Christmas Fun: USS Potomac Santa Cruise in Oakland - 510 Families
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Christmas Fun: USS Potomac Santa Cruise in Oakland

Thanks to the USS Potomac for hosting my family on a seasonal Santa Cruise. All opinions in this article are my own.

Compared to some of the Christmas activities I’ve tried with my kids, I really enjoyed cruising the Oakland estuary aboard the USS Potomac with Santa Claus. If it is in your holiday outing budget, I recommend that you get tickets for the December 10 or December 17 voyages before they sell out.

Dozens of places to see Santa Claus this season >>

Take an Oakland cruise with Santa Clause
Cruise the Oakland estuary with Santa Claus. This is our view of the USS Potomac while waiting to get on board
USS Potomac Santa Cruise
Can you find Santa Claus under my children? | Photo: Heather Flett

What to expect on the USS Potomac Holiday Cruise with Santa

Once on board the USS Potomac, guests can enjoy seemingly endless cookies, hot chocolate and hot cider. You’re allowed to tour the entire ship, including FDR’s bedroom, guest rooms, kitchen, and the crew’s quarters. Every space is on the main level is filled with festive holiday decor and lights.

Santa was situated in the seating area at the ship’s bow. He was available for photos and gave a small toy and candy cane to each of the children. Bring your own camera to capture the special visit. Santa also walks through the ship if your child is feeling shy and would prefer to way. The Big Guy also shared some facts about the USS Potomac and even showed my kids the vessel’s elevator – what a guy!

Santa gives impromptu tour on USS Potomac
Santa gave families an impromptu tour for the vessel’s elevator | Photo: Maureen Burke

Or you can watch a Christmas-lights-boat parade >>

The USS Potomac leaves the dock on time and takes a one-hour round-trip route along the Oakland estuary. Friendly elves and volunteers circulate and are available to help you, share interesting factoids, and snap photos.

Volunteer docents answer questions and give impromptu tours of the historical boat. Guests can visit most areas of the yacht. Learning about the ship’s history is quite interesting for older children and their adults; my boys enjoyed playing with one of three typewriters tucked into the executive officers’ quarters. Maureen’s girls enjoyed touring the crew’s quarters and the view from the roof.

USS Potomac Santa Cruise
Playing with the desk and typewriter

We recommend this outing for children aged 3 or 4 to 12. Little toddlers might make a parent crazy. Keep in mind that the USS Potomac was constructed in the early 1900s. All in all I felt safe, but there are a lot of steep stairs to climb up and down, entryways that require a step, and narrow passageways to navigate when exploring the rooms. Mobility is important. Strollers aren’t allowed on the ship, neither are high heels.

Note to parents: The two Christmas cruising times are 3 pm and 5 pm (A.K.A. right before dinner or instead of dinner). My family picked the trip instead of dinner and lived to regret it. We got home just after our regular bedtime and had a quick breakfast-for-dinner after we were all sugared up. I’m sure you’ll make the right choice for your family.

Child climbs down stairs with American flag in background
Have fun exploring the ship’s various rooms and levels | Photo: Maureen Burke

Logistics and costs for the Oakland Santa Cruise

Tickets $35 for adults and $10 for children aged 2 to 12. They include souvenirs, sweets, and unfettered access to Santa the entire ride. Buy tickets online >

The boat is docked in Jack London Square at 540 Water Street in Oakland (right near BevMo).

Parking is available at the Washington Street Garage between 2nd and Embarcadero Streets, one block from the Potomac. Or you may luck out with free street parking on a Sunday.

A little history lesson about the USS Potomac

I didn’t know anything about the USS Potomac before getting on board. Oops. It turns out that this “Floating White House” was originally commissioned as a Coast Guard vessel in 1934. In 1936 it was renamed the USS Potomac and served as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Presidential Yacht until his death in 1945. She is now preserved in Oakland, California, as a National Historic Landmark. Throughout the year, various themed cruises and tours are offered. I’d be delighted to take another one in the future. Milo recognized FDR as the president in Annie; we get our history lessons where we can.

Thanks again to the USS Potomac for hosting us on the holiday boat cruise. For other events and outings, including a caroling cruise for adults, see their website.

Find more to do in our East Bay Holiday Events Guide.

[All Photos by Heather Flett and Maureen Burke]

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