Grapevine, Texas has received the moniker of Christmas Capital of Texas, but according to communications coordinator Emily Adams, “It may be the holiday capital of the U.S.” And for good reason -the town hosts 40 full days of Christmas cheer, including some 400 events, light displays, decorations, animated characters, and life-sized ice sculptures and slides. “There's a vintage railroad - the North Pole Express, live entertainment at the Palace Theatre, holiday films, holiday shopping in the heart of the community's downtown, and naturally, there's Santa and his reindeer,” Adams asserts.
From crafting Christmas ornaments at the Vetro Glassblowing Studio, to live metalwork demos at Millican's Blacksmith Shop, the focus is on an immersive holiday experience appealing to all ages.
Located just north of Dallas, the town offers a variety of distinct experiences at different venues. Attendance has been growing annually, and now numbers over one million guests, Adams says.
Grapevine's free Annual Carol of Lights and lighting of Historic Downtown Grapevine starts off the festival season with a lighting that took place this year on November 19th. The dazzling lights are everywhere, described as numbering in the millions.
Whether attendees stay at the hotel or not, they can also walk through the Gaylord Texan Resort's ICE! event, which retells the traditional Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer story carved from an epic two million pounds of ice. The frosty carvings were created by skilled ice artisans from Harbin, China. An ice bar, dubbed “On the Blocks” is a favorite of the over-21 crowd, while kids favor several two-story ice slides. Temperature is a chilly 9 degrees, but the resort offers complimentary parkas to visitors.
The resort also features a 54-foot tall Christmas tree, an 8-foot-tall gingerbread house, and cookies and milk with Mrs. Claus. If that's not enough, there's ice skating, snow tubing, and even a gingerbread decorating corner.
Not to be outdone, another large-scale hotel venue in town, Great Wolf Lodge, presents Snowland, with lights, holiday trees, regularly scheduled indoor snow falls, and visits from Santa. There are also cookie decorating events with Mrs. Claus in a life-size gingerbread house. A nightly Snowland-themed story time draws the small fry, and all ages can experience a daily Polar Wolf Walk.
The Great Wolf Lodge resort also sponsors the North Pole Express, a ticketed train ride priced at $28.50 per person, which takes riders on a trip to Santa's Workshop. Vintage coaches operate year round in Grapevine, but for the holiday are seasonally decorated. Guests can enjoy chocolate snow milk served on board along with a Christmas cookie. At a stop called “Reindeer Ridge” Mrs. Claus comes aboard with a gift for every child participating, a bell that's inscribed “We Believe.”
At the destination North Pole stop, riders disembark to walk through the North Pole Forest before entering Santa's Workshop, populated by costumed elves, and of course Santa, ready for a photo op at the North Pole General Store.
The North Pole Neighborhood offers photos with live reindeer, carousel rides, Story Time with Santa events. The attraction is ticketed at $25 per child with sibling discounts.
Apart from the hotels, there are plenty of other seasonal attractions in Grapevine. Since its beginning in 1979, the Christmas Parade of Lights is a spectacular and free event through the center of town. The 100-float event takes place the first Thursday in December; this year an elaborate float from Cannon Elementary School took first place. Santa rides in on the last float of the night. Also free is the Twinkle Lights Boat Parade on Grapevine Lake.
Legoland Discovery Center offers the chance to write letters to Santa and assemble a holiday quilt of Lego bricks, while a scuba-diving Santa holds forth at Sea Life Grapevine Aquarium. Regular theme park admission prices apply.
Free to explore are the vintage scenes and fun photo ops at Grapevine's Tower Gallery on Main Street, where over 80 locally-owned boutiques and winery tasting rooms offer a wide range of holiday gifts to browse and buy.
Visitors can shop, then settle in at Dr. Sue's Hot Chocolate Bar and Happy Hour, which runs from 2:30 to 5 daily. A skilled barista serves cocoa flavors ranging from peppermint to Mexican spice, all with custom toppings. Cups start at $4.50, Adams notes.
At Grapevines Historic Palace Theatre, both live musical entertainment and films offer ticketed entertainment. Among the most popular attractions are The Texas Tenors performance of “Deep in the Heart of Christmas,” “An Elvis Kind of Christmas Starring Kraig Parker and the Royal Tribute Band,” and “A Grapevine Opry Christmas.” When it comes to films, bargain-priced classics take over the big screen, ranging from It's a Wonderful Life to How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
At the Warhammer Citadel, a weekend-long Christmas party features a large-scale Secret Santa gift exchange, plus games for the children and painting contests, and all activities are free.
Away from downtown, but very much a part of the Grapevine experience is Christmas at Nash Farm, where a Victorian Christmas thrills guests, and concludes with campfire, cider, and cookies. Attendees can make holiday ornaments, too, all for $3 per person.
More vintage fun is on tap at the Settlement to City Museum, where pioneer and Victorian period crafts, stories, and activities offer Grapevine history with holiday cheer.
From giant ornaments to glittering, light-covered gazebos, just wandering the brilliantly illuminated streets is a favorite pastime of visitors as well. The event has grown steadily over the years – it's been 16 years since the beginning of the festivities at the Gaylord – and it continues to serve and expand as a focus of tourism in a town that primarily relies on tourism dollars. In 2012, the town debuted a 127-foot-high Clock Tower featuring two larger-than-life, 9-foot Glockenspiel characters, known as Would-Be Train Robbers Nat Barrett and Willy Majors. New additions are always being planned.
Being the Christmas Capital of Texas means a merry, merry Christmas for both the town of Grapevine and its visitors.