What To Know About Tampa’s Gasparilla
Every year, college students and Tampa residents prepare for one of the biggest events held in South Florida: the annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival. People travel from all over Florida to dress up as pirates, catch beads, day drink, and celebrate the sunny winter Florida weather all along the streets of Tampa Bay. This year, the 100th festival was celebrated on Saturday the 31st, and it was a celebration worth remembering.
This annual festival all started because of the famous pirate, Jose Gaspar who terrorized the Gulf Coast merchant ships in West Florida in the 18th and early 19th century. In 1821, Gaspar was ready to call it quits with the pirate lifestyle and attack his last ship. Unfortunately for him, the last targeted ship was a US Navy warship, leading to the fatal demise of Gaspar and his life as a legendary pirate.
Tampa Celebrates His Legacy
In 1904, the first celebration was held. A group called “Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla” dressed up as pirates on horseback and surprised residents of the Bay area. After much success, it was declared an annual jubilee. Now once a year, the group “invades” the Tampa area, docking at the Tampa Bay Convention Center in a pirate ship.
Mardi Gras Meets Pirate Invasion
Besides the historic significance of this Tampa Bay holiday, it’s a day filled with booze, beads, and boobs (I’ll explain in a second). Many college kids would describe this event to be one drunken extravaganza. Hotels become a pre-game-party spot for those travelling from another town, party buses unload groups of rowdy kids from meet-up locations to the event, and locals simply walk to the party or host gatherings of their own.
Once 11:30am strikes, Bayshore Blvd is filled with thousands of people ready to get crazy. The most popular portion of the festival, the Gasparilla Day Parade, travels along Bayshore. From 2-5;30ish, pirate look-a-likes run up and down Bayshore trying to catch beads thrown from people on top of the floats. From time to time, girls will even be asked to flash their chest in exchange for beads.
Granted I’ve never been to Mardi Gras, but this day-long celebration is quite similar to the infamous New Orleans event (besides the Pirate costumes). It’s a day filled with absolute insanity.
More Than Just a Parade
While the parade is probably the most popular event of the Gasparilla festivities, there is much more to the event. Friday night this year, Downtown Tampa hosted a Street Festival filled with live music and food for those willing to pay a small admission fee.
The pirate invasion occurred Saturday morning, and was paired with an optional brunch held at the Tampa Bay Convention Center. A “Gasparilla Charity Concert” was also held at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, a benefit for the Humane Society of Tampa Bay and The Gasparilla Community Fund. There was also a separate children parade hosted a week prior to the actual weekend of craziness, which is favorable for those not wanting to bring their kids to the larger, more hectic parade.
On February 14th, the annual Knight Parade will be held in historic Ybor City, giving locals another reason to request off work for the following Sunday.
This annual event is one that is worth remembering, even if you only get to experience it once. It’s the perfect excuse to dress up as a pirate, enjoy your favorite drink, and take in the beautiful Florida sunrays in one of the prettiest areas of Tampa. Even for those not interested in drinking, it’s a great place to get some wonderful people watching in, as well as get a taste of some Tampa tradition.
For further details, check out the Gasparilla Website