by Karen Rubin

Even Jeannie Schultz (left), Charlie Brown and Snoopy couldn't resist going down the fabulous ice slide at Gaylord's "Ice: A Charlie Brown Christmas", which brings the beloved Christmas classic to "life" in ice (© 2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures).

Imagine you wanted to give your children and grandchildren the gift of the most magical, the most memorable Christmas. Would it have a fantastical display of scenes of Charlie Brown’s Christmas, with characters bigger than life, carved out of 2 million pounds of colored ice? Would it have the Radio City Rockettes performing their most famous routines, like the Wooden Soldiers? Would it have millions of glittering lights, dancing colored fountains, a showboat that glides along a river resounding with country music? Would it have a famous Country music star performing inspirational holiday songs? And would it all happen in a wonderland almost too incredible to be believed?

All that is Gaylord Opryland’s “A Country Christmas at Opryland,” a holiday festival now in its 26th year at the Nashville resort hotel, where your jaw-dropping experience starts the moment you cross the threshold and find yourself in a fantastical “city” under glass with lush gardens, cascading waterfalls, a river, and at Christmas time, tens of thousands of lights, thousands of poinsettias, dozens of decorated trees, hot air “balloons”, four nativity scenes, and the holiday spirit everywhere.

It is no wonder that families have made “A Country Christmas” an annual tradition, returning year after year.

Outside, the grounds are decorated with 2 million lights – the trees literally encased in lights – making for a spectacular scene that can be enjoyed with a carriage ride.

It is all so awesome for an adult, you can imagine how magical this is for children.

The atmosphere is almost overwhelming, but there is more, way more.

Within the resort and just a short walk outside, there are a dozen holiday attractions, one more spectacular than the next.

Charles M. Schulz Peanuts characters come to life in 2 million pounds of uncannily carved ice, in the phenomenal "Ice" show at Gaylord's Opryland (© 2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures).

The two stand-out highlights are “Ice! Featuring “A Charlie Brown Christmas” by Charles Schulz, and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, performed at the great stage of the Grand Ole Opry House.

ICE! has brought to “life” the beloved 1965 TV Christmas classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. The adorable two-dimensional Peanuts characters are in three-dimensions and more than life-size, set in eight room-sized scenes that bring a glow to your heart, even in the nine-degree sub-freezing temperatures, enhanced with stunning lighting, the distinctive “Charlie Brown” music. You cannot believe the level of detail – the facial expressions, the hands, the motion of the characters frozen in time, the detail of woodwork, leaves, wreaths, lampposts. It is very literally an enchanted wonderland where you will feel giddy with delight.

Everybody’s absolute favorite is a massive room of four ice slides that you get to go down (probably more than once, you just can’t resist). Whether you are 80 or 18, you feel like 8 years old coming down. Forty ice carvers brought to Nashville from Harbin, China, worked for 40 solid days in the nine-degree temperature to create these amazing scenes sculpted from 2 million pounds of colored ice. Even Jeannie Schultz, Charles’ wife, and two children, Craig and Jill, were amazed at how the ice carvers were able to bring out the personalities of the characters, their timeless innocence, and bring Charles Schultz’ creation to life.

The legendary Radio City Rockettes kick up a storm during the Christmas Spectacular at the Grand Ole Opry House this season (© 2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures).

(All four of the Gaylord resorts offer an “Ice” Spectacular but Opryland is the only one to feature “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and this is the only place in the world where the Peanuts characters have been rendered in ice sculpture.)

At the end, you are greeted by a marvelously stocked gift shop where hot chocolate is for sale.

(ICE is on view at the Gaslight Theater in the Opry Plaza, Nov. 20-Jan. 2, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on many days; tickets are $22/adult, $13/child Monday-Wednesday, and $24 and $15 Thursday-Sunday (tickets also included in Opryland’s “A Country Christmas” package.).

Peanuts lovers can have breakfast with Charlie Brown, too, in Gaylord Opryland’s beautiful Garden Atrium’s Ristorante Volare. Children and adults will enjoy the wide range of delicious buffet items created with A Charlie Brown Christmas in mind. Charlie Brown comes by and visits the tables, shares hugs and happily poses for photographs. Breakfast with Charlie Brown is available Saturdays and Sundays during A Country Christmas from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Breakfast is $14.95 for kids 3-11 and $24.95 for adults. Reservations are strongly suggested and can be made by calling 1-888-999-6779.

Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Audiences will delight to a new Rockettes classic, "12 Days of Christmas" (© 2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures).

The “Radio City Christmas Spectacular” is truly that: if anything “spectacular” is an understatement.

