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Live from the Gasparilla 2020 parade and pirate invasion

We were warned. Now the pirates are here. Stay with tampabay.com all day for the latest reports.
Published Jan. 25
Updated Jan. 26

Click here for all things Gasparilla in the Tampa Bay Times

How you look after 30 Gasparillas

Pedro Quiles, with his wife Berta, has been coming to Gasparilla for 30 years. “Every year, I’m the skeleton pirate,” he said. [SARA DINATALE | Times]

While the last of the floats boomed down Ashley Drive, Pedro Quiles stood with his wife looking on from a closed intersection. Quiles was wearing full-on skeleton face paint and round black sunglasses.

After 30 years of Gasparilla celebrations, seeing the parade growing bigger and bigger, he’s adopted this as his go-to look. It takes a friend with an airbrush 20 minutes to turn Quiles into a ghoulish pirate, complete with matching skull-and-cross-bone t-shirts for him and his wife Berta Quiles.

“Every year, I’m the skeleton pirate,” he said.

‘Alexa, make me a pirate’

Nikki Terri of Orlando, center right, was surprised that so many people asked to snap a photo of her and her well-dressed friends during the Gasparilla parade. They ordered their outfits through Amazon. [SARA DINATALE | Times]

Nikki Terri of Orlando hadn’t heard much about Gasparilla until her group of friends started planning a trip around the parade.

“All I knew is you dressed like a pirate,” Terri said.

For a first-timer, she nailed it. She and her husband, Elijah Dawson, were decked out in full pirate garb: leather boots and a feather hat for him and a bustier and fishnet stockings for her.

The couple’s outfits were so elaborate they couldn’t go more than a few minutes without someone giving them a compliment or asking for a photo.

“Someone came up to us earlier and asked us if we just walked out of the parade,” said Terri’s friend, Michael Maker. Maker was wearing a long leather coat and some black eyeliner.

The well-dressed group of friends only started planning their outfits a week ago.

Where did they get such flashy outfits?

“Amazon,” Terri said with a laugh. “Where else?”

- Sara DiNatale

Pirates on parade

Crowds take in the parade from above and below at an overpass along Bayshore Boulevard. [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times]
Atlanta McDonald of Spring Hill takes a swig of rum along the parade route from Juan Aristizabal. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TImes]
The Gasparilla parade's sponsor is represented by the Hard Rock Girls. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TImes]

Potties, blunts, scenes from the street

Portable toilets are in great demand along the parade route.

- When you need a portable toilet, the line just seems to get longer and longer.

- At 4 p.m., whiny drunks walk by pleading for Starbucks: “I NEEEED coffee!” (Starbucks is really close)

- Just saw a “Blunts, booty and beer” t-shirt, which feels like Gasparilla.

- Seeing the Bud Light Seltzer float roll by just makes you notice all the White Claw in the crowd.

- Scantily dressed lads and lassies look to be regretting their outfit choices when the wind blows through. But not this one guy, who was glad he dressed so warm — as a knight.

- Sara DiNatale

Beads for Aladdin’s ‘Cave of Wonders’

Brittany George, 19, a student at the University of Florida, was after all the beads she could grab during her first Gasparilla parade. [ILEANA NAJARRO | Times]

By 3 p.m., the Gasparilla party was in full swing.

Brittany George, 19, a student at the University of Florida, collected dozens of colorful beads as floats passed by on Bayshore. A resident of Jacksonville, George was attending for the first time and she came with a plan: Collect as many free beads as possible to serve as props for her dance company’s upcoming performance.

The production is inspired by the Cave of Wonders scene in Disney’s Aladdin.

“How am I getting these many beads,” she exclaimed as the golden necklaces fell at her feet.

Further down the way, canons burst the air as onlookers guarded their prized coolers and carts. Walking along Bayshore quickly became hazardous as adults, pirate-clad and otherwise, stumbled around, others settling on grass for an afternoon nap.

- Ileana Najarro

Jill Kelley hosts wounded warriors

Charles Lemon, wounded in Iraq, attended a Gasparilla parade party hosted by Tampa socialite Jill Kelley.

