Unique winter excursions give boost to ‘tween week

By Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell
Thanksgiving is now a pleasant memory and the rush is on for last minute shopping, putting up decorations, and making plans to see family for the holidays. While all this is fun, my wife and I have discovered it can be a bit overwhelming. So, every year the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day (or the ‘tween week as we call it) is set aside to take a trip with just our kids. We make a conscious effort to avoid traditional destinations such as the Colorado ski slopes or Caribbean cruises. Instead, we seek out the paths less traveled and in the process have had some fantastic adventures. Let me share a few of these with you.
My favorite destination for winter travel is the Redneck Riviera. The Emerald Coast has some of the best beaches in America and despite dire reports, I know firsthand that these beaches are oil-free and in pristine condition. While the ocean water can be a bit cool for adults, this does not deter my children from being knee to waist deep. It has been my experience that temps over the ‘tween week are typically 60s to low 70s which, with a light jacket and a warming beverage in hand, makes beach sitting quiet comfortable. Being off season, the crowds are minimal and so are the condo prices. There are plenty of activities to occupy your days such as dolphin cruises, pier fishing, state/national park activities, nature trails, biking, and local amusement parks to mention a few. If you are in the Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, or Perdido Key area for New Year’s Day, make sure to get the family up early and dressed in their bathing suits for the annual Polar Bear Dip on the Florida-Alabama line at the Flora-Bama Oyster Bar. You will be joined by hundreds if not thousands of others for a synchronized dash into the surf. While definitely chilly that early in the morning, unlike other Polar Bear Plunges, you will not have to contend with ice and hypothermia!
For a closer vacation head to the Nashville area. The Grand Ole Opry and Opryland Hotel have plenty of holiday shows and events including millions of lights, ice sculptures, and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. The Nashville Zoo at Grassmere is wonderful and spacious. Some of our highlights have been zoo keepers’ talks, watching elephants move logs with their trunks, and a huge fort-style playground. The Parthenon, the Adventure Science Center, and Riverfront Park Ice Rink are also popular. Just south of Nashville is Historic Downtown Franklin where throughout the holiday season there are parades, holiday shopping, and the annual “Dickens of a Christmas” along the main street featuring costumed characters from Charles Dicken’s classic, A Christmas Carol.
Another extraordinary destination is St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis is home to the incredible City Museum. This artistic, architectural wonder is guaranteed fun for young and old alike. It features indoor and outdoor attractions, so even if the weather is frightful, there is plenty to do. The City Museum boasts tunnels, art classes, creative performances, swinging ropes, a train, an aquarium, a rooftop Ferris wheel, and many other wonders too marvelous to describe. Other St. Louis attractions include The Magic House, Museum of Westward Expansion, the Italian restaurants of The Hill, and let’s not forget the famous Arch. A fact which surprises many is that on the outskirts of St. Louis there is a fabulous ski area called Hidden Valley. Large and small slopes abound that are perfect for the whole family, plus for those so inclined, snowboarding is allowed. Hidden Valley rents the equipment, provides lessons, and even has an eatery. They manufacture their own snow, and the slopes usually open the day after Christmas. I highly recommend Hidden Valley—it is tremendously fun!
I hope some of these winter vacation ideas intrigue you enough to check them out. After the rush of the season, I know my family needs a ‘tween holiday break. The only problem we have is deciding which destination to choose—they all sound so good!
Dr. D. Jackson Maxwell is a teacher at Downtown Elementary School and a freelance writer. If you have any questions or comments, please contact him at: djacksonmaxwell@gmail.com.

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