The 109th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade sailed into its first of five nights on Wednesday in spectacular Southern California fashion.
After a golden sunset gave way to a pleasant December evening of calm water and wind, fireworks that would rival Disneyland’s best announced that the parade had officially begun.
Inside the Balboa Bay Resort, Hollywood itself could not have cast a better OC-themed evening.
Lifelong Newport Beach resident and now mayor, Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, declared Vicki Gunvalson, one of the original Real Housewives of Orange County on the Bravo reality TV show of the same name, to be Grand Marshal of the first night of the parade.
Gunvalson does not live in Newport Beach, but her TV show often films in the area. Gary Sherwin, President and CEO of Newport Beach and Company, said selecting her as a Grand Marshal was an easy choice. The reality TV show promotes the “aspirational” lifestyle of Newport Beach, he said.
“Let’s whoop it up and get this party started!” Sherwin declared to the audience, borrowing from one of Gunvalson’s trademark sayings on the show. “I travel around the country telling the story of Newport Beach. I have more people come up to me and ask, ‘So, do you see the Housewives? Do you see Vicki?’”
“Between all of the drama that goes on [on the Real Housewives of Orange County], there are some really beautiful shots of Newport Beach,” he added. “To have someone who’s part of that is a great honor.”
In real life, Gunvalson is gracious and warm, despite what many may presume.
“I feel very honored,” Gunvalson replied when asked about being named Grand Marshal. “We film a lot in Newport Beach. It’s home to fabulous restaurants, beautiful boats, and this boat parade.”
She also subtly dismissed her image on the notoriously dramatic reality show.
“Don’t believe everything you see on that darned TV show,” she said.
Gunvalson thanked the city and parade sponsors as she was officially declared to be Grand Marshal by Duffield. She told the audience that while she has seen the boat parade in the past, Wednesday would be her first time experiencing it from a boat.
The mother of two and grandmother of two became emotional at the end of her speech, saying that she had wished her kids were there.
She, along with her boyfriend Steve Lodge, his family, and other distinguished guests sailed off from the Balboa Bay Resort to start the parade.
For the first time in around 30 years, the parade route began at the tip of Lido Isle. David Beek, who serves as one of the parade’s co-chairs, said the new starting point was for safety reasons, as well as to give the western side of Lido Isle and the eastern side of the Balboa Peninsula the benefit of the beginning part of the parade.
“The route did not change,” Beek confirmed. “The direction is the same, the route is the same.”
Those who host viewing parties at their homes will probably note that the parade passes their home at a different time this year. It may be 25 minutes later than usual, he said.
The new starting point also provides more of a continuous parade view to the hundreds who will watch from Marina Park this year. Beek called Marina Park the “epicenter” of the boat parade.
Marina Park hosted opening night activities as well, including festive food and beverage vendors, caricature artists, face painting, and appearances by Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. The LA Charger Cheerleaders, who also serve a Grand Marshals of Saturday’s parade, appeared on Wednesday night.
“One of the great things about this year’s parade is Marina Park,” Sherwin said. “One of the things we’ve tried to do since day one is create a sense of place for the event. Historically, if someone came to see the parade, they had to scramble around to find a place to watch it. [Marina Park is] a place where people can congregate and enjoy the parade. We really want people to come and have a good experience.”
City leader leaders past and present were in attendance, including Councilman Brad Avery.
“I’m impressed that the Chamber of Commerce was able to get such perfect weather,” Avery joked about the balmy conditions.
Will O’Neill, who was elected as the city’s new mayor pro tem on Tuesday, was also on hand for opening night.
“Our annual city showcase is truly special. Whether watching with friends, family, or co-workers from an island, the peninsula, or China Cove, the parade sets a festive tone for our holiday season,” O’Neill said. “Thank you to our many volunteers who spend months and thousands of hours to ensure that tens of thousands of kids and kids-at-heart can enjoy our spectacular parade.”
Chamber of Commerce President Steve Rosansky echoed the sentiment when he addressed the crowd.
“From its humble beginnings, the parade has been by, and for, the community,” Rosansky said after thanking the city and its leadership.
“This is an important event for Newport Beach, filled with holiday cheer and magical, artistic innovation, but it also drives more than $4 million of economic impact into our city. We are so proud to show the world the abundance of holiday spirit and generosity that exist here in Newport Beach,” Duffield said.
In quintessential Duffy-form, he quipped that he was reading each word of a prepared speech because he was asked to by the organizers.
In the future, he would just speak openly.
As fireworks boomed and the parade sailed into the night, the feeling around town was cheerful and bright. At least for those not stuck in traffic.
Chamber of Commerce Board Member and Council President of the Ambassadors Kay Walker and Colleen Pilz enjoyed the festivities on the patio of Balboa Bay Resort, along with Library Board of Trustees member Paul Watkins, his wife Rhonda, and dozens of other merrymakers.
“It’s absolutely stunning,” Walker remarked, “and this is the best weather we’ve had in years.”
“This event is truly a crown jewel in Newport Beach,” Pilz added.
Beek, whose grandfather helped make the boat parades a tradition as grand as the Tournament of Roses, summed up the feeling for those who have attended the boat parade year after year after year.
“It’s such a proud tradition for the Chamber of Commerce, the Commodores Club, and the city. Anything that lasts 109 year is pretty special, right?”
Boat Parade Details:
The 109th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade sails from 6:30 to 9 p.m. every night through Sunday.
Sunday night fireworks will officially close the event at 6:15 p.m. at the Balboa Pier.
The parade starts and ends at the tip of Lido Isle.
Grand marshals are:
Friday: Montage, the Orange County School of the Arts’ vocal and dance troupe
Saturday: Los Angeles Chargers cheerleaders, the Charger Girls
Sunday: USC marching band and song girls
For more information, visit ChristmasBoatParade.com