For more than 65 years, local Vancouverites have looked 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 WA’s waterfront restaurants and shoreline trails.
When You Can See the Christmas Ships
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. Catch the Columbia fleet from the Vancouver waterfront on December 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 14, 15, 20, and 21 this year. (The only reason changes would occur is for poor weather and river conditions.) Boats arrive around 7:00 PM depending on the route. Both fleets will also be at the Port of Camas/Washougal on December 3 at 6 p.m.
Don’t let the crowds deter you from experiencing the holiday magic that can now be watched from the Vancouver Waterfront. Bundle up for a stroll along the Waterfront Renaissance Trail or snag a spot on the Grant Street Pier for premier viewing. McMenamins on the Columbia typically opens its patio to customers. Dress warmly; they admit their heaters don’t always ward off the wind chill!
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! Twigs Bistro and WildFin American Grill are taking reservations as usual—tables are already filling up. 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 reservations fill up quickly, but walk-ins are welcome at a high-volume capacity. In recent years, The Cove has joined the lineup with a location overlooking the Tidewater Cove Marina and Wintler Park! Join Maryhill Winery for viewing the ships from a reserved seat at their prime Vancouver waterfront location! Above Maryhill, The Waterfront Taphouse and Willamette Valley Vineyards offer great views from their second-story balconies.
Try Something New
Opening its doors to the public in June 2022, the AC Hotel by Marriott is the first modern hotel to hit the Waterfront with panoramic views of the Columbia River. Don’t skip on food, located on the ground floor, guests will find the AC Lounge and patio (reservations recommended). Just below find the Vancouver Landing, a great spot to bundle up and catch the fleet go by. the Vancouver Landing is open to the public and features a floating boat dock as well as an upper dock. The amphitheater, or concrete “park,” is great for sitting, relaxing, and watching the river activity.
Next door, Hotel Indigo, Vancouver's first boutique hotel delivers stylish décor and a fun atmosphere looking over the river in the heart of the Vancouver Waterfront Park. Visitors are invited to sample some premiere Northwest restaurants within the building like Portland steakhouse El Gaucho and the Seattle mainstay 13 Coins. Plus, find Evoke Wine Bar (formerly Naked Winery - opening soon) with its wisecracks and creativity on the ground floor.
For more information about the Christmas Ships, visit their website.