Saturday’s Gasparilla Parade of Pirates is a uniquely Tampa event, created by city leaders more than 100 years ago as a way to lure visitors. It worked. Some 300,000 people are expected to line Bayshore Boulevard as more than 150 floats, bands and various krewes toss beads and trinkets into the crowd.
It all started with a fictional pirate, Jose Gaspar. The festival was founded in 1904 by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, a prominent bunch of Tampa citizens who to this day are still the organizers of the event where pirates “invade” the city. Pirate costumes will be worn by both the crowd and the krewes. The atmosphere will be loud with music, cannon fire and whooping revelers who will find alcohol stations all along the parade route.
The all-male, all-white founders of Gasparilla bear little resemblance to today’s roster of more than 60 krewes that now include Latin, female and Black krewes and other ethnic, cultural and historical themes.
Pirate Invasion: From 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, the fully rigged pirate ship Jose Gasparilla (actually a barge dressed up as a pirate ship that is pulled by tug boats) will lead a dramatic flotilla of hundreds of private and police boats. The boats will emerge at the south end of Hillsborough Bay with cannons firing as the flotilla travels across the bay into Seddon Channel and docks at the Tampa Convention Center around 1 p.m. Then the mayor will surrender the key to the city.
Parade of Pirates: Elaborate floats and krewes will be showering the streets with beads and treasures. The parade will begin at Bay to Bay and Bayshore boulevards and end at Cass Street and Ashley Drive. It runs from 2 to 6 p.m.
Pirate Fest: This year brings an expanded Pirate Fest that will take place along the Riverwalk in downtown Tampa. The event will feature two stages with live entertainment pre- and post-parade in Curtis Hixon Park and MacDill Park. 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Parking: Streets around the parade route begin closing Friday night. City garages charge $5 to $20 per vehicle on parade day. Note that many garages tend to fill up by 10:30 a.m. The city of Tampa has released their 2023 Parking Bulletin. which lists the names and prices of local downtown garages at tampa.gov. The free TECO line streetcar will be available from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. running between Ybor and downtown. For $4 (cash only) you can get an all-day pass for the HART park-and-ride options. HART will provide free bus shuttle service from Dick Greco Plaza, 301 Channelside Drive, from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. More information on transit is at gohart.org.
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Alcohol: Wet zones will be set up along the parade route and in Curtis Hixon Park, but open containers are prohibited outside those areas.
Plan your day: Traffic will start getting busy as early as 9 a.m., so allow extra time to find parking to be able to walk or ride a bike to your destination. Pack some sunscreen, water, cash, hand sanitizer and snacks. Almost every bar in South Tampa hosts a “kegs and eggs” event that morning. Veteran paradegoers glug sports drinks full of electrolytes the night before because they know dehydration is a danger.
Bathrooms: There are more than 1,000 portable toilets lining Bayshore Boulevard, so stay out of the bushes. That’s a sure way to draw the attention of a police officer. 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.
Getting loot: Krewes will be tossing light beads, medallions and foam prizes such as footballs. The heavy and collectible signature beads and necklaces are handed out to the crowd in person for the people up front. Be mindful that by the time the floats turn onto Ashley Street, supplies are dwindling. You can sometimes get the upper hand by bringing a poster or white board to write down your favorite krewe names as they pass you by on the parade route. It can draw their attention for more beads and or special gifts such as bracelets or specialty beads.
What to wear: Saucy lads and lasses will be sporting tricorner hats, fishnet stockings, stripes, skull accessories and puffy shirts. But boots made for walking are a must.
Text alerts: For important Gasparilla event updates, safety tips and traffic alerts, text GASPARILLA to 888-777.