Holiday travel can always be frustrating and expensive. Because it’s the start of winter, there’s always the chance that weather will impact your travel. It’s also an incredibly busy time of year, which means you’ll deal with more expensive prices and crowded airports and destinations.
However, there are lots of really good reasons to travel at this time and sometimes it’s unavoidable. Whether you are planning holiday travel to see family, or are doing it as a family vacation, here’s information about where to go and tips for an easy holiday vacation.
Disclosure: We have visited some of these locations at no cost. This post contains affiliate links. A purchase/click through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us at no additional cost to you. All opinions are our own.
Guide to Holiday Travel: Where to Go and Tips for an Easy Vacation
Why Travel For the Holidays
Some families may opt to travel for the holidays to see family members and celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and/or New Years with them. In that case, you’re probably not looking for a specific place to travel to but may still need tips for making that travel as inexpensive and hassle-free as possible. Scroll to the bottom for our tips.
However, holiday travel can also include trips to destinations that celebrate Christmas, and you can even travel in advance of the holiday to save money and still be able to stay home for the holidays. Here are some of our favorite family travel holiday destinations.
Disclosure: We have visited some of these locations in the past at no/limited cost for purposes of review. In addition, we have paid full price for some trips. This post contains affiliate links. A purchase/click through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us at no additional cost to you. All opinions are our own.
Where to Go Leading Up to the Holidays
Walt Disney World and Disneyland
If you haven’t been to Walt Disney World or Disneyland during the Christmas holiday season, you are definitely missing out. The parks do so much to celebrate, from their decorations to special events.
In Epcot, guests can walk around the World Showcase and experience the holidays in the eleven countries, including decorations and entertainment. There’s also the Candlelight Processional, a 50-piece orchestra and choir telling the story of Christmas with a celebrity narrator. The Candlelight Processional is included with your admission to Epcot, however dinner packages including VIP seating are also offered.
At the Magic Kingdom, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is open on select nights. It’s a separate ticketed event, but is definitely worth doing at least once. It includes a separate parade and fireworks show, and guests can enjoy complimentary hot chocolate and cookies while watching snow fall on Main Street.
The Disney resort hotels also get in on the magic with holiday decor. You’ll find a gingerbread carousel at the Beach Club, a gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian, and a gingerbread display at Disney’s Contemporary resort.
These activities are typically held starting in November, so you won’t necessarily need to visit the parks in December. Keep in mind that Christmas and the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is extremely busy at the parks.
In Orlando, you can enjoy live shows, shopping, entertainment, meet and greets with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and more. SeaWorld San Antonio offers similar events, along with 9 million lights, a Sesame Street Christmas Parade, and shows including Shamu’s Christmas Miracles.
Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Busch Gardens Williamsburg offers Busch Gardens® Christmas Town™, which takes place on select dates. Christmas Town includes more than 10 million lights, as well as holiday food, shows, and shopping. There’s also the Christmas Town Express train ride.
Other Theme Parks
Other theme parks in the United States offer holiday events and activities as well. Legoland, with locations in Florida and California, offers seasonal activities and decor at Christmastime.
Knott’s Berry Farm, located in Buena Park, California, hosts Knott’s Merry Farm. This family friendly event takes places on select nights in November and December and includes a crafts village, entertainment, and more.
Nantucket Holiday Stroll
You may not immediately consider traveling to Nantucket, MA for the holidays. However, in early December each year, Nantucket is home to a holiday stroll that is so fun for families.
The Nantucket Holiday Stroll includes a number of activities, including an annual festival of trees. Hosted at the Nantucket Whaling Museum, the Festival of Trees includes dozens of beautifully and uniquely decorated Christmas trees.
The holiday stroll also includes such activities as craft shows, caroling, holiday decor, and shopping. The highlight of the event for kids is the arrival of Santa by Coast Guard ship.
This event is extremely popular and lodging is limited, so it’s a good idea to book your hotel or vacation home as soon as possible. We attended several years ago, and had such a great time.
Grapevine, Texas, tucked between Dallas and Fort Worth, is known as the “Christmas Capital of Texas”. This town offers dozens of Christmas activities, may of which are centered over the same weekend.
