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TAP’s holiday destinations

By Paul Zizka, courtesy Banff Lake Louise Tourism

Travel Alliance Partners tour operators know holiday cheer. This team of travel providers offers trips to some of the most popular holiday destinations in North America.

Kicking off the holiday season, New York City’s five boroughs celebrate Thanksgiving with time-honored traditions and new events. Washington celebrates in unexpected ways, and groups that enjoy holiday shopping will head to the National Mall. North of the border, lovely Banff, Alberta, Canada, goes festive with a mountain-style Christmas.

No matter the weather, unseasonably balmy or snowy, Branson, Missouri’s Ozark Mountain Christmas delivers holiday cheer. And Nashville, Tennessee, nicknamed the Athens of the South, decks out in winter finery, from the Tennessee Antebellum Trail mansions to dazzling Gaylord Opryland Resort.

Banff, Alberta, Canada
The charming town of Banff glows with Christmas lights and bustles with events during the holidays. Area hotels add to the holiday magic. The Banff Springs Hotel goes all out with incredible decorations and an enormous outdoor Christmas tree. The Rimrock Resort Hotel features a massive double-sided fireplace.

Decked out for the holidays, the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise sits amidst awe-inspiring scenery. Traditional 15-passenger sleighs depart daily from the hotel for hourlong trips. Christmas With the Brewsters offers a sleigh ride to a barbecue dinner with a live band. For those who wish to learn more about the area’s personalities, events and natural history, guides dressed in 1800s garb offer tours beginning at Chateau Lake Louise. Tours are on foot, by snowshoe or on cross-country skis.

Christmas in the Rockies, on the first weekend in December, treats groups to myriad festivities. Once the sun goes down, the Santa Claus Parade of Lights takes place on Banff Avenue.
“Banff is such a magical place, with the snow-capped mountains above the holiday lights of downtown,” said Ryan Elliot, manager of Americas-Banff Lake Louise Tourism. “It’s truly a winter wonderland at Christmas.”

Banff’s ski areas usually offer a ski-with-Santa program. Ski Norquay, the area’s oldest ski area, offers beginner and intermediate terrains serviced by five lifts. Sunshine Village Ski Resort’s high alpine terrain can only be reached by gondola and is situated on the Continental Divide. It encompasses three mountains and boasts Banff’s only ski-in/ski-out hotel.

Thanksgiving in New York
Nonstop pomp and pageantry will open the 2013 holiday season when the 87th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade marches through Manhattan. More than 8,000 participants step off with giant helium character balloons, fantasy-filled floats, marching bands, performance groups and gaggles of clowns. The parade route follows Sixth Avenue and concludes on 34th Street in front of Macy’s Herald Square.

“The Macy’s Thanksgiving parade is a quintessential New York City event that’s broadcast around the world,” said NYC & Company spokesperson Christopher Heywood. “Every year it’s different and reflects the unique, creative energy that the city is known for.”

The famous “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” always delights audiences with dancing Rockettes and an appearance from Santa Claus. The day after Thanksgiving, the New York City Ballet presents a favorite annual production, “George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.” The American Museum of Natural History displays its famous Origami Holiday Tree. And lighting of the world’s largest Hanukkah menorah takes place in front of the Plaza Hotel. The Big Apple Circus, which performs at Lincoln Center, is another annual favorite.

Train aficionados will want to visit the Bronx to see the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show. Model trains chug through more than 100 scaled replicas of New York landmarks, all made from natural materials such as bark, twigs and seeds.

In Brooklyn, groups can see the borough’s famed Dyker Heights Christmas Lights. Each year, the neighborhood goes all out with spectacular exhibits, complete with 30-foot-tall toy soldiers and Nativity scenes. For a guided experience, A Slice of Brooklyn’s Christmas Lights and Cannoli Tour offers festive holiday music and old-time Christmas television variety specials on the bus.

“Thanksgiving and the holidays are one of our most heavily traveled times of the year, so groups need to plan ahead, especially for hotel space,” said Heywood.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.