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Christmas Boat Parade To Light Up West End


New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have always dressed up for the holiday season, from wreaths and garlands strung on the St. Charles Avenue streetcars to the decorations and lights lining Palafox Blvd. in Pensacola. The Gulf Coast boating community also puts on a show for residents on bayous and bays from Biloxi to Cedar Key and from Fairhope to Punta Gorda as their lighted and decorated boats celebrate their holiday spirit on their wintery home waters.

This tradition continues this Saturday starting at 5:30 p.m. out at the marinas and along the lakefront at West End, with local boaters stringing lights and decorating every type of boat imaginable. As the sun sets, the boats form up and follow the Coast Guard and large race committee boats from the yacht clubs through the extensive waterways at West End and along the shoreline.

On shore, waterfront restaurants become ideal viewing stands and boathouses along the route are known to host lavish holiday parties with the on-the-water holiday spectacle as a backdrop. Sailboats and powerboats interspaced in their holiday lights and reflected in the dark waters as they slowly motor on their set routes are a sight to behold for children and adults alike and bring a distinctive magic to the season.

The organizing authorities for these events vary widely, and they are always looking for new participants. From impromptu groups to yacht clubs to municipalities, there appears to be no ideal method for hosting a successful parade other than undertaking them and spreading the word. Many develop local sponsors or at least pair with waterfront restaurants, and nearly all offer prize contests for the most lavishly decorated boats. Participation also varies widely along the coast with numbers ranging from as low as ten vessels to nearly a hundred, and entrance fees also bounce around, with most free or at negligible amounts.

Ideal spectating areas at West End include the restaurant options of Brisbi's, the Blue Crab and Landry's. Further viewing options open to the public are at the New Basin Canal Lighthouse and along the Point at the north side of West End, where families can park their cars to enjoy the sights.

The real benefits come from the boaters having a group of children onboard, donning life vests and reindeer antlers with the skipper and crew wearing Santa hats. The magic is very real as holiday music plays out across the water, as fireworks pop above the masts and fly bridges decorated with lights and new boating traditions and memories are instilled in young and old alike. Santa is also known to make an appearance.

Read more of freelance writer Troy Gilbert's work on his website.