Christmas on the Pecos — Carlsbad’s ultimate celebration of the season

Christmas on the Pecos Photo by Armando Martinez.
Christmas on the Pecos

Winter in Carlsbad isn’t about snow, ice or cold. It’s about warmth. The warmth of the holiday season. And families coming together. Carlsbad is alive with the ultimate celebration of the season - Christmas on the Pecos River.

Picture the setting:  The night is clear and cool. The river is calm and still. You are bundled and warm except for the pleasant tingle of a chill on your cheeks. The only light visible is the moon. The boat crosses under a bridge and suddenly you are traveling through a fairyland of twinkling lights that radiate the warmth of the holidays in Carlsbad.

This magical vista is created by over 100 homeowners who spend hours decorating with care. Each house is unique. From the Christmas in the Desert Southwest theme at one home to Santa’s Playland at another, Carlsbad residents show their creativity as much as their community pride. Each year Christmas wraps itself around the riverfront, illuminating backyards, boat docks and islands with millions of lights. The Pecos River shimmers with color. Wise men and angels glow on sloping lawns. Giant margarita glasses and bright stars reflect on the water.

Everyone in Carlsbad gets involved too, not just homeowners. Carlsbad Navy officers navigate each of the three pontoon boats through this spectacular show of lights along the Pecos River. Each officer is a volunteer and Chamber of Commerce member who has been specially trained in boating safety and operations.

The first "Christmas on the Pecos River" boat tour took place in 1992, aboard the "Princess," a pontoon boat that seated 10 people. The "Pecos Queen," a 42-foot pontoon boat seating 45 people, was added to the fleet in 1993. The "Pecos King," which seats 50 people and is equipped to serve hot meals, was purchased in 1995.

Christmas on the Pecos River is a 50-minute tour that sets sail 12-15 times per night between 5:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. from Thanksgiving night to New Year’s Eve. Tours depart from the Pecos River Village, a quaint, turn-of-the-century park that is transformed into a wonderland of sparkling lights and delights. Wander through a gallery full of gifts created by local artists and enjoy holiday refreshments at the Pecos River Village before and after your tour.

Traditionally tours sell out quickly, especially on Thanksgiving Weekend, Fridays and Saturdays in December, and Christmas Day. (Tours are not offered on Christmas Eve.) The event has grown steadily over the years with participation increasing from 7,500 guests in 1994 to 10,500 guests in 1995 and over 14,000 in 1997.

Tickets are sold in advance only. Complimentary "lap" tickets are available for children under 3 years of age. Special catering is available for groups. Be sure to wear warm clothing (layers are best), and bring a blanket since the night air on the open river can be brisk at times.