A fantastic time of the year, or at least a favorite for me… The Holidays are a truly special time of the year, and New York, Washington DC and Chicago are three of the hottest destinations in the United States for those looking to have that big city experience while savoring the sights, sounds and tastes that come with the winter holidays. While there are a number of great destinations during the month of December, these three cities never fail to go BIG to celebrate. I’ve been fortunate to have time this month to truly savor several days in each of these festive destinations. Always difficult to narrow it down to only three activities, I was able to explore the “must-do” experiences while working on a number of stories… and have highlighted a few of my favorites along the way here as part of this Featured Journey throughout the month of December. Happy Holidays!

Three of the Best Things About the Holidays in New York City

The Holidays in New York City are simply a must-do experience for everyone. For a city that is already filled with energy twelve months a year, the buzz during the holiday season is unquestionably electric. With so many restaurants and hotels offering seasonal menus, vacation packages and other holiday incentives, there are simply not enough days to fully embrace all that New York has to offer for tourists and locals alike during the Holidays.

The newly renovated Palace Hotel (455 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022) is always festive on the East Side with one of my favorite Christmas trees in the city that completely transforms the outside courtyard on Madison Avenue. On the West Side, The Muse Hotel (a Kimpton property – 130 West 46th Street, New York, NY 10036) proves to be an ideal destination when wanting to enjoy all of the amazing shows on Broadway and additional Holiday offerings at historical landmarks such as Radio City and Carnegie Hall.

With so many things to do and see while enjoying the magic of New York at the Holidays, these three particular favorites are absolutely vital to gain the full experience.

 1. Radio City Spectacular

If you love New York, and have not yet seen this show, you should make sure to get the full Radio City experience this year. Quintessential New York, this show has been gracing the Manhattan holidays for more than 85 years. The Rockettes have danced their way into the hearts of locals and tourists alike, and the fascination with them shows no signs of slowing in the future.

“Each holiday season, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular brings families, friends and loved ones together like nothing else can and this year, we are proud to present the most immersive experience yet,” said Don Simpson, executive vice president of productions, MSG Entertainment.

“Radio City Music Hall is not only a national landmark, but also an integral part of the heart and soul of New York City. The legendary theater’s intimate setting lends itself to hosting a wide variety of memorable events, shows, live performances, and special events which have become part of Radio City’s great history,” said Richard Claffey, senior vice president and general manager of theatre operations.

Enter the historic Radio City lobby with the grandiose chandelier, and you immediately feel the buzz of excitement. With Santa Claus hat and 3D glasses in hand, prepare for a rather short show by comparison (about 90 minutes), but an interactive experience that is sure to make everyone feel the love for this holiday season. A personal favorite is the Santa Claus number by the Rockettes – spectacular! Also, inquire about Stage Door Access for a chance to enjoy a one-hour guided tour to better understand the behind-the-scenes of Radio City.

Radio City
1260 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
(212) 247-4777

 2. Matilda on Broadway

While I know that Matilda is not a ‘holiday activity,’ it’s simply a perfect getaway to escape the cold weather, and enjoy one of the most refreshing family-friendly shows to grace Broadway in some time. Of course, there are a number of quality shows that I also enjoy, and I will always be a big promoter of everything Broadway because the shows, talent and crews do amazing work, and are so important to the true New York experience. After finally seeing Matilda, I understand all of the hype that surrounds this show. It’s really a show for all ages.

Winner of 50 international awards, including the Tony Award®, and one of the biggest hits on Broadway, this show is a sweet story of an extraordinary girl who must take a stand and challenge everything in her life to create her own destiny. With the help of her teacher, Ms. Honey, and her vivid imagination, this tiny girl overcomes every obstacle thrown at her. For my performance, Eliza Holland Madore played Matilda and was joined by a very talented cast, including Mitchell Sink playing her classmate, Bruce. Watch out for this kid – he is clearly on the road to having his own show with his incredibly likable personality and overall high level of talent. Truly entertaining!

Shubert Theatre
225 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 239-6200

 3. Afternoon Tea at Mandarin Oriental

Sitting high above the bustling streets of New York City, tea in enjoyed in the Lobby Lounge on the 35th Floor. With sweeping views across Central Park and onto the Upper East Side being picture-perfect all year, it’s especially memorable at the holidays. Until Christmas Day, the Mandarin Oriental New York will be offering their Nutcracker Tea, which features their festive sandwiches and sweet confections.

A rather relaxed atmosphere without a defined area for afternoon tea, but the alert staff and amazing ginger scones make it a great option. The views are out-of-this-world, and with a light snow falling outside, the view inside while sipping warm tea and savoring the delicate treats is simply perfection. When you do have to pull yourself away from the Lobby Lounge, I suggest taking some time to enjoy the Shops at Columbus Circle, where the Williams-Sonoma, Boss, Pink and other retailers are fully decorated and prepared for the Holidays.

