Floating Celebrations

Looking for something special to do this weekend? Here are a couple of ways to enjoy the beauty of South Florida’s often idyllic Fall weather and start your Christmas season off with some waterside fun as well.

Tonight at the Lake Park Harbor Marina, the Sunset Celebration will carry on as it does on the final Friday evening of each month. Come by and enjoy the beauty of the evening, the cool temps and the company of your neighbors at 4:00 p.m., continuing until about 7:00 p.m.

Blue Moon-1 marina lightsImage courtesy of Brent Headberg

Blue Moon-3 boats and bridgeImage courtesy of Brent Headberg

Then, tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m., the 2012 Palm Beach County Boat Parade, complete with lights, music and lots of excitement will get underway beginning in North Palm Beach, and it will proceed along the intracoastal to Jupiter. Don’t miss this fabulous once a year event!

2012 Palm Beach Holiday Boat ParadeScreenshot from palmbeachboatparade.org

Find a spot at the water’s edge and bring a toy for The U.S. Marine Reserves Toys for Tots. There will be collection centers along the parade route for toy pick up. Remember, the toys must be new and unwrapped. Bring along your camera and kick off the Christmas season with this Palm Beach County tradition.*

Our own Diane Bernhard wrote an article about these “Floating Celebrations” also known as boat parades last year for Living Aboard Magazine and has agreed to republish it here. Enjoy!

Floating Celebrations: Christmas in Florida

Written by Diane Bernhard

Some of the most delightful events in the lives of those of us who find ourselves in Florida during the Christmas season are the annual boat parades. Throughout the state, communities organize flotillas of gaily decorated vessels to cruise the Intracoastal Waterways during the first weeks of December.

Power and sail, large and small — all are welcome – for an entrance fee. Often, the parades reflect the neighborhoods in which they run. There are shows with smaller boats, decorated by owners and family. And then there are the lavishly bedecked yachts, ranging in size from the merely large to the behemoth.

Usually, these displays (some with fireworks) are staggered, so that one does not occur on the same night as another. We can go from place to place nearly every weekend evening before Christmas and line up along the waterways to view the festivities. Most bring coolers, lawn chairs and blankets – yes, folks, it does get cold on winter nights in Florida. People cheer; sing Christmas carols along with the loud speakers from the boats, and try guessing which will be judged the prettiest or most interesting displays.

Each year, we festooned our own livaboard vessel, Elan, a 40′ sportfishing boat, from stem to stern with lights and smiling Santas. Inside there was a small tree -firmly affixed to the counter. We used wooden nautical ornaments that would not break in choppy waters.

We never entered the pageants. Instead we invited friends to cruise down the waterway to watch the grandest of the spectacles. Guests not traveling aboard Elan were welcome to meet us down at the Bahia Mar Resort Hotel and Marina, where the biggest corporate vessels commenced the Fort Lauderdale Boat Parade. There we reserved an overnight slip and staked out the pier behind our vessel with chairs and ice chests. From Elan or from the dock we could observe the parade and participate in the festivities, our own included.

All this took a lot of planning. Those who came down with us needed to find transportation back home after the revelry, so their vehicles were brought down early, and parking stickers acquired. All others had to be in the marina before the bridges were raised for the duration. Naturally, everyone was loaded down with their contributions of food and drink.

Around noon, we’d leave our marina in Deerfield Beach with ten or twelve aboard, attired in our comfortable holiday wardrobes of shorts, sweatshirts and deck shoes. We sprawled on the bow, gathered around the fighting chair in the cockpit, or sat in breezy comfort upon the bench seats on the flying bridge. There, Captain Rich would allow our guests to steer Elan on her stately course down the waterway.

It was such fun chatting, singing and eating our way down the Intracoastal. Brunch was a special communal effort and often consisted of fresh fruit, bagels, muffins, smoked fish, imported cheese and champagne. We had coffee and herb tea, juice and soda, beer and wine. Naturally, anyone who expected to tie lines or drive was obligated to show some restraint with the alcoholic beverages.

The houses that extend along the waterway in this area are lovely, and dressed in the season’s finery, are irresistible. I’ve made this trip many times, and never grow tired or bored. And, with a celebrating group of hard working adult landlubbers it becomes really memorable.

Arriving at Bahia Mur around three o’clock gave us lots of time to watch the preparations for the night’s merriments and to check out the sale items in the resort’s boutique and nautical supply store. Then it was back to Elan to set up for the evening.

We arranged the fold-away dining table as a buffet with flatware, plastic glasses, napkins and dishes. Then made sure there was adequate space for foodstuffs, ice buckets and seating throughout the vessel and the dock. Christmas music blared from the stereo because it had to be loud enough to be heard topsides.

In the refrigerator and coolers were large stashes of party supplies and food, but we also needed to make space for the provisions each new arrival brought, too. There were home-made lasagna, shrimp platters, turkey, spiral ham and all the fixings — vegetables, salads, potatoes, rice dishes and breads. The desserts were extravagant – from fresh tropical fruit to cookies, Italian pastries, carrot cake and chocolate tortes.

We began this sumptuous meal before sundown, so that we could watch the fireworks and the procession while finishing our sweets. Cups were filled from the giant borrowed coffee and hot water maker which entirely covered the cockpit tackle cabinet. Naturally, we kept the wine, beer and champagne flowing all night.

Each craft in the marina did pretty much the same thing. Imagine a 200 boat dock party! Spectacular fireworks… A sensational array of vessels… TV coverage…

At Bahia Mar, most of the entries were large corporate yachts that had been professionally decorated. Each had a tropical theme. Some of my favorites were: Santa riding on the back of a manatee while frisky dolphins jumped over waves; animated sea-turtles placidly using flippers to swim through the air; a sailboat encircled by an illuminated frame, so that the vessel itself looked like an old fashioned ship-in-a-bottle. And, one year, McDonald’s had an entry – a lavishly lit jewel of a powerboat pulling a small barge with shimmering palm trees and – what else—the McDonald arches.

Everyone oohed and aahed, applauded and gave voice. It was noisy – and joyous. We had a glorious time.

I always felt a little sorry for those who had to make their way home afterwards, because traffic was horrendous – by land and by sea. But everyone reported that the holiday spirit prevailed and there were no contretemps. We stayed put overnight, with one or two of our closest friends. After cleaning up our personal flotsam and jetsam, we sat outside watching the other party-goers until it was time to sleep.

I must admit, the mornings after the big events were pretty special, too. We would have a leisurely breakfast of leftover goodies, and then stroll along the docks, where we got a close-up day-time look at the participating vessels. We’d sun bathe by the resort pool and pretend to be rich and famous. Then, we’d untie Elan and head languidly back home – deciding along the way -which of the various community boat parades we’d view later that night.

* For more information about this year’s 2012 Palm Beach County Boat Parade, visit the Palm Beach Boat Parade Website. If you will be driving and hope to cross any of the affected bridges during the parade, you may want to check the website for the projected times each bridge is expected to remain open.