Thanksgiving in Wilmington officially kicks off the holiday season in southeastern NC. It comes with many sparkly, shiny happenings that scream “Deck the halls!” and “fa-la-la-la-la la-la-la-la!” Here’s the rundown on how to have the most fun after gorging on too much turkey and dressing.
Cape Fear Festival of Trees
Nov. 20-Dec. 31, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher
900 Loggerhead Road
Annually, the Lower Cape Fear Hospice hosts one of their biggest fundraisers of the year. Businesses and organizations decorate themed trees, which take over the aquarium. Folks who purchase aquarium tickets ($10.95-$11.95) throughout the holidays will be admitted to the Cape Fear Festival of Trees for free (closed Thanksgiving Day); www.capefearfestivaloftrees.org.
NC Holiday Flotilla
Nov. 24-25, Wrightsville Beach
It starts with the island’s tree lighting at Wrightsville Beach Parks and Rec, which includes a visit from ol’ Saint Nick! The lighting takes place at 5:30 p.m. on November 24.
Folks can then head to the Blockade Runner at 7 p.m. for the flotilla launch party. The $35 entry includes live music from The Embers featuring Craig Woolard, as well as a live and silent auction, food, and a cash bar (ncholidayflotilla.org).
On November 25, Wrightsville Beach Park will host their annual Festival in the Park from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Arts and crafts booths featuring artisans and merchants make for one-of-a-kind holiday shopping. An antique car show will take place, and there will be a children’s area with inflatable slides and bounce houses, a coloring contest, the popular Arab Choo Choo, festival food, and more.
Then at 6 p.m. the lit boat parade takes place down the Intracoastal Waterway, decked out in their fanciest holiday lights, with themes abound! There are a number of vantage points to see on parade route, from Banks Channel Bridge, to two South Harbor Island mini-parks, to the west side of Waynick Boulevard. There will be fireworks following the parade. People’s Choice awards will take place through text voting: Text to “24587” and enter the number of the boat you wish to vote for: “boat#”.
300 Airlie Rd.
Nov. 24-25; Dec. 1-2, 8-10, 13-22
Wilmington’s historic Airlie Gardens are going to be decked out in their grandest display of lights for the holidays as part of their self-guided walking tour. Santa will be on hand, too, so kids can ask for their favorite treats this season, and food and beverage vendors will be on site. Must RSVP for one of two viewing times, 5-7 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.; tickets are $27-$55 a car load and can be purchased at airliegardens.org.
Island of Lights Light the Lake
Nov. 24, 7 p.m.
Carolina Beach Lake Park
Atlanta Ave. and S. Lake Park Blvd.
Pleasure Island bedazzles every holiday season with their Island of Lights events, which kick off Friday evening. The Lighting the Lake ceremony will feature local dignitaries and Cub Scouts while displays invoke the holiday spirit. Oh, and Santa arrives; www.pleasureislandoflights.com.
Downtown Tree Lighting
Nov. 24, 5:30 p.m.
Water and Princess streets
In historic downtown Wilmington, Santa and Mrs. Claus will make an appearance as the holiday tree is lit. Caroling will take place, plus a holiday marketplace will be set up, featuring toasty refreshments. Free to attend.
Kure Beach Holiday Market
Nov. 25, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
105 Atlantic Ave.
Get a head start on holiday gifts made from local artists or sold from local vendors at Ocean Front Park. Food trucks, DJ, raffle, and more—free to attend!