The Winterfest Boat Parade may be the social event of the season, with restaurants and hotels, caterers and party hosts in a frenzy over last-minute logistics, light stringing and chardonnay buying, as well as the attendant celebrity of the newly named co-grand marshal, Tracy Morgan, and WSVN's Lynn Martinez, a human bottle of Prosecco, as the witty simulcast host.
But no elephant, which, apparently, still hurts.
This year's parade is the 10th since organizers and Swap Shop mogul Preston Henn agreed that the tradition of putting circus animals on the Swap Shop barge wasn't worth the outcry. So the 2004 parade, with grand marshal Shaquille O'Neal, would have no elephant.
“I used to love that,” said one longtime Fort Lauderdale resident, as she and a gaggle of friends reminisced over a couple of bottles of wine this week. After the when-where of their parade parties got settled, the talk turned to youthful memories of seeing an elephant, panther and Bengal tiger sail by.
“Damn animal rights people,” one said, wisely requesting her name not be used. There was wine involved.
But you move on. Sometimes you have to give up the elephant for something better. Much better.
This week we learned that “90210” star Tori Spelling abruptly stepped away from her role as co-grand marshal of Winterfest (where feelings sounded a little raw), only to be replaced by former “30 Rock” star Morgan, a hand-grenade of humor whose pin always seems to be dangling.
Lips were tight in the Winterfest offices regarding Spelling's bow-out, which came days before the parade. The company line was “We're very excited.”
And how could you not be? The quick wit of Tracy Morgan combined with dashing race-car driver Ryan Hunter-Reay as co-grand marshal may be the best Winterfest pair since Kim Kardashian (and Alonzo Mourning).
Hunter-Reay, a local crowd-pleaser who lives in Fort Lauderdale with wife Beccy and new son Ryden (who turns 1 on Dec. 28), was the 2012 IndyCar Series champion. Previous grand marshals have included David Cassidy, Deborah Norville, Barry Gibb, Brooke Burke, Jim Belushi, Lorraine Bracco, Frankie Valli, Randy Jackson and Shaq.
More than 1 million spectators are expected to watch the 12-mile parade of festively lighted boats from waterside homes, parks and watch parties along the New River in Fort Lauderdale and up the Intracoastal north to Lake Santa Barbara in Pompano Beach. The parade also is simulcast on WSVN-Ch. 7.
The official Winterfest watch party is in grandstand viewing at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, where family-oriented festivities include games and live music. Tickets, which were still available at press time, are $25, $22 seniors/military, $20 children.
You also can still find hard-to-get tickets for another traditional watch party at the Riverside Hotel (620 E. Las Olas Blvd.), which throws an elaborate event for several hundred people on the back patio and dock, located on a narrow bend in the river where boats typically slow down.
“It's got such a romantic feel,” said the hotel's marketing manager, Kristi Hollinger.
Of course, it's also where boats can flaunt themselves for the judges, Martinez and WSVN cameras set up behind the hotel.
There are three Riverside party options: stadium seating ($30), with its family-friendly vibe and access to food trucks and vendors; the adults-only Dock Party ($75), which includes open bar 6-8 p.m. (Absolut, if you are keeping score at home) and access to food trucks and vendors; and the adults-only River Patio Party ($125), with open bar 6-8 p.m. and hors d'oeuvres.
The free afterparty at Laura Ward Park from 8 to 11 p.m. includes cash bar and DJ. Info: 954-467-0671, WBP2013.qrickets.com.
You can get still seats and dinner on either side of the two-story windows at Kaluz, a well-reviewed restaurant that opened last February and making its boat-show debut. Located at Commercial and the Intracoastal, owner David Baldwin spent $3.5 million to turn a former Roadhouse Grill into a show-stopper.
“There's not a bad seat in the house,” wrote Sun Sentinel reviewer John Tanasychuk.
Hostess Cassandra Heck said the restaurant began taking reservations two months ago for a special evening on Saturday that includes a six-course prix-fixe menu starting at $125 per person for indoor seating to $200 for tables put on the dock for the occasion. There are still eight tables available on the dock and a few inside, Heck said on Wednesday.
“It's crazy, but very exciting. It's my first-ever boat parade, too,” said Heck, of Deerfield Beach.
Another new spot to watch the parade is Bokamper's on the Intracoastal at Oakland Park Boulevard (3115 NE 32nd Ave.), which has been open just a week.
General manager Kevin Sheahan says the restaurant and sports bar will offer a four-course menu with inside, deck and dock seating, with prices ranging from $85 to $150. There also will be a $50, first come-first served viewing area with passed appetizers.
Inside, the TVs will show the popular games of the night, UFC action and Lynn Martinez on the WSVN simulcast.
“So you'll be able to see the parade before it gets here,” Sheahan said.IF YOU GO: WINTERFEST 2013
Where: New River and Intracoastal Waterway, Fort Lauderdale. Grandstand seating at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, 3109 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Cost: Grandstand seating, $25, $22 seniors/military, $20 children