Some 300,000 carousers are expected to gather on Saturday for Gasparilla 2018, Tampa’s pirate invasion. It takes a special breed of swashbuckler to wade into that sea of humanity and hunt treasure (beads!) while avoiding the brig.
All the fuss centers around the legend of Jose Gaspar (nicknamed Gasparilla), a mythical Spanish pirate who supposedly operated in southwest Florida. The festival was founded in 1904 by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla — the prominent bunch of Tampa citizens who were the first to dress up as pirates to "invade" the city.
The all-male, all-white founders of Gasparilla bear little resemblance to today’s roster of more than 50 krewes that now include Latin krewes, female krewes, black krewes and ones based on various ethnic, cultural and historical themes or charity causes.
So man your battle stations, mateys. Here’s your guide and some insider tips to help you survive the invasion and come out on top of the other scurvy dogs on the streets of Tampa.
Pirate Fest: This year’s Pirate Fest has been expanded to feature live entertainment on stages along the Riverwalk in downtown Tampa before and after the parade in Curtis Hixon Park, MacDill Park and the Sail Pavilion at the Tampa Convention Center, with an after party at Ferg’s Live Tampa on Channelside Drive. 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday. Free. 600 N Ashley Drive, Tampa.
Invasion: Thousands will line the downtown waterfront to watch the spectacle as the fully-rigged pirate ship Jose Gasparilla sails into the south end of Hillsborough Bay starting at 11:30 a.m. (with the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup championship trophy on board this year). There will be hundreds of pirates aboard, cannons booming and a flotilla accompanying it. 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. 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday. 333 S Franklin St., Tampa.
Parade of Pirates: The pirates and floats will start moving along Bayshore Boulevard from 2 to 5 p.m. from Bay to Bay Boulevard north into downtown Tampa, ending at Ashley Drive. Former Tampa Bay Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier will be the grand marshal, and Gen. Ann Dunwoody, America’s first female four-star U.S. Army general, is this year’s community hero. This parade brings more than 140 units, including colorful floats, marching bands and pirate krewes.
WATCH IT ON TV
Don’t want to fight the crowds for a parking space? You won’t catch any beads but you can watch live coverage of the Gasparilla parade starting at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on WFLA-Ch. 8.
COLLECT YER TREASURE
Some tips for getting your share of the beads and doubloons thrown by krewes of all stripes:
• Rather than tossing foam cannonballs into the parade crowds as is tradition, the Krewe of Gasparilla will throw soft hockey pucks in a nod to the NHL All-Star Game also taking place in Tampa this weekend.
• Don’t grab at the krewe members or throw things their way. That’s the surest way to get nothing.
• Kids win every time, so put the cuties out front.
• If it’s really beads you seek, pick a spot at the start of the parade instead of downtown. By the time the floats turn onto Ashley Street, supplies are dwindling.
FIND YER MATES
Birds of feather can find each other at these typical spots along the route:
• Families tend to congregate at the start of the parade.
• Rowdy high school students are notorious for flooding Willow Avenue.
• The college students typically hang out at the Davis Islands bridge.
• After parties start about 6:30 p.m. at clubs in Channelside and Ybor City.
• It’s a free event, but you can pay $50 and up to reserve a bleacher or chair spot to drop anchor at gasparillatreasures.com.
Streets around the parade route begin closing Friday night. The city of Tampa’s website has links to maps showing the road closure schedule for downtown Tampa, the Gasparilla parade route, parking options and shuttle bus schedules. Check tampagov.net/parking.
Special event rates will be in place for parking in public garages and privately operated lots throughout downtown Tampa and around Bayshore Boulevard. Note that many tend to fill up by 10:30 a.m.
Another parking option is in Ybor City, where you can take the TECO Line Streetcar into downtown. The Centro Ybor and Palm Avenue Garages will open at 7 a.m. at the standard hourly rate with HART park and ride available from both locations. More information on transit is at gohart.org.
AVOID THE BRIG
There will be multiple DUI checkpoints and police boats ready for arrests. The police are toughest on open container violations, so keep your drinking to the clearly designated wet zone, which is the parade route only. No drinking in the neighborhoods or while you are on the way to the parade.
