Decorating a Float for the Rose Parade…with Dole!

You don’t have to tell me – I KNOW.  I know I am lucky.  I get amazing opportunities, I know fantastic people, I work with incredible companies.

Take Dole, for example.

I love the relationships I have made with the brand, from the great PR team that I consider to be friends (hey Jess and Julie!), to the executives (hi Michael and Dave!) to the go getting team (hellooo Rich and Rosemary!) – I am so humbled that these people invite me to things.

Like the Rose Parade.


Over a casual dinner with the Dole team in Las Vegas last November, we casually discuss the Rose Parade, and that Dole has a float in it again in 2014.  Rosemary, my new friend (beside me in that pic up there!), says I should try to come.  Well, hmmm.

Two weeks later, Dole has booked my ticket and hotel, and I’m actually going to Pasadena for the new year to help decorate the Dole Float!

The trip was an absolute whirlwind.  Insane!  I arrived without incident (early, even!) into LA, and went to get my rental car.

Rental car.  In LA.

Did you know they have like, a multitude of huge highways that run parallel and perpendicular and overlapping all at once?  And each of them are 5-7 lanes wide?  On each side?  And that a GPS from small town Virginia freaks out in that situation, dumping it’s driver off on exits incorrectly and the word RECALCULATING might as well be a four letter word?

It happens.

But surprisingly enough, I made it to my hotel in downtown LA – The Westin Bonaventure – without too much incident, and even had time for a brief nap before heading out tom Pasadena and Irwindale.  My room was so high up!  Great, too, because off in the distance, I could see the Hollywood sign.  I guess that shows the small town girl in me…but I loved that view.


So – Pasadena.

I made my way to this sweet town, full of gorgeous homes and tree lined streets, and found the mansion that houses all things Tournament of Roses.  I picked up my media credentials (I felt like such a grown up, you have no idea), and then hit the highway for Irwindale, where the floats are actually put together.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I arrived at Fiesta Floats, the Who’s Who of float companies.  A HUGE warehouse, and in it?  A dozen floats, wrapped in scaffolding, boards, flowers, volunteers, glue, ladders, more glue, and more flowers.  The hustle and bustle of so much going on was staggering…I didn’t know what to expect, but wow.  It was overwhelming.


Rosemary found me and gave me the tour – the Dole Float, the SeaWorld Float, the volunteer flower station, the Glue Shed (kid you not), and then showed me where to jump in.

The float has been under production for over 10 months – yes, really – and the final push is once it’s time to get the fresh flowers on.  Other things, like seeds, dried bits, moss, those things have been underway for months, but obviously, the fresh flowers have to wait until the last minute.  As you’ve seen, that’s no small feat – the Rose Parade floats are COVERED in fresh flowers.  In fact, everything visible on a float has to be covered in a natural material…and a big portion of this is fresh flowers.  It all started with a concept…and then it came to life!  There is even a live mandarin orange tree on this float, which is planted after…too cool!


I worked on a couple of different sections, starting with the swags covered in purple flowers that are draped on a couple of the camels standing at the front of the float.  Once I had the four swags done (you’d be shocked how long these take, and how much glue you use – I was covered!), I moved on to helping Rosemary with where she had been toiling along.


Peacocks. Two enormous white peacocks graced the float, and their huge tails were covered in feathers made of coconut, rice, green button flowers, beans, and orchids.  They were STUNNING.  Each feather had to be glued into place, which took a lot of time, as each feather had a special shape, and matching up shapes proved to be a lot of work!  But, late into the night, we had those peacocks covered…so they were ready for their judging the following morning!



I made it back to Fiesta Floats in plenty of time to watch the judging the next morning, a big production where a team of judges gets the chance to see each float up close and personal before they make their trip to Pasadena, complete with music, riders, confetti, dancers – it’s all judged!  The Dole Float of course looked amazing, with all of its imported flowers, cascading waterfalls, belly dancers, and theme music – we were all so pleased!  Of course, there were other beautiful Fiesta floats, including the Miracle-Gro and SeaWorld floats…I loved some of those details.  Sorry – but I just have to show you a bunch of details you can’t see from the TV or afar – everything is stunning!



