Thousands gather dockside as Gasparilla kicks off with a pirate invasion — Photo courtesy of Gasparilla Pirate FestAarrr, mateys! The highlight of Tampa’s event calendar arrives January 25, 2014, as legendary pirate Jose Gaspar and his nefarious krewe invade Tampa harbor and take over the city for a day of fun and frivolity, the Gasparilla Pirate Fest. This is the day that everyone lets loose and locals don’t just attend the festivities–they live the festivities.
For many, it's a yearly tradition to don elaborate costumes and attend the invasion and parade. All over the city there are pre-parties and post-parties that will last the weekend. Hotels, restaurants and nightclubs in downtown and nearby Ybor City will be packed each night with revelers, many dressed as scantily-clad pirate wenches, buccaneers and even the odd parrot.
The day begins with the Gasparilla Invasion. At 11:30 am, the Jose Gasparilla, an impressive fully-rigged pirate ship, begins the invasion at the end of Hillsborough Bay. Escorted by hundreds of private and charter boats, the ship makes its way to the docks of the Tampa Convention Center. Thousands descend on downtown Tampa to witness the spectacle as the Mayor hands over the key to city after much cannon fire by the menacing pirate ship.
A great way to ensure a good spot from which to view the colorful spectacle is by attending the Gasparilla Invasion Brunch hosted by the Convention Center. Not only will you enjoy a delicious buffet brunch, you'll have the best seats available to watch the action.
The brunch is from 10 am to 1 pm and requires a reserved ticket that you can purchase on the Gasparilla website for a cost of $70.00. If that’s a little rich for your blood, never fear, just next to the Convention Center is a large viewing area adjacent to the Sail Pavilion (that is open and serving beer) and it doesn’t cost anything.
After the pirate invasion, the celebration really gets underway with the Parade of Pirates. This mardi-gras-style parade makes its way up scenic Bayshore Boulevard for almost four miles before ending downtown at Ashley and Cass Streets. The parade features more than 90 extravagant floats, 14 marching bands and over 50 krewes.
Tampa’s colorful krewes are private, social and charitable organizations, similar to the krewes of New Orleans. The streets are lined with crowds, many people deep, all along the parade route, jockeying for position so they can catch the prized beads as they're flung into the crowd. And yes, glimpsing a few bare breasts is not uncommon.
Throughout the day, downtown Tampa is transformed for the Pirate Fest Street Festival. The festivities begin even before the pirates invade to capture the City, and they continue long after dark.
Stages are set up to provide live entertainment throughout the day and there are plenty of food and drink booths to keep you fed and watered. The Street Festival is a great place to end up after the parade, but before heading off to the clubs and bars in Ybor City - if you can last that long!
Complete information about the Gasparilla Festivities including detailed schedules, parking information, map of the parade route and ticket sales, can be found at gasparillapiratefest.com. This event is primarily for adults, but if you’re looking for a more family-friendly event, the Children’s Gasparilla Extravaganza is on January 18th.
Can’t get enough? Check out the Sant’ Yago Knight Parade on February 8th at 7 pm as festive, illuminated floats travel down 7th Avenue in Ybor City. For more information visit www.knightparade.com.