The 36th annual Holiday Boat-A-Long returns to Cape Coral's Four Freedoms Park Sunday with a double bonus: Organizers are expecting a record year for parade participation and have expanded the on-shore celebration to include more family fun.
"We think this is going to be a record year for the number of boats we have in the parade," said Todd King, special events co-ordinator for the city of Cape Coral.
Pre-registration is higher than it has been in the past, he added.
As of Friday, 120 boats had registered for the annual night parade; another 30 typically come in on the day of the event.
"That would be a record year for us
at 150 boats," King said.
The boats, which light up Bimini Basin and adjacent canals, come in all shapes and sizes - all brightly decorated for the special holiday event with colored lights, Christmas trees, elves, reindeer, giant candy canes and more.
The expanded land celebration starts at 4 p.m., followed by the boat parade at 7 p.m.
"We've added an elf Craft Village where, after kids visit with Santa Claus, they can do a Christmas craft and get get a photo with Santa," King said of the on-shore festivities. "In the past, we've had Santa visit us but we are going to have a photo station where families can get a photo as well."
As always, Santa Claus will make an early appearance, arriving by boat as the festivities get under way.
Along with the boats, which will gather prior to the boat-a-long in Bimini Basin for a preview, activities will feature live holiday music and vendors offering food, drink and other Christmastime fare. Spectators can view the boats from the shore of Bimini Basin or along the parade route.
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. Parking is available throughout the area.
For additional information about the parade or to participate, call 239-573-3123.