The Children’s Gasparilla Parade has been part of Tampa’s annual celebration since 1947, providing an alcohol-free party on Bayshore Boulevard that gives kids a first crack at the pirate booty.
Between the children’s parade and the big pirate parade the following Saturday, Gasparilla pumps more than $40 million in economic impact to the Tampa Bay area, according to the tourism organization Visit Tampa Bay. With a few exceptions — because of wartime and the pandemic in 2021 — the Gasparilla parade has been held every year since 1904 and has become an iconic symbol of Tampa.
The family friendly version of the pirate invasion on Saturday kicks off what will be six weeks of Gasparilla season, an idea that grew out of the desire to give the city’s annual May Day parade a more lively Mardi Gras-style vibe. The originators created a backstory about a fictional pirate named Jose Gaspar when the pirates invaded the 1904 May Day parade led by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.
So what’s the difference between the kids’ parade and the big Gasparilla bacchanal? It’s a more G-rated vibe, for starters, with no alcohol sold along the parade route like you’ll see in the big parade. The route for the parade itself, which begins at 4 p.m., is a bit shorter and there are times set aside for the kids to get involved.
Kids can learn about bike safety and try their skills on a course set up for the Bicycle Rodeo from noon to 2 p.m. Participants will be fitted for a free bicycle helmet while supplies last. There will be bikes available to use at the rodeo, but you are welcome to bring your own.
Also starting at noon is the four-hour Gasparilla Air Invasion. The air show will have civilian aerobatic teams, vintage military aircraft and the Chuters Parachute Demonstration Team.
Starting at 2 p.m., the cutest pirates will be on parade for the Preschoolers’ Stroll. You’ll see kids 5 and younger in full regalia, many of them pulled along in elaborately decorated wagons and strollers. If you want to participate you have until Jan. 18 to sign up at childrens.gasparillapiratefest.com/preschoolers-stroll.
For the first time, the children’s parade will have an autism-friendly section designed by the city’s Autism Friendly Tampa Advisory Group, CARD-USF and Sunrise Group. It will offer a sensory relief zone for those who may become overwhelmed with crowds, sights or sounds. The tent will be at the southwest corner of Barcelona Street and will only be for Children’s Gasparilla.
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Also new this year will be a second Gasparilla Nighttime Air Invasion starting at 6:30 p.m. The air show performances will take place at dusk and will include a precision parachute jump from the Chuters Parachute Demonstration Team and Ghostwriter Airshows’ signature fireworks flight.
The night ends with a Piratechnic Finale at 7 p.m., a fireworks show that re-creates the imaginary battle between the pirates and the City of Tampa that began in 1904.
- Pack snacks, water, sunscreen, hand sanitizer and blankets, and bring cash in case vendors have trouble accessing credit cards in the big crowd. No large coolers or glass containers are allowed, but small, soft-sided coolers or lunch bags can do the job.
- Stock your backpack with an extra bag or two for the kids to hold all their loot and beads.
- There will be lots of portable toilets lining Bayshore Boulevard. You can also use the restrooms at the Publix at 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.
- You can find parking information and a map of the free trolleys running that day at childrens.gasparillapiratefest.com/event-info-map. The city will be charging $15 to park that day from 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
- If you have pirate gear from Halloween, wear it. And consider decorating your stroller or wagon like a pirate ship.
If you go
Children’s Gasparilla Parade: Festivities begin at noon but the parade itself steps off at 4 p.m. at Bay to Bay and Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa, followed by a fireworks show at 7. The parade is free but there are reserved seats starting at $55 at gasparillatreasures.com.