New Ways to Light Up Your Holidays This Season

Love ’em or hate ’em?

No, not the relatives, though the holidays can bring out the worst in everyone. In fact, I had to laugh at a new holiday travel survey from Embassy Suites that found that more than half of Americans confess to misbehaving as a holiday house guest. (Was that you who spilled red wine on the white couch?)

I’m talking about the December holidays themselves: the cooking, the shopping, the inevitable expense (and not just on presents). In fact, Hotwire projects that American adults will spend $58 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) on December travel.

I think we can all use a little more fun this December. Of course, hotels want to help. I’ve never seen so many pre-holiday deals, whether you want to end your holiday shopping spree with a massage (such as that at The Water’s Edge Resort and Spa in Westbrook, Connecticut); have someone else drive you to the mall with Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar in Dallas, where you get an extra $50 to spend; have the elves tuck in the kids with the Elves and Eggnog package at Omni Hotels, which promises 20 percent off rates; or duck into a life-sized gingerbread house at a Great Wolf Lodge during their holiday Snowland Extravaganza.

You get a special punch card for free holiday cocktails and two-for-one snorkeling trips along with an array of other extras (think midnight sundaes with the kids) and room discounts at Hawks Cay Resort in the Florida Keys. For those not on a budget who want to be truly pampered, stay at The Plaza in New York, where, starting at $1,995, you get a food-and-beverage credit, a private shopper at Saks Fifth Avenue, and a messenger to carry your purchases back to the hotel. If your kids have never seen snow, the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess will bring a magical snowfall to the resort, along with the Desert Ice Holiday Rink and no fewer than one million lights decorating the resort’s lagoons. Even better, rooms start at $239 with the second room at half price.

According to Hotwire, major business destinations like Boston and Washington, D.C., expect to see less corporate travel during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which means you might be able to score a deal if you want to enjoy all that your favorite city has to offer. In fact, many popular U.S. destinations, including Chicago, NYC, and Minneapolis, are showing low hotel rates all throughout December, while Florida cities like Tampa and Orlando should be less expensive at Christmas than last year.

There’s also a brand-new site called Stayful that allows you to score great deals for boutique hotels in major cities around the country by negotiating directly with the properties.

Sounds great but can’t get away? No worries. Virtually every town and city in the country has holiday festivals and displays. You just have to make time to enjoy them. Skip the mall Santa and take the family someplace where you can all gawk at spectacular light displays, have a cup of cocoa, and maybe start a new holiday tradition that will leave you smiling, rather than pulling your hair out at all you’ve still got to do. Some are even free.

  1. Franklin Square’s holiday Electrical Spectacle, a free nighttime light show in Philadelphia, comes complete with a 250-foot sculpted kite that will re-enact Ben Franklin’s famous electricity experiment
  2. San Francisco is celebrating the holidays big time with temporary and permanent exhibitions, including The Bay Lights, the world’s largest LED light sculpture (1.8 miles wide and 500 feet high with 25,000 LED lights individually programmed by artist Leo Villareal), that creates a display across the Bay Bridge’s west span.
  3. Visit Gingerbread Lane at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, a 1.5-ton, 300-square-foot village made entirely of edible gingerbread, icing, and candy. The village is a contender, the museum hopes, for the Guinness World Record for the largest gingerbread exhibit. It took a year to develop and build.
  4. The 2013 Austin Trail of Lights in Austin, Texas, boasts the world’s tallest man-made Christmas tree, more than a mile of lighted displays, and my favorite part, Austin’s famous food trucks.
  5. Take the chance to pose with Santa 1,000 feet above Chicago’s city lights at the John Hancock Observatory, where you’ll be warm, even if the weather outside is frightful and likely surrounded by winter trees and snow.
  6. The Morton Arboretum in suburban Lisle, Illinois, is transforming its trees in its first-ever winter lights event in which the trees will respond to both touch and sound.
  7. Grapevine, Texas, just outside of Dallas, calls itself the Christmas Capital of Texas, offering 1,400 holiday events, millions of lights, a nightly lightshow, and even a ride on the Grapevine Vintage Railroad’s North Pole Express.
  8. Time-travel back to the 18th century and experience a Colonial Christmas at Yorktown Victory Center in Virginia. If your kids are studying American history, let them see how the holidays were celebrated during the Revolutionary War and even earlier at Jamestown Settlement.
  9. <Visit Baltimore’s first Christmas Villageat its Inner Harbor, which is modeled after the traditional Christmas markets in Germany with their indoor and outdoor holiday markets, and then go see the all-new Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas 4-D experience at the National Aquarium.
  10. See the Christmas Comet, Comet ISON (C/2012 S1), if you are lucky, near the beaches of Ft. Myers and Sanibel from mid-November to mid-December.

