Tips for surviving Gasparilla invasion of 2015 (w/video)

Navigating Gasparilla can be a little unnerving, even for the most-veteran revelers. Here are some hints that will help.
Published January 28 2015
Updated January 29 2015

For the 100th Gasparilla on Saturday, police officers will have badges adorned with a skull and bones, while Ye Mystic Krewe — the prominent bunch of Tampa citizens who were the first to dress up as pirates to "invade" the city — will man their battle stations. • Some 50 krewes of all stripes now take part in the Gasparilla festivities, which start early this year with a party Friday in Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa, followed Saturday by the invasion, bead-tastic parade and, well, more partying in a street festival. Police have cracked down on distasteful behavior, but it's still temporary insanity sailing in on a pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla, where the mayor even hands over the keys for one of the most eccentric civic traditions in the country. • The event celebrates the legend of Jose Gaspar (nicknamed Gasparilla), a mythical Spanish pirate captain who supposedly operated in southwest Florida. It was founded in 1904, so those quick at math may wonder why this is the 100th Gasparilla. The festival didn't happen in 1907-09 and was suspended during World War I and II so it's accurate to say Gasparilla has been held 100 times, just not all in a row. Still, after 100 (something) years, two things about Gasparilla have not changed: imbibing and beads. And it can be a challenge to navigate parking, traffic, crowds and even weather. • Here are tips for surviving the invasion.

Friday

Pre-Invasion Celebration: New this year to Gasparilla weekend is a party Friday in Curtis Hixon Park headlined by the Commodores (Brick House) with the Atlanta Rhythm Section (Imaginary Lover) and Tampa troubadour Daniel B. Marshall opening. The Humane Society of Tampa will host a beer garden. Gates will open at 5:30 p.m., with live music starting at 6 p.m. at the park at 600 N Ashley Drive. General admission tickets are $30 and VIP tickets with access to the Yacht StarShip are $75. See gasparillatreasures.com or call (813) 251-8844.

Saturday

Gasparilla Invasion Brunch: This brunch at the Tampa Convention Center is one of the prime viewing spots to see the Gasparilla invasion unfold. The $70-$79.40 entry gets you a breakfast buffet and entertainment as you await the arrival of the Jose Gasparilla. When the ship docks about 1 p.m., the mayor will surrender the key to the city into the hands of the captain of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, and you'll get a close-up view of the pirates as they arrive at the convention center dock. Brunch starts at 10 a.m. at 333 S Franklin St., Tampa.

Gasparilla Parade of the Pirates: Starting at 2 p.m., hundreds of pirates and Saved by the Bell and Extra hunk Mario Lopez and his dimples will wave from the grand marshal float, along with U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Chris Faris, a decorated war veteran. Thousands of beads will be tossed to thousands of people who line the streets along Tampa's waterfront. This parade brings more than 100 units of colorful floats, marching bands and pirate krewes as it begins at Bay to Bay Boulevard and follows Bayshore Boulevard to Brorein Street, turns east on Brorein, then north on Ashley Drive and ends at Cass Street. It's free to watch but you can get $45 reserved seats at gasparillatreasures.com or call (813) 251-8844.

Gasparilla Pirate Fest Street Festival: The Gasparilla Invasion Stage in MacDill Park, at Whiting and Ashley in downtown Tampa, will have music both pre-parade and post parade, with the salsa sounds of Sol Carib. Curtis Hixon Park will feature an assortment of recorded music, and the captain of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla and his band of marauding buccaneers will celebrate their successful invasion. Free, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. (813) 251-3378.

Parties

Gasparilla Boat Party: Sail on the Starship II for a cruise to view the parade going over the Platt Street Bridge before heading into Tampa Bay to watch the sunset. Includes music by Max Graham and DJ's Marshall Monica and Gumbee, open bar, tapas and an after party. 21 and older only. $94. Yacht StarShip, 603 Channelside Drive, Tampa. (813) 223-7999. 4:30-8 p.m. Saturday.