Charles Lemon, 37, a retired Army specialist and Purple Heart recipient, was grateful he didn’t have to navigate the crowds in his wheelchair.

Lemon was among the veterans and wounded warriors invited to Tampa socialite Jill Kelley’s annual Gasparilla party. The private event offers up a safe, comfortable space for veterans to enjoy the festivities without too much hassle.

Lemon, wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2011, noted that the party has gotten bigger through the years.

Before joining the Army, Lemon made sure to party at Gasparilla where he met a lot of lifelong friends. This time, it was all about the people-watching.

“It’s good people having a good time,” Lemon said as a group struggled to walk straight on the sidewalk before him.

- Ileana Najarro

Dog mayor of Gasparilla

Franklin got the hat from his owner but the beads came from a pirate who spotted him at the Gasparilla parade. [SARA DINATALE | Times]

Before the parade made its way down Ashley Drive, Franklin, a 6-month-old mini golden doodle, was happily accepting free pats.

Clad in a mini-pirate hat, the energetic puppy was perfect in his unofficial role as Dog Mayor of Gasparilla.

His owner, Karen Russell, lives in one of downtown’s tall condo towers. Last year was her first with the city’s biggest party in her backyard. She had no complaints.

“It’s fun, corny and cheesy,” she said as Franklin sat happily by her feet.

As sirens began to sound, and the parade approached, Franklin seemed ready. He even had chunky golden beads strung around his neck.

“We bought him the hat,” Russell said, “but he got the beads from a pirate.”

- Sara DiNatale

Opening the fun to all

The Krewe of Sir Francis Drake, formed in 2017 and named for the queen's own pirate, returns to this year's Gasparilla parade with a float that's accessible to people with disabilities.

The Krewe of Sir Francis Drake returns to the parade with what it calls it the first parade float in the country to comply with the American with Disabilities Act of 1990.

The giant treasure chest on wheels was built to accommodate people with disabilities and debuted in 2018.

The new float goes down as a benchmark in the history of Tampa’s signature event, which excluded broad segments of the population for decades after its launch by prominent Tampa residents as a May Day festival in 1904.

It wasn't until 1992 that the founding organization Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla welcomed black members, and the all-female Krewe of Grace O'Malley paraded for the first time.

Among the treasure that riders find on the Francis Drake float: A rolling bar.

- Dennis Joyce

Here come the beads

Nikki DeBartolo helps get the parade rolling from the vehicle featuring her husband, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister. [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times]

The Gasparilla Parade of the Pirates, now underway and sponsored by Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, boasts more than 140 units, according to its website. They include over 103 floats, five marching bands, more than 50 krewes — and no one knows how many beads.

Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla and its pirates have presented the event since 1904.

They used to live in Tampa when Budweiser owned Busch Gardens, but now the famous Clydesdales live in St. Louis and Colorado and just visit for events like the Gasparilla parade. [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times]

The moment of truth

Krewe member Andre Kirwan of Tampa, foreground, gives the invasion a scary feel. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TImes]

Members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla have arrived at the Tampa Convention Center aboard the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship.

The ship traveled up Seddon Channel for the annual invasion and received the key to the city from Mayor Jane Castor.

Rough Rider goal: Get float over bump

Ann Walkowiak, center, is with the Rough Riders. [DIVYA KUMAR | Times]

Ann Walkowiak is one of about 150 members of the Rough Riders who have been here since 7 a.m. The group, inspired by the cavalry regiment led by Theodore Roosevelt, is a big presence in the parade each year.

“I’m looking forward to a safe parade," Walkowiak said, "and making sure the driver gets the truck over the bump.”

- Divya Kumar

Dave Bautista thrills his fans

Hollywood actor and pro wrestler Dave Bautista squeezes in some selfies with fans just as the Gasparilla parade is about to start. Bautista, who lives in Tampa, is the grand marshal. [ILEANA NAJARRO | Times]

At the starting line for the Gasparilla parade, anticipation builds and reaches a crescendo with the arrival of grand marshal Dave Bautista.

