On Saturday, the world’s only fully rigged pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla, will set sail from the south end of Hillsborough Bay along with an accompanying flotilla to travel across Tampa Bay before docking at the Tampa Convention Center to put on the third-largest parade in the United States.
Dave Bautista, the professional wrestling champion and Guardians of the Galaxy star, will serve as grand marshal. Travis Maus, a veteran Tampa police officer who has flown several hundred missions in Iraq and served as a pilot instructor on Blackhawk helicopters, is the parade’s honorary community hero.
Here’s what you need to know before you go join some 300,000 people along the waterfront.
WHY ARE THE PIRATES INVADING?
It doesn’t have the religious roots of Mardi Gras, but the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates has a similar flavor with a raucous spectacle of bands, floats and beads. There are so many beads that the mayor has launched a #BeadFreeBay campaign to remind us not to let those trinkets fall into the water where they can pose a serious threat to marine life.
How did we get here? The pirate invasion is more hokum than history, but it has grown so popular, Gasparilla is now a season of its own. A half-dozen major events with the Gasparilla brand are sprinkled throughout the first three months of the year.
It started in 1904, when Tampa’s city fathers and captains of industry wanted to throw an annual party glorifying the city. They chose the mythical Jose Gaspar, nicknamed Gasparilla. He was the “last of the Buccaneers,” who terrorized the coastal waters of West Florida during the late 18th and early 19th century. When Gaspar died, he supposedly left a fortune in buried treasure somewhere along the Florida coast.
Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla — the prominent bunch of Tampa citizens — still lead the friendly invasion aboard the Jose Gasparilla. The replica pirate ship was specially built for this in 1954, and a flotilla of hundreds of smaller private boats sail across Tampa Bay.
In recent years, Gasparilla has made a greater effort to transcend its exclusionary, white-male history. It was the 1990s before a black krewe joined the parade, but these days the festivities include women and people of color, with disabilities and from a range of cultures. More than 50 krewes will participate in a parade with more than 140 units.
If you want to learn more about Gasparilla’s history, check out the exhibition running through Feb. 29 at the Henry B. Plant Museum. It has vintage photographs, memorabilia and gowns worn by Gasparilla queens. 401 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. $10, $7 seniors/students, $5 ages 4-12, 3 and younger free. (813) 254-1891.
Invasion time: From 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. the pirates sail to the Tampa Convention Center, where the mayor will surrender the key to the city to the captain of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.
Parade: From 2 to 5:30 p.m., more than 140 units of floats, marching bands and pirate krewes walk along Bayshore Boulevard from Bay to Bay Boulevard north into downtown Tampa, ending at Ashley Drive.
Pirate Fest: From 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. find live music on stages along the Riverwalk, at MacDill Park and Curtis Hixon Park.
Reserved seats: The parade is free to watch, mostly on the nonwater side of the street, but you can get reserved seats. Tickets start at $52 at gasparillatreasures.com.
Be polite: Despite its raucous reputation, the police in recent years have really cracked down on the worst Gasparilla behavior such as public urination, flashing, underage drinking, boating while inebriated and drinking outside of the parade route’s wet zone. Don’t test them. You will get sent to the brig.
Parking: The city of Tampa has maps of parking garages online, and you can even prepay for your parking. Some options that will open at 7 a.m. at a rate of $10 per vehicle are:
- Tampa Convention Center Garage at Tampa and Brorein streets.
- Fort Brooke Garage at Whiting Street between Franklin Street and Florida Avenue.
- Poe Garage at Ashley Street south of Cass Street. Due to the parade route, this garage will be closed from 1 to 6 p.m.
- Streetcar: Park in Ybor or Sparkman Wharf and take the free Tampa Streetcar to the event.
Beads: 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. Kids win every time, so put the cuties out front. Consider bringing posters or a white board to write down the krewe names as they pass to get an edge.
What to pack and wear: Pirate gear, of course. Tricorner hats, puffy shirts, flowing skirts and eye patches can be found in thrift stores. Just remember to keep the shoes comfortable for lots of walking and think of sun protection. Bring water, snacks, sunscreen and cash to make the day easier.
Find your krewe: Birds of a feather can find each other. 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. in Sparkman Wharf and Ybor City.
Bathrooms: 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.
Pirates of the Yard Gasparilla Party: The pirates party with music and drink specials all day long. Free. 9 a.m. Yard of Ale, 406 S Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 251-4433.
Gasparilla Pirate Invasion Cruise: Board the Bay Spirit II to cross Hillsborough Bay and join the Jose Gasparilla as it invades the city of Tampa. 21 and older. $165. 9:30 a.m. Florida Aquarium, 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa. (813) 273-4000.
Gasparilla Barrr Crawl: Pirates climb aboard a bus for a continuous loop between four bars with drink specials, bar games and a beer shotgun. $25-$65. 10 a.m. Downtown Tampa, intersection of Twiggs and Tampa streets. (954) 812-7446.
Alpharilla: Park and walk to the parade from the “Black Caesar” Gasparilla party with food, drink specials, a spades tournament, music by the Beat Down Band and dancing to DJ Brightlight. $20. 9 a.m. Hooch and Hive, 1001 W Cass St., Tampa. (813) 251-1234.
Ship-Rec’d: Park and Rec Tampa celebrates its first Gasparilla with a brunch that includes a $20 bottomless mimosa and Bloody Mary bar, along with breakfast tacos, burritos, pizzas and doughnut burgers. Captain Morgan is expected to crash the party, bringing beads, giveaways, a photo booth and plenty of rum. No cover (food/drink additional). 9 a.m. 290 S Meridian Ave., Tampa. (813) 563-4777.
University of Tampa Alumni Gasparilla Brunch: Alumni and friends can enjoy all you can eat and drink with free parade parking. $35-$50, 12 and younger free. 10 a.m. University of Tampa, 401 W Kennedy Blvd. (813) 257-1700. alumni.ut.edu.
Gasparilla Extravaganza: Get a front-row seat for the pirate invasion at this party with open bar, food, live music, face painting, balloon art, games, drawings and a photo booth. Benefits Father of Mine. $100, $25 kids. 10 a.m. The Westin Tampa Harbour Island, 725 S Harbour Island Blvd., Tampa. (813) 229-5000.
Gasparilla Rooftop Party: Epicurean’s rooftop bar throws a party with breakfast cocktails, draft beer, house wine, well spirits, appetizers, complimentary valet parking and beads. $120. 10 a.m. Edge at the Epicurean Hotel, 1207 S Howard Ave., Tampa. (813) 999-8700.
Houseparilla: The annual Gasparilla block party features Miguel Migs, JASK and Austen van der Bleek. $20. 2 p.m. Hyde Park Cafe, 1806 W Platt St., Tampa. (813) 254-2233.
Gaysparilla: Pirates take over Tease Saturday with music by DJ T Quest, a pirate-themed show by Amy DeMilo and cast, $1 drinks from 9 to 10 p.m. and Svedka drinks from 9 to 11 p.m. No cover, $5 after 9:30 p.m. The Honey Pot, 1507 E Seventh Ave., Tampa. (813) 247-4663.
Gasparilla on the Gulf: A night of dancing to live music by Jeriko Turnpike to benefit Random Acts of Flowers. $200. 6 p.m. Fenway Hotel, 215 Locklie St., Dunedin. (727) 754-7974.
Times staff writer Kelly A. Stefani contributed to this report.