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Holiday Trips: Visions of sugarplums

Courtesy Branson Lakes Area CVB

As certified Santa’s elves, bank directors know that it is part of their official elf duties to instill the holiday spirit in group members. Although those little guys at the North Pole may have to work tirelessly day and night to spread merriment, bank directors need only take their gang to a Christmas show to fulfill their obligations.

Typically running from November to the end of the year, these celebratory productions offer nostalgic music and heartwarming stories. After choosing from holiday themes that include a foot-stomping country yuletide, a glitzy Big Apple extravaganza, and a spiritual and miraculous journey, bank directors will be rewarded with their own good cheer.

Branson, Missouri
Besides the “Miracle of Christmas,” Branson features “The Brule and Airo American Indian Rock Opera Christmas Show,” which features Native American music and dance performances.

“The show is a blend of contemporary Native American rhythms and dance with traditional Christmas music played on Native American instruments designed to deliver a message of peace, unity and reconciliation,” said Lynn Berry, director of public relations for the Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

As part of Silver Dollar City’s An Old Time Christmas festival, the 1880s-themed park features “A Dickens Christmas Carol,” a 45-minute compact version of this classic, six times a day. An interactive show for the kids, “Frosty,” offers great entertainment for a grandparents outing.

Berry added, “While it’s not your traditional show, the Butterfly Palace showcases thousands of white butterflies amidst a rain forest sparkling with thousands of twinkling lights with a backdrop of holiday music.

“In addition, lots of our famous artists transform their shows into holiday funfests, including Andy Williams’ ‘Christmas Show.’”


Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Big blockbusters and offbeat new entertainment is on the itinerary at Myrtle Beach, which is famous for 60 miles of white, sandy beaches.

Those blockbusters include “Legends in Concert,” a musical production where tribute artists sing holiday classics; “The South’s Grandest Christmas Show” at the Alabama Theatre and the “Carolina Opry Christmas Special” at the Carolina Opry Theatre, both highlighting the holidays through music, comedy and dance; the Dolly Parton Dixie Stampede, a dinner theater that transforms into a winter wonderland with the fun and games that visitors expect as well as a dramatic Nativity scene; and the Palace Theatre.

“This year, the Palace is where bank groups can enjoy ‘Christmas on Ice,’ starring previous winter Olympic skaters, and the ‘Frank Sinatra Christmas Show,’” said Kimberly Miles, public relations manager for the Myrtle Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Mills also suggested that groups not miss a holiday-themed evening at the Carolina Improv Company in its performance venue at the Myrtle Beach Mall. “Much like the television show ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ comics take suggestions from the audience and just fly with it — it’s great,” said Miles.


Sight and Sound Theatres
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Branson, Missouri
The “Miracle of Christmas” will be showing at both Sight and Sound Theatres this holiday season. The musical show follows the journey of Mary and Joseph as they travel to Bethlehem and the stable where Christ was born.

Courtesy Sight and Sound Theatres

“As guests arrive, they are greeted by shepherds and live animals, a 30-foot tree decorated with angels and a handcrafted Jerusalem scene,” said Kate Renfrow, spokeswoman for Sight and Sound.

Signature features of the show, performed on stages twice the size of those at Radio City Music Hall in New York and that wrap the audience on three sides, are the live and animatronic animals, flying angels and stunning special effects.

“The production includes 405 costumes, and there are more than 1,770 lighting instruments. It is the ultimate Christmas experience,” said Renfrow.

Renfrow added that down the road from the Sight and Sound Theatres in Lancaster is the Living Waters Theatre, where “Voices of Christmas” offers all the musical traditions of the holidays.


Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Visitors to Pigeon Forge can experience the spirit of Christmas any day of the year at the Miracle Theater, where “The Miracle” offers the biblical production on the story of Christ. “The story does take on a special meaning during the holidays,” said Leon Downey, executive director of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism.

