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Those slightly offbeat travel ideas are often the best

On Thanksgiving, my family is bucking tradition and heading to the horse races at the fairgrounds in New Orleans. We are not alone. On November 1, the first day reservations were accepted at the racetrack, the clubhouse was sold out within an hour.

Thanksgiving in the Crescent City sounded attractive because our favorite hotel, Bienville House, offers very attractive holiday rates. For example, a special three-day package including dinner and a cooking class at the Louisiana Heritage Café and School of Cooking and a complementary cocktail and live traditional jazz music at Louis Armstrong’s Society “Salute to Sathchmo” costs $146 per person, Sunday through Thursday. The cost is $20 lower if booked between December 15 and January 15. Papa Noel specials run $99 per night. The recently renovated independent boutique hotel is equidistance from Café Du Monde to the Riverwalk, and more importantly, because it is not part of a chain, it oozes personality and charm. (504) 529-2345.

Of course, anywhere in Mississippi is a wonderful place to spend the holidays — Mississippi casinos are offering splendid holiday buffets, for example — but if you find yourself visiting relatives out of state, or opt for a holiday vacation in the South, here are some slightly offbeat suggestions.

Go Scottish at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel in Georgia. On Friday evening, December 17, the resort will host a Scottish Celidh, with the sound of brass and stirring winds of the bagpipes “heralding the winter.” Afterward, sip hot toddy in the Boar’s Head Lobby. “Christmas at the Club” packages start at $125 per room, and include a full breakfast and Christmas stocking filled with goodies. (912) 635-2600.

Step into a time machine. Spending the holidays in Colonial Williamsburg is always a special treat, especially when timed to enjoy the one-man show, “A Christmas Carol,” at the Williamsburg Inn on December 8-9, performed by the great-great-grandson of renowned English author Charles Dickens. This marks the fifth year for Gerald Charles Dickens to summon the spirits of Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim and the ghost of Jacob Marley from the beloved 1843 story. The Holiday Shopping Package, available through December 23, starts at $73 per person and features accommodations at the Governor’s Inn, lunch at the world-class Williamsburg Inn Regency Room and 20% discount on shopping at 28 Colonial Williamsburg retail stores. (757) 220-7120.

Even though many people think of the Inn on Biltmore Estate and Grove Park Inn for overnight accommodations in Asheville, N.C., an international award-winning bed and breakfast that Vogue praises for “its massive breakfast” is located about 20 miles south in Hendersonville. The Waverly Inn is more luxurious, less crowded and a better value than its Asheville alternatives. Overnight guests are invited to gather around the table for a sumptuous Thanksgiving spread — at no cost! — with innkeepers John and Diane Sheiry. Room rates begin at $149 per night. By day, you can visit Biltmore Estate — beginning this year, Biltmore Estate will open at 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day — and arrive at The Waverly Inn in time for hors d’oeuvres and happy hour. (800) 537-8195.

BellSouth is showcasing spectacular ice sculptures, including a waterfall, handcrafted by 40 artisans from China and comprised of more than 1.5 million pounds of ice, at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, where there’s so much to do that you might not have time to visit the Grand Ole Opry. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store is also presenting the annual A Country Christmas from November 18 to December 25. Allstate is on board with a Music City Holiday Spectacular featuring, well, spectacular theatrics. Two free must-sees: the nightly medieval Yule Log lighting, believed to bless the house in which it is lit as well as those who attend the ceremony, and the World’s Largest Nativity Display, both onsite. Holiday rates begin around $150 per night and usually include one or more special events. Ask for a VIP coupon book. (888) 777-6779.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.


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