Boats parading in holiday splendor while hundreds of waterfront homes blaze in a dizzying display of lights can mean just one thing--well, two things, actually. It is time for the Huntington Harbour Boat Parade and Christmas Cruise of Lights, a 10-day extravaganza that brings 30,000 paying passengers to the harbor to view the thousands of holiday lights on decorated homes lining the shore.
The two-day parade, a kickoff event for the Cruise of Lights, features 70 illuminated boats that set sail at 5:15 p.m. today and Sunday. Starting Wednesday and continuing through Dec. 22, ten commercial tour boats will ferry passengers through the harbor four times nightly.
The parade and harbor tours are sponsored by the Huntington Harbour Philharmonic Committee, which has raised more than half a million dollars over the past 26 years by staging the holiday events. Although the boat parade attracts thousands of sightseers, who squeeze their cars into every available parking space around the harbor, the main event as far as the Philharmonic Committee is concerned is the Cruise of Lights.
"Our moneymaking project is the Cruise of Lights," says Verna Smith, public relations chairman for the committee. "Last year it raised $125,000." The money goes to support philharmonic youth programs throughout the county.
Both boats and waterfront homes will be decorated in accordance with this year's theme, "Symphony of Toys." Although admission to the boat parade is free, Cruise of Lights tour boat tickets cost $7 for adults and $4 for children. And if you want to make sure you don't miss the boat, you'd better call and reserve a spot now, according to Missy Prowell, event chairwoman. "Three years ago we completely sold out," says Prowell, whose husband, Court, is grand marshal of the boat parade.
The event has come a long way from its meager beginnings in 1963, when it raised only $12, Prowell points out. Today the Cruise of Lights is a major Southland attraction, she says.
"Over the years the event has grown, what with the lights, technology and animation becoming more sophisticated. People come from all over. Fresno, San Francisco, Palm Springs. We even have people from out of state. We had a call from someone recently from Missouri. Last year we had people from Poland and London. It is a unique event."
This year a Japanese TV station is sending a crew over for a week to tape a show about the Cruise of Lights for later airing on a major Toyko station, says Smith.
For weeks now, the phones in the Philharmonic Committee's tiny Huntington Beach office have been ringing off the hook as volunteers book passengers and answer questions.
"This represents the work of thousands and thousands of volunteers," Smith says. "Both the boat parade and the Cruise of Lights are entirely run by volunteers. It takes a minimum of 130 volunteers a night to run the cruises. And only the boat captains and the bus drivers are paid."
The committee's four nightly tours begin at 5:30, 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. This year passengers will ride in Catalina Island passenger vessels, which can accommodate anywhere from 90 to 250 people each. Each cruise lasts about 45 minutes. Philharmonic members advise passengers to wear warm clothing and deck shoes. And they suggest arriving at least 45 minutes early in order to allow time for parking, which is available behind the Harbour Mall on Algonquin Street north of Warner Avenue. Shuttle buses, which run from 4:30 p.m. until midnight, will then ferry passengers to the harbor, where they will board the tour boats. (Ticket information is available by calling (714) 840-7542.)
"We sail every night, rain or shine," says Prowell. "But we do cancel if it is going to be a danger to anyone." She recalls a few years ago when the tours had to be canceled due to high winds. "We had gale force winds and yet people still came down--and were disappointed when they found we'd have to cancel," she says.
Prowell also remembers the day several years ago when the fog rolled in one afternoon. "We thought we'd have to cancel. I could not see across the channel. We were worried to death. Then around 4:30 this little wind came along and blew the fog away."
A little rain usually does not dampen passengers' holiday spirits, says Smith. "They still come with galoshes, raincoats and umbrellas."
Even an impending birth did not keep one mom-to-be away, says Prowell, who recalls one year when a tour boat nearly doubled as a delivery room. "The woman started labor while on the cruise," Prowell says. "But we got her to the hospital on time."
Harbor lights in Newport: Taking a cue from Huntington Harbour, neighboring Newport Beach is trying this year to persuade bay-front residents, businesses and restaurants along the city's 1989 boat parade route to light up for the holidays.