Are you looking to jazz up the most wonderful time of the year? Visit 7 American locales that take the Christmas spirit to new levels.
Branson Area Festival of Lights
The city of Branson is nestled in the Ozark Mountains about 250 miles from the gateway to the West, St. Louis, MO. Once a dying lumber town, Branson is now the country's live entertainment capital. It is home to scores of theaters and resort hotels that appeal to tourists year-round. And during that most wonderful time of the year, the hotels, theaters and townspeople all come together to produce the Branson Area Festival of Lights.
The festival starts November 1, and lasts 6 weeks, drawing about a million and a half visitors. The star of the festival is the Annual Adoration Parade -- a big, old-fashioned Christmas parade with over 50 bands and floats passing through historic downtown Branson. Something you won't see in any other Christmas parade is the Christmas cattle drive, where the cowboys of Branson's Great American Wild West show deck out their longhorns in the spirit of the season.
In addition to the parade and Christmas musicals put on by local theaters, the whole town is literally aglow with the Christmas spirit. The centerpiece of Branson's more than 8 million Christmas lights is the Winter Wonder Landing, featuring the world's only fountain that shoots fire as well as water. The fountain's display is choreographed to Christmas music and goes off every half hour.
Perhaps the most beautiful way to take in the spirit of Branson a horse and buggy ride through snow-covered hills. The ride ends with a breathtaking Christmas vista of the town below. You can even climb the 200-foot inspiration tower and enhance your view of this spectacular Christmas Wonderland.
National Christmas Center
The National Christmas Center is the only Christmas museum in the entire world. Owner Jim Morrison unwrapped the museum in 1998 with just 3 exhibits. Today the museum overflows with hundreds of thousands of Christmas items, some more than 200 years old.
The center features 14 yuletide fantasy worlds, where visitors can meander through a life-size retelling of the The Christmas Story, followed by Tudor Towne, a whimsical village full of cuddly Christmas creatures. Make sure to stop at the North Pole for a dazzling display of Santa's workshop filled with animatronics.
Christmas season is also shopping season, and the National Christmas Center pays homage to the ghost of Christmas-shopping past with a Woolworth exhibit. Step back in time and see what it was like when Christmas shopping happened offline at the local 5 and dime.
With all these Christmas memories, it's no wonder more than 40,000 people visit this museum every year. Put a smile on your family's face, and make a stop at the country's most Christmasy museum during this year's 12 days of Christmas.
Las Vegas, Nevada
No American city parties harder than Las Vegas, and every December more than 3 million people flock here to celebrate the holidays. As proof that Christmas in Vegas is high-speed and high-octane, there's an annual holiday road race -- exclusively for Santa impersonators!
Witness a Christmas miracle Vegas-style by ice-skating in the Nevada desert. At Lake Las Vegas, you can lace up and hit the ice in the world's only floating rink.
Each year, Sam's Town Hotel and Gambling Hall creates a winter wonderland spectacular. The experience boasts over half a million Christmas lights, a futuristic Christmas laser show and culminates in a magical Christmas snow shower. If you find yourself in the Nevada desert, dreaming of a white Christmas, then Sam's is the place for you!
If you want to witness Christmas done right on the Vegas Strip, there's only 1 place to be -- the world-famous Bellagio. The fountains at the Bellagio are already a must-see on any Vegas tour guide, but come December, the fountains dance only to Christmas carols. The botanical gardens at the Bellagio are home to a breathtaking display featuring a 49-foot-tall Christmas tree topped with an 8-foot star.
Mall of America
At the Mall of America, bigger is better. It holds more than 520 stores, houses its own amusement park and stands at a staggering 4.2 million-square-feet. During the holiday season, 2-dozen wreaths are hung throughout the mall -- all of them 10 feet in diameter. Giant red ornament bulbs hang from the ceiling, each weighing in at 300 pounds.
Big gets even bigger upon visiting the mall's rotunda to see the Christmas trees. There are 2 massively decorated Christmas trees -- each of which is taller than a 4-story building! One of the Mall of America's main attractions is their Santa. Santa Sid is the most popular Santa in the country. In fact, you can book an appointment with his lap online, and with more than 700,000 mall visitors a week, that's a convenience we highly recommend.
Leavenworth, WA is an American town with a Bavarian feel. Built against the backdrop of the Cascade Mountains, this picturesque town prides itself on its Old-World Christmas spirit. The first 3 weekends in December, this small town with just over 2,000 residents throws a Christmas lighting festival, drawing people from around the globe. Each morning the town's residents and visitors are awoken by the sound of the alpine horn, signaling a new day in Leavenworth full of the Christmas spirit.
During your stay, visit The Hat Shop, a local favorite; the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, boasting thousands of the Christmas chompers; and, of course, enjoy a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the white and drifted snow.
Saturdays and Sundays here end like a Dr. Seuss tale, with the townsfolk joining hands at 4:30 around the gazebo for the lighting of the tree and some good old-fashioned caroling.
New York, New York
This yuletide institution is the biggest and oldest toy store in New York and features over 12,000 individual items sure to put a smile on anyone's face.
Each morning FAO opens with a ceremony. Three toy soldiers play a morning fanfare, and a red carpet is rolled out to welcome the shoppers who have patiently waited for the doors to open. If you're in New York City during the holidays, FAO should be second on your list only to the tree at Rockefeller Center.
Santa Claus, Indiana
Santa Claus, IN is a whole town dedicated to the Christmas spirit. What started as a name has become a way of life for this small Indiana town. Here, all the streets have Christmas-themed names, like Prancer Dr., Chestnuts Roasting by the Open Fire St., and Jingle Bell and Candy Cane lanes. Likewise, all the shops and businesses have Christmas-themed names.
Perhaps the most notable place in this small town is the Post Office, which has a unique picture postmark only found here. Some lost letters to Santa even get directed to this Saint Nick namesake -- and the very diligent town residents take the time to answer this lost mail, preserving the name of the town and the jolly old man.