Christmas in Scottsdale Without the Wait: How to beat the crowds and avoid the lines this holiday season


how to beat the crowds in scottsdale at christmastime

I don’t like lines. I don’t like crowds. I don’t like waiting in lines or pushing through crowds – especially with small, hungry, tired, and over-sugared people asking “How much longer?” every 23 seconds.

But, SIGH. I do like Christmas. And begrudge them though I may for their whining and bickering and night-waking, I rather adore these three little elves.

Powers Kids Christmas PJs

So what’s a Scottsdale mom to do? I prefer a pretty laid-back holiday season and we say “no” a lot more than we say “yes” to parties and events. But our town has a lot of wonderful holiday goings-on, and I don’t want my Grinchy feelings about lines and crowds to keep my kids from experiencing all that Whoville Scottsdale has to offer.

The last few years we’ve found a happy medium: partaking in some great local holiday traditions without overextending anyone’s patience (especially mine). If you’re pro-fun but anti-lines like I am, here are a few strategies for beating the crowds in Scottsdale this Christmas.

railroad park, scottsdale, holiday lights

Get on the first train.

Here’s my tried-and-true method for avoiding that horrendous line at McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park for their holiday lights train ride.

  1. Plan a playdate at the train park starting around 4pm. Dress warmly. Play on the playgrounds and ride the train and carousel while they’re still running (they take a break between about 5-6pm). Buy train tickets and get cash during this downtime.
  2. Order a pizza to be delivered to the train park at 5pm. Feed all the children. Have additional working parents (dads, moms, grandparents) join when they can (the more grownups, the better).
  3. Have a few adults get in line around 5:30pm, or whenever you see people starting to queue up. Have the rest of the adults continue to hang out with the kids. You can buy hot chocolate and other refreshments during this time.
  4. Start to gather the children about 15 minutes before the first train and make sure your whole party is together at the front of the line. Wave to your friends just arriving at the park as they get in line. Ride the train. Go home. Put children to bed by 7:30. Have a glass of wine and congratulate yourself.

Catch Santa on a weekday.

PV Mall Santa and kids

We don’t make a huge deal of going to sit on Santa’s lap, but when my oldest was about three she showed an interest in the experience. Rather than devote an entire weekend afternoon to standing in line, we’ve made a habit of visiting Santa on a weekday morning when he first arrives on the scene at Paradise Valley Mall.

The off-peak Santa visit means the kids can take all the time they need working up the courage to talk to Mr. C, and the photographer “elves” aren’t rushing us through the experience.

Want to try my weekday morning Santa trick? Here’s the Paradise Valley Mall Santa schedule for 2013.

Play off the beaten (snow) path.

Last year we decided to take the kids up north to experience snow. I’d heard great things about Wing Mountain Snow Play Area, so we borrowed some sleds and drove toward Flagstaff.

I’d also heard that Wing Mountain can get very crowded, so when a perfect storm (literally) dumped two feet of fresh powder the night before we planned to head up, I got a little worried that the crowds would get in the way of our fun.

When we stopped at Starbucks in downtown Flagstaff and realized the kids were having as much fun in a pile of snow in the parking lot as they would sledding down a mountain, we changed plans. We found the nearest local playground and skipped Wing Mountain altogether.

I can assure you, they weren’t missing a thing:

snow play in Flagstaff

Skip the rest and don’t feel bad about it.

Look, I’m not a total grinch. I know there comes a point at which the kids’ excitement and desire to do these things make the lines and crowds totally worth it. But until that time, I’m holding off on some popular local activities, because I think my kids will enjoy the experience more when they’re a bit older.

Zoo Lights, the Polar Express and North Pole Experience, and The Nutcracker are all things I’d love to try when I know my kids will enjoy and remember them – and until then, I’m choosing not to feel the pressure to participate – and enjoying my wait-free Christmas in Scottsdale. 🙂

What are your favorite things to do with kids in Scottsdale at Christmastime? Do you avoid crowds like me or find a way to make them worth the wait?


  1. Love, love, love your tip about the train park!!! We love doing this but despise waiting for 3 hours in the frigid cold with my 3 year old! Genius idea and maybe we’ll see you there!

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