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Boat parades light up waterways this weekend

Staff writer

South Florida will light up with the ho-ho-holiday spirit as a series of boat parades set sail in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

The parades unofficially usher in South Florida's holiday season. And the largest of the pack is the Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade which embarks on its 45th voyage 6:30 p.m. Dec. 10.

More than 750,000 spectators are expected to line up along the 12-mile route to watch the flotilla of 100 megayachts, luxury vessels and smaller boats as they stream along the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale. The boats range from 20 feet long to 195 feet.

This year's theme: "Comics & Cartoons, Rockin' the Night Away," so expect a fun and whimsical take on the holiday decorations. One boat will be converted into a giant Flintstones-themed limo. Another will carry a patriotic Captain America. And look out for SpongeBob on his own boat.

And in keeping with tradition, the 160-foot U.S. Coast Guard cutter Hudson will lead the kaleidoscope of vessels along the New River to Lake Santa Barbara in Pompano Beach.

But it's not all just cartoon fun.

There will be celebrities including captain Lee Rosbach from Bravo's "Below Deck" reality series, as well as local TV anchors Craig Stevens and Belkys Nerey of WSVN-Ch. 7 who will be on board the station's boat.

Landlubbers like to watch the parade from the banks of the New River or the many watering holes along the route. Grandstand viewing inside Hugh Taylor Birch State Park at Sunrise Boulevard and the Intracoastal is $25 per person.

The grand marshal for this year's 954 parade is Mr. 305, rapper Pitbull. Parade officials say he was picked because of his local roots and his relationship with the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, where he's performed often.

"We wanted to turn Mr. Worldwide into Mr. Winterfest," said Kathy Keleher, marketing and parade director of Winterfest Inc. "There's always a warm and positive feeling when it comes to having a local person who suddenly makes it big be part of our parade. Even though he is from a location that is more southern than greater Fort Lauderdale, he is still considered one of our homegrown."

For those of you who can't make it outside to watch the parade, it will be livestreamed on its website, WinterfestParade.com. WSVN also will livestream the event on its website, WSVN.com, and its Facebook page. An edited version of the parade will broadcast 7 p.m. on Channel 7 Dec. 17, 4 p.m. Dec. 25 and 4 p.m. Dec. 31.

"It's one of the largest traditions when it comes here to South Florida," added Keleher. "It's such a wonderful community event that you can enjoy with your family and friends."

For more information on the parade, visit WinterfestParade.com or call 954-767-0686.

Other boat parades

For a more northern dose of holiday lights, there's the Boynton Beach & Delray Beach Holiday Boat Parade Dec. 9. The parade kicks off 6:30 p.m. from the Lantana Bridge and heads south to the C-15 canal in Delray. The fleet of twinkling and sparkling boats range from under 25 feet long to 35 feet and up. The event is free. Organizers ask that folks bring an unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots.

For more information, visit CatchBoynton.com or MyDelrayBeach.com or call 561-600-9097 or 561-243-7250.

Another winter water parade is the Greater Pompano Beach Boat Parade Dec. 11 Known as the oldest boat parade in the state, this is the 54th year of the flotilla, which starts at 6:30 p.m. from Lake Santa Barbara and wends north to Hillsboro Boulevard. The event, which is free, will feature a mix of large and small decorated boats.

For more information, visit pompanobeachchamber.com or call 954-941-2940.

And finally there's the 40th annual Boca Raton Holiday Boat Parade, which starts at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 17. Last year, the parade featured more than 25 boats.

The event begins along the Intracoastal at the C-15 canal and travels south to the Hillsboro bridge. The parade is free to watch.

For more information, visit MyBoca.us or call 561-393-7995.

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