Wilmington, N.C.: Colorful flotillas (boat parades) will illuminate the waterways in Wilmington and its island beaches on back-to-back weekends this holiday season. Visitors can experience this coastal holiday tradition in Wrightsville Beach on Saturday, Nov. 26 and in Carolina Beach on Saturday, Dec. 3. A festive atmosphere ensues along the banks as enthusiastic spectators cheer when the brightly lit boats sail past with spirited crews. Boats are judged on creativity and costumes, so owners of the twinkling sailing vessels—ranging from simple motorboats to luxury yachts—go big with elaborate decorations and entertainment to please the crowds and impress the judges.

The weekend after Thanksgiving (Nov. 25-26), the 33rd North Carolina Holiday Flotilla & Festival in the Park—a  Southeast Tourism Society Top 20 Event—ushers in the holiday season at Wrightsville Beach with a tree lighting ceremony, a family festival and an evening showcase of glimmering boats and fireworks. The festivities begin Friday night (Nov. 25) when the island’s Christmas tree is lit at 5:45 p.m., followed by visits with Santa at Town Hall. At 7:00 p.m., the celebration continues with the Atlantic Marine Launch Party at the Blockade-Runner Beach Resort with live beach music by The Embers (featuring Craig Woolard), heavy hors d’oeuvres and a live auction (admission charge for party). On Saturday, a full day of entertainment begins with a free Festival in the Park from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. at Wrightsville Beach Park featuring an antique car show, festival food, as well asarts and crafts by local artisans and merchants. For children, there’s a large play area with inflatable slides, bounce houses, a coloring contest and the ever-popular Choo-Choo. Then at 6:00 p.m., a fireworks volley signals the beginning of the N.C. Holiday Flotilla which will sail past restaurants that line the Intracoastal Waterway and wind its way along Banks Channel toward Waynick Blvd. A celebratory fireworks show follows the last boat in the procession. In addition to judges’ favorites, spectators can vote via text to determine the Crowd Favorite and People's Choice awards. Visitors who wish to make the most of Thanksgiving weekend will arrive early to enjoy breathtaking sunrises and walks along the beach, fresh seafood at island restaurants, shopping at surf and specialty shops, and to experience narrated harbor cruises and the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History. For details about the N.C. Holiday Flotilla, visit www.ncholidayflotilla.org or call 910-256-2120.

On the first Saturday in December (December 3rd), the Island of Lights Christmas Flotilla in Carolina Beach features electrically decorated fishing boats and pleasure crafts in a spectacular display of light and sound. The friendly boat competition adds to the island’s holiday spirit. Beginning at 6:00 p.m. the merry boat parade cruises from Snows Cut to Carolina Beach Boat Basin and back. The best viewing station is at Carolina Beach Boat Basin. Visitors who arrive on Friday are in for a treat when the annual Island of Lights Nighttime Christmas Parade kicks off the weekend on December 2nd. Santa’s official arrival in Pleasure Island on Friday night is preceded by an elaborate procession of electrical floats, marching bands, queens and more. The parade begins at 7:30 p.m. along Lake Park Blvd. from Atlantic Avenue to Federal Point Plaza in Carolina Beach. Plan a weekend getaway that includes the parade and the flotilla, as well as a walk around Carolina Beach Lake to see the light displays and a visit to the Carolina Beach Boardwalk for Christmas by the Sea festivities. While on the island, you can also enjoy Carolina Beach State Park, Kure Beach’s Ocean Front Park, the Fort Fisher State Historic Site & Civil War Museum and the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher. You’ll also find unique gifts in museum shops and beach boutiques at Carolina and Kure beaches. Oyster season is in full swing, so be sure to reserve a table at of the island’s seafood restaurants. For details about the Island of Lights Christmas Flotilla, the Nighttime Parade and other events: www.islandoflights.org.

Celebrate the season coastal-style with more than 50 holiday events from the river to the sea. To download a free 2016 Holiday Events brochure, please visit www.wilmingtonandbeaches.com/seasonal-page. For a free Official Visitors Guide, call 1-866-266-9690, or email visit@wilmingtonandbeaches.com, or stop by the year-round Visitors Information Center located at 505 Nutt Street, Unit A, in Wilmington’s historic river district.