Gasparilla Tampa (Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest) is one of the largest pirate parades in the United States.The Gasparilla Parade of Pirates is known as the third-largest parade in the nation. And it’s more than just a parade. It’s now a festival with several events leading up to the Parade of Pirates’ main event. An average of 300,000 people attend this event every year, and many people attend it every year.
Image Credit: Hillsborough County Florida
We have only attended once, and I have to say it’s a fantastic event with tons to see and do. The city of Tampa, Florida, does an exceptional job ensuring that this event is coordinated, well-policed, and civil.
Even if pirates are not your thing – if you enjoy dressing up, enjoy festivals of any kind, or parades, then Gasparilla Tampa should be high on your bucket list. If you are into pirates, this event will be the repatriation of sorts for you!
2024 Gasparilla Dates
Saturday, January 27, 2024
11:30 A.M. – 1:00 P.M.
2024 Childrens Gasparilla Dates
Saturday, January 20, 2024
History Of Gasparilla Tampa
The festival is born out of Florida folklore and the mythical pirate Jose Gasparilla II (also known as Gasparilla). Legend states that Jose Gasparilla II and his band of pirates terrorized Western Florida coasts during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Here’s How The Story Goes:
Poised to distribute their richness amongst themselves and resort to living a luxurious life, they decided to rob one last ship before handing in their pink slip. Surprisingly, it was a US navy ship in disguise. This led to a bloody battle in which a full stop was put on the long terrorizing career of Jose Gasparilla II.
Jose Gasparilla II’s legend became folklore for the Tampa area residents, mainly due to a 1900 advertising brochure for the Boca Grande Hotel on Gasparilla Island. The brochure gave new blood to the folklore, and Gasparilla, the event, was born in 1904.
Note: As cool as this story is, there is no evidence that Jose Gasparilla II “Gasparilla” actually existed or that there were any real battles.
What Is The Gasparilla Parade of Pirates?
It is a friendly mock invasion by mythical pirate Jose Gasparilla II and his band of pirates, played by members of YMKG (Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla). On D-day, the members of YMKG, accompanied by hundreds of private boats, sail from Tampa Bay to downtown Tampa on a long flat-bottomed, specially-built boat. The pirate boat moors beside the Gasparilla Tampa Convention Center around noon.
After a cannon fire extravaganza, the pirate captain and his band of pirate crew disembark from the boat and demand Tampa’s mayor hand over the key to the city in a joyful ceremony. The pirates then hold a victory parade irrespective of whether the mayor has handed over the key or not.
Location Of Gasparilla
The city of Tampa is situated on the gulf of mexico on the west coast of Florida. The sail stars aat Hillsborough Bay sails north to Seddon Channel (between Davis Islands and Harbour Island) and surrounding waters, continues north and docks at the Tampa Convention Center. The rest of the events take place downtown on streets of tampa.
Map Of Gasparilla Tampa
Image Credit: Gasparilla Tampa -Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest
Schedule Of Events
- Gasparilla Invasion Brunch – 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
- Gasparilla invasion – 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 pm
- Gasparilla Parade of Pirates – 2:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
- Gasparilla Pirate Fest Stage Performances – 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
The Victory Parade
During the victory parade, the members of YMKG throw coins, beads, and several other souvenirs to the crowd. Before the 1990s, beads weren’t thrown at Gasparilla Tampa. Instead, YMKG members would fire handguns and six-shooters loaded with blanks into the sky and then throw the empty shells to the crowd.
This tradition was restricted in 1992 and ended entirely, replaced by throwing beads. Many local businesses build elaborate floats and throw trinkets, especially beads, to the crowd. Universities and high schools provide majorettes, marching bands, and drill teams.
What To Expect at Gasparilla Tampa
Let’s start with the obvious thing about all festivals. There are thousands of people – thousands! Long lines for food and drinks, no parking, porta-potties, and lots of drinking. The event is not designed as a drinking festival, but that’s exactly what people do.
The night before the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates, the crowds are in full swing, and many overdo it long before the main event. On the morning of, some people outdo themselves long before the actual events start. We had a chuckle at some folks brought back to the hotel around noon, almost unconscious and carried in. Hey, it’s a festival – no judgment!
Then there are the costumes – pirates, here we come. And who knew that there are so many different genres of pirate outfits? People go all out, and I mean all out. No detail is missed. I saw people in victorian pirate outfits, steampunk pirate outfits, goths, traditional ones, and some clearly Halloween-style ones. Even the pooches show up in pirate attire!
You should expect to be entertained pirate-style and have a blast. You will also see pirate ships galore! Enjoy this festival with like-minded people, dress up, and have a drink or twenty. You’ll get to watch a parade of pirate boats, a simulated pirate battle, and the most over-the-top parades the south has to offer.
Events of Gasparilla Tampa
Over the years, Gasparilla has become more than just a one-day parade. Tampa now promotes the events as “Gasparilla Season.” The main events of Gasparilla Tampa are listed below, and tons of other traditions and non-official events take place.
