It's been an up-and-down year for many of us, for certain. But now, well, who isn't ready for - as the song says - "the happ, happ, happiest season of all"? It's Christmastime, and hotels and inns and resorts throughout America are ready to celebrate the season with glittering decorations and holiday feasts and special events and glowing fireplaces and the unique ambience and warmth that only this season can bring. And here are five of the greatest places to enjoy this special Holiday warmth...
#5 - PINK SHELL BEACH RESORT & MARINA, FORT MYERS BEACH, FLORIDA - Well, you won't see any snow here! But what you will see is some of the most beautiful beachfront in America, and water on both sides of a stunning resort that's been voted one of the ten best in Florida. Pink Shell Beach Resort & Marina offers guests a long list of included-amenities, among them private beach access, daily breakfast, spacious suites, a full-service marina where you can dock your own boat or rent one or let a boat captain do the driving, an on-site spa and fitness center (and yoga classes), and more daily activities than you'd be able to do in a week. This is a wonderful escape for families, couples, and friends, where you can celebrate a very sweet, warm Christmas - in every way. Here, there are dolphin tours, kayaking, nature tours with Ranger Rob, great fishing and all sorts of water sports. There are three excellent restaurants, as well, and, for a uniquely intimate evening, you can even choose to have your dinner at a private table on the beach. And Pink Shell Resort's All-Day Christmas Buffet will include all the traditional favorites and some new ones, along with special seasonal desserts. It's not hard to see why this resort's motto is "The only thing we overlook is the beach!"
#4 - INN AND SPA AT LORETTO, SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO - The Inn and Spa at Loretto is an AAA Four-Diamond resort that captures the unique essence of northern New Mexico, through its distinct Southwestern design, luxury accommodations, and singular experiences. So much classic design, in fact, that it's the most photographed building in New Mexico. The Inn and Spa At Loretto is a stucco building in the heart of Santa Fe's historic Plaza. And its authentic guest rooms are accompanied by an award-winning spa, a hair/nail salon, a year-round heated garden pool, and a selection of eclectic on-site galleries and boutiques. When you open the door to go outside into the ever-shining New Mexico sun, you're just steps from excellent museums and galleries and streetside craftspeople and artists, as well as the Palace of the Governors, the former state Capitol building that's the longest-continuously-occupied building in New Mexico. Also nearby is the Canyon Road Arts District, with over one hundred galleries, boutiques and restaurants within a half-mile. And right next-door to the Inn is the legendary "Miraculous Staircase" at Loretto Chapel. This is a winding wooden staircase with two 360-degree turns and no visible means of support, built between 1873 and 1878...and no one knows for sure the name of its creator. And both Christmas Dinner and New Year's Dinner will be served in the atmospheric Luminaria Restaurant & Patio, one of three excellent eateries at the Inn.
#3 - GAYLORD OPRYLAND RESORT & CONVENTION CENTER, NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center is truly a stunning, one-of-a-kind resort experience, as well as one of America's great hotels. Here, under an enormous roof that brings in the outdoors, there's an incredible variety of family activities and entertainment options. Nine acres of activities and options, in fact. Nine acres of airy, indoor garden atriums, a wide selection of award-winning restaurants (17 of them) and bars, the world-class Relâche Spa, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and SoundWaves, Nashville's premier aquatic attraction. And you can explore these nine acres on footpaths through watery, forested sections, or in Delta Riverboats traversing the whole property. Gaylord Opryland celebrates the Holiday Season in style with "A Country Christmas," when the whole resort glows with holiday displays featuring more than three-million twinkling lights, and festive interactive experiences and live shows for guests of all ages. Nor does it hurt that the resort sits in one of America's coolest cities. Nashville boasts must-see experiences such as Ryman Hall, built in 1892 and original home of the Grand Ole Opry; today's Grand Ole Opry hall; the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum; and the General Jackson Showboat Lunch or Dinner Cruises. Not to mention one of the coolest streets in America. Take a walk down Broadway on any Friday or Saturday night and you'll hear great live music - and happy crowds in cowboy hats enjoying it - coming from doorway after doorway.
#2 - C LAZY U RANCH, GRANBY, COLORADO - C Lazy U Ranch is about as authentic a Western experience you can get...with a large dollop of luxury thrown in. And this ranch, at an elevation of 8,200' amidst spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery, offers all-inclusive Christmas vacations with everything you'll need to create "forever" memories. Cozy-chic cabins will have tabletop Christmas trees and plenty of decorations for you to put on them. Nightly entertainment includes carols, cookie-decorating, bonfires, hot cocoa bars and more. On Christmas Eve, a traditional dinner is served in the dining room, with a turkey for each table. There will also be a visit from Santa on a horse-drawn sleigh filled with presents to place under the tree (yes - they're for guests!). And the fun continues on Christmas Day, with all sorts of activities for families, among them a feed wagon, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and ice hockey on the pond. Afterward, there are pre-Dinner cocktails and appetizers and then a very special Christmas Dinner in the Lodge. At C Lazy U Ranch, there are 8,500 acres of snowy mountains and stunning vistas to explore, along with horseback riding, cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, ice skating, tubing, or sledding. Or you can book a snowmobile tour. After expending all this energy, the Lazy You Spa offers a wonderful spot to relax. And if you feel like working off the calories, you can do it in the well-equipped Fitness Center. Christmas at this Western ranch, amidst a winter dream-like setting like no other, is one you'll never forget.
And now, my pick for the most special Christmas Getaway in America...
#1 - THE OSTHOFF RESORT, ELKHART LAKE, WISCONSIN - This world-class resort in the scenic village of Elkhart Lake (population about 1,000) was built in 1885, instantly becoming an architectural icon. So much so that when it was rebuilt a hundred years later, it was done in pretty much the same style. It sits on beautiful Elkhart Lake, so bring plenty of film. And if you're looking for a Christmas Getaway with memories you'll cherish, look no farther. The Osthoff Resort is a luxurious all-suite hotel with a Four-Diamond rating from AAA, with serene lake views at every turn. Holiday festivities this month include an "Old World Christmas Market" reminiscent of Old Europe, in a giant tent filled with the aromas of fresh Evergreens and roasted almonds and bratwurst, and a visit by Jolly Old St. Nick (and some of his reindeer) for a special Brunch Buffet. And on Dec. 18, the whole family can enjoy "Breakfast With Santa" at a bountiful buffet, along with carols and gifts for the kids. The Osthoff Resort has a lounge and four excellent restaurants, one of them at the noteworthy Aspira Spa (which offers yoga classes). And if you'd like to experience the Great Outdoors in a real Currier and Ives Holiday setting...just open the hotel doors and walk outside. There's dog-sledding for the whole family at the nearby Siberian Outpost, and horse-drawn hayrides, carriage rides, snowshoeing and even downhill skiing all available. And you can do some of these activities - such as hayrides and carriage rides - at night, when the only sounds you'll hear are the breathing of the horses and the soft sounds of wagon-rails on the snow. It's not an exaggeration to call The Osthoff Resort - and the fairytale village in which it sits - a true "Winter Wonderland."