There’s grown adults with black patches placed over one eye and red bandanas around their heads. Rainbow-colored streamers are draped along the masts of a mysterious pirate ship anchored in the middle of Tampa’s bay. This could only mean one thing– an invasion is upon us! It’s Gasparilla season.
You’ve likely heard of the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. This pirate-style Mardi Gras is the third largest parade in the United States. But, do you know the history, legend, and lore of its origins?
The story begins with the legendary Spanish pirate Jose Gaspar, also known as Gasparilla. Gasparilla, a menacing and mystical character, ravaged the west coast of Florida in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Legend states that when he died he left behind an untold treasure somewhere along the coast of Florida. While that treasure was never found we continue to celebrate his legacy over a hundred years later with the annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival.
Every year, on the last Saturday of January, Tampa hosts over 300,000 pirates thirsty for treasure, beads, rum and the keys to the city. Eager mateys flock to the famous Bayshore Boulevard and eagerly jump and scream for beads as cannons boom and the elaborate floats slowly move into downtown. Here, they meet the mayor and demand the keys to the city.
When the pirates come, will you be ready?
Here’s how to prepare for the invasion of a lifetime:
- Pack appropriately and be sure to bring water, snacks and hand sanitizer.
- No large coolers are allowed, only soft-sided containers.
- Plan to take cash out to have on hand before the big day, you’ll need this for parking, charity beer gardens and event vendors.
- Start early and check road closures. Tampagov.net/parking has more information.
- Parking lots and garages tend to fill up by 10:30 a.m. and charge high event rates. Try parking somewhere off MacDill or Howard and walk to where the parade starts.
- Stay clear of Willow Ave and Davis Islands bridge if you want to avoid the rowdy crowd. It’s best to try to reserve space along the fences at the start of the parade.
- Stay close to friends and designate a meeting area in case you’re separated. Cell phone service may be weak with so many people trying to connect at once.
- If you plan to drink be sure to stay within the clearly designated wet zones located along the parade route.
- There are more than 1,000 portable toilets lining Bayshore Boulevard. You can also use the restrooms at Publix on Bayshore Blvd., or use Hyde Park Village’s public restrooms on the west side of Snow Avenue.
- If you plan to indulge in adult beverages, be sure to plan accordingly and use a ride share app or taxi.
Gasparilla season is all about community, festivities, and having fun. The best part is that the fun doesn’t stop at the close of the Gasparilla Pirate Parade! The Gasparilla season runs all the way to early March and features a Gasparilla Children’s Parade, one week before the main parade, and the Sant’Yago Illuminated Knight Parade on Saturday, February 10th. Other Gasparilla monikered events include the Gasparilla Film Festival, the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, the Gasparilla Distance Classic, and the Gasparilla Music Festival.