Florida Travel Diaries: Gasparilla Pirate Festival

At the end of January, I was at a tourism event in Tampa, which is held every year in the State of Florida. I stayed another few days to know the destinations and in my schedule, there was something that, at first, went unnoticed by me. It was the Gasparilla Pirate Festival. I did not know, but Gasparilla is the third largest parade in the United States. The first is Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana. Well, the second I did not find a reference. Gasparilla is like the Carnival and about 300,000 people gather during the parade.

For a few nights, I was at the Gasparilla. It is a parade that takes place every year, in honor of the Gasparilla pirate, who arrived in Tampa a few centuries ago. Being on the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa is a city of pirates, so this is a huge party.

The party began in 1904 and is celebrated annually. It is a celebration of the fictional character Gasparilla, a mythical pirate, Jose Gaspar. There are a few records that there really was a pirate by that name, but he was little known and had no great relevance in the history of Florida or Tampa.

In the city, there are several crews, which from what I understand are some species of benefactor groups, which sponsor various activities for the community. Each crew has its own wagon, especially pirate-themed, but there are also those of the sirens, and of the Renaissance. Each wagon parades, along with different bands of the superiors, and on each, there are people, crew members, themed clothes. From the wagons, they launch pearl necklaces (of plastic) and the goal is to take as much as possible.

The Gasparilla Invasion and the Parade

The day before the parade, there was already an official celebration of Gasparilla. People were already excited. It was the morning of the day of the parade. I woke up and looked out of my bedroom window from the hotel. The guards were already closing the streets and people were dressed as pirates. I had no idea what the party would be like.

I went with my group to the Tampa Convention Center, which is right on the city's bay. The morning before the parade, there is an on-site brunch. You have to buy tickets to go. Neither did I have breakfast. It's a very complete brunch, with all kinds of drinks and typical foods of the city. There were US breakfast things like an omelette and lots of sweets.

Around noon the invasion takes place. Oh, that part is great. When I noticed, the marina street, next to the Convention Center, was full of people, a crowd. At the bay, there were dozens of boats. Then there is the arrival of Gasparilla's boat. It's a very pirate-like craft and, I'll venture to say, with hundreds of them, it's Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla.

The boat comes to the sound of cannon shots, but it's just the sound itself, it has no cannon (okay, it took me a while to realize I did not have it) and a lot of excitement. I loved that part, it's very lively, people go crazy with the pirates. All men on the vessel are of a type of club and can participate in the invasion.

Once the invasion is over, it's time to take to the streets. People are already waiting until they are seated on beach chairs in the circuit that passes the parade. The Convention Center had a scheme for anyone going to Visit Tampa Bay's tent, which was my case. While the streets were still empty, I went on a bus with dozens of more people to our tent. The cool thing is everyone is waving and you wave back. At that point, I already had some necklaces, a Tampa t-shirt, a pirate hat, and an eye patch. Yeah, I got in the mood.

In the part of the circuit that I stayed are the tents on the bay side, in spaces bought by companies, the street in the middle and on the other side the people who watch the same street parade, that is, the majority. I realized that while the cars did not pass, those in the tent would be tossing necklaces to whoever was on the other side of the street. I thought it was just a joke.

A few minutes later, the parade began and I discovered that playing necklaces, in fact, is the great feeling of the party. People in all floats toss the necklaces to whoever is watching. I made no effort and yet many people would play me glue even when I was photographing and, I'm sorry to say, I took some necklaces right in the middle of the forehead.

Everyone stands to watch the parade, it's past 1:30 p.m. The parade is basically composed of small floats of companies or institutions of the city. For example, a local college bar, hotel, band or college football team may have their cars for the parade. Even the mayor is going to parade. I think the whole party lasts about four hours. In the end, everyone compares who got more necklaces.

Since Tampa has a very strong tradition of cigar making, many "pirates" smoke throughout the route. I was pretty obsessed with taking pictures of men in costumes smoking, making a bad face. The costumes were very funny and elaborate. Participants even seem to embody the character of a bandit of the seas. But this is only visually, in the attitudes, are all there wanting to distribute as many collars as possible.

When the parade ends, around 6:00 p.m., people begin to disperse. However, many will end the day in bars, snack bars and parties scattered throughout the city. At my hotel, Aloft, there was a party in commemoration of Gasparilla. The carnival spirit is, basically, the same as ours.

However, for those who are accustomed to Carnival in Brazil, it is quite different. The concentration of people is much lower than in the streets of Salvador or Rio de Janeiro during our Carnival. The erotic appeal also has no comparison and things are a bit more organized.

Gasparilla Season

If you think that the celebrations and Gasparilla only happen one day, you made a mistake. There is a Gasparilla season, before and after the pirate invasion and the big parade. Everything starts in the middle of January and continues until the end of March with children, cultural and musical programs.
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