The outdoor Nativity at Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center is a sight to see, with life-size characters, special lighting and an audio rendition of the biblical story of Jesus’ birth.

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is for my daughters and me to take the grandchildren to the lavishly decorated Gaylord Opryland complex to take advantage of all of the free things to do.

We love to walk around and see the lights, hear some Christmas music, listen to the Christmas story while walking through the giant outdoor Nativity, take some holiday pictures, see the horses and carriages, enjoy some Paisano’s pizza on the Delta Island, and ooh and aah at the synchronized light and water shows in the atrium.

We usually go on a weeknight to avoid the big weekend crowds, and it is really a good thing now that the Gaylord folks have a new rule that restricts weekend access, letting in only the hotel’s overnight guests and people who hold a ticket to one of the ticketed holiday events.

No tickets or room reservation means you will be turned away.

“To ensure capacity management, beginning at 2pm CST every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from November 26, 2021, through January 2, 2022, access to enter the hotel will be available only to registered overnight guests and event ticket holders with reservations,” spokesperson Stefanie Ball said.

“Access to enter the Gaylord Opryland Events Center and Pinetop area will be available only to ticket holders with reservations for events located in those areas and to registered overnight guests,” she said.

Ball added that on Monday through Thursday, unticketed visitors (like my group) can be admitted as in past years. Access will “not be restricted Monday through Thursday at this time” but that “additional restrictions may apply without advance notice.”

What you can do for free at Gaylord Opryland

The Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center is a definite holiday destination, with more than a million visitors enjoying its offerings in the past season. You could go out to the resort and spend a wad of money on shows, activities, refreshments, etc. But it is also easy to have a great evening on the cheap, or even for free.

Here are some of the free aspects of this extravaganza:

• The lights are one of the resort’s biggest attractions, and with 9 acres under glass, you can stroll inside and outside on the Magnolia Lawn to enjoy almost 4 million twinkling holiday lights.

There is a tree lighting every day at 5 p.m. on the Magnolia Lawn, complete with the singing of Christmas carols. The carolers lead the singing 4:50-5:15 p.m.

• If you love Christmas carols, you should also look for the Dickens carolers who roam the resort most evenings singing to entertain guests.

• The Christmas fountain shows, which synchronize light, water and holiday music, take place at 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m. daily in the Delta Atrium.

• The outdoor Nativity is a sight to see, with life-size characters, special lighting and an audio rendition of the biblical story of Jesus’ birth. It is fun to walk around and hear the Christmas story.

• The Yule Learning Log is fun for little ones to crawl through and explore some holiday-themed terrariums.

• The outdoor Pinetop stage has live music daily, starting around 3 p.m. most days.

• There is also live entertainment daily at The Falls in the Cascades Atrium and at other locations on select dates. The website christmasatgaylordopryland.com provides details on times and locations.

• The resort is filled with opportunities for holiday photos, with not only great backdrops like the poinsettia tree in the Magnolia lobby and the larger-than-life Delta Atrium tree and the giant ornament that you can sit inside for a cute photo, but there are also many Christmassy selfie spots scattered throughout the complex.

• New this season is the virtual AR Wildlife Experience, where the resort’s atriums are transformed into a safari for families to discover and learn about endangered animals. It is a virtual reality experience that allows guests to use their phones to track down endangered species and ensure that they are monitored for their protection.

The holiday season at the resort runs through Jan. 2.

Details: christmasatgaylordopryland.com or call 615-677-9872

Advice for your trip to Opryland

Park for free at Opry Mills and walk over. This is important because the hotel’s self-parking is $32 and valet parking is $40.

You must go on Monday through Thursday, unless you are an overnight guest or have tickets for an event.

Wear comfortable shoes because there will be a lot of walking, and bring a jacket since some of the attractions are outdoors.

If you are bringing a wheelchair or stroller, some access is a bit tricky because of steps and other obstacles. There are maps online and at Guest Services that show elevator locations and the easiest walkways.

Mary Hance, who has four decades of journalism experience in the Nashville area, writes a weekly Ms. Cheap column. She also appears on Thursdays on “Talk of the Town” on NewsChannel 5. Reach her at mscheap@mainstreetmediatn.com and follow her on Facebook at Facebook.com/mscheappathways.

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