Advertisement

Gasparilla victory parade turns into a pirate party along the Riverwalk

Everything we saw at Tampa’s pirate-palooza.
 
Published Jan. 28, 2023|Updated Jan. 28, 2023

Despite the chilly day, Tampa’s century-old pirate-palooza returned with a bang.

More than 150 floats, krewes and groups of dancers paraded down Bayshore Boulevard, flinging beads at the 300,000 or so swashbuckling spectators.

The Tampa Bay Times sent a team of reporters and photographers throughout the parade route. Here’s what they saw:

5:21 p.m.

As the parade winds down, the festivities rage on at Curtis Hixon and MacDill park on the Riverwalk. Live music and entertainment will continue until 8 p.m.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor hands out beads during the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023 in Tampa.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor hands out beads during the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023 in Tampa. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
An unidentified parade goer falls to the ground as the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates passes Saturday.
An unidentified parade goer falls to the ground as the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates passes Saturday. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
Parade goers cheer during the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates Saturday.
Parade goers cheer during the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates Saturday. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]

4:40 p.m.

Just a few of the 150+ floats and vehicles on the parade route:

3:30 p.m.

After some delays, the Clydesdale horses and other floats have started to make it to the end of the parade.

Elsewhere, one leprechaun found grand marshal Ric Flair at the end of his rainbow.

2:25 p.m.

The first floats in the parade has finally started to snake down Bayshore Boulevard. The crowd erupted into a big roar after the Tampa Bay Lightning showed up along the parade route.

Planning your weekend?

Subscribe to our free Top 5 things to do newsletter

We’ll deliver ideas every Thursday for going out, staying home or spending time outdoors.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

— Sharon Kennedy Wynne

1:45 p.m.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, holds the key to the city as members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla surround her at the Tampa Convention Center on the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship during the Gasparilla Invasion on Saturday.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, holds the key to the city as members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla surround her at the Tampa Convention Center on the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship during the Gasparilla Invasion on Saturday. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Shiver me timbers: Mayor Jane Castor has surrendered the key to Tampa, and the pirates have taken over the city. Up next is the parade.

Pirates on and off Jose Gasparilla celebrated the victory.

The Jose Gasparilla pirate ship carries members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla en route to the Tampa Convention Center during the Gasparilla Invasion on Saturday.
The Jose Gasparilla pirate ship carries members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla en route to the Tampa Convention Center during the Gasparilla Invasion on Saturday. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla members perched high aboard the Jose Gasparilla.
Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla members perched high aboard the Jose Gasparilla. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
The crowd watches as the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship carries members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla en route to the Tampa Convention Center during the Gasparilla Invasion on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, in Tampa.
The crowd watches as the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship carries members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla en route to the Tampa Convention Center during the Gasparilla Invasion on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

1:31 p.m.

Woo! Grand marshal and 16-time professional wrestling heavyweight champion Ric Flair has arrived. He will be joined by Gasparilla community hero, Sgt. Maj. Matt Parrish. Parrish is the senior enlisted leader for the USSOCOM Preservation of the Force and Family Program.

Here’s a bird’s eye view of the invasion:

Boats sail behind the Jose Gasparilla ship as it sails toward the Tampa Convention Center during the 2023 Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of Pirates on Saturday.
Boats sail behind the Jose Gasparilla ship as it sails toward the Tampa Convention Center during the 2023 Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of Pirates on Saturday. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
The Jose Gasparilla ship sails toward the Tampa Convention Center during the 2023 Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of Pirates on Saturday.
The Jose Gasparilla ship sails toward the Tampa Convention Center during the 2023 Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of Pirates on Saturday. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
The Jose Gasparilla ship sails toward the Tampa Convention Center during the 2023 Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of Pirates.
The Jose Gasparilla ship sails toward the Tampa Convention Center during the 2023 Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of Pirates. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
The Jose Gasparilla ship docks at the Tampa Convention Center during the 2023 Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of Pirates.
The Jose Gasparilla ship docks at the Tampa Convention Center during the 2023 Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of Pirates. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]

1:13 p.m.

