Looking for somewhere magical to see Santa this year? Instead of taking a trip to the local mall, journey to one of these 13 places for a unique and special experience with Santa Claus.
Santa's Workshop, North Pole, New York
12 miles from Lake Placid in the Adirondacks is North Pole, New York, a "workshop village" open in summer and on weekends leading up to Christmas. Santa's village has shops, farm animals, candy makers, glassblowers, puppet shows, and a talking Christmas tree. Rides include Santa's Sleigh Coaster and Reindeer Carousel.
Christmas at Disney World
Starting in mid-November, Walt Disney World celebrates Christmas. 1500 trees are put into place, and major annual celebrations get underway. The biggest event happens in the Magic Kingdom, where Mickey has a Very Merry Christmas Party on many nights, and Mickey's Very Merry Parade features Santa on a sleigh, a March of the Wooden Soldiers and dancing gingerbread men.
Seuss Landing, at Islands of Adventure in Orlando, is transformed into a winter wonderland during the holiday season. Citizens of Whoville spread holiday cheer and the Grinch himself stars in a retelling of the story about when he stole Christmas. You can even get an autograph after the show ends.
Hershey, Pennsylvania, aka "Chocolate Town USA", serves up a lot of family fun every year during Christmastime, including opportunities to see Santa. Most notably, the Hersheypark theme park opens up for Christmas Candylane, with more than one million twinkling lights, Santa and live reindeer, a Christmas show, a giant carousel, and other decorated rides.
"The Polar Express" is a beautifully illustrated children's book (and blockbuster movie) by Chris Van Allsburg about a child's train ride to see Santa at the North Pole. In a number of locations in the U.S., a family can have a "Polar Express" experience: a real-life train ride for kids, that re-creates the mood and even some events from the classic book.
Victorian Holiday Wonderland in Breckenridge, Colorado
Breckenridge is one of Colorado's excellent ski destinations and is also a quaint town with Victorian architecture that dates back to mining days. Have fun with your kids in the Victorian Christmas atmosphere, with decorated shops on Main Street and the Lighting of Breckinridge when Santa arrives in town in a horse-drawn sleigh.
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Colonial Williamsburg is fun throughout the year, with a beautifully restored historic district, peopled by real-life actors bringing to life the days just before the American Revolution. Create a Swedish Santa out of yarn at Bassett Hall; visit Hennage Auditorium and meet Russia's Grandfather Frost, Italy's La Befana, and America's Santa Claus; and learn about the history of Christmas around the globe.
Holiday Windows in New York
Bethlehem, a pretty place to visit, in Connecticut's Litchfield Hills, is a small town that makes the most of its name at Christmas time. Each December, thousands of people make a pilgrimage to Bethlehem to mark their Christmas mail with not only the Bethlehem postmark, but also special rubber-stamps known as "cachets". The best time for families to visit is during the Bethlehem Christmas Town Festival, a two-day event in early December. Opening night has a candlelight processional, and the arrival of Santa to light a 75-foot Christmas Tree.
Santa Claus, Indiana
Santa Claus is a great name for a town, most kids would agree. This town in southern Indiana got its name way back in 1856. By 1935, someone had seen the potential for the place to be a tourist attraction, and "Santa's Candy Castle" was opened, reportedly the first themed attraction in the United States.
Christmas in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe, with its adobe architecture, and a mix of Anglo, Hispanic, and Native American cultures, is a strikingly beautiful city to explore. At Christmas-time, traditions from these three cultures come together for a unique festive season.
For starters, there are the "farolitos", the "little lanterns", also called "luminarias": hundreds of glowing lights line walkways and rooftops, each one a small paper bag with a candle set in sand inside. On Christmas Eve, the Santa Fe Plaza glows with farolitos.
A good place for kids to see Santa and his elves is "Christmas at the Palace", with Hispanic, Anglo, and Native American Christmas traditions, carols, storytelling, Matachine dancers, and an appearance by Santa Claus. "The Palace" is the Palace of the Governors, an elegant adobe-style building dating back to the 17th century. Christmas at the Palace dates are typically early in the month.
See Santa at Christmas Grottos in London
Kids in the U.K. see Santa, not at his Workshop, but in his "grotto." His grotto isn't dark or cave-like, but rather a Christmas-y setting with elves, bright lights, decorated trees, etc.
Apparently, the tradition started in Adelaide, Australia, with a "Magic Cave" set up in a department store in 1896, and the practice caught on in British stores. Nowadays, you can find a "Santa's Grotto" at most department stores and shopping centers in the U.K. Kids line up to see Santa and get a little gift. Grottos are not always free; some charge the equivalent of $5 or more (and presumably Father Christmas then gives the kids a nicer little gift).
Families ready to grab their winter coats and off-season airfares can have a wonderful London Christmas that includes holiday lights at famous sights, outdoor skating rinks, the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, caroling, Christmas markets, and generally a good chance to imagine you're back in Christmas Past where Scrooge and Bob Cratchit walked the Victorian-era streets. London also has a gigantic New Year's Day parade.
Santa's Village, White Mountains, New Hampshire
This amusement park for little kids is open for the summer season, with Christmas-themed rides like the "Reindeer Coaster" and the "Yule Log Flume Ride". Kids can see Santa and his reindeer even in July. Santa's Village re-opens after Thanksgiving for special weekends leading up to Christmas Eve. Most rides are open; fun includes Christmas carousel, ferries wheel, Santa's Express Train, and visits with Santa.