IF YOU GO
The free Gasparilla Pirate Fest Street Festival starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, with music on the Pirate Fest Stage at Ashley Drive and Kennedy Boulevard near Curtis Hixon Park, continuing throughout the day. This is a more family-oriented scene, with rides, games and music acts. Also starting at 10 a.m. is the Gasparilla Invasion Brunch at the Tampa Convention Center, which gives you a prime spot to see the Jose Gasparilla arrive. It includes a breakfast buffet and cash bar: $59, $49.50 ages 3-12. (813) 251-8844.
Invasion! Around 11 a.m., you'll see the small boats coming up the channel first, then the Jose Gasparilla will appear in all its pirate glory, with flags flying and guns booming and pirates packed to the top of its riggings. The ship docks at the Tampa Convention Center around 1 p.m., where the mayor will surrender the key to the city into the hands of the captain of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.
Hundreds of pirates get down to the serious business of the day: tossing thousands of beads to the thousands who line the streets along Tampa's waterfront for the free Parade of the Pirates. Look for special guest and grand marshal Jim Belushi (see interview Page 20). The parade begins at Bay to Bay Boulevard and follows Bayshore, turns east on Brorein, then north on Ashley Drive and ends at Cass Street. This is a newer route designed to end at Curtis Hixon Park and spread out the crowds more at the parade's finish.
GASPARILLA BLOCK PARTY
This is not an official Gasparilla event, but the outdoor party on a stage behind Wings Gone Wild will feature some of Tampa's favorite DJs. Everyone 21 and older gets free beer (11 a.m.-5 p.m.), a basket of wings and fries and $5 cocktail specials all day. Save your wristband for free entry into the after party at The Kennedy. Wings Gone Wild is at 3114 W Bay to Bay Blvd., Tampa. Admission is $20.
The Pirate Fest Stage will have live music going until 10 p.m. (Daniel B. Marshall at 5 p.m., the Skycoasters at 6:15 p.m. and Kings County at 8:30 p.m.). Or you can wander back to the partying in Channelside or Ybor.
Private lots throughout downtown Tampa will be open during Gasparilla, with varying rates. The public parking garages at the Tampa Convention Center, under the Crosstown between Florida Avenue and Morgan Street, under the Crosstown east of Morgan Street, on Channelside Drive between Florida Avenue and Morgan Street, Fort Brooke and Whiting Street all charge $10. The Poe and Curtis Hixon garages charge $4. Another option is to park in Ybor City for $4 and take the trolley for a $5 unlimited ride pass (have exact change).
There are portable toilets along the parade route, near reserved parade seating and at the downtown street festival, but plan ahead because lines typically will be long. Publix, 243 Bayshore Blvd., offers its restrooms to the public. Hyde Park Village has public restrooms on the west side of Snow Avenue, as does Kate Jackson Park at Rome and Snow avenues. Facilities at restaurants and bars near the festivities are for paying customers only. Depending on the lines elsewhere, you might find it's worth the cost of a cover charge.
Do not walk around with your red cup of beer. Police in recent years have gotten much tougher and issue hundreds of open container citations on Gasparilla day. Look for signs about the permitted areas, but the basic rule is if you are at the parade route, you can have an open container. If you are in the neighborhoods, you cannot.
Bring cash because many of the ATMs set up along the parade route charge steep fees, and most vendors only take cash.
Have one for your car or your boat because police are all over — on land and sea — looking for impaired drivers.
No large coolers or kegs. Open containers are allowed in designated areas only. Absolutely no glass bottles. You can have soft-sided coolers or lunch bags for children or medical needs.
REMEMBER WHERE YOU PARKED
Text yourself where you left your car. Police complain that they are hounded for directions by lost revelers.
RESERVE A SEAT
If you don't want to worry about finding a place to see the parade, you can reserve a bleacher seat or get a hospitality ticket. They range in price from $28.04 to $92.53 at gasparillatreasures.com.
Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Times staff writer