The G-rated version of Gasparilla, the alcohol-free Children's Gasparilla Parade and fireworks show, invades Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa on Saturday.
There will be more 100 colorful units passing by for three hours, including krewes, marching bands, dance groups, schools and community organizations. More than 3,500 children will participate. It starts at 11 a.m. with children's activities and a bicycle rodeo, and doesn't end until the 7 p.m. pyrotechnics over Tampa Bay.
As with any invasion, parents need to have their troops well-supplied and marshaled to enjoy the show. So here are some tips and ideas passed along by experienced Gasparilla-goers.
Establish a beachhead
• Pack a cooler and picnic basket, bring a blanket and camp chairs and make a day of it. It's difficult to find a place to park, and you're better off getting there early to secure a spot, then maybe wandering over to Hyde Park to kill time.
• Consider bleacher seating tickets ($13.08) at gasparillaextravaganza.com and click on the "Tickets 'n' Treasures" link. Children 2 and younger are free if they sit on a lap. Call the ticket line at (813) 251-8844 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., weekdays and 9 a.m. and 2 p.m on Saturday.
• If you get there early, it's less crowded on the water side of Bayshore Boulevard because later in the day you can no longer cross the street. But keep in mind that bathroom access may be limited there. Find your loo before you drop anchor.
• There are vendors selling food and drinks but lines can be long, so pack provisions. Bring cash.
• Bathrooms can be found in portable potties along the parade route. Lines get long so just go regularly to avoid an emergency. Bring hand sanitizers or wipes.
• Think about stashing some backup beads because sometimes you can get stuck behind a boorish 40-something who thinks nothing of catching all the beads that land in his huge wingspan. Throwing a few beads at your child's feet and saying, "Look, Johnny, there's some!" can spare you a tearful scene.
• The waits are sometimes long between the early events, so bring toys or games to keep the kids busy in between.
• Stock your backpack with an extra bag or two for the kids to hold all their loot and beads.
• If you have pirate gear from Halloween, wear it. Nothing is too much here, including plumed tri-corner hats and fake parrots on your shoulder.
• Two continuous shuttle routes will run from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., picking little pirates up at the South Regional Garage, at the corner of Florida Avenue and Channelside Drive, and the Fort Brooke garage, at the corner of Franklin and Whiting Street. The shuttle drops off near the beginning of the parade route at Bay to Bay Boulevard and near the end of the parade route in the Crosstown area. Cost is $5 per adult, free for children accompanied by an adult.
• Parking can be tough to find and violations are strictly enforced. One solution: Throw some bikes in the back of the car and park about a mile away and use your bikes to get there.