All that was left was a long trek to Pasadena to line up for the following day’s parade, so I went back to the hotel and settled in for a New Year’s Eve all to my lonesome – where I watched the fireworks from my room light up different areas of LA.

By 3am I was up and at ‘em – I had to get to Pasadena and the parade early, so I was there a little after 430 cruising for parking.  Trust me, do not do this.  Ever.  There is no place to park unless you cry.  Which I did, and the guards took mercy on me.  DO not underestimate the effect Southern Girl Tears can have on an old man in a white suit.  I got my spot, right off of the parade route.


At 6, we awaited the awards news in front of the the Rose Parade headquarters.  There are lots of different awards, but the biggie – the Sweepstakes Award for most beautiful float – is the one that we all wanted.  Dole has only had a float for 3 years, but for each of those 3, they took the Sweepstakes.  Fingers crossed for a fourth!


By 615 we had our answer – Dole won!  A lot of hugs, cheers, and sighs of relief were all around, but no one dwelled on it too long – there was so much going on!  HGTV, LA news stations, and other media were buzzing about interviewing, the White Suits were trying to get the crowds out of the street and the floats into position, the horses and riders were falling into line – it was chaotic but fun!  We eventually made it to our seats at the start of the Parade (Thanks Dave & Rosemary for the great seat!) and the Parade started.

To see the Dole Float draw such chatter and oohs and ahhs from the crowd was priceless.  I feel so honored to have been able to do ANYTHING on it – what an experience!

A HUGE thanks to all of the folks at Finn Partners and Dole for making all of this possible for me.  I am touched and still kind of in shock.  I loved it!

I’ll leave you with some extra details about the float, in case you get as geeked out about things like that as I do.  Thanks for letting me share such an awesome experience with you!

Continuing its winning streak at the Tournament of Roses Parade, the 2014 Dole Rose Parade float, “Sunrise at the Oasis,” took home the company’s fourth consecutive Sweepstakes Trophy as the most beautiful entry in this year’s parade. This recognition makes Dole the only company to win the Sweepstakes Trophy four years in a row, and every year it has entered.

Dole’s entry evokes a utopic tropical oasis, with three cascading waterfalls, three camels, two whimsical 12-foot-long peacocks, a tigress and her cubs, and elephants all awakening in mist-draped tropical gardens.

Also included on the float was a live Mandarin tree that is emblematic of Dole’s commitment to packing all-natural fruit, delivering closer to fresh taste, texture, and nutrition. This is what makes Dole the industry leader in developing packaged products that are closer to nature, with fruit that is non-GMO, Gluten Free and BPA free.

A whimsical floral oasis, “Sunrise at the Oasis” celebrates Dole’s environmental commitment with vibrant optimism. Dole’s environmental practices and respect for natural resources are embedded in its corporate culture and highlighted through its operations in the United States and around the world. Three waterfalls, featuring over 1,000 gallons of cascading recycled water highlight this commitment with high pressure misting nozzles creating a gentle fog, adding to the tropical mood.

Sculptured palm trees with lavish cascades of lavender Cattleya and Dendrobium orchids provided a fantasy canopy over lush floral gardens of more than 40,000 hot pink Princess roses. Completing the spirit of the oasis, 16 performers including belly dancers, veil dancers, sword dancers and fire dancers accompanied the float as it made its way down Colorado Boulevard. Also featured throughout the float were fresh fruits, including bananas, pineapples, mangoes, papayas, peaches, strawberries and blueberries that were grown and provided by Dole for use on its float.

Created by Fiesta Parade Floats, “Sunrise at the Oasis” stood 55 feet long, 18 feet wide, over 26 feet tall and weighed in at just over 22 tons, or the weight of 10 elephants. Fiesta Parade Floats also designed and built, with the help of Dole employees, Dole’s previous award-winning entries – 2013 “Dreaming of Paradise,” 2012 “Preserving Paradise” and its 2011 entry “Living Well in Paradise.”

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