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10 Hotels with Over-the-Top Christmas Decorations

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When it comes to holiday decorating, a handful of U.S. hotels stick to the mantra "go big or go home." Not content with just a lobby tree and a string of lights, these hotels stand out from the pack by upping the decorating ante, and adding millions of lights, outdoor skating rinks, and even ride-on trains. This is the time of year when a hotel's pastry department can also showcase its talents by turning hundreds of pounds of sugar, flour, and chocolate into life-sized gingerbread houses and even a pirate ship. Here's a look at some of the most festive hotels of the season.

Christina Valhouli writes about travel, beauty and lifestyle trends. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The New York Post and Follow her on Twitter: @cvalhouli.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Where: Amelia Island This Florida resort’s holiday claim to fame is the the world’s largest gingerbread pirate ship. Clocking in at 17 feet long and 12 feet high, the ship dominates the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. Every year, the pastry team adds a new crewmember to the ship, which includes pirates, cannons, and cannon balls. The recipe includes 1,200 pounds of sugar and 3,000 eggs, and it takes eight pastry chefs more than 350 hours to create. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Northeast Coast Travel Guide
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Fairmont Scottsdale Princess Where: Scottsdale This desert resort pulls out all the stops for the holidays with its annual “Christmas at the Princess” festival. One highlight at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess is the Desert Ice Holiday Rink, which is surrounded by saguaro cacti. Or hop on board the Princess Express Train to see 2 million lagoon lights, as well as swans and a pirate ship. New to the 2014 lineup are Nessie the 30-foot Loch Ness monster and 3D giant reindeer. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe Travel Guide
Photo Credit: Courtesy of The St. Regis Aspen Resort Where: Aspen The St. Regis Aspen Resort kicks off the holidays on Thanksgiving, when it debuts a gingerbread replica of the hotel. The gingerbread house is made from 100 pounds of dough and 50 pounds of flour, and it takes more than 250 hours to build. To get guests into the holiday spirit, there’s also a 40-foot tree, appearances from Santa and his elves, cookies, cider, and a children’s choir. During Hanukkah there’s a daily lighting of the Menorah, and Santa reads The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley Travel Guide
Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Waldorf Astoria and Towers of the Waldorf Astoria New York Where: New York City Arguably no other city is as well-known for its holiday decorations as New York, and one hotel that adds plenty of sparkle to the mix is the Waldorf Astoria. This New York icon goes all out during the holidays, decorating its entire property with large trees and wreaths, hundreds of hand-blown glass ornaments, and thousands of sparkling lights on both the interior and exterior. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s New York City Travel Guide
Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa Where: Houston Although the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is arguably the most famous holiday tree in the US, The Houstonian manages to trump it by using 75,000 lights on its Grand Texas Live Oak tree—more than twice those used in New York. But it’s not the only tree on property. In the lobby's Great Room, a 20-foot-tall tree is decorated with 1,000 ornaments. The pastry chefs also whip up 10 six-feet tall gingerbread houses, and guests should keep an eye out for a train that loops through the mantel of each house. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Houston and Galveston Travel Guide
Photo Credit: Dan Ham Photography Where: Nashville Taking a cue from Dolly Parton’s look, the decorating theme at this hotel has a delightful “more is more” philosophy. The Gaylord Opryland goes all out for its annual “Country Christmas.” Visitors can gawk at more than 2 million outdoor lights, 200,000 indoor lights, and more than one million pounds of snow at the new six-lane Arctic Plunge Snow Tubing attraction. If that isn’t enough, 40 ice artisans from China will be creating colorful ice sculptures. Don’t miss a performance by the Radio City Rockettes at the Grand Ole Opry. Insider Tip: One of the best ways to take in the views is by boat. Visitors can take a ride on a Delta riverboat along a ¼-mile-long indoor river through the hotel. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Nashville Travel Guide
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Hotel del Coronado Where: San Diego This iconic Victorian beachfront hotel is the site where America’s first electronically-lit tree made its debut in 1904. Each holiday season, the Hotel del Coronado becomes a winter wonderland (despite the balmy So-Cal weather). The hotel is decorated with more than 100,000 white lights, and the center piece is an outdoor beachfront skating rink with views of the Pacific. Visitors can enjoy Santa’s Village, with games and prizes, performances by Coronado school children, and complimentary s’mores. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s San Diego Travel Guide
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Where: Orlando During the winter, most of us like to escape somewhere warm, and apparently so does Santa Claus, who makes an appearance at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. Each December, the hotel’s pastry team takes over the lobby with a chocolate display, which includes a life-sized Santa Claus, seven-foot tall nutcracker, a fireplace, a Christmas tree, and a toy train. The display takes about 400 hours to create and is completely edible, clocking in at an estimated 3 million calories. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Walt Disney World Orlando Travel Guide
Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Roosevelt New Orleans, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel Where: New Orleans For a Cajun twist on the holidays, head to the Roosevelt New Orleans, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Its block-long lobby is decorated with a canopy of light-covered birch branches as well as a plethora of Christmas trees. Be sure to catch a glimpse of the gingerbread village depicting the “Cajun Night Before Christmas,” which includes Santa visiting the Louisiana swamp with his sleigh and alligators. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s New Orleans Travel Guide
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta Where: Atlanta If you’re craving a gourmet sugar rush while admiring holiday decorations, pop into the Mandarin Oriental Atlanta, which offers complimentary hot cocoa and samples of holiday-themed cupcakes, pie, and macaroons. The hotel’s pastry team is also busy whipping up a pagoda-style gingerbread house, which will be decorated daily with fresh pastries from local bakeries. Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Atlanta Travel Guide

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