One of the great things about traveling is being able to attend local festivals and events. Some people even plan trips around these events. These events are a great way to learn about the culture and history of a city.
I lived in Tampa, Florida for 11 years and one of my favorite things about living there was the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. It’s definitely something I would recommend traveling to Tampa to check out. Wondering what Gasparilla is, well just imagine something similar to Mardi Gras but with Pirates. Who doesn’t love anything that includes Pirates?
The Caribbean has always been known as a place with a history of pirates and due to it’s close proximity to the Caribbean, it’s not surprising that Florida has it’s own pirate history.
Gasparilla is named after Jose Gaspar. Jose Gaspar was famous in Florida folklore for being a Spanish pirate based in Southwest Florida during the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Although there is no true evidence that Jose Gaspar actually existed, his legend lives on in Florida.
The Gasparilla Pirate Festival includes many events that begin in mid January and end in early March. The festival includes such events as:
- Gasparilla Festival of Arts
- Gasparilla Film Festival
- Gasparilla Distance Classic
- Gasparilla Music Festival
- Sant’Yago Illuminated Knight Parade
- Gasparilla Children’s Parade
But it’s the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates that is the main event!
The first parade was in 1904 as part of the city’s May Day celebrations. There has been a parade almost every year since then. The date of the parade was anywhere from February to May until after World War I when it moved to mid February. After World War II it was moved to the second Monday in February and was considered an official holiday in the city of Tampa. In 1988 the parade was moved to the first Saturday in February so that those without the holiday off were able to attend. Since 2005, it’s been held the last Saturday in January.
Just like Mardi Gras, the Gasparilla Parade is organized by krewes. The main one organizing the Gasparilla Parade is Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.
A few days prior to the parade, members from Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla go downtown and kidnap the Mayor of Tampa, demanding the city surrender to them. As part of the act, the mayor refuses and the Krewe says they will return on Saturday to steal the key to the city thru a Pirate Invasion.
Sailing on the Jose Gasparilla among a flotilla of hundreds of smaller boats, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla sails into Downtown Tampa. It’s quite the sight to see all of the boats sailing into the city. When they reach downtown they disembark and demand the mayor hand over the key to the city. The outcome of this act to take over the city has had different outcomes over the years, but regardless if the mayor hands over the key or not, the krewe celebrates with a victory parade along Bayshore Boulevard into Downtown Tampa.
Side note: If you are not familiar with Bayshore Boulevard, it’s a waterfront road thru South Tampa into Downtown Tampa. It’s lined with beautiful homes and includes a 4.5 mile long sidewalk that is popular with walkers and runners.
In my opinion, it’s the most beautiful area of Tampa. In the 11 years that I lived in Tampa, I spent countless hours running, walking and rollerblading along this sidewalk.
It’s definitely a must see if you visit Tampa Florida.
Of course during the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates, the sidewalk does not look as peaceful and quiet as the above photo.
The parade has over 50 krewes that participate. They can be seen marching in the parade and on pirate themed floats. Just like Mardi Gras, the krewes throw beads out into the crowd and boy does the crowd go crazy trying to catch as many beads as they can. Along with the krewes, there are numerous floats, ranging from local sports teams to local businesses. And just like most parades there are multiple marching bands in the parade as well.
Things can get slightly crazy at the parade, from people enjoying a few too many drinks before, during and after the parade to girls lifting their shirts to get beads. It definitely isn’t exactly the perfect family event. Luckily though, one week before the main parade, there is the children’s parade so families can enjoy the parade in a more G-rated experience.
Have you ever attended Gasparilla? It’s definitely my all time favorite thing about Tampa. I can’t even tell you how many beads I accumulated over the years of going to the parade. It was actually fairly sad to have to part ways with them when I moved back to Boston. Seems strange as they are so cheap, but they do hold so many memories over the years. I won’t lie that I did keep a few of the more unique ones I ended up with.
Like everything nowadays, the parade has been cancelled in 2021 for safety reasons due to the ongoing pandemic. Hopefully things will be back to normal and the parade will be able to take place as usual in January of 2022.