My Experience Decorating a Rose Parade Float

Happy New Year! I hope you’ve been enjoying this holiday season!

I have wanted to share my experience decorating a Rose Parade float for several years but it seems like the New Year comes and goes before I get around to writing the post. This year I had an extra day because the Rose Parade will not be aired until Monday, January 2, more on that later.

This experience takes me on a trip down memory lane….going back nine years can be hard on my memory! Luckily, I found a scrapbook I made for this event because it was a once in a lifetime experience! Yes, I said “scrapbook” so dated, I know! I didn’t have a phone that took pictures eight years ago.  The photos you are about to see are from a camera, remember those! In order for me to share the photos with you, I had to take a photo of the photo in the scrapbook.  Sorry for the diminished quality, it’s the best I could do.

It was an amazing experience to be a “volunteer decorator” for one of the floats, worth going back nine years to share this story. The best part was the float I worked on was near and dear to my heart!

Here’s the story on how I was able to take part in the Tournament of Roses Parade, a 128 year old tradition.

A Long Road

The float was the dream of a family friend, Anthony Bettencourt, he applied for the parade in 2004.  In 2005 he formed a committee, found a sponsor, Luso-American, and started raising money for the float. The sponsor, Luso-American Education Foundation, plays an important role in supporting Portuguese-Americans access to higher education by awarding scholarships and spreading Portuguese culture. As a child I took part in many Luso-American events, it was a great way to learn more about my Portuguese heritage and take part in Portuguese traditions.

It wasn’t until January 2007 when Anthony found out his application was accepted and the float would appear in the 2008 Rose Parade. The theme for the 2008 parade was Passport to the World’s Celebrations.  Perfectly fitting to share the heritage of our Portuguese “Festas” (celebrations). Coincidentally, the Grand Marshall for the 2008 Rose Parade was Emeril Lagasse, who is of Portuguese-American heritage. For those of you who may have forgotten who Emeril is, he is a famous chef and back in 2008 he was really popular!

Anthony began working with Charisma float builders and a famous float designer, Raul Rodriguez, who brought the float to life with this drawing based upon Anthony’s ideas.

Image result for portuguese american rose parade float 2008

The float was entitled, “The Portuguese American Community,”  it was testament to the long and positive history of the Portuguese in America. Each piece of the 35-foot float has a special meaning.  João Rodrigues Cabrilho, a Portuguese man who was the first European to explore the West Coast of the United States and discovered California can be seen standing on the front of the float. The fountain represents the sea of mainland Portugal, the Azores, and Madeira. The large crown on a pillow of roses represents the Holy Ghosts “festas” celebrated in every community in the United States that have people from the Azores. There are five young women riding the float; two are wearing Holy Ghost “festa” capes, two are representing Our Lady of Fatima and Saint Anthony, and the other represents Queen Isabel of Portugal. Towards the end of the float there is a simple arch representing Lisbon’s Augusta Street Arch. On the back of the float there is a continuous scroll representing the waves of the oceans sailed by famous Portuguese during the Age of the Discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries, the beautiful embroidery work of Portuguese women, and the crowns worn by the queens of Portuguese heritage celebrations, particularly in California. Around the float there are six walkers: two carrying the American and Portuguese flags, and the other four carrying banners.

Shortly after Christmas, 2007, my entire family made the trip to Pasadena where float decorating began five days before the parade.

Let the Decorating Begin

The Charisma staff gave us a quick overview what we needed to know before we could even touch the float.  This is no joking matter, they take this float building very seriously! Our “float boss” is Erin from Charisma, she was watching our every move!

The Charisma semi-trailer is outside the tent we are working in, this is where all our supplies for the float are stored.

There’s a lot more to this than I thought! For example, the different color buckets below represent the different types of glue used. One glue is better for applying seeds, another glue is better for petals, etc. No pressure here!

We are in a large tent with five other floats that are being decorated.  Below is the float before anything is put on it. We learn that everywhere the float is painted, something natural will have to cover that area. I will admit I was a little overwhelmed, the entire float is painted, this is going to take five years not five days!

Here I am with my mom, the first job we were assigned was to cover any brown area with flax seeds. When I say cover, I’m not joking, our float boss is watching us and she has no problem telling us we didn’t do an area correctly and we must re-do it!  Oh yeah and don’t forget, you have to make sure you use the right glue for the flax seeds to stick properly!

