Hotels that feel like home for the holidays

By Jill Becker, Special to CNNPublished 29th November 2012
There's no denying it, the holiday crush is upon us.
There's the shopping to do, the cards to mail, the decorations to put up, the cooking, the crowds, the in-laws. It can be a lot. For some people, that's reason enough to pack their bags and hit the road come December. Others simply enjoy experiencing the festivities in a far-flung locale.
For those of you who would rather stuff a suitcase than another turkey this year, here are a handful of festive hotels that go all out for the season, ensuring that you not only don't miss being at home for the holidays but that you relish having someone else do all the work.
Grove Park Inn
Asheville, North Carolina
The mountain setting and lodge-like design of this historic inn, which will celebrate its 100th birthday next year, will have you in a holiday mood even before you learn about all of its myriad celebrations, from the caroling choirs to the time-honored yule log ceremony in the Great Hall. The event for which the hotel is best known is the National Gingerbread House Competition, which it has hosted for the past two decades. Competitors come from near and far to whip up confections you just have to see to believe.
The Plaza
New York City
Who wouldn't love to spend Christmas in New York City at a quintessential Big Apple hotel? Little Kevin McCallister did just that in the popular holiday flick "Home Alone 2," when he checked into this grande dame of New York stays, which is even more spectacular when it's decked out in all its seasonal finery.
Of course, not all of us can simply put the bill on our father's credit card as Kevin did, but The Plaza is worth a visit even if you can't afford to stay, be it to check out the decorating of its historic halls or to enjoy a decadent holiday dessert in the Palm Court restaurant. Plus from here, it's mere steps to the elaborate window displays of the shops along Fifth Avenue or a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park.
Madrona Manor
Healdsburg, California
The festivities at this 18-room Victorian manse in scenic Sonoma Valley wine country center around the holiday table. Every December for more than 20 years, its fine-dining restaurant has presented a series of Dickens Dinners (named for the author of the classic "A Christmas Carol"), in which singers in period costume serenade diners as they enjoy a five-course meal consisting of nostalgic dishes such as roast goose, beef Wellington and Christmas pudding, all lovingly prepared by Michelin-starred chef Jesse Mallgren.
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
Scottsdale, Arizona
Christmas at the Princess, as this five-diamond desert property's annual festival is called, features everything from an ice skating rink (complete with exhibitions from national ice skating champs) to children's ornament- and dreidel-making classes to train rides to view the more than half a million holiday lights illuminating the vast grounds. There are also fireside chats with Santa, a nightly menorah lighting, marshmallow roasts and more.
Big Cedar Lodge
Ridgedale, Missouri
This rustic retreat, 10 miles south of Branson in the wilds of the Ozark Mountains, is the perfect site for a homey holiday with all the trimmings, such as a wagon ride through the countryside ending with s'mores and hot chocolate served around a roaring bonfire.
Better yet, you can arrange for Santa's elves to visit your room, deliver the kids a stocking full of goodies and read them a bedtime story. Santa himself can make a visit on Christmas morning. They even throw Ol' St. Nick a farewell party before he heads back to the North Pole, and you don't even have to get out of your pajamas to attend. Rooms from $149.
Gaylord National Resort
National Harbor, Maryland
Fancy a trip to the nation's capital this yuletide? Then consider a stay at this D.C.-area megaresort.
It's a favorite for meetings and conventions, so it's plenty big enough for you and all of your friends and family. Big, too, is its annual Christmas on the Potomac event, complete with multihued ice sculptures you can actually slide down, nightly indoor snowfalls, a 60-foot-high glass tree, brunches and photos with Santa, and some 2 million twinkling lights.
The theme of this year's extravaganza is Shrek the Halls, with the popular DreamWorks characters being featured in everything from Shrek-shaped waffles to meet and greets with Puss in Boots.
Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island
Amelia Island, Florida
The setting along the sandy shores of the Atlantic at this elegant lodging may not evoke a winter wonderland, but that doesn't mean you can't get into the Christmas spirit. Especially when the S.S. Amelia -- a pirate ship constructed out of gingerbread, 1,200 pounds of sugar and 3,000 eggs -- docks in the hotel lobby. Or at other observances, such as Santa's Storybook Tea, where Mr. and Mrs. Claus join you for a photo op, the reading of a classic holiday story, and afternoon tea with tasty finger sandwiches, pastries, candy and cakes.
If you really want to get away from home for the holidays yet still have all the comforts of home, rent yourself one of Pronghorn's deluxe one- to three-bedroom units that start at 2,000 square feet and include use of the clubhouse, spa and concierge.
They will set up your unit with a decked-out tree or supply one for you to decorate, and they will provide, upon request, the ingredients to make your own wreath, cranberries and popcorn to create strings of garland, a copy of " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas," a variety of holiday DVDs to watch and milk and cookies to leave out for Santa. They'll also store and wraps your gifts.