Destin’s Annual Boat Parade Lights Up the Harbor!

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Holiday on the Harbor Boat Parade begins at 6 p.m., Sun., Dec.11

By Lori Leath Smith

Once each year, Destin boat owners make the holidays sparkle and brightly glow by adorning their vessels, any size, with as many lights and decorations as possible; then cruising in with true Destin spirit, all in a gleaming row, through the historic Destin Harbor. To me, this is one Destin tradition that gets me into the holiday spirit!

Now in its 36th year, participating boats light up the night on the Harbor where the brightest, most creative ones win and a few lucky captains gain bragging rights to the most decked out boat in the area with their blinking lights, animated characters and other holiday fare for this December Destin delight. Sponsored by the Destin Fishing and History Museum, thousands of excited fans gather to watch boats of all shapes and sizes from the Harbor’s docks, businesses and boardwalk—glittering, bright powerboats, party boats, pontoon boats, sail boats and yachts—parade by as costumed revelers join in the mix. Boat crews dress in theme costumes and entertain using all things that assault the senses from a visual and sound standpoint.

Museum Executive Director Kathy Marler Blue says there can be as many as 30 boats competing in the eight boat categories. Cited by Coastal Living as one of the Best Holiday Boat Parades in America, the first boat parade was started in 1986 by the first museum which was the “Destin Fishing Museum” and was located in the old “Jitney Jungle” building (now where the McGuire’s complex and businesses are) as a way to give back to the community for all the support shown to the museum. That first museum was started in 1985 and operated until 1996 when the property was sold. Many of the charter boat wives that helped start that first museum started the boat parade and it continued through time. In 2003, the community came together again and started a new museum, The Destin History & Fishing Museum, which was opened to the public Oct. 1, 2005, and the group continued the boat parade. Proceeds benefit the Destin History and Fishing Museum.

This year’s Holiday on the Harbor Boat Parade begins at 6 p.m., Sun., Dec. 11 at Boshamp’s. Boats will start lining up in the Harbor from 5 – 5:30 p.m. then make their way from the east side of the Destin Harbor to the west side (Harborwalk Village/Emerald Grande) ending near the Destin Bridge and East Pass area. View the boat parade anywhere from Boshamps Seafood and Oyster House along the Boardwalk to Harborwalk Village where it ends as well as the Destin Bridge and Norriego Point. Many restaurants in between and along the Destin Harbor are great places to watch including Tailfins from the 2nd and 3rd floor, AJ’s from the upstairs area, the Boathouse, both levels of Harry T’s and Brotula’s outside seating.

Judges rate each boat on its originality, lights, appearance and special effects with awards in 10 categories. Additional awards include best overall boat entry City of Destin award for the boat that best showcases the Harbor heritage.

Visit destinhistoryandfishingmuseum.org for more information. Special thanks to the Destin Coast Guard Station, City of Destin, Destin Fire Control District, HarborWalk Village Staff, the team from HarborWalk Village, Land, Air, Sea Productions and judges for helping to make the parade a wonderful Destin holiday tradition. Immediately following the parade is a Fireworks show over the Destin Harbor.

That same day at Harborwalk Village, visit Santa during Holiday on the Harbor from 1 – 4 p.m. and the Mistletoe Market from 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. featuring vendor tents, gift wrapping, festive drink samples, and a performance by the Northwest Florida Ballet Academy.

To register your boat, ($25 per boat), call 850.837.6611, email kathydestinhistory@gmail.com or stop by the Destin History and Fishing Museum, 108 Stahlman Ave., Tues. – Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m.