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Trip Report Two chilly days in Philadelphia...with a lot of kids!

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For this year's "between Christmas and New Year's family gathering" we decided to do something a bit different: usually we rent a big place in Cape May or the Poconos and all stay together there, but as this was Little Sis and BIL's 20th anniversary year, we decided to revisit their reception hotel so the kids could have the experience. Altogether we were six adults and sixteen kids ranging in age from almost 2 to 19.

The hotel is the Holiday Inn at 4th and Arch, originally chosen primarily for location: carriage rides of the historic area were offered to the guests throughout the reception. The outside of the hotel is definitely 70's land, but the rooms are decent and cozy with the appropriate colonial America feel. (There was a renovation in 2006, so things are looking pretty good.) Service was kind but very... laid back. We had the breakfast buffet at the hotel on one day, and it wasn't bad as such things go, although not a gourmet feast by any stretch (and most of the kids ate free.)

As I live in the city, I didn't stay there, but did get a Priceline deal for one night at the Sheraton at 17th and Race Sts. to be closer on the one full day. It's okay, good views (through dirty windows) from my 26th floor room, but of course very much a standard business hotel. Bliss toiletries in the shower, though, which are fun. (Just as a note, Holiday Inn has Bath and Body Works: very much an indicator to a bath products junkie as to the relative status of the two places: solidly middle class and slightly upper {Bliss} middle class.)

After Sunday night family Christmas, and kids stashed for the night at two of the auntie's houses, we went into town for, as Baby J would say, the horsies. First a quick meal at the Bourse (beautifully decorated for Christmas, as always, regular food court food, also as always, but it has tables downstairs that accommodated the crew) and then the 20 minute carriage ride through the Independence Mall area. There are cozy blankets and a running commentary, plus the pleasant clip-clop of horses feet and the fun of riding in a carriage. It's $30 (plus tips accepted) for the shortest tour, but you can put up to six people in a carriage. The older kids have been to the buildings in the area (at a younger age) and Princess and Baby J weren't going to get much from them, so we moved on from there after a pit stop at the Visitors' Center (6th and Market.)

Riding the el train isn't always a joy to Philadelphians, but it was a highlight for some of the kids! Tokens are the best bet, although there are also day passes if you're planning to use the transportation extensively. We rode to 13th Street, to the Wanamaker Building, but were a bit early for the Magic Christmas Tree, so moseyed down to 1234 Market for the Septa museum: the green trolley (down the stairs) was not only festively decorated, but also a great spot for family photos. The kids even got a chance to "drive"!

The Christmas Light Show in the Wanamaker Building (okay, it's now a Macy's in there) is a time-honored classic, although the new narration just doesn't work for me, even though it is Julie Andrews. I keep wanting to hear, "Goodbye Frosty" "Good-Byee" in that particularly odd voice that I heard it in for, oh, too many years to think about. And it's just tragic that the fountains are no longer a part of it. But it is still fun and retro, and the Dickens Christmas Village was open after, despite all info previous being that it was to be ended Christmas Eve. It's a walkway through the Christmas Carol story, with some scary bits but great details and costumes and English carols playing throughout. (By the way, if you can, do get there for an organ concert: noon and 5:30; it's a spectacular sound in a very special building.)

Then it was time for dinner, a prearranged "Imperial Dinner" at the Imperial Inn in Chinatown. You start out with the tasty soup with seafood and wontons, progress through the pu-pu platter (the biggest hit of the night: hey, we've got FIRE going on here!) and then an assortment of entrees to share. Ice cream is the capper, and fortune cookies of course; this is Chinese American food, after all, and done competently but not spectacularly. But at 20 bucks a pop, and 7 of the kids free, it was a fun choice and quite an experience.

Tuesday was extremely cold and windy; our morning excursion was to the Mint, which is actually a rather boring spot but one that everybody should see at least once. (And no free samples.) The catwalk tour is self-guided, and you can't take any phones, cameras, lotions, etc. with you, but as it's right across the street from our hotel we were okay with that. We also took in the new bust of B. Franklin (now made with keys instead of pennies) and his grave at Christ Church graveyard, both right by the hotel.

In the afternoon, we went to the Wachovia Center for Disney on Ice. I come from a family of unabashed Disney fans, and I do have to say that they put on a good show, about an hour and a half long. Music, skating, costumes, cool sets, special effects, unrelenting commercialsim...Disney has their act together.

Back in town, we went to the Comcast building (17th and JFK Blvd.) for their Christmas show: 3-D montage of holiday music and visuals of the Nutcracker ballet, singers, and Santa's view of Philadelphia at night. (Worth the price of admission--okay, it's free--alone!) The Concourse below the building accommodated us for dinner: mostly cheesesteaks from Mike's (varied opinions, but mostly not a favorite) and salad from LaScala: I wanted to drink my citrus salad dressing, it was so good, and the salad itself was delicious. There's an outlet of DiBruno brothers down there for the foodies if you can't get to the Italian Market or their other store.

A lovely time was had by all!

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