There’s no place like home for the holidays — unless you can treat yourself to a hotel instead. The most festive hotels deck not only the halls, but just about anything else that gets in their way, with showstopping decorations, towering Christmas trees, and need-your-shades light spectacles sure to make your spirits bright.
Indeed, it can be a wonderful time to travel, whether you want to experience how another part of the country celebrates Christmas or just steer clear of the demands of decorating and cooking back home.
At Florida’s Boca Raton Resort, you can enjoy a beach bonfire with s’mores after ice-skating at the resort’s new rink, browsing a pop-up holiday market, and admiring its 40-foot tree flanked by palms.
Coeur d’Alene Resort in Idaho, meanwhile, turns into a watery wonderland, with a 1.5-million light show and cruise boats that transport you across the lake to Santa’s workshop. And snowfall turns up in the most unexpected of places, like the Sonoran desert, thanks to hotels that go above and beyond to wow guests each Christmas.
It’s enough to tickle that jolly red-suited fellow pink — and sure beats slurping eggnog at home on the couch.
Liberty Hotel, Boston
Six decked-out Christmas trees hang upside-down from the ceiling of the Liberty’s 90-foot rotunda. The attention-grabbing installation required workers to dangle from safety harnesses as they affixed the trees to the ceiling’s lofty rafters. It’s an inspired new spin on holiday décor — and appropriate for a building that did a 180 of its own by transforming from a jail into a luxury hotel.
Bellagio Resort & Casino, Las Vegas
Las Vegas knows how to put on a show, and no hotel does Christmas better than the Bellagio. Its famous fountains dance to special holiday tunes, and festive decorations take over the Bellagio's Conservatory & Botanical Gardens. Just consider these by-the-numbers highlights: Vegas’ largest indoor tree (a 42-footer); an 8-foot-tall reindeer coated in chocolate; a life-size candy house and snow globe; 34,000 fresh poinsettias; and a family of topiary polar bears made from 24,000 white carnations.
Coeur d’Alene Resort, Idaho
For more than a quarter of a century, this lakefront resort has transformed into a watery winter wonderland. This year, holiday guests can expect a 1.5-million-light show — the largest in the country —accompanied by a 160-foot-tall living Christmas tree, a 3,000-pound wreath, and more than 400 animated holiday figures. Be sure to board a cruise boat for the ride to the “North Pole,” where Santa’s workshop awaits.
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, Arizona
A white Christmas comes to the desert thanks to snowfalls, an ice-skating rink oasis (christened in 2013 by Olympian Dorothy Hamill), and oversize outdoor displays that include 14-foot poinsettias and a candy-cane forest. There are no fewer than 180 illuminated Christmas trees; a whopping 1.8 million holiday lights fringing the resort’s lagoons; and a special holiday “train” to take it all in from. Plus, all the usual Christmas standbys: hot cocoa, carolers, and the jolly big fellow himself — Santa.
The Roosevelt Hotel, New Orleans
A far cry from rowdy Bourbon Street, the refined Roosevelt Hotel reimagines its elegant, block-long lobby as a forested winter wonderland, with a canopy of white birch branches wrapped in sparkling lights that stretch overhead, numerous Christmas trees, poinsettias, and assorted holiday displays. A ginormous gingerbread village fashions small-scale depictions of famous Louisiana plantations out of gingerbread and candy. Stick around for choir performances and the Teddy Bear Tea, with holiday storytelling and a Santa appearance.
Hotel del Coronado, California
This grande dame Californian seaside resort — celebrating 125 years in 2013 — has some practice in the holiday décor department. In fact, “the Del,” just across the bridge from San Diego on Coronado Beach, was the site of the world’s first electrically illuminated outdoor Christmas tree back in 1904. Sun-seeking merrymakers will find the Victorian hotel trimmed with 100,000 white lights, with the added trappings of a two-story-high lobby Christmas tree and a palm-fringed beachfront ice-skating rink with Pacific Ocean views.
The Plaza, New York City
No place does Christmastime quite like New York City, and for visitors looking to bunk at holiday headquarters, The Plaza — with Central Park and Fifth Avenue shopping at its doorstep — is it. Expect a façade adorned with more than 20 illuminated wreaths and hundreds of feet of garland; a resident Santa; and the hotel’s signature Christmas tree, designed for 2013 with a snowflake motif in collaboration with luxury department store Saks Fifth Avenue.
Boca Raton Resort & Club, Florida
Posh and pink, this Waldorf Astoria resort looks its finest at Christmas, when 600,000 lights are strewn about the 356-acre resort, along with 40 decorated Christmas trees, including a 40-footer at the property’s entrance. For 2013, the resort has unveiled a new “pink rink,” a rose-hued ice-skating rink on the croquet lawn, where world-championship skaters will be putting on holiday ice shows. Look, too, for a pop-up holiday market and special events like dinner with Santa and beach bonfires with s’mores.
Willard InterContinental, Washington D.C.
Nicknamed D.C.’s other “Residence of Presidents,” the Willard has hosted nearly every U.S. president since 1853. Expect accordingly dignified holiday décor, including a lobby tree trimmed with the entirety of the White House Christmas ornaments collection (designed by the White House Historical Association). The featured ornament for 2013 pays special tribute to President Woodrow Wilson, and as a bonus, Christmas choirs will perform here most nights.
Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, Nashville, Tenn.
Now in its 30th year, the Gaylord’s “Country Christmas” celebration pulls out all the stops for the holidays, with special events and activities, and over-the-top décor offset by more than 2 million holiday lights. Blockbuster attractions include a "Frosty the Snowman"–themed ICE! installation — showcasing more than 2 million pounds of ice sculptures — and an on-site production of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, with its famed high-kicking Rockettes.
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