Thanksgiving weekend is a terrific time to kick off your family’s holiday fun with a day or overnight trip. There is no reason to stay home feeling lethargic with your leftovers when there are so many great activities taking place in the neighborhood and beyond. Here are five suggestions that are sure to jump-start your Christmas-Chanukah-Kwanza cheer, family-style.
1. Tree Lighting and Holiday Boat Parade | mystic.org
Where: Mystic River Park, Mystic, CT.
When: Saturday, November 27, Santa from 2-5 p.m. Tree Lighting and Boat Parade start at 6p.m.
Why: True to its seaside setting, Mystic’s historic Downtown has a uniquely nautical way to ring in the holidays. Crowds of kids are sure to be on hand for Mr. Claus’s arrival via tugboat. Stick around for the Tree lighting and Boat Parade, a Mystic tradition. A fleet of hearty sea vessels, decorated and lit for the holidays will cruise down the Mystic River in this competitive parade. There are tons of holiday activities for the family, including the always-fun Lantern Light Tour, where you will experience a celebration of Christmas as it was in this seafaring town 100 years ago. This one-hour moving performance/walking tour covers quite a bit of terrain, so bring the stroller. If you decide to stay the night, The Whalers’ Inn is located four blocks from the train station in the heart of downtown, and offers comfortable family accommodations plus free continental breakfast.
How to get there: By train, take Amtrak out of Penn Station. The ride is approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes. Bring a stroller if you want to walk to downtown or call Yellow Cab 860-536-8888. Peter Pan Bus Lines offers service to Mystic Seaport from New York’s Port Authority. The ride is approximately 3 hours.
2. Annual Tree Lighting & Holiday Entertainment | palmersquare.com
Where: Palmer Square, Princeton, NJ
When: Friday, November 26 at 4:45-6 p.m.
Why: If the throngs of tourists at Rockefeller Center’s annual tree lighting are just a mite too intimidating for you and the stroller, come out to Princeton, where the 65-foot Norwegian spruce rivals (almost) the one in midtown—minus the crowds. There will be a reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas just before the 32,000 lights are switched on. Live music and caroling, plus a visit from Santa, make this a sweet treat.
How to get there: NJ Transit from Penn Station stops in Princeton Junction, where you catch the “dinky” shuttle train to Princeton. The train station is right in town, and the journey is just over an hour.
3. Spring Lake Christmas Celebration Kick-off | springlake.org
Where: Spring Lake, NJ
When: November 27, events start just before dark
Why: This town’s Americana flavor is just the elixir for urban families looking for a kinder, gentler Christmas. The main drag, 3rd Street, is the venue for the evening’s festivities, and it’s only a few minutes walk from the train station. Hayrides, Santa’s Workshop, cider and donuts, a tree-lighting ceremony and Christmas carols are all planned for this seaside town’s low-key celebration, and its all free.
It is an easy day trip, at just over an hour each way, but if little ones get tired the town is chock-full of quaint inns for a mini-vacation. Families will feel right at home at the charming Chateau Inn & Suites, with its communal fireplace and complimentary cookies and cocoa. In the morning, borrow the Inn’s cute pink bikes and head down to the boardwalk for an easy ride, perfect for those who have just said goodbye to training wheels.
How to get there: NJ Transit from Penn Station to Spring Lake.
4. Thanksgiving Weekend: Gateway to the Holiday Season | hudsonvalley.org
Where: Sunnyside, Tarrytown, NY
When: November 26-28, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Why: With kid-centric games, hands-on workshops, house tours and holiday activities, Junior will love stepping back in time at what was once Washington Irving’s home. Costumed interpreters help kids learn about old-time traditions of the winter holidays. The cost is $12 per adult, $6 for kids under 18, free for kids under five. If everyone’s behaved like little ladies and gents, make your way to Tarrytown before the train ride home for a pit stop at Lollipop (53 Main Street), an old-fashioned candy store with a selection of traditional penny candy. Get a nostalgic kick out of the large variety of Pez candy dispensers, which make for great stocking stuffers.
How to get there: Metro-North’s Hudson Line from Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan to Tarrytown (36 minutes from Manhattan) where cabs wait to meet trains. The cab ride to Sunnyside is approximately 5 minutes.
5. Christmas Quest on Historic Huguenot Street | huguenotstreet.org
Where: New Paltz, New York
When: Saturday, November 27, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Repeated on December 4.
Why: Kids and their parents can explore this stately cluster of historically-preserved homes from different time periods in an interactive manner. Participants will be seeking Christmas-themed clues to solve the mystery of the hunt. Search the nooks and crannies of the Deyo House in this entertaining challenge. Holiday treats and warm cider will cap off the afternoon. Historic Huguenot Street is a beehive of family-oriented activities during the holiday season, so check the website for dates and descriptions.
How to get there: Adirondack Trailways to New Paltz in under 2 hours. Historic Huguenot Street is located in the heart of the pedestrian-friendly, funky downtown, so leave time for some wandering.