Beads, beer and bluster — that does it for most any of the Gasparilla krewes. But for the Krewe of Europa?
Those paraders will gladly swap a pirate’s chest of gold doubloons for a cache of frequent flyer miles. “Sure, we drink and have a good time,” said Craig Bachler, a founder and past president of the traveling social club. “But we formed Europa to take the Tampa krewe experience around the globe. Our mission is celebrating multicultural Europe.”
The COVID-19 pandemic initially thwarted the krewe’s international debut in Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day 2020 Parade, where they planned to hand out thousands of green carnations.
COVID disrupted most of their plans in 2021 as well, canceling Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla’s Parade of Pirates and the Krewe of Sant’ Yago’s Illuminated Knight Parade. Travel precautions also prevented the Krewe of Europa from accepting invitations from the Federation of European Carnival Cities (FECC), a group of 500 organizations united to promote national identities and parade traditions.
“Not a good year for anybody,” reflected Bachler. “But it gave us time to make a business model and write bylaws.”
Happily, the Gasparilla and Sant’ Yago parades were back on track in 2022. Stateside, the Krewe of Europa also paraded in Boston and Salem, Massachusetts; Juneau, Alaska; and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It took another year to go global, flying to Ireland for two St. Patrick’s Day 2023 parades, in Galway City and Craughwell, on the same day. They stayed a week to tour the country.
Next up: Finland in June for the Helsinki Samba Carnaval and Belgium in October for the Halloween Parade.
Bachler, an aerospace defense manufacturing executive, and his wife Karen, an accountant, previously belonged to two other krewes before starting the Krewe of Europa.
Brainstorming themes with their two adult children and friend Valerie Casey Olivero, a Delta international flight attendant, they landed on Old World Europe, specifically the 14th-to-18th-century era marked by transoceanic trade to the New World Americas, the beginning of globalization. “The initial settlers were Spanish discovering St. Augustine, then the English, then the Irish,” Bachler said. “We celebrate our multicultural European roots over 400 years when the bulk of immigration came to this country.”
About half of the Krewe of Europa’s 75 members live locally and half reside out of state, in locales from New England to California as well as internationally in regions like Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, Greece and Germany, where the krewe’s vice president recently moved.
The krewe welcomes the membership of business owners, professionals and others interested in making friends all over Europe, said Bachler, who owned a wholesale travel business in New Hampshire for a decade prior to moving to Bradenton in 2002. Annual dues, ranging from $350 for limited associates to $650 for full global membership, fund the krewe’s endeavors. Nope, travel expenses are not included.
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The Krewe of Europa’s costumes copy European fashions of the era, are custom made and cost $400 and up. Women wear rich aristocratic gowns or peasant dresses; men don satin and velvet frock coats, lederhosen and even kilts. “A certain Celtic queen named Karen wears a $6,000 gold-and-emerald tiara,” quipped her husband.
The krewe owns two floats, a 28-footer designed to look like a Bulgarian castle and the 45-foot double-decker Spirit of Travel, still under construction for $150,000.
Bylaws stipulate an annual formal ball in Europe. The krewe’s first dinner was held in Tralee, Ireland in March 2023. This fall they celebrate in Belgium following the Halloween Parade.
Passport in hand, members are already planning 2025: New Year’s Eve in Rome, the Rijeka Carnival in Croatia, summer in Zeist, Holland and Oktoberfest in Munich.
“We’re America’s ambassadors, bringing the spirit of krewe life everywhere we go,” said Bachler.