What’s your earliest Thanksgiving memory? Does it involve watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, gathering with loved ones, and carving a turkey? No matter who you are, there are memories tied to the start of the holidays and the magic to come. For many—including me—one of those fond memories is the NC Holiday Flotilla at Wrightsville Beach, taking place this year the weekend of Nov. 26-27.

The coastal official start of Christmas decorates the waterway with boats dressed to the nines and a weekend of family fun. There are docks decked in their holiday best and a special drive-through tree lighting with Santa on Friday, a festival in the park on Saturday and of course, bedazzled boats and mesmerizing evening fireworks. All in all, it’s a great reason to start your holidays in Wrightsville Beach.

What Is the Flotilla?

A flotilla takes your typical parade and puts it on the waterway. The term, denoting a fleet of ships is a southern twist with owners decorating (and competing) their boats in grandiose holiday décor. From lights to music; there are inflatable Santas steering the helm with Rudolph and crew launching off the deck. Even boaters get involved, sometimes dressing as the Grinch or a candy cane or an elf to bring their theme full-circle.

You don’t need a water vessel to experience the magic. In its 38th year, the NC Holiday Flotilla always brings a lively atmosphere to Wrightsville Beach. Onlookers can even vote for both People’s Choice and Crowd Favorite.

Deck the Docks with Boughs of Holly      

The Flotilla kicks off Nov. 26. Hop in the car and say hello to Santa while enjoying decorations throughout the town, including a Christmas tree. Wrightsville Beach docks will also be decked for a contest taking place Nov. 26 - Dec. 4. For a sneak peek of what’s to come, stroll Waynick Boulevard and see lights sparkling on the water from the Banks Channel Bridge. Or view from the water aboard a private vessel or the Carolina Runner cruise boat.

Prior to the Flotilla, the Festival in the Park takes place Saturday at Wrightsville Beach Park with amusements like inflatable slides and live music to keep the kids entertained.


Browse on-site food trucks and shop various arts and crafts vendors to start crossing off your holiday gift list. With almost 100 vendors present, you’re sure to find unique coastal treasures while making holiday memories.


The Main Event

Sure, there’s plenty to do prior to the parade but you’ll want to save up some energy. Arrive early to snag a good viewing spot. Some lesser-known vantages include South Harbor island (there are two mini-parks with water views) and the sandy South End beach that faces the Intracoastal Waterway.


If you want to make an evening of it, area restaurants with waterside seating like South Beach Grill, Dockside Restaurant, Fish House Grill, The Bridge Tender, and Bluewater Waterfront Grill are good places to lounge and enjoy dinner, drinks and the flotilla. If viewing the flotilla from the comfort of your room is more your style, check out harbor-facing lodging options along the parade route such as vacation rentals and hotels/inns located along Waynick Blvd. and S. Lumina Ave. Advance reservations are highly recommended.

The flotilla parade kicks off around 6:00 p.m., and if you see a swoon-worthy boat, cast your vote! Past winners include “Stick Man Christmas” (imagine glow sticks and neon lights) as Best in Show for 2019 and the dazzling “Santa Sleigh” for People’s Choice. Being able to send in your pick only adds to the fun.


After the boats adorn the Intracoastal Waterway and Banks Channel, the weekend commences with breathtaking fireworks over the water. If you’re not in the holiday spirit by this point, you might just be a Grinch.

New Memories Are Waiting

They say the holidays are a magical time and this longtime Southeast Tourism Society Top 20 Event is nothing short. You might have your tried-and-true traditions, but where’s the fun in not shaking things up a bit? This year, make new memories with a coastal twist by attending the NC Holiday Flotilla at Wrightsville Beach.