Do you even have to ask? Of course, our most beloved holiday tradition is the boat parade, bringing together a host of our favorite things: floating tiki bars, light-up palm trees, steel drum music, megayachts, and a whole lot more.
Here are our top picks for getting in on the nauti action this winter.
Mount Dora Boat Parade
On December 4, a floating parade kicks off the holiday season in the charming town of Mount Dora, less than an hour’s drive north of Orlando. The event starts at 6:30 p.m. as boats dressed up with lights, garlands and seasonal décor gather by the lighthouse at Grantham Point for judging to take place. The parade gets underway at 7:30; spectators can enjoy from anywhere along the shoreline of Lake Dora.
Christmas Boat Parade, Naples
The best part of the Saturday, December 11, Naples Christmas boat parade is the big lineup of seafood restaurants offering waterside seating. We recommend the hot crab and cheese dip at Pinchers Tin City, the cioppino at Riverwalk Restaurant, the oysters at Kelly’s Fish House, or the specialty Hollander and De Koning mussels with smoked bacon, spinach and white wine butter at The Boat House on Naples Bay.
If you want to skip wining and dining, you’re welcome to bring your own chairs or blankets and set up at Naples City Dock or Bayview Park. The event starts at 6:15 p.m. and runs to 8:30.
Sarasota Christmas Boat Parade of Lights
Get cozy on City Island and Bayfront Park on December 11 for the Sarasota Christmas Boat Parade of Lights, starting at 6 p.m. and lasting two hours. If you’re debating between locales for a nautical holiday show, consider Sarasota for its long, easily accessible and highly walkable waterfront. If you’d rather set up somewhere with wait service, grab a martini at Marina Jack’s, a longstanding local hangout beloved for it dependable service and old-school charm—oh, and 30 wines by the glass, including a brut rose, cava and malbec.
St. Augustine Regatta of Lights
Those who appreciate the clean lines of sailboats should check out the east coast city of St. Augustine for its December 11 event, sponsored by the St. Augustine Yacht Club. All manner of vessels—yachts to shrimp trawlers—participate in this parade that starts at 6 p.m. and spans from the Bridge of Lions to the masonry fort that is Castillo de San Marco.
If you’re not up for braving the Florida evening chill without a bite or beverage, head to Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille or A1A Ale Works Restaurant and Taproom. Note that this event is always held on the second Saturday of December.
Destin Harbor Lights Christmas Boat Parade
There’s a lot of action happening at this long-running event—as one would expect from Destin, hailed as The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village and home to countless captains. This everything-that-floats-is-game parade includes lit-up tiki bars, pirate-tour boats, dolphin cruise boats and a whole lot of boats helmed by locals. It’ll be held this year on Sunday, December 12, starting at 6 p.m.
Prime viewing spots include Tailfins Waterfront Grill’s second and third floors, upstairs at AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar, the second floor of Margaritaville Restaurant, both levels of Harry T’s Lighthouse and the third floor of Landshark Landing Bar. Stay to the end for the fireworks.
Fort Lauderdale Winterfest Boat Parade
Perhaps the biggest holiday lights boat parade, lasting two and a half hours, is that of Fort Lauderdale where the no-expense-spared lineup includes a flotilla of megayachts, each with a big budget for the affair. The parade starts Saturday, December 11, downtown at the Stranahan House Museum on 6th Avenue at 6:30 and flows east on the New River. Good viewing can be had at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park or Las Olas Intracoastal Promenade Park.
Schooner Wharf Bar/Absolut Vodka Lighted Boat Parade
In the spirit of the Conch Republic, the Key West holiday lights parade is a favorite for the crafty creativity on display as well as the rag-tag nature of some of the smaller entrants, including kayakers with battery-powered lights. That’s not to say that is event lacks the big guns—it’s also includes fishing vessels and sailing schooners. Note that this parade, happening December 11, starts at 8 p.m.
Palm Beach Holiday Boat Parade
We love that this festive event doubles as a toy drive, with donations to brighten the holidays going to Toys for Tots and Little Smiles. Also unique is the fireworks boat that heads up the parade, sparking wows as the event moves from North Palm Beach, starting at 6 p.m., up to Jupiter, arriving at 8 p.m. Several restaurants, including Jetty’s Waterfront Restaurant, U-Tiki Beach Waterfront Restaurant and the Square Grouper Tiki Bar, offer choice viewing.
Venice Christmas Boat Parade
This December 4 holiday event launches at 6 p.m. on the Intracoastal Waterway in Nokomis, heads to the Jetties, then travels to the North and Circus bridges. Pop’s Sunset Grill is a popular viewing spot, as is the Crow’s Nest Restaurant and Pelican Alley Restaurant. Free viewing can be had at Nokomis Beach Park.
Fort Myers Beach Boat Parade
Twice voted a top-five holiday parade in the country by USA Today, the Fort Myers Beach Boat Parade, a 33-year tradition, weaves a route under the Skybridge and loops through the easternmost Siesta Isles canals, back to Pelican Bay and ends at Salty Sam’s Marina—also the starting point of this event held Saturday, December 4, at 6 p.m.
Restaurants along the route include Parrot Key Caribbean Grill, Matanzas on the Bay, Shrimp Dock Bar and Grill, Nervous Nellie’s, Bonita Bill’s Waterfront Café, Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille and The Dixie Fish Co.