Courtesy Pigeon Forge Dept of Tourism

Holiday group-travel favorites include the Smith Family Dinner Theater, where a Southern-style buffet and three talented brothers take on the Christmas spirit. “These guys are not only comedians but great musical entertainers, from old-time rock and roll to gospel,” said Downey.

Other shows take place at Country Tonite Theater, a salute to Christmas music with a country feel; Black Bear Jamboree, a dinner theater that offers a Christmas show set in the Smokies; and WonderWorks, a dinner theater that transforms its signature show, “Hoot ‘n Holler,” into a vaudeville Christmas comedy.

“Dollywood also offers a variety of twinkling entertainment including ‘Dollywood’s Babes in Toyland,’ a major stage production, and ‘Christmas in the Smokies,’ a spectacular musical,” said Downey.

The shows are just part of Pigeon Forge Winterfest and Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas, where 9 million lights vie with the stars to light up the scenic destination.


Renfro Valley, Kentucky
Renfro Valley, an entertainment complex in southeastern Kentucky, hosts the “Christmas in the Valley” show, an original stage production at its New Barn Theater that features the entire Renfro Valley cast of entertainers. The show, festively full of traditional Christmas songs and comedy, is also an especially poignant story based on real events.

Courtesy Renfro Valley Entertainment Center

“The show is set in a rural train depot as the entertainers wait for the Santa Train, an actual train that has made an annual trip through the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia since 1943. The train delivers early Christmas gifts and candy to thousands of people along its 110-mile journey,” said Donna Harley, group tour representative.

“Many of the mountain children who are recipients would not otherwise receive gifts at Christmastime.”


Palm Spring Follies
Palm Springs, California
The Palm Springs Follies have proven beyond a doubt Billie Burke’s (aka Mrs. Florenz Ziegfeld’s) famous quote “Age doesn’t matter unless you’re a cheese,” according to Greg Purdy, senior communications manager.

“Our music, comedy and dance performers, all former professionals from the Rockettes, Las Vegas and even ‘The Carol Burnett Show,’ range in age from 56 to 81. We like to say this Broadway-caliber celebration from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s has a cast old enough to have lived it,” said Purdy.

Holiday shows at the Follies take a nostalgic look at Yuletide. At the historic Plaza Theatre, a holiday tree in the lobby loaded with collectibles greets guests.

“It’s a festive time here with numbers such as ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ and ‘Boogie Woogie Santa Claus’ and culminating with a finale that has snow falling on stage with the cast performing ‘White Christmas.’ Like all of our shows, it’s a little irreverent at times with lots of comedy,” said Purdy.

Groups may want to consider combining their Rose Bowl Parade excursion with this Follies tribute, located just a few hours from Pasadena. Purdy added, “Our New Year’s shows are especially popular with groups — these are real blowouts. We have a champagne reception, hats and noisemakers, and everyone joins in on ‘Auld Lang Syne.’”


Radio City Music Hall
New York City
For 78 years, “The Radio City Christmas Spectacular” has been a holiday tradition for millions. “The moment that our guests walk through the lobby of Radio City Music Hall, they will be greeted by the Radio City Swarovski Crystal Christmas tree, an extravagant Christmas tree worth more than $1 million,” said Don Simpson, executive vice president of productions for MSG Productions.

Courtesy Radio City Music Hall

Along with Rockettes favorites, including “The 12 Days of Christmas” scene, this year’s show will feature a production number set in Times Square with an onstage fireworks display. In “New York at Christmas,” the Rockettes will board a real double-decker Gray Line tour bus for a tour of Manhattan, where the audience is led on a tour of landmarks such as the Empire State Building, Fifth Avenue’s store windows and Central Park.

Santa also takes the audience on a journey to the North Pole that features the Rockettes as rag dolls and delivers a Christmas card-inspired greeting, showing the audience a retrospective film on these dancers’ long history.

The Rockettes’ costumes have always been stars of the show, and this year’s will be no exception: The Rockettes will wear more than 240,000 Swarovski crystals on stage.