Where to Find the Best Seat for the Ocean Isle Beach, NC Flotilla

A flotilla off one of the Carolina coasts has been on my bucket list for several years.  Not my first rodeo, I’ve seen the Electrical Water Pageant at Florida’s Walt Disney World but I also wanted to mark off the list a homegrown flotilla over in (or near) my home state.  And I had several options to choose from in the coastal towns I usually travel.  One over at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, another nearby at Ocean Isle, and a little further down I could catch a flotilla in the Little River/North Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) area.  Flotillas are generally held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

So when my Thanksgiving travel took me to my favorite beach last year I had choices to make and the opportunity to mark a flotilla off the never-ending list of travel experiences.  There’s something special about that time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It’s festive and free-spirited, and I couldn’t wait to see what boat owners would put together as a floating light show.

But because I wasn’t actually staying at one of the beaches that hosts a flotilla I had to figure out which one would give me access for a viewing opportunity.  I read about a bridge in the Little River, South Carolina area where people gathered to watch the annual flotilla.  I couldn’t quite place that location and looking for it and perhaps not finding it seemed like a risk I didn’t want to to take.

In the end I decided on the flotilla opportunity over at Ocean Isle Beach.  Limited information was available online but like the other flotillas in the area the electric water parade is a fundraiser for a local organization.  Boat entry fees at OIB’s flotilla supported Brunswick Family Assistance Program.

Ferry Landing Park
Ferry Landing Park sits off the “main strip” of Ocean Isle Beach and provides a serene spot for viewing the holiday flotilla.

In the mix of the limited available information I was able to land on a viewing area – Ferry Landing Park.  Having been in the vicinity at least thirty times over the years I was surprised that I hadn’t visited the park.  Upon arrival I found a clean beach along with a pier and gazebo.  Available restrooms were of the port-a-potty sort.  Ferry Landing is a place I’d like to return to during warmer weather – especially with a fishing pole in hand.

There are restaurants along the intracoastal waterway route where patrons can view the boats.  However, I wasn’t interested in a raucous time as the boats competed with their displays.   A quick glance in their parking lots early in the afternoon found heavy crowds before the sun set.

Ferry Landing sits along the parade route (requires no admission fee) and once Tall Dad and I parked our stadium chairs in the sand we eagerly anticipated the 5:30 p.m. start time.   (Tall Kid opted out of this Saturday night activity in lieu of other pursuits.)  We waited.  And waited.  And then some more waiting.  You get the idea.  Other people gathered on the beach, pier, and gazebo by walking in from beach homes, driving and parking cars, and cruising in on golf carts.  Across the waterway campers at the campground gathered around bonfires at the edge of the water.  Over time a crowd built but our view of the water remained clear.  It was at least 6:15 before we saw the first in the stream of boats.  The vessels moved quite slowly and there was often a bit of a lag between each.  I lost count but there were fewer than twenty boats by my estimate.

After the sun set I wished that I had brought even more winter wear in addition to the coat that I was wearing.  Hats and gloves would have been helpful as the wind off the water was brisk.  And hot chocolate.  I regretted not taking the festive step of dragging along a big Thermos of hot chocolate to keep me warm.

Ferry Landing Park - view from seat
Evening view from my seat at Ferry Landing. The park is well kept and in addition to the beach has a gazebo and pier.

The flotilla was an experience I was glad to mark off the “to do” list as I had been eagerly awaiting the chance for quite a while.  It was fun to celebrate the holiday season while also vacationing at the beach, and the free flotilla sure beat the experience over at the unimpressive Great Christmas Light Show of North Myrtle Beach.  Over there it was all about unmet expectations.  Apparently we take our lights more seriously in central North Carolina, and for seasoned Christmas light viewers like Tall Family the light show at Myrtle really wasn’t worth the long, long wait in heavy traffic plus $15 per car admission fee.  I had tortured Tall Kiddo by trapping him in the car for hours with this on another evening which may be why he chose to opt out of the boat parade.



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