All In: A Gasparilla 2016 guide and insider tips

Thousands of Gasparilla revelers pack Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa to watch the parade that stretches from t Bay to Bay Boulevard to Cass Street in downtown Tampa. [OCTAVIO JONES, Times]
Thousands of Gasparilla revelers pack Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa to watch the parade that stretches from t Bay to Bay Boulevard to Cass Street in downtown Tampa. [OCTAVIO JONES, Times]
Published Jan. 29, 2016

More than 200,000 carousers are expected to gather for the pirate invasion of Tampa that is Gasparilla 2016. It takes a special breed of swashbuckler to wade into that sea of humanity and say, "Blimey! I have a fierce fire in me belly to go."

All the fuss centers around the legend of Jose Gaspar (nicknamed Gasparilla), a mythical Spanish pirate captain who supposedly operated in southwest Florida. The festival was founded in 1904 by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla — the prominent bunch of Tampa citizens who were the first to dress up as pirates to "invade" the city.

Man your battle stations, mateys. We have your guide and insider tips to survive the invasion and come out on top of the other scurvy dogs on the streets of Tampa battling for beads, bathrooms and ballast to keep your party ship on the right course.

The day before Saturday's invasion, catch a concert in Curtis Hixon Park with country duo the Swon Brothers, finalists in 2014's The Voice.

On Saturday, events start at 10 a.m. with live music on stages at Curtis Hixon Park and at MacDill Park for the Pirate Fest, which runs until 6 p.m. The flotilla shows up at the Tampa Convention Center between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. and the parade of pirates along Bayshore Boulevard marches from 2 to 5 p.m. from Bay to Bay Boulevard north into downtown Tampa, ending at Ashley Drive.

The grand marshal is wounded Army veteran Romula "Romy" Camargo, a Specials Forces soldier who opened a nonprofit center for veterans with spinal cord injuries called StayInStep. This parade brings more than 140 units, including colorful floats, marching bands and pirate krewes at Bay to Bay Boulevard. It follows Bayshore Boulevard to Brorein Street, turns east on Brorein, then north on Ashley Drive and ends at Cass Street.

Some tips for getting your share of the beads and doubloons tossed by some 50 krewes of all stripes:

• Don't grab at the krewe members or throw things their way. That's the surest way to get nothing.

• Kids win every time, so put the cuties out front.

• If it's really beads you seek, pick a spot at the start of the parade instead of downtown. By the time the floats turn onto Ashley Street, supplies are dwindling.

Find your crowd:

• Families congregate at the start of the parade.

• Rowdy high school students are notorious for flooding Willow Avenue

• The college students typically hang out at the Davis Islands bridge.

• After parties start about 6:30 p.m. at clubs in Channelside and Ybor City.

It's a free event, but you can pay $45-$125 to reserve a bleacher or chair spot to drop anchor at

Streets around the parade route begin closing Friday night. The city of Tampa's website has links to maps showing the road closure schedule for downtown Tampa, the Gasparilla parade route, parking options and shuttle bus schedules. Check

Extra streetcar, bus and trolley service will be offered. See

Boats are allowed in the area around the parade and invasion, but those that get too close to the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship or move erratically could get stopped for a boating under the influence check.

Saucy lads and lasses will show off tattoos, tri-corner hats, fishnet stockings and puffy shirts. But there are still a few practical considerations.

Clothing basics: Boots made for walking are a must. You will likely hike a few miles by the end of the day, so go for comfort and be mindful that in crowds your toes may get stepped on. Stripes, pops of red, skull accessories and big hoop earrings help you fit in.

Must-haves: Sunscreen, hand sanitizer (for the outdoor privy), backpacks or cross-over bags stocked with water, snacks and sunglasses. Stock cash in your treasure chest if you don't want to pay high ATM fees. Veteran paradegoers glug sports drinks full of electrolytes the night before because they know dehydration is a real danger.

There will be multiple DUI checkpoints and police boats ready for arrests. And in the wake of terrorist attacks, police are on high alert, but officials say security preparations for this year's parade will mirror those of past years.

The police are toughest on open container violations, so keep your drinking to the clearly designated wet zone, which is the parade route only. No drinking in the neighborhoods or while you are on the way to the parade.

No drones. This is a new one, but the Federal Aviation Administration safety guidelines prohibit the use of drones above large gatherings of people, such as at Gasparilla.

There will also be surveillance cameras to monitor paradegoers and bomb-sniffing dogs to prepare the route. But the typical troubles are the problems that drunken revelry bring.

Gasparilla Pre-Invasion Celebration: Country duo the Swon Brothers, the 2014 winners of NBC's The Voice, headline a concert at 5 p.m. Friday along with special guest Howie Day and openers, The Hip Abduction. $20 at Curtis Hixon Park, 600 N Ashley Drive, Tampa. (813) 251-8844.

Gasparilla Invasion Brunch: One of the prime viewing spots to see the Gasparilla invasion unfold. Tickets are $75-$95 for the buffet or $105-$125 for a breakfast buffet/parade combo at at Starting at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St., Tampa. (813) 251-8844.

Gasparilla Invasion Brunch Cruise: Sail alongside the Jose Gasparilla on the Yacht Starship from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday for a great view of the invasion with an open bar, DJ music and a buffet meal featuring breakfast, lunch and side items. $149.95, $89.95 children. Yacht StarShip, 603 Channelside Drive, Tampa. (813) 223-7999.

Gasparilla Invasion Party: The entire waterfront deck outside Jackson's Bistro turns into a party zone with DJ music, portable bars, beer tubs, food vendors, numerous bathrooms and private cabanas available. The party starts at 10 a.m. at 601 S Harbour Island Blvd., Tampa. No cover until 5 p.m., $10 after 5 p.m. VIP cabanas and tables for $500-$1,200 can be reserved at (813) 549-8886.

Official Gasparilla After Party With Captain Morgan: Ferg's Live in Channelside will have a free party with $5 cocktails after the parade of pirates. Captain Morgan will be there for a signature Gasparilla toast starting at 6:30 p.m. Free at Ferg's Live, 490 Channelside Drive, Tampa.

Times staff writer Amy Scherzer contributed to this report. Sharon Kennedy Wynne can be reached at Follow @SharonKWn on Twitter.