Fort Lauderdale Sails World's Largest Boat Parade

By Travel Writers

October 31, 2008 6 min read

The 112-foot-long Carrie B floated by, its decorations paying homage to the great movie Westerns. The yacht was bedecked to represent a floating Old West town with scenic flats on port and starboard sides. Two dance platforms held 18 dancers in Western costume, performing to music made famous by the Western movies. On the bow, a two-deck stunt show featured six stuntmen and —stuntwomen. The 2007 theme of Fort Lauderdale's Winterfest Boat Parade was "Magical Movie Moments" and Advanced Roofing had hired Sixth Star Entertainment & Marketing to create its entry.

This year's Seminole Hard Rock-Winterfest Boat Parade takes place on Saturday, Dec. 13, 2008, in Fort Lauderdale, the Venice of the Americas. The lavish event features 100 vessels and is widely regarded as the world's largest boat parade.

In 2007, parade planners enlarged the traditional 10-mile route along Florida's Intracoastal Waterway. They lengthened it 25 percent by adding a stretch along the New River. Since the route expanded, the number of viewers swelled by 250,000 over 2006, said Kathy Keleher, spokeswoman for the parade. Attendance this years is expected to be 1 million, plus television viewers. But the latter can't possibly capture the excitement of the flashing lights and music as the boats sail past cheering spectators.

Favorite regular themes that decorate boats include electric-blue pods of dolphins, while electric palm trees sprout from many a bowsprit. Not to mention fleets of jolly Santas saying, Ho! Ho! Ho!

But the larger boats, whose sponsors often spend mega-bucks, usually adhere to the year's theme and compete for prizes. In 2007, the movie theme resulted in a flotilla featuring decor and music including "South Pacific," "Fiddler on the Roof," "The Wizard of Oz" and "A Chorus Line."

Small boats have their admirers as well. A perennial favorite is the 34-foot Mooncusser, whose platoon of uniformed infantrymen march to the tune of the "March of the Wooden Soldiers." Upon hearing a cannon shot, they fall down to the deck after being startled. The 1971 Columbia sailboat was bought by Jack and Sharon Holland and sailed to Fort Lauderdale in 1978. Jack got the idea of the soldiers from a Christmas tree ornament and Sharon made the uniforms from recycled Salvation Army white pants with added red stripes and red sweatshirts. She made hats from craft mesh material covered with aluminum foil. The soldiers' red cheeks are made of red felt contact paper.

Sponsored by the Hard Rock Cafe, the parade's Grand Marshall for 2008 - the 37th year - will be Jim Belushi. The TV star of "According to Jim," movie actor and member of his Rhythm & Blues band The Sacred Hearts will sail aboard the 130-foot-long Grand Floridian. This year's theme will be "Rockin' the Night Aweigh."

Fireworks will announce the parade's start at 6:30 p.m. at Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

The yachts pass under eight bridges; those who wish to observe from the eastern side should check newspapers or the website for bridge openings to make certain they make it across in time.

Numerous hotels are sited along the route. The Riverside Hotel, a charming 1930s-era hotel on Fort Lauderdale's upscale Las Olas Boulevard, is at the parade's starting point; it offers special rate packages to make a vacation combining this special parade with a stay at one of Florida's premier beach towns.

Enthusiasts choose from a captain's catch of ways to watch: Residents in houses, high-rises and office buildings along the route hold parade parties; owners of private boats anchor in specified anchor spots; some viewers opt to pay for grandstand seats at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park near a food and games court; others bring their own folding chairs to park areas along the way.

PARADE WATCHING WHILE DINING

The grandest way to view the passing parade is to dine in a luxurious restaurant located waterside. Drop anchor at any of these waterside watering holes (be sure to make reservations way in advance.) Although many restaurants and hotels sell out their entire premises or patio facilities to corporate groups, a number of properties offer the possibility of luxuriously sipping and supping while experiencing the sights and sounds of the nautical procession. Some offer set prices.

Benihana: On the Intracoastal Waterway, 954-776-0111 or www.benihana.com.

Blue Moon Fish Company: On the Intracoastal Waterway, inside dining for $75 or patio dining for $125, 954-267-9888 or www.bluemoonfishco.com.

Briny Riverfront Irish Bar & Restaurant: On the New River, inside and patio dining, 954-376-4742 or www.brinyirishpub.com.

Charley's Crab: On the Intracoastal Waterway with lovely ambience, fixed dinner for $150 per person, inside or patio dining, 954-561-4800.

Downtowner Saloon: On the New River, outside tables, no cover charge, 954-463-9800, www.downtownersaloon.com.

Vue [sic]: On the Intracoastal Waterway at the Doubletree Hotel Gallery One: At press time, price was not determined, 954-565-3800.

IF YOU GO

For information on the boat parade, call the Winterfest Boat Parade at 954-767-0686 or visit online at www.winterfestparade.com.

For information on Fort Lauderdale, call the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau at 954-765-4466 or online at www.sunny.org.

For information on the Riverside Hotel, call 954-377-0942 or online at www.riversidehotel.com.

Molly Arost Staub is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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