This year’s theme will tip a hat to San Diego Zoo’s birthday
By Gina McGalliard
Although we may not get a snowy “white Christmas” here in sunny San Diego, we do have our own coastal-themed holiday tradition: the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights, a procession of more than 80 decorated boats.
The parade, now in its 45th year and primarily sponsored by the Port of San Diego’s Tidelands Activation Program, will have the theme, “It Began with a Roar — San Diego Zoo Celebrates 100 Years.”
“We thought it was very important to incorporate the 100th anniversary of the Zoo since it’s such an iconic location in San Diego and has had such an impact on San Diego,” said Katie Schaa, public relations representative for the parade.
“Everybody on our committee are animal lovers, especially me,” added Joni Geis, who is in charge of sponsorships and donations and has worked with the parade for 15 years.
“It’s a challenge for the boaters, and we really respect and appreciate everything that they do to go through this,” Geis said. “They do it two nights a year; they create their boat to come up with something — some of them are so artistic. Some of them are so creative.”
“The boaters I can tell you are very excited about [the theme],” said parade chairman, Larry Baumann. “I’ve seen glimpses of some of the ideas people have and I suspect that there’s going to be a lot of giraffes, because sailboat masts lend themselves to being a giraffe neck.”
The parade route will also be longer this year, commencing as usual in Shelter Island before sailing past Harbor Island, the Embarcadero and Seaport Village, then traveling past the newly refurbished pier at Cesar Chavez Park in Barrio Logan before circling back and ending at the Ferry Landing in Coronado.
“For the first time, we’ve decided to go further down and then bring the parade around so that it crosses the bay and heads to Coronado,” Geis said. “So we’re trying to bring that community in and make them feel more a part of the parade, because they’ve got a great park down there, Chicano Park. The area is a very artistic area — it’s just such a neat place.”
Any boat owner — whether that is of a small motorboat, yacht, or sailboat — can participate in the parade for a $50 entry fee. About 90 percent of participants are recreational boat owners, Geis said.
The event typically draws approximately 100,000 spectators, who will have the opportunity to learn more about the participating boats if they watch the parade near one of the two announcer’s areas: the Coronado Ferry Landing and the Maritime Museum on the Embarcadero.
Organizers said the parade has the added bonus of being a boon to waterfront businesses.
“The two Sunday nights this year, the 11th and the 18th, would be very soft nights for businesses on the bay if it weren’t for the parade,” Baumann said, adding that it was the boating community’s gift to San Diego.
Parade judges, not necessarily boaters themselves, will consist of a diverse cross-section of the local community, with representatives from the San Diego Police Department, San Diego Zoo Global, United Airlines and the military.
“We try to keep the judging very diverse, so that there’s lots of people from different backgrounds,” Schaa said.
On Jan. 10, an awards banquet will be held at Tom Ham’s Lighthouse, one of two restaurants on the bay owned by Baumann. Two dinner tickets to the banquet are included with the parade entry fee.
This year’s raffle-determined grand prize is a Star Clippers cruise for two, and Schaa described their vessels as “gorgeous, gigantic, old-school sailboats.” Participants must be in both nights of the parade to qualify for awards.
The Best in Theme prize, decided by judges, will be a seven-night UnCruise Adventures vacation, to either Costa Rica and Panama, or Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. Geis also noted that Star Clippers has been a sponsor for five years.
Other prizes are also up for grabs.
“We try to get enough prizes that everybody walks away with something,” Geis said. “The awards dinner has become so popular, we now have about 300 people that attend. So it’s a really wonderful evening.”
The San Diego Bay Parade of Lights will be held on two consecutive Sunday nights, Dec. 11 and 18, starting in Shelter Island at 5 p.m. The parade lasts approximately two hours. For more information, visit sdparadeoflights.org.