The holidays are upon us, and with the pandemic still in full swing, you might be expecting Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa to be a bit of a drag this year. Fortunately, many local businesses here in the Salt Lake area have figured out how to provide a safe experience so you can still get out and enjoy the season. Here are five fun and safe activities that will make your season bright:
1. Luminaria at Thanksgiving Point
In the past, this mostly outdoor event also included a somewhat crowded indoor component. That has been changed for 2020 so that families can safely enjoy the festivities. The entry and exit lines are now separate and one way, and there is a limit on the number of guests allowed into the event every half hour. Luminaria has always been a ticketed event, and you can still buy tickets online this year. Face-masks are mandatory for guests and employees.
Despite these safety-related changes, the event itself is just as enchanting as ever. It features over 6500 programmable luminaries and other fun sensory elements like scented bark that will transport you to the various winter fairylands they’ve created. 2020 hasn’t stopped the creative folks behind the event from adding new things. They’ve brought the Yeti to Luminaria. You can spot him throughout the event and in his all-new Himalayan Heights section. They have also added a brand new light and music show and a 120 ft. tree on top of the 40 ft. hill that forms the display’s centerpiece.
Luminaria is a wonderful way to get out, stretch your legs, and feel the magic of the season this winter. It runs from November 20th through January 2nd. This is the first year that they will also be having a New Years’ party. The Late Night at Luminaria Celebration will take place on New Year’s Eve and feature fireworks, a Yeti Plunge (for the adventurous), and treats to toast with. This event is great for those with young children because they have the countdown and fireworks at both 10 PM and midnight, so you can choose your bedtime.
2. Escape Rooms at Alcatraz Escape Games and Castle of Chaos
Looking for a fun event that’s not about elves and Santa? Escape rooms are good clean, family fun any time of the year. If you want a little more Nightmare in your Christmas, we recommend checking out the escape rooms at Alcatraz Escape Games (located in Draper and Lindon) and the Chaos Escape Rooms at Castle of Chaos Haunted House in Midvale. Both businesses are offering private escape rooms so you won’t have to come in contact with strangers during the pandemic. They are also sanitizing everything between customers and requiring masks for both guests and employees.
Alcatraz Escape Rooms offers a couple of options for families with younger children. Their Wizard Hysteria room (available at both locations) is appropriate for ages 10 and up. The Lindon location is also offering a digital escape room experience. Wizard Hysteria: Exile War is for ages 10 and up and can be experienced using Zoom and social media apps from the comfort of your own home. You can read all the information about how this works on their website.
Their other rooms are appropriate for teens and adults. The Lindon location offers Zombie Fallout, The Row (escape from death row), and Chloe (a 16 and up haunted house escape). The Draper location also offers these in addition to Extinct (a post-apocalyptic theme) and Prison Bus Escape.
Castle of Chaos has some of the scariest escape rooms around. Their unique offerings include Nightmare (perform a timed task for the Lord of Nightmares before you become his next victim), and Serial Killer (escape from the lair of a serial killer who’s holding you captive).
3. Festival of the Seas at The Living Planet Aquarium
Attention animal lovers, this is the Living Planet Aquarium’s first-ever holiday celebration. It’s happening outdoors under the EECO (the huge art installation that doubles as a pavilion) and will feature light shows, carolers, and street performers. There’s also a Gingerbread Village where guests can buy gifts from unique vendors and food trucks providing hot cocoa and other treats. Santa will also be there in his under-the-sea themed slay. Proceeds from the event go to benefit the aquarium that you enjoy all year-round. Festival of the Seas runs from November 27th through December 30th every night from 5:30 PM to 9:30 PM.
The aquarium itself is also still open from 9 AM to 5:30 PM. Santa’s elves have been placed around the aquarium for kids of all ages to find while they enjoy the animals.
4. Christmas at the Ranch at Cross-E-Ranch
Cross-E-Ranch is a historic ranch in North Salt Lake, run by 5th and 6th generation farmers. They host several seasonal festivals, including the popular Baby Animal Festival in the spring. The time has come again for the ranch to get decked out in holiday lights. They are offering a Covid-safe drive-through experience at their Christmas at the Ranch event this year.
The fun kicks off after dark (around 5:30 PM) and runs from November 27th through December 19th. You can purchase tickets and treats (including their famous cider-donuts) online. You’ll get to venture through several magical light displays, including Santa’s Workshop, a Gumdrop forest, the Ginger’s bread Factory (where you can pick up your treats), and a beautiful nativity with live animals. This is a great, safe option for family fun this year.
5. The North Pole Express at Heber Valley Railroad
Usually this event is sold out come November, but this year there are still tickets available for the 90 min. round trip train ride to the North Pole. The North Pole Express is following all CDC guidelines to make sure you and your family have a safe experience.
Board a historic train in beautiful Heber, UT (20 min from SLC) and experience a Christmas adventure like no other. Santa and his elves will be on hand for photos and entertainment (at a safe distance), and families can book private cars or tables. Every regular (North Pole Class) ticket includes hot cocoa, a chocolate chip cookie, and a special gift from Santa. You can choose to take the train during daylight hours to witness the beauty of the mountain scenery or go after dark for a cozier experience. The event runs through Dec. 30th.