Thanksgiving week, known as flotilla week in Wrightsville Beach, will launch the coastal Carolina holiday season with two long-running traditions, the 38th North Carolina Holiday Flotilla and Airlie Gardens’ 16th annual Enchanted Airlie.
Organizers of both events revised their programs to mitigate public safety concerns surrounding COVID-19. “It’s important for us to do whatever we can to keep these North Carolina holiday traditions in place,” said Bill Baggett, co-owner of Blockade Runner Beach Resort and a founding supporter of the Flotilla.
“The Flotilla is happening with a little twist this year,” said Linda Brown, Committee Chair. “Instead of a boat-judging contest with 50,000 people on the shoreline, it’s going to be a dock judging competition from the water. We encourage all residents and businesses on the Flotilla route to decorate their docks with seasonal lighting. Floodlights and spotlights are not permitted as they will impair navigation on the waterways.
“The judges, instead of scoring a parade of boats from home-base Blockade Runner, will be on the Carolina Runner, judging the docks and homes on the parade route. There will be two nights of judging, Friday and Saturday nights, Thanksgiving weekend. Winners will be announced on Sunday with prizes for the top docks.
“We invite our flotilla captains and all owners to decorate their boats and come and see the beautiful docks and homes from the water. See the holiday lights and place your votes for the People’s Choice Award,” said Brown.
“We’ll absolutely light up our two docks and the boats that are on them,” said Baggett. “Our new tour boat, The Carolina Runner, has plenty of space for social distancing. We plan to take people to view the homes and docks on the parade route throughout the holiday season.”
Airlie Gardens’ Enchanted Airlie also begins Thanksgiving weekend, bringing to life 35-acres of night-time forest with more than one million sparkling lights, walking trails, holiday displays, and seasonal music.
“Enchanted Airlie is a beloved tradition and we have worked hard to ensure that we continue that tradition in the safest way possible,” said Janine Powell, Director of Donor Relations. “Tickets will sell out in advance.”
Enchanted Airlie tickets are available online only, beginning Oct. 29 for the public. The garden gates open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Nov. 27-29, and reopen each night, Dec. 4-22. This year there are four one-hour event times each evening – 5:30, 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30 PM. Blockade Runner will offer Enchanted Airlie packages for hotel guests.
Adapting to public safety needs, Santa will not be on site this year, and face coverings will be required, according to Powell. No food or drinks will be sold at Airlie Gardens, but guests may bring their own. Airlie’s gift shop will only accept credit cards. Pathways are wheelchair accessible, and guests may bring their own. Wheelchairs will not be available onsite.
Proceeds from Enchanted Airlie benefit the preservation and improvement of New Hanover County’s historic Airlie Gardens.