9 ways to celebrate Christmas in the South

Over 5 million lights illuminate Dollywood during Smoky Mountain Christmas.
AJC File
Caption
Over 5 million lights illuminate Dollywood during Smoky Mountain Christmas. AJC File

Credit: photo courtesy of Dollywood

Credit: photo courtesy of Dollywood

Festivities include boat parades, trolley tours, tree lightings and more.

To some, the idea of a picture-perfect winter wonderland is reserved for northern states. However, the South puts its own stamp on the Christmas season with some spectacular events and celebrations worthy of a family road trip. Think illuminated boat parades instead of sled rides, snow-machine blizzards instead of frozen ponds for ice skating. If you’re looking for fun and memorable ways to celebrate the holiday season, here are nine destinations to consider.

St. Augustine, Florida

The country’s first official city, St. Augustine, Florida, hosts the 28th annual Nights of Lights Celebration with more than 3 million white lights draped over 20 blocks in the historic district from Spanish Colonial buildings to the Bridge of Lions and along hotels, restaurants and stores. Selected one of the top 10 holiday light displays in the world by National Geographic, the shining spectacle can be viewed on guided tours featuring a variety of transportation modes, including boat, train, horse-drawn carriage, golf cart or trolley. For a complete list of related holiday events, including Luminary Night at the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum on Dec. 1, St. Augustine Colonial Night Watch Torchlight Parade on Dec. 4 and the Holiday Regatta of Lights Boat Parade on Dec. 11, go to www.floridashistoriccoast.com/nights-lights.

Through Jan. 31. Free; tour prices vary. Plaza de La Constitucion, 170 St. George St., St. Augustine, Florida. 904-825-1000, www.floridashistoriccoast.com/nights-lights

Savannah

Savannah’s rich history and unique charm create a majestic backdrop for holiday festivities. Take a two-hour ride through the city to look at Christmas decorations on Old Savannah Tours’ Holiday Lights and Sights Trolley Tour. The tour stops for a visit inside historic Davenport House to see it in all its holiday glory and a visit to the Christmas market at Plant Riverside District. Another attraction is December Nights and Holiday Lights, a driving tour featuring more than a million lights and creative displays on five acres at Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens.

Holiday Lights and Sights Trolley Tours: $36 per person. Old Savannah Tours, 255 Montgomery St., Savannah. 912-234-8128, www.oldsavannahtours.com. December Nights and Holiday Lights: Through Dec. 24. $25 per vehicle. Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, 2 Canebrake Road, Savannah. 912-921-5460, coastalbg.uga.edu.

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Have a “Dolly” Christmas this year at Dollywood’s annual Smoky Mountain Christmas, one of the most spirited holiday celebrations in the Southeast. The event is so iconic, Hallmark immortalized it in a movie called “Christmas at Dollywood.” The amusement park will be decked out in more than 5 million lights, and there will be 40 different Christmas performances throughout the season. What could be better than riding a roller coaster surrounded by beautiful twinkling lights? Every night, an elaborate fireworks show lights up the sky with holiday colors set to classic Christmas music. Best of all, the seasonal elements don’t stop at decor and performances. The theme is matched by food and beverage options, including eggnog cheesecake and peppermint milkshakes.

Through Jan. 2. $84 one-day, $99 two-day, $109 three-day tickets. Dollywood, 2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd., Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. 865-365-5996, www.dollywood.com

Andalusia, Alabama

You may think that snow in south Alabama is impossible, but think again. Springdale on Ice transforms Andalusia, Alabama, into a magical winter wonderland with Polar Bear Tubing Hill, featuring two 150-foot snow tubes, an ice-skating rink, an inflatable Arctic Trek Maze Run, visits with Santa and Elsa from “Frozen,” train rides on the Springdale Express and a holiday-themed cirque-style show. But that’s not all. Candyland on the Square features a whole village of child-sized play cottages including a bank, a church, a restaurant and Santa’s workshop. In addition, there are horse-drawn carriage rides and a 30-minute snow show that simulates a blizzard.

