BONITA SPRINGS — Only in Florida can you see Old Saint Nick floating down the river.
“A see-saw! A penguin and Santa!” yelled 5-year-old Aileen Greenblatt, right before she gave her father a peck on the cheek.
The 25th Bonita Springs Holiday Boat Parade created plenty of moments like Aileen’s and gave locals a chance to decorate their boats and earn bragging rights. And for the first year, homeowners along the Imperial River were judged for their holiday spirit.
It was a chilly night by the water as boats decked out with lights, blow-up characters and even a rock band, glided through the water. The boats departed from Barefoot Boat Club and headed up the Imperial River to turn back around to end back at the boat club.
Many people gathered around the Imperial River Bridge to see the boats pass underneath. A family of four generations, a great grandmother, grandmother, granddaughter, and great granddaughter came to see the show to enjoy some time together.
Madeline Knef, 75, is a mother of seven, grandmother of 16, and great grandmother of four.
“They all grow up so fast,” laughed Knef with a twinkle in her eye.
Granddaughter, Christina Liebergall, 26, came to see the parade two years ago.
“People are still in spirit,” said Liebergall, “I’d recommend anyone come see it.”
Fifteen boats participated in the contest. One boat was equipped with a giant green dragon. It spewed water from its mouth toward the crowd, right before it ducked its big green head to make it under the bridge.
Casey Weston, an 18-year-old local singer who just made her own album, performed after the parade.
“The first time I heard her sing I almost wanted to cry,” said Tamara Thomas, an event attendee.
There were burgers on the grill from Fitzgerald’s Pub, and beer and wine available at the bar. Proceeds went toward the Rotary Club of Bonita Springs.
As Weston sang, fireworks started going off on one of the boats. This signaled the return of the rest of the boats. Then the winners were announced.
Bonita Boat Parade winners
Best Non-for-profit: Steven Wilke, South Fort Myers High School
Best Decorated: Darrle Brown
Best in Show: Omar Botana
Most Spirited: David Rauph
Best Illuminated: Christina Denegre
Most Original: Omar Botana
15 boats competed
Most Illuminated: Clarence Affelp
Most Spirited: Valerie & Patrick Taylor