In south Florida, we don’t really have four seasons. We have more like two: really hot and rainy season and not as hot and rainy season, but make no mistake… Other than those two chilly weeks in December when we can get away with wearing long sleeved shirts or boots, it’s always warm here, and even then you’ll still find plenty of people rocking the usual shorts and sandals look.
The tropical climate may not allow for much of a “real winter,” but that doesn’t stop south Floridians from celebrating the season and all the holiday cheer that comes with it. They just do it in their own special way.
For the last 44 years and counting, people from all over south Florida and beyond have flocked to the edges of the New River in Fort Lauderdale to enjoy the Winterfest Boat Parade hosted by the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Despite having lived in Florida for almost five years and despite the fact that this parade has been dubbed “The World’s Most Watched Boat Parade,” I had never seen it up until this year. What can I say? Typically I’m way out of the loop when it comes to events going on in my area, but I’m changing that little by little.
On the night of Winterfest, more than 100 boats gathered in downtown Fort Lauderdale completely decked out in holiday lights and decorations that went along with this year’s “Fairy Tales Afloat” theme. The participants come in all shapes and sizes from mega yachts to much smaller boats only 20 feet long, but no matter the size, there was one thing they all had in common: the many weeks of hard work that several artists put in to decorate them according to the theme. As a HUGE Disney fan, I appreciated the detailed decorations depicting some of my favorite fairy tales, especially the ones that had a Floridian twist. Cinderella in a carriage being pulled by bright pink flamingos instead of horses? Yep, doesn’t get much more south Florida than that.
This year may have been my first time at the Winterfest Boat Parade, but I definitely experienced it in the best way possible by spending my evening at the Hard Rock’s VIP Viewing Party at the Riverside Hotel in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Although the boats follow a 12-mile route that stretches all the way up to Pompano Beach, watching the parade from its starting point was a special treat. Watching the boats float down the river from the Hard Rock VIP Viewing Party meant enjoying the same view as the judges who had the tough job of choosing the parade’s best-decorated boat. It also meant that I was able to get the full experience of the parade and hear the commentators describing the background story of each boat, its decorations and its owners.
When I wasn’t watching the boats pass by, I was enjoying the party inside the fully decked out, red and white, Christmas themed party tent. There was music, delicious food from local restaurants, a nonstop flow of drinks and photo ops with Santa. If I couldn’t be partying on a boat, this onshore party was the next best thing.
When people think of Florida and especially of south Florida, they often think of Miami Beach and all the crazy partying that goes on at its nightclubs, but there is so much more to the Sunshine State than that. Events like Winterfest are just a small part of this other side of Florida that has culture, art, food from around the world and family-oriented activities. Next year I’m definitely bringing my family with me to Winterfest and all the other fun events surrounding the boat parade. I think I spoiled myself, though, with this first Winterfest Boat Parade experience. The bar is officially set high for next year!