By MADDY VITALE
Each year there are bayfront homes decorated in themes for Night in Venice. And on this coming Saturday, Donna and Bill Dorney’s home at 118 W. 17th Street will likely stand out as very memorable.
No, they aren’t doing the optional theme of this year’s parade, “Mummers: Struttin’ on the Bay.”
But they will have something likely just as exciting, when they transform their home into a combination theme of “Alice in Wonderland” and the sequel, “Through the Looking Glass.” The Dorneys are calling it “Wonderland by Knight,” in honor of the late Ocean City Mayor Bud Knight.
The Night in Venice boat parade begins at 6 p.m. near the Ocean City-Longport toll bridge and travels along the bayside to Tennessee Avenue, looping in and out of lagoons along the way.
The Dorneys, who live half of the year in Florida, hope their display will delight the boaters and other spectators as well as their guests.
Over the years they have created extraordinary Hollywood-like sets at their bayfront vacation home.
“Our 1940s house was given a castle facelift for this year’s parade,” Donna said, as she gave a tour Wednesday of all of the pieces, from the set to costumes, that will complete the theme.
The couple, who has been married for 48 years, is inviting about 50 of their friends who will dress in costume for the occasion.
Guests will be in costume as Alice, Cheshire cats, flamingos, playing cards, the White Knight, White Rabbit, Kitten, Tweedle Dee, and Tweedle Dum, the Red and White Queens Court, Absolem, and other characters.
Donna, who will be the “Mistress Mad Hatter,” and Bill, who will dress as a knight, thought of just about every last detail to create a whimsical atmosphere.
A Cheshire cat mask will be displayed on a piling. There will even be a Jabberwocky, a dragon-like beast, which is already affixed to the roof for the festivities. And an archway will allow Alice to go through the “mirror-looking glass.”
Over the years, Donna, 75, a retired nurse, and Bill, 74, retired from the Miami Beach Patrol and Ocean City Beach Patrol, have had a lot of fun with the contest. They began decorating their home around 1987.
They decorated their home in a Godzilla theme one year, which Donna had said was among her favorites.
Bill enjoyed the theme “Lifestyles of the Not so Rich and Famous,” a spoof on the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” show in the 1980s and 1990s.
They didn’t decorate their home for the parade in 2019 or 2021. And due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was not a Night in Venice parade in 2020.
In 2018, they created a Dodge City complete with a Western saloon.
So, after a few years of hiatus, they are ready to bring a display to the community that will really delight, they said.
Bill doesn’t just decorate for the major event.
He builds the sets, cuts, and shapes the wood for the façade, and does just about a million other things that showcase his craftsmanship.
He looked around at the deck and the beginnings of a display Wednesday.
“You don’t know until it is all up if it fulfills your expectations,” Bill said. “I know people are dressing up and it will look good.”
Donna is creative in her repurposing skills. Some of the creations are made using large cardboard sections and Styrofoam they get from local businesses.
“We started working on the display in June when we got back into town. I think I have gotten things every day for it,” Donna said with a laugh about her many shopping trips.
She couldn’t say exactly, or even roughly, how many hours have gone into the set or the items around it, but she said she hopes everyone will be amused.
“It takes so much work,” Donna said of the main reason the couple doesn’t participate in the parade every year. “The event was my 75th birthday gift from my husband.”
Anyone with a boat or anyone with a house along the bayfront parade route can participate in Night in Venice by decorating their boat or home. Judges pick winners among boats, homes and condominium complexes.
There will be plenty of other homeowners who will showcase their homes in either their chosen theme or the city’s theme selected for 2022 of “Mummers: Struttin’ on the Bay.”
But it isn’t likely that there will be any display quite like the Dorneys’ home when it is all complete.
“I said with all the stress of the pandemic, we should enjoy ourselves and just have fun,” Donna said of their theme this year.
While the parade is on Saturday, Donna said they will start their fun and festivities on Friday.
“With all the work that goes into this, we wouldn’t just do it for one day,” she said with a laugh. “We are ready.”