On July 4, 1777, Philadelphia marked the first anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence with a huge celebration. It began with military vessels firing their cannons followed by an elaborate state dinner with music and toasts to the nation. The celebration ended with ringing of bells and fireworks. A newspaper described the “grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated.” By 1870, when Congress officially declared the day a holiday, this mid-summer celebration had grown into the greatest community event of the year.
Firework displays have also grown from 10- to 15-minute bursts of color into elaborate, choreographed, musical productions up to an hour. As a kid, my family would pile in a car and drive to the highest point in town to see as many fireworks as possible. These days, instead of finding that great spot on land, we anchor our boat so we have fireworks launching all around us. The boom echoing on the water followed by the burst of color in the sky reflected onto the water is something everyone should experience at least once.
From among the hundreds of waterfront displays in the Southeast, the following events should provide great opportunities to experience the “fireworks-in-the-round” effect. All events listed below are scheduled for July 4 beginning at 9 or 9:30 p.m. Check event websites for more information.
At the mouth of the ICW is the Hampton Roads Region. Home of the world’s largest naval station, there is no shortage of patriotic fireworks displays. Town Point Park in downtown Norfolk is hosting the 31st Annual AT&T Fourth of July Great American Picnic and Fireworks (festevents.org/). For a direct view of the display anchor at Hospital Point. Plan on getting there early since this area fills up quickly. Pinner Point, on the north side of the Midtown Tunnel is another good option if Hospital Point is too congested.
To see displays from Newport News, Norfolk and Virginia Beach consider anchoring in the Hampton Flats.
Across the sound from Kitty Hawk, site of the historic first flight, is Roanoke Island, home to many of the top sport and recreation boat builders in the country. On the north side of the island is Roanoke Island Festival Park where patriotic music will fill the air at 8 followed by fireworks over the sound. (roanokeisland.com/)
Shallowbag Bay is directly in front of the park and offers the best view of the fireworks. Make sure you check your charts since the water depth is somewhat shallow. Staying out in Roanoke Sound to view the fireworks is also an option. For another overnight anchorage check out Northwest Point or Reeds Point on the north side of the island.
In the middle of Charleston Harbor is Fort Sumter where the first shots were fired initiating the Civil War. If you anchor off this historical island on July 4th you will be treated to two spectacular displays. On the east side of the Cooper River Bridge is Patriots Point, home to the USS Yorktown. After a day-long party at the site, fireworks will be launched off the flight deck for all to see. (www.patriotspoint.org) Further up the Cooper River is the North Charleston Festival at Riverfront Park which boasts the largest fireworks show in the state. (www.northcharleston.org/visitors/events/4thofJuly.aspx)
While Savannah’s River Street is a popular destination for most major holidays, for the Fourth of July head further south to what is known as the Golden Isles Region of Georgia. St. Simons Island, Brunswick, Jekyll Island and Sea Island will all have displays lighting the sky.
Head up the river to tour historic Brunswick and grab a free slice of watermelon before watching the fireworks from your boat anchored in the harbor. To view all three shows anchor inside the ranges near Jekyll Island off the Brunswick River. There are strong currents and large tidal changes in this area, so check your cruising guides for better overnight anchorages. (www.goldenisles.com/festivals-events/4th-of-july-celebrations)
No matter where you are in Florida, a fireworks display over a body of water is less than an hour away. For boaters, Miami is the place to be for 360 degrees of fireworks. The boating party is at the sandbar on Key Biscayne. There you will be able to enjoy Coconut Grove’s display from Peacock Park, Miami’s from Bayfront Park, Key Biscayne and South Miami. Local knowledge: for the best chance to see all the displays, anchor further off the shore of Key Biscayne so you can see the Miami skyline.
Mobile Bay is aglow from shore to shore on July 4th. However, finding a place to view all the displays is next to impossible. Dauphine Island, a barrier islands three miles south of the mouth of Mobile Bay is a popular destination for boaters. The fireworks display goes off from the Isle Dauphine Country Club on the south side of the island. Anchor on the north side for your best protections and viewing. (townofdauphinisland.org)
Deer Island in the Mississippi Sound near Biloxi is the place to be to view two magnificent fireworks displays. In the northwest sky you can see the display from the the Biloxi Small Craft Harbor, then in the northeast sky is the show from Ocean Spring’s Fort Maurepas Park. If the night is really clear boaters can also see Gulfport’s annual display due west of Biloxi. For a well-protected spot for overnight, tuck into Davis Bayou. (www.gulfcoast.org/)
It seems New Orleans motto is “Go Big or Go Home.” The 23rd Annual Go Fourth on the River celebration is ranked as the “fifth must see fireworks display in the U.S.” by American pyrotechnic Association, boasting not one but two barges dueling for everyone’s attention while meticulously choreographed to music broadcast over several local radio stations.
While watching from your own boat is not an option in New Orleans I left this must see on the list because the fireworks light up the Mississippi River for all to see. Locals say the best viewing location is to pull up a seat on the levee at Algiers Point across the river from New Orleans. (www.go4thontheriver.com/)
The fireworks show at the 36th Big Bang Celebration in Corpus Christi begins with a choreographed display like no other. The Harbor Bridge, which commercial vessels pass under entering the Port of Corpus Christi, was renovated in 2011 to include an LED lighting system. The color lights dancing across the bridge is a true spectacle. Once the 15-minute show ends, fireworks begin launching from the USS Lexington over Corpus Christi Bay.
You can see the show from virtually any location on Corpus Christi Bay. For an overnight anchorage try Ingleside Cove on the northeast of the bay or Shamrock Cove directly across the bay from the action. (www.cctexas.com/)