Children and adults of all ages are expected to turn out for Cape Coral's 37th annual Holiday Boat-A-Long activities at Four Freedoms Park on Sunday.
Organizers are anticipating 100 or more boats brightly decorated and lighted and many blaring Christmas music. Onshore activities get started at 4 p.m. Arriving by boat, Santa Claus makes his appearance at 6 p.m. with the boat parade starting in the Bimini Basin at 7 p.m.
"The number of boats usually is related to the weather," said Todd King, special events coordinator for the city. "Better weather brings out more boats. On average we have about 100 boats lined up around Bimini Basin."
Last year the Boat-A-Long had a record 120 boats pre-register for the event. Typically two-thirds of the total number of boats that show up are pre-registered, King said.
"My boat Utopia has been the lead boat for the last three years," said Rich Weiner, a member of the Southwest Florida Yacht Club. "This is one of the best events in Cape Coral, but I don't think it gets enough publicity. I was out just today and I spoke with five or six people and none of them were aware of the event. I think the city should get behind it more."
Sea Tow is a sponsor again this year along with the U.S. Marine Corps and its Toys for Tots & Teens drive. Bring unwrapped toys to give to Sea Tow captains for the USMC toy drive. Sea Tow also will accept toys at their office at 3725 Del Prado Blvd. from anyone not able to attend the event.
Three Cape Coral Police Department boats will be on hand to help manage the canals along the parade route. Parking is available throughout the area near the park.
Onshore activities include music by the Oasis Charter School students and performances by the Calendar Girls and a Celtic dance group. Vendors will have food and beverages, including beer this year, available as well as Christmas crafts for kids, like face painting and holiday ornaments.
After a brief fireworks display at 7 p.m. the boats will parade around the basin before heading into the canals where residents along the parade route salute the boaters and many take photographs.
The parade continues for about two hours.
To participate in the parade boat owners can pre-register with Heather O'Brien at Sea Tow (239) 945-4820 and receive additional information, including a map of the parade route.
"We highly recommend that anyone participating in the parade light their boats festively," said O'Brien. "The biggest complaint we get is sometimes it is hard to tell if a boat is in the parade or not. And we ask that boaters that drop out of the parade turn their lights off so other boats will not follow them off course."
O'Brien said 10 to 15 people a day call to register their boat for the parade.
More than 50 boats had pre-registered by Tuesday.
The city tradition began in 1976, when Archie and Edwina Hahn organized the first boat parade in Cape Coral. They continued to plan and host the event for a number of years. After the Hahns passed, Dave Drake took over the responsibilities of organizing the parade nearly 10 years ago.
This special Florida-style celebration is one of the most-anticipated events over the holidays in the Cape community.
Four Freedoms Park is at 4818 Tarpon Court off Cape Coral Parkway.
For more information about the parade call 239-573-3123.