A tradition in New York City’s Radio City Music Hall for 75 years, some years ago, Radio City created touring troupes. This show at Gaylord’s Grand Ole Opry has been part of Opryland’s “A Country Christmas” now for eight years, and this is the only touring company that stays in one place for the entire season.

The Grand Ole Opry House stage is a perfect setting – it is an immense, state-of-the-art auditorium and yet more intimate than the Radio City Music Hall.

The Rockettes numbers are perfection – keeping the tradition but making everything fresh and contemporary. These dancers are of course the pinnacle of sophistication and grace – and then you see them in the delightfully charming Rag Doll routine.

The Rockettes are legendary for their precision and I could hardly breathe as I watched the line of 18 do the number that I remembered so well from my childhood: “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” even more thrilling and charming to see today.

A delightful homage to "The Nutcracker"ballet is featured in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular (© 2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures).

A new routine, “Twelve Days of Christmas” seems impossibly difficult and is amazing to watch.

Their routines smack of the stunning stagecraft of Ziegfield and Busby Berkeley, and strike just the right balance with entertainment that will delight children and adults alike.

As phenomenal as the Rockettes are, the rest of the show is marvelous as well (a retro nod to the 1950s wholesomeness), with creative routines and costumes and choreography that is pure enchantment by a cast and crew of almost 100 (including camel, donkey, sheep who are part of the Living Nativity that closes the show).

The choreography, the costumes, the sets and lighting, the music and the performances are top quality. There is even a bit of a fancifully done Nutcracker Ballet, with a charming little “Clara” who dances on point brilliantly and sings (in other numbers) divinely.

The Radio City Rockettes perform their famous Wooden Soldiers routine, as charming and thrilling as ever (© 2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures).

The show closes with “The Living Nativity,” incredibly elaborately produced, with camels, donkey and sheep and stunning costumes.

The Radio City Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes plays at the Grand Ole Opry House from Nov. 20 to Dec. 27.

A Cornucopia of Holiday Attractions

But there is more, so much more to “A Country Christmas.”

There is also “A Country Christmas on the Cumberland,” presented nightly aboard the General Jackson Showboat, where you can see a special Christmas show and enjoy a finely served three-course dinner as the Victorian-style boat – the largest non-gaming paddlewheeler in North America, glides down the Cumberland into downtown Nashville and then returns (presented through Dec. 23). The lunchtime cruise features “Tim Watson’s Tennessee Christmas,” through Dec. 25).

Gaylord Opryland's Delta Atrium, a fabulous interiorscape, decorated for Christmas, with the Delta flatboat gliding on the interior river (© 2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures).

Louise Mandrell’s ‘Joy to the World’ Christmas and Dinner Show® is presented in an Opryland ballroom. Louise Mandrell puts on a marvelous show, playing a variety of musical instruments, doing some surprising choreography, and presenting traditional and inspirational holiday music. She lets it be known that she is a “Joyful Christian.” The dinner is a satisfying array of Southern-style “comfort” food served family style. The show runs Nov. 21 through Dec. 25.

Gaylord Opryland’s Rock-A-Billy Christmas is a fun and colorful free show, with all of the rockin’ classic Christmas tunes of the 1950’s performed by the live band Hillbilly Casino, dancing girls, plus floating icebergs and Santa’s lost sleigh. Rock-A-Billy Christmas is performed multiple times Wednesday through Sunday nights from Nov. 20 through Dec. 25 within the Garden Conservatory.

Each night in the Delta Atrium, there is The Brightest Star Fountain Show, a free water show synchronized with colors and holiday music.

Nashville at night, reflected on the Cumberland River, from the General Jackson showboat (© 2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures).

New this year, A Country Christmas Delta River Cruises take visitors on a scenic river cruise on a Mississippi-style river flatboat, on the indoor river in the Delta Atrium. The 15-minute ride lets you delight in the spectacular lights and sights of Gaylord Opryland Resort’s Delta Atrium Christmas decorations while listening to the some of the most popular holiday songs ever recorded and hearing about the history of A Country Christmas and everything included in this world-famous celebration for 2009 ($8).

A Winter Wonderland is a whole area in the convention center part of Opryland devoted to holiday activities. Treasures for the Holidays is a craft show of hand-made and novelty gifts; Hall of Trees is a display of decorated trees, each benefiting charities in and around Middle Tennessee and featuring major prizes such as autographed CDs (you can see Louise Mandrell’s tree and the Charlie Brown Christmas tree); the children can take photos with Santa or ride an adorable holiday train. (The dates for attractions in Winter Wonderland vary between Nov. 20 and Dec. 24, 2009.)

A highlight within the Winter Wonderland is the Gingerbread Corner, a lovely activity where you can decorate miniature gingerbread house ornaments or gingerbread men ($35 for a kit).

Louise Mandrell gives an entertaining and inspirational performance in her show, "Joy to the World" (© 2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures).

Opryland’s Christmas is infused with spirituality. There is no pretense at a non-denominational, American heritage-style Christmas. The Gaylord Opryland Country Christmas is a manifest expression of faith and devotion.

There are four nativity scenes throughout the resort: The Outdoor Nativity on the resort’s iconic Magnolia Lawn is surrounded by two million sparkling lights; 50 white statues, some of which are eight-feet tall, depict the story of the legendary trip to Bethlehem. A second glistening, larger-than-life Nativity, made of the purest ice crystal, is located in ICE!, and fills an entire room. The third Nativity is located in Opryland’s breathtaking Delta Atrium gardens, made of 15-foot tall characters that look like stained-glass but are actually cloth-like puppets. And the fourth display may be the grandest of them all: the Living Nativity, as performed by the Radio City Rockettes and cast in the last scene of The Radio City Christmas Spectacular at Gaylord Opryland for the 8th year.

Holiday Destination Resort

Gaylord Opryland is a sensational holiday destination resort, with nine acres of indoor gardens and waterways, 12 restaurants (including Fuse Nightclub, a sports bar, Irish pub, Jack Daniel’s saloon), shopping and entertainment, a European-inspired Relache spa, spectacular lap pool and fitness center, the proximity to attractions.

Christmas lights make an already dazzling Cascades Atrium that much more so (© 2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures).

The hotel features 2,881 rooms (it is gi-normous, no doubt about it, a literal city under glass), with 757 of them affording the most magnificent garden views and wrought iron balconies. The resort is built as a garden conservatory – three of them, actually – with massively lush gardens under glass. The Garden Conservatory, built in 1984, features more than 10,000 different plants; the Cascades Atrium is two-acres, alone, and features a 3 ?-story double-waterfall, and 8,200 different tropical plants, and palm trees 75 feet tall.

The Delta Atrium, a $175 million addition that opened in 1996, is a 4 ?-acre interiorscape that rises 15 stories (it was the largest construction project in Nashville history at the time, adding 1,024 guestrooms, 10 meeting rooms and a 57,000 sq. ft. ballroom), and features a quarter-mile long Delta River, a fountain that shoots an 85-foot stream of water during specially choreographed water shows, and the Old Hickory Steakhouse, contained within an antebellum mansion, an exact replica of Evergreens Mansion.

Besides being walking distance to the Grand Ole Opry House and “Ice”, Opryland resort is also walking distance to Opry Mills outlet mall (on the site where the Opryland theme park used to be). There is also a marvelous Grand Ole Opry Museum that is a free attraction. And its Gaylord Springs Golf Links and Golf Institute is just a few minutes away (golf is a year-round activity in Nashville).

Cooper, five years old, gets a high-five from Charlie Brown, during the Charlie Brown breakfast, one of the special "A Country Christmas" activities at Opryland resort (© 2009 Karen Rubin/News&PhotoFeatures).

Opryland is also about 20 minutes from downtown Nashville, Music City itself, with abundant attractions like the Honky Tonk music places (Gaylord has its own Wildhorse Saloon, a fun place where you can take part in line dancing; be sure to try the “fried pickles”); the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Ryman Auditorium (the “mother church of Country Music” now owned and operated as a performance venue and museum by Gaylord), and so much more.

Nashville is rich in historical and cultural attractions: Belle Meade, the Hermitage (home of President Andrew Jackson), Cheekwood Art Museum and Gardens, the Frist Center for Visual Arts, the Nashville Zoo, Adventure Science Center (which has a new Sudekum Planetarium).

Tickets to many of the major Gaylord “A Country Christmas” attractions (including Ice and Radio City Christmas Spectacular are included in “A Country Christmas Package,” starting at $339 for a two-night stay at Gaylord Opryland Resort (a fantasy come true). Call 888-OPRY-872, 888-999-OPRY (6779), or visit www.ChristmasAtGaylordOpryland.com.

Thursday, 26 November, 2009

© 2009 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit us online at www.travelwritersmagazine.com and at www.familytravelnetwork.com. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com.

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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including examiner.com, Huffington Post and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate and blogs at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com. "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at FamTravLtr@aol.com. 'Like' us at www.facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

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