Florida’s waterways light up like Rockefeller Center for the Sunshine State’s spin on the classic holiday boat parade.
Venice Christmas Boat Parade – December 2 [Venice Beach, FL]
A procession of glowing candy canes that tower over masts, pontoon boats tricked out with light-up Rudolphs, and enough lights to show the Griswolds how to deck the halls – that’s what’s in store at the Venice Christmas Boat Parade.
Where to watch Locals set up lawn chairs days in advance for the best spots along the three-mile route of the Intracoastal Waterway, so our advice is to get there early. As an alternative, join the Venice Area Beautification, Inc. for a fund-raiser dinner, live entertainment, and waterfront viewing at the National Waterway Park trailhead.
Fort Myers Beach Christmas Boat Parade – December 2 [Fort Myers, FL]
Everyone gets in on the action here, where kayakers have been known to sport 10-foot-tall Christmas trees and glowing paddles during this two-hour procession of approximately 30 boats along the Caloosahatchee River.
Where to watch The string of waterfront restaurants on the north side of Matanzas Harbor, like Bootleggers Waterfront Grill or Parrot Key Caribbean Grill, offers front-row seats to the holiday spirit paired with your cocktail of choice.
Where to Stay Edgewater Beach Hotel
Boynton Beach Holiday Boat Parade – December 8 [Boynton Beach, FL]
This community-focused parade features the astounding efforts of local boaters with Christmas-hued fireworks displays serving as one of the biggest attractions. All vessels festooned with multi-colored Christmas lights, giant inflatable holiday icons, and even Christmas-hued fireworks displays, and as is the case with each of the last 45 years, you can get a terrific view of the pre-parade lineup by hanging out near the Lantana Bridge near the Old Key Lime House.
Where to watch If you’re in the mood to sit and dine while you watch, your best choices are eateries Two Georges and Banana Boat right on the water, while Delray Beach’s Atlantic Avenue has unfettered views of the route for those willing to stake out ground early. Be sure to also journey down by the docks to get an up-close look at the boats and donate a gift for Toys for Tots.
Winterfest Boat Parade – December 9 [Fort Lauderdale, FL]
Pitched as “The Greatest Show on H20” and considered the Macy’s Day Parade of these events, Winterfest Boat Parade is Fort Lauderdale’s holiday pride and joy. The 46th-anniversary theme for 2017 is “Broadway on Parade.” In addition to watching the boats that range from private fishing boats to corporate mega-yachts adorned with hundreds of thousands of lights and decorations make their way down the Intracoastal Waterway, the celebration is complete with a weeklong series of events that include a black-tie ball, live music, and celebrity sightings from Jim Belushi to Dan Marino.
Where to watch If sitting in the grandstand ($25) isn’t your style, we’d suggest Blue Moon Fish Co., a local favorite that often offers a four-course dinner during the show. If you can, book the entire week and enjoy the dizzying array of festivities available.
Where to Stay Delray Sands Resort
Key West Lighted Boat Parade – December 10 [Key West, FL]
Christmas is just a little different in Key West, so it’s no surprise that palm trees (not evergreen trees) are what you’ll likely see decorated aboard the eclectic Key West Lighted Boat Parade. Though the boat parade is most definitely about getting in the fun and festive holiday spirit, this boat parade takes it up a notch by giving entrants plenty of incentive to go big or go home with more $20,000 in prizes. Brilliant displays of holiday lights, conch shells, gingerbread men, jumping dolphins, and even a few Grinches make this holiday boat parade worthy of Key West’s reputation as being delightfully weird.
Where to watch Considering that you’ll find not only live entertainment, but also the judges stand, at the Schooner Wharf Bar, it’s a logical choice for many who want to celebrate the festivities and not miss a single one of the boats decked out in their holiday finery.
Where to Stay Sunset Key Cottages
Sarasota Christmas Boat Parade of Lights – December 9 [Sarasota, FL]
The southernmost stretch of Sarasota Bay under the famous John Ringling Causeway brings some of the largest parading boats in Florida, including mega-yachts wrapped to the gills with Christmas lights. At the Sarasota Christmas Boat Parade of Lights, twinkling Grinch heads are an annual sighting.
Where to watch Most take it in from the Ringling Causeway, but recently, the route was extended to include waterfront Centennial Park, so that’s a great option that may be less crowded. The portside patio of Marina Jack’s restaurant is always a good choice to catch the boat parades.