The annual Cape Coral Coconut Festival has expanded this year to include a fourth day of fun.
Now in its eighth year, the event will kick off Thursday for the first-ever Coco College Night, which will be followed by the previously established Coco Country, Coco Rock and Coco Family days.
It takes place on the grounds of Sun Splash Family Waterpark, at 400 Santa Barbara Blvd.
"Last year, we only had three days," Lyz Crouthamel, with the city of Cape Coral's Special Events Division, said. "This year, we've decided to do a type of soft opening on Thursday night."
The festival will run from 5 to 11 p.m. Thursday and will feature electronic dance music and house deejays. The lineup will include M2G, DJ Spiff, DJ Vinny Foo, DJ KS-1 and PandaMoanEyum.
Admission is buy one, get one free Thursday for those with a valid college student ID.
"I think that it appeals to more people's schedule. It allows the college students to come," she said.
Last year, an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people attended the three-day festival.
"This year, we're expecting 5,000 more with the (Thursday) opening night," Crouthamel said.
The cost of admission is $7 on any of the four days. Children 5 and under are free.
Also on Thursday, the inaugural Student Art Competition will be held at the festival. Artwork by students from elementary school on up to college will be on display for attendees to enjoy.
"This year, it is just the display. Next year, it will be an actual competition," she said.
Next year, the participating artists will have an opportunity to win cash prizes and gift cards.
"We were just trying to pull more of the student body, work more with the kids," Crouthamel said.
All of the regular carnival rides and games, along with the vendors, will be open Thursday.
One-day unlimited ride bracelets can be purchased in advance for $20 each. Those with advance bracelets do not have to pay the additional admission price at the door to get into the festival.
"You're saving approximately $7 because you don't have to pay the admission," she said.
The bracelets are available through Nov. 6 at Cape Coral City Hall and Fuccillo Kia of Cape Coral.
Unlimited ride bracelets can also be purchased at the event for $20.
Friday marks Coco Country, and the festival will run from 5 p.m. to midnight.
The headliner is Travis Tritt, who takes the stage at 9:30 p.m. The other acts include the winner of Cat Country 107.1's Next Country Star contest, the Rachel/Hughes Band and the Grayson Rogers Band.
"Those are local performing acts," Crouthamel said.
A fireworks show, sponsored by Fuccillo Kia, will be held at 9 p.m.
Preferred seating tickets are available for $15 and include admission into the event. As of Thursday, approximately half of the 1,000 available tickets had been sold. Chairs and blankets are welcome.
"They have the privilege of being right up front when Travis Tritt performs," she said.
Preferred tickets can be purchased at City Hall or charged by telephone at (239) 573-3128.
"We're hoping it has a great turnout," Crouthamel said.
The Toa Tropical Polynesian Dance Team will also perform, along with live circus acts.
Nov. 9 is designated as Coco Rock, and the event will run from noon to midnight.
Last year, 38 Special was the headline performer.
"It was amazing," she said. "This year, we decided to go with two bands."
Brian Howe of Bad Company will take the stage at 7:30 p.m., followed later by Starship featuring Micky Thomas at 9:30 p.m. The performances will be split by another fireworks show at 9 p.m.
Preferred seating tickets are again available for the Saturday night concert.
The Polynesian dancers, circus acts and Keeping the Faith, a Bon Jovi tribute band, will perform.
Also on Saturday, the Coco Cheerfest will run from 1 to 7 p.m.
"It's different cheerleading teams in the area that come out to perform, as well as other local school performers that sign up to be part of the competition," Crouthamel said.
There was still time for groups to sign up as of Thursday.
Coco Rock also features the crowning of the Coconut Festival Queen at 8:45 p.m.
"That is our queen scholarship program, which is new this year," she said.
"We decided that there are a lot of outstanding ladies in our community that could use scholarships for schooling and creating a better outcome for themselves," Crouthamel said.
Organizers received about five applications for the contest's first year and had narrowed the list down to three as of Thursday. The winner - a Lee County resident - will receive a $2,500 scholarship.
"She will represent the city of Cape Coral's Special Events Division and the city itself at local and statewide events, parades and festivals," she said, adding that the person will be a role model.
Sunday is called Coco Family for a good reason. The day will feature a mix of community groups performing on the main stage, to include local schools, dance teams, gymnastic programs and more.
The festival will run from noon to 10 p.m.
"It's more of a family atmosphere," Crouthamel said.
Sunday is also buy one admission, get one admission free for the public.
"Coconut Festival is a great family environment," she said.
"I think it appeals to all ages," Crouthamel added. "It's fun for everyone."
Cape Coral City Hall is at 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.
Fuccillo Kia of Cape Coral is at 404 N.E. Pine Island Road.
For more information about the Cape Coral Coconut Festival, visit online at: cocofest.com.