Gasparilla Pirate Fest, Tampa, FL
Gaspirilla Pirate Festival
Welcome to the Gaspirilla Pirate Festival! For one day in January, the famed José Gaspar and his pirates invade the city of Tampa and parade along Bayshore for 3.8 miles, tossing beads and providing rowdy, spectacular entertainment for all! With 130 units, a tradition of 106 years continues in grand style.
The celebration begins with the invasion at the Convention Center. Gaspar and his crew sail into Hillsborough Bay on the world’s only fully rigged pirate ship. Dozens of smaller craft await the arrival to defend the city, tossing beads to the onlookers on the shore. The excitement mounts as we wait for the arrival of the ship Jose Gaspar, and the parade krewes. Cannons boom over and over as the city tries to defend itself, smoke fills the air, and the mayor eventually surrenders the city at 1:00. Then the pirates parade in triumph!
Scores of krewe floats, tossing mardi gras beads, along with marching bands, local dignitaries, military, and police units create a mardi gras type atmosphere. Everybody has a good time! The parade begins with police units, including a group of motorcyclists maneuvering in precision. Each krewe has its own float with costumed cast, tossing various types of beads, interacting with the crowds, and sometimes dancing. Pirates, Romans, Rough Riders, Dance Hall Queens, Fireman, and many others are to be seen promenading along Bayshore or on the floats. Later, they can be seen anywhere! The parade begins about 2:30 and finishes at the end of the almost 4 mile route about 5:00. We were drenched from the rain and high winds, but had a wonderful time anyway! We all came away with lots and lots of beads!
A carnival runs from 10:00 am until 10:00 pm, featuring rides, games, and food. Food is available at several locations along the parade route. Prices for hamburgers and sausage sandwiches are about $5. Hot dogs, fries, popcorn, pizza, and drinks are on sale, too.
Juan Gaspar was an actual pirate in the late 1700s and early 1800s! He was a Spanish aristocrat who once served in the Spanish Navy. Legend says that in his final battle, realizing defeat, he wrapped a chain around himself and leapt into the sea! The Gaspirilla Pirate Festival began in 1904 as part of the city’s first May Festival. The first krewe, “Ye Mystic Krewe of Gaspirilla, surprised the city by capturing it on horseback. The ship used today was built in 1954. The masts are 100 feet tall – truly impressive.
Parking in town is not advisable. Tickets are issued. The better alternative is to park in a lot, and take a trolley to the festivities. We parked in Ybor City, just a few miles away, and rode the trolley for a $5 all day ticket. Trolleys ran about every 10 minutes.
This is a unique festival in that it is the only pirate themed invasion festival in the country. It is free! It is family entertainment. Many people were camped along the parade route with coolers, blankets, and even strollers. Jesse, Greg, and MaryJo had an awesome time! We have a substantial bead collections and lots of great memories!