Miami-Dade County

Memorial Day partying in South Florida gives way to tributes and family fun

Memorial Day Weekend in South Florida may translate to “one big party,” but when Monday rolls around the late-night festivities will make way for patriotism and picnics.

Cities across South Florida will lay wreaths, host parades and present colors in honor of the men and women who died protecting the country.

“We encourage everyone to remember what the holiday is all about,” Fort Lauderdale police spokeswoman DeAnna Greenlaw said.

Thousands of people will flock to South Florida’s beaches to enjoy the sun and feast on barbecues. And they’ll do it with sun and breeze, said Alex Gribbs, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami-Dade.

To wrap up the day, the Miami Heat will continue its championship quest, facing the Indiana Pacers in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Even though Monday may be a little bit calmer — except for that familiar tension by the hometown Heat — locals and tourists have had plenty to do over the holiday weekend.

On Saturday, Sizzle Miami 2014, an annual Memorial Day gathering in Miami and Miami Beach for gay men of color, kicked off with a pool party at Finnegan's River. Sizzle, which is mainly being held on the mainland, runs though noon Monday.

In Fort Lauderdale, the Great American Beach Party took over the beach near Las Olas Boulevard for most of the day with sand sculpture contests, food and music.

Greenlaw said her department has an increased presence on the beach and that would continue through Monday.

“We had the few who refused to abide by the rules and those individuals were arrested, but overall it was a successful family event,” she said.

Also on Saturday, more than 500 volunteers participated in Operation Stand Down, a three-day Miami event to help shelter homeless veterans from the tri-county area. More than 200 veterans came to seek services.

Miami Beach, home to the annual Urban Beach Week, has been hip-hopping with bikini-clad women, fancy cars and pulsating music. People waited in long lines to get into clubs and others opted to walk along Ocean Drive or hang out at restaurants and bars.

On Sunday, Richard Schuflin, 53, who was wearing red and blue and sitting in his wheelchair as he watched a volleyball game on Miami Beach, said he “feels that Memorial Day should be more about celebrating veterans than it is.”

Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco says the celebration has been “relatively incident-free.”

“Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and on their best behavior,” Grieco said Sunday afternoon.

Miami Beach police reported fewer arrests over the last few days than last year during the same period. On Sunday night, Deputy Chief John Buhrmaster said “there has not been a big crowd; arrests are down.”

“Usually Saturday night is our biggest test, which was somewhat uneventful,” he said.

Buhrmaster said there was one incident in which an officer hurt his knee as he mediated a cab-fare dispute. The officer was treated and released from the hospital and two people were arrested.

By Sunday evening, Caribbean music fans waved their Jamaican, Trinidadian and other island flags and sang along to some of the region's biggest reggae, dancehall and soca hits as entertainers took the stage at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami for the annual best of the best concert.

“Miami is like home,” said Trinidad soca star Bunji Garlin, who was making his second appearance in as many months in the city.

Garlin said he enjoyed the concert's energetic vibe. For the second year it was 100 percent Caribbean rhythms and no hip-hop artists even though local Mii Deejay Khalid was on the billing.

As for performing soca in Miami on what is usually considered a hip-hop weekend, Bunji said he didn't mind.

“We party anytime, anywhere, rain, shine, solar eclipse,” he said, joking he's a “public servant who has come to serve the public.”

For reggae fans waiting for Beenie Man, the evening's final act and one of the biggest names out of Jamaica's reggae scene, they got a warm-up with crowd pleaser Cocoa Tea.

Best of the best spokeswoman Tracii McGregor said this year's concert, in its eighth year, is expected to bring out 30,000 fans.

Crowds were still ushering in way after 7 p.m., with some standing, while others including Fort Lauderdale resident Henry Morrison,45, looked for a place to drop his lounge chair. Still he and buddy Hugo Reid said they were enjoying themselves.

“I think it's wonderful,” Morrison said, as reggae artist Cocoa Tea played in the background. “It's more old-school this year, something from my era.”

But as the parties wind down, many people will be up early Monday for Memorial Day tributes around town. Cities including Pembroke Pines, Surfside, Davie, Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach will hold events at parks, police departments and other locations.

Grieco said he is hoping people will take some time Monday to reflect on the holiday.

“As an elected official, I am sometimes frustrated that all we talk about is crowd control, partying and arrests,” he said. “This weekend is supposed to be about honoring our military heroes.”

Miami Herald staff photographer Emily Michot and writers Christina Veiga and Beatrice Dupuy contributed to this report.