It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and if you plan on keeping the kids busy over winter break, we’ve got plenty of things to do during the days between Christmas and New Year’s. Glide on an ice rink, check out the sparkling lights displays, or bring the whole family on a First Day Hike in the fresh air. Scroll down for ideas on making the most of your Christmas vacation. (featured Photo Credit: taken at Six Flags Great Adventure)
Endless Winter Fun Starts at American Dream
American Dream in East Rutherford, New Jersey, is a premier destination for attractions and entertainment that are fun for the whole family. With record-breaking rides at DreamWorks Water Park– the largest indoor water park in North America – and Nickelodeon Universe – home to cool coasters that boast the world’s steepest drop and tallest indoor drop tower – adults and kids of all ages can surf, splash, and brave the biggest thrills under one roof. And this New Year’s Eve, bring the whole family to Nickelodeon Universe for a kid-friendly countdown at NOON! The celebration starts at 10 AM, with a Dance Party at 11:30 AM. Stay and play all day and week during the break with the All-Access DreamPass! For more information, visit American Dream.
1 American Dream Way, East Rutherford, NJ 07073
Get set for fun during Winter Break in NJ
Finally, see those light displays
Holiday events will expire after the new year, and if you’re spending winter break in NJ, you can get in those last-minute special events this time of year. Stay cozy in your car as you admire the drive-through Christmas lights like the Magic of Lights at PNC Arts Center or the Diggerland USA Drive-Thru, or buckle up for the Winter WonderLights in East Brunswick. Or walk around for a Holiday Light Show—either way, the lights will put the whole family in a merry mood. Don’t miss the Anne Ellen Christmas Tree Farm, which is full of winter wonderland goodness. And there are plenty of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa events to celebrate in NJ, along with winter activities too.
Take a weekend road trip
Sneaking away after the busy holidays can be just the thing you need to recharge your family’s batteries. Luckily, there are plenty of family-friendly resorts in and around NJ for all ages and budgets you can drive to in under 2 hours. Whether you want to experience the shore at the Ocean Place Resort & Spa in Long Branch or Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, visit Great Wolf Lodge or stay overnight nestled in the mountains at the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, NY, a little getaway is always a good idea. Or why not rent a cozy cabin?
Think waterparks are only a summertime thing? Nope—you can plunge down a waterslide, drift in the lazy river, or get knocked down in the wave pool. There are a bunch of indoor waterparks to discover nearby, including American Dream DreamWorks Waterpark in East Rutherford, Big Kahuna’s in West Berlin, or The Kartrite Resort and Indoor Waterpark in New York. Kids will have a ball getting soaked indoors, and you’ll all feel like you were on a resort vacay miles away.
Explore a holiday-themed village
Why not put yourself in a Hallmark-worthy location to keep that seasonal feeling going? Historic Smithville has shops, restaurants, a carousel, and special events that make you feel like you’re on a holiday movie set. Skylands Stadium has a light show and a Christmas Village open until December 30, 2023. Or see the magical Holiday Dreamland set up at American Dream to make some core holiday memories.
Travel over the river (Delaware or Hudson)
One of the awesome things about living here is our access to two world-class cities—New York and Philadelphia—that can put you in the heart of each one for a day trip or overnight. Use these days off to explore the NYC classics like the Empire State Building and Central Park Zoo or unique attractions like the Museum of Ice Cream or The Edge in NYC. In Philly, check out the historical sights and museums like Independence Hall and The Franklin Institute and different Philly spots like Once Upon a Nation Storytelling. Or visit Longwood Gardens outside the city for an extra special winter treat. New Jersey is also full of unique downtowns, from historical Morristown to nostalgic Cape May.
Glide on an ice skating rink
Whether you’re a beginner or an expert skater, ice skating is a fun workout and bonding experience with the fam. Check out one of these NJ ice rinks with outdoor, festive skating like Vintner Wonderland at Renault, or if the weather isn’t the best (or too warm), head to one of the indoor skating rinks, like the NHL regulation-size rink at Skylands Ice World in Stockholm or American Dream’s rink in East Rutherford.
Go under the sea
The temps may be dropping, but plenty of sea life can be seen indoors. From observing brilliant and bright fish at Jenkinson’s Aquarium in Point Pleasant Beach to seeing the sharks up close at the NJ SEA LIFE Aquarium in East Rutherford or hanging with the hippos at the Camden Adventure Aquarium, the aquariums in NJ are perfect for your little sea explorer.
Climb to new heights
Climbing as a family at an indoor rock climbing space is a fantastic way to work on team-building. Children and parents can work together to overcome a difficult wall or conquer unique challenges like blindfolded or three-legged climbing. And many also have zip lines or places to do bouldering, making you feel like you’ve escaped to a mountain range activity park.
