TAMPA — A little boy dropped his candy cane and stood still, eyes wide.
A girl wearing reindeer ears reached over the metal barricade, screaming like a pre-teen at a Jonas Brothers show.
Finally — after the pompom-pushing cheerleaders, twirling dancers, bead-tossing pirate krewes and grinning baseball players made their way down the Santa Fest parade route in downtown Tampa Saturday — here was the guest of honor.
"Santa!" the kids shrieked when his sleek white convertible rounded the corner. "It's Santa!"
The big guy didn't disappoint.
"Merrrrrrry Christmas!" he bellowed.
Even Mayor Pam Iorio seemed a little starstruck. "Santa's here," she said. "What more can you ask for?"
Though a longtime Tampa tradition, this was the first Santa Fest parade in several years to pass through downtown, said Santiago Corrada, administrator of the city's Convention Center Tourism, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department. While the new Curtis Hixon Park was under construction, the parade was relocated to Ybor City.
The move back, coupled with an ice-skating rink recently set up in the park, made for a huge turnout. Corrada estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people were there.
After the parade, kids bopped around in inflatable bounce-houses, listened to Christmas carols sung by Sinatra-style crooner Ray Chiaramonte (also the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization director) and wrote letters to Santa.
Hailey Rickles, 5, wrote that she wanted a baby seat and a dog that walks itself. Her dad, Doug Rickles, shrugged and slid the letter into a U.S. Postal Service drop box.
Not surprisingly, the longest post-parade line was for the red and green tent with the big velvet chair inside.
Five-year-old Mikayla Rogers and her little brother Aiden, 4, had already planned what they'd ask Mr. Claus for.
"Trampoline, swing set," Mikayla began. "Pool," Aiden added.
That's the best part of Christmas, Aiden explained. "When we get all the presents."
Mom looked a little worried.
"What about spending time with your family?" Amanda Rogers of Valrico asked her kids.
Mikayla, her mouth full of candy, turned and flashed a thumbs-up.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2442.