October - November - December 2015

Driveable Destinations (p.28)
The North Carolina Holiday Flotilla

By Jennifer Smart

For a dazzling display of Christmas cheer, you can't top the North Carolina Holiday Flotilla. Billed as the best holiday party in the Southeast, this spectacular lighted boat parade and fireworks show happens Thanksgiving weekend and brings 50,000 visitors to Wrightsville Beach for a seaside celebration that includes Santa, the Shag, and everything in between.

Now in its 32nd year, Flotilla weekend is a two-day event that will kick off with a Tree Lighting on Friday, November 27 and finish with the Boat Parade on Saturday, November 28. Spectators gather on water and land to watch and cheer as a procession of extravagantly bedecked yachts and motorboats cruises through Mott's Channel, Banks Channel, and the Intracoastal Waterway. Apart from the pure pageantry of bulbs on water, this is also a competition. Last year's winners sported pithy titles such as Good Tiding to You, Furtilla, Yellow Submarine, Salt Life Santa, Sleigh Surfing, Christmas Hummingbird, and (in a nod to pirates) Peter Pan.

The weekend is packed with activities, so here's a brief rundown of events. Following Friday's 5:45 PM Tree Lighting is a 7:00 PM Launch Party at the Blockade Runner. This features a silent auction, food, and a cash bar, and live entertainment is provided by The Embers. Tickets are priced at $30 and are available online or at the door. Then the fun zooms back into action bright and early Saturday morning with Festival in the Park beginning at 10:00 AM. This event is held at Wrightsville Beach Park and lasts most of the day. Families will love the inflatable slides, bounce houses, antique car show, and booths with local arts and crafts.

When the sun goes down, the party shifts to the water for a quick volley of fireworks to signal the start of the Boat Parade at 6:00 PM. The flotilla covers a four-mile stretch and visitors are encouraged to leave their cars at Wrightsville Beach Park so they can walk to vantage points along the route. Good Flotilla-spotting can be found on the Banks Channel Bridge, the South Harbor Island mini-parks, and the west side of Waynick Boulevard. The parade ends with a substantial fireworks show at about 7:30 PM. Launched from Bird Island over the Intracoastal Waterway, this can be seen from any waterfront location near and around Wrightsville Beach.

If you're tempted to make the Holiday Flotilla your Thanksgiving weekend getaway, visit for the accommodations package from the Blockade Runner Beach Resort. Located directly on the parade route, this is where you'll find the Launch Party and the tent for the parade judges. If you're interested in entering a boat in the competition, check out the rules and procedures at To make a holiday splash, skippers are encouraged to keep the design simple, focus on their theme, and consider using costumes, balloons, and special effects.

Wrightsville Beach is in New Hanover County just east of Wilmington and is one of North Carolina's most popular vacation spots. Taking I-40 East, it's about two and a half hours from the Triangle. If you're interested in a full holiday weekend, the Blockade Runner offers a Thursday Thanksgiving Buffet prior to the Friday and Saturday events. Visit for more information.

Jennifer Smart is assistant director of the Wake Forest Historical Museum. You can visit the museum online at

Photo courtesy of Sana Rogers, First in Flight Media



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