Editor's note: The Cross-Bay Ferry will not be operating on Saturday during Gasparilla. The ferry's management had expected the ferry to run that day, but the Coast Guard later said it would not approve the ferry's route for that day. An earlier version of this story said the ferry would run on Saturday.
You want to party at Gasparilla on Saturday but you don’t want to sit in South Tampa gridlock, risk getting your paint job scuffed by a plastic pirate sword or find a designated driver? There are options. Here’s how to get around at Tampa’s giant pirate party without taking your own car all the way into the madness.
ON A BOAT
If you want an all-inclusive experience, Starlite Cruises offers a special Gasparilla cruise on its Starlite Sapphire. The ship, which carries up to 150 passengers, departs downtown St. Petersburg at 9 a.m. After a continental breakfast, it joins the Gasparilla invasion flotilla, sailing along with the hundreds of boats heading to the Tampa Convention Center led by the cannons-blazing Jose Gasparilla pirate ship.
After lunch is served, passengers leave the Sapphire and watch the parade from reserved bleacher seating, then get back on board for live entertainment and a sit-down dinner. The cruise drops you back in St. Petersburg at 8 p.m., far from the Tampa crowds. Tickets on the Sapphire are $224.30 per person. Toll-free 1-800-444-4814. starlitecruises.com
If you’re looking to experience just the invasion on the water, the Florida Aquarium offers a 2.5-hour Gasparilla cruise aboard its 72-foot catamaran, Bay Spirit II, which departs the aquarium, joins the flotilla and returns to the aquarium before the parade begins. Tickets, which include a brunch buffet and bottomless mimosas, are $145. (813) 273-4000. flaquarium.org/gasparilla.
The Pirate Water Taxi, which services the downtown Tampa waterfront, will not operate the day of Gasparilla due to private charters.
ON THE STREETCAR
The TECO Line Streetcar System, which as of October is free to ride, will add additional service to make sure there’s plenty of room available during Gasparilla. You can park near one end of the line, Ybor Centro Station in Ybor City, which is usually much easier and less expensive than finding parking close to the parade route, and take the streetcar all the way to other end of the line, Dick Greco Station in downtown Tampa, which puts you only blocks from the parade route.
Because it’s the busiest day of the year for the streetcar line, the ride takes on a total party vibe. Don’t be surprised if the pirate passengers around you begin singing (though no open containers are allowed). Streetcars will run continuously every few minutes from 8:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.
ON A PUBLIC BUS
Gasparilla is a great day to get acquainted with Hillsborough County’s public transportation. HART buses have routes throughout Hillsborough County, making the bus a great option for those traveling to the parade route from as far north as the University of South Florida or as far west as Town ‘N Country. It’s also a reliable option. Unlike ride-sharing apps, the bus is showing up whether you’ve got service on your phone or not.
At $4 for an all-day bus pass, it’s also one of the most affordable options. Just remember that the passes can be purchased in advance at HART retail outlets or on board with cash only (no change provided).
If you want to drive to a bus stop near home and then take the bus, there are many HART Park-n-Ride lots around Hillsborough County where you can park for free. Find maps and information on HART routes at gohart.org.
ON A BREW BUS
The Brew Bus, the Tampa craft brewery that also operates a beer-tour shuttle bus you can totally drink beer on, is bringing back the Brew Bus Gasparilla Shuttle for a third year. The voyage carries riders from Brew Bus Brewing in Seminole Heights to Winn-Dixie Hyde Park, just a few blocks from the parade route. Round-trip transportation is $40, which includes a voucher for a free six-pack of Brew Bus Brewing beer at Winn-Dixie, a bottle of water and a drawstring cooler bag in which guests can carry their loot throughout the afternoon.
Multiple shuttles will run from Seminole Heights from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and guests can choose between several pickup and dropoff times. For details, visit the event page on Facebook or call toll-free 1-888-945-2739.
If you’d like to bar-hop before the parade starts — without driving — there’s the Gasparilla Barrr Crawl. You can grab a drink and jump on the hop-on, hop-off bus traveling among the Channel District’s District Tavern, South Tampa’s Thee Tree House and downtown’s Franklin Manor. The crawl includes a free shot at each stop, beer shotgun and bar games.
Busses will run from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and arrive every 30 to 45 minutes. Crawlers are released into the wild at 3 p.m. to head to the parade. It costs $35 per person or $60 with brunch at (650) 440-2390 or eventbrite.com.
ON A BICYCLE
This option is probably not for the faint of heart, but if you want to ride a bicycle to Gasparilla there are on-street bike lanes on several of the streets that will lead you toward Bayshore Boulevard or downtown, such as North Boulevard, Nebraska Avenue and Tampa Street. The official Gasparilla FAQ states: “Bicycles are allowed for transportation to the event site, however within the event street closure cyclists must walk with their bikes. The event site is very crowded with pedestrians, including small children. Do not leave your bicycle unattended and do not lock to private or city property.”
IN SOMEONE ELSE’S CAR
Ride-share apps Lyft and Uber are always a popular option for getting to the parade, but keep in mind that high demand can mean higher prices. An Uber spokesman said the company recommends requesting an uberXL if riders are headed to Gasparilla with more than four people, since those vehicles accommodate up to six people. The Uber fare split tool will allow riders to share the cost. The app also provides upfront pricing that gives the actual fare before a ride is requested.
Lyft will have two “Lyft lounges” set up where riders can charge their phones. One will be near the corner of Bayshore Boulevard and Swann Avenue, the other near E Twiggs Street and Ashley Drive. “Both will provide our riders with a designated dropoff, pickup or hangout location to easily hail a Lyft ride during the festivities,” a Lyft spokesperson said. From Sunday to Feb. 10, Lyft will also provide rides to the EventFest office where partygoers can pick up or drop off any lost or misplaced items from Gasparilla.
Uber will only pick up and drop off riders outside the designated Gasparilla perimeter. From 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, the app will display a notification instructing riders where to walk based on their location. People in downtown will have to walk east to N Florida Avenue and people in Hyde Park will have to head north to Cleveland Avenue before requesting a ride. A spokesman for Uber added one more tip via email: “If you’re enjoying the festivities on the high seas, head back to land to request your ride! You will not be connected with a driver until you are on land.”
Contact Christopher Spata at [email protected] Follow @SpataTimes on Twitter.