Newly coronated Queen Azalea tours the Cape Fear

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — It was flowers and crowns in Wilmington Wednesday as the 74th Azalea Festival officially begins.

Many area businesses and locals were in the presence of royalty, as our Queen Azalea, Victoria Huggins went on tour. The unique coronation ceremony took her across the Cape Fear.

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The pandemic put the brakes on a Port City tradition last year, but this year’s Azalea Festival is underway… with some changes in place.

“We are extremely happy to have a festival this year,” said executive director, Alison Baringer. “The spring, the sun is out, the azaleas are blooming, and we’re just happy to be celebrating a little bit of normalcy.”

The newly coronated Queen Azalea ushered in the tradition with a not-so-normal festival this year.

“Well, I’m not a normal individual,” said Huggins, “so I think it’s only fitting that we have a not normal festival the year that I’m the queen.”

Instead of one week, events are spread out throughout the year. Bigger events like the street fair and concerts are tentatively scheduled for later in the summer.

“And as obviously we get more shots in are arms, hopefully we can let our guard down a little bit,” said Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo. “I think we’re going to have a great festival, but it’s going to be over a longer duration of time as opposed to one weekend.”

Smaller events tailored to social distance are being held around the Azalea week.

“We’re keeping everything safe,” explained Huggins, “so no large gatherings until after everyone gets vaccinated, hopefully in July so we can have a huge Garden Party.”

“You, know, you have to respond to the situation,” said Jack Manock, and Wilmington local about the new Azalea Festival layout. “And I understand that, and I think we all do. You just have to make adjustments.”

The festival is celebrating 74 years, with 74 waves over the next few days. Huggins made stops Wednesday at landmarks like Greenfield Lake and Amphitheater, the Wilmington City Hall, and Thalian Hall.

Huggins beamed, “Even though things look a little bit differently than what we’re used to, I think that Wilmingtonians are really going to appreciate the personal approach that we’re taking.”

Thursday, Huggins will kick off her next round of tours. According to her schedule, she’ll make appearances at the Wilmington Police Department, Battleship, and WWAY’s news studio.