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Courtesy Gaylord Opryland

Gaylord Opryland
Nashville, Tenn.
Since the 1980s, Gaylord Opryland has celebrated the holidays with A Country Christmas, a festival that mixes signature Southern warmth with high-profile entertainment and events.

“This will be our 28th year,” said Ken Groneck, Opryland’s director of special events. “I like to call it an iconic time to be here at Gaylord Opryland. It has the look and feel and philosophy that hasn’t changed — Southern hospitality and beautiful decor at Gaylord Opryland.”

Opryland’s staff decks the halls of the large resort with lights, Christmas trees and other holiday trappings, and sets up a large Nativity scene on the front lawn. Visitors can take nighttime carriage rides to see the lights strung up on the outside of the property or see “The Brightest Star,” an indoor fountain and music show that retells the Christmas story.

Another popular component of the celebration — “ICE!” — features elaborate ice carvings of Christmas scenes and DreamWorks movie characters inside a climate-controlled structure.

For groups, the highlight of A Country Christmas is the evening entertainment. The high-kicking Radio City Rockettes present a Christmas song-and-dance show, and country star Louise Mandrell returns this year for her final time to host the “Christmas Dinner Party.”

“This is a party, not an upscale, formal affair,” Groneck said. “This will be a fun dinner in a great festive atmosphere, followed by a 50-minute show.”

New to the celebration this year will be an area that re-creates a town square from the 1950s, featuring a drugstore, a bakery and Coca-Cola memorabilia. The festivities conclude on New Year’s Eve with a gospel concert by Legacy Five.

Keystone Resort
Vail, Colo.
Winter is prime time in Vail, an upscale ski destination in the mountains of Colorado. In March, the state’s snowiest month, Keystone Resort flexes its food muscles with the Winter Culinary Festival.

“Here in Colorado, we have amazing produce and get a lot of farm-to-table food,” said Keystone communications representative Justine Spence. “So we decided that the culinary festival would be a great opportunity to show off some of our restaurants.”

At the center of the festivities is the Grand Tasting. Guests ride gondolas up to a mountaintop dining area at 11,000 feet, where food from the resort’s eight restaurants is served in sample sizes at the Bavarian-themed Der Fondue Chassel. Each station features specialty foods paired with beer and wine samplings.

Another mountaintop restaurant, the Alpenglow Stube, transforms into Ned’s Chocolate Factory, a room full of desserts created by the resort’s chief pastry chef.

“He makes his own truffles, cakes and pies,” Spence said. “One year he did a dessert hamburger — it looked like a hamburger, but it was made with pastries and chocolate cakes. He does dessert pasta, with white chocolate mousse for noodles, strawberry marinara sauce and chocolate truffle meatballs.”

Other highlights of the Winter Culinary Festival include cooking classes, wine-tasting workshops, chocolate demonstrations and a Sunday champagne brunch.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.

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