next to nothing. The winter months allow you to fully appreciate the sounds of nature without the crowds. Several Arkansas state parks, including Bull Shoals, hold eagle watch weekends in January, or take a kayak around Cane Creek Lake in Arkansas’s Delta, located in the southeast portion of the state.

There’s nothing like getting away from it all, especially during the winter months.

Karen Gibson is a contributor from Norman, Okla.

Sept/Oct 2008 Issue

For more information about a winter getaway to Walt Disney World, Amtrak or Grand Canyon Railway, contact your AAA Travel agent. To locate an agent near you, call (888) 366-4222 or visit www.AAA.com/travel.

Before heading to Branson, find information about shows and events this fall and winter at www.bransonandaaa.com.

Additional information is available through:
• Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 296-0463, www.explorebranson.com;
• Shreveport/Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau, (888) 45-VISIT, louisianasotherside.com;
• Arkansas State Parks, (888) 287-2757, www.arkansasstateparks.com

Order free information through the Reader Service Card, found online at http://southern.ai-dsg.com.

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