Are you looking for holiday events in Seattle in December? The Nutcracker is BACK and full of holiday cheer! Keep scrolling to find out what to expect at the Pacific Northwest Ballet Nutcracker in 2021.
This review of The Nutcracker in Seattle was originally written November 27, 2018 and was updated December 6, 2021 and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.
Are you wondering if your kids are old enough to enjoy The Nutcracker in Seattle at the Pacific Northwest Ballet?
I’ve been fortunate enough to attend it several times throughout the years. It’s the ultimate holiday theatrical production in Seattle and it’s a big deal.
However, I’ve always been hesitant to bring my kids and make it a full family outing. This year, they are 5 years old and almost 8 years old.
While we used to attend a lot of shows at Seattle Children’s Theatre and we went to movies in theaters frequently, it’s been almost 2 years since they have done an indoor event. They are chatty kids and I wasn’t sure they could keep quiet the whole time.
Plus, I was a bit nervous about what they would think of the story of The Nutcracker. And it’s all based on my own experience seeing it as a kid on a field trip in 3rd grade.
So, after careful consideration, I decided to make this a special outing with just my 8-year-old to figure out just how kid-friendly The Nutcracker in Seattle really is. He’s fully vaccinated and I knew he’d have no problem keeping his mask on the entire time.
This post will give tips and tricks for parents who want to bring their kids to the Nutcracker in Seattle.
Seattle Nutcracker FAQs
Yes! On December 21, 2021 at 2 pm they offer a sensory-friendly performance. This is a great option for families who are worried their kids might be overwhelmed by the regular performance.
Yes! They have an extensive bar and they have treats available to purchase before the show and during intermission. You can actually pre-order drinks and treats so they are waiting for you at intermission and you can avoid the line. Their cafe is also open but has limited hours.
Yes! Masks need to be worn almost all of the time. You can remove your mask for quick photos in the lobby or while you are eating or drinking. However, masks must be worn all the time when you are in the theater.
What’s Different in 2021?
Before I really go into my review, I know a lot of people are wondering what The Nutcracker is like specifically in 2021.
Last year, there were no live performances but people could buy tickets to get digital access to a performance. That’s still an option this year for families who aren’t comfortable attending in person.
One thing that we noticed immediately at the show is that the child performers all wear masks but the adult performers do not. My son mentioned it as soon as the show started. Since the first act takes place at an indoor Christmas party, the masks actually made it a bit more relatable to him.
I also noticed that all the cookies were individually wrapped instead of just out on a tray. And the ushers invited us to take our own programs instead of passing them out.
Oh, and my favorite thing is that there are empty seats between parties. Selfishly, I wish this would stay because it was so nice to not feel cramped or worry that my son was touching the person next to him.
Ok, on to the rest of my post!
My Memories of The Nutcracker in Seattle
Like many of us Seattle kids, we grew up with the Maurice Sendak version of The Nutcracker. Actually, I didn’t know any others existed when I was younger.
I remember going to the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 3rd grade on a school field trip. As a dancer myself, I was so excited to see my first real ballet!
However, the only core memory I have from that experience is being confused and bored during the Second Act. I wasn’t sure what was going on and none of it made sense to me as a kid.
Plus, there were so many mice and it creeped me out!
This is why I never felt compelled to come back and I didn’t understand why people returned year after year as a holiday tradition.
But in 2015, Pacific Northwest Ballet debuted a new version of The Nutcracker in Seattle featuring choreography by George Balanchine and set design by Ian Falconer.
There was a lot of buzz about this change and attendees have a lot of opinions about which one was better.
I’ve seen the new version 3 times now and I’ll break it down for you.
NEW VERSION VS. OLD ONE
When I watched the still-newish Balanchine version for the first time back in 2018, I kept thinking about how almost everything felt different. The mood felt lighter!
I wondered why I was so scared as a child of the Mouse King and his army. And I couldn’t figure out why I was so bored as a kid because this version is very engaging.
