Boat parades light up nights during Orlando area's holiday season

Published online: Dec 12, 2011 News Anika Myers Palm - Orlando Sentinel
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Although he knows some of his neighbors will spend days or even weeks coming up with showy designs, Bobby Lance plans to take a more low-key approach to decorating his pontoon boat this year for the annual Lake Conway Christmas boat parade.

"It takes me about four hours, usually the day before," Lance said of his preparations for the Dec. 18 parade.

"I'm a middle-of-the-road guy," he said. "Mine is strictly lights."

Lance is one of hundreds of Central Floridians who trim their boats with tinsel, lights and other decorations for holiday boat parades - sometimes putting in enough work to turn their craft into spectacles rivaling a Disney creation. The family-friendly parades have become cherished traditions on Central Florida's chains of lakes.

Mount Dora had its holiday parade Saturday along Lake Shore Drive, with about 10 boats.

"The parade's made up of local boaters who really just enjoy putting on a show for the community," said Joe Lewis, general manager of the Mount Dora Boating Center.

"Some folks have gotten pretty creative," Lewis said. "One year, we had some folks with a boat with carolers who sang Christmas carols."

That's not all. Santa, sleds, Christmas trees, fake snow and plastic reindeer make regular appearances aboard parade boats. Pirates, Vikings and, of course, Elvis have also popped up.

The Lake Conway parade, one of the area's largest, typically features about 100 boats, said Pete Madison, who founded the event more than 15 years ago.

Although the parade isn't sponsored by any particular group, residents of the Conway neighborhood in south Orange County look forward to the event, which is always just after sunset the Sunday before Christmas.

Madison's friends and family generally steer his 16-foot pontoon boat through the water during the parade while he stays on land to host a gathering of neighbors. He estimates that more than a thousand people watch.

"You'll see people bring their grandkids or great-grandkids," Madison said.

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