For students new to the area, hearing that pirates will invade the City of Tampa this weekend may seem a little strange.
But for veterans of the Bay, the news signals the return of the annual Gasparilla Pirate Fest – the closest rival to the parade antics of Mardi Gras on this side of the Mississippi River.
Whether one will be donning a pirate hat and eye patch for the first time or returning for another year’s fun, Scene & Heard has created a quick guide for anyone who wants to survive the annual invasion on Saturday.
While some may see Gasparilla as the ultimate excuse for drinking, it is actually grounded in almost 300 years of history. According to GasparillaPirateFest.com, the festival was first celebrated in 1904 when a group of Tampa’s civic leaders, known as “Ye Mystic Crewe of Gasparilla,” staged a mock pirate invasion and adopted infamous pirate Jose Gaspar as the patron of the festivities.
Gaspar, known as “last of the Buccaneers,” was infamous for capturing and burning ships along the west coast of Florida during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Allegedly, Gaspar left a vast treasure buried somewhere on the coast of west Florida. But perhaps the greatest treasure left by Gaspar is the Mardi Gras-style festival in his honor that satisfies long-time locals and attracts tourists from around the world.
Traffic during the invasion is usually barbaric, so make your way downtown early. Various parking garages and lots will be available in downtown Tampa and Ybor City for a one-time special event-parking fee.
For those students who wish to opt out of driving, HARTline will offer normal service to downtown’s Marion Transit Center. Call (813) 254-4278 for specific information on HARTline fares and a full schedule.
If driving is unavoidable and consumption of alcohol is expected, always plan ahead for a designated driver or make a reservation at a downtown hotel.
While the main festival is free, the official Gasparilla Pirate Fest kicks off at 10 a.m. with the “Gasparilla Invasion Brunch” at the Tampa Convention Center. A $59 ticket buys you a breakfast buffet, live entertainment and reserved seating to observe the Gasparilla pirate ship as it sails up the channel and begins the city invasion. Tickets are available online at GasparillaPirateFest.com.
The invasion begins at 11:30 a.m. and the Gasparilla “Parade of the Pirates” begins at 2:00 p.m. on Bay to Bay and Bayshore boulevards. With more than 90 parade floats and 14 marching bands, parade-goers can expect to be showered with beads and other giveaways. The parade will make its way along a 3.8-mile route, which ends at Cass Street and Ashley Drive.
Food and Drink
While coolers, glass containers and Styrofoam cups or containers are not permitted, attendees can bring other forms of food and beverage containers. Additionally, more than 100 vendors will be present throughout the event selling food, drinks and Gasparilla novelties.
Beer and Captain Morgan with cola will be sold through out the parade route at various Gasparilla Charity Beer Gardens areas. The proceeds from the alcohol sold at these areas will benefit local Tampa Bay charities.
Most area businesses highly discourage using their restrooms during the event. If an indoor convenience cannot be found, port-o-lets will be available on both sides of the street throughout the parade route. While the event vendors accept cash only, portable ATMs and several area banks are located throughout the festival area.