A holiday shopping spree
On the Road
After a day of retail mayhem, the last thing you want to do is drive back to the burbs or maneuver all those bags on a train in winter weather. The recently renovated Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza hotel welcomes holiday shoppers for a Shopping Spree at the 900 Shops, located in the heart of the Magnificent Mile with 70 stores and 10 restaurants on seven levels. Take part in the Shopping Spree package and you snag a $50 gift card and goodie bag upon check-in and an exclusive 900 Card with additional savings. You'll enjoy deluxe accommodations equipped with a flat screen television, full bath amenities and high-speed wireless Internet.
350 West Mart Center, Chicago. Through Friday, Dec. 30, with rates starting from $159. Use the promotion code ISHD2 when booking. Call (312) 836-5000 or visit martplaza.com.
Talk to the trees
Another Thanksgiving promising an argument, a nap and indigestion? How about adding a nice walk at the Morton Arboretum on Thanksgiving Day when admission is free? Drag the relatives along to take on some of the 16 miles of trails or the nine miles of paved roads to see Meadow Lake, towering evergreens and the beauty of Schulenburg Prairie. Visit the day after Thanksgiving to see the newly redesigned Enchanted Railroad model train display featuring forested areas, multiple trains and a special car for Santa.
4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle. 7 a.m. to sunset, Thursday, Nov. 25, free admission (buildings are closed, but restrooms are available). Railroad: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 26, to Sunday, Jan. 2. Closed Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year's Day. Arboretum admission $11 for adult, ($7 on Wednesday), ages 18-64; $10 for senior, ($6 on Wednesday), ages 65 and over; $8 for children ($5 on Wednesday), ages 2-17; 2 and younger admitted free. Parking is free. Call (630) 968-0074 or visit mortonarb.org.
Spa and shopping
Take a day off from work or the kids and get in on Savor and Spa Days at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago. It's a new weekday escape that combines lunch at the new deca Restaurant with a spa treatment for a relaxing respite from holiday shopping. Nonhotel guests can enjoy a 55-minute spa experience (choice of a massage or a facial); the new DLT (deca lunch trio) and parking for $135.
160 E. Pearson St., inside Water Tower Place. Available 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays through Dec. 31. Call (312) 573-4915.
Looking good by candlelight
An old-fashioned Christmas is as close as historic Madison, Ind., and the Nights Before Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes. This 29th annual Christmas tour features four public historic sites, including the Lanier Mansion, the Masonic Schofield House, the Costigan House and the Jefferson County Historical Society Museum all decked out in Christmas finery. Don't forget to stop by Trinity United Methodist Church for caroling and music. The tour also highlights five private homes open to the public only at this time of the year. The homes range from an 1830s former Radical Methodist Church to a 1890s "modular" cottage.
Tour hours 5 to 9 p.m. Fridays, Nov. 26, and Dec. 3; 3 to 9 p.m. Saturdays, Nov. 27, and Dec. 4, in Madison, Indiana. Tour tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children ages 5-15. Purchase at the Madison Visitors Center, 601 West First St. or visit visitmadison.org. Call (800) 559-2956 or visit nightsbeforechristmas.com.
You get one day to rest after the big Thanksgiving feast before a second stuffing, but this time it's the creamy, comforting mac 'n' cheese center stage. The annual Great Macaroni & Cheese Bake-Off in Traverse City, Mich., features 14 chefs turning a favorite food into a new culinary masterpiece. Sample some great wines from the seven Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula, as well as lots of mac 'n' cheese samples. Traverse City also has a Fab Fall Package with many different participating lodging options. Since Michigan is the nation's No. 3 grower of fresh-cut seasonal trees with more than 60 tree farms, stop and chop on your drive back home.
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27. Tickets are $25 and are available at Peninsula Cellars or online at chateauchantal.com. Call (231) 933-9787. For lodging, visit visittraversecity.com.
Have a ball at the president's mansion
Irish maids will escort you to the parlor where you'll be guests of Ulysses and Julia Grant during the 29th Annual Mistletoe Ball: An Evening at the Grant's Mansion in Galena, Ill. Bedecked in Victorian splendor, Galena's Turner Hall will be aglow for the festive holiday dinner and live orchestra. Hosted by the Galena-Jo Daviess County Historical Society, the evening begins with a complimentary martini and hors d'oeuvres then it's on to an elegant Victorian sit-down dinner followed by a mix of contemporary and period music. A cash bar, raffle and silent auction prizes round out the special evening.
6:30 p.m. to midnight, Saturday, Dec. 4. Tickets for the Mistletoe Ball are $59 per person and may be purchased by calling (815) 777-9129 or visit galenahistorymuseum.org.
Worth the trip
Skip the stress, dismiss the mess and have a really Big Easy Thanksgiving in New Orleans. It's never too late or too soon to book a trip to the Crescent City and New Orleans is serving up a delicious antidote for those turkey day blues: spend the weekend walking and shopping the streets of the French Quarter and tapping to the tune of the city's jazz and brass bands. Try a Thanksgiving Day feast with a New Orleans twist where menus offer oyster cornbread dressing, cheddar chive biscuits and Cajun fried turkey. Hotels and restaurants throughout the city deal out special Thanksgiving meals and savings. Country Inn & Suites French Quarter offers a Gobble Up the Savings package and the Royal Sonesta New Orleans has a Thank Goodness It's Fall package. The Roosevelt New Orleans' Thanksgiving Day in The Blue Room is complete with raw bar and seafood gumbo or for an authentic New Orleans turkey fix, try the Court of Two Sisters' Live Jazz Thanksgiving Day Brunch Buffet.
Wednesday to Sunday, Nov. 24-28. For a list of hotels and restaurants offering packages and Thanksgiving meals, visit neworleanscvb.com/thanksgiving.