Florida Holiday and Nautical Festivities
New Yorkers have the Macy's Parade, an age-old institution that's been thrilling northeasterners for decades and entertaining TV watchers who view it as the official start to the holiday season. But in Florida, where the weather is warm and snow seldom falls, locals celebrate with a different kind of tradition – the Holiday Boat Parade.
Not quite as old a tradition as NYC's Thanksgiving Parade, spectacles in the Sunshine State have been popular for several decades. Held on various bodies of water throughout the state, they feature vessels of all sizes and shapes, strewn with lights, inflatable characters – and often – revelers dressed like Santa and his elves or some other personality. People gather on the shore to ooh and aah as the vessels pass by, adorned in their holiday finest. Some are funny, some simply breathtaking. All are entertaining and put a special Florida spin on the holiday season.
Many are a competition, featuring judges who determine awards in a variety of categories, and it's quite an honor to win one of these coveted prizes. Afterwards, party-goers gather in local watering holes or go shopping for seasonal presents in the town's retail districts. It's a true Florida holiday event. Most are held early to mid-December. Some of the most popular include:
- Winterfest Boat Parade, Ft. Lauderdale – For nearly four decades, this has been a favorite with those on the east coast of south Florida. Usually held early December – this procession travels 14 miles in and around the Intercoastal waterway. The event, held in the early evening, is accompanied by all sorts of other events, including a pre-event decorating seminar, a kick-off party, and much more. This event even has a grand marshal. Crowds of about one million generally gather for the event, so viewer will want to arrive early for a good view of the vessels. Dubbed the "World's Most Watched Boat Parade", the spectacle can also be viewed on a number of television stations throughout the country.
- Treasure Island Holiday Boat Parade – For more than 20 years, the city of Treasure Island – on the north central Gulf coast – has been hosting these activities and all the festivities that go along with it. The event departs from the Treasure Island Golf and Tennis Club. It winds up at John's Pass and includes the islands of Paradise, Palms, and Capri. A celebration follows, featuring free food and entertainment poolside at the yacht club.
- Tampa Boat Parades – The city of Tampa is the location for two events at the Davis Island Yacht Club and the Tampa Yacht Club. Both sail from the tip of Davis Island, traveling through Sparkman Channel before turning west at Garrison Channel toward Channelside, where lots of city residents gather to watch.
- Additional festivities in the Tampa Bay area include the Tierra Verde Lighted Boat Parade, St. Pete Beach Holiday Boat Parade, Boca Ciega Yacht Club Christmas Boat Parade, Madeira Beach Holiday Illuminated Festival of Lights Boat Parade, Indian Shores and Redington Beaches Christmas Boat Parade, and the St. Petersburg Holiday Boat Parade.
- Regatta of Lights, St. Augustine – The nation's oldest European settlement hosts a month long Nights of Lights celebration, which includes a popular parade. Vessels of all sizes light up Matanzas Bay between the Bridge of Lions and Castillo de San Marcos and awards are given to the best entries.
- Pompano Beach Holiday Boat Parade – This is the oldest event of its kind in Florida. Sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce, takes place along the intracoastal waterway, traveling through Lighthouse Point and Hillsboro Beach to Hillsboro Blvd. in Deerfield Beach.
- Key West Lighted Boat Parade – This favorite sees lots of local traveling through Key West Harbor and the waters of the Historic Seaport in their seasonal finery. It's a favorite in this somewhat eccentric beach town. Also in The Keys is the Key Largo Holiday Boat Parade, which takes place on Blackwater Sound.