Watch a classic come alive
Didn’t get to that show you’ve been dying to see? Catch one of the holiday shows over winter break to entertain the whole family. Score tickets to Fiddler on the Roof at the Papermill in Millburn, see the Nutcracker perform at MPAC in Morristown, or catch a kid-friendly show for the whole family to enjoy.
Whether it’s getting your game on in indoor mini-golf, bowling, testing your speed at an indoor go-kart track, or bouncing it out at a trampoline park, you can have a ball no matter what the weather. Most of these places are more than just one activity—many offer arcades, laser tag, games, and gourmet cuisine to make a full day of it. Or, if you want to introduce your kids to the video games you played as a kid (hello, Donkey Kong), head to a retro arcade in the Garden State. Or head to playspaces where your littles can run wild and, if you’ve got older kids, places where you can find entertainment for all ages.
Travel in space
Sit back, relax, and get lost in space while looking up at the stars and watching a special film presentation in the domes of New Jersey’s educational and entertaining planetariums. Kids (and parents!) of all ages will get lost in the enchantment of the dome’s crystal clear projection – all while learning something new.
See the animals
Van Saun Park and the Bergen County Zoo has everything from ice skating to the Let It Glow! Lantern festival and zoo animals. Or visit the petting zoo at Allaire Community Farm in between taking the Yuletide Wagon Ride and walking tour along an illuminated path.
The Frosty fun continues all winter break long. Photo taken at Six Flags Great Adventure
Hit the slopes
Whether you’re looking for a day trip with the littles or a week-long family vacation, you don’t have to go far to get on the slopes. Sign up for lessons, spend the day on the trails, try boarding, or cozy up to an apres-ski fire pit—you can find a mountain to fit your family’s needs, like the Jack Frost Ski Resort or Camelback Resort in the Poconos. Check out our guide to the best ski resorts for families.
Take a run at snow tubing
If you’re looking for more of a thrill than a traditional sledding day but aren’t quite ready to hit the slopes of the ski mountain—this activity is for you. Snow tubing is a great way to get outside and breathe in the crisp air while laughing the whole way down. Unlike skiing and snowboarding, no experience or lessons are required to enjoy this activity. Not sure where to go? Look at these snow tubing spots in and around NJ for a day of thrills.
Explore a museum exhibit
Now is a great time to use that excuse to visit New Jersey museums. Witness art coming to life indoors and outdoors in cool weather at the unique Grounds For Sculpture. Or head to Liberty Science Center, where kids can have fun without realizing they are learning. The New Jersey State Museum in Trenton is another great option, with the bonus of being free.
Do the locomotion and spend some time aboard a holiday train in NJ. Chug down the tracks on the outdoor train at DiDonato Family Fun Center or one of the last rides for 2023 with The Polar Express in Phillipsburg. The Santa Claus Train at Allaire State Park is another memorable holiday ride, but check ahead of time tickets sell out fast.
Didn’t get to an amusement park this summer? You can catch one now decorated in all the holiday finery. Head to Six Flags Great Adventure for Holiday in the Park, walk through the Christmas Fantasy With Lights at Storybook Land, build on family memories at Holiday Bricktacular at LEGOLAND® New York Resort, or stay inside at Nickelodeon Universe in the American Dream Mall. There are also places in NJ where you don’t have to buy a ticket or pay an entry fee—from the Cape May County Park & Zoo to tours of the governor’s mansion at Drumthwacket—and these free attractions are worth checking out during the days off.
Volunteer, organize, donate, and repeat
The toy explosion is real around the holidays, and finding the best home for everything makes all the difference. Donate clothing and toys to those in need and show the family the true meaning of the holiday—helping others. Or get friends and family together to learn all about the giving season. Give to a charity like the Pajama Program or volunteer with friends at the JBJ Soul Kitchen and make others’ spirits bright.
Take a First Day Hike
First Day Hikes (guided hikes in state parks and other historical sights on New Year’s Day) are a great way to get the whole family outdoors and moving. Marvel at the nature around you, look at how the snow frames the trees, and spot animals, all while getting your heart rate up. Look at this guide for the trail nearest you—head to Liberty State Park for a glimpse of New York City landmarks, or tackle one of the trails at Hacklebarney State Park.
Ring in a family-friendly New Year’s Eve
Get those party poppers ready—it’s almost 2024. Whether you want to celebrate at home or out, you can have New Year’s Eve with the fam. Kick-off New Year’s at Noon at Renault Winery in Egg Harbor City, watch the Blueberry Drop in the “Blueberry Capital of the World” in Hammonton, or see the fireworks fly at midnight from the Battleship New Jersey in Camden. No matter where you ring in the new year, there are plenty of options all over the Garden State.
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