33rd Annual Holiday on the Harbor Lighted Boat Parade!
By Lori Leath Smith
In most places, it’s “Deck the Halls,” but for Destin locals, it’s “Deck the Bows” with the Holiday on the Harbor Boat Parade, where we like to light up the holidays a little bit bigger and brighter. Each year for the past 33 years, Destin boat owners have celebrated by adorning their vessels, large and small, getting into the holiday spirit with as many lights and decorations as possible and cruising in, all in a gleaming row, through the historic Destin Harbor.
Boats light up the night on the Harbor where the brightest, most creative ones win the holiday and a few lucky seafarers gain bragging rights to the most decked out boat between Pensacola and Panama City. The same vessels that command Destin’s waters on warmer days take on blinking lights, animated characters and other holiday fare for this December Destin tradition that pleases thousands of fans watching from the Harbor’s docks, businesses and banks.
Hosted by the Destin Fishing and History Museum and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, excited bystanders gather to watch boats of all shapes and sizes—powerboats, party boats, pontoon boats, sail boats and yachts—each decked out in glittering holiday cheer, parade by as costumed revelers join in the mix, adding even more holiday decor. Faithful crews decorate, dress in theme costumes and entertain using all things that assault the senses from a visual and sound standpoint. “It’s just as much about the boat community as watchers and bystanders gathered in the many restaurants and docks along the Destin Harbor. “It’s a good excuse, says Mary Ann Windes, Destin Fishing Fleet, Party Boat Destin Princess and Party Boat Destiny, “to go boating in the winter and celebrate the holidays. During the parade, you’ll be sure to see elaborate light displays,” she says. “Some lights are choreographed to Christmas music and other boats sport famous passengers like Santa and the Grinch. All are clearly enjoying their moment in the parade.”
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. It was 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.
And now Margaritaville and Air Land Sea Productions, help host the boat parade, too, where proceeds benefit the Destin History and Fishing Museum.
This year’s Holiday on the Harbor Boat Parade begins at 6 p.m., Sunday Dec.15. Boats will start lining up in the Harbor from 5 – 5:30 p.m. You can view the parade from the docks and restaurants west of the Grand Harbor Condominiums. The boats will make their way from the east side of the Destin Harbor (near Boshamps restaurant) to the west side (Harborwalk Village/Emerald Grande) ending near the Destin Bridge and East Pass area. You can view the lighted boat parade anywhere from Boshamps Seafood and Oyster House (approximate starting point) to Harborwalk Village where it ends. Many restaurants in between and along the Destin Harbor have a nice view of the boats including Tailfins from the 2nd and 3rd floor, AJ’s from the upstairs area, Margaritaville from the 2nd and 3rd floors, the Boathouse, both levels of Harry T’s, Jackacudas outside seating and Brotula’s outside seating.
Celebrity judges will be stationed at Harry T’s in HarborWalk Village. Judges rate each boat on its originality, lights, appearance and special effects. There are awards in 8 categories with 10 prizes: private boat 30 feet and under, private 31 feet and over, charter/commercial boat 30 feet and under, charter/commercial boat 31 feet and over, tour boat/motorized 50 feet and under, tour boat/motorized 50 feet and over, sailboat 30 feet and under, and sailboat 31 feet and over. An additional award will go to the best overall boat entry and the city of Destin sponsors an award for the boat that best showcases the Harbor heritage. Once all the boats pass Harborwalk Village and Norriego Point, the fireworks begin hosted by HarborWalk Village signaling the end of the parade. Earlier in the day, there’s entertainment along the Harbor and visits with Santa at HarborWalk Village’s main stage prior to the parade from 1-4 p.m.
The Destin History and Fishing Museum contains information on the growth of Destin from a small fishing village to our beautiful home and destination it is today. If you haven’t been lately, it’s grown! There is a 5,500-square foot main building that exhibits everything from our area’s Native American origins to the variety of fish and fishing equipment that has made Destin “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” An outside exhibit showcases historical boats, the former historical post office and more. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. In 2016, the museum saw 10,634 visitors! Visit destinhistoryandfishingmuseum.org for more information.
Kathy wishes to thank everyone who participates in helping to light up the Harbor with holiday spirit and everyone that comes out to join in the beautiful display. A special thanks goes to the Destin Coast Guard Station, City of Destin, Destin Fire Control District, HarborWalk Village Staff, Bobby Wagner of Land, Air, Sea Productions, LLC, the team from HarborWalk Village and judges for helping to make the parade a wonderful Destin holiday tradition.
Last year’s winners were: Wayne Bradshaw’s Perfect Storm for private 30 foot and under; Jeff Henley’s The Grinch for private 31 foot and over; Hank Morphis’ Liquid Therapy for charter/commercial 30 foot and under; Ronnie Youmans’ Sea Fix for charter/commercial 31 foot and over; Harbor Partin’s Emerald Grande Shuttle II for tour boat/motorized 50 foot and under; Alex Kent’s Hannah Marie for tour boat/motorized 51 foot and over; Karl Marusak’s Spider Crab for sailboat 31 foot and over; Nick Price’s Swoop II for overall best entry; and David Szklarski’s Getting Nauti winning the city of Destin Harbor Heritage Award.
All commercial, charter and private boats are invited to help light up the Harbor with true Destin spirit. To register your boat with the $25 entry fee, stop by the Destin History and Fishing Museum, 108 Stahlman Ave., call 850.837.6611 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.