Destin Boat Parade: The Complete Guide

The Destin Lighted Boat Parade is a spectacular event that brings the Christmas spirit out in just about everyone.

Some tips can help you enjoy the parade no matter where you’ve come from and whether you’re local or visiting.

Below is a thorough guide on everything you need to know regarding the Destin Boat Parade.

The Destin Boat Parade is an annual celebratory Christmas event occurring every December at Destin Harbor.

Boat owners decorate their vessels with elaborate Christmas lights and decorations to participate in the parade. After the boat parade, there is a fireworks display for all to enjoy.

In case the thought of a spectacular boat parade with almost 30 vessels decorated in glistening Christmas lights wasn’t enough, there is an exciting firework display for all to behold at the end of the parade.

On the day leading up to the Destin Boat Parade, there are numerous fun activities for people of all ages. This is certainly an event that no one wants to miss out on!

Destin Harbor Christmas Lighted Boat Parade – What To Expect

For over 35 years, the historic harbor of Destin has hosted an annual Christmas celebratory lighted boat parade.

The boats of all shapes and sizes are registering for the event and decorating their vessels in a remarkable display of Christmas spirit. On average, between 20-30 ships participate in the parade each year. 

With most vessels being allowed to participate, you can see dolphin cruise boats, tour boats, fishing charter vessels, and private boats such as yachts participating in the lighted boat parade.

All these vessels will be decorated with dazzling Christmas lights and ornaments in an attempt to win one of the 10 prizes available.

The ultimate prize is the Best Boat Overall and the city of Destin Heritage Award, which is awarded to the vessel that best represents Destin’s historic harbor.

After the firework display, the awards will be handed out once the judges have finished their discussion. The parade generally takes place in early December.

In previous years the boat parade usually falls between the 10th – 14th of December and typically starts at 6 pm – although there are a lot of festivities available for people of all ages between 12 pm and 6 pm. 

The parade route starts near the Boshamps restaurant on the East side of the Destin harbor.

The participating boats cruise down to the harbor’s Westside, passing Emerald Grande and the Harborwalk Village as passengers wave to onlooking bystanders.

At the same time, they cheer for the best-decorated boats.

Bystanders gather to watch the Destin Boat Parade from various waterfront restaurants in the Harborwalk Village, the Destin Bridge, the docks of the Harborwalk Boardwalk, and from the beaches at Norriego Point.  

Once all the participating boats have completed the parade course, a firework show typically starts at around 7:30 pm.

So, you should ensure you are seated in an excellent position to watch the fireworks at around 7 pm.

The lights from the fireworks glistening over the Harbor waters are certainly not an experience you want to miss. 

Who Can Enjoy The Destin Boat Parade?

The Destin Boat Parade is a free event open to anyone who wants to watch.

Seating at the waterfront restaurants with the best views is limited, so you may have to call and book a spot or get there early to reserve your seat.

Parking spaces in the Village may also be limited. Parking generally costs $10, although it is usually free during the holiday season.

For boat owners who wish to participate in the parade, you must register your vessels at the Destin History and Fishing Museum.

The entry fee is around $25 per boat. For more information on how to register your boat, you can visit their website to find their contact details here.

Best Places To View The Destin Boat Parade

The Destin Boat Parade is a top-rated event for locals and tourists visiting to see the show.

While the parade is free to watch, there are a few spots that will enhance your experience by providing the best seats for viewing the parade 

Best Restaurants For Viewing The Destin Boat Parade

The best restaurants for viewing the parade are the restaurants on the waterfront with tables that offer a good view of the harbor.

Below you will find a list of a few of the most popular restaurants with the best harbor views.

AJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar – AJ’s Seafood has been around since 1984. Due to their fresh seafood, live music, and excellent view of the harbor from the second floor, they are one of the most popular spots for people who want to see the parade.

There is also the added benefit of some great food.

Margaritaville – Margaritaville has excellent parade views from their 2nd-floor dining area and 3rd-floor Landshark Bar.

The boats go straight past the restaurant, which offers one of the closest views of the parade. They also boast amazing cheeseburgers and regularly host events and have live music. 

Tailfins – Tailfins is another excellent restaurant that boasts incredible views of the Destin harbor from their 2nd and 3rd floors.

If the name wasn’t obvious enough, they are a fantastic seafood and oyster bar-restaurant where you can enjoy the parade with seafood platters and sushi.

The Boathouse – The Boathouse is arguably one of the best restaurants in Harborwalk Village. The Boathouse is situated in one of the best positions for viewing the parade, with the promise of excellently priced and flavorful food while you enjoy the event.

Due to popularity, seating is quite limited, so you need to get there early or book a table in advance. 

Destin Boat Parade View From The Boardwalk Docks

Another excellent place for viewing the parade is from either standing on the Destin Boardwalk or Harborwalk Docks.

You will be on the water and see the boats as close as possible as they complete the parade course. 

The best viewing spots are at the Harborwalk Docks, namely in front of the Emerald Grande. You may need to get there early for a better view, especially if you are short.

View Of The Destin Boat Parade From Norriego Point

Norriego Point is an excellent place to view the parade from the beach. It offers fantastic close-up views of all the vessels that are passing by.

