Gasparilla is one of the most beloved events in Tampa Bay. It’s celebrated every year with a pirate ship and flotilla arriving in Hillsborough Bay, followed by a large parade, live music, and a festival. This year, the celebrations are brought to you by Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and will be held on Saturday, January 31.
To start off the day, there is an optional brunch that morning, starting at 10 a.m. at the Tampa Convention Center (for tickets, visit gasparillapiratefest.com). The brunch menu features a continental-style selection, plus an entree of fluffy scrambled eggs. There will be a cash bar, provided by Anheuser-Busch, Captain Morgan and Diageo.
The much-awaited “pirate invasion” will start at 11:30 a.m. At that time, a large pirate ship, the “Jose Gasparilla,” will appear at the southern end of Hillsborough Bay. The ship, maintained by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, is the world’s only fully-rigged pirate ship. The Jose Gasparilla will put on a re-enactment of a pirate battle that ends with a mock “invasion and conquest” of Tampa. The ship and the flotilla will sail through Seddon Channel (between Davis Islands and Harbour Island) and will finally dock at the Tampa Convention Center at 1 p.m. At that time, the mayor of Tampa, Bob Buckhorn, will give the key to the city to the Krewe, and an hour after docking, a large parade with floats will traverse Bayshore Boulevard in honor of the pirates’ “victory.”
The Gasparilla celebrations were started in 1904 as a nod to the historic tale of Jose Gaspar, who robbed many ships off the coast of Spanish West Florida in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As the story goes, Jose Gaspar and his pirates wanted to retire with all of their loot in 1821, but Gaspar insisted on seizing one more ship before ending his life on the seas. Unfortunately for Gaspar and his pirates, the ship they chose was an undercover United States Navy warship. They were defeated by the Navy after a bloody battle, and Gaspar was not allowed to escape with his life.
A Tampa tradition since the first decade of the 20th century, Gasparilla has been broadcast live on Tampa Bay television since 1954 when WFLA-TV, NBC NewsChannel 8, first aired coverage of the festival and parade. Since then, every TV station in the Tampa Bay area airs live coverage of Gasparilla all morning and afternoon.
Starting at 2 p.m. on Saturday is the Gasparilla Parade of the Pirates. The parade route is the exact same as last year. It starts at the corner of Bay to Bay Boulevard and Bayshore Boulevard. People and floats will travel along Bayshore Boulevard up to Brorein Street, where they turn east. They then continue on to Ashley Drive, where the parade continues by turning north. The 3.8-mile long parade terminates right in downtown, at the corner of Cass Street and Ashley Drive; everyone in the parade should reach this point by 5:30 p.m. Over 140 distinct groups will be marching in the 2015 parade, including close to 100 floats, over 50 Krewes, and all the pirates from the ship who claimed Tampa as their own!
This year the festival and accompanying entertainment is different. For the first time ever, there will be a concert on Friday night, January 30, allowing everyone in Tampa to celebrate the pirates’ conquest before they even get here! This charity concert (benefiting the Humane Society of Tampa Bay and the Gasparilla Community Fund) will be held at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, located along Ashley Drive between Madison and Polk Streets. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. and the concert starts at 6 p.m. This event, sponsored by Budweiser, features special musical guests The Commodores, with the Atlanta Rhythm Section and opening act Daniel B. Marshall. Tickets are $30 for general admission and $75 for VIP and can be bought in person and online. The festival will be held at MacDill Park on Saturday, January 31, starting at noon and going on through 6 p.m. Admission is free. This event features entertainment from Sol Caribe. The festival is sponsored in part by Centro Tampa and Telemundo.
The Sant’ Yago Night Parade, an Ybor City tradition since 1974, will be held two weeks later, on Saturday, February 14. Even though the debauchery of the night parade is still a few weeks away, it doesn’t stop GaYBOR from starting the party the day of the day parade. Here’s what’s happening on 7th Avenue on January 31:
*Bradley’s on 7th – Joey Brooks will be hosting two special shows for all of the partygoers on the Divas Stage, featuring Angel Sheridan and Tampa legend Apple Love. Those shows will start at 11:30 p.m. and 1:15 a.m.
*Liquid Tampa – Their annual “Shipwrecked” party starts at 9 p.m., with music by DJ Power Infiniti and an opening set by Greg Anderson. The event will be hosted by Conundrum and will feature Desiree DeMornay and Jeffrey Kelly Abess.
*GBar – Doors open at 9 p.m. and the special guest this evening is DJ/producer Barry Harris, who will be in charge of the music all night long. There will be a Gasparilla-themed drag show at 11 p.m. Decor by Mathieu Stanoch.