In Orange County, Christmas boat parades have become as much a part of the Yuletide season as Santa Claus and ho ho ho.
Nighttime parades of colorful, lighted boats, complete with animated displays, Christmas carolers and lavish decorations draw thousands of spectators to the county's three harbors every December. With a little planning, you can see all three processions beginning with the Huntington Harbour parade this weekend, the Dana Point parade next weekend and--the oldest and largest of them all--the Newport Harbor parade held the entire week before Christmas.
This 28-year-old boat parade is sponsored by the Huntington Harbour Philharmonic Committee and launches the organization's 10-day Cruise of Lights, an extravaganza that brings about 25,000 paying passengers to the harbor to view the hundreds of decorated homes lining the shore. About 50 illuminated boats will set sail at 5:15 Saturday and Sunday. The parade begins in the main channel and continues for about four hours.
Of the county's three boat parades, this one is the most difficult to see because most of the parade route can be viewed only from private homes. "Also, parking is very difficult," says Doris Willis, chairman of the Huntington Harbour Philharmonic Committee.
If you can find a place to park, Willis suggests viewing the parade from Trinidad Park, 3601 Sagamore Lane; Prince View Point Park, 3302 Venture Drive, or Conrad Park, Aquarius Drive and Trinidad Lane. All three parks are in Huntington Harbour.
But be forewarned, Willis says. "Parking and traffic are just horrible."
If you live in the area, Willis points out that you can watch the parade on local cable television where it is being aired both evenings with a 30-minute delay.
For boaters who would like to take part in the event, call the Philharmonic office at (714) 840-7542. Theme for this year's event is "Music on Parade." There is no entry fee.
Although the boat parade attracts thousands of visitors, in Huntington Harbour the main attraction is the Cruise of Lights, which draws people from all over Southern California. Tours leave nightly Dec. 13 through 21 at 5:30, 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 p.m.
Although admission to the boat parade is free, Cruise of Lights tour boat tickets cost $8 for adults and $5 for children. To reserve a spot, call immediately because tours sell out fast, according to Willis. "Some nights are already sold out," she says. For ticket information, call (714) 840-7542.
The 45-minute narrated tours pass by the harbor's elaborately decorated homes every evening, rain or shine. Passengers ride Catalina Island passenger vessels, which can accommodate anywhere from 90 to 150 people. Willis advises passengers to dress warmly and to wear deck shoes. Parking is available at Harbour Mall on Algonquin Street north of Warner Avenue. Shuttle buses, which run from 4:30 to midnight, ferry ticket-holders to the harbor where they will board tour boats.
Between 80 and 100 boats are expected to take part in the 16th annual parade Dec. 15 and 16. Boats will make two laps through the harbor, beginning in the east basin and proceeding to the west basin. Departure time is 6 p.m. The parade will last about two hours.
You can watch from anywhere in the harbor, according to Jody Tyson, president of the Dana Point Harbor Merchants Assn., which sponsors the event along with the county and Dana Wharf Sportfishing.
"Indoors you can watch from the Wind and Sea or Reuben's restaurant," she says. "Outdoors, you can see it along any of the jetties or over by the Orange County Marine Institute." If you plan to watch outdoors, Tyson reminds visitors to dress warmly.
Tyson also recommends viewing the parade from the cliffs above the harbor or over dinner at the Charthouse or Cannon's restaurants.
Parking in the harbor is free, but limited, according to Tyson, who suggests that spectators arrive early. "The area over by the Marine Institute has more parking available," she says.
Theme for this year's parade is "Christmas in the City," in recognition of Dana Point's cityhood. Boats ranging from 14-foot rowboats to 85-foot yachts are expected to take part, Tyson says. "And decorations range from simple designs to thousands of dollars' worth of lights," she says.
If you would like to enter your boat in the parade, call Tyson at (714) 496-5794. There is no entry fee.
The 82nd annual Newport Harbor Christmas Boat Parade will be held Dec. 17 through 23, beginning each evening at 6:30 p.m. at Collins Island. About 200 decorated boats will spend about 2 1/2 hours circumnavigating the harbor, according to Bill Hamilton, this year's parade chairman.
The parade, sponsored by the Newport Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce, attracts elaborately decorated boats from Dana Point to Huntington Harbour and includes vessels ranging from outrigger canoes to large 100-foot yachts.