5 best travel spots to spend the holidays

By Joshua Nichols, Staff writer
Published On: Dec 05 2011 12:19:24 PM EST
Updated On: Dec 06 2011 02:00:00 AM EST

City of North Pole, Alaska

Money's tight and traveling around the holidays can make it even tighter. So if you're planning a holiday vacation, you want to be sure to do it right.

But where to go? You could try one extreme and head north to Alaska. North Pole, Alaska, to be exact.

The town, which celebrates Christmas year-round, offers a great winter festival and the chance to get an exclusive North Pole postmark on your Christmas cards … and an average Christmas Day temperature of 0 degrees.

If that just made you shiver, maybe San Juan, Puerto Rico, is more your speed. The American territory offers a passport-free Caribbean vacation and San Juan's Paseo de la Princesa comes alive with lights and holiday festivities around Christmas.

But that's just two extremes. If you want something in between, we've gathered some top travel destinations for this -- or any -- holiday season. Eggnog and beloved, if sometimes annoying, relatives not included ...

No. 5: Nashville, Tennessee

If you want a super-sized Christmas with a little bit of twang, head to the country capital of the world.

With nearly 3,000 rooms and more than nine acres of enclosed gardens, the Gaylord Opryland resort does Christmas in a big way. Outside, you will find 2 million lights shining in outdoor displays, while inside features large-scale holiday showcases.

Attractions include a 40-foot Christmas tree, a daily medieval-themed yule log lighting and a boat ride on the man-made river running through the gardens.

While spending your holidays at the hotel, you can also take in ICE!, an interactive world of ice sculptures featuring the characters from the "Madagascar" animated movies, or visit the Holly Jolly Town Square, a step back in time to a nostalgic 1950s town square, complete with all the shops, a holiday kids train, live entertainment and more.

The resort also offers "The Radio City Christmas Spectacular" featuring the Radio City Rockettes, Louise Mandrell's Christmas Dinner Party, a craft show, photos with Santa and much more.

No. 4: Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland might not be the first city that comes to mind when you think of Christmas, but if the phrases "You'll shoot your eye out" and "triple dog dare" make you yearn for the holidays, it might be the place for you.

The 1983 Christmas movie classic "A Christmas Story" was filmed in Cleveland and the home to Ralphie Parker and his family has been lovingly restored to how it looks in the movie.

Together with a building across the street, the house forms A Christmas Story House and Museum. Visitors to the museum can see original props, costumes and memorabilia from the film, as well as hundreds of rare behind-the-scenes photos.

The Hyatt Regency in downtown Cleveland and the Red Roof Inn in nearby Westlake, Ohio, both offer "Christmas Story" packages that include admission to the museum and more.

No. 3: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe may be one of the best-kept Christmas secrets in America.

The city quite literally is aglow during the holiday season, with thousands of farolitos, candles in sand-filled paper bags, lining buildings throughout the city. The candles illuminate Santa Fe Plaza on Christmas Eve, providing the perfect backdrop for the cider and caroling you will also find there.

Visitors will also find art galleries along Canyon Road, Native American dances at nearby pueblos and great food everywhere, including the option of having your meal served red, green or "Christmas" style, with both red and green chile sauces.

The city is also unique in providing a winter fix for both golfers and skiers. The weather is mild enough that nearly year-round golfing is possible while the nearby mountains, including the Ski Santa Fe area 16 miles from -- and 3,000 feet higher than -- downtown, offer great skiing.

No. 2: Orlando, Florida

Walt Disney World offers all kinds of Christmas attractions, ranging from the four-story Christmas tree decorated with bird cages and mirrors in the lobby of the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa to Epcot Center's "Holidays Around the World," showing how other cultures celebrate the season.

The Magic Kingdom offers "Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party," a special ticketed event on select nights in December that features parades, fireworks, music and more.

Disney's Hollywood Studios, formerly known as Universal Studios, features a breathtaking seasonal display of millions of glittering lights synchronized to holiday music through Jan. 7, 2012, and what better place to get your holiday shopping done than in Downtown Disney, where the shops embrace holiday decorations and music like only Disney can.

But the true highlight is just a 15-minute drive east of downtown Orlando, where the tiny town of Christmas, Fla., gives you the chance to send out your holiday greetings with an official "Christmas" postmark.

No. 1: New York City

Perhaps no U.S. city is as associated with Christmas as New York City. Think of the Christmas movies set in the city, not to mention Rockefeller Center with its enormous Christmas tree and skating rink.

Take a walk through the bustling city to gaze at the Christmas window displays at Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue. Since you're already out shopping, what Christmas visit to New York is complete without a stop at the huge kids' toy stores FAO Schwarz and Toys 'R Us in Times Square?

The Big Apple will be bustling with the usual Christmas hotel specials to accommodate the holiday shows, shopping and tourism that go along with the season, so be sure to make your reservations early.

Of course the fun doesn't stop once Christmas is over. If you've ever found yourself glued to the TV as the ball drops in Times Square, you know that New York City does up New Year's Eve right. Maybe this is the year to take in the festivities in person?

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