Gasparilla organizers postpone annual parade until April 17

The move comes “out of an abundance of caution” with coronavirus still spreading fast. The event draws hundreds of thousands of spectators.
Crowds cheer floats passing down Bayshore Buevard during the 103nd Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of Pirates on Jan. 25.
Crowds cheer floats passing down Bayshore Buevard during the 103nd Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of Pirates on Jan. 25. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TImes ]
Published Nov. 23, 2020|Updated Nov. 24, 2020

Organizers of the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates announced Monday they will delay the 2021 event for three months until April 17 after consulting with health experts and city officials.

The parade was originally scheduled for Jan. 30 and organizers had said as late as Sept. 15 that they still were making plans for that date. No longer.

“Safety is our most important responsibility,” Peter Lackman, captain of event sponsor Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, said in a news release. “In the public interest of restricting events that bring large numbers of people to our community, we have made the difficult decision to postpone. We look forward to celebrating with our mateys safely and responsibly this April.”

Related: Live from the Gasparilla 2020 parade and pirate invasion

In a phone interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Lackman said the krewe consulted with experts at the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine, physicians from Tampa General Hospital and members of the city government.

The decision to delay presents few difficulties, other than coordinating the smaller Gasparilla events such as the coronation ball and the captain’s ball, Lackman said. If anything, it gives staff more time to prepare, he said.

“The Gasparilla event is a well-oiled machine and has been for 110 years plus” he said.

Right now, the plan is to move forward with April and May events, but Lackman said the organization is able to remain flexible if it needs to adjust again.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor applauded the decision in a statement.

“As always, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla and Event Fest are incredible partners throughout the Gasparilla season,” she said. “We appreciate their commitment to keeping our community safe. Gasparilla is a cherished Tampa tradition, so when we come together, we want to ensure we do it the right way.”

Hundreds of thousands of people attend Gasparilla and related events each year.

The Children’s Gasparilla parade was rescheduled for April 10 and Ye Mystic Krewe’s Outbound Voyage, the last event in the celebration, is now scheduled for May 14.

Related: As Tampa’s Super Bowl nears, party buzz is muted

Reserved seat tickets for a Jan. 30 Gasparilla parade went on sale Sept. 15. Had the event come off as planned, the parade would have rolled down Bayshore Boulevard and through downtown Tampa just eight days before the city hosts another blockbuster event — Super Bowl 55 on Feb. 7.

Whether Gasparilla draws the huge crowds of years past remains to be seen because of the coronavirus. Tourism has been volatile since the pandemic broke out, said Visit Tampa Bay Chief Executive Officer Santiago Corrada.

The agency was not involved in the decision to delay the parade, but Corrada called it a good idea.

With the right digital marketing, he said, Visit Tampa Bay can change its messaging about the events and share information with the public.

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“I think it’s a very good move,” Corrada said. “I think with the promise of a vaccine, and the promise of treatment, and hopefully getting the current situation under better control, it makes sense to delay the event.”

Dr. John Sinnott, an epidemiologist at USF, compared Gasparilla to the 2020 Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention experts have pointed to the event as a potential cause of the city’s early coronavirus outbreak.

Given how things played out around Mardi Gras, Sinnott believes the decision to delay Gasparilla is for the best and noted that the event was originally planned for a time when new cases in the region could spike to as many as 15,000 each day.

“It’s very dangerous,” he said. “And the smart move is to put this off awhile until we get some people vaccinated.”