This year's Gasparilla parade route takes a new turn that lands squarely in the hub of all the new riverfront projects in downtown Tampa, specifically the newly renovated Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. And since it goes all the way to Cass Street, that means there will be plenty of room along Ashley Drive for viewing — and conveniently within walking distance of some places that could be a cool respite from the madness if you want to celebrate the pirate mania in a more civilized fashion. We scoped out the route from Platt Street forward and discovered these comfort stations (to borrow a page from this year's Gasparilla changes). Anne Glover, Times staff writer
First Watch (520 N Tampa St.): Start your day with breakfast at this popular brunchery. It opens at 7 a.m., and they'll likely have a pirate-themed breakfast special. Tampa Street is home to several other restaurants, so keep looking if the line there looks too long.
Rawbar Sushi/Taps (777 N Ashley Drive): Located in the bottom of the Skypoint Tower, either of these is a hip spot for a bite or a brew. Rawbar, though, is having a private party from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (with a cover charge after that). Taps is open all day; expect a cover charge there, too.
The Loading Dock (100 E Madison St.): Duck inside this longtime lunch favorite for a quick bite off their sandwich menu and a $4 draft, or get a canned brew outside.
Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park/Tampa Museum of Art (along Ashley Drive): Mayor Pam Iorio is encouraging revelers to use the newly reopened park, since the parade ends there and Collective Soul is scheduled to put on a concert with the river as a backdrop. It holds up to 10,000 people. The museum won't quite be open (that's Feb. 6), but you can still get a preview of its outside.
Exploding Chicken at the Beer Can Building (corner of Ashley and Kennedy): We just like writing this. Nothing to eat or drink here (we think). We just hope you'll snap a pic of the well-known sculpture and post it on Twitterpic or something. C'mon, make it a Web sensation.
Plant Park (next to the University of Tampa): To really take a breather, hoof it west over the Kennedy bridge and experience a small slice of greenery beside the Hillsborough River. If you're a UT grad, you're invited to brunch at nearby Plant Hall. Visit ut.edu for more information.
Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk (200 N Ashley Drive): Snap, we forgot to make reservations for one of the balcony rooms overlooking the parade route (next year!). Instead, we'll calmly and professionally check out the bar off the lobby that leads to a fabulous (and we hope sunlit) back deck overlooking the river. Remember, this is a spot to sip, not slam, your beverage, so act like you've been there before and tip well.
Hattricks (107 S Franklin St.): Just a couple of blocks off the route, this sports bar is probably going to be packed. But go anyway if you're bored with beads and floats; it's got plenty of TVs to keep you occupied.
Publix (corner of Platt and Bayshore): The store usually sets up food and drink vendors in its parking lot, plus portable bathrooms. It'll be a good spot for families to scope out since you know they'll keep a lid on things there. On the other hand, 93.3 WFLZ and 95.7 the Beat will be spinning nearby. Your call.
Four Green Fields (205 W Platt St.): For a $10 cover, you can make this Irish outpost with its thatched roof your base of operations. It'll be slammed, so be patient. If you've got some cash flow and they're still available, all-day parking spots are going for $25.
Westin Harbour Island: Don't care about the parade but love the invasion? The huge outdoor area surrounding the hotel features food vendors (burgers and hot dogs) and beverage stations. And it's a prime viewing spot to watch the hundreds of boats as they accompany the Jose Gasparilla up the channel. You'll have access to restrooms inside the bars there, too.
Trolley stop: If you plan on ending your day at Ybor, why not park there and take the trolley over? Catch it back at the stop right in front of the Marriott Waterside. Just be prepared for slow going. A drunken pirate on Bayshore moves faster.