Holiday celebrations are well underway in cities and towns across the Mid-Atlantic, and December promises plenty of opportunities for joining in the fun. Whether you choose to make Christmas cookies, read Clement Moore’s “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” attend a special showing of “The Nutcracker” or “The Polar Express” animated film, or take a nostalgic train ride through the countryside, the experience will probably be memorable.
Several historic railroads are celebrating the season with special excursions. The Strasburg Railroad, America’s oldest operating railroad, features the Jolly Old Elf himself on Santa’s Paradise Express, a 45-minute trip through picturesque Amish country to Paradise, Pa., while Mrs. Claus greets visitors at the North Pole. Guests also enjoy rides on the Candy Car Trolley (self-propelled motorcar). The train runs Dec 1, 7-8, 14-15, and 21-22, and tickets cost $4-$33. Children, ages 11 and under, receive a special gift (866-725-9666 or strasburgrailroad.com)
The Walkersville Southern Railroad in Walkersville, Md., offers a one-hour-plus train ride with Santa, pus free hot chocolate and Ralph’s cookies served in the museum. Excursion dates are Dec. 1, 7-8, 14-15, and 21-22, rain or shine; tickets are $13-$16, with children 1 and under free (301-898-0899 or wsrr.org).
Head to Cass, W.Va., for a one-hour ride with Jinx the Elf and Santa on The Elf Limited. It departs the station at 1 and 3 p.m. on Dec. 7-8 and costs $38-$48, with children 1 and under free (304-636-9477 or mountainrailwv.com).
The Durbin & Greenbrier Railroad brings “The Polar Express,” an officially licensed train ride event, to Elkins, W.Va., Dec. 1, 4-6, 8, 11-13, and 15, with scheduled departures at 5 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. and an optional Railyard Holiday Buffet at 4:30 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. The rides are based on the Warner Bros. film and children’s classic by Chris Van Allsburg about a young boy’s extraordinary train ride to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Tickets are $53-$63 and include the train ride, a mug, an encounter with Santa and a silver bell for the children; the buffet costs an additional $15-$20; children 3 and under free (304-636-9477 or mountainrailwv.com).
Baltimore’s B&O Museum is hosting a special exhibit Dec. 2-31 called “B&O’s Magical Holiday Express 2019: Tidings in Transit.” The exhibit, which celebrates the story of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the spirit of giving, focuses on four regions along the railroad’s original route — Ohio, West Virginia, Western Maryland and Baltimore. Model train groups also have special events planned for Dec. 7-8, 14-15, 21-22 and 28-29 (410-752-2490 or borail.org).
Union Station in Washington, D.C. is also worth a visit during the holidays. Not only is shopping a popular past time, but visitors may also enjoy the model train display and the Norwegian Christmas tree (washington.org)!
There’s much more to see in the nation’s capital during the Christmas season. The National Christmas Tree Lighting, scheduled for Dec. 5 on the White House Ellipse, may be seen daily, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. through the season. Decorated trees from 56 states and territories will surround the National Tree, and musical performances are planned.
Enchant Christmas, the world’s largest light maze, is on display at the Nationals Park and runs through Dec. 29 with ice skating and shopping at the holiday market as added features.
Visitors should also check out the Downtown Holiday Market in the Penn Quarter neighborhood, featuring more than 150 vendors and artists, plus food and entertainment, 12 p.m.-8 p.m., through Dec. 23.
During the weekend of Dec. 5-8, the Heurich House Museum will be lavishly decorated, and Castle Garden will host the Christkindlmarkt featuring arts, crafts and food.
The House of Sweden will offer crystal, art, and food at its Swedish marketplace on Dec. 7. The festive event will conclude with the St. Lucia procession (washington.org).
Looking toward 2020
As we remember the past year and look forward to 2020, we’ll wrap up this decade on Dec. 31. If you are looking for a place to ring in the New Year, check out the family celebrations in Annapolis, Columbia, Alexandria, and Falls Church. The celebration in Falls Church concludes with fireworks at midnight.
Two fireworks displays—one at 6 p.m. and one at midnight—will light up the sky on Dec. 31 at Sugar House New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the Waterfront of the Delaware River (visitphilly.com).
Another New Year’s Eve option is a lunchtime cruise or a dinner cruise on the Potomac River, departing from 580 Water St., SW, Washington. The lunchtime cruise is suitable for families, while the dinner cruise is geared to adults 21 and older (valid ID required). The high energy evening cruise on the “Spirit of Washington” features a buffet and a live DJ playing the Top 40; “The Odyssey” cruise, live music, and a restaurant-style seated dinner. Lunchtime cruises are $73.02 per person; evening cruises, $237.92 and $330.87 per person (800-700-0735 or entertainmentcruises.com).
New Year’s Eve cruises on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor are offered on the “Spirit of Baltimore” with lunchtime cruises priced at $49.50 per person and Fireworks Dinner Cruises at $179.90 per person (866-312-2469 or spiritcruises.com).
New Year’s Eve cruises are also popular in Philadelphia, with departures on the “Spirit of Philadelphia” from Penn’s Landing. The lunchtime cruise is $44.90, while the Early New Year’s Eve cruise is $114.90 and the later cruise is $189.99 per person (866-455-3866 or spiritcruises.com).
New Year’s cruises on the Elizabeth River in Norfolk are available on the “Spirit of Norfolk,” with lunchtime cruises for $49.90 per person and evening cruises for $149.90 per person (866-304-2469 or spiritcruises.com).
Beyond the Mid-Atlantic
“Downton Abbey: The Exhibition” continues at the Biltmore in Asheville, N.C., through April 7.The exhibit coincides with the annual “Christmas at Biltmore” through Jan. 5, featuring decorations of live greenery, more than 50 Christmas trees, and live musical performances in the 250-room mansion, as well as decorations in the winery and shops in Antler Hill Village. Completed in December of 1895, the private home of George W. Vanderbilt was designed by American architect Richard Morris Hunt and includes elaborate gardens by Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture. The Downton Abbey exhibition provides an inside look at the Crawley family and their staff in the post-Edwardian era when major historical events such as World War I were shaping the world. The exhibition takes place in two locations on the estate. Biltmore’s Amherst features multimedia elements and the most recognizable sets and artifacts from the film that reflect the social history, culture, and memorable events of those times. Biltmore’s Legacy provides an up-close look at more than 50 costumes worn by Downton Abbey actors, including Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley), Hugh Bonneville (Lord Grantham), and Dame Maggie Smith (Violet Crawley). Tickets, including tours of the estate and the exhibition, are $99 for adults and $49.50 for children. Hotel rates at Biltmore start at $279 per night. Current hotel packages revolve around Christmas and New Year’s and include tours of the estate and admission to the exhibition (877-BILTMORE or visit biltmore.com).
Carol Timblin welcomes travel news at email@example.com.