By the time November rolls around every year, people are primed to be happy and celebratory, and holiday travel can satisfy that urge. For group travelers, the holidays are an opportunity to gather with friends, family members and even strangers and celebrate.
Society has been through a rough couple of years, and as we peer into 2022, travel planners can help customers anticipate happy times in future winters. Here are five destinations to consider for holiday tours. Remember to stock up on Santa hats and stocking stuffers because everyone enjoys receiving presents.
Branson, always known for putting on a show, goes all out at Christmas, lighting up the Ozarks and bringing Christmas joy to the heartland. You can get a perspective on almost everything from the towering 40-gondola Branson Ferris Wheel, which gleams with special lights and music, and even in non-holiday times sports 144,000 LED lights. Groups can get a special visit from an actor portraying George Ferris, namesake and inventor of the Ferris wheel.
You’ll quickly notice that Christmas trees are everywhere in Branson, which is why it enjoys being called America’s Christmas Tree City. Thousands of trees decorate the town, and there are 1,000 more at the region’s biggest attraction, Silver Dollar City, where the seasonal celebration is called An Old Time Christmas. Inside the park are 6.5 million lights and an 80-foot-tall tree.
As you would expect, music abounds in Branson. Silver Dollar City’s biggest is a Broadway-style show called “Home for Christmas,” but that’s only the start: Approximately 40 other theaters also deliver holiday shows and music. You can get a show and a three-course meal aboard the Showboat Branson Belle, a 700-passenger paddle-wheeler that lets you enjoy the Ozark scenery while cruising on Table Rock Lake.
New York City
Some of America’s most famous holiday sights events make New York City buzz with special excitement every winter. What’s amazing — and useful for tour planners — is that those events only scratch the surface of what’s available.
“There are so many reasons to visit New York City during the holiday season,” said John Marshall, NYC and Company’s director of tourism market development. “From our blockbuster annual events like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop to unique attractions and cultural experiences across all five boroughs, there is an endless roster of programming to enjoy in NYC during the most festive time of the year.”
Three outdoor holiday markets — the Union Square Holiday Market, the Holiday Shops at Winter Village at Bryant Park and the Columbus Circle Holiday Market — help create a celebratory mood, and you can shop indoors if you want at the Grand Central Holiday Fair in Grand Central Terminal. Outdoor and indoor ice skating rinks delight active groups — check out the one at Bryant Park for a change from Rockefeller Center — and glowing lantern festivals create fairyland scenes at the Snug Harbor Botanical Garden on Staten Island and the Queens County Farm Museum. In New York, the list of options starting in November and spilling into January does seem endless.
Farther up the East Coast is a history-oriented, two-state holiday destination in the Brandywine Valley. You have a variety of attractions and events with which to build a holiday itinerary in Wilmington, Delaware, and across the river in Pennsylvania. The Delaware Antiques Show, a weeklong event in Wilmington in early November, can set the stage. It features 60 of the nation’s top antiques dealers in a program organized by the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. Winterthur, the grand mansion of Henry Francis du Pont, itself offers special holiday-accented tours.
From Thanksgiving through Epiphany (January 6), Longwood Gardens bustles with its Longwood Christmas event. More than a half-million lights sparkle in the garden, and the conservatory is full of color. A special treat is singing carols to music from an Aeolian organ with 10,010 pipes, the largest ever built in a residential setting.
Two types of Christmas trains can work into an itinerary. On the small side is the Brandywine Railroad O-gauge model train display at the Brandywine River Museum of Art. Its track through the miniaturized countryside is nearly 2,000 feet long. For a real train ride, check out the Wilmington and Western Railroad for its Holiday Lights Express, which is pulled by either an antique steam locomotive or a historic diesel locomotive.
“If it’s true, it ain’t bragging” very well could apply to Grapevine, Texas, which crowns itself the Christmas Capital of Texas. No other town can make that claim because Grapevine’s promoters have trademarked the phrase and because it would be difficult to wrestle that moniker away anyway, considering that the little city has a list of 1,400 Christmas events spread throughout 40 days.
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Grapevine’s nicely preserved historic Main Street is ready-made for holiday decorations and that the city’s businesses include the 1,511-room Gaylord Texan Resort, the 605-room Great Wolf Lodge and the massive Grapevine Mills shopping mall, all three of which take their own Christmas extravaganzas to the hilt. Millions of holiday lights compete with the stars at night, which themselves are big and bright deep in the heart of Texas, between Dallas and Fort Worth.
Railroads played a significant role in Grapevine’s development, and the city keeps that tradition alive all year with commuter and excursion trains. The Grapevine Vintage Railroad grandly decorates itself for the North Pole Express, primarily for families with children, and the Christmas Wine Trains, primarily for adults. The Christmas Wine Trains are a hot commodity every year, so plan accordingly; the experience includes savory bites, dessert and two glasses of wine from a Grapevine winery.
If you miss the train, check out the beautifully restored Palace Theatre, a landmark built in 1940, for a variety of holiday productions and a series of classic Christmas movies. Remember ZuZu Bailey’s joyful line, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
The holidays in Myrtle Beach come with a bonus: pleasant ocean breezes and perhaps a surfside walk. However, onstage entertainment is the biggest holiday attraction, according to Sandy Haines, group tour sales manager at Visit Myrtle Beach.
“We’re best known for our seven live theaters,” Haines said, noting that they range from 100 to 2,000 seats and offer a wide variety of holiday-themed shows. Among the big venues are the Alabama Theatre, the Carolina Opry, the Broadway Theater and the Pirates Voyage Dinner and Show. You might wonder how Pirates Voyage blends “Yo, ho, ho” with “Ho, ho, ho,” but that plot twist comes when the pirates put a swashbuckling spin on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
Another event and dining combination is available on the Barefoot Queen, a riverboat that cruises on the Intracoastal Waterway. Whether you are inside or outside in the Carolina sunshine on the top deck, a riverboat trip is a definite change of pace.
A distinctively South Carolina Christmas event is the Nights of a Thousand Candles celebration at Brookgreen Gardens. This famous sculpture garden takes on a different feeling amid the glow of 2,800 hand-lit candles and thousands of sparkling lights. Listen to carolers, enjoy holiday music, and stroll the pathways.