Gasparilla Parade of Pirates
Gasparilla’s focal point is the mock cannon fire extravaganza invasion of Jose Gasparilla II, played by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla (YMKG).
The Victory Parade
This is the parade that follows the mock cannon fire extravaganza invasion. Pirate ship floats are the theme. Some consider this the best thing about the event, others rave about the cannon fire extravaganza and the actual sail but it’s all great fun.
Gasparilla Children’s Parade (Children’s Gasparilla Extravaganza)
Typically held on the Saturday before the main parade and considered family-friendly and alcohol-free. The kid’s version is similar to the adults in that there are a parade and floats but no gun battle at sea.
Sant’Yago Knight Parade
Better known as the Gasparilla Night Parade, this event occurs two Saturdays after The Parade of Pirates. The same concept applies. There’s a parade, but the floats are illuminated because it’s an evening event.
Where to Stay During Gasparilla Tampa
While you can attend any events and not spend the night, it’s not advisable unless you plan to stay sober. And, before you consider a day out, make sure you plan out parking.
There are three central hotels at the Tampa Convention Center where you can watch the Parade of Pirates from your room or the hotel’s public areas:
- Embassy Suites by Hilton Tampa Downtown Convention Center
- Tampa Marriott Water Street
- The Westin Tampa Waterside
We stayed at the Embassy Suites for Gasparilla because we are saving and collecting points for The Maldives. However, I wish we had chosen the Marriot. I’ve stayed at the Marriot, and it’s much fancier than the Embassy Suites. Also, the Marriot has Romeo and Juliet balconies. At the Embassy suites, the windows don’t even open.
If you want to view the Victory Parade, you will want to choose Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel.
Now for the tricky part. Be prepared to splurge! We paid $307 per night this year.
I just checked the rates for the three hotels above, and you are looking at $480 – $700 per night. Why?
Here’s why. If all goes according to plan and nothing changes, The Superball is happening in Tampa the following weekend. Most of the rooms have been booked for The Superbowl. And, unless it gets canceled, these rates will not drop.
What to Wear At Gasparilla Tampa
My favorite part of the event was the attire! I am never one to shy away from dressing up, and I am a massive fan of Halloween; this is right up my alley. And I love that you can shop for any genre or style. You are anything but limited to traditional costumes. The choices are endless.
Here is what we wore:
Side note: Danny took his outfit off early on because he was too hot!
Before we move on to the men’s attire, let me tell you about my red boots! You will either love them or hate them. I have had mixed reviews, but I adore them! They are handmade by a company called Mordenmiss. A company I own tons of items from. Ninety percent of the time, what you see me in is from Mordenmiss.
These red boots are the comfiest boots ever! Your feet can breathe in them, and it’s like walking on air. Perfect for an event when you will be on your feet all day. So, not only did they match my outfit, they are now a staple part of my wardrobe. So much so that I ordered a pair in black with a red rose. And, at under $50, they are a steal.
Or, if you don’t want to dress like a pirate check out The Latest Celebrity Outfits!
FAQs About Gasparilla Tampa
Is Gasparilla Family-Friendly?
I will tell you no, but we saw many kids with their parents. It boils down to what you are willing to let them see based on age. I would not take my twelve-year-old nephew, but that’s me. Why? Outside the drunkenness, there’s plenty of T&A, vomit, and an unmistakable smell of sensimilla.
Fortunately, a children’s Gasparilla Fest is a ‘family-friendly’ event. Unlike other Parades of Pirates, alcoholic beverages are not allowed along the parade route.
How Long Does Gasparilla Last?
The Parade of Pirates is a day event leading up to and after the event.
Do You Need Tickets For Gasparilla Tampa?
All of the parades at Gasparilla are free.
What Does Gasparilla Mean?
Gasparilla is the name of an island in Florida. However, here are some other meanings and events that use Gasparilla in the title of their events.
1. Jose Gasparilla II, also known as Gasparilla, was a mythical Spanish pirate.
2. The Gasparilla Bowl is a college football bowl game played in Tampa, Florida.
3. Florida’s Gasparilla Island, an island near the mouth of Charlotte Harbor in southwest Florida.
4. Gasparilla Pirate Festival, a large annual parade, and other events held in Tampa, Florida.
Can You Bring Your Own Alcohol To Gasparilla?
This is a no – you cannot bring your own alcohol or beer and alcohol is not sold on the streets.
Can I Dock My Private Boat at Gasparilla?
You can, but there are specific rules for parking your private boat at a slip or marina for Gasparilla. Space is minimal, and you will need to reserve in advance.
Closing Thoughts About Gasparilla
The Gasparilla Parade of Pirates annual celebration is an event that everyone should experience at least once, it’s guaranteed you will have the best time ever! This event is one of Tampa’s most anticipated attractions and you don’t want to miss it.
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