Best Things to Do this December in and around Seattle
- Wild Lights at Woodland Park Zoo
- Riding on the Polar Express
- Ride the Santa Express Scenic Railroad around Mount Rainier
- Cruise the Holidays with the Argosy’s Christmas Ship Festival!
- Argosy Christmas Ship Cruise in Puget Sound
On Black Friday, I try to stay away from the crowds and this year I went into the wild searching for reindeer. Woodland Park Zoo is transformed from November 25th - January 1 into the bright and holiday themed Wild Lights. The trek into the wild night was going to be 2 hours of walking, so supplies and food were needed. The Rainforest Cafe is closed in the evening so my hope of finding a hot meal was looking grim until I saw a campfire outside Pizza Corner. There were families huddled around the fire enjoying pizza, chowder, coffee, beer and waffle fries. Since this was my first trip to Wild Lights the server suggested a beer and a fresh s'mores kit for the fire. After cooking two perfect s'mores I was on my way to Wild Lights.
Leaving the warm fire and steaming food behind, I was guided by well-lit paths towards the seasonal home of Santa’s herd. Making my way towards Santa’s home for assistance in my search, I spotted a LED Monkey swinging in the tree tops while keeping an eye on the friendly looking lighted tiger stalking the bushes next to me. There was a spirited game of foam snowball fights inside Zoomazium, but after a quick peek inside, I moved on. I have been to the Woodland Park Zoo during the day before and one of my favorite stops is the Adaptations house lair of the mighty komodo dragon and humble meerkats. After the digital lighted animal creations, it was fun to see real animals as an unexpected treat on our way to visit Santa. The home and photo opportunity for Woodland Park’s Santa is Pacific Northwest themed and well guided to make your Christmas wish with Santa without waiting in a long line.
Santa had reindeer, but I was informed of an area where young reindeer in training had a home all their own, so my wild holiday adventure was far from over. The patch was watched over by a family of lighted animated eagles soaring overhead and the animated grizzly fishing for salmon, but just past the warm cheerful glow of the lights, real predators still stalked in the shadows. A pack of wolves howled just out of sight to add realism to my experience. Feeling a little spooked by the wolves, I revived my holiday cheer at the carousel while eating fresh popcorn. My next animated encounter was a trio of elephants in the North Meadow. After watching the LED family return into the trees, I finally saw the home of real reindeer eating hay while waiting for Santa’s sleigh training.
My adventure and much needed family night out to usher in the holidays was coming to an end but just like any successful animal sighting in travel, souvenirs are wanted for memories or stocking stuffer ideas, so the gift shop is open late as well. We had a magical night that was well worth the admission and I have some new holiday photos for the scrapbook!
My three-year-old grandson and I recently had the delightful experience of riding on board the Polar Express via the Mount Rainier Railroad. The production was a reenactment of the Warner Brothers animated movie “The Polar Express." The cast were all employees of the Mount Rainier Train Museum.
There was much music, dancing, singing, and audience interaction while little children ate cookies and sipped hot chocolate. Somewhere in the midst of it all, traditional Christmas carols were sung. The grand finale was a visit from Old St. Nick who passed out a bell to each child. All in all, it was a very festive excursion.
Who would like to live a movie in real life? I know I would and that is what The Polar Express does. It brings "The Polar Express" to a reality we can live and if you have not seen the movie you will want to after enjoying The Polar Express Train Ride.
I had the chance to go on the Polar Express Train Ride with my family on the evening of Friday, November 18th. It was a beautiful ride from Federal Way to Elbe as we could see Mt. Rainier covered with snow and my nephew was excited to get on the train. We got to Elbe and boarded the train at 5:45PM. The train ride started with hot chocolate and cookies and follows along with the story of The Polar Express. Santa boarded the train when we reached the North Pole, and people sang Christmas songs. Santa gave gifts to kids: a beautiful silver bell, and the ride ended with Christmas songs and pictures with Santa. All the kids were happy, and the families were happy to see their kids so happy and excited!
There was also a Polar Express Gift Shop where you can buy fun gifts for all ages. The Polar Express Train Ride is something that both children and adults can enjoy. When you are ready go on board, sit back and get ready to enjoy the ride with hot chocolate, cookies, music, dancing, The Polar Express Story, Christmas songs and of course, a gift from Santa.
My family had the pleasure of taking a train ride with Santa Claus this holiday season. It was a surprise for my little boy, just 3 years old, who loves trains. We drove over the rivers and through the woods to Elbe, where the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad’s vintage steam train departs.
Elbe is farther out than it looks on a map, so we arrived in haste just minutes before the train left the station. Driving into town, we saw the clouds of steam billowing out of the engine’s smoke stack. We had but minutes to rush inside and exchange our tickets.
I was so anxious at the thought of missing the train (and then an unfortunate incident of locking my son in the car as I ran around like a crazy person) that I really wished for some Peppermint Schnapps in that hot cocoa they served onboard.
The steam engine, the conductor, the cookies and cocoa…it was all very Polar Express. The train attendee, dressed in proper vintage train attendee attire, walked down the aisle to greet all the children. He offered them a visit with Santa Claus in the next car.
We were one of the first families to hop across the gangway connector (the most exciting part of the ride) and wait in line for Santa, who was sitting in a corner of the refreshment car that had been adorned with a fireplace scene and a glittering tree.