Still working on those flax seeds! In the picture below, my aunt is supervising, while my dad is painting the glue on and my mom is right behind him using a sponge to make the flax seeds stick to the glue. In the second photo you can see that almost all the flax seeds are done!

In this picture you see some patient people cutting all the petals off of the statice flower. Statice is a purple flower with very small petals. Our float needs millions of purple statice petals to cover the float anywhere that is painted purple. This is tedious work!

All of these people are cutting statice petals. I wasn’t joking when I said we need millions of petals. I was secretly jumping for joy that I was Not one of these people!

I’m up on the scaffolding decorating the flag. I had to cover the red part with individual red carnation petals. The girl wearing the dark sweatshirt is Erin, our float boss. She is giving me direction on how the carnation petals should be applied. The petals must be glued in a certain direction in order for it to look the best. I was up there for six hours….I’m telling you this is not for the faint of heart!

In the picture below my husband and my dad are covering the tassels for the pillow in yellow strawflower petals.  They are taking their job seriously!  (if you don’t, the float boss will be after you) 😉

Every so often we get word that the judges are coming, they check our work several times during the decorating process.  When we know the are coming, we must stop what were doing, do a quick clean up and leave the float. Once the judges are gone we can get back to work. This was a real pain….when you’re concentrating you don’t want someone interrupting you!  Mike and Ryan get out the shop-vac to do a quick clean up before the judges arrive.

My aunt and I are putting on yellow carnation petals on the sign that will go on the side of the float. My aunt does not like the tedious work, she especially doesn’t like it when the float boss makes here start over because she wasn’t putting the petals in the right direction.

The days are long and tiring but we are starting to see the end in sight!  Some finishing touches are added then on to the fun part….roses, roses, roses! Wish I could remember how many pink roses we put on the float!


Each rose is kept in the water tube when we add it to the float. It’s hard to see in this picture but each tube has someone’s name on it. The generous donors who made this float possible were able to have each rose in memory of someone, pretty special!

The roses were the last thing to go on the float. When we started placing the roses we knew we had one hour before the judges would be coming for the last time. Things got tense and pressure was high! It was a pure rush, a flower rush, I loved every second of it!!!! ( my mom did too)

In the picture below I am adding some of last roses to the float and then it’s complete!

The queens are placed on the float just as the judges approach. These girls are actual queens from Portuguese festas throughout California.

Emeril Lagasse stops by to see the float.

We take a picture by the finished float!  What a great feeling to be standing by the finished product!  I can’t believe how small my boys were! (my brother and sister-in-law kept them entertained while we were decorating, it really was a family affair!)

A few more fun facts about the float. Everywhere you see white, is coconut! Under the red pillow where the crown is, happens to be where the float driver will be sitting. The driver can’t see anything while he’s driving the float, he takes directions over the radio from the two people who are standing on the front of the float.

It’s Show Time

Once judging is complete, the floats head to the start of parade, this usually happens around 1:30am. We were lucky enough to attend the parade, thankfully we didn’t have leave our hotel until 5am, we had to be in our seats by 6:30am because the parade is shown live on television.

Love this photo taken during the parade of my husband and boys watching the float go by!

Here it is on the parade route!!!! It’s hard to describe the feeling of seeing the finished product.


If you’d like to see another picture of the float on the parade route check out this link from CBS news

A few more tidbits, shortly after we saw the float on the parade route, it broke down and had to be towed for the rest of the parade route. Our float was named HGTV’s favorite float! Charisma float builders shut it’s doors in 2011 and the designer of the float, Raul Rodriguez died in 2015.

If you’re interested in being a float decorator check out the website for more information    My experience of being a volunteer decorator was slightly different since I was friends with the float creator.

If you don’t think float decorating is for you, I highly recommend going to see the floats being decorated, this in itself is an experience!

Make sure you catch the 128th Rose Parade on January 2 at 8am PST. Yes, I did say January 2, because the 1st falls on a Sunday the parade is one day later. The Tournament of Roses has a “never on a Sunday” tradition, since 1893.

This years theme is Echoes of Success. I’m sure there will be lots of beauty to take in! I’ve never thought of the parade in the same way after having this experience, nine years ago! I don’t think people realize how many volunteers, time, and natural materials go into all the floats!

I still have my decorator badge that we had to wear while working on the float. It’s sits on my desk and it’s a great reminder of what a magical experience this was!

A once in a lifetime experience that I will always treasure!

Here’s to a great 2017-