Gasparilla is back for 2022, and organizers expect the crowd to be even larger than usual because of pent-up demand to get out of the house.
The Gasparilla Parade of Pirates is a uniquely Tampa event, created by city leaders more than 100 years ago as a way to lure people to visit Tampa. Last year’s parade was canceled because of coronavirus concerns, but organizers say this year all systems are go. There are no limits on crowds or mask mandates, though Tampa Mayor Jane Castor urged attendees to practice “personal responsibility” in wearing masks when in tight groups and to stay home if immunocompromised.
It all started with a fictional pirate, Jose Gaspar, that historians trace to a pre-1900 railroad advertisement to promote Boca Grande and Gasparilla Island. The festival was founded in 1904 by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, a prominent bunch of Tampa citizens who were the first to dress up as pirates to “invade” the city.
The all-male, all-white founders of Gasparilla bear little resemblance to today’s roster of more than 50 krewes that now include Latin krewes, female krewes, Black krewes and others based on various ethnic, cultural and historical themes.
They dress up as pirates and wenches and toss beads and medallions, and if you are really lucky, they will hand you the heavy special beads they bring out each year.
With a Mardi Gras atmosphere of tossing beads and medallions to the crowd, the festival is expected to draw some 300,000 people to line Bayshore Boulevard to see elaborate floats, bands and dance troupes. Pirate costumes will be worn by both the crowd and the krewes. Cannons will be fired. Rum will be consumed.
The day starts with the fully rigged Jose Gasparilla pirate ship and a flotilla of hundreds of private boats as it emerges at the south end of Hillsborough Bay starting at about 11:30 a.m. Saturday. It makes its way into Seddon Channel and docks near the Tampa Convention Center. Then, from 2-6 p.m. the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates starts at Bay to Bay Boulevard and Bayshore Boulevard with more than 140 units on parade.
Man your battle stations, mateys. Here’s our guide and some insider tips to help you survive the invasion and come out on top of the other scurvy dogs on the streets of Tampa.
Plan your day: Traffic will start getting busy as early as 9 a.m., so allow extra time to find parking to be able to walk or ride a bike to your destination. Pack some sunscreen, water, cash, hand sanitizer and snacks. Almost every bar in South Tampa hosts a “kegs and eggs” event that morning. Veteran paradegoers glug sports drinks full of electrolytes the night before because they know dehydration is a danger.
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Parking: Streets around the parade route begin closing Friday night. City garages charge $5 to $15 per vehicle on parade day. Prepaid parking is highly recommended. Go to tampa.pmreserve.com to purchase your parade parking and guarantee a parking space downtown. Note that many garages tend to fill up by 10:30 a.m.
Another parking option is Ybor City, where you can take the free TECO Line Streetcar into downtown. The Centro Ybor and Palm Avenue garages are a short walk to the streetcar station. Service starts at 8:30 a.m. and runs until 2 a.m. For $4 you can get an all-day pass for the HART park-and-ride options. HART will provide free bus shuttle service from Dick Greco Plaza, 301 Channelside Drive, from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. More information on transit is at gohart.org.
Pirate Fest: This party in Curtis Hixon Park features numerous stages with live entertainment before and after the parade. There’s also entertainment in MacDill Park at Ashley and Whiting Street. Free. 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday. Curtis Hixon Park, 600 N Ashley Drive, Tampa.
Invasion: The pirate ship and flotilla appear around 11:30 a.m. and dock at the Tampa Convention Center around 1 p.m., where the mayor will surrender the key to the city to the captain of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. Thousands will line the downtown waterfront to watch the spectacle as they begin the parade down Bayshore Boulevard.
Parade: From 2 to 6 p.m. the parade starts at Bay to Bay Boulevard and Bayshore Boulevard with more than 140 units. It continues along Bayshore to Brorein Street, turns east on Brorein, then heads north on Ashley Drive. The parade ends at Cass Street and Ashley Drive, where you will find the Pirate Fest.
Loot: If you are looking at getting your share of the beads and doubloons thrown by krewes of all stripes, keep these tips in mind:
- Krewes will be tossing light beads, medallions and foam prizes such as footballs. The heavy and collectible signature beads and necklaces are handed out to the crowd in person for the people up front.
- Don’t grab at the krewe members or throw things their way. That’s the surest way to get nothing.
- If it’s really beads you seek, pick a spot at the start of the parade instead of downtown. By the time the floats turn onto Ashley Street, supplies are dwindling.
- Bring a poster or white board to write down your favorite krewe names as they pass you by on the parade route. It sometimes gives you the upper hand on getting more beads and or special gifts such as bracelets or specialty beads.
Find your mateys: Birds of a feather can find each other at these typical spots along the route:
- Families tend to congregate at the start of the parade.
- Rowdy high school students are notorious for flooding Willow Avenue.
- College students typically hang out at the Davis Islands bridge.
- After-parties start about 6:30 p.m. at clubs in downtown Tampa and Ybor City.
- It’s a free event, but you can pay $65 and up to reserve a bleacher or chair spot to drop anchor at gasparillatreasures.com.
Drinking: It’s amusing to see the various ways people conjure up to get inebriated. You’ll find college students pushing a shopping cart loaded with a keg and people sipping what doesn’t look like water from their CamelBak backpacks. Just be aware there will be multiple DUI checkpoints and police boats ready for arrests. The police are toughest on open container violations, so keep your drinking to the clearly designated wet zone, which is the parade route only.
Bathrooms: There are more than 1,000 portable toilets lining Bayshore Boulevard, so stay out of the bushes. Police have cracked down on that nonsense in recent years. You can use the restrooms at Publix, 243 Bayshore Blvd., Hyde Park Village’s public restrooms on the west side of Snow Avenue and Kate Jackson Park at Rome and Snow avenues. The Tampa Garden Club is selling bathroom passes for $20 per adult that are good from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It will be cash only at the garden club at 2629 Bayshore Blvd. 813-251-5059.
What to wear: Saucy lads and lasses will show off tattoos, tri-corner hats, fishnet stockings and puffy shirts. But there are still a few practical considerations. Boots made for walking are a must. Stripes, pops of red, skull accessories and big hoop earrings help you fit in.