New this year for boaters: Pepin Distributing, Budweiser and Anchor, a new company, have partnered this year to offer experienced boat operators for hire. Like an Uber for boats, go to anchorrides.com to download the app. Boat captain rates start at $50 per hour.
Police have also cracked down in recent years on underage drinking and public urination. And no large coolers are allowed, only soft-sided containers.
Get updates on traffic and city of Tampa announcements on Twitter by following @cityoftampa, @cot_traffic and @tampapd.
There are more than 1,000 portable toilets lining Bayshore Boulevard, so stay out of the bushes. You can also use the restrooms at Publix, 243 Bayshore Blvd., Hyde Park Village’s public restrooms on the west side of Snow Avenue and Kate Jackson Park at Rome and Snow avenues.
Gasparilla Invasion Brunch: One of the prime viewing spots to see the Gasparilla invasion unfold includes a breakfast buffet and entertainment as you await the arrival of the Jose Gasparilla. $103-$108, $78-$83 children. 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday. Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St., Tampa. (813) 251-8844. gasparillatreasures.com.
Official Gasparilla After Party: Ferg’s Live in Channelside will have a free party after the parade of pirates. Captain Morgan will be there for a signature Gasparilla toast starting at 6:30 p.m. 490 Channelside Drive, Tampa.
Brew Bus Gasparilla Shuttle: Climb aboard the Brew Bus for round trip transportation to Winn Dixie in Hyde Park for the Gasparilla parade. Includes a voucher for a six pack of Brew Bus Brewing beer at Winn Dixie and a drawstring cooler bag for all your parade booty. Choose from 10 a.m., 11 a.m. or noon pickup time. Return trips are at 4:30, 5:45 and 7 p.m. $30. Book a spot on peek.com/s/4e49bd19-5861-459e-a61d-a1240bba450a/vzve. Brew Bus Terminal and Brewing, 4101 N Florida Ave., Tampa. (813) 990-7310. 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday.
Gasparilla Bar Crawl: Enjoy a complimentary welcome shot and an optional all-you-can-eat brunch with bottomless Bloody Mary’s and mimosas before boarding the party bus to Yeoman’s Cask and Lion Pub for another welcome shot and a round of pirate-themed beer pong. Re-board the Party Bus and head to 1895 Bar for a final welcome shot and Gasparilla-themed drink specials. At 3 p.m., the crawl moves to Curtis Hixon Park for the Gasparilla Pirate Fest and a view of the parade. $25-$30, $20 brunch. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. District Tavern, 116 N 12th St., Tampa. (813) 955-2861. eventbrite.com.
Gasparilla Invasion Brunch Cruise: Sail alongside the Jose Gasparilla on the Yacht Starship. Includes two drinks, DJ music and a buffet featuring breakfast, lunch and side items. $149.95, $89.95 child. 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday. 603 Channelside Drive, Tampa. (813) 223-7999.
Gasparilla Clean Up: Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful needs your help cleaning up after the pirates take over Tampa. Volunteers will collect trash and recyclables from the parade round and surrounding areas. Free. Gasparilla Parade Start Point, Bay to Bay Boulevard and Bayshore Boulevard, Tampa. (813) 221-8733. 9 a.m.-noon Sunday.
DRESS THE PART
Saucy lads and lasses will show off tattoos, tri-corner hats, fishnet stockings and puffy shirts. But there are still a few practical considerations.
Boots made for walking are a must. You will likely hike a few miles by the end of the day, so go for comfort and be mindful that in crowds your toes may get stepped on. Stripes, pops of red, skull accessories and big hoop earrings help you fit in.
Must-haves: Sunscreen, hand sanitizer (for the outdoor privy), backpacks or cross-over bags stocked with water, snacks and sunglasses. Stock cash if you don’t want to pay high ATM fees. Veteran paradegoers glug sports drinks full of electrolytes the night before because they know dehydration is a real danger.
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] Follow @SharonKWn.