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Soak up the sunshine at outdoor events

While communities up North are enduring cold or even freezing temperatures, The Villages will host several outdoor festivals in the coming days that will burst with color and flavor. The Villages Classic Car Cruise In happens today, with The Villages Mardi Gras Festival, The Villages Strawberry Festival and The Villages Outdoor Expo all coming up next week. Staff at The Villages Entertainment and The Villages Recreation and Parks Department work hard to make sure these events live up to the expectations of the community and provide families with plenty of opportunities to make memories. “We strive to make dreams come true, building a sense of community and inclusivity,” Special Events Manager Chalsi Cox said. “It feels wonderful knowing our community looks forward to the annual events we work so hard to organize.”

Car Cruise In

The Villages monthly car cruise in will take place from 4 to 9 p.m. today at Spanish Springs Town Square. The event is always free and open to the public.

This month the featured car clubs are the British Motoring Club and the Tampa Bay Austin Healey Club.

“These cars are unique, and once you fix them, they are fun to drive,” said Sandy Turner, president of the British Motoring Club, in a former interview. “People like seeing different styles.”

Paisley Craze will provide live entertainment, with Kettle Corn Cabin, Bobalou’s BBQ and Island Fin Poké offering food options to purchase.

The featured car clubs will start parking their cars at 2:45 p.m., then residents of The Villages can enter with their vehicles from 3 to 4 p.m. or until the first 150 forms are handed out. The public can enter at 4 p.m. or after the first 150 forms are handed out.

Participants can enter their cars into the people’s choice contest, as long as they are at least 30 years old. For more information, visit

Mardi Gras Festival

The Villages Mardi Gras Festival will bring the best of Fat Tuesday to Lake Sumter Landing Market Square from 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Festivities begin with the Mardi Paw March at 3:30 p.m., followed by food and entertainment until 9 p.m.

The Mardi Paw March is a themed pet walk around the square and includes a pet costume contest that benefits Your Humane Society SPCA.

Participants must register in advance at or any Villages Box Office location. There is a $20 registration fee for the first pet and $10 for each additional animal.

Cox said the festival will feature a few new decor items this year.

“We have two new jester statues and will be adding a facelift to the bar huts,” she said.

The Jammin’ Jambalaya band will bring New Orleans-inspired music to the main stage, and the Dixieland Stompers will perform on the waterfront stage.

Villages performance groups The Villages Sunshine Strollers, Sweet & Sassy, Aloha O’ Ka Hula, Pacific Paradise Dancers and Sugar N Spice will perform at various times on the main stage or waterfront stage.

Street performers will entertain throughout the evening.

“We do our best to bring in new entertainers to spark interest, as well as our staples that continue to bring the fun,” Cox said.

She said they pay close attention to how crowds respond to entertainment to figure out what Villages audiences want.

“We can then search and find acts our community will look forward to seeing,” she said.

Carol Carlyo, director of Sweet & Sassy, said the group is looking forward to its performance at the Mardi Gras Festival.

“We have lots of fast, fun, hand-clapping music with New Orleans-style entertainment,” she said. “We’re dressing in Mardi Gras colors with beads. It’s very high energy, popular music.”

The line dancing group performed at past festivals and enjoys making crowds smile.

“This festival gets rid of the winter blues,” Carlyo said. “Mardi Gras is just a fun partying atmosphere.”

Plenty of market and food vendors will be open for business including La Isla Creations, Charming Treasures, Kona Ice and more. All of the food vendors will feature creole style selections, Cox said.

The festival is presented by Mid Florida Agencies and your local Florida Blue office.

Strawberry Festival

The Villages Strawberry Festival will bring sweet treats, entertainment and more to Brownwood Paddock Square from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 25-26.

The festival will bring in almost 100 vendors, more than ever before, Cox said. Food vendors will offer desserts such as strawberry shortcake, pies and cakes, she added.

The event also features the Paul Bunyon Lumber Jack Show, food trucks, Villages lifestyle entertainment groups and live music from Hayfire on Feb. 25 and from the Greg Warren Band on Feb. 26.

Resident groups the Original Villages Belly Dancers, the Silver Rockettes, the Prime Time Twirlers and Viva Flamenco will perform Feb. 25.

The Villages Cheerleaders, Sugar N Spice, The Villages Twirlers & Drum Corps and Mystic Jewels will entertain Feb. 26.

The event is presented by Fross & Fross Wealth Management and is free and open to the public.

“The biggest draw to these events is a sense of community,” Cox said. “It’s a platform where friends and family can go to create new memories.”

Outdoor Expo

The Villages Recreation and Parks will host the annual Outdoor Expo from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 24-25 at Everglades Recreation.

The event gives Villages residents a chance to explore nature activities and outdoor adventures, bringing in more than 30 clubs and vendors to one spot.

“There are a lot of opportunities in The Villages, but this is a whole event dedicated to showcasing all these activities at once,” Everglades Recreation employee Jason Leavitt said.

Residents can try activities like water volleyball, R/C boats and cars, pickleball, platform tennis, soccer, archery, astronomy and more.

Representatives from clubs and regional entities will be available in booths in the parking lot, as well as inside the complex, to share information about how to enjoy nature and outdoor recreation.

“I’m looking forward to interacting with the community,” Leavitt said.

For more information, email or call 352-753-1716.