Sounds of Christmas music and carolers can be heard as they travel across the water, on the Manatee River. Although the parade can be seen from many areas along the riverfront, some of the best viewings are on City Island, Island Park, Centennial Park, and on the Sarasota bayfront. The mood is festive, and no one really cares that the ground is not covered with snow.
The boats sail slowly by, treating the onlookers to a dazzling light display. This might seem to be an unusual event for landlocked people, but for Floridians, it’s a way of life.
The boats are decorated with their finest Christmas lights and garb. On the boat decks, Santa and his reindeer, nativity, and snow scenes abound. Tall sailboats proudly glide by with their lighted masts and dripping with icicle lights. They appear as illuminated reflections against the dark evening sky and the water below. Each one casts a cheery glow over the water, as they fill the night with a spectacular show.
No boat is too small and none too extravagant. There can be 10-foot watercrafts, 30-foot vessels, 62-foot luxury boats, and 100-foot houseboats, and each will be decorated in its own style.
The parade is not about just the joy of gathering with friends, it’s about giving back to the community. Drop-boxes, strategically placed at the parade sponsor’s offices, encourage people to donate Toys for Tots. Sponsors or their representatives will distribute the donations to local underprivileged children. The community invites physically and mentally challenged people to join in the fun, and watch the parade, safely, in the VIP area.
The boats float, slowly, past the judges, each vying for available prizes. Trophies and cash prizes of $500 for first prize, $250 for second prize, and $125 for third prize are presented to the most awe-inspiring marvel of the parade.
After the parade, many of the decorated boats are moored at docks in downtown Bradenton, adjacent to the Twin Dolphin Marina and City Hall. Throughout the holiday season, people visit and walk along the brightly lighted holiday scenes in the park areas and on the docks. It’s a special, magical time of year in Bradenton, and one that many people eagerly look forward to each December.