One of the biggest gingerbread competitions in the U.S. takes place in Asheville, N.C., at the Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa. It brings tens of thousands of people to the resort during the six weeks (Nov. 15-Jan. 2) during which the houses are on display.
This year Grove Park Inn will also offer "Stories of Gingerbread" tours offering behind-the-scenes glimpses of house design and construction.
Last year a group of the town's inns organized the Asheville Legendary Inns Gingerbread Trolley Tour on Saturdays throughout November and December. This year it will make stops at four historic inns where professional bakers have created displays to illustrate "'Twas the Night Before Christmas."
For holiday hotel packages and tour information, go to http://www.groveparkinn.com and http://www.exploreasheville.com.
The Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix limits entrants in its gingerbread competition to professionals — in this case architects and designers who team with professional pastry chefs to create fanciful structures. The entries go on display in the hotel lobby Dec. 2; visitors cast votes for their favorites or bid on the fanciful creations in a silent auction through Dec. 19. Proceeds benefit a local children's hospital. http://www.arizonabiltmore.com
At the Turning Stone Resort & Casino, at the Oneida Indian Nation in New York, guests can watch an eight-building Christmas village, consisting of more than 15,000 handcrafted pieces, being constructed. It remains on display in the resort's Garden Lobby through December.
"The gingerbread village is the cornerstone of the vast holiday decorations found throughout the resort," said Ed Allmann, vice president of sales and marketing.
The 53-foot creation includes a general store, farmhouse and barn, Mediterranean-style home, English Tudor house, church, pond with ice skaters, New England-style covered bridge, and, of course, a hotel. http://www.turningstone.com
The Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg, Va., has no display but concentrates on teaching gingerbread-house decorating.
"Our culinary team starts cooking the gingerbread in September and makes about 170 individual houses," said marketing director Denise Benoit. "Then we buy tons — literally hundreds of pounds — of different types of candy and decorating items — Necco wafers, pretzels, shredded wheat, gum drops. We put plastic down on the ballroom floor and line the room with large tables and chairs, and in the center are several tables with bowls and bowls of candy. Each table gets royal icing and piping bags."
The class take place Dec. 18 and is open to the public as well as guests. Cost is $85 a family and includes one gingerbread house. The resort asks guests to contribute a gift to Toys for Tots.
"This is a sold-out event every year," Benoit said. "We also do overnight packages tied to the event. We have some families that come every year and make it an event." http://www.lansdowneresort.com
Stein Eriksen Lodge in Park City, Utah, changes its theme each year. In 2009, it was a 9-foot-long gingerbread Thomas the Tank Engine with operating wheels and eyes. This year's Harry Potter's Hogwarts wizard school will debut Dec. 4. The lodge will host "build your own gingerbread house" parties for children on Dec. 20 and 28. The cost of $60 a child includes hot chocolate, gingerbread panels, icing, candies and instruction. http://www.steinlodge.com
Students in the culinary school at the Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs, Colo., create its annual display of structures and characters made from gingerbread and marzipan. Plans this year are for a fantasy cartoon village. http://www.broadmoor.com
In Boulder, Colo., the St. Julien Hotel & Spa's display includes a hotel replica and incorporates architectural elements representing Boulder and its mountain views. During December, the hotel's chef teaches children how to decorate cookies at "gingerbread teas" held Saturdays and Sundays. http://www.stjulien.com
Some hotels, such as the Benson Hotel in Portland, Ore., replicate themselves in gingerbread miniatures. Seventy pounds of gingerbread, 25 pounds of marzipan, 20 pounds of chocolate and 300 hours go into the making of the 3-foot, 7-to-1 scale model. http://www.bensonhotel.com
The Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island, Fla., reflects the destination's swashbuckling past with its SS Ginger Amelia, inspired by an early 19th century ship that belonged to pirate Luis Aury, who once ruled the historic island. The gingerbread vessel measures 17 feet wide with a mast and crow's nest rising 12 feet high. Chocolate cannonballs arm a gingerbread cannon; a treasure chest overflows with candy booty. http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/AmeliaIsland/Default.htm
At the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Fla., once the winter home of the Ringling Bros. operation, the circus is this year's gingerbread creation. Pastry chef Mae Cavazos envisions everything big top, including tents, elaborate wagons and lion-tamers. Modeled after exhibits at Sarasota's Ringling Estates' circus museums, the creation will be unveiled Dec. 9. http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Sarasota/Default.htm
—Chelle Koster Walton