20 Magical Holiday Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up

Panama City Beach, FL
Courtesy of Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau
Take a train ride to the North Pole, slide through an ice castle, and eat inside a gingerbread house on an epic bucket list journey.
Courtesy of A Christmas Story House
Courtesy of A Christmas Story House

Where Movies Come to Life

A Christmas Story House, Cleveland, Ohio

Your kids can play with everything (even the famous leg lamp) inside this century-old home where the 1983 classic was filmed. Take pics of them crawling under the sink where Randy hid and pecking on a typewriter in the boys’ room. Superfan? Sleep over on the private third floor, starting at $395 per night for up to six guests. Open year-round, $11 for adults, $8 for ages 3 to 12; achristmasstoryhouse.com

Courtesy of Universal Studios Hollywood
Courtesy of Universal Studios Hollywood

Where Movies Come to Life

The Wizarding World of Harry PotterUniversal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood

It’s the first year this popular theme-park section will receive holiday magic, including colorful projections on Hogwarts Castle that will dance in tandem to a musical arrangement from the Harry Potter films. November 18, 2017 to January 6, 2018 (in Orlando) and November 24, 2017 to January 7, 2018 (in Hollywood), included in park admission; universalorlando.com, universalstudioshollywood.com

Courtesy of Polar Express New Orleans
Courtesy of Polar Express New Orleans

Where Movies Come to Life

The Polar Express Train Ride, 43 locations in 24 states 

Railroads license the rights to host these 60- to 90-minute journeys that re-create the famous story. On the way to the North Pole, music from the movie soundtrack plays as your family receives hot chocolate and sweets and listens to a reading of The Polar Express. The train picks up Santa and his helpers at the North Pole. On the way back, chefs lead Christmas carols and Santa visits each child, handing out sleigh bells. Prices and dates vary by location; polarexpressride.com

Courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge
Courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge

Check Out Ginormous Gingerbread

Great Wolf Lodge, 15 locations in 13 states

Eat a meal inside a life-size gingerbread house created by pastry chefs at these properties known for their indoor water parks. The cost of your reservation ($10 to $20) is donated to Ronald McDonald House Charities; you order from the resort’s regular menu. Reservations are open to the public, not just hotel guests. November 26 to January 1; greatwolf.com/snowland

Courtesy of Walt Disney World
Courtesy of Walt Disney World

Check Out Ginormous Gingerbread

Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida

The life-size gingerbread house at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and the spinning gingerbread carousel at Disney’s Beach Club Resort are both worth giving up some precious park time. Free, November 9 to January 1; disneyworld.disney.go.com

Courtesy of Omni Grove Park Inn
Courtesy of Omni Grove Park Inn

Check Out Ginormous Gingerbread

The Omni Grove Park Inn, Asheville, North Carolina

Admire the winning creations from The 25th Annual National Gingerbread House Competition and order a hot chocolate from a life-size gingerbread replica of the Inn. $20 per car for parking, November 26 to January 4; omnihotels.com/hotels/asheville-grove-park

Courtesy of Gaylord National Resort
Courtesy of Gaylord National Resort

Have Some Icy Fun

Gaylord Hotels, Nashville, Tennessee; Grapevine, Texas; National Harbor, Maryland; and Kissimmee, Florida

Whiz down giant ice slides and see colorful ice sculptures of favorite holiday characters at ICE!, a massive exhibit that runs on select dates from mid-November to January 1. You’re lent a parka when you enter. Starts at $22 for ages 12 and up and $13 for ages 4 to 11 depending on the date and location; ChristmasAtGaylordHotels.com

Mary Siversten
Mary Siversten

Have Some Icy Fun

Ice Castles, Midway, Utah; Lincoln, New Hampshire; Stillwater, Minnesota; and Dillon, Colorado

Fairytale-like fortresses, pillars, and slides are carved out of thousands of icicles made daily. Ditch the stroller and pull the kids around on a sled. Late December to early March, starting at $9 per adult depending on location; icecastles.com

Courtesy of Hotel del Coronado
Courtesy of Hotel del Coronado

Have Some Icy Fun

Hotel del Coronado, San Diego, California

Ice-skate to holiday music just steps from the beach on the twinkling seaside rink at this resort where L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. November 23 to January 2, $30 for 90-minute sessions, part of the proceeds benefit Make-A-Wish Foundation of America; hoteldel.com 

Courtesy of North Pole Experience
Courtesy of North Pole Experience

Head Way Up North

The North Pole Experience, Flagstaff, Arizona

Take a trolley ride from the Little America Hotel Flagstaff through a “magic portal” to get to Santa’s 12,000-square-foot interactive workshop, where families can help elves assemble toys. Kids can also visit the mission control center for the annual sleigh ride, visit the Toy Hall of Fame, and meet Santa himself. Tickets start at $39 for adults and $33 for 18 months to 17, depending on date and time. Running on select dates November 17 to December 28; lodging packages are also available, northpoleexperience.com

Courtesy of Santa's Workshop
Courtesy of Santa's Workshop

Head Way Up North

Santa’s Workshop, North Pole, New York 

Explore the village—including the reindeer barn, blacksmith shop, and toy-making cottage—before heading on rides like the Peppermint Swing and Candy Cane Express at this park in the Adirondack mountains. November 18 to December 17, $23 for ages 2 and up; northpoleny.com

Courtesy Santa's Village Photo
Courtesy Santa's Village Photo

Head Way Up North

Santa’s Village, Jefferson, New Hampshire

Mrs. Claus serves free wassail (a mix of cider, juice, and spices) to families in line to see Santa at this Christmas-themed park with a reindeer carousel. Select weekends from November 18 to December 17, $32 for ages 4 and up; santasvillage.com 

Courtesy of VisitSanAntonio.com
Courtesy of VisitSanAntonio.com

Experience Christmas in Other Cultures

San Antonio, Texas

Stroll down the city’s River Walk with more than 2,000 luminarias lighting the path (the first three weekends of December) and take a family-friendly tamale workshop at The Witte Museum (December 9, $15 to $25); visitsanantonio.com

Courtesy of Icicle TV
Courtesy of Icicle TV

Experience Christmas in Other Cultures

Leavenworth, Washington

This town with tons of Bavarian charm hosts holiday concerts, a plaza light show, strolling carolers, roasted chestnuts, sleigh rides, and visits from St. Nicholas, who gives gold-wrapped pears to the children. First three weekends of December, free admission; leavenworth.org

Courtesy of Solvang, USA
Courtesy of Solvang, USA

Experience Christmas in Other Cultures

Solvang, California

Celebrate a Scandinavian-style holiday in this small Danish village near Santa Barbara. Buildings are decorated in thousands of white twinkle lights. Check out the Danish folk dancers and savor aebleskiver (Danish pancake balls). First three weekends of December, free admission; solvangusa.com/

Courtesy of Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau
Courtesy of Panama City Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau

New Year's Eve

The shimmery ball in Times Square has some family-friendly competition on New Year’s Eve. “The New Year’s Eve fireworks in the Magic Kingdom, shown on December 30 and 31, will have shells that explode in the shape of numbers, counting down 10, 9, 8, and so forth,” says Len Testa, founder of Touringplans.com. Here are some other cool places alternatives to a ball drop:

● Lego Bricks: Legoland in Carlsbad, California, and Winter Park, Florida 
● 200-pound Marshmallow Peep: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania 
● Beach Balls: Panama City Beach, Florida 
● Pickle: Mount Olive, North Carolina 
● Hershey’s Kiss: Hershey, Pennsylvania 

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