10 Tips to Have Fun at Gasparilla Pirate Parade in Tampa

Gasparilla happens every January in Tampa, Florida, and it is all themed around pirates! It’s the third-largest parade in the United States, and the festivities not only go on all day and all night, but multiple weekends in a row! With a festival this huge, you’ve got to be prepared if you want to have a great time at Gasparilla.

When my friend Paul invited us all down to Tampa so we could go to Gasparilla, I was pretty excited because it was the middle of winter, and it was a weekend full of pirate activities. It was seriously so much fun! Before going, I had a hard time figuring out exactly what Gasparilla was and what to expect while there that weekend. So, I made this post to help anyone who might be feeling the same way! Here are 10 tips for the Gasparilla Pirate Parade in Tampa.

Photo by Luigi Estuye, LUCREATIVE® on Unsplash

About Gasparilla

Gasparilla is Tampa’s signature event, celebrated annually since 1904 and hosted by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. Each year, a merry band of pirates invades the city, culminating in a celebratory parade down Tampa’s famed Bayshore Boulevard.

Just after the turn of the 20th century, Tampa’s flourishing economy and evolving skyline signaled a burgeoning city on the rise. Local leaders wanted to promote the city’s annual May Day celebration, growing it to a multi-day festival. In the Spring of 1904, Tampa Tribune Society Editor Mary Louise Dodge was helping to plan the event theme when George Hardee suggested the legend of Gasparilla.

Soon after, Hardee formed a krewe of 50 men, and the Tampa Tribune began publishing a series of letters from Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. Each letter detailed a pirate invasion by King Gasparilla and his court.

When the May Day Festivities arrived, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla pirates appeared on horseback throughout the city, to the delight of locals. Officials soon decided that Gasparilla would be an annual part of the festivities.

Nowdays, the Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate festival happens on the last Saturday of January. More than 300,000 pirate-garbed onlookers gather for the parade. The day begins as hundreds of vessels form a flotilla following the famed Jose Gasparilla II, the world’s only fully-rigged pirate ship, to invade the city of Tampa and reclaim its key from the Mayor.

With the key securely in hand, Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla leads a celebration of more than 100 floats down Tampa’s famed Bayshore Boulevard and into downtown Tampa. The festival is recognized nationwide as Tampa’s signature event and is the third-largest parade in the United States.

1. Choose your Parade Option

There are actually multiple parades as part of Gasparilla. The biggest parade happens during the day, starting around 1 pm, and is tons of fun for adults. The biggest parade is not geared toward kids, although we did see a few kids while there. The reason I say it’s not really for kids is that there is lots of drinking, people in pretty risque outfits, and overall huge, loud crowdsnot really set up for kids, but they can go. I definitely recommend the biggest afternoon parade because it has amazing floats, tons of different activities, and the most going on.

There is a children’s parade the weekend before the day parade specifically for kids. There’s also a night parade that happens the weekend after the day parade that is known for its party scene!

Both the day parade and children’s parade happen along Bay Shore Drive. The night parade happens in Ybor. Know that Ybor is a place known for clubs and can become more unsafe in the evening. Some people go to both parades, and others choose one that fits their needs or when they can find a good flight.

Most of my tips below work for any of the parades I listed above, but know that I went to the main day parade. My friend from Tampa gave me information about the other parades!

2. Get there early

As I mentioned, tons and tons of people attend Gasparilla! That means that the coveted parade space is hard to come by. People set up early in the day and drink, eat, and hang out starting in the morning. Getting there early means you can get a good spot and start your day off with some fun. There are food spots to stop at along the parade route, but you can easily bring your own drinks and food.

3. Don’t drive

Parking is extremely limited and expensive, so taking an Uber or Lyft is best. Finding a cab can also be difficult. Even when we took an Uber, we had to walk for 30 minutes to get to the parade route. Expect to have to do some walking, whether you drive or Uber. We did see a few parking lots, but they were already full by noon when we were walking to the parade, so if you do decide to park, get there early!

4. Find a spot near the fence if you want beads

Pretty much every float tosses you beads, which is lots of fun. However, if you can’t get up close, you can’t get very many beads! So get up close to the fence and get ready to cheer and have fun! Along with this note, watch out for flying beads. Getting hit in the head or face can hurtlearned this one the hard way.

5. Bring earplugs if your ears are sensitive

Many of the floats have cannons that go off and play really loud music. We left the parade with our ears ringing, which was not a good feeling. Definitely bring earplugs if you are concerned about your hearingI wish I did!


6. Dress up

We saw so many people dressed up! It was so fun to see so many people wearing their pirate gear, and we saw everything from pirate hats to elaborate costumes. If you’re someone who likes to dress up, this is a perfect day to do it.

7. Wear good walking shoes

You will walk a lot! Wear shoes you are comfortable walking and standing in all day. Getting a blister would have been the worst!

8. Bring your own food and drinks to Gasparilla or eat before

Like I said, the crowds are crazy! We waiting in line for the bathroom for 20 minutes, and food lines were even longer. We ate at home before heading out and went to a friend’s party beforehand and ate more food. When we got to the area where the parade happens, there were so many people in line for food.

At the parade, we had a backpack with our own food and drinks. People who had been there all day had chairs, coolers, floatiesyou name it!

After the parade, we tried walking to multiple places along Howard Street near the parade around 4 pm. We stopped at a few places, and they all had over 3 hour long waits with people just waiting all around the buildings. We were not interested in waiting three hours for food, so we hopped in an Uber and went outside that area and waited less than 30 minutes (drive included) for food. Get out of the area if you can! Go back later to the bars or the next day if you have a specific spot you want to try.

9. There are only port-a-potties at the parade

This is an important one because you will want hand sanitizer and tissues. Just be prepared for some smelly and pretty gross port-a-potties. Plus, lines can be really long!

10. Drink responsibly

This might sound like a silly last tip, but I honestly think it’s really important! We saw multiple people who had to be taken by stretchers from the parade. It looked miserable in the 80-degree weather with all the paramedics and police around. Don’t go overboard, you will regret it!

Discover the excitement of Gasparilla, the largest pirate parade in Tampa! Get ready for a weekend full of pirate-themed fun and festivities.
Discover the excitement of Gasparilla, the largest pirate parade in Tampa! Get ready for a weekend full of pirate-themed fun and festivities.

There you have my 10 tips for Gasparilla! I hope you are able to have a blast no matter which parade you go to.


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