Aarrgh! Pirates are about to conquer Tampa. Hoist anchor on your land yacht. Fun is on the horizon, and it’s only about a 2-hour drive from Cypress Trail RV Resort.
Official Gasparilla Pirate Fest events begin each January and extend into March.
Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, which sanctions the series of events, was formed more than 100 years ago to promote economic vitality in Tampa and nearby communities. It’s worked. Hundreds of thousands of people gather in Tampa yearly to attend some of the biggest attractions of their type in the country. The organization and related agencies help charities throughout southwest Florida.
The group’s name invokes the legend of 18th and early 19th century Spanish pirate Jose Gaspar, known as Gasparilla and considered the last of the buccaneers. From his base in western Florida, the pirate and his crews plundered shipping along the Spanish Main in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. He is said to have secreted a treasure in Gulf Coast Florida that has never been found.
Here are some highlights of Gasparilla season:
If you like your pirates pint-sized, or if you’re taking your children or grandkids, this is the parade for you. The alcohol-free celebration is billed as the largest children’s parade in the U.S. Thousands of kids are pushed in strollers before the children’s parade, where thousands more march. Participants add a Mardi Gras touch by tossing beads to the hordes who watch and cheer. Participants include those sponsored by businesses, community organizations, neighborhood groups, schools and dance academies. And, of course, there are plenty of marching bands. Other events include a jazzfest brunch and VIP events.
Re-creating Gaspar’s conquest of old Tampa, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla “invades” each January aboard its tall ship. The ship Jose Gasparilla looks like a wooden 18th century sailing vessel but in fact is a modern steel-hulled, custom-made craft. Invasion by 750 pirates is at 11 a.m.—not, coincidentally, when the sun hits the yardarm. On the high seas, that meant the first rum of the day. The marauders, as they do annually, capture the key to the city.
The Pirate Fest Parade makes the children’s version look like—well, child’s play. It’s bigger—the third-biggest parade in America—longer, and a whole lot rowdier, with lots a beads for attendees. The parade features more than 100 floats, about 50 organizations, and marching bands. It travels 4.5 miles into downtown Tampa.
This February event through Ybor City, a historically Cuban section of Tampa, is festively lighted. The parade is free if you stand in one of the many free viewing areas or watch from your on lawn chair. Floats are illuminated after sundown. It’s quite a sight. There are pirates on parade, beads flung out to attendees, floats, bands and community organizations marching. Ybor City has many Latino eateries and cafes. Details online.
Only in Tampa would the entire city party when pirates arrive, and party again when they leave. It’s your last chance to see the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship as it sails from a dock outside the Tampa Convention Center. The afternoon features free live music, festivities and food. The pirates return the key to the city before boarding their ship, heading out to sea and firing their cannons in salute as they sail off. The party rolls on into the evening. Details online.
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons