JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Landing is dark and partially destroyed. The city’s Christmas tree has been moved off the waterfront and won’t be lit until next Wednesday. But none of that kept one downtown holiday tradition from taking place Saturday evening: the Jacksonville Light Boat Parade.
A fleet of boats decorated with holiday lights cruised up and down the St. Johns River.
Hundreds of people came out to watch Saturday night’s light boat parade, which wove its way through downtown. Local boats covered in lights and decorations dazzled spectators who watched from various areas along the river.
“This is amazing. I think this is exciting, the beautiful city," one person said. “We’re from Massachusetts, so this is just wonderful.”
“I’m really excited to see all the different boats and all the choices, and I’m really excited about tonight," another person said.
The circular parade route runs from Metropolitan Park up to the Fuller Warren Bridge. As with years past, there was expected to be a waterfall of flames streaming from the Acosta and Main Street bridges.
The annual tradition kicks off Jacksonville’s holiday season.
“I brought my daughter and stuff. Hopefully, they’ll bring their kids when they’re older, so that’s my goal really is just creating memories," one person said.
Cole Biggerstaff drove 800 miles from Indianapolis, Indiana, to ask his girlfriend to be his wife. He knew the perfect backdrop was in Jacksonville, Florida. Biggerstaff’s now-fiancé, Ciera Hutchings, agreed.
The happy couple had never been to the parade before, but said Jacksonville now holds a special place in their hearts.
Over the years, crowds gathered at the Landing and watch the spectacle. But this year, they had to change their plans with the Landing closed and part of the area blocked off. The city’s special events office recommended watching the parade from in front of the Hyatt Hotel, the old Times-Union building or along the Southbank Riverwalk near Friendship Fountain.
Some boaters and spectators were concerned the show might lack its usual luster. That includes Fred Acevedo, who watches the parade every year.
“My concern is with the Landing being closed,” he said. “That’s where families take their children to watch the parade.”
Jacque Welti, a previous winner in the sailboat division, was working on her boat Friday afternoon.
“It’s amazing how many people do turn out,” Welti said. “And I just hope this year with the Landing not as it was that we get a good turnout.”
Ryan Ali, who heads up the city’s special events department, said good places to watch it include in front of the Hyatt Hotel, the Times-Union building and along the Southbank near Friendship Fountain.
“This is a temporary year,” he said. “We are being very fluid about this.”
With the Landing closed, the city has shifted another holiday tradition. The city’s Christmas tree will be lit 6:25 p.m. Wednesday at Hemming Park downtown.