Decked out in a black pirate ensemble, “complete with eyeliner,” the pro wrestler who has gained famed as the tattooed Drax in the Marvel movie universe sweeps in.

“I’ve been waiting for this my whole life,” Bautista said as fans gathered around to squeeze-in selfies before the start of the parade.

- Ileana Najarro

Pumping up the band

Members of the Blake High School Yellow Jackets get ready for the parade. [ILEANA NAJARRO | Times]

As beads are unpacked on pirate ship floats for the start of the parade, members of the Blake High School Yellow Jackets marching band pump themselves up with a good, old-fashioned dance battle.

Shay Feorell, 48, a band mom and member of the band’s board, said the kids and parents are all excited to once again partake in the celebration.

Meantime, in anticipation of the 2 p.m. start, golf carts wind around pedestrians, float parties are well underway and last-minute touches are added.

- Ileana Najarro

If it’s Tampa, it’s stogies

Tony Reyes and Chuck Moran are selling their wares along the parade route. [DIVYA KUMAR | Times]

The only Tampa icon more enduring than a pirate is a cigar.

And the cigar has the advantage of holding a real rather than mythical place in Tampa history.

So what could be more Tampa than a pirate smoking a cigar?

Nothing, in the view of Chuck Moran, 66, and Tony Reyes, 32, who are selling stogies from their canopy along the Gasparilla parade route.

Reyes’ father started the family tradition of purveying Covadonga brand cigars.

“With the long history of cigars in Tampa," Reyes said, “it’s a great event to be at.”

- Divya Kumar

Surprise! It’s a pirate invasion.

Jeff Adams, 55, from Tennessee and his wife Tina, 54, had never heard of the Gasparilla pirate invasion and the boozy bay festivities but while they’re in town visiting friends, they got swept up in the fun. [ILEANA NAJARRO | Times]

As the sun bore down on Bayshore at noon, Gasparilla revelers adorned in pirate gear, beads, and one or two beer cans in hand, make their way up and down the boulevard.

Sitting at his parade watching post, a trusty plastic parrot perched on his shoulder, Jeff Adams, 55, from Tennessee takes it all in.

He and his wife Tina, 54, had never heard of the pirate invasion and the boozy bay festivities but while they’re in town visiting friends, they got swept up in the fun.

“Wednesday I was wearing coveralls, today I’m in shorts, in sun, with a cold beer,” Adams said, “It doesn’t get better than this.”

The Adamses arrived along Bayshore Boulevard at 10 a.m. to join the of revelers in camping chairs staking out the best views for the wave of pirate ships to come.

- Ileana Najarro

Pirate pooch

Wedo is a pomeranian mix with an adventurous taste in clothes. [DOUGLAS CLIFFORD | Times]

Not all those lining up to witness the pirate invasion Saturday afternoon walk on two feet.

Wedo, a pomeranian mix, joined the throng along Seddon Channel downtown awaiting the arrival of the pirate ship Jose Gasparilla.

- Doug Clifford

Places, please! Invasion coming

Revelers gather on the Platt Street bridge at Seddon Channel. [DOUGLAS CLIFFORD | Times]

People are lining up on foot and in boats for the first stage of Saturday’s Gasparilla Pirate Fest, the pirate invasion that’s scheduled to make landfall around 1 p.m. at the Tampa Convention Center.

The Parade of Pirates follows at 2 p.m., along Bayshore Boulevard starting at Bay to Bay Boulevard.

It’s a sunny 68 degrees and parade-goers dressed for weather warm and chilly, some in jeans and jackets, others in shorts and t-shirts.

The weather didn’t seem a priority for those who went to the trouble of dressing in pirate garb.

Boats motor for the best view of the pirate invasion headed toward the Tampa Convention Center. [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times]
It's a sunny 68 degrees as boats line up outside the Tampa Convention Center for the Gasparilla invasion and parade. [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times]

It’s not ALL about fun

Todd Silverman, 44, left, and Scott Parlett, 45, are injecting a little politics into the parade. [DIVYA KUMAR | Times]

A couple of friends say they see Gasparilla as a chance to open a conversation about more important matters.

