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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

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In Holiday Guide

It's looking a lot like Christmas in Lake Geneva.

In Holiday Guide

There's a giant display of gingerbread houses and creations at Grand Geneva.

In Holiday Guide

You can also have brunch with Santa at the Geneva Chop House.

In Holiday Guide

The Dancing Horses show in nearby Delavan will delight kids of all ages.

In Holiday Guide

Be sure to return to Grand Geneva after dark to see the half-million lights.

Lake Geneva gets all dolled up for Christmas


If you choose to celebrate the holiday season outdoors, Lake Geneva offers a host of great winter fun, from skiing to snow-shoeing and beyond.

If, on the other hand, the air of noel conjures a warmer vibe, perhaps with a fireplace and a cup of hot cocoa (juiced up or not), well, Lake Geneva can provide that, too.

"The holiday season in Lake Geneva is quite significant," Grace Eckland, director of marketing and public relations for the Lake Geneva Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"While tourism is highest in the summer, the fall season and the holidays are right behind. The area sees robust tourism during the holiday season – from day trips to overnights."

We recently drove about an hour southwest to have brunch with Santa Claus and enjoy Lake Geneva all dolled up for Christmas on a Sunday day trip.

"Must-see places in the area include Christmas in the Country at the Grand Geneva Resort & Spa and all the area resorts which are well decorated and offer so many activities for families or a romantic getaway," councils Eckland.

"Downtown you'll find great shopping and dining. Other activities range from zip lining and attractions to a plethora of winter outdoor activities – especially once it snows."

Because Wisconsin was without fluffy white powder, we headed over to Grand Geneva Resort. As indoor holidays experiences go, the one at the resort is hard to beat. Arriving in the lobby, Grand Geneva feels like a classic lodge. It's warm and inviting with a fireplace roaring in the high-ceilinged lobby bar and decorations galore.

The place bustles with guests – overnight and those in just for the day – perusing shops, dining in a number of eateries and posing for holiday card photos in front of colorful seasonal displays.

In the Geneva Chop House on Sunday mornings, a brunch fit for a king sprawls along three walls. Another wall opens out onto a lake and woods on the property. In December, you're glad you're not sitting on the other side of the glass, but at the same time, one can't help but imagine being at one of the patio tables on a warm summer's evening.

Off the dining room in the attached bar, Santa sits in the center of the room greeting kids, hearing their requests and posing for pictures. Some kids rush over eagerly, clutching hand-written – sometimes in crayon – Christmas lists.

Others stand outside the door and peer in nervously, resisting entreaties to go in and say hello to the man with the beard.

Back in the restaurant, the brunch is in full swing, with Champagne for the adults and sparking grape juice in matching flutes for the little ones.

It's almost impossible to catalog the options on offer. There's an omelet station, with waffles. There is sinfully good cinnamon roll French toast and red velvet pancakes alongside bacon and sausage and a spread of fresh fruit.

A hot table is loaded with hearty fall dishes, like sweet potatoes and roasted vegetables. But there's also pasta and fried calamari and more. Further along is a seafood station with crab legs, peel and eat shrimp and a variety of fish. Next are two carvings of the day: prime rib and turkey.

Moving on there's an array of cubed cheeses, salads, charcuterie, more vegetables and just, well, more.

But it is the final table – or what parents try to make sure is the final table – that captures the eyes of the young diners. That's the dessert selection, with cakes, tortes, muffins, cookies and apple pie. In the middle is a cascading chocolate fondue fountain. Spear a marshmallow or a strawberry and watch the chocolate flow over it. Irresistible.

You need to walk it off now and luckily, Grand Geneva's many public areas are decked out in holiday spirit. There are Christmas displays that pay tribute to Willy Wonka, M&M's, an old soda fountain and a sprawling Candyland.

Christmas trees are everywhere – some hung upside down – and the displays are overrun with elves.

Upstairs, dozens of imaginative gingerbread houses are on display vying for your vote. There's a gingerbread Wizard of Oz scene, a gingerbread lighthouse and at least two Packers themed creations, one of which is a pretty good likeness of Lambeau Field caked in sugar.

While you're in the area, be sure to follow Highway 50 west to The Dancing Horses show at Animal Gardens in Delavan. There is a 1 p.m. matinee and a 7 p.m. show daily. Reservations are not optional as the theater fills up fast. Plan ahead.

The show, more than an hour long, features more than a dozen beautiful horses – including a pair of adorable miniatures – in about 15 musical routines that at this time of year skew holiday-ish.

From five arabians dancing with trainers to "Feliz Navidad," to the funny "Nutcracker" routine by Katelyn Grunke and the pony Marshmellow, the performance is entertaining, but kids will especially love it.

Afterward, visitors can meet the performers and pet the horses.

If there's time, stay for the bird show, which features Echo, the singing parrot, who performed on "America's Got Talent."

Head back over to Grand Geneva for sundown and watch the illuminating of the series of outdoor light displays including a dozen that recount the 12 days of Christmas that line the long, winding road from Highway 50 to the resort's front door.

Eckland says the displays feature more than a half-million lights.

Now, THAT's Christmas in Wisconsin.


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