Fernandina’s Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival is Amelia Island’s top event weekend of the year. The Festival attracts more visitors to this barrier island at the Florida-Georgia border than any other time. Always held during the first weekend in May, the 56th Annual Shrimp Festival will be held May 3-5, 2019. There’s a festive atmosphere as reliable as the tides during this massive event. Well over 100,000 come to this outdoor Festival held in Fernandina’s historic district, a tradition enjoyed by generations.
The Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival kicks off each year with the Pirate Parade, held on Thursday evening leading up to May’s first weekend. The parade starts at 6 pm in downtown Fernandina’s historic district (route is Ash Street, then Centre Street). The upcoming Shrimp Fest Parade is May 2, 2019.
Fernandina’s pirates sail along the parade route aboard their ship with intermittent firing of the ship’s cannon. This is a big parade that lasts 1.5 to 2 hours, with the pirate ship appearing at the end. The traditional parade route heads west along Ash Street (from 8th Street) toward riverfront, then turns and heads east along historic Centre Street (back to Central Park). Beaded pirate necklaces and candy are traditionally handed out to kids along the parade route. In recent years, there’s been a concert right after the parade, a special “Sounds on Centre” performance.
- Friday 6 pm to 10 pm — Food vendors, Kids’ Zone (opens at 5 pm), opening ceremony 6 pm. “Miss Shrimp Festival Pageant” 6:30 pm. Pirates invade Fernandina Harbor at 9 pm followed by FIREWORKS at 9:15 pm. Live musical entertainment.
- Saturday 9 am to 6 pm — around 400 art, crafts and antiques booths cover eight downtown blocks, plus food vendors and live musical entertainment at riverfront stage.
- Sunday 10 am to 5 pm — Art, crafts and antiques booths, food vendors, live musical entertainment at riverfront.
Known as one of the top fine art shows in the southeast, art lovers come to browse the works. According to the Amelia Island Art Association, the Shrimp Festival’s fully juried arts and crafts exhibit “has been consistently recognized as one of the best art events in North America by Sunshine Artist Magazine. For those attending for the art show only, usually first thing Sunday morning is the least crowded time for browsing the fine arts booths.
A longtime tradition for more than half a century, Fernandina Beach is the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry in America. First held in 1963 (originally called the “Shrimp Boat” Festival), the inaugural event began with shrimp boat races and a blessing of the shrimp fleet.
The festival’s food booths offer a wide selection including fried seafood plates, low country boil, shrimp gumbo, shrimp pie, grilled shrimp, Cajun shrimp, garlic shrimp, popcorn shrimp, shrimp salad, and more. Plus Italian sausage and fair-type food including sugar-powdered funnel cakes. Eat for a good cause! All food booths are run by a local, Nassau County, Florida non-profit, fundraising.
“Parade of Pride”
For many locals, the Shrimp Festival parade is one of the must-do events anticipated each year in Fernandina. At no other time is the warmth of this town on better display, than during the Shrimp Festival parade. It’s a local ritual, symbolic of community pride. Seniors, the middle-aged, young adults, teenagers and tots – five generations of Nassau County citizens — gravitate to the heart of Fernandina, the downtown historic district, for this very special parade. Most residents are connected in some way to at least one group or organization participating in the parade with a float (or you’re marching in it). People go downtown and line both Ash Street and Centre Street. Some bring beach chairs and arrive early to scope out a top spot.
Out-of-towners can follow the posted signs, when arriving on Amelia Island, to be directed to the main festival parking lots — a main one is the Fernandina Beach High School. (There is a parking fee, expect around $10, a donation to the school.) Then hop aboard the shuttle bus from the high school to the downtown festival area. There’s NO ADMISSION FEE to enter and roam the Shrimp Festival grounds, including free concerts at the riverfront stage. There are fees for rides and activities in KIDS ZONE. All Festival food, of course, has to be purchased.
See the complete Shrimp Festival entertainment and activities schedule. Further info is available at the Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival official website.