The Gasparilla invasion of Tampa is an annual event that began in 1904 when the leaders of the city adopted the pirate, Jose Gaspar, who went by the name of Gasparilla, as the mascot for the city's May celebration. Plans made by the first Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla involved a mock attack of the city by invaders decked out in full pirate costume. The pirates arrived on horseback in the first invasion and captured the city during what has become the annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival and parade.
The first Gasparilla Pirate Invasion was so popular, the Mystic Krewe became a permanent organization, and the city leaders decided to make the Tampa Gasparilla Festival a yearly event. Since 1904, the Gasparilla Pirate Invasion has celebrated each year on a Saturday in February with additional activities accompanying the invasion and Gasparilla Parade including the annual Children's Parade and the Gasparilla Distance Classic Marathon.
In 1954, the fully rigged Jose Gasparilla pirate ship came into being. The ship is a replica of an eighteenth-century West Indiaman and is 165 feet long with three 100-foot masts. At the beginning of the Tampa Gasparilla Festival, the ship sails into Hillsborough Bay with costumed pirates aboard and flying the Jolly Roger. Part of the Gasparilla Pirate Invasion is the participation of boaters sailing out to the Jose Gasparilla and joining the flotilla as it travels across the bay and into Seddon Channel. The ship and krewe makes its way to the Tampa Convention Center where the mayor turns over the key to the city.
Once the key is in hand, the krewe celebrates their victory with the 3.5-mile Gasparilla Parade starting at Bayshore Boulevard and winding its way to downtown Tampa. The parade has more than 50 krewes, 90 decorated floats, and fourteen local marching bands participating in the festivities. Among the most popular features for visitors to Gasparilla are the colorful beads, doubloons, and glittering trinkets thrown into the crowd.
The parade ends in downtown where the Tampa Gasparilla Festival takes place. The Pirate Fest encompasses several blocks from Florida and Kennedy avenues to the Channelside district, and it starts early in the day and runs late into the night. The Fest has its own midway with food vendors, live musical entertainment, fun rides, assorted games, and plenty of activities for the whole family.
Admission to the invasion, parade, and Gasparilla Pirate Festival are free. Parking and seating along Bayshore is limited. Reserved bleacher seating is available along Bayshore, which provides unobstructed views of the parade. Parking is available at Raymond James Stadium with round-trip shuttle service provided from the stadium to Hyde Park Avenue and DeLeon Street near Bayshore Boulevard.
The Gasparilla Pirate Festival begins with the pirate invasion at 11:30 am and lasts until 1 pm. The Gasparilla brunch at the Convention Center takes place from 10 am until 1 pm. At 2 pm, the pirates, floats, and bands take to the street making their way down Bayshore to downtown and ending at approximately 5:30 pm. Pre-ticket sales for reserved bleacher seating and brunch go on sale in October.
The Gasparilla parade is one of the most unusual options for Tampa events, and it's worth considering for your itinerary during a vacation to Tampa, especially if you're interested in sailing or sampling some of the unique restaurants and nightlife in the city.