New route for Winterfest Boat Parade

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The popular 36-year-old nautical holiday celebration will wend its way downtown this year

The popular 36-year-old nautical holiday celebration will wend its way downtown this year

Fort Lauderdale’s renowned Winterfest Boat Parade is setting a new course that will take it down the New River and through the city’s downtown arts, entertainment and high-rise districts, where organizers expect it to draw 250,000 more spectators.

The parade’s 100 festively lit yachts, megayachts and party boats will start the 12-mile parade route just west of the Broward Performing Arts Center. They will wend their way down the New River past 1,700 condominium units and 10 parks, then up the Intracoastal Waterway to LakeSanta Barbara in Pompano Beach. Organizers expect the Dec. 15 parade to draw more than 1 million spectators along the route, many of them in boats packed into designated anchorages.

“The river is the heart of this city,” says city commissioner Cindi Hutchinson. “We need to use it, not just park boats along the seawall.”

She said the new route will open the parade to more spectators in the high-rise condominiums and public parks, and bring people out to the Riverwalk arts and Las Olas Riverfront entertainment districts.

“It’s going to be like a Macy’s Day Parade,” says Lisa Scott Founds, president and CEO of Winterfest Inc., organizer of the 36-year-old parade — the seventh-largest single-day spectator event in the nation.

The new route will require some logistical finesse. The city will have to clear all the boats docked along the narrow river during the two days before the event and close the artery to non-Winterfest traffic the afternoon of the parade. Parade entries will be assigned staggered times to come up the river and assemble, and big yachts will have to be towed upriver. Scott Found says yachts up to at least 130 feet can turn around in a basin west of the performing arts center.

The parade, sponsored by the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, starts at 6:30 p.m. and will wind up at LakeSanta Barbara around 8:15 p.m., with the boats cruising at a leisurely 4 to 5 knots. Actress Lorraine Bracco, who played a psychiatrist on the HBO drama “The Sopranos,” has been named grand marshal for the event

The parade is televised on South Florida’s WSVN Channel 7, in various markets on Comcast, on Fox SportsNet and in Boston over WHDH-NBC, making it —organizers say — “the world’s most watched boat parade.”

This year’s Grand Marshal showboat, the 125-foot, five-deck Grand Floridian, will carry 400 passengers along this year’s route.

Last year’s parade generated an economic impact of $46 million. www.winterfestparade.com

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