LAND AND SEA: People come out in droves for Destin street and boat parades

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

Folks around the area took advantage of celebrating a little Christmas cheer this weekend in Destin as thousands lined U.S. 98 for the Joy to the World street parade on Saturday and then filled the harbor boardwalk and docks Sunday evening for the Holiday on the Harbor Destin Lighted Boat Parade.

The LeMaster family was ready and waiting for the parade to start rolling on Saturday morning along U.S. 98 in Destin.

"(The parade) was amazing," said Destin City Councilman Kevin Schmidt. "Thank you to the city of Destin government, city staff, Lisa Firth and her team, and all the amazing volunteers for putting together the Destin Christmas Parade in record time."

Santa Claus brought up the rear as usual for the Destin Christmas Parade and he didn't disappoint on Saturday morning.

Schmidt, who was recently elected to the council, asked the question a few weeks ago as to whether Destin was going to have a parade. Although some questioned the idea because of the uptick of COVID-19 cases in Okaloosa County, the council decided to move forward with the Christmas parade.

Retired Capt. Tommy Browning served as grand marshal for this year's  Christmas parade. In fishing fashion, he sat in a fishing fighting chair flanked with a couple of rods and reels. Also pictured is his son, Tommy Lee.

And from the looks of the smiling faces on children and adults, it was a good idea.

Forty-five minutes to an hour before the parade, people were coming in from all the side streets pushing strollers and pulling wagons for the little ones while others were sporting Santa hats and other festive holiday wear. Some carried bags and even a few pillow cases to collect the goodies along the route. 

"Thank you to all the participants for getting your float together and thank you to all the citizens for coming out to support them," Schmidt said.

The kids weren't the only ones sporting their holiday wear and waiting to see the parade. Kay Biggers and Matt Wright were ready as well as several hundred more along U.S. 98.

The theme of this year's Christmas parade was "Joy to the World."

"If you ask me, I saw tons of joy on so many faces today," Schmidt said after the parade.

Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis, who walked the route tossing out candy, said the parade couldn't have been any better.

The Fort Walton Beach Viking Band and the Destin Middle School Marlin Band combined forces to provide some holiday music along the parade route Saturday morning.

"There was a lot of discussion on whether or not we should do it ... but I just felt like that's what our community needed," Jarvis said.

Just days before the parade, only 30 had signed up to enter a float or entry in the event, which is a third of what Destin usually has. When it was all said and done, 50 had entered and were ready to roll down U.S. 98 Saturday morning. 

The Destin Christmas Parade — Joy to the World — rolled down U.S. 98 Saturday morning with 50 entries tossing out candy, beads and more to those gathered along the route.

"Boy, were we surprised. The streets were lined and it was awesome," Jarvis said. "For me ... to see their faces, even the faces of the adults, you could just tell that the people who came to the parade, needed to come to a parade."

Jarvis said he had many people express thanks for the city going ahead with the parade.

Destin Mayor Gary Jarvis hands out candy along the parade route Saturday morning in the Destin Christmas Parade.

"It went as good as you would want in a short amount of time. It was good for the community, no doubt about it. I'm glad we did it. It was fun for everybody. It was just something that everybody needed ... and it brought a little bit of joy," Jarvis said, noting the theme of the parade.

And the parade had a little bit of everything, from a marching band to baby Jesus and shepherds, to pirates tossing out beads and Destin Water Users employees throwing out rolls of toilet paper.

Destin Water Users employees were a hit at Saturday's Destin Christmas Parade as they tossed out these rolls of toilet paper.

Winners in this year's parade were: Billy Bowlegs, Civic Club Division; Destin Cheerleaders, Children's Service; Safe Harbor Presbyterian, Religious; AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar, Commercial; Rise Dance Team, Child Commercial; Destin Water Users, Crowd Pleaser.

The Destin Water Users truck was a hit at the parade on Saturday as employees tossed out rolls of toilet paper, which have been in demand during the pandemic.

As for the Holiday on the Harbor Lighted Destin Boat Parade, the people came out in droves. Folks lined the docks, back decks of restaurants, and boardwalk up and down the harbor to catch a glimpse of the boats as they made their way through the harbor Sunday night.

"It was another successful boat parade," said Kathy Marler Blue, executive director of the Destin History and Fishing Museum, which puts on the parade each year.

Ron Thumb and his granddaughter, Emma, of Santa Rosa Beach were having a few boiled peanuts before Saturday's parade.

Twenty-six boats were registered participants in the parade while many others boats, all lit up, slipped in the route.

Former Councilman Cyron Marler served as emcee for the event. Judges for the parade were Tami Groth, market president of Okaloosa County Community Bank; Marti Gardner, Okaloosa County School Board member for District 2; and Rich Neal, Fudpucker's GM.

The Southern Star won the overall award as well as the Destin Heritage  Award at the Holiday on the Harbor boat parade Sunday night.

After the boats had dazzled the crowd with their lights, HarborWalk Village finished up the evening with a fireworks show over the harbor.

Winners in the various divisions were: Bluewater Bay Boats and Yachts, Private 30-feet and under division; Reel Zing, Private 31-feet and over; Destin Tikis, Charter/Commercial 30-feet and under; Alibi, Charter/Commercial 31-feet and over; Emerald Grande Shuttle, Tour Boat/Motorized 50-feet and under; Sunny Lady, Tour Boat/Motorized 51-feet and over; and Southern Star, Overall Best Entry.

Twenty-six boats participated in Sunday night's Holiday on the Harbor boat parade.

Winner of the Destin Harbor Heritage Award also went to the Southern Star, captained by Jason McGregory.