Argosy's Christmas Ship Festival Is The Perfect Holiday Tradition

One of Seattle's Coolest Christmas Events

The Argosy Christmas Ship Festival has been an annual holiday tradition and a unique way to celebrate the Christmas season in the Seattle area since 1949. Each year, Argosy Cruises decks out its Christmas Ship and launches the Christmas Ship as well as following boats (also decorated) from ports around the Puget Sound to bring Christmas cheer to all. The resulting Christmas boat parade is fun for families, couples, friend groups and anyone else who enjoys a night cruise filled with holiday cheer.

The Christmas Ship starts its journey at its port of departure for the night, then takes usually about an hour journey to a second port where the choir on board performs for those on the ship as well as on the Parade Boat, following boats, and a group of people waiting on shore to greet the flotilla. The choirs on board are different each night and range from local children’s choirs to adult community groups. While there are tons of different ways to get into the holiday spirit, none is quite like this festival.

One of the coolest things about the Christmas Ship Festival is that you can join in a few different ways. Stand on shore and wait for the boats to arrive and listen to the choir for free! There are often many others there to wait with you, though, some ports of call are more popular than others. Through Argosy, you can book passage on the Christmas Ship or on the Parade Boat. Or you can even bring your own boat along; deck it out in lights and join the parade! The atmosphere is festive any way you choose to go, and the experience lasts two or three hours from start to finish.

Unlike area Christmas Light displays like Tacoma's Zoolights or Bellevue's Snowflake Lane, the Christmas Ship comes to different cities—the Christmas Ship comes to you!

Read on for more details about how you can enjoy the Christmas Ship Festival.

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On Board the Christmas Ship

Seattle Christmas Ship
Kristin Kendle

The best place to be during the Christmas Ship Festival is right on the actual Christmas Ship—one of Argosy’s larger fleet members decked out from bow to stern with twinkling Christmas lights. Each night, the Christmas Ship hosts a different choir on board, which sings not only to the people on board, but to people waiting on the shore as well as people following on other boats behind (via a loud speaker and broadcast). But if you’re right on the Christmas Ship, you get to sit in the comfort of the interior of the ship where it’s warm and listen to the choir in person. On the journeys between ports, you'll enjoy holiday music as the boats cruise through the night. Stand out on deck in the crisp winter air or hang out inside in the cozy warmth inside.

In addition, kids can take photos with Santa, enjoy some arts and crafts, or listen to a reading of "The Night Before Christmas." The Christmas Ship also has boxed meals (reserve these in advance),  snacks (available for purchase) and a full bar.

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On Board the Follow Boat

Argosy Cruises
Kristin Kendle

If you don’t want to spring for the full cost of the Christmas Ship, or if you just enjoy trailing along behind and watching the action from another angle, book passage on the Follow Boat. This is a smaller Argosy ship that follows the Christmas Ship. Riders will be able to experience the choir via broadcast and will be part of what is usually several boats trailing behind the main attraction.

Santa photos are often (but not always) available before boarding. You can also reserve a boxed meal or snack or enjoy a drink from the full bar if you ride the Follow Boat, and there's usually some holiday fun going on, but just not quite as much as on the Christmas Ship.

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Seattle Parade of Boats

Seattle Parade of Boats

Mark Newman / Getty Images


While a boat or two may join the Christmas Ship at ports around the Puget Sound, opening night on Lake Union is the place to be if you want the ultimate watching-from-the-shore experience. This is the night of the Seattle Parade of Boats. 

The Christmas Ship and its entourage depart from Lake Union Park so anywhere in that vicinity makes a great parade watching spot. The first choir performance of the night takes place right in the middle of the lake so you can watch either from shore or your own boat on the water. The second performance is a "rolling show" down the Fremont Cut where it's easy to watch the parade go by. It's a Seattle tradition and an amazing show not to miss!

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Wait on Shore

Argosy Christmas Ship

© Nick Gunderson/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images


If you want a completely free way to join in the fun, you can wait on shore for the Christmas Ship and its floating parade. When the flotilla arrives, you can listen to the choir performances from shore and wave to the people on the boats. Some arrival points are far more active than others, but if you show up and there aren’t a lot of people waiting for the Christmas ship—all the more reason to rally the troops and get your community out to enjoy the fun next year!

Check out the Christmas Ship Festival schedule to find out the closest Christmas Ship stop to you.

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Join the Parade in Your Own Boat

If you have your own boat, you are welcomed to join the parade and follow the Christmas Ship too! Decorate your boat with Christmas lights and pick your port of departure. The more boats that show up to join in the fun, the better! Once the Christmas Ship takes off, the parade of boats fans out and creates a site to see, reflecting in the dark waters of the Puget Sound at night, and journeying from port to port. Most nights, other boats will follow behind the Christmas Ship, but if you really want to go all out, join in the Parade of Boats on Lake Union.

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