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Want to get out of the house on the holidays? You have many options

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 23, 2008 - If all the jingle jangle has you feeling a bit strangled with Christmas cheer, don't book that last minute ticket to an escape just yet. There's plenty to do on Christmas Eve, and a few things to do on Christmas Day, that will get you out of the house and away from the season.

Whether you don't celebrate the holiday or just need a break, a handful of movies are opening, there's ice skating, skiing, and even some restaurants willing to do the work for you.

The Big Screen

Several movies open Christmas Day around the area, and many of them actually look promising. Most movie theaters are open on Christmas Day, but check your local theater's website or head to sites such as fandango.com to know for sure.

  • "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, is rated PG-13 and was adapted from a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald about a man born old who ages backward.
  • "Bedtime Stories" stars Adam Sandler as a handyman whose nighttime stories begin coming true. Rated PG.
  • "The Spirit" features Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson in an action-adventure based on the comic strip. Rated PG-13
  • "Valkyrie" starring Tom Cruise is a thriller about a German colonel who tried to assassinate Hitler. Rated PG-13.
  • "Marley and Me" is the movie version of the popular book, starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson. Rated PG.

Get Out While You Can

Over both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, there are some opportunities to get out of the house and do more than sit in a dark theater with a bucket of buttery popcorn. You can head to both the Zoo and the Missouri Botanical Garden on Christmas Eve, and ski or ice skate on Christmas Day.

St. Louis Zoo, open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. Closed Christmas Day. While there, check out the Geico Gecko exhibit at the Emerson Children's Zoo and meet day geckos, native to Madagascar. Admission to the Children's Zoo costs $4, and the Geico Gecko exhibit will end Dec. 30.

And while you're at the Zoo, stop and see all the new babies born this year, including the Grevy's zebra (born Aug. 21), the giraffe (born June 14) and three Somali wild ass (born in April, June and July), all at Red Rocks; the Amur leopard (born May 10) and the five Amur tigers (born April 28) are living in Big Cat Country; and finally, the January-born Matschie's tree kangaroo, living at the Emerson Children's Zoo. On Christmas Eve, there will be no Wild Lights at the Zoo. For more, go to www.stlzoo.org or call 314-781-0900.

St. Louis Science Center, open from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. Closed Christmas Day. Glide on a Segway with three different classes, Segway 101 from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Segway Meet the Challenge from 12 p.m. to 12:30 p.m., and Segway 201 from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets for the classes cost between $5 and $35, depending on the class. For reservations, call 314-289-4424.

If you'd rather take it slow, take in a show at the Omnimax theater. On Christmas Eve, check out "Santa Vs. the Snowman," at 10 a.m., 12 p.m. and 2 p.m., "Sharks," at 11 a.m., and "Mysteries of the Great Lakes," at 1 p.m. Tickets cost $8 for adults and $7 for children, seniors and students with IDs. Call 314-289-4400 or go to www.slsc.org for more.

And finally, if the need to do something for the holiday is just too strong, spokesperson Beth McClure recommends checking out the Wacky Winter Workshop, which runs through Jan. 5. In this free workshop, kids can create eco-friendly holiday decorations.

For more information on the St. Louis Science Center, go www.slsc.org or call 314-289-4400 or 314-289-4444. Admission to the Science Center is free.

The Gateway Arch, open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Christmas Eve; closed on Christmas Day. If the only time you head to the Arch is with out of towners, this might be the perfect chance. You can ride to the top and stroll through the Museum of Westward Expansion and pretend, at least for a day, that you're a tourist, too.

For more, go to www.gatewayarch.com/Arch/ or call 1-877-982-1410.

Missouri Botanical Garden, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve; closed on Christmas Day. The garden seems like a natural place to go during just about every season but winter, but don't be fooled.

"It's a great time to notice the landscape and the architecture around the garden," says Karen Hagenow, public information officer.

In addition to the garden's Christmas specials, including Gardenland Express, featuring G-scale trains chugging along past bright poinsettias, outside you'll find fruit on hollies, ornamental grass as well as the grand trees that fill the garden.

You can also warm up in the Climatron and take a walking tour of medicinal plants, including Neem, good for lice and cancer, and Banyan bark, which lowers blood sugar.

Admission to the garden ranges between $2 and $8 - those age 65 and over who live in St. Louis city or county can get in for just $2. Children 12 and under are free. For more information, go to www.mobot.org , or call 1-800-642-8842.

