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The holidays may have ended for the rest of the country, but in Tampa, they’re just getting started. Gasparilla began as a one-day celebration (an official city holiday, no less) of Tampa’s dubious pirate history and has evolved into a season-long slate of parades, parties, races and festivals. To help you navigate the stormy seas, we’ve put together a guide to everything you need to know to partake in the Gasparilla festivities.
Gasparilla Children’s Parade
January 18 | 11 a.m. | Bayshore Boulevard
The Saturday before the main event, little swashbucklers get a day all to themselves. The Gasparilla Children’s Parade is a kid-friendly alternative to the Pirate Fest that keeps the floats, music and beads but avoids the debauchery found at the larger parade (the celebration is alcohol-free).
In recent years, parade organizers have begun adding extra events before and after the parade to extend the fun. The Tampa Police Department, FDOT and local nonprofit onbikes kick off the day with a bicycle safety training, with an obstacle course and free bike helmets for kids.
Then the extra-tiny tykes get to star in a parade of their own, rolling down Bayshore Boulevard in decked-out strollers, wagons and bikes, wearing their best pirate garb during the Preschooler’s Stroll.
Before and after the parade, the Para-Commandos of the U.S. Special Operations Jump Team will execute precision parachute jump right over Bayshore Boulevard. You should be able to catch this from anywhere along the Children’s Parade route.
The day wraps up with a preview of the following week’s festivities. Fireworks over Bayshore “recreate” the battle between Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla and the city of Tampa for the keys to the kingdom (spoiler alert: the pirates win).
Bicycle & Pedestrian Safety Rodeo
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Corner of Bayshore Boulevard and South Rome Avenue
Gasparilla Air Invasion and SOCOM Day Jump
Gasparilla Preschooler’s Stroll
Begins at Bayshore Boulevard and South Howard Avenue
Gasparilla Children’s Parade
3:30 to 6 p.m.
Begins at Bayshore Boulevard and West Bay to Bay Boulevard
Gasparilla Air Invasion and SOCOM Night Jump
ROUTE & VIEWING
Though it takes a similar route, the Children’s Parade is significantly shorter than the main parade. The more than 100 floats, krewes, bands and dance groups in the Children’s Parade begins at Bayshore and Bay to Bay and end at Bayshore and Edison, about 1.7 miles down the road.
Like at the larger parade, reserved seating is available in bleachers and chairs along the waterfront side of Bayshore. Tickets run from $52-$135, with some options including catered lunch. There will also be plenty of viewing on both sides of Bayshore along the route. If you want to be on the water side, plan to get there early; because of the limited space between the road and the water, that area fills up quickly. Also, there is no water side viewing between Bay to Bay and Howard.
For the evening fireworks, event organizers suggest finding a spot near Bayshore and Howard, where the speakers carrying the show’s music will be located.
A continuous shuttle will run between the Selmon Expressway ramp at Bay to Bay and Bayshore and the Fort Brooke and Whiting Street parking garages downtown (on Whiting and Franklin). The shuttle costs $10 per adult, and accompanying children ride free. For parade-goers coming from the Channel District or Ybor City, the TECO Line Streetcar has a station right next to the garage. Best of all, the trolley is now free all day, every day. The free Downtowner should also be running around downtown and Tampa Heights to get you to and from the parade shuttle. If you plan to find parking in South Tampa, stay tuned for road closure information closer to the event. As always, there will be no parking in the Hyde Park neighborhoods immediately surrounding the parade route.
To save a bit of walking, there will also be a free Jolly Roger Trolley dropping off and picking up at the intersections of Platt Street and Bayshore and Rome Avenue and Bayshore. That trolley will run from noon to 4 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
WHAT TO KNOW
You must pre-register your child to participate in the Preschooler’s Stroll by January 5. Find that application here.
Small, soft-sided coolers — like typical reusable lunch bags — with food and drinks are allowed along the parade route.
Be aware if you have little ones with sensitive ears or who are easily spooked; many of the parade floats have realistic sounding cannons that will be fired off periodically. Consider earplugs or earmuffs, or skipping the parade portion of the day.
Parade marchers tend to be very generous with beads at the Children’s Parade, and they can get fairly heavy around little necks. Plan to bring a small bag to store some of the loot your kids pick up during the day.
