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Look out … Pirates!

It’s time to dust off the old eye patch and give Polly a cracker as the 99th annual Gasparilla Parade makes its way through the Tampa Bay area.

Saturday, the invasion begins as the pirates “sail” into downtown Tampa on their pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla. As it makes its way through downtown the ship will be accompanied by a flotillá of hundreds of boats.

The legendary pirate Jose Gaspar and his band of buccaneers return to Tampa to re-enact the historic pirate invasion, which began in 1904.

At 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, the Jose Gasparilla will appear at the south end of the Hillsborough River.

When the ship reaches the Tampa Convention center at 1 p.m., the pirates will disembark, and Fred Dobbins, the SunTrust Bank executive who is serving as this year’s captain, will demand the city key from Tampa Mayor Dick Greco. After the key ceremony, the mayor and some of the pirates will board the Starlight Majesty, which will follow the lead ship to downtown.

No one will be safe from the invasion as the Jose Gasparilla itself will be firing cannons and the rest of the flotilla will contribute its own fireworks and noisemakers.

The Jose Gasparilla will remain on the Hillsborough River until it is cleaned and returned to its usual berth across from Tampa General Hospital.

After the Captain and his Krewe capture the city, they share their wealth of trinkets and doubloons with the enthusiastic crowd along the parade route. This year’s parade will have more than 120 units, including 93 floats, 14 local high school bands and a drum band from New Jersey.

The parade will be longer than ever, starting a half-mile from downtown at Bay to Bay Boulevard. Other changes this year include the addition of bleachers to provide more viewing space for the crowds. Tow vehicles will be present in the possibility that one of the floats becomes disabled.

Nothing is more valuable in Gasparilla than a set of beads, as more than a million beads are purchased for this event alone. Basic, generic beads cost from 11 cents each to $15.95 a package. But the prices are guaranteed to go higher as the parade draws near. Krewe members get special prices on beads because they purchase so many. Non-Krewe members still can buy beads, but they have to pay the full retail price.

The krewe spends about $500,000 on the parade, an amount kept constant due to the annual sponsorship by Southwest Airlines, Red Baron Pizza and Miller Lite beer.

The Pirate Fest Street Festival concludes in downtown to celebrate the invasion following a full day of rides, games, food and live music.

The street festival was added to the Gasparilla lineup in 1985. Pirate Fest continues the day’s celebrations into the night as the fun continues in the form of a musical celebration in downtown Tampa.

In the past, Pirate Fest has featured such acts as Paula Abdul, Eddie Money, Paula Cole, the Backstreet Boys and Richard Marx.

This year is no exception, as up-and-comers Mario, Angie Martinez and Nivea team up with headliner Naughty by Nature to add their names to the list of performers who rock Pirate Fest.

The event comes on a yearly basis, and next year is expected to be the biggest as the city celebrates 100 years of Gasparilla.

Contact Pablo Saldana at oraclepablo@yahoo.com