Winter Wonderlands: 16 Places to Take The Kids Over The Holidays

Can’t swing a trip to the North Pole this year? Try one of these festive destinations instead.

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Great Wolf Lodge

Kids can experience indoor snow showers, eat in a giant gingerbread house, and earn a “snowploma” at this chain of 12 lodges, known for its indoor water parks. A Great Clock Tower Howl-iday Show, visits from Santa, and holiday crafts are also fun during Snowland, from November 28, 2015 to January 3, 2016. Rates for a suite that sleeps four start at $199 per night and include water park admission; add an extra $40 for a Snowland Suite that includes a decorated tree;

Gaylord Hotels

Courtesy of Gaylord National Resort

Gaylord Hotels

All four locations (near Orlando, Dallas, Nashville, and Washington, D.C.) feature ICE!, a massive exhibit with colorful themed ice sculptures and giant ice slides for kids on select dates from mid-November to January 2 or 3, 2016. (Don’t worry about freezing—you’re lent a parka when you enter.) Elsewhere around the resorts, you’ll find gingerbread-house workshops; photos with Santa; Elf on the Shelf scavenger hunt; and scheduled snow flurries in the atrium of some locations. Admission to ICE! starts at $22 for 12 and up, $13 for kids ages 4 to 12, and free for kids 3 and under, depending on the date and location. Packages that include a hotel stay start at $256 per night;

Christmas at Gaylord National Resort

What’s it like visiting Gaylord National Resort in Washington, D.C. at Christmastime? Learn more about the fun scavenger hunt and ICE!, an outdoor area with giant ice sculptures.

Leavenworth, WA

Courtesy of Icicle TV

Leavenworth, WA

On the first three weekends in December, this town with tons of Bavarian charm hosts holiday concerts, a plaza light show, strolling carolers, chestnut roasts, sleigh rides, sledding, screenings of holiday movies, and visits from St. Nicholas, who gives gold-wrapped pears to the children. And on November 28, 2015, kids even lead a lantern parade through Leavenworth, which is about two and a half hours east of Seattle. Free admission;

Dickens' Christmas

Courtesy of Finger Lakes Tourism Promotional Agencies

Dickens’ Christmas

Skaneateles, NY
This festival overtakes the town, about 40 minutes from Syracuse, in the Finger Lakes region, and runs on weekends from Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. It offers a parade, horse-and-wagon rides, costumed actors portraying characters from A Christmas Carol along the town streets, Mother Goose storytimes, and appearances by Father Christmas. Prices vary by activity;

Waterfront Winterfest

Douglas Bovitt

Waterfront Winterfest

Philadelphia, PA
An ice-skating rink, a heated lodge with food and family games, a holiday market and entertainment draw families to the city’s waterfront at Penn’s Landing from November 27, 2015 to February 28, 2016. Spend the night at Hilton Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing (within walking distance of Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest; weekend rates start at $159 per night) and see other classic holiday attractions like the Comcast Holiday Spectacular and Reading Terminal’s Holiday Railroad. Free admission;

Indianapolis, IN

Courtesy of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Don’t miss the 47-foot Yule Slide, the reindeer-grooming station, the Snow Castle with pretend ice-fishing, and a performance of The Magic Snowman. Jolly Days at the museum runs from November 21, 2015 to January 3, 2016, and is included with regular admission.

Grapevine, TX

Courtesy of Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau

Grapevine, TX

There’s a reason why this city outside Dallas dubs itself the Christmas capital of Texas—it holds more than 1,400 holiday events every year from mid-November to early January. Among them: a Twinkle Light Boat Parade (where boats adorned with lights sail through the lake), the North Pole Express train ride, and “reindeer games” for kids. Prices vary by event;

Panama City Beach, FL

Courtesy of Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau

Panama City Beach, FL

Forget Times Square. The coolest New Year’s Eve with the kids is this city’s Family’s Beach Ball drop. An early countdown at 8 p.m. features the release of 10,000 inflated beach balls along Pier Park’s beachfront boardwalk. Live musical performances, face painting, costumed characters, firework displays and exclusive giveaways are also part of the evening’s fun.

