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9 magical hotels for the holiday season

Grove Park Inn, Asheville, N.C.Renowned for its Gingerbread House competition, the Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa showcases some of the country's best sugar-and-spice creations. Between Nov. 14, 2011, and Jan. 1, 2012, the little ones will have a tough time of keeping their fingers to themselves as the mountain resort's halls are overrun with holiday-inspired gingerbread themes. Guests of the resort
Visitors can enjoy carriage rides during the Christmas festivities at Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn.
Visitors can enjoy carriage rides during the Christmas festivities at Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tenn.Courtesy of Gaylord Opryland Hotel / Today

Grove Park Inn, Asheville, N.C.

Renowned for its Gingerbread House competition, the Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa showcases some of the country's best sugar-and-spice creations. Between Nov. 14, 2011, and Jan. 1, 2012, the little ones will have a tough time of keeping their fingers to themselves as the mountain resort's halls are overrun with holiday-inspired gingerbread themes. Guests of the resort may view the displays daily, while visitors can get a peek Sundays through Thursdays only. Hour-long guided tours are provided Wednesdays through Sundays, between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Gaylord Opryland Hotel, Nashville, Tenn.

Head to Music City and stay at the grand Gaylord Opryland Hotel to witness a Country Christmas like no other. The 28th annual event brings back traditional holiday favorites like Louise Mandrell's Christmas Dinner Party and the 10th anniversary of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring the Rockettes, as well as a few new treats. Kids will love the DreamWorks Experience, featuring Kung Fu Panda, Shrek, and the cast of "Madagascar" in the ICE! Experience, featuring larger-than-life ice sculptures and 20-foot-tall ice slides. Opryland features more than 2 million lights in its light spectacular, as well as one of the country's largest live nativity scenes.

The Westin St. Francis, San Francisco

With its iconic location on Union Square, the Westin St. Francis overlooks San Francisco's holiday ice rink and Christmas tree. However, it’s what's inside the hotel that brings the onlookers: a 12-foot sugar castle. What began in 2005 has become a San Francisco tradition as the pastry chefs create bigger and more elaborate holiday sugar castles every year. This year, the French chateau-inspired castle will weigh more than 1,200 pounds and include a medieval French village with shops, homes and a church surrounded by a magical forest. Two trains will pass through and around the village and castle, which will feature nearly 30 rooms, glowing windows and 20 towers. The hotel will also be decked out with a winter wonderland lobby filled with garland, trees, icicles and lights. Those staying in executive suites will also find Christmas trees in their rooms.

The Roosevelt, New Orleans

The Roosevelt Hotel remains a personal favorite, as it was the first hotel my newborn daughter visited during her first holiday trip. The Roosevelt's lobby is filled with white birch trees and fir trees stretching to the ceiling and bedecked in thousands of white lights. Named for the president for which teddy bears were named, it’s no wonder the Roosevelt also features teddy bears in its seasonal fun. Special Teddy Bear Teas occur over December weekends, serving up tea and hot chocolate. The tea includes a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus, and kids receive teddy bears upon check in.

Lake Lanier Islands Resort, Atlanta

Just getting to the Lake Lanier Islands Resort will be a treat when driving through the seven-mile Magical Nights of Lights display where leaping reindeer, Santa's elves, candy canes and favorite characters and holiday scenes are on display. For nearly 20 years, the resort has welcomed visitors to take in the twinkling light driving tour, which ends at the Holiday Village, where Santa awaits for photos. The village also features a bonfire for roasting marshmallows, pony rides and a petting zoo, carnival rides and games, a holiday store, and more.

Mirror Lake Inn, Lake Placid, N.Y.

Pulling up to the Mirror Lake Inn, guests are greeted by a winter wonderland complete with 70 lit trees and 300,000 twinkling lights. Inside, more Christmas trees and a tree of poinsettias are found, with real Christmas trees placed in guestrooms upon request. Mirror Lake Inn plays upon its location to become a holiday season favorite: skate on the frozen Mirror Lake and receive free hot chocolate at its cafe, enjoy a winter bonfire with marshmallows, ride the Toboggan Chute or in a horse-drawn sleigh ride complete with sleigh bells, receive a visit from Santa with milk and cookies and turndown, and take part in the town's Holiday Village Stroll.

Gaylord National, Washington, D.C.

Not to be outdone by its southern sister, the Gaylord National on the National Harbor is offering Christmas on the Potomac, which also offers the ICE! Experience with the same characters at its Opryland counterpart, as well as a beautiful winter wonderland. Enter the hotel to snow falling indoors, then walk through the hotel's ice sculpture wonderland and gaze upon the 60-foot-tall glass Christmas tree.

Disney's Grand Floridian, Orlando, Fla.

You didn't think Disney would ignore the holiday season, did you? Not only does Disney World become even more magical during the holidays -- think snow falling on Main Street! -- the Disney World Resorts also get a holiday transformation. One of the best is the Grand Floridian, where a life-sized gingerbread house greets guests in the lobby. The house is so large that every year it has actually featured a bakery selling all things gingerbread. While staying at Disney, make your way to the Magic Kingdom for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.

The Sheraton Princess Kaiulani, Oahu, Hawaii

Even if you decide to hit the tropics over the holiday season, the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani will have you in the spirit of Christmas with its annual Santa's German Gingerbread Village. From Thanksgiving through the New Year, the hotel lobby is transformed into a village of sweet treats in an Alpine village standing 24 feet wide and 14 and a half feet high. The hotel's chefs use more than 130 pounds of chocolate, 200 gallons of icing and 60 sheets of gingerbread to create the masterful cookie town.

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