Where do you spend a quick weekend getaway before Christmas when you… 1) Are traveling with a 2 1/2 year old who isn’t fond of travel, 2) Don’t want to spend a fortune, and 3) The House of Mouse is too hoppin’ this time of year?? Stone Mountain Georgia. Yes, that’s where you go.
Let me back up a bit. For the first time ever, my husband had 2 vacation days to burn before the year ran out (cheers to an extra week of vacation this year!), and being the “go, go, go” minded person that I am, there was no way on God’s green Earth that I was about to sit around the house and waste those days! So, on to planning I went. Iceland is top on my bucket list right now. Northern lights! Glaciers! The. Blue. Lagoon. YES! Iceland it is! No…wait, calm down. New Orleans, maybe? I do some research. It seems The Big Easy knows how to do festive right. SO MANY PRETTY LIGHTS! But, ugh… the drive. 10 hours or so. My mind flashes back to the 4+ hours of never-ending screaming coming from the back seat on our way home from Harbor Island this summer. I still have PTSD from the trip. In reality, I knew that wherever we ended up needed to be within an easy distance. Say, 4 hours. That eliminated all the Florida beaches. So, after much “pinteresting” and googling, the thought of Atlanta came up.
Being from the Upstate of South Carolina, just a few hours from Atlanta, I have to admit that I don’t think highly of the city. Nothing against Atlanta, I just don’t think of Atlanta as a vacation destination. I’ve been there a million times. Daytrips to Six Flags, The World of Coca Cola. Concerts. Shopping. In and out to the airport (ugh, the W-O-R-S-T). But, I’ve never thought to stay there. However, Atlanta looked promising. It’s a big city so there’s obviously plenty to do, many toddler friendly options, and it seemed like there were some fun holiday events. So, we settled upon Atlanta- more specifically, Stone Mountain- and I was really, really excited about it.
First things first, Stone Mountain is a state park with lots to do even outside of the special festivities they offer throughout the year. There’s obviously camping options onsite: you have your typical RV/camper hookups and primitive tent sites. There’s a few RVs that you can rent that come with their own deck, picnic table, and fire ring for S’mores…yum! They even have yurts! Yurts, guys! That’s awesome. I’m just not a “trek to the bath house in the middle of the night to pee” kinda girl. But it’s still awesome. For those, like me, that prefer the more traditional comforts of a hotel, there’s 2 within the park: The Atlanta Evergreen Marriott and The Stone Mountain Inn. For recreation options, there seems to be a little something for everyone. I’d list all the things that you can do, but seeing as how we didn’t explore this part of the park, I wouldn’t do it justice, I’m sure. So, check out the park’s website. We’ll be back once the weather gets warmer, for sure.
There’s two main events during the holiday/winter season: Stone Mountain Park Christmas, typically running mid-November through just after the New Year, and Snow Mountain, running through most of the winter season. This makes for a perfect day trip, but my advice would be to stay the night because it runs pretty late into the evening.
We pre-purchased the Snow Mountain & Christmas Combo Meal Deal for $49.95 per adult/child (children under 3 are free). This includes a 2 hour tubing session, all day access to the Snow Play area, all the Christmas events, a meal, unlimited fountain drinks all day, and hot chocolate. You can get separate tickets if you’re just interested in Snow Mountain or only want to take park in the Christmas events, but you’ll definitely save money with the combo. You’re basically getting both events for the same price you’d pay for just Snow Mountain. *Although, the combo only includes 2 hours of tubing verses all day tubing that comes with the Snow Mountain All-Access pass. For us, two hours of tubing was perfect for our little guy.
Snow Mountain includes 2 “big” hills: Avalanche Alley, which is a multi-person ride perfect for riding with your entire family, and Tube Runners, a hill for single and double tubes. Our little guy was just tall enough, at 36 inches, to be included in Avalanche Alley, but will have to save Tube Runners for another year. There’s also The Snowzone, the snow play area where you can build a snowman, crawl your way through an “igloo”, throw snowballs at targets, or try your hand at making snow angels (that fake snow is a bit icy, it is the South, you know!). The Snowzone is perfect for little ones, like Harrison, because there’s a smaller tubing hill and sledding hill. The park limits the number of tickets sold per hour as a way of preventing the area of getting overcrowded. We were there on a Monday, when some of the area students weren’t out yet for winter break, so we never had any problems with long waits.