Yarrr! The Jose Gasparilla has docked at the Tampa Convention Center, and the invasion is underway.

Mayor Jane Castor is ready to defend the city.

12:45 p.m.

Spotted at Gasparilla 2023: Beverly Chase, Randy Chase, Brenda Andres and Denis Andres of Canada.
Spotted at Gasparilla 2023: Beverly Chase, Randy Chase, Brenda Andres and Denis Andres of Canada. [ DIVYA KUMAR | Times ]

Beverly Chase, Randy Chase, Brenda Andres and Denis Andres of Canada are attending their third or fourth Gasparilla.

“We love the people watching,” Brenda said. “You meet lots of new people from everywhere.”

Randy agreed. “It’s a happy atmosphere,” he said. “Everyone should experience it at least once in their lifetimes.”

— Divya Kumar

12:05 p.m.

It’s a chilly afternoon in Tampa — 59 degrees and cloudy— but that hasn’t stopped the crowd from gathering outside the Tampa Convention Center.

11:30 p.m.

Scott Parlett, 48, brought his own prime seating early for the parade. The Tampa native has  been coming to the Gasparilla parade for three decades.
Scott Parlett, 48, brought his own prime seating early for the parade. The Tampa native has been coming to the Gasparilla parade for three decades. [ MATT COHEN I Times ]

Scott Parlett will spend the Gasparilla parade sitting in his captains chair — okay, it’s really a fold-up chair in a Costco cart.

He has his microphone and speakers, ready to cheer — and jeer — the floats coming past.

This has become Parlett’s yearly tradition. The 48-year-old is a Tampa native and has come to the parade for more than three decades. For the last 12 years, he’s set up his tailgate near the Columbia Drive Bridge from Bayshore Boulevard over to Davis Islands.

”How long do you think you’re gonna do this,” Parlett said a friend asked him.”Until you can’t,” Parlett responded. He and his group have chips, mini-sandwiches and Jell-O shots Parlett’s mom brought.

Parlett will play “Bad Boys” the theme from the show Cops when the police come by. He’ll play WWE wrestler Ric Flair’s intro music as the parade’s Grand Marshall passes.

”This is like my Christmas,” Parlett said.

— Matt Cohen

11:13 a.m.

It’s almost time for the festivities to begin. Here’s what to look forward to:

For those out on the parade route (or everyone else keeping track from home) here’s a handy bingo card from the Tampa Bay Times.

10:43 a.m.

Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla has started to load up the Jose Gasparilla ship, which will lead the upcoming flotilla.

10:30 a.m.

More pirates are claiming their spots ahead of this afternoon’s parade.

10:11 a.m.

Chip Ricketts is celebrating four years as a Gasparilla vendor.
Chip Ricketts is celebrating four years as a Gasparilla vendor. [ DIVYA KUMAR | Times ]

Today is Chip Ricketts of South Carolina’s fourth Gasparilla as a vendor. His favorite part?

“People coming out and enjoying the day,” he said.

So far, bandanas and beads have been selling the fastest.

Meanwhile, Ashley Okegbenro and Tori Huffman took pictures at Curtis Hixon Park before the crowds arrived. Today is their first Gasparilla. Their tips for getting good Gasparilla pics?

“Get here early, take your time and find your angle,” Okegbenro said.

— Divya Kumar

10 a.m.

Boats are starting to arrive. Cannon fire can be heard in the distance. The invasion is slowly approaching.

9:30 a.m.

Spectators have already started to gather.

David Ramsdell started coming to the Gasparilla parade as young boy back when the pirates plundered down the streets of Ybor City. He’s 75 now and this is his 71st Gasparilla. It’s tradition now for David and his wife Kat — celebrating her 20th Gasparilla.