Through Dec. 31. Free; some activities $1-$5. Candyland on the Square, 1 N. Court Square, Andalusia, Alabama. Springdale on Ice, 505 E. Three Notch St., Andalusia, Alabama. 334-222-2030, christmasincandyland.com

Charleston, South Carolina

Head to James Islands County Park for the 32nd annual Holiday Festival of Lights, featuring more than 2 million dazzling lights and 750 light displays, including the newly rebuilt Cooper River Bridge display. Guests can view the lights on a three-mile drive through the park while listening to Christmas music in the comfort of their warm cars. Afterwards, enjoy marshmallow roasting, train rides, an old-fashioned carousel and Santa’s Sweet Shoppe. Put some Christmas spirit in your overnight accommodations in downtown Charleston at the French Quarter Inn (843-722-1900, fqicharleston.com) where the Sleigh Bell Suite is decorated in garland and mistletoe. It even comes with an in-room eggnog bar and a selection of freshly baked cookies with milk to enjoy while cozied up next to the fireplace and Christmas tree in the suite’s foyer.

Through Dec. 31. $15-$30. James Islands County Park, 871 Riverland Drive, Charleston, South Carolina. 843-406-6990, ccprc.com

The Conch Tour Train takes visitors on a two-our tour of holiday lights in Key West, complete with singing Christmas carols.
AJC File
Caption
The Conch Tour Train takes visitors on a two-our tour of holiday lights in Key West, complete with singing Christmas carols. AJC File

Key West, Florida

Ever since the 1950s, visitors to Key West (a.k.a. the Conch Republic) have looked forward to riding the holiday Conch Tour Train to view the island’s best holiday lights. Before boarding, the tour starts with cookies and hot apple cider. Once onboard, the conductor leads visitors in singing popular Christmas carols as the train winds past beloved sights such as Mallory Square, the Truman house and the beautiful beachfront’s Harbor of Lights. Don’t miss the annual Key West Holiday Parade on Dec. 7. It can be viewed anywhere along the way from the corner of Truman and Eisenhower streets to Duval and Front streets.

Through Dec. 22. $25. Key West High School, 2100 Flagler Ave., Key West, Florida. 1-888-916-8687, www.conchtourtrain.com/key-west-holiday-events.html

The Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C., plays host to the National Gingerbread House Competition each year.
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The Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C., plays host to the National Gingerbread House Competition each year.

Credit: HANDOUT, not for resale

Credit: HANDOUT, not for resale

Asheville, North Carolina

Are you a fan of Christmas baking shows? If so, you’re going to love seeing the country’s top gingerbread house makers compete for the title of Best Gingerbread House of 2021 at the National Gingerbread House competition. Hosted by the beautiful Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina, the country’s bakers come together to bring the Christmas spirit to life with some of the most elaborate and breath-taking culinary creations. Previous winners have created Christmas town centers, elaborate Christmas carriages and modern architecture cityscapes.

Through Jan. 2. Free. The Omni Grove Park Inn, 290 Macon Ave., Asheville North Carolina. 800-438-5800, www.omnihotels.com. Guests not staying at the resort may view the display after 3 p.m. on Sunday or anytime Monday-Thursday, based on parking availability and excluding the following dates: Dec. 23-25, Dec. 29-31 and Jan. 1.

Williamsburg, Virginia

In a town like Colonial Williamsburg, you’ll rarely find anything new. However, this year marks the debut of an event called Lighting of the Cressets. It honors the city’s history by bringing the 18th-century streets to life with lights and strolling musicians. Wander along iconic Duke of Gloucester Street and view fabulous holiday lights on local businesses and historical landmarks. Along the way you’ll encounter carolers, music from Fife and Drum and Father Christmas strolling through Merchants Square. When you need a break, stop at a tavern or restaurant to enjoy a nice drink or meal.

Through Dec. 18. $45. 101 Visitor Center Drive, Williamsburg, Virginia, 888-965-7254, www.colonialwilliamsburg.org

Photo opportunities with the Dr. Seuss character the Grinch take place during the Grinchmas celebration at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure. CONTRIBUTED BY UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT
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Photo opportunities with the Dr. Seuss character the Grinch take place during the Grinchmas celebration at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure. CONTRIBUTED BY UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT

Orlando, Florida

If you’ve ever dreamed of stepping foot in Who-ville, Grinchmas is for you and your family. At Universal’s Islands of Adventure, the world of Seuss’ Landing becomes the fictitious town of Who-ville. The amusement park, complete with rides, games, souvenir shops and restaurants, will be decked out with snowflakes and populated by staff members who double as Who-ville citizens, complete with facial prosthetics. Entertainment is provided by The Grinchmas™ Who-liday Spectacular live show. While you’re at the park, don’t miss Christmas at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. See the Hogwarts™ castle light up for the holidays and festive decor throughout the streets of Hogsmeade™. Better yet, enjoy a hot butterbeer to warm you up as you stroll through the park.

Through Jan. 2. $109. Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Universal Blvd, Orlando, Florida. 407-224-4233, www.universalorlando.com