Gasparilla Day Party: Dress like a pirate and dance to music by DJ Charles Machado at this party with $1 drinks until 11 p.m. and a show by drag queen wenches Amy De Milo and Alisa Sommers. Free, $5 after 10 p.m. G. Bar, 1401 E Seventh Ave., Tampa. (813) 247-1019. 9 p.m. Saturday.

Gasparilla Post Parade Party: Get to the covered patio for a post parade party with drink specials and music by the Applebutter Express. No cover. Holy Hog Barbecue, 302 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. (813) 223-4464. 4-7 p.m. Saturday.

Very Important Pirate Party: Avoid the crowds and relax as you do Gasparilla in style with a special VIP package including tables or couches, select spirits, select bottled beer, bottled water and food. $750 per table. Jackson's Bistro Bar & Sushi, 601 S Harbour Island Blvd., Tampa. (813) 277-0112. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Getting around

Security: There will be nearly 1,400 officers on the ground during the festivities, and police dogs will sniff the parade floats for explosive. Officers will be patrolling neighborhoods on bicycles and on elevated platforms to monitor crowds, and a number of closed-circuit TV cameras will be positioned along the parade route.

The rules: Sure, it's a famously boozy day of partying, but there are still rules. Police have cracked down mightily in recent years on underage drinking, public urination and open containers. Police are fairly relaxed for people having a good time, with open containers allowed inside the event area and along the parade route, but not in the neighborhoods. And no large coolers allowed, only soft-sided coolers like for a lunch or a snack for the kids. So don't think you can still get away with that shopping cart with the keg disguised as a pirate ship.

DUI: There will be multiple DUI checkpoints and police boats ready for BUI (boating under the influence) arrests.

Bathrooms: There are lots of portable toilets, more than 1,000 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 rest rooms on the west side of Snow Avenue and Kate Jackson Park at Rome and Snow avenues. Plus, beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, the Tampa Garden Club will sell bathroom passes, $10 for one adult and/or two children and $5 for each additional child. The passes are good until the end of the parade and were a hit last Saturday at the Children's Extravaganza. The money raised will go to community service projects including the reflection garden on the Metropolitan Ministries' Miracle place campus. The Tampa Garden Club is at 2629 Bayshore Blvd. (813) 251-5059.

Money: For most vendors, cash is king. There are ATMs available, but they have steep fees.

Pets: Leave them at home, especially if they will be spooked by cannons going off and the other loud noises.

Traffic: Streets around the parade route begin closing Friday night. To keep the overlap of events and crowds to a minimum, the Straz Center has moved its Book of Mormon matinee from the usual 2 p.m. start time to 1 p.m. The city will keep Tyler and Cass streets east of Ashley open until 1 p.m. to give theatergoers time to arrive. For the same reason, the Lightning moved the start time of its game with the Columbus Blue Jackets from 7 to 7:30 p.m.

Parking: Spots on the street are taken by 10:30 a.m. But parking is available throughout downtown and Ybor City. City garages have one-time special event rate paid upon entry. Many churches and businesses near the route sell spaces in their lots.

On the Web: The city of Tampa's website has links to maps showing the road closure schedule for downtown Tampa and Bayshore Boulevard, the Gasparilla parade route, parking options, timetable of activities, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit bus schedules, plus detour information for Tampa General Hospital and Memorial Hospital of Tampa. Check tbtim.es/ddr, and scroll to the bottom of the page.

Transportation: Extra streetcar, bus and trolley service will be offered. See goHART.org or gasparillapiratefest.com for details.

Boats: Follow the laws of the sea. Only motorized crafts are allowed in the area around the parade and invasion. Boats that get too close to the Jose Gasparilla or move erratically will likely get stopped for a boating under the influence check. There are no rules against having alcohol on boats but plenty against boating under the influence.

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