We arrived around 1:00 for our 2 hour tubing session and headed straight for Avalanche Alley. I was a little nervous as I was watching other riders go down the hill because I didn’t know how Harrison would react. There’s definitely a good initial drop and it really flies down the hill, but the kid loved it! He immediately wanted to go again, which we happily did. We went over to the Snowzone next, which was hopping, but because it’s a really large area, didn’t seem overly crowded. Harrison loved playing in the snow with the toys that were provided by the park and scattered throughout the area. He made several runs down the little tubing hill and the sledding hill, which he would have happily done all day if we’d let him. Again, no waiting for any of it, which was so nice! After a while in the play area, we headed back over to the bigger hills. More runs down Avalanche Alley, of course, and my husband and I were even able to take turns going down the Tube Runners. All in all, a lot of fun for all three of us! Because all-day access to the Snowzone was included with the pass, we could have gone back to the play area as much as we’d like, even after our 2 hour tubing session was over, but we were starving! On to a late lunch.
There were a few different places that were included with the meal plan, but we chose Marketplace because it was right next to the the Snow Mountain area. I got a cheeseburger and fries, Alex had pepperoni pizza and fries, and Harrison nibbled off both of our plates. Definitely not the most nutritious options. They were available, just not necessarily included with the meal plan. But, one day isn’t the end of the world, am I right?! The food wasn’t the best I’ve had, but nowhere near the worst. It hit the spot and Marketplace provided a nice spot for a quick break. Side Note: Marketplace is also were you can get your hot chocolate that’s included in the meal plan. We went to several places looking for it, so hopefully that will save you a little searching if you visit.
After a short and unsuccessful try at a late afternoon nap, we headed back over to the park around 6:00 to catch the nightly Christmas parade. Unfortunately, we missed about half the parade and the part that we did catch was partially blocked by the crowd watching by the front gates. Definitely not the best place to view it, but it was our only option since we were rolling in there at the last minute. In retrospect it wasn’t the end of the world if we missed the parade. In my head, I was envisioning Disney Electric Parade. Disney it was not, but still sweet & cute nonetheless.
The lights at the park, were just beyond beautiful. String lights wrapped almost every tree from top to bottom, stores and restaurants were covered Griswold style, but in the best possible way. Fire pits for roasting marshmallows were scattered around. Christmas music was playing throughout. The theming was so much more than anything you would expect from a state park. It was magical and beautiful. We loved it.
Part of the Christmas experience at Stone Mountain are the various shows & character meets included, most of which cater to children. We took a ride on the Singalong Train, which makes a loop around the entire park and plays familiar Christmas tunes along the journey with monitors so you can join in. There’s a few light displays here and there and the train makes a stop to hear the story of the first Christmas. It was a fun experience, but admittedly a bit cold as the train car was open air. Some of the other shows we were able to catch were “Twas the Night Before…A Holiday Cabaret” and “A Wish For Snow.” They were pretty cute. We also had a chance to meet Rudolph, which was probably one of Harrison’s favorite moments, go figure. Finally, we caught the last meeting with Mrs. Claus who told a really sweet story about Santa.
At this point, it had been such a long day, but we made it this long and decided to press on and wait for the finale at 9:45 (why so late, Stone Mountain??) If your little one can hang (and ours BARELY did), definitely stick around for it. The “Snow Angel” flies across the park in front of Marketplace, gives a short little presentation, and then makes it snow. That’s followed by a short, but really nice fireworks display in front of the carving on Stone Mountain. It was a nice way to end a really great day together!
Overall, Stone Mountain was a great getaway for our little family. We had originally made plans to visit the Georgia Aquarium the next day, but our little one got sick. Oh well! Another time, another visit. We’ll be back.