This will be our third Winter on the road and we, like many other full timers migrate to warmer climes for the season. And, as much as we love being in the warm balmy south, we find it difficult to get into the Christmas spirit without all the accouterments we grew up with in the north. Gone is the crispy cold air that can take your breath away, gone is the scent of a fresh cut pine tree upon entering the house, and nowhere can be find the blanket of white carpeting the frozen ground while it slumbers. No. We find ourselves having to search a little harder.
Our first year found us in the quiet little hamlet of Cedar Key. We were smitten with its “old Florida” charm. It was our first Christmas spent away from our children and grandchildren, it was a little difficult for both of us, so to lift our spirits we decided to immerse ourselves into the local holiday customs. What a unique experience it was!
The town decked itself out for the season, only instead of the “traditional” red, white, and green tinsel and holly decorations, the streetlights and the city park were a glimmer with sand dollars, dolphins, sea horses, and the like in shades of blue, seashell pink, and white. Us, along with the entire town, turned out to watch the Christmas boat parade. This was the first we’d ever heard of decorating boats for a light show and we love the tradition. Afterwards, we waited on the beach at city park to watch Santa arrive by airboat. We got the biggest kick watching the town children run down to the shore to greet him as he hopped off the boat in chest high waders carrying his sack of toys. In lieu of elves to assist him, this Santa had helper clams. This has become a cherished travel memory for us.
The following year we had our sight set on Florida once again for the winter season, but we were approaching it in leisure travel mode following the coastline out of Virginia southward. We found ourselves in Charleston, South Carolina just after Thanksgiving. Our being there at that time of year was not intentional on my part BUT I was well aware of the Holiday Festival of Lights tradition held on James Island each year AND I had been wanting to see it ever since we’d vacationed there five years prior. And that we did. A combination walking and driving tour through a 643 acre park adorned in millions of multi-colored Christmas lights and more than 700 displays. There was a beautiful old carousel to ride, a train that took us past a still, quiet reflecting pond, and bonfires where we could roast marshmallows the size of Don’s fist. The wonder of it all had us both grinning from ear to ear like little kids, so awe struck we were. Another wonderful holiday memory to hold dear.
This year we are spending the cold months in southern Alabama and although we intend to travel back to Indiana to spend Christmas with our family, sans the Suite Pea, we still seek out the local festive traditions to partake of. It seems as if every small town here dresses itself in holiday splendor. Each holds its own Christmas parade and tree lighting ceremony but our quest is for something different, something that we can’t find in every small town across America. Something unique to this area….and this is what we found.
Thursday evening I told Don I wanted to visit The Wharf to see its decorations and possibly visit the live nativity if it was up and running on a week night. We arrived before dusk so that we could also do some shopping at the various stores lining the marina. We strolled in and out of a few of the more interesting shops with me occasionally stopping to take photos. As darkness fell, the Wharf lit up and it was lovely seeing the palms decorated in an array of colors. Don was enjoying it very much and suggested we have dinner on the patio of the Villaggio Grille to take it all in. It was a gorgeous evening for dining out so I readily agreed. The hostess seated us near the 30′ Christmas tree, the best seat in the house as far as we were concerned and in perfect view of the lit palm trees.
Ivy, our waitress, approached to take our order. “Are you here for the light show?”, she inquired. “What light show?”, we asked in unison. Ivy informed us that The Wharf put on a light show each evening at six o’clock and again at seven, AND we were seated in a primo spot for the spectacle. Ivy also related to us that the individual who set up the program at The Wharf once worked on similar displays at Disney World. Now THAT really caught our attention.
Not only did we enjoy a delectable meal of grouper and filet mignon, the service of a very attentive waitress, but also a dazzling light exhibit. We congratulated ourselves on how fortunate we were to stumble upon this.
Another popular celebration here as in many a coastal area, is the parade of illuminated boats on the Intercoastal waterway. Ivy had given us a few tips on this as well. The parade was set to begin at 5:30 and continue until approximately 8 pm, so we packed a cooler with drinks, grabbed our camp chairs, and on the way we picked up subs for dinner, and found ourselves parked alongside the canal two hours ahead of time. Us and a few hundred other people, but again, we had prime seating. We chatted with some of the locals as we waited and picked up more tips on other attractions we shouldn’t miss while we’re here.
The Gulf Shores parade was on a grander scale than our first one at Cedar Key and a few of the larger yachts were incredibly and imaginatively arrayed. Our favorite boat had a bigger than life Santa clad in hunting gear and toting a shotgun with Rudolph dangling head down from a hoist. An outhouse and a Rebel flag completed the assemble. I wish I had a photo of it to share but my nighttime photography skills are lacking and the majority of the pictures I took didn’t turn out. Don has suggested I invest in the Canon EOS Rebel for Dummies book. He’s such a funny guy ha ha. (I think perhaps I may.)
As long as the weather, and time cooperates, our Christmas quest shall continue.
Here’s lookin’ at you kid……….