Gasparilla Pirate Fest
January 25 | 9 a.m. | Bayshore Boulevard, Tampa Convention Center, Downtown Tampa
The main event of the Gasparilla season happens the last Saturday in January, when 300,000 or so revelers turn up on Bayshore Boulevard and the south end of downtown to pay homage to the city’s patron saint of troublemaking, José Gaspar. Since the first celebration in 1904, Gasparilla has become one of the country’s largest parades, behind only household names like the Rose Parade and New Orleans’ Mardi Gras (from which Gasparilla has drawn not-so-subtle inspiration).
Pirates first make their way into the city during the Gasparilla Invasion, when a flotilla of hundreds of small boats lead the way for the José Gasparilla ship along the Hillsborough Bay; between Davis Islands and Harbour Island; and up to the Tampa Convention Center. There, Mayor Jane Castor will surrender the key to the city to Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla so the real fun can begin.
The pirates celebrate their victory during the Parade of Pirates down Bayshore Boulevard and downtown’s Ashley Drive, ending at Curtis Hixon Park. According to parade organizers, the 2019 event will include 103 floats, three marching bands and more than 50 krewes. WWE world champion and Marvel star Dave Bautista will serve as the grand marshal of this year’s parade.
Stages in Curtis Hixon Park and MacDill Park will feature live music before and after the parade. Click here for updated details.
9 a.m. | Location and details TBA
Gasparilla Invasion Brunch
9:30 a.m. | Tampa Convention Center | Prices vary, tickets available for purchase at gasparillatreasures.com
11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. (docking of the José Gaspar) | Tampa Convention Center area
Gasparilla Parade of Pirates
2 p.m. | Bayshore Boulevard to Curtis Hixon Park
ROUTE & VIEWING
The Parade of Pirates route is 4.5 miles long, beginning at Bayshore and Bay to Bay, heading north on Bayshore to the Brorein Street bridge (near Publix), hanging a left at Ashley Drive and continuing down to Curtis Hixon Park.
Viewing areas along the downtown portion of the parade route tend to be less crowded than those along Bayshore. They’re also easier to access for parade-goers coming from the urban core. However, you can guarantee a premium water side spot on Bayshore by paying in advance for reserved bleacher or chair seating ($62-$135 at gasparillatreasures.com; some tickets include food and non-alcoholic drinks). Open parade viewing along Bayshore will be available on the land side between Bay to Bay and Howard; and Rome to Plant. Open water side viewing will only be available between Howard and Rome.
In the morning, invasion viewing is available along the Tampa Riverwalk near the Tampa Convention Center and the western side of Harbour Island, including the Harbour Island bridge. The convention center also hosts an invasion brunch, which includes premium seating ($120-$155 on gasparillatreasures.com; some tickets include reserved parade seating).
Over the past few years, Gasparilla has stayed on the safe side, thanks in part to a massive law enforcement presence on and around the parade route. In 2018, the Tampa Police Department reported just one felony arrest and 19 misdemeanors (mostly for underage drinking) at Gasparilla.
Gasparilla can get tricky when it comes to parking. Many of the roads around Bayshore, Hyde Park and Downtown Tampa are closed beginning late Friday or early Saturday with strictly enforced parking bans. Even getting an Uber or Lyft can be tough at certain times of the day near the parade route.
Like with the Children’s Parade, your best parking bets are at downtown’s Fort Brooke or Whiting parking garages (around Franklin and Whiting streets). Alternatively, park at one of Ybor City’s public garages and take the free TECO Line Streetcar into downtown.
The Tampa Convention Center garage will also be available but fills up quickly in the morning. Poe Garage near Curtis Hixon Park and the Straz Center is an option, but you must get there early; it closes for a large portion of the day due to its proximity to the parade route.
If you live in the immediate downtown or Channel District areas, plan to take the trolley (which is now free!) or walk to your destination. Many of the major downtown roads will be closed or packed, and the Downtowner has historically not run or ended service early in the day on Gasparilla. In good news, there are no other major events happening in Downtown Tampa that day, meaning post-parade traffic will be a bit lighter than in recent years.
WHAT TO KNOW
Boat owners can participate in the invasion flotilla, but you must apply with the Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. Also, while you can boat to the parade route, dock space is very limited around downtown.
Food and drinks (both alcoholic and not) will be available along the parade route, as will restrooms. Portable restrooms will be stationed in various areas along the parade routes. Accessible “real” bathrooms can be few and far between on Gasparilla; try Publix, public restrooms near the Sail and at Curtis Hixon Park, and in the public areas of the downtown hotels.
