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Want to avoid the Gasparilla invasion? Here are five fun out-of-town events

Meet James Phelps, left, and Oliver Phelps, who are the Weasleys in Harry Potter films. Warner Bros.

Meet James Phelps, left, and Oliver Phelps, who are the Weasleys in Harry Potter films. Warner Bros.

Yo, ho and a taxi to the airport right now.

It's time, everyone. Saturday morning, the giant masts of the Jose Gasparilla will sail into sight of the Tampa Convention Center, and all bets are off. Forget about eating breakfast, lunch or dinner in downtown or South Tampa. Movement is not an option for those seeking to avoid beads, "Arrrghs!", eye patches and general drunkenness with tens of thousands of Tampa Bay's most ready-to-party denizens.

Gasparilla can bring out the captain in anyone for 12 straight hours of debauchery, but for the precious few who hate big, slurring, alcohol-stank crowds, it can become an exercise in evil.

Never fear. It's not like Gasparilla happens in winter in Chicago. Getting out of the house isn't a problem if the destination lies a little farther outside the city limits. There's a wealth of things to do Saturday, as long as there is gas in the car and a few dollars to spend.

Manatee County Fair

Warm up for the February opening of the Florida State Fair by sojourning south for down-home fun in Manatee County. Spend the day on the midway riding rides, eating outrageous fair food and, most important, avoiding people in pirate costumes. Saturday's schedule reads like a treasure trove of anti-debauchery, featuring performances by Ed & Geraldine, the Sweeney Band and Tadpole the Clown. Also on deck: pig races, something called a Grizzly Experience and the Paul Bunyan Lumberjack show. The midway opens at noon, so those who hit the road before the invasion should arrive in time to have a deep-fried Twinkie for lunch. Admission is $8. Check out manateecountyfair.com for more information.

Manmossas, Marys and mutts

Wishing to stay above Gasparilla's fray doesn't necessarily equate to a wish to stay sober. To resolve that dilemma, Bauser's in downtown Dunedin will be handing out "manmossas" (mimosas served in pint glasses) and Bloody Marys to all finishers of a Pinellas Trail 5K, scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Participants also get medallion beads for finishing. The race, which costs $30, can be run or walked and promises more swag at the finish, including a T-shirt. At 11:30 a.m., pet parents can take their leashed pooches for some much-needed exercise in the mutt strut, which also has T-shirts and other swag. Registration is open until 10 a.m. race day, and check-in begins 9 a.m. Saturday. For more, visit 727canrace.com.

A celebration of Harry Potter

Actors James and Oliver Phelps, also known as Fred and George Weasley, will be at the Universal Orlando theme parks Saturday, leading a panel discussion and possibly answering fan questions about the awe-inspiring cultural juggernaut that is the world of Harry Potter. Other cool activities include a master class in wand usage and casting (for all the LARPers out there) and a Harry Potter Expo with an exhibition of the movie costumes. Doors of the expo open at 9 a.m. Saturday at Universal Studios Soundstage 33, so arrive early to get in line for the Sorting Hat Experience. It's a virtual nerd-topia! For the price of park admission (one-day one tickets start at $92) you can geek out to your heart's content and wash it all down with a butterbeer (with no straw, noobs). For more information, visit universalorlando.com

Lakeland Pigfest

If a different kind of excess is desired for Saturday, perhaps one could try eating one's weight in delicious barbecue. The Kansas City Barbecue Society-sanctioned event has three tiers: pro, backyard and kids. All 150 competition teams will cook ribs, pork, brisket and chicken to tantalize the judges, possibly win some prizes and sell to the public. This event has no admission fee but asks that visitors exchange money for "pig bucks," the contest's official currency. While loading up on the good stuff, festivalgoers can also enjoy live music. For more, check lakelandpigfest.org

If money is no object

There's always the Key West Food and Wine Festival, which began Wednesday but still has plenty to offer Friday through Sunday. A $385 VIP ticket includes six events and a VIP bag. Visit keywestfoodandwinefestival.com for more info.

Want to avoid the Gasparilla invasion? Here are five fun out-of-town events 01/22/14 [Last modified: Thursday, January 23, 2014 12:55pm]
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