Have an eggnog for me!

(c) 2013 Eileen Ogintz Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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By Eileen Ogintz

Appearing in more than 50 major newspapers, Eileen Ogintz's "Taking the Kids" column is a past winner of the national Clarion Award from Women in Communications.

The meeting of a three-year-old, a cat and a goldfish pond started "Taking the Kids." The three-year-old, Eileen Ogintz' son Matt, pushed the hapless kitty into the pond at a Wisconsin cottage her family had rented for the weekend. "I thought the kitty wanted to go swimming," Matt explained. The furious owner insisted they pack up and leave immediately. The embarrassed parents drove home three hours to Chicago in a downpour.

Eileen Ogintz was a national correspondent for the Chicago Tribune then, covering news stories around the country. The travel editor, hearing her tale of woe about the cat and the goldfish pond, encouraged her to write a story about the trials of traveling with children. That story led to others. "We realized there were a lot of people like me, parents who wanted help planning trips now that they had kids." The award-winning syndicated column Taking the Kids grew out of those stories. Ogintz left the Tribune, after 14 years as a reporter, national correspondent and feature writer, to spend more time with her three young children and to launch the column nationally. The Taking the Kids series of travel guides for children, published by HarperCollins West, has followed.

"More people than ever are taking their kids places, whether they're going to Grandma's or a museum, to Disney World or on a business trip," Ogintz said. "Their time and budgets are tight. I give them the help they need to make the most of their family time." "Planning with the kids' interests in mind can make the difference between a great trip and one that's a disaster," she added.

Taking the Kids now appears in more than 50 major newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Boston Globe, Miami Herald, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Sun-Times, Dallas Morning News and Portland Oregonian. The column won a 1994 national Clarion Award from Women in Communications, Inc. and appears on AOL's Family Travel Network and elsewhere on the Web.

Ogintz has traveled with her husband and kids across the country and abroad -- from London to Disney World to Disneyland -- skiing in Colorado to fishing in Minnesota, soaking up history in Washington, D.C. to sightseeing in Las Vegas, New York and Yellowstone National Park.

The fifth book of the Taking the Kids series, A Kid's Guide to Vacation Fun in the Rocky Mountains, was just published, as well as a book for parents, Are We There Yet?? on taking the kids and surviving. She was the recipient of a 1995 and 1996 Parents' Choice honor for the series, which also highlights the Southwest, Southern California, Northern California and the Pacific Northwest.

Ogintz, who holds a master's in journalism from the University of Missouri, is a 20-year veteran of the newspaper business, reporting for The Anniston Star, The Record in Hackensack, N.J., and Des Moines Register as well as the Chicago Tribune, where she created the paper's family-issues beat. Today, she is regular contributor to numerous national publications, and has appeared on such television programs as "48 Hours," "The Today Show," "Good Morning America" and "Oprah." She created a course on the changing American family at Northwestern University and consults on work/family issues.

From their home in Connecticut, Ogintz travels with her husband, an executive in financial services, and their three children, Matt, Reggie and Melanie, who serve -- not always graciously -- as Taking the Kids' special team of experts.

Write to Eileen Ogintz in care of Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053.
Or e-mail Eileen at

© 2007 Eileen Ogintz. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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