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Caribbean Winter Holidays: Lights, Music, Fireworks and Fun Await!

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The traditional ‘winter’ holidays come alive in an extra special way in the Caribbean. There’s everything from boat parades, tree lightings and caroling to celebrate the season, to fireworks, parties and raft-ups to see in the New Year. Here’s a sampling of what’s happening and where:

Decorating your yacht with festive bows and jolly ornaments and taking part in a boat parade is one of the most popular ways to enter the festive spirit. On December 1st, launch off in the Cayman Island’s Parade of Lights in Camana Bay from 8.00 to 9.00pm. The event will be live streamed on www.cayman27.ky for friends and family back home. A fireworks show follows at 9.00pm. 

The following weekend, December 8th, there’s the Holiday Lighted Boat Parade in the Western Caribbean in San Pedro Town, Belize, on Ambergris Cay. “It’s free to enter, we have $10,000 in cash for top winners and proceeds go to charitable organizations,” says organizer Brittney O ’Daniel. 

Back east, the San Juan Christmas Boat Parade in Puerto Rico and St. Croix Christmas Boat Parade, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, both start at 6.00pm on December 8th. “We anticipate at least 40 boats, mostly power boats and also sailboats and row boats parading,” tells Club Nautico de San Juan commodore Alberto Gual Rexach. Organizers of the St. Croix event plan to offer discounted boat slips prior to the parade for visiting vessels. 

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On December 16th, the Sir Durward Knowles Festival of Lights happens in Nassau, Bahamas. Grandstand viewing for landlubbers is available at the Prince George Dock. 

The Lighted Boat Parade in St. Thomas’ Charlotte Amalie Harbor takes place December 21st, starting at 6.00pm.

The Carriacou Parang Music Festival in Hillsborough, Carriacou, December 14th to 16th, is a unique event that includes humorous songs of island life as well as traditional Christmas carols. On December 23rd, there’s Carols on the Boardwalk at IGY’s Rodney Bay Marina, in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia. This event is open to all cruisers, not just ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) participants. 

Find last minute presents or necessities at the ARC Village in Rodney Bay where Christmas decorations adorn the daily craft market. “The Farmer’s Market on The Green on December 22nd, from 7.00am to 5.00pm, is a great place to stock up on island spices, fruits and vegetables,” invites marketing, sales and events manager Shane Macauldy. Celebrate the 2019 re-opening of the waterfront facilities at the Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda, BVI, by present shopping now for apparel from the property’s newly re-launched online store.  

Gotta regatta this holiday? Check out the Mango Bowl Regatta, December 1st to 2nd, hosted by the St. Lucia Yacht Club in Rodney Bay. The fun Christmas Hamper Race starts at 11.00am on December 9th, from the Trinidad and Tobago Sailing Association (TTSA) facilities in Chaguaramas, Trinidad. The Christmas-time Budget Marine High Tide Series in Antigua December 20th, 22nd and 26th is always a hit. Lastly, there’s the Eindejaarsrace (end-of-year-race) on December 30th in Curaçao.

There’s a great way to ring out the old year and welcome the new no matter where you sail in the Caribbean. One of the most famous is Foxy’s Tamarind Bar’s legendary ‘Old Year’s Night’ celebration on Jost Van Dyke, BVI, on December 31st. “The theme is ‘The Nauti Yacht Club’, to pay tribute to Foxy’s half-century as a rest stop for sailors. “Actual or ‘wannabe’ sailors, seaman, castaways, pirates, mermaids, mermen and posh yachties are all invited to attend in proper nautical dress. Out-there and barely-there attire is always appreciated,” says coordinator Susan Zaluski. 

Hundreds of people plot a course to Antigua for Nelson’s Dockyard Old Year’s Night Party. There is food and drink, live bands and midnight pyrotechnics from Fort Berkeley that lights up the sea and sky. 

Further south, in Bequia, the fireworks create an unmissable show for cruisers anchored or moored in the bay. “The harbor fills up fast so be sure to get your spot in good time. There is nowhere quite like Bequia on Old Year’s Night, all thanks to the generosity of a host of private donors, local businesses and the hard work of the island’s all-volunteer Bang Gang,” says Nicola Redway. 

Eight nautical miles south in Mustique, Basil’s Bar is hosting a special edition of its infamous Jump-Up party on December 31st, with a prix fixe menu, live band and fireworks at midnight. Arrive early. Moorings nearest Basil’s are only available on a first come first serve basis. 

Grenada’s New Year’s Eve parties are glamorous affairs in which locals and visitors alike dress to impress. One of the most popular venues is the Port Louis Marina. “If a party is not your scene, cruisers can raft up in the Carenage harbor and enjoy several fireworks displays around St. George’s,” says Ria Murray, communications officer for the Grenada Tourism Authority. 

When night finally turns to New Year’s Day, it’s time for the Seven Seas Cruising Association’s (SSCA) GAM. Held January 1st, the party starts at the TTSA compound in Trinidad at Noon. “This is a traditional potluck style-event where everyone brings a dish and drinks to share, but I provide enough barbeque chicken for everyone,” says Jesse James, owner of Members Only Maxi Taxi Service and SSCA cruising station host. “We also have a round-table discussion of interest to everyone, and door prizes.” 

Finally, on January 6th, its Fuikdag time in Curaçao. “For boaters, this is by far the biggest event on the island. Though frequented more by motor yachts, we are glad to see that this is changing and more sailboats are joining in on this massive party on the water! Please use reusable cups, don’t litter the water and use reef safe sunscreen now and all year long!” says Curaçao Marine’s Nicole van Beusekom.

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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