From special theme days to expanded entertainment, the thousands of boaters that cruise to the annual Progressive Cleveland Boat Show are going to see a redesigned and expanded event that opens Thursday for five days, January 17-2, in the I-X Center.

“Regular attendees may want to get the program when they come in,” advises Michelle Burke, president of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association, “because we’ve added so many new features, activities and attractions this year so it’s really a new show in many ways.”

By far the largest boat show in a decade, it will showcase more than 450 new power and sailboats in addition to a wide variety of marine accessory and service exhibits. But it will be the features, theme areas and activities surrounding the big show fleet that will engage boating families in new ways.

For example, an extra day (Martin Luther King Holiday Monday) has been added to this year schedule and the theme appropriately “KIDSday” because schools and many offices are closed. Special activities will include kids fishing lessons, meeting a mermaid, constructing a toy sailboat and many other hands-on activities all accompanied by balloon artists, face painters and especially favorite Neverland characters like Captain Hook, Tinkerbell, Ariel and even a princess or two!

New this year is a different theme every show day. Opening Thursday is Put-in-Bay Day with popular islands musical entertainers, Ray Fogg, Westside Steve and Pat Sheppard, plus the Boardwalk’s famous Lobster Bisque fresh from “The Bay” every day. Meanwhile, Friday has been dubbed Date Night boasting islands craft beer specials; live entertainment by Chris Donley; sailing on a hi-tech simulator; seeing live on-water kayak demonstrations; scuba diving in the heated pool, and more.

Saturday’s Mid-Winter Rendezvous is an Ohio boater’s escape from the cold. Rock to a variety of musical entertainment featuring Bobby St. Vincent, Paul Franks and the popular Island Doctor. Experience the unique Berkley Fishing Show atop a 5000-gallon aquarium. Attend a full schedule of expert seminars on subjects from cruising destinations to protecting Lake Erie, including a special Kids’ Fishing Clinic with free cane pole outfits for the first 100 kids.

Sunday FUNday will whisk show goers to Kelleys Island, shining the spotlight on exhibits from the largest American island in Lake Erie. With entertainment headliner Steve Brownell, and also the band Distractions, visitors will sip inconic island specialties, like the Village Pump’s Brandy Alexanders and Portside Docker’s famous waterfront thirst quenchers.

Enhancing the experience for visitors is what’s driving so many changes this year, according to Burke. Bringing Twiggy, the world famous water skiing squirrel, out of retirement with an all-new comedy show tops the daily family entertainment schedule. But add a first-ever Lake Erie Crafts Market; take the helm of a racing boat in Progressive Harbor; do hands on activities in the big Cleveland Metroparks exhibit; learn at the Buckeye Sports Fishing Stage from pro anglers teaching Walleye techniques; plus there will be more than 150 of the latest fishing boat models ranging from kayaks to center consoles powered with quad outboards.

“It’s all about enhancing the family fun at the show,” says Burke, “because that’s what boating is really all about . . . it’s a family lifestyle!”

For water sports enthusiasts, there will be dozens of exhibits featuring boats and equipment for water skiing, wake boarding and the hottest new activity, wakesurfing. On the other hand, the ever- popular pontoon boats that range from basic models to luxury designs boasting amenities like granite-topped bars and mood lighting will be evident throughout the show.

And, if cruising and entertaining in luxury on Lake Erie is your game, big boats like the “Queen of the Fleet,” the Beneteau Gran Turismo 46 Yacht, will all be ready for boarding. “If it’s a major brand it will be exhibited by dealers from across Ohio,” says Burke. “And, it’s a one-stop shopping opportunity with special show prices and great incentives for buyers, too.”

This year’s boat show hours will be: Opening Thursday and Friday (Jan. 17-18) – 12 Noon to 9PM; Saturday (Jan. 19) 10AM to 9PM; Sunday (Jan. 20) 10AM to 6PM. Monday, special Martin Luther King KIDS DAY, (Jan. 21) 10AM to 5 PM. Admission: $14 adults; 60-plus $12; kids 12 & under free. Advance tickets available online.

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