Nothing says Christmas in South Florida like a giant illuminated hibiscus. Or gator wrestling and Polynesian dancers. Or how about a tropical Frosty the Snowman?
Those are but a few of the aquatic props on display this weekend and next as hundreds of vessels cruise area waterways in glittering seasonal splendor. Four separate boat parades, ranging from simple to sophisticated, will ply the Intracoastal Waterway from Fort Lauderdale to Boynton Beach.
The first convoy to light up the water is the Boca Raton Holiday Boat Parade, which is where you’ll find South Florida Frosty, the Grinch, and a cowboy Santa. In its 37th year, it launches on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. just south of the Linton Boulevard Bridge in Delray Beach and travels south six miles to the Hillsboro Beach Boulevard Bridge in Deerfield Beach.
The maritime merriment continues Sunday, when the Pompano Beach Holiday Boat Parade — a 51-year tradition said to be the oldest continuous boat parade in Florida — starts its electrifying voyage at 6 p.m. at Lake Santa Barbara just south of the Atlantic Avenue Bridge. It cruises north about eight miles to the Hillsboro Beach Boulevard Bridge in Deerfield Beach.
Sponsored by the Greater Pompano Beach Chamber of Commerce, the free event prides itself as the “people’s parade.” This parade’s 40-some boats will feature homemade, yet imaginative displays, many created by families rather than professionals.
“We stress having fun,” said chamber president Ric Green. “If all you want to do is just put up a couple of strings of lights, it’s perfectly acceptable.”
Friday the Boynton Beach Holiday Boat Parade launches at 6:30 p.m. at the Boynton Beach Inlet, then proceeds south six miles to the C-15 Canal just south of the Linton Boulevard Bridge in Delray Beach. About 40 boats adorned in twinkling lights, some bearing carolers, will participate in the event sponsored by the Boynton Beach Community Redevelopment Agency.
Free bleacher viewing — again, get there early — is available at the city-owned Boynton Beach Harbor Marina, 728 Casa Loma Blvd. There will be music, a toy drive, Santa and kids’ activities.
The culmination of the the season’s quartet of parades is the biggest extravaganza of them all: the Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade, now in its 42nd year. Billed as “The Greatest Show on H20,” the parade boasts some 100 boats, many of them million-dollar yachts whose owners spared no expense on fabulous decorations.
That’s where you’ll spot the gator barge with gator wrestlers and Polynesian dancers, and the electrical hibiscus. “Of course there’s going to be Santa, we have to have Santa,” said Kathy Keleher, the parade’s marketing director. “If you think about it, it’s got to be over a million lights.”
Accompanied by fireworks, the parade sets sail at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Stranahan House on Fort Lauderdale’s New River, then travels up the Intracoastal Waterway on a 12-mile journey to Lake Santa Barbara in Pompano Beach. It can be viewed from bridges or any open section of the waterway. Reserved seating at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park on Sunrise Boulevard is available — $25 for adults, $20 for kids under 10 — through tigerdirect.com.
Landlubbers, be aware: The Intracoastal’s bridges will be raised during those times when parade boats pass through, so expect some delays, but take it in good holiday cheer.
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