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Hotels Deck the Halls During Christmas Time

Hoteliers may be cutting back in some places, but when it comes to holiday decorations... well, look out!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009
David Wilkening
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When it comes to Christmas, Walt Disney World in Orlando is the complete opposite of Scrooge. Its Decorations Staff numbers 20 full-time “cast members” who work year-round to scatter 1,200 trees and drape 5.2 miles of garland with 130 truckloads of decorations.

Disney is not alone in being lavish during the time of giving, however.
Hotels all over the world play Santa Claus with their decorations every year. So much so that this year, the site Orbitz, an online travel company, named its “Top 10 Hotels Decked Out for the Holidays.”

“Hotels meticulously plan their holiday activities and decorations,” says Peggy Blanco, group vice president of Global Hotel Supplier Services. ”Orbitz wanted to spotlight a few properties that create unique experiences and give travelers a feeling of home and holiday cheer when traveling during the season.”

Despite the recession, many hotels have continued the Christmas tradition.
John Svanstrom, managing director of Hotels.com Asia Pacific, suggests that holidays should create an atmosphere to make guests feel at home. “It’s great to see that so many hotels get into the spirit of Christmas and ensure that their guests have a memorable holiday,” he says.

What are hotels doing to ensure that a hotel is home during the holidays?

There are Santa Clauses, of course, as well as Christmas parades, gingerbread houses, model trains and special holiday meals. And already bearing the distinction of being the closest hotel to the North Pole, the Clarion Hotel Santa Claus will let you stay in its Santa Claus suite (sans Santa, of course).

Strikingly tall Christmas trees are common, of course, with giant stacked presents, such as The Peninsula New York’s 25-foot tree in the hotel’s Palm Court. ”It shines throughout the holidays as the grand entrance comes to life with twinkling lights and beautiful garland throughout,” says a hotel press release.

Decorative trees in hotel lobbies are anything but an afterthought. The Fontainebleau in Miami says it took six months to build a “gorgeous custom-made acrylic tree.”

But there’s almost invariably more to hotel Christmas decorations this year than trees. For example:
  • The Drake in Chicago has a huge tree, but also a train gliding through the lobby ridden by Santa, a nutcracker and toy soldiers. High teas offer a harpist and carolers.
  • The Los Angeles Millennium Biltmore also has afternoon tea and live carolers. The hotel suggests guests can get into the holiday spirit by renting skates and hitting the city’s ice rink across the street from the Biltmore.
  • The Sheraton Princess Kaiulani’s executive chef and staff spent more than 250 hours to design and build a gingerbread village that stands 14.5 feet tall and has 60 pounds of dark chocolate, 20 pounds of white chocolate and 30 pounds of gingerbread. There’s also 120 gallons of icing.
  • The Fairmont in San Francisco also has a two-story gingerbread village that is 23 feet tall with 1,000 pounds of gingerbread, 350 pounds of chocolate and 150 pounds of candy. It took them 300 hours to build. “If this doesn’t re-energize the kids following a few hours of Union Square shopping, nothing will,” the hotel says.
  • Some rooms in the Chateau and other special sections at the Fontainebleau in Miami feature mini-Christmas trees. Mini menorahs are available for guests celebrating Hanukah.
  • The Gaylord National in Washington, D.C., offers ICE!, an ivy village created from millions of pounds of ice where guests can form sculptures, zoom down ice slides and skate on an ice skating ring.
  • In addition to its giant tree surrounded by flying reindeer and huge rocking horses, the Bellagio in Las Vegas this year turned its famous fountains to holiday tunes (a free amenity, of course).
  • The Hotel Vannucci in Italy is set in a small medieval town where guests at Christmas can do anything from the religious experience of seeing a live re-enactment of a nativity scene to less traditional Christmas bingo with chestnuts (with wood fires burning in the background and the chime of nearby church bells).
Hotel decorations have not gone unnoticed or languished without public attention.

The Associated Press picked up a story and disseminated it worldwide when the historic and recently re-opened Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans brought back its famous Christmas lobby display.

The Christmas display at the hotel, which had been closed to repair damage from Hurricane Katrina, now has 20 birch trees, a canopy of white birch branches decorated with thousands of lights and 26 Douglas fir Christmas trees trimmed with gold ornaments, bows and lights.

“The Christmas decorating tradition at the Roosevelt dates back to the 1940s when the hotel created an ‘Angel Hair Lobby’ by covering the ceiling with white angel hair, glowing lights and hanging ornaments, and filling the lobby with Christmas trees, toys, wrapped presents, elves and angels,” says the AP.

“The new Christmas display is very charming and a bit more sophisticated now,” says Mark Wilson, sales and marketing director.

The hotel also returned to its Teddy Bear tradition, which is something of a kid’s tea party. There’s a cash bar and tea for adults but also hot chocolate and pizza for the kids. Every child receives a teddy bar.

The Gaylord Palms in Orlando has long been known for its Christmas cheer. It has the standard (not so standard at 53 feet tall) tree, but there’s also a variety of activities that include an ice skating rink with nearly two million pounds of ice. The award-winning rink also lets guests visit a frosty winter wonderland of interactive environments and larger-than-life, three-dimensional holiday scenes and sculptures. The sculptures are hand-carved by some of China’s most famous artists. The display is now in its seventh year and is popular with both guests and residents, according to the public relations department.

Disney is unofficially the “king” of Christmas. So each of its resorts has its own distinctive design and feel or “theme,” as Disney likes to say.

Perhaps its most creative effort, however, is found at the Grand Floridian, where there’s a five-story tree in the lobby. Up on the mezzanine, there’s a gingerbread doll’s house and a miniature railroad with Santa pushing a handcar. On the first floor, there’s a giant gingerbread house with fluffy frosting.

Disney recommends without much modesty that guests who have the time might want to drive around to see the various Disney “magic” decorations. They may be right when they say it’s something to cheer about.
David Wilkening    David Wilkening
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: David Wilkening is a writer specializing in travel and business-real estate writing. His work has appeared in dozens of publications and dot coms. He never met a trip he didn't like. He is a former newspaperman who worked in Chicago, Detroit, Orlando and Washington, DC, where he was a writer and editor covering a wide variety of subjects ranging from politics to feature stories.
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