Pity friends and family members up north who have to watch Christmas parades while swaddled in bulky outerwear — when those of us in the land of endless summer kick back in our comfortable cottons, enjoying the view from deck chairs.
Sometimes, in fact, we don’t have to leave our own backyards. South Florida holiday parades often take place on the water rather than on city streets. Waterfront property owners in particular get a seagull-eye’s view of the gaily decorated, illuminated boats cruising by.
In addition to Saturday’s boat parades in Naples Bay and Bonita Springs, Marco Island residents can look forward to the 10th Annual Christmas Island Style Boat Parade on Dec. 10.
-- Naples Bay 16th Annual Holiday Festival of Lights Boat Parade — Not much is different about this year’s event, says Frank Perrucci, who is chairing the parade committee for the fourth year. But regulars should note that the start time has been moved up, to 6 p.m. Saturday. That’s when the Naples Princess, the sightseeing cruise boat out of Port-O-Call, will lead participating boats along the route, which begins at City Dock at Crayton Cove, 880 12th Ave. S.
As in the past, the parade of brilliantly lighted boats, decorated in holiday themes, will file by the judges’ reviewing stand and then proceed down Naples Bay, passing Bayview Park. At this point, the boats turn around and retrace the course back to City Dock.
Suggestions for the best views include the City Dock and Bayview Park. Other options range from Naples Landing, just south of Naples Pier to the sea wall at the Boathouse Restaurant, 990 Broad Ave. S. and the Dock Restaurant at Crayton Cove, 12th Ave. S.
“About 25 to 30 boats normally make up the parade,” Perrucci says, “so it’s not a gigantic event. However, it comes off nicely. “You’ll be amazed at what you see.”
Jason Helmer’s 17-foot Regal Bowrider is a good example.
Helmer and his wife, Stephanie, spent the long Thanksgiving weekend turning their boat into a brilliantly lit Christmas locomotive. They also shopped for stuffed animals, race cars and other toys to fill a five-foot Christmas stocking, which they’ll distribute among children at the end of the parade.
“You have to be creative when you only have a 17-foot boat, but every year, we’ve gotten a bit more elaborate,” he says. “We started off small, with just a few lights.”
The time and expense of creating a show-stopper is well worth it, though, Helmer says.
“It’s fun, and when you see the looks on children’s faces — well, that’s why we do it.”
But that’s not the only reward for participants. At the awards ceremony, which takes place in January at a yet-undetermined location, six engraved plaques will be given out in numerous categories. The overall winner will also take home a one-year free membership with Sea Tow of Marco Island/Naples.
They also get the satisfaction of helping a local charity. The Marine Industries Association of Collier County Foundation, which organizes the event, doesn’t require a registration fee but asks boaters — and those on shore — for tax-deductible donations. For years, the money went to the Salvation Army, but that changed when Perrucci took over the reigns.
He’d lost a teenage son to complications from a hemophiliac blood disorder and knows the wrenching pain parents experience when a child is critically ill.
“I thought, ‘Let’s use the money to do something for kids,’¤” he says.
The Ricky King Children’s Fund, which is dedicated to enhancing the quality of healthcare for children in Southwest Florida by augmenting programs and providing financial assistance to children and their families in times of need, seemed to meet that criterion.
“The fund receives donations that go to families in financial need,” Perrucci says. “Your brain is fried just dealing with a sick child. I can’t imagine going through all that and also having money problems.”
Some of the parents and children who have benefited from Ricky King donations in the past will attend the parade, viewing it from City Dock.
“The kids really enjoy getting a front-row seat for the parade,” Jennifer Weidenbruch, executive director for the children’s fund, says. “It makes them feel very special.”
“We’re extremely grateful to have been chosen as the beneficiary of the boat parade,” she adds. The money has helped the organization provide a number of area children with better lives. For many of the children, there are no cures for their conditions.
Although the parade takes place Saturday night, it’s not to late to do some last-minute decorating and sign up to participate. Information: 261- 0882 or www.miacc/org.
-- The 20th Annual Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce Holiday Boat Parade — Approximately three dozen decorated boats are expected to formally join Saturday night’s parade, which sets sail at 6 p.m. from the mouth of the Imperial River, west of Bonita Bay. Several more are expected to float into the lineup, just to get in on the fun.
The Bonita Springs Fire Department will lead the colorful flotilla, and the Lee County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol will bring up the rear.
According to organizers, the route was shortened this year.
“We found it was formerly too long for inexperienced boaters,” says Trish Leonard, spokeswoman for the parade.
On Saturday night, participating boats will leave Big Hickory Fishing Nook on Hickory Boulevard and proceed south through Hogue Channel and Fishtrap Bay and on into the Imperial River. They will pass under the New 41 Bridge and travel to the widest part of the river (around Tennessee Avenue), then make a U-turn and retrace the course back to Big Hickory Nook.
Once the parade is completed, a party and awards ceremony take place at the Fish House Restaurant. Plaques will be presented for Best Decorated, Best Illumination; Best Not-for-Profit, Best of Show, Most Original, Capt. Jack Sheehan Award and Capt. Carl Johnson Founders Award. Winners also receive dinner certificates to local restaurants.
“The four-mile journey is expected to take about 90 minutes,” says Capt. Mike Murphy, owner of Marina Mike’s.
What are the best spots for viewing?
Murphy, Leonard and parade chairwoman Janice Lowe agree on the following sites: the Fish House at 4685 Bonita Beach Road; and the Little Hickory Bridge on Bonita Beach Road just west of the Fish House and the Imperial River Boat Ramp off U.S. 41. (To reach, make a right just before the Imperial River Bridge. Parking is available at the small marina and bleachers will be set up. However, organizers suggest people bring lawn chairs, as well as bug spray. Note that coolers are allowed.)
This year’s parade is sponsored by Nelson Marine Construction; Bonita Boat Center; Marina Mike’s; Henderson, Franklin, Starnes and Holt, PA; Lite 93.7; Duval Street Seafood Company; and the Fish House Restaurant.
Judges include Mayor Jay Arend, Councilman Ben Nelson, Bonita Beach Art League executive director Susan Bridges, the News-Press’ Downtown Diva; Krista Fogelsong of Fox-TV and County Commissioner Ray Judah.
Johnny-come-latelies can pick up applications — the entry fee is $25 — at the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce, Marina Mike’s, Bonita Boat Center, the Fish House Restaurant or Duval Street Seafood Company.
Information: 992-2943 or www.BonitaSpringsChamber.com.
-- The 18th Annual Christmas Island Style Board Parade — Marco Island’s holiday parade gets rolling at 6 p.m. Dec. 10. More than a dozen gaily decorated boats are expected to join the flotilla.
The parade begins at the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge near the Marco Island Yacht Club and proceeds down the Marco River toward the Snook Inn, where judging takes place. From there, the boats will travel in a westerly direction to Smokehouse Bay, then turn around and head back to the yacht club.
“It’s always a great event,” chairman Steve Stefanides says. “The parade offers an evening of good, family fun.”
Where’s the best place to be to catch the action?
“The Snook Inn on Bald Eagle Drive is a premier place to watch,” says Stefanides, “and enjoy good refreshments. Every year owners Dennis and Lori Passini and Stan and Linda Banks donate $1,000 toward the parade. The Snook Inn is consistently a big supporter.”
View from the Esplanade at Smokehouse Bay are also excellent, he says.
Advance registration is required to join the parade. There is no entrance fee. Information: 250-8348.