Fifty Christmases ago, when a little caravan of boaters decorated their boats and set off up the Intracoastal, they couldn’t have known they were launching an annual holiday tradition that would eventually become “the world’s most-watched boat parade” — as well as the family-friendly counterbalance to Fort Lauderdale’s reputation as the capital of Spring Break debauchery.
“It was very organic, the group of people who decided to decorate their boats and go out,” says native Fort Lauderdale resident Lisa Scott-Founds. “Word was on the street that it was happening. It was so small. There were probably about 10 boats.”
Beginning near the 17th Street Causeway and cruising up to Las Olas Boulevard, that little cruise has, of course, grown into the Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade, one of the largest one-day outdoor events in the country.
After last year’s Covid cancellation, on Saturday, December 11 the Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade returns and once again will set the New River and Intracoastal shimmering with over 100 vessels from sailboats to showboats and kayaks to mega yachts, all done up in radiant holiday regalia and viewed by about a million people along a 12-mile route from downtown Lauderdale to Pompano Beach.
The theme of this year’s parade is “50 Years of Hard Rockin’ Fun,” featuring iconic rock images, music and décor. It stages at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 11 on the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale, along the docks west of Stranahan House to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Leading up to the big night is the Grand Marshal Reception on Dec. 10 at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Hollywood.
This year’s parade features a new viewing area at Las Olas Intracoastal Promenade Park, which replaces Birch State Park as the viewing site. “We’re kind of going back to our roots,” Scott-Founds says. “We used to have our viewing area there at the bottom of Las Olas where the marina is.”
Billed as a “Party in the Park,” the festival atmosphere will include food, beverages, a variety of activities like photos with Santa, and a post-parade concert. Gates open at 4 p.m. and the parade arrives at 7. Tickets are $25 adults, $15 children at Las Olas Intracoastal Promenade Park, located at 80 Las Olas Circle, on the south side of the East Las Olas Boulevard bridge.
There is also a VIP viewing area at Laura Ward Park, which also hosts the parade judges and the filming of the WSVN-TV show, also livestreaming on digital video channel Eye On South Florida. Seating is first come, first served. Visit WinterfestParade.com.
The City of Fort Lauderdale Beach Business Improvement District ( BID ) is a proud sponsor of the Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade