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What we saw at Children’s Gasparilla, the family-friendly pirate invasion

The celebration, held along the waterfront, is just for the youngest pirates.
 
Paradegoers stick out their hands to catch beads during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
Paradegoers stick out their hands to catch beads during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Jan. 20|Updated Jan. 30

The family version of the Gasparilla pirate invasion gave kids their own parade on Saturday, along with an air show, bike rodeo and fireworks in the chilly weather.

Paradegoers stick out their hands to catch beads during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
Paradegoers stick out their hands to catch beads during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Back in 1904, Tampa city leaders came up with a “pirate invasion” on horseback during the city’s May Day festival and it later evolved into its own pirate-themed parade and festival based on the story of the mythical pirate Jose Gaspar (also known as Gasparilla). Similar to Mardi Gras, Gasparilla brings a parade of elaborate floats with beads and toys and candy tossed to the crowd along Bayshore Boulevard. That’s happening next Saturday.

Children get ready before the start of the preschoolers stroll during the Children's Gasparilla event along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday in Tampa.
Children get ready before the start of the preschoolers stroll during the Children's Gasparilla event along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Since 1947, Children’s Gasparilla has been held the week before the big parade. It was created for families with an alcohol-free party on Bayshore that gives kids a first crack at the pirate booty.

Related: Gasparilla 2024: Your guide to navigating the big parade on Jan. 27

Children’s Gasparilla is more than a parade. The G-rated counterpart to the bacchanal that will take over Tampa on Jan. 27 started Saturday with a bike rodeo where kids got a free bicycle helmet before traversing a mini traffic course.

Arianna Cordova, left, and Jayla Zuniga, both of Tampa, dress in their pirate outfits while they wait to ride a bicycle course during the Children's Gasparilla event along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday in Tampa.
Arianna Cordova, left, and Jayla Zuniga, both of Tampa, dress in their pirate outfits while they wait to ride a bicycle course during the Children's Gasparilla event along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

The crowd then looked up into the sky for an air show featuring civilian aerobatic teams, vintage military aircraft and the Chuters, a Tampa-based parachute demonstration team that does aerial jump demonstrations at major events across the country.

Children get ready in a parade float before the start of the preschoolers stroll during the Children's Gasparilla event along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday in Tampa.
Children get ready in a parade float before the start of the preschoolers stroll during the Children's Gasparilla event along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Before the big parade, kids were the stars of their own Gasparilla Preschool Stroll, in which families dressed like pirates and decorated their wagons, strollers and tricycles to strut their stuff along Bayshore Boulevard in an adorable parade of pint-sized pirates.

Zora Dixon, 4, of Tampa, dresses in her pirate outfit before she participates in the preschoolers stroll during the Children's Gasparilla event along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
Zora Dixon, 4, of Tampa, dresses in her pirate outfit before she participates in the preschoolers stroll during the Children's Gasparilla event along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
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The Children’s Gasparilla Parade, slightly shorter than the one to be held next week, began at Bay to Bay and Bayshore Boulevard, with WWE Superstars Bianca Belair and Montez Ford serving as the parade grand marshals and New York Mets first baseman and Tampa native Pete Alonso honored as this year’s Community Hero for his philanthropic work.

Noel Pindling and Meelah Pindling, both of Lakeland, dress in their pirate outfits during the Children's Gasparilla event along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday in Tampa.
Noel Pindling and Meelah Pindling, both of Lakeland, dress in their pirate outfits during the Children's Gasparilla event along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

The parade is followed by a pirate-themed fireworks show, a perk the big parade next week won’t get.

For the second year, the Autism Friendly Tampa Advisory Group, CARD-USF and Sunrise Group provided a sensory relief zone for those who may become overwhelmed with crowds, sights or sounds.

Heidi Bryant of Tampa dresses in her pirate costume during the Children's Gasparilla event along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday in Tampa.
Heidi Bryant of Tampa dresses in her pirate costume during the Children's Gasparilla event along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
A member from the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue tosses beads to paradegoers during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
A member from the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue tosses beads to paradegoers during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw hands out beads to paradegoers during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
Tampa Police Chief Lee Bercaw hands out beads to paradegoers during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
WWE star and grand marshal Bianca Belair tosses beads to paradegoers during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
WWE star and grand marshal Bianca Belair tosses beads to paradegoers during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Paradegoers wait to catch beads during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
Paradegoers wait to catch beads during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Parade participants wave to people during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
Parade participants wave to people during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
A dog dresses in a pirate outfit during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
A dog dresses in a pirate outfit during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
New York Mets first baseman and grand marshal Pete Alonso tosses beads to paradegoers during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
New York Mets first baseman and grand marshal Pete Alonso tosses beads to paradegoers during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Parade participants toss beads from their floats during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
Parade participants toss beads from their floats during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Paradegoers watch the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
Paradegoers watch the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Paradegoers stick their hands up as they wait to catch beads during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
Paradegoers stick their hands up as they wait to catch beads during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Parade participants toss beads from their floats during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
Parade participants toss beads from their floats during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Paradegoers wait to catch beads during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
Paradegoers wait to catch beads during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Paradegoers stick out their hands to catch beads during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
Paradegoers stick out their hands to catch beads during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Mayor Jane Castor tosses beads to children during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
Mayor Jane Castor tosses beads to children during the Children's Gasparilla parade along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Gavin Grunewald, six-month old, of Tampa, participates in the preschooler’s stroll during the Children's Gasparilla event along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa.
Gavin Grunewald, six-month old, of Tampa, participates in the preschooler’s stroll during the Children's Gasparilla event along Bayshore Boulevard on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]