Just two months following a direct hit by Hurricane Florence, two nationally renowned holiday attractions return to Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, in November.
“The show will go on,” stated Linda Brown, Committee Chair of the 35th-annual North Carolina Holiday Flotilla, presented by Blockade Runner Beach Resort. “We need this for Wrightsville Beach Strong and the communities that surround us. The flotilla will go on.”
Undeterred by the loss of an estimated 275 trees during the hurricane, “Enchanted Airlie will not miss a beat this year,” said Tara Duckworth, Director of Parks and Gardens for New Hanover County, owner of Airlie Gardens.
The 14th annual Airlie Gardens’ Enchanted Airlie begins Friday, November 23, 2018, and will open for 20-nights through December 22, 2018.
The 35th-annual North Carolina Holiday Flotilla, another Thanksgiving week tradition, will be held on Saturday, November 24, 2018.
“Following the hurricane, the scene in Airlie Gardens was incredible with debris everywhere. The staff and volunteers were amazing. I commend them for all of their hard work, their dedication, and their passion for Airlie to reopen in November.
“I think the average visitor won’t know the difference. The iconic structures and Airlie Oak survived the storm. We’ve redone all the lighting with LEDs, and the displays will be even brighter; our signature attractions, including the mesmerizing Singing Christmas Trees are returning; and, we have a lot of new things planned. The Gnome Invasion art exhibit was cut short by the hurricane in September. Some of the gnomes will make an appearance Enchanted Airlie,” said Duckworth.
Enchanted Airlie has gained national and international prominence, attracting visitors from 50 states and over 40 nations. 2017’s sold out attendance exceeded 53,000. With one more night on the calendar in 2018, Duckworth anticipates another sold-out year.
“Festival in the Park, a prelude to the flotilla, opens from 10am to 4pm on Saturday,” said Linda Brown. “This year’s festival includes 75 to 90 vendors; a large play area for the children with bouncy houses and slides; the popular and relaxing Arab Choo-Choo train ride; arts and crafts booths; food vendors; and the antique, classic, and special interest car show. The car show has grown tremendously, with over 150 cars expected this year.”
Saturday night’s North Carolina Holiday Flotilla features a procession of creatively decorated yachts and watercraft, each glittering with thousands of lights, slowly motoring past an estimated crowd more than 50,000.
Following the colorful and festive water parade, the flotilla ends with a massive and dazzling Zambelli fireworks display.
Although the hotel is closed for renovations due to damages sustained from Hurricane Florence, Blockade Runner Beach Resort will continue to serve as the host and presenting sponsor for the Holiday Flotilla in 2018.
“The Blockade Runner has been a partner since the very beginning in 1983,” said Brown. “We’re so sorry for their damages during the hurricane, but we are excited to have the flotilla headquarters, sponsor’s tent, and judge’s stand on Blockade Runner’s sound-side lawn and docks again this year.”
A North Carolina landmark locally owned by the Baggett family, Blockade Runner Beach Resort is planning to wrap up repairs and improvements with a grand reopening in early spring 2018.
Text voting continues this year with the People’s Choice Awards selected by spectators. “Text voting is growing substantially,” said Brown. “Four years ago, we had about 5,600 votes; last year, we had over 14,000 text votes,” said Brown. Winners receive flotilla trophies and prizes at the captain’s breakfast on Sunday.
“I want people to know that you can have a devastating storm and no matter how tough you think it is to get back to “normal,” it can be done,” said Brown. “We are making sure that Flotilla is strong this year because we are Wrightsville Beach Strong.”
Visit airliegardens.org for information on Enchanted Airlie. Airlie Gardens is located at 300 Airlie Road, Wilmington NC
Visit ncholidayflotilla.org for Holiday Flotilla details. The NC Holiday Flotilla will be over the water at Wrightsville Beach NC.