One of the delights about living in Southwest Florida is that we get to enjoy things that our less-fortunate northern friends can scarcely imagine — such as the beauty of a Christmas boat parade.
It is true that there are Christmas boat parades in places other than our backyard, such as the huge lighted boat parade that was held last weekend in Fort Lauderdale. The boats in the Fort Lauderdale Winterfest Parade travel 12 miles along New River and the Intracoastal Waterway and are viewed live by an estimated one million spectators, plus who knows how many more on television. Many of the participating boats are huge yachts or large commercial dinner boats that are sponsored by national-level corporations and which are professionally decorated. The parade entry fee for the largest commercial entries is $8,000 per boat!
But Southwest Florida is not Fort Lauderdale (fortunately), so the boat parades here are not heavily commercialized and multi-million dollar boats are pretty rare. Some of this region’s parades are small, simple events where a few friends get together to string lights on their boats and cruise the neighborhood canals in a group, while others are well-choreographed affairs with formal sign-ups and an official route.
Some boat parades have been running for many years and have grown into much-anticipated community events. In recent weeks there have been boat parades in Fort Myers Beach, Venice, Sarasota, Cape Coral, Placida, Naples, Matlacha, Gulf Cove, Lake Suzy and probably other locations.
If you’ve somehow managed to miss all these events, you’re not yet out of luck because there is at least one more local Christmas boat parade: Punta Gorda’s “Saturday Night Before Christmas Eve Boat Parade,” scheduled for Dec. 22 this year. This event is sometimes called the “rim canal parade” because a good portion of its route lies along the outer rim canal in the Punta Gorda Isles Subdivision.
This is basically a neighborhood event, but it’s a big one, and it draws participant boats and spectators from miles away. Every year sees different participants, but there are usually dozens of well-decorated boats both power and sail, ranging from the smallest fishing skiffs on up to 60-foot yachts. The displays on some of the boats in this parade are as good as any non-commercial designs that you’ll see anywhere — some of these guys (and gals) go all-out. The sailboats which use their tall masts to support towering lighted, animated displays are spectacular.
Now sponsored by the Punta Gorda Isles Civic Association, this parade has been in existence for nearly 20 years and has become a very popular event in Punta Gorda. How popular? Dozens of Punta Gorda homeowners along the parade route hold parade-viewing parties at their houses. There have even been real estate listings for homes along the parade route which tout the fact that the parade passes the property each year, making the homes desirable for party purposes.
And thousands of spectators find spots on vacant lots along the parade route to watch the boats pass by. You can find details including the parade route, timing and recommended viewing locations at PuntaGordaBoatParade.com. The entire parade route lies in a residential area of the Punta Gorda Isles subdivision. All the viewing areas are private property, so if you go, make sure that you watch for any “no trespassing” signs and be respectful of the property and of nearby residents.
Pay attention to the route and recommended viewing areas. Each year there are hopeful spectators who show up on parade night along the Punta Gorda waterfront thinking that they will see the parade from Gilchrist Park, the U.S. 41 bridges or Fishermen’s Village, but these folks are disappointed when no parade appears there.
Merry Christmas, and let’s go fishing!
Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Call him at 941-639-2628 or email Captain@KingFishFleet.com.