And people bought them some beers in the process.

“The news misrepresents how divided we are as a country," said Scott Parlett, 45, a Tampa native.

He and Todd Silverman, 44, brought a Trump 2020 sign to the parade. Parlett is wearing trump socks, too.

When Parlett dons his Trump hat, he’s gotten some thumbs up — and beers.

“Some agree and some don’t with some things. But I think we all want what’s best for the country.”

- Divya Kumar

Gasparilla and the gospel

Evan Johnston and his sign are recognizable around Tampa events. [DIVYA KUMAR | Times]

Evan Johnston, who carries the message of the gospel to public events around the Tampa Bay area, is working his eighth Gasparilla parade.

Johnston said he isn’t an aggressive preacher, but some drunk people mistake him for one.

He acknowledges that many parade-goers don’t want to hear what he has to say, but for the most part, they ignore him.

On his boom box, he’s playing Kanye West’s album Jesus is King.

“The rhetoric now is so much hate and division. Gotta just get the gospel out there.”

- Divya Kumar

Buccaneers for Bernie

Beads and Bernie go together for volunteer campaign workers. [DIVYA KUMAR | Times]

One pirate fist-bumped them and told them they were doing God’s work.

Another yelled, “Trump 2020!”

Bernie Saunders campaign volunteers from Hillsborough and Polk counties were signing people up before they had even assembled their iconic head.

“We just wanted to give Bernie some visibility here,” said Kristin Hoffman, 41.

- Divya Kumar

‘Goonies never say die!’

Jarrod Camp and Kristen Samples outside the Tampa Convention Center. [DIVYA KUMAR | Times]

Jarrod Camp, 35, and Kristen Samples, 30, are here from Dallas.

Camp made his costume a few days ago, inspired by the 1985 kids adventure film Goonies.

It’s his first Gasparilla.

- Divya Kumar

Popular in South Florida?

Gia Cosbie is visiting from Fort Lauderdale. [DIVYA KUMAR | Times]

Gia Cosbie, 52, of Fort Lauderdale, is attending her first Gasparilla parade.

She said she’s surprised she hasn’t seen more people wearing her costume here; she’s seen them often at pirate-related events in South Florida.

There are pirate-related events in South Florida?

- Divya Kumar

Peddling conversation pieces

Jay Adams can equip any pirate wannabe from his cart along the parade route. [DIVYA KUMAR | Times]

Jay Adams, 25, is selling what he hopes will turn into living room conversation pieces one day as people swap Gasparilla 2020 stories.

His advice for today’s parade goers?

“Have fun. You only live once.”

- Divya Kumar

‘It’s good people watching’

Jennifer Sutton and John Stalzer on the Tampa Riverwalk. [DIVYA KUMAR | Times]

Jennifer Sutton, 47, and John Stalzer, 52, are here from Orlando for their second Gasparilla.

“It’s good people watching,” Stalzer said.

- Divya Kumar

Visitors, as well as pirates, invade Tampa

Christy Arnett, 41, got up at 4:30 a.m. to get her outfit together for the 2020 Gasparilla Parade of Pirates. Arnett came from St. Petersburg and arrived early to beat the traffic. [DENNIS JOYCE | Times]

One measure of the impact of today’s Gasparilla Parade of Pirates is the way visitors are filling up hotel rooms.

Last year, occupancy was around 80 percent the day before and the day after among lodgings measured, said Santiago Corrada, president and chief executive officer of the tourism agency Visit Tampa Bay.

Sponsors have estimated parade attendance at 200,000 in the past and deputies say as many as 1,500 boats join the pirate invasion this morning.

“The hotels over this weekend are usually exploding,” Corrada said. "There’s legacy and there’s history. If you have this many people staying in hotels, it’s a huge economic impact.”

Restaurant reservations are also higher after the parade, he said.

“It’s a busy, busy hospitality weekend.”

- Divya Kumar

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