ABOVE PHOTO: Lobby Interior (Photo: Renée S. Gordon)
By Renée S. Gordon
Each year, throngs of people travel thousands of miles to spend the holidays in ways they consider out of the ordinary. But Philadelphians can travel to exciting destinations that, though great for travel year round, are especially sensational during the holiday season. Within a two hour drive via the Pennsylvania Turnpike Northeast Extension destinations offer great views, attractions, activities, dining, shopping and best of all, an immersion into the true holiday spirit. discoverlehighvalley.com
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was declared “Christmas City USA” in 1937, 196 years after its founding in 1741. A community of Moravians, the world’s oldest organized Protestant religion, settled in the Lehigh Valley near the juncture of the Lehigh River and Monocacy Creek and on Christmas Eve of that year they met in a two room log cabin that functioned as a stable and gathering place in celebration. The colony’s patron, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf who was visiting from Germany, named the settlement “Bethlehem”. Twitter:@LehighValleyPA
Historic Moravian Bethlehem was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012 in recognition of its place in American and religious history. From 1741-1845, it was a closed religious community that included blacks and Native Americans. Individuals worked at more than 35 trades and the community was self-sufficient. The self-guided walking tour of the area consists of more than 22 locations. historicbethlehem.org
The 1741 Gemeinhaus is home to the Moravian Museum. Constructed as a communal gathering place it also housed the Saal, a place for worship. The enormous structure, 94-ft. by 32-ft., remains the nation’s largest log building in continuous use and the oldest building in Bethlehem. Highlights of the Christmas tour include examples of the earliest Christmas trees, wooden pyramids with tree boughs attached to them, decorated with candles, apples and Bible verses and holiday Putz scenes. Putz scenes depict the story of the birth of Christ in miniature from the Annunciation to the Flight into Egypt.
The Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts is the only one of its kind in the state and its collection is housed in three adjoining houses. The galleries are thematic and often take the form of decorative room settings. Special holiday exhibits include “100 Years of Gift Giving” and a series of individually decorated trees. The permanent collection includes the largest collection of 1830-1930 dollhouses featuring 40 houses and more than 5,400 furnishings.
Johann Goundie’s Federal-style home was built in 1810 and is the oldest brick home in the city. Goundie was a Moravian brewer and the tour here recounts the vibrant history of beer brewing in the area and is filled with fascinating information and artifacts including the fact that ale was sold to wedding guests and the money was given as a gift to the bride, hence “bride ale”, or bridal.
“Travel and Leisure Magazine” named Christkindlmarkt Bethlehem® one of the top holiday markets in the U.S. The 23rd annual market will be open Thursdays – Sundays until December 20th at SteelStacks, Bethlehem’s repurposed former steel plant. More than 130 artisans and vendors are interspersed indoors and outdoors and your shopping experience is enhanced by performances and scheduled activities and visitors can both purchase and create their own holiday gifts. Plan to spend several hours. christmascity.org/christkindlmarkt/
You can explore Bethlehem on foot, by carriage or on the guided Bethlehem by Night Tour. The bus tour allows you to learn the history and see all of the decorations and lights for which Bethlehem is famous. In the 1930s an 81-ft. high illuminated star was placed atop South Mountain and on a clear night it can be seen for 20-miles. Be a modern Magi and follow the star to Bethlehem. bethlehempa.org
Great Wolf Lodge, located less than one hour from Bethlehem, transforms into Snowland for the holiday season. This is a fantastic adventure for children of all ages from the moment they enter the lodge. Scheduled events include storytelling, magic shows and live and animated performances. More than 20 decorated trees of varying sizes and huge snowflakes adorn the main hall and periodically the interior weather changes and it snows indoors to the delight of all the guests.
Snowland Suites, in keeping with the holiday theme, is decorated with a full-size Christmas tree, snowflakes suspended from the ceiling and twinkling garland adorned headboards. Guests receive souvenirs and there is nightly homemade cookies and milk delivery by Great Wolf Kids Characters. Rooms accommodate a family of four and are available until January 3, 2016 using the promotion code: SNOWFLAKE. greatwolf.com/poconos/snowland
A focal point of the festively decorated lobby is a life-sized Gingerbread House with 480 bricks made of 650-pounds of gingerbread, 750-pounds of frosting and more than 600-pounds of other types of candy. The house seats six and can be reserved, for a fee, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The dining cost is donated directly to Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Great Wolf’s additional services and activities, the Water Park, Elements Spa Salon, and arcade, are also available during the season. It is not too late to make this season even more memorable.
The Anthem of the Seas, the newest of Royal Caribbean’s ships, sets the bar for a totally new cruise experience while providing a “tech-tonic” for cruisers. The 1,150-ft. ship, more than twice the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza, with 16 passenger decks, 2090 staterooms and a capacity of over 4,000 guests, somehow manages never to feel crowded. There are eighteen restaurants, bars and lounges, a Vitality Spa and Fitness center, Casino Royale, Solarium, Indoor and Outdoor Pools, Climbing Wall and Library all geared to make your time onboard memorable. To help you share your experiences with folks at home the ship is equipped with VOOM- Royal Wifi, the fastest Internet on the seas. #anthemoftheseas.com
Highlighted activities are numerous and include a dazzling level of technology. The North Star capsule allows guests to climb 303-ft. and extend out over the ocean to obtain a 360-degree view, a soft adventure that makes you feel death defying. RipCord by iFLY skydiving simulator lets you soar inside a wind tunnel and FlowRider®, a 40-foot-long surf simulator, lets you soar along the water. SeaPlex, the largest indoor sports and entertainment complex at sea, hosts a wide variety of activities from bumper cars to trapeze classes. A regal way to top off your adventures is with a drink at the Bionic Bar where you order your drink, and one of two robots makes it for you at the only robotic bar in the world.
Royal Caribbean cruises now depart from the easily accessible Bayonne, New Jersey cruise terminal. They are a good value for the money and there are always perks and specials and cruises make a great gift for families or couples. Royalcaribbean.com