By Maddy Vitale
Where else can you see Chubby Checker, Kate Flannery from the show “The Office,” a host of beauty queens and SpongeBob SquarePants all in one place — on the water no less?
Only in Ocean City.
On Saturday evening, thousands of spectators watched the 65th annual Night In Venice boat parade in Ocean City unfold along the bayfront.
Crowds watched in amusement as boats glided by decorated in everything from “The Greatest Show,” which was a crowd pleaser, to a “lobster boat” called “Mobster Lobsters.” There was even a boat with an ’80s theme of Ocean City’s former Strand Theater.
(Video courtesy of Ian Crowley with special thanks to Kirk & Suzy Dolaway and Kenny Chesney)
When Chubby Checker’s boat floated by Bayside Center, 520 Bay Ave., he waved to the onlookers and the crowd cheered. Flannery and Caissie Levy, star of Broadway’s version of “Frozen,” were also fan favorites at the parade.
The parade lineup also included former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell, The Ocean City Theatre Company Show Choir, the Cousin’s Band and performer Andrew Hink. Dignitaries and officials also made appearances, including Mayor Jay Gillian, members of City Council and the Ocean City Beach Patrol.
Music accompanied some of the boats and, depending on the tunes, delighted the spectators.
The boat parade was not the only event Saturday. There was also the decorated bayfront home contest. A fireworks display capped the entertainment.
Michele Gillian, executive director of the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the event was exciting.
“It was a great Night In Venice,” Gillian said. “The weather was better than ever. Over 80 boats participated. A lot of homes were decorated. The back bays rocked the night away with a spectacular fireworks display that topped off a wonderful event in Ocean City.”
While thousands of spectators lined the bayfront, thousands more attended private parties at homes along the route from the Ocean City-Longport Bridge to Tennessee Avenue.
Brooke Wellens, of Pitman, and her husband, Roger, and children, Chloe, 12, and Colby, 9, were excited for their first Night In Venice.
They drove to Ocean City and grabbed a table at Bayside Center early enough to nibble on their dinner before the boat parade.
“We come down for a week every year,” Brooke said. “We aren’t down for vacation this week, but wanted to come for Night In Venice. This is our first boat parade ever.”
Chloe’s excitement grew as she talked about her favorite attractions. “I want to see the boats and the fireworks,” she exclaimed.
Her brother echoed her sentiments.
Sara Gault and her family live a long way from Ocean City now — in Kansas. She grew up in the Cherry Hill area.
As Gault sat with family and friends in beach chairs along the bayfront awaiting the main event, she said, “My family grew up going to Ocean City for vacations. There is nothing like Ocean City.”
“Everybody comes back here — even just to visit — because it is so special,” she added.
Officials said home decoration and boat decorating contest results will be available Sunday.
Ocean City Beach Patrol Capt. Jack Jernee was instrumental in planning Night In Venice in 1954 as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the city’s incorporation.
The first Night In Venice was actually in 1907, with cottages and bungalows along the bay illuminated with lights and torches, according to Ocean City historian Fred Miller.
A U.S. Coast Guard boat holding more than two Auxiliary Coast Guard members led the parade.
The celebration ended with a fireworks display and bonfire on one of the islands in the bay.
The event lasted for a few years, then was revived in the 1920s before the modern run of 65 consecutive years began.
Jernee had remembered the event from the 1920s when he brought it back, according to city spokesman Doug Bergen, who also provided some of the history of the Night In Venice.