It’s time for Tampa’s annual tradition of pirate invasions, bead necklaces and hundreds of thousands of parade-goers flocking downtown to take it all in.
The Gasparilla Pirate Festival is set to dock in Tampa Bay this Saturday from 9 a.m. through 10 p.m., and is expected to fill the streets and waters with over 300,000 spectators toting their best pirate costumes, according to the City of Tampa.
If you want to brave the crowd and watch the pirate madness unfold, you should be sufficiently prep-AAARRR-ed.
From what to wear to where to park, here’s a USF student’s guide to Gasparilla 2024.
The History of Gasparilla
Gasparilla was inspired by the legend of José Gaspar, a Spanish pirate who terrorized the coastal waters of West Florida from the late 18th to the early 19th century. When Gaspar died, he supposedly left an untold fortune in buried treasure along the Florida coast, according to Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.
Though that treasure has never been found, the story of the pirate was revived a century later.
In 1904, a group of city officials and a prominent club of Tampa businessmen, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, founded the festival after being inspired by a visit to Mardis Gras in New Orleans. Gaspar was adopted as the event’s mascot.
Arranged through secret meetings, the first Krewe arrived on horseback and surprised the city by “capturing it” during the Festival Parade on May 4 of that year.
Since its first celebration, Gasparilla was moved to the second Monday of February. It was eventually shifted to a Saturday to be more accessible to outside communities, according to Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. Tampa has upheld its tradition by celebrating Gasparilla almost every year.
Main Gasparilla Events
Pirate Fest: Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
This year’s pirate fest, which includes all of Gasparilla’s events, will occur along the Riverwalk in downtown Tampa, with live entertainment at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and MacDill Park before and after the invasion. The entertainment lineup has yet to be announced. To stay updated, visit the Gasparilla website.
Pirate Invasion: Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Followed by a fleet of boats, the “world’s only fully-rugged pirate ship,” the Jose Gasparilla II, will set sail at the south end of Hillsborough Bay at 11:30 a.m. from the Tampa Yacht Club, head north to Seddon Channel – between Davis Island and Harbour Island – and then continue north before it docks at the Tampa Convention Center at 1 p.m. The mayor will surrender the key to the city to the pirates afterward.
Parade of Pirates: Saturday from 2-6 p.m.
When the key to the city is in hand, the Captain and Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla will celebrate their capture with a 4.5-mile-long parade along Bayshore Boulevard, tossing beads on their way. The parade will feature over 100 elaborate floats and five marching bands, according to Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.
It will begin at Bay to Bay Boulevard and Bayshore Boulevard, continue along Bayshore to Brorein Street, turn east on Brorein Street and then north on Ashley Drive. The parade ends at Cass Street and Ashley Drive.
Due to the Pirate Fest, traffic is expected to be heavy in and around downtown Tampa, so plan to arrive early. Streets around the parade route will begin closing Friday night.
Several public garages and privately operated lots will be available downtown and around Bayshore Boulevard. City garages will charge $20 for event parking in downtown garages and $12 in Ybor and other outlying garages.
The free TECO Line Streetcar will run from 8:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. between Ybor and downtown Tampa if you opt to park in a garage outside of downtown. USF students can ride the HART bus for free if they present a valid university ID. Faculty can also ride at a discounted price of 50 cents. The HART bus can take you from 56th Street to the Marion Transit Center.
Michael Ramirez, a senior at USF, said, “Taking a picture of where I parked last year saved me so much time. I would have been completely lost otherwise.”
If using a rideshare app like Uber or Lyft, plan to order your ride there and back in advance to avoid surcharges due to high platform traffic the day of.
What should I wear?
Consider the best pirate etiquette when putting together a costume, like corsets, beads, chains, boots, vests, puffy tops, collared button-ups, eye patches and bandanas. Red and black are popular colors to don during the parade. With a high of 79 degrees on Saturday, you shouldn’t be too cold during the day.
“I make sure to wear tights or pants every year since it can get so cold,” Emma Brown, a junior at USF, said. “This year, I’m wearing black leather pants and a red corset top.”
“I’m wearing a white flowy romper with a black corset,” Sydney Lopez, a freshman at USF, said.
Alcohol and Safety
Anyone 21 and older is permitted to drink at Gasparilla, but you must remain in designated areas for drinking alcohol. This year’s drinking zones can be found on a map made by the City of Tampa.
All bags and backpacks will be subject to search, with no underage alcohol consumption allowed, according to the City of Tampa. Coolers, kegs or vessels providing mass distribution of alcohol and glass containers are not allowed.
Cellular reception is notorious for becoming spotty in and around the event. Be sure to stay with your group and establish a meeting spot ahead of time in case of separation.
Using a buddy system when going to the bathroom is helpful. There will be hundreds of portable toilets lining Bayshore Boulevard.
Gasparilla is a long event, so wear sunscreen, bring a portable charger and pack a couple of snacks in your bag to prepare for the day.
USF students should use these tips to make sure they can p-ARRR-ty safely. Gasparilla only comes once a year, so seize the day like any pirate should.