That’s when my husband asked if the story changed between this one and the Maurice Sendak version. That hadn’t occurred to me, so I immediately consulted the Internet!
While I was researching, I came across a fascinating post by Zach Barr Reviews comparing this new Balanchine version to the old Sendak one.
To sum it up, YES, the Sendak version is much darker and twisted than this one.
And despite both sets being created by children’s illustrators, Ian Falconer (author/illustrator of the Olivia series) really plays up the happy, whimsical feeling of Christmas and all the festivities.
What to Do Before Attending The Nutcracker in Seattle with Kids
I’m all about maximizing family experiences. For The Nutcracker, a little prep work can go a long way to really making the most of this family holiday event.
Here’s what I suggest:
1. READ THE BOOK
One of the best ways to fully enjoy The Nutcracker is to make sure everyone knows the story. Since it’s a ballet, there isn’t any dialogue and it really helps to have a basic understanding of the story.
I’d suggest this book because it’s the George Balanchine version and has a page of fun facts specific to his production.
And if you don’t get a chance to read the book, read the story synopsis in the program. My husband didn’t know the story and if he hadn’t read the synopsis, he would have been really confused.
2. ALSO READ OLIVIA!
The PNB set is designed by Ian Falconer, creator of the Olivia book series. Reading the books will help make the set feel familiar and interesting to kids.
Plus, there are a few nods to Olivia throughout the production. Clara’s dress has red and white stripes.
And Olivia herself makes a cameo in a painted balcony set to the left of the stage!
These touches make the whole ballet experience more kid-friendly, in my opinion.
3. PLAY THE MUSIC
While you’re getting dressed in the morning, doing pick-up/drop-off, or while the kids are playing at home, play music from The Nutcracker.
It’s an easy way to get kids familiar with the music (plus, you’ll get bonus points for enriching them with classical music!)
We started doing this years ago and I was impressed that my 4-year-old was already familiar with most of the music thanks to all the TV he watches 🙂
4. DRESS UP A BIT
Since this is PNB’s big holiday show, you’ll see that most families are dressed up in their holiday outfits.
I think it makes the whole experience a bit more special.
I saw a ton of Christmas plaid, poofy dresses, and bow ties. Wear what you’d wear for Santa photos. Oh and I saw a lot of girls wearing tiaras.
5. SEATTLE CENTER WINTERFEST
If you have time, head to Seattle Center early so you can check out their annual Winterfest event.
They have ice skating, a winter train and village display (it’s super cool!), and various student and artistic performances throughout the season.
Oh and it’s FREE!
When You Arrive at McCaw Hall
The holiday spirit is alive and well the moment you step into McCaw Hall! You’ll feel like you are at a royal Christmas party!
PHOTO OPS IN LOBBY
Out of all the photo ops I’ve seen at local events, Pacific Northwest Ballet blew me away!
So, there’s the big Christmas tree where lots of families take their annual Christmas photos.
But, there are a ton of photo-op sets that are beautifully painted, are sturdy enough to hold kids and adults, and are so fun for holiday pictures!
There were several more photo scenes set up, too! These are another reason I’d suggest having your family dress up a bit!
Insider tip: The lobby opens 2 hours prior to the show so you have lots of time if you want to take some photos before the show.
CHECK OUT THE GIFT SHOP
You know I’m a sucker for a good gift shop, especially if it supports a nonprofit.
The PNB gift shop is beautiful! There are tons of Nutcracker-themed ornaments and holiday decor.
There’s also cute dress-up clothes, dolls, and every ballet-related gift idea you could think of!
They also have a mini gift shop upstairs that is a little easier to walk around when you have little kids.
My son and I perused the concession area and they had a few delicious treats that looked amazing!
If you are worried about giving your kids sugar before the show, you can bribe them with a treat at intermission.
The cool thing is you can actually pre-order treats for your kids (like amazing cupcakes) and avoid waiting in line during intermission! But, you’ll need to order them before they sell out.
