Edison Fest parade: Everything you need to know about Saturday's huge event (2024)

This story has been updated to correct the Cracker Dinner program.

The Edison Festival of Light Grand Parade returns Saturday to downtown Fort Myers. Here’s what you need to know about the 2024 event — and everything else happening this weekend, too.

What is the Edison Festival of Light Grand Parade?

It’s one of the biggest night parades in the Southeastern United States and also the biggest and longest-running parade in Southwest Florida.

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The 2023 parade will feature about 175 units ― 25 more than last year ―including 17 high-school marching bands and about 55 floats, says parade co-chairman John Taylor.

"It's a big parade this year," says Taylor, who co-chairs the parade with Frank Sherkus.

When and where is the Edison Fest Grand Parade?

The parade starts at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17. It travels from Fort Myers High School to Cleveland Avenue, then moves north along Cleveland and through the streets of downtown Fort Myers.

How long does the parade take?

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The Grand Parade takes about two hours to finish.

Fireworks light up the sky as the last parade unit nears downtown Fort Myers. The fireworks show lasts about 15 minutes.

This year's fireworks show was still pending approval from the City of Fort Myers fire marshal's office at press time Wednesday, Taylor says.

What's the Edison Fest all about?

The big parade is part of the annual Edison Festival of Light, a two-week celebration that began in February 1938 to honor Fort Myers' most famous winter resident, Thomas Edison. Back then, it was called the Pageant of Light.

The annual fest includes hymn sings, concerts, parades and car shows. But the biggest draw is always the Edison Festival of Light Grand Parade, which attracts thousands of spectators to downtown Fort Myers every year. Crowd estimates go as high as about 200,000.

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The Grand Parade became a night parade in 1953 in honor of Edison's invention of the commercial light bulb. Floats were decorated with lights — a tradition that continues to this day.

Who are the Edison parade marshals for 2024?

Parade organizers changed things up this year. Instead of one grand marshal and several honorary grand marshals, they're just highlighting one person: Retired Edison Festival of Light Grand Parade chairman Mike Gill.

Gill led the parade for about four decades, Taylor says. "I think he deserves this. … We don’t have an honorary marshal this year. We just wanted all the attention to go to Mike."

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Gill, 74, says he's looking forward to a stress-free week and simply riding in the parade.

"I'm just going to be riding and waving," he says. "And I'm not worried about timing and this, that and the other thing. I'm looking forward to it."

He says the parade is in good hands with co-chairs Taylor and Sherkus.

"I had such a great team, and they've basically taken over," he says. "And they haven’t missed a beat. It's time for those younger whippersnappers to jump in and grab the reins."

Taylor says he and Sherkus have been Gill's right-hand men for years, and they're happy to take those reins.

"We're both honored and excited and love doing this for the community," he says. "It's a way for us to give back."

What are some of the other parade units?

There aren't any big stars this year: No celebrity grand marshal, Budweiser Clydesdales, Wells Fargo stagecoach or motorcycle daredevils from the IndianapolisMetropolitanMotorcycleDrill Team.

Instead, the parade is focusing on the locals who make the parade a success every year. There are about 20 more floats than usual this year.

'We've got a lot of participation with floats," Taylor says. "People are coming out this year."

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Popular parade units include about 30 "assets" from the Lee County Sheriff's Office and a large group of Southwest Florida families doing Mexican folk dances in feathered Aztec headdresses and other traditional costumes.

"This year, they're even bigger and better," Taylor says about the Mexican dancers. "They're going to have close to 200 people in their group. … Those costumes are incredible."

What’s up with those kings and queens?

Every year, members of the Pageant of Light and the Fort Myers Woman's Community Club choose a new king and queen to rule the imaginary land of “Edisonia."

Those newly crowned royals appear in the Grand Parade accompanied by princes, princesses, dukes, duch*esses and the rest of the royal court. The 12 members of the Royal Court of Edisonia are all teens and 20-somethings.

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The Edison Festival of Light isn't the same thing as the Edison Pageant of Light, by the way. The Festival of Light is the nonprofit that organizes the Grand Parade and other events. The private Pageant of Light crowns the Royal Court of Edisonia every year.

What roads will be blocked?

