This guide is meant to be a starting point for New Orleans families planning their holiday vacation. We are all about sharing family traveling tips whether your next adventure from New Orleans is to the beach, Disney or the mountains! As always, please do your own research and talk with other families. There is also a list of drivable destinations from New Orleans for every budget here. And if you end up staying right here in New Orleans, we have dozens of ideas for kid-friendly outings in New Orleans, too!
Why You Should Take a Christmas Vacation (And I Know The Perfect Spot!)
When we told our families in 2019 that we decided to go out of town for Christmas, I think they thought we were crazy. We have traditions after all, and so many people to try and see. But that’s just it, I wanted to experience the holiday differently – even if just once.
I was scrolling online in early fall when I came across the perfect place and it was within driving distance – The Inn at Christmas Place located in Pigeon Forge Tennessee. Being a lover of all things Christmas, I was immediately hooked. I knew with my kids being 7 & 4 then, I was in the prime of them “believing” so it was the perfect time to do a trip like this.
Somehow, someway, I was able to make us a reservation (this is not normal, make sure you are booking way in advance!) I was able to book a King Suite which came with a king bed, sofa bed, a giant jacuzzi, and fireplace, and decked-out head-to-toe Christmas including a tree. I was only able to book for a few days but managed to get us checked in on Christmas Eve Eve. The rates are reasonable too, even during peak times. Think less than Disney, but Disney’s level of decorations and service!
We told the kids that we were going out of town for Christmas but didn’t give specifics. They knew that part of their gifts from us was going to be things we did and bought while on vacation, and they were excited. I packed all the “Santa Presents” into plain cardboard boxes, which stayed in the back of the truck until Christmas Eve.
Y’all, this place is truly magical. If you enjoy Christmas, this should be on your must-do list any time of the year (they are packed all summer long). The hotel is absolutely stunning and every inch of it is decorated phenomenally. Santa & Mrs. Clause are often found in the lobby – greeting people, singing carols, talking to kids, and spreading cheer. There is complimentary coffee and hot chocolate, along with freshly baked cookies nightly. Breakfast is served from 7-10 am every morning and it was delicious! There is an indoor pool and hot tub, along with a large selection of holiday movies at the front desk to check out and watch. Most of the staff have been there for years and it shows, they were all lovely as well. Google users agree with me – The Inn at Christmas Place has a 4.8-star rating from over 1700 people.
I am well known for having an itinerary, and this trip was no different. This is the trip that made us fall in love with Tennessee and we have been back 4 times since. There is so much to do in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area, but at Christmas, everything becomes holiday themed. Some of our favorite things:
- Dinner Shows – Dolly Parton’s Stampede, Pirate’s Voyage, and Hatfield & McCoy all transform for the holidays with special themed pre-shows, shows, and souvenirs.
- Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas runs from November 5th – January 1st featuring over 6 million lights and holiday shows. If you have never been to Dollywood, it is one of our favorite theme parks! The holiday season is the perfect time to go with fireworks every Friday & Saturday night.
- Winter Magic Lights throughout Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge stay up through February 28th. The self-guided tour (I do not recommend the trolley tour, my family was less than thrilled with it) is really pretty and there are displays everywhere.
I couldn’t explain why it was so special until I set the scene, but let me tell you why this was our best Christmas ever.
We got to slow down and really enjoy time together.
Of course, the holidays are filled with family time, but generally, that is consumed by the hustle and bustle. There is so much to do these days – houses to visit, food to cook, gifts to open. The days and nights fly past until you are sitting there at the end of it wondering what just happened. Not this time. We got to wake up leisurely on Christmas morning, had breakfast cooked for us, and decided how we would spend the day. We went on a hike and drove through Cade’s Cove. We had so much fun exploring just us four, I will always look at pictures from that day and smile. We went to a Christmas-themed show at Dolly Parton’s Stampede that night for a delicious and entertaining dinner. It was stress-free, fun, and it was memories my kids are still talking about.
It was the little things.
While we did enjoy some holiday-themed tourist attractions in the area, the things that stick out the most about that trip were the little things. It was letting my kids watch Home Alone in a bubble bath while eating delivery pizza. It was them oohing and ahhing down every hallway looking at the displays. It was them running through a field on Christmas Day without a worry in the world. My kids never noticed they only got 1/4 of what they normally get from Santa, they were more excited to hear him singing carols each night. It brought all of our focus back to the things that matter the most.
Enjoying the magic as an adult.
Christmas morning there was a knock at the door, and I was handed a beautifully wrapped box. Inside of it was a 2-foot-tall ceramic Santa, decked out in silver clothes. It was unexpected, and a little bit of “Christmas magic” for Mom! There was something so special about waking up every day immersed in the holiday. Walking through the beautiful hallways, smelling fresh cookies, and hearing Santa caroling in the lobby. I’m telling you, it was impossible to not feel like you were bursting with joy! We were able to relax without worrying about what we had to get to next and really just soak it all in.
There’s still time for family time.
It was a hard decision to not be home for the holidays. Despite a few raised eyebrows, our family was very understanding about us going away for Christmas. Luckily, we could plan other days to still see them and celebrate once we got back. We got the best of both worlds without sacrificing some normalcy. I have been bugging them all about going with us one year, maybe I will get them to break tradition soon!
Take the trip.
For better or worse, I am a person that cannot help but always be aware of how fast time is flying by. In just 3 short years since I am on the brink of having no believers left in my house. I am so glad we went when we did! Our Christmas vacation was not only one of our best trips but one of our best Christmases ever! Trust me, you won’t regret it – Take the trip!