The annual Night in Venice party certainly won't be the same at Bill and Donna Dorney's Ocean City lagoon-front home this year - but there will still be a party.
Dorney, 64, had to drastically scale back his usual plans this year, after his home - not to mention his famous, over-the-top Night in Venice party decorations - was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy last October.
"All the decorations were wiped out in the storm," says Dorney, an Ocean City Beach Patrol veteran. "I used to have all kinds of different things. There isn't a thing left. No stencils, no nothing. The shed where I kept everything … had probably 5 feet of water in it."
Still, Dorney still plans to celebrate. Instead of an over-the-top party theme, Dorney - the same guy who once built a replica of a giant space shuttle outside his home for Night in Venice - will hang up photos from parties of years past, and have a few friends over.
It's a sign that the Ocean City tradition of Night in Venice, now in its 59th year, will have a decidedly different feel this time around. While the region has mostly recovered from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, a number of participating homeowners and boaters like Dorney are still dealing with the effects.
The annual Night in Venice boat parade takes place 6 p.m. Saturday, July 20, in Ocean City. It begins at the Longport Bridge and concludes at Bay and Tennessee avenues. The evening tradition brings out tens of thousands of spectators who line up along the waterfront, in grandstands and on the back docks of waterfront homes to see decorated boats as they pass an array of decorated, over-the-top homes.
Adam Joseph, meteorologist with WPVI-TV Channel 6, will serve as this year's grand marshal for the parade. This year's Night in Venice theme –"Good Old Summertime" – is open to interpretation by homeowners and boat owners, says Ocean City public relations director Mark Soifer.
"We're expecting another great turnout for the boats this year – between 80 to 100 boats," says Joe Canale Jr., the chairman of Night in Venice. "It looks like most of the lagoons are accessible (after Sandy). It's not as bad as we thought it was going to be."
In a nod of appreciation to those who provided assistance in the wake of Sandy, the John R. Elliott HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers has partnered with Night in Venice this year in a special "Jersey Strong Salute to Heroes." A flotilla of 15 boats from Seaview Harbor Marina in Egg Harbor Township - in addition to a 42-foot Hero Campaign boat donated by Viking Yachts - will follow behind the lead boats in the parade, says Bill Elliott, chairman of the HERO Campaign.
Each boat in the lineup will have a banner identifying a particular branch of military service or first responders, including police, fire, emergency medical personnel and others who provided vital assistance, such as utility line crews, Elliott says.
"Right now we've got 14 boats and we're hoping to add some more between now and next week," Elliott says. "These are people who not only keep our country safe, but helped our communities recover."
The effort complements the core mission of the HERO Campaign, Elliott says.
"We want to emphasize that when you're having fun, make sure you're safe … on land and water," Elliott says.
In addition, lights under both the Longport bridge and the Route 52 causeway leading into Ocean City will be blue and yellow Saturday, in honor of the Hero Campaign, Elliott says.
"(The partnership is) at a good time because Ocean City really got hit by the storm," Elliott says. "We hope this is a shot in the arm for Ocean City and a recognition and salute to our men and women in uniform, and to our first responders and our utility workers and everyone who goes the extra mile - they're heroes as well. This is our time to say thanks to them."
This year's parade will be dedicated to longtime volunteer Sue Canale, Joe Canale Jr.'s mother, who directed Night in Venice and the Ocean City Baby Parade for many years, Soifer says. A boat in Sue Canale's honor will lead the parade on Saturday night - and Joe, who grew up watching his mother organize many a Night in Venice before taking the reins with his wife Daria will be on board.
"It's a great time, because it brings the families together," Joe Canale says. "Where else to you get to see a parade of lights like that on the water? It's truly amazing to watch."