Three destinations where you can herald the holidays with your family.
By Deborah Reinhardt
Few events call families together like the holidays. Large groups would be wise to plan far ahead because November and December can be busy in the travel industry. But for smaller groups that can drive to a destination, a holiday away from home can be quite memorable.
In Title: The sugary beaches of the Alabama Gulf Coast beckon during the holidays. Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism photo
Above: Silver Dollar City dresses up with thousands of lights during the holidays. Silver Dollar City photo
Below: Locations of Great Wolf Lodge celebrate Christmas with decorations and holiday-themed events. Great Wolf Lodge photo
“The nice thing about holiday groups is everybody can be together for the celebration, no one has to plan a menu or clean up the mess and there’s less stress during this busy season,” says Susan Wells, vice president of AAA Travel.
Here are three regional ideas for a family holiday away from home.
Bright lights in Branson
Multi-generational travel is a large part of this Ozark Mountain getaway in southwest Missouri, and the annual Ozark Mountain Christmas–now in its 24th year–is wildly popular with families. With amazing lighting displays, holiday entertainment and attractions, it’s no wonder 1.4 million people made their way to Branson for the holidays last year.
With 18,000 units, finding a place to sleep isn’t a problem in Branson. From the AAA Four Diamond resort hotel Chateau on the Lake to budget motels, campgrounds or condos to family-owned resorts by a lake, there’s something to suit a family’s needs no matter what size group.
Indian Point Resorts is located on Table Rock Lake 2.5 miles from Silver Dollar City theme park. Cabins, cottages and lakefront condo units are here. Have your own RV? There’s an RV park on site for you and your companions. The resort offers Ozark Mountain packages that bundle show tickets, shopping coupons, lodging and more.
Resort owner Greg Maycock said holiday greens, lights and bows decorate the grounds. He added about half his holiday business comes from families traveling together.
“The resort is an ideal holiday gathering location for families with multiple generations,” he said. “We offer multi-room units with up to four private bedrooms, plus living rooms for gathering space, and kitchens/dining rooms for sharing holiday meals.”
In addition to the fun at Silver Dollar City, theaters are packed with holiday entertainers, including Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis. If you’re traveling close to Christmas Day, know that many of the theaters will have wrapped up the holiday schedule after Dec. 10. However, the “Miracle of Christmas” will be at Sight & Sound Theater Thursdays through Sundays in December, with the exception of Dec. 23–26. Showboat Branson Belle will offer dinner and show packages every day but Sundays, and Dec. 18–25. Get to Branson by Dec. 18 and board the Polar Express on the Branson Scenic Railway. Naturally, Santa, hot cocoa and cookies will be on the train.
Information: Call (800) 296-0463 or visit www.explorebranson.com.
Howling at the Wolf
Who cares what the temperature might be outside when it’s 84 degrees at the indoor water park at Great Wolf Lodge? There are 11 Great Wolf locations in the U.S. including Kansas City, Kan., and Grapevine, Texas. When the little ones dry off, arcades, daily activities at the Cub Club, a kids’ spa called Scoops, and a live-action game called MagiQuest will keep them entertained. The holiday Snowland activities include visits from Santa, bedtime stories, “snow” showers in the lobby and more. Enjoy traditional holiday fare–such as turkey and ham–in the restaurant. Dine inside the life-size gingerbread house made of 600 pounds of dough and help the lodge raise money for its charity of choice, Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Great Wolf guests in Kansas City can explore area museums, restaurants and attractions. The renowned holiday lights at Country Club Plaza shouldn’t be missed, and there’s also a range of special events to enjoy in the region.
Grapevine is known as the Christmas Capital of Texas with good reason. The North Pole Express is an adventure-filled train ride for the entire family, while a Christmas Wine Train allows adults to toast the season. Plenty of twinkling lights provide cheer at the Carol of Lights in late November and a boat parade in early December.
Information: Visit www.greatwolf.com.
Holidays on the beach
Would your gang prefer a holiday gathered around a palm tree? Think about getting away to Gulf Shores and Orange Beach along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. The water temperature might be a little brisk for swimming (61 degrees on average) but it’s tough to beat the allure of these sugary strands of beach no matter what time of year.
A variety of accommodations–from beach homes to high-rise condos–are here, so your family will greet the holidays in comfort. Shop 120 stores at Tanger Outlet Center in nearby Foley, Ala., or pick up a treasure made by local artists at the Orange Beach Art Center gallery on Canal Road. Housed in the historical Orange Beach Hotel, the center has more than 100 local artists that exhibit and sell their works here.
Information: Call (800) 745-7263, or click on www.gulfshores.com.
Deborah Reinhardt is managing editor of the AAA Midwest Traveler.