GRAB A SEAT CUSHION
If you don’t want your child to insist on sitting in your lap to see better, get a complimentary seat cushion before you sit down. They have a TON available and my son actually liked the responsibility of choosing his cushion and putting it back after the show.
CRY ROOM AVAILABLE
Just in case your toddler or preschooler starts making noise when the rest of the audience is silent, don’t freak out!
There is a cry room available or you can just bring them into the lobby until they settle down. There are monitors so you can still see the show.
What We Thought About The Nutcracker in Seattle:
Part of why this version of The Nutcracker at Pacific Northwest Ballet felt so modern and updated is that they used video to anchor the story.
I completely felt transported in time to a huge estate in a snowy town. There was some nostalgia about getting dressed up to visit relatives for Christmas Eve and it just felt a bit magical!
I also thought that was a smart addition to keep the kids engaged, too! It was easy to see that the story takes place a long time ago.
So, my husband and I experienced The Nutcracker in very different ways when we first saw it in 2018.
MY HUSBAND’S TAKE ON THE NUTCRACKER IN SEATTLE
Having never read the story or seen the ballet, he read through the program and was still a bit confused about the story.
He comes from a musical background and the music was his focal point and the dancing was secondary. It bother him a bit that the dancing didn’t always line up with the music.
Also, as a Chinese guy, he was mildly annoyed that the “Chinese” dancers had the shortest number on stage.
But mostly, he was surprised how much of the music he recognized and was able to hum along to in his head!
And it made him curious enough to re-read the synopsis in the program and to look up the rest of the story later.
MY IMPRESSION OF THE NUTCRACKER IN SEATTLE
My background is in dance and so it’s not surprising that I was predominantly glued to the dancing and the music just kind of accompanied it.
I have to start off by saying just how impressive these kids are! I mean, they do a TON of dancing in Act I and you can tell how hard they train for this opportunity.
And so much of the show is kid-focused. Most of the characters aren’t intimidatingly large compared to the kids.
I’m still not a fan of the Mouse King (he has 7 heads!) but the costumes are AH-MA-ZING!
I loved the big bowed dresses in the First Act. And I was swooning over the brightly colored costumes in the Second Act!
And there were quite a few “ooh” moments for me.
The Sugar Plum Fairy (played by Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Leta Biasucci) gets pulled while she’s up on her toes and it looks like she’s ice skating!
But, I think I really enjoyed the “cultural” dances from around the world the most! It’s definitely the ballet version, but I thought they seemed exactly like what little Clara would have dreamed about when thinking about exploring the world!
WHAT DID MY 8-YEAR-OLD THINK OF THE NUTCRACKER IN SEATTLE?
He was thoroughly impressed with all the pre-show excitement. We did a bunch of photos with the cool photo ops, he got to shop at the gift shop, and then we headed upstairs to pick out treats.
He quickly exclaimed, “I LOVE going to The Nutcracker!” That was before the show had even started.
Once it began, he thought the opening video was really cool and totally set the stage. And then he had a lot of questions about what was “real” and what was just the set during the part where Clara and her brother are trying to peek inside the party room.
After about 5 minutes of the ballet part, he turned to me and asked, “So, are they not going to talk at all?”
That’s when I realized that I totally didn’t prepare him for what to expect at a ballet performance. Oops!
He stayed pretty engaged through the first act, although he did keep asking when intermission was so he could eat his cookie. The second act ran a bit long for him and he was definitely ready to go by the end.
But, he mostly had a good time and we were able to chat about the show on the drive home.
Nutcracker in Seattle Wrap Up
After having missed so many holiday festivities last year, I was extra pumped to attend The Nutcracker at McCaw Hall. And I’m really glad that I got to have a special activity with my oldest son.
We felt pretty safe going and they really didn’t skimp on the holiday magic!
More Holiday Festivities in the Pacific North West:
3 Things to Do in Vancouver BC during the Holidays
Holiday Magic: Christmas in Seattle
The Velveteen Rabbit at Seattle Children’s Theatre
5 Seattle Christmas Activities to Add to Your Family Winter Traditions
THE POLAR EXPRESS at Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum