A year after the signature Gasparilla parades were canceled by the coronavirus pandemic, this weekend’s Children’s Gasparilla Parade will be back with its normal lineup and is expected to draw an even bigger crowd “because of pent-up demand.”
Celebrating its 75th anniversary, the Children’s Gasparilla Parade has been a part of Tampa’s annual celebration since 1947. It provides an alcohol-free party on Bayshore Boulevard that gives kids a first crack at the booty from the pirates on parade.
“We are going to pick up where we left off a couple of years ago,” said Peter Lackman, captain of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, the parade organizer. “We usually draw 100,000 but we think it will be an even bigger crowd because of pent-up demand to celebrate again.”
Both the children’s parade and the big Gasparilla parade were canceled in 2021, an estimated loss of more than $40 million in economic impact to Tampa, according to the tourism organization Visit Tampa Bay.
As the state battles the ongoing spread of the highly contagious omicron variant, Lackman said Ye Mystic Krewe isn’t making demands this year about masks or social distancing. “But we encourage everyone to be vaccinated and act safely.”
“A return to parades is a part of returning to normal,” Lackman said.
The G-rated version of Tampa’s bacchanal kicks off the six weeks of Gasparilla season starting Saturday with cute events like a bike safety rodeo (11 a.m.-1 p.m.), a Preschooler’s Stroll of decorated wagons and strollers (1-2 p.m.) and an air invasion of aerobatic teams in vintage and military aircraft (noon-3 p.m.). Then comes the parade along Bayshore Boulevard from Bay to Bay Boulevard to Edison Avenue. It will have more than 125 units made up of bands, floats, krewes and dance groups marching along from 3:30 to 6 p.m., tossing beads and baubles into the crowd.
As the parade ends, eyes will turn to the Hillsborough River for the Jose Gasparilla, a replica of a fully rigged pirate ship built in 1954 and used in the annual invasion of Tampa ever since. The ship provides the foreground as the day ends with a “Piratechnic” fireworks finale at 6:30 p.m.
- Pack snacks, water, sunscreen, hand sanitizer and blankets, and bring cash. No large coolers or glass containers are allowed, but small, soft-sided coolers or lunch bags can do the job.
- It’s less crowded to watch the parade from the east (water side) of Bayshore because there are only a few spots along the route that allow you to cross the street. Later in the day even those are blocked off. Get there early to drop anchor on a prime location.
- Some veteran paradegoers say a bicycle is the easiest way to get around.
- There will be lots of portable toilets lining Bayshore Boulevard. 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. Beginning at noon Saturday, the Tampa Garden Club will sell bathroom passes for $20 for one adult and two children. The passes are good until the end of the parade at about 4:30 p.m. It will be cash only at the garden club at 2629 Bayshore Blvd. 813-251-5059. The club will also sell passes for $20 per adult at the Jan. 29 Parade of Pirates from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
- Stock your backpack with an extra bag or two for the kids to hold all their loot and beads.
- If you have pirate gear from Halloween, wear it. And consider decorating your stroller or wagon like a pirate ship.
- You can find a schedule and parking information at childrens.gasparillapiratefest.com.
- Get updates on traffic and city of Tampa announcements on Twitter by following @cityoftampa, @cot_traffic and @tampapd.
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