The only drawback of this spot is that the boat passengers will be facing away from you and waving towards the bystanders on the Harborwalk side of the Destin Historic Harbor. 

Destin Boat Parade View From Destin Bridge

The Destin Bridge offers a fantastic, elevated view of all the boats participating in the parade.

As long as you don’t mind a short walk to reach your destination, the Destin Bridge is a perfect spot to watch the festivities.

As long as you don’t mind being a bit further away from the action, the bridge offers the finest vantage point to see the entire parade procession. 

Best Destin Boat Parade Cruises

One of the most exhilarating ways to view the Destin Boat Parade is to be in it!

For those who don’t own their own boat, but find the idea of participating in the parade exhilarating, there is some good news for you.

There are numerous boat excursions and tours that will allow you to book a cruise and join in the parade. Space on these boats tends to be scarce, so make sure you book to get a seat ahead of time!

Southern Star Dolphin Cruise 

The Southern Star Dolphin Cruises’ double-decker boat offers the perfect opportunity to be in the Destin Boat Parade and have a great view of the other participating vessels on the water and an excellent spot for watching the firework show afterward. 

Their double-decker boat boasts a great viewing experience of the parade and is equipped with a gallery filled with beer, wine, and food.

For more information regarding how you can book a parade cruise with Southern Star Dolphin Cruises, click here.

Buccaneer Pirate Cruise

For an ultimately unique experience, the Buccaneer Pirate Cruises’ ship will provide you with all the fun of watching the parade from a boat that looks exactly like a pirate’s ship!

The adventurous excitement of cruising on a life-like pirate ship, complete with a mast decorated with glistening Christmas lights, is undoubtedly a great way to experience the Destin Boat Parade. 

You can click here for more information about participating in the Destin Lighted Boat Parade on the Buccaneer Pirate Cruises.

Cruisin’ Tikis Destin 

Cruisin’ Tikis Destin is another excellent company that offers a chance to experience the Destin Boat Parade from the unique viewpoint of their floating Tiki Bars.

Their decorated Tiki Boats look magical cruising through the parade route, and they are also the cutest contestants!

You can find more information about their Tiki Bar Boat Parade Cruises here.

Boogies Dolphin Cruises

While Boogies Dolphin Cruises only has small boats meant for watersports, that doesn’t stop them from joining in the Christmas festivities of the Destin Boat Parade!

With a particular booking, you may be able to find yourself in the middle of the parade on one of their decorated vessels. 

For more information about booking your Boat Parade cruise, you can contact Boogie Dolphin Cruises here.

Destin Snorkel 

Destin Snorkel is another great company known for offering special cruises. These excursions will allow you to be a passenger on the boats they have entered into the Destin Boat Parade.

However, space is limited, so you should contact them and book your seat in advance. 

You can find their contact details for more information about participating in the Boat Parade from Destin Snorkel Cruises here.

Day Activities Leading Up To The Destin Boat Parade

While the parade usually only starts at 6 pm, there are many exciting events that the Harborwalk Village offers from 12 pm – 7 pm.

These activities ensure that everyone is entertained and in high spirits before the parade starts.

Leading up to the Destin Lighted Boat Parade, numerous performers and live music events will keep you entertained throughout the day.

Many of the events and activities throughout the day are family-friendly, with children’s arts and crafts available and a surprise visit from Santa Clause!

In previous years, there have been fun events such as a Ballet Conservatory on the main stage and the Village Brass Band to keep everyone amused.

There are also numerous restaurants with fantastic food available. Some offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner accompanied by some astonishing views of the Destin Harbor.

Destin Christmas Boat Parade Tips 

Whether it is your first time seeing the parade, or even if you are a Destin local who goes every year, a few tips could help you make the most out of your day.

Read the information below to make it a day you will undoubtedly remember fondly.

Get there early to find parking 

With the Destin Boat Parade being the highlight of many people’s December, it is common for the Harborwalk to be packed with people later on in the day.

Arriving a bit earlier before the masses will ensure you grab a great parking spot.

Know all the events and activities listed 

Destin Harborwalk will usually post an itinerary list of events and activities available throughout the day.

To avoid missing out on any live performances or fun activities, print out the list and keep it with you, or set reminders for the events you’d like to attend on your phone. 

Plan your seating for the parade in advance 

Knowing which spot you want to view the parade from (Destin Bridge, restaurants, etc.) will make it easier to arrive early and get the best viewing seat.

The restaurants with the best views fill up quite quickly, so it is crucial to arrive in time to secure your spot.

Dress warmly 

Destin is known to be quite cold throughout December, and the wind at night can be pretty chilly.

Suppose you plan on staying the whole day until the firework display at 7:30 pm. It is best to pack a warm jacket, especially if you view the parade from Norriego point on the beach, as the wind here is icy. 


The Destin Lighted Christmas Boat Parade is a unique annual event at the Destin Historic Harbor. Anyone can register their boats to participate in the parade.

They will compete with other ships for prizes such as the Best Overall decorated vessel.

The boat parade starts at 6 pm and usually at 7:30 pm. Once all the competing boats have finished the parade course, there is a fireworks display.

There are numerous fun activities and events throughout the day to keep everyone entertained and in high spirits until the Lighted Boat Parade starts.

This Christmas event is enjoyed by almost everyone and is sure to set the mood for the rest of December. 

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