It’s easy to take things for granted. That might be the most constant and important lesson the pandemic has taught us over the last 16 months. The absence of traditional annual events was glaringly obvious last year, and that was true for everything from small scale backyard barbecues to large scale events like festivals and concerts.
One of the most beloved local events that found itself canceled last year was Ocean City’s Night in Venice boat parade. COVID-related concerns forced the annual event to go dark in 2020, but this year it’s back — along with a cautious sense of normalcy — thanks to a successful vaccination program which helped to lift restrictions on gatherings in our state and across the country back in May.
Night in Venice 2021 will begin 6 p.m. Saturday, July 24, near the Ocean City-Longport toll bridge, and its parade of vessels will continue floating merrily along the bayside to Tennessee Avenue, looping in and out of lagoons along the way.
In addition to the boats, houses all along the bayfront will also be decorated and lit up, adding to the enchanting spectacle of it all.
Rich history, big popularity
This year’s event is the 66th Night in Venice to take place in Ocean City. The event as we know it first occurred in 1907, but it didn’t become a consistent annual tradition until 1954. It has run annually ever since.
After 66 years, one might imagine that the popularity of the event would begin to wane. But that’s not so according to Doug Bergen, Public Information Officer for Ocean City.
“It’s really increased in popularity over the last several years,” he notes. “Boating is super popular now, and there are more participants than ever in the parade.”
For many it’s about more than numbers, though. It’s about tradition.
“It just didn’t feel like summer without it,” says Glenn Brown, an accountant and longtime Ocean City vacationer who rents a house with his family on the bay each year.
“Night in Venice is one of the highlights of our trip,” Brown says. “We have friends down here who own a boat, and my kids look forward to riding on it every summer dressed in costume for the boat parade. Last year we still came down and made the best of it, but a bit of the magic was missing. We can’t wait to have that back again this year.”
“It’s really one of the highlights of the summer, he says. “It’s a tradition that people look forward to every year – they schedule vacations around it, they bring family in for it. It’ something that we really missed last year and we really look forward to it returning this year.”
The theme After the events of last year, it seems fitting that the theme for this year’s Night in Venice is “Honoring Our Heroes,” which will pay tribute to all of the healthcare workers, first responders, essential employees and others who helped everyone get through the pandemic.
Participants will also have the option of decorating in the style of last year’s theme, “The Olympics.” Of course, neither theme is mandatory, as the goal of the event is really just to have some summer fun.
“We really wanted to celebrate the return to a normal summer this year,” says Bergen. “And after last year we expect participation and attendance to be up quite a bit this year. The summer has been really busy so far (in Ocean City), and I think people are extra appreciative of everything that summer is all about.”
Where to watch?So if you are lucky enough to own a boat or a home on the bay, watching and partaking in the Night in Venice festivities is a no brainer. But for the rest of us, staking out a great spot to view is of the utmost importance.
Fear not, as grandstands will be set up at street ends along the bay from Battersea Road to 16th Street and also at Tennessee Avenue. There is no cost to watch from the grandstands.
Great views can also be had from the 9th Street Bridge. However, guests viewing from this location cannot bring chairs of any kind and must stay on the south side shoulder for viewing.
If you are looking for a bit more festive atmosphere, you may want to head down to The Bayside Center at 520 Bay Ave., which will be open with a picnic area, food for sale (to benefit the Junior Raiders football and cheerleading squads), as well as bleacher seating and a DJ. Tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for children 12 and under. Gates open at 4:30 p.m. with DJ entertainment playing until the first boats in the parade arrive at 6:15 p.m. The DJ will resume after the parade and will continue until the fireworks begin at approximately 9 p.m. Tickets are available online at OceanCityVacation.com/boxoffice.
A big bangThe boats and homes will surely be gorgeous — as they are each year at Night in Venice — but what summer event would be complete without the skies lighting up with some fireworks? This year they will launch after the parade from a barge in the bay north of the 9th Street Bridge, near Third Street. The display will be visible from a variety of locations, with some of the best spots being the street ends or the bayfront between the Ocean City-Longport toll bridge and 16th Street.