A trip to see Santa

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May Larsen, 8, scans the shoreline of the North Pole after the lights of Santa's workshop illuminated the landscape during the "Journey to the North Pole" cruise Tuesday.

It wasn't quite a postcard scene.

Instead of fluffy snowflakes in the air, the deck of The Coeur d'Alene Resort cruise boat was damp from the day-long battering of rain. It felt chilly and wet, as if Christmas was rescheduled for monsoon season.

But none of that mattered, as the boat closed in on the shoreline.

Because there was Santa's workshop, fiercely aglow against the soggy air, as if trying to dry up the city with its warmth.

Kids' faces were spotlighted by Christmas lights as they bent over the railings for a peek. Tots giggled as the rotund, velvet-clad star himself bellowed a greeting.

As if we could doubt otherwise, the North Pole and Santa's workshop looked untouched by it all, by the recent days of gloomy rain, the stubborn unemployment numbers, the recent fury of election season.

Parents squeezed their kids as Santa started reading names off the Nice List.

"Woohoo!" whooped Alleigh Sutich, 4, when she heard her name.

"Were you surprised?" asked her father, Greg.

The Hayden girl nodded, smiling.

That was the whole point of Tuesday night's kickoff of The Coeur d'Alene Resort's Journey to the North Pole light show cruises.

Sweet, wholesome release.

"Every one of us has lovely memories of the holidays. I want (my children) to have the same holiday experiences we had," Greg said, balancing Alleigh in his arms. "I want them to have the 'Christmas Story' experience."

There's plenty of time to do just that. The 40-minute holiday cruises, ferrying families across the lake to Santa's workshop, will run several times an evening, starting on Friday and continuing through Jan. 1.

Tickets are $18.75 for adults, $17.75 for seniors and free for kids 12 and under. For tickets, call 664-7268, or 877-765-4653.

Tuesday's cruise was all about uplifting. Kids scampered around the deck and released "ooh"s as they took in the glittering light displays along the lake, some depicting reindeer and toys.

Other children shimmied with costumed characters, like a polar bear and gingerbread man.

They pointed to the Grinch as he loped down the dock.

Ally Fagundes, 12, raided the table full of brownies and gingerbread men with her friends. Then they raced to the bow to dance with the snowman, everyone holding hands.

When asked their favorite parts, everyone had an answer.

"You get to see Santa!" said Sean Hecomovich, 8.

"We get to see all the pretty lights," Ally chimed in.

"Meeting new friends," said Madison Dial, also 12.

Kristin Kilmer, one of the adults herding the group, dubbed the experience as a part of their childhood.

"Oh my God, are you kidding me? They love it, love it, love it," Kilmer said. "The whole thing with Santa, getting to see his workshop."

It's thrilling for her, too, she added.

"I grew up here. Spending Christmas on the lake is very important," Kilmer said.

Beth Mulligan from Liberty Lake, Wash., followed her 3 and 5-year-old daughters as they made a beeline for the snack table.

"It's so nice they do this. It's nice to see everybody's kids growing up, year after year," Beth said, adding the cruise is her family's annual tradition.

Her daughter, Ellie, 3, said her favorite part is "seeing the weird guy with the green face."

Beth thinks the kids enjoy the characters "even more than they enjoy Santa reading their names," she said with a laugh.

That was good news for the pack of teens and 20-somethings who roved the cruise boat on Tuesday night. They were off-duty elves and characters for the holiday cruise, enjoying a night from the passengers' perspectives.

"It brings families together," said Lauren Rielly, 18, of what makes the night-long dancing worthwhile.

There are challenges to being a cruise character, the young adults agreed. Like staying jolly in tights in the cold. Not minding the heat of a sweaty polar bear suit.

All trivial, said Sarah Reed, when it comes to spreading Christmas cheer.

"It keeps kids' imaginations going," the 23-year-old said. "In this day and age, that's more difficult."

Santa and his elf read names from the "good list" as children aboard a cruise ship wait to hear their names.

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