Decked Out
The holiday spirit abounds, all within two hours of the Philly suburbs
by Erica Lamberg

There’s no doubt about it: There’s holiday cheer in the crisp December air. Even though it’s such a busy time of year, destinations within an hour or two of our back yard offer holiday splendor aplenty—so there’s no reason to stick close to home for the holidays. Following are some suggestions for fun wintertime experiences for the entire family, all accessible on one tank of gas.



Longwood Gardens Christmas, Kennett Square, Pa., 610-388-5200

A holiday fantasy awaits guests at Longwood Gardens through Jan. 9, 2011. Dazzling floral displays, stunning trees, holiday music, a dizzying array of outdoor lights and dancing fountains under the stars are just a few of the highlights of the popular display. Also, visitors will find towering trees and more inside Longwood’s 4.5-acre heated conservatory, where thousands of poinsettias accented with amaryllis, narcissus, begonias, cyclamen and tulips reside. Elegantly decorated trees shimmer and sparkle with festive flair. Another indoor treat is Longwood’s Exhibition Hall, where dramatic gold draping, adorned with lights, hangs from the vaulted glass ceiling over an ornate tapestry fashioned from pink poinsettias and ferns.


The outdoor grounds boast more than 500,000 outdoor lights gracing 74 trees in classical and freestyle forms. This lighting extravaganza includes the illumination of two of Longwood’s tree houses. Weather permitting, the fountains dance day and night to holiday music in the Open Air Theatre beneath glimmering star-like snowflakes.


Adventure Aquarium, Camden, N.J., 856-365-3300

Feel the magic this holiday season at Adventure Aquarium, where the sights, sounds, scents and warmth of the season are around every corner through Jan. 2, 2011. Meet and take photographs with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as you enter his Christmas forest of white glowing trees—and don't forget to visit “Scuba Santa,” who will delight children of all ages as he dives in the aquarium’s Ocean Realm exhibit. Guests can also “get down and boogie” at Gill's Holiday Dance Party, delight in tasty holiday treats, or take a ride on the Polar Express 4D Experience in a state-of-the-art 4D theater.


Holiday Window Displays, New York, N.Y., 212-484-1200

Rockefeller Plaza, the giant Christmas tree and the ice-skating rink are popular holiday destinations in the Big Apple, just a short drive or train ride away. While in town be sure to also check out the window displays of the famous downtown retailers. Some holiday display locations that shouldn’t be missed include Lord & Taylor (424 Fifth Avenue at 38th Street); Bergdorf Goodman (Fifth Avenue and 57th Street); Saks Fifth Avenue (611 Fifth Avenue); Barneys New York (660 Madison Avenue at 61st Street); Bloomingdales (Lexington Avenue between 59th Street and 60th Street) and Macy’s (Herald Square, between 34th and 35th on Broadway).


Christmas in Hershey, Hershey, Pa., 800-HERSHEY (800-437-7439)

Visitors to Hershey, the so-called Sweetest Place on Earth, can enjoy unique holiday-themed attractions, special kids’ activities, holiday shopping, festive culinary events and overnight packages during a town-wide celebration that lasts throughout the season. The centerpiece is Hersheypark Christmas Candylane, open until Dec. 31, through which the park is transformed into a holiday village with more than 30 rides, Santa and his nine reindeer, live entertainment, games, shops and food. Guests can also experience N.O.E.L., a light show featuring more than 125,000 dancing lights synchronized to toe-tapping Christmas music.


Just a short drive from Hersheypark Christmas Candylane is “Hershey Sweet Lights: A Holiday Drive-Thru Spectacular.” Visitors can drive their cars along a 2.3-mile route through a wooded hillside and enjoy nearly 600 light displays, all while listening to the sounds of the season through a customized radio broadcast. The “Sweet Lights” exhibit is open through Jan. 1, 2011.


Light Show on the Lake, Smithville, N.J., 609-748-6160

Through Jan. 2, 2011, visitors can watch in wonderment as more than 100 Christmas trees light up to holiday music, while floating magically on Smithville’s Lake Meone. This orchestrated show of lights and music played out across the lake will be remembered for years to come.


Victorian Candlelight Christmas Tour, Flemington, N.J., 908-782-4928

On Dec. 17, Main Street Manor Bed and Breakfast Inn’s public space will be decorated with fresh greens, twinkling lights and two fresh evergreen trees. Snow babies, antique angels and of course, Santa Clauses will grace the inn’s dining room. Merrymakers are invited to visit the grand Manor, which will be elaborately festooned for the best of the holidays. Hot cider, cheese and crackers, along with holiday cookies will be offered to all who come for the tour. A donation of $5 per person is requested to support the nonprofit K-9 Soldiers, which is a grassroots organization that supports the K9s and handlers of military working dogs of all four branches of the service, presently serving our country in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Christmas in Cape May, Cape May, N.J., 609-884-5404 

What better place to get into the true spirit of Christmas than Victorian Cape May? This seaside town is transformed into a Dickens village through Jan. 2, 2011, with garlands of fragrant greens and twinkling gaslights. Wrap yourself in the warmth of holiday spirit and sample a seemingly endless variety of fun and tasty events. From trolley rides to wine tastings, house tours to themed dinners, there is something for both the young and the young at heart.


Holiday Festival of Trains, Baltimore, Md., 410-752-2490

Celebrate the holiday season at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum—Baltimore’s largest holiday display of toy and model train layouts. Unique model train layouts are presented by various historical societies and rail modeler clubs—surely a train-load of holiday fun. The displays will be open and available for public viewing through Jan. 2, 2011.


Jim Thorpe Olde Time Christmas Celebration, Jim Thorpe, Pa., 888-JIM-THORPE

An Olde Time Christmas Celebration in historic Jim Thorpe features bazaars, a gingerbread house contest, strolling carolers and musicians, expanded shopping hours and seasonal dinner specials at many restaurants. In addition, the Mauch Chunk Opera House, reportedly one of the finest downtown music venues in all of Pennsylvania, features ticketed entertainment on each Saturday night of Olde Time Christmas.


Yuletide at Winterthur, Wilmington, Del., 302-888-4600

Take a trip back to the 18th and 19th centuries and experience old-fashioned holiday traditions at the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. Founded by Henry Francis du Pont, the Winterthur is a museum of American decorative arts, reflecting both early America and the du Pont family’s life here. During the holiday season, rooms in the museum are decorated to commemorate the winter holidays and there are also themed-Christmas trees decorated to capture the color and glow of the holiday season.


Erica Lamberg is a freelance writer based in Montgomery County.