A vessel dedicated to America's veterans, which included a lighted Statue of Liberty, U-turns at the Balboa Island Bridge in the 104th annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade on Wednesday. (DON LEACH, Daily Pilot / December 19, 2012)

Protest the protest.

That's been the rallying motto as of late for the organizers of the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade amid an organized effort to boycott the 104-year-old tradition.

And, by most accounts, it's working.

More than 90 boats have signed up this year to make the nearly 14-mile run through Newport Harbor. The Balboa Bay Club and Resort was brimming with activity during the parade's opening night Wednesday, and according to one official's estimate, a "jillion" homeowners will decorate their abodes with lights.

"There's a great buzz," said David Beek, chairman of the Christmas Boat Parade, which is themed "Surf, Sand and Santa" this year. It runs through Dec. 23. "If anything, the boycott news brought attention to the event."

Beek referred to some harbor stakeholders who, in protest to a fee increase for residential docks that go over public tidelands, have grouped together to form the "Stop the Dock Tax" coalition. Their chairman, Bob McCaffrey, said Wednesday that it's hard to say if their efforts have had an effect.

"I'm tired of the government in my pants, in my pocket, in my life," he said.

In a commentary to the Daily Pilot, McCaffrey wrote that residents like him "joyfully spend thousands of dollars to decorate our homes and boats for more than 1 million visitors to enjoy … we are not the council's piggy bank.

"Millions of dollars will be made during this year's Christmas Boat Parade, none of it by us. Our generosity allows others to profit."

After some introductory fireworks — a first this year — over the Balboa Pier, the vessels made their run, which began and ended at Bay Island. The lead boat was topped by Frosty the Snowman, and many others behind it epitomized the surf theme. Five midair reindeer appeared to "drive" one boat, while others sounded their horns for spectators.

City Councilwoman Leslie Daigle, in an email sent from aboard the lead boat, echoed sentiments of a festive parade.

"There are high levels of participation both in the parade and the many locations along the shore," she said. "The holiday spirit is alive and well in Newport Harbor!"

Over at the Balboa Bay Club, the nearly 65-year-old West Coast Highway institution whose bayside location provides a view that's near the end of the route, valets were busy, and so were members of the wait staff.

Some 800 to 900 cars got parked Wednesday, said Dieter Hissin, the resort's general manager. The hotel's restaurants had about 500 guests, he added.

Visit Newport Beach, the city's destination marketing agency, put out advertising in response to Stop the Dock Tax's ads. The agency asserted that indeed, the parade is on this year.

"It's a tradition and the culture of our community," said Vicki Higgins, Visit Newport's senior vice president of marketing. "It really helps bring everyone together."

"Right now in our world, I think people need a little good news," she added.

Beek, a dock owner who's also affected by the increase, said he felt it was wrong for protesters to politicize the event.

"To cloud that because your private property is looking at a tax increase didn't make any sense to me," he said. "I always had a suspicion it was going to backfire on them."

"The two are so on the opposite ends of the spectrum," he added. "The boat parade is such a happy, joyous thing that brings a million people to town and employs people from valet parkers to caterers and waiters and waitresses."

Some now perceive the protest effort as mean-spirited, Beek said.

"You don't muddy a traditional, 104-year-old event with politics."

— Daily Pilot Staff Writer Lauren Williams also contributed to this report.

bradley.zint@latimes.com

Twitter: @bradleyzint