Fred Miller never misses a Night in Venice party. “I always try to start off at my buddies, Joe and Cheri,” Miller says, quickly reciting their waterfront address. “That’s where it starts, in that Coast Guard lagoon. We get out as far on that dock as we can. You see the mayor come by and he’s waving. If you’re right there, they come right up against the docks. You can reach out and touch the people.”
Miller can speak with some authority. The city historian, former lifeguard and author of several Ocean City history books has been a longtime Night in Venice reveler.
The Ocean City tradition, now in its 58th year, brings out thousands who line up along the waterfront, in grandstands and on the back docks of waterfront homes to see decorated boats as they pass by an array of decorated, over-the-top homes.
“Last year, we went to five different parties,” Miller says, laughing. “It’s just a fun event. We love parades in Ocean City.”
The annual Night in Venice parade takes place on Saturday, July 28, in Ocean City. It begins at the Longport Bridge and concludes at Bay and Tennessee avenues.
The boat parade begins at 6 p.m. — a change from the original 7 p.m. start time after the Coast Guard Auxiliary and some boaters expressed concern about the tides.
Dick Richards, the original drummer for Bill Haley’s Comets and an Ocean City resident, will serve as grand marshal for the parade.
This year’s Night in Venice parade will mark the first time the gala has been held since the new Ocean City causeway was completed — meaning no boat delays on the return voyage due to bridge openings.
This year’s Night in Venice theme —“Do you remember when?” — is open to interpretation by homeowners and boat owners, says Ocean City public relations director Mark Soifer.
“It’s a nostalgic theme … (participants) can do anything they want to do,” Soifer says. “One home is doing an ‘American Bandstand’ theme as a tribute to Dick Clark. Someone is remembering old Christmases; another one is doing the rock band KISS.”
Last year, the parade included more than 70 decorated boats and more than 180 decorated houses, Soifer says. He wasn’t sure how many entries will be in the parade for 2012.
“We don’t know until the last few days,” Soifer says. “Last year we had over 70. It’s hard to tell, because they don’t start signing up en mass until (the week of).”
Night in Venice has a storied history in Ocean City, with the first one taking place Aug. 12, 1907, Miller says.
“It was a big event in 1907,” Miller says. “They had it every summer until 1914.”
The boat parade was brought back for about five years in the 1920s. Then, to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of Ocean City, beach patrol captain Jack Jerneey revived the tradition in 1954.
“That became the big event of the summer,” Miller says. “We’ve had it every year since. It’s just been a fun night for Ocean City. I was a lifeguard here for 39 years. It’s as big as the Fourth of July. People come down to look at it, to be a part of it.”
Tim Barrus, captain of the North Star party boat, has missed only one Night in Venice parade since 1996. His boat’s theme this year: Toby Keith’s redneck party anthem “Red Solo Cup.”
“We’re going to create some cool stuff for that,” Barrus says, adding there will be a “Hillbilly-looking crew” greeting partygoers.
“I enjoy going in the little lagoons,” Barrus says. “I try to put my people as close as I can to the land and drive sometimes only 5 or 10 feet away from the docks. It’s certainly difficult — it takes a level of skill and knowledge of your boat.”
In past years, the North Star has been chartered for Night in Venice. This year, Barrus says, it will be an open boat.
“People are amazed most of the time with such a big boat in a tiny spot,” Barrus says. “I think it’s great. When I describe (Night in Venice) to people, I say it’s a best of show competition — houses and boats. It’s definitely an event best seen by water.”
Loretta Shacklett and her husband Dean were inspired by this year’s London Olympics when deciding on a theme for their waterfront home. Night in Venice happens to coincide with the opening ceremony for the Olympic games this year.
Shacklett ran with the idea. Invitations complete with British flags and the Tower of London quickly followed, inviting attendees to come dressed as athletes or British royalty.
They’re expecting between 75 and 100 guests.
“My husband is unpacking the flags now,” Shacklett says. “We’re going to have a great big huge torch.”
The Olympic theme will mark the Shackletts’ 12th year as a participating house in Night in Venice. Past themes for the couple included “American patriots” and a Broadway theme complete with a red carpet.
“It’s a family tradition,” Shacklett says. “My husband’s family lived on the bay. We have such fond memories of it growing up. When you live on the lagoon, you can’t help but get in the spirit. It’s just an awful lot of fun. It’s terrible pressure … but it’s a fun thing. I have two grown children. And it’s a big discussion — what (theme) are we doing this year? But the night you’re there, it’s always worth all the work.”
Viewing the Parade
Grandstand seating will be available along the street ends. Seating is free but visitors are encouraged to arrive early.
Tickets can be purchased to view the boat parade from the Bayside Center, located at 5th & Bay avenues. Admission is $7 for adults; $3 for children 12 and younger. Gates at Bayside Center open at 4 p.m., and there is no parking (use of the free trolley is encouraged).
Tickets for the Bayside Center are available on a first-come, first-serve basis and go fast. Tickets may be purchased at City Hall, 861 Asbury Ave., or at the Music Pier Box Office at Moorlyn Terrace and the Boardwalk.
and Shuttle Service
Free Parking and shuttle service will be available beginning at 5 p.m. at the Airport Parking Lot, located at 25th and Bay avenues, the soccer field at Tennessee Avenue, and the Community Center at 1735 Simpson Ave.
Shuttles will drop off spectators at street ends where they can watch the parade. The shuttle also will make return trips to the parking lots after the parade. The service will be available until midnight.
Merchants of Venice
The Merchants of Venice Seafood Festival, a prelude to Night In Venice, takes place 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, July 27, from 6th to 9th streets on Asbury Avenue. The popular festival will offer an array of seafood and includes 25 vendors, live music, inflatables, face painting, balloon sculptors and pony rides for children.