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Gasparilla Pirate Parade 2023

Bayshore Boulevard, Tampa, Florida
January 28, 2023

This year Jay and Joyce again attended the Gasparilla Pirate Parade in Tampa.

Gasparilla is a major event; with numerous parades and events. The highlight is the 4.5 mile parade largely along Bayshore Boulevard, with around 175 professionally built floats, many "manned" by local Krewes. In addition to floats there are some local school bands. It is said that this parade is somewhere between the third and fifth largest parade in the US. Spectators line the parade route seeking beads thrown from floats and parade participants. Needless to say, there is a very large police presence, but law enforcement maintains a low profile. The crowd is typically loud, happy, and boisterous. We did see one instance of crowd misbehavior - a fight quickly brought under control by police.

The parade is organized by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla (YMKG), a local organization modeled after the "krewes" of Mardi Gras in New Orleans who play the parts of Gaspar and his crew. On Gasparilla Day, members of YMKG don pirate regalia and sail across Tampa Bay aboard the Jose Gasparilla II, a 165-foot-long "pirate ship" which is actually a steel barge converted to look like a large West Indiaman. The barge can accomodate 600 passenfers but the number is kept down to around 450 for added safety. Firing loud mini-canons and accompanied by hundreds of private boats, the pirates make their way to the Tampa Convention Center, where they demand that the mayor surrender the key to the city in a playful ceremony. Gaspar and his crew then stage a "victory parade" featuring 50 additional krewes, over 100 floats, and dozens of other community organizations. Parade members throw beads and other trinkets to a crowd - this year - of about 380,000. The parade has always been held along Tampa's waterfront near downtown Tampa, and since 2011, it has ended along the Tampa Riverwalk, where festivities continue into the nighttime hours.

We had a very good time!

This was the fourth time we bought tickets for the First Mate section. Our first time was in 2018 and we would have returned in 2019 but the parade date conflicted with a major medical appointment. Our second time was in 2020. The First Mate section is private, with just one row of chairs in essentially a private seating area with a security crew manning the entrances.

An additional selling point for the First Mate section is porta-potties in a private seating area that serve just a limited number of parade spectators. (We knew what porta-potties in the public areas look like after a day of Gasparilla partying.)

This year Jay and Joyce used a folding beach wagon to carry items from their car to the seating area. The weagon carried food, drinks, snacks, paper towels, toilet paper!, wipes, alcohol hand spray, a towel and a blanket. The latter two helped in the cool early mornning. The wagon also carried two beach chairs - much more comfortable to sit in than the metal folding chairs provided. Jay and Joyce also arrived early and got a parking space pretty close to their seating area, though being so close meant more traffic to get out of the downtown area after the parade ended.

Oh, yes, we collected beads; almost more than we could carry.


(Click on any slide to enlarge it.)


The invasion begins!

A stop at the nearby Publix for sandwiches, a Charcuterie plate, and a Gasparilla cake

First Mate Seating Area - before the parade begins
First Mate Seating Area - as the parade is underway

Don't mess with this pirate; three ladies tried to squeeze themselves into Section 6 but this pirate
pointed out to them nicely, but firmly, that the section was for those who paid to be in it

Whew!! The end of a long, but fun, day.

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