TAMPA — Shiny strands of beads pitched from castles on wheels and rolling alligators landed in the eager palms of thousands of paradegoers Saturday night in Ybor City.
Costumed knights, native Americans, Rough Riders, Roman warriors and sirens bobbed to the beats of DJs and high school marching bands during the 2010 Krewe of Sant'Yago Knight Parade up E Seventh Avenue.
All the hallmarks of a robust Gasparilla season were present Saturday night — except red plastic cups, beer bottles and cans.
Tampa police arrested more than 400 people at the annual Gasparilla pirate fest one week earlier — most on alcohol-related charges.
They vowed to enforce the open-container laws at Saturday's night parade, but very few people chanced it.
A couple slyly wore drink backpacks and used other alcohol-disguising techniques, but most just did their drinking indoors or on the second-floor balconies of clubs and restaurants like Empire and the Good Luck Cafe.
Sobriety subdued reactions from the crowd at the parade start near 7 p.m. But by 8 p.m. the screams were deafening as people jumped up and down to get larger and larger strands of the beloved beads.
The chill didn't deter Betty Faye of Apollo Beach from bringing her granddaughter, 7-year-old Kelly Mulligan, to her first night parade. They missed Gasparilla because of the rain, she said.
Families gathered near the beginning and end of the parade route closer to Ybor's restaurants than its famed nightclubs.
"I'd been to this once and I heard that they were cleaning it up some, so I decided to bring Kelly to her first night parade," Faye said.
She wasn't disappointed.
"It's been great so far," she said, listing the Krewe of Neptune's sea god-themed float among her favorites.
Melissa Granger, 27, said this year's parade was far better than last year's because of the larger crowd.
The night parade was held the Saturday after Valentine's Day in 2009.
Granger of Wimauma has been attending both parades during Gasparilla season and the night parade since she was 16.
And even though police presence has increased and public drinking has decreased, she said, she's still not going to bring her four children to the Ybor City event. "This is more for the adults," she said.
Tampa police officers and Florida Highway Patrol troopers were scattered along the parade route — inside and outside of the barricade. Very few were writing citations or making arrests. Some even snagged themselves some beads.
"It just makes you feel safer," said Angel Cabrera, 25, a bartender at the Honey Pot. "There haven't been any fights, but if they did, they would be there to break it up."
Cabrera, a seven-year night parade veteran, says this year's crowd was not as wild as 2009's, but he doesn't see any problem.
"It's always a good thing to have more police," he said.
Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or firstname.lastname@example.org.