Peak tourist season in Newport, Rhode Island is summer. Founded on Aquidneck Island in 1639, Newport was one of the first major seaports in the colonies, was significant in whaling and the slave trade, and was one of the first popular getaway locations for wealthy American families when the rich first became richer in the 1870s. Newport is also a major naval base, frequent host of the America’s Cup regatta, location of the International Tennis Hall of Fame (the U.S. Open was first played here in 1895), home to annual jazz and folk festivals, and the summer residence of two presidents. In short, Newport is where money meets the sea.
Being a summer resort doesn’t mean that Newport isn’t a popular destination other times of the year. Year-round, tourists come by land and sea to sightsee, shop, dine and relax. Christmastime, in fact, is probably the second busiest time of the year. It’s then that tourists can see holiday decorations in the mansions built here by America’s very rich—families with names such as Vanderbilt and Astor—in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nine of those mansions are operated by The Preservation Society of Newport County. Three of these—The Breakers, The Elms and Marble House—are especially decked out for the holidays. Inside are hundreds of ornaments on dozens of trees, thousands of poinsettias, fresh flowers and wreaths, dining tables set with period silver and china, and mannequins in period holiday dress. Another mansion, The Astors’ Beechwood, is not only decorated but populated with actors portraying the Astor family and their servants. Visitors can tour the home as these characters prepare for Christmas, sing carols, and entertain in the grand ballroom. Guests can even dine with the family at Beechwood’s Victorian Christmas Feast featuring a multi-course period meal.
The Preservation Society’s Breakers, Elms and Marble House are decorated and open daily for tours from November 15 through January 4 except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. A Winter Passport ticket providing daytime admission to all three houses can be purchased for $25 for adults and $9 for children ages 6 to 17. Purchased separately, admission to The Breakers is $16.50 for adults and $4 for children ages 6 to 17. Marble House and The Elms are each $11 for adults and $4 for children 6 to 17. Information on additional ticket packages and special holiday events such as visits with Santa Claus on Sundays in December (at no extra charge), holiday concerts and refreshments, and a holiday dinner dance are available at the Preservation Society website.
At Beechwood, a schedule of holiday tours and events is available at the Beechwood Web site. Standard tour admission is $20 for adults and $8 for children ages 6 to 17. A family rate of $50 is available for two adults and up to four children. Reservations are strongly suggested. Tickets for the Victorian Christmas Feast are $125 for all seatings and reservations are required.
For travelers planning to visit Newport, dozens of choices exist for accommodations and even more for dining. A couple favorite restaurants of my family are the Red Parrot and the dockside Candy Store at the Clarke Cooke House which my wife and I (and our waitress) agreed makes the best hot fudge anywhere.
All photos courtesy of The Preservation Society of Newport County. The Breakers Library and The Elms Foyer photos by John Corbett.