Southern Holiday Destinations

  • Roosevelt-Lobby Lobby at the Roosevelt Hotel
  • Ritz_NewOrleans_00088_HomeRitz Carlton
  • christmas1-RoyalSonestaHotelRoyal Sonesta
  • tmg-article_main_wide_2xCelebration in the Oaks Lights Festival in City Park
  • newOrleansCelebration in the Oaks Lights Festival in City Park
  • celebration-in-the-oaks-alligators_flickr_user-skippytpe1Celebration in the Oaks Lights Festival in City Park
  • stRegis-atlantaSt. Regis Atlanta
  • 4.1.1The Ritz Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation
  • Amelia IslandThe Ritz Carlton Amelia Island
  • Photo of the Gingerbread Pirate ship in the lobby of The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island 17-foot long gingerbread pirate ship, the S.S. Amelia at The Ritz Carlton Amelia Island

As a child growing up in Ireland, Christmas was a magical time. My fondest memories are celebrating at my grandmother’s home in the quaint village of Tulla, where all of our extended family gathered for a spirited Irish celebration. After attending Mass in an ancient old village church, we retired to Clonmore Manor, the home of my grandmother, where the celebration resembled a Victorian Dickens Christmas. Lots of “Good Craic”, a Gaelic expression which basically means having a good time or a laugh

Fast forward a “few” years and I am now steeped in celebrating the Holidays”Southern Style”. My husband, Curtis and two daughters, Claire and Maeve have grown up in Mississippi, so I have adjusted my traditions somewhat. But you don’t necessarily have to be at home to enjoy the holidays as there are so many beautiful places to celebrate this time of year.

Deciding where to celebrate and with whom is part of the excitement. Many people use this time as an opportunity to have a family reunion, celebrate with close friends or just have a quiet getaway. From coast to coast, there are an endless array of towns and resorts that pull out all stops for this season.

But I am going to invite you to dash through some of my favorite “Southern Destinations” where the southern tradition of celebrating the holiday season is very much alive.

New Orleans Holiday Festivities

The celebration of Fetes start early in December with traditional Réveillon (French for awakening) dinners. Many famous restaurants (Arnauds, Brennans, Commanders Palace…to name a few) offer pre-fixe dinners at very attractive pricing. On the Sunday before Christmas, Jackson Square is lit up from the glow of candles that are passed out from person to person along with song sheets. And on Christmas Eve, there has been a long time tradition where friends and families gather to light bonfires along the levee. According to Cajun tradition, bonfires illuminate the levees of the Mississippi River to help guide the way for Papa Noël.

So many of the hotels are decked out for the season. You can join Papa Noel at The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans for a holiday tea party. The elegant tea with Papa Noel is for both parents and their children. Music, storytelling, and a gingerbread masterpiece are featured.

The beautiful renovated, The Roosevelt Hotel  has an awesome display of trees and twinkling white lights and hosts an elegant Teddy Bear Tea in the Crescent City Ballroom. What a great excuse to dress up in your holiday finery.

The Royal Sonesta Hotel hosts a Teddy Bear Royal Tea with Santa, Mrs. Clause, Frosty and many more holiday characters.

And one of my favorites is the beautiful Windsor Court Hotel. . During the month of December, a special children’s menu is served in Le Salon with Christmas cookies, including ginger bread men and hot cocoa. And this exquisite hotel never looks more festive.

Celebrating the Season in Atlanta

Atlanta has something for everyone to get in the holiday spirit. It may not be as famous as the Tree Lighting at Rockefeller Center, but the Great Tree Lighting at Macy’s at Lenox Square is spectacular. There is even ice-skating at Centennial Olympic Park which is lit up with Christmas lights as you glide across the ice to some of your favorite Holiday tunes.

And if that’s not enough to get you in the Holiday spirit, how about a visit to Snow Mountain at Stone Mountain Park which is located just outside Atlanta. Here you have the choice of tubing on a snow-covered hillside, make snow angels or just have an old fashioned snowball fight.

As you can imagine, there are so many places to choose from in the Atlanta area that are decorated to the “nines” and pull out all the stops to make sure you celebrate in style.

St. Regis Atlanta

More than a century ago, the Astor family hosted a holiday gala for their special group of friends and they would often transform the flagship St. Regis New York ballroom into an ice skating rink. Inspired by this tradition, The St. Regis Atlanta recreates the Astor Holiday Rink each Holiday Season, which is the first and only hotel ice skating destination.

The Ritz Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation

This resort, which is located approximately 75 miles from Atlanta, is situated on the stunning Lake Oconee. And from Halloween to Christmas, the festivities are non-stop. Listed below are some great activities to partake in. I especially love the Pajama Breakfast…..

October Great Pumpkin Weekends
Every Saturday in October feature pumpkin carving, trick-or-treating around the resort, s’mores roasting and nighttime ghost stories in The Pollywog Theatre.

Ice Skating
Beginning Mid-November through Late February, The Lodge has an ice skating rink that is complimentary for resort guests.

Holiday Tree Lighting
In late November, there is a fun and festive holiday reception for resort guests featuring carolers, a visit from Santa and the lighting of our 55 foot Christmas tree.

Pajama Breakfast with Santa
From Thanksgiving to Christmas, young guests can enjoy a breakfast buffet featuring miniature pancakes, muffins, waffles and other pint-sized breakfast items. During the breakfast Santa is available for photographs. All guests are encouraged to wear their pajamas! Hmmm….that could be worth the price of admittance!

Thanksgiving Brunch and Iron Chef Challenge
Late November, the resort features the Iron Chef Challenge as they face-off in a thrilling competition with a holiday-themed “secret ingredient”. There is a dramatic edible showpiece created by the executive pastry chef.

Coastal Celebration in Amelia Island

If a beach destination is appealing to you for the Holidays, may I suggest Amelia Island? It is where Southern charm meets Florida’s warm ocean waves and white sand beaches. About 30 minutes from Jacksonville, it is just a short flight from Jackson.

During the first Friday night in December, you can witness a 2-mile long glow from luminaries crossing Amelia Island. Or you can tour historic homes (via a trolley) that are professionally decorated for Christmas. And if you want to include your precious pet, there is a pet parade that gives owners a chance to walk with pets in their holiday best! So now I have to get an outfit for my Bosco????

I would highly recommend staying at the very festive The Ritz Carlton Amelia Island. The moment you step into the lobby, you will be dazzled by the magnificent gingerbread creation, baked and decorated by a team of Ritz pastry chefs. The culinary feat is a 17-foot long gingerbread pirate ship, the S.S. Amelia, adorned with gingerbread pirates, gingerbread cannon, and chocolate cannon balls.

The resort also features Santa “tuck-ins” for the kids, beach bonfires, wagon rides on beach paths bordered by sand dunes, and much more. Sounds like a plan to me. Where do I sign up?

Sometimes we all need a simple change of scenery to put us in the Holiday Spirit and relive those precious memories of our youth…. begin some new traditions or enjoy some old ones. And we don’t have to travel far from home to still enjoy the graciousness and Southern hospitality during this festive time.

I wish you all Happy and Safe Travels throughout the Holiday Season!