Speaking of hotels, they can be a great place to grab food and drinks away from the masses. Many of the downtown hotels along the Riverwalk also have the special to-go cup that allows you to bring your beer, wine or cocktail out with you.
Make sure to have cash on hand. Most parade vendors don’t accept credit and debit cards.
Pets are not allowed on the Gasparilla parade route.
Gasparilla is one of the biggest days of the year for downtown businesses. Check the social media channels of your favorite hangouts to see if they’ll have any kind of specials or events on parade day.
Krewe of the Knights of Sant ‘Yago Illuminated Knight Parade
February 8 | 7 p.m. | 7th Avenue, Ybor City
The Gasparilla Knight Parade is a smaller, nighttime version of the Parade of Pirates, complete with floats, krewes and bands. It’s the easiest of all three parades to access, as the route requires only a few road closures in Ybor City. This year’s grand marshal will be WWE Superstar Titus O’Neil.
ROUTE & VIEWING
The Knight Parade steps off at 7 p.m. at 7th Avenue and Nuccio Parkway, traveling straight down 7th to 22nd Avenue. Viewing is available on both sides of 7th Avenue between Nuccio and 22nd. The Krewe of Sant ‘Yago also sells reserved bleacher seating on their website (knightparade.com); prices and locations have yet to be announced.
Both the Palm Avenue and Centro Ybor garages will be open for parade parking. Alternatively, park at the Channelside garage and take the free TECO Line Streetcar into Ybor City. Note that the trolley will not run during the parade, as its route crosses 7th Avenue.
THINGS TO KNOW:
- Food and drinks will be available on the parade route, as well as from the nearby restaurants and bars on 7th and 8th avenues. You can also bring your own small cooler, but no alcohol.
- The Knight Parade is child-friendly and is a good event for kids who may be a little too grown up for the Children’s Parade but not quite ready for the main parade.
Gasparilla 2019 Distance Classic
February 22-23 | Times vary | Start locations vary
This two-day series of races is one of Tampa Bay’s largest running events, attracting more than 30,000 participants in 2018. The runs benefit the Gasparilla Distance Classic Association, which has donated more than $5 million to youth and running organizations since its founding in 1978. Each of the 2020 races have registration caps, so be sure to register sooner rather than later at rungasparilla.com, by mail (select events only) or at Dick’s Sporting Goods (January 11, 12, 18 and 19).
Click here for the full list and schedule of races.
PARKING & ROAD CLOSURES
Race participants and spectators are encouraged to park at the Tampa Convention Center or at another public garage or lot downtown. Depending on the time of day, downtown and Ybor City residents can also take the TECO Line Streetcar and hop off at the Whiting Street station, about a block from the starting point of most races.
Even if you’re not running, take note of race-related road closures. Many streets out of the southern edge of downtown (including Brorein, Bayshore and Cleveland) will close on race days.
Gasparilla Outbound Voyage
February 29 | Sparkman Wharf
Say goodbye to the pirates as Mayor Jane Castor takes back the keys to the city. The festivities will include live music and a final cannon salute.
GASPARILLA FUN FACTS:
-Jose Gaspar was most likely not a real person. Legend has it that Gaspar (nickname: Gasparilla) was an admiral in the Spanish navy before turning pirate and setting his sights on Florida. After deciding to retire to the state’s west coast — around the current Tampa Bay area — he fought one last battle against a U.S. military ship off the coast of southwestern Florida. Rather than going down with the ship, Gaspar wrapped the chain of his ship’s anchor around his waist and sunk himself. The rest, as they say, is history (sort of).
-The first Gasparilla was held in 1904, beginning as a prank by local businessmen during the city’s May Day celebration.
-Gasparilla has been held for more than 100 years, except during World War I and World War II, as well as 1907 to 1909. Historically, Gasparilla had always been held concurrently with another, pre-planned city celebration. No such celebration happened those three years, so there was no Gasparilla.
-Between 1947 and 1988, Gasparilla was held on Mondays and was an official Tampa holiday. Schools, government offices and some businesses were closed so residents could enjoy the festivities.
-The Jose Gasparilla II was commissioned by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla in 1954 and is the only fully rigged pirate ship constructed in modern times in the world. The original Jose Gasparilla ran from 1937 to 1952.
-The beer and wine gardens along the parade route are actually for a good cause. Charities are chosen to run the stands each year and keep 100 percent of the net proceeds from alcohol sales.