Whether you'll be enchanted by Enchant Christmas at Safeco Field depends on your expectations going in — and probably when you go.
In life, I am slowly learning, expectations are everything. For example, if you go to Enchant Christmas, the huge new holiday event at Safeco Field expecting the world of quiet Christmas wonder as depicted in the marketing materials, you might be disappointed. Especially if it’s a weekend night and you have shelled out $33 per adult, plus another $10 per person for ice-skate rental (after waiting in a long line), plus $15 for parking.
However, if you happened to wait until a Tuesday night to be Enchanted — as I did this week — and were expecting a pleasant holiday light show and skating event in a stadium-like setting, you might be satisfied. Especially since you had paid a more palatable price of $20-$25 per person, and waited in no lines.
But let’s back up. Enchant, a production of Vancouver-based Christmas light company Shine, is being staged in the Emerald City for the first time this year, after runs in Vancouver, B.C., and Arlington, Texas (it’s in Arlington again this year). Promotion started early and promised a lot: The world’s largest light maze. An ice-skating trail. Visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus. A Christmas market. And yes, Christmas wonder: The signature illustration for Enchant is of a small boy in a quiet forest communing with a giant golden reindeer.
After a colleague reported a disappointing experience on Enchant’s opening night, Nov. 23 — including a line so long for skating she and her friends didn’t bother to queue up — I decided to check it out for myself. My dates for the evening — a friend and her son — had canceled at the last minute, but I went anyway to decide whether I’d bring my ice-skating-loving husband and 9-year-old son another time.
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Truth: As I muddled my way toward Safeco Field from the light-rail station in Tuesday’s bizarrely balmy blinding rain, a bit of dry, indoors holiday magic seemed appealing. A couple I encountered on the way, who had driven up from Portland, agreed with me. “The stadium has a lid on it, right?” they asked, a little worriedly. I confirmed it did.
After going through a short security line, I wandered up the stairs to find the Christmas Market, located on Safeco’s concession level. Expectations again. If the term “Christmas Market” makes you think of open-air, European-style markets selling handcrafted Christmas items and steaming cups of glögg, then, no. Instead you’ll find, among brightly lit white Christmas trees and regular Safeco concession stands, vendors typical of farmers markets. Not especially holiday-ish, but selling a variety of handmade goods and services, from Glassybaby art to wooden puzzles to custom hangers, teddy bears, salted caramel sauce and, um, even power cords.
A few stands did sell ornaments and cards, and you can stand in line for a visit with Santa (free to visit and take your own pics, $$ if you want pro photos). If you have small kids with you, keep an eye out for a becapped Mrs. Claus, who was reading stories to a rapt group on the evening I attended.
As I strolled, it was fun to look down on the star attractions: the light maze in the outfield — marked by more white Christmas trees, a giant golden tree, golden reindeer and bedazzling arches — and the just-as-brightly-decorated ice-skating trail that did a loop in the infield. But how to get to the maze? That was a puzzle. I made my way down and found myself at the maze’s exit, near the ice skating. (Better signage, people.) Eventually, an info person pointed me to the entrance.
If you’ve ever lost a child in a corn maze (hand raised) you might be thankful to know that the light maze doesn’t feel like a maze, exactly. At 90,000 square feet, it’s a fairly wide-open series of paths and spaces that lead you around and through white Christmas trees, huge snowflakes, giant candy canes and ultimately to nine giant golden reindeer whose antlers you can see above the fake-greenery walls that line the paths. That’s the quest: At the beginning, you are handed a scratch card called “The Great Search” with a request to help find Santa’s reindeer — as you find them, you scratch a circle off for each, and at the end you get a candy cane for your efforts.
“It’s great for kids, because they can run around,” one mom said to me when I asked her how she was enjoying it. And indeed, kids of all ages, though they weren’t communing quietly with reindeer, were having a good time finding them. (Note to adults on a date: There will be many, many kids.) The grown-ups were slower — some carried pretty drinks in light-bulb-shaped glasses because, yes, there’s a drink stand in the maze — and making frequent selfie stops: photo ops abound, such as an 80-foot-tall golden tree in the center of the maze.
Because here’s the thing: Enchant is more enchanting in photos, when you can subtract the stadium feel and turf, than in real life. I found the light displays large and pretty and BRIGHT (2.5 million lights total) but also repetitive — you won’t find the intricately wrought presentations of, say, Point Defiance’s ZooLights. So after finding a few reindeer, I moved on through the maze to watch the ice-skating trail — the other big draw of Enchant.
I love ice skating and — almost as much — I love watching ice skaters. There was no line for rentals (thank you, Tuesday) and the 350-foot ice trail was well populated but not crazy crowded, winding through brightly lit archways of greenery. Christmas music was piped in through the stadium, of course, taking on its echo-y acoustics and interspersed with the occasional surreal sound of a train whistle outside.
My skater husband would have had issues with the quality of the ice — but it looked about right for a holiday ice rink, and even though the trail was smaller than I expected, there is just something compelling about a loop trail. Though I didn’t skate myself, as I sipped my spiked hot chocolate ($10), I enjoyed the poignant parade of skaters wobbling, stumbling and sometimes gliding along. And then I glided back up the stairs of Safeco myself, and back out into the wild and windy night.
Will I return with my family? Best-case scenario for us on a “Jolly Deal” night is $69.99 for three of us, before ice-skating rentals and concessions: cheaper than a night at a show but more expensive than many other enchanting Seattle traditions. So maybe not — unless December’s as rainy and dark as December can sometimes be and we could use a dry, light-filled night in a stadium, searching for reindeer.
Enchant Christmas, 4-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays (and occasional Mondays), 4-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 4-10 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 30; Safeco Field, 1250 First Ave. S., Seattle; tickets (not including taxes and fees): $19.99 per kid ages 4-13 on discounted nights to $32.99 per adult (kids 3 and under free); VIP tickets, family four-packs and season passes available; enchantchristmas.com/seattle
6 tips for Enchant Seattle:
1. Cheapest ticket prices are on weekdays, especially on “Jolly Nights” (Dec. 4 and 11).
2. Date night? Avoid the crowds of kids by going the last two hours, which is discounted.
3. If you’re parking, book parking tickets early to get $10 (weekday)-$15 (weekend) price (day-of parking prices can be more expensive).
4. Consider taking the light rail, but map how to get to the stadium beforehand as it’s tricky (and a bit of walk).
5. Note: No strollers allowed in the maze; there is stroller parking in the concessions. And no outside food allowed.
6. You can bring your own skates, but they need to have guards or be in a plastic bag.
Enchanting on a budget: 5 alternatives
2. Snowflake Lane: This free, nightly high-energy show on the sidewalks around Bellevue Square spotlights live tin soldiers, drummer boys, dancers and live music.
3. Winterfest: Seattle Center is a one-stop shop for indoor, wallet-friendly holiday magic: Marvel at the model train setup, watch free performances and ice skate at Fisher Plaza ($5-$7 for ice skating).
4. WildLights: Woodland Park Zoo’s light show draws crowds for its wild displays, carousel rides, “snowball” fights at the Zoomazium and visits with Santa ($11.95-$14.95).
5. ZooLights: The granddaddy of local pro light shows, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s annual extravaganza ($10) also boasts camel rides ($8 per person extra for camel rides).