No matter how many times you see the invasion, it's a glorious sight: the Jose Gasparilla sailing up the channel, flags flying, guns booming, pirates packed to the top of its rigging. For more than 100 years Gasparilla has turned Tampa into a huge party that keeps getting bigger. This year it will be just you and about 300,000 other pirates (oh, and more than 50 surveillance cameras) for the street festival, brunch, invasion and parade. That's a lot of beads. And beer. You're going to need a guide.
Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Times staff writer
Somebody's watching ...
Before you do anything too stupid, know this: For the first time Tampa police will keep an eye on the festivities with security cameras left over from the Republican National Convention in August. Five mobile cameras will be trained on Bayshore Boulevard and more than 50 are mounted around Curtis Hixon Park, downtown and the Channelside area. Creepy? Worrisome? The word from police Chief Jane Castor is that officers won't be looking for the little stuff, like people with open containers of alcohol (that's up to police posted along the parade perimeter), but for fights, disturbances and other crimes. Still, we repeat, they will be watching. Use common sense, people.
THAR BE ANOTHER TALL SHIP
So you flip up your eye patch to watch the flotilla, and what's that? Two tall ships? No, it's not the beer. This year there will be a second tall ship, the Lynx, taking part in the invasion along with the Jose Gasparilla. It is a replica of the kind of ship that protected the coast from British invaders during the War of 1812, a 122-foot schooner with sails 94 feet tall that looks like an apparition from the past. "You'll definitely be able to see us out there, that's for sure," said ship captain Michael Folsom, who won't be offering his ship for tours in Tampa, but will just be along for the festivities. You can tour the ship in St. Petersburg's Bayboro Harbor on Friday and also Monday through Wednesday for $6, 12 and younger free. (See Page 3.)
Another change worth noting for parade watchers is a stretch of Bayshore Boulevard between Platt Street and Rome Avenue that got landscaping and road improvements to spruce up for the RNC, including more than 40 wild Florida date palms planted in the median. "That's going to place a premium on seating between Rome and the Davis Islands bridge," said Darrell Stefany, president of Event Fest, the Gasparilla coordinator. Because of that, and construction on some side streets, foot traffic will be tricky, Stefany said. He recommends arriving early, about 10 a.m., and packing some sunscreen and some patience.
ARRRGH YOU READY?
10 a.m. Saturday. Invasion Brunch: This is one of the prime viewing spots to see the Gasparilla invasion unfold. It includes a breakfast buffet, cash bar and entertainment at the Tampa Convention Center. $80. (813) 251-8844, gasparillapiratefest.com.
11:30 a.m. Gasparilla Invasion: Thousands will line the downtown Tampa waterfront to watch the Jose Gasparilla and its flotilla sail into the south end of Hillsborough Bay. It docks at the Tampa Convention Center about 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. Free.
2 p.m. Parade of the Pirates: The parade begins at Bay to Bay Boulevard and follows Bayshore Boulevard to Brorein Street, turns east on Brorein, then heads north on Ashley Drive. It ends near Curtis Hixon Park for the Pirate Fest and Street Festival. It has floats, marching bands and more than 50 krewes. Prime bead time. Watching the parade is free, but you can reserve a seat for $38 (and up to $111 for hospitality specials) at gasparillapiratefest.com or by calling (813) 251-8844.
10 a.m.-10 p.m. Pirate Fest and Street Festival: This fest is the hub of activity, with entertainment and vendors along Ashley Drive from Kennedy to Cass Street, near Curtis Hixon Park. Live music goes until 10 p.m. in Curtis Hixon Park with the hugely danceable cover band the Skycoasters playing from 5 to 7 p.m., followed by local favorite Daniel B. Marshall, a singer-guitarist who plays groove-oriented contemporary folk rock.
RULES O' THE HIGH SEAS
There are clearly marked zones where alcohol consumption is allowed along the parade route, but don't think about taking that cup of beer with you into the neighborhoods. Police will issue citations for open containers (instead of arrests as they had in the past) if you are caught drinking alcohol outside the designated wet zones. It will be $75 and up to $450 for a fourth offense. There were 302 citations issued at the 2012 parade. A few more rules:
• No coolers, glass bottles or kegs.
• Beer consumed along the parade route must be purchased from a parade vendor.
• You are allowed to bring your own snacks or non-alcoholic beverages in soft-sided lunch containers only.
Restrooms: Portable toilets are located along the parade route on both sides of the street, near all reserved seating sections, and in downtown at the Pirate Street Fest. 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.
Parking: Private lots throughout downtown Tampa will be open with varying rates. There's lots of free on-street parking north of Kennedy if you get there early enough. The public parking garages at the Tampa Convention Center, under the Crosstown, on Channelside Drive and elsewhere throughout downtown charge $10 a day. HART will have in-town trolleys running from the north end of downtown Tampa (Marion Transit Center) to the south end by Dick Greco Plaza from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. for 25 cents a ride.
Another option to avoid crowds is to park away from the parade in Ybor City and hop aboard the TECO Line Streetcar ($5 for an unlimited pass). Park in the Ybor parking garage or the Palm Avenue Garage for $1 for the first three hours up to $10 all day. Or use the HART buses for $4 a day.
Bring cash: There are ATMs along the route but they tend to charge steep fees.
LADS OF THE KREWE
Gasparilla began in 1904 when influential city leaders wanted to liven up a festival by incorporating the story of folklore pirate Jose Gaspar. A secret society of businessmen, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, formed and started it.
The krewe, now numbering 700 men, still holds the reins. Over the years, Gasparilla has sailed into controversy. Community pressure prompted the krewe to integrate in 1992. Then there was an explosion of new krewes in the 1990s, now numbering more than 50 in Saturday's parade, including all-female krewes and the Buffalo Soldiers, an African-American krewe.
Even though Gasparilla feels a lot like Mardi Gras, the beads thrown from the floats didn't appear until the '80s, said Rodney Kite-Powell, curator at the Tampa Bay History Center. Before that, krewes mostly threw trinkets and coins, and kids raced to find the spent shells from mock musket firings (something they don't do anymore, Kite-Powell notes).
POST YER SCURVY BLABBER
If you want a good feel for what Gasparilla is like, turn to Twitter. Here are our favorite tweets from the frontlines last year:
I don't even get weird looks when I go into Party City and ask where the eyepatches and swords are.
19 people in one van...cool
You know its not your first #Gasparilla when you hit up the pottapotty for tp for later
It's like Mardi Gras if everyone decided to wear a pirate costume.
At work. Its Gasparilla! My job is to watch the bathrooms today. Lol this should be interesting
Gasparilla with all the must haves: best friends, budLight, and beads! Hope we don't get a(rrrgh)rested!
Lots of fashion faux pas at #gasparilla. And I'm not talking about the costumes...
Just saw a guy covered in tattoos that nobody should have lol
Be a part of our social media Gasparilla party — no profanity or nudity, please — by using #GasparillaGram on Twitter and Instagram. Your tweets and photos will appear at tampabay.com/gasparilla. Scan this code with your mobile device to view all the action.
Want to talk like a pirate? Who doesn't? The website Post Like a Pirate does the translating for you. So "It's time to party with my friends" becomes " 'Tis the hour to parrrty wit' me buckos."