By Michael Turnbell, Sun Sentinel
9:18 PM EST, December 10, 2011
The Venice of America was transformed into a eye-popping river of light Saturday night.
The Seminole Hard Rock Winterfest Boat Parade, now in its 40th year, featured nearly 100 vessels from million-dollar mega yachts to humble kayaks to barges, each adorned in all manner of holiday whimsy.
Thousands turned out to party and enjoy the balmy breezes along the parade's 12-mile route from downtown Fort Lauderdale on the New River, up the Intracoastal Waterway and into Lake Santa Barbara.
The boats glided past downtown's high-rise condos, where people watched from balconies strung with twinkling lights, and a crowd of cheering, hooting and waving spectators. Vendors sold gyros, hot dogs and old-fashioned lemonade.
"The lights and the boats are so beautiful," said Susan Merritt, of Fort Lauderdale, who came early to secure a good spot along the city's Riverwalk with Annie Esala and Luis Martinez.
For the fifth straight year, the parade started on the New River. "You couldn't ask for a better location. It's easy to get to, and you can see everything up close," Esala said.
"What's not to like? It's 75 degrees and it's December," said Thom Burkmeier, who was visiting from Minnesota and seeing the extravaganza for the first time.
The grand marshal was Bee Gees frontman Barry Gibb, a Miami Beach resident, who was aboard one of the lead boats with Shireen Sandoval of WSVN-Ch. 7.
The theme was "Rockin' Boats & Holiday Floats" and music and fireworks appropriately boomed among the buildings along the route.
Decorations included a full-size airplane with a sleigh aboard a 100-foot barge, a Santa boasting a suit of 1,500 LED lights, and another barge carrying a herd of animated reindeer.
Leading off the parade was the 160-foot U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Hudson. Among the other notable large boats featured in the parade was the Theodore II, a 65-foot tugboat from Nova Scotia wrapped in a Nova Scotia scarf. It carried an animated Santa and elves.
Other displays included the Florida Lottery boat with big, red "Powerballs," a monster truck, a fire truck that shot flames and a cannon that fired biodegradable confetti.
Those with a hankering for more holiday fun along the water can go out Sunday to view the Pompano Beach Holiday Boat Parade.
It hoists anchors at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, starting at Lake Santa Barbara and cruising five miles north on the Intracoastal Waterway to the Hillsboro Boulevard Bridge.
Both the Northeast 14th Street Causeway and the Atlantic Boulevard drawbridges will be locked in the open position from 6 to 9 p.m. on Sunday. Throughout the parade, the Hillsboro Boulevard bridge will open or close as needed.
The Boca Raton Holiday Boat Parade, in its 35th year, will start at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at the C-15 canal at the Boca Raton/Delray Beach city limits and proceed six miles south to the Hillsboro Boulevard Bridge at the Deerfield Beach city limits
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