Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel
11:02 AM PST, January 10, 2013
Somewhere between Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the Super Bowl, some pirates find time to take over downtown Tampa for the annual Gasparilla pirate parade and street festival.
Held on the last Saturday of January each year, more than 350,000 decended on the streets of Tampa in 2012 and similar numbers are expected this year. The festival reminiscent of Mardi Gras has been going on in Tampa since 1904.
This year's event falls on Jan. 26, although lighter, more family-friendly events begin on Jan. 19.
The event pays homage to a Spanish pirate named Jose Gaspar, who sailed off the west coast of Florida in the 18th and 19th centuries. City leaders back in 1904 decided to adopt Gaspar for their own street festival to be on the scale of New Orelans' Fat Tuesday. The crux of the early festival that continues today is pirates, namely high society members in pirate outfits, capturing the city.
While they initially invaded on horseback, the yearly invasion soon came by sea, and now each year Ye Mystic Krewe invades aboard the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship, flanked by hundreds of more modern boats, sailing into Hillsborough Bay to downtown Tampa where they cermoniously seize the key to the city from the mayor.
The invasion then gives way to the Invasion Brunch at the Tampa Convention Center, a parade with nearly 100 floats down Bayshore Boulevard rife with bead throwing as well as the daylong Pirate Fest Street Festival on Ashley Street in downtown Tampa.
The invasion, parade and festival are all free. Festivities begin at 10 a.m. with the sailing invasion running from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.. The parade runs from 2-5:30 p.m. and the street festival into the night. Parking will be difficult to navigate. Expect to pay at least $20 or more to park in the sundry downtown garages. In years past, many people have taken advantage of park and ride services from Raymond James Stadium or parking in Ybor City and taking public transportation to the festivities.
On Saturday, Jan. 19, the G-rated Children's Gasparilla Extravaganza features the Bicycle Safety Rodeo, Preschooler's Stroll, Gasparilla Air Invastion with precision parachute jump from the U.S. Special Operations Command Jump Team, the Children's Gasparilla Parade and "Piratechnic" fireworks. The day of events runs from 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m. concluding with the fireworks show.
Head to gasparillapiratefest.com for more information on both days' festivities.
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