Bright lights, creative decorations and reliably lovely weather by the water. All that goes into making the Manatee River Holiday Boat Parade one of the most popular events of the Christmas season in the Bradenton area.
This year’s parade starts at 6 p.m. Saturday. The parade takes about three hours, so you might want to plan your vantage point according to your schedule for the evening, or plan your arrival time based on where you plan to watch from.
The starting point is at Snead Island, on the north side of the river. The boats head upriver toward the Green Bridge, then cross over to the Bradenton side and circle around and head back across. So if you want to watch from Bradenton, there’s little point in arriving at 6 p.m.
Last year, boats began to be visible at Pier 22, where the judges were poised to make their decisions, at about 8 p.m., and started to make it to the Bradenton side of the river about 20 minutes later. But crowds started to gather on the restaurant patio and in the parking lot hours before.
The parade typically includes dozens of vessels, ranging from large yachts with haphazard lights to smaller boats with complicated displays and synchronized to music. Crowds cheer their favorites and the boats sometimes maneuver in circles to give the spectators a little extra show. Santa Claus is likely to make an appearance on one of the boats.
It’s all free, and it’s an annual seasonal tradition for a lot of area families.
Details: 6-9 p.m. Dec. 9, on the Manatee River from Snead Island to downtown Bradenton. Free. facebook.com/events/322342818235460.