Highlights of the events include snow tubing, a Scuba Diving Santa, and the North Pole Express® on the Grapevine Vintage Railroad. There’s also ICE! at the Gaylord Texan as well as a large Christmas lights parade.
The Gaylord Resorts, with locations in National Harbor, MD, Nashville, TN, Grapevine, TX, Orlando, FL, and Denver, CO, offers a full Christmas celebration that you absolutely need to experience. Several years ago, we spend Thanksgiving week at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, and had such a wonderful experience.
Included in the holiday celebration are gorgeous decorations, holiday entertainment, snow tubing, horse and carriage rides and other winter activities. There’s also ICE! a huge display of ice sculptures with a different theme each year. Some of these events are offered at an additional fee, and tickets are available for purchase in advance.
Each resorts’ celebration is a little different, and the ICE! displays all have separate themes, so you’ll want to see the details about the current year and your preferred resort before planning your trip.
Great Wolf Lodge Resorts
The numerous Great Wolf Lodge locations in the United States and Canada get into the holiday spirit with their Snowland event. Each of the resorts has different offerings – so you’ll want to check with your specific resort to see what type of activities they will have available.
Events and activities include a life-sized gingerbread house that you can book for dinner, holiday decor, storytime, and so much more.
Leavenworth, a quaint Bavarian-style village located in Washington State, is the perfect place to celebrate the Christmas Season. Festivities include Christkindlmarkt – a German Christmas market, concerts, and over 500,000 lights.
Every year, three of the most popular Newport Mansions are decorated for the holidays. The Breakers, Marble House, and the Elms are all open leading up to the Christmas holidays. While this may not initially seem to be the most kid-friendly activity, my kids loved the kids’ audio tour at the Breakers when we visit.
Disney Cruise Line’s Very Merrytime Cruise
For something a little different, consider taking a Disney Cruise Line Very Merrytime Cruise. These sailings, which are offered during select times during the holiday season, include special touches that make them festive and fun.
A few years ago, we went on a Disney Christmas Cruise on the Disney Dream, and went to Disney’s Castaway Cay and Nassau. In addition to the regular activities, there were some special events, like story time with Mrs. Claus and a Christmas Tree Lighting.
You’ll also get to see some holiday decor, both on the ship and at Castaway Cay. The ship also serves hot chocolate and cookies during one of the afternoons.
Holidays in Space at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, located about 45 minutes from Orlando in Cape Canaveral, FL, offers an annual holiday event. Called Holidays in Space, this event is held the last two weeks of December.
Activities during Holidays in Space includes special shows, events, and exhibits in addition to everything at the Kennedy Space Center.
Holiday Travel Tips
Traveling for the holidays can be extremely expensive and stressful, but there are lots of things you can do to save time, money, and sanity.
Plan in Advance
Last minute travel can often be a great way to save money. However, this generally isn’t the case with holiday travel. If you are traveling over Thanksgiving and/or Christmas, or even in the time leading up to Christmas, buying in advance may be your best option.
For some events, like the Nantucket Holiday Stroll, you’ll want to book your ferry tickets and hotel reservations well in advance for the best availability. Start planning now, and make sure you shop around for the best prices on things like flights and hotels.
Travel on the Holiday
It may not always be the most convenient, but I’ve found that traveling on the actual holiday can be a great way to save money and time. For example, last year, we went to Bermuda over Thanksgiving.
Instead of leaving the day before Thanksgiving, along with every other traveler, we left early in the morning on Thanksgiving. There were hardly any lines at the airport, our flights were much cheaper, and we were still at our destination in time for Thanksgiving dinner!
If you do have some flexibility, play around with dates to see what the various prices are. You may be able to save money with just a quick change.
Crowds and delays can certainly lead to travel stress, especially when traveling with children. It’s really important that you try to be as patient as possible. Frustrations are likely to come up, and it’s best to prepare for them and expect them.
The best way to prepare for crowds is to give yourself plenty of time. Arrive at the airport early, and make sure you have plenty of time before you need to be at your destination. If you can prearrange transportation to the airport, that’s a good idea so you don’t have to worry about parking or waiting for a ride.
Depending on how well your kids travel, you may also want to prepare them for crowds and lines. Use restrooms when you can and pack snacks and games with you if you may need them.
Have you traveling during the holidays?