The holidays are about spending time with family, so why not do something different this year and turn the holidays into a family vacation? Disneyland, Universal Studios, Colonial Williamsburg — each has its own particular magic, especially around the holidays, when decorations and special entertainment make the parks extra festive. Be a part of the magic.
Disneyland is the happiest place in the universe November through early January. Sample the spirit with a package deal like the three-day Park Hopper Pass — $129 for kids 3-9 and $159 for adults. Buy tickets online at disneyland.disney.go.com.
Do: In December, Disney’s beloved spook house is transformed into “Haunted Mansion Holiday,” (photo, right) a merry collision of Halloween and Christmas. Tour the house to see what happens when Jack Skellington, of Nightmare Before Christmas fame, throws a holiday bash.
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Delicate types might prefer Frontierland’s “Santa’s Reindeer Round-Up” at Big Thunder Ranch, where reindeer games, dancing, and a meet and greet with Mr. and Mrs. Claus capture the holiday spirit.
Finally, everyone who loves the holidays should check out the annual “Believe In Holiday Magic” show, combining seasonal music and fireworks and Disney-style special effects.
Stay: Rooms at Disney’s Grand Californian have great views of the California Adventure park and Downtown Disney. Three pools, including one for the kids shaped like Mickey Mouse, will do you up nicely, and the hotel has its own entry gate to California Adventure. Rooms from $350.
At Paradise Pier, daily themed breakfasts showcase Lilo & Stitch characters and there is a boardwalk-themed pool area with a roller coaster-style waterslide. Rooms from $220. For reservations, call (714) 956-MICKEY.
Dine: Feast on Cajun and Creole cooking — gumbo, jambalaya, spicy chicken — at the Blue Bayou, in Disneyland Park (New Orleans Square). Dining here will make you feel as if you really are dining right on the bayou on a mysterious moonlit night. $30 per person. Call (714) 781-DINE for reservations.
Looking for something more sophisticated? Sup on Wine Country pheasant and dumplings, pan-seared lobster-scallop sausage, and golden trout at the Grand Californian’s Napa Rose. The atmosphere conjures the deep woods, and the wine cellar is home to 600 vintages, most from California. End your meal with the rich chocolate pâté with its flourish of sweet hazelnut cream.
Universal Studios, Orlando
If your kids prefer the Mummy to the Mouse, head to Universal Studios. Rides here are themed to blockbuster movies like Jaws, the Terminator, and Twister. Over at sister park Islands of Adventure, comic book heroes and cartoons, myths, and legends come to life. Book online and get unlimited admission for seven consecutive days to both parks for $94 per person. Both parks have special events on schedule for the festive season and will be decked out in full twinkle light glory.
Do: Visit Islands of Adventure’s Suess Landing through early January for a performance of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.” You can have a photo taken with his Mean Greenness, if you’re so inclined, and don’t miss touring the wonky Who-ville Tree Lot with its weirdly wonderful holiday decorations.
Macy’s famous Thanksgiving Parade happens every day at Universal Studios from early December through January 1, 2008. Some of the most popular balloons and floats will wend their way through the streets of the park, along with performers and marching bands from around the country. Check the park schedule for locations and times.
See some of Hollywood’s most popular films projected on grand spheres at the “Universal 360 Cinesphere Spectacular,” which runs nightly Dec. 26-Jan 1. Check the park schedule for daily show times.
Stay: The Portofino Bay Hotel evokes the aura of an Italian seaside village with olive trees, cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafes, and lush gardens. Guest rooms cluster around the little harbor and there are three swimming pools — one with Roman aqueduct-styled water slides. Rooms from $389 (peak season rates).
Guests of the Royal Pacific Resort walk a bamboo bridge across a gentle stream to reach the orchid- and palm tree-filled lobby. Rooms are decorated in vivid floral hues, and the lagoon-pool has its own beach and island. Rooms from $319 (peak season rates). Santa will be in the lobby on Christmas day from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Dine: Get a table at Roy’s Orlando and you’ll enjoy one of the best meals you can get in the Sunshine State. The focus is on seafood with European sauces and Asian spices — think Hawaiian barbecued Sirloin served with a green peppercorn sauce, and slow-roasted half chicken with Portuguese sausage and apple dressing. About $35 a person.
Kids love Pastamoré, a family restaurant that serves traditional favorites like chicken piccata, fettuccine Alfredo, spaghetti Bolognese, lasagna, and pizza. Italian pastry and ice cream make fine finishes. About $15 a person.
Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, VA
Colonial Williamsburg goes all out for the holidays. More than 2,550 Fraser fir wreaths and more than three miles of white pine roping are used to put the finishing touches on doorways, windows, columns, and railings of the beautifully restored buildings here. A one-day pass to the park is $36 for adults, $18 for children 6-17. Book online at colonialwilliamsburg.com.
Do: Ever wonder how people celebrated the holidays in the 18th century? You can find out by catching a showing of “A Kid’s Holiday Weekend,” a showcase of games, music, dance, storytelling, and holiday food preparation — all of it done 18th-century style. Access is included with any Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket. (Dec. 8-9, 15-16, 22-23 and 29-30.)
Little ones will enjoy “Antique Toys of Colonial Williamsburg,” a holiday exhibition at The Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. The show boasts dollhouses, toy trains and other toys from the museums’ collections. As part of the art program, young guests learn to make a toy, ornament, or decoration to take home. Admission is included in any Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket. For information, call (757) 220-7724.
Shopaholics should make a beeline for Merchant’s Square, adjacent to Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area. This 18th-century-style retail village has more than 40 restaurants and shops, including The Christmas Shop (ornaments, decorations), Mrs. Bones Bowtique (pet presents), Quilts Unlimited, The Toymaker of Williamsburg, and The Peanut Shop of Williamsburg (excellent selection of regional and artisanal foods).
Dine: Remember that all Colonial Williamsburg hotels offer Christmas-eve dinner and Christmas day meals and entertainment. Check when you book for specifics.
Holiday carols and tales and foods will fill the air when “An Evening of Lyrics and Lore” gets going at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern. The menu includes sherried shrimp with scallops and lobster, Gloucester chicken, spoon bread, and sweet potato muffins. 5-5:45 p.m. seatings on Dec. 6, 13, 20 and 27. $54.95 for adults and $19.95 for children. Call 1-800-TAVERNS or (757) 229-2141 to book. Reservations essential.
Shields Tavern’s Holiday Feast will offer up festive regional foods in December, including Smithfield honey ham biscuits, platters of sausages and cheeses, and Welsh rarebit. The Feast takes place Dec. 2, 9, 15, 16-22 and 24-30. Cost is $55.95 for adults and $19.95 for children. Call 1-800-TAVERNS or (757) 229-2141 to book, reservations essential.
Stay: Rooms at the Williamsburg Inn are spacious and beautifully decorated with Colonial reproduction furnishings. Bathrooms are utterly lavish. A golf course and full-service spa offer respite from the 18th-century. Rooms start at around $450.
The Williamsburg Lodge, back after a two-year refurbishment, is comprised of eight buildings interconnected by sheltered brick-paved walkways. Guest rooms are cozy and comfortable with colonial furnishings and folk art. Rooms start at $220.