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Winter on the Waterfront
Historic waterfronts in many cities transitioned from gritty transportation hubs to dynamic tourist attractions in the latter part of the 20th century. These destinations display their obvious appeal in the summer — gulls squawking overhead, tantalizing food smells, cooling breezes — as the perfect antidote to a sweltering day in the city. But many urban waterfronts deserve a wintertime visit. Though an invigorating bite to the breeze can turn summer’s leisurely stroll into a brisk walk, the crowds thin to congenial proportions and the crisp air makes everything seem more sharply focused.
In Seattle, the Argosy Christmas Ship sets sail every night through December 23, carrying on a 62-year-old tradition. The onboard choir sings carols for more than 45 communities around Puget Sound, broadcasting 20-minute performances over the water with a state-of-the-art sound system. A portion of all ticket sales benefits The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy, which raises money for charitable organizations in the Puget Sound area. Though seats on the Spirit of Seattle Christmas Ship book early, you can still join the floating parade on one of the ships following the lead boat or on a private craft. If you’re more of a landlubber, lend your voice to the caroling from shore instead, where revelers build bonfires and host giant tailgate-like parties. You can find a complete schedule of stops on their website.
Further east in the Great Lakes region, you can go ice skating on Toronto’s largest outdoor rink, the Natrel Ice Rink at Harbourfront Centre. At night, DJs pump up the volume to keep you warm. You can take lessons all winter long, and skate rentals are available on-site.
Pay no heed to Chicago’s notorious winter weather; the indoor extravaganza called Winter WonderFest continues through January 8, 2012, in a 170,000-foot climate-controlled playground at Chicago’s historic Navy Pier. The many fun things to do, including carnival rides, inflatable slides, ice skating rink, musical and theatrical performances, and holiday décor will charm everyone in the family. If you visit over New Year’s, you’ll want to step outside when a midnight fireworks display lights up the sky over Lake Michigan (there’s an earlier show as well for families with young children). A new Navy Pier attraction to check out, the Transporter FX virtual-reality simulator takes you on an adrenaline-charged ride to Antartica, the moon or Africa, or puts you behind the wheel of a Grand Prix race car. The iconic Ferris Wheel also operates year-round, weather permitting.
Though it’s technically in New Jersey, the Adventure Aquarium sits just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia’s Penn’s Landing and makes for a convenient stop while visiting the City of Brotherly Love. You can ferry across the water or drive over on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge; either way, the 550,000-gallon Shark Realm awaits, with a 40-foot tunnel that literally surrounds you with sharks. Through February, you can also meet Mighty Mike, an 800-pound alligator. Kids who love the movie “Happy Feet” will especially enjoy the Penguin Island exhibit, where an underwater viewing area lets you watch the endearing black and white creatures at play.
While Boston Harbor may still be a bit frosty in March, the Boston Flower & Garden Show will transform the Seaport World Trade Center into an oasis of green that may just help you beat the winter doldrums and give you some inspiration for your own garden. The show will run March 14-18 (and spring will follow soon after!).