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When I was invited to opening night of The Nutcracker in Seattle at the Pacific Northwest Ballet, I felt humbled and honored. It’s the ultimate holiday theatrical production in Seattle and it’s a big deal.

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While I immediately wanted to say yes to bringing our whole family to experience the festivities, I had to take a moment and really think about it.

My boys are almost 5 years old and 2 years old. They love the productions at Seattle Children’s Theatre and we go see movies in theaters frequently.

But, 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.

So, after careful consideration, I decided to make this a date night with my husband/scouting mission to figure out just how kid-friendly The Nutcracker in Seattle really is.

This post will give tips and tricks for parents who want to bring their kids to the Nutcracker in Seattle.

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.

So, I figured I needed to see this, you know, for research!

PNB’s production features sets and costumes designed by Ian Falconer and runs November 23 – December 28, 2018. Photo © Angela Sterling. #pnb #nutcracker #seattle
PNB’s production features sets and costumes designed by Ian Falconer and runs November 23 – December 28, 2018. Photo credit Angela Sterling.


As I watched the still-newish Balanchine version, I kept thinking 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.

Before 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:


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.


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 makes the whole ballet experience more kid-friendly, in my opinion.


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 and I’m impressed that my 4 year old was already familiar with most of the music thanks to all the TV he watches 🙂


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.


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!


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 photo.

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!

Photo of Mother Ginger photo op at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle #pnb #pacificnworthwestballet #thenutcracker #motherginger
Out of all the amazing photo ops, this one of Mother Ginger was my favorite! Photo credit: Darren Cheung
Photo of a ballet photo op at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, WA #pacificnorthwestballet #thenutcracker #seattle
This one looks way cuter when a kid is inside doing the ballet pose! Photo credit: Darren Cheung
Photo of The Nutcracker photo op at McCaw Hall in Seattle, WA #thenutcracker #balanchine #pnb
This one is near the Christmas Tree! Photo credit: Super helpful stranger in line!

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 and you don’t need tickets to walk through the lobby if you want to take a few quick pics!


You know I’m a sucker for a good gift shop, especially if it support a nonprofit.

The PNB gift shop is beautiful! There’s tons of Nutcracker-themed ornaments and holiday decor.

Photo of George Balanchine The Nutcracker dolls at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, WA #nutcracker #balanchine #ianfalconer
These cute dolls would keep little hands occupied during the show! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

There’s also cute dress up clothes, dolls, and every ballet-related gift idea you could think of!


Their concession areas offer cups with lids so you can bring your drink into the theatre.

This is so perfect for families with young kids. My boys are excitable and I’ve had lots of drinks accidentally spilled on me.

What a great way to protect yourself, even in the lobby!


My husband and I perused the concession area and they had a few delicious treats that looked amazing!

Photo of Mouse King cookies at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle #mouseking #nutcrackercookies #holidaycookies
Now this is how I like the Mouse King–in cookie form! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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 and avoid waiting in line during intermission!


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.


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.


Having never read the story or seen the ballet, he read through the program and was still a bit confused about the story.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Seth Orza as Herr Drosselmeier in a scene from George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, choreographed by George Balanchine. Photo credit: Angela Sterling
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Seth Orza as Herr Drosselmeier in a scene from George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, choreographed by George Balanchine. Photo credit: Angela Sterling

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 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.

Eek – a mischief of mice! Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in a scene from George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, choreographed by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo credit: Angela Sterling
Eek – a mischief of mice! Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in a scene from George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker®, choreographed by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. Photo credit: Angela Sterling

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!

Where to Find Discounted Tickets for The Nutcracker in Seattle

Because I enjoyed the production so much, I really want people to try to go! That’s why I looked for discount Nutcracker in Seattle tickets!

 Here’s what I found:
  • Up to 40% off select Nutcracker performances here. Expires Dec 5 at 11:59pm PST.
  • Use discount code NUTSOCIAL for 15% off all Nutcracker performances at PNB.
Thanks to Pacific Northwest Ballet for the press tickets. All opinions are my own.

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

Are you wondering if your kids are old enough for The Nutcracker ballet? Get my kid-friendly Nutcracker guide and tips for parents. Click to read more or pin to save for later. #pacificnorthwestballet #thenutcracker #balanchine #ianfalconerHeading to Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle to see George Balanchine's The Nutcracker? Get my top tips for bringing the kids! Click to read more or pin to save for later. #pnb #balanchine #nutcracker #pacificnorthwestballet


Marcie writes the family travel blog Marcie in Mommyland. When she's not traveling the world, she's home in Seattle with her husband and two little boys.


  1. This is such a great guide to watching any Nutcracker really. It never occurred to me to prep the kids with the books so thankyou for that. A great guide to keep in mind for any musical too. I loved how you have broken things down by dance and music and that’s something that I would look at too.

  2. Such a great list of ideas to get kids excited for seeing The Nutcracker! It’s definitely full of color and light that can help keep their attention, but I am glad you got to enjoy a date night with your husband.

  3. I remember seeing the Nutcracker Ballet when I was their age! Those costumes look amazing, it looks like you guys had a good time:)

  4. good to hear there’s a not so scary version out there. i was terrified of the mouse king too! and bored which is why i had no interest in the Disney movie.

  5. Gervin Khan Reply

    Wow, such a wonderful guide for me and for my kids. Nutcracker looks like a nice show to watch and I am sure my kids will definitely love it.

  6. Surekha Busa Reply

    I’m so glad that you had an amazing and fun time! This is such a wonderful lists for my niece and nephew.

  7. This is an awesome guide. I love the idea of reading the book first so that the kids can relate to everything around them. It sounds like a lot of fun.

  8. joy abouzeid Reply

    omg I’ve always loved the Nutcracker, I really want to watch it [movie and play]

  9. Catherine Santiago Jose Reply

    It looks like a nice show to watch with my kids and I am sure they are going to like it. I am glad that everyone really enjoyed watching that show. Thank you also for sharing your great guide with us I appreciate it.

  10. I love taking my kids to broadway shows. and during the holidays you can never go wrong seeing the Nutcracker. Cant wait to take my daughter she’s Turing 4 so I think she will love it.

  11. Diana Tidswell Reply

    My kid might enjoy the nutcracker too, maybe a few years to go from now.

  12. Subhashish Roy Reply

    Some very handy information for those wishing to visit. Kids should actually love it.

  13. The Nutcracker sounds like a wonderful ballet show. The mice do look creepy, but only a little. They’re kinda cute in their own way. I like the fact that the use video to anchor the story too. That’s a modern twist that kids will surely love. Being able to bring your wine into the theatre is definitely a plus.

  14. Elizabeth O Reply

    Great ideas how kids could enjoy watching shows. It would give them unforgettable experience once they’ve enjoy the show. 🙂

  15. The Nutcracker isn’t my cup of tea, but you did a great job outlining the experience in a very detailed manner. Great photos too, makes you feel like you are experiencing it

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