Almost like home for the holiday: Hotel Christmas trees

Beautiful Christmas tree in the Westin Kierland Villas lobby

Beautiful Christmas tree in the Westin Kierland Villas lobby

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Tree at Barcelo Ixtapa hotel

Tree at Barcelo Ixtapa hotel

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When I saw the Christmas tree in the lobby of the Westin Kierland Villas this past weekend, I was reminded of images of trees from holiday stays at various resorts and hotels over the years. Many of these hotel lobby trees were elaborate, sparkling masterpieces of decoration. Others were homespun and simple — inclined to make one think of home. Some had local, cultural charms and appeal, to inspire a memory of your destination.

One memorable tree stood in the Eagle’s Nest Lounge at the Prescott Resort and Conference Center when we stayed there at Christmas time from 1998-2004. This spectacular tree rose at least two floors and it almost could be spotted from Gurley Street driving back from Courthouse Square. When there weren’t any company parties booked in the lounge, guests could sit and listen to holiday favorites played on the grand piano, relax and warm up in front of the stone fireplace and sip hot beverages laced with mint, chocolate and Baileys Irish Cream.

Another resort Christmas tree that comes to mind was the tall ‘tannenbaum” at the entrance to the atrium of the Barcelo Ixtapa, Mexico. The tree was a beacon to every room level and it echoed tidings and joy throughout the resort. January 6 (Epiphany) is observed in Mexico as Three Kings Day — as it is also celebrated in other parts of the world. While we were there, we feasted on Rosca de Reyes, the bread ring of the Three Kings. At the Barcelo, the huge ring of sweet pastry made a circumference around the entire Christmas tree.

Westin Ka'anapali Christmas tree

Westin Ka’anapali Christmas tree

On a recent Maui December vacation, the Christmas tree at the Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas seemed almost out of place among all the tropical plants, birds, sunshine and bikini-clad tourists. Still, it was very pleasant to recall how we would sit on the sunny terrace for breakfast, admiring the Christmas tree while dining on fresh pineapple, watching the toucans and flamingos and listening to the faint chime of Bing’s or Buffett’s version of “Mele Kalikimaka.”

But nothing anywhere among my hotel Christmas tree memories can compare to the story this week I watched on a NBC network news broadcast about a family spending their Christmas at a Holiday Inn in Hazlet, New Jersey, whose home had been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. They had no home, no spectacular Christmas tree and certainly no possibility of any Christmastime vacation. For them, there would be no lounging at a Maui hotel swimming pool, sipping cups of warm Irish cream in a cozy Prescott Arizona lobby or jetting off to an Ixtapa, Mexico beach resort. Instead they would nestle in a simple, but warm Holiday Inn two-bed room in undoubtedly cramped quarters. Rather than making resolutions they will be laying out hope for a better year in a stack of FEMA applications, insurance paperwork and housing relocation plans. And these are the fortunate. Consider the many displaced by Hurricane Sandy who don’t even have a Holiday Inn to return to each day.

Many of us who travel regularly can imagine that small round table near the front window of almost every typical motel room. That’s the place we take for granted: where we sprawl travel brochures, business papers or our laptop. It’s the place we unload the Chinese take-out or the Starbucks coffee. But for that one family on the news report affected by Hurricane Sandy, this would be the prime spot for their foot-high Christmas tree, with homemade decorations and makeshift lights. If there’s any image or memory of a hotel holiday tree best depicting Christmas — I’d say that would be it.

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Three Kings Bread: Rosca de Reyes at the Barcelo Ixtpapa, Mexico

Three Kings Bread: Rosca de Reyes at the Barcelo Ixtpapa, Mexico

Stocking stuffer suggestions for the travel lover on your list

Even if you’re not Santa Claus, who has to consider who’s naughty or nice, you may be thinking of another list. Maybe you’re a travel aficionado; you already have a list of your own — a wish list — with visions of new destinations dancing in your head. Or perhaps you have a shopping list and you’re looking for a few hints for that travel lover in the family. Here’s a list of some suggested gift items for those stockings hung by the chimney with care:

Comfortable shoes

Although this stocking stuffer might not fit into most regular-sized Christmas stockings, this gift would show that you really care — at least about their feet. And for the time being, TSA still requires shoes be removed at airport security check-in sites. I recommend some comfortable slip-ons with ample foot support — for running from gate to gate. You don’t have to shell out the big bucks. For about $10, Avon.com sells soft indoor-outdoor unisex slippers that would be ideal. They actually don’t even look like slippers, with tread on the bottoms. Yet they are comfy, with memory foam inner soles. They also are wonderful for running around the hotel mezzanine at your next convention.

Traveler’s Survival Kit

You could get creative and devise a traveler’s survival kit of your own. Simply find a cosmetic or shaving kit bag and add some handy things necessities such as mini-luggage scale, luggage tags, hand sanitizer, three-ounce plastic containers for flights. Other items I would suggest are these handy foods and beverages for a long road trip or airline flight: tea bag, instant coffee, hot cocoa mix, lemonade, powder vitamins, noodle soup. These can be easily and conveniently mixed with either hot or cold water. Visit minimus.biz or your local Target or Walmart store for an extensive selection of travel-sized toiletries.

Leatherman

For that hiker, biker, backpacker, camper, outdoors-lover on your list, a Leatherman knife tool makes the perfect gift. There are many varieties and models to fit just about any holiday budget. Remember to add it in the packed luggage for your flight!

Fruit

Fruit is the perennial favorite to fill up those oversized stockings which by now are hanging on the mantel. (Doesn’t it seem like Christmas stockings are get bigger and bigger? Do people actually think Santa is going to take time to stuff gifts all the way down into the toes of holiday hosiery?) Assorted types of fruit fit perfectly into the stocking toe. For road trips and domestic flights, apples and Mandarin oranges work very well, because they don’t have the mess! Also, those little Cuties Clementines are in season!

Binoculars

Everyone who travels should have a pair of binoculars – either in their checked bags or carry-on. You never know where you’ll be when you need binoculars. They’re not just for bird-watching. You may be at a conference in Cleveland and want to get a better view of the Great Lakes Science Center or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame from your room atop the Marriott.

Packable Dinnerware

We love these colorful dishes and plates from Fozzils.com. We found ours at our local REI store. They are completely flat for packing for use as dishes and cutting surfaces, but the corners snap together and convert into bowls for cereal or even soups, since they are heat resistant to 110 degrees. These are lightweight and since they’re flat, they will fit almost everywhere. They’d make welcomed gifts by pet-owning travelers too!

Extra long cables and charger cords

Finally here’s something almost every traveler would appreciate: And it’s a must for the iPhone owner in the family who’s always on the go. This xlSync Extra Long Sync Cable is a practical stocking stuffer. Extending 6.5 feet long, it charges at the same rate as the original equipment one from Apple, and works with all iPhone, iPad, iPod models except the iPod Shuffle — from cablejive.com. For a longer cord extension to get around the tables at the airport coffee shop, consider the 10-foot cable from Khomo, available from Amazon.

Do our readers have any other gift ideas for travelers? We always love to hear about new travel gadgets!

December weekend in Prescott will boost holiday spirits

A perch on Whisky Row makes a great review spot for the parade

If you’re already sick of holiday consumerism, you just might need a little getaway. A weekend in Prescott — “Arizona’s Christmas City” — will transform the grouchiest Scrooge into the happiest of Santa’s elves. Take it from one who has made this Christmas trip for ten of the last 12 years: if a holiday weekend in Prescott doesn’t put you in a festive mood, nothing will. Although holiday-themed events are happening throughout the month, the weekend of Dec. 2-4 is the best time to recapture the spirit of an old-fashioned, ‘old-west’ Arizona Christmas – and not just for old-timers — for everyone.

Here’s a suggested itinerary for your weekend:

Plan to arrive Friday afternoon. Better yet, arrive on Thursday afternoon, so you have an extra day to explore Prescott and the surrounding area. Think museums, parks, maybe even a hike – weather permitting. On your way into town, make a stop at the Prescott Resort to tour the Gingerbread Village in the resort’s lobby. You’ll be amazed to how much effort and creativity have been put into these creations. Afterwards, take a few minutes to stroll through the conference room wing to view the Western and American Indian paintings and sculptures. With its spacious suites, great dining, excellent views, entertainment and events, Prescott Resort is also one of our lodging recommendations.

We also recommend the Marriott SpringHill Suites or the historic Hassayampa Inn; both are conveniently located downtown. You will be able to park your vehicle for the remainder of your stay — it’s an easy stroll to your choice of downtown eateries, quaint shops and other holiday events.

The Marriott offers guests continental breakfast, but heartier morning appetites will appreciate the Hassayampa Inn dining room or the Lone Spur Café. If you just want pastries and coffee or hot chocolate, there are several nearby coffee shops. Keep these in mind if parade day turns out to be cold and rainy, or cold and snowy!

The annual Christmas parade around Courthouse Square at 1 p.m. is the main event! It’s important to stake out a piece of prime curb or sidewalk for parade viewing. Bring chairs, blankets, warm coats, a thermos or two of your favorite hot beverage and some snacks. Don’t forget the camera! This parade exudes more holiday glee than a 4-year-old bursting out of bed early on Christmas morning. It’s easy to get swept up in the magic. You’ll love the wide variety of entries: bands, floats, rough riders, dancers and lots of dogs! Many folks are dressed in Old Western, Victorian or Territorial-era costumes.

Adults, children, even Teddy bears participate in the parade

After the parade, you can head to Prescott Brewing Company to watch the final weekend of college football or shop for unique gifts in the Bashford Court Atrium Mall or browse through the antique shops on Cortez Street. Another idea: get the friends and family together for an “Old Tyme Photo” at the Prescott Museum and Trading Company. Finish the day at the courthouse steps for the Courthouse Lighting Ceremony and Caroling at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at one of the many fine Prescott eateries. Remember to save some time for the short walk over to Sharlot Hall and its Frontier Christmas Celebration from 6 to 9 p.m

Expect to see Victorian-era costumes around Courthouse Square

Christmas canines are crowd favorites at the parade

Rough riders entertain the downtown Prescott crowd

Additional holiday activities happening in Prescott for the first weekend in December and throughout the month can be found on the Christmas City website. One idea for Sunday afternoon – on your way home – is a visit to the Elks Opera House. Not only is the theater a historical attraction in itself; it also hosts a performance of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Sunday’s matinee is at 2 p.m. — a perfect finale to your holiday weekend getaway. Hopefully, this theater’s stage will be the only place this season you’ll hear the words: “Bah Humbug.”

These websites will provide more detailed information:

Visit Prescott, AZ – Arizona’s Christmas City

Prescott Chamber of Commerce

Prescott Downtown Partnership

City of Prescott