Less fuss, more holiday fun for families

Build your own traditions with comfort and joy in mind, and avoid the lines

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It’s the time of year when the family calendar is chock full of holiday cheer. With school concerts, cookie exchanges and office parties, it’s no wonder a trip to round up a Christmas tree or a visit to Santa can seem a monumental undertaking.

Here’s our Clark County family guide to surviving the season, even when the kids are hyped on cookies and candy canes.

Christmas Ships

Watching the Christmas Ships decorated with holiday lights float down the Columbia River sounds like a magical tradition until you picture your family lining up at a riverfront restaurant like it’s a big box store on Black Friday.

And the kids, well, just about the time the ships sail by, the toddler may be licking the salt shaker under the table while you frantically try to round up your server for the check.

Survive it: Bundle up, fill the thermos, stash the juice boxes, grab some cookies and pack blankets and umbrellas. If you time it right, you won’t have to be there more than 20 to 30 minutes.

Around the Interstate 5 Bridge, hit the trail along Columbia Way near Who Song and Larry’s at about 7:15 p.m. or the Port of Vancouver Amphitheater, just west of the Red Lion Inn at the Quay, at about 7:45 p.m. on Dec. 12, Dec. 14 or Dec. 20. On Dec. 15 and Dec. 19, the scheduled arrival for the area is pushed back about half an hour because the ships will also parade near Wintler Park, 6400 Beach Drive in Vancouver. The ships should arrive at Wintler Park around 7:30 p.m.

Visit http://christmasships.org for the complete schedule.

Santa sighting

Many parents find that taking young children to visit Santa will be an adventure that starts with a long line and ends with a tantrum in a crowded place filled with cameras. And that new sweater you bought? They probably won’t wear it for the overpriced photo.

Survive it: If you’ve got a couple of hours to spare, bundle the family, take a scenic drive and hop aboard a 1941 diesel engine train at the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad station in Yacolt. A half-hour ride delivers passengers to the Moulton Falls station, where Santa waits next to a roaring fire in a covered pavilion.

It’s quaint and you’ll find no faux-gold armchairs or dancing reindeer. You will, however, be able to snap your own photos of the kids with Santa, and he’ll even hand them a small present to take home. Make reservations at http://bycx.com.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $14 for seniors, $10 for children ages 5 to 12 and $8 for children ages 2 to 4. There is no charge for children younger than 2. The train departs Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 18 at 9:30 a.m., noon and 2:30 p.m.

Oh, Christmas tree

If you haven’t yet bought a Christmas tree, you may be wondering whether a trip to a tree farm is worth the effort. After all, you can pick up a tree at that same abandoned parking lot where you bought fireworks in July.

Survive it: Let’s face it, when it comes to trees, we’ve got a sweet deal. You can’t cut your own tree in the suburbs of Phoenix. Clark County is home to a handful of tree farms where you can wander the fields, pick out your prize tree and cut it down yourself.

Visit one of Clark County’s older tree farms at Thorntons’ Treeland, 7617 N.E. 119th St., Vancouver. This charming farm includes a covered shelter where visitors can feed and watch farm animals, a 100-year-old barn for visitors to warm up and sip hot chocolate, and hayrides to the fields.

Another long-time local favorite is The Tree Wisemans, 26500 N.E. 53rd Ave., Ridgefield, where a dozen grandchildren join in to run this family farm experience. Head out on weekdays if you want to avoid the crowds.

Lights, lights, lights

Mega-light displays deliver big, and with them come the crowds. Sitting bumper to bumper trapped in the car half the night with kids who may or may not be happy, or, for that matter, even awake, might not be your idea of a great way to spend your holiday cash and time.

Survive it: Ask colleagues, family or even your local Facebook friends where the best light displays are in their neighborhood. Put together a list of a few that are within reasonable driving distance of each other. Select your holiday music playlist, pass the candy canes and enjoy the evening, pulling over for potty breaks or hitting a coffee shop as you like.