Expect road closures along Cleveland Avenue and downtown Fort Myers for Saturday's parade. These annual closures begin at 5 p.m. unless otherwise noted:

  • Cleveland Avenue between Hanson and Main streets
  • Edwards Drive (closed from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
  • Bay Street between Heitman and Jackson streets
  • First Street between Fowler and Jackson streets
  • Main Street between Cleveland Avenue and Hendry Street
  • Monroe Street between Main Street and Edwards Drive (closed at 7 a.m.)
  • Heitman Street from Bay Street to Edwards Drive (closed at 7 a.m.)
  • Broadway between Second and Bay streets
  • Hendry Street between Main Street and Edwards Drive (closed from 6 a.m. to noon)
  • Jackson Street between Edwards Drive and Edison Avenue
  • Cortez Avenue between Del Rio and Llewellyn drives
  • Llewellyn Drive between Cortez and Cleveland avenues
  • Hoople Street between Jackson Street and Central Avenue
  • Crawford Street between Jackson Street and Central Avenue
  • Lafayette Street between Jackson Street and Central Avenue
  • Royal Palm Avenue between Bay Street and Thompson
  • Lee Street between Edwards Drive and Thompson/Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard between Fowler and Heitman streets
  • And the downtown boat ramp

Also, the ramp off the Caloosahatchee Bridge into downtown Fort Myers and the southbound lanes of traffic will be diverted onto McGregor Boulevard.

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Anyone not attending the parade should avoid the area, according to the Fort Myers Police Department. Alternate routes include the Edison Bridge, Fowler Street and Veronica Shoemaker Boulevard.

Where can you park for the parade?

Parking can be tricky, so you shouldn’t wait until the last minute. "Parking is always an issue," Taylor says.

Most of the downtown streets will be closed for the parade route, he says. So you likely won't have to fuss with the city's new parking meters.

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Options include two parking garages in downtown Fort Myers. The Main Street garage can be accessed from both Main and Second Streets, and the Harborside garage can be accessed from Monroe or Bay streets. They cost $1 per hour or up to $10 for the whole day.

Police encourage parade attendees to arrive in downtown before 5 p.m. Access to downtown will be very limited during the parade.

Many churches and businesses will also let you park in their lots for a fee. Just expect to be walking several blocks.

What else is happening for Edison Fest?

There’s more happening than just the parade. Here's everything else going on this weekend:

Edison Regional Science and Inventors Fairs

Thousands of Southwest Florida students compete in two science-based fairs: The Edison Festival of Light Regional Inventors Fair and the Thomas Alva Edison Kiwanis Science & Engineering Fair. This will be the first in-person event after three years of virtual-only events, but the in-person fairs on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 16-17, aren't open to the public. They can be viewed virtually on Sunday, Feb. 18 (for the inventors fair) and Tuesday, Feb. 27 (for the science and engineering fair) at Alico Arena at Florida Gulf Coast University. To see the virtual displays, visit edisonfairs.org/fairs and click on "ALL INVENTOR REGISTRATIONS" (for inventors fair) and "ALL SCIENCE REGISTRATIONS (for the science and engineering fair).

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Edison Festival of Light 5K Run

This 3.1-mile race travels through downtown Fort Myers and along Cleveland Avenue. More than 1,400 people take part every year. 5:15 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17. Entry fee is $35 in advance ($20 for youth) and $40 for everybody on race day. Coordinated by the Fort Myers Track Club. Race starts and finished on Edwards Drive near Jackson Street in downtown Fort Myers. runsignup.com/Race/FL/FortMyers/EdisonFestivalofLight5K

Crafts on the River

Exhibitors display and sell handmade crafts during this non-juried event near the Caloosahatchee River. The two-day event includes jewelry, photography, paintings, sculptures and more. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 17-18. Free. Caloosa Sound Amphitheater in Centennial Park, 2000 W. First St., downtown Fort Myers.

Classic Car Show

Hundreds of hot rods and classic cars line Edwards Drive for this annual event during Crafts on the River. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18. Free. Edwards Drive in downtown Fort Myers.

Cracker Dinner

This annual dinner includes door prizes, a silent auction, and a buffet dinner. This year's focus will be Fort Myers spring training history. Cracker Dinner is presented by the Southwest Florida Historical Society. 5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 26. $45. Broadway Palm dinner theater, 1380 Colonial Blvd., Fort Myers. Tickets sold at Broadway Palm. 278-4422 or facebook.com/SWFLHS

How can I find out more about the Edison Festival of Light?

For more information about the parade and the Edison Festival of Light, call 334-2999 or visit edisonfestival.org.

— Charles Runnells is an arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. To reach him, call 239-335-0368 (for tickets to shows, call the venue) or email him atcrunnells@gannett.com. Follow or message him on social media: Facebook (facebook.com/charles.runnells.7), X (formerly Twitter) (@charlesrunnells), Threads (@crunnells1) and Instagram (@crunnells1).

Edison Fest parade: Everything you need to know about Saturday's huge event (2024)

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