First Gasparilla? A newbie primer for Tampa’s pirate parade
A few do’s and don’ts for costumes, beads and heavy drinking.
The Jose Gasparilla pirate ship, carrying members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, arrives at the Tampa Convention Center during the 103rd Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of the Pirates on Jan. 25, 2020, in Tampa.
The Jose Gasparilla pirate ship, carrying members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, arrives at the Tampa Convention Center during the 103rd Gasparilla Invasion and Parade of the Pirates on Jan. 25, 2020, in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TImes ]
Published Jan. 26, 2022

With Tampa Bay’s hot real estate market and growing population, we have new folks in town. Welcome to class, it’s about to get real weird!

You see, in addition to being known for Cuban sandwiches, highway expansions and Dave Bautista’s beefs with permitting, Tampa is known for Saturday’s Gasparilla Pirate Festival. Gasparilla is a party named for a fictional — THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ARGUE THAT JOSE GASPAR WAS REAL, MOVE ALONG — pirate. The event, hosted by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, is well over 100 years old. It kicks off with a flotilla invasion wherein pirates kidnap the mayor. This is a sanctioned kidnapping, do not fret! Then, there’s an enormous parade.

Now, let’s say you care that there is still a pandemic. In that case, you will likely avoid this fête of 300,000 people with zero virus precautions but tons of alleged personal responsibility. But if you moved to Florida during said health crisis, odds are you were seeking further dissociation from reality, in which case, this is the event for you.

Stop pretending to know why a grown man just walked into the Citgo looking like Sir Francis Drake. Read this simple primer and you’ll be on your way to celebrating Tampa’s strangest party like an old pro.

Related: A complete guide to Gasparilla 2022

Do dress like a high-ranking pirate.

At Gasparilla, nearly everyone is a captain or first mate. At worst, quartermaster. Raggedy deckhands are nowhere to be seen. Krewe members prefer full frock coats, copious gold buttons, red velvet, fine stockings and plumage bursting from tricorn hats. The vibe is “not paying the boatswain a fair wage.” The vibe is “plundered a great length of damask.” The vibe is “swift with a pistol, sloe with a gin fizz.”

The feminine interpretation is boned corsets and pointy-toe Nine West boots from 2006.

Related: At Tampa’s Pirate Fashions, buccaneers find their Gasparilla style

Don’t urinate in anyone’s yard.

Unless they have specifically said, “This is the Gasparilla urination corner,” in which case, as you were.

Do hydrate.

The primary activity at Gasparilla is consuming mass quantities of alcohol starting at 8 a.m. The parade route is a wet zone, and nothing regrettable has ever happened in such a situation in the history of the world. One water per drink! One water per drink!

Don’t expect to park easily.

Unless there’s a way to be shot from a ship’s cannon directly to the parade route, be prepared to pay some guy with a fanny pack and walk. You can reserve downtown parking in advance. Or, you can know someone with a house nearby. Which leads to the next tip.

Do quickly make friends with someone wealthy.

The best way to enjoy Gasparilla is from the yards of glamorous Bayshore Boulevard. It’s hard to get an invite to party at these multimillion-dollar homes. Now would be a good time to start lingering around a Georgian colonial and making small talk about your exchange-traded funds. The same applies to anyone with a boat.

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Don’t throw your beads away.

While celebrating Gasparilla, you will leave your body and hover above the scene. You’ll see someone who looks like you, but in the shape of a ravenous dog who craves only the sustaining power of colorful plastic beads. You will require the beads — more, more, MORE — but you won’t know why. Do not despair, for the hex departs with the day’s sun.

Whatever you do, don’t throw the beads in the water or the landfill. Turn them in at locations throughout the city, where they will be cleaned for next year’s ritual. By then, you will have completed your full transition into someone named Dread Captain Bartholomew Silky Bottom. Welcome to Tampa.

Related: Read more columns from Stephanie Hayes

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