Hotel Del Coronado

Courtesy of Hotel del Coronado

Hotel Del Coronado

San Diego, CA
Swim or skate? That’s what the kids will have to decide at this Victorian resort on the beach that sets up an outdoor ice rink for the holidays. A drop-off camp entertains kids ages 3 to 12 with cookie decorating and holiday scavenger hunts so you can get yourself a seasonal spa treatment. Rates for the Skate & S’mores package, which includes an ice-skating lesson for two, a beach bonfire with s’mores for up to 5 guests, and free admission to DELights’s beachfront ice skating and a holiday ice show, start at $419 per night.

Big Cedar Lodge

Courtesy of Big Cedar Lodge

Big Cedar Lodge

Ridgedale, MO
When it’s decked out with lights from November 1 to mid-January, this resort near Branson looks like a gingerbread village. It offers dozens of holiday activities, including hot cocoa around a bonfire, Santa-hat decorating, and storytime with Mrs. Claus. An extra touch: You’ll find a decorated Christmas tree in your log cabin. Log cabins start at $185 per night;

Congress Hall

Courtesy of Cape Resorts

Congress Hall

Cape May, NJ
Twelve-foot-tall toy soldiers and giant candy canes greet families at this seaside retreat from November 27, 2015 to January 3, 2016. Kids can meet Santa, decorate gingerbread houses, and ride the outdoor holiday train and carousel. The town also decorates its classic Victorian homes and holds storytimes and other family events. Rates start at $147 per night,

The Omni Grove Park Inn

Courtesy of Omni Grove Park Inn

The Omni Grove Park Inn

Asheville, NC
It’s the home of the National Gingerbread House Competition, and all the amazing creations are on display from November 18, 2015 to January 3, 2016. Thousands of twinkling lights, a giant sleigh and 80 decorated trees in the lobby add to the festiveness. Kids can meet Santa and sing carols with the resort’s mascot, Major Bear. While you’re in town, check out some of the seasonal festivities at the Biltmore House & Gardens estate, especially Antler Hill Village, the grounds where Santa hangs out. Rates start at $219 per night;

Courtesy of Hersheypark

Hershey, PA
What’s even better than chocolate? Four million lights, live reindeer, a skating pond, and 30-plus fun rides, including four coasters. Visit Hersheypark Christmas Candylane on select dates from November 13 to December 31, 2015. Stay at Hershey Lodge and drive through Sweet Lights, 2 miles of wooded trails with 600 nighttime displays. Hersheypark Christmas Candylane is $18.85 per person, Hershey Sweet Lights is $25 per vehicle. Lodging rates including admission to both activities plus other experiences start at $239 for a family of four per night;

Santa's Village

Courtesy Santa’s Village Photo

Santa’s Village

Jefferson, NH
It’s always Christmas at this small theme park that has a super-cute reindeer carousel and a sleigh ride. But on weekends from November 21 to December 20, 2015 the park gets in the spirit even more with a musical light show and cookie decorating. Mrs. Claus serves free wassail (a mix of cider, juice, and spices) to families in line for Santa. $30 per person for ages 4 and up, younger kids are free;

Stone Mountain Christmas

Courtesy of Stone Mountain Park

Stone Mountain Christmas

Atlanta, GA
Meet-and-greets with Rudolph, a live Christmas show, a nightly parade, and a train ride represent just a sliver of the fun at this park on select dates from November 7 to January 3, 2015. $30 for ages 12 and up, $25 for ages 3 to 11, free for younger kids;

Anna and Elsa Orlando

Courtesy of Walt Disney World Resort

Orlando, FL

The city’s theme parks go all out for the holidays. Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom hosts Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party on select nights from November 8 to December 18, 2015. It features a special parade with characters like Scrooge McDuck, snowfall on Main Street, and a holiday show featuring Anna and Elsa. From December 4, 2015 to January 2, 2016, Universal Orlando Resort hosts the Macy’s Holiday Parade, where the streets are filled every evening with the same larger-than-life balloons seen in Macy’s famous Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. Meanwhile, at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, families will light up with holiday cheer as Grinchmas comes to life throughout Seuss Landing. Experiences include a heartwarming live show, “Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular,” featuring the Whos from Who-ville.

This piece was accurate at publication time, but all prices, offerings and availabilities are subject to change. Please contact each hotel and attraction for up-to-date rates and information before taking your trip.

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