For the past 65 years, local Vancouverites look forward to the fleet of Christmas Ships that cruise by on the Columbia River in December. The longtime tradition started in 1954 with a single sailboat adorned with a wreath and now attracts eager visitors to Vancouver USA’s waterfront restaurants and shoreline trails.

The two fleets (Columbia and Willamette) have grown to nearly 60 boats combined with extravagant light displays seen from both banks. Ranging between 14 and 65 feet long, some of the boats have participated in the parade for more than 30 years.

Christmas ShipsCatch the Columbia fleet from the Vancouver waterfront on December 5, 10, 11, 17, 18, and 19 this year. (The only reason changes would occur is for poor weather and river conditions.) Boats arrive around 7:30 or 8 p.m. depending on the route. Both fleets will also be at the Port of Camas/Washougal on December 7 at 6 p.m.

BUNDLE UP

Don’t let the crowds deter you from experiencing the holiday magic that can now be watched from the new Vancouver Waterfront. Bundle up for a stroll along the Waterfront Renaissance Trail or snag a spot on the Grant Street Pier for premier viewing.

See the boats in a new way, onboard the Couve Cycle! Seats are $25 a piece for up to 14 riders per outing. McMenamins on the Columbia will also have its patio open to customers. Dress warm; they admit their heaters don’t always ward off the wind chill!

WINDOW WATCHERS

If you prefer to watch from the warmth of a restaurant, here is a guide to assure a seat for you and the family. But book early!

Christmas ShipsTwigs Bistro and WildFin American Grill are taking reservations as usual—tables are already filling up. Call Joe’s Crab Shack at least 24 hours in advance—they still have room all six evenings. If you plan to dine inside at McMenamins on the Columbia, go early! It is first come, first served and they expect the inside tables to start filling up by 6:30 p.m. Who Song and Larry’s is nearly sold out, with a few tables left. Walk-ins are welcome at a high-volume capacity.

Maryhill Winery is hosting a Parade Dinner & Viewing Party each night (and will be closed to the public). The $85 ticket gets you a dinner buffet, live music, and two glasses of their award-winning wine along with your front-row seat to Christmas Ship viewing. Barlow's Public House is taking reservations for their second-story seats with lots of availability left.

Since tables at Beaches Restaurant and Warehouse ’23 are open to past guests first and are often reserved by charities, both establishments are already sold out and will not have room for walk-ins. The Port of Vancouver USA will host a special viewing party in the event space adjacent to Warehouse '23 on December 19 from 6-8 p.m., complete with holiday music, hot chocolate, a magician, and a visit from two celebrity alpacas. Best of all, the event is open to the public with no reservations needed.

For more information about the Christmas Ships, visit their website.