For his 3rd birthday, Dylan Booker will dress like his favorite pirate and celebrate with thousands of other pirates. After a party in Brandon at the All Persons Rotary Park on Saturday, he and his friends will head to the start of the Gasparilla celebration. To get ready earlier this week, his mother, Kimberly Booker, set out a box at their New Tampa home. "This is my pirate hat," Dylan said, holding a swath of red cloth. He put it on and then pulled out a treasure map and a sword and a pirate flag, to go "on my pirate ship," he said. "Look mommy, pirate skeleton."
The flag will decorate the wagon he and his 4-month-old brother, Jordan, will ride for half a mile along Bayshore Boulevard.
The festivities that started as a one-day event in 1904 when Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla showed up at Tampa's May Day celebration have unfolded into a monthlong round of parties and parades, an art and music festival and running events.
Pint-sized pirates like Dylan start the festivities in one of the newest events: the Preschooler's Stroll, which started in 2005 for children 5 and under.
These tots will walk, ride bikes or get pulled in wagons — no floats or motorized vehicles.
Among the youngest will be 4-month-old Will Argerious, riding in a souped-up, decked-out Radio Flyer with his 19-month-old cousin.
For this family, Gasparilla is tradition.
Will's mother, Alexa Argerious is one of nine family members in Ye Loyal Krewe of Grace O'Malley, the first all-female krewe that debuted in Gasparilla in 1993.
Her father was a Rough Rider, Argerious said, and she was in the parade as a teen Dancero from Plant High School.
An air invasion follows the smallest pirates with a Para-Commando free fall from the Special Operations Command Parachute Team at MacDill Air Force Base.
Then, it's time for the children's parade. Dating back to 1949, its route stretches 1.4 miles today, with a string of krewes, marching bands, dance units, school groups and community organizations.
Organizers expect crowds of about 100,000 for the day.
The events are popular with children and those who prefer the tamer alcohol-free parade over the bawdy one to come next week.
Participants applied back in September, agreeing to use only lead-free beads carefully handed or tossed underhand for safety. No pelting.
Recent pirate movies and television shows inspire costumes. Expect to see more than a few Capt. Jack Sparrows from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
Dylan will go as Jake from his favorite show, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, a Disney Junior show based on Peter Pan.
"What does Jake say?" his mother asked repeatedly.
"Let's get Captain Hook," Dylan finally answered. "Yo ho let's go."
He has been obsessed with pirates for the past year. Treasure hunting is a favorite pastime. In his pirate clothes earlier this week, he went looking in his mother's closet and found a jewelry box.
"This is my treasure," he said. "Wow, look at those gold doubloons."
The Bookers moved here three months ago from Charlotte, N.C., and had never heard of Tampa's pirate craze.
"When we heard about Gasparilla, we thought that's a perfect way to celebrate his birthday," said Booker. "He'll get a kick out of the parade."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3431.