Seattle ‘Wacky Holiday Lights & Wine Tasting Tour’

On Nov. 30, 2011 I had the opportunity to experience a familiarization (FAM) departure of the Wacky Holiday Lights & Wine Tasting Tour, a collaboration between Evergreen Escapes, Ride the Ducks of Seattle, Maven Meals and Fall Line Winery. The tour started with a fun and silly “Duck” ride through downtown to view holiday lights. Then, we boarded a Mercedes van for a comfortable ride to the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle for an elegant wine dinner at Fall Line Winery. The tour departed at 7 p.m. from Westlake Center (in front of P.F. Chang’s) and ended around 10 p.m. The retail cost per person was $114 per person plus tax. [Note: this particular bundled tour was only offered in 2011, as far as I am aware. I am republishing the article again as a reference to those who may be interested.]

Ride the Ducks Holiday Lights Tour

I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the Ride the Ducks Holiday Lights Tour, but it turned out to be a blast. This portion of the tour lasts 40 minutes. If you are unfamiliar with the Ride the Ducks concept the idea is a sightseeing tour on an open-air bus/boat. Normally part of the tour is on land, then the bus converts to a boat for the water portion. The Holiday Lights Tour does not have a water component, I imagine because it would be too cold. The vehicles used are actually vintage WWII-era vehicles known as DUKWs. The amphibious landing crafts played an important role in WWII; now they play an important role in Seattle tourism. For more history, please see here.

Ride The Ducks outdoor ticketing stand, late November 2011.

Ride The Ducks outdoor ticketing stand, late November 2011.

Ride The Ducks vehicle, a modified DUKW from WWII.

Ride The Ducks vehicle, a modified DUKW from WWII.

Before departing Westlake Center all tour guests received a gift bag featuring small chocolate chip cookies, a packet of Gummi bears, a candy cane, a discount card for businesses at Pacific Place, an “All Access VIP” card for the Hard Rock Cafe, and, perhaps best of all, a coupon for a free espresso beverage with purchase of a pound of Starbucks Christmas Blend (valid only at Westlake Center Starbucks). After departing Westlake Center, the “Duck” meandered downtown until reaching Pier 66, then it turned south to drive along the Waterfront. From there we drove through Pioneer Square, then went up to Pike Place Market before turning east toward the Convention Center. We then tooled around downtown some more before ending at Westlake Center. The distance covered is not very much, but it does take time to navigate downtown Seattle, even at night.

Our driver was “Captain Yukon” and he was hilarious. In between brief talks about Seattle history and local trivia the driver played funny Christmas songs, and the passengers made all kinds of racket with a provided noisemaker (handheld sleigh bells) and a “duck call” whistle. If this sounds silly, well, it is. But it’s also great fun. The only drawback to this tour is that while it’s billed as a holiday lights tour, there really aren’t that many lights in downtown Seattle. There are some lights, but they are very understated and are often white. The most decorations actually seemed to be in Pioneer Square, where some trees are “wrapped” to look like presents and where the iron Pergola of Yesler Way and First Avenue is appropriately lit up. For locals this may seem like a good number of lights but if you’ve been to cities or neighborhoods that go all out for Christmas you may be underwhelmed by the lights of Seattle.

Fall Line Winery Dinner and Wine Tasting

Following the Ride the Ducks Holiday Lights Tour we boarded a Mercedes van for a 10-minute drive to Fall Line Winery in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. After hanging up our coats we received the evening’s tasting menu and listened to a brief talk by winemaker Tim Sorenson. Tim talked about the history of the winery, the types of wines that he produces (all reds), and how he got into winemaking after spending most of his career as an economics professor. He showed great hospitality and took the time to chat with each guest individually, in addition to pouring wine and making sure everyone was taken care of throughout the evening.

Then it was time to eat: three courses paired with six wines and then dessert. The full menu can be found below.

Antipasto Platter
Selection of locally made Beecher’s Handmade Cheeses, cured meats, fermented olives & marinated, grilled vegetables

Brandied Cranberry Short Ribs with Whipped Garlic Red Skin Potatoes
Fork-tender beef short ribs with a brandied orange & cranberry reduction

Carnival Squash Lasagna with Garlicky Grilled Broccoli 
Locally grown carnival squash layered with a sage béchamel sauce, & delicate cheeses

Spice Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting & Bittersweet Chocolate Cake

The food, prepared by Maven Meals of Kirkland, was delicious. The Carnival Squash Lasagna was fantastic, and the Brandied Cranberry Short Ribs were unbelievable. I enjoyed the wines quite a lot as well, enough to even buy a bottle for a friend as a Christmas gift. The prices are not cheap (most are $28 per bottle), but the wines are of great quality. The pours with the meal were generous, and guests were even invited to have an additional glass of their favorite at the end of the meal.

After a relaxing and fun time socializing with fellow guests we were returned back to Westlake Center a little after 10 p.m. All guests on this familiarization tour received a complimentary photo packet of a photo taken earlier in the evening, which normally costs $15. The packet included multiple photo sizes and even a photo stand. I had chosen to get my picture taken with “Captain Yukon” in front of the “Duck”.

Tim Sorenson and Nancy Rivenburgh of Fall Line Winery.

Tim Sorenson and Nancy Rivenburgh of Fall Line Winery.

Worth the Cost?

As stated earlier, I did not pay for the tour. As part of this review I need to question whether an average person would get their money’s worth for a $114 price tag. In the end it’s hard to say and it’s largely personal preference. I know that I had a fantastic time, but I’m not sure if I felt it was worth $114. The Ride the Ducks portion was great – not sure what I would do differently.

Personally, I would suggest that the wine tour portion could be improved on by playing up the holiday aspect a bit more. Perhaps participants could receive a Christmas present or a stocking filled with goodies. Instead of just wine, perhaps guests could also be treated to an after-dinner coffee cocktail, an espresso, or an alcoholic eggnog or cider. The winery itself was a bit drafty and felt somewhat like a warehouse, which in a way it was.

I feel that a warmer and cozier atmosphere in the winery would have made the experience better. That being said, this a good quality tour. I just feel that perhaps the price should be a little less (maybe $100) or that there should just be a few more goodies thrown in for value. For example, even a free Tall drip coffee or cocoa from the Westlake Center Starbucks would be a nice touch. Another option would be to include the photo packet that currently costs $15.

2011 was the first official year of the Wacky Holiday Lights & Wine Tasting Tour. The tour was not offered in later years that I am aware of.

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