The Butterfly House, Chesterfield, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 24, and closed Christmas Day. While there, check out the month's butterfly, the Zebra Longwing, and the plant of the month, Porterweed.

Also, new this year is "Roach Encounter," featuring a glass display full of about 1,000 Orange Head cockroaches. And, Hagenow adds, the display includes a glass bubble you can crawl under and peek into the space filled creepy crawlers.

General admission to the Butterfly House costs $6. For more information, call 636-530-0076, or go to www.butterflyhouse.org .

Kirkwood Ice Arena, Kirkwood, open Christmas Eve 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4:15-5:45 p.m. Closed Christmas Day. Typically, manager Ken Davies says the ice is busy, but not packed. However, with a bad economy and more people staying home this year, it's hard to predict, he says. There are two sessions this year, and usually, he says, the morning session is busier. For non-residents, it costs $3.50 to skate plus $1.50 for skate rentals.

For more information, go to www.ci.kirkwood.mo.us/parks/rink/main.htm or call 314-822-5825.

St. Louis Mills Ice Zone, Hazelwood, open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Christmas Eve. Admission is $5.50, and skate rentals cost $2.50, kids 5 and under cost $3 for admission and rental. For more, call 314-227-5288 or go to icezoneatmills.com

Steinberg Rink, open 10 a.m. to midnight Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. At last, something to do on both days. "We have a fair amount of people," says Annie Kasal, manager. "We're the only place open."

Whether not celebrating the holiday or just looking for something to do after present opening, Kasal says adults often enjoy themselves in the Snowflake Cafe while letting the kids hit the ice.

It costs $6.50 for adults to skate, kids 12 and under cost $5.50, and skate rentals are $2.50. In addition to the ice, the Snowflake Cafe offers food, beer and wine. For more information, call 314-361-0613 or go to www.steinbergskatingrink.com .

Hidden Valley Ski Resort, Wildwood, closed Christmas Eve, open 6 p.m.-3 a.m. Christmas Day. Ski with Santa tends to be pretty busy on Christmas night, says Amity Betz, director of marketing as people try out new snowboards and skiis.

Prices are $61 for lift pass and rentals for adults, $54 for kids 7 to 12 and kids 6 and under cost $28 with a paying adult. For more, call 636-938-5373 or go to www.hiddenvalleyski.com .

Eat, Drink, Be Merry

Let's set aside Christmas Eve for a moment and assume most restaurants will be open. Aside from many Chinese restaurants, Christmas Day is another story. While most restaurants are closed, look to hotels and casinos for possible dining opportunities. Listed here are a few, but reservations are recommended at many, so call first.

Top of the Riverfront, Millennium Hotel, open for Christmas Day brunch. Get a view of our fair city at the Top of the Riverfront while enjoying the fact that you're not cooking on Christmas. Brunch is from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and costs $49.95. Kids 12 and under eat for $14.95. For reservations, call 314-241-9500 or go to  www.millenniumhotels.com/millenniumstlouis/restaurant .

Ameristar Casino, St. Charles, all restaurants open Christmas Day. Again, lots of choices here. 47 Port St. is open from 5-10 p.m. and requires reservations; Amerisports Bar is open from 4 p.m.-11 p.m.; Casino Deli is open from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Falcon Diner is open from 7 a.m.-3 a.m.; King Kat Club is open from 4:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.; Landmark Buffet is open from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4 p.m.-9:30 p.m.; and Pearl's Oyster Bar is open from 5 p.m.-11 p.m. For more, go to www.ameristar.com/stcharles or call 636-949-7777.

Lumiere Place Casino, all restaurants open Christmas Day. Choices might be limited at most places, but Lumiere offers lots of options for Christmas Dining. SLeeK is open from 5:30-10:30 p.m.; House of Savoy from 5-10 p.m. and both require reservations; Burger Bar is open from 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; The Kitchen Buffet and Bistro is open from 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; and Asia is open from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. For more, go to www.lumiereplace.com/dining , or call 314-881-7777.

IHOP, most locations, open Christmas Day, hours vary. Mmmm.... Pancakes all day. Call first to be sure, but of the many IHOPs in St. Louis, a majority are open for some portion of Christmas Day, according to Patrick Lenow with DineEquity Inc. For a list of Missouri locations and phone numbers, click here .

Kristen Hare is a freelance journalist. 

Kristen Hare

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