Florida’s Best Christmas Boat Parades

Holiday spirits take on a nautical flair at these waterfront festivals

 

With more than 700 miles of coastline, and thousands of inland lakes and rivers, Florida is a boater’s paradise. Each December, skippers across the state embrace the holiday spirit by festooning their craft with lights and joining the parade. In all, there are more than 70 such flotillas staged all across the Sunshine State, ranging from modest river rendezvous to major municipal productions. The best combine parades with additional shore side activities, and provide spectators with prime viewing areas. Here are seven of our favorites.

St. Augustine

America’s oldest city is home to one of nation’s grandest displays of holiday lights. Throughout December, the Nights of Lights celebration brightens the historic district. The annual Holiday Regatta adds a nautical element to the festivities, as a flotilla of intricately-decorated pleasure craft and shrimp boats assembles in Matanzas Bay, each adorned in brilliant lighted displays ranging from patriotic to whimsical. This year’s parade takes place on December 12th, and there’s plenty of prime viewing spots all along the downtown waterfront.

St Augustine Holiday Boat Parade

Throughout the holiday season, St. Augustine’s historic district and waterfront come alive with thousands of festive lights. Photo: Mike Gigante/Compflight

Fort Lauderdale

The greater Fort Lauderdale area is one of North America’s premier boating meccas, so it’s no surprise that the city is home to one of the largest and most spectacular holiday flotillas in the world. Hundreds of thousands come for a full day of pre-parade activities and events, and then line city waterways to take in the Winterfest Boat Parade. The spectacle is televised, and can be seen from a number of sites along the 12-mile route. For the best views, you can purchase a seat at the grandstand viewing area in Birch State Park. The spectacle takes place on December 12th.

Fort Lauderdale Boat Parade Christmas

In preparation for the Fort Lauderdale Winterfest Boat Parade, owners spend hundreds of hours transforming the vessels into floating light shows. Photo: Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

Destin

The maritime celebration kicks off well before sunset, as crowds gather at the harbor for live entertainment and family-friendly special events. As the sun sets, viewers move to public docks and restaurant terraces all along the harbor’s northern shore for a close-up view of a dazzling collection of yachts, charter fishing boats and working vessels, each vying for top honors from the Judges. After winners are announced, a fireworks display erupts over the white-sand beaches of East Pass. The show takes place on December 13th.

Tampa/St. Petersburg

The waters of Tampa Bay are lit by a trio of parades each December. First up on December 12 is the Illuminated Boat Parade on the St. Petersburg waterfront, which is part of a holiday festival that includes live entertainment, food, libations, and family activities. The following day, the Hillsborough River is filled with a mix of paddlers and powerboats that can be viewed along the riverfront between Lowry Park and Sulphur Spring Park. For a third dose of nautical cheer, head to downtown Tampa on December 19th for the Holiday Lighted Boat Parade, where the Channelside District becomes the site of an evening celebration.

Miami

From a small event staged by a few members of the Miami Outboard Club, the Holiday Boat Parade has grown into a community happening that takes over Bayfront Park on December 19th. This family-friendly gathering includes food, music and special activities, and generates donations and toy collections to benefit the children of the city of Miami. The on-water show begins at 7 pm, and is expected to draw more than 100 entrants. The evening culminates with a fireworks show over the water.

Miami Christmas Boat Parade

The colorful Miami skyline serves as a backdrop for the annual waterfront Christmas celebration and the Holiday Boat Parade at Bayfront Park. Photo: iStock

Ft. Myers

Boaters in the Cape Coral/Fort Myers area keep the fun going all day at Four Freedoms Park. The afternoon celebration is filled with food, Christmas music, a parade and even a visit from Santa Claus. As the sun sets, spectators move to shore side bleachers or position lawn chairs along the waterfront to await the colorfully festooned craft that emerge from canals and marinas that form into a floating conga line of light and music. The mix is broad and eclectic, with everything from pedal boats to million-dollar yachts showing their holiday spirit. Mark your Calendar for December 19th if you cant to catch this show.

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