80 Columbus Circle at 60th Street
New York, NY 10023
(212) 805-8800

Three of the Best Things About the Holidays in Chicago

The city of Chicago always makes any visitor feel right at home, and the Holidays are simply a mesmerizing time to be in this exciting city. The lights of Michigan Avenue (The Magnificent Mile) and the skaters in Millennium Park set the stage for this festive city’s Holiday spirit. Tremendous shopping is around every corner, and regardless of the wind, snow or occasional bitter cold; the “warmth” of this city is beyond explanation.

For anyone familiar with the Taste of Chicago each summer, it’s no surprise that this city is a foodie-mecca. Regardless of you being a fan of New York or Chicago styled pizza, a trip to Giordano’s is a must to get a taste of their famous Chicago stuffed pizza masterpiece, and with multiple locations, you’re in luck. With so many of the restaurants and hotels offering seasonal options, it’s a delicious time to venture to neighborhoods of Chicago; from the Gold Coast to River North, to the South Loop and Wicker Park, there’s never a shortage of things to do, taste and experience in this city.

With so many things to do and see while dining and shopping you way through Chicago at the Holidays, these three particular favorites are absolutely vital to gain the full experience.

 1. Seasonal Offerings at the Four Seasons Hotels

When in Chicago, especially at the Holidays, the Four Seasons hotels are ideal destinations for overnight stays in their rooms and suites, or at least a taste of the Holidays at either the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago or the Ritz Carlton Chicago (a Four Seasons Hotel). Chef Martin Knaubert at deca (Ritz Carlton property – 160 East Pearson Street) continues to impress guests, and is offering some exciting seasonal menu items, so deca is a great dining destination option any time of the day. Both of these properties are overflowing with Christmas spirit by offering hot roasted chestnuts, cider and cookies, the Traveling Candy Man and so much more.

Venture to the other property (Four Seasons Hotel Chicago – 120 East Delaware Place) to enjoy the ultimate afternoon tea celebration in Chicago. Not Your Aunt Sally’s Holiday Afternoon Tea (November 28 – December 28, 2014) at Allium presents a unique take on the traditional tea tower this holiday season. Indulge in the classic savory treats such as smoked salmon sandwiches, scones and deviled eggs alongside innovative treats such as lobster cornet, pimento cheese pops and hazelnut profiteroles. Tea is offered from 3:00pm to 4:30pm ($39.00). However, it’s the Holidays, so feel free to celebrate and add a glass of Moët & Chandon Imperial Brut ($55.00), or perhaps a glass of Moët & Chandon Imperial Rose ($58.00).

The Ritz-Carlton Chicago (A Four Seasons Hotel)
160 East Pearson Street at Water Tower Place
Chicago, Illinois 60611-2308
(312) 266-1000

Four Seasons Hotel Chicago
120 East Delaware Place
Chicago, Illinois 60611-1443
(312) 280-8800

 2. Christkindlemarket

While there are a lot of Holiday markets around the United States, it’s difficult for any of them to compete with the feel of European Holiday markets. Thanks to the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest Inc. (GACC Midwest) developing this concept, Christkindlmarket Chicago has been going strong since 1996. Inspired by the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg, Germany, which began in 1545, the Christkindlmarket Chicago brings a cherished German and European tradition with international flair and local charm to Chicago.

A unique holiday shopping experience, German products like nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks, and beer steins are always popular items, as well as the large assortment of savory and sweet foods, drinks and candied treats. Visitors can smell the tempting aromas from the sausages, sauerkraut, potato pancakes, waffles, and many other delicacies throughout the market. A personal favorite is the Glühwein, which is a traditional German holiday market hot spiced wine, and one of the more popular “adult beverages” at the market. This beverage is so special that it comes in a souvenir cup shaped like a boot, decorated with the market’s signature logo and year. With more than enough treats and gifts for everyone, it’s a must-visit, and open until December 24. Fröhliche Weihnachten!

Daley Plaza (between Washington, Clark and Dearborn Street)
50 W Washington Street
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 494-2175

 3. Christmas Around The World

The museums of Chicago are known to be some of the best in the country, and one in particular holds nothing back when it comes to celebrating the Holidays. The Museum of Science and Industry is celebrating their 73rd annual Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light, which features more than 50 trees and displays, beautifully decorated by volunteers from Chicago’s ethnic communities to reflect their diverse culture and holiday traditions. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to stroll through the dazzling forest of trees, enjoy intermittent falling “snow” every half hour and savor the performances of various dance and choral groups on the Holiday Stage.

This year’s Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light features a Disney theme that pays homage to the Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives temporary exhibit. The Museum’s 45-foot Grand Tree, located in the Rotunda, dazzles with more than 30,000 twinkling lights and hundreds of Disney-inspired ornaments and trimmings. New for the holiday season, see costumes from Disney films such as The Santa Clause and Maleficent, learn about the making of the animated film Frozen, and even sketch beloved new characters from some of your favorite Disney movies!

