By Angela Caraway-Carlton
Greater Fort Lauderdale is a boat lover’s paradise, so when it comes to the holidays, it’s no surprise that we like to celebrate with an epic boat parade. For beautiful boats and big-name celebrities, claim your spot along the 12-mile parade route for the Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade on Saturday, December 14 at 6:30 p.m.
“Winterfest is a cherished holiday tradition that brings family and friends together, and it’s wonderful to have a holiday celebration that’s free for over a million people,” says Lisa Scott-Founds, president of Winterfest. “It’s all about the over-the-top boats, vibrant costumes and decorations, and exciting entertainment. Winterfest is the largest one-day live spectator event in Florida, and the seventh largest in the United States.”
In its 48th year, the boat parade kicks off with a fun pre-show where participants decked out in festive costumes paddle around on kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, while some jet over the water on Flyboards. When the fireworks sound, the boat show sails forward, starting from the historic Stranahan House on the New River and winding north along the Intracoastal Waterway to Lake Santa Barbara in Pompano. “The fireworks lead the parade, so everyone along the 12-mile route can hear when the parade is headed toward them,” says Scott-Founds.
During the boat parade, you’ll peep a procession of 100 or so corporate mega-yachts, barges, and private boats adorned with thousands of lights, decorations, and blasting music to match this year’s theme, “Lights, Camera, Action - Movies on Parade.” “It’s an opportunity for people to bring out their inner performer. Some participants even choreograph their entire ride, so it’ll be fun to see how people interpret their favorite movie,” says Scott-Founds.
This year, singer Bret Michaels serves as the parade’s Grand Marshal, and the former frontman of metal band Poison is sure to rock the night. “Bret has a multigenerational following,” says Scott-Founds, adding that like other previous Grand Marshals such as Flo Rida—he may surprise the audience with a performance.
Along with floating bands and smiles and waves from celebrities and beauty queens, there will also be meaningful moments ranging from a salute to the military and a live nativity scene to crowd favorites like the “12 Dinghies of Christmas” and a pirate ship where playful sword fights break out. “You never know what you’ll see and experience, from acrobatics to aerial silks, the talent that lives in our community is profound,” says Scott-Founds, who also emphasizes the season of giving, with many involved charities that support the community and beyond. “We’ll also have a Junkanoo band on a boat from the Bahamas Tourism. They want everyone to know they are open for business, and to encourage people to leave on a cruise out of our beautiful Port.”
Of course, the moment that everyone waits for is Santa on his sleigh, which signals the end of the two-hour boat parade. “Like many visitors, Santa comes to Greater Fort Lauderdale to relax and escape the cold before his big day.”
For a behind-the-scenes look, arrive early to walk the shoreline and catch performers rehearsing or adding the finishing touches to their decor. When it comes to where to watch the boat parade, visitors can watch for free along the shore of the parade route, or purchase reserved seats at the Winterfest Grandstand Viewing Area. “It’s very personalized,” says Scott-Founds. “It’s a party in Birch State Park that opens at 3:30 p.m., with stages of entertainment, a culinary courtyard, and activities for families before the parade rolls by at 7:30 p.m.”
Want to get the party started before the parade? Winterfest hosts a kid-friendly Family Fun Day on Sunday, November 24, along with the well-attended Black Tie Ball at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Saturday, December 7. This the gala of the season with a welcome reception and auction, 12-piece band, sit-down dinner, and eye-popping entertainment. “This year, the ball will have a Moroccan flare, and performances from the hit Broadway musical Disney’s Aladdin thanks to Broadway Across America,” says Scott-Founds. “We’re always looking to surprise our guests and offer unique entertainment from contortionists to Champagne flowing from a living wall.”