Holiday events: Trees, lights, displays and more

Charles Sykes, Invision/Associated Press

The 80-foot-tall Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is lit during the 80th annual lighting ceremony Nov. 28 in New York. Covered with 30,000 lights, it will remain on view until Jan. 7.

AP Travel Editor

NEW YORK – From elaborately decorated trees to drive-through lighting displays to boat parades and train shows, a variety of holiday spectacles are being staged through the end of December and into early January around the country. Here are a few of them:

Rockefeller Center is sparkling with 30,000 lights on an 80-foot Norway spruce that survived Superstorm Sandy. The tree comes from the Mount Olive, N.J., home of Joe Balku, who lost power and other trees during the storm. It remains on view until Jan. 7. While you’re at Rock Center, watch the ice skaters, take in Radio City’s “Christmas Spectacular” or visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.

Elsewhere in Manhattan, on opposite sides of Central Park near 81st Street, you’ll find themed trees and displays through Jan. 6 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, home to a Christmas tree and Neapolitan Baroque creche, and at the American Museum of Natural History, which hosts its annual origami holiday tree. And at the Plaza Hotel, near the 59th Street entrance to Central Park, a tree decorated with 100 pounds of glass, gold and silver ornaments pays tribute to “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel of the 1920s. A new film version of “Gatsby” is due out next summer starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

You’ll have to look up, way up, if you want to see the top of the Christmas tree at Outlets at Anthem, the Phoenix-area mall in the Phoenix. The white fir from northern California is 110 feet tall and is one of the tallest cut trees in the country. It weighs 12 tons and is located in a specially designed well in the Outlets’ center court.

In many Florida towns, the holiday spirit arrives by boat. Seventy-five holiday boat parades are scheduled from Pensacola to Key West. Some parades offer cash prizes for best decorations, others include charity drives for toys or food banks, or have special guests, like Santa Clam in Cedar Key. A directory of events can be found at

Elsewhere in Florida, Key West puts a local spin on “The Nutcracker” with performances today, and Dec.19-22 of “The Nutcracker Key West,” which turns the story of a girl’s visit to the land of the sugar plum fairy into an island and underwater fantasy with dancing snowy egrets, tumbling shrimp and colorful fish.

A number of botanic gardens around the country host holiday train shows. At the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, trains on view in the Enid A. Haupt Conservancy wind past 140 buildings depicting New York City, including landmarks such as the original Yankee Stadium, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Brooklyn Bridge. At the Chicago Botanic Garden, Wonderland Express trains make their way through a village of tiny Chicago landmarks made from natural materials. Krohn Conservatory in Cincinnati hosts “Trains, Trestles and Traditions,” with poinsettias, cyclamens, evergreens, trains and replicas of buildings and bridges.

At Universal Orlando in Florida, guests can meet the Grinch, watch the live “Grinchmas Wholiday Spectacular,” and experience a nightly parade of giant balloons from Macy’s New York City holiday parade. The group Mannheim Steamroller will perform holiday music on select nights. Grinchmas celebrations also are taking place at Universal Studios Hollywood in California, including a chance to tour the original Whoville film sets from the movie adaptation of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” aboard the theme park’s studio tour.

At Walt Disney World near Orlando, Cinderella Castle is lit up for the holidays, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party takes place on select nights and Epcot hosts a “Holidays Around the World” candlelight processional nightly through Dec. 30. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, which started at a private home in Arkansas, drapes entire buildings on Disney’s Streets of America in sheets of multicolored lights.

At Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., Disney California Adventure Park offers vintage decor on Buena Vista Street with an old-fashioned department store Santa Claus at Elias & Co. Just after the new year, Disneyland also will be hosting a Three Kings Day celebration, Jan. 4-6, with special decor, food and entertainment showcasing this holiday that is especially popular in Latin America.

In Riverside, Calif., the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa will host its 20th annual Festival of Lights. More than 3.6 million lights will be on display through Jan. 5. The hotel also offers a decorated tree, carolers, horse-drawn carriages, visits from Santa, an outdoor skating rink and actors dressed in 17th-century costumes.

In Salt Lake City, the Grand America Hotel offers window displays honoring celebrations from around the world, a different one in each of 14 windows facing the hotel’s courtyard, where visitors also will find a holiday tree. Guests receive a passport, to be stamped at each window, each stamp bearing a holiday greeting in another language. Complimentary treats are available at the end of the stroll in the hotel’s patisserie, La Bonne Vie. The event runs through Dec. 31.

In North Carolina, Christmas at the Biltmore estate also features a special tree on its front lawn. The Norway spruce, 55 feet tall, was bought by Joseph Gray for his wife back in 1972 and planted at the end of their driveway on Roan Mountain in Tennessee. Gray, now in his early 80s, lost his wife in 2010. The aging tree was struggling to survive, so The Biltmore trucked it to Asheville, decorated it with 45,000 lights and is displaying it for the holidays. Other Biltmore holiday activities include tours, candlelight Christmas evenings, and weekend Santa visits.

In Minneapolis, the annual Target Holidazzle parade takes place Thursdays through Sundays through Dec. 23, kicking off at 6:30 p.m. Parade-goers have been braving the cold Twin Cities weather to watch the event every holiday season since 1992. It includes illuminated floats, music, celebrity grand marshals and Santa in a sleigh.

In Virginia, Busch Gardens Williamsburg hosts Christmas Town for a fourth season, with nearly every building covered in a total of 6 million lights. The display includes 1,500 trees, 700 wreaths and 20,000 ornaments, plus shows, Santa’s workshop and a 50-foot-tall animated tree dancing to synchronized music.

In West Virginia, the Oglebay Resort & Conference Center hosts the Winter Festival of Lights through Jan. 6. It’s one of the largest in the country, with 78 displays along a six-mile drive throughout the resort, including a massive star, wreath and candles, a Ferris wheel, carousel and Cinderella.

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