Museum of Science and Industry
5700 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60637
(773) 684-1414

Three of the Best Things About the Holidays in Washington DC

The politicians might be rushing around to get out of DC as quickly as possible during the month of December, but for everyone else, the District of Columbia, along with the surrounding areas of Virginia and Maryland, go above-and-beyond to showcase the love of the season. Holiday Afternoon Tea at The Willard is a long-time favorite (and only a few blocks away from The National Theater), as well as catching a glimpse of the official tree at the northeast quadrant of the Ellipse, near the White House. I find that when in DC, there seems to be designated areas that are very festive, but often more than a short walk between these areas. A great city for UBER!

Georgetown is always the best place to get some shopping done while being within only a few minutes of a number of great hotels, quality shopping and a walk through the neighborhood north of M Street provides a taste of the residential feel for when you need a little extra walking time. If you walk or drive down Thomas Jefferson St. NW from M Street to the K Street area, there’s an ice skating rink along the water, which provides exceptional views of the Kennedy Center and over the Potomac River to Theodore Roosevelt Island. While most of the restaurants around the rink are a bit overrated and depend on the tourists, Fiola Mare is a great seafood restaurant that has proven to be very popular with the locals and tourists.

With so many things to do and see while balancing the politics in Washington, DC at the Holidays, these three particular favorites are absolutely vital to gain the full experience.

 1. The White House Tour

When in DC during the Holidays, a fantastic opportunity awaits at the White House. Each year, the doors are opened, and the public is permitted to walk through the great rooms to see all the decorations. This year’s theme is ‘A Children’s Winter Wonderland’. It celebrates the pureness that the holidays bring, as seen through the eyes of children. The decorations this year also pay tribute to the Armed Forces and their families. The East Wing of the White House features a Christmas tree adorned with gold star ornaments, honoring the heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

For me, it’s all about the trees when walking the halls of the White House. The tour features 26 White House Christmas trees and a gingerbread house weighing more than 300 pounds, complete with a skating rink and marzipan reindeer! Volunteers from 34 states and the District of Columbia helped decorate the White House for the holidays, and eighteen of those White House volunteers came to the White House from military families.

The official White House Christmas tree, which stands 18 feet tall in the Blue Room, honors the courageous service of the troops, veterans, and military families, who all serve our Nation every single day. Be sure to setup this tour early to allow time to register. If you’re really lucky, you might just catch a glimpse of Bo running through the halls.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
(202) 456-1111

 2. Pippin at The National Theater

Pippin has been on Broadway for several years after it was re-launched better than ever following a 40-year hiatus. Though the Broadway show is closing in January, the TOUR is making its way around the United States, and is set to be in Washington, DC at The National Theater through the Holidays, and ending January 4, 2015. Those who were a fan of the circus as children will enjoy this high-flying spectacle, which pairs acrobatics with amazing singers who pour emotion into the entertaining songs. It’s no surprise that this show won the Tony Award in 2013 for being the best musical revival. Having seen this twice already, it’s a personal favorite, and look forward to seeing the TOUR cast this season.

An impeccable cast is at the top of their game when dancing, singing and acting under the big top while taking the audience through a range of emotions. The story follows a young prince who is seeking adventure and makes several wrong turns in his life after receiving very ill advice. The prince falls in love with a widow, who has a young son; and is faced with determining if his life’s destiny is settling down with a peaceful life, or making magic with his troupe of performers. A fascinating show from start to finish, it’s a great family-friendly option when looking for ways to experience Washington, DC. The National Theater has a rich history dating back to 1835, and is just steps from the White House and numerous other DC landmarks.

The National Theater
1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 628-6161

 3. Cookies and Cocoa at the Fairmont

It’s no surprise that DC has a lot of hotel options, but the Fairmont continues to stand out for their level of service, and the fashion that this property celebrates the Holidays is second-to-none. With lavishly elegant lobby decorations and a Courtyard Crystal Garden filled with thousands of tiny white lights, shimmering holiday trees and over 30 animated Reindeer, a visit to the Fairmont Washington DC – Georgetown puts everyone in the spirit.

Instead of a Holiday Tea service this year, the Fairmont has an exciting opportunity for the entire family to enjoy a delicious snack while taking-in all of the Holiday spirit that surrounds the luxurious lobby. Day or night is ideal, but if you’re fortunate enough to be there as the sun goes down, the sparkling lights in the Courtyard are simply magical. House-made rich, dark chocolate cocoa with toppings, flavorings and 6 assorted winter cookies ($14) are enjoyed from 11:00am – 7:00pm among the life-sized gingerbread fireplace and lovely tree in this grand lobby in the Loggia (until December 31).

2401 M Street NW
Washington, DC 20037
(866) 840-8402