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December 20, 2021

Photo Essay: Jingling On the Waves at Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade

One holiday tradition that Southern California has that I don't recall ever happening in New York City is the Christmas boat parade. 

I'd watched one from Ports O' Call in San Pedro back in 2013—but I couldn't see much. Though I was relatively unimpressed, I was undeterred in my quest to find a better experience. 

I knew there were other Christmas boat parades in Dana Point, Huntington Beach, Ventura Harbor, and Newport Beach. I just didn't want to go alone. Or do all the planning myself. 

 
Fortunately, this was the year that my partner-in-crime decided she wanted to take up the gauntlet and figure out the best way to see the Newport Beach one—which, for us, turned out to be a spectator cruise offered by Davey's Locker on the Balboa Peninsula. 

 
We departed from the dock next to the Balboa Pavilion on the Catalina Flyer, a three-deck catamaran ferry that normally brings tourists from Newport Beach to Avalon, Catalina Island...
   
...and sat outside at the back of the lower deck. 
   
Our ferry intermingled with the official parade boats and other spectator vessels, which ranged from riverboats to pontoons and dinghys. 

 
At first, it was hard to tell which were participants—because they were all pretty lit up like Christmas trees. (Some with actual Christmas tree lights atop their masts.) 
   
The parade runs nightly over the course of five nights—and we'd waited so long to get our tickets this year, we could only manage to hop onto the second-to-last cruise on the final night of the parade. (It takes place every year the third Wednesday through the third Sunday in December.)

 
This is the 113th year that the lit-up boats have been on parade in Newport Harbor, growing from just 9 boats the first year to over 80 registered participants. 


The Commodores Club of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce canceled the 112th annual parade last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it managed to return this year with a number of safety protocols in place.  
  
 
Here, the houses on the other side of Newport Bay (a.k.a. the "bayfront estates") get into the sea-son, with the annual "Ring of Lights" home decorating contest.


That's something you don't see at San Pedro, where the bay is surrounded by the Port of Los Angeles...
 

...and the other side is just the Pacific Ocean. 
 

A few minutes after our departure, our captain stopped our ferry and settled on a position that would give us a view of the parade's boats coming towards us on the right (starboard). 
 
 
The decorated boats (and not just with lights, but with inflatables and other holiday figures) sailed past us...

 
...circled round the bend somewhere beyond our position...

 
...and then came back around on the left (port side). 

The Mayflower (far right)

We really enjoyed the variety—from colorful explosions to simpler outlines along the sails of what appeared to be sailboats and tall ships.  
 
 
One even looked like a pirate ship and blew flames out the back. 

 
And then of course there were the hulking yachts, catamarans (though smaller than ours), and even some motorboats. 

 
The entire route is about 14 miles, and ships big and small must stay in constant motion to give each of the cruises (and harbor-side dining seating options) a good view...

 
...no matter what time it is between 6 and 9 p.m. each of the five nights of the parade. 
   
During the parade, some of the ships play music to go along with their theme. One boat this year had a bunch of drummers that sounded kind of like a marching band

 
Parade entries are judged on music—as well as humor and originality, use of lights, and animation/special effects. 


Each ship seems to have its own personality—whether it's the FURY or the PATRIOT (a rental party boat) or the CATALLAC (also a rental party boat). 
 

There's even a fireworks display to kick off the parade every year on its first night (the Wednesday) and sail-abrate its last night (the Sunday). 

It's a whole to-do getting down to Newport from Los Angeles, fighting your way through traffic on the peninsula, and lining up for parking. We got yelled at a limo driver that was standing in the middle of the street after giving him a friendly toot with our car horn. The first pizza place we visited was sold out of slices and not selling whole pies. The main thoroughfare through the Balboa Fun Zone was jammed with people who had no sense of personal space. 

But out on the cruise, it was absolutely wonderful. 
 
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