Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Momentum builds for Gasparilla events in Tampa

TAMPA — Facing an unforgiving economy, Gasparilla organizers feared bleacher seat reservations for this year's parades would drop 12 to 15 percent.

But heading into Saturday's children's parade, interest has picked up, so this week workers added more grandstands.

"This is a last-minute town," said Darrell Stefany, president of Event Fest, which stages the two-weekend pirate festival.

Two Saturdays of Gasparilla events will bracket the weekend of the Super Bowl this year.

Festivities start Saturday with the alcohol-free Gasparilla Extravaganza. The children's parade, canceled last year amid a fierce thunderstorm, begins at 3:30 p.m. Fireworks follow at 7 p.m. The Gasparilla Pirate Fest, the annual seaborne invasion, comes Feb. 7.

If the weather is good, Saturday's extravaganza could draw 200,000 people, Stefany said. And attendance for all events could reach nearly a million.

The sheer scale of the parades stands out, with 100-plus floats and more than 50 participating krewes. In contrast, during Mardi Gras, krewes in New Orleans hold separate, smaller parades.

"It's kind of like the supersized of all supersized parades," Stefany said.

Gasparilla often reflects the mood of the times. It was called off completely for several years during World War II. After 9/11, it featured New York firefighters as honored guests.

This year, the recession has churned up the ranks of Gasparilla sponsors. A few dropped out (Chevrolet and Red Baron frozen pizza), as others stepped up (USAmeriBank and Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino).

As a result, there might be a reduction in sponsor tents along the parade route, but only by a few. "People love their pirates in Tampa," Stefany said.

Reservations for Saturday's parade, where seats cost $14, should be at near normal levels, Stefany said. For the Pirate Fest, where seats cost $28, the numbers are a little off the usual pace, but could pick up at the end.

For some veterans of Gasparilla, the children's parade is the event most like the Gasparilla they remember from childhood.

Until 1988, the event took place on a Monday and was a Tampa-centric event. Then Ye Mystic Krewe moved it to Saturday to draw bigger crowds.

It worked.

Today, the Pirate Fest draws so many people that one church, St. John's Episcopal, runs a Safe House for teens and others who drink too much or otherwise overindulge.

Last year, the Safe House, at 906 S Orleans Ave., gave out 400 bottles of water and offered refuge to more than two dozen people who were hurt in the event or overcome by it.

This year, the church has increased the number of portable toilets from two to 10, has arranged to have emergency medical services on hand and will have officers' cell phone numbers handy in case of trouble.

"It's a ministry that you don't look forward to, but at the end of the day, you know it's the right thing to do," said St. John's youth director Leland Baldwin, a former prosecutor who has coordinated the Safe House for five years. "It's extraordinarily emotionally draining."

Denise Vaughan, a lawyer who grew up in Tampa and lives in Palma Ceia, said she plans to catch the children's parade, "which we'll love."

But on the day of Pirate Fest, she will take her family to Islands of Adventure in Orlando.

"I don't need to do two parades," she said.

Richard Danielson can be reached at danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5311.

Gasparilla events

Saturday
Extravaganza

11 a.m. Vendors and children's activities open on Bayshore Boulevard from Bay to Bay Boulevard to Watrous/Orleans avenues.

11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Bicycle safety rodeo on Bayshore between Albany and Gunby avenues.

2 to 3 p.m. Preschoolers' stroll on Bayshore from Bay to Bay Boulevard to Howard Avenue.

3:30 to 6 p.m. Children's parade

7 p.m. Fireworks

Feb. 7
Pirate Fest

11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla invasion.

2 to about 5:30 p.m. Pirate parade.

10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Downtown festival with music on stages at Bayshore Boulevard and Platt Street, Florida Avenue and Brorein Street, Florida Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard, and Channelside Bay Plaza Courtyard.

On the Web

www.gasparillapiratefest.com.

Momentum builds for Gasparilla events in Tampa 01/22/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 23, 2009 7:34am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review: Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald team up to cool down the Clearwater Jazz Holiday

    Blogs

    A cool breeze swept through Coachman Park Saturday night. Couple of them, actually.

    Kenny Loggins performed at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday on Oct. 21, 2017.
  2. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start

    College

    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  3. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Ryan Callahan spent a lot of time last season rehabilitating his injured hip alongside Steven Stamkos, who was rehabbing a knee after season-ending surgery. During those hours, Callahan noticed two things about Stamkos: his hunger and his excitement to return this season.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  4. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy

    World

    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  5. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)

    Nation

    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102