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The Christmas boat parade that almost wasn’t

By Michelle Quigley

The first West Palm Beach Holiday Boat Parade was in 1979, and by 1981 the parade included dozens of boats and drew a crowd of 60,000 spectators. In 1988 the boat parade joined HolidayFest and the Festival of Trees to become a three-day food, arts and entertainment festival complete with Clydesdale horses, water ski shows, and performances by Chuck Mangione and The Turtles.

Bad economic times forced the city to cut HolidayFest and the boat parade from the budget in 1991, but private donors stepped in to save the parade. On December 14, 1991, some 40,000 spectators lined the Intracoastal Waterway as thirty-four boats cruised by, including winner James N. Lonergan’s 36-foot Out & About with its 8,500 Christmas lights, Howard Warshauer’s 46-foot sailboat Kismet with its huge pink flamingo, and the Lighthouse for the Blind entry pulling a dingy carrying a floodlit Santa Claus. The $30,000 raised by donors also paid for a 15-minute fireworks display.

Budget woes again prompted the city to cancel the parade in 1993. But the following year the boat parade was reincarnated as the Holiday Boat Parade of the Palm Beaches, and the tradition continues. The 2009 parade was an official Palm Beach County centennial event with a fireworks display and more than 100,000 spectators.

Decorators attach porpoise decor to a boat in preparation for West Palm Beach’s Third Annual Boat Parade on December 21, 1982. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

Fireworks over Palm Harbor Marina in West Palm Beach kick off the 12th annual Holiday Boat Parade. More than 40,000 people lined Flagler Drive to watch the parade that almost wasn’t. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

A brightly decorated boat makes its way down the Intracoastal Waterway during the 2009 Palm Beach Holiday Boat Parade. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

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Posted in Flashback blog December 17, 2009 at 9:08 am.


2 Replies

  1. check you photo cap- it says more than 400,000 people lined the waterway.

  2. Palm Beach Post Staff Researchers Dec 18th 2009

    Oops, you’re right. I changed it to 40,000. Thanks for letting us know!

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