Taking the Kids: Making holiday lights a post-Thanksgiving tradition
In New Orleans at the Ritz-Carlton, make your own gingerbread house, without all the mess at home, every weekend in December ($140 for four kids). While that's going on, grown-ups can enjoy a holiday cocktail -- Pomegranate Joy, perhaps with Champagne, pomegranate liqueur and more. If that's too pricey, you can always stop in to see the life-sized gingerbread house that is a replica of New Orleans' Famous Wedding Cake House.
Avoid the stress -- for a night anyway -- by spending the night at a lavishly decorated city hotel or country inn so you can take your time checking out decorations and browsing for gifts. (AAA recommends among others, the Inn by the Bandstand in Exeter, New Hampshire, with its collection of Santa figures and a lighted village display.
If you are in the Washington, D.C., area, time-travel back to the 18th century with the Christmas Illuminations event at Mount Vernon, George Washington's home, which offers candlelight tours and fireworks over the Potomac as Lady Washington welcomes you to see how the holidays would have been celebrated in 1797, complete with making chocolate and a resident fifer playing holiday music.
In Cabarrus County, North Carolina, the Charlotte Motor Speedway boasts a 3.75-mile course with some 3 million lights illuminating a theme of "Santa's Mountain," drive-in movies, the chance to drive on the famous track, an infield Holiday Village Thursday through Sunday nights, complete with petting zoo, pony rides, s'mores and, of course, photos with Santa.
And in San Francisco, the kids can't help but gawk at the 12-foot-high Medieval Sugar Castle and the St. Francis Enchanted Castle in the historic lobby of the Westin St. Francis Hotel. The Castle will have grand circular towers and illuminated windows with elves spotted climbing up to the sugar castle. Locals flock to the St. Francis Sweet Boutique for freshly baked holiday cookies, gingerbread men, Parisian macarons and more.
Let the gawking begin! And have a cookie for me!