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6 Must-See Winter Festivals

Mark Your Calendar: 6 Bucket-List Festivals

Courtesy www.MardiGrasNewOrleans.com

Photo courtesy of www.MardiGrasNewOrleans.com

It’s time for starting fresh and making resolutions. We hope that at least some of your goals are fun—like finally getting to that oh-so famous festival that’s been on your bucket list for a while now. You know the one. It’s the first of its kind or the top of its class (or both), and it makes the news year in and year out. It’s the festival that, when you hear that news report, you stop and think, “Oh, darn! I missed it again.”

To help you be more resolute in your travel planning, we’ve compiled a number of these bucket-list festivals to feature in a series of articles throughout 2014. The first set of seasonal events takes you from late January into early March and from film in Utah to dogs, flowers, and ground hogs back east; from car racing in the Sunshine State to frolicking in the Big Easy. Happy New Year!

#1: Sundance Film Festival, Park City, UT

©Stephen Speckman/courtesy Sundance Institute

Photo: ©Stephen Speckman/courtesy Sundance Institute

This Park City film event began modestly in 1978, and, in 1985, was taken over by Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute, an organization that promotes and develops independent film and theater works and artists.

Today the Sundance Film Festival is one of the most prestigious events of its type, showcasing documentaries, international films, shorts, and features to audiences of more than 50,000. Screenings and events take place in 12 theaters throughout four Utah communities: Park City, Ogden, Salt Lake City, and Sundance.

To get the most out of your experience, do some planning; screening details are generally released about a month before the festival (which means they’re out now!), and there are many package deals on offer. There are also panel discussions with top filmmakers and other industry leaders, live music, and loads of celebrity sightings. January 16–26, 2014.

#2: Westminster Dog Show, New York, NY

©Jack Grassa/courtesy Westminster Kennel Club

Photo: ©Jack Grassa/courtesy Westminster Kennel Club

The pedigree of the Westminster Dog Show, established in 1877, has put it on many a bucket list—often right near the Kentucky Derby, the only other continuously operating American sporting event with greater longevity. What’s more, the show’s location in New York City also enables many to tick off another dream-destination box.

Each February, more than 2,500 well-bred, well-groomed dogs (and their equally dapper breeder-owner-handlers) compete at Madison Square Garden for top spots in Breed Groups as well as in Herding, Hound, Non-Sporting, Sporting, Terrier, Toy, and Working Groups. And, throughout the two-day event, it’s not only the judges who are keeping an eye out for the top dog. Every spectator also has his or her favorite for Best in Show. February 10–11, 2014.

#3: Speed Week, Daytona Beach, FL

Courtesy Daytona International Speedway

Photo courtesy of Daytona International Speedway

Back in the day, car racing was relegated to a few local good ol’ boys blazing along in modified family sedans wherever they could find pavement or packed dirt. By the time NASCAR was founded in 1947, drivers had long been racing on the packed-sand straightaway of Daytona’s beach.

In 1959, the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway came along, and the rest is stock-car history.

For more than 50 years, NASCAR’s prestigious Daytona 500 has been held at this iconic track, which is in the midst of re-inventing itself. The race is the culmination of Speed Week, a nine-day festival that includes other car and truck races as well as concerts by such big-name acts as Brooks and Dunn, Bon Jovi, Mariah Carey, and the Zac Brown Band. And Daytona Beach has become more of a family-friendly destination (and less of a spring break one), so there are lots of things for the kids as well. Start your engines! And pack the sunscreen. February 15–23, 2014 (with the Daytona 500 itself on February 23).

#4: Ground Hog Day, Punxsutawny, PA

The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Inc.

Photo courtesy of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Inc.

At 7:30 am every February 2, Punxsutawney’s most famous resident, a chubby but charming groundhog named Phil, emerges from his burrow in Gobbler’s Knob just south of town. If he sees his shadow, we can expect six more weeks of winter; if not, then spring is just around the corner.

The gates for the traditional Ground Hog Day event—now more than a century old—open at 3 am, so many attendees stretch the pre-ceremony celebrations out all through the previous night. Watch for the men in the top hats: as members of the Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle, they not only orchestrate the celebration, they also take care of Phil the rest of the year. Hand warmers and blankets are the perfect accessories for this early-morning winter event. Sunday, February 2, 2014.

#5: Philadelphia Flower Show

Courtesy Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Photo courtesy of the Courtesy Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

The birthplace of the country’s first horticultural society has hosted this preeminent flower show since 1829. Today’s version, the Philadelphia Flower Show, features more than 500 free educational programs for beginners and experts, breathtaking display gardens, floral exhibitions, and gardening demonstrations—all centered around a different theme each year (for 2014 it’s “Articulture: Where Art Meets Horticulture”). There’s even a Family Lounge with kid-friendly activities.

Got a question? Raise a green-thumbed hand and ask one of the accomplished horticulturists or landscape and floral designers who are in attendance. More than 150 vendors from all over the world offer an array of plants and seeds, cut flowers, and other horticultural items. To beat the crowds, visit on a weekday afternoon. And bring a jacket: the exhibit halls are kept cool for the benefit of the plants. March 1–9, 2014.

#6: Mardi Gras, New Orleans, LA

Courtesy www.MardiGrasNewOrleans.com

Photo courtesy of Courtesy www.MardiGrasNewOrleans.com

The Mardi Gras season actually begins on the Feast of the Epiphany (12th day after Christmas) with galas and parades that culminate on the Tuesday (a.k.a. Shrove or Fat Tuesday, the latter being the English translation of the French “mardi gras”) prior to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. The celebration dates from the early 1800s, when commoners began imitating elite society’s balls by parading in the streets wearing masks and costumes. Nowadays, social clubs, called krewes, stage more than 60 parades along various New Orleans streets, including some in the famed French Quarter.

Masked and costumed krewe members aboard elaborate floats toss plastic beads and fake coins, known as “doubloons,” to spectators shouting, “Hey, Mister! Throw me somethin’, mister!” Although the popular image of Mardi Gras, particularly on Fat Tuesday and the preceding weekend, is of a public drinking fest, there’s family fun to be had, too. Locals even bring stepladders with little platforms to parades so their children can sit and watch above the curbside crowds. Tuesday, March 4, 2014, with many of the big-deal parades also taking place during the preceding week.