March 27th, 2017

Photo Journal: Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival

Photo Journal: Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival

If your idea of a good time involves pirates, beads, booze, and a free three-and-a-half-hour parade along the water, Tampa's annual Gasparilla festival on the last Saturday of January is not to be missed. The celebration, which has a playful, Mardi Gras-type feel, is the third largest parade in the U.S. It generates more than $20 million for the city and has been going on for more than 100 years.

Photo Journal: Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival 1

The festival is named after a (likely mythical) pirate named José Gaspar who allegedly attacked Southwest Florida in the late 1700s and early 1800s. It begins with an afternoon "invasion," where a group called The Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla sails into downtown Tampa on a 165-foot (50.3-meter) ship called the Jose Gasparilla (pictured above, along with the Flatbed AWD Carry-on), surrounded by many smaller boats, and docks at the Tampa Convention Center. Then, the pirates demand that the mayor surrender the key to the city. After the mayor hands it over, the pirates celebrate with a float-filled parade.

Photo Journal: Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival 2

The parade takes place on Tampa's most scenic road, Bayshore Boulevard (pictured above on a quiet day), which is lined with expensive real estate, overlooks the beautiful Hillsborough Bay, and has a wide, 4.5-mile (7.2-kilometer) sidewalk that runs alongside it—paradise for any walker, runner, or biker once the parade is over. So when you're packing your Tarmac AWD Carry-on, don't forget your sneakers or your sunglasses (it is the Sunshine State, after all).

Photo Journal: Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival 3

It's common for people who live in South Tampa to throw backyard Gasparilla parties and then wander over to the parade route as colorful, plastic beads are tossed by those on floats to onlookers (pictured above). Be prepared for loud noises, as many people fire cannons on the floats. And you might even end up on local TV, since the parade is aired live by WFLA-TV.

Photo Journal: Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival 4

Photo Credit: Nicole Abbett

The event, which featured 100 food, beverage, and novelty vendors and 90 floats in 2017, tends to draw a few hundred thousand revelers. There are designated "wet zones" along the parade route that allow partiers to enjoy alcohol on the street. Often, DJs will set up shop, too, and blast upbeat music.

Photo Journal: Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival 5

Photo Credit: Nicole Abbett

Aaargh! You'll find a lot of meandering Jack Sparrow look-alikes during Gasparilla, as well as flags that proudly display a skull and crossbones. Pirate culture runs deep in Tampa. It's no wonder that the city's professional football team is called the Buccaneers.

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Once you've recovered from the Gasparilla festivities, don't forget to take your beads home with you—the ultimate pirate's booty—and show them off to your friends. They fit nicely in the inner zippered compartment of the green Tarmac AWD 30.

And if you and your swashbuckling friends or family members decide that the pirate's life is for you, come back to Tampa for a series of Gasparilla-inspired events, including the Gasparilla Children's Parade, the Gasparilla International Film Festival, the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, the Gasparilla Distance Classic series of road races, and the Gasparilla Music Festival. All of these events—known collectively as "Gasparilla Season"—usually take place between January and March, when Florida weather is hard to beat.

Have you been to Gasparilla in Tampa? What tips would you give to have the best time? Share your thoughts in the comments, below!

Photo Credit: Nicole Abbett for Main Image

Related Links (from Eagle Creek blog):

The Best Storm-Sighting Travel Destinations in America

Taking Children on a Sailboat: How to Stay Safe

5 Affordable Spring Break Destinations

by Jane Bianchi