Kat and David Ramsdell lined up early to secure their Gasparilla 2023 spot. This year marks David Ramsdell’s 71st Gasparilla, and the 20th for Kat Ramsdell.
Kat and David Ramsdell lined up early to secure their Gasparilla 2023 spot. This year marks David Ramsdell’s 71st Gasparilla, and the 20th for Kat Ramsdell. [ MATT COHEN | Times ]

David said he spent seven years marching in the parade. He used to play the drums in the Brandon High School marching band.

Now they come back each year, sitting in section four in recent years. Many of the same people come to their section each year too. Kat said it’s become like a family.

— Matt Cohen

8:38 a.m.

The pirates of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla lined up early to get their makeup done.

“How gory do you want to be?” Hannah Hutchison asked before she applied bloody scars to krewe member Joe Varner.

“Make it nasty,” he said

— Sharon Kennedy-Wynne

7:58 a.m.

Pirate Vic Cucuz starts Gasparilla 2023 with a traditional Milk Punch, served by bartender Sasha Halilovic, at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club.
Pirate Vic Cucuz starts Gasparilla 2023 with a traditional Milk Punch, served by bartender Sasha Halilovic, at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club. [ SHARON KENNEDY WYNNE | Times ]

Tampa Yacht and Country Club bartender Sasha Halilovic served the signature Gasparilla Milk Punch to pirate Vic Cucuz. The boozy concoction has brandy and cream, topped with nutmeg and was getting served at 7:30 a.m. to get krewes started. The yacht club has made 120 gallons for today’s festivities.

Each krewe has its own signature drink, “enough to kill a parrot,” Jeff Houck told the Tampa Bay Times. Whether you’re looking for a quick buzz before heading out or toasting from home, here are Gasparilla recipes for Milk Punch and other rum concoctions.

— Sharon Kennedy-Wynne

The schedule

The following events are ahead:

Pirate Invasion: From 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, the fully rigged pirate ship Jose Gasparilla will lead a 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 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: Starting at 2 p.m. The parade starts 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: An expanded Pirate Fest, featuring two stages of live entertainment, will take place along the Riverwalk in downtown Tampa, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Before the party, here are some quick links:

Four generations of pirates

From left to right, Hudson M. Clarke, 10, (Bryan's son), Royal Page, Richard S. Clarke Sr., 95, Richard S. Clarke Jr., 69, and Bryan T. Clarke (father of Hudson), 38, a Tampa veterinarian, pose for a portrait on the Royal Float at Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla on Wednesday.
From left to right, Hudson M. Clarke, 10, (Bryan's son), Royal Page, Richard S. Clarke Sr., 95, Richard S. Clarke Jr., 69, and Bryan T. Clarke (father of Hudson), 38, a Tampa veterinarian, pose for a portrait on the Royal Float at Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla on Wednesday. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, the grandaddy organization that started Tampa’s signature parade in 1904, will have the rare occurrence, four generations of one family, ages 10 to 95, participating in the cavalcade this year.

Richard S. Clarke Sr., 95, known as Dick to his friends, joined in 1950. His life has been a history of legacies, from the Peninsular Paper Co., founded in 1911, that he took over after his father died, to the multigenerational involvement in the exclusive organization that founded and still coordinates the annual parade. They are the marauders that invade Tampa on a fully rigged pirate ship they built as a legion devoted to mythical pirate Jose Gaspar.

There have been many multigenerational and well-known families in the krewe’s membership, such as the McKays, the Lykes and the Lowrys, whose names appear on street signs and local landmarks. Although Gasparilla is a citywide party, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla traces its roots to when Tampa was a small town, and this elite group still organizes the event.

The Clarkes may have hit that sweet spot of having a boy old enough to be a royal page and a patriarch still alive and participating at age 95, said historian Rodney Kite-Powell of the Tampa Bay History Center. He hasn’t found such an occurrence in his search of Gasparilla records.

“This certainly embodies the multigenerational aspect of the krewes,” Kite-Powell said, “and how entrenched Gasparilla is in our history.”

Read more here.

— Sharon Kennedy Wynne