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Hit the road, revelers

Holiday festivities off to fast start

The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival
Chicago's two-day Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, held November 18 and 19, features an evening lighting procession led by Mickey Mouse  

In this story:

Shows, shopping, Shetlands

Disney delights

'Christmas Carol'-ing

Christmas in Charleston


RELATED STORIES, SITES Downward pointing arrow


(Tribune Media Services) -- 'Tis the month before Christmas, and across the nation, people are dreaming of their holiday vacation.

"Too soon,'' you say.

Not so. It might seem early, but seasonal celebrations begin in November, and holiday packages are available in November and December. Don't wait too long before booking to take advantage of the following opportunities.

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Chicago makes pre-Christmas dreams come true with its holiday season kick off: The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. This year's two-day celebration, during which the trees along North Michigan Avenue are lit, takes place this weekend.

Shows, shopping, Shetlands

On Saturday, there are free performances of a brand-new Walt Disney World stage show starring Mickey, Minnie and other Disney characters. Come nightfall, Band Leader Mickey on his horse-drawn calliope leads the grand lighting procession.

The parade includes Cinderella's glittering carriage, pulled by seven white Shetland ponies and transporting Cinderella, Prince Charming, the Fairy Godmother and several horsemen. Following are several other floats, carrying Cinderella's Castle and other Disney characters.

There is also a Winter Walk at Pioneer Court, next to the Tribune Tower, where celebrants can munch on warm chocolate-chip cookies, sip hot chocolate, browse for holiday souvenirs, watch an ice sculptor at work, pet Santa's reindeer and see a life-sized gingerbread house.

Festivities continue on Sunday with several shopping events, including Bloomingdale's "Great Chefs: The Ultimate Fashion Plate,'' featuring Chicago's most accomplished chefs. They will perform on the fashion show runway to benefit local children's charities.

Major hotels along and near Michigan Avenue offer special holiday packages and rates; some include shopping discounts. For more information, contact The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival at (312) 409-5560, or visit www.lightsfestival.com.

Disney delights

If you can't get your dose of Disney at the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, head for Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida, for a Magical Holidays getaway package.

On November 22, Disney-MGM Studios lights up with 350 miles (more than 5 million bulbs) of Christmas lights in the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights, an event begun a decade ago by Arkansas businessman Jennings Osborne for his daughter. The light show illuminates Residential Street, Washington Square and New York Street with two 30-foot-tall carousels, 170 flying angels, 50 lighted Mickey figures and more. The display is up through January 2.

From November 24 to December 30, Epcot showcases international holiday customs and favorite Disney traditions. Performed daily at America's Garden Theatre, the "Candlelight Processional'' has a 50-piece orchestra and mass choir, and features celebrity narrators including Angela Bassett and LeVar Burton, reciting the traditional Christmas story.

Throughout Epcot, "Holidays Around the World'' is an international celebration of Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa with choirs, fireworks, lighting ceremonies and traditional foods.

There's also ``Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party,'' a special-ticket after-hours event held from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. December 1, 4, 7, 8, 11, 14 and 15, with special appearances by toy soldiers, dancing snowflakes, Santa and reindeer, and Disney characters.

For more information and reservations call (407) W-DISNEY or visit www.disneyworld.com. If you prefer Dickens to Disney this Christmas, you don't have to travel to England to experience the voices of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future.

'Christmas Carol'-ing

During December, Gerald Charles Dickens, a descendant of the famed author of "A Christmas Carol,'' performs the holiday classic across the country at several of the elegant National Trust Historic Hotels of America. Dickens' first stop is the Williamsburg Inn, (757) 229-1000, in Williamsburg, Virginia, where on December 5 and 6 he'll read selected chapters of "A Christmas Carol'' to accompany a special high tea or four-course dinner.

From December 10 to 12, Dickens performs all 26 characters in "A Christmas Carol'' as prelude to an English Christmas dinner or Holiday tea at Hotel Hershey, (717) 534-8886, Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Then it's on to Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, (805) 646-5511, Ext. 6032, in Ojai, California, for a luncheon performance on December 13, and dinner shows on Dec. 13 and 14.

Finally, mid-morning and afternoon teas and dinner performances are scheduled December 18-23 at Hotel Saint Paul, (651) 228-3860, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The price of performance plus tea or dinner varies from about $35 to $85, depending upon the venue. Lodging packages are also available. For other National Trust Historic Hotels of America packages and events, visit .

Christmas in Charleston

Another historic city lit up for the season is Charleston, South Carolina. A horse-drawn carriage ride through the city's historic district is only one of several Christmas pleasures included in the antebellum Planter's Inn's "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas'' package.

About $400 covers two nights' lodging for two adults (add $45 each for up to two children), with continental breakfast, horse-drawn carriage ride and concierge assistance in acquiring tickets to Charleston's month-long "Christmas in Charleston Festival'' series of concerts, plays, candlelight tours, art exhibitions.

The package also includes admission to the neoclassic Joseph Manigault House, built in 1803 and one of Charleston's most beautiful historic homes, and to the new South Carolina Aquarium, opened in May and considered one of the nation's leading aquatic research and educational institutions. Call (800) 845-7082 or visit www.plantersinn.com for information and bookings.

(C) 2000, Jennifer Merin. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.



RELATED STORIES:
Chicago hope: Saving money in Midwestern tourist mecca
June 20, 2000
Taking the Kids: Chicago -- that toddler (and older) town
October 24, 2000

RELATED SITES:
Walt Disney World
Charleston, South Carolina Online Visitors Guide
The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival 2000
Jackson Enterprises, sponsor of Gerald Charles Dickens American Holiday Tour
National Trust Historic Hotels of America
Ojai Resort
The Hotel Hershey

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