Hotels That Go All Out for the Holidays

Hotels That Go All Out for the Holidays

BY Matt Meltzer | November 28, 2023

The best hotels wow us with decor and energy, and more so when the holidays roll around. Many could (and do) double as a Hallmark movie set, with their ornate displays of string lights and pine wreaths, glittering tinsel and oversized bulbs, scented pinecones and poinsettia plants. Some hotels go above and beyond the usual above and beyond by lighting towering trees, building ice skating rinks or entire mini villages. Let us show you what we mean. From the mountains of Idaho to the Florida shores, here’s a look at the hotels that go all out for the holidays. 

Barnsley Resort – Adairsville, Ga.

Tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Georgia, this 3,000-acre resort creates a venerable holiday postcard just a couple of hours from Atlanta. The resort looks like a little holiday village, where you can get cozy in one of 39 private cottages or immerse yourself in the spirit in the 55-room inn. The property’s historic Manor House Ruins are covered in over a million holiday lights — a million! — beautifully combining history and the holidays. Guests can partake in a variety of holiday activities like wreath-making, cookie decorating, barnyard games, a special concert and more.

The Cloister at Sea Island – Sea Island, Ga.

The abundance of decorations at this five-star family escape on the Georgia coast would be enough to land it in any roundup of exceptional holiday hotels. This year it’s going one better, displaying a gingerbread model of the original Hudson car, a tribute to Howard Coffin, who founded both Hudson Motor Car Co. and Sea Island. The Cloister has a full month of events planned too, from a nightly cookie and bedtime story from Santa’s elves to a Reindog Parade where pets dress up like reindeer. Book a stay over Christmas Eve and you’ll score an invite to the annual December 24th soiree, where Santa and Mrs. Claus stop by with presents for the kids.

Coeur d’Alene Resort – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Idaho’s most picturesque ski resort is even prettier during the holiday season, when the mountain wonderland of Idaho is illuminated by one of the largest light shows in the northwest. By the numbers: Coeur d’Alene hangs over 10 tons of decorations, including a 3,000-pound wreath, a fire-breathing dragon and the world’s largest floating Christmas trees. You can also take journeys to the “North Pole” via nightly cruises on Lake Coeur d’Alene, dine in a private igloo or join the caroling at the annual “Travolta Christmas Show.

Fairmont Scottsdale Princess – Scottsdale, Ariz.

By the numbers, no hotel in America goes bigger for the holidays than the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. The desert oasis strings up a stunning 7.5 million LED lights, then throws in a 6,000-square-foot skating rink and a 120-foot sled hill. Add in a palm-lined drive with trees wrapped in lights and regular fireworks shows above the roof, and you’ve basically brought the North Pole to Arizona. The hotel even creates a grove of trees that hosts regular campfires during the season.

Gaylord Opryland – Nashville, Tenn.

The Gaylord Opryland is an over-the-top spectacle even when it’s not the holidays. But come November it’s home to “A Country Christmas,” where the cavernous convention center is covered in over three million colorful lights. The “river” in the hotel’s atrium hosts nightly riverboat rides, and ice sculptures carved as scenes from “A Christmas Story” fill public spaces. Guests can also go tubing, ice skating or try their hand at icy bumper cars. And if the cold gets too much, they can always hit the slides at the on-site waterpark.

Gaylord Palms – Kissimmee, Fla.

If you find yourself in the theme park capital of the world for the holidays, chances are you’re not there for the wintery environs. But if you do find yourself missing the seasons, make a stop into the Gaylord Palms, where the annual ICE! showcase brings 20,000 square feet of ice sculptures to explore. The indoor winter scene also includes snowball making, tubing and ice slides. And kids can converse with life-size characters from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Lakehouse Resort – Lake San Marcos, Calif.

Photo by Julia Lorene

Few hotels in the world offer the complete collection of holiday experiences you’ll find at the Lakehouse Resort’s Winter Wonderland. Want to visit a European Christmas market? Lakehouse has one on property. A candy cane cruise? You’ll find them nightly on Lake San Marcos whether you want to roll on a pontoon or Duffy boat. You can cozy up on a “Polar Express”-themed holiday hayride, or take an entire album of selfies inside the light tunnel. For the ultimate holiday dining experience, private igloos offer the opportunity for meals surrounded by twinkling lights.

Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel – Santa Monica, Calif.

The Loews Santa Monica brings it during the holidays. In a very Loews-y vibe, the decorations are modern and tasteful, but they really lean into the holiday programming. The schedule includes menorah lightings each night during Hanukkah (with treats); beachside movie nights; a holiday drag brunch; live holiday music on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; holiday tea sessions paired with choir performances; and more. 

Hotel Del Coronado – San Diego, Calif.

The Hotel Del is a San Diego icon, and it’s one of the most scenic places to spend the holidays. Its enduring holiday symbol is California’s largest oceanside skating rink, where you can glide and turn as you watch the sunset over the Pacific. The Del gets you in the mood with a two-story tree adorning its classic entry. Then it continues the spirit with holiday movie screenings, s’mores in firepits and one of the largest Christmas dinner buffets in the country.

The Meritage Resort & Spa – Napa, Calif.

The magical vine-covered hills of California wine country look even better when covered in a light dusting of snow. Since that’s not exactly great for the Cab crop, The Meritage makes some fake stuff, and sprinkles it over guests who attend the nightly 6 p.m. tree lighting. The winter wine wonderland continues with an ice skating rink lined with tasting rooms, s’mores around firepits and private igloos. There’s even a special Bubbles and Blitzen tasting, where sparking wines are paired with tea sandwiches.

The Plaza – New York, N.Y.

When “Home Alone 2” needed a luxe locale for Kevin McCallister to wait out his second abandonment, there’s a reason producers picked The Plaza. When it comes to big-city holiday displays, nobody does it better, with a 20-foot tree, a massive Christmas Day buffet at the Palm Court and poinsettias as far as the eye can see. If you really want to get into the cinematic spirit, book the Home Alone 2: Fun in New York package that includes a limo ride around the city, a large cheese pizza and a 16-scoop ice cream sundae that you don’t have to share with anyone.

Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island – Amelia Island, Fla.

If you’re into gingerbread, make a winter escape to quaint Amelia Island off the coast of Jacksonville. In its lobby you’ll find a giant gingerbread pirate ship, where chocolate cannons and fondant pirates guard the hundreds of pieces of gingerbread used in its making. If the ship inspires you, the Ritz offers a bevy of gingerbread house-making packages that you’re welcome to take home. If you’d rather skip the sticky stuff, you can also bask in the glory of the hotel’s tree, set right near the shoreline for prime photo opportunities.   

The Roosevelt – New Orleans, La.

The block-long lobby of New Orleans’ ornate Roosevelt hotel transforms into a parade of Christmas trees, with 44 of them lining the main path. They’re impossible to miss too, decorated in over 135,000 lights and 2,200 ornaments. The hotel hosts Teddy Bear Teas, where a hotel ballroom is transformed into the North Pole and filled with singing, dancing and a cadre of Christmas characters. The famous Sazerac Bar also pours more than its namesake drink, offering a new menu of holiday tipples every season.

Sunriver Resort – Bend, Ore.

Nothing feels more like Christmas in the Pacific Northwest than cutting down your own tree. The Sunriver Resort gives guests a chance to channel their inner lumberjack by doing just that in the Deschutes National Forest. Once you’ve secured your Tannenbaum, you can enjoy a nightly light show at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., or opt for a crisp, cool sleigh ride through the woods. If you’d rather stay inside during an Oregon winter, check out Gingerbread Junction, a charity display of gingerbread houses that draws creators from around the region.