My son was very excited, that is, until it was our turn. He took one look at that jolly old elf, turned heel, and ran in the other direction screaming. I managed to gather him up and took him back over to where Santa sat smiling and offering a candy cane. He refused to look at Santa, and wiggled to get away, so we snapped a quick photo and returned to our car.
Before we left, Santa reached into his big red bag, knowingly searching for something just right for this little boy, and pulled out a small plush football. My son did not let go of that football for the rest of the night.
After about 40 minutes of passing by gorgeous natural scenes of alpine lakes and raging rivers as the sun set behind the hills, we arrived at the restoration center where volunteers continue to work on vintage locomotives. The sun had set by then and the equipment sat in shadows.
After 15 minutes or so, the train was ready to return, and the great steam engine whistled and smoked in anticipation. We climbed back aboard and returned to our seats to watch the darkness pass by. The children who had already seen Santa sat drinking their hot cocoa and clutching their new toys.
One girl passed by us with a new Barbie doll, and the three little girls across the aisle from us each had a new stuffed animal. One little boy, clasping his parent’s hand as they walked toward Santa’s car, held in his other hand a letter written in little boy script addressed to Santa. It was adorable to watch these children enjoying a happy Christmas season.
Sleepy and hungry, we returned to the station in Elbe. We had a lengthy drive home, so we decided to have that long-awaited drink at the restaurant next door to the station housed in old railroad cars. With hot buttered rums and peppermint cocoas, we toasted our adventure with Santa and wished a Merry Christmas to all!
Purchase tickets ahead of time to ensure a space on the train. Tickets can be purchased online here.
There is a gift shop on-site
Elbe is an hour and half drive from Seattle so give yourself plenty of travel time in case of traffic.
Looking for ideas this year to enjoy the lights, sounds, and festivities the holiday season brings? The Argosy Christmas Ship Festival has been a Northwest tradition since 1949 with a variety of holiday cruises to celebrate, sing and dine with family and friends. From Nov. 28 - Dec. 23, you can book a tour on the Christmas Ship™ or one of the Parade Ships that follow. Or, those looking for a full meal and a private dining table there’s the Royal Argosy, or daytime Santa Brunches with entertainment just for the kids! How do you know which to choose? The following descriptions of the different cruises may help decide which is for you!
The Christmas Ship leads the festival’s parade of boats each evening. It sails to different Puget Sound waterfront communities where the choir onboard sings 20-minute performances, all broadcast via state-of-the-art speaker system. On shore, friends and neighbors gather around roaring bonfires anticipating the arrival of the Christmas Ship. Following behind, residents string lights to their own vessels to help form the largest holiday floating parade in the world! Santa rides along to entertain and a cruise director guides you through the evening and contests to win great prizes. The Christmas Ship has a kid's craft area available and snacks, chowder and beverages for purchase or you can also pre-order boxed meals.
The Parade Boat is another Argosy Cruises boat that follows the Christmas Ship with the rest of the parade. It stops with the Christmas Ship to hear the choir sing to those on shore. As with the Christmas Ship, Santa will be onboard along with a cruise director guiding you through the evening with contests to win great prizes. The Parade Boat offers kid's craft bags and also has snacks, chowder and beverages onboard for purchase or pre-ordered boxed meals.
The Royal Argosy Dinner Cruise follows the Christmas Ship Parade on many nights, while you relax at your private table with a drink — or order an appetizer. You can also take a self-guided tour of the ship, or just sit and listen to the house band. Savor a three-course dinner, including a Northwest-infused buffet freshly prepared on board. The band will take breaks so you can go outdoors to listen to the choir concert broadcast from the Christmas Ship. The Royal Argosy is perfect if you prefer a private table and festive dinner party over the casual party atmosphere of the Christmas Ship itself. Adults $89.00, Seniors $89.00, Youth $39.00. 12/21, 22, &23 Festival Finale Dinners $99.00 for Adults and Seniors.
Most weekends from 11am-1pm during the Christmas Ship Festival, one of the delights of the season is the Santa Brunch, a daytime family holiday event separate from the Christmas Ship Parade. These cruises feature a buffet brunch, Santa on board who reads "Twas the Night Before Christmas," and an arts and crafts area designated for little ones as well as holiday entertainment. The entertainment this year is an interactive performance-- Santa has lost his bag of gifts. Help him save Christmas and solve the mysterious disappearance of Santa's bag so we'll all have presents under our tree on Christmas morning!
In addition to good cheer, family, and friends, a portion of all ticket sales benefits The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy, an annual program that raises money for several charitable organizations in the Puget Sound area.
There are also special one-time cruises listed on the holiday schedule. Locations and times of cruises vary so check out the Christmas Ship Festival website for specific details, but do so quickly! Tours are selling out and you don’t want to miss your chance to participate in this great Northwest holiday tradition.
Argosy Christmas Ships festival is a Pacific Northwest tradition. You can decorate your own boat and join in the parade, or gather with friends and neighbors at one of the many on shore locations that host viewing parties.
Each night through December 23rd, the Argosy Christmas Ship sails to a different waterfront community, visiting 45 communities total. Onboard, choirs sing 20-minute performances that can be heard on shore. On shore, thousands gather around bonfires to watch the parade of boats and sing their own carols.
The ships will depart from Seattle Southside’s Des Moines Marina on two nights. In addition, a complete list of where the festival will be floating by and the best places for on-shore viewing is available at the Christmas Ship Festival website. Don’t forget to bundle up – it will be chilly outside!