Jan 13, 2022 - Things to Do

Getting the scoop on the Gasparilla Pirate Festival

 Ethan Chitwood and father, Noah Chitwood, with family friend Lukas Gowder, watch the 2012 Gasparilla Parade.
Ethan Chitwood, his father, Noah Chitwood, and family friend Lukas Gowder watch the 2012 Gasparilla Parade. Photo: Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Reader mailbag: "Ahoy! I'm a newly adopted Tampan and realize I know very little about Gasparilla — a name that seems to pop up in the strangest of places.

  • "I'd love to read more about it (him?)."

🏴‍☠️ A hearty welcome to ye, matey. 'Tis a fine question, indeed.

  • We realize it's been a few sleeps since the last Gasparilla, in early 2020, and we have many thousands of new residents who may have no clue why locals are getting excited/scared/out of town.

The big picture: Here's a crash course in all things Gasparilla for those of ye who've never walked the plank.

Why it matters: Gasparilla is closely entwined in Tampa Bay's cultural identity.

🦜 What is it? Gasparilla generally refers to the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, a day-long pirate invasion of Tampa that begins when an enormous flotilla sails up Hillsborough Bay to downtown, led by the pirate ship José Gasparilla.

  • Hundreds of folks dressed like pirates, firing fake guns and cannons, dock and storm the city behind the Tampa Convention Center, where the cowardly mayor gives up the key to the city.
  • The pirates then swarm toward the south end of Bayshore Boulevard, mount nearly 100 floats and parade north to roughly Curtis Hixon Park, throwing coins and beads but not in the water.

By the numbers: The Gasparilla parade on Jan. 29 is expected to draw 300,000 spectators along the six-mile route.

Gasparilla Pirate Fest in 2011 shows dozens of boats carrying people dressed as pirates
Gasparilla Pirate Fest in 2011. Steve Nesius/AP Images

Yes, but: Why? The parade celebrates the legend of the pirate José Gaspar, the most-feared, but probably fictional, corsair in the Gulf.

  • Some say Gaspar was hanged on Franklin Street in downtown Tampa.
  • The first Gasparilla parade in 1904 was really part of a bigger May Day celebration. Outside of a few cancellations due to war and pandemic, it's been held every year since.

Between the lines: It's a good chance for grown adults to dress up and get buzzed in public. Many stay in character from sunrise to sunset.

Disambiguation: You may also hear of other Gasparilla celebrations this "Gasparilla season." Don't be confused:

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